The most crucial battles in the fight against climate change are unfolding now in Lima, Peru. That's where negotiators from around the world are hashing out issues of fairness and finance to sketch out an effective climate treaty that would push greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century.
Note: InsideClimate News reporter John H. Cushman Jr. will be filing posts from Lima this week. Read his stories at the Carbon Copy blog and follow him on twitter @jackcushmanjr.
Representatives from more than 190 nations are meeting for talks in Lima, Peru (Dec. 1 – Dec. 14) to hammer out the draft of the first truly global pact to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The ultimate goal: signing a treaty a year from now in Paris. If successful, it would be the world's most complex and encompassing treaty ever devised. The last attempt was in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate talks.
Depending on who you ask, the $9.7 billion in pledges for the Green Climate Fund is either a woeful start or an encouraging sign that wealthy nations are serious about helping poorer ones deal with climate change.
As climate treaty talks begin next month in Peru, it's the opinions of those within developing nations that matter most. Negotiators for those countries have said they cannot commit to emissions reductions or sign a climate treaty without adequate financial support.
The pledge total is just shy of the $10 billion goal for the initial phase of the Green Climate Fund, and well short of the $15 billion that developing nations wanted.
It took more than a decade of worsening climate change projections to get global leaders to promise steeper carbon cuts. Amassing enough money to deal with the problem, it seems, might be even harder.
Developing nations last week fell short of the $10 billion minimum goal for the critically important Green Climate Fund. To make matters worse, a new report shows that overall climate-related investment is lagging, too.
The latest tally of global climate finance found that public and private investment totaled $331 billion in 2013, down nearly 8 percent from 2012. That spending is "far below even the most conservative estimates of investment needs" to reduce the threat of climate change, according to the 2014 Global Landscape of Climate Finance report, released Thursday by the independent Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a San Francisco-based group funded by grants from government and charitable foundations.
Reversing oil and natural gas pipelines or switching the product they're carrying can have a "significant impact" on the line's safety and integrity—and "may not be advisable" in some cases, federal regulators told pipeline companies in a recent advisory.
The alert is the first time the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has officially cautioned the industry about potential safety threats from restarting, reversing or reworking pipelines to handle Canadian tar sands oil and the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas supplies. If not handled properly, those changes can increase the risk of pipeline leaks and ruptures, the Sept. 12 notice said.
The PHMSA bulletin validates the concerns of communities and pipeline safety experts who have pressed for more details and assurances about pipeline reversals and other changes. The proliferation of those changes has also frustrated environmentalists because they have provided routes for tar sands headed to the Gulf Coast in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline.
PHMSA said the advisory was triggered in part by last year's oil spills involving two reversed pipelines, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands line in Arkansas and the Tesoro Logistics line in North Dakota. Those accidents, as well as "other information PHMSA has become aware of" led the agency to issue the alert, the bulletin said.
Next month's climate talks in Peru are a pivotal point in the push for global action on climate change. But it's a far less publicized gathering in Berlin that holds the key to whether the Lima negotiations succeed—and whether a useful climate treaty might be possible in the end.
That's because the Berlin meeting, set for Nov. 20, is the first formal pledging conference for the Green Climate Fund. The fund's job is to collect hundreds of billions of dollars promised to developing countries to help them limit or cut emissions and withstand the effects of global warming.
At the meeting, the United States and other wealthy nations will announce multiyear contributions to the fund, and the size of those pledges is crucial. Many less-developed countries have warned that they cannot—and will not—offer meaningful emissions reductions without substantial funding from developed countries. The Lima meeting is to lay the groundwork for a climate treaty to be signed in Paris in late 2015.
Berlin "is a good litmus test for Lima, because finance is really half of the equation to getting a climate deal," said Karen Orenstein, a senior analyst at Friends of the Earth. "It's like dominos. This is the first domino, and in order to get everything to fall in the right place, you have to start here."
Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking "unprecedented secrecy" by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.
The attorney, Tom Thrash, said Exxon's blanket assertion of confidentiality prevents affected property owners and the public from learning whether Exxon had properly maintained and repaired the 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline at the heart of the case, and it has forced him to file his arguments under seal.
The 858-mile Pegasus, which stretches from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas, was carrying Canadian diluted bitumen (dilbit) when it burst open in Mayflower, Ark. on March 29, 2013. An estimated 210,000 gallons of thick oil oozed into a neighborhood and waterway, sickening residents and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon later bought most of the houses because the owners didn't want to return.
The recent dive in oil prices is undermining oil company earnings, projects and stock prices—at least for now—giving new ammunition to climate action groups pushing pensions, universities and others to purge their fossil fuel holdings.
By themselves, the lower oil prices aren't likely to convince institutions to divest from fossil fuels, especially since price swings are common in oil markets. But the unexpected dip could help the cause by casting doubt on the investment case for keeping them, according to Jamie Henn, communications director at 350.org, a leader in the growing divestment campaign.
"The primary reason to divest remains the moral and political one—that if it's wrong to wreck the planet, then it's wrong to profit from that wreckage," said Henn. "But the recent news about oil prices is a reminder that it's a market that fluctuates wildly...and [oil company stocks] are not the secure investment that people often see them as."
The price of U.S. benchmark crude has been trading near $80 a barrel of late, a substantial slide from this year's high of more than $108 a barrel in June. Oversupply and slower demand growth could force the cost of crude down $10 more before it stabilizes or reverses course, according to Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Recently, Goldman Sachs lowered its 2015 oil price estimate to $75, down from $90.
SolarCity Corp., the nation's largest residential solar service provider, has a history of pushing the envelope. It introduced the industry's first leasing program for homeowners, offered discounted solar installations through Groupon, and is pouring money into a solar manufacturing plant in the United States.
In the last two weeks, the company added two financial innovations: a first-of-its-kind nationwide solar bond program to sell bonds directly to individual investors who want to support the spread of clean energy; and a hybrid financing program (MyPower) that gives customers lease-like payments as well as ownership of the solar system.
San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity, founded in 2006 by brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, has grown to more than 6,000 employees. It is a full-service solar provider—including design, permitting, financing, installation, monitoring and maintenance—with operations in 15 states. So far, the company has installed more than 750 megawatts of photovoltaic solar systems for homes, businesses, governments and schools.
Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors, is chairman of the SolarCity board—and cousin to the Rive brothers. All three share a sense of urgency about the threat of climate change.
Limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will require reworking how nations produce and use energy—away from fossil fuels to a mix of aggressive energy efficiency, nuclear power, carbon capturing technologies, and renewable power. The International Energy Agency estimates that renewable power will have to supply 65 percent of the world's power supply.
That makes solar a crucial part of the effort to avoid the worst effects of a warming climate. Federal tax credits, which have been a big driver in solar growth, are set to expire at the end of 2016.
Following the launch of MyPower, Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's chief executive, talked to InsideClimate News about the company, the MyPower program and the challenge of spreading solar far and fast enough.
In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.
Environmental and community groups on Tuesday assailed federal approval of the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export project, arguing that regulators glossed over the climate change consequences. They vowed to challenge the decision through a regulatory appeal or in the courts.
"The groups that have been opposing this facility for more than a year have no intention of quitting and conceding this," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of several nonprofit groups fighting the Lusby, Md. LNG project. "There are legal steps before us next."
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Cove Point LNG export project late Monday. It imposed 79 conditions on its construction that regulators said would mitigate potential adverse environmental impacts. Those conditions were based on an environmental assessment of the project, a less-rigorous review than what is called for in an environmental impact statement.
FERC's action allows Dominion Cove Point to liquefy and export as much as 5.75 million metric tons of U.S. gas per year from the terminal. The commission said project owner Dominion Resources Inc. proposes to complete construction in time to begin exports in June 2017. In separate actions, the Department of Energy conditionally approved gas exports from the terminal to any country, providing there are no U.S. trade prohibitions.