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2014 Officially the Hottest Year on Record

Jan 6, 2015
(Climate Central)

It's official: 2014 has taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the first of four major global temperature recordkeepers to release their data for last year.

The upward march of the world's average temperature since 1891 is a trademark of human-influenced global warming with 2014 being the latest stop on the climb. All 10 of the hottest years have come since 1998.

The average temperature was 1.1°F above the 20th century average according to JMA’s data. That edges 1998, the previous warmest year, by about 0.1°F.

One big difference between 2014 and 1998 is that the latter was on the tail end of a super El Niño, which has the tendency to spike temperatures. In comparison, 2014 was the year of the almost El Niño.

Instead, record warmth in other parts of the Pacific as well as the hottest year on record in Europe were some of the main drivers in fueling the heat. Joe Romm of Climate Progress also notes that heat in Australia early in the year and California’s hottest year further contributed to the heat.

Seasonal temperatures also paint a picture of a planet that didn’t get a break. Spring, summer and fall were all record-setting hot. Last winter was the only season not to set a record, and even that was still the sixth-warmest winter.

JMA is one of the four major groups that use both ground measurements and satellites to compute the planet’s average temperature. The other three include NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. and the Hadley Center in the U.K. There are subtle differences in how they analyze temperature data, but there’s generally broad agreement, particularly the upward trend in temperatures over the past century.

The other groups are expected to release their data in the coming weeks and confirm that 2014 was indeed the hottest year on record. And some scientists think it could get even hotter sooner. Strong trade winds in the Pacific have likely had a dampening effect on the global average temperature by essentially allowing the ocean to store more heat, but those winds are expected to weaken in the near future as part of a natural fluctuation.

Democrats Plan Keystone XL Counterattack

Jan 5, 2015
(Fuel Fix)

Senate Democrats are vowing to counter Republicans' campaign for Keystone XL by trying to attach buy-American requirements, clean energy proposals and export restrictions to legislation authorizing the pipeline.

The Democratic proposals could be offered as amendments when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee votes on the Keystone XL legislation Thursday, or next week, when the bill is expected to see floor debate.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the amendments are designed "to make it more of a jobs bill."

U.S. Senate Panel to Introduce Keystone XL Bill Thursday

Jan 4, 2015

The head of the Senate energy committee plans to introduce a bill next week to force approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, though the full chamber faces a battle in obtaining needed votes to overcome any veto by President Barack Obama.

Keystone supporters say they picked up votes for TransCanada Corp's $8 billion project in November's midterm elections, including Republicans Shelley Moore Capito, from West Virginia, and Joni Ernst, from Iowa.

That means this year's bill will likely have a few more than the 60 votes needed to pass, but lack the 67 votes needed to overcome any presidential veto.

Pope Francis to Call on UN to Combat Climate Change in 2015

Dec 29, 2014

He has been called the "superman pope," and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world's main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope's wish to directly influence next year's crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

"Our academics supported the pope's initiative to influence next year's crucial decisions," Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion."

At Least 24 Killed in Malaysia, Thailand Floods as 200,000 Evacuated

Dec 28, 2014
(Al Jazeera)

Severe flooding in Malaysia and Thailand has killed at least 24 people and forced the evacuation of more than 200,000, according to official data reported Sunday.

Northeastern Malaysia and southern Thailand are regularly hit by flooding during the annual northeast monsoon, but this year the rain has been particularly heavy. Scientists have predicted that as climate change worsens, storm patterns will become less predictable and more severe.

The worst flooding in Malaysia in more than a decade has killed 10 people, authorities said Sunday. Five of those casualties were in the worst-hit state of Kelantan, in the northeastern part of the Malaysian peninsula. Across the border in southern Thailand, 14 people have been killed in the floods that began in mid-December.

There are fears that the death toll could increase as communities have been left stranded without food or medicine.

Australia Records Biggest Emissions Drop in a Decade as Carbon Tax Kicks In

Dec 24, 2014

Australia's greenhouse gas emissions dropped 1.4 percent in the second full year of the carbon price – the largest recorded annual decrease in the past decade.

Data released by the Department of the Environment showed that emissions in the June quarter rose 0.4 percent. However, annual emissions to June 2014 dropped 1.4 percent.

This period includes the second 12 months of the carbon pricing system, which was introduced by the previous federal government in 2012. The Coalition fulfilled an election pledge by abolishing carbon pricing in July.

Emissions reduction accelerated during the two-year span of carbon pricing, with emissions edging down by 0.8 percent in the first 12 months of the system.

9 Days Later, Ohio Gas Well Still Leaking

Dec 23, 2014
(Columbus Dispatch)

This hollow used to be peaceful.

Not long ago, Randy Heater and his daughters would roam the Monroe County hills to hunt, setting up deer stands on quiet fall days when the air was still.

On Dec. 13, that stillness shattered.

Crews lost control of a fracked well on a hilltop near Heater's house. Natural gas surged into the air.

From their backyard, less than a mile from the well, the Heaters heard it. The rushing gas sounded like a broken air hose, Heater said—a deep, steady WHOOOOSH.

As the weekend approached, gas was still spewing uncontrollably.

EPA Releases Long-Anticipated Rules for Coal Ash Disposal

Dec 19, 2014
(Huffington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency released new rules Friday for the disposal of coal ash, the first national guidelines for dealing with the waste generated by burning coal.

The rules don't regulate coal ash disposal as tightly as environmental and community groups had wanted. They put coal ash into the same disposal category as household trash and non-hazardous industrial solid waste, and leave the enforcement largely up to states and local governments.

The rules call for the closure of active surface impoundments and landfills that "fail to meet engineering and structural standards," according to the EPA. They will also require regular inspections of the structural integrity of surface impoundments at active sites, the agency said, as well as monitoring and cleanup of unlined surface impoundments that are found to be leaching into groundwater.

The rules also require that new surface impoundments not be built in "sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones," and will require that they be lined.

EPA Punts Decision on Methane Regulations

Dec 18, 2014
(The Hill)

The Environmental Protection Agency is punting a decision on whether to pursue regulations on methane emissions from industrial sources until after the holidays.

An EPA official told The Hill on Wednesday that the agency is holding off on its decision until after the holidays despite consistent statements by Administrator Gina McCarthy that the EPA would make a call this fall.

As the clock wound down, however, advocates and critics of possible regulations alike began to question if the EPA would move to target methane emissions.

Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State, Citing Health Risks

Dec 17, 2014
(New York Times)

The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State, ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting gas from deep underground could contaminate the state’s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks.

“I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” said Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health.

That conclusion was delivered publicly during a year-end cabinet meeting called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany. It came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits.