"The decisions you take today will determine whether Europe remains a world leader," Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, declared before the European Council as it decided how ambitious the continent should be in tackling the climate crisis.
With just over a year left for governments to reach a meaningful climate treaty, leadership is indeed up for grabs.
And Europe right now may have a greater right to the mantle of climate leadership than any other claimant.
Early on Friday, its heads of state, meeting in Brussels, unanimously endorsed a deal that includes a binding cut of at least 40 percent in greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, compared to 1990, along with somewhat less dramatic and non-binding goals for increasing energy efficiency and renewables.
But in light of the intricacies of Europe's convoluted governance that make any such agreement hard to strike, the broader import of this step was that it offers a glimmer of hope that a global carbon deal might not be such a farfetched idea.
Even though insurers are in the business of protecting others from risk, a new report shows that most major United States players are turning a blind eye to a serious threat to their own bottom line—climate change.
"It's shocking...most of the industry continues to be far behind where they need to be in terms of understanding and articulating [climate risk]," said study author Cynthia McHale, insurance program director at the Boston-based nonprofit Ceres.
This stands in stark contrast to other big businesses, from carmaker General Motors to candymaker Mars Inc., that are increasingly taking a public stand on climate change and devoting resources to combat it.
Democrats are justifiably worried about holding onto control of the United States Senate in the midterm elections Nov. 4. Most forecasts have Republicans winning seven seats for a 52-48 advantage, which would almost certainly spell doom for any action on climate change.
But here's the real catch: Even if Democrats win the Senate by a slim margin, climate action could still be foiled for the next few years by members of their own party.
In several critical races, particularly in energy-producing states, Democratic candidates' stated climate change beliefs somewhat echo their Republican opponents'. Most toe the party line and accept the idea that the world is warming, but resist action that could theoretically harm their home-state economies, such as cutting fossil fuels.
"In races like these, climate advocates don't have a candidate to root for," said RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic party's environment caucus and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a superPAC helping to elect climate-conscious candidates. "They are lose-lose scenarios for us. Sadly, there are more of these races than there should be at this point in the climate fight."
Anti-climate action Democrats are running in elections from coast to coast. With most of the attention focused on the U.S. Senate midterm races, here are some of the politicians to be aware of, based on conversations with several experts:
Candidate: Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky secretary of state
Views on Climate Change: Grimes has said she believes climate change is happening, but that the Obama administration "has taken direct aim at Kentucky's coal industry." She has said multiple times in interviews that she will fight for "what keeps the lights on." Kentucky gets nearly 93 percent of its electricity from coal.
What's at Stake: Despite the fact that coal mining accounts for less than 1 percent of Kentucky jobs, the industry's centuries-old legacy means it is still considered vital to the state's livelihood.
Opponent: Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate; the 30-year veteran could become majority leader if Republicans win enough seats in the elections.
Allowing United States oil producers to export crude would not only sway markets at home and abroad, it would also worsen global warming and present other environmental risks, the Government Accountability Office said in a new survey of experts.
"Additional crude oil production may pose risks to the quality and quantity of surface groundwater sources; increase greenhouse gas and other emissions; and increase the risk of spills," said the report.
That finding dampened what otherwise read as a win-win conclusion—that oil producers would get higher prices, production would rise and consumers would pay less at the pump if exports were allowed.
People living along the proposed route of a natural gas pipeline through Michigan have been bombarding federal regulators with letters opposing the project planned by ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC.
In the face of mounting opposition in one county, ET Rover, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly revised its plan and rerouted the pipeline north though two counties that were surprised to suddenly be dealing with the project.
The letter-writing campaign was directed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that will decide the project's fate. FERC is the lead agency responsible for conducting environmental reviews of proposed interstate pipelines, and as part of the process it allows time for the public to weigh in with comments.
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.
Trucks hauling mounds of sand into the southern Minnesota town of Winona for delivery to drilling sites across the nation's shale regions are not spewing dangerous dust emissions into the air, preliminary data shows.
This data was released early this month, from a monitor for crystalline silica dust, or frac sand, a known trigger of lung disease. The instrument was placed along Winona's busy truck route at the start of the year in response to local concern.
Dust reached detectable levels only two out of the 38 days measured during the last seven months, according to air regulators at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Climate change denial will switch from being a litmus test for major Republican politicians to a liability in the near future.
At least that's the hypothesis that Todd Stern, the United States envoy on climate change, shared with a packed auditorium at Yale Law School in New Haven on Tuesday.
"We have all seen in recent years the abruptness with which hot-button issues can suddenly become the stuff of consensus," Stern told students, faculty and members of the public. "I doubt, even a year from now, whether major political candidates will consider it viable to deny the existence of climate change."
Stern's visit to Yale comes three weeks before a midterm election that has serious implications for U.S. involvement in climate treaty talks taking place in Lima this year and Paris in 2015.
Republicans and Democrats are fighting fiercely for control of the Senate. If the Senate falls into the hands of a Republican majority—as many analysts predict—the body charged with ratifying treaties would be led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who seeks to block EPA climate change regulations.
A high-stakes battle over the nation's ozone pollution rule reached a new milestone last week when the Environmental Protection Agency submitted its latest proposed rule to the White House for review.
For years, EPA science advisers have been urging the administration to tighten the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 60-70 ppb to protect public health. But they were repeatedly rebuffed: first in 2008, when the George W. Bush administration adopted the 75 ppb standard, and again in 2011, when President Obama abruptly halted a push from his own EPA to strengthen the rule.
Obama's move provoked fury from environmental and public health advocates who said he had caved to industry ahead of the 2012 elections. "This was the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at the time.
Now the administration is faced with the same decision: Earlier this year EPA scientists again recommended tightening the standard to 60–70 ppb, and on Oct. 8, EPA officials delivered the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The agency is under a court order to reveal the proposed standard to the public by Dec. 1 and finalize it next year.