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."
Californians' overwhelming approval for a bond that authorized $7.5 billion for badly needed water projects was largely driven by the state's current drought and by fears that unpredictable weather patterns fostered by global warming will continue to strain the water system.
California is in a severe, multiyear drought that continues to deplete its reservoirs and groundwater aquifers. Polls going into last week's election showed that more than three-quarters of Californians believe drought and water shortages are among the state's most pressing issues. Two-thirds of voters said yes to the bond last week.
The bond funds a strategic blueprint where funding priorities are tied to a comprehensive statewide water action plan that accounts for future drought and other variables associated with climate change, said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the statewide Association of California Water Agencies.
"At its core, Proposition 1 advances an all-of-the-above strategy that includes everything from local resources to water storage to safe drinking water," he said. "Other states facing similar challenges may learn from that approach."
Does the new Republican majority in Congress have the power to force President Obama's hand on the Keystone XL pipeline?
Not necessarily—unless, that is, the president himself rolls over, or his whips in Congress suffer a significant erosion of party discipline after their midterm beating.
"Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign," he said at a news conference the day after Republicans won enough additional seats—at least seven—to take control of the Senate.
It takes a two-thirds supermajority in both Congressional chambers to override a veto. Depending on the outcome of undecided races, it would take about a dozen Democrats defecting to get to 67, the number needed to override in the Senate.
In the House, too, pipeline allies would need a two-thirds vote to override. There, Obama only needs to hold onto 146 Democrats to sustain a veto, and no matter how the undecided races fall, he may be able hang on to at least that many.
The role of the United States in confronting the global climate crisis has been cast into serious doubt after an election that stacked the deck in Congress in favor of fossil fuel industries. Republicans seized firm control, and added several new senators who deny that climate change is a problem.
A solid majority of voters who spoke to exit pollsters said they regarded climate change as a significant matter, but most were on the Democratic side. By a huge margin, Republican voters said the opposite. And in state after hotly contested state, they elected their own to the Senate.
The college town of Athens, Ohio voted by 78 percent to outlaw fracking and related activities on Tuesday, standing in stark contrast to three other towns in the state that failed to pass similar measures.
Athens joined the north Texas town of Denton and two southern California counties, San Benito and Mendocino, in pushing back against the fracking boom on election day.
Every local fracking ban victory "is a win for the movement," said Susie Beiersdorfer, an anti-fracking activist in Ohio.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water, chemicals and sand down a well to crack open bedrock and extract fossil fuels. The controversial process has been a boon for the economy. In Ohio, it has recently driven a near doubling of oil and gas production.
Increasingly, communities such as Athens are acting on their concerns about the potential health and environmental impacts of the process, and warning that the existing rules aren't strong enough.
Environmental groups watched in shock last night as many of the seats they considered shoo-ins fell to GOP control—leaving the movement examining its big-money midterm strategy and how to push climate action forward with a Republican Congress.
The nation's major green groups spent about $85 million trying to make climate change a central focus of the election and elect pro-action candidates. They knew going in they faced an uphill battle. The sixth year of an administration is historically difficult for the ruling party to win, and many of the races were being contested in red, energy-producing states.
But in the final weeks and days leading to Election Day, political forecasters projected positive outcomes for many of the races in which environmentalists spent time and money.
"I felt disappointment, straight up," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told InsideClimate News about watching the results come in. "It was hard to swallow seeing a lot of our friends and strong climate champions lose their races. And there were results that took us by surprise."
As oil prices sagged again on Monday to a four-year low, the Carbon Tracker Initiative said the recent downward spiral "changes the whole dynamic" for Canada's tar sands production.
The "vast majority" of potential capital expenditures on tar sands projects that are still in the earliest phases of development would require such high oil prices that they are "particularly risky," the group said.
Hundreds of billions of dollars could be spent on projects that are underway or in development, Carbon Tracker said. At least two-thirds of the tar sands enterprise is at risk if current prices persist, or if they drop even lower.
The public got a rare glimpse into the covert and hardball strategies used by some oil and gas companies when a lobbyist's candid remarks were leaked to the New York Times and Bloomberg News last week. The leak made the lobbyist the victim of his own tactics.
The man was Richard Berman, president of the consulting firm Berman and Company, who pitched a roomful of energy executives in June to invest $2 to $3 million in an "offensive" campaign in Colorado called Big Green Radicals that seeks to discredit anti-fracking advocates.
"There is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry" and people don't like the word "fracking," Berman told his audience at the annual meeting of the Western Energy Alliance. So industry must go on the "offense" against environmental groups, destroy their credibility by airing the personal histories of "every single activist," diminish their moral authority and use humor to "minimize or marginalize" them.
The initial targets of the campaign were the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Food and Water Watch.
Berman said the influx of money would be a "game-changer" and promised "total anonymity" to anyone who contributed. Donations would be processed through nonprofit organizations that aren't required to disclose donors.
The installation of the first air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been delayed following a review of the proposed site by the Texas Historical Commission.
The location selected for the air monitor is on the grounds of the 90-year-old Karnes County courthouse of Karnes City, a community of slightly more than 3,000 in the center of the drilling hotbed. It was supposed to begin operating by the end of October.
But the spot proposed for the 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor with instruments reaching 32 feet into the sky would have spoiled the view of the picturesque building, said Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the commission.
"It was kind of right out there where everybody could see it," said Karnes County Judge Richard Butler, the county’s top executive.
A record number of anti-fracking measures are on the midterm ballots—but gas drilling isn't the only climate and environmental issue that will be put to voters on Tuesday.
Americans across the country will decide on everything from climate resiliency and drought relief to oil and gas taxes and wildlife protection.
Here's InsideClimate News' pick of the top five ballot measures to watch November 4: