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The Biggest Hurdles Plaguing a Global Climate Accord, Explained

Failure is not an option for climate negotiators meeting in Lima, Peru. Here are just a few of the biggest issues they must solve to avoid it.

Dec 2, 2014

It was not with starry-eyed optimism, but with fierce determination that global climate negotiators launched their treaty talks in Lima on Monday. Nobody is suggesting that it will be easy to draft a comprehensive pact to be signed in Paris next year.

Rather, the leaders of the talks are simply asserting that failure is not an option, as they confront the reality that significant global warming is already locked in and this year's record-breaking temperatures are bound to be exceeded again and again.

"El mundo nos espera," said Peru's Manuel Pulgar Vidal, the presiding officer at the talks. "El mundo no espera que fallemos."  The world awaits us. The world does not expect us to fail.

Here are just a few of the difficult pieces of the complex puzzle negotiators need to solve if they are to avoid failure.

Terror at the Top of the World: How We Got the Story

Rundown of how we got the polar bear attack story, and how it turned into a harrowing tale of global warming that affects everyone.

Dec 1, 2014

Inside the making of Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World by InsideClimate News in partnership with VICE. 

The Climate-Change Finance Gap at a Glance

Graphic shows how current climate fund pledges for poor nations stack up to what's needed.

Nov 28, 2014

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.

Studies Show 2-Degree Climate Goal Is Daunting, but Not Impossible

In the United States electric supplies would have to convert almost entirely to carbon-free fuel sources.

Nov 26, 2014

Three recent reports, each a comprehensive look at the climate crisis and possible paths out of it, provide the latest evidence that the barriers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions are daunting, but not insurmountable.

One report comes from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); one from the World Bank; and one from a consortium that includes two United States' national laboratories. Together, they illustrate the concerted effort by various schools of climate analysis to promote a global treaty in Paris next year. All echo themes presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report, issued over the past year.

The first of the new studies is UNEP's Emissions Gap Report for 2014, an annual exercise in which the UN agency assesses the pledges of the world's nations, and calculates how short they fall of what's needed to keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The World Bank’s contribution, its third in a series it calls Turn Down the Heat, warns that warming of at least 1.5 degrees Celsius is already "locked in," and that we are approaching "4°C—a frightening world of increased risks and global instability."

Minn. Regulators Issue $85,000 Frac-Sand Fine on Tiller Corp.

The fine was for a long list of violations, including emitting unsafe levels of toxic dust, and was issued a year after the initial violation.

Nov 26, 2014

Last week, Minnesota regulators quietly issued a major fine of $85,000 against frac sand operator Tiller Corp. for a long list of violations, including emitting unsafe levels of toxic dust.

That's the largest penalty levied against a frac sand company in the state in at least three years. And it's the second largest fine issued to any industry by regulators at the state's Pollution Control Agency this year.

The fine comes at a time when Minnesota is overhauling its rules for the burgeoning frac sand industry. Minnesota is the nation's fourth largest producer of silica sand, a key ingredient used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Its neighbor Wisconsin is the top producer.

The frac sand industry is driving an economic boom across the region, providing thousands of new jobs and injecting millions of dollars in new development. But there's concern about the growing frac sand industry's impact on air, water, noise and light pollution. Minnesota officials are trying to address many of these issues with the current rulemaking effort.

Situation 'Grave' for Global Climate Financing, Report Warns

Current spending remains 'far below even the most conservative estimates' of what's needed to curb and adapt to climate change, study finds.

Nov 25, 2014

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.

It's David vs. Two Goliaths in Texas Fracking Fight

'The question that has to be resolved is where does the regulatory power rest?'

Nov 23, 2014

"Don't mess with Texas," says the advertising slogan that has grown into a defiant unofficial state motto.

After a recent historic vote to ban fracking in the college town of Denton—and industry's lightning-fast response—the new refrain might read: "Don't Mess With Big Oil and Gas."

That's the bottom line for business and legal experts who surveyed the landscape after 59 percent of Denton's voters approved the ban.

Barely 13 hours after the polls closed on Nov. 4, oil and gas lawyers were in court, suing the town.

So, for that matter, was the state of Texas, where production of oil and gas reached $109 billion last year.

The overwhelming vote made Denton the first city to ban fracking in Texas, a state whose history, economy and culture are inextricably linked to oil.

The industry's swift reaction offers perhaps cautionary national implications for other cities seeking to follow Denton, the home of North Texas State University, just north of Dallas.

Does Walmart Have a Dirty Energy Secret?

The amount of energy Walmart gets from renewables has decreased from 4 percent to 3 percent, a new study finds.

Nov 20, 2014

For the past decade, Walmart has touted itself as a leader in sustainability, boasting about its efforts to increase renewable energy and reduce energy waste throughout its supply chain.

The global megacorporation's efforts have been applauded by President Obama and sustainability experts, and reported by news outlets. They have also prompted dozens of other corporations to follow suit.

But a new report released Thursday finds that Walmart relies as heavily on fossil fuels now as it did when it launched its sustainability initiative nearly 10 years ago.

Walmart gets 40 percent of the electricity for its U.S. retail and distribution locations from coal—higher than the nation's percentage, says the report, "Walmart's Dirty Energy Secret," by the 40-year-old think tank the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. That doesn't include the coal-powered factories in China and other rising economies that produce most of Walmart's goods.

The amount of energy Walmart gets from renewable sources decreased from 4 percent to 3 percent between 2011 and 2013, the study said. This is despite pledges in 2005 that the company would be powered 100 percent from wind, fuel cells and solar in the near future. Its greenhouse gas emissions haven't declined at all.

Walmart, one of the largest political donors in the country, also directs most of its campaign contributions to pro-fossil fuel industry candidates, the study found.

Texas Textbook War: Decision Near in Climate Science Dispute

Education groups pressure publishers to rid textbooks of inaccuracies and distortions, but the Texas Board of Education could still require them.

Nov 20, 2014

Update at 6:10 PM on Nov. 21, 2014: The Texas State Board of Education approved nearly 100 new social studies textbooks on Friday, none of which include climate denial.

A five-year battle over the teaching of climate change in Texas classrooms may come to an end Friday when the state Board of Education votes on which social studies textbooks to approve for its more than 1,200 school districts.

Until this week, many of the textbooks under consideration included inaccuracies on climate change—the science behind it and the policies needed to reduce the use of fossil fuels, the main culprit of global warming. Some of them question the scientific consensus that climate change is real, human-caused and threatening. Publishers agreed to fix most of the inaccuracies under pressure from education groups including the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network. But there are still some that distort the issue and many that don't address it at all, experts said.

The 15-member Board of Education refused at a Tuesday hearing to give preliminary approval for the new textbooks until members thoroughly examined all the changes publishers made in recent weeks. The board's 10 conservative Republican members could still force publishers to revert to inaccurate language when the board makes its decision Friday.

"The central problem in the textbook wars in Texas," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, "is that decisions about what students learn in their public schools often come down to a vote by politicians who are more interested in promoting their personal and political beliefs than in listening to teachers, scholars and other experts."

Hazards of Open Pits for Storing Wastewater From Fracking Is Focus of New Study

In 2013, industry produced 8 billion gallons of oil in California and 130 billion gallons of wastewater, according to the report.

Nov 20, 2014

Unlined open-air wastewater pits brimming with the toxic leftovers of fracking and other types of oil and gas development are threatening California's air and water quality, according to a study by two national environmental organizations.

A visit to a series of wastewater pits in California's Central Valley that sickened researchers prompted the study, according to the authors. Oil and gas drilling has been generating vast amounts of waste in the region for decades.

The report was issued by Clean Water Action and Earthworks, both based in Washington, D.C.

The groups' findings further document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal and challenge whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. The report highlights threats to water, air and health; documents regulatory failures; and proposes immediate remedies.

"The discharge of wastewater into unlined pits threatens water resources, including potential sources of drinking and irrigation water, and impacts air quality due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the wastewater," according to the 28-page report, "In the Pits."