As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate the so-called fiscal cliff -- when U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts are due to take effect at the end of 2012 -- new research in the journal Nature Climate Change says we are already at the edge of a climate cliff. It explores the cost and risk associated with surpassing critical emissions thresholds by 2020, and what would need to take place to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius -- a mark many regard as the limit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It further shares that reaching the 2-degree target may still be possible even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced before 2020, but it will be more expensive and difficult, and come with higher risks. Just weeks ago, at the United Nations climate conference in Doha, governments failed to impose additional emissions cuts -- looking to a new global climate treaty that would go into effect in 2020.
Meanwhile, the draft of the next assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- which provides detailed assessments of climate science every few years -- was leaked online by blogger Alec Rawls before its intended release next year. Rawls claims it contains a "game-changing admission" about the sun's effect on climate, but Dana Nuccitelli writes in The Guardian that Rawls "has completely misrepresented" the report. Rawls' interpretations actually draw attention from other interesting conclusions in the draft thus far, the New Scientist reports -- such as ice-free Arctic summers by 2100, greater sea-level rise and the likelihood we'll see almost 9 degrees Celsius of warming by 2300. The IPCC itself criticized the leak, but Andrew Revkin writes in The New York Times that--while he disagrees with Rawls' interpretations of the report--the leak "provides fresh evidence that the [IPCC's] policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues."
Soot Standard Updated
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in response to a court order, has imposed updates to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate pollution from power plants and diesel vehicles. The new rule, which includes soot, was revised to allow only 12 micrograms of particulate pollution--a 20 percent reduction from the 15 micrograms allowed per cubic meter of air set in 1997. While the EPA projects 99 percent of U.S. counties will meet the revised health standard by 2020, today 66 counties in eight states -- including the metropolitan areas of Houston, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles -- do not meet it.
The highly anticipated standards came with mixed reviews, with many applauding them and one study finding reductions in particulate matter correlated to increased life expectancy. "These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness on our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air." Still, others criticized the ruling -- claiming, among other things, that it threatens industry expansion.
2013 Climate and Energy Outlook
In the new year there are a number of energy and climate related developments to keep tabs on. Among them:
Oil and Gasoline: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline consumption will remain flat in 2013, while U.S. oil production will rise to 7.1 million barrels a day -- the highest average annual production rate in the country since 1992.
Keystone XL Pipeline: President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on this pipeline -- bringing crude from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. There are still snags along the way, as residents challenge the pipeline and information surfaces about advanced spill technologies absent in current plans.
Cap-and-Trade Linkage: Quebec has adopted new regulations that could pave the way for the province to set up a cap-and-trade system with California in the new year.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.