Thursday, October 12, 2017

An extraordinary admission:  Temperature baseline unknown

If you can't say what pre-industrial temperature was, you can't say what rise is "dangerous"

Estimating Changes in Global Temperature since the Preindustrial Period

Ed Hawkins et al.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process agreed in Paris to limit global surface temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” But what period is preindustrial? Somewhat remarkably, this is not defined within the UNFCCC’s many agreements and protocols. Nor is it defined in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in the evaluation of when particular temperature levels might be reached because no robust definition of the period exists. Here we discuss the important factors to consider when defining a preindustrial period, based on estimates of historical radiative forcings and the availability of climate observations. There is no perfect period, but we suggest that 1720–1800 is the most suitable choice when discussing global temperature limits. We then estimate the change in global average temperature since preindustrial using a range of approaches based on observations, radiative forcings, global climate model simulations, and proxy evidence. Our assessment is that this preindustrial period was likely 0.55°–0.80°C cooler than 1986–2005 and that 2015 was likely the first year in which global average temperature was more than 1°C above preindustrial levels. We provide some recommendations for how this assessment might be improved in the future and suggest that reframing temperature limits with a modern baseline would be inherently less uncertain and more policy relevant.


CEI Submits Comments Calling on EPA to Reconsider More-Stringent Fuel Economy Standards

On Thursday, October 5, the Competitive Enterprise Institute submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding its Final Mid-Term Evaluation (MTE) of greenhouse gas emission standards for model year 2022-2025 light duty vehicles Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2015–0827). 

In the comments, we address four topics on which the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have requested public comment:

The impact of the greenhouse gas emission standards on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and a national harmonized program.

The impact of the standards on reduction of emissions, oil conservation, energy security, and fuel savings by consumers.

The extent to which consumers value fuel savings from greater efficiency of vehicles.

The impacts of the standards on automobile safety.

They note that the Obama EPA’s final Mid-Term Evaluation is arbitrary and, capricious, and an overreach of agency discretion. Therefore, the agency should reconsider the MTE to repair the damage to what should be a harmonized, national program.

However, a more fundamental fix is required for the underlying problem. U.S. automakers are subject to three sets of fuel economy standards by three agencies operating under three statutes. The solution is to return to the statutory scheme.

Congress provided no authority for the EPA to regulate fuel economy and specifically preempted states, such as California, from adopting laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy.

Moreover, fuel economy standards are a costly and inefficient means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Worst of all, CAFE impairs vehicle safety due to its downsizing effect on cars. Before the agencies impose any new standards, they should first do a full accounting of the adverse impacts of existing standards on the number of traffic deaths.

Finally, the claim that fuel economy standards are necessary because consumers fail to pursue their own best interests is the height of bureaucratic arrogance. Washington regulators should step out of the way and not hinder consumer choice.


Despite EPA Actions, Obama’s Climate Agenda ‘Has Not Been Fully Dismantled Yet’

While Republicans and industry groups cheer the Trump administration’s repealing of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), conservative policy experts say there’s still more to do.

The federal government is full of programs and offices dedicated to pushing global warming policies, according to Myron Ebell, the director of energy and global warming policy at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, is still deciding what to do with Obama-era fuel efficiency standards and a rule on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

The EPA also has to address carbon dioxide regulations on new power plants. This rule effectively bans new coal-fired power plants from being built.

“Unraveling the CPP is big but just as important is reversing the climate regulations on new power plants,” Nick Loris, an energy economist at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) still operates more than two dozen science centers dubbed the “cornerstone” of the agency’s “climate change response strategy” during the Obama administration.

The DOI is also struggling to repeal its own methane rule, and the Energy Department has to deal with energy efficiency regulations for appliances and the numerous other programs to promote solar and wind energy.

The Energy Department still operates the green energy loan program that was so derided during the Obama years. Officials recently gave $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to a Georgia nuclear plant.

The Trump administration has made progress on repealing Obama administration environmental policies, with The New York Times reporting that 25 policies have been overturned while another 19 are being undone.

Trump also intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. President Barack Obama saw the CPP as the main tool to meet the Paris accord’s goal.

“His climate agenda has not been fully dismantled yet. Climate programs and offices still exist in many departments and agencies,” Ebell, who headed the EPA transition team last fall, told TheDCNF.

And even with the CPP repealed, the EPA is legally bound to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. That is, unless the agency to review the 2009 endangerment finding is undone.

“While it’s not necessarily a policy or regulation, the elephant in the room is the endangerment finding,” Loris said.

The EPA found in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to human health because they cause global warming. That finding gave the EPA the legal pretext for its global warming regulatory spree.

“The legal challenges and the endangerment finding looming around make it all the more important for Congress to act and prohibit the federal government from regulating GHGs,” Loris said.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt could also review the endangerment finding, opening it up to new scrutiny. Two conservative groups have filed petitions with the EPA to reconsider the endangerment finding. CEI is one of those groups.


5 big things Trump is doing to reverse Obama's climate policies

Tuesday's move to repeal a landmark power plant rule is just one of many steps the administration is taking to help fossil fuels maintain their dominance

The Trump administration is gutting President Barack Obama’s climate legacy with a series of moves designed to favor the fossil fuel industry while punishing solar and wind energy producers — and Tuesday’s proposal to repeal an Environmental Protection Agency rule on power plants is just the most visible.

President Donald Trump’s agencies have also taken steps toward buttressing coal’s historically dominant role in the electricity markets, protecting it from rising competition from cleaner sources like natural gas and wind. The administration has opened the door to rolling back the stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks that are due to take effect in 2022. And Trump’s Interior Department is loosening Obama’s limits on fossil fuel production on federal lands, while potentially clamping down on leases for wind and solar projects.

Also waiting in the wings is an upcoming trade decision that would allow Trump to sharply increase the cost of solar installations in the U.S. — eroding sun-powered electricity’s ability to compete just as it weans itself off federal subsidies.

Trump's supporters say the steps are needed to protect jobs and American energy dominance. But clean-energy advocates say the actions imperil the planet's future.

"In the midst of flood and fire, our federal government is resolutely deciding to cover its eyes," said climate activist Bill McKibben, referring to the intense hurricanes and Western wildfires that have ravaged the U.S. "History will judge few things more harshly."

Here are five of the biggest U.S. energy policy shifts taking place under Trump:

1) Killing the power plant rule

The Clean Power Plan that the EPA is moving to revoke was the crown jewel of Obama’s climate change legacy — representing the first time the U.S. had gone after the climate-warming pollution that's belched out of coal-fired power plants’ smokestacks. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — a former Oklahoma attorney general who had sued to block the regulation — signed the paperwork Tuesday to begin the long process of withdrawing the rule, fulfilling a Trump campaign promise.

The power plant rule sought to capitalize on the U.S. electric industry's shift away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables. The Obama EPA had estimated the rule would cut the power sector's carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (The U.S. is already more than halfway to that goal even without the rule.)

"This is a policy that the world wants and that makes sense because of market forces and a policy the world needs because, hello, we're seeing climate change effects on people every day," said Janet McCabe, Obama's former EPA air chief.

EPA’s new repeal proposal echoes the coal industry's arguments — and Pruitt's previous legal filings — in contending that the Obama administration overstepped its authority.

Pruitt's agency is considering a potential replacement rule, but one that would yield much smaller emissions cuts. If that effort succeeds, a future Democratic administration could find itself barred from imposing significant regulations on greenhouse gases from other major polluting industries.

2) Securing coal's place in the markets

Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued a surprise directive last month aimed at altering the nation's electricity markets by giving an economic advantage to power plants that keep large fuel supplies on site — a move clearly aimed at helping the coal industry ward off increasingly stiff competition. (It would also benefit nuclear power, another economically struggling sector.)

Coal is the nation's most abundant power-plant fuel, but a combination of environmental regulations, huge surges in natural gas and wind-energy production and slumping demand for electricity have prompted power companies to shutter many coal-burning plants in the past decade. As recently as 2007, coal fueled more than half the electric power sector's net electricity generation — but as of this summer, that had fallen to less than a third.

Green-energy supporters say simple economics are spelling coal's demise — but Perry has argued that the trend puts the "resiliency" of the nation's power grid at risk, endangering national and economic security. His plan, if enacted by the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would insulate coal and nuclear power plants from the low power prices that have put dozens of older plants into retirement.

DOE’s proposal, according to one Montana utility regulator, would be “the largest change to electricity regulation in decades.”

Critics say the rule could heap billions of dollars in additional energy costs on homes and businesses without a guarantee that they wouldn’t lose power when the next hurricane rips out their power lines or a polar vortex freezes the pile of coal at a power plant.

But that decision will ultimately fall to the five commissioners of FERC, an agency made up largely of technocrats that has long sought to safeguard the energy markets. The markets aren’t perfect, but Perry’s rule is “a draconian way of fixing it,” said Pat Wood, a former FERC chief who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

3) Launching a solar trade war?

A vote by a federal trade panel last month will allow Trump to impose tariffs or a quota on imported solar panels that make up the vast majority of the fast-growing U.S. renewables market — if he chooses to.

The decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission agreed with bankrupt solar manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld that the low-cost imports had harmed U.S.-based producers. Now, people following the case expect that Trump will slap trade barriers on the imported solar equipment, which is largely produced by Chinese-based companies at factories across Asia.

Those barriers would help the small number of U.S.-based solar manufacturers that remain in existence but could send costs skyrocketing and hurt the much larger solar installation industry. It would also threaten to end the U.S. solar boom, which saw the technology become the country's biggest source of new power generation last year for the first time ever.

With the help of federal subsidies, which will be fully phased out by 2020, the solar industry has slashed costs far faster than predicted and grown more rapidly than expected. But the production of cells and panels has shifted to countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea.

The ITC will send its recommendations for trade remedies to Trump by Nov. 13 — though the White House can ultimately implement any barrier it chooses. That has solar installers and project developers in a panic, and many are stockpiling panels ahead of possible tariffs. The Solar Energy Industries Association is predicting up to 88,000 job losses, or nearly a third of the U.S. sector. And if domestic manufacturing ramps over the next year, 2018 is likely to see supply shortfalls and price spikes as production fails to catch even reduced demand.

4) Hitting the brakes on fuel economy

Trump announced in March that EPA would reconsider the tightened mileage standards that Obama had imposed for cars sold from 2022 to 2025, a move the former president's agencies had said would lift the average to about 50 miles per gallon. Trump's agency is expected to roll back the requirements.

In a review hastened to completion just before Obama left office, then-EPA chief Gina McCarthy affirmed that the aggressive mileage standard was feasible.

Trump's decision to review the target came amid pressure from U.S. automakers to cut back the standards, but it could backfire. The Clean Air Act includes an exception for California to set its own mileage standards, and if EPA changes the requirements, it won't affect California or the 11 other states that follow the Golden State's lead. For automakers, it opens up the nightmare scenario of producing cars for two different U.S. standards.

5) Opening federal lands to fossil fuels

Trump’s Interior Department is seeking to boost oil, gas and coal production by taking a hatchet to Obama-era regulations that govern fossil fuel production on public land. One of the biggest moves so far would reverse Obama's tightened restrictions on leaks of planet-warming methane from drilling wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.

Interior also said it would postpone and rewrite a controversial Obama administration rule that requires drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they used to frack wells on federal land, among other things.

Interior also has scuttled a review that probably would likely have increased the royalties that coal companies must pay to mine on federal land. And in August, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that Trump shrink the size of several national monuments in Utah, Oregon and Nevada, a move that would potentially open them up for drilling or mining. Zinke is aiming to lift restrictions on grazing, mining, fishing and timber harvesting at those and a handful of other monuments.

Besides fighting against previous rules, Interior is trying to take steps it says will increase oil production off the Alaskan coasts and in the long-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Economists tell Australian government to scale back Paris emissions commitment

Two of Australia’s most respected economic reformers have urged the government to scale back its commitment to the Paris emissions-reduction agreement and revive a market-based mechanism to curb greenhouse gases, suggesting the renewable energy target is damaging the country’s competitiveness.

Lamenting at least a decade of reform paralysis, Keating government adviser Fred Hilmer and Gary Banks, the inaugural Productivity Commission chairman, said they had all but given up on rational reform in the energy market. They were now left to hope that blackouts in Sydney and Melbourne this summer inject sense into what they saw as an increasingly dishonest policy debate.

Professor Banks sympathised with Australians who were “bemused” about rising power bills amid claims of a low-cost, renewable-energy future

“The notion that there’s a trade-off, that we can’t have it all, that there’s no free lunch, that’s not been made clear to the public,” Professor Banks said. “In fact when you look at it, we’ve ruled out all the least-cost ways of transitioning to a low-emission economy … we’ve ruled out nuclear and essentially ruled out gas too.

“I had a feeling under the last Labor government that there were tentative moves in the nuclear ­direction but then we had Fukushima, and that was it.”

Australia is the only G20 country with a legislative prohibition on nuclear energy.

Professor Hilmer, whose report for the Keating government unleashed a wave of pro-competition reforms in the 1990s, including helping to form the national electricity market, said blackouts this summer “would be great” to refocus the energy debate.

He and Professor Banks are both frustrated with state bans on gas ­exploration. “I can’t believe the problems (with fracking) are all that real; otherwise the US would be committing suicide,” Professor Hilmer said.

He suggested claims about the capacity of new batteries to store renewable energy had been exaggerated. “We need a blackout in South Australia when the new battery is going,” he said. “You can look at the sun shining and say renewable energy is cheap but it doesn’t solve storage. These huge batteries — half an hour’s power for Adelaide, or not even.”

In an allusion to South African billionaire Elon Musk’s plan to build the world’s largest battery in South Australia, Professor Hilmer said: “To say you have cheap power ‘most of the time’ is a ­disaster.”

Professor Banks, now a professorial fellow at the Melbourne Institute after 15 years leading the Productivity Commission, said Australia was getting ahead of other countries, notably the US, in pursuing low-emissions targets, to its economic detriment.

“We have to go back to start to look at whether we’ve signed up to something that for our economy is too tough,” Professor Banks said. “Not only are we choosing to transition to low emissions at a high cost, which is the RET or RET Mark II, we’re doing it over a compressed timeframe.”

In June the Turnbull government reaffirmed Australia’s commitment along with more than 100 countries to reduce emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Brendan Lyon, head of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which hosted the discussion with The Australian this week, said: “Paris is the hair shirt and we’ve popped on a straitjacket too.”

The comments will increase pressure on the Turnbull government, which has appeared divided on energy policy since the wake of blackouts in South Australia last year, to reject chief scientist Alan Finkel’s recommendation in June to introduce a clean energy target that would mandate a rising share of low-emissions energy provision after 2020.

Professor Hilmer and Professor Banks said the quality of analysis and modelling of energy policy, including in the Finkel review, had not been transparent, rigorous or comprehensive enough. “We’ve been cursed with multiple objectives,” Professor Hilmer said.

Professor Banks suggested the Productivity Commission should and could have made “a much bigger contribution” to the development of energy policy.

On Monday Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg hinted the government might not replace the Renewable Energy Target, which will require 33 terawatts of renewable energy generation by 2020, arguing wind and solar power were increasingly viable without support. The prospect of further blackouts when AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW closes in 2020 has increased attention on national energy policy.

Professor Banks said Australia had ­ignored a 1991 report — the first of its kind for a developed country — by the Productivity Commission’s forerunner, the Industry Commission, which had laid out the best way to wean the economy off fossil fuels. “It was clear: it had to be an economy-wide (approach), not fixated on particular greenhouse gases, and use market instruments to ensure least cost abatement occurs,” he said. “Here we are 25 or 26 year later and we haven’t done any of those things.”

Professor Hilmer, who was a vice-chancellor of the University of NSW and Fairfax chief executive, questioned whether a government would be “brave enough to (tell voters): actually let’s stop and start again because we’re hurting this country by making it high cost”. Reform was easier in the 1990s, he said.

“We had a ‘burning platform’, now there’s complacency,” he said. “Second, we had bipartisanship; now we don’t even use the word. Third, we had strong leadership by prime ministers.”

The Turnbull government has struggled to implement the successor to Professor Hilmer’s 1993 ­National Competition Policy: Ian Harper’s competition review, released in 2015 under Tony Abbott.




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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no perfect period, but we suggest that 1720–1800 is the most suitable choice when discussing global temperature limits.

Of course they'd propose as "most suitable" a timeframe for their baseline which is KNOWN to be during the Little Ice Age. That choice should make it absolutely clear that they are looking for ways to make the "warming" sound more alarming.