Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. In the last year, the Obama administration has made unprecedented progress in putting forward policies to reduce our carbon emissions, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change.
To mark the anniversary, the White House released a new report yesterday detailing our progress toward cutting carbon pollution and protecting our communities and public health.
The new report provides an excellent overview of what the USG has done on climate change in the last year, and I encourage you to take a look.
NEWS AND EVENTS
Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants
On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan — its proposed commonsense carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. While EPA limits toxic pollutants like mercury and arsenic, there are currently no limits on the amount of carbon emitted by power plants, the largest single source of harmful pollution. The Clean Power Plan will help modernize the aging power sector, drive innovation, protect public health, and put our nation on the path toward a 30% reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030.
President Obama Announces New Truck Fuel Efficiency Standards
In February, the President directed EPA and the Transportation Department to develop and issue the next phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 2016. These new fuel efficiency standards will build upon the Administration’s 2009 directive to establish more stringent fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans for Model Year 2014-2018. The standards are expected to save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the pump along the way.
Setting New Energy Efficiency Standards
Cutting our energy waste remains one of the easiest and cheapest ways to combat climate change. In the last year, the Energy Department has issued nine proposed energy conservation standards for appliances and equipment, and finalized eight energy conservation standards. These final rules are expected to reduce carbon pollution by 340 million metric tons through 2030, with more reductions coming later once the proposals are finalized.
Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge
The President’s Better Buildings Challenge, which is focused on helping American buildings become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020, continues to drive progress. Since the Climate Action Plan was released, 80 new cities, school districts, and businesses across the country have made commitments to join the Better Buildings Challenge and improve the energy efficiency of more than 1 billion square feet – an area the size of 17,000 football fields. This includes 65 new Multifamily Partners, representing over 300,000 households that have joined the Better Buildings Partnership since June 2013.
Interagency Methane Strategy
To build on our progress to date and take steps to further cut methane emissions, the Administration released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions in March, outlining cost-effective voluntary actions and common-sense standards to reduce methane emissions.
DOI Announces New Renewable Energy Projects
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is making progress toward the Climate Action Plan goal of permitting enough renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes. Since June 2013, DOI has approved six solar energy, two wind energy, and two geothermal projects. When built, these projects will have a total capacity of up to 1,900 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power over 650,000 homes, and could support more than 3,200 construction and operations jobs.
Climate Data Initiative
In March, the Administration, led by NOAA and NASA, launched the Climate Data Initiative, an ambitious new effort bringing together extensive open government data with commitments from the private and philanthropic sectors to develop planning and resilience resources for local communities. This effort will help give communities across America the information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts.
National Climate Assessment
In May, the Administration released the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA), the most authoritative and comprehensive source of scientific information to date about climate change impacts across all U.S. regions and on critical sectors of the economy.
The Administration has made substantial progress in implementing the President’s announcement to end U.S. public financing for new conventional coal plants overseas, except in the poorest countries. Seven countries have already announced that they would join the U.S. coal finance policy, including the United Kingdom, the five Nordic countries, and the Netherlands. The World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and European Investment Bank all announced similar policies in the second half of 2013.
Many Americans have shared their reason to #ActOnClimate on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Check out some of their #ActOnClimate posts here, and share your own.
I know many of you are eager to know what has come out of the ocean conference from last week! It was a very exciting event and a lot of real progress has been proposed in many areas.
Participants announced new partnerships and initiatives valued at over $1.8 billion to address key issues such as sustainable fisheries, marine pollution and ocean acidification. For example, President Obama announced a comprehensive new national program on seafood transparency and traceability that will enable U.S. consumers to know that the seafood they buy has been harvested legally and sustainably.
The U.S. Embassy had two very successful viewing parties, one with students and one with ocean experts. And the Embassy will continue to work on these issues with our UK colleagues.
For more details and to see what else is being done to save our oceans, please click on the Action Plan and Initiatives documents below.
President Obama Calls for Attention to the Science of Climate Change in UC Irvine Commencement Remarks
Speaking at UC Irvine yesterday, President Obama called for expanded efforts against climate change and had some pointed remarks for climate change deniers. Watch the video or read theexcerpted text below and let us know what you think in the comments.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Hello, Anteaters! (Applause.) That is something I never thought I’d say. (Laughter.) Please, please take a seat.
To President Napolitano — which is a nice step up from Secretary; to Fred Ruiz, Vice Chair of the University of California Regents; Chancellor Drake; Representatives Loretta Sanchez and Alan Lowenthal; to the trustees and faculty — thank you for this honor. And congratulations to the Class of 2014! (Applause.)…
I’m going to talk about one of the most significant long-term challenges that our country and our planet faces: the growing threat of a rapidly changing climate.
Now, this isn’t a policy speech. I understand it’s a commencement, and I already delivered a long climate address last summer. I remember because it was 95 degrees and my staff had me do it outside, and I was pouring with sweat — as a visual aid. (Laughter.) And since this is a very educated group, you already know the science. Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat. Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years.
We know the trends. The 18 warmest years on record have all happened since you graduates were born. We know what we see with our own eyes. Out West, firefighters brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states have to budget for that. Mountain towns worry about what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism. Farmers and families at the bottom worry about what it will mean for their water. In cities like Norfolk and Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide. Shrinking icecaps have National Geographic making the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.
So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late. For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.
Now, the good is you already know all this. UC Irvine set up the first Earth System Science Department in America. (Applause.) A UC Irvine professor-student team won the Nobel Prize for discovering that CFCs destroy the ozone layer. (Applause.) A UC Irvine glaciologist’s work led to one of last month’s report showing one of the world’s major ice sheets in irreversible retreat. Students and professors are in the field working to predict changing weather patterns, fire seasons, and water tables — working to understand how shifting seasons affect global ecosystems; to get zero-emission vehicles on the road faster; to help coastal communities adapt to rising seas. And when I challenge colleges to reduce their energy use to 20 percent by 2020, UC Irvine went ahead and did it last year. Done. (Applause.) So UC Irvine is ahead of the curve. All of you are ahead of the curve.
Your generation reminds me of something President Wilson once said. He said, “Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American.” That’s who we are.
And if you need a reason to be optimistic about our future, then look around this stadium. Because today, in America, the largest single age group is 22 years ago. And you are going to do great things. And I want you to know that I’ve got your back — because one of the reasons I ran for this office was because I believed our dangerous addiction to foreign oil left our economy at risk and our planet in peril. So when I took office, we set out to use more clean energy and less dirty energy, and waste less energy overall.
And since then, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade. We’ve tripled the electricity we harness from the wind, generating enough last year to power every home in California. We’ve multiplied the electricity we generate from the sun 10 times over. And this state, California, is so far ahead of the rest of the country in solar, that earlier this year solar power met 18 percent of your total power demand one day. (Applause.)
The bottom line is, America produces more renewable energy than ever, more natural gas than anyone. And for the first time in nearly two decades, we produce more oil here at home than we buy from other countries. And these advances have created jobs and grown our economy, and helped cut our carbon pollution to levels not seen in about 20 years. Since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States of America. (Applause.)
So that’s all reason for optimism. Here’s the challenge: We’ve got to do more. What we’re doing is not enough. And that’s why, a couple weeks ago, America proposed new standards to limit the amount of harmful carbon pollution that power plants can dump into the air. And we also have to realize, as hundreds of scientists declared last month, that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but “has moved firmly into the present.” That’s a quote. In some parts of the country, weather-related disasters like droughts, and fires, and storms, and floods are going to get harsher and they’re going to get costlier. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new $1 billion competitive fund to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and build more resilient infrastructure across the country. (Applause.)
So it’s a big problem. But progress, no matter how big the problem, is possible. That’s important to remember. Because no matter what you do in life, you’re going to run up against big problems — in your own personal life and in your communities and in your country. There’s going to be a stubborn status quo, and there are going to be people determined to stymie your efforts to bring about change. There are going to be people who say you can’t do something. There are going to be people who say you shouldn’t bother. I’ve got some experience in this myself. (Laughter.)
Now, part of what’s unique about climate change, though, is the nature of some of the opposition to action. It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese. (Laughter.)
And today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it is a hoax, or a fad. One member of Congress actually says the world is cooling. There was one member of Congress who mentioned a theory involving “dinosaur flatulence” — which I won’t get into. (Laughter.)
Now, their view may be wrong — and a fairly serious threat to everybody’s future — but at least they have the brass to say what they actually think. There are some who also duck the question. They say — when they’re asked about climate change, they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.” And I’ll translate that for you. What that really means is, “I know that manmade climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it.” (Applause.)
Now, I’m not a scientist either, but we’ve got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put that debate to rest. The writer, Thomas Friedman, recently put it to me this way. He were talking, and he says, “Your kid is sick, you consult 100 doctors; 97 of them tell you to do this, three tell [you] to do that, and you want to go with the three?”
The fact is, this should not be a partisan issue. After all, it was Republicans who used to lead the way on new ideas to protect our environment. It was Teddy Roosevelt who first pushed for our magnificent national parks. It was Richard Nixon who signed the Clean Air Act and opened the EPA. George H.W. Bush — a wonderful man who at 90 just jumped out of a plane in a parachute — (laughter) — said that “human activities are changing the atmosphere in unexpected and unprecedented ways.” John McCain and other Republicans publicly supported free market-based cap-and-trade bills to slow carbon pollution just a few years ago — before the Tea Party decided it was a massive threat to freedom and liberty.
These days, unfortunately, nothing is happening. Even minor energy efficiency bills are killed on the Senate floor. And the reason is because people are thinking about politics instead of thinking about what’s good for the next generation. What’s the point of public office if you’re not going to use your power to help solve problems? (Applause.)
And part of the challenge is that the media doesn’t spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future. Now, the broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts spend just a few minutes a month covering climate issues. On cable, the debate is usually between political pundits, not scientists. When we introduced those new anti-pollution standards a couple weeks ago, the instant reaction from the Washington’s political press wasn’t about what it would mean for our planet; it was what would it mean for an election six months from now. And that kind of misses the point. Of course, they’re not scientists, either.
And I want to tell you all this not to discourage you. I’m telling you all this because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be.
The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science. There is not. The talking heads on cable news suggest public opinion is hopelessly deadlocked. It is not. Seven in ten Americans say global warming is a serious problem. Seven in ten say the federal government should limit pollution from our power plants. And of all the issues in a recent poll asking Americans where we think we can make a difference, protecting the environment came out on top. (Applause.)
So we’ve got public opinion potentially on our side. We can do this. We can make a difference. You can make a difference. And the sooner you do, the better — not just for our climate, but for our economy. There’s a reason that more than 700 businesses like Apple and Microsoft, and GM and Nike, Intel, Starbucks have declared that “tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities in the 21st century.” The country that seizes this opportunity first will lead the way. A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine for growth and jobs for decades to come, and I want America to build that engine. Because if we do, others will follow. I want those jobs; I want those opportunities; I want those businesses right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
Developing countries are using more and more energy, and tens of millions of people are entering the global middle class, and they want to buy cars and refrigerators. So if we don’t deal with this problem soon, we’re going to be overwhelmed. These nations have some of the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution. They’re going to have to take action to meet this challenge. They’re more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than we are. They’ve got even more to lose. But they’re waiting to see what does America do. That’s what the world does. It waits to watch us act. And when we do, they move. And I’m convinced that on this issue, when America proves what’s possible, then they’re going to join us.
And America cannot meet this threat alone. Of course, the world cannot meet it without America. This is a fight that America must lead. So I’m going to keep doing my part for as long as I hold this office and as long as I’m a citizen once out of office. But we’re going to need you, the next generation, to finish the job.
We need scientists to design new fuels. We need farmers to help grow them. We need engineers to invent new technologies. We need entrepreneurs to sell those technologies. (Applause.) We need workers to operate assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components. We need builders to hammer into place the foundations for a clean energy age. We need diplomats and businessmen and women, and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip past the dirty phase of development and transition to sustainable sources of energy.
In other words, we need you. (Applause.) We need you. And if you believe, like I do, that something has to be done on this, then you’re going to have to speak out. You’re going to have to learn more about these issues. Even if you’re not like Jessica and an expert, you’re going to have to work on this. You’re going to have to push those of us in power to do what this American moment demands. You’ve got to educate your classmates, and colleagues, and family members and fellow citizens, and tell them what’s at stake. You’ve got to push back against the misinformation, and speak out for facts, and organize others around your vision for the future.
You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms. And you’ve got to remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that doing something about climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.
It’s no accident that when President Kennedy needed to convince the nation that sending Americans into space was a worthy goal, he went to a university. That’s where he started. Because a challenge as big as that, as costly as that, as difficult as that, requires a spirit of youth. It requires a spirit of adventure; a willingness to take risks. It requires optimism. It requires hope. That day, a man told us we’d go to the moon within a decade. And despite all the naysayers, somehow we knew as a nation that we’d build a spaceship and we’d meet that goal.
That’s because we’re Americans — and that’s what we do. Even when our political system is consumed by small things, we are a people called to do big things. And progress on climate change is a big thing. Progress won’t always be flashy; it will be measured in disasters averted, and lives saved, and a planet preserved — and days just like this one, 20 years from now, and 50 years from now, and 100 years from now. But can you imagine a more worthy goal — a more worthy legacy — than protecting the world we leave to our children?
So I ask your generation to help leave us that legacy. I ask you to believe in yourselves and in one another, and above all, when life gets you down or somebody tells you you can’t do something, to believe in something better…
One of the best parts of my position is that it is my job to go to interesting meetings and meet bright people. On June 13th I went to a joint briefing by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency about what their satellite images show about climate change. It turns out that the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) is located right in the UK, in Harwell. They are using various satellites (including images from NASA) in time series going back years to make some remarkable observations. Their data will be used in a status report for the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in 2015.
They look at many issues on land, in the ocean and up in the atmosphere. Today’s meeting looked at sea ice and glaciers, including how ice melting can raise sea levels. Since Greenland’s ice sits on land, it is most impacted by atmospheric temperatures, and it melting faster than the Antarctica ice sheets, which are more impacted by ocean temperatures. Indeed, Greenland’s ice melt apparently contributes roughly twice as much to the sea level rise from ice melt than Antarctica. Sea levels are indeed rising, not just from ice melt, but also warmer water takes up more volume. This warm water expansion appears to contribute much more to sea rise than ice melt. By the way, the satellites are following over 170,000 glaciers world-wide, so we are learning more about this all the time, which would be impossible without the supercomputers that we have today.
Finally, we talked about an interesting issue, the so-called pause in the rise of surface ocean temperatures, which skeptics say refutes theories of global warming. The ECSAT scientists are using their satellite data, and like all science, this could lead to refining of the climate models, although the primary conclusions remain the same. The satellites measure ocean surface temperature, and they have found that the Atlantic Ocean temperature is rising, and water in the Western Pacific is warming too, but water in the Eastern pacific (close to the US) is cooling. One theory is that the surface warm water is being buried in the ocean. In this case, warm water is pushed away from the equatorial waters, so colder water from the deep rises up so that surface water is cooler, but the overall ocean surface temperature appears constant. There is some evidence supporting this idea, but nothing is confirmed yet.
However, several scientists said that a better measure of the impact of global warming would be the overall temperature of the ocean water, which has been rising significantly. Moreover, the best measure of global warming might be the total amount of heat in the energy system. This graph is taken from the 2013 IPCC report, Working Group 1. It shows that the heat trapped in the atmosphere and land is relatively trivial, while the amount of heat stored in the ocean is enormous and rising.
“The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a regulation Monday that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to to 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, taking aim at one of the nation’s leading sources of greenhouse gases.
“Under the draft rule, the EPA would let states and utilities meet the new standard with different approaches mixing four options including energy efficiency, shifting from coal to natural gas, investing in renewable energy and making power plant upgrades. Other compliance methods could include offering discounts to encourage consumers to shift electricity use to off-peak hours.” (The Washington Post)
The EPA has examined each state, and has proposed different reductions, depending on the difficulty for each state. These are itemized in great detail on page 5 of this report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Under the proposal states would also have a flexible timeline—up to fifteen years after the Clean Power Plan is final—for all emission reduction measures to be fully implemented in 2030.
The EPA site has a list of exciting resources including this interesting interactive map where you can click on a state to learn more about climate change impacts, state action, and EPA’s proposal for that state.
A healthy ocean means a healthy planet. Our Ocean conference will kick off at the State Department next week on the 16th, bringing together some of the greatest minds on ocean science and policy in the world. Get involved and join the conference virtually by visiting the website. Click here for a current schedule of events. #OurOcean2014
As you can imagine, we are very excited about the June 2nd draft EPA regulations to cut U.S. carbon emissions from power plants, as described by the last blog piece. One comment was that the U.S. plan could encourage other major emitters to also cut carbon emissions, which now seems to be happening.
I have just seen two news reports that China has announced that it will place an absolute cap on CO2 emissions in its next five year plan! This is very welcome news, although it is not clear yet when China’s CO2 emissions would peak. Still, this is exactly the kind of momentum that we need.
As quoted in The Guardian, Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s Chief Scientist, stated “in the last 24 hours we’ve had two major announcements from China and the U.S. which send a powerful signal to other world leaders ahead of the crucial climate talks later this year. The Chinese government has already set out ambitious plans to cut the country’s reliance on coal – an absolute cap on CO2 suggests that the country’s leaders are serious about tackling their emissions problem”.
There is very big news in U.S. climate leadership today, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to announce new pollution regulations for U.S. power plants that could cut carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030. Power plants are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States — amounting to about 40% of total emissions — and this action today helps keep America’s promise to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, a promise President Obama made at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 2009. Carbon pollution from U.S. power plants is currently unregulated and today’s announcement marks the end of a year-long open and transparent consultation between the EPA, industry, and state and local government, following the actions of a dozen states and more than a thousand mayors who are already setting clear rules and better standards for our nation’s power plants.
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCC, praised the move, saying “I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action.” The others Figueres are talking about aren’t only climate leaders like the United Kingdom, but major non-OECD emitters like China and India. The new regulations in the U.S. could encourage them to come up with their own aggressive steps to reduce emissions of gases that cause global warming. Right now, the nations of the world are hard at work devising nation plans to reduce carbon emissions, and this announcement today could spur them to be more ambitious in their carbon cutting goals. Those plans will be announced early next year, and will form the basis of the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which will be negotiated at the Paris COP in late 2015.
What does all that mean? Simply, by taking aggressive action now and leading by example, the United States encourages all the other major contributors to make their own significant emission cuts. That builds momentum heading into Paris for a global deal that will halt and reverse emissions of the gases that cause global warming and prevent the 2 degree increase in global temperatures that scientists warn will cause catastrophic climate change.
More from the President below, speaking Saturday at the Children’s National Medical Center, where he met with children suffering from air pollution-induced asthma and talked about how the EPA announcement builds on the Climate Action Plan, complements new efficiency regulations for cars and trucks, and responds to the recent National Climate Assessment.
Over three billion people around the world rely on fish as a major source of protein in their diet. Do you eat fish? Help make sustainable seafood a priority on the global menu by joining #OurOcean2014: http://goo.gl/D6NTeg
The State Department has published the preliminary program for the Oceans Conference that was rescheduled from last October due to the government shutdown. The conference, which will be for invitees only (though portions may be available via the internet), will focus on issues of Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Pollution and Ocean Acidification.
If you’d like to read the draft program, click here.
Spanning three-quarters of the planet, the ocean is our most important shared resource. It connects people – physically, culturally, and spiritually. It is a driving force in the global economy, pivotal to food security, human health and scientific advancement, and home to a vast ecosystem that regulates climate and weather.
Protecting the ocean requires broad engagement from the global community to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the marine environment. It is imperative for the United States and countries around the world to work together to protect and sustain it, as no one person or one country can use it or protect it alone.
The conference goal will be to promote a healthier planet by creating a healthier ocean.
See Secretary Kerry’s announcement of the conference at www.state.gov/ourocean, and join the conversation on Twitter both before and during the conference by using the hashtag #OurOcean2014.