Mary D. Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator

Major automakers strike climate deal with California, rebuffing Trump on proposed mileage freeze

by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

Four automakers from three continents have struck a deal with California to produce fleets that are more fuel-efficient in coming years, undercutting one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive climate policy rollbacks.

The compromise between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America came after weeks of secret negotiations and could shape future U.S. vehicle production, even as White House officials aim to relax gas-mileage standards for the nation’s cars, pickups and SUVs.

Mary D. Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator, said in an interview that she sees the agreement as a potential “olive branch” to the Trump administration and hopes it joins the deal, which she said gives automakers flexibility in meeting emissions goals without the “massive backsliding” contained in the White House proposal.

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Aviation industry hears clamour for electric planes

by Jasper Jolly, The Guardian

Faced with growing calls for action on the climate crisis, aerospace companies gathering for the Paris air show next week are turning their thoughts to a future run on electricity rather than fossil fuels.

The scale of the challenge is considerable. The target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and embraced by the UK this week, coincides with the expectation that the number of flights will double in the next 20 years.

Aviation accounts for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. But that share is expected to rise as demand grows in poorer countries to match developed nations such as the UK, where flying contributed 7% to overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.

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California pushes back for EVs: proposed bill for no gas cars sold in US by 2040, ICE ban in state?

by Phil Dzikiy, Electrek

As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to introduce the final form of its proposal to freeze US fuel economy standards sometime in the near future, California is giving more indications of how it intends to fight the regulatory rollback.

Late last week, California Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) co-introduced the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act of 2019 in the House and Senate, respectively. The proposed bill would require 50% of new passenger vehicle sales in the US to be zero emission EVs, by 2030.

That percentage would increase 5% each year until 2040, when all new passenger cars sold in the US would be all-electric (or hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles.

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Despite sharp growth in electric cars, vehicle emissions keep rising

by Julie Cart, Cal Matters

It is tempting to employ any number of puns when considering California’s transportation future: The state is at a crossroads, its policies could run out of gas, dangerous curves lie ahead.

But keeping in mind that the state’s climate policies demand the wholesale electrification of transportation, here’s another: California must reinvent not only the wheel, but also the vehicle, the fuel and the road. The transformation is well underway, but the positive news is clouded by negative trends.

More than half the nation’s clean cars reside in California garages and driveways, with sales making wild leaps—a nearly 81% increase in registration of new electric vehicles between 2017 and 2018, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. Yet planet-warming pollution from transportation has been rising, amounting to as much as half of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Unless California can quickly reverse that trend, the ability to meet long-term climate goals is in doubt.

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Uncompetitive: Canada and the US have worst vehicle fuel economy standards in the world

by Blake Shaffer, The Conversation

Usually when Canada is at the top of an international ranking, it’s cause for celebration. Not this time.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency shows that Canada’s vehicles have the highest average fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre driven. They are also the largest and the second heaviest in the world.

In short: Canadian vehicles are big, heavy and guzzle a lot of gasoline. For a country that is championing its climate action, how do we square these facts?

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How the world’s biggest shipping company plans to cut emissions

by Christian Wienberg, Bloomberg

A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S is about to conduct the shipping industry’s biggest test yet of biofuel as it seeks to cut emissions and meet its target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The Mette Maersk, one of the company’s biggest vessels, will this month set off on a 25,000 nautical miles round trip from Rotterdam to Shanghai using a blend containing 20 percent of so-called second-generation biofuel produced from plant waste. The switch should save the environment 1.5 million kilograms of CO2, the equivalent of what 200 households emit in a year.

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Global shipping inches forward on heavy fuel oil ban in Arctic

by Phil Mckenna, InsideClimate News

The International Maritime Organization inched forward this week on its promises to ban the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and reduce black carbon emissions from ships.

Meeting in London, the United Nations regulatory body’s Pollution Prevention and Response subcommittee began work on defining which fuels would be banned and how. It also came up with a list of possible measures for cutting emissions of black carbon but didn’t set priorities.

An assessment of the economic, environmental and social impacts of a ban, put in motion last year, is expected to be finished before the subcommittee’s next meeting in 2020.

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Electric heat pumps can slash heating emissions by more than half in California homes

by Justin Gerdes, Greentech Media

California aims to be carbon-neutral by 2045. Any path to get there will require decarbonizing the state’s buildings.

According to a new Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study, published in the Electricity Journal, electric heat pumps should be part of any long-term building decarbonization strategy in California.

“If you purchase and install a new heat pump today, you can expect emission reductions over its life of between 50 and 70 percent compared to conventional gas alternatives,” Pierre Delforge, study co-author and senior scientist, climate and clean energy program, NRDC, told Greentech Media in an interview. The other co-author, Anna Brockway, is a graduate student in the Energy & Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Aerial view of fracking wells.

The methane mystery is solved, giving direction and hope

by Andy Ferguson

A scientific mystery has been solved, giving direction and hope on the climate front.

Methane is 102 times more powerful than CO2 as a cause of climate change, but because it remains in the atmosphere an average of only nine years, reducing methane emissions offers quick and tangible results for fighting climate change. The biggest reductions will come from rapidly phasing out natural gas use, plus eating less meat and getting rid of animal feed lots. Here we consider the biggest culprit, natural gas.

Since 2006, methane emissions have been rapidly increasing, helping to drive up recent worldwide temperatures. Scientists have debated the cause of the increase. Because methane has increased in step with the development of natural gas emissions from hydraulic shale fracturing (“fracking”), many pointed to that activity as the main cause. Other scientists pointed to known increased methane emissions from animal feed lots, as well as tropical wetlands and rice paddies. The data was unclear, because emissions from all sources, taken separately, added up to a total even higher than what was being observed. This cast doubt on all of the scientists’ arguments and no consensus could be reached.

Now the debate has been solved. NASA scientists recently determined that one category of methane emissions, the burning of tropical forests, has declined much faster than previously thought. The result is that the total increase in methane emissions must be primarily due to the oil and gas sector, and renewed attention has now been focused on methane emissions from natural gas leaks. The major oil companies have belatedly recognized this fact, and have now begun measures to try to address this issue by reducing leaks from their operations.

But methane emissions caused by natural gas leaks cannot be reduced enough by the limited steps being taken by the oil giants. Recent studies have shown that leaks from fracking and active oil well drilling, while very large, are by no means the only causes of the problem. Rapidly increasing (and leaky) abandoned oil and gas wells, leaky pipelines, and old, creaking gas distribution systems in cities also are major contributors to the problem. Trying to fix all these issues is prohibitively expensive and ultimately futile. The unavoidable solution to methane leaks is a rapid phase out of natural gas as a source of heating energy throughout society.

The “electrify everything” movement is the result of this methane crisis. Technology is available for transitioning to electric appliances and heating in homes and businesses, even if consumers remain largely unaware of new, low-cost and low-emission options. In California, heating water occupies much of total energy demand, so replacing natural gas water heaters with electric heat pump models is garnering much attention. Ductless or ducted heat pumps that can replace central natural gas furnaces are also gaining ground rapidly. These and other appliances like electric induction ranges, high-efficiency electric clothes dryers, and a slew of other electric products now permit even existing homes to reduce or eliminate their use of natural gas. Such steps are essential to help avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The time to rapidly phase out natural gas has arrived. For more information on how to electrify everything, click here.

Easy fix? America’s biggest beef eaters responsible for large chunk of climate emissions

by Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News

March 20th, 2018

The biggest eaters of burgers, steaks and ribs contribute the largest hunk of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to a new study that examined individual eating habits across the country.

New research from the University of Michigan and Tulane University finds that 20 percent of American eaters accounted for nearly half of total diet-related emissions, and that their diets were heavy on beef.

If those people consumed fewer calories and shifted to a more moderate diet with less beef, that could achieve almost 10 percent of the emissions reductions needed for the U.S. to meet its targets under the Paris climate agreement, the researchers found.

The study, published Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters, adds to a growing pile of evidence linking beef with high greenhouse gas emissions, but it is the first to look at what people ate—or recalled eating—rather than at data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which measures how commodities flow through the economy.

“USDA tracks how much of a commodity is imported and exported, what gets used for non-food purposes, and applies food waste losses to those numbers. What comes out of that is divided by the population,” said Martin Heller, the study’s lead author. “What we looked at is what an individual said they ate on a particular day.”

With the “recall survey” approach, Heller and his co-authors were able to examine what and how certain portions of the population ate, providing data they believe could be more useful in developing diet-related recommendations that might drive consumers toward more sustainable food choices.

The study comes as more countries are recommending lowering beef consumption for environmental reasons, and as some contemplate taxes on beef, in part to help reach their emissions targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Comparing Diets, Low-Impact to Beefy

To develop their estimates, Heller and his team built a database that looked at the environmental impacts of producing 300 commonly eaten foods. They then linked the database to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative survey that includes self-reported dietary data for more than 16,000 Americans.

The researchers were able to rank those diets by their greenhouse gas emissions. They found that the top 20 percent, with the highest carbon footprint, was responsible for eight times more emissions than the lowest 20 percent, and that beef consumption accounted for 72 percent of the difference.

Meat production overall—largely from beef, but also including pork and chicken—accounted for 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the highest-impact group, but only 27 percent in the lowest-impact group. And while the highest-impact group consumed an average of nearly 3,000 calories a day and the lowest just above 1,300, when the researchers adjusted the findings based on caloric intake, the highest-impact group still represented five times more emissions.

The researchers did not look specifically at how the beef was produced, which can influence its carbon footprint. “That information is not available on the dietary side,” Heller said. “People aren’t saying where their beef is coming from or how it was raised. It was just beef.”

Where Do Those Emissions Come From?

Agriculture accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. Globally, food production is responsible for 30 percent of total emissions.

Of the 14.5 percent of global emissions from the livestock industry, more than two-thirds come from beef, largely from fertilizer used to grow grain and from cattle belching.
The study notes research that says dietary choices will become critical to meeting emissions targets under the Paris climate agreement as global demand for food rises with a growing population.


Sugar gets taxed in some countries. Could meat be next?

by Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News

December 13th, 2017

If Americans and people in most other developed countries ate according to their nationally recommended dietary guidelines, they would consume less red meat and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, new research shows.
But the world’s consumers don’t always eat what their government nutritionists tell them. So it might take a little more prodding—and that prodding could be on the way.

This week, the two-year-old investment network Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) released a report saying that countries could begin taxing meat—the way they tax sugar, alcohol or tobacco—to drive down consumption and to hit their carbon emissions targets under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

A few countries, including Germany, Denmark and Sweden, have considered behavioral, or “sin taxes,” on meat, but the taxes haven’t yet gained support. This type of tax aims to cut meat consumption for health reasons—reducing the healthcare costs associated with a high-fat, animal-based diet—as well as for environmental reasons.

“Agriculture emissions alone will be so high by 2050, that that alone will push temperatures above 2 degrees,” said FAIRR Director Maria Lettini, referring to the target set in Paris of limiting warming to at most 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “We think, in the absence of other interventions, this is one that should be in the basket of tools.”

FAIRR has a clear objective of steering its investor network, which it describes as managing $4 trillion in assets, away from factory farming over animal welfare concerns. Its report acknowledges that the concept of a meat tax is “at an embryonic stage,” but says “it is on a clear path that ends with taxation in some form.”

“We do see some similarities with what happened with sugar and tobacco,” Lettini said. “Because investors are always worried about what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of regulation.” At least 16 countries have recently imposed taxes on sugar, for example, the report says.

Lettini conceded, “This is not going to be without contention”—a view echoed by agricultural economists in the U.S.

“It would face a lot of opposition,” explained Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. “A tax on meat would reduce meat consumption. Lower prices for livestock and poultry would reduce meat production. Less meat production would reduce feed demand, and thus the prices for corn, soybeans and other crops. Farm income would fall.”

Dietary Standards Can Already Cut Emissions

Currently, to the extent that countries influence how their citizens eat, they issue voluntary nutrition standards, and increasingly those standards—particularly in developed countries—are calling for a reduction in red meat consumption to varying degrees.

A report issued earlier this month by researchers in the Netherlands took a first-ever, country-by-country and overall look at the greenhouse gas reductions—or potential increases—if consumers actually followed those guidelines.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the average diets of people in 37 countries, representing 64 percent of the world’s population, and compared those diets to the government-recommended diets. The researchers put that information into a massive database that allowed them to track the environmental impacts of producing food through the supply chain, from growing to transporting it.

The lead researcher of the study, Paul Behrens of the University of Leiden, and his colleagues found that adhering to government-recommended diets could lead to a drop in emission of up to nearly 25 percent in high-income countries, including in the U.S. (In lower-income countries, if consumers hewed to the dietary recommendations, emissions could go up because some developing countries’ recommendations urge more protein intake because of higher levels of malnutrition.)

Still, Behrens said, only four countries in his report mention environmental impacts in their nutritional recommendations, with Sweden’s the most progressive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines, for example, make no mention of the environmental impacts of diet, despite discussions to factor in “sustainability” as the last version of the guidelines was being developed. This, critics said, was largely because of pressure from the meat industry.

“It’s fairly well known now, by the public and policy makers, that beef has huge environmental impacts,” Behrens said. “There may be a reason why some countries that have this in their guidelines don’t have those powerful groups.”

Agriculture Becomes a Big Player in Climate

The discussion comes as global appetite for animal-based food is soaring along with growing incomes in some countries, notably China. From 1993 to 2013, demand for animal products globally rose 62 percent, though population only rose 29 percent, Behrens’ report says.

As consumption goes up, animal agriculture—and agriculture more broadly—is becoming a bigger part of the conversation around climate targets. Food production accounts for as much as 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, including land use, deforestation, transportation and food waste; and livestock for about 14.5 percent.

At the international climate talks last month in Germany, agriculture-focused sessions were more prominent than in previous rounds.

“People are taking climate very seriously in agriculture,” said Bruce Campbell, director of the research program on climate change, agriculture and food security for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which tracks how many countries have focused on agriculture in their plans to meet the Paris targets.

That, FAIRR believes, means meat taxes could help some countries reach their emissions targets.