China, U.S. formally enter into Paris climate change agreement

Obama signature on Paris Agreement document, Sept. 3, 2016
President Barack Obama signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United States on Aug. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy The White House.

President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, announced Saturday in Hangzhou that the world’s two leading greenhouse gas emitters have formally acceded to the terms of last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change.

The two nations account for 40 percent of the planet’s atmosphere-warming pollution. Obama pointed to the action Saturday as a key step in assuring that the 195 country-strong deal reached last December in France does lead to an effective response to climate change.

“We have a saying in America — that you need to put your money where your mouth is. And when it comes to combating climate change, that’s what we’re doing, both the United States and China. We’re leading by example. As the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters, our entrance into this agreement continues the momentum of Paris, and should give the rest of the world confidence –- whether developed or developing countries -– that a low-carbon future is where the world is heading.”

Nations were able to sign the Paris Agreement starting on Earth Day of this year. The Paris Agreement will take effect only when 55 countries that represent 55 percent of all GHG emissions on Earth ratify, accept, approve, or accede to it.

With the acceptance by both China and the U.S., 179 nations and the European Union have indicated approval, but only 26 have ratified it. The ratifying nations account for about 39 percent of planetary GHG emissions.

NATION CONTINENT RATIFICATION DATE
Bahamas, The Aug. 22, 2016
Barbados Apr. 22, 2016
Belize North America Apr. 22, 2016
Cameroon Africa Jul. 29, 2016
China Asia Sept. 3, 2016
Cook Islands Oceania Sept. 1, 2016
Fiji Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Grenada Apr. 22, 2016
Guyana South America May 20, 2016
Maldives Asia Apr. 22, 2016
Marshall Islands Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Mauritius Africa Apr. 22, 2016
Nauru Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
North Korea Asia Aug. 1, 2016
Norway Europe Jun. 20, 2016
Palau Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Palestine Asia Apr. 22, 2016
Peru South America Jul. 25, 2016
Saint Kitts and Nevis Apr. 22, 2016
Saint Lucia Apr. 22, 2016
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Jun. 29, 2016
Samoa Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Seychelles Apr. 29, 2016
Somalia Africa Apr. 22, 2016
Tuvalu Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
United States of America North America Sept. 3, 2016

The Paris Agreement was reached at the 21st Gathering of the Parties of the UNFCCC. As the first international agreement aimed at limiting the warming of the planet’s atmosphere and oceans now underway as a result of human exploitation of fossil fuels, the Paris Agreement does not require any specific actions by nations to reduce GHG emissions.

Instead, the accord is aspirational. As the United Nations assistant secretary-general for climate change told CBS News last December, it is a plan that aims to “name and encourage” the nations who fail to meet commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

Those commitments, known as “nationally determined contributions,” are to be “ambitious” and “represent a progression over time.” The content of NDCs are to be established “with a view to achieving the purpose of the [Paris Agreement].”

The core of the Paris Agreement is the specification of climate change-related objectives:

“(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

“(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; [and]

“(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

During the first half of this year the average worldwide temperature was about 1.3 degrees Celsius above that recorded in 1880. Moreover, a study published in Nature on June 30 concluded that all of the NDCs in place so far would not lead to warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius.

 

 

 

 

 

Obama talks conservation in Nevada and Hawaii

President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday about the virtues of conservation before audiences at Lake Tahoe and in Honolulu, emphasizing the connection to fighting climate change and highlighting its benefits to wildlife and people.

Addressing the annual Lake Tahoe Summit, the chief executive explained that public policies aimed at conserving land and waters are essential to the entire range of Earth’s biodiversity.

“Conservation is critical not just for one particular spot, one particular park, one particular lake,” Obama said. “It’s critical for our entire ecosystem.”

The President told the audience that there is no doubt that human activities are causing the planet’s climate to change and, later in the speech, bluntly warned that any meaningful effort to address climate change must include preservation programs:

“A changing climate threatens even the best conservation efforts. Keep in mind, 2014 was the warmest year on record until, you guessed it, 2015. And now 2016 is on pace to be even hotter. For 14 months in a row now, the Earth has broken global temperature records. And because climate and conservation are challenges that go hand in hand, our conservation mission is more urgent than ever.”

Obama addressed the twentieth annual gathering of federal, state, and local leaders involved in ongoing efforts to protect Lake Tahoe’s water quality and aquatic life.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe - photo courtesy Wikimedia
Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay is shown in this photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The lake, which is the largest alpine lake and second deepest lake in the nation, is warming rapidly as greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. According to a report released by the University of California, Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center, during 2015 Lake Tahoe’s surface reached a temperature higher than at any time in recorded history.

Water at greater depths is also warming as fast as 15 times greater than the historic norm and only about 6.5 percent of precipitation in the 6,000 foot-plus elevation Lake Tahoe ecosystem now falls in the form of snow.

Since the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997, governments have spent more than $1.8 billion on projects aimed at restoring wetlands, building transportation infrastructure, improving roads to reduce carriage of polluted runoff into the lake, and lower wildfire risks in the national forest that surrounds the lake.

The administration announced Wednesday that the administration would invest more than $29 million more into Lake Tahoe-related conservation efforts during the coming fiscal year.

A fact sheet released by the  White House said that the money would finance ongoing programs to reduce the number of dead and dying trees to reduce the likelihood of wildfire and improve stormwater systems.

In addition, the National Forest Foundation will pump at least $4 million into efforts to restore watersheds and assure that recreational activities are consistent with the region’s ecological health.

The administration also announced a draft of a compensatory mitigation policy that would allow individuals and entities to trade habitat for endangered and threatened species for credits that could be sold to developers.

The tool, called a habitat exchange, has been used in efforts to conserve a number of imperiled species. They include the monarch butterfly, greater sage grouse, and lesser prairie chicken.

“By adding habitat exchanges to the suite of preferred mitigation solutions, the Service is providing a foundational step to unleash the untapped potential of America’s working lands – its farms, ranches and forests – to reverse habitat loss and stop the extinction crisis,” Eric Holst, an associate vice president at Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.

Later in the day Obama spoke to leaders of Pacific Rim nations attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Congress in Hawaii.

His address there took on a personal tone. The President emphasized the need for a unified approach to climate change policy.

“When it comes to climate change, there is a dire possibility of us getting off course, and we can’t allow that to happen,” Obama said. “That’s why our united efforts are so important.”

Referring to the convention facility in Honolulu, he also spoke of his personal ties to Hawaii:

“[F]or me, this is especially meaningful. I was telling my staff, a lot of my life started about a mile from around here. My mother and father met probably a couple hundred yards from here. It’s true. I went to school about a mile from here. I was actually born about a mile from here. My grandmother and my grandparents lived most of their lives a short way away from here.

“And so since Malia was born, since my oldest child was born, I’ve brought them here every Christmas for the last 18 years now. And I want to make sure that when  they’re bringing their children here, or their grandchildren here, that they are able to appreciate the wonders and the beauty of this island and of the Pacific, and every island.”

Obama planned to visit Midway Atoll on Thursday. While there, the President is to see some of the ocean territory included in a marine national monument he expanded  an executive order issued last week.

 

Obama to commemorate Park Service anniversary at two preserves

Yosemite National Park - courtesy Wikimedia
Yosemite National Park is known for its meadows, valleys, and waterfalls. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

President Barack Obama will visit two national parks this month as he leads a celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday.

The White House announced the trip to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park and California’s Yosemite National Park in a video released Thursday.

“I want to make sure that the whole world is able to pass on to future generations the God-given beauty of this planet,” Obama said in the video.

President John F. Kennedy was the last sitting chief executive to visit Yosemite National Park. President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing that national park in 1890.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is known for its many species of bats and the more than 100 caves it features, was created in 1930.

President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act into law on Aug. 25, 1916.

The Organic Act created the National Park Service and established its mission to “promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations” and “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

 

 

 

Obama, in Alaska speech, warns world is not moving fast enough to confront climate change

President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned plea for urgency on the issue of climate change during his first public appearance of a three-day Alaska trip.

Speaking before an audience that included representatives of 18 foreign nations and the European Union, Obama declared the United States’ commitment to vigorously address its greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it,” Obama said.

The President also repeatedly emphasized that time is running out for the nations of the world to head off the most significant impacts of climate change.

“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late,” he said. “That moment is almost upon us.”

Obama’s speech at the gathering known as Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience also delved deeply into the impacts Alaska and the rest of the American West are already facing as human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases alter the planet’s atmosphere.

During his visit to Alaska this week Obama is observing some of those impacts on the landscape of the nation’s geographically largest state.

He visited Kenai Fjords National Park to see a receding glacier on Tuesday and became the first American chief executive to travel north of the Arctic Circle on Wednesday.

Obama’s visit to the village of Kotzebue will include a meeting to discuss the impact of climate change on the region’s native communities.

He will also announce more than $20 million in increased funding for energy efficiency programs that benefit those villages.

Earlier in the week the President said that his administration would work with Alaskan native governments to improve management of Pacific salmon runs in the state.

President Barack Obama aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel in Kenai Fjords National Park, Sept. 1, 2015. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

House to vote on Senate-passed KXL bill next week

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next week on whether to adopt the KXL pipeline bill approved by the Senate.

The chamber’s majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday his intention to move the controversial proposal to President Barack Obama’s desk.

“Next week we will take up the Keystone pipeline as passed by the Senate and send it to the President’s desk,” McCarthy said during a press conference.

If the House, as expected, passes S.1 without changes, then Obama will soon be in a position to impose a promised veto of the legislation.

Obama orders federal agencies to factor sea level rise into construction planning

President Barack Obama wants federally-funded construction projects to be more flood resistant, a response to the likelihood that sea levels will rise as Earth’s climate changes.

The White House announced Friday that Obama signed an executive order that will require buildings, roads, and other structures to meet one of three criteria: siting according to the “best available, actionable climate science,” construction of non-critical facilities at least two feet above the 100-year flood elevation, or construction at a contour above the 500-foot flood elevation.

“The [f]ederal [g]overnment must take action, informed by the best-available and actionable science, to improve the [n]ation’s preparedness and resilience against flooding,” Obama wrote in the order.

A fact sheet released by the Council on Environmental Quality explained that the executive order does not affect the National Flood Insurance Program‘s standards. Instead, according to the fact sheet, the standards required by the executive order “will apply when [f]ederal funds are used to build, or significantly retrofit or repair, structures and facilities in and around floodplains to ensure that those structures are resilient, safer, and long-lasting.”

Obama acted several days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that coastal storms in the northeastern region of the country are intensifying as sea levels change and the climate changes.

“Hurricane Sandy brought to light the reality that coastal storms are intensifying and that sea-level change and climate change will only heighten the vulnerability of coastal communities,” Brig. Gen. Kent D. Savre, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division, said in a statement accompanying release of the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study Report.

The National Climate Assessment, which was released by the White House last year, also warned that sea level increases are inevitable as anthropogenic climate change continues.

Obama’s order is the first substantial change in the flood protection standards applicable to federally-funded facilities since President Jimmy Carter first addressed the problem in 1977.

Obama warns Congress against challenge to greenhouse gas rules

President Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night and included a stern warning to the GOP-dominated Senate and House of Representatives that he would veto bills that seek to block tighter limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The chief executive’s words came during a four-paragraph riff on climate change.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

Obama said he would not go along with any effort by Congress to reverse course on climate policy.

“I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions,” the President said. “And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

A website maintained by the House of Representatives’ GOP caucus later posted a poorly-edited version of the State of the Union address, in which some of Mr. Obama’s comments about climate change were omitted.

Among the regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions proposed by the administration are two that affect new and existing coal-fired power plants. Republicans on Capitol Hill want to block those rules.