Saturday, April 18, 2015

Good News/Bad News

Recents events suggest we are finally getting a handle on this climate thing. Current data suggests this climate thing is spinning further and further out of control. Take your pick.

Good news: the US's officially measured greenhouse gas emissions declined slightly in the past year.

Bad news: a major reason was conversion of power plants to natural gas, but the fracking that lowers gas prices and drives the conversion is probably causing considerable (but unmeasured) methane leakage, offsetting the gains.

Good news: Obama's use of EPA regulations to close coal-burning power plants will help the US meet its (modest) UNFCCC emission reduction goals for 2025.

Bad news: Led by the attorney general of West Virginia, numerous states have brought suit to challenge the EPA's jurisdiction. That suit will be heard in the DC federal court of appeals--one of the most conservative in the nation--with the likely outcome to be decided in the highly politicized US Supreme Court. Even the threat of overturning the EPA regs will have a serious dampening effect on the ongoing UNFCCC process.

Good news: Russia, a recalcitrant state with respect to climate issues, has filed its proposal for emission reductions with the UNFCCC, and it's in line with expected standards: a 20-30% reduction over 1990 levels by 2030.

Bad news: much of Russia's 'plan' includes counting its already existing forest reserves as carbon sinks, thus inflating its claims and doing very little to add to decarbonization going forward.

And so on. There are so many fronts to the climate change issue, so many factors and data points and disputed data points and different ways of seeing both the problem and the solutions that it is almost impossible to get a clear fix on where we stand. That's one reason I am so invested in the Paris conference: after the 195 states have submitted their individual plans, and before the conference itself, UN officials plan to evaluate the aggregate effect of all these somewhat asymmetric and inherently confusing plans. That should bring some clarity on public-sector response (assuming governments comply with their own plans, which given the vagaries of politics is far from evident). Independent market factors--such as the financial collapse of 2008, which did more than any government to reduce emissions--represent another crucial, unpredictable variable. And imperfectly understood climate causation is another. In short, we are swimming in data of many sorts, with some clear directionals in mind, but where the tides will take us is anybody's guess.

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