Search Results for: Climate

A New Effort to Save the Ozone Layer and Protect the Climate

By Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy

As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week, the Obama administration and global partners today announced several unprecedented steps to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This successful global agreement is already putting Earth’s fragile ozone layer back on track to full restoration. But an ambitious amendment would dramatically cut down on the usage of damaging greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications around the world. They can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why we must continue working to replace HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives. And an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is the best way to do that.

Last year, global leaders agreed to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016.” Coming to an agreement among nearly 200 countries is never easy, and considerable differences still need to be bridged. But we’re confident that an amendment will be reached during final negotiations at the next Montreal Protocol conference in Rwanda next month.

Today’s announcements include four main components that will help ensure a strong outcome during the conference:

  • One: Including an appropriate “early freeze date,” when production and consumption of HFC refrigerants must stop increasing in so-called Article 5 countries (i.e., those in need of assistance). During an event in New York this morning, ministers representing more than 100 countries rallied behind an ambitious amendment with an “early freeze date.”
  • Two: 16 donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million in fast start support to Article 5 countries. $27 million in funding from donor countries is being offered to help Article 5 countries jump-start their efforts to design and implement programs that reduce HFCs. It will be provided as long as an ambitious amendment with a sufficiently early freeze date is adopted this year. Meanwhile, $53 million from philanthropists will help countries maximize economic benefits during this transition through various energy efficiency programs. This is the largest-ever package of fast-start philanthropic support for boosting the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that a 30 percent improvement in air conditioner efficiency can double the climate benefits of an amendment. DOE has long invested in research and development, as well as standards to improve energy efficiency, including in the air conditioning sector where transitioning to HFC alternatives is important. For example, our Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial partners with governments to spur efficiency policies and programs that yield billions of dollars in consumer savings while cutting carbon pollution. Today’s announcements will super-size this work, bolstering the confidence of all countries that they can cut energy costs as they phase down HFCs.
  • Three: Today, the Energy Department also published a report with the results of a testing program to evaluate the performance of HFC alternatives in hot climates. This is important because some countries have raised questions about whether HFC alternatives can perform as well as current refrigerants in those conditions. Today’s new results demonstrate that HFC alternatives can perform just as well as current refrigerants even under the harshest conditions. In fact, they sometimes perform even better. Today’s report focuses on rooftop air conditioning units that are popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but a similar testing program in 2015 that focused on mini-split air conditioning units came to the same conclusion. In both cases, the testing program was conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and guided by an international panel of technical experts from a broad and diverse set of countries.
  • Four: To round out the announcements today, hundreds of companies and sub-national governments – represented through associations or individually – voiced support for an ambitious amendment. That list of supporters includes major global firms that rely on air conditioning and refrigeration in their operations like 3M, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, Red Bull, Symantec, and Unilever, and it demonstrates that there is a strong coalition of stakeholders seeking a strong outcome in Rwanda next month.

In addition to taking these steps, we look forward to advancing our joint collaboration on the Energy Star program. For more than two decades, this program has helped American citizens and businesses learn more about energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also look forward to continuing to work with our international partners as we take a giant step toward meeting the goals of the historic Paris Agreement. And we will push to secure the strongest possible HFC amendment next month in Kigali.

Bubbling Up: Methane from Reservoirs Presents Climate Change Challenge

By Rose Keane

EPA researcher Jake Beaulieu spends a lot of his time on the water, especially at Harsha Lake, a reservoir just southeast of Cincinnati, OH. He’s not a sailor, nor does he work with marine life. Instead, Beaulieu studies how methane (CH4)—a less discussed but more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—is emitted from reservoirs. He and other EPA researchers are developing new models and tools to improve methane emission estimates in reservoirs and our understanding of their contributions to greenhouse gas levels globally.

Beaulieu’s team using a new surveying technique to measure methane emissions from reservoirs.

Beaulieu’s team is applying surveying techniques in novel ways to estimate methane emissions.

Methane gas contributes to rising temperatures and one way it is produced is by tiny organisms in sediments at the bottom of lakes. One important source of food for these organisms is decaying algae, which is converted to methane when eaten by these tiny organisms.

According to Beaulieu, the way that methane emission rates from reservoirs are currently estimated doesn’t take into account a number of factors that can affect how much is emitted into the atmosphere such as the location, water depth, overall size of the reservoir and other conditions.

One of the main ways that large amounts of methane are released from reservoirs is through something called ebullition—or more simply, the bubbles that come up from the mud. The bubbles are filled with methane, and Beaulieu’s research has shown that in areas where the water is deeper and less disturbed, there’s less of these methane bubbles coming to the surface. In areas where the water is more shallow or more frequently disturbed, there’s not enough weight (from the atmosphere or from the water itself) to hold the bubbles in, so emissions increase.

In April this year, 177 countries and states across the world signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change—a landmark agreement that outlines ways for countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, encourage more sustainable infrastructure and economic development, and better plan for responding to the impacts of changing climatic conditions. Beaulieu says that improved estimates of methane emissions from reservoirs will result in better information that can aid in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

His paper, Estimates of reservoir methane emissions based on a spatially balanced probabilistic survey, was recently published in Limnology and Oceanography.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Climate Change…By the Seashore

By Andy Miller, Ph.D.

As the summer winds down, many of us return to school or work with fond memories of trips to the seashore. For me and for many others, where the ocean meets the land are places that are deeply relaxing, reminders of our connections with the natural world.

Cordgrass growing across Great Marsh, Jamestown, RI.

Cordgrass growing across Great Marsh, Jamestown, RI.

For several EPA researchers, the shores and estuaries that we value for their beauty and wonder are the sites for investigating the rich and complex ecosystems that support a multitude of species and provide us with benefits well beyond a calming walk along the shore.

Researchers have recently published results of work examining how different impacts of climate change are affecting coastal ecosystems. They demonstrate how vulnerable these natural resources are to drought, sea level rise, and other impacts of a changing climate.

Several studies looked at how the effects of climate change affected cordgrass, dominant salt marsh plants that are key to the vitality of salt marsh ecosystems in southern New England coastal wetlands. One study looked at how saltmeadow cordgrass, Spartina patens, responded to drought and sea level rise in a greenhouse set up for research. This study found that sea level rise was a threat to the long-term survival of the species. The loss of saltmeadow cordgrass would reduce the wetlands’ habitat quality, plant diversity, carbon sequestration, erosion resistance and coastal protection.

A second study examined smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, under similar stresses, and also added an additional stressor, increased levels of nitrogen in the water, an environmental pollutant resulting from agricultural runoff, urban stormwater runoff, wastewater from sewers and septic systems and other sources. EPA researchers Alana Hanson and her colleagues simulated all these plant stressors in the same research greenhouse and concluded that the effects of climate change and nitrogen runoff were likely to reduce the sustainability of salt marshes because the conditions made it more difficult for cordgrass to flourish. Without cordgrass, Atlantic coastal ecosystems would be as vulnerable as a sea turtle without its shell.

On the other side of the country, researchers on the Pacific coast have been developing an approach to evaluate how climate change is affecting coastal biodiversity. Working with experts from several federal, state, and local agencies, EPA researcher Henry Lee and his colleagues developed an approach to use environmental tolerances and other scientific information to estimate how groups of species can be expected to respond to changes in ocean temperature and acidity. Their tool, the Coastal Biodiversity Risk Assessment Tool, or CBRAT, provides an open-source platform that allows researchers and resource managers to examine the potential vulnerability of coastal Pacific fish and invertebrate species as they are impacted by climate change.

These research efforts help us understand more than just the impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems—they also help us understand how we can respond to those changes in ways that will help protect them. Francis Bacon is credited with the saying, “The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express.” Although we see the natural beauty of our coasts and shores, the best part of that beauty may well be the unseen ways in which they nurture and support nature as a whole.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

References

Hanson, A., R. Johnson, C. Wigand, A. Oczkowski, E. Davey and E. Markham (2016). “Responses of Spartina alterniflora to Multiple Stressors: Changing Precipitation Patterns, Accelerated Sea Level Rise, and Nutrient Enrichment.” Estuaries and Coasts: 39: 1376–1385.

Watson, E. B., K. Szura, C. Wigand, K. B. Raposa, K. Blount and M. Cencer (2016). “Sea level rise, drought and the decline of Spartina patens in New England marshes.” Biological Conservation 196: 173-181.

Lee II, H., Marko, K., Hanshumaker, M., Folger, C., and Graham, R. 2015. User’s Guide & Metadata to Coastal Biodiversity Risk Analysis Tool (CBRAT): Framework for the Systemization of Life History and Biogeographic Information. EPA Report. EPA/601/B-15/001. 123 pages.

Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans

Estuaries

By Nicole Tachiki

At a conference on climate change adaptation, I found myself eating lunch next to the Planning Administrator of a Maryland county. She told me that her office does not have budget or staff dedicated to thinking about the impacts of climate change, so she registered for the conference to learn how to incorporate climate adaptation into her work. Although her position as the county’s planning administrator does not include a sustainability portfolio, she recognized the need to consider climate change in county plans and wanted to learn more about it.

Climate change will have an impact on communities, particularly those that are already vulnerable to coastal storms, drought, and sea level rise. Like in the Southwest, drought will only exacerbate water shortages and increase the likelihood of future wildfires. Low-income communities that lack adequate resources to prepare and adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change are especially at risk.  Workbook

Because of experiences like this, I am very proud of the work that has gone into EPA’s risk-based vulnerability assessment workbook entitled “Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans.” The workbook is a step-by-step guide to conducting a risk-based vulnerability assessment and then writing an adaptation action plan. Communities can follow the workbook steps to identify their potential climate change risks and how to consider adaptation options.

Leaders of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program decided to use the workbook to identify and prioritize climate change risks to the communities surrounding the estuary in Puerto Rico. One priority for these leaders was to engage and meaningfully involve the communities that would disproportionally be impacted by the potential risks to the estuary. They held community workshops to learn about the climate change impacts people in the community were already observing. Two of their workshops were specific to environmental justice communities living around the estuary.

You can listen to the “Climate Resilience: What to Expect, How to Prepare, and What You Can Learn from Others” webcast to learn more about how the workbook has been used in a pilot project with the San Juan Bay Estuary program.

To facilitate user experience with the climate change adaptation workbook, EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program has just released a new online companion tool to the workbook.

This new online tool enables users to enter data for the first five steps of the workbook online. After working through the steps of the online tool, users receive a formatted matrix prioritizing their climate change risks and a final assessment report with all the user input.

As I sat by the planning administrator that day at the conference, I was further inspired to continue this work as I got to meet the people for whom these resources were developed.

And, as I continue to work on resources such as the workbook and online companion tool, I gain a greater appreciation for the work being done at EPA to help environmental leaders adapt to climate change. Communities are already dealing with the impacts of climate change and they need our support and resources to help them adapt.

About the Author: Nicole Tachiki is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow working with Climate Ready Estuaries and the National Estuary Program in the EPA’s Office of Water. In this capacity, she enjoys working to provide research and tools for climate change adaptation.

Addressing climate change and unleashing innovation with cleaner trucks

By Gina McCarthy and Secretary Anthony Foxx, Department of Transportation

In 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold plan that is now on track to reduce emissions from nearly every sector of our economy.  Today, we are fulfilling one of the central promises in this plan — finalizing the second phase of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles for model years 2018 and beyond.

The trucking sector is an engine of the U.S. economy. It hauls about 70 percent of all freight in this country, and is also our nation’s second largest segment of U.S. transportation in terms of emissions and energy use.

Today’s final standards will promote a new generation of cleaner and more fuel efficient trucks. That means 1.1 billion fewer tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere, and operators will save 2 billion barrels of oil and $170 billion in fuel costs. The additional cost of a new truck will be recouped within 2-4 years, saving truck owners more over the long haul.

These standards will not only benefit our climate, but also modernize America’s trucking fleet, cut costs for truckers, and help ensure the U.S trucking industry is a global leader in fuel efficient heavy duty vehicle technology. We developed the standards to allow multiple technological pathways to compliance, so that manufacturers can choose the technologies they believe are right for their products, their customers, and the market.

As with every rule, we relied on the input from the public, industry and many other stakeholders to build something that is both ambitious and achievable. More than 400 stakeholder meetings helped improve this program from the proposal: reducing more tons of pollution, strengthening compliance to ensure that the standards get real emissions reductions and improved fuel efficiency, and increasing flexibility for small businesses and manufacturers throughout the industry.  We also continued our close collaboration with our partners in California throughout the process to ensure we finalized standards that will result in a truly national program.

We’ve put in place strong engine standards, which are critical because they help ensure that manufacturers implement engine technologies that continue to improve. Our detailed technical analysis based on the most recent data shows that the required five percent efficiency improvement in diesel engines by 2027 is feasible, cost effective, and will lead to the continued carbon emissions reductions we need—millions of tons of reductions. We heard concerns about the stringency of engine standards, and we took that into account. To ensure a smooth transition, the engine standards are designed with substantial lead times, a gradual phase-in over the course of nine years, and expanded emissions credit flexibilities that allow manufacturers to tailor their own phase-in schedule. All this will enable manufacturers to develop and implement technologies that ensure reliability, and that are sound investments for the trucking industry.  And for the first time, the rules will cover trailers as well as tractors—ensuring that innovation will continue into aerodynamic features, next generation tires and other features so that trailers can contribute to fuel and emissions savings.

The rules don’t just cover line-haul trucks.  They will ensure that buses that carry school children and commuters, vehicles like snowplows, garbage trucks and delivery vans that travel our city streets, and even heavy-duty pickup trucks and large passenger vans will all be cleaner and more fuel efficient over the next decade.

Medium and heavy duty trucks help drive the American economy. Today we are ensuring that we drive down carbon pollution and save on petroleum costs from freight transport as the trucking industry continues to innovate, and to play their part in protecting the climate for future generations.

To learn more about the final heavy duty standards visit: https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regs-heavy-duty.htm

http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy

 

Building equity, inclusiveness for low-income communities is key in climate resilience planning

About the Author: Shamar Bibbins is a program officer with the Environment Program at The Kresge Foundation. Her grant work supports efforts that help communities build resilience in the face of climate change.

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of the 15 grantees under Kresge's Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

As a student organizer, I saw firsthand the lack of engagement with communities of color around key environmental issues. When I began working on climate change years later, I remained guided by a deep passion to ensure that people from historically underrepresented groups were included in efforts to advance climate solutions.

Low-income communities have, historically, been largely excluded from the benefits of robust investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, high-quality transit, and other climate-beneficial interventions. Climate policies have failed to address the magnitude of environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities these communities face.

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of the 15 grantees under Kresge's Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

I believe the only way we will come close to meeting our global climate challenges is by adopting the principles of environmental justice to develop targeted strategies that address the unique circumstances of these populations. In the absence of proactive efforts to address equity concerns in climate resilience planning, climate change will reinforce and worsen current socioeconomic disparities, diminishing opportunity for low-income and other disadvantaged populations.

Over the years, the Kresge Foundation has worked in conjunction with the EPA by matching funds so that communities receive the financial assistance needed to create healthier and more environmentally-friendly neighborhoods. We are proud to support the EPA’s environmental justice mission, which strives for all communities and persons across the nation to enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process that impacts their environment.

After 25 years of working on these types of collaborative governmental/non-governmental projects, I am honored to see how these types of partnerships truly do make a visible difference in communities. This is why I have been so excited to lead the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative at the Kresge Foundation.

CRUO grantees together at The Kresge convention in Chicago

Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative Grantees gather in Chicago to talk about climate resilience in low-income communities

The initiative aims to ensure that the distinct needs and interests of low-income communities are addressed in climate adaption planning. Through the initiative, we support grantee organizations in more than one dozen U.S. cities who are working to establish local and regional climate policies that meet the priorities of low-income communities.

We recently awarded $660,000, three-year grants to 15 community-based organizations to work toward incorporating strong equity provisions into local and regional climate resilience policies and programs.

Makani Themba, Advisor to CRUO talks with Chris Marchi of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing at the convening in Chicago

Makani Themba, Advisor to The Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative talks with Chris Marchi of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing at a convening in Chicago

One of the goals of the Initiative is to systematically engage leaders and advocates who authentically represent the concerns of low-income communities and elevate their expertise on climate change. This engagement is designed to ensure that cities and municipalities adopt climate resilience plans that are more attendant to the priorities of people disproportionately harmed by climate-driven extreme events like flooding, heat waves and intense storms. These are people who have traditionally been left out of broader climate decision-making processes and we are striving to get them involved!

I am grateful to be part of a program that is building the field of climate resilience with a comprehensive, integrated approach that leads with equity. I truly believe that this new cadre of leaders who are both skilled at working in low-income communities and experts in climate resiliency will be an important step in addressing the urgent and complex environmental and climate challenges.

Activities from PUSH

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

Our Community, Our Plan: Building Climate Resiliency in Northern Manhattan

About the Author: Tina Johnson, a mother of three and a lifelong resident of West Harlem, New York, is concerned with community issues related to health, education and environmental resiliency. Through her work in the community as a tenant leader, she has become a proud and faithful member of the WE ACT for Environmental Justice organization.

I live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development called Grant Houses. Looking out my 18th floor window, there is another NYCHA development across from Grant: the Manhattanville Houses. We both sit at sea level. Our neighborhood is bordered by a major state highway and a bank of the Hudson River.

Click on the photo to explore the EJSCREEN data on the area surrounding the Grant Houses.

Click on the photo to explore the EJSCREEN data on the area surrounding the Grant Houses.

Development is happening all around us, but progress seems to pass by us.

Contrary to public perception, low-income and working class people – like me – care about our communities and how climate change will affect our future and the future of the next generation. I don’t like feeling helpless. Becoming an active member of the

community-based organization WE ACT for Environmental Justice, an organization that has received long-term funding from the EPA, including the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, has been a way to participate in the climate-related decisions that impact me and my community.

Last winter, WE ACT offered a challenge to its Northern Manhattan communities. The challenge involved a grassroots process to facilitate community planning around climate change. I loved the way WE ACT structured the challenge, which linked me to other community members who are concerned with similar challenges.

WE ACT members and staff plan for climate justice and resilience in Northern Manhattan.

WE ACT members and staff plan for climate justice and resilience in Northern Manhattan.

The challenge was based on a fast-paced game that mirrored real time climate events. As a group, we had to conceptualize what it means to be prepared for climate change through the lens of extreme weather “reality” in action. We participated in group brainstorming with real time feedback from the other participants and groups who were focusing on different systems related to government policy, health care, communication, transportation, food systems and the resulting lack of regularly accessible resources.

This exercise, both grounding and clarifying, taught me about the efforts required to maintain a healthy community in the face of potential upheaval. I identified responses to challenges required by myself and my government to maintain resilient “wholeness” in my community.

Working within a group provided me with alternative viewpoints. Different ideas were developed around the idea of resilience, but we discovered more common ground than differences. We were able to identify a shared vision in how to promote a local, green economy that supports low-income residents. From this collaboration, we began planning how to design short-term and long-term resiliency strategies to address extreme weather events.

Click on the photo to learn more about the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan!

Click on the photo to learn more about the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan!

Participating in these group exercises helped me envision development in achievable parts. It became clear to me that a cohesive emergency preparedness and civic participation action plan was necessary for my community. One of the parts I am currently working on is identifying a location site for the installation of an informational kiosk on the Grant and Manhattanville NYCHA properties. I am working with an artist, an architect and other WE ACT members to design a community kiosk structure which will serve as an information hub about climate change.  This is one component of WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan to tackle climate change and social inequality in my community.

WE ACT members and staff visit NYCHA units in Northern Manhattan to plan for emergency kiosks.

WE ACT members and staff visit NYCHA units in Northern Manhattan to plan for emergency kiosks.

With assistance from EPA resources on emergencies, the kiosk will allow the local residents to learn about climate change and how to act in emergency situations. The kiosk will share evacuation routes and other resources necessary during climate-related emergencies. Its design will be unique to its geographical area and it will inform the community about the specific challenges and needs of the area. The kiosk will also serve community members who may be subject to loss of services and isolation during an emergency.

In this way, the kiosk will stand as a sign of my community’s efforts to survive and thrive in the face of chronic, extreme weather events that will stress its fabric by substituting action for worry and uncertainty.

Three Ways Climate Change is Harming Marine Species

By Brittany Whited

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century. EPA’s Climate Change Indicator project tracks changes in our environment related to this warming, including observable changes on land like wildfire severity, snowfall, and heavy precipitation. A new indicator on marine species released in the 4th Edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the US report shows that marine ecosystems are also feeling the heat. We may not be able to “sea” it, but climate change is also affecting our oceans. What does this mean for fish and other marine species?

1. Oceans are getting hotter. Changes in water temperature can affect the environments where fish, shellfish, and other marine species live. As climate change causes the oceans to become warmer year-round, populations of some species may adapt by shifting toward cooler areas.

According to the fourth edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States report, American lobster, black sea bass, red hake, and over a hundred other populations of marine species have already shifted north to cooler waters. And we’re not talking a mile or two – in fact, these three economically important species have shifted their average center of biomass northward by an average of 109 miles over just 32 years. For all 105 marine species studied, the average center of biomass along U.S. coasts shifted northward by about 12 miles between 1982 and 2014. At the same time, these 105 species moved an average of 18 feet deeper.

2. Oceans are becoming more acidic. The acidity of seawater is increasing as a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the air from human activities, like burning fossil fuels. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher than in the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water, changing seawater chemistry and decreasing pH (making seawater more acidic). The ocean’s increased acidity results in thinner shells and more shellfish die as they become easier for predators to eat.

Corals are also very sensitive to rising acidity, as it is difficult for them to create and maintain the skeletal structures needed for their support and protection. Corals provide vital fish spawning habitat and support for thousands of marine species. EPA’s Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action states that without action on climate change, dramatic loss of shallow coral cover is predicted to occur. For example, coral cover in Hawaii is projected to decline from 38% (current coral cover) to approximately 5% by 2050 without significant global action on climate change.

3. More severe storms and precipitation can pollute coastal waters. Warmer oceans increase the amount of water that evaporates into the air. When more moisture-laden air moves over land or converges into a storm system, it can produce more intense precipitation—for example, heavier rain storms. Heavy rain in coastal areas can lead to increases in runoff and flooding, impairing water quality as pollutants on land wash into water bodies. Some coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, are already experiencing “dead zones” – areas where water is depleted of oxygen because of pollution from agricultural fertilizers, delivered by runoff. The phrase “dead zone” comes from the lack of life – including fish – in these waters.

Click to learn what EPA is doing to mitigate climate change and protect ocean water quality and marine species.

About the Author: Brittany Whited is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant hosted by the Climate Science and Impacts Branch in the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Public Health from George Washington University and is wicked excited to spend less time studying and more time outside.

One Year Later: Climate Action and the Clean Power Plan

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

2016 is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded – by a significant margin – while 2015 currently holds the title, and 2014 before that. The facts and the trends are clear, and the threat is real.

Just yesterday, the latest climate indicators report confirmed that the impacts of climate change are getting stronger and stronger—average temperatures and sea levels keep rising, coastal flooding is getting worse, and Arctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates.

As President Obama has made very clear, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and we may be the last generation who can do something about it.

That’s why in 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold and achievable plan that does everything in our power to combat climate change – from reducing emissions in nearly every sector of our economy, to increasing energy efficiency, to investing in renewable energy. And taking action here at home has allowed the United States to lead the world in getting a historic international agreement in Paris last year an agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and limits global warming to two degrees Celsius.

One of the centerpieces in U.S. efforts to limit the effects of climate change and lead the world on this issue was reducing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. One year ago today, I signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards on reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA’s charge from the President was clear: to exercise our statutory authority to lay out steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And that’s what we did – by setting limits that reflected the growing momentum in the power sector to provide the American public with cleaner sources of energy.

The trend toward investment in renewables and energy efficiency is unfolding all around us:

  • Electricity generated from renewables is expected to grow by 9% in 2016 alone;
  • Utilities are investing $8 billion a year in energy efficiency, a four-fold increase from just eight years ago, and more companies than ever are leveraging EPA’s ENERGY STAR platform;
  • States are leading the way—29 states have adopted mandatory renewable portfolio standards, and an additional eight states have voluntary renewable goals.  Twenty-three states have mandatory energy efficiency provisions and 10 states have implemented market-based trading programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • The private sector is also stepping up.  Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Unilever – and other large U.S. companies are choosing to cut emissions and committing hundreds of billions of dollars to finance clean energy innovation.

It’s not an accident that the Clean Power Plan mirrors this trend. It is by design and it’s the result of our unprecedented outreach and engagement with states, utilities, energy regulators, environmental groups, communities, tribes and the public. Through this process we committed to listen and learn. We did. We committed to put the states in the driver’s seat. We did. We committed to cutting carbon pollution in a way that is in line with where the power sector is headed. We did. We committed to lead on climate action. And that’s exactly what we did.

Sometimes our efforts to protect public health and environment face opposition and/or litigation. The Clean Power Plan is no different and was stayed by the Supreme Court until the litigation is resolved. However, it will see its day in court and EPA remains fully confident in its legal merits. The Plan rests on a strong legal and technical foundation and is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s statutory authority, and air pollution standards that have been put in place to tackle other pollution problems.  While the courts review the plan, and during the stay, no state is required to comply with it. However, many states and tribes have indicated they plan to move forward voluntarily to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They have asked the agency to continue to develop tools to support them in their voluntary efforts. We are doing just that.

As we look to the future, let’s take stock of what we’ve done—we ’ve taken action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,extended tax credits for renewable energy, enabled the production of a new generation of clean cars and trucks, reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, fostered a global climate change agreement, and so much more. These actions are rooted in science, codified in our laws, and broadly supported by our citizens. And they will make a difference! I’m excited for what the future holds. At EPA we remain ready to take advantage of smart and effective opportunities to safeguard public health and the environment for this generation and those that follow.

Mapping the Way to Climate Justice

TPL-Chattanooga_081-crop_illo

About the Author: Jad Daley directs the Climate-Smart Cities Program at The Trust for Public Land. The program is advanced through deep partnership with cities, community groups, and others to advance multiple-benefit green infrastructure for climate action and climate justice. Learn more about Climate-Smart Cities Program in this video.

 

Heat risk became a reality for me after my wife was in a car accident. During her in-bed recovery, an extreme heat wave hit Washington, D.C., and the air conditioning unit in our tiny apartment gave out. As my wife lay in bed, unable to walk, the temperature steadily climbed in our apartment.

That night was truly terrifying. I ran to the store and bought a fan, which was just enough to cool her through the night. Within a day, we were able to find a technician to fix the A.C. unit but at a cost that I am still paying off today – a few years later. Regardless, we are fortunate to have this financial capacity.

Heat Island Map

This map highlights Urban Heat Island Hotspots (The Trust for Public Land).

Many Americans in low income communities are not so lucky. In such situations they are reliant on cooling centers or other means for protection. The recent climate health report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program highlighted extreme heat from climate change to be a primary threat to human health. Low income families without air conditioning, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions are at greatest risk.

With a phenomenon known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” our cities make heat risk worse. This effect occurs when city pavement and other built materials absorb and re-radiate heat, which creates an oven-like effect. A report published by the EPA reveals that heat islands can raise local temperatures as much as five degrees Fahrenheit during the day and as much as 22 degrees at night.

Low income communities are further disadvantaged. Home design can dramatically impact indoor air temperature, and many low-income communities, rental homes, and public housing units are not well designed to lessen heat. For example, in some cases renters are unable to access enough power to run window air conditioning units.

In addition to building design, tree canopy and other green infrastructure are complementary and cost-effective natural solutions to reduce urban heat islands and protect people’s homes. Here is where climate justice comes in. In virtually every American city, tree cover strongly correlates with income—wealthy neighborhoods generally have significantly more tree cover.

How can we bring more protection to the neighborhoods that need it the most?

I believe a catalyst can be the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to illustrate our green infrastructure deficits, like how insufficient tree canopy overlaps with our most vulnerable 2populations. The latest version of the EJSCREEN, the EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, includes this very information.

We also overlay other issues in these neighborhoods like the increased rate of flooding from extreme rainfall patterns resulting from climate change. After all, the problem that triggers urban heat islands — too much pavement, not enough greenspace — is the same land use pattern in many low income neighborhoods that leads to problems like basement flooding. If we see where these problems of heat islands and water management overlap, then we can develop green infrastructure solutions like green alleys that are designed to address both issues.

Mapping this threat is urgent because it is not a clearly assigned responsibility. Cities have water departments, transit departments, but not “urban heat island departments.” This risk is infrequently covered by the health department, but those agencies are not well positioned to advance strategies to protect key neighborhoods.

That is where GIS mapping comes in.1

My organization, The Trust for Public Land, maps heat islands, who is at risk in these areas, and how strategies like trees and other green infrastructure can help protect these neighborhoods.

If you can’t map climate justice, it is very unlikely that cities and their partners will make the focused investment to solve problems like urban heat islands and flash flooding. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a million. We have gotten immediate attention from city agencies and even mayors by using GIS to show where these climate justice issues exist, which is leading to unprecedented collaboration for climate justice by city agencies in cities such as Boston, New Orleans, and Chattanooga.

It is clear to me that finding the road to climate justice will take a very good map!

3