Search Results for: Climate

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


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:


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


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!


A “Cool” Way to Combat Climate Change under the Montreal Protocol

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

World climate leaders are meeting this week in Vienna for the next stage of international discussions about a global phase-down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This meeting should lay the foundation for a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a hugely successful global agreement that has put Earth’s fragile ozone layer on track to full restoration. A 2016 amendment would leverage the same proven mechanisms that helped fix the “ozone hole” to address another serious risk to the planet – HFCs.

When scientists discovered the “ozone hole” in the 1980s, they uncovered a tangible health risk to people and the environment. The ozone layer of our upper atmosphere is a natural sunscreen that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. A massive and growing “hole” in the ozone layer threatened to drive up skin cancer rates, harm marine life, ruin crops and even degrade wood, plastic and other construction materials.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol mandated that countries phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and similar chemicals used widely at the time for air conditioning and refrigeration. With 197 countries signing on, it was the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification in the United Nations.

The results have been remarkable. The peak ozone hole has shrunk dramatically by more than four million square kilometers (about the size of India), with a full recovery expected by mid-century. And despite fears of economic disruption, the private sector adjusted cost-effectively.

However, to phase out CFCs, countries needed viable alternatives. Back in the 80s and 90s, more and more sectors began moving toward hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – chemicals that performed well as refrigerants and were significantly healthier for the ozone layer. But like the chemicals they replaced, HFCs are still damaging to our climate system. In fact, they are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Rapid growth in the use of HFCs threatens to undo much of our progress in reducing other carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is time to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down the use of HFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration – an urgent priority given the explosive actual and projected growth of air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide.

If we succeed, we could avoid up to 0.5 degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century by shifting towards other, less harmful alternatives. Avoiding that half-degree is crucial for limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees centigrade and avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change.

Last November in Dubai, negotiators agreed on a path forward to phase down HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol in 2016. The amendment would mandate countries to replace HFCs, in stages, with climate-friendly alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and hydrocarbons.

We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works.

U.S. leaders will take the results of a newly-published Department of Energy report, The Future of Air Conditioning for Buildings, to Vienna. It documents air conditioning’s explosive growth worldwide, especially in developing nations, which could lead to huge increases in the use of HFCs and emissions of greenhouse gases. The report finds that air conditioning energy consumption in countries not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could rise 4-1/2 times 2010 levels by 2050 – emitting more HFC greenhouse gases and undercutting the Paris Agreement. Substitute chemicals are available to avoid the use of HFCs and their global warming impacts.

Here are some key findings:

  • For air conditioning equipment categories that account for 95 percent of global residential sales and 35 percent of global commercial sales, climate-friendly refrigerants on the market have demonstrated comparable or superior performance and energy efficiency.
  • Also, climate-friendly refrigerants are already being developed and commercialized in all other major air conditioning equipment categories.
  • The air conditioning industry has steadily improved the energy efficiency of air conditioning units over time, including during the transition out of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances into HFCs.
  • Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to HFC alternatives.

In short, the report demonstrates that the world is making rapid progress innovating toward a world without HFCs. In the near-term we can expect a wide array of air conditioning options that are climate-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable.

And also today, California is announcing that it will contribute half a million dollars toward a nearly $6 million effort launched last June to conduct critical research regarding the safe use of mildly flammable and flammable alternatives to HFCs. The U.S. made this announcement as part of the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Advanced Cooling Challenge, in order to accelerate updated safety standards to allow widespread use of these climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally.

As a part of the Challenge, DOE is working with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally. In support of the Advanced Cooling Challenge, the DOE is contributing $3 million in funding, AHRI is contributing $1 million, and ASHRAE is contributing $1.2 million.

It’s time for the world to come together to address HFCs. And this week’s negotiations are an important step down that path.

Protecting Drinking Water by Becoming Climate Ready

By Joel Beauvais and Andrew Kricun, Executive Director for the Camden County (NJ) Municipal Utilities Authority

From Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Homer, Alaska, drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country are working with EPA to prepare for climate change. These forward-thinking utilities are following the science that shows climate change brings increased water shortages in some parts of the country, while other areas grapple with increased stormwater runoff, flooding, and sea level rise. These utilities and their surrounding communities know that these climate impacts will continue to exacerbate existing challenges to the country’s aging water infrastructure.

This is a public health challenge that affects both the quantity and quality of our drinking water and the integrity of the infrastructure we rely on to deliver and treat water.

To meet these challenges, EPA has developed a number of tools to help utilities understand climate science and adaptation options under the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. We have released two new tools that promote water utility preparedness and resilience—an adaptation information exchange which offers utilities a platform to share best practices and lessons learned, and an adaptation workshop planner helps users conduct successful climate change adaptation workshops, generating materials tailored to the needs of water sector stakeholders and their communities.

The Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative also highlights the good work water utilities like the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) are doing to ensure the long-term viability of their operations. Faced with a projected rise in river levels and an increase in the magnitude and frequency of intense precipitation and flooding, CCMUA has implemented a number of adaptation measures, using CRWU resources like the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) that will help guarantee the sustainability of its wastewater services.

By integrating water conservation and green infrastructure adaptive measures into its infrastructure investment plan, CCMUA is minimizing costs, reducing energy consumption, increasing the resiliency of its operations and protecting public health and the Delaware River from combined sewage flooding and overflows. Also, CCMUA is already saving nearly $600,000 per year in electricity costs and is expected to save close to $2 million per year in electricity costs when green energy projects are completed.

Other utilities are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of CCMUA by leveraging the tools and resources offered through the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. By fostering collaboration and greater awareness of a changing climate future, EPA and CCMUA are working to ensure that the water sector can make better informed investment decisions today.

To learn more about Camden’s use of EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities tools watch this video:

Gamify the Grid! New EPA game Generate! Helps Students Understand the Relationship between Climate Change and Energy Production

By Rose Keane

When you’re teaching someone, sometimes you never know what’s going to stick. Some people need to hear the information, others might need to read it, but chances are the best way to get someone to remember is to have them try it themselves.

EPA researcher Rebecca Dodder is helping teachers provide middle school and high school students with these kinds of opportunities through her new Generate! game, a board game that requires the player to consider the costs and benefits of the type of energy we use and impacts on air quality and climate.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Having students actually grapple with the realities of financial limitations, carbon emissions, and limited natural resources makes the lesson much more tangible and long lasting. I had the chance to see these connections being made when students came to EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to play the game during Earth Day festivities.

Here’s how it works.  In the first round, students select which sources of energy—for example, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind—that they would like to use given a finite amount of resources (in this case the number and types of energy pieces). Each energy source comes with its associated installation and maintenance costs, and the aim is to meet energy demands (filling up the full board space) while spending as little as possible.

The second round, however, made things a bit trickier. As with our energy sources in real life, there is a cost associated with the carbon emissions of each energy piece, with heavier costs for higher carbon-emitting sources like coal, and smaller or no carbon costs for the renewable energy sources. These costs refer to the idea that for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, there are increased costs to communities from climate change. As students factored these numbers in, they realized their original plan was no longer sustainable and also way too expensive. You could practically hear the groans coming from each group’s table when the final tallies came in.

In the third round, students were offered pieces called “efficiencies,” which represent our behaviors, consumer choices, and energy efficient appliances. These pieces incur relatively small costs initially (for example, how much it would cost to replace your washer and dryer), but in the long run actually save the player money. “Think about it,” Dodder said to the students, “A lot of these big decisions are out of our control, like whether or not to build a nuclear power plant, for example. The thing about the smaller energy efficiency pieces is that’s all the stuff that we can change – it’s all in our control.”

Making climate change and its impacts tangible for younger generations can be extremely difficult, but games like Generate! make these kinds of activities fun, educational, and remind the students that their energy choices are in their hands. Educators can use this game to help their students recognize the relationships between energy usage and climate change, and encourage them to investigate their role in the carbon cycle further.

Dr. Dodder’s innovative approaches to educating the younger generation about science and her research contributions are being recognized today at a ceremony in Washington, DC where she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists.

Learn more about the Generate! game and download your copy here.

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.