Climate Central News

A feed from Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.


22 March 2017. Arctic Sea Ice Sets Record-Low Peak for Third Year

Constant warmth punctuated by repeated winter heat waves stymied Arctic sea ice growth this winter, leaving the winter sea ice cover missing an area the size of California and Texas combined and setting a record-low maximum for the third year in a row.

Even in the context of the decades of greenhouse gas-driven warming, and subsequent ice loss in the Arctic, this winter’s weather stood out.

Arctic sea ice extent as of March 20, 2017, compared to the previous record low year and the 1981-2010 average.
Click image to enlarge. 

“I have been looking at Arctic weather patterns for 35 years and have never seen anything close to what we’ve experienced these past two winters,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which keeps track of sea ice levels, said in a statement.

The sea ice fringing Antarctica also set a record low for its annual summer minimum (with the seasons opposite in the Southern Hemisphere), though this was in sharp contrast to the record highs racked up in recent years. Researchers are still investigating what forces, including global warming, are driving Antarctic sea ice trends.

Sea ice is a crucial part of the ecosystems at both poles, providing habitat and influencing food availability for penguins, polar bears and other native species. Arctic sea ice melt fueled by ever-rising global temperatures is also opening the already fragile region to increased shipping traffic and may be affecting weather patterns over Europe, Asia and North America.

Arctic air temperature differences about 2,500 feet above sea level in degrees Celsius from Oct. 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017. Yellows and reds indicate temperatures higher than the 1981 to 2010 average; blues and purples indicate temperatures lower than the 1981 to 2010 average.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NSIDC

The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice usually hits its winter peak in early to mid-March, as the freeze season ends with the re-emergence of the sun above the horizon.

This year’s maximum was likely reached on March 7, the NSIDC said Wednesday, when sea ice covered 5.57 million square miles, the lowest in 38 years of satellite records. This area came in just under 2015’s maximum of 5.605 million square miles (the NSIDC slightly revised its numbers last summer, so 2015’s maximum actually ranks lower than 2016) and 471,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, an area larger than California and Texas combined.

Arctic sea ice was also thinner this winter than in the past four years, according to data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

Much of the reason for this thinness and smaller ice area was the consistent warmth throughout the autumn and winter. Across the Arctic Ocean, temperatures during this period were about 4.5°F (2.5°C) above average, with parts of the Chukchi and Barents seas coming in at 9°F (5°C) above average. (The Chukchi Sea lies between Alaska and Russia, while the Barents Sea sits to the north of Scandinavia.)

The Arctic was one of the clear global hotspots that helped drive global temperatures to the second-hottest February on record and the third-hottest January, despite the demise of a global heat-boosting El Niño last summer.

That background warmth was amped up by repeated incursions of warm air brought by storm systems from the Atlantic. During one such episode in early February, temperatures above 80 degrees north latitude reached nearly 30°F (15°C) above normal winter temperatures of about -22°F (-30°C)

The record-low winter maximum doesn’t necessarily herald a record low end-of-summer minimum come September, as summer weather patterns have a large effect on sea ice area. Sea ice was at record-low levels going into last summer, but fairly cool, cloudy conditions during the season held back the melt somewhat. A late-season surge in melt still pushed the summer minimum to the second lowest on record.

In general, though, a low winter maximum means sea ice is already starting off the melt season on the wrong foot.


“Thin ice and beset by warm weather — not a good way to begin the melt season,” NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos, said in a statement.

The rate of ice loss has been much steeper for the summer minimum than for winter maximum, with declines of 13.7 percent and 3.2 percent per decade, respectively.

But “while the Arctic maximum is not as important as the seasonal minimum, the long-term decline is a clear indicator of climate change,” Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

The recent string of record-low winter maximums could be a sign that the large summer losses are starting to show up more in other seasons, with an increasingly delayed fall freeze-up that leaves less time for sea ice to accumulate in winter, Julienne Stroeve, an NSIDC scientist and University College London professor, previously said.

Antarctic sea ice extent as of March 2017, compared to the previous record low year and the 1981-2010 average.
Click image to enlarge. 

The Antarctic summer minimum was 813,000 square miles, or 900,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average and 71,000 square miles below the previous record low set in 1997. In general, Antarctic sea ice is much more variable than the Arctic, and scientists are still grappling with how climate change and various natural climate cycles might be interacting to affect sea ice levels there.


21 March 2017. Climate Change is on Pace to Kill an Ice Age Remnant

Humans are in the process of changing the planet in a way that hasn’t happened in 2.6 million years.

For eons, the Laurentide Ice Sheet has been a fixture of North America. At its peak, it covered the majority of Canada and sent icy tendrils down across the Midwest and Northeast, covering Chicago, New York and Toronto in a mile or more of ice. It helped carved mountains as it advanced, and it filled the Great Lakes as it receded at the end of the last Ice Age.

The Barnes Ice Cap covers an area the size of Delaware.
Credit: NASA

About 2,000 years ago, the ice sheet remnants reached equilibrium on Baffin Island, Canada’s largest island, now dubbed the Barnes Ice Cap. But that equilibrium has been disrupted by human-driven climate change.

A new study shows that the last vestige of the once-mighty ice sheet faces near certain death, even if the world rapidly curtails its carbon pollution. The results indicate the Arctic has entered a state nearly unheard of since the Pliocene, an epoch when the Arctic was largely free of ice.


“This is the disappearance of a feature from the last glacial age, which would have probably survived without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions,” said Adrien Gilbert, a glaciologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada and lead author of the new study.

The Barnes Ice Cap covers an area about the size of Delaware. After reaching a near steady state 2,000 years ago, the ice cap began shrinking in the late 1800s, with a marked increase in its decline since the 1990s. That coincides with the rapid rise in human carbon pollution, which has also driven a roughly 1.8°F increase in the global average temperature over that period.

But researchers can look back much deeper into the ice cap’s history using other clues. The new research, published on Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, looked at an array of amazingly named cosmogenic radionuclides in bedrock around the ice cap to tease out when the ground was free of ice.

Cosmogenic radionuclides are isotopes that form when exposed to cosmic rays. That can only happen when the ground isn’t covered by ice, giving researchers a way to see how rare the current shrinking ice cap is.

Their findings show that there were two periods where ice extent was roughly as tiny as it is now. Both periods came hundreds of thousands of years ago and were due to natural changes in the earth’s tilt and orbit that helped warm the planet.

The scenery at the coast just northeast of the Barnes Ice Cap, the last remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.
Credit: Gifford Miller

Today’s rapid change is different because human carbon pollution is the main driver of the unrelenting warmth in the region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. The findings indicate that the Arctic likely hasn’t been this warm in 2.6 million years.

Looking into the future using climate models, sustained warming almost certainly spells doom for the ice sheet. On our current trajectory of carbon pollution, the research indicates that the ice cap is likely to disappear in the next 300 years. That’s a geological blink of an eye for an icy legacy that stretched across millions of years.

Even under a best-case scenario, with human carbon pollution peaking in 2020 and decreasing rapidly thereafter, the ice cap will still likely melt away in the next 500 years.

“Their study convincingly reveals that the Barnes Ice Cap will likely disappear within 300 years, taking with it the last remnants of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that once blanketed northern North America some 20,000 years ago,” Alex Gardner, an ice researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said while lauding the state of the art ice modeling effort.

The findings underscore the wealth of alarming information coming out of the Arctic. Sea ice is set to hit a record-low maximum for the third year in a row, warm air has repeatedly cranked up the thermostat this winter and forests are burning at an unprecedented pace.

The fate of the Barnes Ice Cap is similar to other land ice across the region, including the monstrous Greenland ice sheet. Their melt will help fuel sea level rise around the globe.

“If it was just the Barnes Ice Cap that melted, there would be little need for coastal communities to worry,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately the Barnes Ice Cap will not respond in isolation. As the atmosphere and oceans warm in the coming decades, ice sheets and glaciers will retreat globally resulting in massive transfers of ice into the oceans, raising sea levels by multiple feet by 2100.”


19 March 2017. Research for Drought-Resistant Crops Gets Boost

By Umberto Bacchi, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Scientists' efforts to develop new crops able to resist climate change, droughts and other shocks have been boosted by the United States joining an international seeds treaty, a research group said.

The United States this week became the single largest party to a U.N. agreement under which countries allow researchers from other member states free access to their crop gene banks - collections of varieties of seeds, plants and roots.

A farmer throws seeds to plant on a rice paddy field in Ngoc Nu village, south of Hanoi January 22, 2015.
Credit: REUTERS/Kham

By joining, the United States adds more than 570,000 types of maize, wheat, potatoes and other crops to the 1.5 million varieties available under the treaty's sharing system managed by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"The quality and size of gene bank contributions by the United States will further the progress of scientific research," CGIAR, a global agricultural research organisation, said in a statement.

As farmers worldwide experience more frequent drought and erratic rainfall linked to global warming, scientists are racing  to find crops capable of tolerating increasingly high temperatures, water shortages and dry conditions.

Access to a large pool of seeds is vital for researchers to choose the best varieties to cross and create new strains resistant to pests, disease and drought, while also improving yields to help feed a growing population, according to FAO. 

"Biodiversity can help us face the impacts of climate change," said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva in a statement marking the U.S. accession to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.    

If a plant bred with seeds shared under the multilateral system is commercialised, part of the profits must be paid into a trust fund benefiting farmers in the developing world.

"Bringing the U.S. collection within (the treaty) opens up the possibility of further commercialisation," said the treaty's secretary, Kent Nnadozie.

The United States ratified the treaty in December, before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, but officially became one of its 143 members on Monday, the FAO said.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi, editing by Ros Russell

18 March 2017. In Race to Curb Climate Change, Cities Outpace Nations

By Alister Doyle, Reuters

Cities from Oslo to Sydney are setting goals to curb climate change that exceed national targets, causing tensions with central governments about who controls policy over green energy and transport and construction.

More than 2,500 cities have issued plans to cut carbon emissions to the United Nations since late 2014, setting an example to almost 200 nations that reached a Paris Agreement in December 2015 to fight global warming.

Sandnes of Oslo's Omsorgsbygg group inspects a tank containing biofuels no a fossil fuel demolition site in Oslo.
Credit: REUTERS/Alister Doyle

Although there are no officially collated statistics available, many city targets are more ambitious than those set by governments under the Paris accord, which imposes no obligations on cities, regions or companies to define goals.

Just over half the world's population lives in urban areas, meaning municipalities will help to determine whether the historic shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy agreed in Paris succeeds or fails.

But as many cities become more assertive, governments are reluctant to cede control.

"Cities are starting to encroach past their boundaries on policies at a national level," said Seth Schultz, director of research at the New York-based C40 climate group that includes most of the world's megacities, from Tokyo to Los Angeles.

"There will be more and more conflicts," he said, over defining policies to curb local air pollution and help wider aims to limit droughts, mudslides, heat waves and rising seas.

The trend is clearest in rich cities, which are more able to cut emissions to meet the demands of affluent, environmentally-conscious voters than fast-expanding cities such as Bangkok, Nairobi or Buenos Aires.

Pedestrians walk around the Opera House during winter in Oslo.
Credit: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

One example of the growing friction: Oslo, where left-wing authorities are at odds with Norway’s right-wing government over their push to more than halve the capital's greenhouse gas emissions within four years to about 600,000 tonnes, one of the most radical carbon reduction intentions in the world.

The plan for the city of 640,000 people includes car-free zones, "fossil-fuel-free building sites", high road tolls and capturing greenhouse gases from the city's waste incinerator.

In a sign of city power, a 2016 study projected that climate plans by cities and regions could cut an extra 500 million tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 - equivalent to the emissions of France - beyond cuts pledged by governments.

"The benefits are very local in cities - less air pollution, better public transport," said Niklas Hoehne, one of the authors at the NewClimate Institute think-tank in Germany.

Diesel Pollution

But that doesn't always sit well with central governments. Many of Oslo's green ideas are anathema to voters of the populist right-wing Progress Party, which together with the Conservatives forms the coalition government. 

Deputy Mayor Lan Marie Nguyen Berg said the government was delaying Oslo's plan for new road tolls which reach 58 crowns ($7) for diesel cars in rush hour.

"The Transport Ministry is dragging its feet", by demanding large, new road signs to explain the varying costs and to modify computer systems to register passing vehicles, she said.

Norway's Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, of the Progress Party, said the ministry was cooperating. Berg "is making an invalid argument," he said.

Still, a Nov. 4 letter from the ministry obtained by Reuters told the Norwegian Public Roads Administration to design a national computer system for the environmental road tolls rather than one just for Oslo - the only city that wants the system.

The letter said the extra work would delay the project by three months, until October 2017. 

"That's convenient for the Progress Party," one government official said, because national elections are due in September and the party will not be associated with unpopular tolls. The city has also been slow to submit detailed plans.

Buses vs. Trains

Cities in other parts of the world also face hurdles as they step up actions to press on with their own targets for carbon emissions that often exceed their governments' goals under the Paris accord.

In Australia, Sydney is in a dispute with the national government in Canberra because the city wants to generate more electricity locally, without paying high charges for using the national grid, Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

A digger running on biofuels smashes a disused kindergarten on a fossil fuel free demolition site in Oslo.
Credit: REUTERS/Alister Doyle

Sydney is now a local energy generator through its solar initiatives but has to pay "the same charges as a remote coal or gas station that exports its power hundreds of kilometers," she said.

But the government's Australian Energy Market Commission said in December that Sydney's plan for "local generation network credits" would be too costly to implement. It cited an estimate of A$233 million ($176.12 million) in extra costs for consumers by 2050.

Moore dismissed the findings, saying credits would mean a fairer system overall.

And Copenhagen Lord Mayor Frank Jensen said colleagues “in cities around the globe are demanding more legislation ... to transform our cities to be more green".    

He complained that fees paid to the government for electricity from the national grid used by green buses in Denmark - often under city control - were too high compared to those for trains that are controlled by the government on a countrywide network.

Trump Factor

Perhaps nowhere in the world is the difference between government and city more stark than in America. 

U.S. President Donald Trump rejects the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made and said during his election campaign that he would "cancel" the Paris Agreement and favor domestic fossil fuel production. But Trump's plans are unclear - the president has since said he has an "open mind" about Paris.

On Thursday, Scott Pruitt, the new head of the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, said he is unconvinced that man-made carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate change, a conclusion widely embraced by scientists.

If Trump relaxes standards for clean air, power plants or vehicles "there would be a greater burden on cities to implement programs to fill the gaps," said Amy Petri of the office of sustainability in the Texas city of Austin.

That would make it hard for Austin to reach its goals to cut emissions by 2020, she said. Still, mayors in 12 big U.S. cities including Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston this week reaffirmed a commitment to the Paris deal.

Reporting By Alister Doyle, editing by Peter Millership

17 March 2017. 100 Days of Climate: Week 9

Addressing climate change using sound science is crucial not just for the U.S., but for the world. Unfortunately, that appears unlikely over the next four years under the Trump administration, which has shown signs of being apathetic if not outright hostile to climate science and science-based policies to rein in carbon pollution.

Trump has promised to rid the country of Obama’s climate policies while simultaneously propping up coal and oil, the two biggest energy sources of carbon pollution. That’s despite the fact that climate science indicates now is the time when more urgent action is needed to address climate change.

With an anti-climate agenda likely in Trump’s first 100 days, Climate Central is going  to underscore the value of science and rational approaches to policy making over that span. We’ll be tweeting facts, stories and videos that provide key scientific context of the choices humanity faces and what policy actions (or inactions) mean. We’ll be chronicling them all right here, so check back every day to see what science tells us about our warming world and what we should be doing about it.

March 17-March 23

Day 57, March 17: February was the second hottest on record for the planet #climate100    
Day 58, March 18: Polluters could "more easily" commit crimes under proposed budget cuts #climate100    
Day 59, March 19: The budget blueprint leaves the climate science community in funding limbo #climate100    
Day 60, March 20: Spring is getting warmer as the globe heats up from the increase in greenhouse gases #climate100    
Day 61, March 21: Climate change is behind the surge in western wildfires #climate100 #InternationalDayofForests    
Day 62, March 22: Earlier springs raise the risk of freeze damage to crops and blossoms #climate100    

March 10-March 16

Day 50, March 10: Over Trump’s first 50 days, 89 percent of U.S. weather stations have been warmer than normal #climate100    
Day 51, March 11: "Science, not silence:" Scientists are starting a new movement #climate100    
Day 52, March 12: Climate change has impacted the size and geographical distribution of tick populations  #climate100  
Day 53, March 13: Scientists are racing to save reefs in the face of climate change #climate100   
Day 54, March 14: Here’s why snow is hard to forecast #climate100   
Day 55, March 15: Climate change is causing leaves to emerge earlier in the spring #climate100   
Day 56, March 16: Over Trump’s first 50 days, 89 percent of U.S. weather stations have been warmer than normal #climate100    

March 3-March 9

Day 43, March 3: This idea could help wildlife survive climate change #climate100    
Day 44, March 4: The U.S. may be losing the ability to accurately calculate its greenhouse gas emissions #climate100    
Day 45, March 5: Proposed cuts to @NOAA could have major implications for weather forecasting and climate research    
Day 46, March 6: CO2 levels could reach 410 ppm this month, the highest level in human history  #climate100  
Day 47, March 7: The elimination of NOAA's Sea Grant could slow climate adaptation on coasts  #climate100  
Day 48, March 8: "Across the world we're finding that we can link unusually warm weather events to climate change”  
Day 49, March 9: Even with spring snowstorms, on average, spring is coming earlier with climate change #climate100 

Feb. 24-March 2

Day 36, Feb. 24: Winter storms like #Quid have increased in intensity since 1950 #climate100    
Day 37, Feb. 25: Spring is warming fastest in the Southwest U.S. #climate100    
Day 38, Feb. 26: Natural gas leaks matter: methane is up to 86 times more potent than CO2 #climate100    
Day 39, Feb. 27: 5 out of every 6 wildfires started by humans in landscapes made more likely to burn #climate100    
Day 40, Feb. 28: Here's why snow cover is a climate change indicator #climate100    
Day 41, March 1: It’s the first day of spring. Here’s how your winter stacked up #climate100    
Day 42, March 2: 117 weather stations in the U.S. recorded a record-warm winter; only 6 had their coldest #climate100    

Feb. 17-Feb. 23

Day 29, Feb. 17: Here’s how climate change may alter “critical” atmospheric rivers #climate100    
Day 30, Feb. 18: Climate change means more winter precipitation falling as rain #climate100    
Day 31, Feb. 19: The 10 hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998 #climate100    
Day 32, Feb. 20: With climate change, spring is coming an average of 3 days earlier across the U.S. #climate100    
Day 33, Feb. 21: More heavy downpours are consistent with what climate scientists expect in a warming world    
Day 34, Feb. 22: NASA helps us understand our own planet (while discovering others!) #climate100    
Day 35, Feb. 23: NOAA data show that record highs are outpacing record lows 116-to-1 this February #climate100    

Feb. 10-Feb. 16

Before and after satellite imagery show an iceberg breaking off the calving front of the Pine Island Glacier.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Day 22, Feb. 10: Our warming world could lead to individual storms that produce heavier snow #climate100    
Day 23, Feb. 11: The Dakota Access pipeline has been greenlighted. Here’s what that means for carbon emissions    
Day 24, Feb. 12: NOAA lets the public create climate visuals with the click of a button #climate100    
Day 25, Feb. 13: The planet is losing sea ice. This winter is a dramatic sign of that trend #climate100    
Day 26, Feb. 14: The U.S. is more than 1/3 of the way toward meeting its commitment to the Paris Agreement    
Day 27, Feb. 15: Satellites reveal how our world is changing. Here’s what they just saw in Antarctica #climate100    
Day 28, Feb. 16: January 2017 continued the trend of planetary heat #climate100    

Feb. 3-Feb. 9

Day 15, Feb. 3: The language on EPA climate pages is starting to change (and disappear in some cases) #climate100    
Day 16, Feb. 4: These maps show what’s at risk along the U.S. coast from sea level rise  #climate100    
Day 17, Feb. 5: January was the 27th consecutive month the U.S. set more high temp records than low temp records #climate100    
Day 18, Feb. 6: Our infrastructure will get more vulnerable as extreme heat events increase #climate100    
Day 19, Feb. 7: Unprecedented Arctic warmth is an example of how carbon pollution is reshaping the planet    
Day 20, Feb. 8: Snow cover in North America is on the decline in part due to climate change #climate100  
Day 21, Feb. 9: Coastal cities could flood three times a week by 2045 as seas rise #climate100  

Jan. 27-Feb. 2

Day 8, Jan. 27: The group @500womensci brought together women researchers advocating for equality #climate100    
Day 9, Jan. 28: New research shows we’re even closer to the 1.5°C warming threshold #climate100    
Day 10, Jan. 29: This new NOAA satellite will dramatically improve weather forecasts #climate100    
Day 11, Jan. 30: Syria's worst drought in 900 years helped spark a refugee crisis #climate100    
Day 12, Jan. 31: One of the nation’s biggest climate polluting power plants could close this year #climate100    
Day 13, Feb. 1: Warming winters pose serious economic consequences in states reliant on winter tourism #climate100    
Day 14, Feb. 2: Limiting methane emissions, like from natural gas pipes, is key to curbing climate change #climate100    

Jan. 20-26

Credit: Anthony Quintano/flickr

Day 1, Jan. 20: Data is the bedrock for all we know about climate change. Here's why we need to save it #climate100    
Day 2, Jan. 21: Women are the true face of climate change #climate100 #womensmarch    
Day 3, Jan. 22: Outbreaks with more tornadoes are becoming more extreme #climate100    
Day 4, Jan. 23: NASA & NOAA have declared 2016 to be the hottest year in 137 years of record keeping #climate100    
Day 5, Jan. 24: Trump has frozen EPA funds at a time when climate research is more important than ever #climate100    
Day 6, Jan. 25: The EPA has reportedly been told to kill their climate change webpage via @Reuters #climate100    
Day 7, Jan. 26: Scientists have proposed a #ScienceMarch to advocate for evidence-based policies #climate100    

Climate Central's science programs (hover to learn more): 

17 March 2017. Uncertainty Abounds Around Climate Science Funding

The much-anticipated release Thursday morning of President Trump’s budget outline offered big headlines — a $1.1 trillion spending plan with massive cuts to the EPA, the State Department and other agencies to help pay for increased spending on the military and border security — but it offered scant specifics on what might happen to funding for climate science research across key government agencies.

The proposed budgets for NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration had mostly vague mentions of reduced funding for certain satellite programs and research grants. There was no mention at all of the budget for the National Science Foundation, another major research funder.

The budget blueprint leaves the climate science community in much the same limbo it has been in since the election, with concerns that major reductions in climate funding are in store, particularly given the rhetoric of Trump and his administration officials.

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about President Trump's budget in the briefing room of the White House on March 16, 2017.
Credit: REUTER/Kevin Lamarque

"We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money." Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said of climate science funding at Thursday afternoon’s press briefing.

Science funding as a whole makes up only 1 percent of the federal budget and has declined slightly since 2010, according to the American Geophysical Union.

More specifics on how the Trump administration wants to pare the budget will come with the fleshed out budget that is slated to be released later in the spring. Those cuts are only proposed ones, though, as Congress ultimately decides who gets what money, a process that will play out over the coming months and into summer.

“This is only the proposed [budget] and things can change a lot between now and when there’s a real budget,” Bill Gail, co-founder and CTO of the Global Weather Corporation and a former president of the American Meteorological Society, said. “We all have to be careful not to jump too high.”

Others, though, are gearing up to make the case for preserving climate science funding to officials in Congress.

“We are counting on Congress to realize that these kind of proposals are not a blue state or red state issue . . . to recognize that it would do really serious harm to us if they sustain this level of funding cuts,” Christine McEntee, executive director and CEO of the AGU, said.

The first inklings of potential impacts on climate science came when the Washington Post obtained a budget planning document two weeks ago that indicated NOAA’s satellite and research divisions could see their budgets slashed. The reports drew swift condemnation from meteorologists and climate scientists who warned that such cuts would significantly hamper efforts to improve weather forecasting and climate projections. Some saw it as targeted retaliation for some of the climate research NOAA has conducted.


The budget outline released Thursday, though, was more vague — the only specific  mentions were the zeroing out of coastal and marine management and research and the Sea Grant program, which provides funding for local communities for coastal resilience.

The outline said that the budget “maintains development” of two key satellite programs — the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite — because of their necessity in weather forecasting. The budget also “achieves annual savings” to Polar Follow On satellite program, according to the document. That program is tasked with developing the next polar satellites.

The vagueness leaves scientists and science advocates worried that those budget reductions could be substantial. “It’s very concerning,” McEntee said, citing the necessity of such satellites for giving advance warning of major storms, floods and drought, and other weather and climate issues that can have major economic impacts on farming, energy and infrastructure.

“Climate change is real and it’s happening,” McEntee said. “You can cut the budget but that’s not going to stop the impacts of climate change.”

Adding to the uncertainty around how climate science may fare under the Trump administration is the lack of any nominees to lead NASA and NOAA.

The budget made no mention at all of the National Science Foundation. The NSF is one of the main drivers of research and development in the U.S., an area where the country is already falling behind other nations, she said.

There were a few more specifics on cuts to climate programs within NASA. While the overall NASA budget only received a 1 percent proposed cut, Earth science saw a larger share of about 5 percent. That is in line with statements from Trump as well as Representative Lamar Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

While that is less than some feared, the budget does propose completely eliminating four Earth science missions that would enable scientists to better monitor various aspects of the climate system, from the distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to ocean health.

Concentrations of chlorophyll in the ocean, one of the measures of global ocean health that the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission — one of those proposed for termination in the budget — would monitor.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA/Norman Kuring

The outline also said the budget “reduces funding for Earth science research grants,” though left out any specific amounts.

“We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us,” acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.

Scientists, however, remained concern by the proposed budget.

“Much of what we know about the most important planet in the solar system comes from NASA. Since we won't be living on other planets anytime soon, I want the best minds and technology monitoring our changes, too,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia and another past AMS president, said in an email. Shepherd was also a research meteorologist with NASA.

The four missions proposed for the chopping blocks were all recommended by the National Research Council’s Decadal Survey, which pulls together experts to recommend priorities for science research to provide guidance to NASA, NOAA and the USGS on which missions and research to prioritize.

“Congress has a lot of respect for the decadal survey,” Gail, the Global Weather Corporation CTO, said, so whether they will agree with these proposed changes is uncertain.

McEntee emphasized the need to press Congress to preserve government science funding, as cuts in one year’s budget can have long-term reverberations; each year’s budget is set using the last one as a guide, creating a potential long-term funding shortfall.

“Government is one of our institutions that can take a long view rather than short-term quarterly earnings views,” she said. “Without taking that longer-term view we’re going to see mid- and long-term impacts that are going to be really hard to recover from.”


16 March 2017. Polluters Could ‘More Easily’ Commit Crimes Under Cuts

Investigators that enforce federal environmental laws would see their funding cut by nearly a quarter under a Trump administration proposal, boosting the likelihood that people, wildlife and the climate will be harmed by corporate pollution.

A federal budget proposal released Thursday would reduce funding for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance by $129 million to $419 million a year. The office employs more than 800, suggesting the cut could see 200 positions shed.

The EPA enforces federal environmental laws.
Credit: Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr

“The cuts are so deep it’s hard to imagine we won’t see real effects in air and water quality,” said Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at UCLA law. “Individual polluters are going to be able to get away with violating the law much more easily.”

Congress is responsible for setting the nation’s budget, and Trump’s proposal, which would cut more than $50 billion in agency and program spending to fund a bigger military, was a plea to both Republican-controlled chambers to join him in slashing federal programs.


If Congress agrees to reduce law enforcement at the EPA, it would make it less likely that the federal government would prevent or prosecute cases of illegal air and water pollution, and push substantially more enforcement responsibilities to states.

“States are doing great jobs, and the locals do great jobs, but really the EPA has the high level expertise to do complex, large-scale cases,” said Jared Blumenfeld, President Obama’s Administrator for the Pacific Southwest region of the EPA until last spring.

“Cutting out $129 million will basically signal to polluters that, ‘You know what? No-one is watching,’” Blumenfeld said. “Maybe it is worth the risk to pollute this waterway, or, in the middle of the night at the factory to turn off the scrubbers.”

The EPA’s enforcement office has worked with the Department of Justice to prosecute high-profile cases in recent years.

The EPA's enforcement office alleged Trader Joe's was violating federal law, leading it to agree to spend $2 million to reduce its climate pollution.
Credit: June Marie/Flickr

It helped secure a settlement agreement with gas and oil producer Anadarko in a fraud case, providing $2 billion for the cleanup of Navajo Nation uranium mines and other industrial sites. It also showed in court how Volkswagen had been cheating on pollution tests, leading to a $15 billion settlement.

“What VW did is they gamed the system,” Blumenfeld said. “In order to work that out, you need a lot of sophistication and testing equipment, and EPA has that.”

Not all of the EPA’s cases are high profile. Most involve smaller companies or local facilities. Some involve large companies but receive little press attention.

Last summer, Trader Joe’s settled a case after it was accused by the EPA of allowing a potent greenhouse gas to escape from its refrigerators. The grocery store chain agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty and spend $2 million on new pollution controls.

Cutting the EPA’s enforcement budget would increase pressure on local and state governments to enforce environmental laws — something they can’t always do for financial reasons, or don’t want to do for political ones.

“Federal budget cuts puts pressure on the states to fill the gap,” said Emily Hammond, a professor at the George Washington University Law of School focused on environmental and energy issues.

“The problem is that many states are already strapped for enforcement resources,” Hammond said. “The costs of such an approach are increased cross-state pollution problems, hot spots of increased environmental harm, and a lack of uniformity in policy development that undermines forward-thinking states' efforts at environmental protection.”


16 March 2017. Budget Proposal Would Hamper Climate Efforts Abroad

The Trump administration’s budget proposal would hamper efforts abroad to slow global warming, especially by poor and fast-developing countries, compounding the hazards of America’s retreat from efforts to ease its own climate impacts.

A 54-page proposal released Thursday would end payments to global climate initiatives, such as a United Nations fund that helps poor countries deploy clean energy and adapt to climate change. It would also sharply reduce funding for the World Bank and other development programs.

Workers in Honduras were trained to install solar panels by USAID.
Credit: USAID ProParque/Flickr

Meanwhile, the budget proposal and executive orders by Trump would increase the amount of climate pollution released by Americans for years to come, largely by eliminating regulations and spending designed to help the U.S. meet obligations under the Paris climate treaty.

“Trump's budget proposal to Congress has put in place all the worst-case scenarios with respect to defunding global efforts to combat climate change,” said Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi climate scientist with the International Institute for Environment and Development.


The cuts to climate and development spending abroad were included in a proposal to slash the State Department and USAID budget by $10 billion next year to $26 billion, part of an effort to increase defense funding by $54 billion.

The move would reduce America’s diplomatic influence in the world while boosting its formidable military might — a potential trade-off some Republican leaders in Congress have rejected. “If you take soft power off the table, then you're never going to win the war,” Mitch McConnell recently told MSNBC.

If Trump can convince Congress to approve even a portion of his proposed cuts to domestic and global climate programs, though, experts say the future will be hotter than is currently likely.

“The climate change that we’ve created has put many places — and many of the most vulnerable places are in the developing world — at tremendous risk,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia

Some of the programs that Trump hope to slash were designed to help vulnerable communities abroad adapt to changes they’re experiencing, and which they did nearly nothing to cause. But Burger said the cuts would also put Americans in danger.

“There’s a big trick, which is how to support countries developing in such a way that they don’t consume anywhere close the same amount of fossil fuels that we consumed and continue to consume,” Burger said. “The only way to do that is to use the resources that we have, the financial resources, the technological resources and the intellectual capacity, to assist other countries in their development.”

Scientists have linked a sharp rise in Western wildfires in recent years with climate change.
Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Since Trump took power, two Senate Republicans have rejected a hardline stance against climate action by joining a caucus committed to slowing warming. Meanwhile, 17 House Republicans introduced legislation this week that asserts climate change is a real problem requiring solutions.

“These are Republicans who are in swing districts or in districts where the effects of climate change are happening now,” said Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at UCLA law. “These are signs that acknowledging the existence of climate change is a moderate thing to do.”

Congress is responsible for setting the federal budget, and the emerging support for climate action among Congressional Republicans may make it harder for Trump to secure deep cuts to domestic and global climate programs.

“The Bush administration actually founded some of these programs, so I suspect that there will be some bipartisan pushback,” Carlson said.

While future presidents could potentially restore or boost funding for climate programs around the world, delays until then could exacerbate the climate crisis for generations to come.

“Hopefully we’ll see another U.S. administration that’s going to get back into this and show leadership,” said Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the nonprofit World Resources Institute and former State Department climate official.

Global heat records have been broken three years in a row, and February was the second hottest on record. Temperatures are rising with atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation, which is worsening wildfires, heat waves, droughts and floods, killing vast swaths of coral reefs.

“The problem is that whenever we do eventually get back into this, even if Congress can preserve some of these initiatives, we’re going to lose time,” Light said. “The longer we delay, it gets more expensive to get back on track. And the more expensive it gets, the harder it is to muster the political will.”


16 March 2017. Trump Budget Blueprint Eviscerates Energy Programs

The White House’s proposed “America First” budget forcefully kicks many federal climate-related energy programs to the curb, representing a possible turn away from renewable energy and a broad disinvestment in the research and development needed to transform the U.S. energy system into one better able to adapt to climate change.

The budget “blueprint,” released Thursday morning by the White House Office of Management and Budget, proposes to fully eliminate or drastically reduce funding for a wide swath of federal clean energy programs and energy efficiency efforts. In all, it would cut more than 50 programs from the Environmental Protection Agency, including the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to fight climate change.

An oil field in California. The Trump administration's proposed 2018 budget fully embraces fossil fuels. Credit: Richard Masoner/flickr

The proposal fully embraces fossil fuels development while deeply cutting popular environmental cleanup programs such as EPA’s Superfund program, which helps to clean up hazardous waste leftover from abandoned industrial and energy facilities.

All of the targeted programs help the U.S. reduce the pollution that causes global warming or improves the quality of the environment so communities can withstand the ravages of climate change.


The biggest single target is the EPA. The Trump administration is calling for a 31 percent cut in the EPA’s budget, or $2.6 billion from its current $8.2 billion budget, and would reduce its workforce by 3,200. These cuts would hamstring the EPA’s ability to enforce laws protecting air and water, giving states more authority to regulate. It was states’ inability to effectively control pollution that led to the creation of the EPA in the first place in 1970 so that one federal agency could more evenly oversee environmental laws across state lines.

The budget also calls for a 5.6 percent reduction in funding for the U.S. Department of Energy (or $1.7 billion) and a 12 percent cut for the Department of the Interior ($1.5 billion), which oversees all energy development offshore and on federal lands.

In total, the budget calls for eliminating $54 billion in funding for vast federal programs and proposes to increase to defense spending by the same amount so that the federal deficit will be unaffected.

The proposed cuts fall in line with Trump’s energy plan and campaign promises that called for a fossil fuels “renaissance” while rejecting established climate science that shows manmade carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming. Trump has repeatedly expressed contempt for Obama administration climate and clean energy policies and regulations, and his proposed budget is his plan to undo them.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday that the budget blueprint was written “using the president’s own words” by turning his policies and rhetoric into hard numbers.

“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mulvaney said. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”

But the proposal, which is unlikely to be rubber-stamped by Congress in its current form, is light on details about cuts to specific programs within federal agencies. It describes many of the cuts as broad goals to slice deeply into government climate and energy programs, federal support for energy research at universities and funding for national laboratories, many of which conduct clean energy and climate research.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is among the national labs that could see budget cuts under the Trump administration's 2018 budget blueprint. Credit: Scott Butner/flickr

Mark Barteau, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said it is unclear what Trump’s budget proposal will ultimately mean for energy research because Congress has not yet weighed in on the budget.

“The real question is just how bad it will turn out to be,” he said. “I see a dramatic decrease in support for renewables such as wind and solar, particularly for programs aimed at promoting deployment of these technologies.”

As Trump has long promised, among the most significant programs on the chopping block is the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature rule that would cut carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

The plan’s proposed elimination is in line with expectations that Trump will soon sign an executive order requiring the EPA to take steps to reverse or replace the Clean Power Plan. The plan lent the U.S. credibility during the 2015 Paris climate negotiations because it showed that the U.S. was serious about cutting its greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

Thursday’s proposed budget also shows that Trump is trying to make good on his promise to widely expand oil and gas drilling and development on public lands and offshore. The proposed Interior Department budget calls for streamlining drilling permitting and providing greater industry access to public lands. The move suggests Trump may attempt to counter Obama administration efforts last year to close off areas of the Arctic Ocean to oil and gas development and create national monuments in the West that would restrict energy development there.

The administration is calling for the elimination of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which funds research on cutting-edge energy technology that is not yet advanced enough for private investment. The agency funds research on energy storage technology, high-efficiency solar power, carbon capture and sequestration and other emerging renewables technologies.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. The EPA's budget is targeted for a 31 percent cut. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

The administration is calling for a 16 percent, or $900 million, funding cut to the DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees 10 national laboratories, including the Argonne, Fermi, Oak Ridge, Lawrence Berkeley, Pacific Northwest and other labs.

Many of the labs conduct a wide range of research on renewable energy. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, for example, studies energy efficiency in buildings, electric vehicles, bioenergy, hydropower and other renewables. The Lawrence Berkeley lab studies solar power, energy efficiency standards for appliances and carbon capture and sequestration.

Also slated for elimination are the Energy Star building and consumer appliance energy efficiency program, and unspecified EPA international climate change programs.

The budget says the private sector is better suited to pay for “disruptive” energy research and development, so Trump is proposing to kill a DOE program that helps fund rapid construction of renewables and electric power transmission projects, and another that loans money to develop energy efficient vehicles.

Those programs include the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, which was formed under the George W. Bush administration to support clean energy projects that can’t obtain conventional private loans because of the high risks involved. The Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, also established by the Bush administration, offers direct loans to auto companies so they can expand facilities to produce fuel-efficient vehicles and related parts.

Trump also wants to kill the DOE’s State Energy Program, which helps states develop clean energy, as a way to “reduce federal intervention in state-level energy policy,” according to the proposal. The program was created by Congress in 1996 to bolster state programs that help fund renewable energy projects. The program provides technical assistance to states that want to build energy efficiency and renewables projects.

The blueprint is vague on the administration’s plans for the DOE’s renewable energy and energy efficiency office and its Fossil Energy Research program, saying only that funding for those programs will be focused on “early-stage applied energy research.” The energy efficiency office helps to develop renewables, energy efficiency measures and sustainable transportation technology. The Fossil Energy Research program conducts research on nascent carbon capture and storage technology in addition to oil and gas drilling technology, including fracking.

Fermilab is among the national laboratories that could see budget cuts. Credit: Michael Kappel/flickr

Scientists and legal experts say that while Trump’s proposed budget is light on details, it could devastate university research programs and significantly slow America’s progress toward developing low-carbon energy sources and cutting emissions to address climate change.

“If the budget decrease is sustained, it will reduce university and research funding for startups and other companies that compete for federal grants on renewable energy, reducing American competitiveness for innovation and patents relative to other countries, ultimately decreasing the GDP of the United States,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University environmental engineering professor whose research focuses on renewable energy development.

Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, said the proposed budget counters Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s vocal support of the country’s national laboratories, which he has hailed as America’s “science and engineering treasures.”

“It is appears that despite Secretary Perry’s statement during his confirmation hearing that the national labs are the ‘crown jewels of this country’ the administration does not share that view given the deep cuts to the Office of Science, which supports not only university research but more than half of the national labs including Lawrence Berkeley National Lab,which provide extremely valuable research on renewables and energy efficiency,” Firestone said.

What’s more, university research funding would be “crippled,” if Trump’s budget is enacted, Firestone said.

“The gutting of ARPA-E shows a total lack of understanding of the crucial role that government plays in scientific advances to ensure that America remains great, vital and economically competitive, and reaches even greater heights,” Firestone said.

Richard Alonso, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Bracewell who represents manufacturers and energy companies on environmental regulations, said the final federal budget is unlikely to follow Trump’s blueprint.

“There’s likely going to be some cuts at EPA, but probably not that drastic,” Alonso said. “It really does indicate (Trump’s) policy direction and what the plan is for the EPA moving forward.”

Alonso said he expects the final budget that is eventually approved by Congress to include a weakened form of the Clean Power Plan because the EPA is unlikely to attempt to challenge a Supreme Court ruling saying the EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide.

Many legal experts believed that the Obama administration overreached with the Clean Power Plan when it used the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide, Alonso said. But because the EPA may be legally obligated to regulate carbon dioxide in some form, it may be necessary to replace the plan with a weaker version.


16 March 2017. Global Heat Continues With Second-Hottest February

February was the second hottest on record for the planet, trailing only last year’s scorching February — a clear mark of how much the Earth has warmed from the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

How temperatures around the world compared to normal during February 2017.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA

The month was 2°F (1.1°C) above the 1951-1980 average, according to NASA data released Wednesday. That was 0.36°F (0.2°C) lower than February 2016, which ranks as the most anomalously warm month in NASA’s global temperature records, which go back 137 years.

One of the clear hotspots on the globe was once again the Arctic, as was the case in January and last year, which was the hottest year on record. Temperatures there were about 7°F (4°C) above average during February. Those high temperatures have kept Arctic sea ice to record low levels; the Arctic looks to see a record low winter maximum sea ice area for the third year in a row.


The continual monthly heat records set in 2016 were fueled partly by a strong El Niño event, which tends to warm global temperatures, though the bulk of the excess heat is due to the human-caused warming of the planet. The second-place finish of this February makes that contribution clearer, as El Niño dissipated last summer and was even followed by a mild La Niña, which tends to cool global temperatures.

The slightly lower temperatures in January and February of this year “is in part due to the difference in El Niño,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an email. “But the overall trends are indeed because the planet is warming. As we said last year, the El Niño impact on the annual means is relatively small.”

In fact, even La Niña years now are warmer than El Niño years of the past, because of the boost provided by global warming.

Global temperatures have steadily risen since the late 19th century, with 2016 ranking as the hottest year in the last 137 years. February 2017 ranks as the second hottest on record, behind only February 2016.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century (the exception being the strong El Niño year of 1998). The five warmest years have all occurred since 2010, according to NOAA, and every year of the past 40 years has been warmer than the 20th century average. (While NOAA’s temperatures can vary slightly from NASA’s because of the different methods the agencies use for processing data, their numbers are generally very close and both show the same clear warming trend.)

While 2017 is unlikely to break 2016’s record, it is still likely to rank among the hottest years, according to U.K. Met Office projections.


15 March 2017. Trump and Automakers Target EPA Mileage Rules

Attorneys for automakers have joined forces with the Trump Administration as they begin the cumbersome task of working to scuttle what would have been some of America’s most far-reaching rules designed to slow global warming — ambitious car mileage standards.

Trump announced in Michigan on Wednesday that the EPA would review federal mileage standards for 2022 to 2025. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers filed a lawsuit this week challenging the same standards, several weeks after it asked EPA to conduct the review.

Trump tours new cars with auto industry leaders in Michigan on Wednesday.
Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“This is an enormously significant set of standards,” said Michael Wara, an energy and environment expert at Stanford Law School. “The fuel economy standards are the single biggest step the Obama administration took to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.”

Under rules adopted by the Obama administration shortly before Trump became president, the average fuel efficiency of cars and other light vehicles sold in America would need to improve to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. For comparison, a new Toyota Camry now gets about 33 miles per gallon on freeways; less in cities.


The new rules were designed to spur supply of electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as force carmakers to invest heavily in fuel-saving research and development efforts.

Under Obama, the EPA estimated that the mileage rules would save Americans $1.7 trillion in fuel costs while reducing climate-changing fuel burning by 12 billion barrels of oil by 2025. Major automakers opposed the rules, which they say will hamper their ongoing financial recoveries. Electric car innovator Tesla pushed for more stringent standards.

The EPA completed its review of mileage rules and finalized the 2022 to 2025 standards well ahead of schedule, leading automakers to accuse it of rushing its decision. Trump on Wednesday characterized the decision as an “11th-hour executive action.”

“We are going to cancel that executive action,” Trump said during a speech at a driverless car technology test facility in Ypsilanti Township, Mich. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review, and we are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs.”

Trump delivering remarks a driverless car technology test facility in Michigan on Wednesday.
Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The EPA said Wednesday that it intends to complete the review by April 1, 2018. Experts said the lawsuit filed by automakers could support efforts to roll back mileage standards, because it could provide the EPA with the option of a settlement agreement.

“The lawsuit provides an additional option — settlement — for EPA's policy-making repertoire,” George Washington University Law School professor Emily Hammond said. “I worry that a settlement approach would be less democratic than a full rulemaking to rescind the tailpipe standards.”

California and a some states have adopted more stringent clean car rules than the federal government. Those states won’t be directly affected by Wednesday’s announcement, although EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has hinted that his agency may separately attempt to challenge those states’ rules.

Automakers lauded Wednesday’s announcement, as environmental groups and prominent Democrats denounced it.

“We applaud the Administration’s decision to reinstate the data-driven review of the 2022-2025 standards,” Auto Alliance CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a statement. “Our industry is committed to producing even safer and more energy-efficient vehicles in the future and that’s what this process is all about.”

Green groups appeared united in condemning the decision, which was one of the first of a long list of anti-regulatory actions anticipated by the Trump administration as it begins walking back the Obama administration’s efforts to slow climate change.

“We’ll obviously be resisting any kind of rollback fiercely,” said Roland Hwang, who leads the energy and transportation program at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “That will include in the court of law, the court of public opinion, the halls of Congress. Wherever it takes us, we will be resisting.”


15 March 2017. Europe Faces Annual Extreme Coastal Floods in Future

The kind of extreme coastal flooding events that today hit parts of Europe roughly once every hundred years could happen annually by the end of the century as the climate continues to change, a new study suggests.

Such “rare catastrophic events, which most of us have not experienced, will become a part of most Europeans’ lives,” study leader Michalis Vousdoukas, a coastal oceanographer at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, said in an email.

Extreme waves crashing on Chesil Beach in Dorset in southern England on Feb. 5, 2014.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Richard Broome.

The analysis, detailed in the journal Earth’s Future, is the first to take into account not only sea level rise due to warming temperatures, but also the impacts of climate change on storm surge and wave activity when estimating future flood risk. Those two factors have played a key role in the worst flooding disasters, and so are important to consider because “it's always the extreme events that are important in terms of impacts, since they are explosive and unpredictable,” Vousdoukas said.

That seas are rising as the planet heats up is one of the clearest outcomes of climate change. Currently, seas are rising by about an inch per decade, though rates vary from region to region because of local land rise and subsidence. If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed, global seas could rise by 10 inches to 2.5 feet, on average, by the end of the century, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Higher seas lead to more, and more severe, coastal flooding during storms, but to date most evaluations of that future threat have focused only on the sea level rise component, leaving out potential changes to tides, storm surge and wave energy, which cause most of the erosion and damage to houses and infrastructure seen during such storms.


One of the biggest such examples in recent European history are the 1953 North Sea floods, when high tides combined with an intense storm system to flood large swaths of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, killing more than 2,500 and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Rolling all the factors together that contribute to such extreme floods is difficult and necessarily involves making certain assumptions and simplifications. But the authors think it can provide a clearer picture of the kind of future the region is up against and the kinds of investments needed to be made in coastal defenses, as well as what could be avoided by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

The authors used observations of these different factors as well as climate models to estimate how each factor might change along the coastlines of Europe under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

They found that while sea level rise drives the bulk of the flooding risk, the changes to storm surge and waves amp up that risk in certain areas, particularly the North Sea and along northern European coasts more generally.

By the end of the century, the level of a 100-year flood event could reach 2.5 feet higher than today on average around Europe’s coastlines if emissions continue unabated and could still reach nearly 2 feet higher even under moderate emissions reductions. In the North Sea region, they could reach 3 feet higher.

“Identifying these ‘hotspots’ is critical for local managers and should motivate more detailed regional/local analyses in order to make informed decisions on future adaptation needs,” Thomas Wahl, who studies coastal flood risks at the University of Central Florida, said in an email. Wahl was not involved with the new study.

A flooded Dutch town during the 1953 North Sea floods.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: U.S. International Development Cooperation Agency

The study also finds that a 1-in-100 year flooding event today could happen once a decade by mid-century and every few years to annually by the end of the century, depending on emissions levels.

Despite the inherent limitations of the analysis “it is an important step in the right direction and to date, the most comprehensive analysis of changes in coastal extreme sea levels under climate change for Europe,” Wahl said.

Vousdoukas and his colleagues are working on similar, global-scale analysis, which suggests such extreme flood hotspots will be found elsewhere. Large variations in such risks along the U.S. coast have already been hinted at in other studies, Wahl said.

In response to the catastrophic 1953 floods, the Dutch government constructed a massive flood protection system of dams, dykes, locks and levees to prevent history repeating itself. Vousdoukas and his colleagues hope that European, and other, governments will be able to use his work to start preparing for future risks before the flood of the future arrive.

“One of the important messages from our work is to highlight the potential future challenges for the European coastline,” he said. “Designing and implementing sufficient and socially fair adaptation/mitigation measures is a challenge and our societies should start preparing now.”


14 March 2017. Trump to Announce Review of Vehicle Emissions Rules

By David Shepardson, Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to formally announce a review of vehicle fuel efficiency rules locked in at the end of the Obama administration when he meets with automaker chiefs this week, according to two sources briefed on the matter.

The move by Trump would be a victory for automakers after months of pushing the new administration to reconsider the rules, which they say would be too expensive, could cost jobs and are out of step with vehicles consumers want to buy.

Trump will visit an autonomous vehicle testing facility in a Detroit suburb on Wednesday and meet there with chief executives of several U.S. automakers.

The 110 freeway with the downtown Los Angeles skyline.
Credit: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

His administration has decided to review the feasibility of the vehicle emissions rules, which apply to the years 2022 through 2025, sources told Reuters last week. Former President Barack Obama moved to keep them in the final days of his administration.

Reuters reported on the planned announcement on March 3. A formal notice by U.S. regulators to restart the review is expected to be made public on Wednesday. 

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday the trip is focused on "job creation and automobile manufacturing... highlighting the need to eliminate burdensome regulations that needlessly hinder meaningful job growth."

The chief executives of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will meet with the president in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, along with senior officials from Japanese and German automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co.,and Daimler.

Trump will hold a roundtable with CEOs and then make a speech to autoworkers and others.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had until April 2018 to decide whether the standards were feasible under a "midterm review," but moved up its decision to a week before Obama left office in January.

Automakers argue the vehicle emissions rules, which would raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025 from 27.5 mpg in 2010, will impose significant costs and are out of step with consumer preferences. They argue they need more flexibility to meet the rules amid low gas prices.

Environmentalists, who favor the standards, say the rules will reduce fuel costs and greenhouse gases and have vowed to sue if the Trump administration weakens them.

Trade groups representing automakers, including General Motors, Volkswagen, and Toyota, have asked the EPA to withdraw the determination finalizing the rules, which stem from a 2011 deal the industry reached with the U.S. government.

Changing the 2022-2025 fuel rules will require a lengthy regulatory process and environmentalists and Democratic state attorneys general are likely to sue if the Trump administration significantly weakens the requirements.

The Obama administration said in 2011 the changes would boost fuel efficiency to a fleet-wide average of 54.5 mpg, save motorists $1.7 trillion in total fuel costs over the life of the vehicles and cost the auto industry about $200 billion over 13 years. The fuel standards were a central part of Obama's legacy on addressing climate change.

In July, the EPA estimated the fleet would average only 50.8 mpg to 52.6 mpg in 2025 under the rules because Americans were buying more sport utility vehicles and trucks and fewer cars.

Automakers briefed on the meeting do not expect the EPA to take action this week to attempt to prevent California from setting its own vehicle emissions rules. A Trump administration official confirmed it does not intend to address California's authority this week.

Reuters reported last week the EPA is considering taking steps to reverse California's waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set its own vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Trump has repeatedly met with automaker CEOs since taking office and made boosting employment, especially in the auto sector, a top priority.

Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Rigby

12 March 2017. Stockholm’s Mayor is Taking on Climate Change

By Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Karin Wanngård, the mayor of Stockholm, rides an electric bike to work each morning — at least when it is not snowing too heavily.

She also wears second-hand clothing — a trendy move in Stockholm, she says — and eats less meat than she used to. It is all part of her contribution to meeting an ambitious goal she set for her city:  eliminating all use of coal, oil and other fossil fuels by 2040.

Karin Wanngård, the mayor of Stockholm, with a bicycle she rides to work most mornings.
Credit: Liselotte van der Meijs/REUTERS

“Leadership is really important when you want to make things happen,” said the 41-year-old, who has run Sweden’s capital city since 2014. “You can always have politicians making nice speeches but when it comes to action you need to have leadership.”

Around the world, cities are increasingly at the forefront of action to curb climate change. Some, like Stockholm, have set ambitious emissions reduction goals, while others have pushed ahead with climate policies despite national policy reversals, such as under President Donald Trump in the United States.

Increasingly, many of the cities leading on climate change — Paris, Washington, Sydney, Cape Town — are run by women. 

In two years, the number of women leading large cities that are at the forefront of climate action has risen from four to 16, according to the C40 Cities network of more than 80 cities committed to addressing climate change, which is organising a conference for women leaders in New York this month.

“Men are also really great on topics like (climate change),” Wanngård told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. 

But most women “look to our children and we really strive forward", said the mayor who has a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

Fewer Cars, Higher Standards

In Stockholm, action to curb climate change is evident nearly everywhere. A 10-year-old congestion charge has cut car traffic, and the city is experimenting with closing some streets to traffic for part of the summer, leaving them free for pedestrians.

Stockholm, Sweden.
Credit: vapi photographie/flickr

The city announced last month that it would shut its oldest coal power plant by 2022 — “that’s really soon in this business”, Wanngård said — and replace it with a plant that uses biogas from composed household waste.

Stockholm also is on the verge of signing a contract with a large company that would build a plant there and sell the city its waste manufacturing heat. That could be fed into a set of pipes to provide heating to homes and businesses as part of the city’s “district heating” system, the mayor said. 

The city’s rules for energy efficiency and other green features in new apartment buildings are tougher than elsewhere in Sweden — a source of irritation to some builders.

“Big companies say it would be easier for us if we had the same policies overall (across Sweden). I just tell them I can make sure our higher standards will become the policy for all Sweden — and then they are quiet,” Wanngård  said.

“So far citizens are really on our side,” she said — even if some drivers do gripe about city streets being closed in summer. “All our citizens are really aware we need to push the boundaries to fulfill our goals,” she said.

When it comes to setting ambitious policy, “you need to take the bold decisions and accept the debate and then later on it will kind of cool down”, she said.

Royal Allies

The mayor, who became interested in climate policy after reading statements by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and economist Jeffrey Sachs, among others, began pushing for climate action in Stockholm as a city councilor. Now, “I can do even more”, she said.

She has had help from some unusual allies, including Sweden’s royal family. At the Nobel Prize giving ceremony in Stockholm last December, both Queen Silvia and Crown Princess Victoria pointedly wore dresses made of recycled material.

“When it comes to people like that, who have the possibility to buy really, really expensive dresses and they go for recycled fabric, that starts a trend and everyone wants to do the same,” Wanngård said.

Stockholm, Sweden waterfront.
Credit: Jordi Escuer/flickr

President Trump’s promises to shift away from action on climate change in the United States are hugely worrying because “when the U.S. president says this is not important, it makes a statement”, she said.

But around the world, cities — including many in the United States — are taking "bold decisions every day" to combat climate change, she said. “And when you have done that once, it’s easier the second time and the third and the fourth.”

Next on Wanngård’s agenda is travel. She wants to encourage Stockholmers to cut their emissions while on holiday — and ask visitors to Stockholm to do their part too, she said.

She is encouraged that Sweden’s national government now has set a deadline to eliminate fossil fuels by 2045, noting that Stockholm “doesn’t hold any copyright” on good ideas.

“This is about our planet,” she said. “If we do nothing, or continue as we did yesterday, it will be really tricky for our grandchildren to survive. That’s what this is all about.”    

Reporting by Laurie Goering, editing by Alex Whiting

11 March 2017. Arctic Sea Ice May Vanish Even With Climate Goal

By Alister Doyle, Reuters

Arctic sea ice may vanish in summers this century even if governments achieve a core target for limiting global warming set by almost 200 nations in 2015, scientists said this week.

Arctic sea ice has been shrinking steadily in recent decades, damaging the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and wildlife such as polar bears while opening the region to more shipping and oil and gas exploration.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments set a goal of limiting the rise in average world temperatures to well below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial times, with an aspiration of just 1.5°C (2.7°F). 

Arctic sea ice and melt ponds in the Chukchi Sea. 
Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

"The 2°C target may be insufficient to prevent an ice-free Arctic," James Screen and Daniel Williamson of Exeter University in Britain wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change after a statistical review of ice projections.

A 2°C rise would still mean a 39 percent risk that ice will disappear in the Arctic Ocean in summers, they said. Ice was virtually certain to survive, however, with just 1.5°C of warming.

And they said they estimated a 73 percent probability that the ice would disappear in summer unless governments make deeper cuts in emissions than their existing plans. They estimated temperatures will rise 3°C (5.4°F) on current trends.

In March 2017, the extent of Arctic sea ice is rivaling 2016 and 2015 as the smallest for the time of year since satellite records began in the late 1970s. The ice reaches a winter maximum in March and a summer minimum in September.

"In less than 40 years, we have almost halved the summer sea ice cover," said Tor Eldevik a professor at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research at the University of Bergen in Norway, who was not involved in the study.

He predicted that sea ice would vanish in the Arctic Ocean in about another 40 years, on current trends. 

Scientists define an ice-free Arctic Ocean as one with less than 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of ice because they say some sea ice will linger in bays, such as off northern Greenland, even after the ocean is ice-free.

U.S President Donald Trump said during his 2016 election campaign that he would "cancel" the Paris Agreement and instead promote the domestic fossil fuel industry. He has since said he has an "open mind" on the subject.

Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Mark Trevelyan