The Carbon Footprint of Divorce in China

Couples often remain unhappily married for the sake of the kids. Now they might consider it for the sake of the planet.

Chinese households are outpacing the population by three-to-four times.

Jianguo (Jack) Liu, who directs the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University, has been tracking an interesting driver of carbon emissions in China: the explosion of households.

Speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists‘ annual conference at the University of Montana, Liu said the number of households in China has been growing three-to-four times as fast as the population, which, in turn, is fueling a domestic boom in energy-intensive consumer goods, such as autos, air conditioners and major appliances (though one third of China’s carbon emissions are still due to products made for the export market, with the largest share bound for the US). Continue reading

Heat Records Set in 17 Countries — So Far

This post also appears at Climate Central, a content partner of Climate Watch.

By Andrew Freedman

California’s freakishly cool summer has been bucking a global trend this season. You’ve seen the headlines from Moscow and Pakistan–but that’s just part of the story. 2010 has featured several extreme heat events, as well as record flooding, in many countries worldwide. The number of countries that have set new national records for the warmest temperature recorded — 17 — would beat the old record of 14, provided that all of the new records are verified by meteorological agencies. According to meteorologist Jeff Masters of the private weather forecasting firm Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the countries that have set new records thus far this year comprise about 19 percent of the earth’s surface area. Continue reading

UN Climate Chief: 2014 "Will Alarm the World"

As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrapped up his three-day Global Climate Summit today, with signatures and ceremony, the U.N.’s top climate official set a sobering tone with his own parting shot.

In a final panel this afternoon, the Governor was joined by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Pachauri said the worst-case scenarios from previous climate modeling appear to be coming true, and warned that the next climate change assessment from the IPCC, due out in 2014, “will alarm the world.”

Then he went on to reiterate a prediction he made before the U.N. earlier this month; that based on the science he’s seen, 12 countries are in danger of becoming failed states due to the impacts of climate change. And while he stopped short of listing the nations, previous statements appear to imply that several of the states on his list are in Africa.

Elsewhere at the summit, 30 delegates from state and local governments around the world signed a final agreement to collaborate on climate change. If they follow through with some muscle on the partnership, they’ll be collaborating on clean transportation and on climate adaptation strategies.

Governors from Brazil, Indonesia and U.S.also called on their national governments to address deforestation at the UN climate treaty talks in Copenhagen. Forest loss accounts for 20% of climate emissions globally. California also signed its agreement with the Jiangsu Province of China.

The three-day summit’s title was “On the Road to Copenhagen” and the international talks have been front and center in the discussions here. The governors attending would like their role in combating climate change formally recognized there. They see themselves on the front lines of climate change, as evidenced by this much cited statistic: 50-80% of the emissions cuts needed to reach the UN’s goals will be implemented by states and cities.

But despite the Copenhagen-mania, Schwarzenegger stuck with his subnational message, saying: “Climate change isn’t all about this one treaty.” Even if the talks at Copenhagen fail, he says states and provinces should keep forging ahead.

Photo: Office of the Governor.

A Bottom-Up Climate Approach

Governor's Office

Photo: Governor's Office

The second Governors’ Climate Summit kicked off yesterday with a plenary on adaptation to climate change. Most of the climate policy we hear about has to do with mitigation; cutting emissions to reduce the rate of climate warming. Increasingly, though, policy makers are looking at ways to adapt to the effects that are already palpable.

Several international leaders had stories to tell:

– Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia said that due to warming winters, pine beetles will kill 80% of the mature pine forests in his province by 2013.

– Dr. Dessima Williams of the Alliance of Small Island States said rising sea levels make climate change “a case of life and death” for island nations.

According to a World Bank analysis cited by Michele De Nevers of the Bank’s Environment Department, adapting to climate change will cost $75-100 billion dollars a year for developing countries–and that’s with only 2 degrees (Celsius) of warming by 2050. That seems like a big number, but De Nevers reminded the crowd that it’s on par with the recent financial bailout.

I also spoke with Margret Kim, China Program Director for the California Air Resources Board and EPA, who has been working with the government of the Jiangsu Province in China.  She filled me in on the agreement that Governor Schwarzenegger is expected to sign today with leaders from the province to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Based on this framework, California would develop an action plan to share expertise and research with the province.

This partnership is built on a 2005 agreement that California signed with the province, which was focused on energy efficiency. Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council says real progress was made on the first agreement with Jiangsu, which set several efficiency incentives and programs in motion. But they have more to do.  Ninety-five percent of the province’s electricity comes from coal.

The announcement comes on the heels of President Hu Jintao’s declaration less than two weeks ago that China would make notable reductions in its carbon intensity by 2020.  Carbon intensity isn’t quite as simple as a straight emissions cut. It measures the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each dollar of economic output.  And fixed targets aren’t part of the expected Jiangsu agreement either. But Finamore says this is a landmark agreement since it shows an important shift in China’s willingness to tackle climate change. As she said, “I’ve been working in China on energy issues for more than 20 years, and there has been a tremendous amount of recent progress.” And a bottom-up approach–with states piloting environmental policies before national governments adopt them–is certainly something we’re familiar with in California.

Stanford Studies Clean Coal Tech for China

coal_blogChina, the world’s largest emitter of CO2, is the focus of a new $2 million investment in clean coal technology research by  Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP).

The project will fund research into large-scale carbon sequestration in underground geological formations. China relies heavily on coal for electricity generation and in 2006 was reported to be building the equivalent of one new coal-fired power plant every week.

“China is growing so rapidly, and if they’re going to be able to lower their emissions, they are going to need a whole suite of technologies,” said Sally Benson, director of GCEP.  “They are doing a lot with solar technologies and energy efficiency but China is not abandoning coal.  So, we’re looking for ways they can reduce their emissions from coal.”

The three-year project is an international collaboration among the University of Southern California (USC), Peking University (PKU) and China University of Geosciences at Wuhan (CUG). It will focus on the technical aspects of stashing carbon in saline aquifers, such as chemical reactions between the rock and carbon and understanding what portions of the aquifers can actually be filled up.  The research will involve 39 scientists and students, and will integrate geological modeling, reservoir simulation and laboratory experiments.   The results may shed needed light on China’s overall carbon storage potential.

“Saline aquifers have been shown to have the biggest storage capacity across the world,” said Benson, “and China has a tremendous need.”

China’s not the only country with a tremendous need.  As the second largest emitter of CO2 (and still bigger than China per capita), the United States has yet to deploy large-scale CCS. Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $27.6 million in new funding for 19 projects exploring potential carbon storage technologies.

China: Have a Carb and a Smile

carb_stockWhat does coal power have to do with popping a can of soda? This morning, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reported on a power plant in China that is successfully capturing some of the carbon dioxide it releases. They extract it, liquefy it, and send it off to companies that use it in dry ice, fire extinguishers, and even carbonated beverages. A handful of power plants in U.S. are already doing the same.

Of course, when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, capture is only half the battle. The carbon snared from these plants is only temporarily stored – it gets released eventually–like when someone pops the top of the soda can.  It’s more like carbon recycling. The greater hurdle is in “sequestering” part of it.  In order to make a lasting difference in cutting emissions, that carbon has to be stored permanently.

President Obama has signaled that developing carbon sequestration technology is a key part of his energy plan, and is handing out billions in stimulus dollars.  But the U.S. is already behind the curve.  While there are several ways to store carbon, the main focus has been on storing carbon underground in geologic formations. There are several power plants in Europe that are already capturing and sequestering carbon emissions underground.  The Bush Administration backed off its first attempt at carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), the FutureGen project, in 2008 after the costs became too high. The name of game now is to simply get a demonstration plant working. Anywhere.

Here in California, CCS is an option, thanks to the underground geologic formations throughout the Central Valley that could be ideal sites. A western consortium known as WESTCARB is leading the charge with backing from the California Energy Commission and the Department of Energy.  They’ve announced a pilot project in Bakersfield where carbon will be captured from a 50-megawatt power plant. But construction is described as still “months away.”

As with any new technology, cost is the make-or-break issue.  Capturing and stashing carbon is prohibitively expensive–at least until there’s a price on carbon or the technology improves. This week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he doesn’t expect to see cost-effective technology for at least eight years. And he raised another point. “Even if the United States or Europe turns its back on coal, India and China will not,” Chu said.  At last fall’s climate summit in Los Angeles, members of the Chinese delegation told Climate Watch that they were looking to the U.S. to provide key technology. But as Anthony Kuhn reported, the Chinese went to Australia to get technical advice.

It’s commonly forecast that coal will remain a central power source in the U.S. for decades to come. But as critics of carbon sequestration have stated, it’s really a question of whether cost-effective technology will arrive in time to slow down climate change.

Lauren Sommer is an associate producer with Quest at KQED, and a self-described “carbon geek.” Her story on plans for a “smart” electrical grid is Monday’s Quest Radio feature.

Climate Summit Set to Start as L.A. Smolders

The Governors’ Climate Summit convenes Tuesday against the poignant–and salient–backdrop of the multiple wildfires and smoldering ruins ringing Los Angeles.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is hosting the somewhat hastily arranged conference, which is “co-hosted” by the governors of four other U.S. states; Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Governors of four other states have pledged to send delegates. Two of these states, Utah and Washington, are already partners with California in the Western Climate Initiative, which recently rolled out a framework for its regional cap & trade program, set to take effect in 2012.

Governor Schwarzenegger said in September that “all 50” US governors would be invited. Sacramento-based AP writer Samantha Young documented invitations to at least 36 governors.

Those who made it are joined by representatives from a dozen other nations, including Mexico, Brazil and importantly, China and India. These last two are linchpins in the success of any concerted effort to control emissions of greenhouse gases. Brazil can make a major contribution in the preservation of tropical forests. And Mexico–well, they’re right next door. And annoyingly, GHG emissions tend to flout international borders. It’s been estimated that on certain days, a quarter of L.A.’s air pollution can be traced to China, though today was certainly not one of them. The odor of smoke from surrounding wildfires followed me down I-5 from Castaic, into the L.A. Basin.

Tuesday’s summit agenda is dominated by breakout sessions devoted to specific sectors and topics, such as energy, transportation and cement manufacturing. Discussions will include representatives of diverse interests, from The Nature Conservancy to Wal-Mart. By Wednesday organizers expect delegates to sign a “joint declaration agreeing to pursue collaborative action to reduce greenhouse gas emission and create opportunities to grow green economies.”

I’ll be following the proceedings and blogging daily from them.