In order to distract your attention from the end of the world as we know it resulting from COVID-19, I thought I would direct your attention to further evidence of the end of the world as we know it resulting from climate change. In a very interesting article published earlier this month in Nature Communications, the authors examined the pace of “regime shifts” in critical ecosystems,… More
Category Archives: Adaptation
Last week, BioScience published the “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency.” It’s actually a nice piece of work – short, readable, to the point. In barely 4 pages, it concisely summarizes the fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. It also provides suggestions for actions to take to “lessen the worst effects.” The suggestions also pull no punches:
- quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy….…
Last week, Boston released its Climate Action Plan 2019 Update. The Update identifies “priority actions” for the next five years necessary to put Boston on a trajectory towards carbon neutrality by 2050. There’s a lot in the Update, but because it states that 71% of Boston carbon emissions come from buildings and it thus leads with its discussion of buildings, I’m going to focus there.… More
I’ve always understood that heat causes more fatalities than other weather-related phenomena. It’s only going to get worse with climate change. If you thought that climate change was all about rising sea levels, think again. Earlier this week, the Union of Concerned Scientists released “Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days.” I’d like to say it makes chilling reading. … More
The public-private partnership Louisiana Strategies for Future Environments just released a report so stark in its conclusions that, were it not for all of the maps and figures its contains, one would have assumed that it had to be written in a blue state such as Massachusetts or California, rather than deep red Louisiana. It’s sad that we’ve come to this point, but it does appear that Louisiana at least is taking the fact of climate change seriously. … More
Yesterday, Ed Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released a proposed congressional resolution providing a framework for the so-called Green New Deal. I am pleased to note that it would not exclude use of nuclear power or large-scale hydropower. Neither would it preclude use of market-based approaches towards regulating carbon. Of course, it also doesn’t advocate for putting a price on carbon.
I realize that this is simply a resolution and not proposed legislation. … More
A few weeks ago, a coalition of 626 groups sent a letter to Congress, setting forth some principles concerning what should and should not be part of a Green New Deal. Among the policies that apparently should not be part of a Green New Deal are nuclear power, large-scale hydropower and –wait for it – any use of market-based mechanisms. … More
Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission has just released Carbon Free Boston, which outlines a pathway to a carbon-free city by 2050. It’s a thoughtful and careful report. My immediate reaction was two-fold. Of course we have to do all this and of course this will be nearly impossible.
The transmittal letter to Mayor Walsh acknowledges the immensity of the undertaking:
The report’s analysis makes clear the great magnitude of the change needed to achieve carbon neutrality.… More
Two reports crossed my desk this week that, together, made me wonder if we’re finally nearing the tipping point on climate change belief in the United States. First, Yale and George Mason released Climate Change in the American Mind. The report shows that almost 75% of Americans think global warming is happening and more than 50% are very sure that it’s happening. More than 60% of Americans think it’s mostly caused by human activity.… More
Governor Baker announced today that, as part of his FY 2020 budget, he would be proposing to increase the real estate excise tax in order to fund the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund. The Governor stated that, in the long run, the tax increase would provide $137 million annual to fund adaptation efforts.
Though my friends in the real estate industry may not be happy,… More
Two seemingly unrelated adaptation stories caught my eye last week. The first involved efforts by the California Coastal Commission to provide guidance on “Residential Adaptation” to climate change. The primary reason why the draft guidance is getting so much attention is that the Commission raised the possibility of “managed retreat” in some situations.
I get the point of managed retreat. It seems preferable to repeatedly bowing to political pressure and bailing out coastal property owners who ignore the risks associated with climate change. … More
The National Climate Assessment Projects Major Economic Impacts. The President Doesn’t Believe It. Must Not Be True.
Last week, the government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Not surprisingly, it’s largely consistent with the prior assessments. As other commenters have noticed, the primary difference from prior reports is one of emphasis; the Assessment now includes substantial information about the likely cost to the economy if we fail to address climate change.
I had been wondering whether it was worth doing a post about the assessment – and then I saw that the President,… More
I gave up some time ago on the idea that focusing on adaption was just a means of weaseling out of necessary measures to mitigate climate change. As the extraordinary becomes commonplace, it’s evident that we’ve ignored the externalities of carbon longer than was prudent.
On Thursday, Judge John Keenan dismissed New York City’s climate damages law suit against five oil majors. The basis for the decision was the same as in last month’s decision dismissing similar claims in California:
- Because climate change is an interstate and international problem, such claims cannot be resolved under state law; if such claims are valid, they must be brought under federal common law.…
Late last month, when I reported on the dismissal of the California climate change public nuisance litigation, I stated boldly that we should not expect advocates to stop trying. I did not really think I was going out on a limb with that prediction, but I also did not know that I’d be proved correct so quickly. Less than a week later, on July 2, the State of Rhode Island brought its own public nuisance claim.… More
As a follow-up to my June 27 post about the dismissal of public nuisance claims brought by the City of Oakland and the State of California against five oil majors concerning their contribution to climate change, I note that ClimateWire (subscription required) is reporting that the Dutch government is appealing a court order that would require it to cut carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2030. … More
On Monday, Judge William Alsup dismissed the public nuisance case brought by the City of Oakland and the State of California against five major oil companies. The suit sought payment of damages into a fund to be used for necessary adaptation expenditures to deal with sea level rise.
Why did he dismiss the case? Simple. The courts are not the right forum in which to address the problems of climate change. … More
Just a few weeks ago, Federal Judge William Alsup ruled that claims brought by San Francisco and Oakland against certain large oil companies belonged in federal court, because they raise issues of federal common law. Last week, in a similar law suit asserting similar claims, Judge Vince Chhabria remanded the case to state court. Why? Because there is no federal common law applicable to such climate-related claims. … More
Governor Baker has sent some mixed messages to the environmental community in his first term. After promising during the campaign to increase environmental spending to 1% of the state budget, he’s made essentially no progress whatsoever. More recently, the administration’s selection of Northern Pass to provide renewable energy under the so-called “83D” procurement was panned by pretty much everyone who is neither a member of the administration nor a resident of the Sovereign Nation of Eversource.… More
Earlier this week, Judge William Alsup denied a motion by Oakland and San Francisco to remand their public nuisance claims against some of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers to state court. However, I’m not sure that this is a victory for the oil companies. This might be more of a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.
The Washington Post reported this week that Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly known as Barrow), has gotten so warm, so fast, that NOAA’s computers can’t even believe it. The data for Utqiagvik (that’s hard to type!) were so high that the computers determined it must be anomalous and pulled all of the data from Utqiagvik from the NOAA monthly climate report. Only when scientists realized that Utqiagvik was completely missing from the report did they notice what had happened.… More
Earlier this week, Moody’s Investors Service announced issuance of a report (payment required) warning that:
the effects of climate change, including climbing global temperatures, and rising sea levels, are forecast to have an increasing economic impact on US state and local issuers. This will be a growing negative credit factor for issuers without sufficient adaptation and mitigation strategies.
In other words, if you are an issuer of state or local bonds in an area likely to be impacted by climate trends,… More
Last week, the government released the Climate Science Special Report, the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. It makes grim reading – or perhaps more accurately, grim reaper – reading. Here’s what we might call the executive summary of the Executive Summary. First, the bottom line:
This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases,… More
Yesterday, Judge Mark Wolf dismissed part of the Conservation Law Foundation’s claims in its litigation against ExxonMobil concerning ExxonMobil’s Everett Terminal facility. The opinion is both interesting and pleasurably concise – a rare combination!
Judge Wolf found that CLF had credibly alleged that the Terminal is violating its NPDES permit. Importantly, he also found that CLF stated that there is:
substantial risk”… More
Two related items about climate change resilience and adaptation caught my eye this week. First, the American Academy of Actuaries issued a report on “The National Flood Insurance Program: Challenges and Solutions.” Those wild and crazy actuaries at the AAA certainly have a gift for understatement:
Increased flooding due to higher sea levels can only increase the amount of loss from storms absent expensive investment in coastal defenses.… More
Make no mistake, the Executive Order signed by President Trump at EPA yesterday is a big deal. Time will tell whether the Administration’s U-turn on the Obama rules currently in litigation, such as the Clean Power Plan and the rule on fracking on federal lands will make any difference to judicial review of those rules. There are plenty of states and NGOs ready to step into EPA’s and BLM’s shoes to defend those rules.… More
In an interesting study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors predict that climate change will have a more significant impact on peak energy demand than had previously been understood. They conclude that, in a business as usual case, peak demand will increase 18%, leading to a need to spend $180B (in current dollars) to meet that increased peak demand.
The authors acknowledge that their estimates are based on current infrastructure and that the development of energy storage could play a role in mitigating the need for new generation sources to meet peak demand.… More
The drumbeat of cases, either approving agency action under the ESA – or reversing agency refusal to act – due to habitat alteration resulting from climate change continues to grow. In February, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision and approved the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical polar bear habitat. In April, Judge Christensen of the District of Montana vacated FWS’s decision to withdraw a proposed listing of the wolverine. … More
As an MIT grad and loyal resident (Go Sox!), I’m always happy to see stories about Massachusetts’ role in the innovation economy. Last week, news arrived of more innovation in Massachusetts – this time on the legal front. CLF sued Exxon Mobil for not adapting its Everett storage terminal to harden it against the effects of climate change.
Last Friday, Governor Baker issued Executive Order 569, “Establishing an Integrated Climate Change Strategy for the Commonwealth.” EO 569 will advance climate policy in Massachusetts in a number of important ways. It also leaves much to be accomplished by MassDEP. Here are the highlights:
- EOEEA and MassDOT are instructed to work with other New England and Northeastern states to develop regional policies to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector.…
The City of Boston has just released its “Climate Projections Consensus.” It’s not a pretty picture. Here are the lowlights:
- Even with “moderate” emissions reductions, see level rise is likely to be between 1.5 feet and 2.5 feet by 2070.
- The number of “extreme precipitation” events has been increasing and that increase will continue.…
This week, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Noticed of Proposed Rulemaking to promulgate performance measures to be used in evaluating federal funding of transportation projects. The requirement for performance measures stems from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, aka MAP-21. MAP-21 requires the FHWA to establish performance standards in 12 categories, one of which is “on-road mobile source emissions.”
The NPRM addresses this criterion,… More
Water Turning To Blood; Flies; Hail? How About Water-borne Illness, Extreme Weather, and Actual Plague?
Passover starts later this month. Just in time, the U.S. Global Change Research Program has given us an updated list of plagues. What’s fascinating is that the new list actually bears a certain similarity to the biblical list.
Why has the U.S. updated the list of plagues? It’s actually part of a report on “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.” What’s climate change going to do to us? … More
Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is “threatened” when it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” As scientists continue to predict that climate change will alter habitat over the coming century, it certainly seems “foreseeable” that more species will become endangered. That’s what the Fish & Wildlife Service concluded about the wolverine in early 2013. When FWS backtracked in 2014, Defenders of Wildlife sued. … More
So COP21 resulted in an agreement. What’s a poor in-the-trenches lawyer to make of it? I think it’s pretty clearly a major step forward and reflects much more substantive progress than might have been expected. For a very helpful summary as to why the Paris Agreement was a success, check out Rob Stavins’s post. As good as Rob’s summary is, Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker (subscription required) had a slightly more concise explanation why the Paris Agreement is a good thing:
It changes the presumption that carbon emissions will continue to grow to the presumption that they must soon start coming down.… More
If you want to know what how a rational optimist defines success for COP21, take a look at Rob Stavins’s latest post. Here’s his “Paris Scorecard” for what success will look like:
- Include approximately 90% of global emissions in the set of INDCs that are submitted and part of the Paris Agreement (compared with 14% in the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol).…
Does the Impact of Climate Change on Financial Markets Have Anything In Common with Same-Sex Marriage?
A few months ago, I asked whether climate change nuisance and public trust litigation might have something in common with litigation challenging bans on same-sex marriage. The idea was that both types of litigation seemed hopeless at the start and received very frosty receptions from the courts. However, in the case of same-sex marriage, plaintiffs kept plugging away and, much sooner than most people expected, a tipping point was reached. … More
The fourth installment of our Paris climate change negotiations tracker is available.
Some progress seems to be occurring, but it’s certainly not obvious that COP21 will result in an agreement sufficient to ensure that it will result in meeting a “below 2°C” objective.
Click here to download the report:
The third installment of our Paris climate change negotiations tracker is available. This may sound like a broken record, but there was not a lot of progress made in the Bonn talks earlier this month and it’s looking more and more as though it’s going to be difficult to reach a major substantive agreement in Paris.
There has already been significant discussion of the economic impacts of climate change. Damage from catastrophic events, the cost to build adaptation measures such as sea walls; these have all been examined. Now, a National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper suggests a much more direct measure. Apparently, we’re just not as productive as the planet warms.
Cole Porter knew what he was talking about.
Yesterday, I suggested that Massachusetts EOEEA may not have authority to issue its “MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy.” However, since I also conceded that Massachusetts courts are unlikely to agree with me, it’s probably worth taking a look at what the Adaptation Policy would require. As with any MEPA (or NEPA) analysis, it has two parts: identification of impacts and discussion of mitigation measures.… More
Environmental Impact Analysis — The Impact of a Project on the Environment or the Impact of the Environment on a Project?
Traditionally, environmental impact analysis, under NEPA and state analogs, has focused on the impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment. In Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has proposed a draft MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy. The policy seems sufficiently important to warrant more than one post. Today, I’ll look at EOEEA’s authority to promulgate an Adaptation Policy. Tomorrow,… More
ExxonMobil Admits Climate Change Is Real. It also Imposes an Internal Cost on Carbon. Still Not Enough to Get Any Love From the Greens (Interesting Reading, Though)
Last week, in response to shareholder requests that it disclose information regarding how climate change might affect it in the future, ExxonMobil released two reports, one titled Energy and Climate, and one titled Energy and Carbon – Managing the Risks. They actually make fascinating reading and seem to represent a new tack by ExxonMobil in its battle with those seeking aggressive action on climate change.… More
On Tuesday, Governor Patrick announced a series of climate change preparedness initiatives, including about $50 million in funds for a variety of programs. Before summarizing the plan, I’ll note that Massachusetts appears to have jettisoned “adaptation” as the descriptor for programs designed to mitigate the effects of climate change. We are no longer “adapting”. Now, like the Boy Scouts, we will be “prepared.” Shrewd call.
The biggest piece of the pie with be $40 million for a municipal “resilience” grant program,… More
In September, I noted that Judge Mark Wolf had dismissed CLF’s law suit challenging EPA’s approval of the TMDLs for the Cape Cod embayments, ruling that CLF did not have standing. CLF, as is its wont, is not going gentle into that good night. It is still raging, raging, at EPA’s decision. More to the point, it has refiled its complaint.
And You Thought Ending Flood Insurance Subsidies Would Be Difficult? Try Persuading a Politician to Support “Managed Coastal Retreat”
Earlier today, I posted about the political difficulties inherent in reforming flood insurance programs to avoid subsidizing those who choose to live in coastal areas subject to flooding. When even Democratic legislators supportive of efforts to fight climate change oppose such reforms, you know you are in trouble.
Well, when it rains, it pours, as it were. Just hours later comes news of the release of a report from the Columbia Law School Center for Climate Change Law on “Managed Coastal Retreat.” The title pretty much tells it all. … More
A story in E&E Daily on October 30 highlighted the difficult choices – including political choices – that are going to have to be faced in the process of adapting to climate change. The story noted that a number of Democratic members of Congress who have supported efforts to address climate change are now opposing efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program so that it does not encourage people to locate in areas subject to flooding.… More
If you are still wondering whether municipalities are serious about planning for climate change, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s announcement this week of its new draft Guidelines for the inclusion of planning for climate change in its Article 80 review (basically the Boston local version of NEPA) might convince you. While the Guidelines are fairly broad, the accompanying Climate Change Resiliency and Preparedness Checklist gets way down into the weeds.… More
Last week, in Conservation Law Foundation v. EPA, Judge Mark Wolf ruled that CLF did not have standing to challenge EPA’s approval of total maximum daily loads promulgated for certain waters in and around Cape Cod. Given the increasing number of citizen suits involving TMDL promulgation, the decision is important.
CLF asserted two claims. First, it alleged that EPA wrongly classified certain sources,… More
President Obama yesterday released his Climate Action Plan, together with a Memorandum concerning EPA’s issuance of rules governing carbon emissions from new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. At a certain level, there is not much new here. The mere existence of the Plan and the commitment to address climate issues is presumably the point.
The Plan does not provide many specifics. … More
It was a busy week on the climate change front in Boston. First, RGGI announced a new Model Rule. Under the new Model Rule, summarized here, the 2014 cap would be reduced by 45%, from 165 million tons to 91 million tons. Because such a sharp decrease in allowances will be expected to cause an increase in allowance prices, RGGI has now provided a safety valve,… More
The New York Times reported today that Governor Cuomo is proposing to spend $400 million to buy out owners of property to avoid a recurrence of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. I have to say that I have been persuaded over the past few years that we cannot put all our eggs in the mitigation basket, particularly since political gridlock in Washington has prevented much mitigation from occurring.… More
Massachusetts was one of the first states to launch an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction program, setting a 2020 goal of cutting emissions 25% from 1990 levels and a 2050 goal of an 80% reduction. With less than eight years to go before 2020, is the Commonwealth on track to measure up? According to a report released this week by think tank MassINC and the Clean Energy States Alliance,… More
Last week, the Geneva Association, which describes itself as “the leading international insurance think tank for strategically important insurance and risk management issues,” issued a report entitled “Extreme events and insurance: 2011 annus horribilis.” Quick take-away? Insurance losses are growing. Why? While there were large earthquakes in 2011, the bigger long-term concerns are extreme weather events and an increasing number of people and resources located in areas subject to such events.… More
Last Friday, noting a story about the extent to which concerns about sea level rise from climate change might affect development in East Boston, I wondered whether battles over whether and how to adapt to climate change might be moving from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real. Climate Wire has now begun a series of stories on how cities are planning for climate change. This week,… More
A story in today’s Boston Globe makes clear that, at least in states where it is permissible to use the words “climate” and “change” in the same sentence, the battle over adaption may no longer be hypothetical. The neighborhood known as East Boston is one that might appropriately be described as having unfulfilled potential. Last month, at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Mayor Menino pledged to revive East Boston, specifically calling out five projects that have been on the drawing board for some time.… More
The abandonment of any discussion of climate change in Washington has not been followed in Massachusetts. Yesterday, Rick Sullivan, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, released the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, providing the fruits of a lengthy process in Massachusetts to look at the impacts of climate change on five areas: Natural Resources and Habitat; Key Infrastructure; Human Health and Welfare; Local Economy and Government;… More