Energy Data Analysis Shows Small Drop in U.S. GHGs over 2019
U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 2.1 percent in 2019, an analysis from the Rhodium Group based on preliminary energy and economic data. The global research consulting firm says the decline was due almost entirely to a drop in coal consumption.
Coal-fired power generation fell by a record 18 percent from 2018 levels, its lowest level since 1975. An increase in natural gas generation offset some of the climate gains from the coal decline, but overall power sector emissions still decreased by almost 10 percent.
“Unfortunately, far less progress was made in other sectors of the economy,” the consulting group said. Transportation emissions remained relatively flat. Emissions from buildings, industry and other parts of the economy rose, though less than in 2018.
“All told, net U.S. GHG emissions ended 2019 slightly higher than at the end of 2016.” The Rhodium Group says. “At roughly 12 percent below 2005 levels, the U.S. is at risk of missing its Copenhagen Accord target of a 17-percent reduction by the end of 2020, and is still a long way off from the 26-28-percent reduction by 2025 pledged under the Paris Agreement.
The switch from coal to natural gas and renewables in the electric power sector accounts for the majority of the progress the U.S. has made in reducing emissions over the past decade, the consultants report. Last year marks the end of a decade in which total U.S. coal generation was cut in half.
Natural gas generation made up much of the gap last year, as it has consistently in recent years, thanks to extremely cheap gas prices. Average annual prices at Henry Hub, a Louisiana pipeline that serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange, were down 20 percent in 2019, adjusted for inflation, to their lowest level in decades.
Renewables played an important role as well, thanks in part to continued cost declines in both wind and solar generation. Based on preliminary data from EIA and Genscape, a global energy monitoring firm, utility-scale renewable generation (including hydro) was up 6 percent in 2019. That’s higher than the 3 percent gain in 2018, but lower than the 13 percent gains posted in 2016 and 2017.
The drop in coal generation reduced emissions by 190 million metric tons in 2019. The growth in gas generation shaved a little more than 40 million metric tons off this number. But electric power sector emissions were still down by nearly 10 percent – the biggest year-on-year drop in decades, and a significant change from a 1.2 percent increase in 2018.
The Rhodium Group said there was little good news outside the power sector, continuing a trend has been observed for the past several years. Based on preliminary data, transportation emissions are estimated to have declined slightly – by 0.3 percent year-on-year. Biofuel advocates say from emissions from the sector could decline by much greater numbers if policy makers were to fully embrace low-carbon fuels are a climate-solution pathway.
Industrial emissions (both energy and process) rose by 0.6 percent. Direct emissions from buildings increased by 2.2 percent and emissions from other sectors (agriculture, waste, land use, oil and gas methane, etc.) rose by 4.4 percent.
Using preliminary data and International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accounting protocols, the consultants estimate that net, economy-wide GHG emissions fell by 2.1 percent in the U.S. in 2019, down to 5,783 million metric tons. That’s a 12.3 percent cumulative decline relative to 2005 levels, with one year to go to meet the Copenhagen Accord target of reducing emissions “in the range” of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and six years to go to reach the 26-28-percent reduction by 2025 pledged under the Paris Agreement.
“The fact that the U.S. has achieved no net reductions over the past three years makes meeting these targets extremely challenging,” the consultants said.
Climate Action Can Offer More Than
$8 Billion/Year to Farmers, Rural Communities
A new analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that specific actions to address climate change can provide a major financial benefit to farmers and rural communities.
The issue brief finds that taking climate action can drive more than $8 billion per year into rural communities, including close to $22,000 in additional income for the average family farm in the United States.
The findings support NACSAA assertions that climate actions taken by farmers and ranchers build on their bottom lines. The study also serves to support calls for government financial support for operators who must invest more to implement the additional practices that help stem changes to climate conditions. climate control measures.
One example of a new revenue stream for farms comes from increasing soil health so that it captures and sequesters carbon. CAP recommends placing an additional 100 million acres of farmland under the USDA’s working lands programs by 2030. The program rewards farmers for improved soil health and land stewardship practices, and could drive an additional $3.5 billion of annual revenues to farms in the form of incentive payments.
Adoption of cover crops on 100 million acres would also drive an estimated $1.4 billion in additional cost savings. Other recommendations include expanding renewable energy in rural areas, increasing the number of acres of farmland and private lands in conservation, and using methane digesters to reduce on-farm electricity costs, prevent manure runoff into waterways, and keep methane from entering the atmosphere.
Plant Genomes Reveal Basis for Adaptation to Contrasting Climates
Using field experiments and plant genome studies, an international research team has pinpointed areas of the genome that are affected during local adaptation to contrasting climates. The new insight represents an important first step towards future development of crops that are resilient to climate change.
Lotus japonicus. Photo_ Niels Sandal_ Aarhus University
The study from researchers in Denmark, Japan, Austria and Germany say that crop plants remaining productive in a changing climate is not guaranteed, noting that plants are confronted with similar climate adaptation challenges when colonizing new regions, as climate conditions can change quickly across latitudes and landscapes.
Despite the relevance of the issue, the researchers say there is limited basic scientific insight into how plants tackle this challenge and adapt to local climate conditions.
The researchers studied the plant Lotus japonicus, which – with relatively limited genomic changes – has been able to adapt to diverse Japanese climates ranging from subtropical to temperate. Using a combination of field experiments and genome sequencing, the researchers were able to infer the colonization history of Lotus japonicus in Japan and identify areas in the genome where plant populations adapted to warm and cold climates, respectively, showing extreme genetic differentiation. At the same time, they showed that some of these genomic regions were strongly associated with plant winter survival and flowering.
The team says its work represents the first identification of specific genomic regions that have changed in response to natural selection to allow the plant species to adapt to new climatic conditions.
“One of the great questions of evolutionary biology is how natural selection can lead to genetic adaptation to new environments, and here we directly observed an example of this in Lotus japonicus,” said a team member, Prof Mikkel Heide Schierup, Aarhus University in Denmark.
Assoc. Professor Stig Uggerhøj Andersen, also at Aarhus University, said the team found it “fascinating that we have identified specific traits, including winter survival, that have been under selection during plant local adaptation to contrasting climates.
“At the same time, we observed extreme genetic signatures of selection in specific genomic regions. This link between selection signatures and specific traits is critical for understanding the process of local adaptation,” he said.
“The rapid adaptation of Lotus japonicus to widely different climates indicate that genetic variation underlying the adaptations was already present before plant colonization,” Schierup added. “This is promising for other plant species on a planet with rapid climate change, since it will allow more rapid adaptation.”
“In this case, the different climates have resulted in distinct plant populations adapted to their own local environments,” Andersen added “These populations appear to be preserved because certain genotypes are an advantage in warm climates, but a disadvantage in cold climates and vice versa.”
Soil Health, Conservation Study
Finds Soy Farmers Committed to Conservation
A soil health and conservation study commissioned by the American Soybean Association (ASA) shows U.S. soybean farmers are active conservationists with a desire to do more, but also need to be compensated for the additional costs incurred in implementing more practices.
The findings on compensation reflect an issue of fairness long advocated by NACSAA. The Alliance has argued that some steps landowners need to take to meet conservation goals and, in part, make their properties resilient to a changing client, come at an increasing cost.
Farmers who are often subjected to the vagaries of hostile weather (harsh winds, torrential rains, flooding, drought and brush fires) require capital to put new and sometimes technologically demanding practices into place. Without financial returns for the additional benefits of these practices, such as higher prices for value-added products or income directly linked to their use, it can be difficult to reconcile these new efforts with short-term financial sustainability for the operation.
The ASA research found that growers have, on average, 14 longstanding conservation practices in place. They have recently added new ones, and intend to implement more – despite the average grower having to pay for all conservation measures, with average expenditures totaling more than $15,000 per year.
Most farmers (78 percent) manage rental land the same as land they own, paying conservation expenditures even on rented land, which means the positive practices put in place by farmers extend to all the land they farm.
Stanford-Led Review Offers Pathways to Change Minds on Climate Change
By reviewing the psychology behind climate change rejection, a Stanford researcher suggests four approaches that can sway climate deniers and help overcome obstacles to implementing solutions.
Want to sway the opinion of climate deniers? Start by acknowledging and respecting people’s beliefs, says behavioral scientist Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, lead author of a paper in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability Jan. 8.
Wong-Parodi and her team conducted a review of the psychology behind why some people reject climate change despite knowledge or access to the facts.
Denying the effects of climate change serves as a barrier to taking the actions needed to mitigate the worst effects, including rising seas, more intense hurricanes and increased droughts and heatwaves. However, the researchers found that those who deny human causes for climate change can be swayed through conversations that appeal to their different identities, reframe solutions – or even embrace their climate views.
“I think in the climate change sphere there’s this thinking of, ‘there’s the deniers over there, let’s just not even engage with them – it’s not worth it,'” Wong-Parodi said. “A lot of the tactics and strategies start from the point that something is wrong with the climate deniers, rather than trying to acknowledge that they have a belief and opinion and it matters. But I think there is an opportunity to keep trying to understand one another, especially now.”
The researchers focused on what is referred to as “motivated denial” – knowing or having access to the facts, but nevertheless denying them. For some people, accepting that humans cause climate change questions self-worth, threatens financial institutions and is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
Although efforts to sway climate deniers may seem futile, the researchers found four approaches in peer-reviewed studies from the past two years that could be most effective:
- Reframing solutions to climate change as ways to uphold the social system and work toward its stability and longevity
- Reducing the ideological divide by incorporating the purity of the Earth, rather than how we harm or care for it
- Having conversations about the scientific consensus around climate change with trusted individuals
- Encouraging people to explicitly discuss their values and stance on climate change prior to engaging with climate information
Wong-Parodi said she found the fourth approach to be the most intriguing because less research has been done in that area than the other three – and it seems to have a lot of potential for behavior change. Self-affirmation is challenged when people face climate change because it requires them to consider their contribution to the problem, which can threaten their sense of integrity and trigger self-defense.
“A good portion of people who deny climate change recognize that there is some change, but the change is so threatening because it basically could affect your quality of life. It could affect your income. It could affect a number of different things that you care about,” said the researcher, an assistant professor of Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth).
Some preliminary studies suggest that rather than trying not to get around people’s identities and denial of climate change, conversations should instead embrace their views. Try to ignore who people are, but rather acknowledge their views so that they can be dealt with and the conversation can move on to behavioral changes – such as finding solutions that match their values and do not threaten a person’s sense of identity or quality of life, according to Wong-Parodi.
“I think we often forget that people can have many identities – there might be a political identity, but there is also an identity as a mother, or an identity as a friend or an identity as a student,” said Wong-Parodi, who is also a fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “You can elicit other identities when you’re talking about climate change that may be more effective.”