New Year May Ring in Renewed Focus on Climate Change


Climate change issues will become more prominent in 2013 if recent developments are any indication and if efforts at the national, regional, state, and international levels continue to take shape.

Here are some of the top developments for 2012 and others to watch for in 2013:

  • President Obama, after winning the 2012 election, vowed to work to ensure America's future "isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."  In 2009, Obama supported cap-and-trade legislation that would have put mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation cleared the House but stalled in the Senate. A Nov. 7 World Climate Change Reportarticle details how curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cars, and light trucks has been a top environmental initiative for Obama, and how he is expected during the next four years to rely on the Environmental Protection Agency's existing regulatory authority to address climate change and to focus on clean energy initiatives.
  •  In Congress, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events, such as widespread drought in the Midwest, led Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to form a caucus to move climate legislation forward and numerous other lawmakers to say they will introduce climate change legislation. While a climate bill holds little chance of being enacted in a Congress in which the Republicans control the House, it will bring the issue back to the forefront and may get politicians on record for or against a law to control greenhouse gas emissions. A Dec. 5 article covers plans by senators to introduce climate legislation in the 113th Congress that begins in January.
  • EPA is expected to continue to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. After proposing new source performance standards for power plants in April, which the agency is required to complete within one year, EPA is expected to set its sights on an NSPS for petroleum refineries. Also, as covered in a Dec. 11 article, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont are threatening to sue EPA for failing to address emissions of methanea potent greenhouse gasfrom hydraulic fracking. Some states and environmentalists also are pushing EPA to set emissions guidelines for existing power plants, refineries, and other sources.
  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is expected to revise its emissions cap-and-trade program in 2013. The key issue under review is whether to lower the carbon dioxide emissions cap. Current emissions already are well below the 188 million ton cap set by the program. RGGI covers power plants in nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. New Jersey, however, is on track to withdraw from RGGI at the end of the year following a veto by Gov. Chris Christie (R) of legislation that would have required the state's participation. In the wake of Sandy, environmentalists are calling for Christie to rejoin RGGI, which the Natural Resources Defense Councilestimates has reduced pollution that contributes to climate change by about 30 percent in the four years New Jersey has been part of the program.
  • California is on track to continue implementing its cap-and-trade program under its Global Warming Solutions Act (A.B. 32). After holding its first auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances in November, the California Air Resources Board said demand  was high, with participants asking for three times as many allowances as were available. As detailed in a Nov. 19 article, all 23.1 million  allowances that were offered sold for $10.09 a ton, just over the state's $10 ton floor price. CARB set a floor price of $10.71 a ton for next year's quarterly auctions, which are scheduled for Feb. 19, May 16, Aug. 16, and Nov. 19.
  • At the international level two "work streams" will be launched in 2013 under an agreement reached in Doha, Qatar, Dec. 8 during the 18th Conference of Parties (COP-18) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on the scope and structure of a global deal that would require all nations to commit to address global warming change by 2020. Also, the Kyoto Protocol has been extended for another eight years after its first commitment period expires Dec. 31, though it will mainly cover only European countries and Australia. Details of COP-18, which also included discussions on financing to help poorer nations adapt to the effects of climate change and technology issues, are included in a Dec. 7 article.
  • Two major climate change reports are due in 2013. The U.N. International Panel on Climate Change is to release its "Working Group I" report on the physical science of global warming as part of its Fifth Assessment Reportexpected to be completed in 2014. The Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2010 sparked controversy and independent reviews of IPCC's work after an error was found about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting. The report initially stated the glaciers could disappear by 2035, which is much sooner than is actually anticipated. The U.S. National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee also is scheduled to released an assessment of current and future climate change impacts on the United States. A national assessment is due to Congress every four years under the Global Change Research Act of 1990. However, only two reports have been completed since the law passed, one in 2000 and one in 2009. The 2013 report is expected to focus on adaptation and mitigation strategies.

While all of this may not garner significant public attention or major coverage in the mainstream press, the public's belief in global warming appears to be growing. For example, proponents of government action on climate change point to results of a survey conducted by Yale and George Mason University that found Americans' belief in the reality of global warming increased 13 percentage points over the past two and a half years, from 57 percent in January 2010 to 70 percent in September 2012. And that was before Hurricane Sandy.