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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

US and China jointly announce GHG reduction targets; US to cut net GHG 26-28% by 2025, China to peak CO2 by ~2030

November 12, 2014

The US and China jointly announced greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. US President Barack Obama said the US will cut net greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak that country’s CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20% by 2030. Together, the US and China account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The new US goal will double the pace of GHG reduction from 1.2% per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8% per year on average between 2020 and 2025. The Administration said that the ambitious target is grounded in analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on a trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80% by 2050.

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UN IPCC releases AR5 Synthesis Report on climate change, risks, adaptation and mitigation

November 02, 2014

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Synthesis Report that distills and integrates the findings of the full IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) released over the past 13 months. The report expresses with greater certainty than in previous assessments that emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic drivers have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.

The report expressed with medium confidence that the period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible. The report also noted that the globally averaged surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and inter-annual variability. Due to this natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to 0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade). [The much discussed “pause”.]

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Study casting doubt on GHG benefits of corn stover ethanol draws sharp criticism by other researchers; Liska responds

October 30, 2014

A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Climate Change that cast doubt on whether biofuels produced from corn residue could meet federal mandates for cellulosic biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to gasoline (earlier post) has drawn critical response published as correspondence in the same journal.

The study led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Adam Liska, funded through a three-year, $500,000-grant from the US Department of Energy, used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America. Among their findings were that using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and under some conditions can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

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EIA data shows ongoing trend of rising CO2 emissions from energy consumption after several years of decreases

September 29, 2014

The September 2014 Monthly Energy Review (MER) published on Friday by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has provided more data to support a trend in rising CO2 in the US that began in 2013.

In 2012, according to the EIA, carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption (in million metric tons of carbon dioxide) dropped to 5,267 MMT, the lowest level since 1990 (5,039 MMT). However, in 2013, CO2 emissions from energy consumption climbed to 5,396 MMT. In the September MER, the 6-month total (January to June) for 2014 registers 2,737 MMT—up from the 2013 January-June total of 2,664 MMT and the 2012 January-June total of 2,583 MMT.

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Black carbon linked to increased cardiovascular risk; exacerbated by co-exposure to motor vehicle emissions

August 26, 2014

Black carbon (BC) from incomplete biomass and fossil fuel combustion is the most strongly light-absorbing component of particulate matter (PM) air pollution and a major climate-forcing emission. A new international study led by McGill University (Canada) Professor Jill Baumgartner suggests that black carbon may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The team’s findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

China’s particulate matter (PM) air pollution significantly exceeds health guidelines and is driven by industrial emissions, motor vehicles, and household use of biomass and coal fuels. Baumgartner and her colleagues measured the daily exposure to different types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women (mean age 51.9 y) in China’s rural Yunnan province, where biomass fuels are commonly used. They found that found that BC exposure from biomass smoke is more strongly associated with blood pressure—which directly impacts cardiovascular risk—than total PM mass, and that co-exposure to motor vehicle emissions may strengthen BC’s impact. Air pollution mitigation efforts focusing on reducing combustion pollution are likely to have major benefits for climate and human health.

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MIT study finds air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies can significantly offset costs, depending upon the policy

August 25, 2014

The human health benefits associated with improvements in air quality related to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions improvements can offset 26–1,050% of the cost of US carbon policies, depending upon the type of policy, according to a new study by a team from MIT. (Air quality co-benefits are additional to climate benefits realized from reduced CO2 emissions.)

In a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Science, the MIT researchers took a systems-level approach to analyzing how climate policies influence air quality, focusing on US emissions of O3 and PM2.5 precursors through 2030. They assessed the costs and air-quality-related benefits of three potential national-scale climate policies, examining the entire pathway linking climate policies, economic sector responses, emissions, regional air quality, human health and related economic impacts.

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DOE launches major 10-year project to use high performance computing for climate change research; ACME

August 24, 2014

The ACME Project Roadmap, showing the relative sequencing of major simulation campaigns, model version development, and machine deployment. Click to enlarge.

Eight national laboratories—Lawrence Livermore, Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Sandia—are combining forces with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, four academic institutions and one private-sector company in a 10-year project to use high performance computing (HPC) to develop and to apply the most complete climate and Earth system model.

The project, called Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy (ACME), is designed to accelerate the development and application of fully coupled, state-of-the-science Earth system models for scientific and energy applications. The plan is to exploit advanced software and new high performance computing machines as they become available. The initial focus will be on three climate change science drivers and corresponding questions to be answered during the project’s initial phase:

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Volkswagen and Audi launch sustainability programs for US introduction of e-Golf BEV and A3 e-tron PHEV; carbon offsets with 3Degrees and solar energy

August 05, 2014

Volkswagen of America, Inc. introduced several e-mobility sustainability initiatives to commence with the US launch of the battery-electric e-Golf (earlier post). These begin with an investment in carbon reduction projects via a partnership with 3Degrees to offset emissions created from e-Golf production, distribution and from the estimated emissions produced from keeping the vehicle charged through the initial 36,000 miles of its life. VoA made the announcement at the Management Briefing Seminar, hosted by the Center for Automotive Research.

Volkswagen of America also selected SunPower as VW’s official solar energy partner; Bosch Automotive Service Solutions as its preferred home-charging and installation services provider; and ChargePoint to provide charging stations to the VW dealer network and to provide US e-Golf owners access to consumers to more than 18,000 charging stations nationwide. The 2015 e-Golf will go on sale later this year at participating dealerships in select states.

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EPA qualifies new biogas and electricity pathways for cellulosic biofuel requirement under RFS; defers decision on other proposed pathways

July 03, 2014

In a newly released rule, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clarified the number of cellulosic biofuel renewable identification numbers (RINs, earlier post) that may be generated for fuel made with feedstocks of varying cellulosic content; qualified additional fuel pathways to meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the National Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program; and clarified or amended a number of RFS program regulations that define terms or address registration, record-keeping, and reporting requirements. The final rule also clarifies that EPA considers corn kernel fiber to be a crop residue.

However, the final rule differs in several ways from the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking EPA had issued in June 2013 (earlier post):

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NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 reaches orbit

July 02, 2014

by Jack Rosebro

At 2:56 AM PST today, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) was successfully launched into orbit from Space Complex 2 West at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, riding on a two-stage Delta II 7320-10 launch vehicle. Consisting of a single observing instrument, the Observatory is designed to provide precise measurements of atmospheric CO2, and is NASA’s first satellite mission dedicated to studying concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

OCO-2 will not be measuring CO2 directly; but rather the intensity of the sunlight reflected from the presence of CO2 in a column of air. This measurement is unique like a fingerprint, and can be used for identification. The OCO-2 instrument will use a diffraction grating to separate the incoming sunlight into a spectrum of multiple component colors.

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EPA proposes rule for nationwide 30% cut in GHG from existing power plants by 2030 relative to 2005

June 02, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the already widely-discussed (albeit without much detail) “Clean Power Plan” proposal, which mandates a national average 30% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants from 2005 levels by 2030. Power plants accounted for 32% (2,064 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent) of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2012, according to the EPA.

Specifically, the EPA is proposing state-specific rate-based goals for carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, as well as emission guidelines for states to use in developing plans to attain the state-specific goals. Each state’s goal is different, because each state has a unique mix of emissions and power sources to plug in to each part of the formula. The Clean Power Plan broadly proposes:

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Environment Canada/MECA team assesses black carbon emissions in GDI engine exhaust; evaluation of prototype gasoline particulate filter

BC mass emissions for all four GDI and PFI vehicles over the three different driving patterns. Solid bars represent low ambient temperature measurements whereas open, dashed bars represent standard temperature measurements. Credit: ACS, Chan et al. Click to enlarge.

Although gasoline direct injection engines (GDI) are a favorable technology for reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, recent studies have shown that GDI vehicles could emit more PM than traditional PFI (gasoline port fuel injection) vehicles as well as heavy-duty diesel trucks equipped with diesel particulate filters. This may result in the need for new emissions control strategies—such as a gasoline particulate filter (GPF)—to enable compliance with California LEV III and US EPA Tier 3 particulate emissions standards.

Now, a team from Environment Canada and Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association (MECA) report on an evaluation of emissions from two pairs of GDI and PFI (gasoline port fuel injection) vehicles over two different drive cycles and at different ambient temperatures to understand how solid particle number and BC mass relationships vary under the influence of different factors. Their paper appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Study estimates global black carbon emissions up 72% from 1960-2007; BC emissions intensity down 52%

May 31, 2014

Black carbon emissions and BC emissions intensity per year. Credit: ACS, Wang et al. Click to enlarge.

A study led by a team from Peking University has estimated that global black carbon (BC) emissions increased from 5.3 teragrams/year in 1960 to 9.1 teragrams per year in 2007 (+72%). These estimates are 11-16% higher than produced by in previous inventories, the researchers noted in a paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Over the same period, BC emission intensity—the amount of BC emitted per unit of energy production—decreased by 52% for all the regions under assessment, especially China and India.

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UCS analysis finds Hyundai-Kia with best sales-weighted new vehicle environmental performance in US in 2013

May 27, 2014

Click to enlarge.

In its sixth sales-weighted analysis of emissions from 8 major automakers’ 2013 model year vehicles, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) latest Automaker Rankings report found that Hyundai-Kia unseated Honda as the “Greenest Automaker.” Honda came in second, with Toyota, Nissan, and Volkswagen in a three-way tie for third place.

For the first time since UCS began the Automaker Rankings report in 2000, all eight major automakers reduced their average greenhouse gas (GHG) and smog-forming emissions compared to their fleet averages from 1998, the model year examined in the first report. The Automaker Rankings report examines the emissions of both global warming and smog-forming pollution from of the automakers. Due to strong federal and state emissions standards, the average new car has gotten 43% cleaner since 1998.

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ARB: carbon intensity of biomethane from wastewater sludge could be as low as -65.27 g CO2e/MJ

May 22, 2014

The staff of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff has posted three new Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications to the LCFS public comments website: one for corn ethanol (from Heartland Corn Products in Minnesota) and one ARB staff-developed pathway (with two scenarios) for the production of biomethane from the mesophilic anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge at a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) located at a publicly-owned treatment works (POTW).

Under the LCFS, the baseline CI value for gasoline was 95.86 g CO2e/MJ; for diesel fuel, 94.71 g CO2e/MJ. Staff estimated the carbon intensities (CIs) for biomethane produced under two alternative scenarios; under the first scenario, the CI of biomethane is 10.86 g CO2e/MJ; under the second, the CI is -65.27 g CO2e/MJ—i.e., it generates a credit.

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Ford researchers: global light-duty CO2 regulatory targets broadly consistent with 450 ppm stabilization

May 15, 2014

An analysis by researchers at Ford Motor Company Research and Advanced Engineering in Dearborn and Ford Forschungszentrum in Germany concludes that existing global light-duty vehicle CO2 regulations through 2025 are broadly consistent with the light-duty vehicle (LDV) sector contributing to stabilizing CO2 at an atmospheric concentration of approximately 450 ppm—a target often proposed in the literature as preventing dangerous climate change. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In the study, the Ford team derived regional CO2 targets for new LDVs while still providing an integrated view of the global LDV fleet—a perspective critical to the planning needs for global automotive firms. The teams calls the time-varying LDV targets “CO2 glide paths”.

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Study finds rising temperatures increase risk of unhealthy ozone levels absent sharp cuts in precursors

May 05, 2014

Ozone pollution across the continental United States will become far more difficult to keep in check as temperatures rise, according to new work led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study shows that Americans face the risk of a 70% increase in unhealthy summertime ozone levels by 2050, assuming continued greenhouse gas emissions with resultant significant warming (IPCC Scenario A2 and RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) 8.5.)

However, the study also showed that a sharp reduction in the emissions of ozone precursors would lead to significantly decreased levels of ozone even as temperatures warm. Without those cuts, almost all of the continental United States will experience at least a few days with unhealthy air during warmer summers, the research shows. Heavily polluted locations in parts of the East, Midwest, and West Coast in which ozone already frequently exceeds recommended levels could face unhealthy air during most of the summer.

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Cambridge study of near-term alternative London bus technologies finds lean-burn CNG most costly with greater climate impact than diesel

May 01, 2014

Annual GHG emissions relative to BASE Scenario (BASE Scenario = 949 kt CO2e on a 100-year GWP basis) for differing London bus fleet technology options. Lean-burn CNG is disadvantaged by unburned HC and natural gas pipeline leaks. Credit: ACS, Chong et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have conducted a comprehensive environmental cost–benefit analysis of near-term alternative bus technologies. The study considered emissions of non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), CO, NOx, PM2.5, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ammonia (NH3), as well as the lifecycle climate impact of CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHG) on a CO2-equivalent basis.

Their findings indicated that emission control strategy retrofits are the least costly near-term intervention to reduce urban air pollution. Although hybrid buses provide net GHG reductions and air quality improvements, associated costs are higher and more uncertain than emission retrofits. Lean-burn (spark ignition) compressed natural gas (LB-CNG) delivers the lowest health impacts due to the significant reduction of PM2.5, but has relatively high associated CO2e emissions that negate the health benefits, they found. As a result, current LB-CNG vehicles are the most costly of all of the modeled technologies, they concluded. Their study appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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EPA: US greenhouse gases dropped 3.4% in 2012 from 2011; down 10% from 2005 levels

April 16, 2014

US greenhouse gas emissions by gas. Source: EPA. Click to enlarge.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 19th annual report of overall US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, showing a 3.4% decrease in 2012 from 2011. The Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, which is submitted annually to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, presents a national-level overview of annual greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

Total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases in 2012 were equivalent to 6,526 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. According to the report, GHG emissions in 2012 showed a 10% drop below 2005 levels, and were only slightly above the emissions in 1994 (6,520 million metric tons).

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World Bank/ICCT report provides guidance to reducing black carbon emissions from diesels in developing countries

April 14, 2014

Historical Trends in Black Carbon Emissions from Surface Transportation (teragrams of black carbon per year). Source: Minjares et al. Click to enlarge.

The World Bank has published a report, undertaken by a team from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), intended to inform efforts to control black carbon emissions from diesel-based transportation in developing countries. The report proposes approaches for integrating black carbon emission reduction considerations in cost-benefit assessment and applies an analytic framework to four simulated projects to illustrate the associated opportunities and challenges at a project level.

The transportation sector accounted for approximately 19% of global black carbon emissions in the year 2000, according to the report. Road transportation accounted for 9% of global black carbon, with diesel engines responsible for nearly 99% of those emissions. In the near term, black carbon emissions from mobile engines are projected to decline as a consequence of policies implemented in the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan. However, black carbon emissions are projected to increase in the next decade as vehicle activity increases, particularly in East and South Asia.

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IPCC: GHG emissions accelerating despite mitigation efforts; major institutional and technological change required to keep the heat down

April 13, 2014

Decomposition of the decadal change in total global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion by four driving factors; population, income (GDP) per capita, energy intensity of GDP and carbon intensity of energy. WG III Summary for Policymakers. Click to enlarge.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a policymaker’s summary of Working Group III’s (WG III) latest report showing that despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual anthropogenic GHG emissions grew on average by 1.0 giga tonne carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) (2.2%) per year from 2000 to 2010 compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) per year from 1970 to 2000. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010 and reached 49 (±4.5) GtCO2eq/yr in 2010. The global economic crisis 2007/2008 only temporarily reduced emissions.

The increase in anthropogenic emissions comes directly from energy supply (47%); industry (30%); transport (11%); and buildings (3%) sectors, the WG reported with medium confidence. Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

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Joint Research Centre review concludes no serious risk in use of R1234yf MAC refrigerant under normal and foreseeable conditions

March 07, 2014

A scientific review of research regarding the safety aspects of the use of refrigerant R1234yf in Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) systems, published by the European Commission, concludes that there is no evidence of a serious risk in the use of this refrigerant in MAC systems under normal and foreseeable conditions of use.

The review, carried out by Europe’s Joint Research Centre, provided an in-depth analysis of testing and a subsequent report on the refrigerant’s safety by KBA (Kraftfahrt Bundesamt, the German authority responsible for market surveillance and product safety for road vehicles) in order to ascertain whether the results stemming from the tests were well founded and supported by a rigorous and scientific methodology.

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Chevy buying carbon credits from US colleges; new formula helps fund campus energy-efficient projects

February 12, 2014

Chevrolet is investing in clean energy efficiency initiatives of US colleges and universities through its voluntary carbon-reduction initiative. The funding opportunity is open to all US universities and colleges; a campus determines whether its performance in reducing carbon emissions will qualify based on new methodologies that Chevrolet developed through the Verified Carbon Standard.

To develop the new methodologies, Chevrolet worked with an advisory team led by the Climate Neutral Business Network with support from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the US Green Building Council and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

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Calif. ARB releases GHG scoping plan update; more ZEVs, “LEV IV”, MD and HD regulations; ZEV for trucks; more LCFS

February 11, 2014

The California Air Resources Board released the draft proposed first update to the AB 32 Scoping Plan, which guides development and implementation of California’s greenhouse gas emission reduction programs. The Air Resources Board is required to update the Scoping Plan every five years.

Among the actions proposed or considered in the transportation sector include aggressive implementation of the light-duty Zero Emission Vehicle standard; LEV IV emissions regulations for the light-duty fleet post-2025 (GHG reductions of about 5% per year); Phase 2 GHG regulations for medium and heavy-duty (MD and HD) vehicles; a possible ZEV regulation for trucks; more stringent carbon reduction targets for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard; and others.

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Analysis finds air-quality justification for CNG vehicle conversion in developing cities, despite negative climate impact

December 03, 2013

Impact pathway approach for modeling policy interventions in (a) air quality and (b) climate impacts. Credit: ACS, Zia and Tanzila. Click to enlarge.

An analysis by a team in Bangladesh found large air quality and associated health benefits accruing to the residents of Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) as a result of the rapid conversion of the motor vehicle fleet to CNG. Around 2,045 avoided premature deaths in greater Dhaka can be attributed to air quality improvements from the CNG conversion policy in 2010, resulting in a saving of around US$400 million, they found.

However, CNG conversion was apparently detrimental from a climate change perspective, as CH4 emissions increased. (There is some uncertainty over the impact of ultrafine particulates.) As the greenhouse gas impacts (costs or benefits) are much smaller than the health benefits, the conversion of petroleum vehicles to CNG can be justified on the basis of local air pollution benefits alone, they concluded. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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