Policy News: April 11, 2022

In this issue:

5 Takeaways from U.N. report on how world can still stop climate change
Report finds there is no hope of slowing global warming without a radical shift to electrical energy and carbon removal.

Senate committee approves conservation funding bill.

Executive Branch
USFWS issues rare emergency rule listing the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species.

Supreme Court reinstates Trump administration Clean Water Act regulation.

Maryland General Assembly passes major climate legislation.

Diplomats fail to reach agreement in international biodiversity talks.

Scientific Community
Department of Energy Office of Science encourages researchers to apply for supplemental funding to collaborate with scientists impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Federal Register opportunities

5 takeaways from U.N. report on how world can still stop climate change

By Karl Mathiessen, Zia Weise and Joshua Posaner, PoliticoPro, 4/4/2022

BRUSSELS — The world can avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but emissions need to peak by 2025, the U.N.’s climate science panel said in a major new report on Monday.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future,” said Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Hoesung Lee.

It was a familiarly stark report card on the world’s progress on cutting emissions from the IPCC, which has been monitoring climate change since 1988. Despite the panel’s regular reports about the consequences of burning fossil fuels, between 1990 and 2019 global emissions rose 54 percent and they are still rising.

This latest report looks at mitigation — or what the world can do to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s the third chapter in the IPCC’s mammoth sixth assessment report, part of a series of studies that summarize the state of climate science and the planet released roughly every seven years.

Although there’s a broad consensus on the science of climate change, that’s not the case with politics. The report’s release was delayed thanks to a brutal fight over the wording in the summary — the bit that is most easily understood by the media and the public — led by India and Saudi Arabia, according to one researcher.

Despite that scrap, the takeaway remains constant — there is no hope of stopping global warming at the Paris Agreement limits of 1.5 or 2 degrees without a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying many of the things that currently run on fossil fuels. That could mean up to $4 trillion worth of coal, oil and gas infrastructure could become worthless by the middle of the century, the report said.

But that’s a difficult argument to make as Europeans scramble to find new sources of oil and gas to end its dependency on Russia and the U.S. and others eye ramping up their production to fill the gap.

“Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “Such investments will soon be stranded assets — a blot on the landscape, and a blight on investment portfolios.”

Here are five key messages from the final report.

  1. Halting at 1.5 degrees will be decided in Beijing

Stopping warming at the lower 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Agreement is a pipe dream unless emissions peak in the coming three years and fall by almost half from 2019 levels by 2030, the scientists said. Even 2 degrees becomes unlikely without a peak by 2025.

Although the report doesn’t single out any country, China is responsible for almost one-third of annual emissions and can do more than any other nation to make 1.5 degrees possible, according to several experts and diplomats consulted by POLITICO.

Currently, China’s emissions are slated to grow until sometime “before 2030.” Its coal consumption is only planned to begin to drop after 2026.

The EU, the U.S. and the U.K. have all piled pressure on Beijing in the past year to commit to a firm peaking date close to the middle of the decade. On Monday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said countries “with targets not yet aligned with a 1.5-degree trajectory must increase their ambition.” China’s response has been that other big emitters like the EU and U.S. — which have huge past emissions but where pollution is falling — should do more, faster.

But China’s influence on emissions is so large that it tends to dictate the trajectory. Between 2019 and 2021, total CO2 emissions from outside China fell by 570 million tons, but China’s emissions grew by 750 million tons and drove annual emissions to their highest level ever in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. An average Chinese citizen now produces more CO2 emissions than a European — although far less than an American.

But there has been “no sign” that China’s government intends to shift the country’s policy, said Byford Tsang, a senior policy adviser with the E3G think tank

  1. Capturing carbon is a must

Countries will also have to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to keep global warming in check.

Carbon dioxide removal — which encompasses methods ranging from natural processes like planting trees to technological solutions like direct air capture — is “unavoidable” to reach net-zero emissions, the authors said. Sequestering CO2 would counterbalance “hard-to-abate” emissions from sectors like aviation or agriculture.

But CDR doesn’t come without side effects, the scientists acknowledge, and the effectiveness and feasibility of existing methods varies greatly. The only method currently deployed at scale — reforestation — is vulnerable to reversal, threatened by logging and wildfires, and could impact food production if trees replace crops.

Other methods, like tech to suck carbon out of the air or intervening in marine systems to boost the sequestration potential of oceans, are less vulnerable to reversal and don’t pose the same land issues, but most are in their infancy.

Some of those techniques would allow the extended use of fossil fuels, which is why they are backed by industry and extracting countries, but the idea is strongly opposed by climate campaigners.

Even mentions in the report of “speculative technologies that prolong the use of fossil fuels” indicate it had been “water[ed] down” by governments in the final approval process, said Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law.

  1. Failure to act means tough choices in the future

The scientists earmarked the years by which the world must reach net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases.

The IPCC said 1.5 degrees required hitting net-zero CO2 by 2050-2055. But for all other greenhouse gases (which include methane, nitrogen oxides and f-gases) it gave a surprising range, saying that if efforts accelerate rapidly in the next few years, they could continue to be emitted at low and decreasing levels until 2100, long after previous estimates.

If there is a failure to make that change in the coming few years, then humanity will face a choice: Accept that warming will stabilize at a higher mark such as 1.6 or 1.7 degrees or try to cool the planet back down through the massive use of CDR. Neither are good options as both mean greater damage from floods, storms, fires, extreme heat and rising seas, the IPCC said in February.

“The choices available to us are no longer ideal,” said Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an NGO.

  1. Governments need to help people cut consumption

The world needs to slash its overall energy consumption, something that has the potential to deliver “significant” emissions cuts, the scientists write.

For governments, that means investment in tech-based solutions for more energy efficiency and infrastructure improvements to nudge people toward greener options — as well as the politically thorny business of getting people to change their habits, like shifting to a plant-based diet.

The scientists said actions taken at the individual level could “rapidly” cut emissions from the residential, commercial, industrial and transport sectors — which dominate global emissions. But they placed the onus on governments to play their part by implementing policies that enabled or nudged citizens toward choices that are good for the climate.

“Many people care,” said Linda Steg, an author and expert in the psychology of climate change from the University of Groningen. “Yet they may face barriers to act, which can be removed by actions, for example, by industry, businesses and governments.”

The authors outline a win-win situation — a world with insulated housing that helps people keep cool or warm and with compact cities requiring less commuting and more street space for cycling and walking isn’t just better for the planet, but also human wellbeing, they write. Whether that argument will convince European governments — currently reluctant to call on their citizens to use less fuel and energy even with a war next door — remains to be seen.

  1. Batteries are the answer for clean vehicles

The scientists back electric vehicles as the best option for making deep cuts to road emissions. Some automakers still tout hydrogen and synthetic fuels, principally as it will allow the continued sale of combustion engine models. But the report is clear that such fuel options, at present limited in commercial scale, are better suited to ships and planes where the weight of batteries makes it difficult to shift to electric.

“Electric vehicles powered by low emissions electricity offer the largest decarbonisation potential for land-based transport,” the scientists agreed, adding that “electrification could play a niche role for aviation and shipping for short trips.” The EU is currently considering a total ban on sales of new combustion engine cars and vans from 2035.

Those goals are helped by shifts in commuting and homeworking patterns, as well as more efficient industrial supply chains and the gradual deployment of automated cars, the IPCC said.

Zack Colman contributed to this report.


International: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing about ratifying the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons. The agreement needs 67 votes in the Seante to be ratified by the U.S. Committee Ranking Member James Risch (R-ID) announced support for the agreement and said the deal could garner enough votes among Senate Republicans to pass. The agreement was originally negotiated during the Obama administration.

Conservation: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 2372). This bill provides $1.4 million annually to states, tribes and territories for wildlife conservation. The committee approved major amendments to the bill during the hearing in which the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation competitive grant program would provide some of the funding for the program and so would several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant programs.

Fisheries: Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) said that he will delay work on overhauling the Magnuson Stevens Act until after Alaska elects a new congressperson to replace the late Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Young died in March 2022. After a two-year listening session, Huffman introduced a bill overhauling the nation’s fishing laws (H.R. 4690), which, among other provisions, would incorporate climate change into fishery management. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for that bill, along with another fishery management bill from Young (H.R. 59). The Magnuson Stevens Act is the main law governing U.S. fisheries.

NSF: House and Senate leaders announced the members of the conference committee for legislation reauthorizing the Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Science Foundation, among provisions addressing jobs and competiveness. The Senate legislation is the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) and the House bill is the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 3593). Both bills increase authorized funding for the National Science Foundation but differ on the exact amounts (see ESA Policy News, March 28, 2022). It is worth noting that authorizing bills set guidelines for appropriators to fund the programs and agencies under its jurisdiction, but it does not actually allocate funds. The conference committee will work to resolve the differences between the bills before sending the legislation back to the House and Senate. Over 100 lawmakers were named to the conference committee, see the list of House and Senate lawmakers.

Legislative updates:

  • The full Senate voted to pass a bill (S. 1320), sponsored by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), designating Arizona’s Chiricahua National Monument as a national park by unanimous consent. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for the companion House bill (H.R. 6451) in February 2022.
  • The House Science Committee approved the NOAA Chief Scientist Act (H.R. 3592), sponsored by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). This bill charges this position with leading NOAA’s scientific work, representing NOAA’s scientific program to stakeholders and reporting on the agency’s scientific integrity work. The legislation encourages the NOAA administrator to consider advice from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine while selecting a NOAA chief scientist.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill (H.R. 6651) to create an Alaska Salmon Research Taskforce, which would review existing Pacific salmon research, identify research needs and support sustainable salmon management. The bill was previously sponsored by the late Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Management and Budget released a first-of-its-kind analysis of the cost of climate change to the federal budget. The analysis finds that climate could shrink the country’s GDP by up to ten percent over the next 80 years, reducing federal revenue by 7.1% annually. Examples of climate impacts to the federal budget include an estimated 78 to 480% increase in in expenditures on wildland fire suppression and 3.5 to 22% increase in crop insurance premium subsidy expenditures due to climate change-induced crop losses.

White House: The Office of Science and Technology released a new report, Opportunities and Actions for Ocean Science and Technology. The report updates the priorities identified in the 2018 Decadal Vision for ocean science and technology and describes opportunities to advance equity across the full the ocean science and technology enterprise.

USDA: The agency is seeking nominations for the National Pollinator Subcommittee that will be a part of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. It will provide input on annual USDA strategic pollinator priorities and goals and make pollinator health-related recommendations to strengthen USDA pollinator research efforts. The USDA will accept applications until 5 p.m. Eastern Time on May 31, 2022.

USFWS: The agency issued an emergency listing rule, listing the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species for 240 days, starting April 7. While this emergency rule is in effect, USFWS will accept public comments about whether the agency should extend Endangered Species Act protections beyond these 240 days. This emergency listing jeopardizes a large geothermal energy project in the toad’s habitat. USFWS has only used its ability to issue an emergency listing three times in the last twenty years. The proposed rule is open for public comments through June 6, 2022.

More News:


Clean Water Act: In a surprise move, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision used an emergency ruling  to reinstate Trump-era Clean Water Act regulation that curtails states and tribal rights to block fossil fuel pipelines and other energy infrastructure that can pollute waterways. A lower court previously ruled that the rule violated a Supreme Court precedent. ESA joined other aquatic science societies in opposing this rule when the Trump administration first proposed the rule in 2019.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined with three other Justices who dissented because the emergency ruling or a “shadow docket’ perverts the use an emergency ruling. Justice Elena Kagan wrote on the use of an emergency ruling, “This Court may stay a decision under review in a court of appeals only in extraordinary circumstances and upon the weightiest considerations.”  

Endangered Species: A federal judge turned down a challenge from environmental groups and upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2019 decision not to list the alewife and the blueback herring an endangered species.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act: ESI Energy Inc, a wind energy company, agreed to pay a $35 million settlement for the deaths of golden eagles at its wind farms under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This agreement comes after the Biden administration repealed a Trump administration rule that determined that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not apply to the unintentional killing of birds.



Scientific Community

DOE: The Office of Science issued a letter to Department of Energy-funded principal investigators encouraging them to consider hosting a student or scientist impacted by the war in Ukraine and apply for supplemental awards to support collaboratation with scientists impacted by the war. Supplemental awards may be requested enhance ongoing research efforts by supporting students and scientists at U.S. institutions or by supporting remote collaborations for students and scientists already located at European institutions.

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ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View more letters and testimony from ESA here.

Federal Register Opportunities

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ESA’s policy activities work to infuse ecological knowledge into national policy decisions through activities such as policy statements, Capitol Hill briefings, Congressional Visits Days, and coalition involvement. Policy News Updates are bi-monthly summaries of major environmental and science policy news. They are produced by the Public Affairs Office of the Ecological Society of America.

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