Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan.  As readers of this blog are already aware, the Clean Power Plan proposes carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., generating approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.  Some specifics are that under the Clean Power Plan, states must expand their energy sources and use solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, sustainably sourced biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydrology in order to decrease their carbon emissions.

Did you know that renewable energy technologies are characteristically more labor-intensive than intensely mechanized fossil fuel technologies?  This means that the potential economic benefits may be substantial; not to mention the significant benefits for our climate and health.

The solar industry employed over 100,000 workers in jobs ranging from solar manufacturing and sales to installation according to the Solar Foundation in 2011.  Solar jobs grew by 20% percent in 2013 and 2014 is expected to create 22,000 jobs.  Furthermore, these statistics were reported before the EPA plan was released, which may further boost the renewable job sector.

Let’s look at wind energy.  The amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines doubled from 35% in 2006 to 70% in 2011 with 560 factories directly employing 75,000 full-time employees.

The hydroelectric power industry also plays a role.  Statistics show in 2009 it employed 250,000 people.  As many as 700,000 jobs could be generated if the hydropower industry installs a new capacity of 23,000 – 60,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025.  Rounding out our look at the renewable energy sector, the geothermal industry directly employed 5,200 people in 2010.  

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimated in 2009 that a national, renewable electricity standard attempting to cut 25% of carbon emissions by 2025 would generate 297,000 jobs, $263.4 billion in new capital investment, $13.5 billion in income to farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues.  Remember, the EPA proposed reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.  So the potential economic benefits may increase over the UCS’s estimates.

With these figures, we’re not even taking into account a complete picture of the potential economic benefits from expanded renewable energy sources.  Think about how direct job creation leads to indirect job creation.  For example, when you hire additional employees, you may very well need a larger Human Resources staff. 

All of this comes at a time when our country could deeply benefit from economic stimulation.  The U.S. economy is still anemic, with unemployment rates remaining high, and a disturbing national debt that’s expected to reach $20 trillion by 2020.  We must embrace win-win scenarios such as these that combine healing our ailing planet with economic recovery.  It’s past time to forge the path to a low-carbon future.

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Ever come down with Lyme disease?  Do you suffer from asthma?  Think climate change might have something to do with it?  Before you write off this thought as crazy consider the numbers.

The World Health Organization estimates that a minimum of 140,000 people currently die each year around the globe from the effects of climate change.  That number does not include the millions more who are made ill from diseases such as asthma, heatstroke or malaria nor does it account for those that are otherwise physically harmed, for example from extreme weather events.

As if these numbers aren’t bad enough, Americans are largely unaware of the impact climate change is already having on their health.  The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conducted a nationwide survey this spring asking respondents to give, “their best estimates of the impacts of global warming on human health worldwide – currently and 50 years from now. The largest proportion of respondents (38% to 42%) simply said, ‘I don’t know.’ The next largest proportion (27% to 39%) said either ‘no one’ or ‘hundreds’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming each year, either now or 50 years from now.”

“Only 18% to 32% of Americans said, correctly, that each year either ‘thousands’ or ‘millions’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming, either now or 50 years from now.”

One look at the conclusion of the health chapter of the recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment demonstrates that hundreds of climate experts see the danger from the global warming review they conducted over the past four years, “Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States.”

We need to begin making the realization that global warming is here, it’s already killing some of us and there is no time to lose in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  Americans are especially prone to think that technology will save us.  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  A new study argues that climate engineering may not be the answer to averting a climate change catastrophe.  You know what will definitely help?  Reducing what you can and offsetting the rest.  Let’s get to it posthaste.

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The big news this week is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan.  Environmental groups and climate change activists have been eagerly awaiting these carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants.

Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and generate approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.  The EPA’s proposal, released Monday, will help lower carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The proposed rules are the latest under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The EPA is charged with proposing commonsense approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. 

Last June, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce carbon emissions, prepare the country for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global warming.  Learn more about the President's Climate Action plan on the White House web site.

For good or ill, climate change continues to be a politically charged issue, often dividing along party lines.  However, many companies recognize that global warming is already impacting their daily business operations and that the problem is only going to get worse if we do not take steps now to embrace a low-carbon future. 

Sustainability advocacy nonprofit Ceres coordinated letters of support for the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution rule to the Obama Administration and Senate and House majority and minority leaders from 125 companies including the likes of Unilever, VF Corporation and Mars.  The letters were also signed by 49 investors managing $800 billion in assets.

Read more about the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule.

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Within one generation, by 2050, the U.S. can gradually and almost completely eliminate coal and nuclear power finds a new report out from Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council.  The report, "Energy [R]evolution – A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook," released last week details the steps we need to take to change greenhouse gas emitting systems such as electricity, heating and transportation.  If we follow the groups' blueprint, the country is estimated to reduce carbon emissions 39% percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 60% below 2005 levels by 2030.

This report is the latest in a series of global, national and regional Energy [R]evolution scenarios found at www.energyblueprint.info.  "The Energy [R]evolution demonstrates that transitioning to a renewable energy economy can free resources for economic development. It means more and better jobs, greater energy independence, and it is more democratic as citizens attain more control of energy production. Compared with the Energy Information Agency energy outlook, the transition to renewables creates more jobs at every stage of the energy transition, with more than 34% more jobs by 2030."

The Energy [R]evolution's goal is to, "wean the economy off dirty fuels as thoroughly and quickly as possible, and in a way that is technologically, politically, and ecologically realistic."  Although this report focuses on the United States, it is, "part of a global analysis showing how the international economy can transition to nearly 100% renewable energy by 2050, while assuming no new 'breakthrough technologies'."

Specifically, the report outlines how by 2050 renewable energy sources could provide:

  • Roughly 97% of U.S. electricity production
  • 94% of the country’s total heating and cooling demand
  • About 92% of America’s final energy demand

"The most recent National Climate Assessment makes it very clear that we need national policies to expedite a clean energy economy," said Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative for Greenpeace USA.

"Fortunately, the energy market is phasing out coal and phasing in renewable energy at a rapid pace, but this must be quickened to avoid climate consequences much worse than the wildfires, droughts, and superstorms the country is already experiencing," said Ash.

Indeed, the Energy [R]evolution sounds like a good way to start putting the brakes on global warming and engender the truly transformative change we must undertake immediately to avoid catastrophic climate change.  The time has come for us to embrace a low-carbon future.

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How does a progressive building design firm demonstrate its commitment to sustainable architecture beyond its client projects?  One way is to incorporate a commitment to environmentally responsible operations into the company’s core mission, as The Tower Companies has achieved. 

The Tower Companies strives to develop eco-progressive real estate and sustainable building projects that surpass traditional approaches to the built environment, teach people how to engage with their surroundings, promote the balance of body and mind, optimize human achievement, and respect our planet. 

As a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR® Partner and Green Power Partner, The Tower Companies consistently works to reduce its impact on the global environment by completing a corporate-wide inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The company sets long-term reduction goals and annually reports progress to the EPA, The Climate Registry and to stakeholders through the Tower Companies Sustainability Report.

 In 2008, The Tower Companies met their stated goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, officially becoming “carbon neutral.”  The Tower Companies has continued to maintain this status, working with The Climate Registry, to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings by further reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as electricity and water usage.  In 2013, Carbonfund.org assisted The Tower Companies in neutralizing its annual Scope 1 and 3 emissions that could not be reduced any further.  The Tower Companies chose to support a renewable energy landfill gas project that measurably reduces its operational emissions by capturing methane gas produced by the landfill and using it to produce electricity.  For its ongoing commitment to sustainability, The Tower Companies have been recognized with National Leadership Awards by both the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy. 

Green building starts with efficient use of resources. It moves to how the site selection, construction and ultimate operation affect the environment - today and for generations to come.  The Tower Companies’ own commitment to measuring, reducing and neutralizing is operational emissions demonstrates this commitment to green building strategies, and Carbonfund.org is proud to assist in these efforts.  

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Carbonfund.org supports carbon offset projects that clearly benefit the environment and fight climate change. A recent study highlights how projects such as ours offer even more than combating global warming alone. They can provide additional benefits ranging from employment to health, which is important to countries' economies and limited budgets.

Often the question is posed as whether to cut emissions or use the funds to stimulate the economy. But we can have the best of both worlds with certified carbon-cutting projects; particularly projects in poor countries. And the numbers add up to billions in additional benefits.

Carbon credit certifier, the Gold Standard Foundation, in a partnership with WWF Switzerland commissioned a peer-reviewed study from Australia-based Net Balance. Economists analyzed the environmental and socioeconomic benefits from clean energy or Gold Standard-approved carbon reduction projects.

The report found, "Robustly designed and audited greenhouse gas mitigation projects... deliver far more than carbon emission reductions, meaning it is no longer necessary to choose between climate and other environment and development outcomes."

The study analyzed more than 100 initiatives including building wind farms, planting trees, installing water filtration systems and distributing clean stoves to discourage people from burning wood or charcoal. Then the report identified areas beyond greenhouse gas cuts where there was a potential benefit from projects, such as local economies, employment, health and biodiversity.

The report gives a couple examples; the first shows how three water filtration systems throughout Africa and Asia deliver health benefits such as less air pollution, which is valued at more than $300 million annually. The second example illustrates how 54 Gold Standard-certified wind farms created jobs worth $12 million a year while contributing a total $100 million per year to countries' balance of payments.

Gold Standard Program projects generate carbon credits that can be bought by individuals, businesses and organizations to offset their own carbon footprints. Learn more about Carbonfund.org's carbon reduction projects at http://www.carbonfund.org/projects.

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The National Climate Assessment was released this week, which summarizes climate change's impacts on the United States, now and in the future. Produced by a team of more than 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, the study was also extensively reviewed by the public, federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, global warming could exceed 10 degrees by the end of the century. A quote from the study's overview says, "This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country."

This scientific report is mandated by Congress and is the pinnacle of years of work by hundreds of the nation's leading climate experts. They reviewed the scientific literature and summarized how climate change is affecting our country. The two main conclusions are:

  1. The planet's climate is changing; it is apparent across the U.S. and the last 50 years' worth is chiefly due to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

  2. Extreme weather is on the rise in recent decades and new, stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are human-caused.

Our homes, food, water and the very air we breathe are being affected.

Global warming is more than something that our children and future generations will face. It is our reality now. Climate change is already affecting our country and economy. Now that the situation is hitting home, perhaps we will start to make the changes we must make to reduce our carbon footprints and fund clean energy projects.

Read the most recent National Climate Assessment's Overview here.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly created a National Program of standards for light-duty vehicles that lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel economy. Cars and light trucks' GHG emissions standards in the 2012 model year, the first year of the 14-year program, were 296 grams of GHG/mile. The EPA reports automakers' overall GHG performance was, on average, 286 grams of GHG/mile, which is 9.8 grams of GHG/mile below what the 2012 standards required. The EPA says, the automobile industry is "off to a good start".

GHG emission standards are projected by the EPA to cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases over the lifetimes of vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025. The agency released a Manufacturers Performance Report last week that evaluates how the automobile industry is doing in meeting GHG emissions standards. The report shows that the industry lowered tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 and also used optional flexibilities included in the standards.

Some of the flexibilities include emissions credits transfer among manufacturers on a yearly basis and for improvements in air conditioning systems. The EPA's reasoning in allowing these flexibilities is that they will result in higher emissions reductions, lower compliance costs and more options for consumers.

Speaking of which, the report indicates consumer preference is playing an increasing role. Americans bought lower emission vehicles in the first year of the program than required by the 2012 GHG standard.

The EPA will wait to issue formal compliance determinations for the 2012 model year until 2015 because of the program’s multi-year structure. However, the agency plans to continue tracking compliance and expects to produce annual manufacturers’ performance reports for the program.

In more good news from the EPA, their most recent Fuel Economy Trends Report shows fuel economy improved by 1.2 mpg in 2012 compared to 2011, which is the second biggest improvement in the last 30 years.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, on Monday that says climate change's effects are already happening across the globe.  No continent, country or ocean is immune.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the world is not prepared for risks from a changing climate.  The report determines there are opportunities to respond to such risks but the risks become difficult to manage the more global warming there is.

"With high levels of warming that result from continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, risks will be challenging to manage, and even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits," said Chris Field, Co-Chair of Working Group II.  Field added: "Understanding that climate change is a challenge in managing risk opens a wide range of opportunities for integrating adaptation with economic and social development and with initiatives to limit future warming. We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond."

The report outlines climate change impacts experienced thus far, future risks from global warming and opportunities to reduce risks.  Some of the impacts of climate change that have already happened affect: agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people's livelihoods.  Climate change doesn't care whether your country is rich or poor, whether you're located in the tropics or the South Pole, on a small island or land-locked on a large continent.  It is affecting everyone on the planet and we must prepare now or pay a higher price later.  The scary thing is that there are limits, even on the price we can pay.

"We live in an era of man-made climate change," said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II.  "In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future."

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said: "The Working Group II report is another important step forward in our understanding of how to reduce and manage the risks of climate change.  Along with the reports from Working Group I and Working Group III, it provides a conceptual map of not only the essential features of the climate challenge but the options for solutions."

The Working Group I report was released in September 2013 and the Working Group III report will be released in April 2014.  The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report cycle ends with the publication of its Synthesis Report in October 2014. 

The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5) is available at www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5 and www.ipcc.ch.

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Friday, 28 March 2014 14:30

Why Forest Conservation is so Important

This is the first of a monthly blog series about our forest conservation projects in Brazil.  This month's blog gives an overview of tropical deforestation and an introduction to our projects.  In future months, topics shall include updates on the projects' biodiversity, highlights of community projects, stories from the field, and status of the projects' certifications.   

Tropical deforestation is a global problem because such deforestation is responsible for approximately 15-20% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, reduces habitat availability for a tremendous amount of biodiversity, and further threatens the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.  With this in mind, only 2% of the world’s total surface area is home to rainforests yet rainforests are home to 50% of the world's plant and animals.  Shockingly, according to The Nature Conservancy, "every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That's 86,400 football fields of rainforest per day, or over 31 million football fields of rainforest each year."

Because of the support of our generous donors, the Carbonfund.org Foundation created its wholly-owned subsidiary, CarbonCo, to design, finance, implement, and manage large-scale forest conservation projects.  Our projects help mitigate this trend of tropical deforestation while also preserving precious rainforest habitat and providing alternative economic opportunities for local communities.  These projects, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) projects, are essentially payment for ecosystem service projects which rely on the sale of verified emission reductions (VERs), commonly known as carbon offset credits.

As of today, CarbonCo has several REDD+ projects in the Western State of Acre, Brazil which are protecting more than 700,000 acres.  To help visualize how large these projects are, consider that 700,000 acres is the equivalent to approximately 1,100 square miles.  This is almost as large as the entire state of Rhode Island (1,545 square miles), about the size of the urban area of Paris, France (1,098 square miles) and more than twice the size of New York City (470 square miles).

Our projects are named the Purus, Russas, Valparaiso, and Envira Amazonia Projects.  The Purus Project was the first-ever REDD+ project in Acre to be validated (audit of project design) and verified (audit of project’s performance) to the leading international carbon certifications known as the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS) with Gold Distinction for exceptional biodiversity benefits.  The Russas Project was validated to the CCBS with Gold Distinction for exceptional community benefits and is pending validation to the VCS.  The Valparaiso and Envira Amazonia Projects are also being designed to the VCS and CCBS with Gold Distinction.

Now that we have provided some background on forest conservation, stay tuned for next month's blog post with a more in-depth view of our specific REDD+ projects!

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