Friday, December 9, 2016

Youth Ask Courts To Protect Their Climate Future

Is 21 the Magic Climate Number?

August 14, 2017 update:  Plaintiff Sophie Kivlehan and her grandfather James Hansen penned an excellent op-ed about the case in the Boston Globe ... a copy of "OK US Government --  See You In Court" is here.

21 is a number that's come up a lot in recent climate discussions.

It took world leaders 21 years to reach the agreement on climate change announced in Paris last year at COP21.

It took 21 young plaintiffs, all under 21 years old just a few months to get the green light to proceed with a lawsuit against the United States Government asserting that inaction on climate deprives them of life, liberty and "a climate system capable of sustaining human life."

The case could have interesting implications for the Donald Trump administration when the case goes to trial in 2017.

The youth, ages 9 to 20, are asking the courts to order the U.S. Government, among other things:
"to prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2 so as to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital resources on which Plaintiffs now and in the future will depend." (First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, filed 9/10/15, copy here)
Plaintiffs and attorneys hold hold a press conference on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Eugene.
Twenty-one youth plaintiffs are suing the federal government in an attempt to force
science based action on climate change change.
(Robin Loznak/ reprinted with permission)

Fossil fuel interests and the U.S. Government tried to get U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken to toss the lawsuit.  But in a ruling in early November, Judge Aiken ruled the case can proceed, saying (on page 21!!):
"plaintiffs' alleged injuries - harm to their personal, economic and aesthetic interests - are concrete and particularized"
Judge Aiken's ruling (copy here) also discusses the relation of the relief sought in the lawsuit to U.S. climate commitments:
“Although the United States has made international commitments regarding climate change, granting the relief requested here would be fully consistent with those commitments. There is no contradiction between promising other nations the United States will reduce CO2 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce CO2 emissions.”

Timeline outlining U.S. government knowledge of climate change problems
 presented by plaintiffs during court proceedings
Source here

This federal case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.  The case also follows a similar case decided in the Netherlands in 2015.  In the Dutch case, the courts ruled on behalf of youth that the government must more quickly reduce fossil fuel emissions (see Guardian story here).

News of the action in the Our Children's Trust case came to delegates at the COP22 event in Marrakech, Morocco just as they were learning that Donald Trump had won the U.S. election.   The possibility of U.S. courts stepping in on behalf of future generations was well received by those worried about the direction the U.S. might take under the new administration.

"Judge Aiken recognized the inherent sovereign duty of the U.S. government to protect the fundamental rights of young people and future generations to life, liberty, and a climate system capable of sustaining human life," said Elizabeth Brown, staff attorney for Our Children's Trust at a press conference during COP22 on November 11.

Our Children's Trust staff attorney Elizabeth Brown discusses Judge Aiken's decision
at press conference during COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco
(Photo by Michael Paparian)

"These youth plaintiffs now have the opportunity to prove in court that the U.S. has knowingly put them and their generation in grave danger, trading their futures for the short-term profits for a few, in violation of their constitutional and public trust rights," said attorney Borwn.  "Plaintiffs will ask this court to order the federal defendants to put the United States on a science-based path to climate stabilization."

"We as young people have a right to life on this planet," said Daniel Jubelirer, a youth organizer and activist working with plaintiff organization Earth Guardians.  This case going to trial proves that our futures matter .. we'll see President Elect Trump in court."

Daniel Jubelirer of Earth Guardians discusses lawsuit
at COP22 in Marrakech
(photo by Michael Paparian)

"It's clear Judge Aiken gets what's at stake for us," said 17-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett, from White Plains, New York.  "Our planet and our generation don't have time to waste.  We are moving to trial and I'm looking forward to having the world see the incredible power my generation holds."

At the Marrakech press conference, Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs (recognized by Economist magazine as one of the three most influential living economists) discussed the importance of this precedent-setting lawsuit to resolving climate issues and protecting future generations.  "The judiciary," he said, "is the final place where citizens have their redress for rights denied."

Professor Jeffrey Sachs discusses lawsuit at
press conference in Marrakech, Morocco during COP22
(photo by Michael Paparian)

Assisting with the court case is climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, who brought the climate crisis to the attention of the U.S. Congress in the 1980s and has been advising world leaders ever since.  His 30 page declaration for the plaintiffs is also an excellent primer on the climate issue (copy here).  Hansen's granddaughter, Sofie Kivlehan, is one of the plaintiffs.  According to Dr. Hansen,
"Simply put: Our government’s persistent permitting and underwriting of fossil fuel projects serves now to further disrupt the favorable climate system that to date enabled human civilization to develop. In order to preserve a viable climate system, our use of fossil fuels must be phased out as rapidly as is feasible. ... Our government’s permitting of additional, new, or renewed fossil fuel projects is entirely antithetical to its fundamental responsibility to our children and their posterity. Their fundamental rights now hang in the balance." Declaration of Dr. James E. Hansen, page 31.
Climate Scientist Dr. Jame E. Hansen at COP21 in Paris
Grandfather of one of the plaintiffs
(photo by Michael Paparian)

In late November, the court said they expect the case to go to trial in the summer or fall of 2017, even though the defendants argued that it could take five years to go through procedural matters and discovery.  Attorneys for the youth said they want to proceed.  “We will push quickly to trial. The urgency of the climate emergency demands it,” said Julia Olson, counsel for Plaintiffs.

If these 21 youth are successful at trial, their case will contribute to needed and rapid solutions to the climate crisis, making the 21st and future centuries more livable century than they would otherwise be.  21 may indeed be an interesting climate number.

Photos of the youth plaintiffs and statements from each can be found here.  This case is also starting to get attention in national media, including a Washington Post story here and New Yorker story here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

California Utilities Preparing for Electric Vehicle Surge

Electric cars, buses, trucks and trains.  They're coming faster than you may think.  Transportation electrification is one of the keys to meeting California, U.S. and international climate goals,

Without plug-in transportation, we won't meet targets of a 40% reduction in fossil fuel use by 2030 and 80% by 2050.  All of those plug-in vehicle will need infrastructure on the other end of the plug ranging from charging stations to storage to renewable energy power generating facilities.

California continues to show leadership in providing incentives for all aspects electric vehicle (EV) deployment from vehicle manufacturing and ownership (see, for example, CalGreenFinance post on manufacturing incentives here) to charging infrastructure.  The state is now looking further into how to assure there will be adequate infrastructure for the increasing number of electric vehicles.  This is part of a larger strategy to address greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector (see prior Climate Dispatch post on California transportation strategies here).

The California EV market is the largest in the nation.  The California Plug-In Vehicle Collaborative recently released the latest sales data for California and the nation, showing there are now over 500,000 plug-in electric vehicles nationwide, with nearly half in California:

California expects the number of  plug-in vehicles to reach one million by 2020 and 1.5 million by 2025.  California utilities are preparing for this surge of electric vehicles, including how to provide enough electricity at the right times of day and deciding what role they should play in delivering that electricity to cars.

To give a sense of the magnitude of the electric vehicle deployment, estimates in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District area suggest that we will need to move from 4300 plug in vehicles on the road today in the area to 240,000 by 2030.  SMUD serves 1.4 million residents.  Similar electric vehicle increases are expected throughout the state.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District Electric Vehicle Projections (Source: here)

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power estimates that 145,000 plug in electric vehicles will be needed in their area in five years and 580,000 by 2030 to meet climate goals.

The California Energy Commission recently held a workshop to explore how electric utilities are responding to the challenges.  As background, they provided a good listing of the various laws, Executive Orders, incentive programs and regulations affecting electric vehicles within their workshop notice (here), including:
  • Governor Brown established the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) Executive Order directing California government to ensure electric charging infrastructure is available to support one million ZEVs by 2020 and 1.5 million by 2025
Tim Olson of the Energy Commission Fuels and Transportation Division
presented overview of California programs 10/5/2016

  • The Governor also established the Sustainable Freight Executive Order to set targets to accelerate adoption of zero emission transportation options in the freight sector by 2030.
  • The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) zero emission vehicle mandate requires automakers to offer specified numbers of ZEVs for sale in California by 2020. 
  • CARB’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires a 10 percent carbon intensity reduction in gasoline and diesel fuel sold in California by 2020 and electric transportation is one option to displace petroleum fuels and help fulfill that objective. 

    California Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott,
    Lead Commissioner for Transportation chaired recent Utilities & Electric Vehicles Workshop

  • CARB adopted a statewide mobile source strategy to comply with federal ambient air quality standards to reduce ozone forming vehicle tailpipe emissions and ZEVs offer attributes to help achieve that requirement
  • CARB also provides incentive rebates and vouchers in conjunction with federal tax credits to reduce the purchase price of ZEVs and the Energy Commission complements these efforts with its support through its own program to plan and deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure 3 throughout California as part of the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP).
  • SB350 of 2015 requires utilities, in conjunction with the requirements/processes of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission, to plan for electric vehicle deployment and infrastructure.

Investor Owned Utilities: Pilots & Programs 

The investor-owned utilities (i.e. those regulated by the Public Utilities Commission) are evaluating how to assist electric vehicle infrastructure and electric vehicle deployment.  The utilities are seen as a major source of know-how and capital to  improve the infrastructure, but there are concerns from those who worry about the utilities competing with others who want to deploy electric vehicle chargers.

The investor-owned utilities have been told to present transportation electrification plans by January, 2017 (larger utilities: PG&E, SCE, SDG&E) or July 2017 (smaller utilities: Liberty Utilities, Bear Valley Electric, PacifiCorp).  According to PUC Analyst Amy Mesrobian, it is possible for utilities to collaborate with each other on joint projects or to even work with nearby publicly owned utilities.  The utilities regulated by the PUC will also be able to fast-track approval of smaller (less than $4 million) non-controversial projects.

California Public Utilities Commission Analyst Amy Mesrobian
Explains programs affecting investor owned utilities
at Energy Commission Workshop 10/5/2016

The PUC is already working with the utilities on pilot projects to examine the effectiveness of charging infrastructure through the installation of over 12,000 units.

California Investor Owned Utility Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Pilot Program
Source:  PUC Presentation to Energy Commission 10/5/2016

More information on the PUC and investor owned utility programs can be found here.

Publicly Owned Utilities: New Planning Mandates & Challenges

The publicly owned utilities in California are grappling with how to develop infrastructure in their communities.  The 16 largest public utilities, including SMUD, LADWP and others (see chart below) are required under SB350 to develop specific "Integrated Resource Plans" addressing renewable energy, greenhouse gas reduction and transportation electrification issues by 2019.

16 publicly owned utilities subject to SB350 planning requirements
Source:  here

The Energy Commission workshop included presentations from several of the publicly owned utilities and other experts.

Some common themes, included:
  • There are not enough charging locations in place or planned to meet anticipated growth.  In The electric grid is getting cleaner as  more renewable projects come online.  As a result the benefits of electric cars are increasing.
  • Customer choice is helping to propel more interest in electric vehicles.  43 new models are expected in the next four years.
  • Increased range is also helping drive interest.  Upcoming models will get more than 200 miles and that may soon become the expected range. 
  • Transportation electrification helps meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, but more aggressive electric transportation deployment is needed to meet goals

Source:  Electric Power Research Institute presentation 10/5/2016

  • Solar electric generation has caused an oversupply of energy mid-day in California.  There may be ways to use the electric fleet as part of the solution to store electricity or charge during times of abundance.  Fuel-cell vehicles could also be part of the solution if hydrogen is produced with excess power.
  • Time of use rates are an effective way to match electric production peaks with consumer demand.  Electric vehicle charging at the right time can help significantly.
  • Low oil prices have impacted the pace of electric vehicle adoption

Source:  Testimony of Dr. Nancy Ryan of E3 10/5/2016

  • Providing charging in multi-family and rental housing is challenging and must be addressed in order to meet the electric vehicle targets.
  • The fast-charger network must continue to expand to keep up with electric vehicle fleet expansion.  The demand for use of existing fast chargers is very high.
  • Fast chargers will be be even faster in the future as new ones are able to deliver increasing amounts of electricity.
  • Faster fast chargers may cost more and have a greater impact on electric loads.  It is possible that there may be variable pricing among chargers depending on their throughput.  This is likened to paying more for premium (faster EV charging) vs. regular (slower EV charging)
  • Consumer incentives, including incentives for chargers, are important to EV adoption
  • There is not yet a good business case for chargers.  They generally cost more to install/maintain than the revenue they generate.
  • Building code changes to require chargers in new construction or renovations can be helpful.
Copies of presentations from the workshop are online here and some highlights are included below.

Los Angeles Seeks to Meet Challenge

The City of Los Angeles is implementing plans for scaling up electric vehicle infrastructure.  They hope to go from about 23,000 plug-in electric vehicles today to 145,000 within 5 years and 580,000 by 2030.  To do this, new car sales in the region will need to be about 15% plug-in by 2020. 

Marvin Moon of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Describes electric vehicle programs 10/5/2016

The Los Angeles City Council is engaged in pushing for better electric vehicle infrastructure.  They are changing codes to require electric vehicle chargers in new construction.   City fleets, including the police department, will increase their plug-in fleets to 1,600 vehicles.  The city plans to install over 3,000 chargers and encourage at least 10,000 or more public charging stations in the next five years.  The city chargers will include 1,000 curbside chargers.

The Los Angeles Police Department is purchasing many electric vehicles

More on Los Angeles electric vehicle plans in their presentation here.

Sacramento Pushing Fast Chargers

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has several programs to encourage electric vehicle use and plans to expand these in 2017.

Bill Boyce of SMUD describes electric vehicle programs
at Energy Commission workshop 10/5/2016

SMUD is deploying six DC fast chargers in the community, including chargers at the Sacramento Airport, the Sacramento Valley Train Station, Nugget Market in Elk Grove and elsewhere.  They have a "charge free for a year" program to provide a rebate on electricity costs for electric vehicle users.  They are expanding efforts to deploy chargers in multi-family dwellings and low income communities.

For 2017, SMUD is planning to expand their initiatives, including doubling their residential incentive from $300 to $600, providing incentives for multi-family and workplace charging and expanding the DC fast charger network.

Nissan:  Charging, Charging, Charging

Nissan representative John Tillman emphasized the need for expanding charging infrastructure.  He pointed out that California has slightly more than 10,000 level-2 public charging locations, but could use 100,000 or more to meet the rapid pace of electric vehicle adoption.

Source:  Nissan presentation to California Energy Commission 10/5/2016

Tillman also suggested there are "5 R's" to a successful charging network:
  • Reliable - Equipment functions consistently
  • Redundant - Multiple chargers to assure availability to consumer
  • Relevant - Chargers need to be available for all EV connector types
  • Rapid - Need to have 30 minute or less charge times
  • Regional - Chargers need to be available where people need them

Source:  Nissan presentation to California Energy Commission 10/5/2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

EcoBlocks as Climate Solution

(April 10, 2016 update:  A summary of the EcoBlocks proposal with contacts has been posted here.  On March 25, the California Energy Commission announced plans to fund $1.5 million of the project costs, contingent on approval by the full Commission.)

Achieving much greater energy efficiency in existing buildings is one of the keys to the California 2030 goal of an overall reduction of 40% in greenhouse gas emissions.  (See Climate Dispatch post:  California 2030 Climate Goals:  Energy Efficiency)

California is now working on measures to reach roughly a 17% reduction in existing building energy use.  This is double the expected energy savings of just a few months ago.  Since many buildings already have efficiency measures and many building owners will not want to retrofit their structures, the savings from buildings that are retrofitted will have to noticeable exceed 17% in order for the state to reach an overall 17% reduction

Getting existing building owners to adopt efficiency measures has been a major challenge.  As the California Energy Commission pointed out in their recent Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan, "Breaking through background noise to achieve actual engagement and resulting action is difficult." (p. 84)

One concern raised by the Energy Commission is that building owners are faced with many overlapping messages and the resulting confusion may result in inaction.

Source:  Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan, p. 85

A team from U.C. Berkeley and Stanford is working on a novel approach to induce homeowners to install a range of climate-friendly energy, water and transportation retrofits.  Rather than look at retrofits on a single home, they are concentrating on an entire square block of homes.  By retrofitting many adjacent homes at once, a number of measures that aren't practical for a single home suddenly make sense for the collection of homes.  And, all homeowners on the square block should see savings in utility bills.

The innovative "EcoBlock" project was described by Energy and Resources Group Chair Harrison Fraker at the recent Philomathia Forum in Berkeley..  According to Professor Fraker, as much as 45% of California homes are in in old-style cities and suburbs filled with square (or rectangular) blocks.  If we’re going to reach emissions mandates, says Fraker, “we really have to figure out how to decarbonize existing housing stock .. the existing building stock is a major generator of carbon emissions.”

U C Berkeley Energy and Resources Group Chiar Harrison Fraker

Professor Fraker and his colleagues have proposed an EcoBlock pilot project in Oakland to decarbonize a group of 28 homes and a few businesses.  They are hopeful the project will receive initial funding in the next few months.  If successful, the project could be replicated on blocks throughout the state and country.

The goals are impressive.  The EcoBlock pilot project will:
  • use net zero energy
  • be greenhouse gas neutral or better
  • have very low water usage
  • promote electric vehicle usage
  • incorporate energy storage
  • be rapidly deployable
This will be accomplished through a series of inter-related systems.  Solar panels will be the basic energy source, backed up by a storage in batteries, flywheels and shared electric cars.  The batteries, including car batteries, will help manage the electric load of the dwellings.  The homes will be retrofitted to achieve "deep energy" savings through lighting, window replacements and appliances.  All gas-fired appliances will be replaced with super efficient electric units.

Part of the team is a group from Sanford working on the water system.  Rainwater and greywater will be captured for reuse.  Wastewater will be treated and used for irrigation of trees and gardens.  

Professor Fraker says they will be able to reduce total home energy use from 690 megawatt hours per year to 280 megawatt hours with the energy retrofits.  The solar is expected to produce 350 megawatt hours, with the net surplus powering the vehicle batteries.  The utility and transportation savings from will be used, in part, to cover the cost of many of the efficiency improvements.

If successful, the EcoBlock could either be disruptive to the current utility structure, or could give utilities a new mission.  Creative entrepreneurs could retrofit large areas of California while minimizing or eliminating the need for traditional utility customer relationships.  Alternatively, the installation and maintenance of EcoBlocks could be a  new business paradigm for utilities as they evolve into energy and environmental servicers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Climate Comments from COP21: Youth

I was pleasantly surprised by the youth presence at COP21.  There is a new generation eager and ready to address the climate problem.

A substantial portion of the 10,000 non-governmental accredited "observers" at the event were born after the international community took notice of the climate problem in the late 1980s.  At COP21, they weren't just observing.  They were engaged, energetic, articulate and effective.

Youth gathering for updates, strategizing at COP21

More Than Observers

Timothy Damon of SustainUS made the point that was echoed by many youth.  They will be living in the world impacted by climate change and they want their voice to be heard.

Hearing the Voice of Youth

The voice of youth was heard in many ways.  Some button-holed diplomats, some had a presence with the media, some demonstrated and some were actually embedded within country delegations.

Yann Lesestre and Leslie Tourneville of French youth group
CliMates display the message of zero carbon by 2050
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition pushes
for 1.5 degree cap and money for mitigation

Scientifically Necessary and Morally Just

Dyanna Jaye of SustainUS summed up the passion and effectiveness of youth, saying they move beyond what is perceived as possible to what is "scientifically necessary and morally just::

We Can Change the World

With over 190 countries and 20,000 government delegates, effectiveness of outside constituencies was hard to measure at COP21.  But the successful outcome reflected the hard work of many.  Jessica Olson of the Sierra Student Coalition recognized that change is possible through collaborative action.

The Road Doesn't End in Paris

Finally, Caroline Engle of the Sierra Student Coalition echoed the sentiment of many .. that COP21 is just the beginning.  Much more work lies ahead if we are going to decarbonize our future.  The youth at COP21 are ready to rise to the challenge.

Monday, January 25, 2016

This Week: Climate Events Worth Watching

I don't normally post upcoming events in this blog, but there are two this week worth considering.  Both are free to watch online.

Wednesday all day: Investor Summit on Climate Risk

Climate leaders and financial experts will gather on Wednesday, January 27 for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk.  The event  will take place at the United Nations and is co-hosted by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Office for Partnerships.

Participants include United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore, CERES President Mindy Lubber and many others.

Michael Bloomberg at COP21

Californians on the agenda include California Treasurer John Chiang, California State Controller Betty Yee, CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes and DBL Investors head Nancy Pfund.

A copy of the agenda is here.  The event can be viewed via a live broadcast on the United Nations TV website at

Friday 11-12:30 Pacific Time: The Road from Paris: Climate Solutions Investment

Building on the ideas from the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, an interactive forum on finance for a west coast audience will take place on Friday, January 29 from 11 to 12:30 Pacific Time.

One of the participants in the CERES/UN Investor Summit, Ken Locklin of Impax Asset Management, is joining California Clean Energy Fund Managing Director Danny Kennedy in hosting the Friday event, The Road from Paris: Opportunities and Challenges in Climate Solutions Investment.

Experts in climate investment and risk will discuss the policies, financial models and investment flows needed to make Paris a success for both the climate and the economy.

Registration is free at

(Disclosure:  I am one of the presenters at a breakout session in the Friday event)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Climate Comments from COP21: Scientists

At COP21 in Paris last month, I was captivated by the quality and depth of the comments and presentations from political leaders, scientists, youth, activists financial experts and many others.  I captured a variety of comments and share some of them from scientists here.  I'll be sharing more in a future post.

The Scientists:  Time to Act

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up under the auspices of the United Nations in 1988 to gather and analyze the best scientific information available and synthesize it for decisionmakers.

At a gathering at UNESCO during COP21, IPCC members did their best to convey the science as clearly as they could.  But, scientists often have trouble conveying information in a way that is understood and absorbed by policymakers and the public.  As French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte said, "Scientists are not poets."

At the same UNESCO gathering, Dr. Diana √úrge-Vorsatz, Director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University said that it is possible to limit global warming to an increase of two degrees centigrade.  However, it will be extremely difficult unless strong action is started soon.  Limiting to 1.5 degrees is even more challenging.

Elsewhere at COP21, scientists were concerned that the climate models may be underestimating emissions and impacts.  Dr. Susan Natali of Woods Hole Research Center expressed concern that carbon and methane emissions from thawing permafrost are not being taken into account in climate models.  "These emissions from thawing permafrost are going to amplify climate changes," she said.  Dr. James Hansen expressed concern that even if all emissions stopped today, there will be noticeable further warming from greenhouse gases already emitted.

Dr. Youba Sokona, Vice-Chair of IPCC offered hope, saying that it is possible to limit climate change.  However, like his colleagues, he emphasized the need for swift action.

(All photos by Michael Paparian)