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June 12th, 2017 Archives


The fight against climate change: four cities leading the way in the Trump era

New York City, Houston, Miami and San Francisco have all taken steps to mitigate the risks associated with rising sea levels and global temperatures. Are their successes a blueprint for action at the state and local level?

by Oliver Milman in New York, Joe Eskenazi in San Francisco, Richard Luscombe in Miami, and Tom Dart in Houston

Wholly unintentionally, Donald Trump may have sparked unprecedented determination within the US to confront the danger of climate change.

Following Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord, the president was assailed by businesses ranging from Facebook to Goldman Sachs for risking America’s economic and environmental standing. The White House was choked by phone calls from irate voters.

Perhaps most significantly, a coalition of lawmakers, companies and universities swung into action in an attempt to reassure the world that the US wasn’t completely abandoning the field.

Within this group committing itself to the Paris targets are 17 governors – two of them Republicans – and 125 cities, including New York City, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, which was cited, somewhat mistakenly, by Trump as somewhere that would benefit from exiting the Paris agreement.


'Outmoded, irrelevant vision': Pittsburghers reject Trump's pledge

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With the federal government casting off the task of emissions reduction, the onus is now on cities and states to make up the shortfall. We look at what four major US cities – New York City, Houston, Miami and San Francisco – are doing to stave off the threat of climate change.

New York City

Outrage over the president’s move to pull the US out of the Paris accord went far and wide, but Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, seemed to take particular offense that one of the city’s own had done such a thing.

“This is a dagger aimed straight at the heart of New York City,” De Blasio said, raising the specter of rising seas and storms bearing down on Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We have to understand that if climate change is not addressed, one of the greatest coastal cities on the earth will be increasingly threatened. It’s very painful to reflect the fact that Donald Trump is from New York City. He should know better.”

To add to De Blasio’s distress, the mayor then had to field questions over what sort of example he was setting by being driven almost every day from Gracie Mansion, on the upper east side of Manhattan, to a gym 12 miles away in Brooklyn. De Blasio said his own environmental efforts are focused on recycling and composting, adding he wouldn’t be drawn into the “cheap symbolism” of using public transport.

But no matter how green-tinged the mayor’s own personal habits are, New York City has positioned itself, along with California, as the main bulwark against Trump’s demolition of climate change action at home and abroad. Having already promised to cut emissions 80% by 2050, De Blasio signed an order committing the city to the goals of the Paris agreement, including its most ambitious target – a warming limit of 1.5C (2.7F) beyond the pre-industrial era.

New York City has already earmarked billions of dollars to retrofit 1m buildings to make them more energy efficient, electrify its municipal vehicle fleet, plant thousands of trees and coat rooftops in solar panels.

The city is coming off a promising base: half of New York City residents don’t own a car and while energy use still results in nearly 50m tons of greenhouse gases, average household electricity consumption is well below the national average. There’s palpable concern about climate change too – in surveys, three-quarters of residents say they are worried about climate change, with more than 80% wanting carbon dioxide to be regulated.

New York’s clout has been touted by Michael Bloomberg, its former mayor, who has helped corral a national coalition of cities and states to fill the void left by the federal government’s exit from climate policy and concern. Bloomberg, who recently stumped up millions of dollars for the UN climate secretariat, has said: “We are already halfway there – and we can accelerate our progress further, even without any support from Washington.”

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Exxon Mobil Calls Emissions Inquiry a ‘Political Witch Hunt’


Exxon Mobil, in a court filing on Friday, accused the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, of “abuse of the powers of his office” in his investigation of the oil company.

The accusation was made in a fiery brief in response to a demand by Mr. Schneiderman for company documents. In an earlier filing, Mr. Schneiderman sharply questioned Exxon’s evaluation of its oil and gas assets, suggesting that the process the company says it uses to take the potential cost of carbon pollution into account “may be a sham.”

Nearly three million pages of evidence filed so far in response to subpoenas have not shown consistent use of what is known as a proxy cost of carbon, he argued, even though the company says that it does incorporate such calculations in its work.

In Exxon’s response, Theodore V. Wells Jr., its lead lawyer, defended its methods of calculating the proxy cost and wrote that “the attorney general stakes his entire investigation on the logical fallacy that the absence of evidence constitutes evidence of absence.”

“For a prosecutor proceeding in good faith, the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing is grounds for closing an investigation, not expanding it,” Mr. Wells wrote.

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Natural gas boom helping to snarl traffic at Houston Ship Channel

Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg Published 4:00 am, Friday, June 9, 2017

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

Photo: James Nielsen, Staff


How many ships travel the Houston Ship Channel on a typical day?

The U.S. Coast Guard provided 2016 transit numbers for its Vessel Traffic Service Area that spans Houston, Galveston, Texas City and about 10

... more


A boom in natural gas exports from the U.S. Gulf Coast is raising the prospect of traffic jams at one of America’s busiest ports.

Weather delays from fog and storms are nothing new at the Houston Ship Channel, which links the prolific oil and gas fields of Texas and Louisiana to the rest of the world. But as more cargoes of liquefied natural gas and petrochemicals head across the globe from newly built plants, the tanker bottlenecks are poised to get worse, according to Poten & Partners.

Sixteen months after the first cargo of gas from U.S. shale fields headed overseas, the nation is on the path to becoming a net exporter of the fuel for the first time in decades. The supply surge has created the need for more and bigger roads, pipelines and waterways, prompting a $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate the massive tankers used to haul LNG. And with about 20 export terminals already approved or proposed for the Gulf Coast, even more ships are on the way.

FROM THE CHRONICLE: Companies skip Ship Channel for less crowded, lower-cost ports

“A lot of waterways in the Gulf aren’t ready for prime time,” Gordon Shearer, a senior adviser at Poten in New York, said by phone. “Everything is going into a very concentrated strip of coastline.”

Between 1900 and 2010, Texas’ Galveston County -- located at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel -- has been hit by eight hurricanes of Category 3 or stronger, and neighboring Chambers County has been pummeled by seven, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The area around Galveston, New Orleans and the southern tip of Florida gets hit by more tropical systems than anywhere else in the U.S.

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Culture Clash at a Chinese-Owned Plant in Ohio




Fuyao’s plant sits on what was once the site of an abandoned General Motors facility in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio.


Nathan C. Ward for The New York Times

MORAINE, Ohio — When a giant Chinese glassmaker arrived here in 2014 and began spending what would become more than a half-billion dollars to fix up an abandoned General Motors plant, it seemed like a tale from opposite land: The Chinese are supposedly stealing American jobs — as no less an authority than President Trump has pointed out.

But now the Chinese were suddenly creating them. More than 1,500 jobs, in fact.

The Chinese company, Fuyao Glass Industry Group, decided the money was worth spending in this Dayton suburb to be close to its key customers, the big American-based automakers that buy millions of windshields each year.

And it was not alone.

From 2000 to the first quarter of this year, the Chinese have invested almost $120 billion in the United States, according to the Rhodium Group, which tracks these flows. Nearly half of that amount has come since early 2016, making China one of this country’s largest sources of foreign direct investment during that time.

But with the explosion of investment has come unexpected trouble. At Fuyao, a major culture clash is playing out on the factory floor, with some workers questioning the company’s commitment to operating under American supervision and American norms.

Fuyao faces an acrimonious union campaign by the United Automobile Workers and a lawsuit by a former manager who says he was let go in part because he is not Chinese.



The company has hired more than 1,500 American workers.


Nathan C. Ward for The New York Times

The investment has even prompted hand-wringing in China, where comments by the company’s chairman, a self-made billionaire named Cao Dewang, stirred a debate over the country’s competitiveness. “Cao Dewang behaved like a traitor,” wrote one person on Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging site. “You set up a factory in the U.S. to solve employment there.”

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Drivers Head Into Summer With a Gift at the Gas Pump



The skyline of Akron, Ohio. The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline tumbled to $2.35 on Friday.


Andrew Spear for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Looking for an excuse to pack up the car for a road trip this weekend?

Look no further: The average nationwide gasoline price on Friday was the lowest for this point of the year since 2005, according to GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app designed to help drivers find the best deals at the pump.

The immediate cause of the price break was the shock to global oil markets that came when the Energy Department reported this week that domestic inventories of both crude oil and gasoline had surprisingly surged the week before despite heavy driving on the Memorial Day weekend.

Crude oil prices plummeted by more than 5 percent on Wednesday alone, and are near a one-year low at less than $46 a barrel.

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Oil giants need to invest heavily in renewables by 2035, says analysis

Slowing demand for oil and forecasts of rapid growth in green power pose risk to core business, says analyst


Wood Mackenzie predicts annual growth rates of 6% for wind power and 11% for solar, compared with 0.5% for oil. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Adam Vaughan

Monday 12 June 2017 08.14 EDT

First published on Monday 12 June 2017 07.53 EDT

More than a fifth of investment by the largest oil and gas companies could be in wind and solar power in just over a decade, according to analysis of how global changes in energy will reshape the sector.

Slowing demand for oil and forecasts of rapid growth in renewables posed both a threat and and opportunity BP, Shell and Total among others cannot ignore, said research group Wood Mackenzie.

“The momentum behind these [renewable] technologies is unstoppable now,” said Valentina Kretzschmar, director of research.

“They [the oil companies] are recognising it is a megatrend; it’s not a fad, it’s not going away. There is definitely a risk to their core business.”

The commodities analysts found the major energy companies would need to spend more than $350bn (£275bn) on wind and solar power by 2035 to take a market share similar to the 12% they have in oil and gas.

Renewables are forecast to fast outpace oil demand growth

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A Little-Known Climate Fund Is Suddenly In The Spotlight

June 9, 20179:10 AM ET



Wind turbines provide energy in Egypt's Sinai Desert. Helping developing countries harness energy from the wind is one of the Green Climate Fund's goals.

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

The Green Climate Fund has been thrust into the spotlight of late.

President Trump singled it out for scorn in his Rose Garden remarks last week announcing his decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Along with that move, Trump noted, he is ending further U.S. contributions to the "so-called Green Climate Fund — nice name."



Trump's Proposed Budget Would Cut $2.2 Billion From Global Health Spending

Advocates for the environment have countered with op-eds in defense of the fund. Even comedian John Oliver jumped into the fray. In his Sunday night HBO show, Oliver offered a point-by-point rebuttal of numerous incorrect statements that Trump made about the fund, including the erroneous claim that the GCF, which is funded through voluntary contributions, would "likely obligate the United States to commit potentially tens of billions of dollars."

Yet it seems a fair guess that most people remain hazy on what the Green Climate Fund actually is — not the least because the GCF is so green in the other sense of that word: It's only just getting off the ground.

So herewith we present seven facts you might not know about GCF and its mission:

1) The GCF was created to exclusively serve low- and middle-income countries.

Specifically, its mandate is to help developing countries reduce their emissions — so as to prevent further climate change — and adapt to the effects of climate change already occurring as a result of worldwide emissions. This includes supporting projects to build sea walls on the island nation of Tuvalu, create an early warning network to alert farmers in Malawi to floods and other disasters, launch energy companies that will provide rural people in East Africa with solar power, and encourage investment in renewal energy companies in Argentina.

2) The GCF is pretty new. But it's older than the Paris Agreement.

Five years older, to be precise. The GCF was formally created at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. That said, setting up an international organization of the GCF's scope and size takes time. So it wasn't until 2013 that the GCF was in a position to hold its first round of fundraising.

Forty-three countries pledged a total of $10.3 billion to get the ball rolling for the first several years — though no exact time period was specified for how long that money is supposed to last. So far, the GCF has committed $2.2 billion to 43 projects.

3) A lot of the money for the Green Climate Fund is supposed to come from rich countries ...

The GCF was created as a vehicle to carry out one of the major commitments made by developed countries at the 2010 Cancun meeting: By 2020, they promised to "mobilize" $100 billion every year for climate change efforts in developing countries.

4) ... but mostly this is about bringing in private funding.

"Mobilize — that's the key word here," says Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, a former deputy assistant secretary for energy and environment at the U.S. Treasury in the Obama administration. The term was specifically chosen to underscore the understanding that only a portion of the $100 billion per year would come directly from rich country governments. The plan is to motivate mostly private sources of capital — for example, for-profit corporations — to invest in efforts that help poor countries deal with climate change.

The GCF is designed to do this in a range of ways, says Martinez-Diaz, who is now global director of the Sustainable Finance Center at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank. For example, if a private company is leery of investing in climate projects because of political and financial risks, the GCF will offer it loans, loan guarantees, or other forms of insurance.

5) The GCF has what one green researcher calls a "special sauce" that similar organizations lack.

Martinez-Diaz notes that the GCF was never meant to be the only channel for "mobilizing" the $100 billion per year that rich countries promised would flow annually to poor countries by 2020. "Not even as an intermediary or pass-through," he says. "It was meant to be one of several financing mechanisms." Other examples include multilateral development banks like the World Bank.

But the GCF has a lot more flexibility in how it can spend its money, notes Jessica Brown of the Climate Policy Initiative, a research center that advises policymakers on green strategies. The World Bank, for example, mainly gives out loans, which, by definition, must be paid back by recipient countries. The bank can only give outright grants to a small subset of extremely poor nations. And it can't generally be a direct co-investor in a for-profit enterprise. The GCF faces no such constraints.

In contrast to development banks and rich country governments, the GCF also has a governing structure that gives developed countries a say over which projects get approved. The GCF was set up within the umbrella of the United Nations system expressly for this purpose. And its governing board is equally divided between representatives of developed and developing countries — winning valuable "buy-in" from the recipient countries, says Brown, a former international climate finance negotiator at the U.S. State Department.

These two features are "the special sauce that GCF can offer," says Brown.

6) Trump's decision to end further U.S. funding deals the organization a blow — but doesn't necessarily kneecap it.

Of the $10.3 billion that donor countries pledged to the GCF during that initial fundraising round back in 2013, the U.S. promised $3 billion. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has already handed over $1 billion in two installments of $500 million. The last one was disbursed in January, just before Obama left office. (The money is paid out of a general State Department fund over which the president has broad discretion).

Trump's decision not to provide the remaining $2 billion effectively cuts the GCF's total expected funding by about 20 percent — hardly peanuts. And various analysts say the loss of U.S. engagement in the day-to-day running of the fund could have less tangible but no less impactful downsides because the U.S. government has particular expertise when it comes to keeping multinational organizations accountable and effective.

But while Trump claimed in his speech that he had "terminated" the GCF, Melanie Nakagawa, a former deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the U.S. Department of State under Obama, notes that the $1 billion that the U.S. did provide "is already in the system. The check is in and it is already having an impact."

The GCF estimates that the 43 projects for which it has started to disburse funds will impact a total of 128 million people. And it still has more than $6 billion left to disburse. During the initial fundraising round in 2013, the GCF agreed not to start its next round until it had allocated 60 percent of the money it had raised in the first. Though no timeline was set, many people expected this would take four to five years.

Now that the GCF will have less money, that date will presumably come sooner — some say as soon as 2018, notes Brown, though she thinks it will be longer than that.

And Nakagawa says it's entirely possible that by the time the GCF is in need of its next cash infusion, it could find better favor from the U.S. "Four years from now, another administration could decide to put the money in," she says.

7) The world is still a long way from "mobilizing" $100 billion in annual spending on climate change challenges in developing countries.

Back when world leaders agreed to the $100 billion goal, it wasn't actually clear how much the developed world was currently spending. "The only really good data we have is starting in 2014," says Martinez-Diaz. That's from a 2015 analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Climate Policy Initiative. And it's not very promising: It finds that the public and private sectors combined spent about $62 billion.

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‘They said girls don’t ride bikes’: Iranian women defy the cycling fatwa

Religious leaders in Iran consider women on bicycles a threat to morality. But as traffic chokes the capital, Tehran, a counter-movement is growing

  1. What is Guardian Cities cycle week?


Women cycling at Mothers Paradise park, a female-only public recreation area in Tehran, Iran. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Cities is supported by

Guardian Cities staff

Monday 12 June 2017 07.14 EDT

Last modified on Monday 12 June 2017 09.16 EDT

It’s a hot spring day in Tehran, and Negin, a 32-year-old IT manager, is riding her mountain bike through a park. “I love my bike. I often go cycling in the countryside with a group,” she says. “I also cycle in the city, when I go to visit my mother, for example. I think the number of women cycling in Tehran is growing. I even have a friend who goes to work on her bike. I would love to do that, but it’s too far and we don’t have showers at work.”

What Negin is saying might not sound strange, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a woman, on a bike, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of the heat, Negin is conforming to the dress code – she wears long sleeves and leggings, a headscarf under her helmet and a skirt covering her hips – but religious leaders at the highest level in Iran are clear: women on bikes constitute a threat to morality.

The question has become a hotly debated point in Tehran in recent months, as the city grapples with two truly dire problems: air pollution and traffic congestion, both some of the world’s worst. With cars choking Iran’s cities, campaigns to encourage cycling are picking up speed.

When we heard the fatwa banning women from cycling, we immediately rented two bicycles

Woman who tweeted using #IranianWomenLoveCycling

In autumn of 2015, a young environmentalist in Arak, a city with pollution levels even more staggering than Tehran, started a “car-free Tuesday” campaign to encourage people to commute by bike. The campaign caught on, and other cities followed suit. Municipal authorities across the country began encouraging residents to ride bikes and leave their cars at home.

Women cyclists, naturally enough, saw an opportunity to support a good cause that everybody in Iran could agree on: clean air. After all, there is no law in Iran that officially forbids women to cycle.


Bikes are everywhere in Isfahan - but women are banned from using the city’s bike share scheme. Photograph: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

But when women in Marivan, a city in west Iran, took to their bikes, they were arrested by police – despite having explicitly followed the advice of the local authorities to cycle instead of drive.

They were released the same day, but only after signing pledges to not ride bicycles again. Marivan residents later protested in an open letter to local authorities.

Shortly afterwards, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, posted a photograph of women cycling on her official Twitter account. Under it, she quoted the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying: “Women’s cycling is permissible on the condition that religious customs are observed.”

Subsequently, in an article in the pro-government Tehran Times, a female journalist quoted a government official who supported female cyclists, and concluded: “As long as there is no violation of the dress code, women should be free to ride bicycles on the street.”

Hopes, however, were crushed when Khamenei issued a fatwa in September 2016, stating women were allowed to ride bikes – just not in public.

The fatwa sparked a reaction from female cyclists, who posted photographs on social media of themselves on their bikes, with the hashtag #IranianWomenLoveCycling.

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