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U.S. Tells China It Has 'No Plan Yet' to Meet Its 2020 Climate Target

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U.S. Tells China It Has 'No Plan Yet' to Meet Its 2020 Climate Target
Bonn Climate Change Conference. UN Climate Change / Flickr

By Simon Evans

The U.S. has no plan yet for how to meet its 2020 climate target and has made no analysis of the impact of recent policy changes, according to an official submission to the UN.


The details emerged in a series of terse, repetitive answers to an international climate action peer-review process, known as the Multilateral Assessment. The U.S. submission, which was published this week, says "jobs, economic growth and energy independence" are its priority.

The assessment process sees countries ask each other questions about progress towards their climate pledges. The process works on a rolling basis, with the U.S. one of 18 nations currently undergoing review along with other major emitters Russia and Japan.

The assessment process works in stages, with written questions and answers followed by live public exchanges held on May 12 and 13, during two weeks of climate talks in Bonn, Germany. This will be the first time the UN climate convention has convened since the election of Trump overshadowed the annual UN climate talks last November, held in Morocco.

Carbon Brief has a summary of the written answers submitted by the U.S., Russia and Japan.

U.S. Review

The U.S. position on the Paris climate accord is under intense scrutiny. Speculation is swirling over whether it will remain in the agreement while weakening its climate pledge or if it will pull out of the deal altogether.

A series of executive orders signed by President Trump aim to roll back Obama-era climate policies, such as the Clean Power Plan that hoped to reduce emissions from electricity generation. In the wake of those moves, China and others have used the multilateral assessment process to ask how or whether the U.S. now intends to meet its previously pledged climate goals.

(Various third-party assessments have attempted to measure the emissions impact of Trump's policy moves. One recent analysis suggests his changes could add half a billion tonnes to U.S. emissions over the next decade).

In one question, China points out that official U.S. projections, made before Trump came to power, already suggested it would miss its 2020 target, a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels. "Given that President Trump is not supportive of President Obama's Climate Actions plan, it is even more challenging to achieve [this goal]," China notes.

It asks: "Does the U.S. have any plan or preliminary thoughts on using international market mechanism to accommodate recent changes? If still not, what additional measure will the U.S. consider to take to achieve the 2020 target?"

In its official response, the U.S. administration says it has no plan to meet its 2020 climate target using carbon offsets. It adds:

"The administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers, and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness."

This pro-forma response is repeated six times. Elsewhere, the U.S. said it "do[es] not have updated information" about the impact of recent policy announcements on emissions. It adds that a question about its 2025 target is "outside the scope" of the assessment process.

Russia Reveals

In a series of relatively detailed responses, Russia puts a little more flesh on the bone of its highly ambiguous Paris climate pledge, which left many mystified when it was published in 2015.

Russia's overall pledge was to limit emissions increases so that they remained at least 25 percent below 1990 levels in 2030. This exactly replicated and carried forward an earlier target, set for 2020.

Responding to a question from Turkey, however, Russia says enhancing its overall emissions goal for 2020 is "at the present moment … not under consideration." Turkey's question points out that Russia had, by 2014, already overachieved against its 2020 target.

Still, Russia's answers do offer more detail on how its goals will be met. For example, it backs rapid growth in the use of non-hydro renewables, such as wind and solar. Power output from these sources should increase from 2 terawatt hours (TWh) today to 29TWh in 2035, the answers say.

This is much more specific than Russia's Paris pledge, which only said that policies would back an "increasing share of renewables in the Russian energy balance." For comparison, Russia generated 170TWh from hydro power in 2015, out of a total demand of 1,063TWh. This means, if demand remains steady, that wind and solar would supply 3 percent and hydro 16 percent of power in 2035.

This increase in renewable electricity generation will contribute to Russia's aim of cutting the energy intensity of its power sector: from 330 grams of coal equivalent per kilowatt hour (gce/kWh) in 2012 to 299gce/kWh in 2020, an 11 percent cut.

The document also sets out targets to cut the carbon intensity of key industrial sectors. Between 2015 and 2020, Russia says it will cut CO2 emissions per ton of iron or steel by 16.5 percent. Over the same period, the carbon intensity of cement and chemicals will be cut by 30.8 percent and 11.2 percent.

Elsewhere, Russia's submission claims the country has achieved dramatic reductions in emissions due to flaring at oil and gas production sites. It says:

"Implementing policies to improve the use of associated petroleum gas (instead of its flaring) provided a reduction in flaring from 26% in 2005 to 23% in 2012, 12% in 2015 and 10% in 2016."

Like much of Russia's climate documentation, this statement is ambiguous (10 percent of what?). A World Bank article suggests this means that Russia flared 10 percent of the gas it produced in 2016. Either way, this is a key area for Russia. The greenhouse gas inventory it filed with the UN suggests fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector made up a third of its total footprint in 2014.

Another Russian answer says it is trying to encourage a shift from petrol and diesel-fueled vehicles to those that run on natural gas. It says it gave subsidies to support this switch, worth 3bn roubles (around £40m) in 2015.

Japan Strategy

The official Japanese response says the country is in the process of drawing up its long-term low greenhouse gas strategy. Under the Paris deal, countries are required to develop these strategies before 2020, in addition to submitting a shorter-term climate pledge. So far, six countries have done so, including France, Germany and the (pre-Trump) U.S.

In drawing up its long-term strategy, Japan says it: "Will put best of its efforts to work on global warming countermeasures and make maximum contribution to the global emission reductions."

Regarding its 2030 climate pledge—a 26 percent reduction below 2013 levels—Japan repeatedly said it will "revise its [action plan] in a flexible manner" in order to ensure compliance. It reiterates its view that the target is "feasible." This is in response to a question from China, which points out that the 2030 goal will entail "significantly higher" rates of decarbonization than planned during 1990-2020.

Japan said its focus will be promotion of energy efficiency "at the same level as the significant energy efficiency improvement after the oil crisis," as well as "maximum introduction of renewable energy, promotion of high efficiency in thermal power generation, and utilization of nuclear power generations whose safety is approved."

The reference to "high efficiency in thermal power" relates to Japan's preference for high efficiency coal. Indeed, its 2030 pledge allows for an expansion in coal use. Japan's submission says that state-of-the-art coal plants can cut emissions by "more than 10 percent," relative to "old type" plant.

The World Coal Association makes much larger claims for the benefits of efficient coal plant. In an interview with Carbon Brief earlier this year, World Coal Association Chief Executive Benjamin Sporton said:

"If you're building a coal plant today, wouldn't it be better that you're building the best technology that does reduce emissions by 25 to 30%, rather than using the older, less efficient technology?"

Elsewhere, Japan says it will also target industrial mitigation measures and nationwide campaigns for the residential and transport sectors, though it fails to spell out what these might include. It estimates power sector measures will save 188 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) in 2030, with transport measures saving 24MtCO2.

It said it will also use international offsets, developed under its Joint Crediting Mechanism, to help meet its 2020 climate goal, though it has yet to work out how many will be needed. Similarly, it plans to count the Joint Crediting Mechanism credits towards its 2030 goal.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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