An American pledge at global climate talks

The second and final week of United Nations climate change talks in Madrid opened with a dash of optimism from the United States as a broad coalition of states, cities and businesses made a case that it could put a significant dent in planet-warming emissions without federal help.

Delivering the news was Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City who is now running for president. Mr. Bloomberg co-founded the coalition, America’s Pledge, along with Gov. Jerry Brown of California. Its purpose is to help the United States stick to the goals of the Paris climate agreement despite President Trump’s plan to abandon the pact.

“The reason I am here in Madrid is really pretty simple,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “I am here because no one from the White House is here.”

A coalition report, issued this week and titled “Accelerating America’s Pledge,” found that, even without federal action, efforts to cut greenhouse gasses by the members of the group could have a significant impact.

Critically, the report found that there’s still time for the United States to hit net-zero emissions by midcentury. A recent United Nations report said countries would need to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

The pledge authors project that with expanded local action, combined with a comprehensive national strategy that includes clean energy legislation and policies to complete the phaseout of coal, the United States could reduce its emissions 49 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Left unsaid in the report, but explicitly noted by Mr. Bloomberg in a touch of electioneering, was that such national action would require an administration that prioritizes climate change.

“Beating climate change won’t require a miracle, it won’t require limitless resources,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It will require leadership and common sense.”

Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, the United States will remain a party to the accord until Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the presidential election.

By Lisa Friedman

Reduce Food Waste



By Amelia Nierenberg

Reporter, Food

When we think about food waste, we usually think about individual households. Example: those sad looking carrots at the bottom of the fridge drawer. Your fault, your loss. Not a broader concern.

But those carrots are part of a systemic problem, one with grave implications for climate change. Project Drawdown ranked reducing food waste as the third most important step out of 80 proposed solutions.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In the United States alone, food waste generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That accounts for both the energy used in agriculture to grow unused food, as well as the methane that’s released when the food rots in landfills.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that cities are coming up with solutions. Because most municipalities run their own sanitation systems, said Yvette Cabrera, deputy food waste director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, they’re “uniquely positioned to tackle the problem.”

Here are three main strategies cities are using.

Target waste
 Those sanitation systems give cities a lot of control over what happens to discarded food, and some are cracking down on waste.

Seoul, South Korea, for example, charges a fee for food waste. Families pay by weight.
At recycling sites, the waste is processed: Part is used for biofuels, while some is turned into fertilizer to help urban farms. The city also has over 6,000 automated bins where residents can weigh their food waste and pay their fees, according to the World Economic Forum.

Seoul now recycles 95 percent of its food waste, up from less than 2 percent in 1995.

A version of that was tried in the United States in 2015, when Seattle introduced an anti-waste program that, among other things, made it illegal to toss out food. A year later, a judge tossed out the measure’s enforcement provision when she ruled it was unconstitutional for trash collectors to snooping in garbage for edible morsels.
The law is still on the books, though, and it appears to have had an effect. For example, the program included an education campaign that focused on waste reduction, smarter shopping and composting. The right kind of food composting system produces lower emissions than a similar volume of food in a landfill, and you get something useful from composting: fertilizer.

Now, nearly 50 percent of food waste gets composted, according to Hans Van Dusen, the city’s solid waste contracts manager. And, waste sent to landfills is at a record low of 0.81 pounds per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency

“We are so disconnected from where our food comes from, we don’t think about the resources that take to get it to us,” said Veronica Fincher, a senior waste prevention program manager in Seattle. “We want to help people understand those impacts.”

For an example of what could happen if more cities tackled food waste, look to France. National law there requires large supermarkets to donate, rather than throw away, food that is still edible — a measure that has sharply increased food donations to charities, according to the government.

Businesses are key
Cities tend to have lots of restaurants and grocery stores, and that presents a huge opportunity to reduce food waste.

One of the leaders in working with supermarkets and chefs is New York City, which runs the largest composting program in the country. It’s part of a multimillion-dollar program to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by turning food scraps and yard waste into compost and, soon, clean energy. The goal is to get the city to zero waste by 2030.

in addition to the composting program, the city runs a robust online food donation portal, food waste fairs and waste-reduction challenges that recognize successful efforts by restaurants and supermarkets.

As of now, the city wastes four million tons of food a year. Of that, 500,000 tons come from restaurants. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that cutting commercial food waste by 5 percent would save more than 120,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.

“Baby steps so far, but we want to be sure that restaurants have the tools to do well,” said the city’s sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia. “There are some seriously committed chefs out there to ensuring that nothing gets wasted.”

Other cities have also introduced curbside recycling and incrementally expanded their food waste regulation, like Los Angeles, Denver and Baltimore, which are all setting public goals to decrease waste, expand curbside composting and work with chefs and restaurants to raise awareness about food waste reduction.

Redistribute the surplus

So, some cities are saving a lot of food from the landfill. Some goes to the compost bin. Some, though, is still edible. What to do with it?

That’s where food rescue programs come into the picture. Strictly speaking, these are not climate programs. But think of them as an added bonus: Cities can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the needy.

Milan, Italy has been a global leader in the rescue movement since 2015. That year, 15 tons of food was given to homeless people in just a few weeks when the chef Massimo Bottura helped to organize an anti-waste campaign. Since then, the city has written the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, an international food waste protocol for cities, and led a charge that helped to get Italy’s national government to pass food waste legislation.

According to its organizers, the food policy pact has been signed by 207 cities from around the world with a total of around 450 million inhabitants.

It shows how a local initiative can take off, and how cities can have an impact.

“Once you tell people they can’t throw food away, they start making different, creative decisions with it,” said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Hit a Record

From the NY Times:
Carbon Dioxide Emissions Hit a Record in 2019, Even as Coal Fades

By Brad Plumer

  • Dec. 3, 2019

WASHINGTON — Emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide from fossil fuels hit a record high in 2019, researchers said Tuesday, putting countries farther off course from their goal of halting global warming.

The new data contained glimmers of good news: Worldwide, industrial emissions are on track to rise 0.6 percent this year, a considerably slower pace than the 1.5 percent increase seen in 2017 and the 2.1 percent rise in 2018. The United States and the European Union both managed to cut their carbon dioxide output this year, while India’s emissions grew far more slowly than expected.

And global emissions from coal, the worst-polluting of all fossil fuels, unexpectedly declined by about 0.9 percent in 2019, although that drop was more than offset by strong growth in the use of oil and natural gas around the world.

Scientists have long warned, however, that it’s not enough for emissions to grow slowly or even just stay flat in the years ahead. In order to avoid many of the most severe consequences of climate change — including deadlier heat waves, fiercer droughts, and food and water shortages — global carbon dioxide emissions would need to steadily decline each year and reach roughly zero well before the end of the century.

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“Every year that emissions go up, even if it’s just a small amount, makes the task of bringing them back down that much harder,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, who helped compile the data.

The new emissions figures, reported by the Global Carbon Project and published simultaneously in three scientific journals, arrived as diplomats from more than 190 nations gathered in Madrid for another round of United Nations talks on how to strengthen their efforts to rein in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

So far, progress has been sluggish, the new reports warn. During the 2000s, global fossil-fuel emissions were rising by roughly 3 percent each year on average, driven in large part by rapid coal-fueled growth in China. Since 2010, emissions have grown more slowly, by about 0.9 percent per year on average, as China’s need for new coal plants has waned and governments around the world have tried to promote cleaner technologies like electric cars, wind and solar power.

“I do think global and national policies are making a difference, particularly by driving the rapid growth in renewables, and we’d be worse off without them,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University and an author of one of the studies published Tuesday. “But at the same time, it’s clear those policies haven’t been enough to stop the growth in fossil fuels.”

The new data shows that natural gas, which is less polluting than coal but still a fossil fuel, has become the biggest driver of emissions growth globally in recent years. Japan, for instance, has relied on imported natural gas to replace many of the carbon-free nuclear plants that were closed down after the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power station. And a boom in hydraulic fracturing has recently made natural gas the largest source of electricity in the United States, where it helps fill the gaps during lulls in wind and solar production.

“Natural gas may produce fewer carbon emissions than coal, but that just means you cook the planet a bit more slowly,” said Dr. Peters. “And that’s before even getting into the worries about methane leaks” from gas infrastructure.

A handful of countries account for the majority of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year, with China responsible for 26 percent, the United States 14 percent, the European Union 9 percent and India 7 percent. The new reports show how each region is grappling with its own unique challenges.

China’s emissions are projected to rise by about 2.6 percent this year as the government continues to invest in new infrastructure to stimulate its slowing economy. While coal emissions in China grew by just 0.8 percent, the country is quickly expanding its appetite for oil to fuel cars and trucks, and natural gas to heat homes and power factories.

In the United States, carbon dioxide emissions are on track to fall roughly 1.7 percent in 2019, thanks to a sharp decline in coal-fired electricity. Still, this year’s drop in United States emissions isn’t expected to be enough to offset the 2.8 percent increase in 2018, suggesting that the country is struggling to control emissions at a time when the Trump administration has moved to roll back Obama-era regulations on carbon pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power-plant smokestacks.

The European Union’s emissions are also on track to fall 1.7 percent this year as the continent’s emissions-trading system helped push roughly one-fifth of its coal power off the grid. At the same time, Europe also saw an increase in demand for diesel and aviation fuel, indicating that policymakers are failing to curtail emissions from cars, trucks and planes even as they lay out big plans to promote electric vehicles.

India, which is trying to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the new data. India’s emissions are expected to rise a mere 1.8 percent this year after an 8 percent increase in 2018.

Some of that slowdown, the researchers noted, can be explained by weaker economic growth and an unexpectedly strong monsoon season that allowed the country to generate more electricity from its emissions-free hydroelectric dams and less from its coal plants. But India’s government is also pursuing big plans to promote solar power and electric vehicles, and it remains to be seen whether those policies can help the country constrain future emissions.

“India is still a big wild card” for projections of future emissions, Dr. Jackson said. “So getting a handle on how much of that drop was anomalous weather and how much a change in the long-term trend is really important.”