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January 2018, Volume 24, Number 1

Climate Change

In December 2015, leaders from 195 countries agreed in Paris to limit the increase in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels. Participating countries agreed to submit plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 2015 and 2030 to achieve these reduced-carbon-emissions goals.

Country plans were assessed in Bonn, Germany in November 2017, and the consensus is that they will not prevent the world from warming more than two degrees Celsius. Negotiators in Bonn encouraged governments to adopt stronger policies to reduce carbon emissions by 2020, such as closing coal-fired plants and mandating electric vehicles.

Negotiators aimed to reach agreement on processes to measure each country's progress toward its carbon-reduction goals in the hope that peer pressure would inspire national governments to reduce reliance on coal-fired power plants. However, developing countries want a slower and thus cheaper path to reducing carbon emissions than industrial countries, and they want financial aid from high-income countries to help them to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris accord in June 2017, a four-year process that will keep the US in the Paris agreement until 2020. US carbon emissions are falling as natural gas replaces coal in power generation, but emissions from transportation and some industries have not fallen significantly.

The EU promised to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels, and may come close to meeting achieving this goal as coal power plants are closed. China and India promised that their carbon emissions would not continue to rise after 2030.

The US government's National Climate Assessment (NCA), released in November 2017, concluded that human activities are the major reason for climate change, and that global warming will impact US residents. The 2017 report echoes a 2014 report, with examples of the impacts of warming, from more coastal flooding to changes in peak fishing seasons.

The NCA emphasizes the impacts of carbon dioxide as well as other atmospheric pollutants like ozone and smoke, especially in the arid west, where wild fires are expected to increase.

Efforts to build an offshore wind farm near Cape Cod ended in December 2017. Energy Management cited litigation mounted by residents of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard that led to repeated delays in the $2.6 billion project. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said that the wind turbines would be visible from land; other offshore wind farms are 10 or more miles out to sea.