US President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to cut the federal government’s carbon pollution emissions by 40 percent by 2025. The new plan is expected to result in a reduction of 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions – which is equal to taking 4.2 million cars of the road for a year. Alongside of this, the share of renewable energy used by the federal government will increase to 25 percent. The plan is also expected to save taxpayers up to $18 billion in reduced energy costs.
“Today’s action builds off of the strong progress the federal government has made over the past six years,” the White House writes in a statement. “Already, federal agencies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent since the President took office, and increased the share of electricity consumed from renewable sources from 3 percent to 9 percent in 2013.”
Other measures included in the plan consist of a reduction in energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year, a reduction in water intensity by 2 percent over the next decade, and a 30 percent reduction of per-mil greenhouse gas emissions from the federal vehicle fleet by 2015 – while at the same time increasing the use of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The reduction plan will be based on emission levels from 2008 and will only involve the US federal government. Although the federal government only contribute modestly to the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions, many see this as a move that’ll hopefully spur other sectors of the country into action, and especially the federal government’s supply chain.
The Department of Defense currently has the largest carbon emissions of the US federal government. So far the department has reduced its emissions by 10 percent and is now aiming to install another 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military buildings by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes.
“Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.”
The US government hopes that this new sustainability plan will strengthen the country’s “leadership on the international stage”, while “ensuring that we can tackle the global threat of climate change and leave behind a safer, more prosperous world.” But for that, we’ll need to see much tougher climate ambitions from the US – something which today unfortunately seems highly unlikely.
France has issued a new eco-friendly law which requires rooftops on all new buildings in commercial zones to be partially covered by plants or solar panels.
The new law, which was approved at the end of last week by the French parliament, was much more limited in its scope than what French environmental activists had campaigned for. They had called for a law which required all new rooftops in France to be fitted with green roofs. But the socialist government managed to convince the activists to accept this limited law which only requires new roofs in commercial zones to be partially covered in plants. The law also gives house owners the choice of either installing a green roof or solar panels for electricity generation instead.
But even if this is a trimmed-down version, the law will have positive effects for the French urban landscape. Green roofs are living roofs which are covered with grass, shrubs, flowers or other plants that gives birds a place to nest in the urban environment. These green roofs will also retain rainwater, helping reduce problems with stormwater runoff. Another benefit is that much less energy is required to heat or cool buildings which has a green roof installed.
The law might also help France catch up to other major European countries – such as Germany, Spain and Italy – which has a much larger share of solar energy. Photovoltaic capacity just amount to over five gigawatts, or about one percent of the total energy consumption, in France. And this while Germany has nearly 40 gigawatts installed.
What are countries really bringing to the negotiating table when the world meets to thrash out a greenhouse deal in Paris this year?
The stakes are high – the hoped-for deal at the 2015 summit will be the first since the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 1992, and could commit countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020.
Throughout the year, countries will submit draft contributions known as INDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These may be baselines and targets (such as 40% below 1990 levels by 2030), but may also take other forms.
Contributions will be submitted through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change here. To read an explainer of INDCs and how they fit into a global climate deal, click here. The Conversation will be tracking these contributions as they are submitted through the interactive map below. Click on countries to view contributions and other climate stats.

Notes:
This map was compiled with the assistance of Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project.
Emissions (all greenhouse gases): total greenhouse gas emissions within a country, expressed in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). This excludes emissions from land use, land use change, and forestry. Source: EDGAR
Emissions per capita (all greenhouse gases): total greenhouse emissions within a country for each person, expressed in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). Source: EDGAR
Emissions growth (CO2 only): growth in total carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel 2010-2011. Source: Global Carbon Project
Emissions transfer (CO2 only): fossil fuel emissions minus consumption emissions (carbon dioxide emissions generated elsewhere in the production of goods and services consumed within a country). A negative value shows that a country “outsources” some of its carbon dioxide emissions to other countries, and a positive value means the country is exporting more carbon in goods and services than it imports. Source: Global Carbon Project
It’s been revealed that the Gates Foundation, run by Bill and Melinda Gates, has held at least $1.4 billion of investments in some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies – while at the same time calling for immediate action against climate change.
“The companies include BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Anadarko Petroleum, which was recently forced to pay a $5bn environmental clean-up charge and Brazilian mining company Vale, voted the corporation with most “contempt for the environment and human rights” in the world clocking over 25,000 votes in the Public Eye annual awards,” the Guardian writes.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s largest charities with an endowment of $42.3 billion. Its primary aims are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty. The foundation has been giving billions in grants to various health programmes around the world since its launch back in 2011. Last year, it was involved in a health programme that helped rid India of polio.
In its annual letter, titled Our Big Bet for the Future, Bill and Melinda Gates called on aggressive action against climate change: “The long-term threat [of climate change] is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively – right now – to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide.”
But apparently, both Bill and Melinda have missed that their investments in oil, gas and coal helps fuel the climate change – a crisis which they themselves deem to be a serious threat.
“At this critical moment in time, if you own fossil fuels, you own climate change,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, another charitable foundation that – compared to the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation – has divested from fossil fuels.
The actions by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is especially confusing considering that these fossil fuel investments puts the foundation’s hard work and progress at great risk.
“The Gates Foundation has worked so hard to grapple with global poverty,” said Bill McKibben, who leads the fast-growing Go Fossil Free campaign. “But at the same time they’re investing in the same companies that drive climate change, which endless studies now show is one of the key factors behind ... global poverty. The developing world deserves better than this kind of tunnel vision.”
So just why is the foundation acting in this morally and financially misguided way? Joe Romm, editor of Climate Progress, thinks it’s simply because Bill and Melinda Gates doesn’t understand the urgency of climate change. And this failure, Romm warns, will “most likely undo the foundation’s work” of ensuring long-term health and economic well-being in some of the poorest around the world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far declined to comment on this story. A spokesman for Bill Gates's private office said: “We respect the passion of advocates for action on climate change, and recognise that there are many views on how best to address it. Bill is privately investing considerable time and resources in the effort [to develop clean energy].”
 
Under the Dome, the self-funded documentary by former television news anchor Chai Jing about China’s battles with smog, has been an internet phenomenon. Within three days of its release on Febuary 28, it had racked up more than 150 million views and garnered 280 million posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Then the Chinese government removed it from the web, stung by the criticism the film prompted, leaving those who had hailed it as a landmark moment in Chinese environmentalism wondering if the documentary’s influence would end up being curtailed.
Seemingly inspired by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Chai Jing presents some shocking facts to her audience in a TED Talk-style format. She documents the health implications of smog, such as its possible relationship with lung cancer, and attributes China’s smog pollution to factors including the consumption of low-grade coal and oil, the expansion of energy-intensive industries like steel, and the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations.

Former celebrity TV anchor Chai Jing, as seen in the photo, quit her job after her baby daughter was born with a lung tumor, and after a year of rigorous investigation, launched a 1 hour 40 minute documentary about China’s smog.
A wake-up call?
Under the Dome invites comparison with Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 exposé of the effects of pesticides, and some commentators have predicted that the documentary will galvanise China in much the same way that Carson’s book changed America.
There are indeed striking similarities between the two. Both focus on environmental issues of huge concern to their respective societies; both were made by women with national reputations for their previous work; and both spurred unprecedented national discussions.
Even China’s newly appointed environment minister Chen Jining said he was reminded of Silent Spring when watching Under the Dome – although that was before the government abruptly changed its mind about the documentary.
For all their similarities, there are still many hurdles facing the documentary that Carson’s book did not experience.
The social context
China is undergoing significant social change, with a growing middle class who are more concerned with quality of life than basic needs, and who are willing to raise their voice over issues that affect their health. This is a similar context to the postwar America in which Silent Spring was published.
Yet today’s world is also more globalised than in 1962, a fact that could have two opposite effects on China’s environmental movement.
On one hand, the potential solutions to global issues such as climate change, and local issues such as air pollution, may feed into each other. As my colleague and I have argued, concern over China’s energy security has become a key driver of its renewable energy industry.
But on the other hand, globalisation has made people more mobile, both within and between countries. Migration has become an option for some Chinese to escape the smog, which might reduce their motivation to engage in the local environmental movement.

Differing political climates
In many ways, the reception given to Under the Dome is broadly similar to that received by Silent Spring. Both were challenged by economic interests, such as the chemical industry in the case of pesticides, and fossil fuel firms in the case of smog. Both were also criticised for a perceived lack of “balance” or author expertise, and were even accused of being political conspiracies.
Both were also praised by the scientific community. Silent Spring’s legacy was honoured by the American Chemical Society in 2012, while a Chinese professor blogged about Under the Dome:
… [compared with Chai Jing] we experts in the field of environmental protection and scientists on the smog research should feel ashamed for our incompetence to communicate with the public and our lack of courage to expose the problem.
But perhaps the most important difference is in how the two respective governments reacted, especially given that both the book and the documentary broadly chimed with what authorities were trying to do at the time. Silent Spring was published when the then US president John F. Kennedy was implementing his New Frontier program, and Under the Dome has arrived while the Chinese leadership is commmitting to an “energy revolution”.
Several key ideas advocated in Under the Dome to fight smog are aligned with the government’s agenda, such as reducing the share of fossil fuels in the country’s energy supply, and increasing the share of renewable energy sources.
This may partly explain why the documentary was first released on the website of People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, and why the resulting media and online criticisms of the government’s handling of the smog issue were initially tolerated despite such comments usually being closely monitored and censored by the state.
However, after a week of explosive discussion in the public sphere, the documentary was taken down from all Chinese websites. While the smog issue was a topic of frequent discussion during the annual session of the National People’s Congress, held in this same week, Chai Jing and her documentary were rarely mentioned by any representatives or government officials.
Contrast that with the policy response triggered by Silent Spring, including the appointment of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, hearings on the issue in the Senate, and the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The Chinese government seems to fear that grassroots movements may undermine its legitimacy in ruling the country. It has implemented a range of policies to transform China’s energy system, but the effectiveness of those policies are yet to be seen.
The legacy of Silent Spring is beyond question. Whether Under the Dome gets the chance to have a similarly lasting impact is far from clear.
China has been the world’s largest consumer of energy since 2009 when the country surpassed the US. The majority of the energy which is produced and consumed in China comes from dirty fossil fuels. According to numbers from the International Energy Agency (IEA), about 78 percent of the total electricity generated in China between 2004 and 2010 came from coal. In 2007 China surpassed the US – yet again – and became the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter. It’s worth pointing out though that China’s per capita emission numbers still lags behind those of more developed countries. However, this has obviously caused massive negative effects for the global climate, the local environment and Chinese people’s health.
To combat this, China is investing heavily in more sustainable and cleaner energy sources. And they have done so for several years now. The country invested a total of $56.3 billion on wind, solar and other renewable projects in 2013. That year, China invested more on renewables than all of Europe combined and became the world leader in renewable energy investments. Last year China became a powerhouse for solar and wind as the country’s investments in renewable energy increased by 32 percent, to $89.5 billion.

Unfortunately not everything is renewable energy as China has plans to triple its nuclear power capacity by 2020. And more than a third of the world’s nuclear reactors currently under construction can be found in China. But nuclear energy can’t seem to catch up with the deployment speed of renewable energy sources. Not even in China.
Last year, China’s nuclear capacity reached 20,000 megawatts. But at the same time China added 23,000 megawatts of new wind energy capacity – a world record. Chinese wind power now has an amazing cumulative capacity of 115,000 megawatts. While Beijing plans that nuclear energy will generate 50,000 megawatts by 2020, analysts expects that the country’s wind power capacity will then have already reached 200,000 megawatts.
To put things into perspective: wind power alone is now capable of powering more than 110 million homes in China. And if we only look at capacity, Chinese wind power now produce more energy than all of the nuclear power plants in the US.
Renewable energy sources are being deployed much faster and on a bigger scale. And for the foreseeable future, nuclear energy is unlikely to match wind power in China. Despite this, coal remains king in China. But the energy landscape is changing ever so rapidly. And according to official data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, coal dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014.
All of this is encouraging. Particularly as new IEA data shows that global CO2 emissions stalled in 2014 while the economy actually grew. This marked the first time in four decades that the world economy grows while carbon emissions don't. Experts say that this change is likely due to an increasing worldwide deployment of renewable energy – and especially, a changing energy landscape in China.
Two wind turbines have been installed on France’s most iconic site, the Eiffel Tower, as part of the famous tower’s extensive green retrofit project. In addition to wind energy, the renovation also includes LED lighting and 10 m² of roof-mounted solar panels on a visitor pavilion whose output will meet approximately 50% of the water heating needs of the two pavilions.
The two wind turbines, located about 120 meters up in the tower, are capable of delivering 10,000kWh of electricity annually, which is equivalent to the power used by the commercial areas on the Eiffel tower’s first floor.
"The Eiffel Tower is arguably the most renowned architectural icon in the world, and we are proud that our advanced technology was chosen as the Tower commits to a more sustainable future," said Nick Blitterswyk, CEO of Urban Green Energy (UGE), the US-based company which installed the wind turbines. "When visitors from around the world see the wind turbines, we get one step closer to a world powered by clean and reliable renewable energy."
The two UGE VisionAIR5 turbines are so-called vertical axis wind turbines, and these tend to have much lower production capabilities compared to the more traditional wind turbines. But UGE says the two wind turbines have been strategically placed on the Eiffel Tower so that their electricity generation can be maximized. UGE also add that these vertical axis wind turbines are designed to work in urban environments where both the wind’s speed and direction can be less predictable.
The wind turbines have been painted in a brown-grey hue to match the Eiffel Tower's frame and the company says the two turbines will be “virtually silent”. The turbines, which are only accessible through a restricted staircase, are located in the southwest corner of the Eiffel Tower, overlooking the Champs de Mars.

New data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that global CO2 emissions stalled at about 32 billion tonnes in 2014, the same number as in 2013. And even better, this happened while the global economy actually grew. It therefore marks the first time in 40 years that such a halt or reduction in emissions wasn’t tied to an economic downturn. This could suggest that climate change mitigating efforts could be having a more noticeable effect than previously thought.
“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”
There have only been three times – the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009 – in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%.
This remarkable change is most likely due to an increase in more sustainable and renewable energy sources. The IEA themselves attributes this to changing energy consumption patterns in mainly China and OECD countries.
In 2014, China increased their share of electricity generated from renewable sources – such as hydropower, solar and wind – and burned less coal. In the more developed OECD countries, the IEA points towards increased focus on sustainable growth, including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy being deployed.
“An important factor could be that China’s coal consumption fell in 2014, driven by their efforts to fight pollution, use energy more efficiently and deploy renewables,” said Professor Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. “Efforts to reduce emissions elsewhere will have played a role, but there are also more random factors such as the weather and the relative price of oil, coal and gas.”
This is obviously good news. A decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions would be highly welcomed. But while all of this is encouraging, it shouldn’t make us lose focus, we need to continue to increase our efforts to mitigate climate change. It’s still too early start talking about a new trend, because we cannot draw too many conclusions on data that only shows one year of emissions.
"The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.
A study, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has linked a severe drought that helped fuel the Syrian conflict to climate change. The drought was one of the worst in the country’s modern history and lasted from 2007 to 2010.
The Syrian conflict has been ongoing since early 2011 when the regime violently attacked peaceful anti-government protesters. With no end in sight, the Syrian war has left more than 200,000 people dead and about 11 million people have been displaced from their homes. The UN refugee agency UNHCR says Syria is now "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era".
“Nobody really expected that we would reach this stage in which we will actually be having this national disaster in Syria,” Marwan Kabalan, a Syrian academic and analyst at Doha Institute, told Al Jazeera as the conflict entered its fifth year this past Sunday. “The heavy-handed approach that was used by the regime against the peaceful protesters was the main reason that this fairly peaceful revolution has turned into the sort of conflict that we are witnessing right now.”
The 3-year long drought caused widespread crop failure and a mass migration of people to urban Syrian centres. This alongside of other factors – such as corruption, inequality, poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies – “had a catalytic effect” and contributed to increased political unrest and, ultimately, civil war.
Although the region normally experiences periodic dry spells, the study, which is based on meteorological data, determined that the extreme nature of the Syrian drought couldn’t be due to natural changes alone. The study’s authors linked the drought to century-long trends towards hotter and drier conditions in the region – which mirrored computer models of human influences on the climate system, i.e. increases in greenhouse-gas emissions causing climate change. Colin Kelley, a climatologist at the University of California and the study's lead author, told The New York Times that "a drought this severe was two to three times more likely" because of the increased pressure climate change has on the region’s aridity.
Francesco Femia, founder and director of the Center for Climate and Security, said that the newly released study "builds on previous work" on the relation between conflicts and climate change.
“While there is a very complex array of social, economic and political factors that drive conflict, the study reinforces the fact that climate change and natural resource mismanagement are problems that can exacerbate instability in a country, and potentially make conflict more likely.”
“Given continued instability and a forecast of increased drying in the region, this issue should be better integrated into the international security agenda,” Femia said.
The war in Syria has caused an unimaginable humanitarian crisis, and this new study adds more weight to the debate surrounding climate change and armed conflicts. Global warming is clearly already sparking unrest around the world.
There is no direct evidence that wind turbines affect physical or mental health, according to a review of the evidence by the National Health and Medicine Research Council (NHMRC).
The review found no direct link between health effects and wind turbines, including pathological anxiety, depression, changes in blood pressure, heart disease, and ringing in the ears.
However, due to the generally poor quality of the current evidence, the council recommended further high quality research, particularly within 1,500 m of wind turbines.
More than 4,000 pieces of evidence were considered, but only 13 were deemed suitable for the review.
The review found evidence supporting a link between wind farm noise and indirect health effects such as annoyance, and sleep disturbance. However it found no evidence for a link between possible health effects and low-frequency noise or infrasound.
While the review said it was unlikely wind turbines would cause health impacts beyond 500 m, noise from turbines could be considered “disturbing” at distances of up to 1,500 m.
Bruce Armstrong, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney and chair of the review’s expert committee, said none of the studies were of good quality, mostly because of poor participation rates, which could have biased the results.
Armstrong identified three areas for further research: improving measurement of wind turbine noise; well-constructed studies that do not rely solely on self-reported health effects; and consideration of social and environmental circumstances.
Will Grant, a researcher at the Australian National University, said there should be more research into wind turbine syndrome as a “communicated” disease.
“There’s a lot of suggestion from the academic community that it’s a psychological or psychogenic illness. The interesting thing is that there hasn’t been a full research study that has investigated if it’s a psychological cause, what are the things that cause that, what are the things that contribute to that, and could we actually mitigate that.”
Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney, said the review was the most comprehensive yet. However he expressed concern that ongoing investigation could be a foundation for stopping wind farms.
“Wind farm opponents in the parliament will soon have a ready made excuse to argue for moratoriums on further wind farm development,” he said.
Grant said the review was important because it took claims of ill-health seriously. He highlighted a recent study commissioned by Pacific Hydro into the health effects of low-frequency wind turbine noise, which he criticised in an article on The Conversation.
“Where they were on the right track was in attempting to do research with those who have very different ideas. The only way to get to the bottom of this is to do research in which people on all sides of the debate have control over the methodology.”

Follow Green Blog

Subscribe to our RSS feed and stay updated with out latest posts and articles. You can also subscribe to our newsletter and get weekly updates. Follow us on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.

About Green Blog

Green Blog has been online since 2007. We have green news from authors around the world, environment forums and member blogs.

We believe that human and civil rights, global peace, equality and democracy all plays central roles in safeguarding our environment and improving - in a sustainable and non-destructive way - the lives of all people on this fragile planet. Green Blog encourage people to take direct non-violent action against CO2 emitting sources and protest against the current climate change inaction.