S. Africa Is Latest Nation to Turn to Carbon Tax

On June 1, South Africa became the latest country to take the advice of the world’s most-respected economists and implement a carbon tax. There are now 46 national jurisdictions and 28 subnational jurisdictions that have implemented a price on carbon, or are scheduled to do so, according to the Carbon Pricing dashboard created by the World Bank.

The first phase of the tax runs through December 2022, with a tax rate of 120 rand ($8.34) per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is to rise annually at a rate of two percent above inflation.

Allowable tax breaks will reduce the effective rate to between 6 rand and 48 rand per ton, the National Treasury said in a statement after the tax was signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“A review of the impact of the tax will be conducted before the second phase and will take into account the progress made to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in line with our National Determined Contribution,” the National Treasury said. The second phase will run from 2023 to 2030.

The tax had a lot of trouble getting out of the starting gate. It was to have begun in 2010 but was postponed at least three times after mining companies, steelmakers and the state-owned power utility Eskom said it would erode profit and push up electricity prices.

And at its current level, the tax is taking hits from local and overseas climate activists. They say that the tax is too low to achieve the emissions targets the country signed up for in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The tax is considered “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organizations tracking climate action since 2009. CAT monitors 32 nations, which produce about 80 percent of the world’s emissions.

But Aljazeera called the tax “a rare step for an emerging economy.” South Africa, which relies largely on coal for its energy supply, is the 14th-largest polluter in the world and the largest in Africa, according to Greenpeace.

"We definitely welcome this. It is very, very overdue," said Melisse Steele, senior campaign manager at Greenpeace. "It is a major step, but Greenpeace has expressed our concern that we don't think that the carbon tax will be effective enough, and the tax level is inadequate."

South Africa’s move comes two months after Canada moved ahead with its carbon pricing plan. The federal government extended its carbon-pricing program nationwide by imposing a tax on fossil fuels in four provinces that had declined to write their own climate plans.

Canada currently has one of the most ambitious carbon pricing programs in the world, The New York Times reported. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Liberal government has enacted a nationwide tax on oil, coal and gas that starts at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide this year and will rise to $38 per ton by 2022. Most of the revenue will be refunded to Canadians on their tax bills; the government estimates that these refunds will offset higher energy costs for about 70 percent of people.

Individual provinces can opt out of the federal program by designing their own local climate policies. British Columbia, for instance, has its own higher carbon tax in place, which rose to $30 per ton this year, and Quebec has enacted a local cap-and-trade system. But four provinces, including Ontario, refused to create their own plans, and the federal tax went into effect in those places on April 1.

The Times has called Britain's carbon tax "perhaps the clearest example in the world of a carbon tax leading to a significant cut in emissions." The European Union has already implemented a cap-and-trade system, but Britain tacked on its own price floor for carbon, which The Times said “essentially functions as a carbon tax of around $25 per ton.” The policy has helped to drive greenhouse gas emissions in Britain to their lowest level since 1890.

It’s time for our own country to start competing with these nations.


UN Secretary-General on a Mission

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres used to love steak houses. But now he goes only once every three months because livestock contribute to climate change, he explained to AP.

He is a man on a mission. “We are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris Agreement,” Guterres said in Wellington, New Zealand, during a trip to nations in the South Pacific to dramatize the climate challenge and exhort the world to take stronger action. “And the paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading.

Guterres spoke two days after data from the Muana Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point since the evolution of humans. The concentration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere has surpassed 415 parts per million.

The secretary-general is summoning world leaders to the Climate Action Summit at the UN in September to tell them “they need to do much more in order for us to be able to reverse the present trends and to defeat climate change.”

"It is achievable, but it needs a transformational approach," Guterres told AP’s Seth Brenstein and Edith M. Lederer. He said that he will ask leaders to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, which totaled more than $300 billion in 2017 (and that doesn't even count production subsidies). He said he wants countries to build no new coal power plants after 2020 and to put a price on the use of carbon.

The UN’s top official said the wholesale economic changes needed to keep the temperature from rising another degree or more may be painful, but there will be more pain if the world fails.

Over the past three years storms, wildfires, and other events in this country declared national disasters caused $457 billion in damage, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. They included flooding in much of Houston, storms ravaging Puerto Rico and wiping out communities like Mexico Beach in Florida’s Panhandle, and a devastating wildfire in Paradise in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, The Wall Street Journal’s Erin Ailworth reported.

And the toll seems certain to increase. As emergency managers prepare for hurricane and wildfire seasons, Ailworth wrote, they say continuing development and higher population in vulnerable areas will likely amplify the damage and devastation.

Meteorologists expect more than a dozen named storms in the Atlantic this year, slightly above average. In California, a burst of vegetation from rains could serve as fuel in the dry summer months and heighten the wildfire danger in some areas, forecasters say. Meantime, the wettest 12 months in the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley in 124 years led to extensive flooding recently along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Guterres can see a silver lining. As disasters mount and deaths increase, the public, especially young people, will realize that warming is “a dramatic threat to the whole of humankind,” he told Borenstein and Lederer. So the worse it gets, he reasons, the more people will demand change.

ALL of us should be demanding change. Congress should enact a carbon fee and take other steps to counter the climate change that threatens our health and prosperity.


All of Us Will Pay if We Fail to Tackle Climate Change

If our leaders, public and private, fail to tame climate change, all of us are going to take a serious financial hit. That’s the bottom line of a recent report issued by EPA scientists.

Those costs will come in multiple forms, including water shortages, crippled infrastructure and polluted air that shortens lives, according to the study. After examining 22 different impacts, the researchers estimated that damage to coastal property, primarily on the Gulf and East coasts, will reach $120 billion per year by 2090; lost labor productivity due to hotter temperatures, particularly in the South and Midwest, will cost $155 billion per year; and deaths from extreme heat waves and cold snaps will equal $140 billion per year.

Experts called the report the most comprehensive analysis yet of the staggering diversity of societal impacts that climate change will have on the American economy. “There are no regions that escape some mix of adverse impacts,” wrote authors Jeremy Martinich and Allison Crimmins.

The study suggests, the Los Angeles Times’ Julia Rosen reported, that climate change will bring more mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. It will increase the temperatures of streams and lakes, reducing oxygen levels and harming water quality. Heavy river flows will put many bridges at risk, and intense heat will buckle rail lines.

Solomon Hsiang, an economist at UC Berkeley, told Rosen that the new research lays the groundwork for a meaningful conversation about the risks of letting climate change continue unabated. “The climate may be one of the largest economic assets this nation holds,” he said. “We should manage it with the seriousness and clarity of thought that we would apply to managing any asset that generates trillions of dollars in value.” Hsiang headed up a 2017 study that reached similar conclusions.

In fact, there is great consistency in such studies, according to Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The cost of inaction is really high, and [the cost of] reducing emissions pales in comparison,” she told Rosen. What sets the new study apart, she added, is its astonishing level of detail. The study appeared in the April 8 edition of Nature Climate Change.

Fresh evidence of the potential cost arrived last month in the Midwest. Reporting from Verdigre, Nebraska, The New York Times’ Mitch Smith wrote: “Ice chunks the size of small cars ripped through barns and farmhouses. Baby calves were swept into freezing floodwaters, washing up dead along the banks of swollen rivers. Farm fields were now lakes.”

The story he produced with two colleagues told readers that the “record floods that have pummeled the Midwest are inflicting a devastating toll on farmers and ranchers at a moment when they can least afford it, raising fears that this natural disaster will become a breaking point for farms weighed down by falling incomes, rising bankruptcies and the fallout from President Trump’s trade policies.”

The Partnership for Responsible Growth continues to believe that the smartest solution to the mounting woes of our runaway climate is a carbon tax. It has the power to drive down the use of fossil fuels and speed up the transition to clean energy sources.

Urge your U.S. senators to co-sponsor the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz. “We need bipartisan leadership, and market-based solutions have support across the ideological spectrum,” said Schatz. “Our bill would establish a set of incentives that allows capital to flow and businesses to thrive when they use clean energy, letting the free market hold polluters accountable.”

In the House, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and David Cicilline  introduced a companion bill, while another measure (H.R. 763) was offered by seven of their colleagues.


SEA LEVEL RISE IS STARTING TO COST US DEARLY

Climate change is accelerating sea-level rise, and there’s mounting evidence of the financial toll it’s taking--and will take--on the American people.

A new analysis by First Street Foundation estimates that property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017. Florida, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina each saw more than $1 billion in losses.

The greatest loss was in Ocean City, N.J.: $500 million. Miami Beach was second, with more than $300 million in home value wiped out.

While some groups have estimated the value of property at risk in the future, the new report is the first to provide specific data over such a broad area about the real estate effects that have already happened, according to Columbia University’s Jeremy Porter, the lead author of First Street’s report. The researchers looked at 25.6 million coastal properties.

Porter told InsideClimate News’ Nicholas Kusnetz that while they found that prices generally increased, even in neighborhoods with recurrent flooding, property values in areas with nuisance flooding were rising much more slowly. That difference accounts for their total estimated loss in value. The researchers plan to release data in coming months for the rest of the coastal U.S. and then move on to major rivers.

Taxpayers could be hit in any number of ways. The credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service has warned local governments that they could face lower ratings if they fail to adapt to climate change, a decision that would raise the cost of borrowing money through bonds.

Homeowners can find the property value information on a website called FloodIQ. What they are finding there "really hits home for a lot of folks -- the idea that 'OK, well, what should I do now?' Or 'do I need to take some resilience measures?' Or 'is it time to move?' A whole host of options come up, and you can see them thinking it through," Matthew Eby, First Street Foundation's executive director, said in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch.

Farmers, too, are in harm’s way. Hyde County, along the North Carolina coast, has been part of a declared disaster zone during four of the past five years. Heavy rainfall and strong winds have caused millions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) brought several feet of storm surge that inundated the area with seawater, Sarah Kaplan reported in a page-one Washington Post story.

Due to rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather, salt from the Atlantic is contaminating aquifers and turning formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that nine percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm.

Kaplan visited Dawson Pugh, a third-generation Hyde County farmer who grows soybeans, cotton, and corn. Portions of his land have become too salty to produce. “We spend a lot of time and money to try to prevent salt,” Pugh told her. “I worry what the future is. If it keeps getting worse, will it be worth farming?” Pugh estimates that recent flooding — and the associated salinization — have cost him $2 million in lost crops over the past five years.

Though it’s known that saltwater intrusion is linked to sea-level rise caused by climate change, scientists aren’t certain how salt winds up in farmers’ fields. Scientists are increasingly concerned that rising sea levels are shifting the “zone of transition” — the underground gradient where fresh groundwater meets salty seawater.

These climate-change costs should be included in the price of carbon--but they aren’t. Isn’t it time that Congress enacted a carbon fee so that we move to an honest price?



CLIMATE CHANGE IS MOVING YOU TO A NEW CITY

It has now become possible to move hundreds of miles without packing a single box or paying for a moving van. You can thank climate change.

“Sixty years from now, climate change could transform the East Coast into the Gulf Coast,” The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer wrote. “It will move Minnesota to Kansas, turn Tulsa into Texas, and hoist Houston into Mexico. Even Oregonians might ooze out of their damp, chilly corner and find themselves carried to the central valley of California.”

These projections are from a creative study by Matthew Fitzpatrick, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Robert R. Dunn, a biology professor at North Carolina State University. “I was shocked, to be honest,” at how southerly many cities would soon feel, Fitzpatrick told Meyer.

The study, published in Nature Communications February 12, looked at 12 variables for 540 U.S. and Canadian cities under two climate change scenarios to find out what the future might feel like in a way a regular person might understand. Fitzpatrick, the lead author, and Dunn averaged the climate results from 27 different computer models and then found the city that most resembles that futuristic scenario.

If you’re not too scared about what you might find, check out how the city nearest you could feel. Their results are at this website: http://shiny.al.umces.edu:3838/futCitiesApp/cityApp/  “Wow. The science here isn’t new, but it’s a great way to bring the impacts to the local-scale user,” Northern Illinois University climate scientist Victor Gensini told Seth Borenstein, AP’s veteran science correspondent.

The 540 cities on average move 528 miles to the south climate-wise, if carbon emissions keep soaring. If the world cuts back, the cities move on average 319 miles.

And while we’re imagining warmer temperatures, many of us eventually may have shorter drives to the beach. Last month researchers reported the startling news that Antarctic glaciers have been melting at an accelerating pace over the past four decades, meaning that sea levels are poised to rise more quickly than predicted.

Due mainly to an influx of warm ocean water, Antarctica is losing six times as much ice as it was four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements, according to a study published January 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The most striking finding in that study is the assertion that East Antarctica, which contains by far the continent’s most ice — a vast sheet capable of nearly 170 feet of potential sea-level rise — is also experiencing serious melting,” The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis wrote.

“It has been known for some time that the West Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula have been losing mass, but discovering that significant mass loss is also occurring in the East Antarctic is really important because there’s such a large volume of sea-level equivalent contained in those basins,” said Christine Dow, a glacier expert at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

In explaining his report on urban areas, Fitzpatrick cautioned that no city will perfectly match its climate twin, especially when it comes to rainfall. Many cities in the South simply do not have a good twin.

"We're definitely working with a simplification here, and we're ignoring a lot of the important variability and complexity in the climate system," Fitzpatrick told E&E News reporter Chelsea Harvey. "But I think it's a necessary simplification…”

"Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents, or perhaps any generation in millennia," said Fitzpatrick.

“For instance,” wrote The Atlantic’s Meyer, “the Philadelphia of the 2080s will resemble the historical climate of Memphis. By the time kids today near retirement age, Philadelphia’s average summer will be about 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now. Winters in the City of Brotherly Love will be nearly 10 degrees more temperate... Meanwhile, Memphis’s climate will come to resemble that of modern-day College Station, Texas, by 2080.”

If these projections leave you cold, tell those who represent you in Washington to work harder to combat climate change. One way to do so is to tax the main culprit: carbon dioxide emissions.