White House officials at COP 21 helped craft a deal congressional Republicans would not be able to stop – and the effort required major political capital
Nuclear Power and Desalination in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi regime has insisted that its primary motivation for building a nuclear program is to develop a sustainable power source for the country’s desalination plants. A 2009 royal decree outlining Saudi Arabia’s energy policy illustrated the logic: “The development of atomic energy is essential to meet the kingdom’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water, and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.” On the surface, this makes sense. The Saudis need water; for water, they need energy. And they have enough capital—political and economic—to make it happen.
Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no permanent rivers or lakes and erratic rainfall. The vast majority of its territory—95 percent—is covered by one of three deserts: the Rub al-Khali, an-Nafud, or ad-Dahna. Most of Saudi Arabia’s natural reservoirs, such as the Saq-Ram and Wajid aquifer systems, are nearly tapped out. Although other promising reservoirs have been found—for example, the Wasia aquifer, which is thought to hold as much water as the entire Persian Gulf—they are nestled deep in the desert, away from urban areas. Tapping into their full potential would take many years and billions of dollars. Accordingly, the Kingdom has turned to an obvious solution: desalinated water from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. According to the latest estimates, the country consumes an estimated 3.3 million cubed meters of desalinated water per day, and desalination provides 70 percent of urban water supplies.
Taking salt out of water is an
After seven years, improving jobs numbers and plunging oil prices soothed the political costs of rejection.
In the summer of 2011, the signs outside the White House gates denouncing the Keystone XL pipeline mixed with Barack Obama campaign buttons and chants of “Yes we can.”
But inside, the president and his top aides were fretting about the economy, with unemployment stuck at 9 percent and gasoline topping $3.60 a gallon little more than a year before Obama had to face the voters again. And supporters of the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline were playing the pocketbook card big time, promising it would put thousands of Americans to work, lower prices at the pump and lessen U.S. reliance on Mideast oil.
Obama and his aides were skeptical of those claims, but knew they could lose the political argument if his opponents painted him as a jobs-killer. So, stuck between the demands of allies he would need for his reelection — labor unions that supported Keystone, and green groups and liberal donors who detested it — he waited.
And waited some more, past 2012, past the 2014 midterms. Until Friday, when he finally rendered the verdict that the project’s supporters and foes had come to expect: He was saying no to the $8 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline.
The White House said Obama’s decision was entirely based on his commitment to taking on climate change — and the decision came just weeks before he’s due to jet to Paris to try to reach a global climate agreement with leaders of nearly 200 nations. But the move also came in a world where many of Keystone’s political and economic underpinnings had collapsed: Oil prices have plummeted in the past year, while the unemployment rate fell Friday to 5 percent, the lowest since before the 2008 financial crisis.
“Four years ago, anything that said ‘job creation,’ people would jump onto,” said former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley, whose one-year tenure coincided with those first massive anti-Keystone protests outside the White House. “Now it’s a very different world.
“They waited long enough to where — whether intentional or not — obviously I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Daley said Friday. “Oil prices are down, unemployment’s low.”
Governments will need to increase efforts to limit carbon emissions in order to stop climate change, says UN report ahead of Paris summit
Current global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions leave about half of the reductions needed still to be found, according to a new analysis by the UN.
The report suggests that governments will have to go much further in their pledges to limit future carbon dioxide emissions, which have been submitted to the UN ahead of the crunch conference on climate change taking place this December in Paris.
The UN Environment Programme (Unep) published a report showing that global emissions levels should not exceed 48 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025, and 42 GT in 2030, if the world is to have a good chance of holding global warming to no more than 2C on average above pre-industrial temperatures. The 2C threshold is regarded by scientists as the limit of safety, beyond which the ravages of climate change – such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
But current pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are likely to lead to emissions of 53 to 58 GT of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2025, and between 54 and 59 GT in 2030.
This means that emissions in 2030 are likely to be about 11GT lower than they would have been without the INDCs. But, according to Unep, they need to be about 12GT lower than that to give the world a two-thirds chance of avoiding more than 2C of warming. This leaves a large “emissions gap” to be made up.
GOP version of patriotism. (Shutterstock)
Back in March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraged states to “just say no” to the Clean Power Plan. He meant that they should refuse to develop state plans to implement the rules, which would require all states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their electricity sectors.
As a political gesture, it was petulant. As advice, it was … a political gesture. What’s remarkable is that McConnell got the media and the political class to take it seriously, at least for a while.
But now it seems that states are abandoning McConnell’s strategy, having discovered that it is stupid. The signals are becoming ever clearer that although a notional partisan battle over the Clean Power Plan will continue, behind the scenes almost all states have resigned themselves to developing compliance plans. The reasons are simple:
- Outside far-right circles, the effort to reduce carbon pollution is popular. Polling by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication finds that restricting CO2 pollution and requiring a minimum of clean power from utilities are policies supported by majorities of voters, even in states that are suing to stop the Clean Power Plan.
- State executives have realized that the only tangible effect of refusing to create a compliance plan is that the feds will create one for them, which will almost certainly cost more. Refusing to write a state plan is a pointless gesture, meant to placate the conservative base, and it will only backfire — such maneuvers are extremely popular with Republicans in Congress, but Republicans running state agencies don’t have that luxury.
- The Clean Power Plan has not created the shift away from coal; that’s a result of other trends that have been underway for a while. Even if the CPP vanished tomorrow, the trends would continue. Utilities are going to have to grapple with them one way or another, and a state compliance plan gives them cover to make overdue changes.
The odds of finding much of anything seem slim in northern Niger’s unnerving expanses of hazy white desert.
The land is so vast, so untethered from any obvious landmarks that when straying just a few hundred feet off of the inconsistently paved road between Abalak and Agadez, it’s hard to shake the fear that the driver won’t be able to find the highway again.
Even with plenty of water, gas, and daylight on hand, there’s a general feeling of being marooned.
In the post-World War II years, huge amounts of cheap electricity were needed to fuel the breakneck growth of Western economies.
At the same time, nuclear weapons became the ultimate embodiment of national power and prestige.
So the discovery of uranium in Niger in 1957 was a much-needed economic boon for a country that still ranks 187th on the Human Development Index.
And the ambitions of the nuclear powers in Niger are still playing out today as Niger’s remote and inhospitable northern desert environment contains the world’s fifth-largest recoverable uranium reserves, some 7% of the global total.
The ore must be extracted and then milled into yellowcake in distant pockets of the Saharan wastes, where it’s then sent on a multi-day truck convoy to the port of Cotonou, in Benin, some 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) away.
With degraded roads and unpredictable passenger air service, it’s hard to physically access the country’s two major mines, which are outside of a town called Arlit, about a five-hour drive north from Agadez and a more than 20-hour, 1,300-kilometer (807-mile) drive from Niamey, the capital.
Those mines are operated by Areva, a nuclear-energy-services company that is 70% owned by France, the colonial power that ruled Niger between the 1890s and 1960.
Those two mines have been in operation since the late 1960s and are collectively the largest employer in the country other than the Nigerien government.
Both of the mines are nearing the end of their operational lifespan — one is expected to only last another 10 to 15 years.
A third mine, at Imouraren, is currently under development and has reserves enough to become one of the most productive uranium sites in the world.
But plans to begin large-scale mining at Imouraren are now on hold because of the worldwide plunge in uranium prices that followed the Fukushima incident and the resulting shutdown of Japan’s 43 commercial nuclear reactors.