Obama flags wildfire threat as coal states fight climate action

Coal states are fighting pollution curbs as Obama highlights costs of wildfire worsened by climate change

Climate change makes the US increasingly vulnerable to wildfire, warns Obama's science advisor (Pic: Flickr/National Guard)

Climate change makes the US increasingly vulnerable to wildfire, warns Obama’s science advisor
(Pic: Flickr/National Guard)

By Megan Darby

The US coal sector is fighting back against pollution curbs even as the effects of global warming hit home.

Twelve states with coal interests are trying to block new limits on greenhouse gas emissions through the courts.

Meanwhile, as wildfires sweep through much of the western US, president Barack Obama’s science advisor warned climate change was increasing the risk of such blazes.

And research from leading university MIT suggests world powers are unlikely to cut emissions sharply enough to avoid dangerous temperature rises.

Coal fightback

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal power, the dirtiest form of generation, in June.

International negotiators hailed the move as an important signal the US was getting serious on climate change, although most said further action would be needed.

Most Republicans fiercely oppose the Clean Power Plan, however, describing it as “a war on coal”. They say it will cost many people their jobs.

In what is likely to be the first of many legal challenges, twelve states with significant coal mining and power generation have taken their case to the court of appeal.

These include the Democratic states of West Virginia and Kentucky as well as Republican strongholds.

West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrissey said the EPA’s rules would have “a devastating effect” on the state’s economy.

Analysis: Obama cranks up pressure on critics

Obama shows no sign of backing down.

The White House has released a slew of reports highlighting the damage caused by climate change and the costs of inaction.

These draw a link between the severe droughts, wildfires and hurricanes experienced in recent years and carbon emissions.

In the latest instalment, Obama’s science advisor John Holdren has released a video warning climate change makes destructive wildfires more likely.

Wildfires are wreaking havoc across western states. On Saturday, California governor Edmund Brown declared a state of emergency.

Across the US, the worst eight years on record for area burned by wildfire occurred since 2000.

Climate change is predicted to cause longer, hotter, drier summers that will heighten the risk, Holden said. There are also more dead trees around to burn, killed by heat stress, water stress and increased levels of pests.

Holden said: “Wildfires, accentuated by climate change, are putting communities, lives, health, jobs and valuable natural resources at risk.”

A study from leading US university MIT puts this domestic battle into a global perspective.

Countries are due to reveal early in 2015 what emissions cuts they are prepared to contribute to a global climate deal.

The goal is to sign a treaty in Paris later that year to limit global temperature rises to 2C, seen as a “safe” level of warming.

Based on the signals from national governments, the MIT researchers said those efforts are likely to fail.

MIT predict emissions cuts will fall short of what is needed to avoid dangerous warming

MIT predicts emissions cuts will fall short of what is needed to avoid dangerous warming

Henry Jacoby, economics professor and study co-author, said the results showed the need to start discussing what would come after Paris.

He posed the question: “If it’s obvious in the early stages of the negotiation that we’re not getting on a path to temperature goals, what will be the nature of the follow-up process?”

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