Climate Change News

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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 21, 2014


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US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Continue Falling, Except Hydrofluorocarbons

On April 15 the US Environmental Protection Agency released its annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012 showing that total US emissions fell by 10 percent between 2005 and 2012, and by 3 percent between 2011 and 2012. However, while emissions of all other greenhouse gases have gone down, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used to replace ozone depleting substances in refrigeration and air conditioning increased by 41 percent over the same period.

HFCs are super greenhouse gases capable of warming the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide (CO2), and are the fastest growing greenhouse gases in many countries, including the United States, Europe, China, and India. Used as replacements for substances being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, their use has caused US HFCs emissions to grow from zero in 1990 to the equivalent of over 146 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012.

For additional information see: EPA U.S. Inventory, Scientific American, Responding to Climate Change

EPA Plans to Crack Down on Biggest Polluters

On April 10, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan for the regulation of pollution cases over the next four years. The new plan specifies that from 2014 to 2018, the EPA will bring fewer cases overall, preferring to focus on the larger polluters due to budget and staff constraints. To achieve this goal, the new strategic program, called Next Generation Compliance, will use “new information and monitoring technologies to help the agency and states to get better compliance results.” This will, according to Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement, allow the EPA to “achieve tangible and lasting returns to the public,” as focusing on these high impact cases “requires significant investment and long-term commitment.” Although many Americans are worried about too much oversight with this new compliance strategy, Giles believes that it has already been proven successful with the announcement of several large polluter settlements, including Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, the recent Texas-based oil company that agreed to a $5.15 billion cleanup of toxins, including nuclear and rocket fuel waste, across the country. Additionally, Next Generation Compliance will also address the issues of climate change, air quality, and protection of America's water.

For additional information see: Reuters, EPA

Senator Whitehouse Talks Climate During Southeast Tour

On March 11, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and co-chair of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, announced that he would be traveling to the Southeast this week to discuss climate change. Whitehouse visited Iowa last month to discuss climate change as a key issue in the 2016 presidential cycle, and will now be traveling to North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to discuss climate impacts with scientists and advocates from the region. The Rhode Island senator is also planning to use this trip as an educational experience, as he stated that “this road trip will be an opportunity for me to see how climate change is affecting other areas of our country; to hear about what these states are doing to address climate threats; and to bring new ideas back to Washington as I continue working to get Congress to wake up and take action on this issue.”

For additional information see: The Hill, Statement

United Nations Climate Panel: Governments Must Do More in Face of Climate Change

On April 13, Working Group III (WGIII) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report on what can be done to mitigate climate change across sectors. Between 1970 and 2000, GHG emissions rose at an annual rate of 1.3 percent; now, they are rising at a rate of 2.2 percent per year, largely due to an increase in coal usage from developing countries. The scientists contributing to the IPCC argue that clean technologies will need to overtake traditional fossil fuels in order to address climate change. However, scientists are still optimistic that the world can stay below a global rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels. Fossil fuel burning would need to peak in the near future and then fall to between 40 to 70 percent of 2010 levels by 2050 and then continue falling until 2100, in order to stay within a 2-degree Celsius rise.

The IPCC also reports that the most ambitious mitigation plan would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percentage points per year. This doesn’t even take into account the co-benefits of climate action, such as improved public health and increased energy efficiency savings, which could further reduce the impact to the global economy and perhaps even lead to a net benefit. Rajendra K. Pachauri, one of the co-chairs of WGIII, argued for the need of cooperation among countries to limit global temperature rise, saying that “what comes out very clear from this report is that the high-speed mitigation train needs to leave the station soon, and all of global society needs to get on board.” U.S. researchers, including Leon Clarke, senior research economist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and one of the report's lead authors, seconded this feeling with the sentiment that, “the longer we wait, the harder this is going to get.”

For additional information see: EESI Article, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Reuters

Council of Europe Gives Final Approval for F-Gas Regulations, Will Cut Emissions 80 Percent

On April 14, the Council of the European Union gave final approval for Europe’s fluorinated gas (f-gas) regulation, which will cut emissions of HFCs by 80 percent by 2030. The F-gas regulations were approved by the European Parliament earlier this year by a vote of 644 to 19. The regulations start with a freeze in 2015, followed by a first reduction in 2016-2017, dropping to 21 percent of 2009 through 2012 levels by 2030. In addition to a series of bans on the sale of products using high global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the regulations establish new rules regarding containment, use, recovery, and destruction of F-gases. “Europe’s strong F-gas regulations send a powerful signal to the market to accelerate the development of climate friendly alternatives to HFCs,” stated Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “The European F-gas regulations also are a model for other nations to reduce HFCs, and provide a powerful boost to the effort for a global phasedown of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.”

For additional information see: European Council, RAC Magazine

World Bank President Talks Climate Change

In an interview before the biannual World Bank meeting, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said that within the decade climate change will cause conflict in societies battling for water and food. Kim identified areas where the World Bank could assist in mitigating climate change: promoting sustainable urban areas and sustainable agriculture, stabilizing the market for carbon pricing, and doing away with all fuel subsidies. Kim said, "The water issue is critically related to climate change. People say that carbon is the currency of climate change. Water is the teeth. Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years. There's just no question about it.”

For additional information see: The Guardian

Canada’s Warming Increases Growing Season

On April 15, 400 farmers assembled at the Southern Manitoba Convention Centre to hear presentations from companies like DuPont, Monsanto, and Deere & Company about growing corn on the Canadian prairie. Due to changes in Canada’s climate, the growing season on the Canadian prairie is now two weeks longer than it was half a century ago. In 2013, a record 405,000 acres of corn were sown in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, twice the amount of 2011, and almost eight times the amount sown 20 years ago. DuPont and Monsanto have responded by devoting more than 100 million dollars in the region for corn clinics and research on seed varieties that can thrive in a shorter growing season. Dan Wright, Monsanto’s chief for corn expansion, is optimistic about Canada’s expanding corn market. With corn purchases from the US falling below a quarter of 2009 levels, Wright has reason to believe Canada can become self-sufficient in corn. Greg Stokke of DuPont is also optimistic, stating that “this is one of the few areas of the world where we are not growing corn and soybeans and have the opportunity to do that.” Researchers from the University of Winnipeg predict the mean annual temperature in the prairie to increase by 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050, but many farmers remain skeptical due to recent weather patterns. This past winter was Winnipeg’s coldest since 1979.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, St. Louis Business Journal

Rising Carbon Dioxide in Oceans Harming Marine Life

On April 13, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that prolonged exposure to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) changed the behavior of reef fish. The study was conducted in naturally occurring CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay by scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), James Cook University, the National Geographic Society, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. AIMS scientist, Alistair Cheal, stated that "we found that living in an acidic environment makes small reef fish become attracted to the smell of their potential predators.” More than 90 percent of the time, fish in these waters swam to locations with predator species, while the control fish in non-acidified waters regularly avoided predator areas. According to Cheal, this shows that, ". . . fish become bolder and they venture further away from safe shelter, making them more vulnerable to predators." Professor Philip Munday from James Cook University said that despite living their whole lives in those conditions, the fish failed to adapt to the high CO2 levels.

For additional information see: Nature Climate Change, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Economic Times

El Nino Conditions Likely Developing in Tropical Pacific

The natural phenomenon El Nino is very likely developing, according to climate models and observations by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO announced on April 15 that the tropical Pacific Ocean had warmed to temperatures similar to the beginnings of previous El Nino events. The models predict that the El Nino threshold could be reached this summer. El Nino conditions are defined by eastern tropical Pacific surface water temperatures warming to at least 0.5 degrees Celsius above average. The higher the temperature anomaly, the more that Pacific winds and currents are impacted, creating a ripple effect on weather patterns around the world. It is part of a natural cycle that occurs every 2-7 years, at varying intensities. “El Nino and La Nina are major drivers of the natural variability of our climate. If an El Nino event develops – and it is still too early to be certain – it will influence temperatures and precipitation and contribute to droughts or heavy rainfall in different regions of the world,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. Most El Nino events do not peak until the end of the calendar year. The last El Nino event peaked in late 2009; the strongest on record peaked in late 1997.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Climate Central, World Meteorological Organization

NASA Study: March 2014 Was One of the Hottest on Record

On April 15, Climate Central published March 2014’s record temperature rankings based on a recent National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has ranked March 2014 as the fourth-warmest March on record. This makes March 2014 the 349th month with global temperatures above the historic average. The above average temperatures (4 degrees Celsius or more) spanned from Europe and Russia into North America. meteorologist Jon Erdman, stated that “March was indeed cold in eastern United States, much of Canada and parts of southern South America . . . however, the broader picture showed a sea of warm anomalies from Europe across Russia to Alaska and the western United States.” In the areas with the highest temperatures, specifically in Russia, wildfires are already occurring.

For additional information see: Climate Central, Discover Magazine, The Weather Channel

Study Links California Drought and Cold East Coast Weather to Anthropogenic Climate Change

A recent study by Utah State University climate scientists found that high atmospheric pressure in the Western United States, coupled with low atmospheric pressure in the East helps contribute to climate change. The weather pattern, called a dipole, happens in the years preceding an El Nino weather pattern. The dipole pattern has been increasing in intensity since the 1970s. This study could help predict the intensity and duration of droughts in California.

For additional information see: News Release, Study

Heartland Institute Releases Non-Peer Reviewed Report On Climate Change

On April 8, the Heartland Institute released a report that they believe “debunks” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released early last week. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) released an over 1,000-page report, the fourth in a series of six “Climate Change Reconsidered” reports, arguing that global climate change has a positive impact on plants, terrestrial animals, aquatic life, and human well-being. Since its release, the NIPCC and Heartland Institute have received a wave of criticism from a variety of different groups, stating that the think tank used out-of-date, non-peer reviewed science to state its claims. While media outlets such as Fox News have equated the NIPCC report with the IPCC, many experts disagree. According to Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “the NIPCC has no standing whatsoever…this is irresponsible journalism.” The Heartland Institute plans to release a sixth report in May regarding human welfare, energy, and policies.

For additional information see: The Salon, The Coloradoan, Media Matters, Fox News

Climate Change Increases Allergies

Extreme weather patterns in the United States for the 2013 - 2014 winter season, such as the “polar vortex,” have created a spring phenomenon coined, “the pollen vortex,” for its brutal allergy season. According to Estelle Levetin, chair of the biology department at the University of Tulsa, this occurs because flowers are temperature-sensitive, releasing pollen only at certain temperatures. She said “the long winter, the particularly cold weather, it all pushed the pollen season back quite a bit.” Levetin also notes that the long winter has affected other plants, “trees that normally would have bloomed several weeks ago are just budding now.” Although warming temperatures can be a cause for the early bloom and release of pollen or for allergenic species of vegetation to thrive in new areas, Leonard Bielory, an environmental sciences professor at Rutgers, believes that pollen counts are set to decrease as the planet gradually warms. In a Scientific American article, he stated, "If heat goes up to a certain temperature, plants will die. It will hit a breaking point."

For additional information see: KDHNews, Mother Jones

Other Headlines

Writers: Ivana Andrade, Jenifer Collins, John-Michael Cross, Emily Jackson, Claire Phillips and Alison Alford

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