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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 3, 2014

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President Obama Addresses Climate Issues in State of the Union Address

On January 28, President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union, where he proclaimed that “the debate is over. Climate change is a fact.” President Obama remarked that the United States has to act “with more urgency” on global warming, as “a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.” He added, “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way . . . when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world . . . I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” A majority of Democrats greeted his remarks on climate change with a standing ovation, although Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) notably abstained from applauding. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said he was satisfied with the remarks and the level of attention the administration is giving climate change.  

For additional information see: The Hill, Salon




Environmental Leader Rep. Waxman Joins Ranks of Retiring Congressional Representatives

On January 30, Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) announced he was retiring from the House of Representatives after 40 years of service. Waxman has played an influential role in the passing of many environmental and health-related laws, including the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010. A longtime climate change advocate for action, Waxman led the push for the 2009 climate bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions that passed in the House but failed in the Senate. He has been Chairman, and is now Ranking Member, of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader, said Waxman’s “imprint can be found on legislation addressing some of our nation’s fundamental issues of health, environmental protection, sustainability, economic growth, and national security.” Waxman said he is leaving because “this is a good time to move and have another chapter if I am to do anything after Congress.” Waxman is joining a list of more than 30 House members who have announced they are retiring, resigning, or running for another office.

For additional information see: The Hill, The Washington Post, Politico, The New York Times




Democratic Staff of House Energy and Commerce Committee Release Fact Sheet Defending Clean Air Act

On January 28, Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a fact sheet regarding H.R. 3826, the “Electricity Security and Affordability Act,” a bill introduced the same day by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), with 72 co-sponsors (66 Republican, 6 Democrats) that seeks to obstruct the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to curb power plant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions under the Clean Air Act. EPA limits on CO2 emissions are a key component of the President’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to limit harmful anthropogenic climate change. The fact sheet disputes six claims the bill’s sponsors made on climate change and EPA authority, including assertions that the United States is the only nation to require Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) at new coal-fired power plants, and that CCS will make it impossible to build new coal-fired power plants in the US. The fact sheet says that Canada and the United Kingdom already have CO2 emissions limits in place at more ambitious levels than the EPA proposal. It also showcases commercial-scale CCS projects coming online this year at two U.S. plants. While the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 29-19 in favor of the bill, Rep. John Dingell (D-ME) commented, “it’s not going to pass the Senate and it will not be signed by the president. In short, we are wasting the time of the American people.”

For additional information see: Energy and Commerce, Democrats, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fact Sheet




Massachusetts State Senator Introduces Bill to Examine Local Climate Change

On January 28, Massachusetts State Senator Marc Pacheco (D), chairman of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, introduced a bill to require the state to quantify and address climate change impacts. The bill comes shortly after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s announcement of a $52 million investment in efforts to combat climate change across the state (see EESI article). Pacheco said the Governor’s initial investment must be promulgated in state law in order to hold future governors accountable, as well as “save billions of dollars that could be spent in the future as a result of the impending threats of climate change.” Under the proposed law, the state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs and Public Safety and Security Committee would create an advisory committee to prepare a report on the state’s resiliency and vulnerabilities to climate change, especially in the areas of coastal communities, infrastructure, grid systems and transportation. The bill would also provide funding for regional planning and a coastal buy-back program to acquire property from willing sellers in floodplains, to convert vulnerable areas into conservation or recreation lands. While the Senator did not have a price tag for the bill, Pacheco noted, "the cost of inaction, of not doing anything about it, not trying to prepare, that cost far outweighs any investment that we would be making in terms of trying to prevent the worst effects of climate change."  Bill co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield).

For additional information see: MassLive, Cape Cod Times, Boston Herald




California Fines Chevron and Southwest for Incorrectly Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On January 27, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) announced that it has fined three companies a total of almost $1 million for inaccurate or late greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting in 2011 per California’s mandatory GHG emissions reporting and reduction regulation, AB 32. Chevron USA was fined $364,500 for incorrect information from its El Segundo refinery; Chevron North America Exploration & Production Company of Houston will pay $328,500 for late reporting at the San Joaquin Valley oil fields; and Southwest Gas Corporation will pay $300,000 due to late reporting regarding natural gas supplies. ARB is the regulatory body that oversees air pollution control efforts in California. These fines are the largest ever issued under the law. Both the Chevron-affiliated companies and the Southwest Gas Corporation are cooperating with ARB to file the incomplete information; all three are first-time inadvertent violations. Under the regulation, facilities emitting more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually must report their emissions to the ARB, while those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons are covered under California’s cap-and-trade program. Despite these fines, the program is working well, according to ARB’s manager of climate programs, Steven Cliff, PhD, who commented, “Most California businesses are working hard to comply with new rules aimed at climate change. Unfortunately, due to mistakes or inattention some companies failed to meet the standards.”  

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, Examiner.com, ARB News Release




First Climate Day at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

On January 24, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland held its first Climate Day, featuring 23 scheduled sessions that examined climate change and related world impacts. Among the issues discussed were green investment, clean energy initiatives, the economic risks of climate change, updates on current science concerning melting polar ice caps and resulting sea level rise, extreme weather risks, short-lived climate pollutants, and the role of youth in moving forward a climate agenda. “This is the kickoff of a new political season on climate change,” commented Nigel Purvis, CEO and president of Climate Advisers.

One of the panels, “Changing the Climate for Growth and Development,” had big-name speakers such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and former Vice President Al Gore. The panelists looked at global development through a “climate lens,” by addressing the growing population rate in low-income countries, such as in Africa, and how resources will be further stretched by the projected higher rate of extreme weather events due to rising global temperatures. Gore suggested “fertility management” as a key component in tackling climate change and bringing the world out of poverty. According to Gore, “depressing the rate of child mortality, educating girls, empowering women and making fertility management ubiquitously available . . . is crucial to the future shape of human civilization.”

The conference emphasized work that needs to be done on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate pollutants, which have shorter life-spans and higher warming levels than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres pledged to look at “how complementary action on short-lived climate pollutants can be dramatically scaled up . . . including in respect to refrigerant chemicals known as HFCs.” United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Major business leaders and public officials agreed to join hands in moving on HFCs, methane and black carbon, which drive global warming but also affect our health and economies.”

For additional information see: CNBC, The Daily Caller, The Guardian, E&E News, UNFCCC Blog, IISD News, UNEP




World Bank President Jim Yong Kim Calls for 2014 to be the Year of Climate Action

On January 25, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim published a statement on the World Economic Forum blog highlighting the need for climate action in 2014. To create a green growth economy, Kim points to a variety of policy solutions to encourage future growth, more jobs, and competitiveness. These include putting a price on carbon, creating low carbon performance standards, encouraging energy efficiency, and redirecting fossil fuel subsidies (which account for approximately $1.9 trillion) to clean growth. Kim also calls on financial regulators to address the risks associated with climate change by requiring disclosure of climate risks and to double the green bond market. According to Kim, “this is the year to take action on climate change. There are no excuses . . . We need leaders who are not thinking about short-term returns or election cycles. We need leaders who are thinking foremost about taking care of the most vulnerable in this generation and generations ahead.”

For additional information see: The Climate Group, Jim Yong Kim’s Blog




European Union Moves Towards Final Phase-down of HFCs

On January 30, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee approved a new law to phase down a group of super greenhouse gases called fluorinated gases (F-gases), which includes hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The F-gas vote follows two years of negotiations between the Parliament and Ministers that resulted in an agreement to reduce HFCs by nearly 80 percent below present levels by 2030. The text includes an aggressive schedule for phasing down HFCs, bans on certain categories of new refrigeration and air conditioning equipment containing HFCs, mandatory destruction of by-product emissions from the manufacture of F-gases, and provisions on containment and recovery. “With the EU ready to aggressively control HFCs, a global HFC phasedown under the Montreal Protocol is inevitable,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “It’s also the biggest, fastest, and cheapest climate mitigation available to the world in the near term.” HFCs are the fastest growing greenhouse gases in much of the world, increasing at a rate of 10-15 percent per year.

For additional information see: RAC, EuropeanVoice




Tennessee Valley Authority Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On January 22, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the largest public power entity in the United States, released new data confirming that it has been steadily decreasing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1995. The findings, released during a meeting of its Regional Energy Resource Council, revealed the TVA has already reduced GHG emissions, by 23 percent below 2005 levels, and is on target to reduce GHG emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. TVA’s reductions surpass both the Energy Information Association’s (EIA) projections that the utility sector as a whole will reduce GHG emissions by 11 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and the White House Climate Action Plan target of 17 percent reductions from 2005 levels by 2020. The reduction in TVA’s greenhouse gases can largely be attributed to the utility’s planned retirement of 5,580 MW of coal, with more retirements likely to come. The projected drop in future carbon dioxide (CO2) rates will put TVA in line with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards for new gas turbines, as well as the new EPA carbon rules expected this summer. Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), commented, “These impressive numbers . . . represent a critical step toward mitigating climate change impacts while proving that cleaner energy will protect the air and water in the Tennessee Valley.”

For additional information see: Southern Alliance for Green Energy Blog, Southern Alliance for Green Energy Press Release, TVA Environmental Stewardship Presentation




Court Rules that Climate Scientist Can Carry on Defamation Suit Against Detractors

On January 22, Washington D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected a motion to throw out a defamation suit filed by climate scientist Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and National Review magazine. Michael Mann filed suit against CEI and National Review in 2012 after the National Review republished statements CEI wrote which accused Mann of committing academic fraud and data manipulation in his work on climate change, and additionally called him the “Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” after former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a convicted child molester. In his dismissal, Judge Weisberg said that the accusations against Mann were not opinion, which is protected under the First Amendment, but rather factual allegations. Weisberg wrote, “To state as a fact that a scientist dishonestly molests or tortures data to serve a political agenda would have a strong likelihood of damaging his reputation within his profession, which is the very essence of defamation.” In a statement to Al Jazeera, Mann commented that the accusations of data fraud “. . . have been reviewed by the highest scientific authorities in the land. None of them found any evidence of impropriety. And yet they continue to be laundered by climate-change deniers.”

For additional information see: Al Jazeera, Mother Jones




Study Says Warming Climate Will Decrease Number of Cities Able to Host Winter Olympics

On January 23, a joint study by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck in Australia found that if global surface temperatures rise as predicted, the number of cities able to host the Winter Olympic Games would significantly decrease by the end of the 21st century. The study predicts that by the mid-21st century, renowned past Winter Olympic hosting sites such as Squaw Valley, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Vancouver, and the chosen city for this year's games, Sochi, will no longer be cold enough to comfortably host the games. Only 11 of the 19 previous hosts are expected to still be able to host the games in upcoming decades, decreasing to six by the end of the century. The study also examines weather risk management techniques, which may become more commonplace in further Olympic events. The leader of the study, Daniel Scott, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Global Tourism, writes, "Despite technological advances, there are limits to what current weather risk management strategies can cope with. By the middle of this century, these limits will be surpassed in some former Winter Olympic host regions." The study combined United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios with World Meteorological Organization and national Meteorological Services data to calculate potential surface warming at each of the 19 past hosting locations. Under a low emissions scenario, February temperatures in host locations will warm on average 1.9 degrees Celsius by mid century, rising to 2.7 degrees C by the end of the 21st century. Dr. Robert Steiger, a study partner and scientist at the Management Center Innsbruck, Austria, commented, "Today it would be difficult to imagine successfully delivering the diverse Games program exclusively on natural ice and snow, as it was in the early decades of the Olympic Winter Games."

For additional information see: CBS, Phys.org, University of Waterloo Study




Report Finds Climate Change Is Increasing Health Risks In Bangladesh

On January 27, Dr. Iqbal Kabir presented findings that 61 percent of people living in eight districts of Bangladesh face serious health risks from increasing concentrations of salt in their water due to climate change impacts. The study, conducted by the Bangladesh Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s Climate Change and Health Promotion Unit (CCHUP), reveals increased incidents of water- and food-borne diseases as freshwater has become unavailable to 80 percent of coastal residents in Bangladesh. Researchers interviewed 6,720 people from 224 villages in eight districts in Bangladesh, and found 700 diarrheal cases, 529 pneumonia cases and 245 people suffering from malaria, although none of the districts are traditionally malaria-prone. According to Dr. Kabir, “if the climate change keeps on hitting the country, we’ll need U.S. $2.8 billion to address health problems,” by such means as building water treatment plants that prevent water-borne disease and creating education and training programs for residents, especially women and children who are most vulnerable to the diseases.

For additional information see: The Dhaka Tribune, The Financial Express - Bangladesh




Black Carbon Levels in China and India Twice Previously Suggested Levels, With Major Impacts on United States

On January 27, researchers at Peking University in Beijing released estimates showing black carbon emissions in northeast India and southwest China could be two to three times greater than previously calculated. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a new model to measure the amount of black carbon pollution in the air and found that parts of India and China could have as much as 130 percent higher black carbon concentrations than shown by previous models. Black carbon is a major element of soot, and is generated by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel or biomass. It is the second most powerful climate pollutant behind carbon dioxide.

In related news, on January 20, a second study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Chinese air pollution is contributing to higher levels of smog and air pollution in the western United States. They found as much as 17 percent of the black carbon emissions in China are linked to producing goods for export. “Black carbon contributes to more than six million deaths annually, the majority in Asia,” stated Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Reducing black carbon globally, along with other short-lived climate pollutants, can cut the rate of global warming in half and save millions of lives.”

For additional information see: Live Science, Washington Post, PNAS BC study, PNAS Export study




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Writers: Jenifer Collins, Emily Jackson, Jessie Stolark and Laura Small


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