Climate Change News

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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
January 27, 2014


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Green Groups Say White House Needs to Get More Aggressive on Climate Change/ John Podesta Defends White House Climate Strategy

On January 16, 18 environmental, environmental justice, and public health advocacy groups published a letter to President Obama urging him to drop his “all of the above” energy strategy, which promotes oil, coal, and natural gas alongside renewable energy sources. The letter suggests that the White House should subject all decisions on new fossil fuel development to a strict climate test, and urges that the “all of the above” energy strategy be replaced by a “carbon-reducing clean energy” one. The authors note that the administration must soon make decisions concerning the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in Alaska, and they encourage the White House to make climate impacts a critical consideration in these decisions. While the letter says the Obama administration has made moves to tackle climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants and improving fuel efficiency, Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice and one of the letter signatories, added “the president has in many places supported expansion of fossil fuel development and extraction . . .  under his ‘all of the above policy,’ after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf, the president approved a record number of offshore oil rigs.” This letter came on the same day the American Petroleum Institute and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) both launched attacks on the President’s energy policy, hoping to move the country in the opposite direction.

On January 17, a day after the release of the green groups’ letter, John Podesta, senior advisor to the president on energy and environment issues, wrote back to them. Podesta said he was “surprised” that the groups wrote such a letter, adding, “the President has been leading the transition to low-carbon energy sources, and understands the need to consider a balanced approach to all forms of energy development, including oil and gas production.” Podesta did not directly address the main point of the original letter, that the Obama administration is undercutting its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging fossil fuel production. However, he outlined many of the administration’s efforts under the Climate Action Plan announced in June 2013, including the first carbon pollution standards for power plants, efforts to limit the release of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), new Department of Energy (DOE) energy efficiency standards, and additional fuel economy standards for heavy duty vehicles.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Grist, Washington Post, The Hill, John Podesta Letter, Green Groups Letter

World Leaders Meeting in Davos Push for Climate Action

On January 22, roughly 40 world leaders and 1,500 business leaders congregated in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, which includes a full day of conversations on the economic costs of climate change. During one of the 23 scheduled sessions on climate change and energy policy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will discuss President Obama’s domestic global warming agenda. McCarthy commented she wanted to ensure “climate change is understood as [a] fundamental economic decision going forward.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christina Figueres and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will both address climate change issues on Friday, the designated “climate day.” To coincide with the event, the World Economic Forum released its annual report on the top ten risks facing the world economy: climate change, water crises and extreme weather all made the list.

For additional information see: SF Gate, New York Times, Responding to Climate Change, Pew Research

European Union Proposes Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions 40 Percent by 2030

On January 22, the European Union announced a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. To meet this goal, the E.U.’s 28 member countries would need to invest a total of 38 billion euros ($52 billion) annually during the next decade. The plan calls for an E.U.-wide carbon reduction target, instead of extending renewable energy targets for individual member states. The European Environment Bureau (EEB) has said the carbon limit should be at least 60 percent, with EEB Secretary General Jeremy Wates adding, “the Commission’s proposal falls well short of what science tells us is needed to address the devastating consequences of climate change.” According to E.U. Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, “the 40 percent greenhouse gas target is probably the maximum of what can be achievable,” due to opposition from fossil fuel-reliant nations, such as Poland. The E.U.’s long-term plan is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 80 percent by 2050.

For additional information see: Bloomberg News, New York Times, The Guardian

Japan Makes Carbon Offset Deal with Palau Islands

On January 13, Nobuteru Ishihara, the Japanese Minister of the Environment, and Charles Obichang, the Palaun Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industry and Commerce, signed a carbon offset agreement establishing a Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) which will be operated by both nations. The agreement rewards Japanese businesses with carbon credits for helping Palau reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by using low carbon technology from Japanese firms such as Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc. The new technology will improve Palau's environmental and economic standing. In the agreement, both governments say they will avoid counting any climate mitigation measures implemented under the JCM to fulfill other international climate mitigation requirements. Japan currently has nine other JCM agreements with Mongolia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Maldives, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos and Costa Rica.

For additional information see: Reuters UK, Environmental Leader, Meti

Climate Change Presents New Mining Opportunities in Greenland

On January 21 at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Norway, Greenland Prime Minister Alequa Hammond advocated for Greenland’s complete autonomy from Denmark, hoping that Greenland’s newly uncovered mineral deposits, including uranium, will help finance its economy. The melting polar ice cap in Greenland is unlocking some of the world’s largest rare earth element deposits, and could break China’s monopoly on the material that is a critical component in materials ranging from electronic devices to renewable energy technologies. The Prime Minister commented, “We have to adapt because the ice is disappearing . . . but climate change gives us a new chance to survive because our minerals [will] become accessible.” The move to open mines and export uranium is not favored by Denmark, who still provides $655 million USD to Greenland, covering about half the island’s annual budget. Greenland’s primarily Inuit population has relied on hunting as its main industry, but that may change as global warming affects animal populations. Planned mining operations in Greenland have not gone smoothly thus far, with proposals having been rejected on health and safety grounds.  Mining operations would shift the cultural landscape, too, as Greenland’s population of 56,000 could quickly be dwarfed by migrant workers. These issues are being addressed in laws that will protect worker safety and wages as well as the environment, according to Hammond. Hammond commented, “the self-governance act says all minerals belong to the people of Greenland.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Arab News, Sydney Morning Herald

New Report Details Executive Actions the White House Could Take on Climate Change

On January 21, the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University released a report with 200 recommendations on how President Obama could use executive authority to advance his Climate Action Plan (CAP). The report grew out of a meeting last year between the President and Bill Ritter, former Colorado Governor and Director of CNEE, and was developed with input from over 100 CEOs and experts from research and policy. The report contains five action areas: doubling energy efficiency, financing renewable energy, more responsible natural gas production, alternative fuels and vehicles development and assisting utilities in adapting to new forms of energy. The President’s Cabinet, senior White House staff, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, as well as top officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), General Services Administration (GSA) and White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) were briefed on the report in January. The report recommends a “best of the above” energy strategy, instead of the President’s current “all of the above” strategy. Heather Zichal, former White House energy and climate policy advisor, who contributed to the report, remarked “the president is going to put pressure on his agencies to identify areas of opportunity,” in order to meet the President’s goal of 17 percent emissions reduction relative to 2005 levels by 2020.  

For additional information see: Reuters,,

BP Study Predicts Rise of Worldwide Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On January 15, British Petroleum (BP) released its annual Energy Outlook, forecasting energy markets and associated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to 2035. The report finds that CO2 emissions are expected to rise 29 percent, with the majority of emissions coming from emerging economies. Although nuclear, hydropower and renewable energy are projected to each take on five to seven percent of global market shares by 2035, carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal will continue to be dominant, with 26 to 27 percent of the global market each by 2035. The shift in emissions from the developed to the developing world comes primarily from energy efficiency, says BP Chief Economist Christof Ruhl, “people are finding ways to use energy more efficiently . . . CO2 emissions in the US are back at 1990s’ levels.” Despite the global shift away from coal to natural gas, additional cuts to greenhouse gas emissions will be needed to curtail the most dangerous effects of climate change. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted that CO2 emissions must peak by 2020 to avoid warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, a level that is widely seen as irreversible and catastrophic.

For additional information see: British Petroleum, The Guardian

European Publisher Terminates Peer-Reviewed Climate Denial Journal for Faulty Science

On January 17, Copernicus Publications, a European publisher, ceased publication of the scientific journal Pattern Recognition in Physics after it released a special issue in December which Copernicus officials deemed to have gone through “malpractice regarding the review process.” The managing director of Copernicus Publications became concerned when the editors of the special issue “Patterns in Solar Variability, their Planetary Origins and Terrestrial Impacts” concluded they “doubt the continued, even accelerated, [global] warming as claimed by the IPCC project.” After examination, Copernicus Publications withdrew support for the 10-month-old publication, finding that the referees for the peer review process were selected on a nepotistic basis. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, also noted that some of the published articles by Sid-Ali Ouadfeul, a geophysicist at the Algerian Petroleum Institute, contained self-plagiarism. One of the editors in question, Nils-Axel Morner, who publicly questions climate change, has argued that “all papers were excellently reviewe[d].”

For additional information see: Science, Pattern Recognition in Physics

Researchers Find 5,900 Methane Leaks In Washington, DC

On January 16, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology uncovered nearly 5,900 methane gas leaks in Washington D.C.’s cast iron pipeline system. The researchers found 12 leaks from manholes with a concentration high enough to be deemed ‘potentially explosive,’ as well as less dangerous leaks, including 1,112 that displayed concentrations 2.5 times usual levels, and several others with concentrations of up to 45 times the usual. While the non-explosive levels of methane do not pose a direct health or safety risk, they are strong drivers of climate change, as methane is a greenhouse gas 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2). In early January and February of last year, a team of Duke and Boston University researchers examined 1,500 miles of streets in Washington, D.C. with a spectrometer that helped them to distinguish pipe leaks, via traces of hydrocarbons propane and ethane, from organically occurring methane. This enabled them to determine that the high concentrations of methane likely stem from natural gas, contrary to an earlier statement from Betty Ann Kane, chairwoman of the D.C. Public Service Commission, who said, “a large part of the District is reclaimed swampland, so you just get naturally occurring methane.” Robert P. Jackson, lead researcher and Duke University environmental sciences professor, commented, “We have a tremendous opportunity to fix something that has tremendous financial, health and climate benefits.” The study recommended financial incentives and targeted programs to replace the aging cast-iron pipes.

For additional information see: The Washington Post, Climate Central, Environmental Science and Technology

NOAA Names 2013 Fourth Warmest Year Since Records Began

On January 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its global climate report for 2013, which found that 2013 tied with 2003 as the fourth warmest year since records began in 1880. The all-time warmest years were 2010, 2005 and 1998. Last year was the 37th consecutive year in which the combined global temperature of 0.62 degrees Celsius (1.12 degrees Fahrenheit) was above the 20th century average of 13.9 degrees C (57.0 degrees F), according to NOAA's report. The report further states that the entire 13 year span of 2000-2013 is considered among the 15 warmest periods in the entire 134 years on record.

For additional information see: Reporting Climate Science, NOAA, NOAA

Climate Change May Double Incidence of Extreme El Nino Events

On January 19, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that extreme El Nino events are going to occur more often due to global climate change. The term “El Nino” refers to a pattern that occurs every 3-7 years where warm water stretches across the surface of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, influencing weather around the world.  The research team found that the likelihood of “super” El Nino events doubled from one every 20 years to one every 10 years in the 21st century due to increased surface temperature of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean from climate change. Impacts from past super El Ninos include landslides, wildfires, heavy rains, and other destructive events that resulted in billions of dollars of damage and thousands of deaths. Researchers used 20 climate models to deduce ocean temperatures and rainfall in the region where El Nino occurs, with and without increases in greenhouse gases. According to Mike McPhaden of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “this is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results.” There is debate among the scientific community on whether or not these results can be attributed solely to climate change, and not other natural climate patterns as well.

For additional information see: Climate Central, USA Today, Study

Study Finds that White Roofs Are Most Cost-Effective and Climate-Friendly

A recent study, published in the March 2014 volume of Energy and Buildings, found that white roofs are the most economical and climate-beneficial roofing option over a 50-year lifespan. White roofs are less expensive to install and maintain than vegetative roofs, also known as green roofs, and reflect three times the amount of sunlight as a green roof, therefore, offsetting more of the global warming effect of greenhouse gases. The report notes that building managers who are more concerned with the local environment than global warming may still choose to install green roofs for their stormwater management benefits, natural aesthetic and the surface area cooling associated with the rainfall they capture. The authors add, “We leave open the possibility that other factors may make green roofs more attractive or more beneficial options in certain scenarios. The relative costs and benefits do vary by circumstance.” Black roofs were found to be unhealthy because they captured sunlight and raised the ambient temperature of the building instead of reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere, in addition to an overall greater life-cycle cost in comparison to white roofs. The report suggested building codes be implemented that phase out black roofs.

For additional information see: San Francisco Business Times, Phys Org, Green Energy News, Study

Other Headlines

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

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