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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
January 20, 2014

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Senate Committee Holds Hearing to Discuss President Obama’s Climate Task Force

On January 16, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), held a hearing to review federal programs that are part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Testimony was heard from several federal agencies, including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Nancy Sutley, Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) Dan Tangherlini, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe. The hearing centered on key actions related to CAP, including EPA’s new and existing source performance standards for power plants, GSA’s initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions from government agencies by 50 percent in 2013, and Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to protect land and wildlife from sea level rise and climate change. Expert testimony was also heard from Bill Ritter, the Director of the Center for the New Economy and former Governor of Colorado; Dr. Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University; Dr. Daniel Lashof, Director of the Climate and Clean Air Program, Natural Resources Defense Council; and other atmospheric and energy experts. Nancy Sutley commented, “The president believes that we have a moral obligation to our children to do what we can to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of their future.”  

In related news on the same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 41 Republican co-sponsors introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the EPA’s forthcoming regulations of greenhouse gases from power plants, a key part of CAP. During the hearing, Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) commented that the regulation will be an unnecessary burden on poorer, rural areas. The minority side called as a witness Kathleen Harnett White, former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who testified that the administration is trying to implement untested carbon
 sequestration technologies on power plants and, therefore, jeopardizing oil and
gas-related jobs and the US economy.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained,
“I’m prepared to accept that there are going to be economic impacts on families
that you are here to represent . . .  and it’s important that in our solution we address that concern, because that’s a legitimate concern. What I can’t accept is that the coal and oil jobs are the only jobs that are at stake in this discussion . . . I will work with you to a solution that solves our mutual concerns and helps those industries but I am not going to ignore those problems.”

For additional information see: The Guardian, Politico, Stamford Advocate, R.I.Future.org




Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change Talks with Alaskan Village Threatened by Global Warming

On January 14, the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, co-chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), held a roundtable on climate change impacts with five residents of Shishmaref, an Alaskan village threatened by coastal erosion due to climate change. Rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, and melting sea ice are leading to extreme erosion of the village's island coastline, putting the village's infrastructure, sustenance, and homes at risk. One of the panelists, a 17-year-old high school student, explained, "Shishmaref is changing faster than I can grow up." Some members of the community have already begun to relocate, making Shishmaref one of more than 30 Alaskan villages losing their culture and homeland due to climate change. In his opening statement, Rep. Waxman said, "You [Shishmaref residents] understand that unchecked climate change does have consequences. Congress needs to hear you describe how a rapidly changing climate is exacting a tremendous toll on our coastal communities."

For additional information see: Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, Rhode Island Public Radio




Massachusetts Unveils Climate Action Plan

On January 14, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick presented a climate action plan for the state of Massachusetts.  Included in the plan is a $40 million municipal resilience grant program, which will be administered by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to help the state's cities and towns prepare their energy services for extreme weather patterns, using clean energy technologies and microgrids. To reduce the risks associated with sea level rises, the plan earmarks $10 million to restore Massachusetts coastlines, waterways, and infrastructure.  Patrick said during the announcement that climate change is no longer a “theoretical debate,” and he called for immediate action from the state.  "The question is not whether we need to act. We're past that," Patrick said. "The world's climate is changing and human activity is contributing to that change. Massachusetts needs to be ready." The plan included appointment of a state climatologist, and a website that lists resources to assist residents with climate preparedness.  The plan also calls for a statewide vulnerability assessment from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) by 2015, to help the DOT identify and initialize climate adaptation procedures to protect facilities statewide.  Existing funds will pay for $48 million of the $50 million plan, with the remaining $2 million accounted for in Patrick’s 2015 budget proposal.

For additional information see: NECN.com, Westford Patch, Boston.com, Mass Live, Boston Herald




Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Shrinks Its Carbon Cap

On January 13, the nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states 
participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade 
program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, announced their 2014 plan to reduce 
the carbon emissions cap to 91 million pounds a year, 45 percent lower than the
previous level. The successful carbon pollution reduction program plans to further 
strengthen the RGGI cap by declining its level by 2.5 percent each year from 2015 
to 2020, at which time power plant carbon emissions are projected to be half of 
2005 levels in all nine RGGI states. In the previous year, all nine RGGI states
 achieved lower emissions than the cap level. “RGGI is a cost-effective and 
flexible program that can serve as a national model for dramatically reducing 
carbon pollution for other states throughout the nation,” said Kenneth Kimmell,
 commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and 
chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. The RGGI states also announced the first
 interim adjustments to the cap, to account for the banked allowances held by 
market participants before the new cap is implemented. The second adjustment is
scheduled to be announced on March 17, 2014, and applied to each state’s annual 
CO2 allowance budget for 2015-2020. The first auction under the new cap will be
 held on March 5, 2014.

For additional information see: Utility Dive, Fierce Energy, Environmental Protection on line, RGGI Notice




Over 500 Global Investors Discuss Climate Change at the United Nations

On January 15, over 500 leading investors met at the United Nations for
the 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk to express the urgency of investing in
low-carbon technologies, ideally by an additional $1 trillion annually, in 
order to limit climate change to below 2 degrees Celsius. Jack Ehnes, CEO of 
the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (the second largest public 
pension fund in the United States, with $146 billion in assets), commented, “Quite
 simply, there’s a huge clean energy investment gap. Meeting the $1 trillion a
 year goal will be a challenge, but it is where we need to be in order to 
protect and grow our portfolios and to ensure the long-term sustainability of 
our planet.” The event was organized by the sustainable investment coalition
 Ceres, which called it the Clean Trillion Campaign. In a paper released the 
same day as the conference, Ceres outlined a 10-part plan outlining how investors, 
companies and policymakers can help the economy invest $500 billion in clean energy
 annually by 2020, eventually ramping up to $1 trillion annually by 2030.
 Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, said, “Governments and investors have pivotal,
 mutually supportive roles to play in accelerating the transition to the low
 carbon economy - one that can combat climate change, generate jobs and tackle a
range of challenges from natural resource scarcities to health-hazardous air
pollution.”

For additional information see: Ceres Press Release, OilPrice.com, Blue & Green Tomorrow




Executive Secretary of UNFCCC Says China Is Taking Appropriate Action on Climate Change

On January 14, Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), discussed China’s role in combating climate change with Bloomberg News in New York. Although China is the top emitter of harmful greenhouse gases, Figueres said the country has made notable strides in addressing global warming. China’s air pollution problem, largely
 the result of burning coal, has pushed lawmakers to pass energy efficiency and renewable power standards, including tough efficiency standards for buildings and transportation and has improved photovoltaic technology that drastically reduced the cost of solar panels worldwide. Figureres explained, “They’re not [reducing greenhouse gas emissions] because they want to save the planet. 
They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest.” China’s political system makes it easier to pass climate-related legislation, especially when compared to the political divide in the U.S. Congress which, according to Figureres, is “very detrimental” to passing a global climate deal.

For additional information see: Bloomberg News




Canada Reports Rising Carbon Emissions to United Nations

In late December Canada submitted its sixth National Report on Climate Change to the United 
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), revealing that Canada is on track to increase its carbon emissions 11 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, missing the targets it agreed to at the 2009 Copenhagen Accords. The emissions increase will come predominantly from the tar sands in Alberta, where emissions are projected to almost quadruple from 2005 levels by the year 2030, 
to emit more greenhouse gases than many countries. Corinne Le Quere, a Canadian scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said that increasing or maintaining emissions was “simply irresponsible for a country like Canada, given the impacts of climate change that are already taking place.” The report does not indicate how Canada plans to comply with Prime Minister Harper’s commitment at Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

For additional information see: The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, National Report on Climate Change (Canada)




FirstEnergy Agrees to Study Ways to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On January 14, FirstEnergy, one of the largest electric companies in the United States, agreed to study ways to cut its greenhouse gas emissions after getting pressure from shareholders. Over
half of FirstEnergy’s power is sourced from coal. According to Thomas DiNapoli, New York Comptroller, “Many of our energy holdings obviously have been very profitable for us in the short run . . . What we’re trying to ensure is that in the long run that profitability is sustainable. We do see tremendous risk if issues of climate change are not incorporated into corporate strategy.” A report from Ernst & Young shows that the amount of shareholder submissions grew in 2013, with a large portion of the submissions involving environmental and social proposals, including climate change. Mr. Dan Bikal, director of electric power programs at Ceres, a network of investors, companies, and public interest groups, noted, “companies are not likely to respond or make commitments unless they think there’s some significant portion of their shareholders that are going to be interested.”

For additional information see: New York Times




Risky Business Initiative Announces Committee to Assess Economic Impacts of Climate Change

On January 13, the Risky Business initiative announced its Risk Committee membership, a group of experts that will oversee the creation of a report that quantifies the risks to economic sectors engendered by climate change. The Risk Committee members will be responsible for reviewing 
the initiative’s climate risk assessment, and then disseminating it through the industries and markets in the regions that will face the greatest challenges. Kate Gordon, executive director of Risky Business, commented, “energy and climate are inherently regional issues, and most regions of the U.S. lack a good quantitative analysis of the risks they face from catastrophic climate change.” The Risky Business co-chairs Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer all sit on the Committee, which is composed of prominent politicians and business leaders. According to Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, “these new members of our Risk Committee have deep expertise across different sectors of the American economy, and they will be instrumental in helping us develop the rigorous metrics we need to battle climate change effectively.” Committee members are Henry Cisneros (former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), Gregory Page (Chair of the Board of Cargill, Inc), Robert Rubin (former US Secretary of the Treasury), George Shultz (former US Secretary of State, Treasury and Labor), Donna Shalala (former US Secretary of Health and Human Services), Olympia Snowe (former US Senator of Maine), and Al Sommer (Dean
 Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health). The Initiative is a project of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Office of Hank Paulson and Next Generation. Their report is to be released in the summer of 2014.

For additional information see: Grist, Risky Business Statement, Risky Business Press Release




Voluntary Carbon Standard Will No Longer Offer HFC-23 Credits

On January 9, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the world’s leading voluntary greenhouse gas program, announced that it will no longer approve new methodologies or projects relating to hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23). HFC-23 warms the climate 11,700 times more than an equivalent
amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), and is produced as an unwanted by product of the manufacture of hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), an ozone-depleting gas being phased-out under the Montreal Protocol. Due to its high global warming potential (GWP), manufacturers can make money on the carbon credits they receive for the destruction of HFC-23. Such projects have come under fire
 by environmental groups who argue they are incentivizing companies to manufacture more greenhouse gases, undermining the purpose of carbon markets. When announcing the ban, the VCS stated that the Montreal Protocol was the appropriate mechanism for addressing HFC-23 emissions, although they noted that they would reconsider offering credits if there was insufficient
progress on international regulations. Currently, parties to the Montreal Protocol are seeking an agreement to phase out HFCs (see April 22 2013 issue). “Knowing how much the Montreal Protocol has already done to protect the climate and how much it can do in the future by phasing down HFCs should give us a sense of urgent optimism that we can still meet the challenge of climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington, DC.

For additional information see: VCS Announcement, Reuters, Business Spectator, Ecosystem Marketplace




DOE Says Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels Rose in 2013

On January 13, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the analytical branch of the Department of Energy, published a study stating that U.S. energy emissions in 2013 were roughly two percent higher than in 2012. The increase in emissions can be attributed to coal power, which saw a comeback after diminishing use in the past several years due to lowered economic activity from the recession and competition from cleaner-burning natural gas. Power plants burned more coal during 2013 due to a drop in coal prices, and a rise in natural gas prices. However, according to the EIA, “The impact on overall emissions trends remains fairly small." Thomas Peterson, head of the Center for Climate Strategies, commented, “Even though emissions are up, they're probably not up as much as they would have been if we hadn't put in a number of state and federal policies on energy efficiency, renewable energy and other low-emitting sources.”

For additional information see: Inside Climate News, LA Times




Land-based Glacier in Antarctica Now Irreversibly Melting

On January 12, a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that Antarctica’s 68,000 square mile Pine Island Glacier is melting faster now, with “irreversible” damage. The researchers found that the grounding line, a line which separates the grounded ice sheet and the floating ice shelf, has retreated by tens of kilometers and is likely to retreat another 30 kilometers over the next decades. They also find that the glacier will be melting at an accelerating rate, contributing to about 3.5 to 10mm rise to global sea levels by 2034. “The Pine Island Glacier shows the biggest changes in this area at the moment, but if it is unstable, it may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet," said Dr. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson, researcher from the British Antarctic Survey and one of the authors of the study. The study, conducted by an international team of scientists from the CSC-IT Center for Science in Finland, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, combined field observations and three ice-flow computer models to forecast the glacier’s current and future behavior in the coming decades.

For additional information see: BBC, Independent, International Business Times, Study




Study Reveals Nuanced Public Sentiment on Geoengineering Climate

On January 12, the journal Nature Climate Change published research quantifying public sentiment on various methods of climate geoengineering, which is the method of altering the atmosphere so it absorbs less heat, through the addition of reflective aerosol particles, carbon sequestration, or other means. The scientists found that 66 percent of the polled population had negative associations with the idea of geoengineering, most often choosing to describe climate engineering by using the offered terms “unknown effects” and “risky.” Of these negative associations, the most negative responses were for mirrors in space, followed by aerosol particles. Sequestration techniques were rated 
positively by about half of respondents. The six geoengineering techniques to mitigate climate change included two methods to increase the rate of sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in charcoal and limestone, filtering out CO2 from the atmosphere, spreading aerosol particles into the stratosphere to
reflect sunlight, spraying seawater over the open ocean to reflect sunlight (cloud brightening) and placing large mirrors or sunshades in earth’s orbit to reflect the sun. Using marketing research-techniques, researchers from Massey University in New Zealand and South Hampton University in England polled 2,000 individuals in Australia and New Zealand. Only 18 percent of respondents had 
heard of geoengineering prior to participation in the poll. Co-author Damon Teagle, Professor of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, commented,  “[since] even the concept of climate engineering is highly controversial, there is pressing need to consult the public and understand their concerns before policy decisions are made."

For additional information see: ABC Science, Pacific Standard Magazine, UPI, Study




Other Headlines



Writers: Jenifer Collins, Mengpin Ge, Jessie Stolark and Laura Small


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