Climate Change News

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Climate Change News
Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 6, 2009


US Must Lead in Climate Negotiations, World Leaders Say

During the week of March 2, several world leaders convened in Washington, DC, to discuss with top US officials the prospects for upcoming UN climate negotiations. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting will take place in Copenhagen in December to negotiate a potential successor to the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012. Several leaders expressed a desire to see the United States play a leadership role in upcoming talks, based upon President Obama’s support for binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.  “President Obama's commitment is a very significant and very welcome advance on previous US policy and will in that sense have a positive effect on others' willingness to come forward,” said Ed Miliband, the UK’s Minister on Climate and Energy. The Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard, emphasized the momentum created by US engagement in climate talks:  “As soon as the US administration and this House (of Representatives) and Senate can sort of come up with the American position, the more strong the pressure will be on all of us” at the UN conference.

Todd Stern, Obama’s special envoy for climate change, called upon Congress to pass climate legislation before December’s negotiations, saying “nothing would give a more powerful signal to other countries than to see a significant, major, mandatory plan” from the United States. In UN negotiations that took place last year in Bali, a road map was created that called for industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020.  Stern reiterated Obama's goal of returning US emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, saying that anything beyond that was “not possible.”  Stern noted that the United States could compensate by making swifter reductions beyond 2020 and that Obama supports a plan that reduces GHG emissions to roughly 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.

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California Issues Proposal for Low-Carbon Fuel Standard

On March 5, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a draft of its proposed low-carbon fuel standard as part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The proposed rules would lower GHG emissions from California's fuel 10 percent by 2020 with the percentage increasing in subsequent years and is projected to reduce carbon emissions by 16 million metric tons by 2020. It would result in the replacement of 20 percent of the fossil fuel used by California cars with cleaner alternatives by 2020, including electricity, biofuels, hydrogen and other options, the board said. One area of debate is how to quantify indirect land use changes, a calculation that effectively assigns high carbon intensity to some biofuels in relation to other fuels. “There are some instances where the production of certain fuels - such as sugar cane in Brazil or palm oil in other parts of the world - replaces food production and drives the conversion of other habitats into food production,” CARB spokesman Stanley Young said. “And when you do that, it increases carbon dioxide emissions.”  A letter criticizing the board's methods, released by the New Fuels Alliance, an ethanol industry group, was signed by 111 scientists, including researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. The board plans to vote on the rules at its April 23 meeting.

For additional information see:,0,2382098.story


British Prime Minister Visits US Congress, Discusses Climate Change

On March 4, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to a joint session of Congress, calling for leadership in recovering the global economy and battling climate change.  Brown called the United States “the indispensable nation” in forging a “historic agreement” at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December.  Brown said, “I believe you, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with a vision to protect and preserve our planet Earth.”  When discussing the movement away from fossil fuels, he said, “For climate change, energy price stability and energy security we need to act.” Brown also said that he hoped the G20 meeting on April 2 would help coordinate green stimulus spending from China and the United States.  “I don't think we will have the strength of recovery we need, unless as a central part of that there is a low-carbon recovery.”  

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US Emissions Rose 1.4 Percent in 2007

On March 4, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased 1.4 percent in 2007 over the previous year. In total, 7.1 billion tons of CO2 (or its equivalent in other gases) were emitted over the year, due primarily to an increase in CO2 emissions, related to an increase in electricity use and fuel consumption, according to the EPA. Overall, emissions have grown 17.1 percent from 1990 to 2007. While CO2 made up the majority (85.4 percent) of GHG emissions in 2007, the inventory also measured methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. The public has 30 days to comment on the report, “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2007.”

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Thousands Rally at Capitol Power Plant, House Abandons Purchase of Carbon Offsets

On March 2, several thousand demonstrators marched in front of the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, DC, in hopes of urging Congress to pass climate change legislation, as well as calling on Congress to use a cleaner energy supply for its power plant.  The 99-year-old plant produces steam and chilled water to heat and cool buildings throughout the Capitol complex, and accounts for one-third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.   Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said, “We are holding it up as a symbol for how we can and must do better.”  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reduced the amount of power generated by coal to 35 percent, compared to 49 percent in 2007.  

On February 26, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol asking to review the possibility of converting the entire plant to run on natural gas. The letter was sent the same week the House announced it was abandoning its plan to be carbon neutral.  The plan was part of the “Green the Capitol” program launched by the House in 2007. The initiative has successfully implemented major changes in the way the Hill “moves, walks, and eats.” Some of the actions included supplying 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, developing a composting system and replacing lightbulbs.  The House had purchased $89,000 in carbon offsets during the 2007 and 2008 session to cancel its remaining CO2 emissions, but recently stopped this purchase because of concerns over whether the investment actually resulted in carbon neutrality.  House Spokesman Jeff Ventura said, “Although original ‘carbon neutrality’ targets were achieved [in the last Congress], we recognize a widely accepted standard for 'absolute neutrality' does not exist, nor is there any formal accreditation process to certify an organization is carbon neutral. . . . Therefore, the second phase of Green the Capitol will focus on the continued reduction of carbon and the saving of energy through operational improvements.”

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Nominations on Hold for Top Two Science Posts  

On March 3, The Washington Post reported that the nominations of John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco for the top positions at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), respectively, have been put on hold due to unrelated political leveraging on the Hill.  The hold was believed to be placed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for reasons unrelated to the two scientists or their positions.  Holdren, a Harvard University physicist, and Lubchenco, an Oregon State University marine biologist, testifies at their confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on February 12, and are expected to be nominated when the hold is lifted.  In response to the delay, Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist for Oceana, said, “Climate change damages our oceans more every day we fail to act. . . . We need these two supremely qualified individuals on the job yesterday.”

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EPA Holds Hearing to Consider Auto Emissions Ruling

On March 5, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public hearing in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss whether to grant California a Clean Air Act waiver to set tougher auto emissions standards than the federal government.  Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resource Board, told the EPA that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cause global warming, which is “more pronounced” in the state and threatens air quality, water supplies, and fire risks.  Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have already pledged to adopt the California standards if they are approved.  The standard calls for a cut in GHG emissions of 30 percent in new cars and trucks by 2016, equivalent to fuel economy of about 35 miles per gallon (mpg).  By 2020, the standard would rise to more than 40 mpg, compared to the current federal minimum of 35 mpg by 2020.          

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) have opposed the California standard, saying that a national GHG emissions standard would be more efficient and less costly for the industry.  “As long as the federal government is taking unified aggressive action, various state requirements would pose immense costs and provide little environmental benefit,” said Mike Stanton, president of AIAM.  Supporters of the California initiative agreed that a national standard is likely, but that the process could be long, and the standards set by the federal government should be at least as aggressive as California’s proposal.  Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley stated, “Since the EPA will ultimately have to set federal standards at least as strict as those already set by California, the debate about whether there should be one set of national standards is in the end much ado about nothing. . . . We are urging the agency to grant the California waiver while it proceeds to put federal standards in place that will establish national standards at least as strict.”

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Kansas House Passes Coal Bill

On February 27, the Kansas House passed a bill allowing Sunflower Energy Power Corp. to build two coal-fired power plants in western Kansas.  The vote of 79-44 was five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto by the state’s Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius.  The measure will move to the Senate, where Republican House Speaker Mike O’Neal said, “I expect to get the 84 when we get to that point.”  Sunflower Energy has argued that the coal plants will create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs, stabilize electric rates for the region, and generate billions in economic activity.  Republican Representative Pat Colloton voted against the coal plants last year but did vote for them this year, saying, “A year ago I didn’t feel the economic impact argument was as compelling. . . . Well, this is a very different year.”  House Minority Leader Paul Davis was not concerned about the House passage of the bill and said, “I don't think there's ever been 84 votes and there won't be 84 votes.”  

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EU Fails to Pledge Climate Aid to Poor Nations  

On March 2, the European Union (EU) environment ministers met in Brussels in advance of the UN climate negotiations scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December.  A key issue discussed was the financing needed to aid developing countries in reducing their respective greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as to be more capable of adaptation.  Little progress was made in ground rules for helping developing countries, as the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas noted, “We were not quite able to reach consensus on the financing mechanism. This is an issue where the (EU) council (of nations) will need more discussion time.”  The EU did agree that 175 billion Euros per year by 2020 was required to meet emission targets, and recommended that over half of that amount be intended for developing countries.”  Two funding paths were considered, including requiring developed countries to contribute an amount based on their wealth and allowable emissions or transferring a certain percentage of each developed nation’s emission rights for auction to governments that cannot cover all their emissions, with the revenue going to poor economies.  Following the meeting, Greenpeace EU climate and energy policy director Joris den Blanken said, “While billions of taxpayers' money is being used to prop up failed banks and carmakers, not one euro cent is being pledged to help the developing world tackle a problem that Europeans helped create.”  The matter will now be discussed by the EU finance ministers during their March 10 meeting, before ending up in front of heads of state at the European Union summit on March 19-20.          

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Halve Emissions from Cars by 2050, Global Auto Industry Told

On March 4, the “50 by 50” Global Fuel Economy Initiative was launched at the Geneva Motor Show.  The group is made up of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Energy Agency (IEA), International Transport Forum and Formula-1 racing body FIA, which presented a global challenge to automakers to make their autos capable of running on 50 percent less gasoline per mile or kilometer by 2050.  Due to the projected increase in the number of autos, this would act as an emissions stabilizer rather than reduction from a baseline year of 2005.  UNEP’s executive director Achim Steiner said, “The world's car fleet is expected to triple by 2050 with 80 percent of this in developing economies,” and added that the auto industry produces nearly a quarter of global CO2 emissions.  The report claimed that the cut would result in global oil import savings of $300 billion-plus per year by 2025, and $600 billion by 2050.  Though the initiative was not officially endorsed by any auto manufacturers at the Geneva Motor Show, it was generally supported by the industry.  Steiner noted, “This is a building block to make the transport sector part of the solution to the carbon problem.”

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Emissions Exchange Trading Volumes Soar in 2009

On March 4, the exchange-traded volumes for European Union (EU) emissions permits and Kyoto Protocol carbon offsets traded in 2009 were reported to be double the average for 2008.  At nearly 700 million tons of CO2, the volumes traded in February were 61 percent above the volume traded in January, and 147 percent more than the monthly average in 2008.  At a weighted average price of 9.68 Euros, the total trade value was estimated to be $8.49 billion, consisting primarily of European Union Allowances (EUAs) used in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme, and Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) which are project-based carbon offsets issued by the United Nations.  Over six European exchanges were used, but the bulk of the trading was done on London's European Climate Exchange and Paris's BlueNext.  February’s large upsurge in market activity is attributed in large part to the state of the global economy and the need by firms to raise short-term cash by selling EUAs prior to the issuance of 2009 permits, which were issued February 28.   

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UN Report Warns Fishing Industry on Climate Change  

On March 2, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Oceana released two related reports on the worsening condition of the ocean’s fisheries due to over-fishing, aquaculture, and climate change.  Margot Stiles, the lead author for Oceana’s report “Hungry Oceans,” said, “We've caught all the big fish and now we're going after their food. . . . We're stealing the ocean's food supply; these are fish that we basically never used to eat.”  Diminishing supplies of larger fish, such as salmon and tuna, have turned commercial fishing industries to smaller species, such as herring, sardines, squid and krill.  These ‘prey’ fish are caught not only for human consumption, but are also used to feed larger fish bred through aquaculture.  The FAO report titled “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” (SOFIA) estimated that aquaculture has grown from about 6 percent of fish available for human consumption in 1970 to about 47 percent in 2006.  Both reports contended that climate change adds new problems because prey fish are particularly sensitive to warm temperatures and prey populations have collapsed from heavy fishing following warm periods.  The FAO report said that climate change already is “affecting the seasonality of biological processes, altering marine and freshwater food webs, with unpredictable consequences for fish production.”  Along with recommendations to develop sounder fishing policies, Kevern Cochrane, one of the SOFIA authors, suggested fishing communities must strengthen their resilience to climate change.

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China Plans 59 Reservoirs to Collect Meltwater from its Shrinking Glaciers

On March 2, China announced it was planning to build 59 reservoirs to collect the glacial water that is rapidly melting off glaciers in the western province of Xinjiang.  The Xinjiang Water Resource Department, led by Wang Shijiang, is taking these proactive steps to “intercept” the meltwater so that it can be adjusted for seasonal variations in rainfall and be used more efficiently for irrigation. Xinjiang will set aside 200m yuan (20 million Euros) for each of the next three years to begin the first phase involving the construction of the initial 29 reservoirs.  Citizens in Xinjiang have had plentiful water supplies recently but will likely face shortages during this century.  The first measured glacier in China, Urumqi No. 1, has lost 20 percent of its volume since 1962, and the Urumqi's glacial water supplies are estimated to start declining in 40 to 100 years.  He Yuanqing, a glaciologist at Careeri, said, “At the moment there is plenty of water in the big cities. But it is hard to say how long it will last. . . . On one hand, global warming is accelerating the melt. But on the other, it is increasing rainfall, so we need a way to store the extra water.”

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Explorers Begin Arctic Trek to Study Global Warming  

On February 28, three British explorers began a 1000 kilometer ski expedition to the North Pole to gather measurements on the thickness of the ice.  The study will provide scientists with greater detail to support satellite data which has shown the area of Arctic sea-ice to be shrinking in recent years.  One of the explorers, Pen Hadow, explained, “We're making the surface journey because that's the only way we have of gathering these direct observations of how thick the snow and the ice is. That's what the scientists really need to know.”  Scientists believe the sea-ice is melting at an increasing rate due to warming air temperatures above the ice and warmer waters below.  Professor Wieslaw Maslowski, an Arctic ice modeler and adviser to the study, estimated that the Arctic could experience an “ice-free” summer as soon as 2013.  The survey could potentially provide significant evidence of this trend and more generally allow for a better understanding of the effects of climate change.  The study is expected to be completed by late May. “If, as scientists tell us, the ice is thinning quickly, then it should set alarm bells ringing around the world,” Hadow said.

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Climate Change Bad News for Most Birds

On March 4, the online journal PLoS ONE published a study which drew a connection between recent population changes of individual bird species in Europe and their projected future range changes due to climate change.  Lead author Dr. Richard Gregory of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, “Although we have only a very small actual rise in global average temperatures, it is staggering to realize how much change we are noticing in wildlife populations.”  The study showed that for every bird that was impacted positively by climate change, there were three types of birds that were impacted negatively.  Fellow author Dr. Stephen Willis of Durham University noted, “In the past, climate change has affected wildlife in these islands. . . . However, species have adapted because these changes were relatively gradual. But what is happening now is so rapid, birds simply cannot adapt, and so face extinction.”  In particular, birds located in regions such as the mountains may lack an escape from the warming temperatures as they encroach northward.  Gregory concluded, “We must keep global temperature rise below the two degree ceiling; anything above this will create global havoc.”  

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Other Headlines

EPA Awards Scientists for Research Linking Ozone Treaty to Climate Protection      

NY Governor Draws Fire in Shift on Emissions

Maryland Senate Passes Climate Legislation, Next Step is House,0,35812....

Tennessee Offer to Offset Carbon Tax Credited in Deals

African Mayors Agree to Combat Climate Change

South Africa Likely to Set Binding Climate Change Policy in 3 Years

Canadian Orbiter Gauges CO2 Like Failed NASA Satellite

Global Warming Could Delay, Weaken Monsoons

Chinese Earthquake Mudslides Emitted Large Amounts of Greenhouse Gases

Indonesia Applies for World Bank Forest Carbon Offsets


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