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Climate Change News
Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 12, 2008


UN Climate Negotiations Near End in Poznan

On December 12, delegates entered the final day of negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland, with the hope of creating a blueprint for talks next December in Copenhagen, Denmark. The UN hopes to have a new global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2009 to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. One development that has come out of the talks was a decision to give the UN’s Adaptation Fund governing board the authority to directly disburse money to developing countries to finance projects ranging from sea walls and improved water systems to training in new agricultural techniques. “This is an important step,” said delegate Mozaharul Alam of Bangladesh.

Among the many issues discussed at the climate negotiations is the issue of the amount of emissions reductions that developed and developing countries should commit to and by when. Speaking on behalf of 130 developing countries plus China, John Ashe, Antigua’s ambassador to the UN, said the attitude of the rich countries “borders on the immoral and is counterproductive.” To spur global collective action, Mexico's environment secretary, Juan Rafael Elvira, announced his country's plan to cut its greenhouse gas emission levels 50 percent below 2002 levels by 2050. The move makes Mexico the only developing country to set a voluntary national target below current levels, said Antonio Hill, senior policy adviser for Oxfam.

Around 11,000 participants from more than 190 countries gathered in Poznan from December 1-12, including US Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), along with several Congressional staff. On the sidelines of the talks in Poznan, Kerry predicted that the US Senate will let President-elect Barack Obama sign a UN pact to fight global warming in late 2009 even if US climate legislation is not yet in place. US legislation might have passed “a couple of committees” but might not have reached the full Senate “because of the economic situation and the budget issues and other things,” Kerry said. But Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that China, India and Russia would also have to promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions for the Senate to support any new global agreement.

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UN Climate Adaptation Fund to Receive More Funds

On December 6, the UN Adaptation Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to developing nations for adaptation to climate change, announced that it may not be able to hold meetings next year due to diminishing funds. “Adaptation is really becoming an issue now—impacts are increasing, countries are becoming more vulnerable,” said Richard Muyungi, a Tanzanian government official who chairs the Fund. “Estimates say (the fund) will barely reach $900 million by 2012, but this is not enough in terms of the needs of countries for adaptation, so it's high time for (governments) to put money in.” 

On December 12, Mozaharul Alam, a delegate from Bangladesh, announced that ministers and senior officials would give the Fund’s governing board the authority to disperse funds directly to developing countries. Until now, the Fund board could not operate because its board was not allowed to approve and sign those contracts. The fund is derived from a 2 percent levy on offset investments that industrial nations make on green projects in the developing world. “This could be the one thing to come out of Poznan,” said Kit Vaughan of WWF-Britain.

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Obama Set to Announce New Energy Team

On December 10, an official with the Obama transition team announced the President-elect has chosen candidates for the posts of Energy Secretary, Adminstrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and new senior post within the White House on climate and energy policy.  Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu will head the Department of Energy, while former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Lisa Jackson will lead the EPA and former EPA administrator Carol Browner will be the in-house expert.  Chu is coming from his position as the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  During his tenure, Chu sought to make the laboratory “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy,” according the laboratory’s website.  Obama’s selections have garnered support from the environmental community.  “These are . . . wins for the environment,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defense Council.

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Obama and Gore Meet to Discuss Energy and Climate

On December 9, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden met with former Vice President Al Gore to discuss climate change and renewable energy options as Obama prepares to take office in January.  “All three of us are in agreement that the time for delay is over. The time for denial is over,” Obama said after the meeting.  Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work educating the public on climate change, notably through his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, leads the Alliance for Climate Protection, and has informally advised Obama on environmental issues before.  Obama emphasized the importance of fighting climate change to the United States as a whole, beyond environmental reasons.  “We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, in all 50 states, to re-power America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we're saving the planet,” Gore said.

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California Set to Adopt Sweeping Global Warming Plan

On December 11, California adopted the nation’s first comprehensive climate change plan, calling for a return to 1990 emissions levels over 12 years (equivalent to a 15 percent reduction of current emissions), and for one-third of electricity generation to come from renewable sources.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger said the plan will “unleash the full force of California's innovation and technology for a healthier planet.”  California regulators say it could serve as a model for national legislation under President-elect Obama.  Combining a cap-and-trade system with new efficiency regulations, targets were established for nearly all sectors of the economy—including transportation, buildings, and refineries—sparking concerns among some businesses about overbearing costs.  “This plan is an economic train wreck waiting to happen,” said James Duran of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.  Schwarzennegger countered, “When you look at today's depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there.”  California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said California's leadership has spurred other states to move ahead. “We are filling a vacuum left by inaction at the federal level,” she said.

For additional information see:,0,7794111.story


New US Military Report on Global Warming Raises Worry

On December 4, the US Joint Forces Command released its report Joint Operating Environment 2008 (JOE 2008) to help plan long-term military strategies and drew some criticism for its assessment that the causes of global warming remain uncertain.  “We are in complete agreement that climate change will be a national security driver in the future,” said Rear Admiral John M. Richardson, director of strategy for the command. “We are focused on the implications of climate change. We see what is happening. What is causing it is not in our purview. The commanders have to deal with the effects.”  Although there was general agreement over security threats like droughts, floods and disease, some worry that the claim of contradictory effects due to climate change will cause government agencies to not take the issue seriously.

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EU Reaches Deal on Emissions

On December 12, European Union leaders agreed on a deal to inject a stimulus of $258 billion into the economy and on a global warming package fulfilling promises made last year to meet “20-20-20” targets that aim to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent and require 20 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. “Our message to our global partners is . . . yes, you can do what we are doing . . . especially to our American partners,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. “We are asking him (Obama) to join Europe and with us lead the world.” The agreement also included promises to financially assist Eastern European countries to pay for changes that will hurt their heavily polluting power industries while Britain secured 6 billion euros to invest in carbon capture and sequestration technology.  Green groups argued that the meeting was rushed and resulted in too many concessions.  “This is a flagship EU policy with no captain, a mutinous crew and several gaping holes in it,” said Sanjeev Kumar of World Wildlife Federation.

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EU Industrial Emissions to Drop 10 Percent Below 2007 Levels

On December 4, Deutsche Bank announced that European Union (EU) industrial emissions for 2009 could fall to 10 percent below 2007 levels, generating concern about a possible collapse in the price of CO2 emissions permits.  The bank attributed the decline in emissions to a combination of lower productivity from the companies participating in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and efforts to achieve EU renewable energy standards.  “It looks like a sequel to the Phase 1 horror movie,” said one emissions trader, in reference to the years 2005-2007 when the price of permits bottomed at nearly zero due to the over allocation of permits.  However, a representative of Deutsche Bank said a complete price collapse is unlikely to occur again during Phase 2 (2008-2012), since this time permits saved by companies will carry over to the next phase, Phase 3 (2013-2020).  The ETS has faced criticism for the over allocation of permits, but also for giving away permits to companies which then mark the permits down as expenses that they pass on to consumers.  EU leaders are taking these concerns into account as they are currently debating the final allocation system of CO2 emissions permits for Phase 3.

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Australia to Set 10 Percent Carbon Reduction Target

On December 10, the Australian Financial Review announced that the Australian government will endorse a CO2 emissions reduction target of 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.  The government will not officially announce its plan until Monday, but has already received complaints over the 10 percent target.  British economist Nicholas Stern and former US Vice President Al Gore have called on Australian Prime Minister Rudd not to rule out increasing the reduction target to 25 percent.  Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said the target is too ambitious and called on the government to consider other options.  “One option is to adopt a start that is akin to a pilot scheme or a dry run . . . . Another option is to reconsider whether 2010 is an appropriate time to implement the scheme in Australia,” she said.  Once announced, the Australian government is unlikely to change its position. “It would be wrong to introduce any uncertainty about the Government's intentions,” said Australian Climate Change Minister Penny Wong.  “One of the key considerations is to give business the certainty they need. We are talking, particularly in the energy sector, about long-run decisions that are going to be critical in Australia reducing its emissions over the next 10 or 20 years.”

For additional information see:,25197,24783756-5013871,00.html


Climate Index Shows Sweden Cleanest, Saudi Arabia Dirtiest

On December 10, the fourth annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) ranked Sweden as the top performing nation for climate protection performance, and Saudi Arabia as the worst.  Yet the index — which is generated by Germanwatch and Climate Action Now (CAN) and ranks a combination of 57 developed and developing nations that contribute over 90 percent of global emissions — only gave Sweden fourth billing, leaving the top three spots unfilled. Given the state of rapidly rising emissions, “no country does well enough in their emissions reduction efforts to merit a top prize,” explained Jan Burck of Germanwatch.  The rankings do not include the most current events, and the leading countries of Sweden, Germany and France may see their positions fall in next year’s release depending on the outcome of the ongoing European Union climate dialogue. The US — which was ranked third to last — could see its stance improve with energy and climate policy reforms expected under President-elect Obama next year.

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Wind, Water and Sun Listed as Top Sources for Clean Energy

In the upcoming issue of Energy and Environmental Science, due to be released in early 2009, a study by Stanfod University professor Dr. Mark Jacobson finds that renewable power from wind, water, and sun sources is superior to the other “clean” energy technologies stemming from biofuels, nuclear, and coal using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).  Within the category of biofuels, Jacobson specifically calls out corn and cellulosic ethanol, saying, “The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most.”  Dr. Jacobson ranks wind as the best source of energy due to its minimal carbon emissions from production and use, small land footprint, and ability to be constructed in land that can still be used for farming.  He also says wind turbines are a simple solution, noting that the United States produced 300,000 airplanes during World War II, but would only need to build between 73,000 and 144,000 wind turbines to power every US vehicle if the country were to switch to electric fleets.  The study found nuclear and CCS technologies to be the poorest source of clean electricity generation.

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Report Rates Corporations on Climate Change Efforts

On December 11, the investor coalition group Ceres released a report called Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Consumer and Technology Companies, which evaluated how well tech, consumer products, leisure and drug companies implemented policies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Among the highly-ranked companies were Tesco PLC, Nike, Wal-Mart, Dell, Intel, and Johnson & Johnson.  Annual reports and financial filings were examined to determine the degree to which companies incorporated climate risks and opportunities into their strategic thinking. “Many companies, especially technology and pharmaceutical firms, are doing a better job of integrating climate change into their business strategies,” said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres. “But the overall responses among these companies are very spotty, especially in the restaurant, real estate and travel & leisure sectors where climate change is barely on their radar.”

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Construction Sector Can Do More to Curb Carbon Emissions – UN Report

On December 6, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report finding that commercially available technologies can halve energy consumption in both new and old buildings, leading to great gains in efficiency in a sector responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Most modifications are cheap enough that they can be implemented to reduce building emissions 30 percent by 2030 at a net negative cost.  “Report after report is now underlining the huge, cost-effective savings possible from addressing emissions from existing buildings alongside designing new ones that include passive and active solar up to low-energy heating and cooling systems and energy-efficient systems,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.  Other energy efficiency modifications cited in the report include improving ventilation and insulation and increasing the use of natural lighting.

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Climate Change, Drought to Strain Colorado River

On December 4, scientists at a conference at the University of Utah predicted that seven Western states face many future water shortages due to the stresses of warming temperatures and a growing population on the Colorado River.  "Clearly we're on a collision course between supply and demand," said Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado.  The 1400-mile river serves farms, businesses, cities and homes in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.  Changes have already been noted in reduced water flows and higher air temperatures.  Representatives from the US Geological Survey suggested reducing demand, conserving more water and restructuring allocations.  “The current usage is simply not sustainable,” said Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.

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Farmers Speak Out Against Possible Taxes on Livestock Emissions

Last week, American farmers voiced complaints that possible new applications of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) use of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) may apply to farms annually emitting over 100 tons of CO2.  This amount is equivalent to the yearly CO2 contribution of 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle, or 200 pigs.  Ken Hamilton, the executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, talked to a number of farmers about the potential of an emissions surcharge.  “All have said if the fees were carried out, it would bankrupt them,” he reported.  However, John Millet, a spokesman for the EPA, said interpretations of the EPA document have been oversimplified “to the point of distortion,” and that “EPA is not proposing any type of tax on livestock.”  Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said not exempting farmers from potential new CAA regulations makes sense for recouping environmental losses due to meat consumption.  “We certainly support making factory farms pay their fair share.”

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Developing Countries Lack Means to Acquire More Efficient Technologies

On December 9, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) released a study in the journal Climate Research finding that poor nations will face significant difficulties in reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to limited access to efficient technology. Because many developing countries cannot afford clean energy technology or investments in energy efficiency, the economic disparity between rich and poor nations will continue to grow, and emissions from both groups will continue to rise. “There is simply no evidence that developing countries will somehow become wealthier and be in a position to install more environmentally friendly technologies,” said Patricia Romero Lankao, lead NCAR sociologist. “We always knew that reducing greenhouse gas emissions was going to be a challenge, but now it looks like we underestimated the magnitude of this problem.”

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Vietnam Considered Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels

On December 10, the World Bank issued a report naming Vietnam the country most vulnerable to rising sea levels, with a potential displacement of 10 percent of its population.  If sea levels rise one meter, 7 percent of its agricultural land and 30 percent of its wetlands will be ruined.  Many organizations have called on rich countries to help poor nations like Vietnam adapt to the impacts of climate change.  “Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming,” said Heather Coleman, senior climate policy advisor with Oxfam. “Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can't afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster."

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Ice Sheets at Risk, IPCC Scientist Reports

On December 9, a scientist from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that despite efforts to limit temperature increases to 2ºC, the Arctic ice caps will completely melt and sea levels will rise 6 to 7 meters according to ice sheet models.  “Warming as low as 1.9ºC above pre-industrial [levels] could lead to irreversible meltdown [of the Arctic],” said Bill Hare, coordinator for the section on sea level rise for the benchmark 2007 IPCC report. “Observed losses [have also] increased 75 percent [in the west Antarctic over the] last 10 years.”  If the main Antarctic ice sheet were to melt, sea levels could potentially rise 52 meters, but destruction of the Greenland ice sheet alone could pose severe risks if completely melted, he said. Hare presented his findings to over 9000 delegates attending the UN negotiations in Poznan, Poland.

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Other Headlines

Scientist Says Ancient Technique Cuts Greenhouse Gas

Researchers Use Wind Screen on Swiss Glacier to Capture Cool Winds

Whitebark Pine's Rapid Decline Sounds Alarm on Global Warming

Asian Development Bank Sets Up Carbon Fund

Greenhouse Gases Warming North America Unevenly

Climate Change Alters Ocean Chemistry


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