Climate Change News

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Climate Change News
Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 5, 2008


UN Climate Talks Began This Week in Poznan

On December 1, representatives from nearly 190 countries met in Poznan, Poland for the two-week long United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks to set the stage for the creation of a successor to the Kyoto Treaty at next year’s UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen.  While the United States did not ratify the last global treaty on greenhouse gas emissions, President-elect Obama’s victory is seen by many as a watershed moment in US climate policy and a boon to global negotiations. Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ top climate official, opened talks saying “[t]he need for real progress on tackling climate change has never been more urgent.”  His voice was echoed by many, especially by an alliance of 43 small island nation states whose territorial existence is threatened by sea level rise caused by global warming.  Key areas of contention so far relate to the implications of the financial crisis, mechanisms and amounts for aid and technology transfers from developed nations to developing nations, and the extent to which nations should face CO2 emission limits.  No major developments are expected until next week, when high-level talks between participating nations begin.

For additional information see:,,3837985,00.html

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose 1.4 Percent in 2007

On December 3, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rose 1.3 percent in 2007 after a 1.4 percent drop in 2006.  The increase in emissions was attributed to a rise in fossil fuel use in 2007 due to a warmer summer and colder winter, which increased the demand for air conditioning and heating.  President-elect Barack Obama’s goals of cutting GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 is now even more of a “substantial task,” according to EIA spokesman Paul McArdle.  In a “business as usual” scenario, the EIA projects that US emissions would rise 0.5 percent each year from 2005 to 2030.

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Pelosi Will Re-establish Climate Change Committee

On November 21, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she would reauthorize the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming for the 111th Congress. Chaired by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), the panel held over 50 hearings on the impacts of climate change in many sectors, from national security to job creation. While the committee does not have legislative authority, its role is “to investigate, study, make findings, and develop recommendations on policies, strategies, technologies and other innovations, intended to reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign sources of energy and achieve substantial and permanent reductions in emissions and other activities that contribute to climate change and global warming.” With Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) replacing Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, it was unclear to many if the Select Committee was still necessary, given Rep. Waxman's strong support for reducing US emissions. In response, Speaker Pelosi said, “We do have need for one more term because their work is not finished. We don't have the climate change legislation that I had hoped we might be closer to at this point.” She added, “The committee serves [as] a tremendous intellectual resource for me.”

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GAO Report Questions Value of Carbon-Offset Deals

On December 2, the United States General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that questioned the effectiveness of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by wealthy countries investing in clean-energy projects in poor nations. The European Union has utilized this offset strategy through the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) program and has found little success according to the report, Lessons Learned from the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. The report also found that the projects have given EU countries more flexibility to pollute and it is uncertain whether emissions have actually declined.  “Some offset credits were awarded for projects that would have occurred even in the absence of the CDM, despite a rigorous screening process,” the report said.  

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Environmental Groups Bash 'Clean Coal' in New Campaign

On December 4, the Alliance for Climate Protection, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club launched the “Reality” Coalition advertising campaign arguing “clean coal” does not exist.  “The reality is that there's not a single home or business in America today powered by clean coal,” said Brian Hardwick of the Alliance for Climate Protection.  The ads were designed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the same agency responsible for the “Truth” anti-smoking campaigns, and will be distributed in print, broadcast, and online.  Al Gore, a backer of the campaign, said “[w]e cannot base the strategy for human survival on the illusions of the industry that coal is already clean” and that the coal industry wants to “build hundreds, if not thousands, of new coal plants on a vague promise that they might be able to retrofit those plants with a technology that does not exist.”  Joe Lucas, vice president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, responded to Gore and the campaign, saying that plants are currently reducing their sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions through technology, and that “we can invest in the technologies to make us capable of storing and capturing carbon from coal plants” to address CO2 emissions.

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Survey Shows Climate Still a Top Concern Despite Financial Crisis

On November 26, results of a global Climate Confidence Monitor poll of 12,000 people from 12 different countries, commissioned by the HSBC Climate Partnership, revealed that 43 percent of the population surveyed believed that climate change was a greater problem than the economy, 78 percent wanted their respective country to cut its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions and 55 percent wanted an increased investment in renewable energy.  “This research demonstrates the need for decisive action on climate change. The urgent challenge is to build a framework for a global deal so that consensus can be reached. Now is the time to lay the foundations of a new form of growth that can transform our economies and societies,” said former UK treasury economist Lord Nicholas Stern. Despite the desire for more government action, respondents also showed a drop in willingness to change their lifestyles as well as to spend extra money on tackling climate change compared to earlier polls. The 2008 poll also showed a significant decline in the number of people who have heard a lot about climate change, indicating its lack of prominence in the news.  “There's consumer reluctance that's creeping in, and we've seen that some are being stunned into inaction by the enormity of the task,” said Earthwatch executive vice-president Nigel Winser.

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California Bulks up Defenses Against Tide of Global Warming

On November 14, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to identify the state’s vulnerabilities to rising sea levels and to develop mitigation strategies.  Some of the plans include moving Big Sur’s Highway 1 further inland, deciding which species to save from climate change, and designing flood-resistant buildings.  The adaptation strategies will be formulated by state, federal and local managers of transportation, public health, wildlife, water and power supplies.  The National Academy of Sciences also will call upon an independent panel of experts to recommend ways to minimize damage to coastal roads, beaches, sewage and water treatment plants, wetlands and marine life.  “It's saying we need to take action today,” Anthony Brunello, the state deputy secretary for climate change, said of the governor's directive. “We need to figure out what we should be doing.”

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Indiana: One Coal Gasification Plant is Scrapped, Another Receives Approval

On November 26, Indiana Gasification LLC shelved plans for a new coal gasification plant following an announcement by Vectren Corp. that it will not commit to a 30-year purchase agreement.  After several months of discussion, Vectren Corp., a supplier of natural gas in Indiana, decided there was too much uncertainty over future carbon regulations for a 30-year contract to make sense.  Regulations, such as a cap-and-trade policy or carbon tax, “could have an impact on the price of gas this (plant) could yield, especially if the plant would have to capture carbon,” said Chase Kelley, a spokesman for Vectren.  

In November, Duke Energy Corp. announced it will go ahead with the construction of a $2.35 billion coal gasification plant elsewhere in Indiana.  Scheduled to begin operations in 2012, the plant would be the largest of its kind in the United States.  The cost of the plant is now nearly twice its initial estimate of $1.3 billion, but Duke Energy said it could not anticipate the cost overruns, and that the plant’s ability to eliminate certain forms of pollution justifies the costs.  Bruce Nilles, an attorney for the Sierra Club, said, “Once you do all the cost assessments, the fact is this is going to gouge ratepayers. The cost of this just continues to skyrocket.”

For additional information see:,0,584349....

Recession Clouds Chances for EU Climate Pact

On December 4, European Union (EU) environmental ministers warned that talks on EU legislation to reduce CO2 emissions will be difficult.  French Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said EU environment ministers agreed on 90 percent of the issues, but that “[t]he hardest points, the other 10 percent, are best left to the heads of state and government.”  EU heads of state will meet December 11-12 before the EU parliament votes on a climate package on December 17.  France, who holds the EU presidency through the end of the year, is leading the effort to achieve consensus on the topic.  Chief concerns come from the Eastern-bloc states, led by Poland, which are reliant on heavy-polluting industries for energy and contend that their economies cannot handle the costs of auctioning emissions permits.  Other concerns come from Germany and Italy, who fear the costs of emissions permits will cause heavy industries to relocate abroad in countries where climate legislation is not present, an effect known as “carbon leakage.”  The unraveling European consensus on climate legislation is occurring at an inopportune time, according to Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, and the World Wildlife Fund.  “It is a disgrace that just at a time when the rest of the world, including the US and China, is waking up and starting to act against climate change the EU's leadership is melting away,” the three groups announced in a joint statement.

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Germany on Track to Meet Kyoto Goals

On November 28, the German government released data indicating the country’s 2007 emissions were 22.4 percent lower than in 1990, while the Kyoto Protocol only called on the country to reduce its emissions 21 percent by 2012. Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel cautioned, “The figures on the whole look good but it is no reason to relax.”  Emissions levels are assigned to the year in which the fuel was purchased rather than the year in which the fuel is used, deflating the true value of 2007 emissions as many consumers bought excess heating oil in 2006 before the implementation of a higher tax in 2007.  Additionally, the winter of 2006-2007 was milder than most, contributing to a further drop in demand for fuel for heating.  The government report also noted an increase in emissions from power plants, “showing that government efforts in the area of renewable energy sources were not yet enough to compensate for the increase in electricity demand.”  As Germany’s commitment to abandon nuclear power leads it to decommission already constructed atomic facilities, emissions from power plants may see further rises in the future.

For additional information see:,1518,593296,00.html

UK Climate Change Committee Urges Dramatic Cuts in Greenhouse Gases

On December 1, the British Climate Change Committee released its first report calling for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 20 percent from current levels by 2020.  The report proposes firm carbon budgets for the next three five-year periods, requirements for new coal power plants to have carbon sequestration technology by 2020, and restrictions on purchasing carbon credits from developing countries.  Emissions reductions would also be derived from alternative sources of electricity, and redesigning buildings, cars and appliances. Lord Turner, the committee chairman, said the cuts could be achieved without altering lifestyles or the economy. “The reductions can be achieved at very low cost (an estimated 1 percent loss of GDP growth in 2020). The cost of not achieving the reductions at a national and global level will be far greater.”

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Brazil Sets Plan to Reduce Deforestation by 70 Percent Over 10 Years

On December 1, Brazil announced plans to reduce rainforest deforestation by 70 percent by 2018.  “The plan foresees a reduction of 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide that won't be emitted up to 2018 -- which is more than the reduction efforts fixed by all the rich countries,” said Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc.  The government views the preservation of its Amazon rainforest as a global public good, and was reluctant to take hard measures against deforestation until it obtained international financial support to do so.  This was achieved with the recent creation of the Amazon Fund, leading Tasso Azevedo, the head of Brazil’s Forestry Service, to note, “We can now adopt targets because we now have the instruments to implement them.”

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Australia Looks to Begin Carbon Capture

On November 25, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd outlined the country’s leading role in developing carbon capture storage (CCS) technology at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations in Peru.  Rudd says Australia is seeking to be a leader in CCS technology as part of its contribution to fighting global climate change, as coal is both the country’s leading source of electricity and chief export.  Under the plan, Australia would provide a new institution $100 million a year toward the development of CCS.  Earlier in the week, Australia lobbied the Group of Eight (G8) nations to obtain approval for two of the twenty commercial CCS demonstration projects the group wants running by 2020.  Addressing concerns that the technology is too expensive, Martin Ferguson, Australia’s Energy Minister, said, “Capturing and storing carbon is obviously, in the initial stages, going to be expensive, but it's like anything else.  If you actually get the technology right, over time it becomes cheaper because of the economies of scale and progress.”

For additional information see:,28124,24685076-501...

Faith Leaders Urge Climate Curbs

On November 29, interfaith leaders from seven religious delegations concluded a two-day summit on climate change in Uppsala, Sweden by signing a declaration urging “governments and international organizations to prepare and agree upon a comprehensive climate strategy for the Copenhagen Agreement.”  The declaration was to be presented on behalf of Christian, Buddhist, Daoist, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish and Native American leaders at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Poznan, Poland that began on December 1.  The document called on world leaders to reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020, to limit temperature rises to 2°C, and “to distribute the burden in an equitable way in accordance with the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.”  

Swedish Archbishop Anders Wejryd sees religion as a key part of the debate.  “I am convinced that the issue of climate change is not an issue best left only to politics, natural science or the market,” he said.  “Our faith traditions provide a basis for hope and reasons for not giving up.”  Margot Wallstrom, Vice-President of the European Commission, echoed his sentiments, saying interfaith dialogue contributes “another perspective to the climate change debate, an ethical and moral perspective, and a debate that many politicians might not be willing to engage in.”

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Ocean Turning Acidic Faster than Predicted

In the November 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an eight-year study revealed that increasing CO2 levels are causing oceans to become acidic ten times faster than originally predicted. Co-author Timothy Wootton of the University of Chicago said that current models did not include biological factors in their measurements.  “[The pH is] going down 10 to 20 times faster than the previous models predicted,” said Wootton. “We actually know surprisingly little about how ocean acidity is changing over time, we need a broader network of measurements.”  Scientists fear the increased acidity will prevent the ocean from absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and will have severe impacts on marine life like mussels, barnacles and algae.

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Greenhouse Gases Make Oceans Noisier

On December 3, the UN and wildlife experts unveiled research that showed the increased acidity of the oceans worsens ocean noise by allowing sound to travel farther.  The ocean noise pollution primarily comes from shipping, oil and gas exploration and military sonar and causes marine mammals to experience more difficulty communicating, and finding food and mates.  “Underwater, man-made noise is already triggering a kind of acoustic fog and a cacophony of sound in many parts of the world seas,” said Mark Simmonds of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. “Call it a cocktail-party effect. You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

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Scientists Develop Model to Predict Ice-shelf Breaking

In the November 28 issue of Science, a team of Pennsylvania State researchers released a study that allows better understanding of how icebergs break off, which could help predict rising sea levels as temperatures warm. “To predict the future of the ice sheet and to understand the past, we have to put the information into a computer,” said Richard B. Alley, the Evan Pugh professor of geosciences. “The models we have do not currently have any way to figure out where the big ice sheets end and where the ice calves off to form icebergs.”  Though there is much variability involved in calving, scientists found that the biggest factor that leads to iceberg breakages is the rate at which the ice shelves spread. The stress of spreading can result in cracking which can travel through the shelf and cause a break.

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Other Headlines

Cost of Reducing Emissions by 2030 Likely to Surge: UN Report

White Possum Said to Be First Victim of Global Warming,23739,24742053-952,00.html

Climate Change May Boost Exposures o Harmful Pollutants

Global Warming Has Health Toll, Delegates Warn

WWF: Two Degree Rise Could Spark Greenland Ice Sheet Meltdown

Climate Alters Intensity of Western Fires

European Bank Lends 50 Million Euros to Philippines to Address Climate Change



December 9, 2008    A National Carbon Tax: Another Option for Carbon Pricing

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing which will discuss a phased-in, revenue-neutral national carbon tax as a policy option for addressing climate change. This briefing is sponsored by EESI, the Carbon Tax Center, the Climate Crisis Coalition, Friends Committee on National Legislation and Friends of the Earth, and will focus on the environmental, economic, economic-efficiency, logistical and political benefits of a national carbon tax, particularly one that is phased-in and revenue-neutral. Speakers for the briefing include:

•    Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT)
•    James Hansen, PhD, Director, Goddard Institute of Space Studies, NASA
•    James Hoggan, British Columbia Public Affairs Advisor and Chair, David Suzuki Foundation
•    Gilbert Metcalf, PhD, Professor of Economics, Tufts University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research;
•    Robert Shapiro, PhD, Co-Founder and Chairman, Sonecon and former US Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
•    Brent Blackwelder, PhD, President, Friends of the Earth

The briefing will take place on Tuesday, December 9, from 9:00 – 11:30 a.m. in B318 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, please contact James Handley at (202) 546-5692 or jashand [at], Charles Komanoff at (212) 260-5237 or charles [at], or EESI at (202) 662-1884 or communications [at]

December 10, 2008     Webinar: Near Term Markets—Hydrogen Fuel Cells and the Materials Handling Industry

For the past 80 years, batteries have been the overwhelming choice for powering electric forklifts. But as technologies have changed, for many companies hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts present advantages over batteries right now. Speakers include: Steve Medwin, Raymond Corporation; and John Christensen, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The webinar will be held on Wednesday, December 10, from 12:00 –1:00 p.m. EST. For those who cannot attend live, please note that a video recording of the event will be made available to all registrants. For more information and to register, visit:


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This EESI publication is a free, weekly electronic newsletter intended to inform interested parties, particularly the policymaker community, of the latest climate change-related news. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that EESI is properly acknowledged as the source.

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