Climate Change News May 31, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 31, 2010


Obama Urges Climate Legislation in Light of Oil Spill

On May 26, President Obama spoke to employees at a solar panel manufacturing plant, announcing he would push to pass energy and climate legislation this year. As he addressed the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama noted the dangers of the nation’s dependence on oil and said it “only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources.” America’s oil addiction is not only a national security and economic threat, he said, but also sets the nation at a global competitive disadvantage. “We all know the price we pay as a country,” Obama said. “With the increased risks and increased costs, it gives you a sense of where we’re going. We’re not going to be able to sustain this kind of fossil fuel use. This planet can’t sustain it.”

For additional information see: Politico, New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, UPI

Resolution to Limit EPA's Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Slated for June 10

On May 25, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced she had reached a unanimous consent agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring a disapproval resolution regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 10. The resolution would veto EPA’s endangerment finding, a formal determination that allows the agency to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act. Of the 51 votes needed, Murkowski has 41 co-sponsors – including three Democrats. Other efforts to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) include Sen. Rockefeller’s (D-WV) bill which would postpone EPA regulation of stationary sources for two years and a bill from Sens. Kerry (D-MA) and Lieberman (I-CT) on climate and energy which would pre-empt EPA from regulating GHGs. If Murkowski’s resolution does pass, it may not be as successful in the House, and President Obama is expected to veto it. The result of the resolution would be to overturn recent collaboration on GHG emission limits and fuel economy standards for light-duty trucks and cars between EPA and the Department of Transportation. According to former EPA Administrator Russell Train, “If passed, this resolution would fundamentally undermine the Clean Air Act, overturning science in favor of political considerations.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Letter from Russell Train

University Goes to Court to Fight Subpoena of Climate Scientist's Documents

On May 27, the University of Virginia filed a petition asking the court to set aside Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s order to turn over information on global warming research done at the school. Cuccinelli filed the civil investigative demand, which has the legal weight of a subpoena, under Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. The investigation involves five grants totaling about $466,000, which were awarded to Michael Mann, a climate scientist who now works at Pennsylvania State University. The university said the investigation is an affront to academic freedom and the First Amendment and argued that Cuccinelli failed to spell out the conduct that allegedly violated the Virginia fraud statute, as required by the law. University President John T. Casteen III said in a statement that Cuccinelli's order had "sent a chill through the Commonwealth's colleges and universities."

For additional information see: Washington Post, Richmond Times Dispatch, Charlottesville Daily Progress

UN Climate Talks to Take Place in Bonn

Beginning May 31, a two-week long series of climate change talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Bonn, Germany. According to Yvo de Boer, the outgoing Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, these talks will be very important in setting the tone for the months leading up to negotiations to be held in Cancun in November and December. De Boer stressed the importance of fulfilling the pledge of $30 billion made by industrialized countries at Copenhagen last December to aid developing countries dealing with impacts from climate change. He said, “The priority for the industrialized countries is to deploy the 30 billion (dollars) they pledged from now until 2012 in short-term finance to kickstart climate action in developing countries.” While he concedes “times are harsh,” following through on the pledge will strengthen efforts to achieve a binding agreement, if not in Cancun this December, then in South Africa in 2011.

For additional information see: AP, AFP, Reuters, Afrique en Ligne

EIA: CO2 Emissions Will Increase 43 Percent by 2035

On May 25, the Energy Information Administration released its report on projections of global energy consumption through 2035. The report projects that total world energy demand will grow 49 percent by 2035 and that barring policy changes, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are projected to rise 43 percent. Developing countries such as China and India are expected to have an increase in energy demand of 84 percent while developed nations such as the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom are expected to have a 14 percent increase in energy demand. World oil consumption is expected to increase 28 percent by 2035, and production will rise by 25.8 million barrels per day. Unconventional sources such as shale, oil sands and coalbeds are expected to make up 26 percent of U.S. gas production, 63 percent in Canada and 56 percent in China. The EIA report projects that “with strong economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels expected for most of the [non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] economies under current policies, much of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions” will increase in these developing countries.

For additional information see: Reuters, Agence-France Presse, Bloomberg

Mixed Response to EU's Call for Increased Carbon Cuts

Following a proposal by EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard to increase the European Union’s (EU) target of lowering carbon emissions from 20 to 30 percent by 2020, some member states have expressed concern. Representatives from France, Germany and some East European nations have argued that an additional 10 percent would have too harsh an effect on industry and are worried the tightened regulations will cause businesses and jobs to move to regions with lower standards. Recent changes to the paper proposing the 30 percent emissions cuts indicate that Brussels is backing away from the proposal. Hedegaard said, this “is a political decision for the EU leaders to take when the timing and the conditions are right. . . . The decision is not for now.” In addition to the opposition from France and Germany, Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Commission Chief, said he “doesn’t want any problems with the member states.” This shift by the EU could be forestalled by pledges from other nations to reduce emissions by 30 percent.

For additional information see: Agence-France Presse, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal

Indonesia Announces Two-year Moratorium on Deforestation

On May 26, Indonesia declared a two-year moratorium on deforestation as part of the United Nations-sponsored Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, Indonesia will receive up to one billion dollars from Norway for this effort, and Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg said, “If there is no reduced deforestation, we will not pay. If there is reduced deforestation, we will pay.” Illegal logging, agricultural development and palm oil production will factor heavily in Indonesia’s efforts to reduce logging. Hans Brattskar, head of the International Climate and Forest Initiative, said, “It is therefore important to emphasize the Indonesian authorities’ courage in depriving themselves of potential future revenue sources.” As Indonesian President Yudhoyono has said, a delicate balance between revenue and climate change will have to be struck to make these efforts successful. The compensation Norway will be providing if deforestation stops in Indonesia is due to the fact that “forests are worth more dead than alive” because of the revenue they generate. The deal between Indonesia and Norway is meant to “change that equation,” Prime Minister Stoltenberg said.

For additional information see: Associated Press, Agence-France Presse, New York Times, Sydney Morning Herald

Climate Change Concern Declines in British Poll

On May 13, the French-owned energy company, EDF, released a poll indicating that concern over climate change is declining in the British population. Of the 4,300 British adults polled, 28 percent said that climate change was “a serious and urgent problem and radical steps must be taken NOW to prevent terrible damage being done to the planet.” This was a decrease from 38 percent in 2007, and 37 percent in 2008 and 2009. Thirty-three percent (up from 25 percent in 2007) agree that “It is not yet clear whether climate change is happening or not – scientists are divided on this issue” and seven percent (up from four percent in 2007) do not believe in climate change. Additionally, interest in global warming and climate change declined from 78 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2010. This decrease in concern has been linked to current events such as the email scandal at East Anglia University, certain inaccuracies of the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the unusually cold winter.

For additional information see: Guardian, YouGov Poll, New York Times

Global Poll Finds Broad Support for Climate Measures, with Worry for Climate Change Mixed

On May 26, Synovate and Deutsche Welle released results from a poll on climate change which surveyed 13,000 people from 18 countries. The results of the study indicate that in 2008 and 2010, 30 percent of those surveyed were “very concerned” about climate change, up from 29 percent in 2007. However, nine percent, up from four percent in 2008, said they are not worried about climate change because they believe it is a natural cycle of events. This trend may be due to misdirection from the media, Erik Bettermann, Deutsche Welle Director General, said. “The media must provide an objective and comprehensible view of the main topics for the future,” he said. “They have to create a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions and can’t get sucked in by people wanting to sell questionable catastrophe scenarios or by those who prematurely say the coast is clear.” Despite this, 88 percent of those surveyed believe that businesses ought to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Seventy percent said businesses should “save energy and reduce waste,” while 58 percent said businesses should “ensure materials are green and ethically sourced.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Synnovate Press Release, Deutsche Welle

N2O Emissions at Wastewater Treatment Plants Higher than Estimated

A study published May 13 in Environmental Science & Technology indicated that N2O may be having a far more negative effect on global warming than previously expected. N2O is primarily released by fossil fuel combustion and agricultural activities and is 300 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The amount of N2O emitted by wastewater treatment plants was estimated to be low as there was no standard method of measuring the gas. In this study, Kartik Chadran, assistant professor at Columbia University, designed a protocol to quantify the amount of N2O emitted by full-scale water purification facilities. It is now clear that N2O emissions are several orders of magnitude greater, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had estimated, he concluded. As a result of these findings, Chadran said it is now necessary to design wastewater treatment plants which minimize N2O emissions in addition to meeting water quality regulations.

For additional information see: WaterWorld, Columbia University Press Release

Study Finds Small Mammals at Risk as World Warms

A study published on May 23 in Nature has found that small mammals in the United States experienced a severe decline in population due to warming in the Pleistocene period, and have never fully recovered. Jessica Blois, a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said these species “play important roles within ecosystems, in soil aeration and seed dispersal.” The warming caused a 30 percent decline in biodiversity because, though not extinct, many of the gopher and vole populations decreased dramatically and never recovered. In their place, deer mice populations have increased exponentially, further throwing the ecosystem out of balance. The effect of this decline in biodiversity will be magnified as climate change occurs today, said Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford University. Ecosystems will be left even more off-balanced than they were before because, “The small mammal community that we have is really resilient, but it is headed toward a perturbation that is bigger than anything it has seen in the last two million years,” she said.

For additional information see: Stanford University Press Release, CNN, Study Abstract

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Writers: Fiona Burns and Amy Sauer

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