Climate Change News August 16, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
August 16, 2010


EPA Proposes Rules on Greenhouse Gas Permits

On August 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed two new rules to ensure factories and power plants will be able to obtain Clean Air Act permits they will need to emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) beginning next year. Earlier this year, EPA finalized its Tailoring Rule, specifying that stationary sources that emit 75,000 tons per year or more of carbon dioxide will require an air permit, beginning in 2011. This rule covers large industrial facilities that are responsible for 70 percent of GHGs from stationary sources. The proposals announced by EPA “are a critical component for implementing the Tailoring Rule and would ensure that GHG emissions from these large facilities are minimized in all 50 states and that local economies can continue to grow,” an EPA press release announced. The agency said it is working to finalize these rules prior to January 2, 2011, the earliest GHG permitting requirements will be effective.

For additional information see: EPA Press Release, Reuters

Carbon Capture Task Force Notes Need for Price on Carbon

On August 12, a task force established by President Obama concluded that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is viable, but needs a price on carbon emissions and substantial federal incentives to reach its full potential. The Interagency Task Force is made up of 14 executive departments and agencies, with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency taking the lead. The group was charged by Obama to come up with a plan to overcome barriers to widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS technology within ten years. In its report, the group noted that there could be up to ten projects in the United States by 2016, but long-term deployment will likely require stronger policy support. "The lack of comprehensive climate change legislation is the key barrier to CCS deployment,” the report concluded. While CCS technologies exist, "scaling up" these processes and integrating them with coal-based power generation "poses technical, economic, and regulatory challenges,” it noted. CCS technologies are not likely to be used in the next two decades without financial incentives, the report warned.

For additional information see: UPI, New York Times, AP, Bloomberg

NOAA: July Was Second Warmest on Record

On August 13, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its monthly analysis which concluded that July was the second warmest on record, behind 1998, measuring 61.6°F (16.5°C). Additionally, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature of 58.1°F (14.5°C) has made it the warmest year-to-date temperature on record. This value is 1.22°F (0.68°C) above the 20th century average. The most prominent warmth was in Europe, western Russia and eastern Asia, while central Russia, Alaska and southern South America experienced cooler-than-average temperatures.

For additional information see: NOAA Press Release

Study Predicts More Heat Waves in Future Due to Climate Change

On August 11, the National Wildlife Federation and Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report noting that more extremely hot summer days are projected for every part of the United States by midcentury if no action is taken to address global warming. "Summers like the current one, or even worse, will become the norm by 2050 if global warming pollution continues to increase unabated,” the report concluded. Areas such as the East Coast could endure twice as many days above 90°F by 2050. This could be particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations, who would have increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks as air pollution in urban areas would worsen with higher temperatures. "The message is that there is a price that we pay for not taking action on global warming," said Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman for NWF. "There's a price in terms of lives and in terms of the structure we're going to have to put in place to prepare better for global warming, including getting seniors and at-risk populations ready for the health risks.”

For additional information see: USA Today, AFP, NWF Press Release

Climate Change 'Will Increase Heart Deaths'

On August 10, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that weather extremes caused by climate change, in particular those related to cold, may increase the number of people who die of heart problems. Each 1°C decrease in temperature per day is tied to 200 additional heart attacks in the United Kingdom, the study said. It found that elderly people and people afflicted with heart disease are most at risk and warned that they should spend less time outside during the winter, or bundle up. People who regularly took aspirin to prevent strokes and heart disease were less vulnerable. The data were unclear as to why cold days caused more heart attacks, though it may be that colder weather thickens blood, increasing blood clotting or it could be as simple as the act of shoveling snow, the study authors said.

For additional information see: BBC, Reuters, Study Abstract

Global Transport Industry Lagging Behind in Carbon Reduction Plans

On August 13, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) released a report which found the transportation sector is well behind other industries in setting goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use. Only 36 percent of transport companies have set carbon and energy reduction targets, while the average for the Global 500 Index of companies across all sectors is 51 percent, the report noted. In addition, 53 percent of companies in the transport sector responded to the study, compared to an 82 percent response rate from the Global 500 overall. The numbers are based on a survey of 291 of the largest transport companies including road, rail, sea and air transport. As a whole, the industry accounts for 13 percent of global emissions and 60 percent of oil consumption in high-income countries.

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, Guardian, CDP Press Release

Huge Ice Sheet Breaks from Greenland Glacier

On August 5, a large ice sheet broke off from the Petermann Glacier and began drifting in the Nares Strait, an area between Canada and Greenland and 620 miles south of the North Pole. The ice sheet is about four times the size of the island of Manhattan and represents about a quarter of the Petermann Glacier’s floating ice shelf. While scientists had long expected a mass of ice to break off Petermann, few anticipated it would be so big. “The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson Rivers flowing for more than two years,” said Andreas Muenchow, professor at the University of Delware. “It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days.” Climate scientists are reluctant to attribute any one event to global warming, but the glacier also calved large ice sheets in 2001 and 2008. As a result, the Petermann Glacier’s recent activities could simply be a “part of a climate warming pattern,” said Jason Box of Ohio State University.

For additional information see: Guardian, BBC, Reuters, Discovery News

Climate Change Threatens Up to 80 Percent of Rainforests by 2100

On August 5, a study published in Conservation Letters found that, by 2100, only 18 to 45 percent of plant and animal species living in tropical rainforests may survive. “This is the first global compilation of projected ecosystem impacts for humid tropical forests affected by these combined forces,” said co-author Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution. The researchers looked at global deforestation and logging maps from satellite imagery, along with high-resolution data from 16 climate change projections worldwide. They then ran scenarios on how different types of species could be geographically reshuffled by 2100. "This study is the strongest evidence yet that the world's natural ecosystems will undergo profound changes -- including severe alterations in their species composition -- through the combined influence of climate change and land use," said Daniel Nepstad, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. "Conservation of the world's biota, as we know it, will depend upon rapid, steep declines in greenhouse gas emissions."

For additional information see: Telegraph, UPI, Science Daily, Study Abstract

UN Secretary-General Launches New Panel to Outline Blueprint for Low Carbon Growth

On August 9, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon launched a new High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability which will outline a blueprint for low carbon growth. The 21-member Panel is to be led by South African President Jacob Zuma and Finnish President Tarja Halonen and will produce a report recommending ways to encourage low carbon and sustainable growth and to fortify the defenses of developing countries to the effects of climate change. Ban said he told the Panel to “think big, to be bold and also practical. The time for narrow agendas, narrow interests and narrow thinking is over. The challenges of the twenty-first century require nothing less.”

For additional information see: UPI, Hindu Times, AFP, UN Press Release

Global Warming Lowering Rice Yields

On August 9, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that rising global temperatures are lowering rice yields and that over the past 25 years, rice yield growth rates have been reduced by 10 to 20 percent in some areas. “We found that as the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop,” said lead author Jerrod Welch. “Up to a point, higher daytime temperatures can increase rice yield but future yield losses caused by higher night-time temperatures will likely outweigh any such gains because temperatures are rising faster at night.” The study analyzed data from 227 irrigated rice farms from six different countries and is unique in its use of real-world conditions, giving scientists a better idea of how farmers will adapt to a changing climate. "If we cannot change our rice production methods or develop new rice strains that can withstand higher temperatures, there will be a loss in rice production over the next few decades as days and nights get hotter," Welch said.

For additional information see: AP, AFP, BBC, Science Daily, Study Abstract

Study Suggests Biochar More Effective at Mitigating Climate Change Versus Bioenergy

On August 10, a study published in Nature revealed that using plant waste to produce biochar may be more effective at mitigating climate change than using the same plant waste to produce bioenergy. Biochar is produced when plant waste is heated in an oxygen-free environment. It can then be buried, simultaneously storing CO2 underground and fertilizing soil. The study found that converting plant waste into biofuels would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10 percent from today’s levels, but that converting plant waste into biochar would cut CO2 emissions by 12 percent. The report noted that while biochar has greater climate change mitigation potential in some regions, biofuels are preferable in others. “It depends on the fertility of the soil in the region where you are producing the biochar, and whether you are offsetting coal or some other form of energy,” said lead author James Amonette. In regions like the American Midwest, biofuels may be preferable because coal is such an important source of energy and the soil is very rich and fertile. In contrast, in Africa, South America and the southeastern United States, biochar is the better choice, the study said. “Biochar offers one of the few ways we can create power while decreasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere,” said Amonette. “And it improves food production in the world’s poorest regions by increasing soil fertility.”

For additional information see: New Scientist, Study Abstract, Pacific Northwest Laboratory Press Release

Other Headlines

Writers: Fiona Burns and Amy Sauer

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