Climate Change News August 23, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
August 23, 2010

Note from the Editor: The next Climate Change News will be published in two weeks, on September 7. In addition, this will be the last issue produced by Amy Sauer.



EPA Sends White House Draft Rules to Regulate Emissions from Heavy-Duty Trucks

On August 13, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sent draft rules to the White House that would limit heavy-duty vehicles’ emissions under the Clean Air Act. The EPA said the new rules would "significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from future heavy duty vehicles" by setting standards that would lead to the introduction of vehicle and engine technologies. On May 21, President Obama issued a memorandum directing EPA and DOT to expand current rulemaking that increases fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks to also include medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014 through 2018. The administration estimates large tractor trailers—which represent half of all GHG emissions from the sector—can reduce emissions up to 20 percent and boost fuel efficiency up to 25 percent by using existing technologies.

For additional information see: Reuters, New York Times

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Sues EPA over Endangerment Finding

On August 13, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the advocacy group Coalition for Responsible Regulation each filed petitions asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision that greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger human health and welfare. The petitions were filed the same day that EPA formally published in the Federal Register its decision to not reconsider the endangerment finding. “The U.S. Chamber, policymakers, numerous trade groups, state governments, and businesses throughout the country have collectively raised strong concerns about the significant negative impact the EPA's endangerment finding will have on jobs and local economies,” Robin Conrad, the executive vice president of the Chamber’s National Litigation Center, said in a statement. The Chamber does not question the science behind the endangerment finding, but rather whether it is appropriate to use the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions. "The EPA itself has admitted that regulating climate change under the Clean Air Act would create an 'absurd' result," Conrad said."Unfortunately, the agency has refused to reconsider its flawed decision."

For additional information see: New York Times, Environmental Leader, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Press Release

EIA: U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions to Increase 3.4 Percent in 2010

On August 10, the U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook, which projected a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 due to economic growth. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels declined by 7.0 percent in 2009, but are now expected to increase by 3.4 percent and 0.8 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively, as energy consumption grows. Even with these increases, the EIA points out that these projected emissions remain below any level from 1999 through 2008. The expected rise in energy usage is attributed to higher electricity coal sector usage and natural gas consumption in 2010, while greater demand for petroleum in the transportation sector and industrial sector fossil fuel demand growth will contribute higher emissions in 2011.

For additional information see: EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook

Climate Scientists Meet to Improve Predictions of Weather Disasters

On August 17-18, several of the world’s leading climate scientists met in Boulder, Colorado, to discuss plans to set up an early warning system to predict future weather-related disasters caused by global warming. The meeting is the first full session of the Attribution of Climate-related Events (ACE), which was set up by scientists from three of the world’s leading meteorological organizations: the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the UK Met Office and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The goal of the group is to develop a modeling package that would allow scientists to forecast the type of events that have been observed throughout the summer, such as heat waves, droughts and flooding, and are predicted to increase as climate change persists. "The events in Moscow and Pakistan are going to focus our minds very carefully when we meet in Colorado," said Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the UK Met Office, referring to the recent heat wave and flooding in Russia and Pakistan, respectively. "On both sides of the Atlantic we have been monitoring what has been going on with the aim of understanding their precise causes so that we can provide better warnings of future disasters."

For additional information see: Guardian

World 2009 CO2 Emissions Fell 1.3 Percent

On August 13, the German renewable energy institute IWR announced that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2009 fell 1.3 percent in a consecutive two-year decline. The institute, which advises German ministries, attributed the decline in emissions to the global economic crisis and increased investments in renewable energy technologies. CO2 emission reductions could have been greater if stronger output from countries in Asia and the Middle East had not balanced out much of the emission declines in Europe, Russia and the United States, IWR said. "The energy-induced CO2 output in China in 2009 due to its economic growth has grown to a level now that is as high as that of the U.S. and Russia combined," IWR director Norbert Allnoch said. At 31.3 billion tonnes, global CO2 emissions are still 37 percent above those in 1990, the base year for the Kyoto Protocol.

For additional information see: Reuters, Environmental Leader

UN Panel to Question All HFC Projects for Carbon Offsets

On August 18, the International Emissions Trading Association stated that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board will be requesting reviews for all HFC-23 projects as it questions the method used to determine how many offset credits to allot. The UN-backed CDM is the world’s second-largest carbon market by trading volume, with 52 percent of its credits coming from projects that reduce hydrofluorocarbon-23 gases, a group of highly potent greenhouse gases. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said it received requests to review the issuance of carbon credits for these projects. CDM Watch, a Bonn-based environmental lobby group, provided evidence to the CDM board that the methodology for giving Certified Emission Reduction credits for HFC-23 destruction was inadequate and created a perverse incentive to increase HFC-23 production.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg

UN Launches Campaign to Combat Desertification

On August 16, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a 10-year campaign to prevent desertification. "More than two billion people live in the world's drylands. The vast majority live on less than one dollar a day and without adequate access to freshwater," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “Continued land degradation – whether from climate change, unsustainable agriculture or poor management of water resources – is a threat to food security, leading to starvation among the most acutely affected communities and robbing the world of productive land.” The campaign “Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification” has a stated goal to "reverse and prevent desertification" and to soften the effects of drought in affected areas "to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability," said Luc Gnacadja, the executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

For additional information see: Reuters, AFP, UN Press Release

IPCC Chief Has Modest Expectations for Climate Summit in Cancun

On August 18, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cautioned the upcoming host country for the next meeting for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be "realistic and don't pitch expectations very high because that will not really work." During the upcoming UN conference to be held in Cancun, Mexico, negotiators will meet to discuss global actions to reduce greenhouse gases and combat global warming. "I doubt if you will get anything close to a global agreement. It is not possible particularly considering the situation in some countries," Pachauri said. He highlighted the need for action on funding for developing nations to cope with the impacts of climate change. “So I think Mexico will have to work on some of these countries to see that they (developed nations) really put some money on the table," he said. He urged Mexico, “For heaven's sake, please get the commitment on funding.”

For additional information see: Press Trust of India, AFP

Carbon Storage by Plants is Decreasing

In the August 20 issue of Science, researchers report that rising temperatures over the past decade have caused droughts that reduced the number of plants able to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). Maosheng Zhao and Steven W. Running of the University of Montana used data from NASA satellites from 1982 to 2009 to measure plant productivity throughout the world. Their research showed an increase in plant productivity between 1982 and 1999, which they attributed to warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons. Between the years 2000 and 2009, however, they found the trend reversed. Compared to a six percent increase in growth in the 1980s and 90s, there was a small but measurable decline of about one percent from 2000-2009.

The decline in growth reduces the ability of plants to take up CO2 as it performs photosynthesis, Zhao noted, leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere and thus more warming. "This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth," co-author Running said. “We see this as a bit of a surprise, and potentially significant on a policy level because previous interpretations suggested global warming might actually help plant growth around the world.”

For additional information see: Nature, Study Abstract, AP, Guardian

Antarctic Sea Ice Growth Could Reverse Due to Warming, Study Says

On August 16, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that natural variability in the Antarctic climate system has been more dominant than the effects of global warming over the past 30 years, causing the mass of sea ice around Antarctica to grow in recent decades, in spite of warming air and surface sea temperatures in the southern polar region. The study was headed by Jiping Liu and Judith Curry at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who analyzed Southern Ocean temperature records and the best simulations of sea surface temperature to explain the phenomenon. The model found that higher sea surface temperatures increased evaporation in more temperate zones, which ramped up precipitation closer to Antarctica. This model also predicts that, by the end of the century if not much sooner, the trend will reverse and that Antarctic sea ice will begin shrinking, similar to the observed rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic region.

For additional information see: National Geographic, Discovery News, Study Abstract

Warming Ocean Temperatures Causing Massive Coral Bleaching in South Asia

On August 17, scientists monitoring coral reefs off the Aceh province of Indonesia announced the presence of one of the most rapid and severe incidents of coral die-offs or “bleaching” ever observed. Following up on local reports, scientists from the James Cook University in Australia, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, determined that approximately 80 percent of coral species over this vast area have died in the months since an assessment completed in May of this year, with further bleaching expected in coming months. Bleaching, where coral species occupying the reef substrate suddenly die and leave the remaining coral substrate white in color, is known to occur when coral ecosystems are under stress, including warming ocean temperatures. Recent ocean temperatures in Aceh waters have been approximately 4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. "There might be one of these cyclic climate phenomena driving it but it's much more severe than you would predict unless there was something else forcing it, which is almost certainly global warming," said Andrew Baird of James Cook University.

For additional information see: Reuters, UPI, Environmental News Source, Philippine Star

Other Headlines

Sept 14: Alliance to Save Energy Policy Summit

On September 14, the Alliance’s Policy Summit entitled “From Power Plant to Plug & Beyond: Energy Efficiency Opportunities Across the Smart Grid,” will assemble global leaders for a discussion on the role energy efficiency must play in successfully creating a smart grid that reaches all end-use sectors. The Summit will take place on Tuesday, September 14, from 8:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. in 325 Russell Senate Office Building. Breakfast will be provided during the event, allowing participants valuable networking time. There is NO CHARGE for this important and timely event, but space is limited and provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Please register here.

Writer: Amy Sauer

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