Climate Change News November 29, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
November 29, 2010


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China, Other Nations, Set the Stage for Cancun Talks

On November 22, Chinese government officials held a press conference outlining their position ahead of the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. The press event was scheduled to coincide with the release of their annual report, The Climate Change Green Paper. China’s chief negotiator in international climate change talks, Xie Zhenhua, acknowledged that China was the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and hoped the GHG emissions would peak at an early date. He also said that rich countries should take the lead with steep cuts in GHG emissions, allowing developing countries to grow their economies. China wants the Kyoto Protocol to continue as the key climate treaty, which would allow developing nations such as China to take voluntary, non-binding steps in curbing emissions. Xie also noted that negotiations in Cancun would only succeed if participants agreed on financing and technology transfer mechanisms to help developing countries reduce their GHG emissions. “Developed countries need to take the lead in massively cutting their greenhouse gas emission[s] in order to give further development space to developing countries,” Xie said. “Developing countries in particular should be concerned about achieving tangible results with regard to funding and technology transfer issues.”

In related news, officials from several countries have announced their positions and expectations heading into Cancun. On November 25, Hideki Minamikawa, vice minister for global environmental affairs at Japan's environment ministry, said that Japan opposes an extension of the Kyoto Protocol if it binds only rich nations to limit their carbon emissions and excludes China and the United States. Earlier, dozens of African countries signed on to a consensus statement at the Seventh Annual African Development Forum that, in part, reiterated the long held negotiating position that industrialized nations should take the lead in reducing GHG emissions and increase their finance and technology transfer to developing countries. Lead Canadian climate negotiator Guy Saint-Jacques expressed his doubts of the UN climate process, noting “I find it's a very frustrating process, because it means you're not working on a consensus basis, you're working on unanimity basis,” he said. “Any country can block any point on the discussion.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Associated Press, China Daily, Consensus Statement of the African Development Forum, The Globe and Mail, Reuters

EPA Finalizes Carbon Storage Rules

On November 22, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized two rules that will govern carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which could allow large carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters such as coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions by injecting CO2 underground. The new geologic sequestration rules aim to protect drinking water and track the amount of CO2 that is stored. “We’re taking a major step towards path breaking innovations that will reduce greenhouse gases and put America in the forefront of the clean energy economy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By providing clarity about greenhouse gas reporting and the necessary protections for drinking water sources during carbon sequestration, we’ve cleared the way for people to use this promising technology.” The rule concerning greenhouse gas reporting for geologic sequestration will take effect December 31, 2010, and the rule concerning drinking water safety will take effect in the summer of 2011.

For additional information see: Associated Press, Bloomberg, EPA

56 Religious Groups Urge Senate to Save the Clean Air Act

On November 23, a diverse group of 56 faith-based groups released a joint letter urging the Senate to continue allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act. The joint letter opens as follows: "As communities and people of faith, we are called to protect and serve God's great Creation and work for justice for all of God's people. We believe that the United States must take all appropriate and available actions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change; we therefore urge you to oppose any efforts to undermine the authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.” Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has submitted a proposal to delay EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions by two years. The proposal may receive a vote before the end of the year.

For additional information see: PR Newswire

California Plans for Climate Change

On November 22, the California Adaptation Advisory Panel released a report that provides plans for California to adapt to climate change impacts. The report calls for Governor-elect Jerry Brown to appoint a Climate Risk Council that would assess relevant science and provide guidance to the Governor on risks associated with climate change. The report focuses largely on coastal counties, and urged a more cohesive approach to three threats: diminishing water supplies, sea level rise, and severe fire outbreaks. “The picture is global and yet there are regional differences," Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences said. "California wants to make sure they understand what may happen in the case of sea level rise - not just along the coast, but inland as well. They want to take actions that will keep them ahead of the game."

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Report

Utilities Move Ahead to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On November 16, Exelon released a plan of action to reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by about 60 million metric tons per year. Exelon is the nation’s largest owner of nuclear power plants, which do not emit CO2 to produce power, and plans to spend more than $5 billion by 2017 to reduce its CO2 emissions. Others in the utility industry have identified opportunities to make similar investments. Bob Shapard, chief executive at Oncor, an energy-delivery company in Dallas, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that smart meters, electric cars and big transmission projects could trim greenhouse gas emissions significantly and were a worthy focus of utility investment.

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, Exelon Press Release

Mayors Sign Climate Change Pact Ahead of Cancun

On November 21, mayors from 138 of the world’s largest cities signed a pact to set greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals in hopes that their national counterparts would make similar progress at the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Cancun. The accord is voluntary, but both the targets and the progress that the cities make will be reported to a Cities Climate Registry. The summit’s host, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of Mexico City, noted that there were also financial interests at stake: “mayors believe that if financial resources become available through transfers from developed to developing countries, a significant portion of these monies should be passed through to cities and local governments to implement local climate programs.” The summit was convened by the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).

For additional information see: CNN, Business Green, New York Times, Agence France Presse

UN: Greenhouse Gas Pledges Insufficient to Keep Global Warming Under 2 Degrees

On November 23, the United Nations Environment Program released a report showing that if all greenhouse gas reduction pledges made at the UN climate summit last year in Copenhagen were achieved, it would only amount to 60 percent of the reductions needed to keep the global warming to 2°C. Instead, the corresponding temperature rise would be approximately 2.5°C. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that the emissions gap needed to be discussed at the climate negotiations in Cancun scheduled to begin November 29. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said, “governments meeting at the U.N. Climate Conference in Cancún will need to both anchor the pledges they made in Copenhagen in the U.N. context and to work swiftly to agree on ways to reduce emissions so that the world has a chance of staying below a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, CNN, Reuters, Report

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Have Reached Record Level

On November 24, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a bulletin showing that concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere have reached record highs since pre-industrial times. GHGs have the ability to absorb more solar radiation than other atmospheric gases, and this causes an increase in Earth’s surface temperature. "The main long-lived greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have reached their highest recorded levels since the beginning of the industrial age, and this despite the recent economic slowdown," WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa said. Carbon dioxide contributes to 63.5 percent of total radiative forcing. Its concentration has increased by 38 percent since 1750, mainly because of emissions from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and changes in land use, the WMO said. The findings of the bulletin will be discussed at the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, scheduled to begin November 29.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg, World Meteorological Association

Climate Change Occurring Despite Recent Short-Term Trends

On November 26, the UK Meteorological (Met) Office released a report showing that climate change is occurring even though the rate of warming may have slowed in the past decade. The Met Office also announced that sea surface temperatures from the last decade were going to be adjusted upwards. Beginning in 2000, buoys began recording temperature data, but prior to that, the data was supplied by ships. The buoys tend to record a lower temperature than the ships, and thus the data will have to be recalibrated. The Met Office stated: “since the late 1970s the long-term rate of surface warming has been about 0.16 °C per decade. However, over the last decade the rate of warming has decreased. Natural variability within the climate system could explain all of this recent decrease. Other factors could have contributed: changes in stratospheric water vapor, solar variability, and increased aerosol emissions from Asia.” The Office acknowledged that more research was needed to fully understand the short and long-term trends in climate variability.

For additional information see: Reuters, Guardian, Financial Times, CNN

Norway Calls for More Research into Climate Impacts and Adaptation Measures

In the third week of November, the government of Norway released a report documenting Norway’s vulnerability to climate change and the possible adaptation measures that it could take to combat the effects of climate change. The report found that average annual temperatures in Norway are projected to rise 2.3-4.6°C, average annual precipitation is expected to increase five to 30 percent by 2100, ocean temperatures will rise along the entire Norwegian coastline, and sea levels could rise in varied amounts along the coast. The report supports long-term research programs that will specifically address climate change impacts and actions to adapt to those impacts. The report also emphasizes the need for knowledge dissemination and specially prepared climate projections that enables technical users to comprehend the models and make better decisions.

For additional information see: Science Daily, The Research Council of Norway

Carbon Emissions Set to Be Highest on Record in 2010

On November 21, the Global Carbon Project published a study in Nature Geoscience showing that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions levels in 2009 fell just 1.3 percent below 2008 levels, less than half of the 2.8 percent drop that was expected. The recession caused CO2 growth rates to be lower in the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Russia and the United States. However, CO2 emissions from China increased by eight percent in 2009. Additionally, the overall amount of global fossil fuel emissions was still the second highest in human history, at 30.8 billion tons, just below the record set in 2008. CO2 emissions levels in 2010 are expected to rise again and could reach record levels; this is largely due to the burning of oil, coal, and gas in countries like China and India as their economies grow. The study did show that CO2 emissions from deforestation have decreased by over 25 percent since 2000. The study was part of Global Carbon Project’s annual carbon budget update.

For additional information see: Telegraph, Business Green, Science Daily, Global Carbon Project

Cloud Study Predicts More Global Warming

In the third week of November, researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa published a study in the Journal of Climate showing that warmer climates are more sensitive to increases in greenhouse gases than previously thought. Currently, there is disagreement in many climate models about the magnitude of global warming due to the feedback caused by clouds. Some models predict that global average cloud cover will increase in a warmer climate, and other models predict that global average cloud cover will be reduced. This study applied a model developed at the International Pacific Research Center to study the clouds of a limited region of atmosphere over the eastern Pacific Ocean, which are known to greatly influence the present climate, but were previously poorly represented in climate models. Co-author Kevin Hamilton concludes, "If our model results prove to be representative of the real global climate, then climate is actually more sensitive to perturbations by greenhouse gases than current global models predict, and even the highest warming predictions would underestimate the real change we could see."

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Polar Bears Unable to Compete with Grizzly Bears for Food

On November 23, a study published in an online journal of the Public Library of Science shows that as climate change forces grizzly bears and polar bears to accept closer habitats, grizzly bears will likely win out in the fight for food. Grizzly bears have begun moving north as their original habitat becomes warmer, and polar bears have begun moving south as climate change has reduced the amount of ice in their original habitat, forcing the two species to share territory. Polar bears’ diet will have to change, and scientists say their skulls and teeth are not designed to eat vegetation like plants, grass, tree bark, and berries. However, plants already makes up the bulk of the grizzly bears’ diet. "To people who say polar bears can just change their diet, we are saying ... they will have to, but it probably will not be sufficient for them, especially if they are co-existing with grizzly bears," said Blair Van Valkenburgh, senior author of the paper.

For additional information see: Reuters

Lake Temperatures Rising Faster than Air Temperatures

On November 24, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that lakes are warming faster than the air. Using satellites, two NASA scientists studied 167 large inland lakes around the globe and found that on average they had warmed 1.1°C since 1985, which is about two and half times higher than the same average increase in air temperature. Russia’s Lake Ladoga and America’s Lake Tahoe warmed 2.2°C and 1.7°C, respectively, the most out of the lakes studied. The scientists said the next question to consider was why the lakes were warming faster than the air or land. "Our analysis provides a new, independent data source for assessing the impact of climate change over land around the world," said Philipp Schneider, lead author of the study. "The results have implications for lake ecosystems, which can be adversely affected by even small water temperature changes."

For additional information see: Associated Press, Agence France Presse

Reforestation Regulations Needed to Protect Biodiversity

On November 23, a study published in Carbon Balance and Management shows that carbon emission reduction strategies, such as reforestation projects may threaten biodiversity in the tropics. The authors studied biodiversity and carbon emission reduction schemes in Indonesia to highlight how biodiversity could be harmed under strategies like the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program. “Peat swamp forests attract the bulk of REDD funds -- they hold around 8 times more carbon than other lowland forests, and provide habitat for high profile species such as orangutan, tigers and Asian elephants,” co-author Matthew Struebig, from the University of London said. “However, when we look at overall numbers of plants, mammals and birds, especially species of greatest conservation concern, we find that peat forests typically support lower densities and fewer species than other lowland forest types.” Lead author Gary Paoli said, “in short, the highest carbon savings are not necessarily located in places with the highest levels of species diversity.” The authors argue that a regulatory framework for REDD is needed that will produce co-benefits for biodiversity and carbon emissions reduction.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Other Headlines

Writers: Amber Pembleton and Matthew Johnson

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