Climate Change News December 7, 2009

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 7, 2009



Obama Vows Emissions Reductions As World Leaders Gather in Copenhagen

On November 25, President Obama announced that the United States would pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below the 2005 baseline by 2020 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, set to begin December 7. Obama also announced that he will attend the conference on December 18 as talks come to a close. "Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the President believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th,“ a statement from the White House Press Secretary said.

From December 7-18, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen to attempt to negotiate a political framework for a new international climate change treaty. Over 90 world leaders will join President Obama and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen at Copenhagen, including heads of state from China, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Brazil. President Obama’s pledge could help overcome one of the main negotiating hurdles: near-term emissions targets for developed countries. Other issues yet to be resolved include financial aid for developing countries to pursue a sustainable development trajectory, the transfer of clean technology, funding for climate change adaptation in developing countries, and deforestation. World leaders have signaled that an agreement at Copenhagen would be the basis of a legally binding international climate change treaty to be finalized in 2010.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, New York Times

China Pledges 40-45 Percent Reduction in Carbon Intensity

On November 26, the Chinese State Council’s Standing Committee announced that China will reduce its carbon intensity 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. “This is a voluntary action taken by the Chinese government based on its own national conditions and is a major contribution to the global effort in tackling climate change,” the State Council said. Carbon intensity refers to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). China’s new target does not specifically ensure that China’s overall greenhouse gas emissions will peak, but does indicate that emissions per unit of GDP will decline. A White House spokesman said that the administration welcomes “China’s intention to cut the growth of their emissions.”

For additional information see: China Daily, BBC, Reuters, Wall Street Journal

India, Singapore Pledge Carbon Reductions by 2020

On December 3, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced that India will reduce its carbon intensity 20-25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. “India, of all the 192 countries in the world, owes a responsibility not to the world but to itself to take climate change seriously,” he said. Carbon intensity refers to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). India’s new target does not specifically ensure that India’s overall greenhouse gas emissions will peak, but does indicate that emissions per unit of GDP will decline. Ramesh said that India would meet this pledge regardless of the outcome at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen beginning December 7. He did signal that India would do more if a deal is struck at Copenhagen, saying, “We are prepared to do even more. This is our baseline. We will do this on our own.”

On December 3, Singapore pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 16 percent below the “business as usual” projection by 2020. “Ours is a substantial commitment that will require a major effort, bearing in mind our severe constraints,” said Singapore’s Coordinating Minister for National Security S. Jayakumar. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recommended that developing nations such as Singapore cut their emissions by 15-30 percent below “business as usual” by 2020. “We think this is a good first start. I think Singapore can do more," said World Wildlife Fund Singapore Managing Director Amy Ho. “We would ask Singapore to aim higher and move towards the upper band, closer to 30 percent.”

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters

Hackers Publish Sensitive Climate Emails

On November 19, thousands of sensitive documents and private emails hacked from the server at University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) were published online. The emails contained private correspondence from some of the world’s preeminent climate scientists over the past decade. Climate change skeptics have argued that the hacked files cast doubt on some climate science and the peer-review process in general. On November 30, CRU Director Phil Jones stepped down pending the results of a university investigation. On December 2, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt work on its greenhouse gas endangerment finding until an investigation into the files was completed. The next day EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson declined Sen. Inhofe’s request, saying, “At this point, I have seen nothing that indicates the scientists out there have said that they've changed their consensus.” Ben Santer, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote an open letter on December 1 to the scientific community about the incident. “We are now faced with powerful ‘forces of unreason’—forces that (at least to date) have been unsuccessful in challenging scientific findings of a warming Earth, and a ‘discernible human influence’ on global climate,” Santer wrote. “These forces of unreason are now shifting the focus of their attention to the scientists themselves. They seek to discredit, to skew the truth, to misrepresent. They seek to destroy scientific careers rather than to improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change.”

For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Climate Science Watch

Sen. Kerry Pushes for More Climate Change Aid to Poor Nations

On December 1, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) recommended in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Obama administration set aside $3 billion in the FY 2011 budget for climate change aid to developing nations. The FY 2010 budget included $1.2 billion for climate change assistance. Kerry said, “The global community has agreed that $10 billion is required annually in fast-start financing to support immediate international climate change priorities. The United States must be prepared to contribute its fair share of this obligation.” On November 27, British Prime Minster Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy proposed a fast-start $10 billion per year fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.

On December 4, Kerry introduced the International Climate Change Investment Act of 2009. The bill would authorize new programs and funding to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, deploy clean technologies, and reduce deforestation. Kerry said the bill is intended to be the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s contribution to the broader climate and energy legislation currently being considered in the Senate, as well as the “foundation” of the U.S. climate finance package to be proposed at the United Nations negotiations in Copenhagen beginning December 7.

For additional information see: AFP, Reuters, Sen. Kerry's Office Press Release, New York Times

Group of Senate Democrats Send Letter to White House with Climate Negotiation Concerns

On December 3, nine Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Obama laying out the principles they wanted United States negotiators to follow at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference. The Senators recommended that the United States seek a deal at Copenhagen that limits the temperature increase to 2°C, and that all major economies should take actions to mitigate climate change. Other issues they wanted to see addressed at Copenhagen include protection of intellectual property, verification of offsets, adaptation assistance for the poorest nations, and cost-effectiveness. “We stand ready to work with you to develop timely, affordable and effective climate solutions that are consistent with these principles, including a carefully-designed mandatory program that would reduce U.S. emissions, spur international action and help ensure a level playing field for U.S. companies and workers,” the Senators wrote. The letter was signed by Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Mark Begich (D-AK).

For additional information see: NASDAQ, New York Times, AFP, Office of Sen. Specter

EPA: Fuel Economy Increases as CO2 Decreases

On November 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual report, “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends.” The EPA determined that carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles in 2009 have decreased by 8 percent since 2004 because the average fuel economy of the nation’s automobile fleet has increased by 9 percent, or 1.8 miles per gallon (mpg) over the timeframe. The EPA predicted that the average fuel economy will increase to 21.1 mpg in 2009, up from 21 mpg in 2008. "American drivers are increasingly looking for cars that burn cleaner, burn less gas and won't burn a hole in their wallets,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

For additional information see: Environmental Protection Agency Press Release, UPI, AP

Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases Reach Record Levels

On November 23, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached a record high of 385.2 parts per million (ppm) in 2008, an increase of 2 ppm over 2007. The WMO also announced that atmospheric concentrations of methane had shown a “significant increase” in 2007 and 2008. “In 2008, global concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, which are the main long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have reached the highest levels recorded since pre-industrial times,” the WMO said. WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud noted, “It's not really good news: concentration of greenhouse gases continue to increase, actually even a bit faster . . . This is reinforcing the fact that we are actually closer to the pessimistic scenario” that was forecasted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.

For additional information see: Reuters, AFP, AP, World Meteorological Organization Press Release

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decreased by 2.2 Percent in 2008

On December 3, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 2.2 percent in 2008. The EIA also said carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy use fell 2.9 percent in 2008. U.S. GHG and CO2 emissions have increased at a trend rate of 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent per year, respectively, since 1990. The EIA attributed the decline in emissions to the recession, which reduced demand for energy, and the 2007-2008 spike in oil prices.

For additional information see: Reuters, Energy Information Administration Press Release

California Releases Draft Rules for Cap and Trade Program

On November 24, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a draft rule for the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) cap and trade program. The draft rule would require California’s 600 largest GHG emitters to reduce their emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The cap and trade program will be one action California takes to reduce its emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as required by California Assembly Bill 32. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “We have seen our green economy grow along with California's green initiatives, and I have no doubt the nation's first cap and trade program will also drive innovation and generate green jobs.” CARB Chair Mary Nichols added, “This marks another important milestone in California's efforts to deal with the very difficult and complicated process of developing a broad program to address climate change.”

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury, New York Times, Reuters

Poll Finds Americans Favor Carbon Tax over Cap and Trade Policy

On December 1, the U.S. Climate Task Force and Future 500 released a new poll conducted by Hart Research which found that those polled prefer a carbon tax to cap and trade by a two to one margin. When asked to choose between a carbon tax and cap and trade, 58 percent of the over 1,000 registered voters polled said they preferred a carbon tax versus 27 percent who said they supported cap and trade. Overall, the poll found that 74 percent of respondents favored policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

For additional information see: Climate Task Force Press Release

North Carolina Utility to Shut Down 11 Coal-fired Plants; Exelon Closing Two in Pennsylvania

On December 1, the electric utility Progress Energy announced it would close 11 coal-fired power plants by 2017. Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson said he was betting that natural gas prices will stay low and that Congress will pass climate change legislation. Progress Energy Carolinas CEO Lloyd Yates added, “Coal-fueled generation will continue to be vital to our ability to meet customer electricity needs. But as environmental regulations continue to change, and as even more significant rule changes appear likely in the near future, the costs of retrofitting and operating these plants will increase dramatically.”

On December 2, the electric utility Exelon Corp. announced it will shut down two coal-fired power plants in 2011. “Decreased power demand, over supply of natural gas and increasing operating costs, has led Exelon Power to retire these units,” said Exelon Power Senior Vice President Doyle Beneby. Exelon President Christopher M. Crane said, “While these units are currently compliant with environmental regulations, we can see the increasing likelihood of environmental restrictions . . . that would require significant capital expenditures.”

For additional information see: AP, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, AP, Bloomberg

Investors Push SEC on Climate Risk Disclosure

On November 23, the group Ceres, which includes investors and environmentalists controlling over $1 trillion in assets, petitioned the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies to disclose climate risk in their correspondence with investors. Ceres specifically asked the SEC to mandate that companies release their greenhouse gas emissions data, risks posed by climate change impacts, and what actions they are currently undertaking to mitigate climate risk. “This is calling for real transparency on material risks that have a profound impact on share value of companies," said Ceres President Mindy Lubber. “These are now real on-balance sheet risks. They are material. They ought to be disclosed.”

For additional information see: Reuters, The Examiner

Health Officials: Cutting Greenhouse Pollutants Could Directly Save Millions of Lives Worldwide

On November 25, the British medical journal The Lancet published a series of studies which concluded that reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would have major public health benefits. The authors used case studies to illuminate the public health benefits of reducing GHG emissions in the electricity generation, household, transportation, and agriculture sectors. One study found that substituting 150 million solid fuel stoves in India with modern, low emission stoves would prevent 2 million deaths while substantially reducing global emissions of the GHG black carbon. “Policymakers need to know that if they exert their efforts in certain directions, they can obtain important public health benefits as well as climate benefits,” said author Michael Jerrett, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkley. “Combustion-related air pollution is estimated to be responsible for nearly 2.5 million premature deaths annually around the world and also for a significant portion of greenhouse warming. These studies provide the kind of concrete information needed to choose actions that efficiently reduce this health burden as well as reduce the threat of climate change.”

For additional information see: The Lancet, Science Daily

Antarctic Ice Loss Vaster, Faster than Thought

A study published in the November 22 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience discovered that the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is larger than previously thought. Researchers from the University of Texas found that from 2002 to 2009, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has been losing mass at an average rate of 5-109 gigatons a year, up from previous estimates of 4-22 gigatons per year. “Acceleration of ice loss in recent years over the entire continent is thus indicated,” the study concluded. “Antarctica may soon be contributing significantly more to global sea level rise.” The authors also concluded that the rate of ice loss has accelerated since 2006. “The key result is that [we] appear to start seeing a large amount of ice loss in East Antarctica, mostly in the long coastal regions, since 2006,” said author Jianli Chen. “This, if confirmed, could indicate a state change of East Antarctica, which could pose a large impact on global sea levels in the future.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP

Major Sea Level Rise Projected as Antarctic Ice Melts

On December 1, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) published a comprehensive review which concluded that ice loss in West Antarctica would likely cause sea levels to rise by 1.4 meters by 2100 if climate change continues unabated. SCAR determined that West Antarctica is losing ice because the ocean surrounding the continent is warming. In their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that sea levels would rise 0.18-0.59 meters by 2100, and that ice loss from West Antarctica would be negligible. NASA Glaciologist Robert Binschadler said, “The heat in the ocean is getting underneath the floating ice shelves, these floating fringes of the ice sheet that are hundreds of meters thick. That warm water is melting the underside of the ice shelf.”

SCAR also found that the ozone hole above Antarctica has offset much of the warming that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have caused in the region. The organization noted that the decline of the ozone hole through reductions in anthropogenic emissions of ozone depleting substances required by the Montreal Protocol would cause Antarctic temperatures to rise further. “The most astonishing evidence is the way that one man-made environmental impact -- the ozone hole -- has shielded most of Antarctica from another, global warming,” said lead editor John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey.

For additional information see: BBC, AFP, Reuters, The Guardian

Groups Petition EPA to Set Greenhouse Gas Limits Under Clean Air Act

On December 2, the Center for Biological Diversity and petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare greenhouse gases (GHGs) criteria pollutants which would force EPA to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. The groups asked EPA to cap atmospheric concentrations of GHGs at 350 parts per million (ppm), the level they said is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. “Leading scientists at NASA and around the world say we need to get to 350 ppm,” said founder Bill McKibben. "This petition simply asks EPA to do its job as science, the law and common sense require.” The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute Director Kassie Siegel said, “It's time to use our strongest existing tool for reducing greenhouse gas pollution -- the Clean Air Act. For four decades, this law has protected the air we breathe -- and it's done that through a proven, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits vastly exceeding its costs.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Center for Biological Diversity Press Release

Australian Senate Rejects Carbon Emissions Plan

On December 2, the Australian Senate voted 41 to 33 against Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s emission trading scheme for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Rudd’s cap and trade program would have reduced Australia’s GHG emissions 5 percent below the 2005 baseline by 2020, rising to 25 percent if a deal is reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. A day earlier, the Liberals, Australia’s opposition party, voted to remove their leader after he endorsed the Prime Minister’s climate change legislation. The newly-elected opposition leader, Tony Abbott, refused to endorse Rudd’s proposal and was able to stop all but two members of his party from voting for it. Rudd said he intends to reintroduce the legislation in February. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, “We are doing this to give the Liberal Party one chance to work through and deal with this legislation in the national interest. We believe that over the Christmas period there is time for the calmer heads in the Liberal Party to consider this question.”

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, AP, Reuters

New Zealand Passes Cap and Trade Program

On November 25, New Zealand’s Parliament approved its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), New Zealand’s cap and trade program for greenhouse gases (GHGs). The ETS will require New Zealand to reduce its GHG emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 unless an ambitious international climate change deal is reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen beginning December 7. If the Copenhagen conference is successful, then the ETS would require New Zealand to reduce its GHG emissions 20 percent below the 1990 level by 2020. “[The ETS] strikes the right balance in protecting the future of our economy and our environment,” said New Zealand Climate Change Minister Nick Smith said. “It ensures that we should do our fair share on climate change without the pretence that we should lead the world.”

For additional information see: AFP, Reuters, Sydney Morning Herald, Xinhua

UK and France Propose $10 Billion Climate Fund for Poor

On November 27, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy proposed a fast-start, annual $10 billion fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change at the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad. Brown said that the fund would start in 2010 and run through 2012, after which it would be superseded by a permanent financing mechanism to be set up at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. “What I feel the developing countries need to know is that we are absolutely serious that we would start now,” said Brown. “What I'm proposing today is a Copenhagen launch fund. It would start in 2010. It would be $10 billion per annum by 2012.”

For additional information see: BBC, Reuters, The Guardian

Global Warming to Threaten China's Harvests

In the December 2 issue of Seeking Truth, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s main magazine, China Meteorological Administration Director Zheng Guoguang wrote that climate change could reduce China’s crop productivity 5-10 percent by 2030 and 37 percent by 2050. He also said that extreme weather from climate change will cause China’s annual grain harvest to fluctuate 30-50 percent from the long-term average if climate change continues unchecked, versus 10-20 percent now. “If extreme climatic disasters occur twice or more within five years -- for example, major drought over two or three years -- then the impact on our country's economic and social development would be incalculable,” Zheng wrote. He urged China to prioritize “reducing the impact of global warming on the country's food security, and strengthening the capacity of agriculture to withstand climatic risks.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg, AFP

Global Emissions Exceeding 'Carbon Budget', Study Finds

On December 1, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released a new study which found that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2000 to 2008 accounted for 20 percent of the total the world can emit by 2050 if the temperature increase from global warming is to be kept at 2°C. PwC estimated that the world is currently 10 percent over the required trajectory needed to limit the temperature increase to 2°C. PwC Head of Macroeconomics John Hawksworth said, “Despite the widening consensus around the need to decarbonize, few countries are doing enough to live within our estimates of their carbon budgets. If the world stays on this [course] we will have used up the entire global carbon budget for the first half of this century by 2034, 16 years ahead of schedule.” PwC Climate Change Partner Leo Johnson added, “If we had started on a low-carbon pathway in 2000, we would have needed to decarbonize at around 2 percent a year up to 2008. We managed only 0.8 percent in 2000-08. The result is we now need to decarbonize at a rate of 3.5 percent a year to get back on track by 2020 -- four times more than we have managed at the global level since 2000.”

For additional information see: Reuters, The Guardian

Unchecked Climate Change Will Put World at 'Tipping Point'

On November 23, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and the insurer Allianz SE released a new report called “Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector,” which found that temperatures are close to reaching tipping points which could trigger abrupt climate impacts with serious socio-economic consequences. “Changes related to global warming are likely to be much more abrupt and unpredictable, and they could create huge social and environmental problems and cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars,” the groups said. One example of a tipping point the report evaluated is the rapid melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet should the global average temperature increase by more than 2°C. The report determined that this would cause sea levels to rise up to 0.5 meters by 2050 which would increase the value of assets at risk in all 136 global port mega-cities to $25 trillion. It also found that the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet would cause sea levels to rise by 0.65 meters in the U.S. Northeast, which would increase asset exposure from $1.35 trillion to $7.4 trillion. “If we don’t take immediate action against climate change, we are in grave danger of disruptive and devastating changes,” said Kim Carstensen, the Head of WWF Global Climate Initiative. “Reaching a tipping point means losing something forever. This must be a strong argument for world leaders to agree to a strong and binding climate deal in Copenhagen in December.”

For additional information see: AFP, Bloomberg, Financial Times, World Wildlife Fund Press Release

Other Headlines

January 26-28, 2010: EDTA Conference & Annual Meeting at the Washington Auto Show

The Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) invites you to its annual conference at the Washington Auto Show. The event features two general plenary sessions, 12 breakout sessions covering all aspects of the electric drive industry, and pre-conference workshops. Delegates will also enjoy numerous social and networking opportunities. By registering for the EDTA Conference, you will have full access to the Washington, DC Auto Show—including the “Government Sneak Peek” on January 26. The EDTA Conference will also feature an Advanced Technology Superhighway, featuring EDTA members and other companies showcasing the latest in battery, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric drive vehicles. Meet suppliers and infrastructure providers as well! To register, visit or call 202-408-0774 x 306.

Writers: David Sher and Amy Sauer

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