Climate Change News April 18, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 18, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


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NOAA Climate Service Cut in FY 2011 Budget

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been constructing a new Climate Service that would provide climate information and data in accessible and timely formats to assist people in making decisions. In addition to providing climate information, the Climate Service would develop products, assessments, and tools to aid its stakeholders in preparing for and responding to climate change. However, funding for the program was cut in the Continuing Resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year 2011 that was agreed to by Congress and the White House on April 8. Since the NOAA plans to establish the Climate Service in 2012, this lack of funding does not directly affect the program unless it is carried over into the fiscal 2012 budget. The Department of Commerce and NOAA proposed establishing a NOAA Climate Service in February, 2010.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Spending Bill

California Expands Carbon Trading Program to Three Canadian Provinces

On April 12, California officials announced that the state will expand its new carbon-trading program to three Canadian provinces, British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. The program is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial plants and transportation fuel, allowing companies to buy and sell emissions permits among themselves to cut their costs. Quebec is expected to join the program when it is launched this January, with British Columbia and Ontario joining within a year, creating the largest regional cap-and-trade system in North America. Arizona, New Mexico Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana were originally part of the initiative but withdrew.

For additional information see: LA Times

Bloomberg and Clinton to Merge Climate Groups

On April 13, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Bill Clinton announced a plan to merge their global climate groups. C40 Cities, a coalition of international cities run by Bloomberg, will merge with Clinton’s philanthropic foundation, the Clinton Climate Initiative, doubling both groups’ annual budget and staff. Bloomberg and Clinton are scheduled to deliver a joint address next month at an environmental conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Both programs are aimed at reducing carbon emissions in large cities through programs that would make buildings more efficient, promote mass transit, and reuse greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Jay Carson, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, will become chief executive of the new organization which will be called the C40-Clinton Climate Initiative. It is expected to have a budget of about $15 million per year and a staff of 70.

For additional information see: NY Times

China Planning Emissions Trading in Six Regions

Sun Cuihua, the vice-director of the climate change department at the National Development and Reform Commission, announced at a conference that China will launch pilot emissions trading programs in the cities of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Tianjin and the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong before 2013, as well as set up a nationwide trading platform by 2015. China has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. The government plans to cut energy intensity by 16 percent and carbon intensity by 17 percent in the 2011-2015 period to meet this goal. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, provinces and regions have already been issued local targets, but the figures have not yet been released to the public.

For additional information see: Reuters

Indian States to Implement 2-Year Pilot Emission Trading Scheme

Three Indian states, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, have begun to implement a pilot emission trading program in an effort to reduce emissions. The Times of India reported on April 12 that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board began analyzing emissions of industrial units by using online monitoring systems, and will put a cap on emissions within clusters, as well as on individual units. “For the next six months, we will be tracking the emissions of industries such as thermal [plants], cement factories, etc, which are responsible for ambient air pollution. Based on the six-month findings, we will determine the capping limit," said Environmental Secretary Nair Singh. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) will use the next two years to determine how this market-based pilot program can aid Indian environmental regulations in the future.

For additional information see: Times of India

UK Carbon Floor Price Estimated to Cut Emissions 5.3 Percent by 2020

Research released by Point Carbon indicated that the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) proposed carbon floor price will cut UK energy industry emissions 5.3 percent by 2020. The proposals include a requirement for fuel suppliers to pay a floor tax, regardless of any future changes in the price of carbon through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The research noted that the carbon price will be set two years prior to the time of the tax taking effect, which could result in a UK carbon price as high as 54 Euros per ton, significantly more than the 36 Euros per ton that is expected throughout the rest of the European Union (EU). The report predicted that this high carbon price will increase investment in renewable and low-carbon energy, although the higher price of carbon in the UK may put it at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to other EU nations.

For additional information see: Business Green

Climate Change to Cause More Droughts in Southern Taiwan

Research conducted by the Research Center for Environmental Changes indicated that a change in global weather will cause Taiwan to experience an increase of floods in the rainy season and droughts in the dry season. Rainfall distribution between wet and dry seasons has shifted 15 percent in the past 30 years. Reservoirs in the area are able to hold six months worth of necessary water supplies each year, but may not be sufficient with an extending dry season, leading to severe droughts. Leading researcher Chou Chia suggested the government re-evaluate how the nation collects and stores water, as well as implement more efficient ways of irrigating crops.

For additional information see: China Post

Greenhouse Gases Released from Forest Soils

A study published in the journal Nature found that anywhere from two to six percent of atmospheric reactive nitrogen is converted by forests into nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), and then emitted from forest soil back into the atmosphere. The previous estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was only one percent. Forest deposition of reactive nitrogen has increased about 1.5 million tons per year from 1860 to 2000. The sources for the atmospheric deposition of reactive nitrogen are mainly the volatilization of ammonia from fertilizers used in agriculture, and nitrogen oxide emissions formed by the combustion of fossil fuels or biomass burning. In addition to producing N20, nitrogen deposition on forests also reduces plant and animal diversity, and increases nitrate levels in water. The study identifies which European regions are at the greatest risks for nitrogen pollution and outlines actions to be taken to protect the environment and public health.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Climate Change Causes Seismic Shifts

A study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters found that long-term climate change has the potential to move the Earth’s tectonic plates. According to the study, intensification of Indian monsoons, which increased rainfall in northeast India by four meters per year, have accelerated the movement of the Indian plate by a factor of 20 percent over the past 10 million years. Although scientists have previously known that tectonic movements influence climate by creating new mountains and sea trenches, this study was the first to show the reverse. The study did not indicate climate change will cause stronger, more frequent earthquakes, but it will contribute to understanding what caused plate motions to change and which regions are currently more prone to large earthquakes.

For additional information see: ANU, AFP, Study

Antarctic Penguins Suffering from Effects of Climate Change

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that climate change is affecting both chinstrap penguin and Adelie penguin populations through reductions in their food supply. Krill, the penguins’ main food source, requires sea ice to reproduce. The reduction in sea ice from climate change has led to an 80 percent decrease in krill populations since 1970. Over the past decade, chinstrap penguin populations have fallen by 4.3 percent a year, and Adelie penguin populations have fallen 2.9 percent a year. According to the study, fewer fledgling penguins are surviving to adulthood, causing some penguin colonies to fall by half. The penguins face more danger as krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean expand.

For additional information see: Mongabay, Reuters, NY Times, Study

Plant Diversity Could Offset Effects of Climate Change on Crops

New research presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in the United Kingdom indicated that as climates change, plants will become more vulnerable to infectious disease, threatening crop yields and affecting the price and availability of food. The research focused on how changing levels of rainfall, humidity, and temperature all play a role in the predominance of a toxic fungal disease affecting wheat called Fusarium head blight (FHB). Mathematical models have shown that the number of FHB epidemics, as well as the amount of mycotoxin, the harmful toxin released by FHB, will increase across the United Kingdom in coming decades. “Higher temperatures, increasing levels of carbon dioxide, water limitation and quality may all affect existing plant microbes as well as favouring the appearance of new microbes. This may increase the incidence of some diseases and reduce the incidence of others,” said Dr. Adrian Newton, author of the study. He suggested that exploiting plant diversity will increase resilience to disease and other factors associated with climate change. “This means less pesticide use, reliable crop production and sustainable food production systems,” he said.

For additional information see: Science Daily

Ancient Fossil Record Informs Future Climate Patterns

In a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, UCLA geoscientists constructed an ancient climate record by analyzing fossilized mollusk shells . The study used two geochemical techniques to determine the summertime Arctic temperatures during the early Pliocene epoch (3.5 million to 4 million years ago), in which the shells were formed, and found that temperatures may have been 18 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from the Pliocene epoch remained near the current value of 400 parts per million (ppm) for thousands of years, possibly indicating how warm the planet may get if CO2 levels are stabilized at modern levels. The results of the study supported previous climate models which predicted summertime sea ice will be eliminated in the next 50 to 100 years. By evaluating the isotopic content of oxygen from both fossilized mollusk and plant samples, scientists were able to determine the temperature at which the specimens originally formed, eliminating the need for ice cores which only provided climate information up to 800,000 years ago, during which CO2 levels were never above 280 to 300 ppm. Scientists created an additional method that determined how much of the rarest isotopes of carbon and oxygen are present in just the mollusk sample, which yielded results consistent with the original method. Data from these methods were in sync with three entirely different approaches, proving them to be reliable.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

West Antarctic Warming Triggered by Warmer Sea Surface in Tropical Pacific

A study published in Nature Geoscience found that rising surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the equator and near the International Date Line drive atmospheric circulation that has caused some of the largest shifts in Antarctic climate in recent decades. The warmer surface temperatures cause air to rise, creating a large wave structure in the atmosphere which brings warmer temperatures to the West Antarctic during winter and spring. By using surface and satellite temperature observations, scientists found a strong relationship between central Pacific sea-surface readings and Antarctic temperatures during the winter months of June through August, as well as a less pronounced relationship in the spring months of September through November. The results could also provide clues for scientists as to why the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is thinning.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Cornell Study on GHG Impact of Fracking Released

A Cornell University study published in Climate Change Letters concluded natural gas produced by a drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking,” could contribute more to global warming than previously thought. The findings are controversial due to previous estimations that natural gas had a fraction of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of coal, and “shale gas” has been widely credited in many circles for keeping energy prices low during the recession. According to the study, however, the production of gas from shale produces much higher methane emissions, a GHG many times more potent than carbon dioxide, which is enough to negate the carbon advantage that it has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy. “The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years,” stated Robert Howarth, one of the authors of the study.

For additional information see: Time, NY Times, Study

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

H.R. 910:
Intent: To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes.
Previous Action: Passed House on April 7, 2011, 255-172.
Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Related Bill: S. 482 (Inhofe, R-NM)
For more information: Bill Summary

April 25: Warming World: Impacts by Degree

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that details for the first time what the anticipated effects of climate change will be per degree of global temperature increase. Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations and Impacts over Decades to Millennia details the impacts of human activities — particularly emissions of carbon dioxide, but also other greenhouse gas emissions — which are so vast they will largely control the future of the Earth’s climate system. A companion piece, Warming World: Impacts by Degree, highlights the main findings of the report. Two authors of the report will discuss its findings and how the future could bring a relatively mild change in climate or an extreme change to entirely different climate conditions that will persist for many thousands of years. This briefing will also include perspective on the value judgments that policymakers face when they deliberate on the risks of climate change. The event will be held Monday, April 25, 2011, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m., in 122 Cannon House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact EESI at climate [at] or (202) 662-1892.

Writers: Deep Ghosh and Matthew Johnson

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