Climate Change News April 25, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 25, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


Supreme Court Hears GHG Nuisance Lawsuit April 19

On April 19, the Supreme Court heard arguments in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, a case centered on whether states should be allowed to sue electric utilities to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The court heard six states, New York City and three conservation groups argue against four private companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States. The Obama Administration has joined with the companies in asking the court to dismiss the case, stating that the EPA already is considering setting emission standards that would accomplish what the states are seeking. A court ruling is expected by late June.

For additional information see: AP

States, Utilities Ask EPA to Let Cap-and-Trade Count for GHG Compliance

The states of California, New York, and Minnesota have teamed up with 11 power companies and influential advocacy groups to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to let states meet the new federal climate change regulations with their own programs, such as the cap-and-trade program in the northeast known as the Regional GHG Initiative or California’s planned cap-and-trade program. This proposal comes in response to a settlement to require the EPA to set new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the utility sector this year. The coalition believes that they should be able to cut emissions however they want, as long as the amount of emissions reductions is greater than or equal to that required by the EPA. Many coal-dependent electricity producers would prefer not to face limits on their carbon emissions, but they favor cap-and-trade over the alternatives because they believe it is the cheapest way to meet emissions standards. The EPA is expected to release a proposal for the expanded GHG program this summer.

For additional information see: NY Times, Comments

New Lottery in UK Offers Players Offsets for Carbon Emissions

A new lottery offering winning players up to four million Euros per week, while offsetting carbon emissions will be launched on April 27. Players will choose their numbers before calculating their carbon footprint, and will then be told how many tickets they can purchase to offset their own carbon emissions. Each two-Euro ticket is equivalent to 100 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2), meaning the average resident in the UK would have to buy two tickets per week to offset their personal CO2 emissions. A quarter of each ticket price goes directly to carbon saving projects in developing nations which comply with the Gold Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS), a non-profit organisation which operates a carbon standard certification scheme for both Kyoto-based Clean Development Mechanism and Voluntary market credits. Gregor Paterson-Jones, developer of the game, is targeting regular National Lottery players, as well as companies like airlines and car rentals, who may want to offset some of their emissions through the program and hand out tickets to employees as incentives. If successful, the new lottery will likely be implemented in other European Countries.

For additional information see: Business Green

Australia's Greenhouse Emissions Increase 0.5 Percent in 2010

On April 18, government estimates showed that Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased 0.5 percent, or 543 million tons, from 2009 to 2010. The government is currently struggling to impose a carbon price that would be the highest per-capita among developed nations. Increased emissions in 2010 are due largely to industrial sector recovery after the economic slowdown in 2009. Non-electricity stationary energy emissions grew 5.4 percent, while emissions from electricity dropped about 2.7 percent. In the last quarter of 2010 emissions fell 1.2 percent due to coal-fired power generation being partially offset by increases in gas and hydropower generation. The cooler temperatures and increased rainfall reduced energy demand, and boosted hydropower, causing coal generation to fall 11 percent to its lowest quarterly level in the national energy market since 1999.

For additional information see: Reuters

Rising Sea Levels Trigger Disasters in China

The Xinhua state news agency reported on April 20 that rising sea levels caused by global warming over the past three decades have contributed to a growing number of disasters along China's coast. According to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), sea levels have been rising on average 2.6 millimeters per year for the past 30 years, with coastal air temperatures rising 0.4 degrees Celsius, and sea temperatures rising 0.2 degrees Celsius. The SOA stated that the rising sea levels could lead to aggravated storm tides, coastal erosion, seawater invasion, and other disasters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that China could be one of the biggest casualties of global warming in coming decades, with northern regions facing water shortages, decreased crop yields, and increasing sandstorms, whereas melting glaciers could increase flood risks in the south. The Chinese government plans to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels per unit of gross domestic product 17 percent in the next five years.

For additional information see: Reuters

Climate Change Affecting Chicago Sewer System

A city-funded study found that increasing rainfall attributed to climate change would overflow Chicago’s sewer system and cause it to drain into Lake Michigan, the drinking water source for over seven million people. The study showed that the amount of storms with more than 2.5 inches of rain per day, the amount necessary to trigger sewage dumping into Lake Michigan, will increase 50 percent by 2039, and 160 percent by the end of the century. Officials at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and City Hall have hired engineers to assess the effect of increased rainfall on the existing sewer system. Chicago has developed a plan to capture rainfall before it reaches the sewers through small-scale green infrastructure, such as planted rooftops and porous sidewalks and streets. It has also pledged to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by making buildings more energy efficient, using cleaner sources of energy and expanding mass transit.

For additional information see: Chicago Tribune

Melting Ice on Arctic Islands Contributes to Sea Level Rise More than Previously Thought

A new study published in Nature found that melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands play a much greater role in sea level rise than scientists previously thought. The study found that from 2004-2006, the region lost an average of 7 cubic miles of water per year, which increased to 22 cubic miles per year from 2006-2009, adding about one millimeter to the height of the world’s oceans. "This is a big response to a small change in climate. If the warming continues and we start to see similar responses in other glaciated regions, I would say it's worrisome,” said Alex Gardner, lead author of the study. Scientists performed numerical simulations and then used two different satellite-based techniques to independently validate their model results. Experts project that sea levels will rise one meter by the end of the century, displacing tens of millions of people living in low lying areas, poisoning aquifers, and amplifying the impacts of storm surges and tsunamis.

For additional information see: AP, Science Daily

Habitat Re-Creation Could Help Species Adapt to Climate Change

A study published in Conservation Letters found animals and plants may need extra habitats to survive the challenge of climate change. Human activities have isolated natural habitats, making it more difficult for some species to relocate to cooler regions in response to warming temperatures. The study used population models to show that many species could not successfully colonize the fragmented habitats of Yorkshire and Humber in England. Researchers found that by re-creating habitats in patches throughout the large gaps between existing habitats, species were able to successfully colonize new areas. "Our existing habitats provide the backbone that is vital for species survival both now and in the future, but on their own they are not enough to allow specialist species to keep up with climate change," said Professor Chris Thomas, co-author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Scientists Want Better Monitoring System for Greenhouse Gases

In a paper published in the Royal Society, scientists said a better monitoring network for greenhouse gases (GHG) is needed to warn of significant changes and to keep countries honest that have agreed to cut their emissions. According to scientists, additional observations can be used to predict climate tipping points from human-caused emissions. For example, as Arctic permafrost melts, it would cause plant matter to rot and vent methane, a more potent GHG which would trigger more warming. Additionally, wider observations would provide more accurate GHG emissions monitoring for countries involved in the Kyoto Protocol, and help negotiators to agree to a successor pact after 2012, according to the paper.

For additional information see: Reuters, Study

Soot May Be Responsible for Rapid Arctic Melt

An international team of scientists from the US, Norway, Russia, Germany, Italy and China, have begun a month-long research project to study the impact of black carbon soot particles in the Arctic, where surface temperatures have increased about twice as fast as the global average in the past 100 years. According to scientists, a thin, invisible layer of soot on the Arctic ice is causing it to absorb more heat, rather than reflect it back into space. The main sources of soot in the Arctic come from burning forests and fossil fuels in North America and Eurasia. The study, taking place in Svalbard, Norway, will track the movement of carbon soot through the atmosphere, its deposit on snow and ice surfaces, and its effect on warming in the Arctic. Two unmanned aircraft will collect aerosol soot in the air, and another craft will study the reflectivity of the surface. The Arctic Council, consisting of the eight countries bordering the Arctic, will use the study’s results to decide whether or not to seek reductions in soot from other nations. The study will conclude May 15.

For additional information see: AP, NOAA

Black Carbon’s Effect on Climate Change Depends on Altitude

A study published in Climate Dynamics found that the effect of black carbon on climate change depends upon its altitude in the atmosphere. Black carbon consists of aerosols made of sooty carbon that are released through the burning of diesel, other fossil fuels, and wood, and are believed to be among the largest anthropogenic contributors to global warming because they absorb solar radiation and heat the atmosphere. The study involved simulations of adding a theoretical megaton of black carbon uniformly around the globe at different altitudes in the atmosphere. Researchers found that the addition of black carbon near the surface of land or oceans caused the surface to heat. As the altitude of the black carbon increased, the warming effect on land decreased. Finally, when black carbon was released into the stratosphere, it caused the land surface to cool by losing its energy to space while shading the surface of the earth. In addition to temperature changes, black carbon also had varying effects on precipitation. It increased precipitation in the lower atmosphere and decreased it in the upper atmosphere, as a result of changes in atmospheric stability.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

U.S. Forests Sequester More Carbon Than Previously Thought

A study published in the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology found that forests and other terrestrial ecosystems in the lower 48 states can sequester up to 40 percent of the nation's fossil fuel carbon emissions, a much larger estimate than previously thought. The study was based on satellite measurements and dozens of environmental observation sites. However, researchers stated that major disturbances, such as droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, can all affect the amount of carbon sequestered. The 2002 and 2006 droughts, for example, cut carbon sequestration by about 20 percent compared to a normal year. “[W]e're now learning that this can have significant effects on the amount of carbon sequestered in a given year," said Beverly Law, co-author of the study. According to the study, growing evergreen and deciduous forests have the greatest potential for carbon sequestration.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Sugarcane Fields Can Cool Local Climates

A study published in Nature found that in addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions through its use as a bio-fuel, sugarcane also cools local climates by reflecting sunlight back into space and by lowering the temperature of the surrounding air as the plants "exhale" cooler water. Researchers measured temperature, reflectivity (also called albedo), and evapotranspiration (the water loss from the soil and from plants as they exhale water vapor) through satellite images over 733,000 square miles. The study found that converting natural vegetation to crops or pastures, on average, warmed the surrounding area by 2.79 degrees Fahrenheit, but that subsequent conversion to sugarcane, on average, cooled the surrounding area by 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers stressed that the beneficial effects are only seen when sugarcane is grown on areas previously occupied by crops or pastures and not natural vegetation.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Press Release, Study

Arctic Coastlines Experience Increased Erosion Due to Climate Change

Two studies published in Estuaries and Coast found that Arctic coastlines respond to climate change with increased erosion, causing an average loss of about half a meter per year. The effects are most severe in the Laptev, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas, where coastal erosion rates reach more than 8 meters per year in some cases. The Arctic coastlines were previously protected by sea ice. However, due to the continuous decline in sea ice, more and more coastlines are being exposed to the effects of climate change. Two-thirds of these coastlines are composed of frozen substrate called permafrost, which is much more susceptible to erosion than rock. Scientists concluded that these effects will cause substantial changes for Arctic ecosystems near the coast and the populations living there.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Increasing Ocean Temperatures Can Be Harmful to Some Fish Species

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the banded morwong, a long-lived fish species, is experiencing stunted growth due to a 2 degrees Celsius rise in the Tasman Sea over the past 60 years. "By examining growth across a range that species inhabit, we found evidence of both slowing growth and increased physiological stress as higher temperatures impose a higher metabolic cost on fish at the warm edge of the range," said Ron Thresher, marine ecologist and co-author of the study. He stated that sedentary fish, like the morwong, are most likely to be affected by the rising temperature, since they do not move further south into cooler waters. The study incorporated data on the morwong dating back to 1910 that focused on bony structures called otoliths, annual growth rings that are similar to the growth rings in trees, to assess the growth rates of the fish. The scientists concluded that the drop in growth could be related to higher stress levels from rising temperatures, increased oxygen consumption, and a decreased ability to swim for long periods.

For additional information see: Reuters, Study

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

No action on account of Easter recess. Congress resumes May 2.

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.

April 27: Developing Sustainable Biomass Supplies: A Step toward Energy, Economic, and Environmental Security

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on developing the sustainable biomass supplies and production systems needed to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard and other renewable energy goals. Petroleum prices have been over $100 per barrel for months now, adding billions to the U.S. petroleum import bill. Americans are once again experiencing the economic pain and vulnerability of continued dependence on petroleum. This briefing will examine some of the opportunities and challenges faced by pioneering biomass feedstock producers and current federal efforts to support the development of sustainable biomass feedstocks and feedstock systems – such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Sun Grant Initiative, the Regional Biomass Feedstock Partnership, and sustainability research and development. This briefing will be held on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. in 1302 Longworth House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact Ned Stowe at bioenergy [at] or (202)662-1885.

Writers: Deep Ghosh and Matthew Johnson

Please distribute Climate Change News to your colleagues. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is properly acknowledged as the source. Past issues are available at Free email subscriptions are available here. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and questions.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. EESI works to protect the climate and ensure a healthy, secure, and sustainable future for America through policymaker education, coalition building, and policy development in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, buildings, and urban planning.

EESI's work, including this free newsletter, is made possible by financial support from people like you. Please help us continue to make it available by making a secure, online donation today by clicking here or mailing a check to Environmental and Energy Study Institute; 1112 16th St NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036. Please contact Susan Williams at (202) 662-1887 or see to find out more. Thank you for your support!