Climate Change News April 4, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 4, 2011



Senate Delays Anti-EPA Amendments to Small Business Bill S. 493 for Another Week

The Senate has delayed voting on a group of amendments to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) for another week. Lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the amendments to an unrelated small business bill on March 31, but were delayed due to disagreements on proposed amendments from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who blocked a unanimous-consent agreement on moving forward with debate on March 30 in an effort to secure a vote on his amendment to eliminate ethanol tax breaks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered an amendment to the small business bill that would permanently block EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. However, there were three alternative amendments proposed by Democrats which may also get a floor vote. Sen. Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) proposed a two-year delay in EPA climate regulations. The amendment proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) would exempt all agriculture and small polluters from climate regulations, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed an amendment that would suspend EPA regulation for two years, exempt agriculture from GHG regulations, and also create a single national standard for motor vehicle emissions.

For additional information see: Politico, Reuters, TheHill

EPA Approves Petition to Ban Potent Greenhouse Gas from Auto Air Conditioners

On March 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will grant a petition filed by three non-government organizations (NGOs) to withdraw its approval of using the potent greenhouse gas (GHG) HFC-134a in automobile air conditioners. The three NGOs, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), filed the petition as part of their worldwide goal to eliminate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), highly potent GHGs with long atmospheric lifetimes. The groups’ alternative to HFC-134a is called HFO-1234yf, a gas with a low potential for global warming. Durwood Zaelke, president of the IGSD, stated, “EPA's decision to grant our petition to outlaw HFC-134a in mobile air conditioning is another significant step forward in the global effort to rid the world of all damaging HFCs and proof that EPA is re-emerging as a positive force for environmentally superior technology and the jobs created by technology progress.”

For additional information see: ENS, Reuters, Petition

China Announces New Goals to Lower Carbon Footprint

On March 28, China announced its new 2011 targets for energy and water efficiency and for carbon emission reductions. The goals include a reduction of carbon emissions by 4 percent below 2010 levels, and a reduction in water usage by 7 percent. These cuts are part of a wider plan to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions 18 percent by 2015, as well as to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water consumption. By 2020, China hopes to reach a 40-45 percent reduction in energy consumption from 2005 levels. China will explore the use of “market mechanisms” to lower its emissions, with the majority of the burden being placed on large industrial enterprises.

For additional information see: Reuters, Xinhua

GHG Emissions Rose 2.8 Percent in UK, 3.5 Percent throughout Europe in 2010

On Thursday, March 31, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reported that UK CO2 emissions were up 3.8 percent from 2009, the first time greenhouse gas emissions rose for two straight years since 2005. "The increase in CO2 emissions between 2009 and 2010 resulted primarily from a rise in residential gas use, combined with fuel switching away from nuclear power to coal and gas for electricity generation," a DECC representative said. In 2010, an estimated 39 percent of the UK’s CO2 emissions were from the energy supply sector, 25 percent from transportation, 17 percent from direct residential fossil fuel use and 16 percent directly from businesses, the report said. Emissions were calculated based on where the emissions occurred, not from where power was used.

On Friday, April 1, in a related report the European Union’s emissions trading scheme showed that Europe’s emissions rose 3.45 percent in 2010. "The data is mainly explained by the comeback of industrial output (other than power) and EU economic growth," said Marius Frunza, analyst at France's Sagacarbon.

For additional information see: Reuters, Press Release, Reuters Emission Data, Business Green

UK Energy and Climate Change Department Embarks on Green Trade Mission to United States

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), along with six businesses have embarked on a five day trade mission to the United States in an effort to promote leading British industries overseas. They hoped the mission will identify potential export opportunities as well as attract investments to the UK. While in the United States, Climate Minister Greg Barker planned to speak to political and business leaders on the green investment opportunities available in the UK that result from low carbon government policies. “My message will be that Britain is open for green business investment,” said Barker. Businesses joining Barker included renewable energy developer RES Group, investment firm Jupiter Asset Management, fuel cell specialist Intelligent Energy, risk management consultancy Willis Group Holdings plc, domestic energy efficiency company The Mark Group, and brewer Adnams Southwold.

For additional information see: Business Green

Climate Change Allows Spread of Plant Species on Antarctica

A new study published in Nature found that a species of Antarctic hairgrass, one of only two flowering plants on Antarctica, has become more widespread over the past 50 years due to longer, warmer summers caused by climate change. According to the study, the hairgrass is able to utilize the nitrogen given off the soil as it warms up and decomposes. Authors noted that this process can be used to help develop new plant fertilizers in an effort to steer away from industrial nitrogen produced with oil.

For additional information see: Telegraph, Study

Aircraft Contrails May Be Adding to Global Warming

A new study conducted by the DLR German Aerospace Center found that airplane contrails, the white lines of vapor formed by jet engines, add to the formation of high-altitude heat trapping cirrus clouds. The study’s authors, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, stated "Aircraft condensation trails and the clouds that form from them may be causing more warming today than all the aircraft-emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the start of aviation." The study estimated that the net warming effect on the Earth by contrails at any one time was 31 milliwatts per square meter, whereas the warming effect of all the accumulated CO2 from aviation was 28 milliwatts. The findings may assist governments in fixing penalties on airplane greenhouse gas emissions, or bring about more efficient, vapor limiting jet engines.

For additional information see: Reuters, Study

New Study Simulated Warmer Climate Effects on Wheat

In a recent study published in Global Change Biology, scientists used heaters to simulate a temperature rise of 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit to study the predicted climate change effects on wheat fields in Arizona and found that the heaters accelerated growth, increased soil temperatures, reduced soil moisture, induced mild water stress on the crops and had a nominal effect on photosynthesis. The heaters were used from December through early January, on wheat that was planted in September. Bruce Kimball, the study’s author, found that although rising temperatures could be beneficial to farmers in northern latitudes, the agricultural losses in tropical and southern countries are projected to far outweigh the benefits in the north. According to a 2010 study conducted by Christopher Muller of The World Bank, wheat-growing areas of northern India, Australia and the American Midwest are projected to see 20 to 50 percent drops in yields by 2050, and although areas in some northern regions may see increases up to 100 percent, they are much less expansive. Muller’s study concluded that better breeding and engineering technology would be needed to increase overall yields.

For additional information see: NY Times, Kimball Study, Muller Study

Study Indicates Amazon Rainforest Not Recovering from 2010 Drought

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters found the greenness levels of the Amazon rainforest declined about 965,000 square miles from the 2010 drought, and still have not recovered to normal levels. Scientists were concerned that the stress of the changing climate could cause some of the rainforests to be replaced by grasslands or woody savannas, causing the carbon from the rotting wood of dead trees to accelerate global warming. The study was done by utilizing over a decade’s worth of satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). In the summer of 2010, scientists began using a new method called the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), a collaborative supercomputing environment that brings together data, models and computing resources, which allowed them to quickly gain an overall understanding of the effects of the drought on the Amazonian rainforest and complete their analysis by January 2011.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Climate Change Can Cause Regional Changes in Farmland

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters found that countries with high latitudes, such as China, Russia, and the United States, may see an increase in available farmland in the future, but Africa, India, and South America may lose land area. By using international land and climate datasets and remote-sensing land-use maps, authors Ximing Cai and Xiao Zhang systematically studied worldwide changes in soil temperature and humidity with a resolution of one square kilometer. They applied their model to many projected outcomes of climate change to reveal both regional and global trends in arable land availability. On a global perspective, the study found total potential farmland to decrease by 0.8 to 4.4 percent by 2100. Regional changes were much more significant, however, with findings of arable land area increasing by 37 to 67 percent in Russia, and decreasing up to 18 percent in Africa.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Biochar Used to Reduce Potent Greenhouse Gas Nitrous Oxide Emissions

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality found that nitrous oxide emissions from livestock excrement can be reduced 70 percent by adding biochar to soils in grazing pastures. Biochar, charcoal used to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions by sequestering carbon in the ground, also has the potential to beneficially alter soil nitrogen transformations and lower emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. The study took place over an 86-day period to find the effects of incorporating biochar into soils on nitrous oxide emissions caused by cattle urine. Biochar was added to the soil during a pasture renovation, and gas samples were obtained on 33 separate occasions. Study author Arezoo Taghizadeh-Toosi stated that, “Under the highest rate of biochar, ammonia formation and its subsequent adsorption onto or into the biochar, reduced the inorganic-nitrogen pool available for nitrifiers and thus nitrate concentrations were reduced. Such effects would have diminished the substrate available for microbial nitrous oxide production.” The biochar had no detrimental effect on dry matter yield or total nitrogen content of the pasture, according to the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Reducing Taxiing Time for Planes Can Lead to Decreases in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A study by MIT researcher Hamsa Balakrishnan found that greenhouse gas emissions related to air travel can be significantly reduced by holding planes at their gates for an average of 4 minutes and 18 seconds rather than taxiing. This greatly reduced congestion on runways at Boston Logan International Airport, dropping taxiing time 20 percent and fuel use by 75 liters per plane. The study showed that making airplane departures more efficient would be particularly useful in areas like the United States and Europe, where domestic flights emit about 6 million tons of CO2 per year from taxiing alone.

For additional information see: New Scientist, Study

Researchers Debate Early Human Impact on Climate Change

New evidence in a study by paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman supported the controversial theory that human influence on climate change could have started up to 8,000 years ago, rather than at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Ruddiman’s theory stated that human activities offset the earth going into another ice age, and helped create today’s relatively stable climate. This argument is based on carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane trends since the last ice age 11,000 years ago. In the past, CO2 levels spiked after an ice age and would then gradually decrease until the earth went into another ice age. However, in the current Holocene era, CO2 levels began to rise around 8,000 years ago, followed by rising methane levels 5,000 years ago. Ruddiman suggested that these trends directly align with the human expansion of agriculture in that time period.

Some researchers argue that human populations were too small to have such an effect. However, Ruddiman and several other researchers will present supporting evidence in a special issue of The Holocene journal later this year. One of the studies used historical and archaeological data to build a model that assumes humans cleared more land early on and intensified agricultural practices later on. Under this scenario, carbon emissions would have doubled compared to earlier estimates. Another study found expansion of rice could account for up to 80 percent of the additional atmospheric methane as of 1,000 years ago, and suggested that the expansion of livestock could help to fill the gap in previous millennia. However, other researchers maintain that CO2 emissions from land-use changes were neither fully sufficient nor properly timed to explain the rise in CO2 levels in the Holocene period.

For additional information see: Nature, Ruddiman Abstract, Kaplan Abstract

Study Contends Rise in Wind Speeds Over Oceans

A study in the journal Science indicated that over the past 25 years, average wind speeds over the oceans have risen significantly, as have wave heights. Researchers stated that these changes are not necessarily a result of climate change. However, the higher wind speeds could lead to greater evaporation, adding to the increase from global warming, which in turn could increase precipitation worldwide. The average wind speed has increased about 0.25 percent every year for the past two decades, whereas the increase in wave heights was not as significant.

For additional information see: ABC News, SMH, Study

Antarctic Icebergs Raise Chlorophyll Levels, Decrease Carbon Dioxide

A new study in Nature Geoscience found that Antarctic icebergs raise chlorophyll levels as they cool and dilute waters in their path, which may in turn increase carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption in the Southern Ocean. The research team, supported by the National Science Foundation (NFS), indicated that icebergs play a key role in global carbon cycling and will become more prevalent as the climate warms in the Antarctic region. The study documented ongoing physical and biological changes in surface waters after an iceberg had passed, which increased phytoplankton populations. The researchers performed the study by sampling the area around a large iceberg more than 20 miles long. When the same area was surveyed again ten days later, after the iceberg had drifted away, researchers observed an increase in the concentration of chlorophyll a, and a decrease in the concentration of CO2.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Climate Change Altering Vegetation in Russia’s Boreal Forest

A new study published in the journal Global Change Biology found that Russia’s boreal forest, the largest continuous forest in the world, is undergoing a shift in vegetation due to a globally and regionally warming climate. The forest is located in Russia’s cold, northernmost regions. As the region warms, species that are more tolerant to warmer weather are advancing northward, whereas the less tolerant species are declining in number, according to researchers. The vegetation is shifting from predominantly needle-shedding larch trees to evergreen conifers, which in turn will cause greater warming. The larch trees shed their needles in the fall, allowing more sunlight through to the snow covered ground which reflects sunlight and heat back into space in the winter, keeping the region cold. Evergreen conifers, however, keep their needles year around, absorbing sunlight and retaining ground-level heat. The study indicated that if the evergreens continued to expand their range northward, the carbon-rich soil frozen in the permafrost would decompose and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). “Such changes in that vast region have the potential to affect areas outside of the region... It potentially would increase warming on a global scale,” said Hank Shugart, co-author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Study Contends Over One Billion People Will Face Water Shortages by 2050

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that over one billion people will face water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens the negative effects of urbanization. The study assumed the minimum amount of water needed per person per day for cooking, cleaning, drinking, bathing, and toilet use, was 100 liters (on average, Americans use 376 liters per day). The biggest shortages will be seen in developing countries like India and China, which are undergoing an unprecedented urban shift as people flock to cities from rural areas. Along with creating sanitation problems in the affected cities, the shortage could also harm wildlife if the cities are forced to pump in water from outside sources. India’s Western Ghats region, a potential source of outside water, is home to over 300 species of fish, 29 percent of which are unique to that area. Lead author of the study Rob McDonald stated, “If cities are essentially drinking rivers dry, that has really bad effects on the fish and the reptiles and everything else in the river.” The study suggested that increased water-use efficiency in the agricultural and residential sectors could potentially solve this problem.

For additional information see: AFP, Study

Other Headlines

April 4: State Energy Programs and Their Economic Impacts

The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), with support from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), invites you to a briefing on how state governments are implementing energy programs and the economic development activities associated with those programs. State officials and representatives will discuss the U.S. State Energy Program (SEP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), and how these programs create jobs, reduce energy bills, and enhance energy security. This briefing will provide data and information about the energy-related economic development being promoted by the nation's 56 State and Territory Energy Offices and public and private sector partners. The briefing will be held Monday, April 4, 2011, 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. in 2212 Rayburn House Office Building. The event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact Garth Otto at or (703) 299-8800 x16.

April 5: China’s Energy and Climate Initiatives: Successes, Challenges, and Implications for U.S. Policies

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the ChinaFAQs project of the World Resources Institute (WRI) invite you to a briefing on China’s increasing role in advancing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate policies. China is a leader in the deployment of clean energy technologies, and the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. The United States and China cooperate on a number of clean energy initiatives, producing benefits for both countries. However, China has emerged as a major competitor with the United States and other countries in clean energy technology on a global scale. Moreover, some commentators in each country see the other country as a roadblock to an international climate agreement, and China and the United States emit the most greenhouse gases in the world. Speakers will highlight key aspects of China’s approach to clean energy and climate policy, how it fits into the global landscape, and the challenges and opportunities for U.S. efforts to develop clean energy and tackle climate change. This briefing will be held Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 1:00-2:30 p.m., in SVC 203-02, Capitol Visitors Center. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact EESI at climate [at] or (202) 662-1892, or Luke Schoen at lschoen[at] (202-729-7657), or visit

April 6: Hydropower in America: Energy Generation and Jobs Potential

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on hydropower, a clean, renewable, baseload power source. The U.S. hydropower industry provides approximately seven percent of our electricity and employs 200,000-300,000 people in project development and deployment, manufacturing, operations and maintenance. Hydroelectric pumped storage facilities also provide reliable and cost-effective energy storage, helping stabilize the grid by balancing electricity supply and demand. This briefing will examine the full spectrum of water power technologies – including incremental hydropower, ocean, tidal, in-stream hydrokinetic, and pumped storage – as well as geographic areas for potential growth in hydropower capacity, the job growth and economic benefits of hydropower development, and federal policy options to help the industry grow while protecting important environmental values. This briefing will be held on Wednesday, April 6, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. in 2322 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

April 7: Electric Transmission 101: How the High-Voltage Grid Works and Who Regulates It

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and WIRES (Working group for Investment in Reliable and Economic electric Systems) invite you to the eighth in a series of briefings about regulatory and policy issues affecting the nation's electric power system. This briefing will provide a refresher on the operational and regulatory basics of high-voltage transmission that will facilitate an understanding of the complex economic and policy challenges facing the grid in the 21st century. By delving into the operation and regulation of the grid and the interstate flows of electricity it supports, the briefing is designed to provide a foundation for discussions about cost responsibility, land use issues, transmission planning, integration of variable renewable energy resources, and other issues that are becoming more important to the future of the power industry. The panel will describe the 21st century grid and how it is managed and regulated from the perspective of federal regulators, transmission providers, state officials, and regional transmission organizations. This briefing will be held on April 7, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. at 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at communications [at] or (202) 662-1884.

Writers: Deep Ghosh, Alison Alford, 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!