Climate Change News August 9, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
August 9, 2010


Sen. Rockefeller to Seek Vote on EPA's Greenhouse Gas Authority in September

On August 3, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) said that he would seek a September vote on his measure to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by power plants and refineries for two years. Whether Rockefeller’s measure comes to a vote on its own or as part of an energy package, he has said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (N-NV) has promised a vote on his bill. It is unlikely Rockefeller’s bill will become law because even if it passes the Senate, President Obama has sworn to veto any such measure. Despite this, Rockefeller and other critics of the EPA’s plans, such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Bob Casey (D-PA), have pledged to continue trying to curb the EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs. Last week, Murkowski included Rockefeller’s bill as an amendment to a small business package and, as an alternative to Rockefeller’s bill, Carper and Casey have been working on a provision to allow the EPA to regulate emissions from large polluters but to exempt small emitters.

For additional information see: E&E News, Platts

U.S. Departments of Commerce and the Interior to Cooperate on Climate-Related Activities

On August 3, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on climate change research, education, and communication. “The impacts of climate change are already being felt in many sectors of our economy, society, and the natural environment,” said Locke. “Understanding the effects of ocean acidification and climate variability is critical to developing proactive responses that keep American businesses and communities competitive and resilient.” The MOU offers a framework for the two departments to work together in collaborating on research, adaptation strategies and response decisions. Each department will bring distinct skills and experiences to the partnership, reinforcing the national and regional programs of both departments. “The strengths, missions and responsibilities of our two agencies are clearly differentiated, but we share mutual management and science challenges. . .” said Salazar. “We also share an interest in sustaining the economic, social and environmental benefits of natural historic and cultural resources in a changing climate.”

For additional information see: Department of Commerce Press Release

State Surveys Confirm Support for Government Action on Climate Change

On August 3, the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University released polling results confirming that Americans believe the Earth has been warming over the past 100 years and that they support government action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The surveys were conducted between July 9 and July 18 in Florida, Maine and Massachusetts and found that 72 percent of those surveyed in Florida, 76 percent in Maine and 80 percent in Massachusetts agree that humans have contributed to global warming. Seventy-four percent in Florida and 77 percent in Maine and Massachusetts believe the government should regulate GHG emissions from businesses. Additionally, only 17 percent in Florida, 20 percent in Maine and 12 percent in Massachusetts said there would be fewer jobs as a result of government action on GHG emissions reductions. Additionally, 68 percent in Florida, 72 percent in Maine and 77 percent in Massachusetts supported a cap and trade permit system. “These in-depth studies of three interesting states suggest that in these key regards, they closely resemble the nation overall and support the notion of climate protection legislation,” said survey author Jon Krosnick.

For additional information see: Woods Institute Press Release, Survey, Medindia

Bonn Talks End Amid Growing Pessimism

On August 6, delegates concluded a week of negotiations in Bonn, Germany, as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Instead of producing a more concise version of the draft text produced at the Bonn talks held in June, the conference produced a longer document full of amendments. Once again, disagreements over emissions reductions and climate change financing between developing and developed countries surfaced. One issue of contention was the pledge by rich countries to give $100 billion to developing countries by 2020 to help adapt to climate change. Developing countries have suggested that $100 billion will not be enough. "It sounds very large," said Dessima Williams, the Grenadian delegate on behalf of low-lying island states. "For the donor countries it is a lot to ask taxpayers to pay. But you must weigh that against the need. . . ." of the developing countries which will be hardest hit by climate change. Another issue was whether or not the onus to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should only be on developed countries or if developing countries should have to reduce emissions as well. Lastly, the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a climate and energy bill this summer has been taken as proof of U.S. lack of commitment to reduce GHG emissions. “That has been taken as a signal by some that nothing can occur,” said Williams.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen, AP, Reuters

Australian Prime Minister's Popularity Declines After Shelving Climate Policy

On August 3, polls by Newspoll and Nielson Company revealed that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s popularity has declined since her decision to postpone action on climate policy. With elections set for August 21, Gillard’s Labor Party may be in trouble, said political scientist Nick Economou of Monash University. Gillard’s decisions to postpone charging polluters until 2013 and creating the citizens’ assembly to achieve community consensus have been condemned as disguised inaction. “Disappointment is a terribly difficult emotion to reverse,” said Newspoll Chief Executive Martin O’Shannessy. “Julia Gillard has disappointed people with her citizens' assembly announcement and every backflip on the issue of climate change in recent times has resulted in a severe negative for the incumbent Labor leader.”

For additional information see: CP, Telegraph

Scientists Develop New Carbon Dioxide Emissions Model

On July 21, a study was published in the journal Climatic Change using a new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions model which found that the European Union’s goal of limiting atmospheric CO2 to 450 parts per million (ppm) may not be enough to prevent global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. “What’s new about this research is that we have integrated the carbon cycle into our model to obtain the emissions data,” said Erich Roeckner, lead author of the study. The model found that CO2 emissions will increase to a maximum of ten billion tons in 2015 from seven billion tons in 2000. To stabilize temperatures and CO2 concentrations, emissions must be cut 56 percent by 2050 and continue to decrease until emissions are close to zero by 2100. Even with these decreases in CO2 emissions, “it will take centuries for the global climate system to stabilize,” Roeckner said. The study called for “significant and early policy actions” to reduce CO2 emissions enough to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

For additional information see: Max Planck Society Press Release, Study Abstract

Study: Traveling by Car Warms Planet More Than by Plane

On August 3, a group of scientists published research in Environmental Science and Technology which found that traveling by car is more damaging to the environment than making a trip by plane. Though plane trips are more damaging in the short run, the long-term global temperature increases from a car trip are higher than from a plane trip of the same distance on average. The study used models to consider the gases, aerosols, and cloud effects produced by transport in the long and short term. "As planes fly at high altitudes, their impact on ozone and clouds is disproportionately high, though short-lived,” said Jens Borken-Kleefeld, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the research. "Although the exact magnitude is uncertain, the net effect is a strong, short-term, temperature increase. Car travel emits more carbon dioxide than air travel per passenger kilometer. As carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer than the other gases, cars have a more harmful impact on climate change in the long term."

For additional information see: Scotsman, Science Daily, Study Abstract, UPI

Climate Change Adds Another Threat to Mediterranean Sea

On August 2, a study published in PLoS ONE found that organisms in the Mediterranean Sea are the most threatened in the world. Following a decade of research, scientists found that, in addition to the habitat loss, pollution, and overfishing that has already taken place, climate change is now beginning to take its toll on the sea. The rising water temperatures and acidification caused by global warming threaten cold- and deep-water species whose habitats will shrink because the enclosed sea does not allow them to move northward to cooler waters. In shallower waters, non-native species have been moving in as temperatures rise, a process called tropicalisation. Currently, four percent of the Mediterranean’s animal and plant life is foreign – more than in any other sea. Though not all are destructive, some pose a threat to native species that could become extinct if outcompeted.

For additional information see: AFP, Study Abstract, Guardian

Protected Coral Reefs Can Be More Vulnerable to Climate Change

On July 27, a study published in PLoS Biology found that marine reserves may not protect coral reefs from the effects of climate change and may, in fact, render them more vulnerable. “The corals that occur outside of reserves seem to tolerate temperature stress and bleaching better, likely because they are used to living in a stressful environment,” said study co-author Emily Darling. “This means that instead of increasing reef resilience to climate change, marine reserves may actually increase reef vulnerability by protecting temperature-sensitive species.” Marine reserves do help speed the recovery of damaged coral reefs and can serve as “insurance policies” for biodiversity, the study said. However, with the expected increases in the occurrence of large climate-warming episodes, coral reefs will not be able to adapt and recover quickly enough despite the protection of the reserves. “We need to get serious about tackling climate change and its root causes,” said co-author Isabelle Côté. “Focusing on implementing locally-based strategies that only resolve easy fix problems will have no impact on the worldwide preservation of our already compromised coral reef system.”

For additional information see: The Globe and Mail, Study Abstract, Simon Fraser University Press Release,

Climate Change Prolongs Alaska's Growing Season

On August 2, the Alaska Climate Research Center released data indicating that Fairbanks, Alaska is 2.5°F warmer and 11 percent drier than it was 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, the growing season lasted three months. Today, the growing season is becoming longer as the snow melts earlier and springs get warmer. “Snow reflects a lot of sunlight so when the snow is gone, more solar radiation is absorbed at the surface. The higher surface temperature causes greater warming of the soil,” said Gerd Wendler, director of the Alaska Climate Research Center. Warmer soil means that farmers can begin planting earlier, increasing the length of the growing season from 85 to 123 days in the past century, the Center said. However, while agriculture is benefitted by the warmer temperatures, trees have been negatively affected. With the increase in temperatures, there is less moisture for trees to absorb from the air and from snowpack and insects are increasingly likely to survive the winter. Clearly, “every change in climate will bring positive things and negative things,” said Wendler.

For additional information see: Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

CO2 Uptake Diminishes in Ice-free Arctic

On July 21, a study was published in Science revealing that an ice-free Arctic Ocean is likely to sequester less carbon dioxide (CO2) than previously thought. “The Canada Basin and entire Arctic Ocean are still taking up carbon dioxide,” said study co-author Wei-Jun Cai. “But our research shows that as the ice melts, the carbon dioxide in the water very quickly reaches equilibrium with the atmosphere, so its use as a place to store CO2 declines dramatically and quickly.” As a result of the CO2 uptake, the ocean will become warmer and more acidic, reducing the water’s CO2 uptake potential. “One of the take-away lessons of this research is that we can’t expect the oceans to do the job of helping offset global warming in the short term,” said Cai.

For additional information see: Study Abstract, CBC News, University of Georgia Press Release

Reforestation Projects Capture More Carbon than Industrial Plantations

On July 21, a study published in Ecological Management and Restoration reported that mixed species reforestation projects are more effective in capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) than industrial monoculture plantations. "We found that restoration planting stored significantly more carbon in above-ground biomass than the monoculture plantations of native conifers and tended to store more than mixed species timber plantations," said study co-author John Kanowski. "Compared to the monoculture plantations, reforestation projects were more densely stocked, there were more large trees and the trees which were used had a higher wood density then the conifers at the plantation." The Australian government has projected that monoculture plantations would capture 40 percent more CO2 than reforestation projects and, while the study challenges this view, it is unlikely reforestation projects will replace monoculture plantations. “In order to be an attractive prospect for the markets new reforestation techniques and designs are going to be required,” said Kanowski. “New designs will have to ensure that restoration can provide a habitat for rainforest life and store carbon at a cost comparable to industrial monoculture.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract, UPI

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Writers: Fiona Burns, Joanna Wohlmuth and Amy Sauer

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