Climate Change News December 12, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 12, 2011



U.S. Experienced Record Amount of Weather Disasters in 2011

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded 12 separate U.S. weather disasters that each caused over $1 billion in damage in 2011. The list of extreme weather events include the drought in Texas, Hurricane Irene, and the flooding events in Mississippi. The weather disasters totaled over $52 billion in cumulative damages, with more than 1,000 casualties lost during the storms. “We have good reason to believe that what happened this year is not an anomaly, but instead is a harbinger of what is to come," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in an interview. Not only are storms becoming more severe due to a warming climate, but there are more people living in areas in the U.S. that are prone to serious weather events. This list does not yet include damages for either Tropical Storm Lee or the Northeast snowstorm in October, but if the damages from either one of those storms climb over $1 billion, NOAA said they will be added to the list.

For additional information see: CBS News, Houston Chronicle, NPR, NOAA

Top Emitters Still Refusing to Reduce Carbon Consumption

At Durban, the European Union (EU) is urging a 2015 deadline to rework the Kyoto Protocol, and to update the Protocol to include the changing environmental impacts developing emerging countries. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, leaving little time to create a new pact before it runs out, but the EU has stated that developing nations with substantial carbon emissions should still be held to emissions cuts. However, the world’s three largest emitters of CO2—China, the United States, and India—remain firm in their refusal to ratify an agreement to curb emissions. Chinese negotiators have stated that China is ready to consider emissions reductions, but have avoided specific obligations or plans. India claims that it is still behind China in economic development, and thus should not be held accountable for carbon cuts. Climate change mitigation in the United States has been inhibited by political wrangling over environmental legislation. Negotiators from the United States at Durban insisted that the United States will achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade, but no clear-cut plans have been made. Emissions from the United States, China, and India account for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

For additional information see: Reuters, EENews

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Spike After Financial Crisis

Worldwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis (GFC), but emissions rebounded in 2010 according to a study supported by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Total emissions increased from 8.6 billion tons in 2009 to 9.1 billion tons in 2010. However, the study also showed that 2009 was the first year where consumption-based emissions were larger in developing countries than in developed countries. "Previously, developed countries released more carbon dioxide, but that's no longer true due to emerging economies in developing countries," said Tom Boden from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center." The GFC did not impact major developing countries, such as China and India, like it did the United States and the European nations." The study was published in Nature Climate Change.

For additional information see: Science Daily, New Scientist, Study Abstract

Global Carbon Emissions Rose Three Percent in 2011

According to a recent study by the Australian Global Carbon Project, global carbon emissions rose three percent in the past year, and six percent in 2010. This increase, equal to about half a billion tons of carbon, is largely due to rapid economic growth in several developing countries. Countries with the greatest increase in emissions include China, Brazil, and South Korea. In the United States, emissions rose 4.1 percent in the past year. On average, global emissions increased by 3.1 percent each year between 2000 and 2010. Global carbon emissions have now reached 10 billion tons, a situation that the authors note is likely to lead to a two degree Celsius rise in temperature that would cause irreversible climate change.

For additional information see: New York Times, Business Green, Science Daily

Impacts of Temperature Rise Greater Than Expected

A new study suggested that a two degree Celsius temperature rise could cause much more damage to the planet than expected. Melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica is occurring much faster than initially projected, which has led many scientists to believe that the climate may be more sensitive than previously thought. Most updated climate models predict that sea levels will rise by 1.5 to 2.3 feet within the next 100 years, the highest levels reached during human history.

For additional information see: Daily Climate

Carbon Capture Geoengineering Unlikely

In response to relentlessly rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, geoengineering techniques such as carbon capture seem feasible. However, an analysis from C12 Energy in Berkeley, California, suggests that capturing CO2 is not economically favorable, costing over $33 trillion to just to maintain the current level of atmospheric CO2. The process for carbon capture would involve exposing large amounts of sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide to the air, and forcing the CO2-rich air through these compounds to filter out the carbon. The CO2 then would need to be compressed into a liquid and be disposed of, with both processes being complex and expensive, the technique quickly becomes unmanageable. Authors of the study noted that avoiding CO2 release is a much more practicable method for keeping the climate under control.

For additional information see: Science Magazine

New Bill in Brazil Seeks to Protect the Rainforest, Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions

New legislation in Brazil seeks to cut carbon emissions and protect the Amazon from deforestation. The climate change secretary of the Brazilian government, Eduardo Assad, claims that the new law will cut greenhouse gas emissions by supporting reforestation efforts. Since 1990, about 347,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest have been cleared in Brazil—an area that is almost the size of Germany. While deforestation in Brazil is slowing down, the new bill will curb deforestation further by requiring land owners to replant lost forest or pay a fine, reducing reforestation by 80 percent by 2020. The bill is expected to help Brazil meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by lowering emissions as much as 39 percent by 2020. Opponents to the new law say that it will decrease the amount of land that landowners need to protect.

For additional information see: Bloomberg

Himalayan Region at Risk

Recent research from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) suggest that the Himalayan region is increasingly vulnerable to climate change, as rising temperatures are expected to affect precipitation patterns and the melting pattern of ice and snow on the peaks. This report, which makes use of mathematical models and data about glacier and lake levels, is the first study to account for the extent of glaciers and the patterns of snowfall in the Himalayan region. Climate change in the Himalayas would affect over 1.3 billion people who live downstream along river basins that depend on the water cycle of the mountain range. The threatened region is also home to a vibrant ecological network that includes 25,000 species of plants and animals.

For additional information see: Times of India, International Center for Integrated Mountain Development

New Climate Models Confirm Human Impact on Climate

New analysis from Swiss climate modelers reconfirms that humans are responsible for the pace and severity of climate change. Scientists used a model of the Earth’s energy budget and ran a mathematical model thousands of times using combinations of parameters that contribute to Earth’s energy and climate systems, including incoming shortwave solar radiation, solar energy that is reflected away from the earth, heat absorbed by oceans, and climate feedback mechanisms. Their results concluded that humans are responsible for at least 74 percent of temperature rise in the past 60 years. These results are remarkably similar to other climate model investigations and analyses of climate trends, suggesting that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the greatest contributor to the 0.5 degree Celsius temperature rise since 1950.

For additional information see: Nature, Abstract

Department of Interior Studies Rate of Carbon Absorbed in U.S. Ecosystems

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) released a study measuring the amount of carbon stored in U.S. forests, grasslands, and wetlands in the Great Plains region. This report is the first of its kind to analyze the amount of carbon naturally sequestered through various ecosystems. “This is truly groundbreaking research that, for the first time, takes a landscape-level look at how our lands naturally store carbon and explores how we can encourage this capability in ways that enhance our stewardship of natural resources,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes. “Our landscapes are helping us to absorb carbon emissions that would otherwise contribute to atmospheric warming.” The report estimates that carbon stored in the Great Plains region will increase by 29 to 36 percent by 2050, while nitrous oxide emissions are expected to increase by 7 to 11 percent. Once future studies on the eastern, western, Alaskan and Hawaiian regions are released, the Department of Interior will be able to compare carbon sequestration throughout the United States on a national level.

For additional information see: DOI Press Release, DOI Report

New Historical Record of Antarctic May Influence Climate Models

The Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves may have melted simultaneously at the end of the last ice age, according to a new study published in Science. Until now, the size of the ice sheet in the Arctic was well known, but comparatively little was known about the long term changes in size of the southern ice sheet. "Our results suggest that Antarctica was not as climatically isolated as previously assumed," said Dr. Gerhard Kuhn. "Now we have to presume that the reaction of the large ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic to climate change is more closely linked in time than thought." Dr Weber, of the Geological Institute of the University of Cologne, specified that "forecasts of the future rise in the sea level caused by climate change will also have to be adjusted accordingly."

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

Other Headlines

January 19, 2012: NCSE's 2012 National Conference: Environment and Security

The security of individuals, communities and nations is profoundly affected by changing environmental conditions. Climate disruption, access to affordable and clean water, food and energy, are among the factors that can impact both the health and stability of individuals and their communities. Small environmental changes can trigger economic, political, and social upheavals and drive population movements. Nations are beginning to integrate such environmental factors into decisions regarding defense, diplomacy, and development. The National Council for Science and the Environment's (NCSE's) Environment and Security Conference will address these issues through various sessions featuring expert speakers on Wednesday, January 18th, with and interactive breakout workshops on Thursday, January 19 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20004. Register Here, or Click Here to see the full conference agenda, or you can Visit the Conference's Website Here.


Writers: Alison Alford, Kate Glass, and Joey Gosselar

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