Climate Change News December 19, 2008

Climate Change News
Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 19, 2008

Editorial Note: EESI’s Climate Change News will not be published the week of Christmas. The next issue will be published on January 2.

Climate Negotiations End in Poznan, World Leaders Look to Copenhagen 2009

On December 13, the two-week UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) closed in Poznan, Poland, following lengthy negotiations about potential CO2 emission targets, mitigation efforts for poor countries and deforestation. Although no actual emission targets were set, leaders from the nearly 200 participating countries agreed on the need to keep global temperatures at safe levels, and many countries expressed their commitment to act. Mexico announced that it would reduce its carbon emissions to 50 percent of 2002 levels by 2050. In addition, Brazil pledged to reduce deforestation 70 percent and Peru announced targets to achieve zero deforestation by 2020. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a “Green New Deal,” where money would be allocated toward green jobs and a low-carbon economy, an idea backed by former US Vice President Al Gore. In addition, Gore announced his support for a tougher limit on levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than the generally accepted goal of 450 parts per million. “We will soon need to toughen that goal to 350,” he said.

Much of the debate centered around how to structure the UN Adaptation Fund to better serve developing nations facing the impacts of climate change. Britain took a leadership role in promising to donate money to the Fund, while other nations suggested taxing auctioned carbon credits. However, many developed countries were not ready to decide the best method to assist in mitigation efforts due to concerns about the slowing global economy. “Doing a deal in Copenhagen is to an important extent about engaging developing countries. And an important part of engaging developing countries is mobilizing financial resources,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC.

Global leaders are now looking toward next year's negotiations in Copenhagen, which will see a shift in US leadership as the Obama Administration takes office. “Obviously, we are all hoping that there will be greater support for the post-Kyoto framework for the world [from Obama],” said Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.

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Island Nations Speak Out at UN Conference on Black Carbon, Montreal Protocol

On December 9, panelists at a UN conference side event hosted by the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Sweden stressed that the world is already close to passing the tipping points for abrupt climate change events, and that strong measures must be taken immediately to avoid catastrophic results. The world is already committed to a dangerous 2.4ºC of warming, said Dr. Hermann Held of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, due in part to the warming effects of black carbon – a substance that is now considered the second-greatest contributor to climate change after CO2.  Up to 1.0ºC of the committed warming is being “unmasked” by reductions of other heat-reflecting aerosols, including SO2. “As we continue to reduce sulfur emissions around the world for health reasons, we are unmasking additional warming that is bringing us closer and closer to tipping points like the meltdown of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” said Dr. Held. “In order to avoid a large jump in temperature and in turn avoid the devastating effects of sea level rise, we need to act quickly to reduce black carbon emissions in coordination with sulfur.” Because black carbon remains in the atmosphere for days to weeks, reducing it can produce fast cooling. “Black carbon is extremely bad news because it contributes to climate change in two ways: it absorbs heat from above and contributes to warming, but then as it falls on snow and ice it darkens the ground and reduces the albedo, or reflective ability,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

FSM’s global fast-action climate strategy also urged strengthening the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty, which is seen by many to be more effective than the Kyoto Protocol in mitigating climate emissions.  “The lives of our people depend on the success of these two treaties [Montreal and the UNFCCC], and we urgently need to find the political will necessary to move these fast-action strategies forward,” said Andrew Yatilman, the delegation head for FSM. “The lives of our people depend upon it.”

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EPA Eases Emissions Regulations for New Power Plants

On December 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that new power plants would not be required to install technology to reduce CO2 emissions, leading some environmentalists to fear several plants will be approved in the last days of the Bush administration.  “The current concerns over global climate change should not drive EPA into adopting an unworkable policy of requiring emission controls,” said EPA administrator Stephen Johnson. The ruling came in response to a case in 2007 in which the EPA issued a permit to build a new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza, Utah. The environmental group Sierra Club filed a legal challenge, saying that the permit should have required the plant to control its output of carbon dioxide. The EPA appeals board found on November 13 of this year that the rule was unclear. Johnson’s memo responded to that finding. “That is our established interpretation,” said Robert Meyers, head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “We've been applying it that way for 30 years.” Environmental groups argued against the law and expressed their disappointment in the ruling.  John Walke, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “It's a marvel to behold an EPA action that so utterly disdains global warming responsibility and disdains the law at the same time.”

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Some Climate Impacts Happening Faster than Expected

On December 16, the US Climate Change Science Program released a report that found certain results of climate change are occurring faster than previously expected.  “We simulate the future changes with our climate models, but those models have not always incorporated some of our latest data and observations," said lead author Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University.  “We now have data on glaciers moving faster, ice shelves collapsing and other climate trends emerging that allow us to improve the accuracy of some of our future projections.”  In addition to the principle finding of higher ocean level rises due to ice sheets melting at greater rates, the report also found the Western United States could be entering a period of long-term, sustained drought.  “If the models are accurate, it appears this has already begun. The possibility that the Southwest may be entering a permanent drought state is not yet widely appreciated,” Clark said.  However, the report found that some aspects of climate change – such as the rapid release of methane from frozen tundra – may not be as much of anear-term threat as previously thought.  Ultimately, the report called for greater and sustained efforts to measure climate forces, like ice melt and methane release, that could trigger abrupt climate change.

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Obama Names Final Members of Environmental Team

On December 17, President-elect Barack Obama named the former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as the new Secretaries of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), respectively.  Obama said the two will be important in his goal to reduce dependency on foreign energy supplies while expanding domestic use of renewable energies such as biofuels.  Obama explained his choice of Vilsack – whose home state of Iowa is the top US producer of the corn and soy beans that are currently the principle sources of US biofuels – saying  “Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home.”  Of his appointment to the DOI, Salazar said, “I will do all I can to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil.”  Some environmental groups expressed dissatisfaction with the appointment of Salazar. “Ken Salazar . . . has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil subsidies,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.  “It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change.”

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More Than Two Trillion Tons of Ice Melted Since 2003

On December 16, NASA reported the latest signs of climate change, stating that more than two trillion tons of ice have melted in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska since 2003.  More than half of the ice melt occurred in Greenland, and scientists believe it is accelerating. Over the past five years sea levels have risen one-fifth of an inch and total Arctic ice volume has arrived at its lowest level ever. “The pace of change is starting to outstrip our ability to keep up with it, in terms of our understanding of it," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, a co-author of the study. These findings were presented on December 18 at the American Geophysical Conference in San Francisco, California.

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Last Decade is the Warmest on Record

On December 16, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released preliminary analysis revealing that 2008 is on track to be one of the ten warmest years on record. The combined global land and ocean surface temperature from January to November was 0.86ºF above the 20th century average of 57.2°F. The global average fell slightly, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the drop in warming this year was due to a cooling La Nina in the Pacific Ocean in late 2007. Computer models predict that natural cycles may cool the Earth over the next few years, covering up the warming effects of rising greenhouse gas levels. “What is happening in the Arctic is one of the key indicators of global warming,” Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the WMO, said. “The overall trend is still upwards.”

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EIA Report Shows Oil Demand Slowing, Causes are Many

On December 17, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2009 (AEO2009), which showed a revised estimate for US CO2 emissions growing at 0.3 percent per year from 2007 to 2030, reaching a level of 6,410 million metric tons in 2030, as compared with 6,851 million metric tons in the AEO2008 reference case. The changes from last year's figures are primarily due to predicted developments in renewable energy and rising oil prices.  “Efficiency policies and higher energy prices . . . slow the rise in US energy use,” the EIA said. “When combined with the increased use of renewables and a reduction in the projected additions of new coal-fired conventional power plants, this slows the growth in energy-related (greenhouse gas) emissions.”  Efficiency policies and higher energy prices in AEO2009 slow the rise in US energy use, which is projected to grow from 101.9 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btu) in 2007 to 113.3 quadrillion Btu in 2030. Over the next 20 years, the report predicts renewable energy use will increase by 3 percent annually, while oil consumption will stagnate.  Overall, the report forecasted US fossil fuel use would fall 6 percentage points to 79 percent.  The EIA predictions assume no changes or additions to energy related laws and regulations.

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NASA Set to Launch “CO2 Hunter”

At the American Geophysical Conference in San Francisco, California, during the week of December 14, NASA scientists reported details of its Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), which is set to launch on February 23, 2009.  “The objective of the OCO mission is to make measurements that are so precise that they can be used to look for surface 'sources' and 'sinks' of CO2,” principal investigator David Crisp said.  The project will give scientists a better understanding of natural carbon cycles, as well as human CO2 emissions arising from non-fossil fuel sources like deforestation.  “If you take out the fossil fuels – for which we understand the CO2 source to within 10 percent – and look at the rest of the carbon dioxide that's introduced into the atmosphere by our activities, it's uncertain by 100 percent,” added Crisp.  Japan will release its own greenhouse gas (GHG) monitoring satellite later next year, and Europe is considering two carbon observatories that could be launched in 2016.

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New Jersey Plan Aims to Slash Emissions

On December 15, the New Jersey state government released a draft report to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 80 percent of 2006 levels by 2050.  Matt Elliott of Environment New Jersey called the plan “the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive to slash greenhouse gas emissions,” and said it will “virtually end [New Jersey’s] dependence on fossil fuels, grow the economy with new green-collar jobs, clear our air, and set a strong model for the nation to follow.”  Jeanne Herb of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said the draft includes a number of actions as examples of ways to reduce state emissions levels, but that not all the actions will be included in the final bill.  Measures called for in the bill include promoting energy-efficient buildings through tax credits, improving mass transit, banning the construction of new coal plants, and limiting 90 percent of new developments to areas already served by public transportation.  Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club of New Jersey called the plan a good start, but said more needed to be done.  “[I]t needs more detail, including how much it will cost,” he said. “A lot of this stuff will be very tough to get through the Legislature, particularly the land-use and transportation recommendations.”

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Warmer Temperatures Could Lead to a Boom in Corn Pests

In the December 16 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, scientists from Purdue University revealed that warmer winters and longer growing seasons could result in a population increase of pests that feed on corn and other crops. Lead scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said the warmer weather could lead to insects producing up to three generations in a single season, leading to fears of lower crop yields and higher pest control costs. “Basically, we examined both the number of days warm enough for the pests to grow and the number of days cold enough to kill the pests, assuming the pests' documented climate tolerances remain the same,” said Christian Krupke of Purdue. “This tells us what could happen in projected future climates.”

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Australia Sets New Climate Target

On December 15, the Australian government formally released its plan to reduce CO2 emissions between 5 and 15 percent of 2000 levels by 2020.  Emissions reductions will be achieved through a cap-and-trade scheme set to begin in July 2010, covering 75 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions.  The majority of Australia’s environmental groups called for a reduction of 25 percent, and their criticism of the plan also targeted the government’s decision to distribute one third of emissions permits for free rather than through an auction.  “This is a complete failure of a system,” said Christine Milne, a senator with the Greens Party.  “Five percent is a global embarrassment; 15 percent is way below even the minimum the rest of the world wants to see.”  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the permits “deliver necessary reform to tackle the long-term challenge of climate change, while supporting our economy and securing jobs during this global recession.”  He also said free allocations to certain industries were necessary to prevent “carbon leakage,” the exportation of CO2 intensive industries to countries with no regulations.

In related news, Prime Minister Rudd announced plans on December 14 to alter the spending schedule of a $329 million fund to promote renewable energy.  The fund was originally created to be spent over six years, but Rudd has shortened the time table to 18 months in an effort to stimulate the economy.  “It's good for jobs. It's good for stimulus. It's good for acting on climate change,” Rudd said.  “It's time for Australia to begin a solar revolution, a renewable energy revolution, and we've got to fund it for the future.”

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Algeria's Gas Fields Seek to Set Eco-Example

On December 14, journalists toured the In Salah natural gas fields in Algeria, currently the largest carbon capture storage (CCS) project in the world.  At a cost of $100 million, or 2.5 percent of the total project, the gas fields at In Salah remove 97 percent of the carbon in the natural gas before exporting it to Europe.  Recovered CO2 is injected back into the underground reservoirs from which it came.  Michael Mossman of BP PLC, one of the three investors in the fields, explained the decision to pump the CO2 underground, saying, “We didn't feel it was right to vent the CO2 if we could do something else with it.”  BP also hopes to profit from the investment, which it would do if the gas fields are included in a carbon-credit agreement with a price of CO2 between $14 and $25 a ton.  Plans for development of similar natural gas plants are underway elsewhere in Algeria, although the CCS technology is highly dependent on regional geology and is not universally applicable.

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Other Headlines

Russia May Not Join Global Deal on Climate

Research into Fair-Weather Clouds Important In Climate Predictions

Computer Quantifies Carbon Sequestration of Urban Trees

Scientists Find Increased Methane Levels In Arctic Ocean

Rise in CO2 Affects Jumbo Squid

Snow Goose Eggs May Help Polar Bears Weather Climate Change



January 7, 2009      Climate Change and the Road to Copenhagen, Industrial Competitiveness and Engaging Developing Countries:  Views from Overseas

The Center for Clean Air Policy invites you to a Congressional panel to discuss international climate and energy issues from 3:30-5:00 p.m., with a reception following from 5:00-7:00 p.m.. Speakers include:
•    Congressman Jim Cooper
•    Rae Kwon Chung, Korean Climate Change Ambassador
•    Didier Herbert, European Commission, DG Enterprise
•    Michael Jacobs, Special Advisor, Energy & Climate to British PM Gordon Brown

More details to follow. Please visit for more information.


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