Climate Change News December 19, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 19, 2011


Remember EESI in Your Year-End Giving Plans

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is an independent nonprofit organization that depends on your contributions to bring you timely, credible information on climate change. Please make a year-end gift to EESI today; we have received Charity Navigator's four-star ranking for four consecutive years, so you know your donation will be managed effectively. Thank you for your support!

United Nations Climate Talks Conclude in Durban

On December 11, the 194 countries comprising the United Nations Conference of Parties agreed on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.  The Durban Platform calls for a "protocol, or a legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention and applicable to all parties" by 2020, and will hold all major emitters, including the United States, China and India, to the same obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as other industrialized nations.  The action plan calls for "an agreed outcome with legal force" involving all countries by 2015, and for the ratification and implementation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action by 2020.  The COP17 meeting also concluded with the extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2017.  The 194 countries also agreed on the Green Climate Fund, a global account comprised of public and private funding that would raise $100 billion a year for aid to go to developing countries to use for climate change adaptation and conversion to clean energy technologies.

Throughout the climate talks, delegates from developing nations and small island states sought a more stringent deal to hold the major emitter countries to tougher reductions.  "I would have wanted to get more, but at least we have something to work with. All is not lost yet," said Selwin Hart, chief negotiator on finance for the coalition of small states.  The delegates, along with representatives from leading environmental groups that attended the climate talks, say that the Durban Platform is not enough on its own to slow global climate change.  But, overall, the delegates were satisfied that they were able to come to an agreement, "We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come," said COP17 Chairman and South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

For additional information see: Politico, New York Times: Article 1, and Article 2, Reuters, The Guardian

Canada Withdraws from Kyoto Protocol

On December 12, Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, announced that Canada will formally pull out of the Kyoto Protocol.  The Canadian government cited the $13.6 billion in penalties it would face under terms of the Protocol if it did not cut emissions nation-wide to the required amount by 2012.  "As we've said, Kyoto for Canada is in the past ... We are invoking our legal right to formally withdraw from Kyoto," said Kent.  Many countries, including China, Japan and Mexico, call the decision regrettable, and asked Kent to reconsider the decision.  "It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the Protocol," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.  "We also hope that Canada will face up to its due responsibilities and duties, and continue abiding by its commitments, and take a positive, constructive attitude towards participating in international cooperation to respond to climate change."  Christiana Figueres, the United Nations Climate Chief stated that, "Whether or not Canada is a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the (U.N. Framework on climate change) convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort."  Canada has agreed to support the Durban Platform agreement, and Kent said that the Platform represented “the way forward.”

For additional information see: Reuters: Article 1, Article 2, and Article 3, Associated Press, Business Green

South Sudan Speaks to United Nations about Effects of Climate Change

Alfred Lado Gore, the Minister of Environment for South Sudan, requested assistance for South Sudan during his country’s first appearance at the UN climate meeting.  "Climate change in Southern Sudan has very, very serious negative effects. In terms of agriculture, this is really catastrophic," said Gore.  South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is plagued by droughts and infrequent sudden heavy downpours.  With thousands of refugees fleeing conflict with Sudan, South Sudan’s citizens are constantly searching for food and water.  Gore continued, "People want to cultivate but no longer know when rains come.  And when they come, sometimes they are even floods and they destroy the crops. . . .If the crops fail, people have no food. Food security now becomes a threat."

For additional information see: Associated French Press

Carbon Emissions Increase by Half Since 1990

Worldwide carbon emissions have risen by almost 50 percent over the last two decades, according to a study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. This 50 percent increase amounts to an annual average growth of 3.1 percent, despite the Kyoto Protocol’s goal to reduce emissions to below 1990 levels. Scientists leading the study are concerned, given that the year 2020 is considered the necessary peak for carbon emissions in order to limit global average temperature to the 2 degree increase—the amount thought necessary to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. However, with the new climate deal forged in Durban, no new emissions reduction treaty would take effect until 2020. "That would be too late, unless strong actions are taken in the ­meantime," said Corinne Le Quéré, author of the paper.

For additional information see: Mail and Guardian, The Guardian, Science Daily, Study Abstract

China to Develop National Greenhouse Gas Inventory

China has announced plans to create a national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory.  The new system, to be implemented by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, will monitor and report emissions from both natural and human sources, including energy production and land use change.  The inventory will serve as China’s official GHG report, similar to the national inventories that developed countries submit each year as part of the Kyoto Protocol.  Current estimates of China’s emissions are calculated outside the country using energy consumption reports and other data.  China also announced plans to develop a national system to monitor atmospheric GHG concentrations.

For additional information see: Beijing Review

California Approves Cap and Trade, Creates World’s Second Largest Carbon Market

A San Francisco judge has approved California’s cap-and-trade plans which will make it the largest carbon market in North America and the second largest in the world. The bill was passed in 2006 but has come under fire from opponents claiming that it will destroy jobs and harm the economy. However, in May the court approved the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) authority to implement the program. According to the judge’s ruling last week, the state has adequately studied alternatives to its climate goal and the program is now slated for implementation in 2013. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the state has received more than $9 billion in venture capital for clean energy technology since the bill was passed.

For additional information see: Forbes, San Francisco Gate, Bloomberg

Carbon Emissions Will Peak in 2030: ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil predicts carbon emissions will peak in 2030 according to their energy outlook that analyzes global energy trends from 2012 to 2040. The report also predicts that global energy demand will increase by 30 percent by 2040 and that 80 percent of this increase will be comprised of coal, oil and natural gas. Carbon emissions are already falling in North America and Europe, but developing countries like China will more than compensate with 90 percent of the increase in energy demand due to a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.  "China's emissions are expected to begin declining after about 2025, ending decades of very large increases associated with rapid economic development and industrial activity," ExxonMobil said.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, ExxonMobil Study

Climate Change May Be Altering National Parks’ Attendance

People are visiting climate change-affected national parks earlier in the year, according to a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina.  For the nine national parks that have experienced significant increases in spring temperatures, peak visitation dates have shifted earlier for seven of the parks by an average of four days. For example, peak attendance at the Grand Canyon was June 24 in 2008 compared with July 4 in 1979. On the contrary, of the 18 parks without significant temperature changes, only three have exhibited shifts in peak attendance. "We can't say for sure that global warming is causing this swing in visitation trends but this discovery does complement rapidly accumulating evidence showing how other organisms have had to alter their behavior in response to climate change,” said Lauren Buckley, Ph.D. “Visiting parks earlier may not be a big deal, but it may serve as a bellwether for more severe human adjustments required to cope with climate change."

For additional information see: Science Daily, New York Times, Omaha World-Herald, Study

New Methane Plumes Rising from Arctic Ocean Discovered

Warmer temperatures and decreased sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean are causing massive amounts of underwater methane to bubble to the surface, according to findings released at last week’s American Geophysical Union meeting.  Methane is rising to the surface and into the atmosphere in large plumes or fountains, some as large as one kilometer in diameter.  In a 10,000 square mile area off the northern coast of Siberia, Russian scientists discovered more than 100 methane plumes.  The research team has been monitoring the region for nearly two decades and was shocked by the latest results.  The destabilization of underwater methane is considered one of the most significant climate change tipping points that will accelerate the rate of warming, as methane is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a one hundred year period.

For additional information see: The Independent

Study Shows that Methane Gas from ‘Fracking’ Damages the Climate

A soon to be released study by Cornell University concludes that using hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale releases as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal.  Professor Robert Howarth states, “The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”  The study also states, “The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming.”  

For additional information see: The Hill, Report, Cornell University Press Release

Other Headlines

Writers: Alison Alford, John-Michael Cross, and Joey Gosselar

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!