Climate Change News February 13, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 13, 2012


New Mexico Rejects Participation in Cap and Trade

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board opted to repeal a cap and trade program after receiving petitions from New Mexico’s leading utility, oil, and gas developers. Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, stated, “It was a regulation that threatened jobs and would have burdened our families with higher energy costs.” The rules were first proposed in 2010 under then Governor Bill Richardson and would have required large polluters to reduce carbon emissions by two percent annually. A local environmental group, New Energy Economy, is supporting a different emissions cap program that will be voted on in March, but fears it will not be approved.

For additional information see: CBS News, Inside Climate News

Natural Gas Leaks Could Contribute to Climate Change

Natural gas fields near Denver, Colorado are leaking high levels of methane into the atmosphere, according to a study from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. The report states the investigation “produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel [natural gas] might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.” The study revealed natural gas producers in the Denver-Julesburg Basin area are losing four percent of gas into the atmosphere, which is double the official inventory. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained “unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below two percent, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.” Methane is more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and releases of methane of this magnitude could counterbalance the environmental advantage of natural gas over other fossil fuels.

For additional information see: Think Progress, Scientific American

Minneapolis Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In the past six years, Minneapolis has experienced a 12.8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without cutting electricity use. The reduction may be the result of cleaner energy such as wind and solar as well as more fuel-efficient cars, but has had little to do with the Climate Action Plan created 20 years ago. For the city to achieve reductions of 30 percent of 2006 emissions by 2025, a more aggressive climate agenda geared toward homes, commercial buildings, and transportation will need to be implemented. Carl Nelson of the Center for Energy and Environment has said, “We don’t focus on climate change. We focus on saving energy, saving money and making their homes more energy efficient.” An updated Climate Action Plan is currently being revised to address energy savings at home and at the work place.

For additional information see: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Political Leaders Shape Public Opinion of Climate Change

According to a study published in the journal Climate Change, public opinion regarding climate change issues is greatly influenced by political leaders and the media as opposed to scientific research and extreme weather events. In the study, a Climate Change Threat Index was generated by using polling data based upon multiple factors of influence including “extreme weather events, scientific information, media coverage, congressional attention, and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.” J. Craig Jenkins of Ohio State University, co-author of the study, said, “More than any other single factor, the content and tone of political discourse about climate change impacted public opinion…The politics overwhelms the science.” The study also found increased media coverage of climate change increases the level of public concern.

For additional information see: The Energy Collective, Yale Environment 360, Columbia Journalism Review, AlterNet

Fourth Warmest January for Contiguous United States

Average temperatures among the contiguous United States was 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit, up 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit from the 20th century average, with lower than average precipitation rates and snow cover, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Twenty-two states had December-January temperatures that rank among the ten warmest. Florida and Washington were the only states with temperatures that were near average. However, Alaska has experienced record breaking lows with temperatures as low as -35.6 degrees. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 1.85 inches, 0.37 inches less than average. Snowcover was the third lowest in the 46 years that such records were kept, with snowfall being much less than normal in the northern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast.

For additional information see: Science Daily, NOAA, The Huffington Post

Study: Improved Policies Needed for Australia to Meet Emissions Targets

An Australian carbon market will not meet greenhouse gas reduction targets by itself, according to a report by the Grattan Institute. Australia will begin a carbon trading scheme on July 1 and has a goal of 20 per cent of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. “Existing policies will not on their own produce the transformation we need . . . The carbon pricing scheme, while a good start, is not enough," according to the report. The study suggested the government could change electricity network regulations, improve solar and geological resource maps and create greater investor certainty by providing long term annual emissions limits.

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald

Island Nations Seek World Court Opinion on Climate Change

Palau President Johnson Toribiong has formed an expert advisory committee with other island nations to bring climate change to the World Court. Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University and one of the advisory committee members, says, “The basic argument is that under international law, no nation may cause pollution that causes damage in other nations. Thus the major emitting countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions so as to reduce the damage that sea level rise and other climate impacts cause to the island nations.” The nations hope the court will find greenhouse gas emitting nations have an obligation under international law to reduce those emissions. The countries fear rising sea levels will submerge their low lying islands.

For additional information see: Dawn, Los Angeles Times

Meat Trade in Britain Leaves Large Carbon Footprint

In Britain, transportation of meat accounts for over one quarter of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a study in the journal Energy Policy. Professor Nick Hewitt of Lancaster University argues that a vegetarian diet on a national level could lead to “a 50 per cent reduction in current exhaust pipe emissions of CO2 from the entire United Kingdom passenger car fleet.'' The report states that while GHG emissions generated from the transportation of food to be consumed in the UK “are the equivalent of 167 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2),” the consequential exhaust emissions from the transportation of meat products alone results in “between 22 and 26 per cent” of the CO2 emissions in the UK. Yet, the mere removal of meat products from a population’s diet may not be the overall solution environmentalists are looking for. Environmental campaigner Tony Juniper explains, “For me, the challenge is not about whether we have meat and dairy production or not; it's how we do it in a sustainable way.”

For additional information see: The Independent

2010 Winter Weather Spikes UK Emissions

The coldest winter in the United Kingdom in 25 years caused 2010 greenhouse gas emissions to increase 3.1 percent, according to a government report. Total UK emissions were the equivalent of 590.4 million tonnes of CO2. The previous year, emissions had fallen 8.7 percent primarily due to the global economic downturn. The UK's GHG output has fallen 24 percent from 1990 levels. This should allow the UK to easily meet its target of cutting emissions by 12.5 percent from 1990 levels during the 2008-2012 period.

For additional information see: Reuters

China Refuses to Pay European Union Carbon Tax

On Monday, January 6, the Chinese air regulator barred its airlines from paying the European Union (EU) charges on carbon emissions, saying the program violates international rules by charging carriers for pollution that happens outside of Europe. A statement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China said, "China objects to the EU's decision to impose the scheme on non-EU airlines.” A group of 26 countries, including China and the United States plan on meeting in Moscow in February to discuss the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) and any action airline trade groups should take against the scheme. The ETS is a cap and trade program designed to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. A component of the ETS program requires airlines flying into Europe to obtain carbon dioxide emissions certificates which can be bought or traded.

For additional information see: North Country Times, Bloomberg, Reuters

China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rising Steadily Past U.S. Emissions Levels

Chinese greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 will be almost 49 percent more than those of the United States, according to Tisnhua University professor and director of the Climate Policy Initiative, Ye Qi. China’s emission intensity, the amount of carbon released in to the atmosphere per unit of gross domestic product, has been dropping but overall emissions continue to climb. According to Qi, "There is no question now China is the largest emitter, and the gap between Number 1 and Number 2 is enlarging.” Recent technological developments have helped reduce China’s overall carbon emissions intensity, but Qi noted that meeting national goals in the next five years will be difficult if China does not make large structural changes.

For additional information see: Scientific American

Glacial Melting Less than Expected

Some of the Earth's glaciers and ice caps are melting more slowly than expected, contributing about 0.4mm of sea level rise per year, less than half the amount predicted, according to a joint satellite project run by NASA and the German government. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) was able to capture more accurate measurements than previously possible about glaciers throughout the world. Ian Howat, a glacier and ice-sheet specialist at Ohio State University states, “The good news here is that they are not losing mass as quickly as we thought. The bad news is that while we’re not losing mass from ice caps and glaciers as quickly, we’re still not gaining it anywhere.” Previous overestimates of melting could be as a result that many glaciers studied are at lower altitudes and, therefore, more prone to melting while higher glaciers are colder and less susceptible to warm temperatures.

For additional information see: Christian Science Monitor, CNET, The Independent

Tree Rings May Not Reflect Global Cooling from Volcanic Eruptions

Reconstruction of temperature changes from tree rings may underestimate effects of volcanic eruptions, according to a report in the journal Nature Geoscience. The researchers compared temperature reconstructions from actual tree ring data with temperature estimates from climate models that include past volcanic eruptions. The study found climate cooling caused by past volcanic eruptions may not be evident in tree ring reconstructions of temperature change because large temperature drops from volcanic eruptions may lead to greatly shortened or even absent growing seasons. "The problem is that these trees are so close to the threshold for growth, that if the temperature drops just a couple of degrees, there is little or no growth and a loss of sensitivity to any further cooling. In extreme cases, there may be no growth ring at all," said Michael Mann, professor of meteorology and geosciences and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.

For additional information see: Science Daily

Other Headlines

Writers: Alison Alford, Justin Jones, Erin Tulley and Samantha Shiffman

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