Climate Change News February 20, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 20, 2012


United States Creates New Climate Change Coalition

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the formation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, a coalition of nations to curb climate change and reduce air pollution by reducing short-lived pollutants. In conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme, the United States, Bangladesh, Canada, Mexico, Sweden and Ghana are launching a global drive to curb black carbon (soot), methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). "We know that in the principal effort necessary to reduce the effects of carbon dioxide, the world has not yet done enough . . . So when we discover effective and affordable ways to reduce global warming — not just a little, but by a lot — it is a call to action for all of us," said Clinton.

Reductions in short-lived pollutants, which are responsible for more than a third of global warming, could reduce the warming expected by 2050 by 0.5 °C, and avoid millions of premature deaths and avoid the loss of 30 million tons of crops annually by 2030.  “This is very much in the win-win category — good on climate at the same time that it’s good on health, food production and energy . . . It’s not a negotiation over who takes what targets but a voluntary partnership aimed at producing tangible results in a relatively short period of time,” said Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change. The efforts will complement, not replace, global efforts to reduce CO2 by working with existing organizations and “driving the development of national action plans and the adoption of policy priorities; building capacity among developing countries; mobilizing public and private funds for action; raising awareness globally; fostering regional and international cooperation, and; improving scientific understanding of the pollutant impacts and mitigation.” The United States will contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to start the program and to help recruit other countries to participate.

In related news, the climate change coalition led by the United States is being welcomed, but with reservations, by some climate scientists and environmental groups. There is concern the agreement could give the impression enough is being done to prevent climate change. A recent study shows a reduction in short term GHGs will only delay global warming, not prevent it.  The study, released in January in the journal Science, finds that implementing the recommended measures for methane and black carbon will slow global warming, but reductions in CO2 will be more effective in the long-run.  The World Wildlife Fund said the agreement “shifts the focus” to developing countries and allows the United States and Canada to not reduce CO2 emissions.

For additional information see: AFP, Politico, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Huffington Post, Science, Press Release

Documents Leaked from the Heartland Institute

Internal documents and financial reports from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based libertarian think tank devoted to developing and promoting “free market solutions” show the group was promoting climate change skepticism. The documents spell out proposed and ongoing projects, detail financial support of recognized climate change skeptics, and provide a list of donors. Particular attention has been drawn to a plan to fund the development of a kindergarten -12th grade climate change curriculum that contradicts current scientific consensus, stating, for example, that “there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather.” A significant portion of the organization’s funding comes from a single “Anonymous Donor” in addition to Microsoft, Phillip Morris and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  The Heartland Institute promptly issued a statement asserting “some of these documents were stolen from Heartland, at least one is a fake, and some may have been altered.” However, many of the details provided in the disputed memo, titled 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy, align with details in the other documents.

For additional information see:, The New York Times, The Guardian, Politico, MSNBC News

Soil Carbon a Focus of UNEP Year Book 2012

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Year Book 2012 report emphasizes the role of land-use change and soil carbon release in global climate change, and the need to manage soil carbon resources. Soil is an important global carbon reservoir; the top meter of soil alone contains more carbon than the atmosphere. Activities such as deforestation, urban development and unsustainable agricultural and land management practices increase the breakdown of organic matter in soil and release some of the carbon as CO2. According to the Year Book 2012 report, draining of peatlands, which store one third of global soil carbon, releases over two billion metric tons of CO2 annually, “equivalent to six percent of all global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.” The UNEP report calls for regulation, financial incentives such as global soil carbon credits, and other programs to reduce soil degradation and encourage sustainable management of soil carbon. The report also points out soil’s carbon sequestration potential, saying that “land use, land-use change and forestry activities can provide a relatively cost-effective way to offset emissions through increasing removals of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.”

For additional information see: Reuters, United Nations Environmental Programme

Climate Action May Affect Trade Relations

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for the United Nations to intervene in a dispute between the European Union (EU) and China.  China has ordered its airlines not to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a cap and trade program designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The United States, Russia and India have protested against the program but China has been at the forefront of objecting to the plan.  China says the ETS was implemented without consultation and that it unfairly punishes its airlines due to longer travel distances for direct flights. The EU has indicated it is open to negotiations but unwilling to scrap the program because GHGs must be reduced. The dispute comes just before the Beijing Summit, at which the EU will seek China’s help in recovering from their debt crisis.

For additional information see: Reuters, The Washington Post

More Than One in Three Counties Could Face Water Shortages from Climate Change

Climate change may cause a “high” or “extreme” risk of water shortages in more than one in three counties in the United States by 2050, according to a new study in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology. The report also found that seven in 10 U.S. counties may see “some” risk of fresh water shortages.  The study used a “water supply sustainability risk index” to determine that 412 counties in southern and southwest states and southern Great Plains states are at an “extreme” risk of water shortage from climate change. Sujoy B. Roy, Ph.D., a coauthor says, "This is not intended as a prediction that water shortages will occur, but rather where they are more likely to occur, and where there might be greater pressure on public officials and water users to better characterize, and creatively manage demand and supply.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abilene Reporter-News

Bay Area In Need of Comprehensive Climate Change Plan

The San Francisco Bay area, which expects flooding, erosion, heat waves, drought and increased spread of diseases due to climate change, has no cohesive regional climate change plan. Instead, local agencies and municipalities are forming individual mitigation strategies. Some officials, including Laura Tam, a policy director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, argue that the lack of coordination will leave residents vulnerable. Tam asserts that “few cities and counties have the resources to really devote to the engineering and planning studies necessary to carry out some of the protections that we call for . . . ” and that actions taken by independent bodies can unintentionally harm neighbors. Regional agencies lack the resources or jurisdiction to act on a local level. The Joint Policy Committee, a regional governance board, has been unable to generate agreements between local officials and is seen by opponents as a waste of public funds.

For additional information see: New York Times

Study: Model Predicts More Storm Surges with Climate Change

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University have developed a way to assess the effects of sea level rise, increased storm intensity and other climate changes on storm surges.  In a study published in Nature Climate Change, the researchers used computer models to compare storm activity and storm surges between 1981 and 2000 to various anticipated climate scenarios for 2081 to 2100.  Using New York City as an example, scientists looked at “100 year storms” capable of generating storm surges that overwhelm the lower Manhattan seawall.  Under predicted climate change scenarios, the risk of such storms increased from today’s one percent to over five percent annually, while predicted sea levels and storm surge levels increased by 1.5 to 5 feet.

For additional information see:, PhysOrg

Drought and Heat Wave Timing Affects Impacts of Climate Change

The effect of drought and heat waves on prairie grass growth rates varies by time of year, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers analyzed more than 25 years of data from the Konza Prairie in Kansas and found that grass growth rates are reduced by drought in early June, and by heat waves only in July, but seem unaffected by drought and heat waves in late summer. Long term studies are important tools for understanding how ecosystems will respond to climate change. In the paper, scientists note that “If these patterns are general across ecosystems, predictions of ecosystem response to climate change will have to account not only for the magnitude of climate variability but also for its timing.”

For additional information see: National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection

NOAA says Global Temperature in January 2012 was 19th Warmest

January 2012 was the 19th warmest combined global land and ocean average surface temperature on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The temperature of 12.39°C was 0.39°C above the 20th century average.  While this January was the coolest of all months since January 2008, it was the 26th January and 323rd consecutive month with an average global temperature above the 20th century average.  Warmer-than-average temperatures were observed across most of North America, the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia, southern South America, and most of Australia. Cooler-than-average regions included Alaska, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, south central Russia, much of the Middle East, northern India, north Africa, and southwestern Greenland.  The contiguous United States experienced its fourth warmest January since records began in 1895.

For additional information see: NOAA

New Way to Look at GHG Emissions

The Stockholm Environment Institute released a report that more accurately measures greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita.   The study divides GHG inventories into two types, “Geographic-plus” and “Consumption-based.”  Under the Geographic-plus inventory, the emissions calculated pertain to those GHGs emitted within the surveyed territory of King County, Washington.  The Consumption-based figure calculates the GHG emissions for the supply chain of goods and items consumed by those people living in King County.  The research shows that the Consumption-based inventory was more than double the Geographic figure.  The aggregate of the two figures are able to portray a different, and perhaps more accurate, depiction of how consumers’ actions contribute to climate change.  

For additional information see: Grist, Stockholm Environment Institute

Changes in Climate Push Species Up the Andes

The Andes’ biologically diverse species are threatened by rising temperatures from climate change, according to a Duke University study.  Seeking to escape the increasing temperatures, animal and plant species are migrating to higher elevations.  Climate change has accelerated the pace of migration, and one group of researchers found trees were moving 2.5 to 3.5 meters a year upslope. According to Miles Silman, an author of the study, "The trees need to move five to seven meters a year to keep up with climate change."  Species that are able to move face increased competition due to overcrowding from reduced land mass and reduced resources.

For additional information see: E&E News

Tropical Birds Threatened by Climate Change

A review of scientific literature published in the journal Biological Conservation suggests as many as 2,500 different bird species could become extinct due to climate change.  The review, conducted by Cagan Sekercioglu, an assistant biology professor at the University of Utah, says the extinction will depend on the severity of global warming, habitat loss from development and ability to migrate.  "Birds are perfect canaries in the coal mine -- it's hard to avoid that metaphor -- for showing the effects of global change on the world's ecosystems and the people who depend on those ecosystems," said Sekercioglu.

For additional information see: UPI

Climate Change Might Have Role in Australian Floods

Australian scientists say that climate change has increased the frequency of El Nino and La Nina flooding events in Australia over the past 30 years, but state that it could take 10 more years of research to identify how global warming directly impacts extreme weather events.  ''It's completely naive to exclude climate change as a contributor to the floods because of the rapid warming of the oceans, but we are not yet at the stage where we can be too specific about individual events,'' said Matthew England, climate researcher at the University of New South Wales, Australia.  He continued, "the waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon.”   A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change collaborates with England’s report that climate change has increased the frequency of the El Nino/La Nina-Southern Oscillation.

For additional information see: Reuters, The Age, Study

Severn Estuary Threatened by Climate Change

The Severn Estuary in the United Kingdom could be reduced to one-quarter of its current size over the next 100 years due to climate change-related sea level rise, according to a new report.  The State of the Severn Estuary report is attempting to establish baseline data to measure future changes in the estuary.  The report found saltmarshes and mudflats may be lost to rising waters, reducing habitat for plants and animals.  According to the report, "Climate change could have a substantial impact on biodiversity in the coming years - both by affecting the distribution of our native species, and by enabling some non-native species to become more common.”

For additional information see: BBC

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

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