Climate Change News February 28, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 28, 2011



New Hampshire Could Pull Out of Regional Carbon Trading Initiative

On February 24, Republicans in New Hampshire’s state legislature moved forward on a bill to withdraw the state from the regional carbon trading program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Supporters say the bill would help ease the financial pressure on ratepayers, but opponents say that the legislation could end up giving up more than $60 million in energy savings and dry up millions more in funding for alternative energy and efficiency programs. There have been studies showing RGGI has added about 6.5 cents per month to an average electric bill. The bill would lift requirements that New Hampshire cap carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but amendments would keep the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board, which was created in 2008 to keep New Hampshire’s green energy programs from disbanding. According to Governor John Lynch, since the state joined the RGGI, it has paid out $11 million in higher electric rates, but has generated $28 million worth of energy efficiency benefits and 1,130 jobs. New Hampshire was the last of 10 Northeastern states to join the RGGI in 2008. Advocates says that the bill may have enough support to override a potential veto by Gov. Lynch, even though he has yet to issue the veto threat.

For additional information see: Nashua Telegraph, Solve Climate News

EPA: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fell During 2009 Recession

On February 23, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report stating that the economic recession caused a decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States in 2009. According to the EPA’s annual inventory, emissions decreased by 6 percent from 2008 to 2009, even though total U.S. emissions have increased by 7.4 percent from 1990 through 2009 at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent. Total emissions of GHGs were 5.5 billion tons in 2009, down from 5.92 billion tons in 2008 and 6.12 billion tons in 2007. The EPA attributed the decline to a decline in economic output that resulted in a decrease in energy consumption in the industrial and transportation sectors, as well as a shift from coal to cleaner burning natural gas to produce electricity, since the price of natural gas went down. There was virtually no year-to-year change in emissions from commercial and residential buildings or agriculture.

In related news, a report based on EPA data issued by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) found that a recovering economy helped increase U.S. power plant emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2010. The 5.56 percent rise in emissions was the highest jump in emissions since the EPA began keeping records in 1995. The economy and air conditioning demand from warm summer temperatures sent emissions up, signifying that a lot of inefficient coal-burning plants were generating electricity, according to the report.

For additional information see: The Hill, The New York Times, Reuters

Denmark and Britain Call for Bigger EU Emissions Cuts

On February 24, Denmark and Britain called on fellow European Union (EU) members to adopt more ambitious targets for cutting carbon emissions, while Denmark presented its own vision for energy supplies in 2050, showing how it could become independent of coal, oil, and natural gas by mid-century. In a joint statement, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Lykke Friis and British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne, said the EU’s forthcoming 2050 road map needs to offer a “cost-effective, credible and ambitious pathway” to enable member states to take Europe beyond the “cul-de-sac” of the current 20 percent cut target. The EU’s current goal is a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Proponents of a more aggressive goal argue that the EU should move to a 30 percent emissions cut, which they say will give Europe the chance to dominate the global market in clean technology. Meanwhile, a report for the German government found that the current target is too weak to mobilize innovation, and that raising the target level would increase European GDP by up to $842 billion and create 6 million additional jobs. The European Commission likewise found that moving the target higher could be “cost-effective.”

For additional information see: The Guardian, Reuters

European Commission to Enhance Online Security in Carbon Market After Thefts

On February 23, the European Commission released details of how it plans to strengthen online security within its carbon trading scheme after the cyber attacks on several national registries in January, 2011. Among the Commission’s recommendations are setting up a formal process for regularly reviewing registry security, strengthening checks regarding the opening of new accounts and reviewing existing account holders, improving processes to notify other registries should suspicious online activity be detected, enhancing security training for users, and designing rules to block carousel fraud in the carbon market. According to Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Change Action, the plan would see member states take immediate action to boost their security, while medium and long term efforts would require a regular dialogue with member states and stakeholders and a proposal to overhaul the EU registry regulations to strengthen the legal powers of the authorities and implement a public consultation on the oversight regime of the market.

For additional information see: Business Green, Bloomberg, European Commission Press Release

Australian Prime Minister Announces Plan for Carbon Market to Launch in 2012

On February 24, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched a third attempt to establish a fixed price for carbon, though the actual price has not been announced. Beginning in July 2012, polluters would pay a yet-to-be-determined fixed price, and within the next five years Australia would move to a market-based system. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, and is one of the highest per-capita carbon emitters in the developed world, as 80 percent of its electricity generation comes from coal. Gillard’s framework deal already has support of her minority government’s political partners, including the Green party that previously opposed past schemes for being too weak. After the announcement, some Australian electricity prices jumped, but most futures contracts for 2012 remained untraded, reflecting skepticism within the industry.

For additional information see: The Guardian, Reuters, The Sydney Morning Herald

UN Panel Approves Two-Year Clean Development Mechanism Plan

On February 22, the UN panel responsible for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) carbon offset scheme adopted a two-year business plan designed to achieve its goals for 2012, which include greater efficiency, increased global reach, enhanced transparency, more effective promotion of the mechanism, and improved objectivity, clarity, and integrity for offset processes. The panel said the plan will improve access to the carbon market and extend the scheme’s reach into smaller nations. Critics have claimed it is guilty of approving environmentally questionable projects and focusing too much on India and China at the expense of smaller nations. The panel approved a new baseline and monitoring methodology for small-scale biogas generators, and expressed hope that it will bring up to 20 million African projects into the scheme. It also agreed to allow registered projects to earn credits from the date that a complete submission is received.

For additional information see: Business Green, CDM 2-Year Business Plan

European Airlines: 2010 Not a Representative Year for Aviation Emissions Baseline

On February 18, officials from the Association of European Airlines (AEA) expressed their concern over the aviation industry’s inclusion in the EU’s carbon trading scheme set to begin January 1, 2012. Airlines account for around 2 percent of global emissions and are predicted to rise to almost a quarter of global emissions if no action is taken. The industry argued that the EU’s proposed means of measuring airline emissions is flawed. One of the main complaints is that 2010 was used as a baseline year to determine the allocation of emission credits. However, many airlines, especially in northern Europe, operated a significantly lower number of flights than usual due to the ash cloud from the 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano. An AEA spokesman argued that those airlines that grounded flights will receive a lower allocation of credits than if they had been operating under normal conditions, and proposed that the EU use 11 months of 2010 figures or use “business as usual” simulated numbers. The European Commission rejected both proposals.

For additional information see: Business Green

Climate Change Could Lead to Greater Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

On February 21, a UN-commissioned report warned that rising global temperatures that cause extreme weather could significantly increase the risk of toxic spills, making it difficult to meet the targets set by the 2004 Stockholm Convention that were designed to reduce exposure to 21 dangerous chemicals. The report said that risks of exposure could increase if more stockpiles and landfills leak due to flooding, or other extreme weather, since chemicals stored in stockpiles or waste dumps could wash away, become more volatile, or escape through gas emissions before they are incinerated or safely removed. These chemicals pose a proven risk to human and environmental health, as they persist in human bodies and can damage reproductive systems, lead to mental health problems, cause cancer, or impede growth. The report also said that climate change could lead to greater use of some pesticides, such as DDT, which is used to control malaria. Warmer temperatures could also make the chemicals more volatile because vapor pressure increases exponentially with temperature, and added heat will make them more volatile.

For additional information see: Business Green, AP

UN/WMO Report: Target Soot, Methane to Fight Climate Change

On February 23, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released the summary of an assessment showing that using existing technologies and institutions to reduce black carbon and tropospheric ozone can save millions of lives and millions of tons in crop production losses annually, while also limiting temperature rise. Preventing the emissions of soot particles from industry and cooking fires, known as “black carbon,” would help cut global warming by up to 0.5°C and reduce Arctic warming by about two thirds by 2030, according to scientists. Black carbon, methane, and ozone are classified as “short-lived climate forcers,” since they have a strong warming effect but do not persist as long as other greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide (CO2). The effects of mitigating these pollutants would be quickly realized. A number of measures could be implemented easily to reduce these short-lived pollutants; for example, fitting exhaust-pipe filters on automobiles, using clean-burning stoves instead of open wood fires, capturing methane from coal mines and landfills, and banning the burning of agricultural waste in fields. Obstacles include the cost of adding filters and other technology to vehicles and the lack of availability of clean-burning stoves. However, measures to reduce soot would carry benefits aside from curbing climate change, such as improvements to human health from lower air pollution.

For additional information see: The Guardian, AFP, The Economist, BBC, The New York Times, UNEP and WMO Report

Frequent, Extensive Fires Turns Alaskan Forests From Carbon Stores to Generators

On February 20, a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience found that climate change is causing wildfires to burn larger areas of Alaskan trees and char the groundcover more severely, turning black spruce forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources. Scientists said that Alaskan soils have acted as huge carbon sinks since the proliferation of black spruce forests, but with more frequent and extensive burning in recent decades, the forests have lost more carbon in fire events than they have historically been able to take up between fires. A significant portion of forest carbon is stored in moss, peat, and leaf litter layers that cover the ground, which are most likely to burn in a fire. In addition to releasing carbon emissions, burning the ground layer affects the regulation of soil climate, maintenance of permafrost, and the types of tree that can grow back. New forests likely to grow back after repeated fires would likely be weaker carbon sinks than black spruce forests.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Climate Change Could Increase Risk of Exposure to Waterborne Illnesses

On February 19, scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) unveiled new research and models on how climate change could increase exposure and risk of human illnesses originating from ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Some studies predicted impacts could be felt within 30 years. One report found that climate change alterations to fresh and saltwater environments could lead to more toxic algal blooms and the proliferation of harmful microbes and bacteria that can contaminate food sources, which would threaten the vitality of the seafood industry. According to scientists, algal blooms in Puget Sound responsible for “red tides” that produce a poison that can accumulate in shellfish are experiencing longer bloom seasons, which could lead to the prolonged closure of shellfish fisheries and damage the market.

Researchers also examined the role of increasing global desertification, and how iron in desert dust deposited in the ocean can significantly contribute to the growth of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that contaminates seafood and leads to gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans. Another report outlined the increased risk of older sewer systems overflowing due to more severe rainstorms, which would release dangerous bacteria, viruses, and protozoa into drinking water and onto beaches. Researchers cited the need for improvements in urban infrastructure to prevent this issue.

For additional information see: Xinhua, AFP, Eurekalert Press Release

Warming Leads to Prolonged Allergy Season in North America

On February 21, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that increased warming, particularly in the northern portion of North America, correlates to the prolonged fall pollen season. The research found that from 1995 to 2009, ragweed pollen season has increased by 16 days in Minneapolis; 13 days in LaCrosse, WI; 25 days in Winnipeg, Canada; and 27 days in Saskatoon, Canada. Upper latitudes have been warming faster than lower latitudes, and scientists and health officials found no appreciable warming in Texas, Arkansas, or Oklahoma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 50 million Americans have allergies. In many cases, allergies can trigger more severe problems like asthma, and one of the dangers with the lengthening season is pollen’s potential to overwhelm immune systems. The findings support a 2010 study by the National Wildlife Federation that found ragweed growth rates and pollen counts increased with global warming.

For additional information see: The Daily Climate, Science Daily, Study Abstract

Ozone Layer Linked to Climate Change, Faces New Challenges

On February 17, a 2010 report prepared by the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) Scientific Assessment Panel found that the ozone layer, which protects Earth’s surface from harmful ultraviolet rays, faces new challenges related to climate change as it recovers from earlier damage. The controls on ozone-depleting substances implemented by the 1987 Montreal Protocol appear to be working as expected, with many gases now declining in both the lower and upper atmosphere, according to scientists. However, the report showed stronger evidence that changes in stratospheric ozone and the Earth’s climate are linked. While many say the Montreal Protocol has succeeded in protecting the ozone layer from severe depletion, it will likely still be influenced by other factors related to the changing climate. For example, alterations to atmospheric temperature and circulation patterns affect the processes that deplete the ozone layer, according to scientists. Researchers noted that ozone in the Arctic would be more sensitive to climate changes than ozone in the Antarctic. The 2010 assessment involved over 300 international scientists as authors and reviewers.

For additional information see: Science Daily, UNEP Report

Lake Baikal Data Provides Insight into Ecosystem Responses to Climate Variability

On February 18, a study published in the journal PLoS ONE demonstrated how water temperature measurements for Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the oldest, largest, and deepest freshwater lake in the world, helped scientists detect past climate variation as well as ecosystem responses to the changing global climate system. Since the 1940s, Siberian scientists have taken detailed and frequent measurements of the lake’s temperature, and authors of this study noted that they discovered many climate variability signals, called teleconnections, in the data. The researchers found that seasonality of the lake’s surface water temperatures correspond to the intensity and path of the jet stream on several time scales, and changes in the lake’s water temperature correlate with monthly varability in El Niño indices. Collectively, these dynamics seem to forecast seasonal onset in Siberia about three months in advance. “This work is important because we need to go beyond detecting past climate variation. We also need to know how those climate variations are actually translated into local ecosystem fluctuations and longer-term local changes,” said one of the researchers.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Brown Tawny Owls Becoming More Prevalent Due to Warmer Winters

On February 22, a study published in Nature Communications by a team of Finnish scientists found that more brown tawny owls exist today because of their ability to survive in warmer climates, even though their gray plumage trait is dominant over brown. The scientists gathered data from long-term tawny owl studies carried out over the past 30 years, and created “color maps” of breeding pairs and their offspring, since plumage color is hereditary. The data showed that there was a higher mortality rate in brown owl populations when winter weather was particularly severe, which could be due to brown owls being more visible to predators when snow was abundant. In addition, previous studies have suggested that brown owls may have weaker immune systems and higher metabolic rates than gray owls, meaning they must forage more in order to survive harsh winters. As winters become milder, however, brown tawny owl populations have significantly increased, which has led to an evolutionary change in the population. One of the scientists noted that brown owls used to form 30 percent of the tawny owl population in Finland, but that they now make up 50 percent.

For additional information see: BBC, USA Today, Study

Invertebrate Species Proliferates in Antarctic, Acts as Carbon Sink

On February 22, a study published in the journal Current Biology found that collections of a marine invertebrate species called bryozoan, or Cellarinella nutti, grew steadily until 1990, when their growth rate more than doubled. The data show the rapid growth of C. nutti is due to more carbon being dissolved into the ocean, which leads to greater proliferation of phytoplankton, which C. nutti takes up and incorporates into its skeleton and other tissues. During their growth, “branches” of the specimen break off and are buried in the seabed, locking away the carbon. The specimen is ideal for such longitudinal studies, since its tree-ring-like growth lines in its branch-like structure preserve a clear record in its skeleton. The sequestration and storage of carbon in the ocean qualifies the bryozoan as a potential carbon sink, although researchers noted that at the moment, the carbon sequestering impact of the bryozoan is likely to be quite small. The study was made possible due to a 1901 Antarctic expedition by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who collected marine samples during his travels.

For additional information see: Science Daily, BBC, Live Science, Study Abstract

Climate Record Suggests Longer Droughts, Drier Climate for Northwest

On February 23, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Western states will likely endure severe water shortages as the El Niño/La Niña climate patterns intensify and wield greater influence on the region. The researchers extracted a 6,000-year-old sediment core from a lake in central Washington and found that wet and dry cycles during the past 1,000 years have grown longer, which they attributed to the irregular pressure and temperature changes brought on by El Niño/La Niña. The most recent wet cycle, stretching from the 1940s to 2000, was the dampest in 350 years. The team produced a climate record by measuring oxygen isotope ratios of calcite that builds up in fine layers on the lake floor. More calcite accumulates in wet years than in dry years, so the scientists could reproduce their findings by measuring the color of the mud based on calcite concentration, with darker mud signifying a drier year. The researchers compared their extracted sediment core climate record to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which uses meteorological and tree-ring data to determine drought cycles dating back 1,500 years, and found that the two records matched. The lead researcher, University of Pittsburgh professor Mark Abbott, also noted that the unusually wet years of the 20th century coincided with the period when western states developed water-use policies, building dams and other water systems, and now the cycle is shifting to a drier state.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Other Headlines

March 1: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Budget for FY 2012

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus are hosting a briefing on the Obama administration’s budget request for energy efficiency and renewable energy for fiscal year 2012. At this briefing, Henry Kelly from the Department of Energy (DOE) and Fred Sissine of the Congressional Research Service will give an overview of requested funding levels for various programs, the budget priorities and their justification, and provide context on how these amounts compare to overall energy funding in previous years. The briefing will be held from 11:00 – 12:00 pm in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building (Metro: Capitol South). It is free and open to the public, no RSVP required. For more information, contact EESI at climate[at] or (202) 662-1892.

Writers: Laura Diez and Matthew Johnson

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