Climate Change News January 23, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
January 23, 2012


Obama Administration Publishes Draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

On January 19, the Obama administration, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a draft national strategy to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The paper proposes strategies to mitigate climate change over the next five years, and provides a road map to manage wildlife habitats. “The impacts of climate change are already here and those who manage our landscapes are already dealing with them,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “The reality is that rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, loss of sea ice and changing precipitation patterns – trends scientists have definitively connected to climate change – are already affecting the species we care about, the services we value, and the places we call home. A national strategy will help us prepare and adapt.” The strategy is available for public review and comment through March 5, 2012.

For additional information see: Proposal, NOAA Press Release, National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy Website

Climate Skepticism Reaching Classrooms

Teachers in some states are facing opposition to teaching climate science from parents, school boards and other groups.   Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma have introduced legislation or educational standards that give climate denial time in the classroom. Resolutions denying climate change passed in the South Dakota and Utah legislatures. “Teachers are getting hammered for teaching climate change, the same way they are for teaching evolution,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). NCSE is offering tools and support to parents and teachers in effectively teaching climate science to students.  Climate science is typically taught in middle school earth science or high school environmental science classes.  In December, new national science standards for K-12 will be released and are expected to include climate change.

For additional information see: Forbes, Los Angeles Times

USDA Adds $308 Million To State Agriculture Disaster Spending

The United States Department of Agriculture is spending $308 million to assist agricultural communities in recovering from floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires in 2011.  According to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, last year was unique because 55 million acres of farmland in “virtually every part of the country” were impacted.  Vilsack said the money is filling a gap left by the $8.6 billion in crop insurance already paid in 2011. Missouri and Utah are receiving the majority of funds — a combined $110 million — to help repair flood damage. New York will receive $41.8 million for damage from tropical storms Irene and Lee.  Alabama has been allocated over $6 million for tornado-associated poultry losses. State and local agencies are required to pay 25 percent of the cost of the projects.

For additional information see: Washington Post

2011 Ninth Warmest Year Since 1880

According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880 and the 10 hottest years on record all occurred in the past 20 years. Separately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the average temperature in the United States during 2011 was the 23rd warmest year in their historical records. The average temperature for 2011 for the U.S. was 53.8 degrees, 1 degree warmer than the 20th century average.  "We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting," said James E. Hansen, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), "So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures.” According to NASA, the increased temperatures are a result of increased greenhouse gasses, especially CO2.

For additional information see: Reuters, NOAA Report, NASA Report

China Facing Climate Change Risks

China’s prosperity is threatened by flooding, droughts and shifting land-use according to the Chinese government’s “Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change.”  The report states, "China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming and changes to China's regional environment." Chinese emissions will continue to increase until 2030, with few major reductions until 2050.  China's emissions, which grew 10 percent in 2010, account for a quarter of worldwide C02 emissions.  Imbalances in water distribution will have the greatest impacts, with severe water shortages in 18 provinces and flooding in low lying regions. Changing weather patterns will also affect rice and cotton production.  Up to 2020, Chinese emission reductions will amount to 10 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion), with half the expenditure for energy efficiency and renewables.

In related news, Beijing publicly announced on January 19 that the capital’s air quality was hazardous in at least two areas of the city.  In response to complaints from residents that the city government was downplaying the pollution as “fog”, officials cancelled flights at the city airport and closed highways because of low visibility.  Surrounded by mountains on the north and west sides of Beijing, smog and soot from heavy traffic and coal plant exhaust hang in the air over the city until weather patterns clear the area.  Beijing officials have announced new steps to improve air quality, imposing regulations to control the release of pollutants from local industries.

For additional information see: Reuters, Washington Post

Norway Contributes $300 Million To Improve Energy in Poor Countries

Norway will invest NOK 1.8 billion ($300 million) per year in nine developing countries to devise a market-based system that limits energy-related emissions and increase access to green energy. Norway will collaborate with United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands and South Korea to fund projects in Bhutan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, Senegal and Tanzania.  Norway intends the scheme to help the countries meet their United Nations greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction pledges.  To be eligible for funds, recipient countries must demonstrate their ability to provide access to green energy while reducing GHG emissions.  The Energy+ Partnership will be launched in June at the Rio+20 summit.

For additional information see: Reuters

European Union May Achieve a 30 Percent Reduction in Carbon Emissions

A draft European Union (EU) document states that the cost of reaching a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 would be less expensive and more easily attainable than previously thought.  The current economic crisis has reduced EU emissions enough to assure the currently agreed to target of 20 percent.  According to the document, the costs of reaching 30 percent would be more heavily borne by poorer member states, but those effects could be mitigated through reductions in carbon allowances for rich countries in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  An addition a 6.5 percent cut in non-ETS sectors such as transportation and buildings would be required to meet a 30 percent target. No plan has been proposed, and support has declined due to the ongoing debt crisis and opposition from industry. "Yes, a 30 percent target would help of course, but chances this passes in the short term are very low, given the economic context," said Emmanuel Fages, an analyst at Societe Generale.

For additional information see: Reuters

Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies Could Provide Half of 2035 Reduction Targets

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), $409 billion was spent by 37 governments in 2010 to subsidize the price of fossil fuels.   “They need to be removed for a healthy energy economy . . . Energy is significantly underpriced in many parts of the world, leading to wasteful consumption, price volatility and fuel smuggling. It's also undermining the competitiveness of renewables," according to Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist.  The subsidies are provided in developing countries to directly reduce the price of fossil fuels, while in developed countries, they are used for tax breaks or beneficial access to land and infrastructure. Without subsidies, by 2015, 750 million tonnes of CO2 and by 2035, 2.6 gigatonnes of CO2, would be eliminated.  This reduction will provide half the needed CO2 emission reduction to limit global warming to 2°C.

For additional information see: The Guardian

Deforestation Changing the Amazon Rainforest to a Major Carbon Emitter

Published on January 19 in Nature, scientists reported the Amazon rainforest is transitioning from a carbon sink to a major source of carbon emissions.  Widespread deforestation is expanding the area of the Amazon Basin that experiences a dry season, and is causing the dry season to grow longer. Trees in the southern and eastern portions of the Amazon are affected by longer dry seasons and multiyear droughts, and they are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a faster rate than the surrounding areas can absorb.

For additional information see: Dawn, Scientific American, Monga Bay, Report

Study: Climate Change Increases Loss of Life in Australia

CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology scientists studied climate models of Brisbane, Australia, and discovered that, "A two-degree increase in temperature in Brisbane between now and 2050 would result in an extra 381 years of life lost per year [among Brisbane’s population]," said lead researcher Associate Professor Adrian Barnett.  The researchers found that any increase in global temperature over 2°C would be catastrophic, with a 4°C increase resulting in an extra 3,242 years of life lost per year.

For additional information see: Australian News

Study: Canada Should Expect Major Ecological Changes

A recent NASA study concluded that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, Canada will see major ecological change to local grasslands and forests. This ecological shift will result in fewer wetlands and trees across the majority of the Canadian countryside. "By about 2100, the climate change projections that we have today would suggest that there would be pressure on that grassland so prevalent in [the Canadian Prairies] to move further northward — and at the expense of the forest moving further northward as well," said NASA climate scientist Duane Walliser. Climate change will also affect plants and animals south of Canada, causing them to migrate north into Canada. Longer and warmer summers are already allowing mountain pine beetles and deer ticks to migrate north into Canada, and biologists are concerned that global warming will open the borders to invasive species.

For additional information see: IFP, CBC News, The Canadian Press

Trees Should Be Included in Scientific Models

Scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre claim that trees influence changes in weather patterns and might skew climate models if not included in projected measurements. The World Agroforestry Centre stated in a recently published book, "Unfortunately … climate scientists have not made much effort to quantify [the effects of trees]. By not looking at that, we are missing a large opportunity to understand how we can adapt." The scientists cite that most weather stations world-wide follow the World Meterological Organization’s (WMO) guidelines and collect climate data away from tree coverage. Since these data sets alone are used in future climate modelling, vital information on how trees protect the surrounding area from excessive heat and soil erosion are missing from the model’s projections.

For additional information see: Science and Development Network

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Writers: Alison Alford and Justin Jones

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