Climate Change News January 30, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
January 30, 2012


Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Cuts 67 Million Carbon Allowances

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative plans to eliminate an oversupply of 67 million unsold carbon allowances.  The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast-based cap and trade system requires electric power providers to pay for emissions by purchasing carbon allowances equal to one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Unused allowances can be sold by the companies to other emitters of pollution.  The move to remove unused allowances will increase prices and lead to a decrease in CO2 emissions.   According to Ashley Lawson, a senior analyst with Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, while the program has proved itself successful, the oversupply of allowances created a lower price for them, easing the pressure on electricity providers to emit less. While the prices have been lower than expected, almost $1 billion in revenue has been generated for the 10 original states, most of which has gone to energy efficiency programs.

For additional information see: New York Times

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Decline

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, citing that the United States consumed less coal and imported oil in 2011 than it did in 2005.  While current emission levels are not on target to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent by the year 2020, EIA’s forecast shows that new fuel-economy standards are helping Americans reduce their daily oil consumption.  The report states, "Over the next 25 years, the projected coal share of overall electricity generation falls to 39 percent, well below the 49 percent share seen as recently as 2007, because of slow growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable plants, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Report

USDA Updates Plant Hardiness Map for a Warmer Climate

The US Department of Agriculture has updated the Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect climate change.  The map is used by gardeners to determine which plants will grow in each location based on the average annual minimum temperature.  Plants are able to thrive farther north because the coldest days of the year are now warmer and spring is arriving earlier.  "People who grow plants are well aware of the fact that temperatures have gotten more mild throughout the year, particularly in the winter time," according to Boston University biology professor Richard Primack. "There's a lot of things you can grow now that you couldn't grow before."  The new map is based on temperature data from 1976 to 2005 and reflects a two-thirds of a degree increase in average temperatures from the previous map.

For additional information see: ABC, AP, Plant Map

Hawaii Bill Plans For Sea Level Rise

Hawaii State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, 50th District: Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) introduced H.B. No. 2330 to require planning agencies in each county to address sea level increases when reviewing development plans. Projected higher sea levels will threaten Hawaii’s infrastructure, tourism and overall economy. Thielen stated, "If Hawaii's Legislators and other governmental officials do not take steps to adapt to anticipated sea level rise, scientists predict increased sea levels will inundate our islands negatively impacting their infrastructures." According to the Center For Island Climate Adaptation and Policy sea levels will increase one foot by 2050.

For additional information see: KITV

Rio Earth Summit to Focus on Sustainable Development, Not Climate Change

The UN’s Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June will have sustainable development as its major focus, not climate change.  According to Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s chief negotiator, the shift to sustainability is deliberate because, "Climate change is an (issue) that has very strong resistance from sectors that are going to be substantially altered, like the oil industry."   The conference will attempt to address policies that allow growth and development in a sustainable manner, not just environmentally but economically and socially as well.

For additional information see: Reuters, NPR

Britain Releases Report on Climate Change Threats

The British Environment Agency released a report highlighting 700 threats to the United Kingdom by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.  The Climate Change Risk Assessment addresses the economic impacts of flooding, disruption of international supply chains, droughts, species impacts, soil erosion, deforestation and refugees from climate-related conflicts.  "If I had to pick one particular issue, I think the flooding issue is the most dominant," said Sir Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. Between 1.7 million and 3.6 million people are expected to be at risk of flooding by 2050 and up to £10bn a year in damage by 2080. "Without an effective plan to prepare for the risks from climate change the country may sleepwalk into disaster," said Lord John Krebs, chairman of the adaptation committee of the independent advisory group, Committee on Climate Change.

In related news, river flows in England and Wales may be reduced up to 80 percent by 2050, according to the British Environment Agency.  A warming climate is expected to bring dryer summers, reducing water supplies, while increasing population growth will increase demand for water.  "The problem is not just that average summer temperatures could rise by two or three degrees in Britain over the coming decades," said Trevor Bishop, the head of water resources at the Environment Agency. "It is also forecast that the population of England and Wales is likely to rise by more than 9 million. That will only add to the burden that we are placing on our water supplies.”  The report forecasts a loss in important habitats for fish species that depend on fresh water supplies such as Atlantic salmon and brown trout, which will then affect other species such as otters and eagles.

For additional information see: AP, Business Green, The Guardian, The Guardian, Report

Drought Results in Increasing Arsenic in Mexico’s Water Supply

Droughts caused by climate change are increasing the amount of arsenic found in the Laguna Region’s dwindling water levels.  “From 1992 to 1999 [in the Laguna Region] we suffered intense droughts and 2010 was the driest (year) in 100 years,” explained Francisco Valdes Perezgasga, researcher at La Laguna Technological Institute.   Less rain means the region’s aquifers are not replenished with fresh water, and the Laguna region’s 1.5 million residents are drawing on distant aquifers contaminated with heavy metals and arsenic, increasing the chance of lung, kidney and liver cancer.  “We have confirmed an increase in the incidence of certain types of cancer, such as skin and gallbladder, and cases of genetic damage due to arsenic,” said Gonzalo Garcia Vargas, a professor at Juarez.

For additional information see: AlterNet

Climate Change Affects the Global Dinner Plate

On January 20 in Science, researchers published a report urging policymakers to include agriculture in global actions against climate change.  Led by John Beddington, Britain’s chief science adviser, the paper states, "Global agriculture must produce more food to feed a growing population, yet scientific assessments point to climate change as a growing threat to agricultural yields and food security."  Climate change-related weather events wipe out large crops of available food worldwide, and raise the overall price of remaining supplies.  Farmers and scientists have begun to work together to find solutions to the food shortage.  In Israel researchers have developed a way to use satellite images to assist farmers with harvests, relaying climate data to farmers that tell them when to plant seeds, when to harvest crops and which crops work best for each square kilometer of land.  In Africa, farmers are using agroforestry to mix crops and livestock with shrubbery and trees in order to reduce deforestation and use available animal manure to fertilize the crops.

For additional information see: CNBC, NPR, Reuters, Time, Report

Climate Change Acidifies Oceans Beyond Marine Organisms’ Limits

On January 22, in Nature Climate Change scientists report that over the last 200 years, carbon dioxide emissions have raised the acidity of the world’s oceans to the highest levels in history.  "In some regions, the man-made rate of change in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution is 100 times greater than the natural rate of change between the Last Glacial Maximum and pre-industrial times," explains lead author Dr. Tobias Friedrich, of the University of Hawaii.   The acidic environment is pushing coral reefs, shellfish, and many marine species beyond their natural survival limits. The scientists discovered that greenhouse gas emissions, when reacting with saltwater, significantly reduced the calcification rate of corals and mollusks.  Decreased calcification rates impact the reproduction speed of the marine animal’s skeletal system and weaken the organisms by about 15 per cent, with some species reaching a 40 percent drop in calcification rates.  "Our results suggest that severe reductions are likely to occur in coral reef diversity, structural complexity and resilience by the middle of this century," says co-author Axel Timmermann.

In related news, the United Nations Environment Program reports countries could greatly reduce the amount of marine pollution by strengthening fertilizer regulation and introducing incentives to encourage the recycling of nutrients.  Less polluted beaches and oceans would increase the tourism industry and increase the areas’ overall value.  Countries could also further reduce marine pollution by replacing traditional non-renewable energy sources with wind, wave and tidal power, and greatly reduce the levels of greenhouse gas emissions acidifying the ocean.  

For additional information see: Daily Mail, USA Today, Science Daily, Monga Bay, Reuters

Climate Change Altering Disaster Aid Strategies

A recent poll from AlertNet found climate change and urbanization are shaping organizations' response to disasters.  The survey polled global aid organizations, including Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE, and Red Cross, about predictions of future humanitarian needs and challenges when delivering aid.  AlertNet found non-profits and aid organizations are investing more time and money in disaster prevention and are spending more money when coming to the aid of people affected by climate change-related floods, storms, and droughts.  "The rising trend in the number of disasters over the past five years shows no sign of slowing down.  Year on year, we are responding more frequently and on a larger scale to increasing numbers of disasters," said Gareth Owen, of Save the Children UK.  The majority of the agencies polled said spending more resources on disaster risk reduction would greatly increase individuals’ ability to survive natural disasters, yet the organizations are having trouble raising the necessary funds. “Funding for disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness is not very 'sexy' for donors—global, domestic and private," said Jouni Hemberg, of FinnChurchAid.

For additional information see: Report, Poll Results

Geoengineering to Mitigate Climate Change Has Mixed Results

In the journal Nature Climate Change, two recently released reports highlighted both the positive and the negative effects of geoengineering.  In the first study, led by Julia Pongrantz of the Carnegie Institution for Science, scientists used computer models to test the results of deflecting solar rays by scattering sulfur compounds into the atmosphere.  Pongrantz found that altering the sun’s rays to deflect the majority of incoming light would increase global crop production, while having limited effect on overall global rainfall.  Conversely, a second study, led by Peter J. Irvine at the University of Bristol in Britain, found that only a rapid and aggressive decrease of global air temperature would have a positive effect on sea-level rise, and plants and organisms would not have the time needed to adjust to the rapid cooling temperature.   Both groups of researchers concluded that the best way to limit global warming is to immediately and drastically reduce the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

For additional information see: New York Times, Science Daily, Crops and Geoengineering Report, Sea Temperatures and Geoengineering Report, Press Release

Study: Barley Adapts to Climate Change

Barley appears to be able to adapt to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and drought, according to Anabel Robredo, a biologist at the University of the Basque Country.  In her thesis, "Physiological Response Mechanisms of Barley to the Impact of Drought and Elevated CO2: Adaptation to Climate Change," Robredo analyzed drought-exposed barley grown in a CO2 concentration equal to current levels and in twice current levels.  While barley plants exposed to elevated CO2 concentrations and drought are harmed by using water more slowly, the plant is able to grow over a longer time period.  Robredo cautioned against extrapolating these results to other species, "You have to be very careful because plant species often respond very differently, even displaying the opposite [response]. But, what we can say is that most plant species tend to use water more efficiently in conditions of elevated CO2 and drought, and that they grow more."

For additional information see: Science Daily

Fresh Water in Arctic Could Significantly Alter Gulf Stream in Northern Atlantic

In a recent study, British scientists discovered that the volume of fresh water in the western Arctic sea has increased by at least 10 percent since 2002.  Using satellite data to measure the height of the sea surface, researchers found that surrounding ground snow and glacier ice are melting at a faster pace than usual, raising the sea surface of the Arctic by roughly 6 inches.  If current wind patterns shift over the Arctic, the pool of fresh water could infiltrate the Atlantic Ocean, slowing down the Gulf Stream and significantly cooling Europe.

For additional information see: Reuters

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Writers: Alison Alford and Justin Jones

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