Climate Change News July 10, 2009

Climate Change News

July 10, 2009



Senate Pushes Back Deadline for Climate Bill

On July 9, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that her committee will delay its initial deadline to report out a climate bill before the August recess. "We will do it as soon as we get back," Boxer said and noted that draft legislation will be released sometime in the fall, once Senators return from recess. “I want to take this as far as we can take it. The more we can do the better." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also announced that the deadline for Senate committees to report out climate legislation is moved to September 28, ten days later than originally proposed. The Senate will be considering climate legislation following passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House of Representatives on June 26. Following the announcement, a White House spokesman said, "The administration is continuing to work with the Senate to pass comprehensive energy legislation and believes it's on track."

For additional information see: Reuters, The Guardian, Politico, Denver Post

G8 Nations Agree to 2050 Emissions Target

On July 9, leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) nations announced their commitment to limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. The announcement came after a day of talks regarding climate change at a G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. “We recognize the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2°C," the declaration said, which came from members of the G8 along with Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia and the European Union. The G8 members, which include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, also pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The group failed to get developing countries to accept an emissions reductions target of 50 percent by 2050. Representatives from emerging nations have expressed frustration that developed countries have not committed to mid-term targets or pledged financial or technological transfer to developing nations. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the agreement was welcome, but the leaders needed to establish a strong and ambitious mid-term target for emissions cuts by 2020. "This is politically and morally imperative and a historic responsibility for the leaders . . . for the future of humanity, even for the future of planet Earth," he said.

The G8 leaders also committed to supporting efforts to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and black carbon soot, two potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). The leaders noted they are keeping the option open for regulating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, a treaty signed to protect stratospheric ozone. Negotiations for this treaty will open next week in Geneva and are scheduled to conclude the first week in November in Egypt. “We recognize that the accelerated phase-out of HCFCs mandated under the Montreal Protocol is leading to a rapid increase in the use of HFCs, many of which are very potent GHGs,” the declaration read. “Therefore we will work with our partners to ensure that HFC emissions reductions are achieved under the appropriate framework. We are also committed to taking rapid action to address other significant climate forcing agents, such as black carbon.”

For additional information see: G8 Declaration Text, Washington Post, BBC, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal

NASA: Arctic Ocean’s Ice Layer Thins ‘Dramatically'

On July 7, scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Washington in Seattle published a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans which concluded that the layer of Arctic ice has thinned ‘dramatically’ this decade. The scientists used data from the NASA satellite ICESat over the period of 2003 to 2008 to measure the thickness of Arctic ice. They observed that the ice thinned by 2.2 feet over four winters and that the layer of older ice shrank by 42 percent. Seasonal ice is that which forms in winter and is usually six feet thick while older ice is that which survives year round and is usually nine feet thick. Scientists said that the amount of ice formed in winter has not been enough to offset summer losses in recent years. “Even in years when the overall extent of sea ice remains stable or grows slightly, the thickness and volume of the ice cover is continuing to decline, making the ice more vulnerable to continued shrinkage,” said the study’s lead researcher, Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. As a result, more of the ocean is exposed to sunlight. The dark water absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it, leading to increased heating and melting of ice.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, AFP, Reuters, NASA

Georgia Appeals Court Reverses Coal Plant Ruling to Regulate Carbon Emissions

On July 7, developers of a $2 billion proposed coal plant won an appeals court ruling reversing an earlier trial judge’s decision that said the coal plant should have regulated its CO2 emissions. The trial judge ruled in 2008 that the plant’s air permit was invalid because it did not place a limit on CO2 emissions, which has been declared a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The appeals court upheld several of the trial judge’s other decisions and ordered that the case be remanded to an independent judge for review. “We'll take it,” said Mike Vogt, a spokesman for LS Power, the company trying to build the coal plant. “We feel pretty good about our chances here.”

Supporters of the coal plant, which would be the first new plant built in Georgia in 20 years, say the plant will bring 100 jobs to the region as well as increased tax revenue. Opponents of the plant point to the detrimental pollution from coal plants that would cause environmental and health problems. A coalition of environmental groups, including GreenLaw, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chattahoochee, filed the original suit and plan to appeal the new decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. “We are extremely pleased that the Court of Appeals has required independent review of the errors that were made in the permitting of this plant,” said Justine Thompson, executive director of GreenLaw. “However, we are very disappointed that the court rejected other important claims that are critical to the protection of public health. We feel confident that the Georgia Supreme Court will reverse on appeal.”

For additional information see: Forbes, Dothan Eagle, Environmental News Service

EPA: Kansas Coal Plant Needs New Permit

On July 8, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, the utility behind a proposed coal plant in western Kansas, must reapply for a new state permit. The EPA initially rejected a proposal in 2007 for three projects totaling 2100 megawatts (MW), citing carbon emissions. A group of lawmakers fought for two years to move it forward, and this spring Governor Mark Parkinson arranged an agreement allowing for a smaller, 895 MW project to take place. The EPA said that this counts as a new project, and as such requires a new round of public comment and technical review. “The fact that we believe it's a new project triggered what we did,” said EPA spokesman David Bryan. “Our biggest concern is that it hasn't had a public airing yet.”

For additional information see: Kansas City Star, AP

Plan Proposed to Target Top One Billion Carbon Emitters

On July 6, researchers from the Princeton Environmental Institute published a plan in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to reduce carbon emissions by targeting the wealthy, the largest emitters of carbon, in all nations. While the plan would not single out individuals, it would use income distribution data to estimate individual carbon emissions and create an equitable formula for emissions reduction. The researchers would like to see a universal cap on CO2 that would allow poor nations to develop using fossil fuels while wealthy people in all nations would reduce their emissions to meet the cap. “You're distributing the task of doing something about emissions reduction based on the proportion of the population in the country that's actually doing the most damage,” said Shoibal Chakravarty of the Princeton Environment Institute, one of the study's authors. The authors said that currently 50 percent of global emissions come from less than one billion people.

The authors concluded that to maintain the current level of emissions in 2030, an emissions cap would limit individuals to eleven tons of CO2 emissions per year. The typical European emits ten tons of CO2 per year, while the average American emits twenty tons of CO2 annually. “These numbers strengthen our conviction that industrialized countries will have to take the lead in reducing their emissions, but that the fight to prevent dangerous climate change can only be won if all countries act together,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, chair of Economics of Climate Change at the Technical University Berlin and co-chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

For additional information see: AFP, Reuters, New Jersey Times, Princeton University

Poor Face More Hunger as Climate Change Leads to Crop Failure

On July 6, Oxfam International released a report stating that some staple crops which poor people rely on for food could be impacted by the effects of climate change. The report concluded that for every 1°C increase in temperature, yields of rice and maize, two important staple crops, will decrease. The report also indicated that countries with existing hunger problems will be the hardest hit. “Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger [may become] the defining human tragedy of this century,” the report said.

The report said that farmers are currently experiencing changes in growing seasons, unpredictable and decreased rainfall, and increased wind and storms. Oxfam said that climate change will exacerbate these problems, in addition to causing disease migration and an increased heat island effect in cities. The report urged world leaders meeting this week in a G8 summit to agree to cut global CO2 emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and to provide $150 billion for adaptation purposes. “The world's agricultural potential is less than 60 percent exploited: there is still enough land to feed everyone, even with population levels at the 9.2 billion currently predicted by the United Nations for 2050,” the report said.

For additional information see: The Guardian, AP, BBC, Oxfam

Tropics Expanding Due to Climate Change

On July 6, researchers from James Cook University in Australia concluded that the world’s tropical regions are expanding due to climate change. The study said that tropical zones had expanded beyond the traditional boundaries of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in the past 20 years. One major concern with this migration is that subtropical arid zones are pushed into temperate zones, drying out present fertile regions, researchers said. “Such areas include heavily-populated regions of southern Australia, southern Africa, the southern Europe-Mediterranean-Middle East region, the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and southern South America,” said Steve Turton, a professor at the university. “All of (them) are predicted to experience severe drying. If the dry subtropics expand into these regions, the consequences could be devastating for water resources, natural ecosystems and agriculture, with potentially cascading environmental, social and health implications.”

For additional information see: AFP, New Zealand Herald, Xinhua, ABC Science

Coral Reefs Exposed to Imminent Destruction from Climate Change

On July 6, two dozen scientists at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London warned that ocean acidification and ocean warming from climate change are combining to push corals toward extinction. Coral reefs are vital parts of the ocean ecosystem, the scientists said, as they serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for small fish, as breakwaters for shorelines, and as lucrative tourist destinations. The scientists also said that reefs serve as ‘the canary in the coal mine’, warning mankind of the devastating effects of climate change. “The kitchen is on fire and it’s spreading round the house. If we act quickly and decisively we may be able to put it out before the damage becomes irreversible. That is where corals are now,” said Dr. Alex Rogers of the Zoological Society of London and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

The scientists plan to release a statement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) about the importance of protecting the oceans and coral reefs from damages due to climate change. The scientists have called for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be reduced to a concentration of 320 parts per million (ppm), with the current level at 387 ppm. Scientists say that the world is on a trajectory toward 450 ppm by 2050, a level at which coral reefs will start becoming extinct. “We must do all that is necessary to protect the key components of the life of our planet as the consequences of decisions made now will likely be forever as far as humanity is concerned,” said Sir David Attenborough, co-chair of the meeting.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Reuters, The Guardian, The Telegraph

Emerging El Nino Set to Drive Up Carbon Emissions

On July 8, the Australia Bureau of Meteorology concluded that the El Nino phenomenon is almost certain to occur this year. Scientists are predicting that in addition to causing floods and droughts, El Nino could trigger an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to an increase in forest fires. “Certainly we know from past climates that El Nino intensity has varied. As climate changes, we know that the intensity of El Nino can wax and wane over long time scales,” said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney. El Nino is characterized by warming of tropical Pacific waters, which in turn affects wind circulation patterns. El Nino usually causes droughts in southeast Asia, and floods in South America. U.S. scientists are also predicting that certain types of El Nino can cause an increase in Atlantic hurricanes, which would affect oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Predicting El Nino is very difficult, however, scientists said. “The fundamental problem is we don't simulate El Nino very well with our existing climate models,” said Harry Hendon, a senior climate scientist at the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne. “That makes it a real challenge to run your model for a future climate and see how El Nino will behave.”

For additional information see: Reuters

More Polar Bear Populations Shrinking from Declining Sea Ice

On July 6, the Polar Bear Specialist Group, a collection of 19 scientists from the United Nations International Union for the Conservation of Nature, released a report which said that the overall condition of polar bears is deteriorating. The report indicated that of the 19 subpopulations of polar bears worldwide, eight are declining, three are stable, and one is increasing. Not enough is known about the other seven populations to estimate their numbers. In 2005, five subpopulations were listed as in decline. The global population of polar bears is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000, two-thirds of which live in Canada. The group acknowledged that there is a wide margin for error due to the difficulty of tracking the animals.

The group attributes the decline in population to an “unprecedented” loss of sea ice, which the polar bears use when hunting seals. In addition, increases in the levels of toxic chemicals like mercury and overhunting may also be contributing to the population decline, the group reported. “They've been weighing and measuring polar bears and they've been able to demonstrate there is a clear downward trend in the body mass of adult females,” said Erik Born, a biologist from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and chairman of the Polar Bear Specialist Group. “There is also evidence (of) decreased survival of very old bears and younger bears which can be linked to the change in sea ice.”

For additional information see: Canadian Press, Canwest, Polar Bear Specialist Group

Northwest Forests Thick with Carbon Storage Potential

On July 3, scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University concluded that Pacific Northwest forests could theoretically almost double their carbon storage potential. In two studies published in the journal Ecological Applications, scientists said that in order to double potential, the forest would have to be free from fires or timber harvests, which they agreed was an unlikely scenario. The researchers also said that if all the forests in the region were allowed to age untouched for just 50 years, the potential to store carbon would increase by 15 percent. The Pacific Northwest region is home to 14 percent of the nation’s biomass, or about two billion tons of stored carbon, so an increase in the ability of these forests to store carbon would likely benefit the country as a whole, researchers said. The benefits for carbon storage would only occur if the forest were not thinned to prevent forest fires, presenting a management challenge to the Forest Service. “Whether or not carbon is our primary responsibility has yet to be decided,” said Robert Doudrick, Forest Service staff director for research and development. “Whether biomass supply and an energy future for our country will be more important than wildlife habitat are issues that are yet to be decided. We are required on every piece of property to make that sort of decision. The uncertainty out there about the future makes it extremely difficult right now.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, The Oregonian, Seattle Times

July 13: Capitol Hill Expert Briefing on Enacting Effective Climate Policy

The Carbon Tax Center, Climate Crisis Coalition, Price Carbon Campaign and Friends of the Earth invite you to a briefing that will address the science, economics and politics of how we get from the currently divided House and compromised bill to a better architecture and brighter prospects for legislation that can gather wide support and actually be effective in preventing catastrophic climate change. he briefing will take place on Monday, July 13 at 1:00 p.m. in SVC 208/209 in the Capitol Visitors Center. Speakers include Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Robert Shapiro, Cecil Corbin-Mark and Janet Milne. Journalists and members of Congress and their staffs are asked to bring credentials with them. Other invitees should RSVP in advance. If you plan to attend, please contact James Handley, or 202-546-5692.

July 17: Offshore Wind: A Nearby Energy Source

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing to examine the potential to produce clean, renewable energy from offshore wind. The wind energy industry has grown rapidly in recent years; however, most of this growth has been in land-based projects, particularly in the interior of the country. This briefing will present estimates of the total power available from offshore wind (using available technology and excluding shipping channels, bird flyways, and other areas of competing uses) and outline the implications for transmission planning and local economic development. The briefing will take place Friday, July 17 from 11:00 – 12:30 p.m. in SVC 203/202 in the Capitol Visitor Center. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required for Congressional Staff. Non-Congressional Staff should RSVP to communications [at] by 4:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 15. For more information, contact us at (202) 662-1884 or communications [at]

July 22: Ask the Climate Question: Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Regions

The Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) Urban Leaders Adaptation Initiative, the CCAP Urban Leaders partners of Chicago, King County (Washington), and New York City, and the Rockefeller Foundation invite you to a discussion on Capitol Hill about key lessons learned around the United States in urban climate adaptation. The briefing follows the recent release of CCAP's report: "Ask the Climate Question: Adapting to Climate Change Impacts in Urban Regions." The event will take place on Wednesday, July 22 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. in SVC 203/202 in the Capitol Visitor Center. Please RSVP to Ashley Lowe at For more information, please contact Josh Foster, CCAP Climate Adaptation Manager at

Writers: Sarah Hanke and Amy Sauer

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