Climate Change News July 19, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
July 19, 2010



Sen. Reid Aims to Bring Climate Bill to Floor by End of July

On July 13, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he intends to bring climate and energy legislation to the floor the week of July 26. Reid said he will pull together various pieces of legislation that have been developed in recent months, though he did not specifically indicate what pieces will be included. The energy package is expected to have four parts: an oil spill response; a clean energy and job creation title based in part on legislation drafted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; a tax package from the Senate Finance Committee; and a section that deals with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electric utility industry. “In this stage, we’ve not completed it. But we’re looking at a way that’s making sure when we talk about pollution, it’ll focus just on the utility sector,” Reid said. President Obama has indicated he supports a broader cap on emissions, but is supportive of the work the senators have done to bring climate legislation closer to passage. “He’s always believed there should be an economy-wide solution but recognizes that may not be where we are,” said Carol Browner, the president’s energy and climate adviser. “Getting started is hugely important, and he’s willing to work with senators in that direction.”

For additional information see: E & E News, New York Times, Politico

National Academies Report Measures Possible Impacts from Emissions Targets

On July 16, the National Academy of Sciences released a report titled Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millenia which estimates changes in precipitation, streamflow, wildfires, crop yields, and sea level rise that can be expected with increased average global temperature. The report pulled together a vast amount of scientific data to offer likely ranges and best estimates of the equilibrium warming that can be expected from various levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some impacts included a 5 to 15 percent drop in yields of some crops, including U.S. and African corn and Indian wheat, for every 1°C of warming; a 5 to 10 percent drop in total rain in southwest North America, the Mediterranean, and southern Africa for every 1°C of warming; and a 5 to 10 percent decline in streamflow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and Rio Grande, for every 1°C of warming.

The study was undertaken to help policymakers understand the potential impacts associated with emission cuts that may result from policies currently under consideration. “Many of us have had the experience of going to the doctor and receiving advice on how to improve our health,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a scientist from Texas Tech University who contributed to the report. “Then, it’s up to us to decide how much we are willing to change. In a similar way, this report presents the probabilities of certain impacts at different levels of global temperature increase. But we, the scientists, can’t make the decisions of how much risk is acceptable. That’s a political decision. Rather, we’re trying to give policymakers the information they need to make these decisions.”

For additional information see: Denver Post, National Academies' Press Release, National Academies' Report

EIA: Kerry-Lieberman Would Cut GDP by 0.2 Percent

On July 16, the Energy Information Administration released its analysis of climate legislation drafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that would create an economy-wide cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The analysis is based on legislation that was released to the public on May 12; the senators are now working on a scaled-back version of the bill that would cap only utilities’ emissions. Under the cap and trade program, the government would issue a declining number of carbon dioxide allowances which companies can buy and sell. Allowances carrying the right to release one metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would cost $32 each by 2020 under the economy-wide program in the earlier legislation, the EIA said. The EIA analysis found that the proposed legislation, if enacted, would cut U.S. gross domestic product by $452 billion, or 0.2 percent, between 2013 and 2035. The cost to households would be about $206 each year.

For additional information see: New York Times, Bloomberg

Sens. Voinovich and Rockefeller Introduce Bill to Promote 'Clean' Coal

On July 14, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a bill to promote the deployment of technologies that would store underground carbon emitted from burning coal. The senators introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage Deployment Act of 2010 (S. 3589), which would invest $20 billion over the next ten years to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques. “West Virginia is one of the leading coal-producers in our country; our coal miners keep the lights on in so many American homes and provide nearly half the electricity to this country,” said Rockefeller. “This bipartisan legislation represents the next generation of our energy economy – one that invests in clean coal and CCS technologies, and keeps America less reliant on foreign fuel sources.” If approved, the legislation would promote a government-industry partnership in which industry funding for research and development would match as much as 20 percent of federal investment. Tax credits would be distributed according to the amount of CO2 captured by each facility. “Our legislation arms the private sector with the tools to promote domestic advanced energy sources and cultivate job growth,” Voinovich said.

For additional information see: Dayton Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Sen. Rockefeller's Press Release

NOAA: June, Year-to-Date Global Temperatures Are Hottest on Record

On July 15, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its monthly analysis of global land and oceanic surface temperature for June 2010, revealing that average global land and ocean temperature was the hottest on record for June, the April to June period and the January to June period. The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for June was 61.1°F, 1.22°F above the 20th century average. “June was the fourth consecutive month that was the warmest on record for the combined global land and surface temperatures (March, April and May were also the warmest),” a NOAA press release stated. “This was the 304th consecutive month with a combined global land and surface temperature above the 20th century average.”

For additional information see: NOAA Press Release, AP, Guardian

Long Heat Waves Could be Common in United States by 2039

A study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Geophysical Research Letters has predicted that long heat waves could become common in the United States by 2039. “In the next 30 years, we could see an increase in heat waves like the one now occurring in the eastern United States or the kind that swept across Europe in 2003 that caused tens of thousands of fatalities,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a co-author of the study. “Those kinds of severe heat events also put enormous stress on major crops, like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields.” The study projected the impacts of an additional 1.8°F (1°C) increase in temperature between 2010 and 2039, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted is a distinct possibility. Beginning this decade, the study concluded that more frequent and longer heat waves are expected to be increasingly common over the next 30 years, accompanied by decreases in precipitation and soil moisture and increasingly severe droughts. “I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades. This was definitely a surprise,” said Diffenbaugh. "It's up to the policymakers to decide the most appropriate action. But our results suggest that limiting global warming to 2°C does not guarantee that there won't be damaging impacts from climate change."

For additional information see: Woods Institute Press Release, AP, AFP, Study

CO2 Absorption and Nutrient Runoffs Increase Acidity of Puget Sound

A study to be published in the August 10 issue of Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science has indicated that carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption and nutrient runoff in Puget Sound waters have increased the acidity of the Sound in the state of Washington, which may be increasing shellfish larvae mortality. “Observed pH and aragonite saturation state values in surface and subsurface waters were substantially lower in parts of Puget Sound than would be expected from anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake alone,” the study said. Upwelling events have increased the flow of acidic ocean water towards the shore, increasing the acidity of the waters of Puget Sound. The authors noted that this change is likely to have a harmful effect on fish and shellfish larvae, which are unable to mature because their shells dissolve in the increasingly acidic waters. “We are concerned that ocean acidification may be contributing to the recent loss of oyster larvae reported by oyster hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest, including Puget Sound,” said Jan Newton, a co-author of the study. In addition to the increased volumes of corrosive ocean water hitting Puget Sound, nutrient runoff from pollution and septic tank leaks is also causing the growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton, increasing the water’s acidity as they die and decompose. “These processes combined together to decrease pH further than what we would expect from one or another by themselves,” said Richard Feeley, a co-author of the study.

For additional information see: Seattle Times, New York Times, Study Abstract

UN Panel Meets to Work on Climate Financing

On July 13, the United Nations High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing met to work on climate financing that had been pledged to developing countries at December’s meeting in Copenhagen. The pledge was made by developed countries to give $30 billion a year, beginning in 2012 and increasing to $100 billion a year by 2020, to help developing countries deal with the environmental impacts caused by climate change. The need for developed countries to act quickly and begin financing developing countries was underlined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The more we delay, the more we will pay – in lost opportunities, resources and lives,” he said. A report on possible private sources of long-term financing to supplement aid given by developed countries is expected to be released before the next session of climate talks in Cancun scheduled for late November. Some officials noted that the delivery of funds to developing countries could impact more than their ability to deal with the expected droughts and sea level rise. “Frankly, if we don’t get the finance credibly right, if we don’t come up with a set of packages or a package which the developing countries can clearly see is a real, effective, credible effort to meet the commitments that we’ve made, then I don’t think there is going to be a global deal,” said British Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne.

For additional information see: AP, BusinessGreen, UN Press Release, Xinhua News, India Times

IEA: China's CO2 Emissions Need to Peak by 2020

On July 15, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report indicating that China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to peak by 2020 if the global target of halving emissions by 2050 is to be met. Reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2050 is a target regarded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the minimum required to prevent catastrophic warming. “When to peak is a very strong Chinese concern and we understand that – for its economic growth, its energy use should also grow,” said Nobuo Tanaka, the IEA director. “But on the other hand, the requirement of halving CO2 by 2050 is a very strong commitment globally, so we have to reconcile that difference.” The report said the most effective methods of reducing China’s CO2 emissions will be increased reliance on energy efficiency, carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear and renewable energy. Tanaka also suggested that China’s offer of reducing energy intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 at the Copenhagen climate talks could be more ambitious. “China can do much better than its intensity target of 40-45 percent,” he said. Carbon pricing will also be instrumental in CO2 emissions reductions but must be accompanied by government policies which encourage research and development, private sector leadership, and international collaboration, the report said.

For additional information see: Reuters, IEA Speech

Three European Ministers Call for Tougher Stance on Carbon Emission Cuts

On July 14, British Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne, German Federal Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen and French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo called for increasing European carbon emissions cuts to 30 percent by 2020 instead of the current goal of 20 percent. “The current target of a 20 percent reduction now seems insufficient to drive the low-carbon transition. The recession by itself has cut emissions in the EU’s traded sector by 11 percent from pre-crisis levels. . . . If we stick to a 20 percent cut, Europe is likely to lose the race to compete in the low-carbon world to countries such as China, Japan or the U.S. – all of which are looking to create a more attractive environment for low-carbon investment,” the ministers said in an article featured in the Financial Times. The ministers argued that a 30 percent reduction is estimated to cost only €11 billion more than the 20 percent reduction and the International Energy Agency has estimated that postponing investment in low-carbon energy sources could cost between €300 billion and €400 billion globally (provided the cost of oil is $88 a barrel). If the price reached $130 a barrel, the costs of reaching the 30 percent target by 2020 could be low or even positive. “Ducking the argument on 30 percent will put us in the global slow lane. Early action will provide our industries with a vital head start,” the ministers said. “That is why we believe the move to 30 percent is right for Europe. It is a policy for jobs and growth, energy security and climate risk. Most of all, it is a policy for Europe’s future.”

For additional information see: Financial Times, Ministers' Statement

EU Updates Its Plans For Next Phase of Emissions Trading Scheme

On July 9, the European Union confirmed its plans for the next phase of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading scheme (ETS) beginning 2013. The EU plans to cap GHG emissions at just under 1.927 billion allowances, reducing allowances annually by 1.74 percent as required by the revised EU Emissions Trading Directive. The plans are not considered final, as revisions may be necessary to account for new sectors that are to be added. There may also be changes in the number of entrants in the market for allowances and possibly the emissions reduction target as well, the EU officials noted. Recent discussions by EU environment ministers to increase the GHG emissions reduction target from 20 percent to 30 percent would require a change in the cap. There been some concern as to when the auctions for the allowances will take place and whether the excess allowances caused by the recession will have the effect of reducing the price of allowances even lower than the current rate.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen, EurActiv, EU Press Release

Giant Greenland Glacier Cracks Open Overnight

On July 7, it was discovered that Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier had cracked open overnight and a piece one-eighth the size of Manhattan broke off from the northern branch of the glacier. Days later, a second crack was discovered along the southern limb. Over the last 160 years, Jakobshavn has retreated more than 27 miles, moving the last six miles in the past ten years. Approximately 10 percent of all of Greenland’s ice loss has been melting from Jakobshavn, scientists noted. “While there have been ice breakouts of this magnitude from Jakobshavn and other glaciers in the past, this event is unusual because it occurs on the heels of a warm winter that saw no sea ice form in the surrounding bay,” said Thomas Wagner, a cryospheric program scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is possible that because this year’s warm winter prevented sea ice from gathering around the glacier’s edges the glacier did not regain any of the ice which melts away during the summer. The result was that it has started melting and calving this year from last year’s summer ice levels, said Ian Howat of Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center. Scientists have been monitoring the glacier, noting the increased ice loss each year and trying to understand the cause of Jakobshavn’s retreat. “While the exact relationship between these events is being determined, it lends credence to the theory that warming of the oceans is responsible for the ice loss observed throughout Greenland and Antarctica,” said Wagner.

For additional information see: Discovery, Vancouver Sun, Hindustan Times, NASA Press Release

Study Finds Indian Ocean Sea Level Rise that Threatens Millions

On July 11, a study was published in Nature Geoscience which found that sea level in the Indian Ocean has increased since the 1960s, but the rise has not been uniform throughout the Indian Ocean. The sea level has actually decreased in the south tropical Indian Ocean, the study found. “This pattern is driven by changing surface winds associated with a combined invigoration of the Indian Ocean Hadley and Walker cells, patterns of atmospheric overturning circulation in the north-south and east-west direction, respectively, which is partly attributable to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases,” the study said. The rise in sea level along the coastlines of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java may intensify monsoon flooding in India and Bangladesh, putting millions of human lives in danger. In addition to these changes in sea level, the change in wind patterns may also cause a change in precipitation patterns, the study said. "This may favor a weakening of atmospheric convection in the subtropics, which may increase rainfall in the eastern tropical regions of the Indian Ocean and increase drought in the western equatorial Indian Ocean region, including east Africa," said Weiqing Han, a co-author of the study. The study emphasized the need for further study of the region and the changing sea level. “It is important for us to understand the regional changes of the sea level, which will have effects on coastal and island regions,” said co-author Aixue Hu.

For additional information see: University of Colorado Press Release, Science Daily, Study Abstract, Reuters

Google Earth Launches Interactive Map to Show Impact of Climate Change

On July 14, the British government and the Met Office Hadley Center launched a Google Earth interactive map to show the impacts of climate change. The map illustrates some of the differences which may be present in the world with 4°C increase in global average temperature. “The threat from climate change has not gone away and this Government is committed to doing what it can to take action,” said Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham. “This Google Earth map supports that commitment to tackling climate change and will hopefully communicate with a bigger audience globally about why the UK Government is being active in championing the transition to a low carbon economy.” The map shows reduced crop production and rising sea levels, in addition to videos of climate scientists discussing their research and of British Council and Foreign Office climate change projects. “This is a great example of the benefits of using the latest web technology to visualize scientific information and promote better understanding of the potential impacts of climate change,” said Ed Parsons from Google.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen, Met Office Press Release, Telegraph

Other Headlines

July 22: Oil Independence -- Is it Possible?

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Office of Senator Jeff Merkley invite you to a briefing on America’s dependence on petroleum and potential strategies to reduce U.S. oil use. This briefing will examine different technology and policy options to cut oil consumption. The briefing will take place on Thursday, July 22, from 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. in SVC 203/202 Capitol Visitor Center. The entrance to the Capitol Visitor Center is on the east side of the U.S. Capitol Building. Please allow extra time to go through security. Food and drink are not allowed. Once inside, follow signs to Senate Meeting Rooms. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required for Congressional staff. Non-Congressional staff should RSVP to communications [at] For more information, contact us at policy [at] or (202) 662-1883.

Writers: Fiona Burns and Amy Sauer

Please distribute Climate Change News to your colleagues. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is properly acknowledged as the source. Past issues are available here. Free email subscriptions are available here. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and questions.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. EESI works to protect the climate and ensure a healthy, secure, and sustainable future for America through policymaker education, coalition building, and policy development in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and urban planning.

EESI's work, including this free newsletter, is made possible by financial support from people like you. Please help us continue to make it available by making a secure, online donation today by clicking here or mailing a check to Environmental and Energy Study Institute; 1112 16th St NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036. Please feel free to contact Susan Williams at (202) 662-1887 or see to find out more. Thank you for your support!