Climate Change News July 20, 2007

Climate Change News

Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
July 20, 2007


Florida Governor Limits Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On July 13, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed orders requiring utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Crist also aims to set higher energy conservation standards for new buildings and encourage utility companies to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. ''State government is leading by example,'' Crist said. "We have some ambitious goals we're shooting for, but I think Florida deserves that and so does the country.'' David Doniger, policy director for climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said "It is a very impressive package of actions from a 'red' state and from a Republican governor taking a leadership position on global warming."

Fellow Republican and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand at the summit where the orders were signed. "I'm very proud to see another governor join a growing number of states that are not looking to Washington for leadership any more," Schwarzenegger said. "We can sign the treaties with the European Union and the G-8 that maybe the President didn't sign. We want to sign these treaties.... We have to say hasta la vista, baby, to greenhouse gases."

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Petroleum Industry Calls for Renewables, Energy Efficiency, and Carbon Cost

On July 18, the National Petroleum Council released a report urging the government to promote energy efficiency, encourage the production and use of alternative fuels, and to implement an economy-wide cost for emitting carbon dioxide. The report, titled "Facing the Hard Truths about Energy," makes several policy recommendations that have traditionally not been associated with the oil industry. "The world is not running out of energy resources, but there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas production from the conventional sources relied upon historically," said Alan Kelly, who was ExxonMobil Corp.'s general manager of corporate planning before he was selected for this project. "These risks create significant challenges to meeting projected total energy demand." To mitigate these risks, the report encouraged "expansion of all economic energy sources," including coal, nuclear, biomass, renewables and unconventional oil and natural gas such as that from oil shale and tar sands, as well as moderating energy demand through increased energy efficiency.

"This report should shift the framework of the [energy] debate," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and one of the authors of the report. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the report would be a valuable tool for long term planning. ''These are hard facts, and hard facts require us to plan for hard choices, now and in the future... all forms of energy, traditional and alternative, fossil fuel and renewable, will be needed to meet the world's needs.... we must aggressively pursue new energy options and alternatives," Bodman said.

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Economic Concerns Dominate Climate Debate

According to some analysts, the energy legislation being considered by Congress does not go far enough to avoid dangerous climate change, while more aggressive proposals would be unlikely to become law. "I don't think there's any question that what is being talked about now would, over the long term, be insufficient," said Philip Sharp, president of the think tank Resources for the Future and a former House member. "The issue is: Will Congress get in place a larger architecture that sends a signal to the economy that accelerates change?" According to the Washington Post, ''the potential economic impact of meaningful climate legislation -- enough to reduce U.S. emissions by at least sixty percent -- is vast. Automobiles would have to get double their current miles to the gallon. Building codes would have to be tougher, requiring use of more energy-efficient materials.'' Some experts estimate electricity bills would need to rise over 33 percent to stimulate and pay for these new technologies.

"The scope of the problem is really enormous," said Prasad Kasibhatla, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. "If the climate change bills go through Congress and could somehow be coupled to a multinational agreement, then things could really start to change, but I'd like to start seeing real agreements between countries before I call myself an optimist," Kasibhatla said. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said, "I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them," adding that he would propose legislation implementing a carbon tax ''just to sort of see how people really feel about this."

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Business Roundtable Calls for Climate Action

The Business Roundtable, a US industry group representing 160 of the largest US companies with $4.5 trillion in combined revenue, said on July 17 that human activity is changing the earth's climate and that Washington needs to take action. The group did not specify specific mechanisms to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions because its leaders do not yet agree on an appropriate policy."The thinking of US CEOs on climate change is evolving significantly," said Charles Holliday, chairman and chief executive of US chemicals group DuPont, and a Roundtable member. "A growing number of CEOs view it as a major issue for their companies."

The announcement sparked skepticism from the Sierra Club, an environmental group. "Businesses understand that any regulation that is going to pass this Congress and get signed by this President is going to be something very weak," said Sierra spokesman Josh Dorner. "It's no coincidence that a lot of huge emitters are tripping over themselves to call for some action on climate change." The US Climate Action Partnership, another industry group, has made a more specific proposal. The organization's members, with $1.9 trillion in combined revenue, have called for a ''cap-and-trade'' program to limit emissions.
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More Mining Seen as Greenland Ice Melts

Rising temperatures and increasing ore prices are making more areas of Greenland attractive to miners. Companies can explore regions that were previously inaccessible and work for more months of the year. "The climate is doing the hard mining for them," said Damian Brett, a minerals analyst at Stockholm-based Raw Materials Group. Morris Beattie, chief executive of International Molybdenum PLC, believes that warmer weather has made his company's search for molybdenum easier. "Global warming has extended the working and exploring development season by a few weeks, as higher temperatures mean the frozen ice is leaving a couple of weeks earlier," he said. "With the rapid melting of the snow early in June, surface exploration is proceeding a month earlier than would have been possible one or two decades ago." Many other mining companies are exploring such new opportunities as well. "The current high price of both zinc and lead make the exploration prospects...very interesting," said Daniel Bordessa, managing director of New York-based fund Cyrus Capital Partners LLP.

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Sen. Boxer and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Discuss Action on Warming

On July 17, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that it would mean a great deal to the fight against global warming if President Bush would attend a special high-level meeting on the topic at United Nations headquarters in September. In a letter to President Bush, Boxer wrote: ''I believe it would send an important message to all of the countries of the world if you could put this meeting on your schedule. The symbolism of your presence would bring strong, new momentum to this critical issue.'' Boxer met with the Secretary-General during a special meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Boxer Bill to Speed California Waiver Decision

On July 12, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, along with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), announced legislation that would force EPA to rule quickly on California’s request for a waiver under the Clean Air Act to allow the state to regulate global warming pollution from cars. ''In hearings before the Environment and Public Works Committee, Administrator Johnson has been clearly put on notice that EPA should long ago have granted California’s waiver to regulate global warming pollution from cars,'' Boxer said. ''Today’s legislation is another signal to EPA that action is needed now. When Administrator Johnson comes before the Committee again on July 26, I will continue to press EPA to grant the California waiver without further delay.''

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Indian Glaciers Melting

The thousands of glaciers that cover some 1,500 miles of the Himalayas appear to be retreating, and potential consequences for the region's drinking water supply, agricultural production and public health are significant. The glaciers feed rivers that provide water for a billion people. In a recent study by the Indian Space Research Organization that employed satellite imaging to measure the changes to 466 glaciers, a twenty percent reduction in size was observed from 1962 to 2001. A separate study found the Parbati glacier, one of the largest in the area, to be retreating by 170 feet a year during the 1990s, and another, known as Dokriani, lost twenty percent of its size in three decades. Similar losses are being seen around the world. Lonnie G. Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, found a 22 percent loss of ice on the Qori Kalis glacier in Peru between 1963 and 2002. “[The ice loss is] a repeating theme whether you are in tropical Andes, the Himalayas or Kilimanjaro in Africa,” Thompson said.

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Report Finds Environmental Benefits of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles

On July 19, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today released a comprehensive assessment that finds that widespread use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the United States could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and potential for improve ambient air quality.  Among study’s key findings were: Widespread adoption of PHEVs can reduce GHG emissions from vehicles by more than 450 million metric tons annually in 2050 -- equivalent to removing 82.5 million passenger cars from the road; there is an abundant supply of electricity for transportation; a 60 percent U.S. market share for PHEVs would use 7 percent to 8 percent of grid-supplied electricity in 2050; and PHEVs can improve nationwide air quality and reduce petroleum consumption by 3 million to 4 million barrels per day in 2050.

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Ice Sheet Modeling Still in Infancy

Sea level rise is one of the most severe consequences of global warming, but scientists are still struggling to understand the way that polar ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica will respond to increasing temperatures. The ice sheets' behavior is an important factor in predicting sea level rise. "The question is: Can we predict sea level? And the answer is no," said David Holland, director of New York University's Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science. Without this information it is difficult for policymakers to prepare for or prevent possible consequences. "We may observe the change much more than we ever predict it," Holland said.

Reliable predictions of the way polar ice will respond to climate change are of interest to both scientists and policymakers. According to the World Bank, a three foot increase in sea level could displace over sixty million people. "If either of these ice sheets were to disintegrate, it would destroy coastal civilization as we know it," said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. In spite of this urgency, Holland does not think the matter will be settled in the near future. "We will get there eventually, but it won't be for a long time. It won't be in my lifetime," Holland said. "There's no plan; there's no program. There's no one responsible for sea-level rise."

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Climate Change May Cause Mediterranean Hurricanes

European scientists have found that a 3°C increase in global average temperatures may trigger hurricanes in the Mediterranean. "This is the first study to detect this possibility," said lead researcher Miguel Angel Gaertner of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, Spain. "Most models in our study show increasing storm intensity and if you combine this with rising sea levels, as are projected, this could be damaging for many coastal settlements." The study employed a range of regional climate models to assess the relationship between temperature and the incidence of hurricanes. Hurricanes would affect the millions who live in the region, and potentially damage the region's tourism industry. "This is a big threat but I think we have time to avoid it, if we cut emissions of greenhouse gases," Gaertner said.  The results of the study are published in the American Geophysical Union Journal.

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Climate Change Drying China's Rivers

Chinese scientists say that wetlands on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which feed the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, are drying as a result of global warming. Wang Xugen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said the wetlands play a key role in regulating the flow of the rivers, which provide water for hundreds of millions of people and nearly half the country's farmland. "The shrinking of the wetland on the plateau is closely connected with the global warming," Wang said. According to the China Daily, "The wetlands at the origin of the Yangtze have suffered the most, contracting by 29 percent," and others have shrunk more than 10 percent over the past four decades. Last month, CAS warned that the plateau's glaciers could be gone by the end of the century, resulting in more intense droughts, sandstorms and desertification across the country.

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Xerox, NRG Energy Join Climate Action Partnership

The Xerox Corporation and NRG Energy, Inc. have joined the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), the industry group announced on July 18. Xerox is a document management technology and services company with operations in 160 countries, while NRG Energy owns and operates power-generating facilities totaling approximately 24,000 megawatts. "Each generation of Xerox people strives to leave the company, the communities in which we do business and the world at large better than we found it," said Ursula M. Burns, President, Xerox Corporation. "As the first high technology company to join USCAP, we add our voice to the coalition's call for action to develop policies and frameworks that address the challenges of climate change while fostering economic growth." USCAP membership now stands at 31, including many large corporations and non-governmental organizations.

"The time is now for decisive action to address climate change and decisive action requires clear and unequivocal leadership," said David Crane, President and CEO of NRG Energy. "We are pleased to join USCAP, which we believe has the potential to be an effective vehicle for leadership on this fundamental issue. We strongly endorse the USCAP principles and believe they will lead to a climate policy approach that is broad in its scope, fair in its application and effective in its impact."

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This EESI publication is a free, weekly electronic newsletter intended to inform interested parties, particularly the policymaker community, of the latest climate change-related news. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that EESI is properly acknowledged as the source.

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