Climate Change News July 25, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
July 25, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


House Committee Cuts Funding for International Climate Assistance

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to prohibit funding to aid developing countries adapt to climate change or transition to sources of clean energy. The Republican-led committee voted July 21 to strike the funding from an annual spending bill for President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative, which is part of the United Nations’ effort to help provide assistance to developing countries. Developed countries have agreed to provide $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 in “fast-track” assistance. Obama’s funding request would commit about $1.3 billion to the climate change initiative. After the vote, Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) said the committee wanted to “prioritize U.S. tax dollars.” Another member, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) questioned whether human activity is causing climate change. Democrats said vulnerable island populations would be at risk, and investing in climate adaptation and mitigation would create new markets for U.S. products. Democrats are expected to oppose the cuts in the Senate.

For additional information see: AFP, Business Green

Partnership Works to Adapt River to Climate Change

A watershed council in Washington State is promoting projects to adapt a key river to climate change, an example of how a complex partnership of local, state and federal partners can evolve to tackle climate issues on a regional basis. The Nisqually River runs from Mount Rainier to an estuary that feeds Puget Sound. It supports an ecologically and culturally important species, Chinook salmon. The Nisqually River Council was formed in 1989 and provides a forum for Native American groups, and state and federal agencies. With its partners, the council has recognized that climate change will raise the water temperature of the river, decrease its flow, and harm its salmon population. The council has broadened its mission of river restoration to promote climate adaptation. It is promoting the conservation of land farther from wetlands so marshes will have space to move upland as sea levels rise. It is promoting rain gardens to capture runoff. And it is installing logjams to force the river to scour a deeper course to create cooler pools for salmon. Its work is aided by a 2009 executive order signed by President Obama to require federal agencies to integrate climate adaptation into their planning.

For additional information see: The New York Times

U.N. Security Council Debates Role in Climate Change

The potential effects of climate change could aggravate existing threats to world security, the United Nations Security Council said in a statement after its members debated the council’s role in climate matters. The July 20 discussion was the first in four years on climate change, and the 15-member UN body was sharply divided. Germany had wanted the council to adopt a stronger statement seeking an examination of the effects on world security from rising temperatures and sea levels, and draft scenarios to address refugees and conflicts. Russia, however, opposed that proposal, saying the council should not expand its mission. Temporary security council members India and Brazil also raised concerns. During the negotiations, the United States’ ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told reporters that the council “has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate” and should “start now.” The statement adopted by the security council noted that climate change has potential security implications. The security council also requested that the regular reports from the UN Secretary-General note whether climate issues were driving conflict or endangering peace processes.

For additional information see: The Guardian, MSNBC, United Nations News Release

China Planning Test of Carbon Trading Effort

China will test a carbon emissions trading project with an eye to gradually rolling out a carbon emissions trading market, a top Chinese official said. At a conference in the city of Guiyang on July 17, Xie Zhenhua, China’s top economic planner, also announced that the nation plans to establish greater incentive policies for companies to develop energy efficient products and designate greater financial support for renewable energy, among a host of new policies. No timeline was announced for the pilot carbon emissions trading project.

For additional information see: China Daily, Reuters

Ship Builders Bound by New Energy Rules Aimed at Cutting CO2

New cargo vessels will have to abide by energy efficiency standards to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from international shipping, the international body that regulates shipping ruled. On July 15, the International Maritime Organization adopted a measure to require shipbuilders to meet the new standards, which require steady improvements in fuel efficiency through 2030. Ninety percent of world trade is carried by the global fleet of 50,000 cargo ships, many of which burn a heavily polluting type of fuel oil. Global shipping accounts for about three percent of worldwide CO2 emissions from human activity. “This is a very positive and important first step for a truly global, binding measure to reduce CO2 emissions,” said European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. Environmentalists, however, noted that today’s cargo vessels, which will remain on the seas for many years, are not affected. “There will be no change to existing ships, which are currently pumping a billion tons of CO2 each year,” said Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana.

For additional information see: The Washington Post, Business Green

Harvesting Timber Can Help Mitigate CO2 Emissions, Study Finds

Sustainable forestry practices that provide timber for the building trades can help mitigate the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a new study found. One reason is younger trees absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than mature trees. Another is that cutting trees after their CO2 absorption rates taper provides building materials that can be used instead of steel and concrete, which are created in processes that emit large quantities of CO2. The study was authored by researchers at the University of Washington, Mid Sweden University and the U.S. Forest Service. "While the carbon in the wood stored in forests is substantial, like any garden, forests have limited capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they age," said lead author Bruce Lippke, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington. “. . . Like harvesting a garden sustainably, we can use the wood grown in our forests for products and biofuels to displace the use of fossil-intensive products and fuels like steel, concrete, coal and oil.” The study was published in the June issue of Carbon Management.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Sea Level Rise to Continue Despite Efforts to Reduce Emissions, Study Finds

A new study suggests that sea levels would continue to rise in the coming centuries even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted today. The study by a University of Arizona-led team of researchers examined the interaction of the atmosphere and ocean during the warmest period of the Last Interglacial Period -- roughly 125,000 years ago. At that time, sea levels were roughly 26 feet higher than today. Average ocean temperatures, however, were only 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer than today. “This means that even small amounts of warming may have committed us to more ice sheet melting than we previously thought,” said lead author Nicholas McKay. The oceans warm more slowly than the atmosphere. Water also expands when heated. But the study also found that most of the sea level rise during ancient times was because of melting ice sheets, rather than the thermal expansion of water. The study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

For additional information see: Science Daily

Study: El Nino to Persist in Warmer Climate, Fueling Extreme Weather

Warmer global temperatures are likely to fuel dramatic shifts in extreme weather events, a new study found. The study by scientists at Oxford and Leeds universities used modeling and an examination of shells found in deep sea sediments to examine whether El Nino and La Nina occurred during the Pliocene, a period that lasted 5 to 3 million years ago when carbon dioxide levels were similar to today and global mean temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than today. El Nino refers to the eastward movement of a warmer pool of water in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina is a cooling of those waters. The two events produce drier-than-normal and wetter-than-normal conditions across different parts of the globe, and occur in a cycle. The study suggested that higher global temperatures will not moderate the swings between El Nino and La Nina. “Until recently it was believed that a warmer Pacific would reduce the climate swings that cause the dramatic weather extremes throughout the region leading to a permanent state of El Nino,” said lead scientist Nick Scroxton of Oxford. “What we didn't expect was that climatic variability would remain strong under these warmer conditions.” The study was published in Paleoceanography.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Volcanoes, Pollution Helped Curb Rate of Warming, Study Reports

Volcanic ash and man-made pollution from burning fossil fuels helped slow the rate of global warming in the past decade, a new study found. Although average global temperatures were higher in the 2000s than during the 1990s and 1980s, the rate at which the planet was warming slowed. Six French and American researchers, including staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and scientists at the University of Colorado, found the trend may be explained by an increase in the stratosphere of persistent aerosols that block sunlight. Although no massive volcanic eruptions have occurred since 1991, smaller eruptions occurred in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The addition of the volcanic ash to the haze of man-made pollution in the upper atmosphere was enough to help slow the rate of warming by 20 percent since 1998, according to the study. However, the brake on the rate of warming is only temporary. Eventually, the shading effect will be overwhelmed by greenhouse gases building in the atmosphere. The study provides more information on the interaction of forces shaping the global climate. It was published online July 21 in Science.

For additional information see: The Washington Post, ScienceNOW, Study Abstract

Study Finds Polar Bears Swimming Longer Distances

A six-year study of polar bears that tracked their movements found they are swimming longer distances to reach sea ice. The study, conducted by the United States Geological Survey and the World Wildlife Fund, tracked a sample of 68 adult females using global positioning collars around their necks. During the six-year period of the study, the bears were swimming longer distances to reach the sea ice that serves as a platform to hunt seals. Five of 11 mothers who swam with cubs lost the cubs along the way. One bear swam 427 miles to reach sea ice. The bears were listed as a threatened species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service because of the impact of climate change. An abstract of the study was released July 19.

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

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

S.1393: On July 20, S.1393 was introduced and referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
Intent: A bill to prohibit the enforcement of a climate change interpretive guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and for other purposes.
Previous Action: No previous action.
Sponsor: Sen. Barrasso, John (R-WY)
For more information: S.1393

H.R.2584: Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, FY 2012:
Intent: To provide $27.5 billion in spending, a reduction of $2.1 billion below last year’s level. The bill includes $1.8 billion less for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) than the Obama Administration’s request.
Climate Related Sections:
Sec.426: To require the President to submit a report on all federal funding for climate change programs in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
Sec.428: To prohibit funding to regulate carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide or methane emissions from biological processes associated with livestock production.
Sec.429: To prohibit funding that would support efforts to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from manure management systems.
Sec.431: To remove EPA regulations on GHGs from stationary sources for one year, and prevent any previously-issued GHG permits from having any legal effect for one year.
Sec.453: To prohibit funding to regulate GHG emissions from motor vehicles made after model year 2016.
Previous Action: On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee reported the bill to the full House by a vote of 28-18.
For more information: H.R.2584

July 27: More Fight Less Fuel: The Defense Department’s Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The Department of Defense is rapidly emerging as the leading force in the United States for the development and use of renewable energy technologies. Energy efficiency has emerged as mission essential to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Why? How do these technologies improve national security? How do they make our military more effective? Will renewable energy and energy efficiency save lives and money? And what does the Defense Department’s leadership on “green energy” mean for the rest of the economy? The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), E3G and Operation Free invite you to a briefing in which top military and civilian experts will answer these questions, and will describe the Defense Department’s renewable energy goals. This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required. The briefing will be held on July 27, 2:00-3:30pm, in the Capitol Visitor Center

Writers: Dave Gershman, Justin Jones and Matthew Johnson

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