Climate Change News June 11, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
June 11, 2012



US Opposes EU’s Action on Airline Emissions Trading Scheme

On June 6 members of the US Senate Commerce Committee voiced their disapproval of the European Union’s (EU) airline emissions trading scheme (ETS). "The European Union acted because it believes it needed to make a bold effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and I understand why they did so. But, I believe that their unilateral action is likely not sustainable by international law. I support the goals, but I have to oppose the action," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, committee chairman. Members from both political parties are concerned that the ETS would impact the sale of international tickets for multiple American airlines.

For additional information see: Reuters, The Hill

United States Breaks Spring Temperature Records

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center announced last week that the continental United States has set four new temperature records: for warmest spring, warmest 12-month period, warmest first five months of the year, and highest deviation from a seasonal average for any season. This past spring broke the 1910 record by 2 degrees, driven by the warmest March, third warmest April, and second warmest May on record. Spring saw an average temperature 5.2 degrees higher than the 20th century average. Individual records for warmest spring were set by 31 states, while no state in the lower 48 had cooler-than-average temperatures. Indicative of the larger trend, Des Moines, Iowa has averaged temperatures eight degrees above average since January. The country is 3.2 degrees above average over the past 12 months. In addition to the warmest spring, this period has also seen the second warmest summer and fourth warmest winter.

For additional information see: Climate Central, Report

Northeast U.S. Power Plants Reduce Carbon Emissions

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the cap-and-trade program among 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, announced a 23 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the states’ power plants over the past three years. The findings were presented in RGGI’s Compliance Summary Report for 2009-2011, the program’s first three-year control period. The report found that 206 of the 211 power plants in the 10 states met their compliance requirements. In total, the power plants emitted an average of 126 million tons of CO2 annually over the three-year period, a 23 percent drop from the previous three years and 33 percent below the emissions cap for the period. Electricity consumption in the region declined by less than three percent. The report cites several reasons for the emissions reductions, including increased use of natural gas and renewable energy for power generation, state investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and climate patterns. The second RGGI three-year control period is underway.

In related news, environmental groups have filed suit against New Jersey for its decision to withdraw from RGGI. Governor Chris Christie announced the state’s departure last year, calling the program an ineffective method to reduce emissions. The state and its 40 power plants are not participating in the second three-year control period. The suit, brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey, was filed on June 6 in New Jersey’s Superior Court in Trenton. The suit states that the decision to leave RGGI violated state law by failing to properly notify the public or provide a suitable comment period. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak dismissed claims of illegality, stating, “Participation in the RGGI consortium was via a contractual arrangement with provisions for any state to pull out with notice and without penalty.” The state legislature has twice voted to maintain the state’s participation in RGGI. Gov. Christie vetoed the first measure and will likely do so again.

For additional information see: New York Times, Press Release, Reuters

Mexico Signs National Climate Change Policy Into Law

Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed his country’s national climate change legislation into law on June 5. Mexico, the world’s 12th largest carbon emitter, now becomes the second nation with binding emission reduction targets as part of their climate change policy. The law sets targets to cut national emissions by 30 percent in 2020 and 50 percent by 2050. It also requires 35 percent of Mexico's energy to come from renewable sources by 2024 and allows for a national emissions trading scheme. Mexico’s legislature approved the measures in April with a unanimous vote in the Senate, showing broad support in the political parties. “This law is part of all the efforts that have made Mexico an international leader in environmental protection,” wrote President Calderon over Twitter to announce the law’s signing. The announcement comes just ahead of Mexico’s general election on July 1.

For additional information see: BBC News, International Business Times

Climate Study Finds “Strongholds” in the Mid-Atlantic Region

A recent report by The Nature Conservancy finds “climate change strongholds” in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp and in parts of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and West Virginia. In The Nature Conservancy’s report: Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region, the Great Dismal Swamp represents one of the largest continuous forests on the Eastern seaboard, features microclimates and is accessible to various species of migrating plants and animals. Rodney Bartgis of The Nature Conservancy said of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern West Virginia, "If we can keep these strongholds intact and connected, it increases the odds for plants and animals to persist through climate change."

Unfortunately, global warming is already affecting many of the “climate change strongholds.” Parts of the Great Dismal Swamp, along with other areas of low-lying swamplands in coastal Virginia are in danger of sinking under the inundation of sea water. When rising seawater meets the low-lying swamplands, the saltwater is toxic to the existing trees and shrubs, and strips the land of nutrients. Michael Lipford, Executive Director of Conservancy Virginia, said “The areas of south Hampton Roads have some of the highest (predicted) sea level rises, which is something we are looking into for the future.”

For additional information see: Suffold News-Herald, BBC News, West Virginia Gazette

Climate Change to Reduce Generation Capacity of Power Plants

Nuclear and fossil fuel-fired power plants will likely become less reliable as climate change becomes more severe, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Climate change already has resulted in warmer water temperatures and decreased river flow, a trend that is very likely to continue. Thermoelectric plants — nuclear, coal, and most natural gas-fired power plants — rely on nearby water supplies to cool the steam generated by the plants. Warmer and/or reduced water supplies can inhibit power plants from properly cooling, forcing them to reduce production or temporarily shut down. Such disruptions have become increasingly frequent. The study concludes that reductions in water supply will decrease the overall generation capacity of thermoelectric power plants by 6-19% in Europe and 4-16% in the United States between 2031-2060. Such a loss of capacity would force additional investment in generation capacity, significantly raise electricity rates, and decrease power reliability. The study projects the largest U.S. disruptions will be located at inland power plants in the Southeast, which rely on especially vulnerable rivers.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Reuters, New York Times, Environment & Energy News

UN Report: Growing Refugee Crisis Exacerbated by Climate Change

The United Nations (UN) released its “State of the World’s Refugees” report on May 31. Covering the period 2006-2011, the report found that approximately 26 million refugees are currently displaced within their own countries, and an additional 15-16 million people are refugees in a foreign country. The combined figure represents a 16-year high. The U.N. predicts that the number of refugees will rise over the next 10 years due to climate change, conflict, population growth, and water and food shortages. The report explains that climate change will drive conflict as resources become more scarce, increasing internal displacement and refugees. In the preface to the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes that the refugee crisis is compounded by “the relentless advance of climate change,” and that, “growing numbers of people are being uprooted by natural disasters.” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres explained that those forced to relocate because of climate change have no legal protection, which has lead to an ongoing international debate on how to best handle the matter.

For additional information see: Washington Post

UN Says Global Growth and Consumption Are Accelerating Climate Change

On June 6 the United Nations (UN) Environment Program published the Global Environment Outlook report, stating that global population growth, urbanization, and consumption of natural resources are negatively affecting the world’s climate. The report says that only four of the 90 environmental goals set by the UN in 2007 have made progress; and furthermore, scientists have found that 20 percent of vertebrate species are under the threat of extinction, and 90 percent of water and fish samples from rivers and oceans are contaminated by pesticides. The report states, “As human pressures on the earth . . . accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well-being.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Washington Post, BBC News

Latin America’s Annual Damage from Climate Change Could Reach $100 Billion

On June 5 the Inter-American Development Bank reported that the effects of climate change to Latin American and Caribbean countries could reach $100 billion a year by 2050. The report further states that the Latin American region is considered vulnerable to impact because of its geographic location and its heavy reliance on natural resources. The region could potentially lose coral reefs in the Caribbean, glaciers in the Andes, and significant parts of the Amazon rain forest from the impacts of climate change. Though countries in Latin America and in the Caribbean have reduced their collective greenhouse gas emissions, much more can be done to further protect the area from climate change.

For additional information see: Reuters

Central African Glaciers to Soon Disappear

A recent expedition through the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo revealed the range’s 43 glaciers are rapidly retreating, leading scientists to predict that the glaciers will completely disappear within 10 to 20 years. Study of these particular tropical glaciers has been historically problematic due to difficult terrain, war, and near-constant cloud cover that prevents aerial photography. Limited satellite data suggested that Rwenzori glaciers shrank from two to one square kilometers between 1987 and 2006; the expedition confirmed the total area of the ice field to be less than the 2006 estimates. While reduced precipitation is believed to be the primary driver of glacier-loss on nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzori Mountains have not been subject to drought. Instead, hydrogeologist Richard Taylor of University College London credits Rwenzori glacier retreat to higher air temperatures. The expedition was organized by Project Pressure, a collaboration of photographers, scientists, and cartographers record global glacial retreat.

For additional information see: Guardian

Climate Change Alters Arctic Tundra

Scientists from Finland and Oxford University have found an area the size of Iceland in the Arctic tundra where willow and alder plants are growing above the snowline, warming the surrounding areas and speeding up the process of global warming. Warmer than average temperatures are allowing plants to grow slowly taller, turning the tundra into forests in a span of mere decades. Marc Macias-Fauria, lead author of the report, said “this area does seem to be a bellwether for the rest of the region, it can show us what is likely to happen to the rest of the Arctic in the near future if these warming trends continue."

For additional information see: Reuters

Other Headlines

15th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Policy Forum

Thursday, June 21, 2012
345 Cannon House Office Building (Cannon Caucus Room)
Free and open to the public.

On June 21, the Sustainable Energy Coalition—in cooperation with the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucuses—will host the 15th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum. This year’s EXPO expects to bring together over 50 businesses, sustainable energy industry trade associations, government agencies, and energy policy research organizations to showcase the status and near-term potential of the cross-section of renewable energy (biofuels/biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) and energy efficiency technologies. The morning program will feature members of the U.S. Congress while afternoon speakers, including administration officials, will discuss the role sustainable energy technologies can play in meeting America’s energy needs. In addition, in 340 Cannon House Office Building, there will be speaker panels throughout the day regarding the technologies being exhibited.

The EXPO is free, open to the public, and no RSVPs are required. The EXPO will be held Thursday, June 21, 9:30am-4:30pm in 345 Cannon House Office Building (Cannon Caucus Room), with the speaker forum held in 340 Cannon House Office Building. For more information, visit or contact Ken Bossong at kbossong614 [at]

Writers:Alison Alford and John-Michael Cross

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