Climate Change News June 15, 2007

Climate Change News

Brought to you by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Carol Werner, Executive Director
June 15, 2007


Cities Take Action on Climate

US cities including New York, Boston, and Portland (OR) are setting carbon emission targets and developing concrete strategies to deal with climate change. It is a consequence, municipal officials and analysts say, of the growing perception among mayors that the Bush administration has largely ignored an issue that has reached a tipping point in American culture.

"Because of what many see as a policy failure on this issue in Washington, you see state and city governments stepping up and taking the lead on global warming," said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "You've got people in Europe saying that America is doing nothing on global warming, but that's not true. You are seeing real action. But it's happening in a local way."

The overall impact of cities' actions is still undetermined, but officials say say such measures —along with mild weather and other factors — significantly contributed to the 1.3 percent drop in U.S. fossil-fuel related emissions to 5.88 billion metric tons last year.

"I get to be the mayor of the capital city of the most polluting state in the most polluting country in the world," said Austin Mayor Will Wynn. Characterizing Bush's new proposal, Wynn said, "He suggests we talk about it for two more years and save action for his successor. Well, mayors are acting now."

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Climate Change to Impact Pacific Island Cultures

Fijians are feeling the effects of changing currents and weather patterns in the Pacific. Although rising ocean waters — on average only a few centimeters during the past century — may not be obvious, the effects of climate change are seen in other ways.

"There are a lot of secondary impacts of climate change which will make the quality of life in the island Pacific very, very bad, as opposed to, say, very large land masses where people have a lot more freedom to move around," said Kanyad Keshani Koshi, professor of environmental studies at the University of the South Pacific. "These are countries which are already challenged to the limit with non-climatic problems."

Recognizing that millions of people will feel the impacts of rising waters, stronger storms and less freshwater, New Zealand has appointed a "climate ambassador," Adrian Macy, a former ambassador to France. "Climate change has brought massive threats potentially to the economics of these... really vulnerable countries... and you can respond to that in a way that you'd respond to a humanitarian crisis, which is effectively what it would be," Macy says.

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Congress to Reduce Carbon Footprint of Capitol Complex

Congress says it is going to join the war against global warming by reducing its own emissions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has set a goal of making House operations carbon neutral during this session of Congress, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has sponsored legislation with the long-term aim of making the entire Capitol complex, 23 buildings where some 15,000 people work, carbon neutral by 2020.

Currently the complex accounts for about 316,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the same as 57,455 cars. About one-third of that comes from the combustion of fossil fuels at the 97-year-old Capitol Power Plant which provides steam for heating and cooling. The plant is the only coal burning facility in the District of Colombia. More than half the electricity Congress buys is generated by coal, while only 2 percent comes from renewable fuels.  In addition, the Government Accountability Office said in a recent report, there is not one hybrid-electric vehicle in the legislative branch fleet of more than 300 vehicles.

"The House must lead by example and it is time for Congress to act on its own carbon footprint," Pelosi said in announcing the initiative that would also shift the House to 100 percent renewable electric power, Pelosi said. Anthony Kreindler, spokesman for Environmental Defense, said “...these efforts are meaningful not only for what they are doing for the Capitol, but it does set a good example for the rest of the country."

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Religious Groups Testify on Climate Change

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works looked into the religious aspects of combating global warming on June 7, with witnesses on both sides of the issue championing the need to protect the world’s poor. Representatives of the Episcopalians, Catholics, Southern Baptists, Reform Jews and the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) gave testimony. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that the witnesses represented “over 100 million Americans of faith who are joining together to protect God’s Creation from global warming.”

Concern with the effects of climate policy on the world's poor was a recurring theme. “What will government regulation on this issue do for the economic development of poor countries in providing electrification, water purification and sanitation for the world’s poor?" said Russell D. Moore, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology. Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said there was a rare degree of unity between Jewish and Christian denominations on the urgent need to address global warming and its impact on the poor. “This is not simply an issue of the environment.... It is at the core of the religious community’s passion for economic justice.”

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Developing Nations' Coal Use Obstructing Climate Change Mitigation

Data compiled by BP on June 12 showed that increasing coal use by China and India will impede efforts to slow climate change. Gregg Marland, senior scientist at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and distinguished scientist with the US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), indicated that China would soon overtake the US in carbon emissions. "I would still say 2007, this is the year," he said.

A UN panel of climate scientists last month said that global CO2 emissions should peak by 2015, to keep atmospheric concentration at levels which the European Union says will avoid the worst effects of climate change. Manchester University's Kevin Anderson, research director at the Tyndall Centre's energy and climate change program, said the BP figures suggested this goal was unlikely to be reached. "None of this is pointing to peaking in 2015," Anderson said. "Without a big global policy change you're seeing very rapidly rising emissions to 2020, 2025."

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Poor Nations Commit to Climate Action, but Rich Nations Must Lead

In a June 8 joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, major developing nations, including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, have pledged to "contribute our fair share to tackle climate change" after a meeting with G8 leaders in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Developing nations are reluctant to adopt any climate policy that would curb economic growth, and maintain that rich nations bear greater responsibility for climate change. "Considering both historical responsibility and current capability, developed countries should take the lead in reducing carbon emissions and help developing countries ease and adapt to climate change," said Chinese President Hu Jintao. "For developing countries, achieving economic growth and improving the lives of our people are top priorities.... At the same time, we also need to make every effort to pursue sustainable development in accordance with our national conditions."

Zheng Guoguang, the head of China's Meteorological Administration, said there are "diplomatic, political, and economic aspects" to the climate issue. Guoguang said, "...China, India and other developing countries, they are developing very quickly, and [developed countries] could use the climate change card to curb their growth."

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China Invests 7.1 Billion Yuan for Climate Initiatives

China has earmarked more than 7.1 billion yuan (about $930 million) for technology innovations to cope with climate change since 2001, said Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang on June 14. "China is determined to find answers to climate change through science and technology."

China has made significant efforts to cope with climate change, said Wan, adding that ministries and local governments had approved a series of environmental protection policies. He also said some Chinese enterprises were using technology to reduce energy consumption and pollution discharge.

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California Senate Passes Climate Bill

Legislation introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-CA) to centralize research on climate change passed the California Senate on June 8. The bill, SB 660, establishes the Strategic Clean Technology and Climate Change Research, Development and Demonstration Program in the Resources Agency to coordinate state spending on research and development. The measure also creates the Strategic Research Investment Council to set research priorities for climate-related activities. “These bill packages show that the Senate is very serious about responding to the challenges of climate change and water planning,” Perata said. “California must turn to cleaner fuels, smarter planning and wiser water management.”

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Dirty Snow a Major Contributor to Arctic Warming

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have determined that soot falling on Arctic snow may be responsible for more warming than greenhouse gases. “It turns out that nothing is more efficient at increasing the Earth’s temperature than soot in snow,” said Charles S. Zender, a professor of Earth system science at the university. The researchers found that over the past 200 years, dirty snow has been responsible for 0.5-1.5°C of warming in the Arctic. Overall, the region has warmed 1.6°C in that time. Soot from coal burning, inefficient cookstoves and forest and agricultural fires, falls in the Arctic, darkening snow. Dark colors absorb more sunlight than lighter colors and radiate more heat in return.

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Obama Qualifies his Support for Coal-to-Liquid Fuels

On June 12, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) clarified his long-held support for a plan to promote the use of coal as an alternative fuel to power motor vehicles. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, an e-mail issued from his office said, "Senator Obama supports research into all technologies to help solve our climate change and energy dependence problems, including shifting our energy use to renewable fuels and investing in technology that could make coal a clean-burning source of energy.... However, unless and until this technology is perfected, Senator Obama will not support the development of any coal-to-liquid fuels unless they emit at least 20 percent less life-cycle carbon than conventional fuels."

"What we're seeing, particularly with Obama's statement, is that there's a race to the top among the Democratic candidates for the strongest position on how to solve the climate crisis," said Ilyse Hogue, campaign director for the liberal advocacy group "If Obama in fact goes along with the position he articulated, then that puts him ahead of where he was," she said.

In response to the announcement, Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said "He's trying to walk a fine line, trying to be a good Democrat but at the same time recognizing that not only is Illinois well-served but he's serving the country with these incentives that could really stimulate the industry."

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House Interior and Environment Committee Provides Funding for Climate Science

The full committee markup of the House 2008 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill states that "climate change is a reality and requires the country to act." It allocates $266 million for core scientific research, $94 million above 2007; $50 million is directed towards the establishment of "a commission to review the scientific questions which need to be addressed to best adapt to a warming planet and the specific science investments needed to address this reality." Two million dollars would be devoted "to develop regulations to reduce green house gases following this spring's Supreme Court decision that the EPA has such authority under the Clean Air Act."

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June 22, 2007        AMS Climate Briefing

The American Meteorological Society's Environmental Science Seminar Series will hold a briefing entitled, "The Science of Global Warming: How do We Know We're Not Wrong?"
How can the public be assured that the scientific consensus on global warming and its causation is not wrong, given previous concerns regarding global cooling and theories such as continental drift? Are there tests of such scientific assertions and theories that can serve to reassure our confidence in their correctness? Friday, June 22. 12:00 Noon - 2:00 pm. Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G-50. Washington, DC.

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Fredric Beck
e-mail: climate [at]
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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.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a non-profit organization established in 1984 by a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress to provide timely information on energy and environmental policy issues to policymakers and stakeholders and develop innovative policy solutions that set us on a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy path.