Climate Change News March 15, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 15, 2010



Obama, Key Senators Meet to Discuss Climate Bill

On March 10, President Obama, White House climate advisor Carol Browner, and four Cabinet members held a closed-door conference with 14 senators to discuss energy and climate legislation. The senators, representing a wide range of policy perspectives on climate and energy, discussed their specific demands for potential legislation. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who attended the meeting, are working together to release draft climate legislation before the spring recess. They previously announced a move away from a nationwide cap and trade program in favor of sector specific regulation, namely a cap and trade program for electric utilities, a carbon tax on transportation fuels, and a delayed industrial cap on emissions. Other issues brought up at the meeting included border adjustments for imports from countries without greenhouse gas regulations, expanded domestic oil and gas drilling, assistance for nuclear power, carbon capture and storage funding, and whether any bill should focus solely on energy.

"I've come to conclude the energy-only approach will lead to mediocrity," Graham said. "There's not 60 votes doing energy only for offshore drilling. There's not 60 votes for nuclear power the way I'd like doing energy only. Only when you marry up climate change, cleaning up the air, with energy independence, do you get the transformational aspects of energy independence I'm hoping for."

For additional information see: Bloomberg, New York Times, AP, Politico

U.S. Scientists Urge Senate Action on Climate Change

On March 11, 2000 U.S. scientists and economists signed on to a statement imploring the Senate to move swiftly and comprehensively on the issue of climate change. The signatories are all experts in relevant fields of study on climate change. The statement is the first time leading U.S. scientists and economists have come together to issue a joint message of concern on climate change. The list of signatories included eight Nobel laureates, 32 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 10 members from the National Academy of Engineering, and more than 100 members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who shared a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“If anything, the climate problem is actually worse than reported earlier," wrote Leon Lederman, Director Emeritus of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, in an individual statement in the letter to the Senate. "Physicists tend to be super critical of strong conclusions, but the data on global warming now indicate the conclusions are not nearly strong enough."

For additional information see: Union of Concerned Scientists, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor

EPA Report: U.S. Emissions Down 2.9 Percent in 2008

On March 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft report detailing the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the United States from 2008. The report shows that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decreased by 2.9 percent in 2008 compared to 2007. The trend was associated with decreases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with fuel and electricity consumption. Overall emissions have grown 13.6 percent from 1990 to 2008. Gases included in the study were CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perflourocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The calculations took into account sinks such as soils, forests, and vegetation, which remove CO2 from the air. Following a 30 day comment period, the report will be submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), fulfilling the United States' obligations under the 1992 UNFCCC treaty which it ratified.

For additional information see: EPA Press Release

U.S. Governors Ask Congress to Stop EPA Greenhouse Gas Rules

On March 10, a group of 20 U.S. governors wrote to President Obama urging him to halt the process underway at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop regulations for greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The 20 governors expressed concern that the EPA was not equipped to consider the harm posed by regulating emissions. The letter called on Congress to “pass comprehensive legislation that balances the role of conservation and climate security with the production of abundant and affordable American energy.” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan responded by saying GHGs are a “real and growing threat to the American people. EPA rejects the premise that addressing greenhouse gases threatens the economy.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal

Senator Lugar Drafting "Practical" Energy Plan

On March 9, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) issued a press release outlining his proposal for energy reform. His position stressed energy efficiency incentive programs for commercial and residential buildings, a national clean electricity standard including nuclear and carbon capture coal plants, early retirement of the dirtiest coal plants, long-term strengthening of CAFE standards, implementation of the 36 billion gallon renewable fuel standard, and enhanced domestic oil and gas production. He stated his view that comprehensive greenhouse gas legislation such as a cap and trade program is not supported by the public and will stifle economic recovery. “We should develop a consensus with fiscal prudence in mind. Currently, rhetoric and legislation are focused primarily at climate change while most Americans are more interested in oil reductions and economic impacts. We should concentrate this year on those policies that will save energy and money. Such a bill can bring large and measurable carbon reductions by reducing energy usage and foreign oil dependency,” Lugar said at a recent conference with the president and other senators on climate and energy policy.

For additional information see: Lugar Press Release, Jounral Gazette

EPA to Consider How States Can Address Ocean Acidity Under Clean Water Act

On March 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will consider ways in which states can address rising acidity in oceans, which poses a risk to shellfish and other marine life due to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2). The announcement stemmed from a recent lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) against the EPA. The lawsuit was filed to compel the state of Washington to list its coastal waters as impaired by rising acidity under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Acidity levels affect all sea life, but particularly species that form carbonaceous shells such as oysters, mussels, and tiny microscopic organisms which form the base of the ocean food chain. States have previously been forced to take action on rising acidity in freshwater lakes and streams, but the recent case represented the first time a mandate to act applied to ocean acidity. EPA will initiate a public process to develop guidance on how to approach acidification under the federal CWA. Specifically, EPA will consider a provision of the CWA that requires states to identify threatened or impaired waters and set limits on the input of pollutants into these waters. How such regulation will take place in the scheme of global carbon dioxide emissions remains uncertain.

"It's one of the most important threats to water quality right now," said Miyoko Sakashita, a senior attorney at the group's San Francisco office. "It's affecting waters around the world, and it's particularly stark in the waters off the West Coast."

For additional information see: AP, Center for Biological Diversity

New Poll Finds Fewer Conservatives Now Think Global Warming Is Occurring

On March 11, Gallup released the results of a recent poll showing a shift in public perceptions toward climate change. It found that fifty-one percent of people believe the effects of global warming are already occurring compared to 61 percent two years ago. The shift was seen almost entirely among self-described conservatives, with essentially no change in liberal respondents. The net effect was that Democrats were twice as likely (66 percent) to believe the effects of global warming are already underway compared to Republicans (31 percent). In addition to liberals, young adults were the other major subgroup that shows no major decline in the belief that global warming is already affecting the environment. Both liberals and conservatives are more likely now than they were in 2008 to believe the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated.

For additional information see: Reuters, Guardian, Bloomberg, Gallup Poll

Independent Panel Will Review UN Climate Work

On March 10, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that the InterAcademy Council (IAC) would conduct an independent review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. The review comes in response to criticism that certain studies in the report were not entirely accurate. The council represents the Academies of Sciences from 15 nations and will focus its review on the panel’s leadership, methods of sourcing, and conflict-of-interest policies rather than initiating a full review of all of the scientific papers and conclusions within the report. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK, Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee) was unhappy with this course of action and said, “A legitimate inquiry must look back and examine the science in the assessment reports, and not just the mistakes that have been uncovered thus far." In regard to the review, Ki-moon said, “Let me be clear: The threat posed by climate change is real. Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, nor does it diminish the unique importance of the IPCC work.”

For additional information see: Washington Post, AFP, New York Times, Guardian

China and India Join Climate Accord

On March 9, India and China officially announced their formal support for the United Nations Copenhagen Accord which was agreed to at a UN Summit in December 2009. Russia remains the only large greenhouse gas emitter to not voice its support for the non-binding treaty. The Accord called for nations to limit temperature rise to less than 2°C and called on developed countries to give $100 billion in climate adaptation and mitigation aid annually to developing countries. The United States has said the Accord should serve as the basis for any legally binding agreement produced from additional upcoming climate negotiations taking place this year in Cancun, Mexico. Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said, “The accord is a significant step forward, including important provisions on mitigation, funding, transparency, technology, forests and adaptation.”

For additional information see: New York Times, AP, The Hindu, Herald Sun, Reuters

China Climate Chief Calls on United States to Do More

On March 10, China’s chief climate official Xie Zhenhua called on the United States to make stronger commitments on climate change and to provide environmental expertise and financing to developing nations. Xie recognized that the current U.S. administration is stressing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but said he is unsatisfied with the current pledges. The Obama administration committed to reducing greenhouse gases 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and to paying a "fair share" into a fund to help developing countries deal with climate change. "So we hope the United States will do more. . . . We hope the United States will not shift the responsibility for taking more active action to other countries," Xie told a news conference on the sidelines of China's annual legislative session. China has committed to reduce carbon intensity 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

For additional information see: AP, UPI, Wall Street Journal

Study Finds Developed Nations Outsource One Third of Emissions

On March 8, scientists at the Carnegie Institution published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences showing how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumption were exported by individual countries to overseas production facilities. The study looked at GHG emissions in terms of consumption rather than production location, and reassigned emissions accordingly. The results estimated that 23 percent of global emissions are traded internationally, with countries in the EU such as France, Sweden and Britain receiving more than 30 percent from overseas. The results are significant for international climate change negotiations due to the call made to determine a nation’s responsibility for reducing emissions based on its consumption rather than production of GHGs. The study found that the United States imports 10.8 percent of its emissions while China exported 22.5 percent of its emissions. "Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China," said the study's lead author Steven Davis of Carnegie, in a statement.

For additional information see: BBC, CBC, Time

European Commission Announces Strategy to Advance Global Climate Talks

On March 8, EU Climate Chief Connie Hedegaard issued a statement summarizing a strategy to reinvigorate climate talks in preparation for upcoming negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. "The EU must continue to take leadership," she told the European Parliament. "The most convincing way Europe can do so is by taking tangible and determined action domestically to become the most climate-friendly region in the world." Hedegaard's team is looking to deepen emissions cuts beyond 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. As Hedegaard explained, "[leading in emission cuts] is in Europe's own interest. If we do it intelligently, it will enhance our competitiveness, strengthen our energy security, stimulate green economic growth and innovation, and by that we will create new jobs. An analysis done by the EU Commission found a need to deal with loopholes in international climate laws that might actually lead to a net increase in rich-country emissions by as much as 2.4 percent.

For additional information see: Reuters, EU Press Release, Reuters, Wall Street Journal

EU Considers General Carbon Tax

On March 5, the European Commission announced it was considering a European Union (EU)-wide minimum tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fuel, natural gas, and coal. Carbon taxes already exist in a number of member states like Sweden, Finland, and Denmark and was recently considered in France, but failed passage. A UK government spokesperson responded against the proposal, saying that “[t]he existing Energy Taxation Directive gives member states the flexibility to introduce a carbon tax if they wish.” The UK position is that EU member states are better situated to determine the best policy mechanisms to meet climate objectives. Earlier this week in Brussels, EU Taxation Commissioner Algirdas Semata said that adoption of carbon taxes “on a larger, European scale seems desirable, as they would undoubtedly encourage innovation to strengthen energy efficiency and environmental protection."

For additional information see: BBC, Wall Street Journal

France Holds Deforestation Conference to Fight Climate Change

On March 11, France hosted a conference focused on reducing deforestation, which was attended by representatives from 30 heavily forested nations and 12 potential donor nations. Deforestation is estimated to account for about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted into the atmosphere annually. The conference was in large part an effort to support the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programme, aimed at reducing emissions by having developed countries pay people in developing countries not to cut down forest land. A portion of the 30 billion dollars promised by developed nations at the Copenhagen Convention in December could go toward forest protection, though the mechanisms for inventorying, disbursement, and monitoring were not initially finalized. The talks in France were aimed at firming up these aspects of the REDD programme.

For additional information see: AP, UPI, RFI

IMF Suggests How to Raise Climate Funds

On March 9, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn suggested that world governments should pool money for the purpose of providing climate adaptation funding to developing countries. He proposed countries adopt a quota system similar to the system used to pool IMF funds for its other projects. According to Strauss-Kahn, such a mechanism would provide funds much quicker than carbon tax revenue or other regulatory efforts. The IMF quota mechanism is based on the country’s economic size, with the United States being the largest contributor. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord estimated $100 billion in climate aid would be needed by 2020 to fund programs aimed at helping poor countries deal with droughts, flooding and food shortages. Strauss-Kahn noted that such a pooling of money would greatly help upcoming climate negotiations in Mexico this year by providing developing countries a key component of their demands.

For additional information see: AP, AFP, The Atlantic

Interior Report: Climate Change Threatens Migratory Birds

On March 11, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a Department of the Interior report, "The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change," detailing the extent to which U.S. bird populations are seriously threatened by global warming. The report stated that climate change is poised to seriously alter critical habitats and food supplies, pushing many species toward extinction. The report was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and experts from the nation’s leading conservation organizations. In particular the report found oceanic birds to be at highest risk due to the low number of chicks hatched each year, a quickly changing marine ecosystem, and critical roosting sites that could be engulfed by rising seas.

“Just as they did in 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, our migratory birds are sending us a message about the health of our planet,” Salazar said. “That is why – for the first time ever – the Department of the Interior has deployed a coordinated strategy to plan for and respond to the impacts of climate change on the resources we manage.”

For additional information see: AP, AFP, Mercury News, DOI Press Release

Malaria Spread Tied to Global Warming

A study published in the March 2010 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology found that evidence for the role of climate in regional malaria expansion is robust. While making sure to emphasize the other factors having large impacts on malaria such as land use change and population dynamics, the meta-analysis found that studies discrediting climate’s role in malaria spread used inadequate statistical analyses, whereas those supporting the role were backed by sound statistical evidence. The meta-analysis looked at 70 other studies. The study authors stated that their purpose was to help explain why malaria has been spreading into highlands areas of East Africa, Indonesia, and Afghanistan.

For additional information see: UPI, Study Abstract

Other Headlines

March 15: The Role of Electricity as a Transportation Fuel

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing to examine the economic, energy security, and environmental implications of using electricity as a major transportation fuel. This briefing will review the potential advantages and disadvantages of using electricity as a transportation fuel and what policies may be needed to address these issues. The briefing will take place on Monday, March 15, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, please contact us at policy [at] or (202) 662-1883.

March 18: The Renewable Fuel Standard and Cellulosic Biofuels - Prospects and Challenges

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on the state of the cellulosic biofuel industry and its prospects for producing the volumes required by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) in the coming years. The briefing will take place on Thursday, March 18, from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. in 385 Russell Senate Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, please contact Ned Stowe at bioenergy [at] or (202) 662-1885.

Writers: Daniel Schneider, Jesse McCormick and Amy Sauer

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