Climate Change News March 19, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 19, 2012


California Gradually Implementing Climate Change Law

After five years of effort, California’s global warming law, AB 32, has enacted all four components: cap and trade, lower-carbon gasoline, increased fuel efficiency requirements and encouragement of sustainable communities. AB 32 seeks to reduce California GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and its successes or failures could have national and international effects. The cap-and-trade program is the most controversial part of the law; environmentalists, state regulators and industry advocates do not agree regarding a fair price for emissions, which has been set at a low $10 /per metric ton, and legal experts say that the law might be taken to court. The lower-carbon gasoline law has been ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill for discriminating against fuel producers from other states, causing 18 other states considering the law to re-evaluate their position. The California Air Resources Board mandated that 15 percent of all new cars sold in the state by 2025 should run with zero or near-zero emissions, which would result in 1.4 million such vehicles on California roads within 13 years. Tom Bowman of the Bowman Design group, which redesigned the town of Santa Rosa under the sustainable communities section of AB 32 said, “AB 32 is an impressive effort, and even though it is being implemented gradually over time it is already delivering benefits to California.” Other states are watching closely for the economic impacts and environmental gains of the legislation.

For additional information see: The Christian Science Monitor

Economists Urge Obama to Back European Union Carbon Limits for Airlines

A group of 26 U.S. economists, including five Nobel Prize winners sent President Barack Obama a letter urging him to drop his opposition to the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme. "We implore you to support the European Union's innovative efforts to place a price on carbon from aviation through the emissions trading system (EU ETS), or, at the very least, to stop actively opposing these efforts,” said the letter. The EU ETS requires airlines to buy and sell carbon allowances on a market and has been criticized by the United States, China, India and Russia as a tax that infringes on national sovereignty. The EU disputes the assertion it is a tax because airlines can use alternative measures to offset emissions. The Nobel Prize winning signatories are Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University; William Sharpe, also of Stanford; Eric Maskin of Harvard University; Thomas Sargent, New York University; and Christopher Sims of Princeton.

For additional information see: Reuters

Bangladesh Asks for Support of People-Oriented Climate Change Programs

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasized the need for industrialized countries to take the lead in mitigating climate change effects. Hasina called for people-oriented mitigation and adaptation programs that address the negative impacts of climate change and ensure the happiness, peace and prosperity of the people. She emphasized the need for countries to act responsibly and quickly enact legally binding emission reduction agreements. Bangladesh, a low-lying, population-dense country has voluntarily committed to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and has established a Climate Change Trust Fund.

For additional information see: The Daily Star

Poland Blocks EU Carbon Emissions Road Map

Coal-dependent Poland has vetoed the European Union’s road map for cutting carbon emissions after 2020, objecting to targets of 40 percent emissions cuts by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040, as part of Europe’s overall goal of 85 to 90 percent reductions by 2050. This is the second time that Poland, which obtains 93 percent of its electricity needs from coal, has vetoed EU emissions targets which need unanimous approval. Thomas Spencer of IDDRI, a Paris-based think tank, expressed concern that Europe may not come to an agreement before the 2015 deadline to set a new global climate pact. He commented, “If the EU doesn’t get its act together it’s going to be rather hamstrung in those discussions.” Polish Environmental Minister Marcin Korolec defended Poland’s decision, saying, “We have the privilege to have this coal at home and this is also part of our starting point and an important element of our national security.” Andrzej Kassenberg, president of Warsaw’s Institute for Sustainable Development, noted Poland’s aging power infrastructure and called the 2050 target a “huge opportunity” because it “can create pressure for changing in the direction of a more innovative and modern economy.”

For additional information see: The Washington Post

Pakistani Federal Cabinet Approves Climate Change Plan Draft

On March 15, Pakistan approved a draft National Climate Change Policy, resulting from the efforts of a Task Force on Climate Change established in 2008. Pakistan faces extreme impacts from climate change including flooding, melting glaciers, drought, decreased agricultural yields and extreme monsoons. Adil Najam, director of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, said, “The challenge is to turn the general statements into specific targets and timelines.” The policy will focus on water resources, human health, biodiversity, energy supply, agriculture and water in the context of climate change, with specific goals and targets for investment and improvement.

For additional information see: Reuters AlertNet, Business Recorder

Asian Development Bank Report on Climate-Induced Migration Released

The Asia-Pacific region is most likely to be affected by climate change and natural disasters, relative to other areas of the world, according to a report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) titled, “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific.” The region is especially vulnerable to involuntary migration caused by climate change; 42 million people were displaced due to environmental disasters in the last two years. ADB estimates that preparing for climate change will cost the region US $40 billion annually. ADB’s Bindu Lohani has described current funding to climate-proof infrastructure including roads and sewers as “grossly inadequate.” Lohani commented, “Governments should not wait to act. By taking steps now, they can reduce vulnerability, strengthen resiliency, and use migration as an adaptation tool rather than let it become an act of desperation.” The report urges governments to work with the private sector to manage the damage of climate change.

For additional information see: The Nation, UPI, Yahoo News, Asian Development Bank Report

Study Shows How Sea Level Rise Threatens U.S. Coastal Cities

A project led by Dr. Benjamin H. Strauss for Climate Central, a non-profit organization, has identified 3.7 million Americans that live within one meter (3.3 feet) of high tide, the predicted sea level rise by 2100. In New York, 141,000 people live in areas prone to flooding due to climate change, 284,000 in New Orleans, and 312,000 in southeast Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties. More than 500 US cities have at least 10 percent of their population at increased risk, according to the study. Co-author Jonathan Overpeck said, “It’s shocking to see how large the impacts could be, particularly in Southern Florida and Louisiana, but much of the coastal U.S. will share in the serious pain.” Strauss cautioned, “We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for high seas.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Washington Post, Study

Great Lakes Ice Cover Decreased 71 Percent over Last Forty Years: Study

An American Meteorological Society report based on U.S. Coast Guard scanning, satellite photos and other information has found that ice coverage has decreased 88 percent on Lake Ontario, 79 percent on Lake Superior, and 71 percent overall between 1973 and 2010. In an average year, 40 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes freeze, while about five percent froze this winter and 94 percent froze in 1979. Study lead, Jia Wang from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, explains, “We are seeing the impact of global warming here in the Great Lakes, but the natural variability is at least as large a factor,” citing El Nino and La Nina as two other factors. According to Wang, lack of ice cover exposes shoreline and increases erosion, while allowing more wintertime water evaporation to lower water levels, potentially causing early algae blooms and impacting water quality.

For additional information see:

Maps Depict Sea Level Rise Potential in San Diego

Maps prepared by the Scripps Institution for Oceanography for the San Diego Foundation Regional Focus 2050 Study combine detailed topographic map information with predicted sea level rise and ocean behavior to display expected effects of climate change on coastal communities. Emily Young, Senior Director for Environmental Analysis and Strategy at the San Diego Foundation, described the utility of the maps in planning for climate change, “They allow us to really visualize what the potential impacts are. It’s a way of showing visually what some of your vulnerabilities might be.” While the maps don’t reflect potential effects of storms, tsunamis and other natural disasters, they predict that high tides at Oceanside Harbor, California will rise by 1.1 to 5.3 feet by 2050, potentially backing up storm drains, submerging infrastructure including the jetty and boat launch, and contributing to wetland loss. Such information allows authorities to plan for the future and protect infrastructure against rising sea levels.

For additional information see: North County Times

Thoreau’s Records of Spring Show Effects of Climate Change

Scientists are studying Henry David Thoreau’s notes to gain insight on how climate change is affecting the first spring flowers in Concord, Massachusetts.  Analyzing Thoreau’s notes, Richard Primack, Biology Professor at Boston University, noticed that many flowers in Concord are blooming 10 days earlier, and those that cannot bloom earlier are becoming more rare. In Thoreau’s time, 21 various species of wild orchids grew in Concord, but now only six species grow in the wild.  "What that result tells us is climate change is not only affecting flowering time but also affecting the abundance of species in Concord," said Primack, "Warming temperature is causing some species to be winners and some species to be losers."

For additional information see: Mother Nature Network, Yale Environment 360

Pumping of Irrigation Water Increases Chinese Emissions

Energy intensive pumping of water from deep underground releases 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in China, according to a paper in Environmental Research Letters.  Chinese farmers have turned to well water as surface waters have become more polluted, but the excessive pumping has caused the aquifers to fall more than two meters per year.   The wells, in some cases 70 meters deep, require more energy to pump, which contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere.  "Farmers are drilling more boreholes and pumping from ever deeper depths. There are already hotspots where this is unsustainable," said Declan Conway, one of the lead authors.

For additional information see: The Guardian

Emissions to Increase 50 Percent by 2050, OECD

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says global greenhouse gas emissions may rise 50 percent by 2050, unless more aggressive policies are implemented to reduce fossil fuel usage.  "Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution," the OECD said in its Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction.  Without reducing fossil fuel consumption, the global average temperature could rise 3-6 degrees Celsius by 2100, exceeding the internationally agreed warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius.  The report says the cheapest way to reduce fossil fuel usage is carbon pricing through market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

For additional information see: Reuters Africa, OECD Report

Temperature Threshold for Greenland Ice Sheet Decreased

Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found the global temperature threshold that would melt the entire Greenland ice sheet is lower than previously thought.  Using computer models to project various global temperature scenarios, researchers found that the ice sheet could completely melt if temperatures worldwide continued to climb above pre-industrial levels.  An increase of 0.8 to 3.2 degrees Celsius globally would melt the ice sheet in 500 to 2,000 years. "If the global temperature significantly overshoots the threshold for a long time, the ice will continue melting and not regrow - even if the climate would, after many thousand years, return to its pre-industrial state," said project lead Andrey Ganopolski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

For additional information see: Reuters, Science Daily, The Christian Science Monitor

Carbon Dioxide Levels at 800,000 Year High

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 800,000 years, according to Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) scientists in Australia. Dr. Paul Fraser says the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has reached 390 parts per million and, "We find no evidence going back 800,000 years of CO2 levels above 300 parts per million."  The State of the Climate 2012 report also found average day and night-time temperatures in Australia are now approximately one degree Celsius higher than they were a century ago, and the last decade is the warmest on record.  The warmer temperatures are causing sea levels to rise between one and five millimeters per year around Australia and have already risen about 21 centimeters globally since 1880.

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, ABC News (Australia), Report

Other Headlines

Writers: Alison Alford, Justin Jones and Zuzana Culakova

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