Climate Change News March 26, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 26, 2012


Maryland on Track to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 25 Percent

Maryland is on its way to decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020 under the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Act of 2009, according to Governor Martin O’Malley. A draft plan released by the Maryland Department of the Environment spells out 65 laws and programs, many of which are already adopted, that together slightly exceed the emissions target. Additional plan “priorities” needed to reach the 2020 target, including investing in offshore wind power and raising the gas tax to fund transit, must still be voted on. Researchers at Towson University and the University of Maryland gave a preliminary estimate that the plan will lead to 36,000 new jobs, particularly in developing wind and other green energy projects, and will boost the economy by $6.1 billion. Impacts on energy and fuel prices are not yet known, and manufacturers have been exempted from reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. A final plan is due at the end of the year.

For additional information see: Baltimore Sun, Maryland Department of the Environment

Scientists Stress the Need for a Stronger Global Governance System

Scientists from universities around the world expressed the need to improve the United Nations (UN) in order to successfully mitigate climate change.   Members of the Earth System Governance Project recently published an article in the journal Science, stating that the current global governance system does not adequately address climate change issues.  "Societies must change course to steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that could lead to rapid and irreversible change. Incremental change is no longer sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed needed to stop Earth system transformation," said lead author, Frank Biermann. The group is advocating a structural change in global governance including a shift from consensus decision making to qualified majority voting, creation of a UN Council on Sustainable Development to consolidate agencies and treaties, and a stronger role for non-governmental agencies in decision making.   

For additional information see: Forbes, Science, Environment News Service

Sea Level Rise to Submerge Louisiana Highway

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that at the current rate of 9.24 mm sea level rise per year, Louisiana’s Highway 1 will be underwater 22 days per year by 2030. The highway connects Port Fourchon with the rest of the country. In a study last July, the Department of Homeland Security determined that a 90 day closure of Port Fourchon would cost up to $7.8 billion of national GDP, and neighboring ports could only replace 25 percent of Port Fourchon’s services. Local residents and business leaders are asking the federal government to help pay to rebuild and elevate the highway.  The Department of Transportation will only fund part of the project if Louisiana provides funding as well, but the state does not have the money.  

For additional information see: Washington Post

Cherry Blossoms Arrive Early In Washington

This year, Washington, DC’s famous cherry trees blossomed unseasonably early and their buds popped open more rapidly than usual.  “Their flowering time is highly sensitive to temperatures, especially during the winter and early spring,” according to University of Washington Assistant Professor Soo-Hyung Kim.  Robert DeFeo, Park Service horticulturist and chief cherry tree forecaster, said the warm temperatures are causing the blooming process to continue day and night. “We may be looking at a 10-day bloom this year, whereas normally we could get up to 14 or 15,” said DeFeo.  An analysis of Washington’s average March temperature shows an increase of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 90 years and that the average cherry blossom peak bloom date is arriving five days earlier.  This spring marks the centennial celebration of Japan's gift of cherry trees to Washington, DC.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Washington Post

Economic Slowdown Should Not Stop Climate Change Fight

Molecular biologist Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Advisor to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, cautioned European nations against delaying climate regulations because of concerns over costs to industry and shrinking public budgets during economic recession. "It has been extremely disappointing to see many member states cut back on their emission reduction efforts because they say 'we're going through a recession,'" said Glover, “Make no mistake, if we had unabated man-made climate change, we would go through an absolutely horrible period of conflict and migration, until the world’s population started diminishing slowly.” Glover argued that scientific evidence for the need to cut greenhouse gasses is robust and industry and policymakers should begin to prepare for future impacts.

For additional information see: Reuters

China to Restrict Coal Output and Consumption

China will limit domestic output and consumption of coal to 3.9 billion metric tons per year by 2015, according to a five-year plan for the coal industry released by the Chinese National Energy Administration.  The five-year plan also calls for cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent per unit of gross domestic product, strengthening air pollution controls and actively participating in international efforts to combat climate change. China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions as well as the largest consumer and producer of coal.

For additional information see: Bloomberg

Sea Level Could Rise 70 Feet

A study led by Professor Kenneth G. Miller at Rutgers University concluded that sea levels could rise 12 to 22 meters (40 to 70 feet) with global warming of two degrees Celsius. According to Miller, “The natural state of the earth with present carbon dioxide levels is one with sea levels about 20 meters higher than present.” Scientists studied sedimentary cores from the late Pliocene (2.7 to 3.2 million years ago), the last time atmospheric CO2 levels were as high as today and temperatures were two degrees Celsius higher. Miller says, “Such a rise of the modern oceans would swamp the world’s coasts and affect as much as 70 percent of the world’s population,” but the rise will take several centuries under current trajectories.

For additional information see: Rutgers University

Warming Antarctic Affects Penguin Breeding Cycles, Populations

Penguins in the Antarctic, one of the world’s fastest warming regions, are laying eggs earlier and experiencing population changes as sea ice retreats and temperature shift breeding cycles, according to three studies published in journals Polar Biology, Ecology and Marine Ecology Progress Series.  Stony Brook University researchers, using field work and satellite imagery to track colonies of penguins on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, concluded that gentoo penguins, which are permanent peninsula residents, better compete for  breeding space because they have adapted to rising temperatures by moving up their “clutch initiation” time twice as fast as migratory Adélie and chinstrap penguins. Gentoo penguins have also been able to migrate south with receding sea ice, while the other species must remain near sea ice and abundant Antarctic krill. Gentoo populations are increasing, while Adélie and chinstrap populations are falling.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Newswise

Climate Change to Worsen Respiratory Disease

A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society predicts climate change will elevate rates of asthma, allergies, infections and cardiovascular diseases.  Heat-related diseases are the most serious health threat from climate change, especially as higher urban temperatures stimulate ground level ozone formation, which can asthma, lung cancer, and acute lower-respiratory infection. Study co-author Kent Pinkerton cautioned, “Our greatest concern is infants, children, the elderly and other sensitive populations. They will be the first to experience serious climate change-related health problems.” Pinkerton calls for public health measures to support vulnerable populations during extreme weather events.

For additional information see: UC Davis School of Medicine

Addition of Arctic Data Increases Global Temperature Estimates

Researchers from the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have updated their HadCRUT global temperature record with data from 400 stations in the Arctic, Russia and Canada. Analysis of the updated dataset found that global temperatures rose 0.11 degrees Celsius between 1998 and 2010, up 0.04 degrees Celsius from previous calculations, and changed the order of the hottest years on record, with 2010 and 2005 surpassing 1998. Professor Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia stated, "HadCRUT is underpinned by observations and we've previously been clear it may not be fully capturing changes in the Arctic because we have had so little data from the area.” The data from relatively quickly-warming arctic regions was responsible for the increased warming estimate, bringing HadCRUT conclusions closer to those of NASA and NOAA. The conclusion of overall warming of 0.75 degrees Celsius since 1850 remains unchanged.

For additional information see: BBC, Telegraph

Climate Change Damage in World Oceans to Cost $2 Trillion Annually

A study led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) calculated that under current emissions trends and a four degree Celsius global temperature increase by 2100, climate change damage to Earth’s oceans could cost $1.98 trillion, 0.37 percent of global GDP. Ocean acidification, warming and oxygen depletion from climate change is expected to stress coral reefs, disrupt fisheries and cause species migrations, which is already occurring. Diminished tourism and loss of the ocean carbon sink are the two largest costs, at $639 billion and $458 billion per year in 2100 respectively. Global emissions cuts and a 2.2 degree warming scenario may reduce the total cost to $612 billion in 2100, 0.11 percent of global GDP. "The faster we stop emissions rising, the lower the damage will be. But on current technology, I wouldn't be surprised if we end up on a four degree Celsius pathway," said Frank Ackerman, one of the report’s authors.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bangkok Post

Study:  Deep Saline Aquifers Could Store Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Saline aquifers found more than one-half mile below the surface of the Earth could store at least a century's worth of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The carbon capture and storage (CCS) research, conducted by a team from MIT, modeled how the carbon dioxide would percolate through the rock, accounting not only for the total capacity of the formations but also a sustainable rate of injection.  The rate of injection is critical to the storage because the carbon dioxide must be dissolved in the water which makes it denser and less likely to escape to the surface.  The study did not evaluate costs of CCS, but past analyses indicate a 15 to 30 percent increase to the cost of coal-generated electricity.

For additional information see: Science Daily, New York Times, Study

Other Headlines

Writers: Alison Alford, Justin Jones, Zuzana Culakova and Samantha Shiffman

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