Climate Change News March 5, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 5, 2012


Reinsurance Industry Urges Congress to Act on Climate Change

Reinsurance industry officials urged Congress to prepare for increased damage from climate change.  Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, said, "The number of natural catastrophes has risen fairly dramatically." In the last 30 years the number of large disasters averaged 630 annually, but in the last 10 years, the number has risen to 790.  The cost of insured losses in the United States has risen from $1 billion annually in the 1980’s to $4.6 billion annually in the last 10 years, according to Nutter.  Mark Way, head of sustainability for Swiss Re, noted that global weather disasters cost between 1 and 12 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product annually.

For additional information see: Insurance News Net

EPA Maintains Greenhouse Gas Permits

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has signed a proposed rule to maintain current greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting thresholds for the Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V operating programs under the Clean Air Act. This move is part of EPA’s self-described “common sense, phased in approach to greenhouse gas permitting.” Current levels include facilities such as power plants, cement plants and refineries that produce more than 100,000 tons of GHGs a year or plan to increase emissions by more than 75,000 tons.  Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, supports targeting large emitters and says, “I don’t think you’d get much gain from the headache of going after smaller sources.”

For additional information see: EPA, The Hill, Bloomberg

Arguments Provided in EPA Clean Air Act Court Case

A coalition of 37 states, power plants and business groups is trying to overturn Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations under the Clean Air Act. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if the agency found them to endanger the public. Petitioners are arguing that in 2009 the EPA’s decision that it is 90 percent confident that anthropogenic emissions are contributing to harmful climate change was based on uncertain evidence. Howard Fox, an attorney at Earthjustice, states, “The core concern of these plaintiffs is about stationary sources and the tailoring rule.”  The case argues that the EPA exceeded its power in its “tailoring rules” when applying permitting rules only to stationary sources that are large GHG emitters, and that exempting small polluters from the rule can be seen as rewriting the Clean Air Act, which should apply to all polluters. Petitioners also say that enacting the earlier tailpipe rules, which regulate vehicle emissions, have resulted in improper regulation of stationary sources.

For additional information see: Reuters

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise in 2010, Study Explains 2009 Decrease

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft of the “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2010,” estimating total emissions from greenhouse gases (GHGs) to be 6,866 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. According to the EPA, this 3.3 percent increase since 2009 stems from “an increase in energy consumption across all economic sectors, due to increasing energy demand associated with an expansion  in the economy” and “an increase in air conditioning use due to warmer summer weather during 2010.” Overall, emissions have increased 11 percent since 1990.

In related news, in 2009, a year of U.S. economic recession, GHG emissions fell 6.59 percent relative to 2008. The EPA attributed this change to, “a decrease in fuel and electricity consumption across all U.S. economic sectors.” New research from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has shown falling natural gas prices were primarily responsible for the 8.76 percent decrease in emissions from the power sector, which accounts for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Study leader Michael B. McElroy explains that “generating 1 kilowatt-hours of electricity from coal releases twice as much CO2 to the atmosphere as generating the same amount from natural gas, so a slight shift in the relative prices of coal and natural gas can result in a sharp drop in carbon emissions.” The study also found that a small carbon tax could shift more power generation from coal, reducing CO2 emissions while barely affecting electricity prices.

For additional information see:, Reuters, EPA, EPA

Survey Shows Belief in Climate Change Varies with the Weather

A recent poll from University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College found that 62 percent of Americans believe that the Earth is warming, and that their belief in global warming is on the rise. Half of those who believe in climate change said they formed their conclusion on personal observations of the weather.   “It seems to be driven by an increased connection that the public is making between what they see in terms of weather conditions and climate change,” said Chris Borick, the director of Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.  The University of Michigan findings were similar to other polls that show local weather influences views about global warming.

For additional information see: Brookings, Washington Post, Herald Net

El Salvador Mandates Climate Change Risk Curriculum

El Salvador is educating its citizens to minimize future losses from extreme weather events caused by climate change, including tropical cyclones, heavier rains, higher wind speeds and drought.  In the last two years, the Central American country has experienced intense storms and flooding, which has caused damage equal to six percent of its GDP.  El Salvador has mandated that all public and private educational institutions incorporate environmental safety into curricula.   Erlinda Handal, the country’s vice education minister, said, "Implementing this system is a necessity because of the vulnerability of our territory (to climate impacts).”  The government also is training farmers to increase yields, diversify crops and manage climate change related risks.

For additional information see: AlertNet

Coal Likely to Remain Major Energy Source for Asian Growth

Coal, which supplies one fifth of world energy, accounted for half the increase in global energy use between 2000 and 2010, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Expanding Asian energy demand is relying heavily on coal. China, the world’s largest coal producer and consumer, currently obtains 80 percent of its electricity from coal. Seventy percent of India’s electricity comes from coal.  Despite investments in renewable energy, including solar, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric, both countries rely on inexpensive coal to meet energy needs. China has the largest expected energy demand increase in the next 25 years, while India’s carbon emissions are expected to increase 250 percent by 2030. The current focus is mostly on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at power plants, rather than on reducing demand. The IEA notes emissions-limiting technologies are still undeveloped or “not as widely deployed as they should be.”

For additional information see: The Economist

Greenex, a Green Index Launched in India

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) has launched Greenex, a new carbon efficient live index in India. The index, composed of 20 stocks selected by carbon footprint, market capitalization and turnover, is designed to address market externalities associated with greenhouse gas emissions and to meet demands of socially aware investors.  According to the BSE, “The BSE-GREENEX Index is a veritable first step in creating a credible market-based response mechanism in India, whereby both businesses and investors can rely upon purely quantitative and objective performance based signals, to assess carbon performance.”  Greenex can be used to develop green financial products including mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and structured products.

For additional information see: The Economic Times, Bombay Stock Exchange

Climate Change Prompts Human Rights Approach

The least developed countries of the world that have contributed the smallest amounts of greenhouse gas emissions will be the most affected by climate change impacts, experts told a gathering in Geneva. The areas impacted most include Central, East, and West Africa, the Pacific, and South Asia. Kumi Naidoo, executive director for Greenpeace, said, “that by 2050, there would be about 200 million ‘climate migrants’ around the world, including 20 million displaced by rising sea levels and resulting salinity, as well as storm surges and cyclones, in Bangladesh alone.” Such concerns have prompted a shift to a human rights approach to climate change.  More than 100 countries already participate in various treaties which, “enshrine the ‘right to a safe and healthy environment.” Dinah Shelton, who chairs the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said, “Can human rights address some of these issues in a more effective manner? I think the answer is yes, partly because of the very high place that human rights law plays in the global community.”

For additional information see: IRIN Global

European Union States to Monitor Land Use Changes, Climate Change Impacts

An European Union (EU) draft law proposes monitoring changes in greenhouse gas emissions from land use changes. Member states will be required to account for land and forest use changes that affect carbon, methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and to submit action plans that limit or reduce climate impacts. Proponents say the law is much better equipped to monitor the climate-change impacts of land use change than the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, which is designed for fossil fuel emissions. Jutta Kill, a carbon trading and climate change campaigner at FERN, an NGO, states that, fossil fuels, which only generates carbon, require very different rules from land and forestry, which absorb as well as add to emissions. Forest loss prevention is a necessary part of the EU’s commitments to the United Nations and its own effort to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

For additional information see: Reuters

Cassava to Thrive Under Climate Change, Scientists Say

Cassava, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-most consumed carbohydrate is expected to become more productive as climate warms. Scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia report that the starchy root performed better than potatoes, maize, beans, bananas, millet and sorghum in predictions of crop performance under climate change scenarios. Scientist Andy Jarvis comments that cassava “thrives in high temperatures, and if drought hits it simply shuts down until it rains again. There’s no other staple with this level of toughness.” African farmers limit risks from climate change by planting cassava as a failsafe, in addition to other, more diverse and nutritious crops that may not survive a drought.  

For additional information see: The Washington Post, BBC News

Gasoline Engines Emit More Black Carbon than Previously Thought

A team of scientists from Environment Canada and the National Research Council Canada used a new, laser-based method to track diesel engine emissions and found that diesel engines did not account for all of the black carbon emissions they measured on Toronto highways. Researchers attribute the missing amount to gasoline engines, which they say may contribute twice as much black carbon as was previously thought. The scientists hypothesize that the extra black carbon was previously unnoticed because other black carbon tracking methods can miss smaller particles. Black carbon contributes to climate change by capturing heat in the atmosphere and by spurring arctic ice melt.

For additional information see: Chemical & Engineering News

Study:  Climate Change Causes Grapes to Ripen Early

Grapes in Australia are ripening approximately eight days earlier due to climate change and a decline in soil water content, according to a study in the journal Nature Climate Change.  Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, analyzed records of the amount of sugar in grapes, soil moisture and crop yields.  The study found early ripening is due to a warmer climate, which activates sugar production, and drier soils, which spur stress hormones that induce maturation.  Grapes that ripen earlier mature in hotter weather which produce a less desirable wine.

For additional information see: ABC (Australia)

Other Headlines

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

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