Climate Change News May 14, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 14, 2012



House Cuts Climate Education Funding

The U.S. House of Representatives passed two amendments to the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and other agencies which cut funding to federal climate change education and outreach. The House passed an amendment that eliminates funding for the National Science Foundation’s climate change education program by a vote of 238-188. Also, an amendment blocks an increase of $542,000 in appropriated funds for NOAA's website which provided a centralized location for climate information. The NOAA amendment was introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and passed 219-189. The House appropriations bill now goes to the Senate.

For additional information see: Climate Central

Quebec, California Seek to Link Carbon Cap and Trade Systems

On May 9, California regulators proposed rules to link the California and Quebec carbon cap and trade markets, enabling businesses to trade permits in the joint market.  If approved by the California Air Resources Board in a vote on July 28, the rules will go into effect in November.  "Linking with Quebec is a significant advance in California's efforts to fight climate change and steer our economy toward a clean energy future.  Linking provides more options to California businesses and lays the groundwork for other partners to join with us," said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board.  Quebec's Minister for Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Pierre Arcand, expressed similar optimism, "The cap-and-trade system is acknowledged as one of the most efficient and least costly economic tools available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is an important instrument in our transition to a green and prosperous economy. Quebec is optimistic that its linking with California will be followed by many other partners."

For additional information see: San Francisco Chronicle

Climate Variability Affecting Idaho’s Water Supplies, Flood Control

Increased weather variability due to global climate change is making it difficult to control floods and water flow for irrigation, recreation and fisheries at reservoirs. For example, coinciding record high temperatures and rainfall sent 26,000 cubic feet of water per second surging into the Boise River dam system and forced federal river managers to increase flow out of Lucky Peak Dam to the highest level since 1998. Runoff is beginning earlier, in late March, with flow peaks in early May rather than late May or early June. Variable weather events like those this April are making it difficult to predict reservoir water levels and river flow rates. Despite modern technology, “Our forecasts were more accurate in the ’60s through the ’70s than they are now,” said Ron Abramovich, a water-supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise. “A lot of people think global warming is going to be a gradual increase in temperatures. It may be a roller coaster ... kind of like the stock market,” commented Abramovich.

For additional information see: Idaho Statesman

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition Gains Members, Money

On April 26th, the inaugural Ministerial meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, launched by Secretary Clinton in February, added six new partners including Nigeria, Colombia, Norway, Japan, the European Commission, and the World Bank, bringing the total to 13 members.  Norway and Sweden made financial pledges, and the World Bank announced that it already had $12 billion invested in projects that support the Coalition’s goals.  The Coalition launched five initiatives targeting hydrofluorocarbons, methane and black carbon.  "The Coalition is one of the most important developments on climate policy in the last 10 years,” stated Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, who attended the meeting.  “Its actions this week live up to its motto 'speed and scale’."  The parallel “Stockholm +40” meeting, marking the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, praised the Coalition for being a model for action.  

For additional information see: Climate and Clean Air Coalition, United Nations Environment Program, U.S. Department of State, Sustainable Business

Report: Canada Not On Track to Meet Emissions Reductions Targets

A report by Canadian Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan points out that the federal government is unlikely to meet  its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.  “Environment Canada has no overall implementation plan that indicates how different regulations and federal departments and agencies will work together to achieve the reductions,” wrote Vaughn in the report.  He emphasized Environment Canada’s own 2011 forecast predicting emissions 7.4 percent above 2005 levels in 2020.  In the absence of an implementation plan, companies, consumers and government "lack a solid basis for knowing how to adjust technology and make formal investment decisions," said Vaughan. Only two regulations have been developed for the transportation sector, Canada’s largest emitter, while the second largest source, the oil and natural gas industry, remain unregulated.  In response to Vaughan’s report, Canadian Minister of the Environment Peter Kent said, “We are making significant progress on reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 through a sector-by-sector plan.”

For additional information see: Reuters, CBC News, The Vancouver Sun, New York Times, Report

Majority of Public Favors Climate Policies, Support Dips Since 2010

Americans' support for government steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions has dropped from an average of 72 percent to 62 percent in the past two years, according to a poll from Stanford University.  "Most Americans still support industry taking steps aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but they hate the idea of consumer taxes to do it," said lead researcher Jon Krosnick.  The average drop in support for these policies was about seven percentage points among those who identified themselves as Democrats or independents versus 14 points for Republicans. The report suggests that cool average temperatures in 2011 and statements by Republican presidential candidates which expressed skepticism about climate change as reasons for the drop in support.

For additional information see: USA Today, Poll

Australian Carbon Tax to Bring in $24.8 Billion

As part of government efforts to reduce emissions and encourage clean energy investment, Australia’s carbon tax will be implemented on July 1.  The tax is expected to raise A$24.7 billion over four years, and to increase consumer prices by 0.7 percent over the first year. Initially, the government is setting the levy at A$23 per ton of carbon, but prices will be determined by the market in a few years.  “The carbon price will transform our economy by decoupling economic growth from growth in pollution,” said Greg Combet, Australia’s climate change minister. The government is providing households A$10.10 per week to assist households in offsetting the cost of the tax (A$9.90 for an average household). Much of the revenue will be invested in renewable energy programs, cleaner power generation, grants to help companies reduce emissions, and helping businesses and workers learn to operate in clean energy industries.

For additional information see: Bloomberg

Europe Unsure about Contributions to Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund was established at the 2011 international climate talks in Durban to distribute up to $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the impact of climate change. European Union countries have committed to providing 9.4 billion Euros between 2010 and 2012, but some states are arguing against future commitments, due to the global economic crisis. "At a critical moment in the fight against climate change, Europe looks to be sitting back rather than stepping up," said Lies Craeynest, Oxfam's EU climate change expert. Additional funding could come from private sources as well as from levies on shipping and aviation such as the EU airline Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Europe's Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard is fighting to preserve the Durban agreement, holding informal discussions in Brussels in anticipation of the United Nations Bonn Climate Change Conference from May 14 to 25.

In related news, revenues “from auctions of aviation allowances in the EU ETS [Emissions Trading System] could help to support climate action in developing countries,” stated draft conclusions for the upcoming European Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting on May 15. The document would represent the most explicit European commitment so far to the Green Climate Fund. “It would give a clear signal that the EU’s inclusion of aviation in the ETS is a climate measure to reduce emissions, rather than a tax on the international airlines sector,” said Craeynest. Poland and Lithuania do not want the sentence discussing the use of ETS revenues in funding climate projects to remain in the document.  The European economic recession has made southern European countries more hesitant in contributing to the Green Climate Fund.

For additional information see: Reuters, Euractiv

European Union Addressing Black Carbon Under Air Pollution Agreement

On May 4, the European Union agreed to update the Gothenburg Protocol, an international agreement that seeks to decrease air pollution by revising targets for certain pollutants, and act on black carbon and small particulate matter for the first time.  Black carbon is produced in combustion of diesel fuels, biomass and other fuels, and contributes to warming by absorbing solar energy and reducing the albedo [reflectivity] of snow and ice. “This is a significant step forward in protecting citizens’ health and the environment. For the first time, we have an international agreement that acknowledges the link between air pollution and climate change. By agreeing to regulate one of the contributors to climate change, 'Black Carbon', we will see positive impacts at both local and international level,” said European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik.  Countries are conducting national black carbon inventories prior to decisions on specific standards. The United States indicated that it is striving for pollutant emission reductions similar to those of the Gothenburg Protocol.

For additional information see: Bloomberg BNA, Press Release

Reduced Carbon Permit Prices Result in More Coal Burning

The European economic downturn has reduced the cost of carbon permits which has increased the use of coal-fired power plants. The European Union carbon permitting scheme seeks to combat climate change by capping carbon dioxide emissions at industrial and power plants and requiring them to purchase permits for emissions which exceed the caps. The economic slump and decreased industrial output has resulted in a surplus of permits and a 60 percent decrease in permit prices allowing power companies to burn more coal at lower cost and without exceeding carbon dioxide emissions targets. Germany, Europe’s largest power market, has been increasing the use of coal power since January, and profits based on benchmark German prices have risen by around 30 percent.  "If you have anything that's coal-fired in your generation park at the moment — be it lignite or hard coal — you will take advantage of the high margins and burn the stuff," a trader with a major German utility said.

For additional information see: Reuters

Club of Rome Predicts Two Degree Celsius Warming in Next 40 Years

According to a report presented on May 8 by the international non-profit think tank Club of Rome, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will increase average global temperatures two degrees Celsius by 2052 and 2.8 degrees Celsius by 2080. "It is unlikely that governments will pass necessary regulation to force the markets to allocate more money into climate-friendly solutions, and (we) must not assume that markets will work for the benefit of humankind," said Jorgen Randers, author of the report. Although many countries have agreed to emissions reductions, current efforts are insufficient to limit temperature rise to the two degree threshold that limits risk of extreme weather events, according to the report, titled “2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.”  Randers predicted that economic growth in emerging nations including China, India, Brazil and South Africa will continue to increase their greenhouse gas emissions through 2040.

For additional information see: Reuters, Press Release

Geoengineering Strategies Could Cool Climate

Geoengineering strategies that could combat climate change come with costs, political considerations, and risk of unexpected effects. Cooling strategies generally fall into two categories; techniques to block solar radiation, such as artificially increasing cloud cover or dispersing sulfur compounds that will scatter light in the atmosphere, and strategies to remove and store atmospheric carbon in the earth or oceans.  Removing carbon would be a slow, expensive process, but is less risky.  Blocking solar radiation could have unintended side effects, such as altering monsoon cycles or other weather patterns.  Who makes decisions to alter climate, and how these decisions are made could lead to global conflict. Reports from organizations such as the Royal Society, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office are urging the decision maker to consider a situation where geoengineering is required. A recent report from Wilson International Center for Scholars said, “At the very least, we need to learn what approaches to avoid even if desperate.”

For additional information see: The New Yorker

Methane from Dinosaur Emissions May Have Caused Prehistoric Climate Change

According to research reported in the journal Current Biology, sauropods, large, long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs that lived 150 million years ago likely emitted 520 million tons of methane each year, compared to 50 to 100 million tons produced annually by modern grass-eating animals including cows, giraffes and goats. "A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate," said study co-author Dave Wilkinson.  Methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.  The study results “serve as a useful reminder for the importance of microbes and methane for global climate,” said the researchers.

For additional information see: ScienceDaily, The Telegraph, Mail Online

Hybrid Bear Cubs Symbolize Consequences of Changing Arctic Climate

University of Alberta scientist Andrew Derocher was tagging polar bear near Victoria Island when Inuvialuit hunter Pat Epakohak showed him two unusual looking bear cubs that had belonged to a polar bear mother. “One of the cubs was very grizzly bearlike and the other looked more like a polar bear,” Derocher observed, “I guess we can expect more of these hybrids as the population of grizzly bears continues to grow in this part of the world.” A growing body of research, much of which comes from the International Polar Year initiative, is providing a glimpse into current and future changes in Arctic regions and their unique ecosystems.  Some animals, such as killer whales are expected to flourish due to warming and melting sea ice, while ice dependent polar bears, narwhal, Arctic cod and others become less competitive as sea ice retreats.  Red fox, brown bears, and Pacific salmon are showing up in areas traditionally occupied by Arctic animals and are sometimes producing hybrids like the bear cubs.

For additional information see: Edmonton Journal

Data Errors Could Affect China’s Emission Cuts

Statistical discrepancies in China are resulting in a large underestimation of the country’s coal use, leading to confusion and hindering China’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. In 2000 China announced 998 million metric tons of total coal production but later revised the total to 1,384 million metric tons, a 39 percent difference. Statistical information is gathered from state-owned enterprises and often fails to include totals from small private coal mines. Local governments sometimes avoid taxes by hiding production from illegal mines. Underreporting can impact policy decisions; for example, the initial 998 million metric ton total convinced policy makers to halt building new coal plants due to apparent declining coal consumption, which caused an electricity shortage in 2004. Kevin Jianjun Tu, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained, "Without regulatory authority…it's naturally difficult for the National Energy Administration to plan ahead far-reaching policy."

For additional information see: E&E Publishing

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