Climate Change News May 16, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 16, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


Arctic Council Reacts to Melting Ice Caps

On May 12, the Arctic Council, which includes the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, signed the first treaty on maritime search-and-rescue for the Arctic region as melting icecaps open new shipping routes, fishing grounds, and some of the world’s most abundant oil and gas deposits. The council divided up the Arctic into boundaries for each of the eight countries, but only specifically for search-and-rescue responsibility. By signing the treaty, each country explicitly accepted that the search-and-rescue boundaries would not be used as precedents for other issues, such as sovereignty, oil drilling, pollution and shipping. The treaty is the first binding pact agreed to by the Arctic Council, which is expected to come to an agreement on how to cope with pollution from oil spills and other environmental disasters as the pace of drilling increases and the retreating ice opens shipping shortcuts in the near future.

For additional information see: The Globe and Mail, Washington Post

New Report Emphasizes Need for Action Against Climate Change

On May 12, the National Research Council released a report warning Americans that not only is global warming real, but the effects are already becoming serious and the need for a strong national policy to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases has become urgent. The report America’s Climate Choices recommended the Federal government take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions and research new technologies to deal with the effects of climate change. The group of authors stated that it did not endorse any specific legislative approach, but that adding a price to carbon dioxide emissions would be essential to any plan. The report was requested by Congress in 2008, to provide information on how the nation should react to the potential consequences of global warming.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, NY Times, Report

Britain Launches Consultation on Mandatory CO2 Emissions Reporting

On May 11, Britain opened a comment period on whether companies above a certain size should be required to report their carbon emissions. The mandatory reports would provide more information on how companies can reduce their carbon emissions and energy bills, as well as improve visibility for investors on the effect that tougher carbon cuts have on their investments. The UK government suggested four options open for consultation, which included stricter voluntary reporting, for example, including targets, and mandatory options for companies above a certain size. "If the decision is taken to make corporate reporting of emissions mandatory, the regulations will need to set out what is expected of companies in terms of measurement, calculation and reporting of emissions," said the consultation document. The closing date for responses is July 5, 2011.

For additional information see: Reuters, Consultation Documents

Vulnerable Islands and North American Countries Call for Climate Action Under Ozone Treaty

On May 9, the Federated States of Micronesia and the North American countries including the United States, Canada, and Mexico, submitted official proposals that called for targeting a group of powerful greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), under the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty. HFCs are used in refrigeration and air conditioning and their production and use is growing rapidly. Carrying out the actions in the proposals would lead to the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide in mitigation by 2050. HFCs are the current ozone-friendly substitutes for hydrofluorochlorocarbons (HCFCs), which both warm the planet and damage the ozone layer. Initial discussions on the two 2011 proposals will take place at the Montreal Protocol’s Open-Ended Working Group meeting August 1-5, in Bangkok; final decisions will be taken at the Meeting of the Parties November 14-18, in Bali. “Solving one problem while exacerbating another is not acceptable,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “As we finally begin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot at the same time allow the equivalent of over 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be manufactured and released into the atmosphere.”

For additional information see: U.S. Department of State, Proposal

Report Addresses Need For Climate Resilient Infrastructure in UK

On May 9, the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) issued a report which outlined the challenges to the transport, energy, and water infrastructure sectors in adapting to climate change. Environmental Minister Caroline Spelman called on businesses and developers to increase efforts to ensure that UK infrastructure is resilient to anticipated climate change events, such as the increased incidence of floods, droughts and heat waves. Spelman also argued that even if it results in higher development costs in the short term, there are strong economic and commercial benefits for investing in climate resilient infrastructure. “The economy cannot grow if there are repeated power failures, or goods cannot be transported because roads are flooded and railways have buckled, or if intense rainfall or high temperatures disrupt Wi-Fi signals,” she said. The report contained a series of recommendations for infrastructure developers, owners and operators to deal with future climate change.

For additional information see: Guardian, Business Green, Report

UN Green Climate Fund Deadline Passes

Most countries have missed the May 1 United Nations (UN) deadline for submitting plans to help developing nations combat climate change. Among industrialized nations, only Russia and Ukraine submitted letters. However, they were only to say that they did not feel obligated to contribute to the fund. Industrialized nations agreed to provide details of their first fast-start funds by May 2011, in an effort to establish a green climate fund. The deadlines set by the UN are often flexible and rich nations are expected to submit details soon, according to Clifford Polycarp of the World Resources Institute.

For additional information see: Montreal Gazette

Chinese Airline Association joins U.S. Airlines Opposed to Inclusion in EU Emissions Trading Scheme

On May 8, the China Air Transport Association (CATA) said it opposed the inclusion of their flights into Europe in the Emissions Trading Scheme(ETS), a system that forces polluters to buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit above a certain cap, claiming that it would increase its members' costs. According to the CATA, if the ETS plan is not adjusted, it will ask the Beijing government to propose countermeasures on European airlines flying to China. The United States industry group Air Transport Association of America (ATAA) has also challenged the scheme in EU courts. Analysts estimated that entry into the ETS would cost airlines an additional $1.4- 2 billion in the first year, and eventually lead to higher airfare and carbon prices. "We don't see this as a tax or charge. It's a scheme that incentivizes the good environmental behavior and penalizes the bad -- that's how it should be,” said John Hanlon, member of the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA).

For additional information see: Reuters 1, Reuters 2

IPCC Says Renewables Can Supply 80 Percent of World’s Energy by 2050

On May 9, a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, could supply up to 80 percent of the world's energy needs by 2050 and play a significant role in reducing climate change. To achieve this, governments must spend significantly more money and introduce policies that integrate renewable energy into existing power grids and promote their benefits in terms of reducing air pollution and improving public health, according to the IPCC. Authors of the report agreed that renewable sources are on the rise and their costs are decreasing, allowing them not to only combat climate change, but help poor nations develop their economies sustainably. The report reviewed bioenergy, solar energy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean energy and wind.

In related news, on May 10 the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released a report arguing that the United Kingdom should be able to deliver at least 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. The report called for a significant increase in the implementation of UK renewable energy sources, including wind and marine energy, air and ground source heat pumps, and the use of bioenergy for heat generation, allowing the country to meet its target of generating 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. The report also included a series of demand management and smart grid technologies that would allow the grid to support high levels of intermittent renewable power.

For additional information see: AP, AFP, Business Green

10 Airlines Expected to Join Carbon Offset Scheme This Year

Ten airlines are expected to invest in a project to offset their carbon emissions through the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has developed a program under the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Currently, seven airlines under IATA are already funding various projects around the world in an effort to mitigate their emissions. Kenya Airways, the first African airline to invest in the program, said it planned to fund an expansion project in the country's 48-megawatt Olkaria III geothermal power station, and already offset 100 tons of carbon emissions in a trial in April. According to IATA, three other African airlines, Mozambique Airlines, Egyptair and South African Airways are expected to start making payments to carbon offset schemes this year as well.

For additional information see: Reuters

Increased Ocean Acidification Dissolves Shells

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that coccoliths, very small shells of calcium carbonate that encapsulate a number of species of alga, dissolve when seawater acidifies. Algae plays an important role in our ecosystem by regulating the global carbon-oxygen cycle, which can be significantly disrupted if greenhouse gas emissions continue to raise the acidification of the oceans, according to scientists. The shells completely fell apart during experiments in water with pH levels that many scientists believe oceans will have by 2100. "These findings underscore that the acidification of the oceans is a serious problem. The acidification has enormous consequences not only for coccoliths, but also for many other marine organisms as well as the global carbon cycle," explains Katherine Richardson, professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Study Claims Direct Capture of Carbon Dioxide From Air to Be Inefficient

A new study published by the American Physical Society found that direct air capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) would not be an economically feasible tool to fight global warming.In 2007, the British billionaire Richard Branson and Al Gore, the former vice president, created a $25 million prize for the first creator to develop technology to remove CO2 directly from the earth’s ambient air. The study estimated that the cost of removing CO2 from the air would be at least $600 per ton, as opposed to an estimated $80 per ton to capture CO2 directly from the flue gas of a typical coal power plant. The gas plume emitted from a coal plant contains about 10 percent CO2, whereas ambient air only contain about four-hundredths of a percent, making it much more difficult and costly to capture, according to scientists. The results of the study were greeted with opposition by several leading scientists who have championed air capture as a climate change solution, however.

For additional information see: NY Times, Report

Climate Disasters Affect Children in Poor Countries

Two studies study published by Unicef, Plan International, and Save the Children, found that there has been a steady increase in reported disasters linked to climate change over the past 10 to 20 years. The study warns that although frequent low-level climate disasters, such as floods and droughts, are not classified as humanitarian emergencies, they still have a significant impact on children. Researchers examined eight countries which experienced these events regularly, and found a correlation between an increase in disasters and diarrhea, disease, low birth weight and malnutrition in children. They also found that in the majority of the countries, the children’s education also suffered because disaster damage and illness kept them from attending school. The study called for investments to help children deal with disasters caused by climate change, such as building schools that are strong enough to withstand cyclones and floods so their education is not halted by extreme weather. "We must invest in preparing children for climate-related disasters so that more children do not die needlessly and are able to grow up, go to school and help to develop their countries,” said David Bull, executive director of Unicef UK.

For additional information see: The Independent, Study

New Study Could Have Implications for Carbon Sequestration

A new study in Physical Review E has found that the presence of even a simple chemical reaction can delay or prevent the spreading of stored carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground aquifers. The findings may have implications for carbon sequestration in saline aquifers, one of the methods being explored to mitigate rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Researchers found that strong reactions between dissolved CO2 and porous rock may stop CO2 from spreading from the top throughout an aquifer's depth, as opposed to aquifers with weak or no reactions. The strength of these reaction can vary significantly in these aquifers, depending on the rate of chemical reactions due to mineralogy, temperature, and pressure. "If one knows the physical properties of the aquifer, one can now calculate the movement of CO2 across it, and when it will begin to mix with the brine. In theory, one can manipulate the strength of reactions, thereby engineering the movement of CO2 - keeping it in one area or moving it to another within the aquifer - to enhance its storage underground,” said Jeanne Andres, lead author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Sea-Level Rise May Return to West Coast After Three Decades

A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans found that a change in wind patterns may be occurring that could cause coastal sea-level rise to accelerate on the West Coast of North America for the first time in three decades. Scientists date the current phase of the Pacific Ocean climate cycle, called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), to the mid- to late-1970s. The current phase is characterized by the upward movement, or upwelling, of cold water toward the surface along the West Coast, leading to a fairly stable sea level trend. However, when the cycle flips to its negative phase, coastal ocean waters will become characterized more by a downward movement, with a reduction in the amount of cold, dense water currently brought to the surface. The resulting warmer surface water will raise sea level, according to scientists. Researchers studied the wind stress patterns that characterize the different phases of the PDO, which can affect the characteristics of coastal upwelling and downwelling. According to authors of the study, characteristics of wind stress variability “recently reached levels not observed since before the mid-1970s regime shift. This change in wind stress patterns may be foreshadowing a PDO regime shift, causing an associated persistent change. . . that will result in a concomitant resumption of sea level rise along the U.S. West Coast to global or even higher rates."

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Researchers Attempt to Convert CO2 into Usable Fuel

A research team at the University of Delaware has been awarded a competitive grant to transform carbon dioxide (CO2), an atmospheric greenhouse gas, into clean fuels, which could help reduce the rising CO2 levels causing climate change and also provide a new method of renewable energy production. Researchers are designing electrocatalysts from metals such as nickel and palladium that will release electrons when they react with CO2, which chemically reduces the gas to energy-rich carbon monoxide or methanol. Methanol is currently used as race-car fuel and a potential hydrogen carrier for fuel cell vehicles. Carbon monoxide is an important precursor used in the formation of liquid hydrocarbons, which can be used as fuel.

For additional information see: Science Daily

Study Analyzes Life-Cycle Emissions of Biofuel for Aviation Industry

A study conducted by researchers at MIT found that changing key parameters to developing biofuel can dramatically change its greenhouse gas emissions. Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers analyzed the entire life cycle of 14 sources of biofuel for diesel jet engines and compared it to fossil fuels. The results varied widely depending on the type of land used to cultivate the fuel source, such as palm oil grown from clear cut rain forests compared to areas already cleared for cultivation. The study’s author, James Hileman, noted that in that particular case, the difference was 55 times greater carbon emissions. "You can't simply say a biofuel is good or bad -- it depends on how it's produced and processed, and that's part of the debate that hasn't been brought forward,” said Hileman. The airline industry needed to account for these scenarios as they scale up their use of biofuels, he noted. One solution to the land use dilemma would be to develop crops like algae or salicornia, which do not require deforestation, fertile soil, or even land to grow.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

H.R. 295: On May 12, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs in the House Natural Resources Committee held held a hearing on H.R. 295.
Intent: To amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to authorize funds to acquire hydrographic data and provide hydrographic services specific to the Arctic for safe navigation, delineating the United States extended continental shelf, and the monitoring and description of coastal changes.
Sponsor: Rep Young, Don (R-AK)
Committees House Natural Resources
Latest Major Action Referred to the Subcommittee 1/26/2011.
For more information:

S. 699: On May 12, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Sequestration Program Amendments Act of 2011.
Intent: To authorize the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program to demonstrate the commercial application of integrated systems for long-term geological storage of carbon dioxide, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Bingaman, Jeff (D-NM)
Latest Major Action March 31 introduced, read twice and referred to Committee.
For more information:

S. 757: On May 12, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on S.757.
Intent: A bill to provide incentives to encourage the development and implementation of technology to capture carbon dioxide from dilute sources on a significant scale using direct air capture technologies.
Sponsor: Sen Barrasso, John (R-WY))
Committees Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Latest Major Action April 7, read twice and referred to Committee.
For more information:

June 16: 14th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Policy Forum

On June 16, the Sustainable Energy Coalition - in cooperation with Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus—will host the 14th annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum. This year’s EXPO will bring together over fifty businesses, sustainable energy industry trade associations, government agencies, and energy policy research organizations to showcase the status and near-term potential of the cross-section of renewable energy (biofuels/biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) and energy efficiency technologies. The morning program will feature Members of the U.S. Congress while afternoon speakers will discuss the role sustainable energy technologies can play in meeting America’s energy needs. The EXPO is free, open to the public, and no RSVPs are required. The events will be held on June 16, 9:30am-4:30pm in 345 Cannon House Office Building (Cannon Caucus Room). For more information contact Ken Bossong at kbossong614 [at]

Writers: Deep Ghosh and Matthew Johnson

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