Climate Change News May 2, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 2, 2011


Federal Legislative Action

Interior Report Assesses Impacts of Climate Change to Western Water Resources

On April 25, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a report for Congress that assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydro-power, flood control, and fish and wildlife in the western United States. The report, conducted by the DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec), projected changes in temperature and precipitation that are likely to impact the timing and quantity of stream flows in all western basins, affecting water availability to farms, cities, hydro-power generation, fish and wildlife, and other recreational uses. According to the report, areas such as the Columbia River Basin in the Pacific Northwest and the Missouri River Basin are expected to become wetter, whereas the Southwest will probably become drier. In California, precipitation and runoff in the Sacramento River watershed may increase by mid-century, and then start to decline. "Impacts to water are on the leading edge of global climate change, and these changes pose a significant challenge and risk to adequate water supplies, which are critical for the health, economy, and ecology of the United States," said BuRec Commissioner Mike Connor. BeRec has developed the WaterSMART program in an effort to work with water users across the West to implement conservation and recycling measures and promote the efficient use of finite water resources.

For additional information see: LA Times, Press Release, Report

Democrats and Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Global Warming

A study published in Sociological Quarterly found that the gap between Democrats and Republicans who believe global warming is happening increased 30 percent between 2001 and 2010, despite the growing scientific consensus that global warming is real. "Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science. As a result, we're failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time,” said Aaron McCright, primary investigator on the study. McCright and his colleague analyzed 10 years of data from Gallup’s environmental poll, an annual nationally representative telephone survey of at least 1,000 people. In 2001, about 49 percent of Republicans said they believed global warming has already begun, compared to 29 percent in 2010. The percentage of Democrats that believed global warming has already begun, however, rose from 60 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2010. According to McCright, the political polarization on climate change is not likely to go away anytime soon, hampering a “civil, science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, Report

Study Looks Beyond 2030 to Find China’s Carbon Emissions Will Level Out

A new report from the China Energy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that, contrary to popular suspicion, China’s carbon emissions will likely plateau after 2030. Researchers contended that the demand for energy intensive appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners will flatten as the market for them saturates while the products themselves become more energy efficient. In addition, roads and infrastructure build out will follow the same leveled path. Mark Levine, director of the China Energy Group, noted that China will begin to focus its energy development on nuclear and renewable energy, in addition to energy efficiency, as it implements the energy intensity and carbon reduction goals contained in its 12th Five Year Plan-adopted in March 2011.

For additional information see: Reuters, NY Times, Abstract, Report

Firms Face Substantial Fines For Misreporting CRC Data

New research from the financial services firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) concluded that United Kingdom companies could add over 5-11 percent to their energy bills and face substantial fines if they fail to submit their first Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) reports correctly later this year. Over 3,000 UK companies are expected to be included in the scheme, which imposes fees depending on how much energy a company uses annually. The companies must submit their detailed energy use of electricity, gas, diesel and coal across all of their sites in a CRC annual report by the end of July this year. Firms will be charged 5000 pounds for each late report and an additional 500 pounds for each day the report is late. They will also be charged 40 pounds per ton of carbon over- or under-reported.

For additional information see: Business Green, News Release, Table of Potential Fines

Parhelion Launches First Carbon Credit Insurance

Underwriter Parhelion has launched the first insurance policy to protect the value of carbon credits, in case the projects that generate them are deemed ineligible by regulatory bodies. Parhelion said the program was created in response to increasing worries from customers over regulatory risk in the carbon market. Under the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, countries and companies can purchase credits, or Certified Emission Reductions (CER) to offset their own emissions. Institutional investors can also purchase these credits to sell for a profit. After the European Union outlawed credits from projects that destroy industrial gases like HFC23, the value of those credits dropped significantly and damaged investor willingness to participate in the market. According to Parhelion, their new product will protect the value of credits in these situations, and would improve market liquidity. "Since the carbon market is entirely dependent on regulation, the ability to manage and transfer regulatory risk is key to participants' success,” said Julian Richardson, chief executive of Parhelion.

For additional information see: Business Green, Announcement

Himalayan Farmers Provide Early Pointers on Climate Change

A study published in the journal Biology Letters found that Himalayan villagers’ suspicions that snow cover, water resources and the ecosystem are changing in their region are backed by climate science. According to the authors of the study, this is the first time that subjective perceptions about climate change have been put to a wide scientific test, and that local knowledge can be used as a tool to combat climate change. The study consisted of interviewing 250 people in 10 villages in Singalila National Park, in the Darjeeling Hills of India's West Bengal state, and in eight villages in the Ilam district of Nepal. Researchers asked the villagers about 18 possible indicators of climate change in the past decade. These interviews were followed by a looser-structured questionnaire in 10 other villages in the area, to cross-check the results. The results were consistent with scientific studies on temperature, rainfall and species carried out in the Himalayas or other regions, according to scientists.

For additional information see: AFP, Study

Vietnamese City Examines Climate Change Risks to Development Plan

The coastal Vietnamese city of Quy Nhon has decided to consider the risk of disasters and potential effects of climate change before embarking on a major development program making it a large trading and seaport hub. Using $300,000 from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation, Quy Nhon is conducting a hydrology study to assess how future weather patterns likely to be associated with climate change will affect infrastructure development in the flood-prone area. The city is prone to flooding and saline intrusion, which could be intensified by the effects of climate change, according to scientists. The 18-month study will input data from the 2009 floods of the area into a hydrological model, simulating water flows and predicting how higher sea levels could affect future floods, both with and without urban development.

For additional information see: Thomson Reueters

Kodak Approaches 2012 GHG Goals

According to its 2010 progress report, Eastman Kodak reduced its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent from 2002 to 2010, coming close to a goal of a 50 percent cut by the end of 2012. The company has also reduced energy use 46 percent since 2002, nearing another 50 percent reduction goal by 2012. In 2010, Kodak reduced water use by 10 percent, and has implemented water use tracking at all major sites in an effort to measure its global water footprint. The report also states that 96 percent of all eligible, newly commercialized Kodak products have qualified for the Energy Star standard, approaching its product efficiency goal of 100 percent by 2012. In order to improve the environmental attributes of products throughout their life cycle by 2012, Kodak implemented a streamlined life-cycle assessment process and established baseline environmental performance data for select products, including an ink-jet cartridge recycling program in the United States and parts of Europe that has recycled over four million pounds of material.

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, Report

Most European Companies Fail to Report Carbon Emissions

A recent study by the Environmental Investment Organisation (EIO) showed that less than half of Europe's top 300 firms are publishing full and verified carbon emission data, with French and Swiss companies ranking worst at greenhouse gas reporting, with only 60 percent of French firms disclosing full emissions data and only 27 percent of Swiss firms providing independently verified information. The EIO developed its Environmental Tracing Europe 300 Carbon Ranking Index, and plans to release future regional and global indexes to provide tools for the investment community to tackle climate change. The study found that European companies still have a long way to go on reporting greenhouse gas emissions, with only 43 percent releasing complete and verified information for their own emissions plus electricity. Spanish companies were the best at reporting emissions, with 92 percent disclosing complete information and 77 percent providing independently verified information.

For additional information see: AFP, Business Green, Ranking Index

Imported Goods Cancel Out Carbon Cuts in Developed Countries

A new study found that cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been cancelled out many times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries. Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions released during the production of goods are assigned to the country where production takes place, rather than where goods are consumed. Data suggest that developed countries can claim to have reduced their carbon emissions by two percent from 1990 to 2008, but once the carbon emissions from imported goods are taken into account, their actual emissions increased seven percent. China exports more carbon-intensive goods than it imports and is seen as the world’s largest carbon emitter, but its footprint drops by almost one-fifth when its imports and exports are taken into account, putting it behind the United States in carbon emissions. China accounts for 75 percent of the developed world's offshore emissions, according to the study.

For additional information see: Guardian, Science Daily, Study

Japan’s GHG Emissions Reached a Record Low in 2009-2010

Japan’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached a record low in the year leading to March 2010. Although the country faces an economic slowdown this fiscal year, emissions may still rise if fossil fuels will be used to make up for lost nuclear power due to the earthquake and tsunami last month. Government data showed emissions fell 5.6 percent below the previous fiscal year to 1.209 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as 4.1 percent below the 1990/1991 levels of 1.261 billion tons of CO2. Japan’s goal is to reach an average of 1.186 billion tons of CO2 per year over a five year period ending in March 2013, down six percent from 1990/1991 levels. However, more than half of Japan’s nuclear electricity capacity is currently offline while utility workers conduct maintenance work and check the safety of reactors affected by the earthquake. "One factor boosting emissions is the usage of fossil fuels as an alternative. But we also have to think about the impact of energy saving and of the renewable energy sector, which is growing," said an official at the environmental ministry.

For additional information see: Reuters

First Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project Underway in Canada

On April 26, the Saskatchewan provincial government has approved a $1.2 billion clean-coal project at SaskPower's Boundary Dam generating station, which will be the first carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project of its kind in the world. The project has used $180 million of the $240 million granted to it by the federal government several years ago, but the project has been up in the air due to the absence of federal regulations affecting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired generating stations. The carbon-capture system is expected to reduce carbon emissions at Boundary Dam by one million tons per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 vehicles or approximately one-quarter of the vehicles in the province.

For additional information see: Leader-Post, Business Green

Australia’s $70 Billion Future Fund Fails to Address Climate Change

In response to a freedom-of-information (FOI) submission from the Climate Institute, the guardians of Australia’s $70 billion Future Fund said no meeting documents could be found that included the words “climate change” since 2007. According to Julian Poulter, the Climate Institute business director, the Future Fund had stopped participating in the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, a joint initiative between the Climate Institute and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, which surveys and assesses super funds' ability to manage the risks associated with climate change. ''[The Future Fund] is Australia's largest fund and its sole purpose is to plug a long-term gap on Australia's future pension fund liabilities. It seems extraordinary that potentially the greatest risk to that portfolio has had no consideration by the board of guardians. Australian taxpayers would expect that $70 billion of its reserves should be well protected from global climate change policy,” said Poulter.

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald

Ozone Hole Affecting Climate of Entire Southern Hemisphere

A study published in Science found the ozone hole, located over the South Pole, has affected the entire circulation of the Southern Hemisphere all the way to the equator. Although previous studies have shown the ozone hole to affect atmospheric flows in higher latitudes, the new findings show the ozone hole is influencing tropical circulation and increasing rainfall at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere as well. According to the authors of the study, international agreements about mitigating climate change cannot be confined to dealing with carbon alone, and must incorporate ozone as well. Over the past half-century, human-made aerosols, particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), have significantly and rapidly depleted the ozone layer, leading to the ozone hole discovered over Antarctica in the 1980s. The Montreal Protocol banned global CFC production in 1989, and scientists now believe the ozone hole will be completely closed by mid-century. "We really want to know if and how the closing of the ozone hole will affect [extreme precipitation events]," said co-author Sarah Kang.

For additional information see: Science Daily, AFP, Study

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

No action on account of Easter recess. Congress resumes May 2.

Writers: Deep Ghosh and Matthew Johnson

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