Climate Change News May 23, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 23, 2011


Federal Legislative Action


UK Agrees to Two Decades of Drastic Emission Cuts

Cabinet ministers have agreed to a deal that will commit the United Kingdom to two decades of drastic greenhouse gas emissions cuts. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced last week that the government will fully accept the recommendations of an independent Committee on Climate Change that extended commitments to 2027, making the UK the only nation with legally binding commitments past 2020. The committee has recommended carbon emissions should be cut to 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and eventually 80 percent by 2050. Ministers believe major companies involved in developing offshore wind technology, such as Siemens, Vestas, and General Electric, would be more willing to invest in Britain now that it is committed to expanding its renewable energy production. According to the committee, 16 billion pounds would need to be invested annually throughout the 2020’s and new policies would need to be implemented in order to meet the targets. In order to meet its goal, the country plans to replace a generation of aging nuclear power plants with new reactors, expand renewable energy, such as offshore wind power, geothermal energy, and use carbon sequestration.

For additional information see: The Guardian, Reuters

EU Ministers Suggest Carbon Price on Shipping, Airline Industries Could Finance Climate Fund

In a statement published after a meeting in Brussels, European finance ministers proposed that placing a carbon price on the shipping and airline industries could finance the Green Climate Fund, which would distribute $100 billion of climate-related investment a year to developing nations by 2020. Establishment of the Fund was agreed to at the 2010 international climate summit in Cancun, Mexico. Ministers also suggested that a cap-and-trade program on the two industries could add to the fund as well. "The carbon pricing of global aviation and maritime transportation is a potential source of revenues that would also generate the price signal necessary to efficiently achieve emission reductions from these sectors," said a statement released by the ministers.

For additional information see: Business Green

IPCC Announces New Procedures for Errors, Conflicts of Interest

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced reforms to its procedures in dealing with errors, conflicts of interest, and other procedural issues during a four day meeting in Abu Dhabi. The changes were based on recommendations issued last year from the InterAcademy Council, an international group of representatives from top science academies. “With the enhancements to the procedures approved in Abu Dhabi, we are building upon the IPCC’s firm foundations in order to make the next Assessment Report, due out in 2013 and 2014, the highest quality IPCC report to date,” said top U.S. IPCC official Chris Field. According to preliminary draft documents, an internal tracking system would be put in place to allow the public to report errors, which would be reviewed up and down the chain of command and then posted onto the IPCC website. The documents also dismissed magazines, newspapers, blogs, social networking sites and broadcast media as valid sources for IPCC reports.

For additional information see: Sciencemag, Nature, Press Release

Deforestation Rises Sharply in Brazil Amid Ongoing Forest Code Debate

New data from Brazil’s space research institute showed that deforestation in the Amazon rain forest increased sixfold, from 103 square kilometers in 2010 to 593 square kilometers in 2011 over the March-April time period. The news came as a surprise to government officials because it came after a December 2010 report that found that deforestation had decreased to its lowest rate in 22 years. Environment minister Izabella Teixeira announced the formation of a “crisis cabinet” to address the situation. "Our objective is to reduce deforestation by July," she said in a press conference.

In related news, a proposal to amend the current forest code in Brazil would reduce the amount of land to be reforested in the Amazon rain forest by 15 million hectares, as well as increase the amount of forest allowed to be cleared along river banks. Critics of the proposal said it will interfere with Brazil’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since deforestation is its largest source of emissions. Proponents argue the current law impedes economic development in agriculture. The proposal has been postponed twice, but is expected to be voted on this week.

For additional information see: BBC, IPS News

Alcoa Exceeds 2020 Carbon Emission Goals a Decade Early

Last year, aluminum manufacturing company Alcoa reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 22 percent below 2005 levels, meeting its 2020 goal of a 20 percent reduction a decade early. According to the company’s 2010 sustainability report, the reductions are the result of energy efficiency improvements and repositioning of operations to take advantage of hydroelectric power, among other changes. However, the company experienced an increase in mercury emissions and a decrease in mine rehabilitation, moving them away from their 2020 goals in those areas. Alcoa created the 2020 and 2030 targets last year, in addition to appointing its first chief sustainability officer to develop a strategic way to integrate all of the company’s sustainability efforts. Last year, Alcoa also initiated its Life Cycle Center of Excellence to better assess its processes and products, as well as its Supplier Sustainability Pilot Programs in Canada, Latin America, and the United States, to better understand the potential placement of its supply base with its key sustainability objectives.

For additional information see: Environmental Leader, Sustainability Report

Statistics Journal Retracts Climate Study Due to Plagiarism

A study published in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis in 2008 the condemned scientific support of global warming has been retracted due to evidence of plagiarism. The study, lead by statistician Edward Wegman, branched off of a controversial 2006 Congressional report he led that suggested climate scientists colluded in their studies and questioned if global warming actually existed, making it a major reference for anti-climate change activists. A review by three plagiarism experts for USA Today last November concluded that the report contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. In response to the retraction, Wegman said a student copied and pasted other’s work into the journal study without acknowledgment. "We would never knowingly publish plagiarized material,” he said.

For additional information see: USA Today

Climate Change Expected to Increase Dust in Utah

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a warming climate in Utah will lead to dustier conditions, affecting livestock, wildlife and recreation, as well as air quality and water supplies. According to the study, warmer temperatures will cause an increase in soil evaporation, leading to drier soils with less vegetation that protect the soil from strong winds in the area, ultimately leading to more dust. Scientists used data collected over 20 years at Arches and Canyonlands national parks, which they put into computer models to project future conditions. The study included sensible management techniques that could be used to reduce soil erosion, such as the use of biological soil crusts, which are able to hold up against climate shifts. The findings are being utilized by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah to formulate future plans to protect the soil against the effects of climate change.

For additional information see: The Salt Lake Tribune, Study

Study: Mass Extinction of Marine Life During Prehistoric Times Could Occur Again

A study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences has found that prehistoric mass extinctions of marine life caused by depleted oxygen levels could happen again due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations. Geologists took core samples drilled off the coast of West Africa, containing layers of sediment from 85 million years ago, across a 400,000 year timespan. They found an increased amount of marine life remnants buried in de-oxygenated layers of the sediment, which indicated mass extinctions in the oceans at a time when Earth was going through a greenhouse effect. "This occurred relatively rapidly - in periods of hundreds of years, or possibly even less - not gradually over longer, geological time scales, suggesting that Earth's oceans are in a much more delicate balance during greenhouse conditions than originally thought, and may respond in a more abrupt fashion to even subtle changes in temperature and CO2 levels,” said Martin Kennedy, co-author of the study. The researchers found that natural carbon burying, in which soil-formed minerals collect and bury excess dissolved organic matter in seawater, lowered atmospheric CO2 levels after these greenhouse effects, cooling the planet and restoring marine life. "If we are able to learn more about this effect and its feedbacks, we may be able to manage it, and reduce the present rate of warming threatening our oceans,” said Thomas Wagner, co-author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Climate Change a Contributing Factor to More Frequent Mississippi Floods

According to scientists, the increasing frequency and severity of Mississippi River floods are being caused by a combination of climate change and federal water projects over the past 100 years that have transformed the river into a waterway for shipping. The flooding of the Mississippi, as seen in recent weeks, was expected to occur once every 10 or 25 years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. However, similar floods have occurred in 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2001. In 2008, the river experienced a flood that was expected once every 200 years, and in 1993 flood waters were at levels expected once every 500 years. The construction of locks, levees and weirs, they say, has caused the river to be unnaturally constrained, leading to higher flood water levels during heavy rains. Climate change, in addition, is leading to increased evaporation and, in turn, heavier rainfall.

For additional information see: NY Times, Scientific American

Study: Sea Level Rise from Greenland Ice Sheet to Be Lower than Feared

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the rise in sea levels from the melting of Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets may be smaller than feared. The findings are based on a model created by Los Alamos National Lab scientist Stephen Price that accurately mimics the way the Greenland ice sheet reacts to rising temperatures. In Price’s model, initial disruptions from increased temperature caused a large initial movement of the ice sheet, but smaller movements will occur over the next several decades. According to the model, sea levels will rise approximately 0.6 centimeters due to changes in the ice sheet caused by thermal disruption in the early 2000s. If similar disruptions take place every decade, sea levels are expected to rise about 4.5 centimetres by 2100 from the Greenland ice sheet. Price’s estimate was also about half that of a previous study conducted by Tad Pfeffer, who calculated a worst-case scenario of a nine centimeter rise in sea levels. According to Pfeffer, “Price's study is a more plausible estimate of what might actually happen. They use a much more realistic scenario, and their model is really grounded in physics."

For additional information see: New Scientist, Abstract, Price Model, Pfeffer Study

Study: Seaports Must Improve Infrastructure to Cope with Climate Change

A study published in the journal Climatic Change found that the majority of seaports around the globe are unprepared for the potentially damaging effects of climate change in the coming century. In a survey conducted on port authorities around the world, researchers found most of them do not know how to protect their facilities against rising sea levels and intense storms, which according to scientists are potential effects of climate change. Out of the 93 agencies representing major seaports around the globe who responded to the survey, fewer than six percent said that they plan to construct hurricane barriers within the next 10 years, and fewer than 18 percent had plans to build dikes or other storm protection structures.

For additional information see: Science Daily, UPI, Study

Study Finds Violent Arctic Storm of 1999 to Be Linked to Climate Change

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that an intense Arctic storm that caused the worst flooding in 1,000 years backed up predictions that climate change will cause unprecedented and unpredictably violent weather. The study was based on the storm that occurred in September 1999 on Canada's northwest coast. According to researchers, the high winds of the storm, combined with below-average levels of sea ice, sent a violent surge of water inland that still affects the area today. The flow of salt water killed off more than 65 percent of all the alder shrubs up to 20 kilometers from the coast within five years, and residual salt in the soil still poisons new plants trying to grow in the area. Lakes that were flooded by sea water still remain saltier than those that were unaffected. Researchers examined tiny plant fossils in lake sediments to reconstruct past environmental changes up to 1,000 years ago, and found that the sea water influx of 1999 was unique. According to co-author of the study John Smol, “Every [climate] model out there predicts this should happen. . . It's another sad example of things that are going to be happening - another example of the environmental effects of climate change.”

For additional information see: The Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, Study

Study Aims to Predict Which Species Will Be Able to Adapt to Climate Change

In a study published in Ecology Letters, researchers found that expected the indicators of plants and animals to adapt to climate change may not be as important as previously thought. Researchers gathered data on over 400 species of plants and animals known to have expanded their range in the last century in a response to climate change, including information on body size, diet, lifespan, dispersal rate and reproduction. Models predicted that the species quickest to expand their range would be the ones that could reproduce quickly, disperse the farthest, and be the least picky about food, shelter, or mates. The findings were inconclusive, however. "For each group we found one or more traits that do explain some variation in recent range shifts, but none with clear influence across all groups," wrote Amy Angert, lead author of the study. According to the study, external factors, such as habitat fragmentation and availability, may be just as important as the species’ traits in determining their ability to move to more suitable sites.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Scientists Look at Marine Bacteria as Means of Climate Change Mitigation

A study published in Nature found more evidence of the role bacteria play in emitting sulfur into the atmosphere, where it leads to the formation of clouds that cool the earth, as they consume decaying algae. Researchers built off of previous work that found that bacterioplankton produce sulfur compounds through two pathways. The first is released into the atmosphere where it forms water droplets leading to climate-cooling clouds. The second is released into the ocean where it is returned to the food web. The new research identified the biochemical process leading to the production the latter along with the genes responsible for the process. This discovery has allowed them to better “evaluate the impacts of climate change on the process and the potential for its manipulation, which has been proposed as a way to mitigate global warming,” according to William Whitman, co-author of the study.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Scientists and Planners Agree Extreme Weather is the “New Normal”

On May 18, climate scientists and government planners stated that extreme weather patterns, such as increased rain, snow, floods, and droughts, are indicators of a new normal climate caused by climate change. "We are used to certain conditions and there's a lot going on these days that is not what we're used to, that is outside our current frame of reference," said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe on a conference call with other scientists, civic planners and the giant Swiss Re reinsurance firm, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although they did not blame climate change for any specific event, all the participants cited human-caused climate change as one of the factors contributing to the more extreme weather.

For additional information see: Reuters

Other Headlines

Federal Legislative Action

S.220: Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act of 2011
On May 18, S. 220 was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. Hearings have been held, and the bill is pending committee consideration.
Intent: To provide for the reforestation of forest landscapes, protection of old growth forests, and management of national forests in the eastside forests of the State of Oregon. This includes making the forests more resistent and resilient to, as well as mitigating the effects of, climate change.
Previous Action: The bill was introduced in the Senate on January 27, 2011.
Sponsor: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
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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