Climate Change News May 7, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
May 7, 2012


Fewer Satellites to Limit Weather and Climate Change Data

United States Earth-observation satellite capacity could decrease by 75 percent by 2020, as new missions to replace older satellites are affected by budget cuts, launch failure, mission cancellations and other problems, according to a National Resource Council (NRC) study sponsored by the  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Dennis Hartmann, chair of the committee that wrote the report, cautioned, "The projected loss of observing capability will have profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards. Our ability to measure and understand changes in Earth's climate and life support systems will also degrade." Observation satellites are used to measure sea surface temperatures and sea level, predict and track hurricanes, make long-term forecasts, issue severe weather warnings, track atmospheric carbon dioxide, and pick up signals from emergency beacons.

For additional information see: New York Times, PhysOrg, Report

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Benefiting Northeastern Economies

Non-profit organization Environment Northeast has released a report citing “significant economic benefits in participating states” as a result of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which invests revenue from auctions of carbon allowances in clean energy programs.  To date, the program has generated $1 billion from carbon auctions in ten states including Connecticut, New York and Maryland. It has added $1.7 billion in net value to state economies and created 17,100 “job years” (each job year represents one fulltime job for one year). According to the report, lowering the emissions cap to 106 million tons (current emission levels), would mean “. . . an additional $4.7 billion to invest in programs that could add $11.6 billion in net value to state economies and create over 82,000 job years of employment across the region [by 2020].”

For additional information see: New Haven Register, Report

Emissions May Increase More than Expected

A report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicts that despite voluntary emissions targets set at the Cancun climate negotiations in 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions will be at least 50.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year by 2020. That is 2.5 billion metric tons more than the Agency predicted in 2010, and 7 to 11 billion metric tons more than the limit scientists have established to prevent runaway climate change. Much of the increase comes from emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil that have not set hard caps on emissions.

For additional information see: Reuters, PBL

Climate Change a Leading Security Concern, says Defense Secretary Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” during a May 2 speech at an Environmental Defense Fund reception recognizing Department of Defense (DOD) clean energy initiatives. “We are working to be a leader and a bold innovator in environmental stewardship, energy efficiency and energy security,” said Panetta.  The DOD plans to invest heavily in clean energy initiatives over the next fiscal year, including spending $1 billion on projects to develop hybrid electric drives for ships and improve efficiency of generators, aircraft and combat vehicles. Financial considerations, such as fluctuating fuel costs, add to the need for energy efficiency. In addition to energy considerations, the DOD expects climate change effects such as sea level rise, drought, and more frequent natural disasters to increase demand for military assistance.

For additional information see: Department of Defense News, National Defense Magazine

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Linked Economic Growth

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that economic growth has a greater impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than volcanic eruptions, El Nino, and world population, all factors that had been thought to affect emission levels, according to a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy.  Each year between 1958 and 2010 that included GDP above the overall economic trend saw increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). For every $10 trillion in U.S. dollars that global GDP deviates from trend, CO2 levels deviate from trend about one-half part per million. Researchers observed that countries would need to make enormous changes to significantly reduce GHG emissions, and suggested a carbon tax to incentivize reducing emissions. "If 'business as usual' conditions continue, economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or even bigger will be needed to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2," said study co-author José Tapia Granados.  

For additional information see: ScienceDaily, UPI, Press Release

European Union Could Increase Emissions Targets for Minimal Cost

Raising Europe’s carbon reduction target for 2020 from 20 to 30 percent will cost European Union (EU) countries under 0.04 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), with some member states receiving a net benefit, according to research recently published by  Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).  According to Guy Turner, a researcher at BNEF, Our analysis shows that increasing the 2020 target to 30 percent from the current 20 percent would result in an additional cost of €3.5 billion on average per year for the EU as a whole, from 2011 to 2020. This is equivalent to 0.03-0.04 percent of EU GDP, or €7 to €9 per inhabitant per year. Clearly, a more ambitious policy would not be nearly as painful as some countries fear.”  Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia would receive an economic benefit by selling surplus carbon allowances to other EU countries.  France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom face the greatest costs, with between €1.1 billion and €2.5 billion per year of cost each, a maximum of 0.05 percent of GDP.

For additional information see: Green Chip Stocks, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BusinessGreen

South Korea National Assembly Approves Carbon Cap and Trade

The South Korean National Assembly voted 148-0 with three abstentions in a bipartisan move to establish a national carbon emissions cap and trade system by 2015. “The bill is needed to cope with global climate change and, domestically to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas efficiently,” said Kim Jae Kyung, a member of the ruling New Frontier Party. South Korea hopes the law will benefit its businesses by encouraging energy efficiency and the export of greener products.  Specifics have yet to be finalized, but the new system is expected cover approximately 60 percent of the country's carbon output by focusing on industrial operations producing more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. To meet the requirements, firms will be able to trade emissions permits or buy carbon offsets from overseas, although 95 percent of the permits will be allocated for free during the first six years.  South Korea is currently the eighth largest carbon emitter and has set a goal to reduce emissions by 30 percent from projected levels by 2020.  

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg, BusinessGreen

ADB: Climate Change Threatens Asian Long-Term Economic Security

Climate change poses the greatest long-term systemic threat to Asia’s economic security and prosperity, according to Bindu Lohani, Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).  Most vulnerable are low-lying regions of Southeast Asia faced with rising sea levels, but by investing 0.2 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) in building new sea walls and growing new drought- and heat-resistant crops, Asian countries can increase social, economic and physical security. “The most immediate short-term threat to Asian economic growth is global uncertainty. But in the longer term the greatest challenge to Asia is undoubtedly from climate change,” said Lohani. ADB projects that Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines will lose 6.7 percent of GDP by 2100 if governments do not address climate change. International funds such as the Green Climate Fund, which was designed to finance up to $100 billion worth of environmental projects in emerging markets, can help ease the transition.

For additional information see: Emerging Markets

Workshop Discusses Climate Change in Asia

Researchers met in Bangkok, Thailand last month at the Climate Smart Agriculture in Asia workshop to discuss farming practices and technologies that could help the region cope with global warming impacts.  Climate change could reduce agricultural productivity in South and Southeast Asia by as much as 50 percent in the next 30 years.  Intense floods, droughts and increased salinity caused by climate change are predicted to threaten the “world’s rice bowl” unless action is taken soon.  The group discussed using recharge basins to prevent flooding and to provide a source of water to farmers. They also weighed asking farmers to alternately flood and dry rice fields to reduce methane emissions.  Attendees stressed that there is no single solution and that diverse structural and non-structural methods such as levees, land use or climate change adaptation strategies will need to be implemented.  

For additional information see: National Geographic

Canadian Business Must Better Prepare for Climate Change

A new report released by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a Canadian advisory panel, said that limited consideration and disclosure of risks associated with climate change is a financial danger to Canadian companies.  "The failure of businesses to adapt to future climate realities has implications for their bottom line, for their investors, customers, workforce, and ultimately, for our economy and society," stated the report. Climate-related problems have already impacted Canadian businesses, including mountain pine beetle damage in British Columbia and drought in the Canadian Prairie. The report stated, "Better enforcement of disclosure requirements is necessary, as are effective approaches for companies to demonstrate the value of climate-change risk management and adaptation actions to investors."

For additional information see: Montreal Gazette, Report

Pacific Islands May Warm Slower, Provide Refuge for Coral Reefs

Central Tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures are expected to rise almost three degrees Celsius, causing local corals to bleach and die.  According to a report published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) have identified a group of Pacific islands that are close to the equator, where local effects slow warming and provide a refuge for coral reef ecosystems.  As the Equatorial Undercurrent hits the islands, cooler, nutrient rich water is pushed up at the western side of the islands. This provides nutrients for corals, plants and other marine organisms, but it also suppresses local temperature rise to 0.7 degrees Celsius per century, providing a buffer against climate change. “This may allow corals and their symbiotic algae a better chance to adapt and survive," said WHOI climate scientist Kristopher Karnauskas.

For additional information see: ScienceDaily

Experiments Underestimate Climate Change Effects on Plants

In a study published in the journal Nature, scientists compared plant sensitivity in climate change experiments, measured as shifts in plant leafing and flowering timing, to shifts observed in long-term records, and found that experiments tend to significantly underestimate plant sensitivity to climate change.  Inconsistent plant responses to specific warming strategies, such as heating with coils in the ground or heating above ground, and inaccurate temperature measurement contributed significantly to the discrepancy. "These findings have extensive consequences for predictions of species diversity, ecosystem services and global models of future change. Long-term records appear to be converging on a consistent average response to climate change, but future plant and ecosystem responses to warming may be much higher than previously estimated from experimental data," said Elsa Cleland, a study senior author.

For additional information see: ScienceDaily

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Writers: Justin Jones and Zuzana Culakova

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