Climate Change News October 12, 2009

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
October 12, 2009



Climate Talks in Bangkok End Without Agreement

On October 9, climate talks in Bangkok, Thailand, ended with delegates unable to produce any new international agreement to address climate change. Negotiations have stalled on what the framework should be for a global climate pact. In recent weeks, negotiators representing the United States have pushed for a new climate treaty to be based on domestic actions rather than an international treaty with binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emission caps. Delegates from developing nations are pushing to continue negotiations within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, which only required developed nations to commit to binding GHG reduction targets. "The train to Copenhagen is in imminent peril. Please don't destroy the Kyoto Protocol track," China's top climate negotiator Su Wei said in the closing session. "The reality that we face is that the cause of the fundamental emissions which result in global warming are to a large extent the responsibility . . . of developed countries," added Alf Wills, South Africa's top climate negotiator.

On October 5, 130 developing nations issued coordinated statements at the talks claiming that rich nations were “sabotaging” an international climate change agreement by trying to replace the structure of the Kyoto Protocol. In their statements, representatives from developed nations rejected this suggestion. Chinese Ambassador Yu Qingtai said, “The reason why we are not making progress is the lack of political will by Annex 1 [industrialized] countries. There is a concerted effort to fundamentally sabotage the Kyoto protocol.” G-77 Chair Lumumba Di-Aping added, “It is clear now that the rich countries want a deal outside the Kyoto agreement. It would be based on a total rejection of their historical responsibilities. This is an alarming development. The intention of developed countries is clearly to kill the protocol.”

For additional information see: New York Times, BBC, AFP, Bloomberg

Climate Bill Not Likely This Year, Obama Adviser Says

On October 2, White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Director Carol Browner announced that it is not likely that President Obama will sign comprehensive energy and climate change legislation before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December. “Obviously we’d like to be through the process,” said Browner. “But that's not going to happen. I think we'd all agree the likelihood that you'd have a bill signed by the president on comprehensive energy by the time we go in December is not likely.” President Obama has stated that he wants to approve climate change legislation before Copenhagen in order to give delegates at the conference the best possible chance to produce an international climate change agreement. Other domestic priorities though, predominantly health care reform, have kept the Senate from addressing climate change. Sens. Kerry and Boxer waited to introduce the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act until September 30. Said Browner on the bill’s path forward, “We could be out of committee . . . . Certainly, in the Senate we could perhaps be headed to the floor. There could be a leadership bill out there. We will go to Copenhagen with whatever we have.”

For additional information see: New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, AP

Big Businesses Push for Climate Action

On October 7, the leaders of over 150 U.S. businesses met with White House officials and members of Congress to lobby for a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The lobbying push was organized by CERES and the Clean Economy Network, and included companies from over 30 states and multiple sectors of the economy. “We have come here this morning with one particular request, and that is that we pass comprehensive climate change and energy policy legislation this year,” said Entergy Corp. CEO Wayne Leonard. “We want to get America back in the business of exporting technology instead of dollars.” The executives argued that climate change legislation will create 1.7 million green jobs, combat climate change, and restore America’s competitiveness. A123 Systems Inc. CEO Dave Vieau clarified, “This is not about politics; this is about people and jobs . . . . It's important that we have a national energy policy that adds clarity and definition to the longer-term prospects of a clean-energy economy.”

For additional information see: New York TImes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AP

1,000 Mayors Agree to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On October 2, U.S. Conference of Mayors President and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced that there are now 1,000 mayors from cities across the United States who have pledged to meet the Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, which was not ratified by the Senate, would have committed the United States to reducing its GHG emissions by 7 percent below the 1990 level by 2012. The mayors have vowed that their municipalities will meet this target and that they will lobby the federal and state governments to pass legislation to reach this target. “I assumed that our federal government was working hard to make sure we were protecting our future. I was wrong,” said Nickels. The most recent addition to the pact was Mesa, Arizona. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said, “I am signing up because this is too important an issue for us to stand on the sideline . . . . This is not a group without diversity, it's not a group that agrees on everything, but it is a group that is completely united and committed to this one issue.”

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, AP, Seattle Times

Apple Withdraws from Chamber over Climate Dispute

On October 5, Apple announced it had withdrawn from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the business lobby’s position on climate change. In a letter to the Chamber’s President, Apple Vice President of Worldwide Government Affairs Catherine Novelli wrote, “We strongly object to the Chamber’s recent comments opposing the EPA’s effort to limit greenhouse gases . . . . We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber’s position differs so sharply with Apple’s, we have decided to resign our membership effective immediately.” Apple is now the fourth company to leave the Chamber over their climate position, following three electric utilities who withdrew over the past two weeks.

For additional information see: Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian

Obama Orders Federal Agencies to Reduce Carbon Footprint

On October 5, President Obama signed an executive order requiring all federal government agencies to measure their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and set 2020 GHG emission reduction targets. The executive order also requires federal agencies to meet other environmental targets including water efficiency, energy efficiency, and recycling. “As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” Obama said in a statement. “This executive order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the Federal government's commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money.”

For additional information see: AP, Washington Post, NASDAQ, Los Angeles Times

Governors from U.S., Brazil, and Indonesia Urge Action on Forests in Climate Policy

On October 2, eleven governors from the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, issued a letter calling for their presidents to stop deforestation in order to combat climate change. Worldwide, deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but carbon offsets for reducing emissions from deforestation was left out of the Kyoto Protocol because of concerns about their permanence. “This must change,” the letter stated. “Forests must play a fundamental role in the effort to solve the problem.” The governors' states have been among the world leaders in reducing deforestation, and the leaders suggested that their presidents have much to learn from their efforts. “Our collective efforts are the first at any level of governance to move into what might be called the 'proof of concept' stage . . . . At the same time, we are concerned that the [United Nations] negotiations are moving too slowly and that the different national efforts on climate and forests in Brazil, Indonesia, the United States and other countries are proceeding in relative isolation without adequate coordination.”

For additional information see: Reuters, New York Times, PR Newswire

IEA: Recession Has Made It Easier to Stabilize Emissions by 2020

On October 6, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced in an early excerpt of their World Energy Outlook 2009 that the global recession will make it easier to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use by 2020. The IEA estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions will fall 3 percent this year because of the recession. As a result, the IEA forecasted that annual GHG emissions from energy use will peak at 30.9 billon tons of CO2 in 2020, down 4.9 percent from their previous estimate of 32.5 billion. “This gives us a chance to make real progress towards a clean-energy future, but only if the right policies are put in place promptly,” said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka. The report estimated that $10 trillion in clean energy investment will be needed over the next two decades to ensure atmospheric CO2 concentrations stabilize at 450 parts per million and temperatures do not rise more than 2°C. “The biggest challenge will be to ensure there is funding to back this energy transformation, with substantial support for developing countries,” said Tanaka.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, BBC, Wall Street Journal, International Energy Agency Press Release

EU to Propose Carbon Tax on Household Fuel Consumption

On October 2, the European Union (EU) European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, announced plans to introduce a carbon tax on household fuel consumption next year. Household fuels are not included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the EU’s cap-and-trade program, which covers utilities and heavy industry. Several EU member states have already introduced nationwide carbon taxes on household fuel consumption, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Slovenia. France intends to introduce a carbon tax on transportation fuels next year. The EU Taxation and Customs Union Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said, “Introducing a new tax in the EU has never been easy . . . . But it is evident that climate change is an even more disastrous global challenge than the current financial and economic crisis. It's a question of life or death for the population of the globe.” Kovacs added that he thought the revenues of the tax “should be used for climate change purposes (and) to finance the climate change efforts of the developing countries, because they need some support and we need revenues to support them.”

For additional information see: AFP, Wall Street Journal, Xinhua

350 ppm Would Cost 1-3 Percent of Global GDP

On October 6, Economics for Equity and the Environment Network (E3) published a new report claiming that reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million (ppm) will cost 1-3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually. To reach a target of 350 parts per million by 2200, the report found that the world would have to be virtually emissions-free by mid-century. If we begin aggressive reforestation efforts combined with ending large-scale deforestation, and if we can develop new technologies such as carbon capture and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere, the report argued, we can achieve 350 ppm sooner and reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change. Currently the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 387 ppm. Policy makers are working to ensure the global average temperature does not increase above 2°C which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes would require CO2 concentrations to stabilize at 450 ppm. However, some climate scientists believe that CO2 concentrations must be reduced to 350 ppm to prevent serious climate change. This new report from E3, which is comprised of analyses from over 200 economists from universities and think tanks nationwide, found that 350 ppm is achievable and that carbon mitigation is cheaper than inaction. Lead author Frank Ackerman said, “As the news keeps sounding worse and worse, what we're talking about is not that the cost of doing something has changed -- the cost of doing nothing is really what's escalating . . . . A carbon target of 350 parts per million buys us insurance against catastrophic climate change.”

For additional information see: Washington Post, The Oregonian, Business Wire, Economics for Equity and the Environment Network Press Release

Report: Fighting Deforestation a Cost-Effective Measure for U.S. Companies

On October 7, a report released by the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests backed the use of "forest offsets" to combat climate change. The burning or destruction of tropical forests is responsible for about 17 percent of global emissions, the report noted. It concluded that helping developing nations to preserve them can have a large impact environmentally and save U.S. companies tens of billions of dollars. The researchers estimated that a $60 billion investment in preserving rainforests in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia between 2012 and 2020 could achieve the same amount of global emissions cuts achieved through the investment of about $110 billion for emission abatement measures in the United States over the same time period. “It is one of the few major sources of emissions that can be addressed cost-effectively now," said the commission, which is co-chaired by former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and John Podesta, former Chief of Staff for President Clinton.

For additional information see: Politico, Los Angeles Times, The Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests Press Release

Members of Cattle Industry Agree to Fight Deforestation

On October 5, Brazil’s four largest cattle companies – Bertin, JBS-Friboi, Marfrig and Minerva – agreed at a conference organized by Greenpeace to stop purchasing cattle from newly deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest. Deforestation accounts for roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is a major reason why Brazil is the fourth largest emitter of GHGs. In a June report titled, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” Greenpeace argued that the cattle industry is the major driver of deforestation in the Amazon region. After the report was released many multinational companies, including Nike, Adidas, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart, pledged to stop buying products made from cattle raised on recently deforested land. Greenpeace’s John Sauven said, “Today's announcement is a significant victory in the fight to protect the Amazon. Cattle ranching is the single biggest cause of deforestation globally, and the fact that these multibillion dollar companies have committed to cleaning up their supply chains will lead to real change in the Amazon.”

For additional information see: New York Times, The Guardian, The Examiner

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Is Third Lowest on Record

On October 6, scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that satellites show the Arctic sea ice extent for the summer of 2009 was the third lowest since records began 30 years ago. NSIDC reported that summer ice cover in 2009 was slightly greater than in 2007 and 2008, but that the sea ice extent remains firmly on a downward trend. Arctic ice cover in the summer is declining by 11.2 percent per decade and the past five years have been the five lowest sea ice extents since measurements began. In their 4th Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that the decline in Arctic sea ice was a result of warmer temperatures caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. “It's nice to see a little recovery over the past couple of years, but there's no reason to think that we're headed back to conditions seen in the 1970s,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades.”

For additional information see: NASA Press Release, Science Daily

NASA to Begin Massive Climate Survey of Antarctica

On October 15, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will begin a six-year aerial survey of Antarctica as part of Operation Ice Bridge to determine the impact that climate change is having on Antarctica’s glaciers and ice sheets. The data obtained by the flights will be used by NASA to forecast the effects that the melting of Antarctica’s ice will have on sea level rise. “A remarkable change is happening on Earth, truly one of the biggest changes in environmental conditions since the end of the ice age,” said NASA Cryosphere Program Manager Tom Wagner. “It's not an easy thing to observe, let alone predict, what might happen next. Studies like Ice Bridge are key.” The Antarctic flights are the next step for Operation Ice Bridge, which began earlier this year with similar flights over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean.

For additional information see: AFP, Science Daily, NASA Press Release

Melting Arctic Poses New Challenges, Naval Powers Say

On October 6, military leaders from 101 countries attending the International Seapower Symposium warned that climate change is producing new maritime threats. “The menaces from climate change cause growing concern,” stated U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “There is a global security implication of the climate change.” One new threat that climate change is responsible for is the melting of the Arctic Ocean. This has resulted in the opening of the Northwest Passage and the exposure of the Arctic’s natural resources. The military leaders warned that this will lead to international competition over the new shipping route and resources which could become security threats.

For additional information see: AFP

Pacific Ocean 'Dead Zone' in Northwest Likely Due to Climate Change

On October 9, Oregon State University Professor of Physical Oceanography Jack Barth warned that a ‘dead zone’ off the coast of Oregon and Washington will most likely appear each summer because of climate change. Dead zones are areas where marine life cannot survive because there is too little dissolved oxygen in the water. Barth elaborated, “When oxygen gets too low in the ocean, it has a deleterious effect on organisms . . . . They either have to flee the area, or they get stressed or even die off. Those die-off [areas] are dead zones.” Dead zones are usually caused by the run-off of fertilizers used by farmers and can be fixed by reducing excessive fertilizer use. However, Barth said the dead zone in the northwest Pacific is unique because it is a result of changing wind patterns brought about by climate change. “I really think we're in a new pattern, a new rhythm, offshore now. And I would expect [the low-oxygen zone] to show up every year now,” said Barth.

For additional information see: Environment News Service, Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian

Dust in Australian Harbor Captured Additional Carbon

On October 6, scientists from the University of Sydney’s Ocean Technology Group announced that recent Australian dust storms may have boosted the carbon capture ability of the Tasman Sea. The scientists hypothesized that the dust, which contains nutrient-rich topsoil, fed phytoplankton in the upper layers of water, which in turn absorb carbon from the atmosphere. “We estimate that as a consequence of this extra phytoplankton the Tasman Sea will be capable of capturing eight million ton of carbon dioxide, about the equivalent of a year's CO2 emissions from a coal-fired one gigawatt power station,” said Professor Ian Jones, head of the Ocean Technology Group. If confirmed, some scientists could argue the recent dust storm provides strong evidence in support of ocean fertilization as a means of reducing atmospheric CO2.

For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, Bloomberg, Science Alert

Arctic Seas Turn to Acid, Putting Vital Food Chain at Risk

On October 4, Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso of France’s National Center for Scientific Research told the Oceans of Tomorrow Conference in Barcelona that the Arctic Ocean will be inhospitable to shellfish because of ocean acidification by 2100. Gattuso said the Arctic Ocean is acidifying because it is absorbing excess CO2 from the atmosphere. “We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realize the situation is much worse,” continued Gattuso. His team forecasted that 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018, rising to 50 percent by 2050, and 100 percent by 2100. “That level of acidification will cause immense damage to the ecosystem and the food chain, particularly in the Arctic,” he warned.

For additional information see: The Guardian, The Telegraph

Fishery Shifts Caused By Climate Change Will Hit Tropical Regions Hardest

In the October 7 issue of the journal Global Change Biology, a study conducted by the Sea Around Us Project at the University of British Columbia concluded that climate change will cause large shifts in the productivity of the world’s fisheries. The study found that tropical fisheries will be the hardest hit, with productivity dropping by up to 40 percent. “Many tropical island residents rely heavily on the oceans for their daily meals. These new findings suggest there's a good chance this important food source will be greatly diminished due to climate change,” warned lead author William Cheung. The productivity of fisheries in mid-latitude regions will increase by 30-70 percent and the Arctic will experience the largest increase in fishery productivity. The authors cautioned though that the forecasted shift in fishery productivity will have impacts on the entire marine food chain. Author Daniel Pauly said, “Major shifts in fish populations will create a host of changes in ocean ecosystems likely resulting in species loss and problems for the people who now catch them.”

For additional information see: The Guardian, Science Daily

Obama Wins Nobel Prize in Part for Work on Climate Change

On October 9, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded President Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his "more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." Upon hearing of the award, Obama said, "We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children -- sowing conflict and famine, destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that's why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy." Obama said the peace prize has often been used "to give momentum to a set of causes." Therefore, he said, he would accept the prize "as a call to action" to confront the challenges of the 21st century, among which include climate change and racial and religious discord.

For additional information see: New York Times, Washington Post, Nobel Prize Citation Text

Other Headlines

October 14: “Zero Energy” Homes - Here Now

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and honorary co-host Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) invite you to a briefing to learn about the latest developments in innovative building design and technology and how they are applied in “zero energy” homes. Student architects, engineers, designers, and other participants in the Solar Decathlon are competing to design and build attractive, fully functional 800 square-foot homes on the National Mall that operate completely independent of the electric grid. Speakers at this briefing will demonstrate that the ingenuity, technology, and resources are available today to build homes that are highly energy efficient, generate their own renewable electricity, use sustainably-produced materials, and have better indoor air quality. This briefing will take place on Wednesday, October 14, from 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at (202) 662-1884 or communications [at]

October 20: Looking Ahead to Copenhagen and Beyond - Finding Common Ground and Adjusting Expectations

The German Embassy and Johns Hopkins University invite you to a panel discussion that focuses on how the U.S. and the E.U. are preparing for the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in December 2009 to address climate change within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol. As major emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and Europe are key players in international climate negotiations. Yet, their approaches to controlling emissions remain widely divergent. The event will take place on Tuesday, October 20, from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m. in Room LL7 at Johns Hopkins University at 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Coffee and breakfast pastries will be served at 8:30 a.m. and the panel will start at 9:00 a.m. Attendance is open to all, but RSVP is required at by October 15th.

October 22: Clean Energy Jobs - Trends and Potential Growth

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing to examine employment trends and other economic indicators related to growing investment in clean energy and clean transportation. The panel will present two new reports—Estimating the Jobs Impacts of Tackling Climate Change and Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment—that analyze data for a variety of job types, skill levels, and industries related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, including investments in public transportation infrastructure. This briefing will take place on Thursday, October 22, from 1:30 - 3:00 p.m. in SVC 209/208 Capitol Visitor Center. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at (202) 662-1883 or policy [at]

Writers: Josh Cornfeld, David Sher, and Amy Sauer

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