Climate Change News October 24, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
October 24, 2011



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Climate Skeptic Project Reinforces Climate Data

Richard Muller, a physicist and climate skeptic, who announced in 2010 that he would complete a review of temperature data that shape climate change findings, recently announced that his review actually confirmed current climate change data. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Team (BEST), as the team of scientists was called, tested common climate skeptics claims. A summary of the BEST team concludes “global warming is real.” The aim of the project was to investigate criticism of current climate science data and form a critical analysis of climate reconstructions and quantification. However, BEST discovered that their data actually matched climate estimates from sources such as NASA, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Muller’s project received $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch foundation, skeptics of climate science.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Project

Judge Says that Endangered Species Act Cannot Extend to GHG Emissions

A federal judge has removed a section of an Interior Department rule that would link the threat to polar bears posed by global warming and rising greenhouse gas emissions to their status as endangered species. The rejection of this section means that the protection of polar bears does not extend outside of their habitat, and endangered species designation would have no effect on pollution emissions. The rule was previously rejected by the George W. Bush administration, affirming that the Endangered Species Act cannot be used to control greenhouse gas emissions. The federal judge decided that because the government failed to undertake an environmental review in 2008, the issue will now be sent back for review.

For additional information see: LA Times, Washington Post

South Korea Introduces New Emissions Limitations

On October 10, South Korea announced a new system of limiting greenhouse gas emissions that will include 458 of the country’s top emitters. Under the new Greenhouse Gas and Energy Target Management System (TMS), companies will be required to reduce emissions by 4.7 million tons, a 1.37 percent reduction from their current levels. The mitigation plan involves issuing enforcement citations to companies with emissions that exceed the caps. Of the companies affected by the regulations, nearly 80 percent are involved in the industrial and power sectors. Though the system does not currently include a carbon trading system, the industry emissions caps are intended to provide the regulatory framework for a cap-and-trade scheme that would come into practice in 2015.

For additional information see: Business Green, Environmental Finance

Panama Climate Discussions Set Stage for Durban

From October 1-7, representatives from nations participating in the upcoming Durban climate discussions met in Panama City to work through barriers that could inhibit the Durban discussions. With the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012, a major point of discussion was whether or not to renew the Protocol’s commitments. The United States remained firm in its refusal to ratify a treaty that does not enforce greenhouse gas emissions reductions in developing nations. Representatives from both the United States and the European Commission have stated that a global treaty will not be reached in Durban. Given the improbability of a new climate agreement, some United Nations negotiators have suggested extending the Kyoto Protocol without nations that are strongly opposed, such as Canada, Japan, and Russia. Though many key issues remain unresolved following the Panama climate talks, negotiators produced a draft on climate financing mechanisms that was called for in last year’s Cancun Accords that outlines how to raise $100 billion annually. UN climate change official Christiana Figueres urged businesses to invest more in green technology and policies that support sustainable business practices, adding that advances in policy are also necessary.

For additional information see: Reuters, Business Green, Business Week, Scientific American

Businesses Urge Government Action on Climate Change

Over 175 companies issued a statement urging governments to make progress on ensuring that underfunded developing nations have sufficient climate aid funds by 2020, and to create agreements and financial partnerships to tackle climate change, regardless of the poor chances of a new climate treaty being signed. The communique was sent to the October 14 and 15 G20 meeting in anticipation of the Durban climate discussions. The companies noted that climate change poses an immense threat to future global prosperity, and the continued delay in progress could undermine government credibility. Stimulating private sector investment in cleaner technologies and job creation were among the incentives cited for greater government action. Among the businesses involved were Shell, Tesco, Unilever, Lloyds Bank, and EDF.

For additional information see: Reuters, Business Green, Environmental Finance, National Geographic

Canadian Companies Considering Climate Change More

According to a recent survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project, many Canadian businesses are choosing to implement environmentally sustainable practices such as cutting energy consumption and publicly disclosing information about greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. Climate change was integrated into the business plans of about 75 percent of respondants. About 85 percent of the companies reported having board members or senior managers and officers who are responsible for climate change and environmental issues. According to the report, many companies believe that “climate-friendly practices and emissions reduction can have a positive impact on their brand value.” Over one third of the companies have targets for emissions reductions. The survey respondents included 108 Canadian companies, most of which are involved industries such as energy and utilities, mining and natural resources, financial, and product/retail.

For additional information see: Montreal Gazette, The Globe and Mail, Report

Report Outlines Australian Alps Vulnerability to Climate Change

A summary report commissioned by the Australian government outlined the threat that climate change poses to the Australian Alps. By 2050, the region’s temperature is predicted to rise 2.9 degrees Celsius, causing a 24 percent reduction in precipitation. Spring thaw is expected to occur an average of two days earlier each decade. The high-quality water supplied by the Alps will be vulnerable to a reduction in snow cover, soil erosion, pests, and severe weather events such as droughts, fires, and storms. Presently, about 60 percent of the Australian Alps’ catchments are in poor to moderate condition. The report suggested building an ecosystem with better erosion control, controlling damage to the water caused by weeds and pests, researching better catchments, and including local communities in the solution.

For additional information see: The Canberra Times, Report

Study: Climate Change, Elk Are Reducing Rocky Mountain Aspen Trees

Climate change may reduce the number of aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains, according to a new study by ecologist Jedediah Brodie. As temperatures warm, less snow falls on the mountain range and the snow is packed less densely, which has allowed elk to graze at higher altitudes than previously possible. Mr. Brodie studied elk grazing patterns by setting up motion censor cameras and measuring differences between fenced aspen shoots and unfenced aspen shoots. He found that elk grazing on the newly accessible aspen shoots lowered the trees likelihood of surviving to maturity. “The main problem with climate change for aspen is not that the temperatures are warmer, but that reduced snowpack has altered elk behavior,” Mr. Brodie said. The study was published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

For additional information see: Science News, Study Abstract

Amazon Drought in 2010 Emitted More CO2 Than India

The massive Amazon drought in 2010 resulted in more carbon emissions than the sum of emissions from Amazonian deforestation over the same period of time, according to a study conducted by researchers at the NASA Ames Research Centre and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The drought released nearly 500 million tons of carbon (1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, exceeding the annual emissions of India, one of the world’s top emitters. The source of emissions was the decomposition of decaying plant matter and the reduced CO2 uptake that should have occurred—but didn’t—due to the limited water necessary for plant growth. The researchers used satellites to measure the differences in net primary production to determine overall changes in plant growth throughout the drought. While some of the losses may be recouped during the forest’s subsequent recovery—as occurred after the drought in 2005—researchers fear that the increasing severity of such droughts may be an indication that the rainforest is on the verge of collapse as a result of fragmentation, deforestation and climate change.

For additional information see: Monga Bay, Yale 360, Study

Melting Himalayan Glaciers Require Immediate Action

A September resolution of the European Parliament called for fast cuts in black carbon are needed to reduce the threat of outburst floods from glacial lakes in the Himalayas, according to the European Parliament. The Parliament’s resolution “stresses that black carbon remains as prevalent a cause of glacial retreat as carbon dioxide” and “urges immediate action be taken with a view to reducing black carbon and methane emissions, . . . as a fast-action method of halting glacial and snow melting.” There are some 8,000 glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, more than 200 of which have been declared to be extremely dangerous. The resolution relies on recent evidence from the United Nation Environment Programme and World Meteorological Organization showing that cutting these two local air pollutants could cut the rate of global warming in half during the next 30 to 60 years. This is the second Resolution that the Parliament passed in September calling for fast-action on non- CO2 climate forcers.

For additional information see: Environmental News Network, European Resolution

Study Correlates Genetic Traits in Plants and Climatic Adaptability

A recent study revealed the preferred climate of different strains of plants, shedding light on how plants could adapt to climate change. To observe the preferred growing conditions correlated to genetic traits, scientists grew a variety of strains of mustard plant in several climatic conditions in Finland, Germany, England, and Spain. Researchers were able to produce a map that illustrated the tendency of plants with different genetic composition to adapt and thrive in different climates. The results suggested that there is a set of genes that control adaptability and preferred climate, and different genes are correlated to adaptability in different climatic conditions. This discovery is significant because it may be possible to combine different sets of genes to create a strain that would thrive in changing climatic conditions. The article was published in the journal Science.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Scientists Link Bacterial Communication and Climate Change

According to a recent study, chemical signal communication between ocean bacteria impacts climate. When bacteria gather on sinking, carbon-rich particles, they emit chemical signals to one another to determine the location of nearby bacteria. These chemical signals, known as quorum sensing, affect hydrolytic enzymes in the carbon that can trigger particle degradation. If enough bacteria are nearby, the bacteria group together to secrete enzymes that break down the carbon particle into smaller, more digestible pieces. Most of the carbon particles used for congregations of bacteria are atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas. Rather than sinking to the depth of the ocean, the broken-down carbon will remain at shallower depths, which affects the amount of carbon drawn into the air and the amount of carbon stored in the ocean. The study was published in Environmental Microbiology Reports.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Changing Oceans May Cause Less Effective Carbon Sink

New research suggests that, as oceans grow warmer and more acidic, the crucial role that phytoplankton play in sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ocean might be at risk. The microscopic phytoplankton Emiliana huxleyi is responsible for drawing huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it deep in the sea. However, climate-induced changes in nitrogen and CO2 levels in seawater could make this tiny creature less effective at processing CO2, because the carbon-based shells that they form, and eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean, turn out to be incomplete or hollow when grown in more CO2-rich and acidic waters. In warmer, more acidic, more ammonium-rich waters that have been projected in climate models, less carbon will sink to the bottom with the shells of Emiliana huxleyi, as the shell composition changes with the shifting environmental chemistry. This study, published in Global Change Biology, was one of the first papers to observe the combined effects of ocean acidification and changes in nitrogen on phytoplankton.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Researchers Produce New Atmospheric Data and Greenhouse Gas Models

Scientists who monitor greenhouse gases and chemical compounds produced a new quantification of emissions that will affect future climate model. The scientists also proposed four possible future climate scenarios. As part of a project known as Emissions of Atmospheric Compounds and Compilation of Ancillary Data (ECCAD), researchers honed estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and particulate chemical compounds between 1850 and 2300 using various surface emission inventories and ancillary data. Both regional and global emission inventories were taken into account. They then used these data to formulate models of future emissions and climatic impacts based on the three main factors of greenhouse gases, atmospheric pollutants, and land use. The project also included an effort to standardize the terms used for different atmospheric chemicals. This study was published in the journal Climatic Change.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Project

Climate Change Causes Plants and Animals to Shrink

Recent research suggests that rising temperatures cause organisms to shrink over the course of multiple generations. The study included a review of fossil records and past climatic trends that suggested that both marine and land species shrink due to changing temperature, humidity, and available nutrients. Of the 85 organisms included in the study, 45 percent shrunk. The correlation between size and temperature was most dramatic in cold blooded animals such as insects and reptiles. The study suggested that an increase of only one degree Celsius causes a 10 percent increase in metabolism that triggers smaller body mass. Researchers noted that this trend is important, as a decrease in body mass in organisms such as phytoplankton would have a remarkable effect on the entire ecosystem. This study was published in Nature Climate Change.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Physorg, CNN, Abstract

Aerosol Pollution Explains Climate Model Discrepancies

Scientists recently simulated previous hot climate periods of earth’s history, after calibrating the models to consider aerosol pollution. Previous models of climate change did not account for prehistoric warm periods in which the temperature difference between the poles and the equator was less than today. In the past, scientists were not able to make sense of the data, because when greenhouse gases were factored into the model, the tropics became too warm to reflect the temperature difference between the poles and the equator. However, when modern air pollution and the relative lack of aerosols in the prehistoric atmosphere were considered, quantification of past climates and atmospheric composition coincided with current climate models.

For additional information see: New Scientist

Scientists Focus on Sea Level Rise in New Projections

According to a new model that projects sea levels and oceanic data, rather than climate, sea levels will continue to rise for the next 500 years. Long term calculations suggest that by the year 2100, sea levels will have risen an average of 75 centimeters. By the year 2500, the sea will likely have risen 2 meters. The researchers included additional estimates based on varying factors. The most optimistic model predicted a 1.84 meter rise by 2500 and the most pessimistic model predicted a 5.49 meter rise by 2500. The models were based on greenhouse gas and aerosol pollution in the atmosphere that will cause the gradual rise in sea level. This study was published in the journal Global and Planetary Change.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Researchers Reveal Inclusive Carbon Supply Chain

Scientists recently quantified the complex network of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, accounting for the emissions of entire supply chains. In the past, CO2 emissions were only accounted for in the context of the nations where they were produced, but the new model of CO2 emissions tracking also considers parties extracting fuel, and consumers of products. The calculations for the project were based on 2004 data about coal, oil, natural gas, and secondary fuels traded between 58 industrial sectors and 112 countries. This holistic analysis of CO2 emission supply chains revealed that most exported fossil fuels are used in developed countries, and that—with the exception of China—countries that import many products also tend to import a lot of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel regulation in the United States, China, the Middle East, Russia, Canada, Australia, India, and Norway would affect about 67 percent of all CO2 emissions. This study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Report

Study Suggests Climate Change Will Cause Rapid Alterations in Tree Cover

According to a new study, the effects of climate change on tree cover in forests and savannas may be much more rapid than expected. The study used satellite data for global rainfall to observe and predict which areas of Africa, Australia, and South America are most ecologically fragile, and which could readily transform from a forested region to a savanna, or from a savanna into a forested region. The results suggested that, rather than smoothly transitioning from one state to another, tree cover fluctuated between three contrasting alternatives of forest, treeless regions, and savanna, depending on precipitation levels. The study was published in the journal Science.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Scientists Observe the Carbon Cycles of Rivers and Streams

A recent study that monitored the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in rivers and streams found that much of the CO2 stored in land is leaked into inland waterways and deposited in coastal waters. The study involved samples from over 4,000 rivers and streams, as well as geospatial data to quantify the influx of CO2 in waterways. Models of terrestrial CO2 cycles typically do not account for the CO2 stored in rivers and streams, but researchers discovered that the release of CO2 from inland waterways into the atmosphere is about 0.7 to 3.3 petagrams of carbon per year, an amount that could be compared to burning about 40 billion gallons of gasoline. This study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Other Headlines

October 26: FDA's Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) Event (EESI's CFC# is 10627)

EESI, a participating member of the Combined Federal Campaign workplace giving program, will have a table at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA's CFC Charity Fair this year next Wednesday, October 26. If you work at FDA, please stop by our table from 12:00 to 1:00 PM to find out more about EESI's work to curb climate change! And remember, sll gederal employees and members of the military can designate EESI in the Combined Federal Campaign with CFC #10627.

October 28-29, 2011: 6th Annual North American Passive House Conference

The Passive House Institute U.S. and the Environmental and Energy Studies Institute invite you to The 6th Annual North American Passive House Conference. Ellen Vaughan, policy director of High Performance Green Buildings at EESI, will present at the conference, addressing the crucial role of the government in forwarding the highest green building standard to grow the Passive House sector in the United States. The North American Passive House Conference gathers building experts - from architects to engineers to contractors - to share the latest technology developments and best practices for building sustainable, comfortable and affordable Passive House buildings and retrofits in the US market. The panel will take place on Saturday, October 29, 2011 from 10:15 am to 12:15, at the Silver Spring Civic Building - One Veterans Place; Silver Spring, MD 20910. For more information contact EESI at communications [at] To register for the conference please go to:

Writers: Kate Glass, Joey Gosselar, and Matthew Johnson

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