Climate Change News September 19, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
September 19, 2011



EPA Pushes Back Deadline to Propose Greenhouse Gas Regulations for Power Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) September 30 deadline for releasing its draft rule on utility-focused greenhouse gas emissions has been pushed back. The anticipated regulations focus on reducing emissions from oil refineries and power plants, but a new deadline has not yet been announced. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated that reducing greenhouse gas emissions in power plants is a priority, and that a new schedule for the rulemaking will be released shortly. Before the draft rule could be published, it must be sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The OMB review can take up to 90 days and they had not yet received the rule. The EPA still intends to finalize its Mercury Air and Toxic Standards, which would regulate mercury and acid gas emissions in power plants, in November.

For additional information see: New York Times, Reuters

New York AG Seeks Dismissal of Lawsuit Against Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

New York State is working to dismiss a lawsuit that would pull it out of the ten-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which controls the greenhouse gas emissions of Northeast power plants through a cap and trade system. The lawsuit was filed in July, supported by the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity. The plaintiffs argued that New York’s participation in the initiative is illegal because the legislature never approved the agreement. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated that the plaintiffs were not harmed by RGGI, and that they waited too long to make their claims.

For additional information see: Times Union

European Parliament Develops More Comprehensive Approach to Emissions Reduction

Members of the European Parliament have called for greater action in reducing greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (CO2). On September 14, Parliament recognized the contribution of non-CO2 emissions such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane, and black carbon to global warming, and affirmed the necessity of a more inclusive climate policy that addresses numerous sources of global warming. Many non-CO2 greenhouse gases do not stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon, so the benefits of reducing these pollutants would be more immediate. European Parliament resolved to phase out the use of HFCs, noting that the price of HFCs would be only 5 to 10 cents a ton, compared to the price of carbon at 13 Euros per ton. The resolution passed with a majority vote of 578 to 51.

For additional information see: Business Green, Environmental News Network, European Parliament

Gillard Proposes Carbon Tax to Parliament

On September 13, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced to parliament carbon tax legislation that would price carbon emissions at $23 per ton. The government expects the bills to pass by the House of Representatives by October 11. If passed, the plan would link Australia to the European Union and New Zealand in a global greenhouse gas reduction scheme. The proposed scheme involves both a $23 per ton carbon emissions tax to be implemented in mid 2012, and involvement in a global carbon trading system by mid 2015. The goal of the plan would be to cut GHGs to 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Parliament twice rejected a similar plan put forward in 2009.

For additional information see: Reuters, The Age

Asian Development Bank Outlines Food Security Threat Due to Climate Change

A recent study from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) illustrated the effect of climate change on hunger and malnutrition in the Pacific. The report detailed how globalization has led to increased reliance on foreign food imports, and how declining growth in agricultural production since the mid nineties will be exacerbated by changes in precipitation patterns and increased frequency of natural disasters. Crop output is expected to continue to decline, while increased acidification of seawater and coastal destruction will render fisheries a less reliable source of food. The ADB suggested methods for mitigating the impact of climate change on food supply such as planting more resilient crops, enhancing traditional food production processes, and careful management of local fisheries. Weather-based crop insurance and emergency input subsidies have also been considered as approaches to alleviating problems faced by Pacific farmers dealing with fluctuating climate patterns and increasing natural disasters.

For additional information see: The Hindu, Report

Carbon Disclosure Project Examines Business Climate Change Plans

According to the 2011 edition of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Global 500 report, 68 percent of the world’s largest companies include climate change in their business plans. In 2010, only 48 percent of businesses included climate change in their business plans. Of the 396 companies included in the investigation, 74 percent reported having greenhouse gas emissions targets, and 45 percent reported reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Key reasons for addressing climate change included the rising price of oil and recognition of the financial benefits of emissions reduction. Over the ten year history of the CDP reports, a correlation between the CDP’s Carbon Performance Leadership Index and higher stock market performance has been observed.

For additional information see: Sustainable Business, Report

New Agriculture Management Tool to Reduce Nitrogen Pollution

Scientists at the USDA have developed an agriculture management tool to help farmers and agribusinesses reduce nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen is a critical component of many fertilizers, but if it is over-applied it can leach into waterways or emit nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Developed by soil scientist Jorge Delgado, the management tool would allow farmers to calculate how much nitrogen they must apply, when they should apply it and what alternatives are available. Known as the “Nitrogen Trading Tool”, it also would allow them to participate in “environmental trading” credit programs. Farmers could determine how much nitrogen to use, how much nitrogen pollution was reduced, as well as how much trading credit a farmer can earn by applying the recommended amount. Delgado has distributed the tool to hundreds of farmers, agribusinesses, scientists and government agencies.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Agricultural Research Service

Ecosystem Research Reveals Impact of Climate Change on European Coasts

A recent report by the Climate Change and European Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) project observed that the most dramatic changes to Europe’s marine environments on record have occurred in the past 25 years. Marine temperatures and sea levels data indicated a rate of sea water warming 10 times faster than the average twentieth century warming rate. Rising sea levels and more intense winds have eroded 15 percent more of the European coasts, and estimates suggested that the sea level could rise between 60 and 190 centimeters in the next 90 years. CLAMER, which involved 17 of Europe’s marine research institutes, also outlined the societal impacts of marine ecosystem change. Health care costs due to changing marine environments are projected to include contaminated seafood, water-born pathogen infections, and a proliferation of marine bacteria such as the warm-water Vibrio bacteria. CLAMER estimated that 1 trillion Euros of physical assets are vulnerable due to property damage and economic loss caused by rising sea levels and more intense storms, and the fact that 35 percent of Europe’s GDP is generated within 50 kilometers of the coast.

For additional information see: Reuters, Science Daily, Report

Corals Reveal Clues to Past Sea Levels

Researchers recently proposed that sea levels might have fluctuated more in the past than originally thought using a dating technique involving corals from Papua New Guinea and Barbados to reconstruct a timeline of past sea levels. The study of the reef corals, which are used to observe past sea levels because they grow near the surface, suggested that the sea level oscillated significantly during a warm period about 125,000 years ago. Stratigraphic evidence from reefs in the Bahamas confirmed that there was at least one sea level oscillation during the last interglacial period. These data are important to current climate change studies because the ice sheets from this interglacial period have been proposed as a model for future climate change. The study was published in Nature Geoscience.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

2011 Summer Sees Second Most Arctic Ice Melt on Record

In the summer of 2011, the Arctic sea ice melted more than any other summer on record except for the record lows of 2007, and air temperatures were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius higher than average, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. However, according to daily ice map records from physicists at Bremen University, with a week more of expected ice melt the one-day minimum ice area for 2011 will be 4.24 square kilometers, breaking the 2007 record of 4.27 square kilometers. The Arctic ice melts and refreezes each year, but scientists have recorded more and more dramatic cycles of melting since 1972. This August, both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open. Each decade, about 10 percent of the arctic ice is lost. If the rate of melting observed this summer continues, Arctic summers will likely be ice-free within 30 years, an estimate that is 40 years earlier than the figure proposed at the last International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggested that the present volume of ice in the arctic is only 62 percent of the volume of Arctic ice in 1979.

For additional information see: The Guardian, University of Bremen, Abstract

Scientists Explain Past Melting Patterns of Andean Glacier

New research has found that the three kilometer retreat of the Andean Telata glacier during the Holocene epoch has been linked to a three degree Celsius rise in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean. The rise in water temperature was the result of greater austral summer insulation in the tropics. A team of researchers used samples of rock debris left by the glacier to measure chemical elements present. By testing samples for levels of Be-beryllium-10, scientists could infer past positions and extents of the glacier, because the cosmic radiation to which the rocks are exposed when they are not covered by the glacier triggers the formation of specific minerals such as quartz. The study indicated a rapid retreat of the glacier following the beginning of the industrial era, and a dramatic retreat during the past century. Due to their tropical location and high altitude, the glaciers of the Andes are particularly sensitive to climate change. The study was published in Nature journal.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Scientists Propose Linear Compensation to Enforce Emissions Restrictions

Game theory and statistical methods, including a scalable rewards system, could be more effective in limiting greenhouse gas emissions than a fixed punishment, according to a recent commentary in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unlike previous models of penalties, which discouraged compliance because nations worried that they would be at a disadvantage as the only nations committed to substantial emissions reduction, linear compensation would involve penalties for excess greenhouse gas emissions that depend on the compliance of other nations. Each nation’s compliance to emissions standards would encourage the compliance of other nations as well, so no single nation would bear the cost of reducing emissions. The scientists noted that a system of punishments could discourage nations from involvement, and that adjusting punishments to the compliance of other nations could promote participation.

For additional information see: Science Daily

Longer-Term Climate Projections Developed

Atmospheric scientists at UCLA have developed new models for future climates that project the climate up to 16 months in advance. The new model is based on algorithms that process the interaction between short-term weather sequences and long-term climate patterns. The scientists used data of global sea surface temperatures from the past fifty years to retrospectively test their data for accuracy. The new projection method yields more accurate results up to twice as far into the future than previous methods, and could predict El Niño events over a year in advance. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Other Headlines

September 23: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will take place at the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23–Oct. 2, 2011. The award-winning program challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. Open to the public free of charge, visitors can tour the houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today.

September 23: District Energy Briefing

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on an under-appreciated yet essential part of many communities’ infrastructure: district energy. District energy systems distribute thermal energy (steam, hot water, and/or chilled water) through a network of underground pipes to multiple buildings in an area, such as a downtown district, college or hospital campus, airport, or military base. By aggregating the heating and air conditioning supply for multiple buildings, district energy systems optimize thermal energy efficiency. They also achieve economies of scale that allow for the use of low-carbon, cost-effective thermal energy sources – such as the “waste” heat from power plants or industrial processes, combined heat and power, geothermal energy, deep lake water, or municipal solid waste and other types of biomass – that may not be feasible for individual buildings. This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required. Refreshments will be served. The briefing will be held Friday, September 23, 10:00-11:30 AM, in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building.

Writers: Joey Gosselar, Kate Glass, and Matthew Johnson

Please distribute Climate Change News to your colleagues. Permission for reproduction of this newsletter is granted provided that the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is properly acknowledged as the source. Past issues are available at Free email subscriptions are available here. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and questions.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. EESI works to protect the climate and ensure a healthy, secure, and sustainable future for America through policymaker education, coalition building, and policy development in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, buildings, and urban planning.

EESI's work, including this free newsletter, is made possible by financial support from people like you. Please help us continue to make it available by making a secure, online donation today by clicking here or mailing a check to Environmental and Energy Study Institute; 1112 16th St NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036. Please contact Susan Williams at (202) 662-1887 or see to find out more. Thank you for your support!