Climate Change News September 25, 2009

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
September 25, 2009

Editor's Note: Beginning with next week's issue, Climate Change News will be published on Monday morning.



World Leaders Meet to Discuss Climate Plan at UN Summit

On September 22, world leaders gathered in New York City for the United Nations (UN) Forum on Climate Change to build momentum for an international climate change agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the conference to break the diplomatic stalemate in climate change negotiations between developed and developing nations. “The world's glaciers are now melting faster than human progress to protect them – or us,” he said in the summit’s opening speech.

Numerous speeches addressed the urgent nature of climate change and the need to take substantial action at Copenhagen. “Unease is no excuse for inaction,” President Obama warned, and the world “cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy said, “The time has passed for diplomatic tinkering, for narrow bargaining. The time has come for courage, mobilization and collective ambition.” New negotiation positions were also stated, including Chinese President Hu Jintao’s pledge to reduce China’s carbon intensity by 2020 (see below). Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also reaffirmed his commitment to reduce Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below the 1990 baseline by 2020 if an international climate deal is struck in Copenhagen.

Ban said he thought the summit was successful. “I am convinced that something missing from the last few months has returned,” he said. “This summit has put wind in our sails.” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said the gridlock has been broken and expressed interest in inviting world leaders to the Copenhagen talks now that a deal may be negotiated there.

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

Chinese President Pledges to Curb Carbon Dioxide Emissions at UN Summit

On September 22, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged China would reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 2020 at the United Nations Forum on Climate Change. “We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of [gross domestic product] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level,” Hu said. He did not specify the actual reduction China is considering, instead committing to a reduction of a “notable margin.” The proposal is unlikely to mean an overall reduction in emissions, as China's economy is expected to continue to grow rapidly. Hu also pledged to "vigorously develop" renewable and nuclear energy and restated China's position that developed nations should do more than developing nations to fight climate change, as they are historically responsible for a greater amount of emissions.

For additional information see: New York Times, BBC, The Telegraph, Reuters

World's CO2 Emissions Set for Biggest Drop in 40 Years

On September 21, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that global CO2 emissions will fall 2.6 percent in 2009, the largest drop in over forty years. “The biggest fall (in about forty years) was in 1981, at 1.3 percent, after oil price shocks and economic troubles,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “We estimate this year the fall will be around twice that.” Birol said the primary factor for the reduction is the global recession, but that an “unprecedented” one quarter of the fall is due to government energy and climate regulations. He said the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, the Obama administration’s vehicular fuel efficiency standards, and China’s energy efficiency targets are the government policies with the largest impact. Birol concluded, “This fall in emissions and in investment in fossil fuels will only have meaning with agreement in Copenhagen which provides a low-carbon signal to investors.” The IEA’s full report will be released in October before the next round of international climate change negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand.

For additional information see: New York Times, Reuters, Financial Times, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Concludes

On September 17-18, the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate was held in Washington, DC. The MEF is an informal meeting between the world’s top 17 emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Todd Stern, U.S. State Department Special Envoy on Climate Change, said a few “concrete initiatives” were developed at the MEF that could be used to bridge differences in the negotiations for an international climate change agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December. The talks specifically focused on adaptation, technology transfer, and the measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG emissions, he said. Stern concluded, “There are plenty of differences that remain,” and that while the MEF was successful at narrowing the differences, “the narrowing doesn't mean the differences have disappeared.”

For additional information see: India Times, U.S. State Department, Business Standard

EPA Finalizes Nation's First Greenhouse Gas Reporting System

On September 22, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released details of their new reporting system for tracking the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from large polluters in the United States. Under the new rules, facilities which emit over 25,000 tons of CO2, such as power plants and refineries, will be required to report their GHG emissions to the EPA beginning in January, 2011. At this level, the reporting system will cover approximately 10,000 facilities which are responsible for 85 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. “This is a major step forward in our effort to address the greenhouse gases polluting our skies,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “The American public, and industry itself, will finally gain critically important knowledge and with this information we can determine how best to reduce those emissions.”

For additional information see: Environmental Protection Agency, Reuters, New York Times

Airlines Vow to Halve Carbon Emissions by 2050

On September 22, members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry’s main trade group, vowed at the United Nation’s (UN) Forum on Climate Change to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent below a 2005 baseline by 2050. IATA members also pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 1.5 percent per year over the next decade and to achieve carbon neutral growth by 2020. In return for taking these steps, the IATA recommended the airline industry be exempted from inclusion in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme in 2012. British Airways CEO Willie Walsh said, “International aviation emissions were not included in the Kyoto Protocol 12 years ago. Now we have a chance to rectify that omission, and we must seize it . . . . Our proposals represent the most environmentally effective and practical means of reducing aviation's carbon impact . . . . They are the best option for the planet and we urge the UN to adopt them.” This new pledge comes just weeks after the UK Climate Change Committee urged its delegates set a cap on GHG emissions from airlines in the United Kingdom and to push for an airline-specific cap at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December, noting that airlines may account for 15-20 percent of all GHG emissions by 2050.

For additional information see: AFP, The Guardian, Reuters, Wall Street Journal

Court Rules States Can Sue Utilities Over Emissions

On September 21, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled states and land trusts can sue power companies over damages caused by their emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The lawsuit was brought forward in 2004 by eight Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and three land trusts against several large, coal-burning utilities. The plaintiffs argued the defendants were creating a “public nuisance” and sought a reduction in their GHG emissions. In 2005, District Court Judge Loretta Preska ruled the issue was political, rather than judicial, and dismissed the case. The panel overturned this decision and reinstated the case. In their ruling, they stated, “We hold that the district court erred in dismissing the complaints on political question grounds; that all of the Plaintiffs have standing; that the federal common law of nuisance governs their claims . . . . We vacate the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said, “Today's decision allows us to press this crucial case forward and address the dangers posed by these coal-burning power plants.”

For additional information see: New York Times, AP, Reuters

PG&E, PNM Quit U.S. Chamber Of Commerce over Climate Views

On September 22, the California utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced it had withdrawn from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to concerns over the business lobby’s position on climate change. PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee wrote on his blog, “We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored.” Darbee said the Chamber of Commerce has taken an “extreme position on climate change” by asking for a public hearing, modeled after the 1926 Scopes Monkey Trial on evolution, to investigate the science behind climate change. PG&E intends to focus its lobbying efforts through the U.S. Climate Action Partnership whose approaches, it says, are “constructive” and “consensus-driven.”

On September 24, the electric utility Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) announced it was also leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the business lobby’s climate change position. PNM Spokesman Don Brown said, “We see climate change as the most pressing environmental and economic issue of our time. Given that view, and a natural limit on both company time and resources, we have decided that we can be most productive by working with organizations that share our view on the need for thoughtful, reasonable climate change legislation and want to push that agenda forward in Congress . . . . As a result, we have decided to let our membership in the U.S. Chamber lapse when it expires at the end of this year.”

For additional information see: NASDAQ, Washington Post, New Mexico Independent

Sarkozy, Merkel Want Carbon Tax on Imports

On September 18, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to support their efforts to implement a carbon tax, or tariff, on imports from countries that fail to back international efforts addressing climate change. “It would be unacceptable for the efforts of the most ambitious countries to be undermined by the carbon emissions released by lack of or insufficient action by other countries,” the letter read. "For that reason, it should be possible to put in place appropriate adjustment measures targeting the countries that do not implement or fail to support this accord.” Sarkozy has repeatedly called for a European Union carbon tax on imports from countries not taking actions to address climate change; but this represents the first time Merkel has spoken out in favor as well.

For additional information see: AFP, Deutsche Welle

Small Island Nations Urge Rich to Limit Warming

On September 21, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a collection of 42 states, called for a climate pact that ensures global warming is kept below 1.5°C. The meeting convened one day before the United Nations Forum on Climate Change in New York in order to negotiate a collective position on climate change. "Now is the time for action," said Prime Minister of Grenada and Chair of AOSIS, Tilman Thomas. “There is no more time left for inaction as our survival depends on 1.5 to stay alive.” Their target is more ambitious than the one agreed to earlier this summer by several world leaders, who agreed to keep temperatures from rising more than 2°C. “We know it's a battle, but we have to be realistic," Tillman said about getting the rich countries to agree to AOSIS’s position. "We are already being threatened at this stage, so for us, 1.5°(C) is a compromise."

For additional information see: Reuters, Xinhua, Alliance of Small Island States

Norway to Consider Increasing 2020 Emission Cuts

On September 21, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced Norway is willing to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beyond its stated target of a 30 percent reduction below the 1990 baseline by 2020 if it helps delegates conclude an international climate change agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December. “If it contributes to a better climate deal in December, we would be ready to consider an increase of our reductions from 30 to 40 percent,” said Stoltenberg. A cut of this magnitude would place Norway among the world leaders in mitigating climate change; Germany also has a 40 percent reduction target. Stoltenberg added, “I think we will get an agreement in Copenhagen . . . what I'm more worried about is whether it will be a strong enough agreement.”

For additional information see: Reuters, AFP

Irish Prime Minister Confirms Carbon Tax in 2010 Budget

On September 21, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced his government will include a carbon tax in the 2010 budget to be released in December. The tax is compatible with a recently released report from Ireland’s Commission of Taxation, which urged the government to implement a carbon tax and raise property taxes, rather than increase the income tax. “We're committed to a carbon tax measure in the budget,” Cowen said. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan elaborated, “I have allowed myself a get out of jail clause in relation to a carbon tax, but I am not aware of any other tax (rises) and I said I don't want to increase the burden of taxation in the next budget.”

For additional information see: NASDAQ, Reuters

Carbon Disclosure Project 2009 Report Released at New York Climate Week

On September 21, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) released its 2009 report of climate policies from the 500 largest global companies, who account for over 11 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This year 82 percent of companies responded, up from 77 percent in 2008. Fifty-one percent of respondents said their companies have set GHG emission reduction targets, an increase from 41 percent last year. Eighty-four percent of financial sector respondents said climate change was a direct threat to their bottom line, citing reasons such as the impact of extreme weather events on supply lines and potential resource shortfalls. CEO Paul Dickinson said, “[Corporations] are demonstrating they are willing, ready and able to engage with it . . . We are moving, without any doubt, into a carbon-constrained world.”

For additional information see: Carbon Disclosure Project, Washington Post, Reuters

Blair: Costs of Climate Change Deal Would Drop with Truly Global Agreement

On September 21, former UK prime minister Tony Blair and the Climate Group unveiled a new report saying a strong global climate deal will "boost growth in all major economies and create millions of new jobs." With the world facing a technological transition, the leaders will be the winners, the report asserted. "Those countries first out of the starting blocks in the global low-carbon technology race will enjoy a competitive advantage. Countries whose leaders hold back low carbon development will lose out economically," said Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group. The report found that a strong global international climate change agreement will dramatically reduce the price of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. If the European Union acts alone, the cost per ton of CO2 will be $65. With the United States, this cost would fall to $28, and with full multilateral collaboration the cost could be $4. “The enormous cost savings that can be achieved if countries act together are striking,” said Blair.

For additional information see: The Guardian, Reuters, Bloomberg

UNEP: Climate Change is Accelerating

On September 24, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released The Climate Change Compendium 2009, a collection of 400 peer-reviewed reports published over the past two years, announcing that climate change has accelerated since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 4th Assessment was released in 2007. The report said droughts in the American Southwest and Australia, acidifying oceans, and melting glaciers are all signs indicating the pace of climate change is surpassing those of the worst-case forecasts made in 2007. UNEP now believes global temperatures will rise 6.3°F by 2100 even if world leaders agree to their most ambitious climate change mitigation strategies. The report also projected that sea levels might rise by up to 6 feet by 2100, instead of the IPCC’s earlier estimate of 1.5 feet, and the Arctic may have its first ice-free summer in 2030, instead of the end of the century.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “With every day that passes, the underlying trends that science has provided is . . . of such a dramatic nature that shying away from a major agreement in Copenhagen will probably be unforgivable if you look back in history at this moment.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “This Climate Change Science Compendium is a wake-up call. The time for hesitation is over.”

For additional information see: Washington Post, The Telegraph, Reuters, United Nations Environment Program

Glaciers Melting Faster than Expected

On September 23, a study released by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and Bristol University concluded that the rate at which glaciers are melting speeds up at an alarming rate when they flowed into the sea. "We were surprised to see such a strong pattern of thinning glaciers across such large areas of coastline -- it's widespread and in some cases thinning extends hundreds of kilometers inland," said Hamish Pritchard of BAS, who led the study. Scientists used data from NASA’s ICESat (Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite) to conduct their analysis. The losses have more to do with a faster flow of ice into the sea than melting because of climate change, according to the study. "The majority of the thinning we see is not due to increased melting from higher atmospheric temperatures, but because the glaciers are flowing faster thanks to their interaction with the oceans," said Professor David Vaughan, a co-author on the study. "It is widespread and once it starts it spreads," Prichard said of the feedback effect that has been created.

For additional information see: AP, Reuters, The Guardian, Irish Times

Reports: Birth Control Could Help Combat Climate Change

On September 18, the editors of the British medical journal Lancet argued that increased spending in contraceptives could help fight climate change. The editors said over 200 million worldwide desire contraceptives, but do not have access to them, which results in approximately 75 million unwanted pregnancies each year. These pregnancies could be prevented with birth control which would reduce population growth rates and alleviate pressure on the environment the editors argued. “In tandem with other factors, rapid population growth in these regions increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, for example, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement,”' the editors said.

On September 18, Leo Bryant, a lead researcher for a World Health Organization study on population growth and climate change, said contraceptives are vital to the ability of developing countries to address climate change and policy makers need to confront the issue. The report, which is due to be published in November, suggested that while additional population growth in poor nations will have only a marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions, it will place significant pressure on natural resources. This will make it more difficult to mitigate and adapt to climate change, he argued. The study he worked on indicated only six of the world’s forty poorest nations have developed strategies to expand the use of birth control. “Acknowledgment of the problem is widespread, but resolve to address seems to be very much a minority sport,” said Bryant.

For additional information see: AP, Reuters, The Telegraph, AFP

Court Restores Protected Status for Grizzly Bears Due to Climate Change

On September 21, a federal court placed the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park back on the threatened species list of the Endangered Species Act. The approximately 600 grizzly bears of the Yellowstone region depend on nuts from whitebark pine forests as a food source. Warmer temperatures allow pine beetles that feed on the whitebark pine to flourish, causing the grizzly bears to move out of the forest in search of new food sources and bringing them into contact with humans. As a result, twenty grizzly bears were killed last year by hunters acting in self-defense. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought forward by the Greater Yellow Coalition saying the current government safeguards for protecting grizzly bears are inadequate, and that the bears would remain on the threatened species list until the government devises a new strategy to protect them. Matt Kales, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now tasked with developing the new strategy, said, “Obviously, we're going to take a long, hard look at the judge's ruling to try to discern both what it means for daily management of the bear and also look at it from a policy and legal standpoint and determine what our options are.”

For additional information see: AP, Los Angeles Times

Other Headlines

October 1: How Climate Change Is Impacting the Arctic

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Clean Air-Cool Planet, in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Embassy, invite you to a breakfast briefing to learn about the climate change impacts seen today in the Arctic. At this event, top scientists from Norway and the United States will discuss the latest research in this vulnerable region and its implications. The briefing will take place Thursday, October 1, from 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. in B340 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. Breakfast will be served. No RSVP required. For more information, contact us at (202) 662-1884 or communications [at]

October 2: Chlorofluorocarbons: An Overlooked Climate Threat

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing about the stockpile of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in old equipment and building infrastructure, and the enormous potential for these potent greenhouse gases to accelerate climate change. Speakers will explain how CFCs contribute to climate change, opportunities in international treaties and pending federal legislation such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) to incentivize safe collection and destruction, and the pros and cons of alternative gases. The briefing will take place Friday, October 2, from 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. in 210 Cannon House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact EESI at (202) 662-1892 or climate [at]

October 7: Addressing Climate Change with Energy Efficient Buildings: Best Practices from Switzerland

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Embassy of Switzerland invite you to a lunch briefing to learn how energy efficient buildings have become the cornerstone of Switzerland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels with strong support from the Swiss building industry, financial sector, and public agencies. As Congress considers energy and climate legislation, this briefing will examine Switzerland’s success in promoting energy efficiency policies and whether similar strategies can be applied to reduce U.S. building energy consumption. This briefing will take place on Wednesday, October 7, from 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. in B339 Rayburn House Office Building. This briefing is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served. RSVP to Ursina Roder at ursina.roder [at] For more information, contact Ellen Vaughan at (202) 662-1893 or evaughan [at]

Writers: Josh Cornfeld, David Sher, and Amy Sauer

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