Table Of Contents
United States and China Sign Memorandum on Climate Change
On July 28, the United States and China signed an agreement promising more cooperation on climate change and energy at the conclusion of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the memorandum highlighted the importance of climate change in relations between the two countries. "It also provides our countries with direction as we work together to support international climate negotiations and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy," she said. The memorandum did not set any firm targets, but it created a new climate change policy dialogue that will meet regularly. In addition, it listed ten areas of cooperation, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner use of coal, smart grid technologies, electric cars, and research and development. President Obama opened the conference with a speech that expressed confidence that the two nations could reconcile their differences. “Let's be frank: neither of us profits from a growing dependence on foreign oil, nor can we spare our people from the ravages of climate change unless we cooperate,” Obama said.
China's Three Biggest Power Firms Emit More Carbon than Britain
On July 28, Greenpeace released a report ranking China’s top ten power companies and their carbon emissions. China recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and now, Greenpeace reports, its three largest power companies alone emit more than the entire United Kingdom. The top 10 Chinese contributors emitted nearly one and half billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere last year, burning 590 million tons of coal, the report claims. “These power companies can and must help China to prevent climate disaster by rapidly increasing efficiency and the share of renewable energy such as wind and solar," said Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's climate campaign manager. Phasing out the least efficient sub-100 MW coal-fired plants by 2012 would save 220 million tons of CO2 annually, the report noted. "China is suffering the pains of extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, typhoons and floods, worsened by climate change,” Yang warned. “China is ideally placed to . . . [become] the world's superpower in terms of smart energy and renewable energy." What China needs, the report concluded, is political and industry leadership to drive stricter efficiency stands and the “rapid development” of renewable energy generation.
McKinsey: Efficiency Could Cut Energy Use 23 Percent by 2020
On July 29, McKinsey and Company released its report “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy,” expanding on their 2007 analysis for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report found that by 2020, the United States could reduce its energy demand 23 percent through energy efficiency measures. This is equivalent to 9.1 quads (quadrillion BTUs or British thermal units) in end use energy and 18.4 quads in primary energy, “potentially abating up to 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gasses annually,” the report noted. These same measures could lead to an estimated $1.2 trillion in savings with an upfront investment of $520 billion. “If we do nothing, we will waste $1.2 trillion of energy," McKinsey partner Ken Ostrowski said. “That investment pays back – it's one of the few that generate environmental benefits and economic cost returns.” Unlocking the potential requires “addressing all barriers in a holistic rather than piecemeal fashion.” Some of the means to overcome these barriers include information and education, incentives and financing, codes and standards, and centralized third party involvement. “In the nation’s pursuit of energy affordability, climate change mitigation, and energy security, energy efficiency stands out as the single most promising resource,” the report concluded.
Public Want More Government Action on Climate Change
On July 29, a poll released by the University of Maryland found that the majority of people worldwide feel their government should put a higher priority on addressing climate change. On average across all nations polled, 60 percent want climate change to get a higher priority, 12 percent want a lower priority, and 18 percent think the current priority is about right. The poll was conducted between April 4 and July 9 by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, and included respondents from 19 nations. "Many government leaders express worry that their publics are not really ready to absorb the hardships that would come with addressing climate change," said Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, "but most people around the world appear to be impatient that their government is not doing enough to address the problem of climate change." Fifteen of the 19 nations polled had majorities that felt their governments should place higher priority on climate change, including the United States at 52 percent. When asked how high a priority their government should place on climate change on a scale of 1-10, the mean response was 7.33. The United States had the lowest individual average at 4.91, one of three nations with an average below six.
EU Environment Ministers Unite on Climate Change Action
On July 25, European Union (EU) Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas stated at a meeting of EU environmental delegates in Sweden that the EU should continue to move toward a low carbon economy, despite the global financial crisis. He noted that participating in a low carbon economy would allow the EU to take advantage of fast-growing renewable energy markets. The delegates also discussed creation of a fund to support developing countries’ fight against climate change, as well as increasing the EU’s goal to a 30 percent reduction below 1990 levels up from the current goal of a 20 percent reduction. “We will use the increase from 20 to 30 percent as a lever to gain adequate offers from other countries," said Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s Environment Minister. The delegates met in preparation for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting set to take place in Copenhagen in December.
UN's Ban Urges China to Step Up on Climate Change
On July 24, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that a global treaty at this year’s climate negotiations could not be reached without Chinese leadership. "Without China, there can be no success this year on a new global climate framework," he said. Ban did not call for specific emission cuts from China, but urged China to reduce its carbon emissions. “Strong signals from China on mitigation actions announced before Copenhagen will help push the negotiating process forward. They can also direct responsibility to other key countries to do more,” he said. Officials from China responded, saying that developed nations have been responsible for most of the CO2 already in the atmosphere and therefore must take the leadership role and drastically reduce their carbon emissions. “The Chinese government supports the leading role of the United Nations in pushing forward international cooperation on climate change,” said Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. “Developed nations must earnestly help developing nations in funding, technology and energy construction. This will be beneficial to realizing sustainable global development.”
Warming Speeds CO2 Release from Soil
In the July 30 issue of Nature, researchers concluded that global warming is speeding up the release of CO2 from frozen peatland in the sub-Arctic region. The scientists conducted the study in northern Sweden over the past 8 years and concluded that emissions were extremely sensitive to temperature. The peatlands, containing one-third of the world's soil organic carbon show sensitivity to “a much larger extent than was previously thought,” the report stated. A 1°C increase could double emissions and eliminate the European Union’s objective of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 92 million tons annually, researchers warned. If temperatures continue to rise, there is a danger that this phenomenon could be reinforced as emissions further increase. “Our findings suggest a large, long-lasting, positive feedback of carbon stored in northern peatlands to the global climate system,” said Ellen Dorrepaal, the lead author at Amsterdam University.
Next Five Years Will Warm Faster Than Predicted
On July 27, it was announced in research to be published in Geophysical Research Letters suggests global warming is set to accelerate over the next five years. The work is the first to aggregate the impacts of CO2 emissions, solar and volcanic activity, and the Pacific wind currents known as El Niño. In recent years, solar and El Niño activity had waned, masking the true impact of greenhouse gas emissions, researchers said. Climatologists have recently announced that a new El Niño period is about to begin and that cyclical solar activity is set to increase, causing temperatures to rise at 150 percent of the rate predicted by the IPCC, the research projects. Commenting on the report, Gareth Jones from the UK’s Met Office said, "The amount of warming we expect from human impacts is so huge that any natural phenomenon in the future is unlikely to counteract it in the long term.”
New Method for Cleaner and More Efficient CO2 Capture
On July 22, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California announced that one of its researchers had found a more effective way to separate CO2 from its pollution source. LLNL scientist Amitesh Maiti developed a screening method that uses ionic liquids, a type of molten salt that liquefies under the boiling point of water, to separate the CO2. The process is cleaner and more efficient than the current technology for separating CO2, which is corrosive and effective only under certain conditions. “It's a great advantage to have a method that can quickly and accurately compute CO2 solubility in any solvent, especially under the range of pressures and temperatures as would be found in a coal-fired power plant,” Maiti said. ‘With ionic liquids serving as the solvent, the process could be a lot cleaner and more accessible than what is used today.”
Deforestation Emissions on the Rise
In the July 21 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, researchers concluded that deforestation has moved into higher biomass regions, leading to higher emissions. Deforestation currently contributes more than 20 percent of global carbon emissions; with denser forests falling, emissions could rise to 25 percent. "The arc of deforestation started out in the southeast, where forests contain less biomass," said co-author Greg Asner, from the Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford, California. "Now people are moving north and west into the higher biomass forests.” The researchers looked at Brazilian deforestation data from 2001–2007. The areas most likely to be cleared are those that are not formally protected – but these contain 25 percent more carbon than areas cleared in 2001, according to the study. As deforestation moves from the forest outskirts to the interior, the vegetation has higher carbon content.
New Study Backs UN Panel on Ocean Rise
On July 29, a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience projected that sea level rise will be between 7 and 82 centimeters by 2100, confirming what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2007. Dr. Mark Siddall from the University of Bristol and his team of researchers used fossil core data and temperature records to make their predictions compared to climate models used by the IPCC. “Given that the two approaches are entirely independent of each other, this result strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results. It is of vital importance that this semi-empirical result, based on a wealth of data from fossil corals, converges so closely with the IPCC estimates,” said Siddall. “Furthermore, as the time constant of the sea level response is 2,900 years, our model indicates that the impact of twentieth-century warming on sea level will continue for many centuries into the future. It will therefore constitute an important component of climate change in the future.” He said that the ocean will experience an inertia effect, as emissions produced in the 21st century will cause sea level rise into the 22nd century.
National Academy of Sciences Releases Report on America's Energy Future
On July 28, the National Academy of Sciences released a report entitled America's Energy Future: Technology And Transformation, which concluded that the United States could use existing and emerging technology to improve energy efficiency, find new sources of energy and decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The report noted that it is crucial for the United States to act before 2020. "Fully deploying these technologies in buildings alone could save enough power to eliminate the need for new electricity generating plants to meet growing U.S. demand," the report said. It also cautioned that there are limits to replacing the use of gasoline in cars in the short term, but that solutions do exist in the long term. The United States must expand the electricity grid to be able to deal with new power sources, the report suggested, and it should enact policies to remove barriers for renewable energy. Rather than choosing winners and losers, the report advocated a portfolio approach to energy sources.