Climate Change News December 6, 2010

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
December 6, 2010


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Secretary Chu Warns that U.S. Faces a Sputnik Moment in Clean Energy Race

On November 29, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke at the National Press Club, warning that the United States faces a “Sputnik moment” in the global clean energy race with China. Chu said that the United States needs to respond like it responded to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first space satellite in 1957 to remain a leader in clean energy innovation. Chu outlined efforts currently underway at the Department of Energy to give America’s entrepreneurs and manufacturers an edge in clean energy investment and innovation, and defended the potential costs of climate change by comparing climate skeptics to homeowners who are repeatedly told to change wiring but keep looking for electricians to tell them they do not need to. Chu also focused on the threat of China as a technological competitor. "From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead,” Chu said. “Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it's time for America to do what we do best: innovate. As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place."

For additional information see: DOE Press Release, Guardian, Reuters, New York Times, AFP

Representatives Threaten Funding Cuts for EPA

On November 30, House Republicans hoping to lead the Appropriations Committee in the new Congress threatened to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act. On November 29, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, writing, “in addition to scrutinizing the agency’s entire FY 2012 budget, with particular attention to the agency’s rulemaking process, the House Appropriations Committee will be exercising its prerogative to withhold funding for prospective EPA regulations and defund through the rescissions process many of those already on the books.” Specifically, Lewis said that he wants to target EPA’s “ongoing arbitrary interpretation of the Clean Air Act.” He said he will refuse to support funding to EPA to regulate GHGs “unless Congress passes bipartisan energy legislation specifically providing the authority to do so.”

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who is also seeking to lead the Committee, said of the EPA’s greenhouse gas rules, “I will look at it very carefully with that in mind. There are things that the Appropriations Committee and the legislative branch can defund or modify or do things about, and we now have a ticket to the table which we have not had for four years.” The EPA is scheduled to begin regulating GHGs in January 2011.

For additional information see: Politico, The Hill

House Republicans to Eliminate Global Warming Committee

On December 1, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), current ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, announced that the committee would no longer exist under the new Congress. Republicans will take over as majority party in the House when the 112th Congress begins in January 2011. The announcement came during a climate change hearing held by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the current chairman. Sensenbrenner had advocated to keep the panel to focus on climate policies and regulations generated by the Obama administration, but House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-OH) did not support it. “The global warming committee doesn't need to be a separate committee,” Boehner told reporters. “We believe that the Science Committee is more than capable of handling this issue, and in the process, we'll save several million dollars." During the hearing, Markey lamented the end of the panel. "Some day our children and grandchildren will read the record of our committee. . . . Whether or not they see a solution remains to be seen," he said. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) formed the committee in 2007 to investigate and make recommendations concerning global warming and energy independence. Most recently, the committee investigated the Gulf oil spill disaster.

For additional information see: New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News

Republican Senators Urge Climate-Aid Spending Freeze

On December 2, four Republican Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the United States must freeze climate-aid payments to developing nations. "We remain opposed to the U.S. commitment to full implementation of the Copenhagen Accord, which will transfer billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to developing nations in the name of climate change," they wrote. "We do not believe that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars should be transferred to developing countries through unaccountable multilateral or bilateral channels for adaptation, deforestation and other international climate finance programs." The letter states that President Obama has requested $1.9 billion for 2011 out of $3.6 trillion in annual government spending. The money is part of the fast-track financing that Obama agreed to at last year’s UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

For additional information see: AFP, The Hill, Bloomberg

Natural Gas to Help U.S. Keep Greenhouse Gas Reduction Pledge

On November 29, the U.S. delegation at the UN climate negotiations in Cancun announced that it will stand behind greenhouse gas emissions cuts that were pledged at the negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009. President Obama pledged to cut emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. "We must stand behind the underpinnings of what our leaders agreed to last year," said Jonathan Pershing, head of the U.S. delegation. He also said that an increase in natural gas production due to shale rock exploration could help the nation reduce its dependency on coal. Natural gas produces about half of the carbon emissions as coal production. "One of the things that appears to be coming along is significant improvement in our supplies of shale gas, which could perhaps (replace some) coal and further reduce U.S. emissions,” said Pershing.

For additional information see: Reuters

U.S. and China Hope for Good Outcome in Cancun

On November 29, government officials from the United States and China revealed to Reuters they had been discussing the climate negotiations over the past few weeks, and were optimistic about the outcome of the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. "We have spent a lot of energy in the past month working on those issues where we disagree and trying to resolve them. My sense is that we have made progress. It remains to be seen how this meeting comes out," said Jonathan Pershing, head of the U.S. delegation. China’s chief climate delegate, Su Wei, said, "we've had a very candid, very open dialogue with our U.S. friends and I think both the U.S. and China would very much like to see a good outcome at Cancun."

For additional information see: Reuters, Business Green, Telegraph

Next IPCC Report to Include Geo-engineering Options

On November 29, at the opening of the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that the fifth assessment (AR5), due to be presented to the UN in 2014, will include geo-engineering options. Geo-engineering seeks to alter the earth’s systems in an effort to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming. Head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, said, "the AR5 has been expanded and will in [the] future focus on subjects like clouds and aerosols, geo-engineering and sustainability issues." Options include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, covering Greenland in a massive blanket in order to reduce the melting of ice, sprinkling iron filings in the ocean to fertilize algae so it will suck up carbon dioxide (CO2), seeding clouds to reduce sunlight, creating artificial trees to suck out CO2, painting roofs white to reflect sunlight, and creating manmade volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space. Pachauri said he was confident that the IPCC would live up to global expectations and would be stronger after undergoing a review that stemmed from the inclusion of the mistaken claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 in the fourth assessment.

For additional information see: Telegraph

Island Nations: We Won’t Survive Temperature Rise Over 1.5°C

On November 29, the Alliance of Small Island States pleaded their case at the UN climate negotiations taking place in Cancun, Mexico, to keep the global temperature rise under 1.5°C. The Alliance represents 43 member states, but those most at risk include Kribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Maldives. The islands face catastrophic consequences with increased sea level rise, and are already coping with eroding beaches and salt water contaminating fresh water supplies. “We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us,” said Antonio Lima, an envoy from Cape Verde and vice- chair of the Alliance. He said of the countries most at risk, “all these countries are struggling to survive. They are going to drown. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Reuters

Oxfam Calls for Immediate Action on Fair Climate Fund

On November 29, Oxfam released a report that shows deaths related to climate change more than doubled in 2010 and urged international negotiators in Cancun to raise funds for those most vulnerable to climate change effects. Climate-related disasters killed 21,000 people in the first nine months of 2010, more than twice the number killed for all of 2009. Oxfam released the report to urge immediate action at the UN climate negotiations being held in Cancun, Mexico. “This year has seen massive suffering and loss due to extreme weather disasters. This is likely to get worse as climate change tightens its grip,” said Tim Gore, author of the report. “The human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful reminder why progress in Cancun is more urgent than ever.” Oxfam said that flooding in Pakistan killed 2,000 people, and affected 20 million. Oxfam is calling for a fair Climate Fund for money for those who need it most to adapt to climate change impacts and says that for every $1 spent on adaptation, $60 will be saved in damages.

For additional information see: Reuters, Oxfam Report

Medical Panel Urges Climate Actions with Health Co-Benefits

On November 26, the Inter Academy Medical Panel (IAMP) released a statement urging international climate negotiators to consider climate change mitigation strategies that have health co-benefits as first priority. The statement said climate change was a threat to human health in many ways, and while mitigation would be costly, some of the expenses might be offset by lower health care expenses. Suggested strategies included replacing inefficient cookstoves with low-emission cookstoves, encouraging active urban travel through cycling and walking, and reducing consumption of animal-source food. The report was signed by health academies from 40 countries, including the United States.

For additional information see: New York Times, IAMP Statement

Mediterranean Temperatures to Rise Several Degrees this Century

On November 30, the European Environment Agency (EEA) launched its five-year assessment on Europe’s environmental conditions and said that children born today in Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy will witness a 7°C temperature rise in their lifetime. Experts said that at the end of the century, annual heat-related deaths could double the total from the European heat wave of 2003 that killed 70,000 people. The report says that Europe has warmed more than the global average, with average temperatures now 1.3°C higher than the 1850-1899 average, compared to the global increase of around 0.7°C. EEA director Jacqueline McGlade said the impacts of climate change were already being felt all over Europe.

For additional information see: Reuters, EEA Report

UK Will Fail to Meet Renewable Energy Targets

A public accounts report released on November 30 indicated Britain will not meet its 2010 target to supply 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy until 2012. The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) admitted they will not meet the 10 percent goal by 2010, according to the report. While DECC is responsible for ensuring the country meets its renewable electricity goals, renewable energy funding is delivered through mechanisms it does not control. The report said, "the Department does not have a clear understanding of how much has been spent or what has been achieved." Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said approximately 180 million pounds allocated to support renewable energy had gone unspent. The committee said that the DECC has been slow in planning and implementing green energy growth plans. Forty percent of renewable schemes do not get planning approval, and others fail to get adequate funding. "The Department will have to have a greater sense of urgency and purpose if it is to achieve the dramatic increase in renewable energy supplies needed to meet them," said Hodge.

For additional information see: Reuters, BBC

Australia to Price Carbon in 2011

On November 29, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that a national agreement on carbon pricing would be forced in 2011. This was the first time that Gillard’s Labor party put a timeline on a carbon price introduction. Earlier this year a climate change committee was established to investigate the best way to price carbon and present the evidence in an undeniable way. "The Climate Change Commission will carry out its task of bringing together expert opinion and public attitudes," Gillard said. "I promise you, no responsible decision maker will be able to say next year that they need more time or more information on climate change."

For additional information see: Business Green, Reuters, UPI

Global Retailers Announce Initiatives on Climate Protection

On November 29, the Consumer Goods Forum — a CEO-level organization with more than 400 companies and revenues in excess of $2.8 trillion — announced two major initiatives to combat climate change: ending deforestation and the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gases. The forum pledged to achieve net zero deforestation by 2020, and was confident that sourcing materials sustainably would not lead to an increase in prices for consumers. The forum also agreed to begin phasing out HFCs — greenhouse gases that are more potent than carbon dioxide — in 2015 and replace them with non-HFC refrigerants. "[W]e are in Cancun to lend our support to this monumental but essential task of creating solutions that lead to a low-carbon world," said Muhtar Kent of the Coca-Cola Company at the UN climate negotiations being held in Cancun, Mexico. "The initiatives that our industry announced today are good examples of the kind of bold and positive action that will be needed to move the needle in combating climate change." The forum is co-chaired by companies such as Coca-Cola, General Mills, Johnson and Johnson, Kellogg, Kraft, L’Oreal, Nestle, Pepsi Co, Proctor and Gamble, Sara Lee, Unilever, and Wal-Mart.

For additional information see: PR Newswire, Reuters

Geo-Engineering Option Should be Approached with Caution

New computer simulations done by Xi Zhang at the California Institute of Technology show that the atmospheric sulphur cycle is more complicated than originally thought. Recently, some scientists have proposed shooting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to reflect more solar radiation away from Earth in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. The proposal stems from studying the effects of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo that shot sulphur dioxide particles into the air, which then formed small sulphuric acid droplets and spread around the earth. This effect is similar to the gaseous sulphuric acid blanket that surrounds Venus, which cools the whole planet by about 0.5°C. However, scientists have discovered by studying the gases surrounding Venus that injecting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere may prove unsuccessful, because it is unknown how quickly the transformed sulphuric acid will evaporate to form sulphur dioxide — which is transparent, and will not reflect solar radiation. The scientists said that more research is needed to fully understand this geo-engineering option.

For additional information see: Science Daily

China Achieves Pollution Reduction and Energy Efficiency Targets

On November 29, Chinese government officials announced they were on course to meet their 2010 pollution reduction and energy efficiency goals. China’s 11th Five-Year Program (2006-2010) on national economic and social development set a 10 percent total pollution emissions reduction target for 2010 from 2006 levels. The Program also set to decrease energy consumption per 10,000 yuan of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent. Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator and deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said these targets have already been met. Xie also said the Five-Year Program target for the 2011-2015 period were being developed, and would also be binding.

For additional information see: Reuters, AFP, People’s Daily

Global Temperatures Could Rise 4°C by 2060s

On November 29, a series of journal papers was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, showcasing how climate change could increase average global temperature by 4°C as early as the 2060s, and what that might mean for different societies and ecological systems. The international study team behind the researchers wrote that increasing greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade rendered the target of keeping global warming below 2°C "extremely difficult, arguably impossible, raising the likelihood of global temperature rises of three or four degrees Celsius within this century." The scientists analyzed the non-binding emissions agreements made last year at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and found that the cuts are not enough to prevent food shortages, rampant spread of disease, and mass migration. While a 4°C rise in temperature was once seen as an extreme scenario, researchers argue that it is becoming more plausible without a binding agreement to limit to greenhouse gas emissions.

For additional information see: Business Green, Science Development, Science Daily, Guardian

Carbon Cycle More Active in Frozen Soils than Previously Thought

On November 15, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that catabolic (carbon dioxide (CO2) production) and anabolic (biomass synthesis) processes in frozen soils are similar to those in unfrozen soil. Previously, scientists believed that microbes in frozen soils were inactive during colder months, but this study shows that the microbes remain active. The amount of CO2 sequestered in frozen soils is not completely known, although most scientists agree that the amount is massive. A group of soil scientists recently estimated the amount to be double that of atmospheric CO2. Ted Schuur, a permafrost expert and ecologist at the University of South Florida, estimates that under thawed conditions, 40 to 70 percent of the carbon stored in the permafrost would escape into the atmosphere within a decade, and vegetation would not be able to keep pace. These findings have important implications for carbon models and cycles. "These microbes are doing a lot more than staying alive," Ben Bond-Lamberty, a scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland, said. "And as we construct annual carbon budgets, this raises the possibility that there's a lot more wintertime CO2 coming out of these systems than we realized."

For additional information see: New York Times, Study Abstract

Climate Change to Cause Increase in Staple Food Prices

On December 1, the International Food Policy Research Institute released a report showing that if greenhouse gas emissions levels are not curbed, grain prices could double by 2050 and leave millions malnourished and hungry. The report showed that prices would rise due to decreased productivity from warming and rain pattern changes, in addition to population and income growth. The authors projected 15 different scenarios for food security through 2050 using various modeling techniques. The authors concluded that the negative effects of climate change could be balanced with broad economic growth. The report read, "Reducing emissions growth to minimise the effects of climate change is thus essential to avoid a calamitous post-2050 future."

For additional information see: Guardian, AP, IFPRI Report

Other Headlines

Writers: Amber Pembleton and Matthew Johnson

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