Tuesday, December 20, 2011



On Nov. 30 the National Climate Ethics Campaign was launched with an announcement and meeting in Washington D.C. The Statement of Our Nation’s Moral Obligation to Address Climate Change says in part:
“Although reducing carbon pollution will have costs, it will also produce incalculable benefits. Our response must therefore be driven not solely by near-term economic or national self-interest. We must also acknowledge and act on our long-standing moral obligation to protect current and future generations from suffering and death, to honor principles of justice and equity, and to protect the great Earth systems on which the wellbeing of all life, including ours, depends.” You can find the full statement at: http://climateethicscampaign.org/statement/ and can sign on as an individual or the leader of an organization at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NationalClimateEthicsCampaign
I have signed and hope you will too.

Science News for Dec. 2 has an article by Janet Raloff titled, Arctic has taken a turn for the warmer. She says that the Arctic is losing ice both on land and sea as air and water temperatures increase. The melting of floating ice doesn’t contribute to sea level rise directly, but it does contribute indirectly because it exposes areas of dark blue water that absorb more of the sun’s energy, speeding the rate of warming. She writes, “Sea-ice loss in 2011 was the second most severe in the 32-year satellite record of Arctic monitoring.” At: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/336669/title/Arctic_has_taken_a_turn_for_the_warmer

The LA Times Greenspace posted an article on Dec. 8 titled, Advocacy group's extreme weather map brings climate change home. The report shows a new Natural Resources Defense Council interactive map of the U.S., showing the locations and types of over 2900 weather records broken during the period of January through October 2011. Records broken include temperature, rainfall, snowfall, flooding, drought and wildfire. An interesting feature of the map plays the records broken like a video. At: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/12/nrdc-extreme-weather-map-brings-climate-change-home.html

The December 17 issue of the NY Times has an article by Justin Gillis titled, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks. It points out that bubbles of methane gas can be seen bubbling out of the lakes formed from melting permafrost ice. Radioactive dating of the carbon shows that it was last in the atmosphere tens of thousands of years ago, before the coldest part of the last great ice age. It comes from plants that captured carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converted it into carbohydrates by photosynthesis. That biological material is rotting as the permafrost melts – just like food in your freezer will rot if it warms up. If there is a lack of oxygen, as there is in peat bogs or at the bottom of partly frozen lakes, methanogenic bacteria convert the carbohydrates into a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane – a much more powerful greenhouse gas. Its release into the atmosphere can accelerate the warming and the release of more methane, until the situation gets out of hand. Scientists estimate that the amount of carbon in the permafrost could be as much as 1700 billion tons – twice the amount that is currently in the atmosphere, The article says, “In the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly — typical estimates say that will take more than a century, perhaps several — but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.” At: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/17/science/earth/warming-arctic-permafrost-fuels-climate-change-worries.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
 at http://www.eesi.org/publications/Newsletters/CCNews/ccnews.htm
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community.

International Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goals Unlikely to Be Set in Durban

Nearly 200 nations began global climate discussions on Monday, November 28, in Durban, South Africa. The talks are the last chance to establish legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. European Union (EU) climate negotiators have called for a global deal on climate change mitigation to be reached by 2015 and in place by 2020. The EU expressed willingness to recommit to the Kyoto Protocol, but stated that the protocol will be effective only if other nations such as Russia, Japan, and Canada participate. The success of climate negotiations in Durban also depends on the United States and China, the world’s two top emitters, but both nations have consistently refused to commit to binding climate goals. The United Nations International Energy Agency says that current efforts of individual nations to mitigate climate change will not be enough to avoid a 2 degree Celsius rise in global average temperature. According to the agency, a comprehensive global treaty is necessary. The European Union, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Switzerland may ratify a new deal on greenhouse gas emissions reductions in Durban, but the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters remain reluctant
For additional information see: Reuters, Reuters (2nd Article), Associated Press, Wall Street Journal

2011 One of the Hottest Years on Record

According to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, 2011 was one of the hottest years on record, and the hottest year on record with a La Nina event. According to the preliminary data, 2011 is only 12 (0.12) * degrees cooler than 2010, the hottest year on record. However, 2011 was the hottest year starting with La Nina, an upwelling of cooler water in the Pacific Ocean, which affects the weather patterns and typically lowers the global average temperature by 0.1 to 0.15 degrees. The largest variation from the average temperature was recorded in Russia, where temperatures were 4 degrees Celsius warmer from January to October. The report stated that this rise in temperature is caused by human activity, and it suggests that the earth is “rapidly approaching” a 2 to 2.4 degrees Celsius rise in temperature that would render the impacts of climate change dire and irreversible. "There is a consistent patter of a changing climate, with the last decade warmer than the previous one, and that decade warmer than the one before,” said Peter Stott of the UK Met Office, which provides climate data to the WMO. “There’s clearly a warming trend. That’s supported by other indicators such as disappearing Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels.”
For additional information see: Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, WMO Press Release Note: 2011 was 0.12°C cooler than 2010, according to Bloomberg.

China Reduces Carbon Intensity, Enforces Energy Efficiency

China’s energy intensity—or the rate of energy consumption relative to gross domestic product—dropped 19.1 percent from 2005 levels in the past year. In the past five years, China has seen an 11.2 percent increase in economic growth, but an annual energy consumption increase of just 6.6 percent. Between 2006 and 2010, China reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 billion tons. According to a press release from a research team from the Institute of Global Low-carbon Economy, University of International Business and Economics, and the Social Sciences Academic Press, this reduction in carbon emissions is largely due to strict and effective energy policies, including efforts to shut down inefficient power plants and increasing the energy efficiency of the heating supply network.
For additional information see: Shanghai Daily

Scientists Project Less Extreme Climate Change Scenario

A recent study by an international team of scientists lead by Andreas Schmittner of Oregon State University suggests that the impacts of climate change are not likely to be as extreme as previous studies project. Scientists predicted that a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) would cause a temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Celsius to 2.6 degrees Celsius. Using a computer model to formulate projections, researchers analyzed paleoclimate data that extends back 21,000 years, projecting that the temperature and sea level changes will not be as severe as the more pessimistic range of estimates presented by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The authors of the study stressed that global warming is a serious issue and that there will be considerable climatic impacts as a result of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. In related news, a recent statement by a leading energy expert from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggested that current global energy consumption levels could cause a temperature change of up to 6 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. According to the IEA’s analysis, current rates of fossil fuel consumption will lead to a two degree rise in temperature that will lead to irreversible changes to the earth’s climate systems, eventually causing a six degree Celsius rise in temperature.
For additional information see: Science Daily, BBC, Abstract

U.S. Experienced Record Amount of Weather Disasters in 2011

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded 12 separate U.S. weather disasters that each caused over $1 billion in damage in 2011. The list of extreme weather events include the drought in Texas, Hurricane Irene, and the flooding events in Mississippi. The weather disasters totaled over $52 billion in cumulative damages, with more than 1,000 casualties lost during the storms. “We have good reason to believe that what happened this year is not an anomaly, but instead is a harbinger of what is to come," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in an interview. Not only are storms becoming more severe due to a warming climate, but there are more people living in areas in the U.S. that are prone to serious weather events. This list does not yet include damages for either Tropical Storm Lee or the Northeast snowstorm in October, but if the damages from either one of those storms climb over $1 billion, NOAA said they will be added to the list.
For additional information see: CBS News, Houston Chronicle, NPR, NOAA

Top Emitters Still Refusing to Reduce Carbon Consumption

At Durban, the European Union (EU) is urging a 2015 deadline to rework the Kyoto Protocol, and to update the Protocol to include the changing environmental impacts developing emerging countries. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, leaving little time to create a new pact before it runs out, but the EU has stated that developing nations with substantial carbon emissions should still be held to emissions cuts. However, the world’s three largest emitters of CO2—China, the United States, and India—remain firm in their refusal to ratify an agreement to curb emissions. Chinese negotiators have stated that China is ready to consider emissions reductions, but have avoided specific obligations or plans. India claims that it is still behind China in economic development, and thus should not be held accountable for carbon cuts. Climate change mitigation in the United States has been inhibited by political wrangling over environmental legislation. Negotiators from the United States at Durban insisted that the United States will achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade, but no clear-cut plans have been made. Emissions from the United States, China, and India account for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions.
For additional information see: Reuters, EENews

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Spike After Financial Crisis

Worldwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis (GFC), but emissions rebounded in 2010 according to a study supported by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Total emissions increased from 8.6 billion tons in 2009 to 9.1 billion tons in 2010.* However, the study also showed that 2009 was the first year where consumption-based emissions were larger in developing countries than in developed countries. "Previously, developed countries released more carbon dioxide, but that's no longer true due to emerging economies in developing countries," said Tom Boden from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center." The GFC did not impact major developing countries, such as China and India, like it did the United States and the European nations." The study was published in Nature Climate Change.
For additional information see: Science Daily, New Scientist, Study Abstract
*Note: These numbers refer to the mass of carbon released in 2009 and 2010; the mass of CO2 released in each case is larger by a factor of 3.67 - 31.5 and 33.4 billion tons, respectively.
Global Carbon Emissions Rose Three Percent in 2011

According to a recent study by the Australian Global Carbon Project, global carbon emissions rose three percent in the past year, and six percent in 2010. This increase, equal to about half a billion tons of carbon, is largely due to rapid economic growth in several developing countries. Countries with the greatest increase in emissions include China, Brazil, and South Korea. In the United States, emissions rose 4.1 percent in the past year. On average, global emissions increased by 3.1 percent each year between 2000 and 2010. Global carbon emissions have now reached 10 billion tons, a situation that the authors note is likely to lead to a two degree Celsius rise in temperature that would cause irreversible climate change.
For additional information see: New York Times, Business Green, Science Daily

Himalayan Region at Risk

Recent research from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) suggest that the Himalayan region is increasingly vulnerable to climate change, as rising temperatures are expected to affect precipitation patterns and the melting pattern of ice and snow on the peaks. This report, which makes use of mathematical models and data about glacier and lake levels, is the first study to account for the extent of glaciers and the patterns of snowfall in the Himalayan region. Climate change in the Himalayas would affect over 1.3 billion people who live downstream along river basins that depend on the water cycle of the mountain range. The threatened region is also home to a vibrant ecological network that includes 25,000 species of plants and animals.
For additional information see: Times of India, International Center for Integrated Mountain Development

New Climate Models Confirm Human Impact on Climate

New analysis from Swiss climate modelers reconfirms that humans are responsible for the pace and severity of climate change. Scientists used a model of the Earth’s energy budget and ran a mathematical model thousands of times using combinations of parameters that contribute to Earth’s energy and climate systems, including incoming shortwave solar radiation, solar energy that is reflected away from the earth, heat absorbed by oceans, and climate feedback mechanisms. Their results concluded that humans are responsible for at least 74 percent of temperature rise in the past 60 years. These results are remarkably similar to other climate model investigations and analyses of climate trends, suggesting that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the greatest contributor to the 0.5 degree Celsius temperature rise since 1950.
For additional information see: Nature, Abstract

New Historical Record of Antarctic May Influence Climate Models

The Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves may have melted simultaneously at the end of the last ice age, according to a new study published in Science. Until now, the size of the ice sheet in the Arctic was well known, but comparatively little was known about the long term changes in size of the southern ice sheet. "Our results suggest that Antarctica was not as climatically isolated as previously assumed," said Dr. Gerhard Kuhn. "Now we have to presume that the reaction of the large ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic to climate change is more closely linked in time than thought." Dr Weber, of the Geological Institute of the University of Cologne, specified that "forecasts of the future rise in the sea level caused by climate change will also have to be adjusted accordingly."
For additional information see: Science Daily, Science News, Study Abstract

United Nations Climate Talks Conclude in Durban

On December 11, the 194 countries comprising the United Nations Conference of Parties agreed on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The Durban Platform calls for a "protocol, or a legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention and applicable to all parties" by 2020, and will hold all major emitters, including the United States, China and India, to the same obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as other industrialized nations. The action plan calls for "an agreed outcome with legal force" involving all countries by 2015, and for the ratification and implementation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action by 2020. The COP17 meeting also concluded with the extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2017. The 194 countries also agreed on the Green Climate Fund, a global account comprised of public and private funding that would raise $100 billion a year for aid to go to developing countries to use for climate change adaptation and conversion to clean energy technologies. 

Throughout the climate talks, delegates from developing nations and small island states sought a more stringent deal to hold the major emitter countries to tougher reductions. "I would have wanted to get more, but at least we have something to work with. All is not lost yet," said Selwin Hart, chief negotiator on finance for the coalition of small states. The delegates, along with representatives from leading environmental groups that attended the climate talks, say that the Durban Platform is not enough on its own to slow global climate change. But, overall, the delegates were satisfied that they were able to come to an agreement, "We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come," said COP17 Chairman and South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
For additional information see: Politico, New York Times: Article 1, and Article 2, Reuters, The Guardian

South Sudan Speaks to United Nations about Effects of Climate Change

Alfred Lado Gore, the Minister of Environment for South Sudan, requested assistance for South Sudan during his country’s first appearance at the UN climate meeting. "Climate change in Southern Sudan has very, very serious negative effects. In terms of agriculture, this is really catastrophic," said Gore. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is plagued by droughts and infrequent sudden heavy downpours. With thousands of refugees fleeing conflict with Sudan, South Sudan’s citizens are constantly searching for food and water. Gore continued, "People want to cultivate but no longer know when rains come. And when they come, sometimes they are even floods and they destroy the crops. . . .If the crops fail, people have no food. Food security now becomes a threat."
For additional information see: Associated French Press

Carbon Emissions Increase by Half Since 1990

Worldwide carbon emissions have risen by almost 50 percent over the last two decades, according to a study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. This 50 percent increase amounts to an annual average growth of 3.1 percent, despite the Kyoto Protocol’s goal to reduce emissions to below 1990 levels. Scientists leading the study are concerned, given that the year 2020 is considered the necessary peak for carbon emissions in order to limit global average temperature to the 2 degree increase—the amount thought necessary to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. However, with the new climate deal forged in Durban, no new emissions reduction treaty would take effect until 2020. "That would be too late, unless strong actions are taken in the ­meantime," said Corinne Le Quéré, author of the paper.
For additional information see: Mail and Guardian, The Guardian, Science Daily, Study Abstract

California Approves Cap and Trade, Creates World’s Second Largest Carbon Market

A San Francisco judge has approved California’s cap-and-trade plans which will make it the largest carbon market in North America and the second largest in the world. The bill was passed in 2006 but has come under fire from opponents claiming that it will destroy jobs and harm the economy. However, in May the court approved the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) authority to implement the program. According to the judge’s ruling last week, the state has adequately studied alternatives to its climate goal and the program is now slated for implementation in 2013. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the state has received more than $9 billion in venture capital for clean energy technology since the bill was passed.
For additional information see: Forbes, San Francisco Gate, Bloomberg

New Methane Plumes Rising from Arctic Ocean Discovered

Warmer temperatures and decreased sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean are causing massive amounts of underwater methane to bubble to the surface, according to findings released at last week’s American Geophysical Union meeting. Methane is rising to the surface and into the atmosphere in large plumes or fountains, some as large as one kilometer in diameter. In a 10,000 square mile area off the northern coast of Siberia, Russian scientists discovered more than 100 methane plumes. The research team has been monitoring the region for nearly two decades and was shocked by the latest results. The destabilization of underwater methane is considered one of the most significant climate change tipping points that will accelerate the rate of warming, as methane is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a one hundred year period.
For additional information see: The Independent

Study Shows that Methane Gas from ‘Fracking’ Damages the Climate

A soon to be released study by Cornell University concludes that using hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale releases as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal. Professor Robert Howarth states, “The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.” The study also states, “The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming.”
For additional information see: The Hill, Report, Cornell University Press Release

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action