Climate change has become a more prominent issue for the U.S. Congress with the release of new reports and assessments, policy changes in other countries related to the Kyoto Protocol and other multi-national agreements and the development of carbon-reduction policies in the U.S. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 detailing the present state of knowledge of global climate change, which stirred intense debate in the 110th Congress. During the 111th Congress there was no major climate policy passed, and it does not look to be at the forefront of the 112th Congress.
A general history of the climate change debate is available at the Congressional Research Service's Global Climate Change Briefing Book.
President Obama on Outlook for Climate Change Action
In his first press conference since his re-election, President Obama responded to a question about the outlook on climate change action in his second term in light of Superstorm Sandy. President Obama reiterated his commitment to addressing climate change while admitting “we haven’t done as much as we need to,” and “some tough political choices” are necessary to “take on climate change in a serious way.”
Obama said that that while “we can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change,” global temperature is “increasing faster than was predicted,” in addition “the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted,” and “there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America” as well as “around the globe.” In his first term, Obama said he doubled fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, doubled clean energy production and invested in “in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.”
“But, we haven't done as much as we need to,” Obama acknowledged. Obama said early in his second term he would converse “with scientists, engineers, and elected officials” on what more can be done to combat climate change on the short-term. Then, he will begin “a discussion...across the country about what realistically can we do long-term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”
More from President Obama’s press conference can be found here.
Bill Passes Congress to Block E.U. Emission Trading Regulations
On November 27, the President signed European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 (P. L. 112-200) law, preventing the European Union (E.U.) from requiring U.S. airlinesparticipate in trading carbon emissions emitted from flights to and from European countries.
The E.U Emission Trading System (ETS) is a cap and trade system and is expected to cost an additional $3 per passenger per flight. While the ETS was scheduled to include flights to and from Europe on January 1, the European Commission may postpone implementation until after the International Aviation Organization (ICAO) meets next September to buy more time to negotiate a global deal.
Web Site Explains Basics of Climate Modeling
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has launched “Climate Modeling 101,” a web page primer on how climate models work. The site is based on information from expert reports from the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and features animations, videos and illustrations.
The site focuses on six themes, understanding climate, understanding computer models, constructing a climate model, validating climate models, users of climate modeling and developers of climate models.
U.S. Envoy Attends U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar
Department of State envoy Todd Stern traveled to Doha, Qatar for the United Nations (U.N.) Climate Conference to work on the foundations for an international climate change treaty to be signed by 2015. The treaty would require fossil fuel emission cuts from both the U.S. and China.
Envoys from over 190 nations have gathered for the two-week conference, which began the last week of November. The goal of the conference is to achieve agreement on a treaty to be signed by 2015, which would be implemented in 2020. The treaty would surpass the Kyoto Protocol limits on emissions for industrial nations, an international agreement the U.S. never ratified. Historically, the U.S. has been the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Obama’s plans to combat climate change include regulating emissions from vehicles and new power plants, energy efficiency standards for appliances, investment in low-emission energy sources, and calling for 80 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035. Under the Obama Administration, renewable energy power has doubled.
World Bank Releases Report on Climate Change and Poverty
The World Bank has released a report, “Turn Down the Heat,” which presents the latest scientific knowledge on climate change and warns we are on a path to a 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) warmer world by the end of the century—a world in which some nations may be unable to deal with or recover from disasters.
While policy makers have set a goal of curbing warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the report warns that without “serious policy changes” the world will warm 4 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. While “no nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change,” the report says, “The distribution of impacts is likely to be inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt.”
Impacts of a 4 degree Celsius warmer world include “the inundation of coastal cities,” threats to food production, “many dry regions becoming dryer” and “wet regions wetter,” “unprecedented heat waves,” intensified water scarcity, “increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones” and “irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.” These climate impacts will arrive in conjunction with and exacerbate the effects of “increasing stresses and demands on a planetary ecosystem already approaching critical limits and boundaries.” The impacts of a 4 degrees Celsius warmer world have the potential to be overwhelming “to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced” for some nations.
“The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development,” the report warns.
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American Security Project Releases Climate Security Report (10/12)
The American Security Project (ASP) has released their “Climate Security Report,” which states that climate change is a clear and present danger and is a threat to national security.
The report refers to climate change as “an accelerant of instability around the world exacerbating tensions related to water scarcity, food shortages, natural resource competition, underdevelopment and overpopulation.” With climate change increasingly fueling geopolitical conflicts, U.S. and allied military forces will be increasingly called upon to provide disaster relief around the globe as extreme weather events become more common, the report says.
More Americans Link Extreme Weather to Climate Change After the Summer (10/12)
Researchers from Yale and George Mason universities published a report, “Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind,” which found a large and growing majority of Americans (74 percent) say “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.” This percentage is five points up from the last survey conducted in March.
The survey of 1,061 adults who answered agree/disagree questions and has a three percent error margin. The report also included regional breakdowns as well as questions about what kinds of weather trends participants have experienced and whether they link those trends to climate change. Participants in areas hardest hit by recent extreme events, like the summer drought in the Midwest, were more likely to agree that droughts have increased in frequency.
PBS Airs “Climate of Doubt”(10/12)
On October 23, PBS aired their “Frontline” documentary, “Climate of Doubt,” which explores a movement mobilized to undermine the 97 percent consensus in the scientific community that global warming is occurring and is related to human activities.
The film investigates the transition from four years ago when Democrats and Republicans alike agreed on the “inconvenient truth” of climate change to the present “climate of doubt.”
The documentary describes the groups and individuals behind an organized effort to attack the climate science consensus by undermining the scientists and to unseat politicians who say they believe that climate change is happening and is caused by human activities.
Correspondent John Hockenberry interviews “skeptics” such as those from the Heartland Institute as well as scientists and politicians from both sides of the table. “Climate of Doubt” can be viewed on the PBS web site.
Presidential Candidate Surrogates Debate Energy and Climate (10/12)
Representatives of the Obama and Romney campaigns debated energy policy on October 5 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a representative of the Obama campaign debated climate and science policy with former governor and congressman Mike Castle (R-DE) on November 1.
At the MIT debate, Oren Cass, Domestic Policy Director for the Romney for President campaign, discussed Romney’s plan which focuses on innovation from the private sector, state management of federal lands within their border, government investments in basic and applied research and job creation. Romney “embraces not only fossil fuel resources, but any that can be effectively developed through private sector innovation, which is the type of innovation that has always worked in this country.”
Representing President Barack Obama was Joeseph Aldy, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who served as a special assistant to Obama for energy and environment in 2009 and 2010. Aldy discussed Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, investments in research and development, job creation as well as Obama’s support for extending the production tax credit for wind. On behalf of Obama, Aldy said, “When you look at the future, the president thinks it's important for us to say, what are the kinds of technologies that we're going to want, that our children are going to want.”
The surrogates clashed on issues such as permits and leasing for oil and gas exploration, exporting natural gas, exploration in the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, permitting the Keystone XL and other pipelines, energy subsidies, and regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking on behalf of the Presidential Candidates, both representatives discussed goals for energy independence and the different paths for achieving this goal. While both surrogates emphasized promoting increased gas and oil development, surrogates discussed differences such as Romney’s more aggressive oil and gas production on federal lands and no subsidies for wind, as well as Obama’s plan which emphasizes energy efficiency and government incentives.
At the November 1 debate, hosted jointly by ScienceDebate.org and ClimateDesk, Congressman Castle and Obama campaign surrogate, Kevin Knobloch, discussed climate change, research and development, hydraulic fracturing, and STEM education. A video of the debate can be found on the ScienceDebate.org web site.
NOAA Eliminates Climate Monitoring at Several Ground Stations (09/12)
Citing an uncertain fiscal future and an inadequate budget, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) Global Monitoring Division has stopped measuring greenhouse gas levels at 12 surface flask-sampling sites, reduced aircraft monitoring, and halted planned growth in the tall tower program.
The Global Monitoring Division measures greenhouse gas concentrations at sites around the globe through their Cooperative Air Sampling Network made up of the ESRL observatories, surface flask-sampling, the tall tower network, and airborne flask-sampling. Airborne flask-sampling collects 12 samples at different altitudes up to 43,500 feet to record a complete vertical profile. Surface flask-sampling is done by trained volunteers and scientists who collect air samples in flasks at 71 active sites around the globe. The flasks collected from both airborne and surface sampling are sent back to a central facility in Boulder, Colorado where they are analyzed for about 55 different greenhouse gases.
In a letter to Science Magazine published on August 31, several researchers write that the budget cuts at NOAA have “resulted in curtailment of our ability to observe and understand changes to the global carbon cycle” at a time when greenhouse gas observation is critical to humanity. As a result of Congress passing a continuing resolution (H.J. Res 117) on September 22, NOAA will see their budget extended for six months at fiscal year (FY) 2012 levels. Congress appropriated $4,975 million for NOAA in FY 2012, over $500 million less than the President’s FY 2012 request.
Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks to Record Low in September 2012 (09/12)
Arctic sea ice has reached a new record low in the history of the satellite record during this year’s summertime minimum extent. On September 16, 2012, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), measured the sea ice extent to be 3.41 million square kilometers and 760,000 square kilometers, or 22 percent, below the previous minimum extent measured on September 18, 2007.
As of September 16, Arctic sea ice covered only 49 percent of the average extent from 2000 to 1979, when satellite record began. This minimum occurred after a very strong storm blew over the central Arctic Ocean in early August. Climate scientists are concerned that the Arctic sea ice may melt much faster than predicted. In addition, the melting of Arctic sea ice may be altering the jet stream and causing more severe weather. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a satellite image of the Arctic sea ice extent on September 16 compared to the average minimum extent over the last 30 years.
Department of Energy Embarks on Long Term Atmosphere Observing Mission (09/12)
On October 1, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched a mobile laboratory aboard a 852-foot container ship to conduct a yearlong project called the Marine ARM GPCI Investigation of Clouds (MAGIC). DOE’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility is a scientific user facility designed to provide the climate research community with observatories to improve the understanding and representation of clouds and aerosols in climate and Earth system models.
The seafaring lab will travel between Los Angeles, California and Honolulu, Hawaii while measuring the atmosphere from the bottom up and tracking how clouds form and disperse. The equipment aboard the ship will measure black carbon, aerosols, cloud stacks, ozone, light transmission, wind speeds, and temperatures. Overall, the mission hopes to improve the representation of the stratocumulus-to-cumulus transition in climate models. The insights gained from the project could help modelers develop a more accurate projection of future global climate.
Senate Natural Resources Committee Holds Field Hearing on Climate Change (08/12)
On August 17, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a field hearing in Santa Fe, New Mexico to discuss the impacts of climate change on the Intermountain West. Governor Walter Dasheno of the Santa Clara Pueblo, Craig Allen of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Nate McDowell of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Kelly Redmond of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Western Regional Climate Center, and writer William DeBuys were present to testify.
Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) pointed out in his opening statement the connection between climate change, drought and wildfires by citing the National Research Council’s 2011 report, America’s Climate Choices. He said he hopes the hearing “will restart a national conversation about climate change” and although “talk of climate change has become highly politicized, it is critical that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions here and abroad.”
Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Dasheno called climate change “a significant factor” contributing to 2011’s Las Conchas wildfire, a fire that burned more than 150,000 acres. Research ecologist Craig Allen of the USGS said, “There is a high level of scientific confidence that, as a result of drought impacts coupled with warmer temperatures, forests in the Southwest are at increasing risk of severe wildfire and tree mortality.” McDowell’s testimony discussed the impacts of climate change on vegetation mortality, Redmond testified that aridity is “likely” to persist or increase and that observations and monitoring are critical to response and adaptation. She warned against letting climate change “intimidate us too much.” She argued that it is “certainly a worthy challenge,” but it is “not insoluble.” DeBuys pointed out the potential negative impacts of increased exposure of soil to air as a result of wildfires and vegetation mortality. More dust can lead to stronger dust storms and accelerated melting of snow.
Audio of the hearing and links to witness testimonies can be found on the committee web site.
July Recorded as Hottest Month in the U.S. by NOAA (08/12)
Following suit with the rest of the year, July of 2012 has been ranked the hottest month on record with an average temperature of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit. 2012 is on pace to being the hottest year according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency said on August 8 that in addition to being the hottest month recorded, July ranks among the top ten driest months since monitoring began in 1895.
The drought experienced by over 60 percent of the continental U.S. this summer has been the worst since just before the Dust Bowl in the early 1930s. Elevated fire risk, crop failure, livestock culling and moisture-depleted soil have resulted from the weather phenomenon. “Exceptional” drought, the most severe, now affects Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
AMS Adopts an Updated Climate Change Information Statement (08/12)
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) released a new statement on climate change in August that states global warming is “unequivocal” and that emissions of greenhouse gases as a result of human activity are the “dominant cause.” The statement uses peer-reviewed scientific literature and assessments and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program to answer how is the climate changing, why it is changing, how it can be projected into the future, and how it is expected to change in the future.
ERS Releases Report on Regional Climate Change and Agriculture (07/12)
In Agricultural Adaptation to a Changing Climate: Economic and Environmental Implications Vary by U.S. Region, a reportconducted by the Economic Research Service and sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture, researchers analyze the extent to which global temperature rise will affect local climate. In addition, the report examines how the magnitude, direction, and rate of local changes will influence food supplies, farmer livelihoods, and rural communities. The use of global climate models and statistical analyses suggest farmers can adjust crop variety, crop rotation, and/or production practices to mitigate the impacts of local climate variations on national agricultural markets.
The study was conducted using the A1B emissions scenario from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) and extensive modeling. Models include the Environmental Productivity and Integrated Climate (EPIC) model which estimates weather effects on crop yields, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) that predicts cost and yield impacts, and the Regional Environment and Agriculture Programming (REAP) model which determines the extent that climate-induced changes in crop productivity and price/demand market feedbacks will shift regional agricultural production.
The report outlines several key findings regarding potential land use change and environmental quality under different climate and adaptation scenarios. The Corn Belt and Northern regions of the nation will be less sensitive to climate-induced changes to crop acreage and planting patterns. The aggregate national returns to crop production will decline with increasing severity of climate change, particularly in the Corn Belt region with annual losses that could range from $1.1 billion to $4.1 billion. Changes in crop production will lead to changes in crop prices, with the soybean markets experiencing price changes between -4 and 22 percent, and corn prices changing between -2 and 6 percent. Agricultural production could be impacted by heightened damage from crop pests, rainfall-related soil erosion, and nitrogen loss associated with changes in climate.
Besides significantly impacting farmers’ livelihoods, changes in crop production could significantly affect the livestock industry and consumers. The study suggests that farmers introduce crop varieties adapted to changing growing conditions to mitigate the costs of regional climate change and capitalize on new production opportunities.
More Countries Join United States Led Climate and Clean Air Initiative (07/12)
Seven more nations joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, launched by Hillary Clinton in February. The addition of Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Jordan brings the total membership to 20 countries. Work has been done to attract more nations, including China and India, to join the coalition.
According to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), air pollution may cause up to 6 million deaths per year worldwide and significantly contribute to global warming. The United States has not taken any legislative action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, however the Climate and Clean Air initiative could reduce global temperature rise associated with greenhouse gases 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.
China Develops Carbon Cap and Trade Rules (07/12)
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released its rules for a voluntary carbon emissions trading scheme. The rules were translated into English and distributed by Chinese environmental advocacy group The Climate Group.
The policy promotes reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) through setting emissions limitations set by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Limitations can be raised by purchasing credits from other companies.The NDRC’s monitored emission reduction levels will be reviewed by third party organizations as dictated by the government report.
Beijing and the Hubei and Guangdong provinces have begun crafting local emissions trading schemes based on the system emplaced by the European Union. Guangdong is a major center of China’s growing coal production industry and is the largest carbon-emitting region in the country. Environmental advocates hope this cap and trade scheme will curb the coal industry and encourage clean energy technology.
Former Congressman Inglis Launches Energy & Enterprise Institute (07/12)
On July 10, George Mason University announced the formation of the Energy & Enterprise Institute (E&EI) through its Center for Climate Change Communication (4C). E&EI, led by Executive Director and former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), will seek conservative solutions to climate change. To achieve its small government and free enterprise-based solutions, E&EI will sponsor policy papers, collaborate with industry and government leaders, and organize events to promote both climate change mitigation and economic growth. The institute has already begun sponsoring lectures by Inglis and President Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor Art Laffer at universities around the country.
Joining Inglis will be Director of Strategy and Operations Alex Bozmoski. Bozmoski has a conservative and technical background through his work for GOP campaigns and conservative activist groups, and implementation of rural energy projects in Africa.
Court Upholds EPA Emission Rules (06/12)
On June 26, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulations under the Clean Air Act (P.L.101-549). The case, Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc., Et Al. v. Environmental Protection Agency was argued in late February 2012 and decided on June 26, 2012.
Petitions challenging the timing rule, which set standards for stationary emitters, and the tailoring rule, which requires major polluters to obtain permits for GHG emissions, were dismissed by the court. One petition challenged the finding that greenhouse gases are hazardous to human health, referred to as the “endangerment finding,” and another challenged the “tailpipe” rules, which set emissions standards for automobiles.
The endangerment finding resulted from the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling which found that GHG could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The court’s rulings on the other petitions were influenced by the precedent of this case as well.
Megacity Mayors Pledge to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (06/12)
At the 2012 United Nations (U.N.) Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), a group of megacity mayors known as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group announced a joint effort to cut one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Recognizing the possible consequences that could result from city populations, Rio+20 focused on evaluating how megacities can adapt to growing populations and curb the associated increase in emissions.
Several initiatives were launched at the conference to reach the one billion tons by 2030 goal. Current waste disposal practices pose many environmental threats and account for five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, spread vector-borne diseases, and make cities vulnerable to natural disasters. Members of the C40 Climate Leadership Group created the “C40 Solid Waste Network” to reduce methane emissions and other associated problems through improved solid waste management in partnership with the World Bank and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC). The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) invited cities with populations greater than 500,000 to join the Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities. This program aims to reduce methane emissions, promote energy-efficient buildings, improve water-use and waste management practices, and encourage sustainable behavioral changes.
70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of electricity consumption are concentrated in cities, which occupy only 2 percent of the earth’s surface. Projections that 80 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by midcentury could lead to significant increases in these values, however, increased efficiency could allow urban dwellers to have a smaller carbon footprint relative to suburban or rural populations. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group recognizes that transitioning to a low-carbon, resource efficient green economy is essential to the future environmental and public health of megacities and the globe.
Forest Service Releases Climate Change Report for Land Managers (05/12)
In April the Forest Service released “Climate Projections FAQ,” a report to help land managers prepare appropriate forest management strategies under variable climatic conditions. The report provides guidance for the use of climate change impact analyses, encourages informed Forest Service policy changes, and creates a shared understanding within the Forest Service and other partner organizations of the strengths and limitations of climate projections.
Shifting patterns of heavier rainfall, more intense droughts, and increased vulnerability to pest attacks are transforming natural resource management decisions. Climate projections are now more extensively used by land managers to consider the direction and magnitude of potential changes and to prioritize locations for adaptation actions. The report answers questions such as “what are the advantages and disadvantages of downscaling general circulation model (GCM) projections?” and “what can I expect from the next generation of climate modeling work?” to help facilitate management strategies and ensure the resilience of natural resource systems under a variety of future climate scenarios.
The objective of the Forest Service in releasing this report is to improve the efficiency and consistency of research investments while enhancing opportunities for long-term partnerships between land managers and research institutions, other agencies, or contractors. The report provides a systematic, agency-wide framework that can be used for accessing, applying, and managing downscaled climate projection data.
Report Projects Large Increases in Deaths Due to Rising Temperatures (05/12)
According to the recently released National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Killer Heat: Projected Death Toll from Rising Temperatures in America Due to Climate Change”, predicted increases in summer temperatures could result in 33,000 additional U.S. deaths by 2050 and 150,000 deaths by the end of the century. Of the 40 most populated cities, the most affected are predicted to be Louisville, Kentucky with an estimated 19,000 heat-related fatalities by the end of the century, Detroit, Michigan with 17,900, and Cleveland, Ohio with 16,600.
The predicted temperature rise of 4°F -11°F over the course of the century will cause direct extreme weather impacts, as well as indirect health effects that could exacerbate life-threatening illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease. The report states that on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Young children, the elderly, those of low socioeconomic status, and cities not accustomed to extended heat waves, are the most vulnerable to heat-related mortality.
To prevent the rise in heat-related deaths, the NRDC report recommends establishing an integrated policy and economic system to curb carbon emissions. Other suggestions include local and regional efforts to prepare cities for heat increases, such as opening more air-conditioned shelters and creating heat hotlines for citizens.
To reduce the public health threats associated with climate change, the NRDC report supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon pollution standard for new power plants. The EPA standard will be open to public comment until June 25, 2012.
World Wildlife Fund Releases Living Planet Report (05/12)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released their Living Planet Report for 2012. The report is a science-based analysis of the impact of human activities on the planet. The report’s key finding is that human activities require and demand more resources than the Earth can sustain.
Demand for natural resources has doubled since 1966 and the report says the equivalent of 1.5 planets is necessary for human activities and will increase to two planets by 2030. Biodiversity, key to ecosystem services, has decreased around the world by 30 percent over a time span of about 40 years.
The Living Planet Index shows a 61 percent decrease from 1970 to 2008 in the tropical living planet biodiversity and a 31 percent increase in temperate living planet biodiversity over the same period. The ecological footprint shows over-consumption and the largest portion of the footprint is the forest land needed for carbon sequestration. The footprint monitors demands on the biosphere by comparing renewable resources used to the area available to produce those resources and absorb carbon dioxide. Ten countries, including the U.S., use over 60 percent of the world’s total biocapacity.
High-income countries showed an increase in ecological footprint of about seven percent while low-income countries decline by 60 percent. The report focused on three areas of concern. First, deforestation is the third largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Second, infrastructures are reducing free-flowing water which poses a problem to aquatic ecosystems. Only a third of 177 rivers that are 1,000 kilometers in length are free flowing. Finally, rising greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution sources are threatening the health of the oceans.
EPA Releases Final Emissions Standards for Oil and Gas Operations (04/12)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final new source performance standards and national emissions standards for oil and natural gas operations on April 17. Though full implementation of the rules will not begin until 2015, these rules mark the first federal air standards for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured.
The new source performance standards are meant to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur dioxide from oil and gas operations. The hydraulic fracturing process and its associated equipment have been criticized for emitting significant amounts of VOCs and methane through leaks. The rules require new hydraulically fractured gas wells to use green completion technologies which limit emissions and produce byproducts of methane and other hydrocarbons for producers to sell.
USGCRP Finalizes Strategic Plan for 2012-2021 (04/12)
As required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-606), the United States Global Change Research Program has released its strategic plan and guiding document for the next decade. “The National Global Change Research Plan 2012-2021” is structured around four strategic goals: advance science, inform decisions, conduct sustained assessments, and communicate and educate. The plan was developed by federal scientists based on the advice of the National Academies and public comments.
The plan encourages the program, made up by 13 government agencies, to continue leveraging federal investments through national and international partnerships and requires the inclusion of other parts of the federal government to ensure a strong interdisciplinary focus for the next decade.
EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants (03/12)
On March 27, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released standards of performance for greenhouse gas emissions for new stationary sources from electric utility generating units. The rule requires new fossil-fuel-fired electric utility generating units that are greater than 25 megawatts electric (MWe) to meet an output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
The performance standard is based on natural gas combined cycle technology. Right now, natural gas-fired power plants emit about 850 pounds of carbon dioxide while coal-fired plants emit about 1,800 pounds per megawatt-hour. EPA expects new coal-fired power plants to meet the standard by employing carbon capture and storage (CCS) of about 50 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in the exhaust gas at startup or through application of CCS over an averaging period of 30 years.
Public comments are being accepted and public hearings will be held. See EPA’s webpage, Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants for more details.
U.S. Joins U.N. Program to Reduce Methane and Black Carbon Emissions (02/12)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. will participate in an international initiative to reduce methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) emissions. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants will be administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). A recent study published in Science found that reducing the emissions of black carbon, or soot, and methane would slow global warming and save lives by preventing lung and cardiovascular disease.
At a joint press conference with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Lisa Jackson, Secretary Clinton said the coalition will “mobilize resources, assemble political support, help countries develop and implement a national action plan, raise public awareness, and reach out to other countries, [non-governmental organizations], and foundations.” The U.S. would be joined by Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Ghana, and Bangladesh and would contribute $12 million for the first two years in addition to the $10 million provided annually to the Global Methane Initiative and the $10 million provided annually to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The State Department has issued a fact sheet that explains the coalition and potential to reduce the impacts of global warming by limiting methane, black carbon, and HFC emissions.
EPA Releases Draft GHG Report for Comment (02/12)
On February 27, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency released the draft 1990-2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for public comment. The report gives an overview of greenhouse gas emission sources and sinks and discusses causes for changes in emissions. Comments are due by March 28.
Climate Change Conference Plans Binding Emissions Reductions (12/11)
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa ended on Sunday, December 11, two days later than planned, as delegates spent the weekend trying to reach an agreement on legally binding emissions reductions. The European Union, which ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has reduced emissions below 1990 levels, offered a new proposal to require all countries to reduce emissions. After intense negotiations, the delegates agreed to create a new climate deal that will have legal force by 2015 and to require developed and developing countries to reduce emissions.
The United States, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has exceeded its 1990 emissions levels in every year since 1990. The United States is the second largest emitter in the world and will have trouble meeting any targets. During the conference the U.S. was accused of delaying any agreements, but in the end it did agree to the new “legal force” terms. Besides the large emissions, the United States is concerned about including China in any reductions agreement.
China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, having overtaken the U.S. in 2010. China and other large developing nations, such as India, will be part of the agreement on legally binding emissions reductions. The agreement has not set any emissions targets so more significant negotiations are still to come before 2015 when the agreement is set to begin.
Energy and Climate Change Assessments as United Nations Meeting Begins (11/11)
At the beginning of November 2011, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its annual report, World Energy Outlook 2011, that global energy demand will rise by 40 percent by 2035 and most of that need will be met with fossil fuels. Oil demand will rise as the global passenger fleet is expected to double to 1.7 billion vehicles by 2035 and alternative vehicles, such as hybrids or electrics, will make only small penetrations into the global market. Coal-fired power plants which met about 50 percent of global demand in the first decade of the twenty first century may rise to 65 percent of demand by 2035. Natural gas is expected to rise in use and compete with coal. With regards to greenhouse gas emissions, the IEA states “cumulative CO2 emissions over the next 25 years amount to three-quarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius.”
In a related study, HSBC Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, completed an analysis of finances for alternative energy resources and suggests the global economy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stall global warming over the next few decades. Their conclusions are based on lower costs for alternative energy as demand grows and more financial institutions refuse loans to inefficient coal-fired power plants.
Both assessments directly preceded the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2011 in Durban, South Africa (November 29 – December 9). Early news from the conference suggests debate about reducing greenhouse gas emissions is pitting developed countries with greater energy use and greater emissions against developing countries with less energy use and fewer emissions. In particular, many countries would like the United States to commit to greater emissions reductions, but the U.S. State Department has refused to consider possible actions including a European Union proposal unless major industrializing countries such as China and India agree to reductions. In addition, an assessment by an outside group, BankTrack, suggests commercial banks have doubled their financial support for the coal industry since 2005 when the Kyoto Treaty was adopted.
DOI Finalizes Regional Climate Science Centers (10/11)
The Department of the Interior (DOI) has finalized the organization of eight new Climate Science Centers (CSC). The centers will provide climate science and information on regional landscape stressors to federal, state and local land managers. They will work in consultation with the regional Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and will serve as regional hubs for the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center within the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Alaska CSC will be centered at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; the Southeast CSC will be hosted by North Carolina State University; the Northwest CSC will be supported by a consortium of three universities – Oregon State University, the University of Washington, and the University of Idaho; the Southwest CSC has six hosting organizations; the North Central CSC will be led by Colorado State University; the Northeast CSC will be hosted by the University of Massachusetts – Amherst; the South Central CSC will be located at the University of Oklahoma; and the Pacific Islands CSC will be located at the University of Hawaii – Manoa.
Global Change Research Program Releases Ten-Year Strategic Plan (10/11)
On September 30, 2011, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released for public comment itsStrategic Plan for 2012-2021. The plan acknowledges the need for a strong scientific foundation in order to effectively respond to global change. As such, it has developed a four-pronged approach, divided into “goals,” that will guide the program for the next ten years. The four goals are to advance science, inform decisions, sustain assessments, and communicate and educate. The public is invited to provide comments and feedback on the USGCRP plan by November 29, 2011.
Report Calls for Research on Effectiveness of Climate Remediation Strategies (10/11)
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Task Force on Climate Remediation released its report titled “Geoengineering: A National Strategic Plan for Research on the Potential Effectiveness, Feasibility, and Consequences of Climate Remediation Technologies,” which calls for a coordinated federal research program to explore the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies. The task force is made up of 18 leaders from the fields of natural science, social science, science policy, foreign policy, national security, and from environmental communities. The group collectively argued that managing risk is a critical principle of effective climate policy and that remediation cannot be substituted for mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Climate remediation proposals, according to the report, generally fall into two broad categories, carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. The report maintains that it is too premature to deploy these climate remediation technologies and the U.S. should instead undertake a Climate Remediation Research Program (CRRP) to better understand the risks, costs, and feasibility of these approaches.
The task force presented two rationales for recommending a CRRP—the growing physical risks of climate change, and the geopolitical and national security risks that will ensue following deployment of climate remediation technologies by some other countries. Collaboration of the proposed CRRP with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been recommended, due to the possibility that this climate remediation research may pose risks and raise new ethical, legal and social issues of broad public concern. Furthermore, the report encourages the U.S. to promptly work with nations that have the necessary scientific, technologic, and financial qualifications to establish common norms and expectations for such research in order to facilitate future agreements on the deployment of climate remediation technologies.
This task force was originally named the “Geoengineering” task force but has been renamed to more appropriately describe its efforts to counteract climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Skeptic's Temperature Analysis Confirms Warming (10/11)
Richard Muller, a physics professor at University of California, Berkeley and a team of researchers analyzed global observations (i.e., about 1.6 billion temperature reports on land from 15 archives) and found the average global temperature has increased, consistent with previous work (especially the work of the U.S.'s National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.K.'s Met Office and Climatic Research Unit). The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project is supported by private donations and the U.S. Department of Energy. Some of the private donations are from people or groups associated with climate skepticism and Muller has been considered a climate skeptic by some. Muller has suggested that previous work might be biased or in error. The perceived skepticism and suggestions of inaccuracies have made Muller a controversial figure. Muller wrote an Op-Ed about the project’s recent unpublished results for the Wall Street Journal and he confirms the data is robust and the Earth is warming.
Virginia AG Climate Document Request Put on Hold (09/11)
The legal battle between Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the University of Virginia (UVA) has been put on hold by Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins until the Virginia Supreme Court decides the appeals from Cuccinelli and UVA. Both parties submitted briefs in the case in May and are waiting for a hearing date to be set by Judge Higgins—a process which may take as long as a year.
Cuccinelli, a climate change skeptic, issued a civil investigative demand last year for documents produced by climate scientist Michael Mann, previously a professor at UVA who is now employed by Pennsylvania State University. When UVA refused the request, a law suit arose and Cuccinelli sent an appeals request to the Supreme Court. Further action will commence following a decision from the Supreme Court.
Climate Change Discussed in 2012 Republican Primary Debate (09/11)
On Wednesday, September 7, Republican Presidential candidates discussed a variety of issues and briefly touched on the topic of climate change in a debate held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Semi Valley, California. Texas Governor Rick Perry believes that the science of climate change is “not settled on. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just -- is nonsense.” Former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman disagreed, saying that Republicans “can’t run from science” if they want to win the 2012 election.
BOEMRE Report on Oil Spill Monitoring and Climate Change (08/11)
On August 29, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released a report, “Evaluation of the Use of Hindcast Model Data for Oil Spill Risk Analysis (OSRA) in a Period of Rapidly Changing Conditions,” evaluating how climate change will affect the environmental conditions used in modeling oil spill trajectories and analyses in the Arctic. The report recommends that BOEMRE improve their data coverage, improve their modeling and forcing tools, and to consider Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios in their OSRA’s. The report also urges BOEMRE to consider a case study of an oil spill response with no sea ice in the Arctic.
Oil and gas companies are setting their sights on the Arctic. ExxonMobil just signed an agreement with Russia’s Rosneft oil company to partner in petroleum drilling leases in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) urged his colleagues on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) to raise revenues by expanding oil and gas production in an op-ed in early September 2011.
EIA Releases Carbon Dioxide Emissions Report (08/11)
The U.S. Energy Information Administration released their annual Carbon Dioxide Emissions Report on August 18. The report analyzes the level and drivers of carbon dioxide emissions for 2010 including data on changes in population, output per capita, energy intensity of the economy, and carbon intensity of the energy supply. After declines in each of the previous four years, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 showed the largest percent increase since 1988, though emissions were 358 million metric tons below the 2005 level. The large percent increase is partially attributed to economic growth over the past year after a historic decline in emissions in 2009.
EPA Defends Endangerment Finding (08/11)
On August 18, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a brief with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after states and industry groups asked the court to dismiss EPA’s endangerment findings. The brief defends the 2009 endangerment finding by EPA, which established the foundation for new carbon dioxide emissions standards from cars and trucks and initiated limits on greenhouse gases (GHG) from power and other industrial plants. This brief follows the orders by the Supreme Court to determine whether GHG do pose a threat to human health. The EPA findings were challenged by states and industry groups stating that the EPA failed to identify a level at which GHG pose a threat to human health.
Online Tool to Report Greenhouse Gas Emissions Launched (08/11)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new internet tool to help over 7,000 facilities across 28 industrial sectors submit their 2010 greenhouse gas emission data as required by the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The deadline for submission falls on September 30 which is the same day for the release of the planned proposal for the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for power plants which was delayed earlier this year.
FTA Releases Report on Public Transportation and Climate Change (08/11)
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation in August to provide transit officials with information relevant to adapting public transportation infrastructure to the effects of climate change. The overall adaptation strategies outlined in the report include maintaining and managing, strengthening and protecting, enhancing redundancy, and abandoning infrastructure in severely vulnerable areas. An interdisciplinary risk management effort would include the expertise of climatologists, geoscientists, engineers, emergency response professionals, public officials, and others.
Republican Presidential Candidates Debate Evolution, Climate Change (08/11)
On August 18, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry told the crowd that he thinks evolution “has some gaps” in it. “It’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution, because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one’s right,” Perry said in response to a question from a young boy prompted by his mother. The mother also encouraged her son to ask Governor Perry how old the earth is (Perry responded, “I think it’s pretty old…”) and she told her son to ask Perry “if he believes in science.” Perry did not answer the last question.
The Texas School Board does not allow the teaching of creationism in science classes in public schools, which prompted some to declare Governor Perry’s statement as inaccurate regarding curricula in Texas. Scientists and others have commented about the inaccuracies of Governor Perry’s suggestion that evolution has gaps and problems with considering creationism as part of science curricula in Texas and elsewhere.
Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman responded to Perry’s comments in a tweet “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has said he believes the world’s climate is warming and that humans are contributing to the pattern. Romney opposed the teaching of intelligent design in public schools when he was governor.
NOAA Releases Most Recent 30 Year Climate Normals (07/11)
On July 1, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) announced the latest 30-year Normals of climatic variables such as temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. The results include data compiled from over 7,500 locations across the United States. Every state’s average annual maximum and minimum temperature increased while the average temperature of the U.S. from 1981 to 2010 increased by about a half degree Fahrenheit from the 1971 to 2000 period. This past decade was particularly hot, with an average temperature about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1970s.
NOAA and Western States Release MOU to Improve Climate Services (07/11)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), comprised of 19 Western states and three Pacific Islands, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to assist in the development and distribution of climate change information “to support the adaptation priorities and resource management decisions of WGA members.” WGA and NOAA will be creating working groups to facilitate new services including disaster risk reduction, seasonal outlooks, and early warning and rapid response information. In addition to NOAA’s forecasting capabilities, this alliance will receive climate change information from other federal agencies, such as the Council on Environmental Quality.
AEP Halts West Virginia Mountaineer CCS Project (07/11)
On July 14, 2011, the American Electric Power Company (AEP) shelved their plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-burning power plant in West Virginia. In 2009, AEP began operating the first fully integrated carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project at the Mountaineer Plant. This facility used the chilled ammonia process to remove the carbon dioxide from the unit’s exhaust. The carbon dioxide is compressed into a liquid-state and is then injected through wells into geologic layers 1.5 miles underground where the carbon dioxide is permanently stored. The CCS project demonstrated that CCS technologies can be integrated on an existing coal-fired power plant and provided a blueprint of design and operation for future CCS installations. The Department of Energy funded a portion of the cost which the contract has now been terminated.
The decision to put the CCS project on hold is due to AEP’s inability to invest $668 million into CCS without federal policy and the assurance that AEP will be able to recoup their costs. AEP burns more coal than any other U.S. power company and without CCS, AEP realizes that its coal plant may not be able to survive in a marketplace that puts a price on carbon. With the current partisan divide on Capitol Hill regarding energy policy, the idea of a federal policy on CCS seems unlikely in the near future. Power companies and lawmakers agree that storing carbon emissions in underground rock formations would allow the world to keep using coal while cutting emissions to levels that will help to stabilize the climate.
United Nations Statement on Security Implications of Climate Change (07/11)
The United Nations (UN) Security Council issued a statement on July 20 expressing concern that the effects of climate change could “aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security” and that loss of land due to rising seas “could have possible security implications.” The statement came after a day of debate to discuss the security ramifications of the effects of a changing climate. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, present at the debate, said, “The facts are clear: climate change is real and accelerating in a dangerous manner.” He called for ambitious steps to reduce climate change and for “sustainable development for all” to be the defining issue of our time. Regional climate change is already a factor, he pointed out, in local conflicts in Darfur, the Central African Republic, Chad, and northern Kenya and could lead to a large number of “environmental refugees.” Peacekeeping operations are expensive and the costs will only increase if the global average temperature is not kept below a rise of two degrees Celsius, the Secretary-General told the council. After representatives from 59 nations spoke, the council agreed that “contextual information” about the possible security implications of climate change is necessary for the UN to maintain and strive for global stability.
NOAA’s State of the Climate 2010 Report Released (06/11)
On June 27, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released State of the Climate in 2010, an annual report that concludes that 2010 was one of the two warmest years on record. The peer-reviewed report was prepared in coordination with the American Meteorological Society and tracks the temperature of the upper and lower atmosphere, humidity, sea ice, precipitation, and 36 other climate indicators. While important climate oscillations such as El Nino and the Arctic Oscillation contributed to many of the world’s significant 2010 weather events, a comprehensive analysis of climate indicator data sets shows a continuation of the long-term warming trend scientists have seen for the past 50 years.
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Power Companies (06/11)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in American Electric Power Co., Inc., et al. vs. Connecticut et al. that six states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) cannot try to limit emissions of greenhouse gases under federal common law of public nuisance. The states argued that the power companies, American Electric Power Co., Xcel Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp., Southern Co. and the Tennessee Valley Authority, were releasing greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and damaging the environment and economy in their states.
The states filed their suit in 2004 before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to prepare regulations regarding emissions. The high court ruled that the EPA could place restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions if EPA determined that the emissions were a public health issue. The Supreme Court decided this in Massachusetts vs. EPA in 2007. The EPA issued a public health endangerment finding subsequently and has begun preparing rules.
The court’s opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, says the EPA should regulate any emissions that impact states through the Clean Air Act and therefore that states cannot claim any damages under the federal public nuisance law. The ruling allows states to sue under state public nuisance laws, but it is unclear what steps the six states will take next. Some states, such as Mississippi, are suing power companies about emissions under state public nuisance laws and other states may wait to see how these suits proceed.
The opinion makes it clear that the Supreme Court wants EPA to regulate emissions through the Clean Air Act rather than having courts involved through the federal public nuisance law. EPA has been slow to establish regulations and states will need to decide whether they can wait for EPA or whether they should proceed with suits through state public nuisance laws to try to reduce problems and recoup any damages.
Former Representative Inglis Creates Global Warming Conservative Coalition (06/11)
Former six-term Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) plans to start a conservative Republican coalition whose members believe that human emissions are causing global warming and that the situation needs to be addressed. This coalition is calling “conservatives to return to conservatism and to turn away from the populist rejection of science.” Given the political stance today, Inglis notes that this idea may take at least two election cycles to become popular. While many House Republicans do not see the need to reduce carbon emissions, some current members of Congress are interested in participating in such a coalition. Inglis hopes Republicans will realize the need to take immediate action on climate change as details of this coalition are being finalized.
Yale Report on Climate Change Communication Released (06/11)
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a report titled Climate Change in the American Mind on June 6, 2011, presenting results of a national survey of American’s global warming attitudes. The report includes statistics on global warming beliefs, perceptions of risk and personal importance, and how personal opinions have changed over the past three years. Researchers found that about half of Americans believe that global warming is already causing problems in the United States and that the average American trusts scientists and federal agencies.
ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Release Position Statement on Climate Change (06/11)
The members of American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) have developed a position statement on climate change based on current scientific knowledge. Reflecting a consensus of national and international climate scientists, the statement says that climate change is occurring and is threatening the sustainability of agricultural systems. These threats present themselves in the increase of temperatures linked to rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The changes in temperature have already affected crops and the effects are predicted to become more severe. This poses a challenge for the agriculture community because the agriculture sector must increase production to provide food for an expanding population (estimated to be nine billion people by the mid-twenty first century). While doing so, they also have to protect the environment and enhance crop systems to survive change. In order for the agricultural community to respond to climate change, the statement says research and development teams must acquire the knowledge and methods to ensure food security and services.
Federal Agencies’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data Released (04/11)
White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced in April the latest assessments of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by the federal government. In all, the federal government was responsible for 66.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year, about 2.5 million metric tons fewer than in 2008. While the Office of Management and Budget has kept track of these numbers for years, this is the first year these metrics have been made public. The Department of Defense tops the list as the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions of any government entity.
Congress Votes on EPA Regulations (04/11)
In early April, the Senate and the House voted on language that would stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. In the Senate, four different amendments to limit EPA’s authority were offered to a small business bill (S. 493) but were all defeated. The four amendments, offered by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), varied in the limitations placed on EPA. The Inhofe amendment, which would have stripped EPA of its ability to regulate heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources, garnered fifty votes while the other three amendments received fewer than 13 votes each. Every Republican senator (except for Senator Susan Collins of Maine) plus four moderate and conservative Democrats voted for the Inhofe amendment.
The next day, on April 8, the House voted on an identical measure to the Inhofe amendment, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 (H.R. 910). After defeating 9 different Democratic amendments, the vote passed 255-172 with nineteen Democrats joining the Republicans.
EPA Publishes Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 1990-2009 (04/11)
In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the sixteenth annual U.S. greenhouse gas inventory. The Inventory of U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009 shows overall emissions in 2009 decreased by 6.1 percent from 2008. A decrease in fuel and electricity consumption across the United States is the main factor contributing to the overall decline. Total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases in 2009 were equivalent to 6,633 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the second lowest level since 1990, though total U.S. emissions have increased by 7.3 percent from 1990 to 2009.
Bureau of Reclamation Predicts Dry Future for Western River Basins (04/11)
A report released in April by the Bureau of Reclamation found that climate change will likely reduce western major river basin flows by as much as 20% by the end of the century. Largely based on existing research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers, this report uses new global circulation models (GCM's) to predict future snowpack, runoff, and precipitation in seven major western river basins. The northwestern Columbia River Basin, Upper Colorado River Basin, Missouri River Basin, and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin will generally see increases in precipitation though the more southern Klamath River Basin, Upper Rio Grande Basin, Tuckee River Basin, and the Lower Colorado River Basin will see decreases in precipitation, runoff, and snowpack. While western water management and infrastructure is designed for hydrological variability, the report warns warmer conditions could present dynamics these systems might not be prepared for. The report, titled Climate Change and Water, is required in section 9503(c) of the SECURE Water Act of 2009 which was part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act (PL 111-11).
House Holds Climate Hearings to Investigate Science Behind Findings (03/11)
House panels held two hearings in March to examine climate science and findings and implications such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) controversial greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations currently being contested in Congress. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on March 8 entitled “Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations,” and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held their own hearing on March 31 with the title “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy.”
The hearings had one overlapping witness. Dr. John Christy, a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He appeared at both hearings as a majority witness to testify about his concerns with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Christy said at the Energy and Power hearing that EPA regulations would have no effect on climate change. However, Richard Somerville, a climate scientist and professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and Knute Nadelhoffer, an ecologist and the director of the University of Michigan's Biological Station, stressed that global warming is occurring and that the U.S. must take action by reducing GHG emissions to avoid detrimental and irreversible effects to the climate.
At the Science Committee hearing, Dr. Richard Muller, a renowned physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, discussed the current research project he is heading called the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature (BEST) project. The effort aims to use new methods to assess and analyze global temperature data and provide a model in addition to those from the three major groups that undertake climate analyses: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United Kingdom’s Hadley Centre, all of which provide information to the IPCC. BEST’s work has yet to be peer-reviewed, but Muller said that their data so far shows “a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.” Read testimony from the chairs and witnesses and watch the archived webcast of the Science Committee hearing here, and the Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing here.
House Energy Subcommittee to Host Hearing with Climate Scientist (02/11)
The Democrats on the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the subcommittee chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) requesting that climate scientists participate in hearings on greenhouse gas emissions regulations within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The subcommittee has been holding hearings related to legislation, but according to Democratic members of the subcommittee, their requests to have climate scientists participate have been denied. The Democrats are concerned that recent hearings have called into question the science regarding climate change without having any scientists respond or present testimony.
Chairman Whitfield has indicated that the subcommittee will organize a hearing with a panel of climate scientists for March 8, 2011.
In related news, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) filed an amicus brief in a court case that questions judicial authority in making decisions about greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans in both chambers are questioning the authority of the judicial and the executive branches to rule on greenhouse gas emissions without legislation from the legislative branch.
USGS Requesting Comments on Strategy for Climate and Land Use Change (02/11)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is requesting comments and feedback on its draft report “USGS Global Change Science Strategy: A Framework for Understanding and Responding to Climate and Land-Use," released February 9 and available for 60 days. The report is a 10-year strategy for the Climate and Land Use Change Mission Area which is one of six science directions developed by the USGS in 2007. The Mission Areas and related background information can be found on the USGS Science Strategy website.
Report Clears NOAA of Fraud in Climate Email Debacle (02/11)
At the request of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken climate change skeptic, Inspector General Todd Zinser of the Department of Commerce conducted a review of stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia to determine if NOAA was guilty of impropriety or fraudulent data manipulation. The Inspector General was to answer whether there was evidence of improper manipulation of data; dismissal of appropriate peer review procedures; or noncompliance of the Information Quality Act (IQA) or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Finding “no evidence” of any of the aforementioned offenses, the report’s findings are similar to many other conclusions reached by independent investigations into climate data research and stewardship. NOAA still must explain to Zinser and Inhofe why funds were transferred to CRU in 2002 and 2003, though their records show the funds were used to help support workshops to aid the governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam with their climate forecasting abilities. NOAA’s national and global peer-reviewed climate data are available to the public here.
Congress Considers Restricting EPA Climate Change Initiatives
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and nine other Republican senators introduced a measure to remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The bill, Defending America's Affordable Energy and Jobs Act, (S.228) was submitted on January 31, 2011. Another measure (S.231) sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) would be less restrictive and would only seek to delay the EPA rules for stationary sources by two years.
In the House, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) and many cosponsors started the first session of the 112th Congress on January 5 with a bill (H.R. 153) to prohibit any funds for EPA to implement any regulations pertaining to GHGs or for any enforcement of any cap and trade program.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who is the Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), who is the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, will unveil draft legislation soon that seeks to restrict EPA regulations for greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. This flurry of legislative action signals a move away from climate change legislation towards efforts to discuss and control any actions taken by EPA to regulate the emissions that contribute to climate change.
USGS Releases Methods for Assessing Carbon Sequestration
On January 13, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report outlining the methods to be used to quantify and assess carbon storage and sequestration, greenhouse-gas fluxes and possible sequestration techniques in ecosystems throughout the United States.
The USGS published the report as a requirement under Section 712 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA; Public Law 110-140). The law mandates the Department of the Interior (DOI) to develop a methodology for measuring carbon stocks and sequestration and fluxes of three principle greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). It requires DOI to assess ecosystems in the U.S. and to investigate the potential of sequestering carbon in terrestrial ecosystems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. The assessment should be completed in about three years.
NASA/NOAA: 2010 Tied for Warmest Year on Record
Climate records show that 2010 has tied for the warmest year on record, according to a NASA news release and a monthly report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Global air temperature measurements were taken from land- and sea-based measurements and find no statistical difference between average temperatures for 2010 and 2005.
The announcement comes as several peer-reviewed journal articles have reported alarming predictions for a warming planet. Nature Geoscience published an article in January that reported sustained warming for at least 1,000 years, regardless of future carbon dioxide emissions. This climate inertia results from positive feedbacks such as melting permafrost and less ice cover, according to the study. Another study in Nature Geoscience reports that melting glaciers could contribute to as much as 16.1 centimeters of sea level rise. Areas such as the Alps and New Zealand are expected to see the most rapid loss of glaciers and may experience diminished stream flows in the spring, according to the report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that under current emissions scenarios, melting of ice sheets and glaciers could raise sea level 18 to 59 centimeters over the next century. Despite these projected changes, a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study suggests that arctic sea ice loss and extinction of polar bears can still be averted if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are stabilized at 450 parts per million.
Browner Leaves Climate and Energy Czar Position
Carol Browner has announced that she is leaving her position as the President’s climate change and energy advisor. Browner served an important role in the administration’s efforts to address the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but under her tenure the administration did not sign climate change legislation, which was intended to be a major focus of the position. Browner’s departure has been expected since late last year. The administration has not suggested a replacement for Browner, which is probably a sign that there will be less focus on climate change by the Obama White House.
EPA Starts and Stalls on Climate Change Regulations
On January 2, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules on regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks, and large industrial facilities take effect. The regulations are only for new facilities, significant modifications to existing facilities and new vehicles, however, opposition is mounting. Seven states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming) are not ready to implement the regulations and the EPA has taken over oversight in those states. Texas has refused to implement the regulations and EPA has taken over permitting and oversight in that state. Incoming House Energy and Natural Resources Chairman, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), has suggested he may use a rare congressional tool, a resolution of disapproval, to attempt to overturn the regulations. President Obama would have to sign the resolution if Congress considered and passed it. Upton acknowledged that the President is unlikely to approve of such a measure.
The EPA will also begin to formulate rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and refineries. The rules would be “modest” and their formulation and implementation would be delayed. The rules for power plants should be finalized by May 26, 2011 and the rules for refineries should be finalized by November 10, 2012. This plan is part of an agreement between EPA, states and environmental groups. EPA faces potential lawsuits from environmental groups over its failure to follow the Clean Air Act and intense opposition from industry over costs and the burdens of regulations.
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It is now widely accepted by the scientific community and by a growing number of policymakers that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" (GHG). The potential consequences of such alterations to the Earth's heat and radiation balance are the source of considerable debate. However, Congress has begun to focus more attention on the issue of climate change over the past several years. As concern about global warming continues to mount and as states and cities develop policies to deal with the issue at the regional scale, Congress has come under increased pressure to address the issue at the federal level.
A key factor in spurring action in Congress has been the publication of several critical reports on climate change. The Stern Review, published in October 2006 by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of Britain's Government Economic Service, analyzes the economic impact of climate change. The report suggests that global warming could "shrink the global economy by 20 percent. Action now, however, could mitigate the consequences of climate change at the cost of just 1 percent of the global gross domestic product.
An increasing number of American businesses are jumping aboard the climate change wagon. In February of 2007, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (U.S. CAP), a coalition of leading corporations and environmental organizations, testified before Congress. The membership of U.S. CAP, which includes organizations such as Alcoa, BP America, Inc., DuPont, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Natural Resources Defense Council, has attracted Congress's interest because of the leadership role the groups have in their respective industries. Additionally, they have united to forge a consensus view regarding action on climate, providing specific recommendations to reduce GHG emissions.
However, the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in November 2007 created perhaps the biggest waves in Congress. Based on new research over the past six years, hundreds of scientists representing 113 countries, agree that "the observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely (<5%) that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely (>90%) that it is not due to known natural causes alone." The conclusions of the IPCC report have pushed Congress away from debating the science of climate change toward finding solutions to address the issue. In the 110th Congress a comprehensive cap and trade approach was the focal point with various proposals being discussed, but Congress failed to pass any substantial legislation. The most prominent of the proposals, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S.3036), did not make it past the Senate. No alternative to Kerry-Lieberman emerged and no actions were taken to bring the measure to a vote.
There was no major climate change legislation passed in the 111th Congress and with more legislators opposed to climate change measures there is not likely to be any in the 112th Congress.
Contributed by Linda Rowan and Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Vicki Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett, AAPG/AGI Fall 2012.
Background section includes material from AGI's Climate Change Policy for the 111th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.
Last updated on December 5, 2012