Climate change remains a top priority


Zachary Coile | San Francisco Chronicle

Skeptics believed that the fiscal crisis would force Obama to put his plans to address global warming on the back burner. But in a videotaped speech to a climate summit co-hosted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month, Obama said, “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option.”

State officials hope that Obama will reverse a Bush administration decision and approve efforts by California and 16 other states to require automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. Obama has said he supports California’s position, but he’ll face pressure from U.S. automakers, who claim that the rules could further harm their chances of survival.

His first big task will be to pick the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who will face a series of key decisions on climate change. California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols is seen as a top contender, along with New Jersey’s Commissioner for Environmental Protection Lisa Jackson and Pennsylvania’s Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, who chaired President Bill Clinton’s White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama could take some key first steps by executive order, for example, requiring an analysis of whether new federal projects would impact global warming. He told ABC’s Barbara Walters last week that he plans to take steps to “green” the White House to show the public it’s not difficult to make their homes more energy efficient.

He could also make a statement in his first budget proposal in February by including projections on revenues raised from a future cap and trade system that requires industry to buy credits to emit greenhouse gases. Bush made a similar move in his 2001 budget by assuming revenues from drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Obama could also include in his budget a plan to revoke tax breaks for oil companies and extend tax credits for wind and solar power.

Environmentalists are pressing Obama to order the EPA to begin regulating greenhouse gases under authority established by a Supreme Court ruling last year. California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to push legislation to direct the EPA to set up a cap and trade program, which could add pressure on lawmakers to act on climate change legislation.


Climate change increases problems for Florida reefs

The last, largest stands of ancient elkhorn coral survive in shallow waters off North Key Largo, where rough seas sometimes expose thick golden branches reaching toward the sunlit surface.

Forty years ago, elkhorn grew in dense forests that would cover parking lots. Now, the biggest clump would barely fill one space.

In another 40 years, elkhorn could disappear altogether — along with just about every other hard coral forming South Florida’s once-vibrant barrier reefs.

Federal regulators last week designated a 1,329-square-mile strip of sea bottom stretching from southern Palm Beach County to the Dry Tortugas as critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn corals, two species that have long formed the foundation of barrier reefs off Florida and in the Caribbean.

But a new report by the Environmental Defense Fund and co-authored by two University of Miami scientists argues localized protections will do little to address the biggest threat to reefs.

Global warming is not only accelerating problems that already have sickened and shrunken coral reefs, it has created a new, potentially more lethal threat: Increasingly acidic ocean waters that can reduce living coral to dead rubble.

The report, ”Corals and Climate Change: Florida’s Natural Treasures at Risk,” concludes that 5,000-year-old reefs, which support an array of marine life, will be among the first ecosystems to collapse if greenhouse gas levels continue to rise in the atmosphere.

”All of the forecasts show that at the rate we’re going that somewhere at the middle or the end of the century, it’s going to be very challenging for corals,” said Harold Wanless, UM’s chairman of geological sciences.

Wanless, who has studied rising sea levels in South Florida for decades, is one of the report’s six co-authors, along with department colleague James Klaus, a UM assistant professor. The others: Terry Gibson, longtime environmental journalist in Florida; Patricia Foster-Turley, wildlife biologist based in Fernandina Beach; and Karen Florini and Thomas Olson, attorneys with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Read on here.

UK’s climate change body to unveil emissions cut plans

By Peter Griffiths | Reuters


LONDON  Britain’s chief climate change adviser will recommend on Monday how the government can meet tough targets to pare planet-warming carbon emissions, including what role coal should play in the country’s energy future.


In its first report, the Committee on Climate Change will weigh how Britain can meet ambitious goals to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions while taking account of the economic downturn, energy security and volatile fuel prices.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown set up the committee to advise ministers on what his government describes as the world’s greatest environmental challenge.


Britain and other countries say climate change will cause extreme weather, leading to food and water shortages, rising sea levels and flooding and outbreaks of disease.


Energy and Climate Minister Ed Miliband has already accepted the committee’s proposal to sharpen a binding national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to an 80 percent cut from 60 percent.


Now the committee chaired by Adair Turner — also head of Britain’s financial watchdog — has the job of advising how the government can achieve this, possibly recommending the end of unconstrained emissions from coal plants.




Coal is one of the world’s cheapest and most accessible forms of energy, but also one of the main contributors to climate change.


The committee will advise on constraints on new coal-fired power plants which may include attaching expensive carbon-cutting technologies which would dramatically dent coal’s competitiveness.


German utility E.ON AG plans to build a new coal plant in Kingsnorth in Kent, in south-east Britain. Climate protestors scaled the security fences in August in an attempt to disrupt output at an existing plant there, due to close by 2015.


The government wants any new coal plants to demonstrate plans for fitting, in the future, technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS) which traps carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and buries them underground.


The committee may set a clear date for when CCS should become mandatory on such new build coal plants.


Utilities say fitting CCS will cost around $1 billion extra per plant and cut efficiency by about one quarter.


They are also concerned that there will be a power generation gap between 2015 and 2020 which will have to be filled by gas-fired plants, because there is too much uncertainty in the government’s stance on coal.


“Government policy towards coal needs to be clearer and firmer before people will go ahead,” said David Porter, chief executive of the Association of Electricity Producers. 

Continue here.

MSU professor shares expertise in climate change study

By Kayla Habermehl  I The State News

An MSU professor will help “give science advice to the nation” in regard to future environmental policy.

Thomas Dietz, the director of the MSU Environmental Science & Policy Program, was selected to participate in the America’s Climate Choices study, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, or NAS. The data gleaned from the two-year study will help advise the U.S. Congress on its environmental policies.

Researchers will split the eight-part study between two groups. A main committee will study four topics, while specialized panels will each study one of the four other topics, said Ian Kraucunas, a senior program officer within NAS.

The individual panels will each focus on one of the following: how to limit the amount of climate change in the future, the adaptations that will have to be made to live with climate change, how to further understand climate change and its impact on people and ecology, and how to inform decisions and tactics in regards to climate change.

Dietz, chosen from about 1,200 nominations, will serve on the main committee, the Committee on America’s Climate Choices. He also will serve as vice chairman of one of the four subcommittees, Advancing the Science of Climate Change.

Dietz said a contributing factor to his appointment is MSU’s reputation as an innovator. He said MSU collects data from computer models to make predictions about climate change and its impact on Michigan. The university also plays a role in work done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“What’s really unique at MSU is we bring in people who study how decisions are made,” Dietz said. “We always work with stakeholders.”

Jeff Andresen, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and one of Dietz’s colleagues, said the appointment reflects years of hard work.

“There aren’t that many of these appointments, period,” Andresen said. “It’s an honor for anyone at MSU to be selected for something like this.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided almost $6 million for the study, Kraucunas said.

“Congress and the government has no influence (on the study),” Dietz said. “The studies are very carefully peer reviewed. Congress doesn’t get to take a look at the study in advance.”

The study will use data from existing scientific literature, Dietz said.

The NAS also doesn’t recommend specific policies, but gives advice relevant to the policy in question.

“We try not to make value judgments,” Dietz said. “Sometimes that means saying that a particular policy is a good or bad idea because the science says that it will or won’t work.”

Obama buzz felt at global climate talks



Netherlands — The president-elect won’t be there, but an Obama buzz will crackle through the conference hall when negotiators gather Monday for a final push toward a sweeping new global warming treaty.

“America is back,” says Sen. John Kerry, underscoring that Barack Obama’s election signals a U.S. intent to regain a leadership role on climate change.

“After eight years of obstruction and delay and denial, the United States is going to rejoin the world community in tackling this global challenge,” said the Massachusetts Democrat, in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Delegates from nearly 190 countries gather for two weeks in Poznan, Poland, meeting for fourth time in the past year. Previous talks have witnessed bickering, clashes and compromise in what the top U.N. climate official calls the most difficult and complex international negotiation in history.

They have set a deadline of December 2009 to complete an accord on reducing worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for changing the Earth’s climate.

Delegates say Obama’s election promises to energize a process that until now has been burdened by a U.S. reluctance to endorse any international climate regime.

“In Poznan there will be a buzz — we can call it the American buzz,” said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The U.S. is back in the conversation, and back with a leader that gets it.”

At the same time, a global financial crisis has struck just when governments must commit to spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

A report by the U.N. climate change secretariat estimates that at least $200 billion will be needed annually to cut carbon emissions 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030. hundreds of billions more may be needed for poor countries to deal with such effects of global warming as rising seas, water scarcity and shifts in farming, it said.

Some 9,000 delegates, activists and researchers will attend the Poznan meeting, which ends with a two-day summit of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, 150 environmental ministers, and Kerry and other U.S. congressmen who are instructed to report back to Obama.

It comes as new data suggests carbon emissions are increasing rather than declining, adding vigor to scientists’ warnings that higher average temperatures will lead to more extreme storms, droughts and floods. U.N. monitors said last this month that total emissions from more than 40 reporting countries grew by 2.3 percent between 2000 to 2006.

“The need for real progress has never been more urgent,” U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said in a video message to delegates.

De Boer said Sunday that the global financial crisis already has delayed some green energy projects, and he fears the shortage of investment money could lead to cheap and dirty decisions on new power plants.

He said the crisis should instead be seen as an opportunity to reform the power infrastructure. He said 40 percent of the world’s power generation must be changed in the next 10 to 15 years, and new plants will last up to 50 years.

The Poznan conference is the halfway mark in a two-year negotiation to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliged 37 industrial countries to slash carbon emissions below 1990 levels by an average 5 percent by 2012.

Continue reading here.

Greenhouse gases ‘must be cut’

The Press Association

The UK must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34% by 2020, the committee set up to advise the Government on climate change has recommended.

The Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Adair Turner, also said emissions should be cut by even more if an international deal on reducing greenhouse gases is agreed.

If the current UN negotiations lead to a new deal on climate change in Copenhagen next December, the UK’s greenhouse gases should be cut by 42% on 1990 levels by the end of the next decade.

The significant reductions can be achieved at a cost of less than 1% of GDP in 2020, and using existing green technologies, a report from the committee said.

But stronger Government policies will be needed to move the UK to a low-carbon economy.

The cuts can be achieved by cleaner power generation from sources such as wind, which could make up 30% of the UK’s electricity by 2020, and measures including energy-efficiency improvements in homes and offices and developing more efficient, electric and hydrogen-powered cars.

The report said nuclear power could play a role in low-carbon electricity generation, and did not rule out new conventional coal-fired power stations in the next decade.

It recommended the Government should make clear that fossil-fuelled power plants which do not have technology to trap and permanently store carbon emissions should not be allowed to generate electricity beyond the early 2020s.

New coal-fired power stations should only be built with the “clear expectation and certainty” that they should be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) by the early 2020s, Lord Turner said.

The climate change committee, set up under the Climate Change Act, has already recommended a cut of 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 – advice which has been accepted by the Government.

Canada: Opposition critics offered a seat at next week’s climate conference


OTTAWA AND TORONTO — Through a series of casual chats on Parliament Hill, Environment Minister Jim Prentice has personally invited his opposition critics to join him at the UN’s global climate-change talks taking place next week in Poland.

It is a small but symbolic gesture that signals a clear change in tone on the environment file from the Harper government.

This time last year, opposition environment critics were furious at then-environment-minister John Baird, who broke from established practice in refusing to bring them as part of the Canadian delegation.

Known as the Convention on Climate Change, the annual gathering allows countries to share ideas and negotiate new targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

This round of talks – being held in the western Polish city of Poznan – comes at a crucial moment. Time is running out for the countries to negotiate an extension to the Kyoto Protocol before it expires in 2012.

World leaders have to make progress in Poland on drafting terms for the extension, which must be approved at the next United Nations summit just 11 months from now in Copenhagen, if it is to have any hope of being implemented.

Having already pledged to work closely with U.S. president-elect Barack Obama on global warming, Canada’s new Environment Minister appears to be softening his government’s partisan edge.

“I think there’s a growing understanding and growing sophistication,” said John Drexhage, director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. “I see a change in tone on the part of the Harper government.”

In an interview, Mr. Prentice said countries will be focused on meeting that looming deadline of next year when they gather in Poznan.

“In Copenhagen, the world will essentially turn the page in one way or another on Kyoto and hopefully conclude a new international protocol,” he said.

The minister predicts the talks in Poznan will be affected by three main factors: the global economic downturn; a growing internal debate in Europe over emission reduction targets; and the election of Mr. Obama, who has vowed to re-engage the United States in the UN climate-change process.

“Poznan is an extremely important stock-taking conference,” Mr. Prentice said. “This will be first chance for the international community to come together to talk about the way forward in light of those realities.”

The minister is also planning a visit to Washington in the near future to gather information on how Canada could work with Mr. Obama on climate change.

Mr. Prentice’s critics say that while the shift in tone is welcome, they will be looking for significant changes in Canada’s approach at these UN talks.

Read on here.