Energy and Global Warming News for October 5: U.S. mayors pledge to cut carbon emisions

1,000 mayors agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

When Greg Nickels became Seattle’s mayor in 2002, global warming was hardly at the top of the municipal agenda.

New York’s World Trade Center had been attacked, and officials had to figure out how to protect their own city from terrorism. Boeing was laying off 30,000 machinists, so there was the declining regional economy to deal with. Surely the federal government would worry about climate change.

Then came the winter of 2004, when the Cascade Mountains snowpack was so disastrously low that ski resorts — facing their worst year on record — laid off most of their employees. The same snow, when it melts, is what generates much of the Northwest’s electricity. “It was serious. It was truly serious,” Nickels said. “It became clear to me that global warming was not something off in the future, not far away, but something that was here and now.”

With the U.S. still not a signatory to the international Kyoto climate change accord, Nickels began talking to other mayors about halting carbon emissions in the cities — where the majority of Americans live, drive cars, operate factories, turn on lights and use power. On Friday, as outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he announced that 1,000 mayors across the country had signed on to a pact to meet the Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also will urge the federal government and the states to cut emissions by 7% from 1990 levels by 2012.

Climate change will lead to massive decline in crop yield

A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), indicates that climate change would hit developing countries the hardest, leading to massive decline in crop yields and production. The study conducted by the American research think-tank for sustainable solutions to ending hunger and poverty said 25 million more children would be malnourished by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

The negative effects of climate change are especially pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Compared to the average biophysical effects of climate change on yields in the industrialised world, the developing countries fare worse for almost all crops.

Mark Rosegrant, Director of IFPRI’s Environmental and Production Technology Division and Co- author of the report said agriculture was extremely vulnerable to climate change, because farming was weather-dependent. He said small-scale farmers in developing countries would suffer the most.

Rosegrant said the study found out that the scenario of lower yields, higher prices for food and increased child malnutrition could be avoided. “If governments and donors begin now to invest seriously in adaptation for poor farmers, we could avert this bleak future,” he stressed.

Climate change threatens many in Mekong region: WWF

Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report released on Monday shows.

Intense floods and droughts, coastal erosion, higher seas and heat waves in coming decades threaten rice, fruit and coffee crops and fisheries on which many of the basin’s 65 million people depend, says the report by global conservation group WWF.

“Across the region, temperatures are rising and have risen by 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years,” says the report issued on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in the Thai capital.

“While rainy seasons may contract over parts of the region, overall rainfall is expected to rise. This means more intense rain events when they occur,” it says, threatening crops and triggering floods and landslides.

The basin runs from the Tibetan plateau in China, to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where the Mekong empties into the South China Sea.

The delta produces about half Vietnam’s rice crop and 60 percent of its shrimp harvest. But rising seas and salt water intrusion threaten harvests and would likely displace farmers.

“Large human populations living in low-lying coastal areas and floodplains make the region highly vulnerable to floods, saltwater intrusion, and rising sea levels,” the report said, referring to Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Hanoi.

The Price of Green

You have a hybrid automobile in your driveway, and you faithfully recycle. Is it time to go “green” with your money, too, by investing in eco-sensitive funds?

There are roughly three dozen dedicated green portfolios from which to choose, according to research firm Morningstar Inc. They include both mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Most focus on companies involved in environment-related industries””such as alternative energy or water treatment and distribution””though a few take it a step further by including a broader mix of companies with low carbon footprints, regardless of the sector in which they operate. Beyond these dedicated green portfolios, there are funds that screen holdings for certain environmental factors as part of a broader commitment to socially responsible investing.

Some financial planners and green-investing professionals say the near future bodes well for companies involved in green industries because of what many see as an eco-friendly White House, economic-stimulus money earmarked for alternative-energy technology, and proposed legislation in Congress that seeks to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and establish standards for energy efficiency.

The “policy and regulatory environment is going to be a boon for green investing, as companies across industries scramble to realign their carbon intensity and how they perform energy-efficiency-wise,” says Bennett Freeman, the senior vice president for sustainability research and policy at Calvert Asset Management Co., a longtime participant in socially responsible investing and the manager of the Calvert Global Alternative Energy fund.

But investors tempted by green investing need to choose funds carefully and understand that some of these sectors can be very volatile, as illustrated by the bankruptcy of multiple ethanol and biofuel producers, as well as struggles among small solar-power companies, amid a drop in oil prices over the past year. It is also important to recognize that buying into green businesses and shunning those that are harder on the Earth’s resources won’t benefit the environment directly.

Political Alliances Shift in Fight Over Climate Bill

The flurry of companies quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is highlighting how the climate-change issue is straining traditional alliances in Washington, as some businesses seek to profit from overhauling the energy market and others try to cut deals to head off tougher regulation.

Some companies and industry groups that have in the past worked with Republicans to fight efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels — such as Detroit’s auto makers — are now expressing support for action on climate change. Some support legislation to put a price on the carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, while others support preserving the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate such greenhouse gases.

The Chamber of Commerce says it supports efforts to fight climate change through federal investments and incentives for power that can be produced without emitting carbon dioxide. But the group has opposed proposals to require companies to pay for the right to emit carbon. The Chamber, which says it represents three million businesses, says its positions are “mainstream, common-sense views” approved by a majority of more than 100 business leaders who sit on its board of directors.

Some companies — such as Peabody Energy and ConocoPhillips — have spoken out against climate legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Others — such as General Electric Co. and Duke Energy Corp. — have expressed support for it. Many companies backing action on climate change stand to gain if the U.S. requires corporations to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide.

In the past two weeks, three utilities — Exelon Corp., PG&E Corp. and PNM Resources Inc. — have quit the Chamber, citing the group’s opposition to climate bills. A fourth company, Nike Inc., said Wednesday that it was resigning from the Chamber’s board because the group “has not represented the diversity of perspective” held by the board’s members on climate change.

Renewable energy? It’s an offshore thing

Imagine what it is like to open the bonnet of your car, stand on top of the engine and be hoisted 85m above the North Sea on a perilously narrow pole. The view on a clear day is breathtaking, but when the wind is blowing so hard the whole contraption swings 4m from side to side, it is grim – even for Leif Bolther.

This 51-year-old Swede, with forearms that would shame Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a seasoned technician in the wind industry. Blooded in the Norwegian offshore oil sector, Bolther has worked in the remotest parts of China and India, but still admits: “It can be hard up there in the terrible cold and freezing rain.”

The tough but affable Swede is part of a burgeoning workforce promising a renewable revolution far out to sea. It will replicate the earlier North Sea oil industry, except that it is carbon-free and a vital tool in the battle against global warming.

Bolther works for the turbine manufacturer Siemens in Danish and Swedish waters, where much of the early running has been made in the offshore wind industry. Lillgrund, located 10km off the coast close to the median line with Denmark, is Sweden’s biggest wind farm. The 48 turbines produce 110MW of power, enough to light 60,000 homes.

But this week Britain will unveil much more radical plans for this side of the North Sea. The Crown Estate on Wednesday will give briefings on what is known as Round Three (R3) licensing awards, which will take the industry out into much deeper waters. Shortlists have been drawn up and the Crown Estate will soon announce which companies and consortia have been chosen. Nine areas, including the Dogger Bank, acreage off Norfolk and the Firth of Forth, have been designated for development.

The third licensing round is a step change for the UK offshore industry, offering developers the chance to build 25GW of new power. Under rounds one and two, which started in 2000, 8GW can be developed. Combined, the total of 33GW would represent more than 10 times what is produced from wind power today. That would help Britain meet its European Union-agreed targets of producing 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Today it is a tiny fraction of that, while wind already provides Denmark with 20% of its power.

U.N. climate scientist says clean tech good investment

The United Nations scientist whose report set the global standard for climate change sees biofuels as a good investment bet and advised on Friday that people eat less meat to help curb global warming.

In an interview on what individuals in developed countries can do to slow climate change and profit in the process, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, advised investors to assume the future will be low-carbon. “Investors should be going toward clean technologies,” he said. “The world is going to move toward a low-carbon future. That is inevitable.”

The IPCC’s 2007 report galvanized global reaction to climate change with predictions that world temperatures could rise as much as 11.5 degrees F (6.4 degrees Celsius) this century if carbon emissions were not tackled. New technologies, some of which are still in the lab, could become important, Pachauri said on the sidelines of the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles.

“Battery technology is going to be extremely important, but I wouldn’t rule out the importance of biofuels. Of course it won’t be biofuels converting corn into ethanol. It will be a new generation of biofuels that has relatively low environmental and other social impacts.”

“Production of hydrogen from water in a way that’s not going to be terribly intensive in terms of conventional forms of energy,” could be important. “You have algae that has a lot of potential” as a biofuel, he added.

Vermont boosts payoff for renewable energy

Seeking to boost solar and other types of renewable energy, Vermont has joined a small but growing number of states enacting guarantees for what utilities will pay for green power.

The state Public Service Board, responding to legislation passed earlier this year,issued an order this week setting up a system of contracts in which renewable energy developers can get a fixed price for their power for 20 years.

Prices range up to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar power projects “” a level that critics decry as likely to drive up rates and hurt the economy. Supporters say such a guarantee is needed to get investors to step forward and build renewable energy projects.

“We support renewables to round out the state’s energy future. And we hope the feed-in tariff will result in growth of renewables at a faster rate,” said Stephen Wark of the Department of Public Service, which manages energy policy for the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas.

“But we’re a bit concerned at the impact on rates that this could have,” he said. The program is capped at 50 megawatts. Wark said his department has estimated if projects totaling that amount are built under the price guarantees, it could raise electric rates by 2 to 3.

Guaranteed rates are lower for wind power, small hydroelectric and biomass power, but still higher than the 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour utilities are paying at wholesale for electricity generated with nuclear and fossil fuel-based energy. The new program “guarantees contract prices based upon the actual present-day cost of building the project,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee and a key author of the legislation.

The impact on rates will be limited by the relatively small scope of the program, Klein said. The 50 megawatt program represents about 4 percent of Vermont’s total power demand. Individual projects are capped at 2.2 megawatts.

Climate Bill Includes Green Taxis Act

A measure included in the U.S. Senate’s newly-unveiled climate change bill, could clear the way for New York City and other metropolitan areas to require the conversion

The Green Taxis Act of 2009 would allow city governments to set fuel-economy and emissions standards for privately owned taxicabs.

Federal courts have twice ruled that New York City’s green taxi initiatives were illegal, because only the federal government is allowed to set vehicle standards. According to a New York Times report, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg worked with the state’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, to craft the law and push it into the Senate climate package.

Parallel legislation reportedly will be introduced in the House by Representative Jerrold L. Nadler of Manhattan. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities have also run into legal roadblocks in building green taxi fleets. of taxi fleets to more environmentally friendly hybrid and electric vehicles.

Mighty caribou herds dwindle, warming blamed

Here on the endlessly rolling and tussocky terrain of northwest Canada, where man has hunted caribou since the Stone Age, the vast antlered herds are fast growing thin. And it’s not just here.

Across the tundra 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the east, Canada’s Beverly herd, numbering more than 200,000 a decade ago, can barely be found today. Halfway around the world in Siberia, the biggest aggregation of these migratory animals, of the dun-colored herds whose sweep across the Arctic’s white canvas is one of nature’s matchless wonders, has shrunk by hundreds of thousands in a few short years.

From wildlife spectacle to wildlife mystery, the decline of the caribou “” called reindeer in the Eurasian Arctic “” has biologists searching for clues, and finding them. They believe the insidious impact of climate change, its tipping of natural balances and disruption of feeding habits, is decimating a species that has long numbered in the millions and supported human life in Earth’s most inhuman climate.

Many herds have lost more than half their number from the maximums of recent decades, a global survey finds. They “hover on the precipice of a major decline,” it says. The “People of the Caribou,” the native Gwich’in of the Yukon and Alaska, were among the first to sense trouble, in the late 1990s, as their Porcupine herd dwindled. From 178,000 in 1989, the herd “” named for the river crossing its range “” is now estimated to number 100,000.

“They used to come through by the hundreds,” James Firth, 56, of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board said as he guided two Associated Press journalists across the tundra. Off toward distant horizons this summer afternoon, only small groups of a dozen or fewer migrating caribou could be seen grazing southward across the spongy landscape, green with a layer of grasses, mosses and lichen over the Arctic permafrost.

“I’ve never seen it like this before,” Firth said of the sparse numbers. More than 50 identifiable caribou herds migrate over huge wilderness tracts in a wide band circling the top of the world. They head north in the spring to ancient calving grounds, then back south through summer and fall to winter ranges closer to northern forests.

Soot clouds pose threat to Himalayan glaciers

Glaciers in the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau that feed the river systems of almost half the world’s people are melting faster because of the effects of clouds of soot from diesel fumes and wood fires, according to scientists in India and China.

The results, to be announced this month in Kashmir, show for the first time that clouds of soot – made up of tiny particles of “black carbon” emitted from old diesel engines and from cooking with wood, crop waste or cow dung – are “unequivocally having an impact on glacial melting” in the Himalayas.

Scientists say that, while the threat of carbon dioxide to global warming has been accepted, soot from developing countries is a largely unappreciated cause of rising temperatures. Once the black carbon lands on glaciers, it absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be reflected by the snow, leading to melting. “This is a huge problem which we are ignoring,” said Professor Syed Hasnain of the Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in Delhi. “We are finding concentrations of black carbon in the Himalayas in what are supposed to be pristine, untouched environments.”

The institute has set up two sensors in the Himalayas, one on the Kholai glacier that sits on the mountain range’s western flank in Kashmir and the other flowing through the eastern reaches in Sikkim. Glaciers in this region feed most of the major rivers in Asia. The short-term result of substantial melting is severe flooding downstream.

Hasnain says India and China produce about a third of the world’s black carbon, and both countries have been slow to act. “India is the worst. At least in China the state has moved to measure the problem. In Delhi no government agency has put any sensors on the ground. [Teri] is doing it by ourselves.”

10 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for October 5: U.S. mayors pledge to cut carbon emisions

  1. Dr. Matania Ginosar says:

    The mayors desire to reduce global warming is commendable, but hopefully they would NOT follow the way Mayor Newsom of San Francisco is proceeding. Blindly and dangerousely.
    Newsom wants to install small wind generators on top of buildings across this lovely city. This is a very dangerous approach. When I led the pioneering Wind Energy program of the California Energy Commission, when we broke the barrier to commercializing wind energy, we carefully analyzed all options. It was very clear that wind turbines should not be placed near population both for safety and practicality. First, wind strength is unpredictable, and can gusts to very high levels sometimes breaking blades. Think about the people on the streets below. In addition, so much more green energy can be “obtained” by conservation that cost maybe one tenth as much. That means we can do ten times as much for each available dollar.

    It is critical to reduce greenhouse gases as fast as possible, and conservation is the fastest way possible while providing many local jobs for the multitudes of unemployed. It is not as appealing as photovoltaic and wind energy, but it is more productive than any alternative and should be done first.

  2. Nickels was good on global warming but not good enough. He lost the mayoral election partly because he supported rebuilding the Alaska Way Viaduct freeway. One of his opponents going to the runoff is a Sierra Club activist whose main campaign issue was removing the freeway.

  3. Will says:

    Sad that Nickels lost re-election.

  4. ecostew says:

    Still Time to Cut Risk of Climate Catastrophe:
    Ron Prinn, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a co-author of the new study, says that “our results show we still have around a 50-50 chance of stabilizing the climate” at a level of no more than a few tenths above the 2 degree target. However, that will require global emissions, which are now growing, to start downward almost immediately. That result could be achieved if the aggressive emissions targets in current U.S. climate bills were met, and matched by other wealthy countries, and if China and other large developing countries followed suit with only a decade or two delay.

  5. Eric Williams says:

    Dr. Ginosar,

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Any thoughts on making efficiency sexy? the zeal of the well-intentioned but poorly informed can be…well, counterproductive

  6. hapa says:

    “Political Alliances Shift in Fight Over Climate Bill” link:

  7. Deep Climate says:

    I hope you’re on this – there’s more idiocy on McIntyre-Briffa controversy from someone who should know better, your friend and mine, Andy Revkin. I can’t believe how much room Revkin give McIntyre, without mentioning:

    a) McIntyre’s repeated and unjustified attacks on the integrity of climate scientists

    b) Use of his “research” by the fossil-funded denialosphere going back to the Barton “hockey stick” inquisition and including appearances in the Friends of Science film “Climate Catastrophe Cancelled” and the latest contrarian opus “Not Evil, Just Wrong”.

    c) Complete scientific bankruptcy of his analyses.

    A previously suggested partial antidote:

  8. Kayla says:

    Wow. What a plethora of problems that could be solved with more focus and investment in alternative energy…. despite critics’ objections.

  9. Will: If you care about reducing automobile use and thereby reducing ghg emissions, it is a very good thing that Nickels lost the election – particularly since he lost to a Sierra Club activist who won by criticizing his pro-freeway stance.