6 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 7: Climate projections UNDERestimate CO2 impact — USGS; White House raises climate summit stakes
The U.S. Geological Survey reported today on a major new study, “Climate Projections Underestimate CO2 Impact“:
The climate may be 30-50 percent more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide in the long term than previously thought, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience yesterday.
Projections over the next hundreds of years of climate conditions, including global temperatures, may need to be adjusted to reflect this higher sensitivity.
“Climate change is affecting water supplies for cities and farms; leading to more severe droughts, hurricanes, and floods; contributing to more intense forest fires; and putting coastal communities at risk,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who is on his way to the global climate change conference convening this week in Copenhagen. “This study and the ongoing work of our USGS scientists will help us continue to build more precise long-term projections and to prepare for the impacts of climate change on our world.”
A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol and including the U.S. Geological Survey, studied global temperatures 3.3 to 3 million years ago, finding that the averages were significantly higher than expected from the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the time.
These underestimates occurred because the long-term sensitivity of the Earth system was not accurately taken into account. In these earlier periods, Earth had more time to adjust to some of the slower impacts of climate change. For example, as the climate warms and ice sheets melt, Earth will absorb more sunlight and continue to warm in the future since less ice is present to reflect the sun.
The U.S. Geological Survey provided the reconstruction of environmental conditions during this timeframe, known as the mid-Pliocene warm period. These data allowed the authors to test the Earth system’s sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide.
“Earth is a dynamic system and climate models need to incorporate its multiple feedbacks as well as changes on both fast and long timescales,” said Dr. Dan Lunt, who is with the University of Bristol and was the lead author of this article. “This comprehensive outlook allows us to see how sensitive the climate really is to atmospheric carbon dioxide, resulting in more accurate long-term projections.”
“This research also emphasizes the importance of examining the past and acquiring real data to understand Earth’s climate system,” said USGS scientist Harry Dowsett. “Our research on the mid-Pliocene is the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period, and scientists did so by examining fossils to determine sea surface and deepwater ocean temperatures, vegetation, sea ice extent, and other environmental characteristics during that timeframe.”
Global average temperatures during the mid-Pliocene were about 3°C (5.5°F) greater than today and within the range projected for the 21st century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Therefore it may be one of the closest analogs in helping to understand Earth’s current and future conditions.
Here is the abstract of “Earth system sensitivity inferred from Pliocene modelling and data“:
Quantifying the equilibrium response of global temperatures to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is one of the cornerstones of climate research. Components of the Earth|[rsquo]|s climate system that vary over long timescales, such as ice sheets and vegetation, could have an important effect on this temperature sensitivity, but have often been neglected. Here we use a coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model to simulate the climate of the mid-Pliocene warm period (about three million years ago), and analyse the forcings and feedbacks that contributed to the relatively warm temperatures. Furthermore, we compare our simulation with proxy records of mid-Pliocene sea surface temperature. Taking these lines of evidence together, we estimate that the response of the Earth system to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is 30-50|[percnt]| greater than the response based on those fast-adjusting components of the climate system that are used traditionally to estimate climate sensitivity. We conclude that targets for the long-term stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations aimed at preventing a dangerous human interference with the climate system should take into account this higher sensitivity of the Earth system.
For more, see “Earth much more sensitive to global warming than thought.”
President Barack Obama is heating up his efforts on climate change, with decisions that have some Democrats in Congress starting to sweat.
The announcement Friday that Obama is pushing back his appearance at the Copenhagen summit to its final weekend, the critical negotiating period, signals a willingness to pour significant political capital into his climate agenda – and raises expectations that the White House will reach agreements both internationally and at home.
The impact of the scheduling change is magnified by expectations that the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize a key move toward regulating greenhouse gases, with the final release of its endangerment finding expected as soon as Monday.
“There’s no question that this is a game changer,” said Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund. “It’s huge, it’s important, and it’s logical given the momentum that’s developing around the world and in next the two weeks.”
The moves have cheered environmentalists worldwide, who in closed door conversations had previously admitted some frustration with what they saw as a lack of public action by the White House on its climate agenda.
“Having decided to join dozens of other world leaders in the right place, at the right time, President Obama is now reinvigorating the U.S. approach to the climate talks at this defining moment in history,” said Oxfam spokesperson Antonio Hill.
And they’re putting new pressure on the Senate, which has stalled in its efforts to pass a cap and trade bill amid skepticism from coal, manufacturing, and rural state Democrats. Any international agreement to curb greenhouse gases would need Congress passing legislation capping emissions in the U.S., the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter, after China.
“The road to Copenhagen goes through the U.S. Senate,” said Peter Goldmark, the head of the climate and air program for the Environmental Defense Fund.
The White House said Friday that Obama would travel to Copenhagen at the end of international climate talks, rather than in the first week of the talks, as originally planned.
The change in schedule is a strong sign of confidence by the administration that they will reach a political agreement in Copenhagen – and that they want to take credit for leading the process.
“Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the President believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference,” said the White House in a statement.
Typically, major decisions at international climate forums come during the last weekend of the conference. Nearly 100 world leaders plan to attend the Copenhagen talks, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The original plan for Obama attend in the middle of the first week would have allowed the White House to demonstrate an American commitment to curbing greenhouse gases while putting it a distance from the conference if negotiators fail to reach agreement by its end.
Now, much of the deal is on his shoulders.
“They’re going to be faced with the question of whether they really did something or did we just have a bunch of press conferences and claim victory at the end, which is generally what happens at these meetings,” said Frank Maisano, an energy specialist at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which lobbies for utilities and coal interests.
But the concessions that will be necessary to get an international agreement could be risky domestically. A deal in Copenhagen will require the United States to commit billions of dollars to help developing nations deal with the severe storms, droughts, and other destructive impacts of global warming.
On Friday, the White House promised to pay “its fair share” of the $10 billion annual payment to poorer countries.
That could be a tough sell domestically, given the country’s’ high unemployment numbers, mounting debt, and deep economic recession.
“I’m surprised the president would commit our nation to billions in new and long-term spending, particularly in a year that has seen our government rack up a record deficit, and before our economy is back on track,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska), the highest ranking Republican member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
“My home state of Alaska literally has villages falling into the ocean – where’s the support for the people in our own country being affected by climate change?”
The scheduling decision comes as advocates and lawmakers prepare for the expected release next week of the Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding that will formally announce that greenhouse gases are a danger to human health and welfare. The decision opens the door for the agency to begin regulating emissions across the economy by imposing new rules on auto manufacturers, utilities, and other industrial polluters.
The finding puts new pressure on Congress to pass climate change legislation that would preempt the new regulations before the EPA begins acting.
It also raises the stakes for the Administration and for moderate Democrats.
The only other ways to stop the EPA from regulating, say experts, is with a lawsuit or for Congress to vote to defund the EPA.
If climate change legislation fails to pass and a lawsuit doesn’t stop the new rules, manufacturing and coal state Democrats could find themselves stuck between attacks that they are hurting hometown economies and defunding a key White House initiative.
“The Administration appears to be playing for keeps here,” said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners.
The White House said late Friday that President Barack Obama now expects a “meaningful” climate deal at a United Nations summit in Copenhagen, possibly involving a commitment for rich nations to provide $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing countries fight climate change.
The White House said the U.S. is prepared to pay its “fair share” of the $10 billion.
The U.S. and some European governments have played down expectations for the Copenhagen conference over the past few weeks, saying it won’t yield a legally binding accord. But in a statement Friday that cited signs of “progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord” the White House said Mr. Obama has decided to change his plans for attending the summit so that he can be in Copenhagen Dec. 18 when other world leaders are expected to be there, the White House said.
Mr. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon finalize a proposed legal finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger human health — the legal trigger for regulating them under the Clean Air Act. Such a move, if announced ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit to Copenhagen, could give the U.S. more leverage at the summit. It could also pressure members of the U.S. Senate to speed up work on legislation to cap U.S. emissions.
Many business leaders have said they would rather accept a system adopted by Congress that would allow them to buy and sell pollution credits to offset the cost of cleaner-energy technology, than be forced by EPA rules to install expensive hardware with no offsetting credits.
Mr. Obama had earlier said he would stop briefly at the summit on Dec. 9, on his way to collecting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Some environmental groups had complained that meant Mr. Obama didn’t expect to achieve any substantive agreements at the U.N. summit because most other leaders were scheduled to arrive the following week.
The White House said Mr. Obama discussed the status of the climate talks this week with the leaders of Australia, Germany, France and Britain and concluded that there “appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012″ to help developing countries adapt to the potential impact of climate change.
How much the U.S. would be willing to contribute as its share of such a financial deal isn’t clear. European officials have laid out specific estimates of how much the developed world will have to contribute over the next decade to help poor nations tackle climate change. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has said that by 2020 anywhere from ‚¬22 billion ($33 billion) to ‚¬50 billion will have to come directly from the public budgets of rich nations each year to help developing nations.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said the Obama administration is “not focusing on a 2020 number,” but rather is trying to determine what “an aggregate number should be from developed countries” over the next two or three years.
U.N. officials have previously said they expect international negotiators may agree to a $10 billion-a-year short-term financing package in Copenhagen — an expectation that becomes more likely with Mr. Obama’s fresh commitment.
A Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will consider nine energy and climate policy bills this week, covering topics from engineering education and wind energy research to carbon capture technology development incentives and biofuels for small engines.
Many of the bills would authorize research spending at the Energy Department, and DOE Undersecretary Kristina Johnson will testify before the Energy Subcommittee. Five of the bills have already passed the House this year.
Among the bills up for discussion is a measure that would guide a DOE solar energy research program and would authorize more than $2 billion for solar research and development projects.
Under the legislation, DOE would appoint a team of experts to develop a long-term solar energy research plan for its transition to commercial use. The panel of experts would direct DOE on a portion of the authorized spending for fiscal 2011-2015.
“The United States has some of the best solar resources in the world, and they aren’t unique to the Southwest,” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the bill’s sponsor, said on the House floor in October when the bill passed 310-106. “If our policies and innovation models don’t change, the U.S. is going to transition from importing foreign oil to importing foreign [solar] panels.”
The Senate panel will also consider H.R. 2729, a bill that would formally authorize and fund seven National Environmental Research Parks at DOE laboratories. It would provide $5 million a year to each park through 2014, establish a research park coordinator and direct DOE’s Office of Science to lead the program.
“These parks have been providing environmental scientists with unique, undisturbed environments for conducting research since they were first established in the early 1970s,” Rep. Ben Luj¡n (D-N.M.), who introduced the bill, said during a House Science and Technology subcommittee hearing this summer. “[My bill] will provide core funding and an organizational structure to support the important works of these parks.That bill passed in the House 330-96 in July.
H.R. 3165 would authorize $200 million in annual spending over five years for DOE’s wind energy research program to focus on several technology areas, including materials and design of turbine blades, offshore applications, and improvement of performance and reliability. It would also authorize a wind energy demonstration program in collaboration with industry. That measure passed by voice vote in the House in September.
Legislation that would authorize nearly $3 billion in DOE spending for advanced vehicle technologies, such as electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, and non-road equipment is also up for discussion in the subcommittee. H.R. 3246 would appoint a full-time DOE director to coordinate research activities at the agency and would expand efforts to develop fuel-efficient commercial truck technologies. The bill passed 312-114 in the House in September.
Also up for consideration is H.R. 957, which would support the training of engineers and architects in energy efficient building design. It would authorize DOE to fund National Science Foundation grants for graduate-level multidisciplinary research programs in energy efficiency. The grants would be geared toward laboratory activities, training courses or design projects. The House passed the bill, 411-6, in April.
It’s got prime real estate downtown “” and nearly $6 billion in assets. But the Pew Charitable Trusts isn’t an attention-obsessed think tank that latches onto every trendy political issue.
The organization focuses on matters it believes it can affect in three to four years. “We try to pick areas that are either orphaned or where we feel we can really move the needle,” says Rebecca Rimel, Pew’s president and CEO.
Climate change, however, has been an exception. Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, says: “We have been working on that for 20 years and never expected it to take this long.”
In the current iteration of the environmental issue, Pew has been highly active. Last week, the group hosted a phone briefing with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ climate chief, to set the stage for the U.N.’s conference in Copenhagen that begins Monday. Meanwhile, Pew is setting the standard at home, having recently produced an analysis of “green” jobs in the United States, an attempt to provide a benchmark in the domestic economy.
The organization got into the climate change game at a time when there were barely any players. In the late 1970s, a series of government agency reports previewing problems on the horizon highlighted global warming among them. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the environmental community began to focus on the matter.
“Everybody realized in the early 1990s it wouldn’t be possible to get overarching policy in climate change that would affect the whole national economy,” says Reichert. “We took a close look at sectors of the economy most responsible for producing emissions “” utility, transportation, buildings and appliances.”
In the mid-1990s, the Pew Environment Group launched an effort to create large reserves in the world’s oceans, a cause c©l¨bre for the organization ever since.
At the time, Pew commissioned a study that found that in the entire U.S., there were fewer than 100 full-time professionals fully dedicated to ocean conservation.
The team spent a year researching 100 potential sites and ultimately walked away from “a ton of places that were biologically important. … At the end of the day, we weren’t convinced we could get a political decision [on those places] or that the protections would be enforced,” says Reichert.
Pew was able to find some major successes with the Bush administration on marine issues, with the establishment of two large monuments in the Pacific.
As for global warming, Pew spent much of its efforts into the mid-1990s trying to persuade public utility companies across the country to decouple energy production from revenue generation. It ultimately found success with states like California, New York and Massachusetts.
Toward the end of the decade, it moved to work with state legislators to increase investments in renewable energy portfolios. In 2000, it began to build a case for a national climate policy, which it has been working on ever since.
The organization’s longest battle may reach its denouement soon, as the White House has recently set benchmark goals of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2083.
“I remain cautiously optimistic that over the course of the next year, there will be forward movement in the climate issue in Congress, and we will eventually get a climate bill,” says Reichert. “I don’t think it will be everything we want, but it will be the beginning of a longer process.”
Pew has grown exponentially more active since its founding in 1948. Its first significant step in this direction came in the late 1980s, when it asserted both its visibility and its activism. Before then, Pew largely did its work anonymously, at the direction of its donors. The Pew family members, Rimel notes, “were deeply religious people, and they felt one shouldn’t ask for recognition for your good deeds, that it wasn’t charitable.” They were also big Republican donors.
“How we approached our work then bears no resemblance to how we do it today,” says Rimel.
In the 1990s, the organization took another step forward with the creation of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that now employs more than 100 staffers, and then made a quantum leap in 2004, when it went from being a private foundation to a public charity.
Meanwhile, Pew has bolstered its presence in Washington of late.
The fifteenth conference of parties to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change was called to order on a foggy Monday morning to the sound of trumpets and choirs and a film clip that could have been a trailer for the uber-disaster movie “2012,” but was a girl’s bad dream about eco-apocalypse.
Below you can read some of my Twitter riffs on the opening plenary. Big issues separate large blocs of countries, including the necessary level of cuts in emissions of industrial powers and the amount of money that would flow from rich to poor nations to help them withstand climate hazards and move to cleaner energy sources.
Through the first week of talks, I’ll be doing a mix of tweeting, blogging, print stories and more along with Tom Zeller, the editor of the Green Inc. blog, and James Kanter of the International Herald Tribune. Our coverage will ramp up during the second week, which is scheduled to be capped on the 18th with visits by more than 100 leaders, including President Obama.
Four interruptions by PNG’s Kevin Conrad – trying to switch voting to 3/4 approval from unanimous.
Yvo DeBoer of UN reads account of boy losing parents in cyclone. “It is repetitions of this that the world is here to prevent.”
IPCC’s Pachauri calls out those who played a role in releasing climategate emails, saying many lines of evidence show warming.
In plenary, Rajendra Pachauri stresses “urgent” need to act, pushing limits of IPCC’s non-prescriptive role.
“For the next 2 weeks, Copenhagen will be Hopenhagen” > Danish PM in plenary)
Jonathan Pershing, US rep in plenary, says no concerns about Saudi or other possible obstruction, given 110 leaders on board.
COP 15 plenary: Denmark PM notes no trinkets in giveaway bags. Money going to scholarships for 11 “climate scholars.”
Denmark PM lays out vexing challenge: crafting deal acceptable to all but also environmentally effective. Same issue in US Congress.
Plenary opens with video that almost resembles a clip from ‘2012″² – earth splits, tornadoes. But it’s a girl’s eco-nightmare..
WWF put up inflated alternate gates for delegates – orange for those here for big $ deals, green for serious action on CO2.
Already, leaders from across the globe are lowering expectations for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, due to kick off on Monday and run through Dec. 18.
But for investors, the conference will reinforce what some still to believe a bright future for alternative energy even if concrete efforts to stimulate demand for renewables remain in short supply.
“Unless the Copenhagen negotiations dissolve into a row removing any faith between delegates that emission reduction will be a joint effort, we expect the climate change investment theme to continue to develop gradually,” said Citigroup Global Markets analyst Meg Brown, in a research note.
“There are various ways to tackle Copenhagen and its [potential] outcomes,” added Citigroup’s Brown. “In the short-term, immediate reaction to the newsflow could drive sentiment in carbon markets and renewable energy stocks, but in the long-term Copenhagen is just one step on the road to a long-term decarbonization of the global economy, toward which investment portfolios will need to gradually adapt.”
Of key importance to investors in Copenhagen will be the level of ambition that is signaled by policy makers toward renewables and the clean technology sector in general.
Many analysts expect direct incentives toward solar, wind, biofuels, water, smart-grid, industrial biotechnology, batteries and fuels cells to be thin on the ground at the event.
And efforts to streamline a voluminous legal text into a workable document for credible negotiation have not necessarily further illuminated climate-related investment strategies ahead of the conference.
“For investors, Copenhagen is not material unless something very surprising happens. Far more significant [are the recent global] stimulus package[s] which will provide a real boost for many areas of clean tech in 2010 and 2011,” said fund manager Clare Brook, of WHEB Asset Management, in an interview.
“The outlook for renewables is excellent, regardless of what happens at Copenhagen,” added Brook. “The valuations in sectors such as wind, solar and water technologies are much lower than they were before the credit crunch and the sector is receiving unprecedented support from governments worldwide.”