A round-up of top climate and energy stories. Please post additional links below.
Droughts and floods linked to global warming threaten humans on every continent and only international cooperation can keep the people and their communities safe, according to Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland….
U.N. special envoy on climate change Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland and her 22-person international commission started warning countries to avert global warming in 1987. Twenty-five years later, the former Norwegian prime minister said the ongoing lack of international cooperation to curb carbon emissions and invest in clean energy threatens us all.
Already, drought, hunger and disease connected to rising temperatures jeopardize “our common future,” she told a large audience at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
International investment in clean energy is crucial for putting people and the planet on track for a viable future, according to Brundtland, a world leader on global warming and human health. But sluggish national and global talks on climate change strategies means scenarios for severe consequences of fossil fuel-driven temperature rise etch a hazardous path for the world’s growing population.
“In the U.S. the debate has been much more divisive,” than in Europe, Brundtland said. “Based on the scientific evidence, questioning the human link to climate change ought to be history by now, but it’s not.”
Changing the politically divisive climate isn’t up to the politicians alone, Brundtland added, and people need to use their voting power to convince leaders to take action on an international scale.
“Many challenges of sustainable development can be solved within sectors, within countries – but not climate change,” Brundtland said. “We are all victimized, nobody can hide from it. ”
… About 70 percent of people in the developing world depend on agriculture, but the droughts and floods projected to increase with warming could threaten their livelihoods. At the same time, as countries industrialize, their energy demands climb. If fossil fuel-burning plants remain the cheapest, easiest option, the carbon emissions from these countries will soar.
Increasing both energy efficiency and use of renewable resources such as wind and solar power lie at the heart of a strategy to reduce emissions that could spur economic development where it is most needed, Brundtland said.
Key gaps in information mean Canada has been unable to assess the impact of exploiting Alberta’s oil sands, the nation’s environment commissioner said Tuesday.
Lack of information due to “insufficient or inadequate environmental monitoring systems” mean the federal environmental and water agencies cannot build a clear picture of how regional ecosystems have been affected by oil sands projects, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development said in a report to parliament.
And despite repeated warnings by both departments since 1999, “little was done for almost a decade to close many of those key information gaps,” said Commissioner Scott Vaughan.
“As a consequence, decisions about oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information that has, in turn, led to poorly informed decisions,” he concluded.
In July, Ottawa set out an environmental monitoring plan — which Vaughan praised — but no date has been announced yet for its start.
Vaughan noted some environmental trends in the region are well understood. He pointed to the fact that the oil sands are among the “largest and fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.”
The Obama administration is seizing on remarks by a top Republican who argued that the United States cannot compete with China in the solar energy business, saying it shows “defeatism” about America’s future and workers.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee leading probes of the government’s botched investment in solar firm Solyndra, made the comments Monday.
He was arguing that the government never should have guaranteed a $535 million loan to the solar manufacturer that declared bankruptcy last month because China will do better with that and other new energy technologies.
“We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines,” Stearns said in an NPR story.
Tuesday afternoon, the White House is taking issue with that sentiment.
“This comment reflects exactly the sort of counterproductive defeatism that Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned against this weekend when he spoke to a group of America’s most promising young solar innovators,” wrote White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in a blog post, referring to a speech delivered Saturday.
The world remains far away from meeting UN-backed goals on holding back climate change, setting the stage for major damage without more ambitious efforts to cut emissions, a study said Tuesday.
Scientists who support climate action said that China, the largest source of carbon blamed for rising temperatures, is on track to surpass its own targets but warned that its overall emissions are growing more quickly than thought.
The controversial UN-led Copenhagen summit in 2009 agreed to limit global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a goal some environmentalists say is already too timid.
At the latest UN talks underway in Panama City, the Climate Action Tracker, which aims to keep track of countries’ efforts, found a yawning gap between governments’ pledges and their track records when added together.
A study by the group found that the world at current rates would emit 54 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in 2020, a gap of 10 to 14 billion tonnes with what is needed to meet the goals.
The planet is “very, very far away” from meeting the 2.0-degree goal, said co-author Bill Hare, a lead writer of the major 2007 UN scientific report on climate change and director at Potsdam-based research group Climate Analytics.
Greenhouse-gas emissions in China are rising faster than forecast even as the level of pollution relative to its economic growth falls, according to a report from climate researchers.
An economy that’s expanding faster than projected will push China’s overall emissions about 1 gigaton higher in 2020 than previous calculations predicted, according to a report issued today by Utrecht, Netherlands-based Ecofys, a renewable-energy consultant, and Climate Analytics, a group hosted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter is also keeping a promise to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide needed for increased production, the groups said in the report.
“The warming levels that we’re headed toward” might “easily result in massive damage to ecosystems from one end of the planet to the other,” Bill Hare, a senior scientist with Climate Analytics, said at a press conference in Panama City during UN climate talks. “As for the human dimensions of risk, we would see, particularly in Africa, very dangerous threats to food production and availability.”
The Environmental Protection Agency, under pressure from some states, industry and Congress, is expected to ease an air quality rule that would require power plants in 27 states to slash emissions, said people familiar with the matter.
The EPA, which made the rule final in July, plans to propose as early as this week to allow certain states and companies to emit more pollutants than it previously permitted, these people said. The states and companies affected couldn’t be learned.
The move comes amid a backlash over the rule, which the EPA has said will protect public health and prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths. Critics contend it will cost jobs, increase power costs and threaten electric reliability.
The EPA changes are expected to allow for emissions increases ranging from 1% to 4% above the July requirement, depending on the pollutant, said the people familiar with the rule.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is intended to reduce smog-forming chemicals emitted from power plants that often drift into other states. The pollutants can cause heart attacks and respiratory illnesses.
Lawyers for affected companies said they didn’t expect the change to completely satisfy industry concerns. Luminant, a unit of Energy Future Holdings Corp. that is Texas’s largest power generator, has said it would idle two generating units to comply. Ameren Corp. said it would shut two Illinois power plants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday solar energy subsidies should be reduced, and it could make more sense in the future to draw solar energy from places like Greece, where the sun shined longer.
Merkel said that while wind energy seemed on track to becoming commercially viable in Germany, this did not seem the case for solar energy.
Already over the past two years, Germany has sharply reduced so-called feed-in tariffs, through which investors receive a guaranteed return on generated energy output.
“But I am not sure whether we shouldn’t be tackling this even more,” Merkel told a regional conference of her Christian Democrat party in Magdeburg.