Other stories below: Permafrost May Unleash Greenhouse-Gas Spewing Microbes; Russia Sees New Urgency on Climate Deal
Australia passed landmark laws on Tuesday to impose a price on carbon emissions in one of the biggest economic reforms in a decade and injecting new impetus into December’s global climate talks in South Africa.
Tuesday’s vote in the upper house Senate made Australia the second major economy behind the European Union to pass carbon-limiting legislation. Tiny New Zealand has a similar scheme.
Its impact will be felt right across the economy, from miners and liquefied natural gas LNG.L producers to airlines and steel makers, and is aimed at making firms more energy efficient and push power generation towards gas and renewables.
The vote is a major victory for embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who staked her political future on what will be the most comprehensive carbon price scheme outside of Europe, despite deep hostility from voters and the political opposition.
“Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land. This comes after a quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries, and years of bitter debate and division,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
Russia recognizes that concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions need to be agreed at climate talks in South Africa next month before a globally binding climate deal can emerge by 2015, EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on Thursday.
Negotiators from around the world are due to meet in Durban at the end of this month to try to work on a new deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Expectations are low that a binding deal will emerge, as rifts between countries have stifled progress.
A group of small island states accused countries such as Russia and Japan on Thursday of trying to delay a new international agreement until 2018 or 2020.
“Russia shares our view that we should go for a roadmap and have timetables in it,” Hedegaard told reporters.
The “roadmap” would include a set of standardized actions toward a global deal, perhaps similar to a proposal by Australia and Norway last month, Hedegaard said.
The US Department of Energy has assembled a team of researchers to examine greenhouse gases that are currently trapped in permafrost but could be released as global temperatures rise.
The frozen territories around the North Pole and Arctic Ocean contain an estimated 1,672 billion metric tons of carbon — around 250 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released by the United States in 2009. As global temperatures rise, so do concerns about the potential impact of the released greenhouse gases.
As permafrost thaws, trapped frozen organic matter becomes accessible for microbes to degrade, releasing greenhouse gases as a byproduct. Understanding what sorts of microbes are in the ice is key to predicting the impact of the melting of permafrost soils.
The US Department of Energy has teamed up with the Joint Genome Institute, the Earth Sciences Division of Berkeley Lab and the US Geological Survey to understand how microbes found in the permafrost might respond to a warming environment.
The team is using a technique known as metagenomics to study communities of microbial organisms directly in their natural environments — assembling microbes based on samples found in the frigid soil. The technique makes it possible to understand the genetic make-up of communities of microorganisms without the need to isolate them and grow them in the lab.
Developing countries must step up with concrete plans to cut carbon emissions to break the deadlock in beleaguered UN climate talks, China’s top climate change official has told the Guardian.
With four weeks to go until the next round of long-running international talks in Durban, the move highlights China’s attempt to take on a new leadership role by bridging the gulf between rich and poor countries.
But Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the Chinese government’s National Development and Reform Commission, also told the Guardian that the best chance of progress was for developed countries to draw up a “Kyoto 2″, a second phase of the Kyoto protocol, the first agreement between nations to mandate country-by-country reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Its first commitment phase is due to expire next year.
In the past, this approach has been seen by rich countries as simply continuing the stalemate that has afflicted the long-running talks, and several nations – including the US and Japan – have rejected a “Kyoto 2″ because it would not require binding legal commitments from emerging economies to limit their emissions.