Energy and Global Warming News for June 18th: African farms to be devastated by warming; UN SecGen on security, forced migration, and desertification

African farms becoming too hot to handle

African farmers will soon face growing seasons hotter than any in their experience. To cope with this rapid climate change, they — and the plant breeders who supply their crops — will need to make big changes, and soon.

Agricultural experts have predicted for some time that farmers are likely to face problems as climates become hotter and drier than they are today. Indeed, some farmers in South Africa are already reporting difficulties (pdf).

To see how fast, and how broadly, this will strike, Marshall Burke, an agricultural economist at Stanford University, and colleagues, averaged the results from 18 global climate models to forecast likely temperature and rainfall conditions in 2025, 2050 and 2075 in regions of Africa where maize, millet and sorghum are grown today. Then, assuming that year-to-year variability would remain the same as today — perhaps a conservative assumption — they asked how much these future climates would overlap with existing climates.


Desertification threatens security, UN chief warns

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Wednesday that desertification land degradation have posed threats on national and regional stability, urging countries to reconsider the agricultural practices and water management.

One-third of the Earth’s surface is affected by desertification, endangering the livelihoods and development of up to 1 billion people, Ban said in a message to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which has been observed since 1995.

“Faced with long periods of drought, famine and deepening poverty, many have only one option: flight from the land,” Ban said, noting that there are already 24 million environmentally-induced migrants and the number could rise to 200 million by 2050.

DOT outlines high-speed rail funding ‘tracks’

The $13 billion that President Obama has vowed to use to jump-start a nationwide high-speed rail system will begin to fund individual projects by the middle of September, but the government will have two years to choose which corridors receive the bulk of the federal cash, according to guidelines released today by the Transportation Department.

The guidelines pertain to a new High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Planning Grants program, which consolidates the $8 billion the project received from this year’s stimulus with future budget requests and existing appropriations.

Under the program, funding projects are separated into one of four “tracks””¦

Senate bill would turn auto suppliers into ‘clean energy’ companies

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced a bill yesterday to help auto-parts suppliers and other small- and mid-sized manufacturers transition to a “clean energy” manufacturing sector.

The bill would establish a $30 billion revolving loan program over two years to help firms retool, expand or establish clean-energy manufacturing operations and improve energy efficiency.

“As Congress debates a strategy on climate change, we need a strategy for the manufacturing sector,” Brown said in a statement. “A clean energy economy means jobs for communities.”

Senate Panel Approves Energy Bill

A Senate committee on Wednesday approved an energy bill that would open large tracts of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling and provide federal loan guarantees for a gas pipeline project in Alaska.

The measure, which cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 15-to-8 vote, would also require utilities to produce up to 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2021. That standard is somewhat weaker than one in a House energy and climate change bill that is headed for a floor vote as early as next week.

The Senate bill is a compromise between Democratic members seeking to reduce energy use and emissions linked to global warming and Republican members intent on increasing production of oil, gas and nuclear power. Republicans and Democrats who supported the bill said they hoped to strengthen it, each side to its own advantage, when it reaches the floor.

Lawmakers back energy companies with their private dollars

Members of Congress with key roles crafting legislation that would transform the United States’ energy portfolio laws own as much as $22.8 million in stocks, bonds and other assets of companies potentially affected by policy changes.

An analysis of personal finance disclosure filings released last week shows that 45 members of seven committees last year owned stakes in utilities, fuel and natural gas businesses, mining, coal, solar, wind, exploration and production companies.

“¦Senate and House ethics rules allow it. With very narrow exceptions, lawmakers can invest in companies that could be affected by congressional action. But the widespread holdings by those in a position to influence energy and climate change legislation highlight the need for full and better disclosure, watchdog groups say.

EU must put climate money on the table

Developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change, the least responsible for historic emissions and have the fewest resources to tackle its consequences. Successfully tackling climate change will require the transfer of tens of billions of dollars a year from developed to developing countries to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to climate risks that are growing by the day. The EU promised at the climate talks in Poznan last December to outline how a new climate change agreement would be financed at its council meeting in March. It failed to agree a position then, and we are concerned there will be no agreement when the European council meets today.

The breaking of this promise further erodes the trust between developed and developing countries. We should not be treating this process like a tactical trade negotiation where everything can be agreed at the last minute. The later we put money on the table, the less time and incentive developing countries will have to prepare ambitious plans and the greater the risk of failure at Copenhagen in December.

UK ‘must plan’ for warmer future

Launching the UK Climate Projections 2009 report (UKCP09), Mr Benn told MPs that the UK climate will change even with a global deal on emissions.

By 2080, London will be between 2C and 6C hotter than it is now, he said.

Every part of the UK is likely to be wetter in winter and drier in summer, according to the projections.