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January 11 News: Researchers Document Profound “Cascading Consequences” of Dwindling Snowpack in Rocky Mountains

Other stories below: Global CO2 market totals 96 billion euros in 2011; UK approves high-speed rail network

Global warming: Researchers document profound cascading ecological effects as Rocky Mountain snowpack diminishes

A steady decline in Rocky Mountain snowpack the past few decades has led to a classic cascading ecological effect, with “powerful” shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Montana.

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” said USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”

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As the high-elevation snowpack dwindles, elk can stay at higher elevations during the winter and browse on plants that just a few short decades were inaccessible during the snow season, the researchers explained in their study, published Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

As a result, deciduous trees and associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined during the last 22 years. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

Global CO2 market totals 96 billion euros in 2011

Carbon markets across the world were valued at 96 billion euros ($122.28 billion) last year, up 4 percent on 2010, helped by a surge in trading activity as record low carbon prices stoked volatility, an analyst report said on Tuesday.

The value of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world’s biggest carbon market, grew by 6 percent to an estimated 76 billion euros, said analysts at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon.

Overall traded volume in so-called EU Allowances (EUAs), including options and auctions, reached around 6 billion last year, a 17-percent increase on 2010.

“The growth in value was relatively smaller than the volume growth due to lower prices,” the report said, noting the average weighted EUA price in 2011 was more than a euro below the price in 2010, due to economic concerns and a glut in permit supply.

Will Europe’s airline carbon fee actually work?

It’s odd to think that a spat over carbon fees for airlines could lead to a global trade war. But that’s looking quite possible. On Jan.1, a new E.U. law went into effect requiring all flights in and out of Europe to pay for their global-warming emissions. That’s sat poorly with the rest of the world. China’s four largest airlines have threatened not to pay — risking an outright ban from European airports — and China has reportedly blocked an Airbus order in retaliation. Russia, Brazil, India and Japan are all stridently opposed. And then there’s the United States.

Since U.S. airlines can’t exactly boycott Europe — it’s far too lucrative a market — they’ve started hiking their ticket fares to pay the carbon price. (The new rule could add an estimated $15 to $57 to the cost of a flight from New York to London.) The Obama administration, however, appears to be contemplating a more forceful response. According to Reuters, one option under discussion would be for the United States to slap a retaliatory fee on any European airlines that want access to U.S. airports.

So this could get ugly in short order. But lost in all the squabbling is an underlying question: Is the airline fee actually a good policy?

‘Higher temperatures, extreme weather coming’

An Environmental Protection Ministry climate change report predicts that over the next decade, the country will see an annual decrease in rainfall, and increases in temperature, southern desertification, heat waves, periods of torrential rains and flooding.

“Global climate change is already here — that’s a fact,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement released by his office. “We are all experiencing the manifestation of diminishing precipitation, heat waves, floods and more.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry has issued its report as part of the ministry’s efforts to advance a national action plan toward adapting to climate — a plan that will be governed by a committee under the leadership of the ministry’s director-general.

UK Approves GBP32.7B High-speed Rail Network Project

The U.K. government has given the green light to a controversial new GBP32.7 billion high-speed rail network linking London and the cities of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester which it says will help create new jobs and boost economic growth.

“It is the largest transport infrastructure investment in the U.K. for a generation,” Justine Greening, the U.K.’s Secretary for Transport, said Tuesday. “At present values, it will generate benefits of up to GBP47 billion and fare revenues of up to GBP34 billion over a 60-year period.”

The line from London to the West Midlands and connection to the HS1 high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link are expected to open in 2026, followed in 2032–33 by the onward legs to Manchester in the northwest of England and Leeds in the north and a connection to London’s Heathrow airport.

The high speed trains will carry up to 26,000 people an hour at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour (402 kph), cutting the journey to London from Birmingham by almost half to 45 minutes and reducing the trip from Manchester by an hour, the government said.