ESA Policy News: March 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/02262010.php.

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Ups and downs: climate change in January 2010

This post was contributed by Piper Corp, ESA Science Policy Analyst, and Katie Kline A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks when it comes to climate change: 2009 was tied for the second warmest year on record, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and China joined several other rapidly industrializing nations in agreeing to submit plans to cut emissions by the end of the month. Here is an overview of recent climate change issues: 2009 listed among second warmest years in recorded history According to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) research, the average global temperature in 2009 was only a fraction of a degree cooler than in 2005, the warmest year on record; it joined five other years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007—as second warmest. Map showing increase in 2000-2009 average temperature compared to 1951-1980. Image Credit: NASA/GISS Data were gathered from more than 1,000 weather stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface temperature and measurements from Antarctic research stations. A NASA video describes the analysis and implications of the data, and the possible causes of the temperature hike. And according to GISS and analyses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last decade was the warmest on record—average global temperatures have risen about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade over the last thirty years. James Hansen, GISS director, says in the NASA article: There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point. There’s substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated. Murkowski introduces resolution to prevent EPA action To keep EPA from moving forward with plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a “disapproval” resolution, which would retroactively veto the agency’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health. Murkowski’s resolution has little chance of succeeding—even if it makes it through Congress (Murkowski decided to use a disapproval resolution because it requires 51 Senate votes rather than 60, as an amendment would require), President Obama would still have the option of vetoing it. Senate Climate Bill Chances of a climate law in 2010 are slim. With unemployment at 10 percent, a still-weak economy and midterm elections on the way, the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress will likely focus almost entirely on creating jobs. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says...

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Looking to the Jersey Shore for CO2 sequestration

Riding on the heels of Copenhagen, a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlined one way the United States might address enormous CO2 emission levels. Not surprisingly, the researchers propose carbon sequestration; it is the location, however, that makes this study unique.  Beach at Sandy Hook, New Jersey Photo Credit: National Park Service The scientists have pinpointed volcanic rock, namely basalt, along the coasts of New Jersey, New York and New England to serve as prime reservoirs for CO2 emitted by local power plants. David Goldberg and colleagues from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory say the lure of this particular site is the igneous rock. That is, when it comes to holding CO2, basalt is thought to be much more secure than the other proposed inland sites that feature shale and sandstone. In addition, say the study authors, the CO2 and basalt would react and eventually turn into limestone.  The researchers located four areas of more than 1,000 square kilometers each off northern New Jersey, Long Island and Massachusetts. They also targeted a smaller patch under the beach of New Jersey’s Sandy Hook peninsula that has enough pore space to hold close to one billion tons of CO2-the equivalent emissions, the researchers say, of four 1-billion-watt coal-fired plants over 40 years. Goldberg, D., Kent, D., & Olsen, P. (2010). Potential on-shore and off-shore reservoirs for CO2 sequestration in Central Atlantic magmatic province basalts Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI:...

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Three Elephants in the Living Room at Copenhagen

This post was contributed by Meg Lowman, ESA Vice President for Education and Human Resources, who just recently returned from the Copenhagen climate summit.  With good intentions, delegates arrived from 192 nations in Copenhagen, Denmark last week for the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention). Their goal was to meet, talk, draft, edit and finalize a document to limit carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere, a resource that every country shares. Although the meetings were primarily political in nature, scientific underpinnings served as drivers to seek an international solution.  It was generally assumed that the major powers would dominate the conversation as they usually do, and the rest would meekly tweak the agreement as it was drafted. Following conventional diplomatic wisdom, the expected result was a piece of paper with technical language and many signatures; yet as with previous UNFCCC meetings, a piece of paper can gather dust instead of inspiring political will. Without binding language and enforcement, no agreement on paper can guarantee actions back home. America is an example of a country that not only fell short but has also altered its emissions targets midstream. A major global time-bomb exists – how can countries negotiate a binding agreement that will actually inspire action by all the signatories, and will be quick because poorer nations can not afford adaptation? Three elephants crowded into the living room at Copenhagen, not only taking center stage but also driving the conversations. These elephants represented emotion, ethics, and ecosystems. COP15  took on a new sense of urgency as small voices told their stories; as citizens around the world become aware of the imminent losses of life posed by rising emissions into our atmosphere and oceans, and as the scientific evident becomes stronger. Meg Lowman in front of a ballon the size of one ton of CO2.  Photo: Gary Braasch.   a. Emotions ran high early in week 1, when the Tuvalu delegation tearfully explained that their islands are inundated by the sea with every political delay, and that Mother Nature will not wait for paper-pushing exercises. This brought a reality check to the seriousness of COP15, and galvanized many activitist groups into action worldwide. The notion of citizens losing a homeland their ancestors had occupied for thousands of generations brought a heightened sense of emotion to COP15. Other small-nation voices joined their outcry, and the AOSIS (association of small island nations) became a large voice at the conference. b. Ethics has escalated, especially with the understanding of imminent tolls of climate events on poorer nations. African countries, lacking funding and technology face large-scale famines, infectious diseases, droughts and desertification, and...

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ESA Policy News: Dec. 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full policy news here. COPENHAGEN NEGOTIATIONS The December climate summit commenced today.  Of chief concern to the international community are numbers on the following two matters: 1) Near-term emissions reduction: President Obama recently pledged that the US will reduce emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, on the condition that Congress is able to pass the climate legislation currently underway.  Although a target hinging on congressional action does not put the Administration in as strong a position for the talks, the more cautious approach follows criticism about US participation at the Kyoto summit, where then-President Clinton signed a treaty that was later rejected by Congress.  2) Aid to assist developing countries: One of the most complicated issues facing climate negotiators is deciding how to help poor countries adjust to low-carbon economies and prepare for climate-related disasters such as droughts and flooding. CHINA ANNOUNCES CLIMATE TARGETS Following President Obama’s announcement of an emissions reduction target range for the coming decade, China said it would reduce its carbon intensity to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels over the same time period.  This goal will require China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent each year, assuming an annual economic growth rate of 8-9 percent. China’s target received mixed reactions from the international community.  Critics point to projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which indicate that China simply needs to follow the track it’s already on to achieve the goal.  Others touted the announcement as an important milestone, saying that the IEA’s numbers are based on steps that China has already taken-instituting fuel economy standards stricter than those of the US, for example-as well as assumed investments and regulatory actions in the future.  There is also some uncertainty about whether China will adhere to the targets it announced.  The numbers, although domestically binding, do not constitute an international agreement.  Since all participating countries will want the Copenhagen talks to appear successful, China’s actions have been interpreted by some as a political exercise.  The international community will therefore look to the summit as an opportunity to determine whether China is willing to negotiate an international agreement.  Read the full Policy News on the ESA web page....

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ESA Policy News: Nov. 20

Here are some snippets from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full policy news here. COPENHAGEN — At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore, top officials acknowledged that the United Nations (UN) climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month will not produce a final international deal to reduce emissions. Denmark Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who will host the December summit, proposed postponing binding emissions targets until the 2010 UN conference in Mexico City, calling instead for “precise language of a comprehensive political agreement covering all aspects of the Bali mandates: commitment of developed countries to reductions and of developing countries to actions; strong provisions on adaptation, finance and technology, including upfront finance for early action.” The “Bali mandates,” agreed upon at the 2007 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provided a negotiation agenda and timetable for further international work on climate. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Copenhagen talks a “stepping stone” that would eventually lead to a legally binding international agreement. Clinton stressed the importance of moving forward even though no perfect solution exists. CLIMATE BILL — Following a contentious partisan debate in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), a bipartisan group of lawmakers will attempt to craft a more moderate bill capable of garnering the support necessary for its passage. (For more information on the EPW vote, see the November 6 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/11062009.php). Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will spend the next few weeks writing a legislative outline for a compromise bill that combines cap-and-trade with provisions such as nuclear industry incentives and wider offshore drilling. Kerry and Graham recently teamed up to draft an op-ed supporting climate legislation, marking the first sign of bipartisan support for the Senate’s current climate effort. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are aiming to release the blueprint before the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which will begin on December 7. Their target deadline of spring 2010 is also critical for Democrats facing re-election next year. As elections approach, lawmakers tend to shy away from controversial issues – many would prefer to complete a House-Senate climate conference bill before Memorial Day, meaning that the Senate would have to finish its work no later than March. But observers are now asking whether climate will come up at all before the November elections, since lawmakers will be under pressure to address voter concerns, most notably the economy and unemployment. Read the full Policy News on the ESA web...

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