Note -- because proposals for policies related to climate change come and go so fast, I won't try to keep these web notes completely up to date with the latest proposals. Rather, I'll focus on (1) what kinds of measures would be necessary to achieve various objectives (stabilize climate, limit temperature increases to X degrees, etc) AND (2) on major policy measure that have actually been enacted. In lecture, I'll try to give you a sense of pending proposals as well.
CONSEQUENCES FOR HUMAN SYSTEMS:
What consequences are predicted climate changes likely to have on humans? I offer some examples to give you a sense of the range of possibilities. You can hardly listen to the news these days without hearing at least one related story -- keep your ears open (or eyes, if you watch news -- or read it -- rather than listening to it!)
We know how people have coped with some past climate changes. For example, during the Little Ice Age (~1500-1800 ad) global mean temperatures were about 2 degrees C cooler than they are at present. What did people do? Farms in northern Europe were abandoned and people moved south. Is this still possible in todays world? With the worlds population as large as it is and nations set up with boundaries and governments as they are today, can people migrate with ease anymore if climate changes such tat their livelihood depends on their moving, say to the North? No, they cant. Indeed there is a great deal of concern in some circles about a growing population of "environmental refugees;" people whose livelihood is threatened by climate change (lands are flooded; soils are too dry to farm as in the past; and so forth).
One small but compelling example that indicates this challenge: In Alaska, annual average air temperatures have increased 4 - 5 F over the last 30 yrs - way more than global average. Shismaref is an Inupiaq Eskimo village way N of Anchorage, AK. Its former coast line has basically been lost owing to sea level rise. The ice fishing season used to start in October, but is now delayed until December, because the ocean freezes later. Furthermore, thin ice makes it harder to hunt oogruk - bearded seal -- a staple in their diet. What do they do - move the village to somewhere? To where? (Time Oct 4, 04).
What will happen to the worlds food supply? Climate models predict warming + drying in major food production areas such as the Midwestern US. Can these growing areas simply shift North? Will the soils and other variables that are important to agriculture there be suitable for intensive food production? For example, there are many features in addition to climate that make the Midwestern US an excellent area for growing crops, including the deep old prairie soils. Desertification is already a problem and may well be exacerbated under conditions of changed climate.
We've already seen a harbinger of things to come: Warm winters and warm early springs in northern climates (like in upper Midwest or New England) - are likely to induce premature plant development and so expose vulnerable crops to subsequent late-season frosts. This happened in the spring of 2007 in the eastern US - there was unusually warm weather and then a sudden freeze, which cause a great deal of damage to crops and to natural vegetation. We don't know, of course, that this particular instance was related to human-induced limate change, but, as I indicated, it is a harbinger...
In addition, as spring arrives earlier, so do early season agricultural pests, such as the velvetbean caterpillar, which defoliates ssoybeans. This pest winters in southern Florida and migrates north in the spring - and is doing so earlier than in the past. It can strip a soybean field of its foliage in 5 - 7 days .
There is particular concern about low-lying nations such as Bangladesh, Egypt, and parts of China. Bangladesh could, by 2050 (not very far away!) have an effective sea level rise of 0.83 m (from a combination of rising sea level and land subsidence from overdraft of ground water). This would permanently flood 7% of its land area (recall that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated nations in the world). In addition, much more of its (and similar nations) area could be inundated more frequently by storm surges reaching far inland.
Approximately 10 million people live in the 80 km wide stretch of the Gulf Coast that runs from Mobile, Alabama to Houston, Texas (note that this includes New Orleans). The expected sea level rise there over the next 50 - 100 yrs is ~ 122 cm (over 1 meter .over 3.3 feet ) from a combination of land subsidence and global climate change-induced sea level rise. This would permanently flood ~ 1/3 of the region's major roads; 72% of the ports would be at risk; most roads and 29 airports would have major flooding during major storms. Should people rebuild in New Orleans? (Science 28 March 08)
Critical changes in water supplies are forecast, including:
(1) India depends for about 70% of its water on monsoon rains, which are likely to be dislocated by even a 1 degree C increase in temperature...You can see the picture.
(2) Incursion of salt water into groundwater will occur as sea levels rise (with this groundwater being important for irrigation as well as for other uses).
(3) Disruptions associated with diminished snowpack. For example, in western Oregon, irrigated agriculture is fed by water from reservoirs in the mountains and at their feet. Today, the reservoirs are kept low during winter, so that they can fill gradually as the snow melts, providing water to rivers in summer, which can then be withdrawn for irrigation purposes. But, if snow levels increase as predicted and more winter precipitation comes as rain rather than as snow, then the reservoirs are likely to overflow during winter, and to be very low during summers, as relatively little snowmelt will feed them. Thus, we may experience increased flooding during winters, and lack of water during summers. This scenario is likely to be played out in many areas that depend on winter snow pack for summer water -- including the Central Valley of California, which is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the worldl -- BUT, only because it receives water in summer from snowmelt coming from the Sierra Range...
Snowpack in the western US has been decreasing and melting off earlier, on average, over recent decades (Science 21 Dec 07). Models of climate change at this relatively small geographic scale (the western US) can't reproduce this unless they include greenhouse gases -- in other words, there is a "human fingerprint" associated with this diminished snow pack and earlier melting. In addition to being caused by warming temperatures, it is also driven by changes in atmospheric circulation, which are driven by warming oceans, which warm from climate change....
Decreased snowpack results in snow disappearing earlier, so there's earlier commencement of biological activity in the spring - earlier photosynthesis and transpiration. A likely consequence of this earlier onset of biological activity is that soils will dry down earlier and maybe to lower water contents - so drought effects are likely to be worsened. (Frontiers in Ecol and Env 2008: 6(5))
(4) Disruptions associated with melting of glaciers. Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, which have fed the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers for thousands of years, are melting at an annual rate of 7%. At this rate, they've got about 20 yrs left -- these provide water for hundreds of millions of people (Frontiers in Ecol and Env 8 Oct 07)
(5) Expansion of the geographic range of tropical diseases is anticipated as their vectors (e.g. mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite) find suitable habitat to the north of their "normal" ranges. Concerns have been expressed not only about the spread of malaria, but also about spread of Dengue fever, yellow fever, schistosomiasis, and viral encephalitis, all of which are normally considered to be "tropical diseases." We are already finding some of these diseases outside of their normal geographic ranges....
For an excellent overview of the primary categories of responses that we could take, see "The Challenge of Long-term Climate Change," and "Climate Change: the Political Situation" and the IPCC Summary in assigned readings (Course Documents on the Blackboard site). In addition, the article by S. Schneider on the supplementary readings list is EXCELLENT. While some parts of the article are dated (e.g., it was written before the Kyoto climate meetings), the general concepts are laid out very clearly.
Decisions about "acceptable risk" are not easy! Science can inform policy to the extent that scientists can tell policy makers and the public what consequences are likely from given emission scenarios, and they can provide information on the range of uncertainty associated with such predictions. However, ultimately, the policy decisions are based on values, which arent based on science. What value do we place on being able to continue to live as we have been living, as compared to the value we place on being reasonably sure that our influences on the planet wont be injurious? And how do we define "injury?"
I read an interesting analogy about acceptable risk, which made the case that refusing to take action because no one has proven that the action will lead to a certain calamity is ludicrous. The analogy is as follows: You get on an airplane and, after take off, learn that the crew didnt perform a routine check of safety systems. The crew tells you that it skipped this check because, while the plane might crash, it wasnt proven that it would and the safety checks take time and money. How would you feel? Probably furious. In your view, the risk of calamity would probably be great enough to justify inspection and, if necessary, correction. I see a parallel with response to the risk of climate change (but that is my own opinion).
The three main categories of responses that could be taken are as follows:
1. TECHNOLOGICAL FIXES These would (theoretically, in my opinion) allow us to continue to conduct "business as usual" but would slap a bandaid over the symptoms -- AND run serious risks of backfiring. (Muir soap box...)
One suggestion is to fertilize the oceans with trace amounts of iron. Algal productivity is limited by lack of iron in many areas, so the idea is that, by fertilizing, algal productivity would be stimulated, the algae would pull CO2 from the atmosphere, and the carbon would be sequestered when the algae die and settle down into the ocean sediments. Some companies are investing serious money into research on this possible "treatment." Concerns are, however, numerous. Iron sinks fast and would need to be re-applied often (where do we get all the iron? how much energy does it take to mine, purify, and transport it? . We also dont know what the consequences of stimulating algal productivity would be for ocean ecosystems -- "You can't change just one thing..."
A Norwegian oil company is shunting CO2 from natural gas production into a salt aquifer in the North Sea. The idea is that it will just form a bubble under the formations shale roof, which will keep it from getting to the atmosphere (over human time scales at any rate). There is interest in a similar idea off Texas, along the Gulf Coast - pump CO2 into depleted oil and gas reservoirs -- or elsewhere, into coal seams that are too deep to mine, etc. - There are some risks, of course. For example, if the CO2 gets into a fresh water aquifer, it can acidify it, potentially leaching lead, arsenic, and other metals. If CO2 rises to the surface, it could affect soil chemistry; if it escaped above ground in a windless depression, it could suffocate people or animals (CO2 is heavier than air). Basically, we don't know that CO2 will stay where we put it and we don't know what will happen if it doesn't stay put Nevertheless, such efforts might be successful at sequestering CO2 from some big point sources that happen to be located near suitable underground storage sites, but it is hard to imagine that they would be useful over broad scales.
CO2 can be removed from exhaust streams with scrubbers (as for other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide). In fact, industry has long done some of this -- but the process is energy expensive, and if the energy source is fossil fuel-based There is much active research going on in this area -- and much potential; witness talk about "clean coal technology."
Several companies, pioneered by the Japanese, initiallly, are experimenting with other ways of capturing "waste" CO2. For example, they grow algae under conditions of optimum temperature and light, and then bubble CO2 trapped from exhaust streams through the cultures. The idea is that the algae will be tremendously productive (pulling the CO2 out of the gas stream and "fixing it," and their productivity (i.e., biomass) can be used for human or animal feed or for fuel (in both cases, however, the sequestration of carbon is pretty short term).
How does policy get formulated in the face of uncertainty?? People who believe that adaptation should be our approach argue that there is so much uncertainty in climate projections that we shouldn't be making sweeping policy changes (such as mandating reductions in CO2 emissions), which might be very costly over the short term. Rather, they say, our response should be one of passive adaptation, in which we just respond to events as they unfold. That is, we adapt without attempting to mitigate or prevent the changes in advance. Build dikes when the sea begins to rise, farmers in the Midwestern US begin to grow drought-tolerant sorghum instead of corn or soy if summers warm and dry.
I read a useful analogy, that revels my bias about the passive adaptation approach: A heavy smoker who isn't feeling well goes to the doctor and has an X-ray, which shows a little spot on a lung. The doctor says, "We better biopsy that and you should quit smoking." The smoker says, "B.S. I've smoked all my life and my dad did, and I'm not going to let you cut me up for some stupid little spot!" A few years later, the person, really coughing and coughing up junk, goes back to the doctor and has another X-ray. The smoker says to the doctor, "Maybe I ought to quit after all - what do you think I should do?" The doctor looks up from the X-ray and says, "Enjoy the last couple years of your life!"
Active adaptation is suggested by others. That is, we should, rather than trying to prevent climate change, respond adaptively and in an anticipatory fashion. For example, we could reexamine water supply situations - technologies and economic and political aspects -- and change management to increase flexibility and efficiency.
The arguments for trying to prevent climate changes from happening (or trying to minimize them) basically say that the risks from doing nothing are too great. The precautionary principle suggests that uncertainty is not a reason to avoid preventive action and, further, that the burden of proof should be on those who want to keep emitting greenhouse gases at current (or higher) rates rather than on those who believe that emissions should be decreased. This is analagous to the way we approach an industry who wants to commercialize a new chemical -- the burden of proof is on them to prove that the compound is safe, rather than on those to claim to have been injured by it.
Further, as well see, most of the things we could do to prevent or minimize climate change make sense to do anyway even if predictions about climate change are wrong!
The decision whether to control or not control emissions of greenhouse gases (the policy decision) is really a social and value-based decsion, not a scientific one. Scientists tell us what may happen and they try to assign a probability to various outcomes (as IPCC does), but that's really all they can do. A case like that of climate change policy is a real challenge for politicians, who are used to trying to achieve compromises - this is a case where compromise really doesn't make any sense ..the physical forces that lead to climate change aren't subject to negotiation.
Obviously, prevention involves curbing emissions of greenhouse gases -- and something that most people REALLY don't understand is that emissions must be curbed rapidly and deeply since most of the gases are so long-lived in the atmosphere.
Kitchen sink analogy - the atmosphere is like a sink with a plugged
drain - water (greenhouse gases) comes in fast but drains slowly
- SO, we need dramatic changes -- given that we can't use Draino
to open the plugged drain -- it is plugged by basic atmospheric
and oceanic chemistry and processes!
PAT TAKE UP HERE
Basically, and obviously, to prevent climate change, we need to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. This must be done fast and deeply, since most are so long-lived in the atmosphere.
To hold atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to "just" a doubling over preindustrial (which was 280 ppm) we need to decrease emissions more than 25% below 1990 levels
To stabilize concentrations at current levels, we would need need to decrease emissions of long-lived gases 50 - 80% (e.g., CO2, N2O)! These gases accumulate in the atmosphere, so emissions must be decreased by huge percentages to stablize -- much less decrease -- their atmospheric concentrations.
Bear in mind that US emissions of CO2 increased 8% just between 1990 and 1996 and even more since then!!
China, as of 2008, was bringing on a new coal fired power plant every 7 - 10 DAYS, with "no" technology to capture associated greenhouse gas emissions (Frontiers in Ecol and Env 8 Oct 07).
Remember - this is a GLOBAL issue. Just as sources of gases are inequitably distributed, so are likely consequences - e.g., Africa accounts for < 3% of global CO2 emissions, yet its 840 million people face some of the largest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies (op cit).
Bear in mind that lags matter in policy formulation, and policy makers are, by and large, not used to working with lagged responses. Instead, they are familiar with working on policies that will show relatively immediate results -- cut taxes and people start spending more money right away, for example. The situation with regard to greenhouse gas policy is completely different!! Basically, sinks for the gases (such as the oceans and vegetation) respond much more slowly than we release the gases, so modest decreases in emissions don't allow catch-up time for the sinks especially given long atmospheric residence times of many of the gases. The stabilized concentrations are governed more by accumulated emissions from now until stabilization than by the way emissions change over the stabilization period thus, higher emissions early on will require deeper cuts later.
Complicating the situation still further is the fact that there are also BIG lags in the speed with which the climate responds to changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Maybe the following examples will help you understand the dilemma.
In addition, lags are caused by by the time it takes to make technological changes to infrastructures for energy production, etc.
If we were to achieve cuts of the magnitude necessary to stablilize -- or even slow greeatly the rate of increase -- atmospheric concentrations of greenhooouse gases, wed have to begin now to adopt policies that discourage investment in long-lasting carbon-intensive technologies and that stimulate research development and production of alternatives. More than 2000 economists recently weighed in, suggesting that many potential policies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions (of various types) have total benefits outweighing total costs. So, what kinds of policies are nations -- or states or corporations within nations -- agreeing to with regard to emissions decreases?
Recall that I'm not going to try to keep these web notes up to date year-to-year on exactly what nations or states or other governments are doing in detail - too much change too fast. I'll give current updates in lecture, but I just don't have time to do so on the web every year. SO, if there are policy details in lecture that aren't on the web, that's just the way of it - and sorry!
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by the US and over 173 other nations at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 called for:
"A stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
This was a voluntary agreement without specifics, and it was so loose as to be almost useless. For example, what constituted "dangerous" was not specified.
Then, in the fall of 1997, many of these nations met again, this time in Kyoto, Japan, hoping to pass a binding treaty that mandated specific emissions targets Various nations approached this meeting with various agendas. For example, The European Union and the Alliance of Small Island Nations hoped that fairly major cuts in emissions would be agreed to (e.g., that the industrialized nations would agree to 15 - 20% decreases below 1990 levels by 2005 - 2010). What did the US want? Simply to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2008 - 2012 and that was all! (CO2 emissions from the US had increased merrily since Rio; between 1990 and 1996, emissions increased by 8%. Agreement by the US matters a great deal, since we are responsible for about 38% of greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialized nations of the world ..)
The US also wanted the lesser developed nations to pledge to emissions reductions. Most other industrialized nations, however, believed that such an expectation wasnt really fair. That is, the industrialized nations are responsible for the vast bulk of the emissions, and should be responsible for their decrease, rather than expecting the LDCs to decrease what are already, by and large, very small emissions, potentially interfering with their ability to develop further. As one of the Chinese negotiators at Kyoto said, "In developed countries, only two people ride in a car, and you want us to give up riding the bus?" By assigning emissions caps based on past emissions (and as a percentage of those), the protocol essentially rewards historically high emitters and penalizes low emitters, and this would be very much true in the case of the LDCs. Some argue cogently that the basis for emissions caps should be per capita emissions rather than total emissions -- caps should, perhaps, be based on per capita rights to pollute the atmospheric commons, not on national rights. Caps based on total emissions (which is what the Protocol calls for at present) violate the historical "polluter pays" principle.
So, what came out of these varying approaches? Well, nations agreed in Kyoto to something called the Kyoto Protocol, which laid out general guidelines concerning emissions reductions. Details were to be worked out at subsequent meetings of the signatories.
Nations met in The Hague in Nov. 2000 to try to hammer out details, but no progress was made. In fact, the talks were "suspended," with the US being the biggest barrier to progress. The US negotiating position was that we should be allowed to accomplish about half of our emissions reductions targets using "sinks" (e.g., forest uptake) and that we should also be allowed to rely heavily on emissions trading to accomplish our targets. (See description of both of these below.) Other nations felt that we were trying to avoid making real cuts (which we were!) For example, we could do emissions trading with a nation such as Russia, whose emissions have been lower than usual because of economic hard times. We would basically take advantage of that, by buying emissions credits from Russia (for their unused emissions quota), allowing us to continue to do business as usual.
During the summer of 2001, the parties met again in Bonn, Germany, and rescued the Kyoto Protocol from what looked like imminent collapse. Through cooperation, enough nations agreed to the provisions of the protocol that the US agreement was not necessary (parties responsible for at least 55% of the industrialized nations' emissions of CO2 and other gases had to sign for the protocol to become binding -- it was a trick to reach this 55% without the US participation (since we constitute 38% of those emissions!), but it did happen -- Japan, Russia, and the EU (along with others) agreed and made up the 55% that was necessary). Oddly, the agreement in Bonn did add much of the flexibility concerning methods of reaching tragets that the US had been advocating for (see above), but the US wasn't a party anyway! The signatories did agree on binding emissions targets (which, if met, will still leave us with more than a doubling of CO2-equivalents by the middle of this century, and concentrations still increasing after that....)
Russia ratified the treaty in late 2004, and so it came into force as of 2005! So, the 178 out of 179 nations that participated in the negotiations and ratified the treaty are now bound by its provisions -- guess who the "odd man out" is? Yes, the United States of America.
What does it call for? Well, first, it divided nations into Annex I (industrialized) and Annex II (nonindustrialized). Nothing is required of Annex II nations at this point (although they are involved in some ways, as youll see below).
The Annex I nations agreed, in principle, to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases or to increase sinks for them. By how much did they agree (in principle) to decrease emissions? By an average of about 5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The formula for calculating emissions reductions took gross national product, per capita emissions, population growth rates and the magnitude of "sinks" (e.g., forest) into account. Thus, for the US, the Protocol calls for reductions of 7% below 1990 levels (we're not bound to this, since we didn't sign....Note, though, that given economic growth since 1990, this target would mean, effectively, that we'd need to do a 30% reduction!!), for the European Union, reductions of 8% are called for, for Japan of 6% and so on.
Please compare this average 5% reduction with what I said earlier was necessary to stabilize at current levels -- that would require 50 - 80% reductions and to hold to "just" a doubling over preindustrial would need ~ 25 % reduction As Lao Tse said: "A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step"
PROVISIONS OF THE TREATY IN A TINY NUTSHELL:
The treaty divides nations into Annex I (developed) or Annex II (less developed - includes China and India).
While many Annex II nations have ratified the treaty, including China and India, they aren't bound by emissions targets. This is an attempt to deal with the fairness issue I raised earlier (why should they be deprived the development opportunities that other nations had - especially given that most of the problem comes from Annex I nations ). This is also a major reason for the US holding out on ratifying the treaty.
The treaty allows nations to meet emissions reduction targets in various ways (and, as we saw, those targets vary a bit from nation to nation).
Emissions Trading - Joint Implementation: This can be used between Annex I nations as well as within Annex I nations. How does emissions trading work? Say that one Annex I nation was able to decrease its emissions by more than its target (by whatever means). It could then sell those emissions that it wasnt going to produce to some other Annex I nation that had been unable to meet its own emissions reduction requirement. While emissions trading sounds kind of suspicious -- and there is potential for misuse -- such trading was successful in helping industries and utilities in the US to decrease emissions of SO2 as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 [to diminish acid deposition]. Emissions trading can also be used within A given Annex I nation. For example, an old utility that couldnt drop its emissions as much as it was supposed to could buy emissions credits from some other industry that had decreased its emissions more than it had to. These emissions credits can actually be bought and sold; say industry X decreases its emissions more than it is required to. It can then sell credits for that extra reduction to industry Y that didn't meet it's target.
Carbon exchange markets now exist where one can buy and sell emission credits - including one in Chicago (Chicago Climate Exchange - administers a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program for the US - voluntary because we haven't ratified Kyoto). Europe opened an emissions trading market in 2005 and the value of the trades in that year was ~ 9.4 billion Euros!!
It is also possible to buy credits by investing in reforestation and forest enhancement too (that is, by investing in "offsets" - sinks of various kinds - many involving ecosystem services!! ). For example, there is lots of interest in small woodland owner newsletters these days about how to sell carbon credits for the sink provided by your forest - there are still bugs to work out, but such schemes are coming along! For example, a coal burning utility in Ohio could receive emissions credits for a tree planting effort in Oregon. This is still problematic; the science of measuring the sink provided by forests is very primitive (we dont have good measures of it in most cases), it isnt clear how sinks would be audited and verified, wed need excellent forest inventories (much better than exist at present) to go into this with and so on. But it isn't far away!!
Clean Development Mechanism: Under Article 2 of the treaty, Annex I nations can buy carbon credits (emissions rights) by funding environmentally friendly projects in Annex II nations and by planting or restoring forests or other "sinks" there. An Annex I nation could provide financial and technical assistance to an Annex II nation for it to develop non-fossil fuel based energy sources. The Annex I nation could then claim an emissions credit, and it wouldnt have to decrease its own emissions by as much as originally planned, claiming emissions that would be avoided by the Annex II nation as a credit against its own emissions reduction requirement. This could, in principle, really speed the development of clean technologies in the LDCs, essentially allowing them to leap-frog over the fossil fuel stage in development right into an alternative-energy based economy (not including nuclear power according to the Kyoto-Bonn 2001 accord).
The Clean Development Mechanism also allows
the possibility for using forests as sinks (e.g., by planting
forests), as I understand it, the planting projects are to be
judged on basis not only of C sequestration in the short term,
but also on the basis of sustainability, biodiversity enhancement,
etc - not just planting fast growing short rotation hybrid poplar,
for example - AND nations aren't allowed to cut forests and then
claim credit for re-planting. I think many details are still
being worked out
.Some US companies, anticipating a future
with mandatory emissions regulations, have been buying forested
land in Latin America and elsewhere, seeking future rights to
these climate-stabilizing services (Conserv. In Practice spring
03). As examples, BP and American Electric Power have already
invested a lot in reforestation projects in the tropics.
So, basically, even this relatively modest proposed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compare the average of 5% decrease below 1990 levels with the huge reductions necessary to stabilize concentrations -- or keep them to "just" a doubling ) has encountered great difficulties in coming into full being -- and the treaty is due to "sunset" soon -- 2012! Many nations, however, particularly in the EU (elsewhere too) ARE on track to meet -- or exceed the emissions reductions required under Kyoto.
At the UN Climate Conference in Bali in December 2007, an agreement was reached to start formal negotiations on a global plan for the post-2012 period, and on a "Bali Roadmap" that sets out an agenda for the negotiations. The conference set an end-2009 deadline for vcompleting the negotiations. Participants recognized that deep cuts will be reqquired to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels.
I am heartened by the fact that many individual actions take the prospect of climate change far more seriously than has the US governemnt and so have called for more serious emissions reductions.
Some examples follow:
OSU students should be proud! You voted to increase the fees you pay each term by a small amount (the "Green Energy Fee") to allow OSU to purchase the equivalent of 75 % of its electricity from renewable sources!! This doesn't mean that that % of the electricity we actually use on campus comes from renewables - a lot comes from coal - but the equivalent of that amount is produced from renewables with that money. This = 67 million kilowatt hours of green power annually - enoght to avoid the CO2 emissions of more than 9,000 passenger vehicles per year or the amount needed to power more than 6,000 average American homes per year (G-T 10/28/08). We are also constructing a cogeneration facility that will slash emissions still further. OSU was one of 25 organizations honored by the EPA with a 2008 Green Power Leadership Award!! We're ranked #4 on EPA's top 20 College and University list .
The EU (27 nations), at the Brussels Summit in 2007, pledged to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions 20% < 1990 by 2020 (or by 30% if other developed nations will join them) Along with this, the EU set a goal of increasing use of renewables to 20% of energy use by 2020 (compared to the current ~7%).
The UK has set a goal of decreasing emiss 60% below 1990 levels by 2050.
In April 2007, the US Supreme Court overturned EPA's claims that it lacked the authority to regulate global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act, so it now does have that authority -- an open question, as of 2008, is what will happen as a consequence.
Over ½ of US states have climate change-emissions reductions policies. Oregon was the first state to adopt such policies -- in 1997 it adopted legislation regulating greenhouse gas emissions. New power plants and other large energy facilities are required to either emit significantly less CO2 than past facilities or mitigate for their emissions. For example, they can pay non-profits such as the Climate Trust to undertake sequestration projects (offsets). In 2005, the Oregon legislature also adopted legislation increasing appliance efficiency standards, along with WA and CA)
As of summer 2005, 167 state and local governments in the US had climate policies.
California has pledged to get 33% of its energy from renewables by 2025.
In 2007, several western states, including OR,(WA, CA, OR, AZ, NM) signed the Western Regional Climate initiative, in which they pledged to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 15% < 2005 levels within 13 years (starting from 2007), to develop a cap and trade system, and other actions. Other states and some Canadian Provinces have also joined and it's been renamed, deleting "Regional" - the Western Climate Initiative includes seven western states and four Canadian provinces. It will launch a cap and trade program in 2012 that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. It will focus first on industrial emissions and then expand to fuel and transportation in 2015 (Sierra Nov/Dec 08).
Regional or state-level actions can be very important globally -- for example, OR + WA + CA emit as much g'house gases as do the UK or Canada!
Seventeen states, including OR, tried to mandate greenhouse gas emission reductions from cars and light trucks by 30% by 2016, with the first decreases to show up in 2009 models. EPA ruled that states can't do this (ruled in 2007), claiming that the rules were preempted by Federal authority. This reeally makes no sense, as California has many times before been allowed to impose its own pollution rules. (EDF Apr 08) Under the Federal Clean Air Act, states can set stricter vehicle emissions than the federal, but the state must be granted a waiver to do so. In this case, EPA said stricter standards were not needed because California faced no "compelling and extraordinary conditions" from global warming Last I knew (Oct 08) suits to overturn the EPA decision had been filed but not decided.
Nine northeastern states also have a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cap emissions and establish interstate trading market to achieve caps and lower costs (from ME to Delaware); in summer '05, they agreed on emissions targets.
In 1993, Portland, Oregon became the first
US city to adopt a CO2 decrease policy, committing to decrease
emissions 10% below 1990 levels by 2010 - beats Kyoto!. As of
2005, emissions were down to < 1% of 1990 levels - Multnomah
County joined on in 2001 too. Some of the main ways that emissions
reductions have been achieved include:
----emphasis on mass transit and renewables;
----replacing incandescent traffic lights with LED's -- which by itself decreased the city's CO2 emissions by 3% !!
----tree planting programs
Per capita, Portland and Multnomah Co have decreased emissions by 3% since 1993 (as of 2005)!! (This in the face of a contrary national trend, which is increasing per capita emissions!
Over 40 multinational corporations had agreed to voluntarily decrease emissions and increase efficiency as of 2005.
In Bonn in 2004, the "International Action Program for Renewable Energies" was signed by 50 countries and some other entities. Participants pledged to increase their use of renewables. As examples, China pledged to get 20% (15%??) of its total energy needs from renewables by 2020 (up from ~ 8% in 2006); Germany 20% of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020 .
China has doubled its wind power generating
capacity every year since 2005 and, as of 2008, has the world's
5th largest fleet of turbines (Sierra Nov/Dec 08).
I cant be at all comprehensive about all of the things that are happening with regard to alternative sources of energy, improvements in energy efficiency, and so forth. The following listing is very very brief in comparison to all that there is to know about the topic! The first three are all closely related:
1. Decrease energy use
2. Increase energy efficiency
3. Increase reliance on alternative fuels and wind and solar power.
These reduce CO2 (and CH4) emissions and make sense to do anyway!! Fossil fuel supplies are limited, and we need to be thinking about alternatives for that reason as well. Some interesting web sites that relate to energy (and alternatives) include: Electricity Label Generator, which is supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, and allows you to find out what kind of sources contribute to your electricity consumption (on a local scale) and what kinds of environmental influences these sources can have. (Once at the site, click on "Energy" and then on "Find out about your electricity.") The US Energy Administration provides information on energy use in the US and internationally. See also sites listed with the resource use reduction portion of these notes. For a list of ideas on ways by which you can reduce your energy consumption, see Natural Resource Defense Council's site. You can estimate your carbon footprint (basically, how much CO2 your activities release) and learn about ways to offset those emissions at the carbon counter or the green tags websites. Find a list of 50 things we can all do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions at http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/environment
The Electric Power Research Institute (the research arm of the electricity utilities in the US) itself estimated in about 1990 that we could decrease electricity demand about 40% by 2000 with existing technology and at little or not cost. Between 1973 and 1988 (during the "oil crisis") the US economy grew by 46% but our use of energy increased only by 8% -- that is, there was a 26% decrease in the energy required to produce a dollars worth of goods and services, largely through increase efficiency of use.
Many agree that we could supply 50-70% of current energy use in the US from renewables by 2030 if we put our minds to it (currently in the US we use renewables for about 8% of our energy use). Some of the big petroleum companies are jumping on board as well. British Petroleum has changed its name to "Beyond Petroleum" and pledged in 1999 to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions more than required under Kyoto. It also announced a one billion dollar investment in the development of wind and solar power. Its CEO said, in 1997, "The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part. We in BP have reached that point." Within weeks of this announcement, Shell Oil Co, announced its intentions to invest $500 million in the development of renewables.
Costs and efficiency of photovoltaics are improving rapidly, and major advances are being made in wind power as well (Denmark, by 2000, was getting 9% of its electricity from wind power). Hydrogen-based fuels are also receiving increasing attention)
We can all make a difference in our personal lives and by being involved politically! Organizations such as American Forests or Climate Trust are in the business of selling you offsets. Do you have a guilty conscience about flying all over the place and emitting hundreds of pounds of CO2 in so doing? Contact one of them (or others) and you can buy from them offsets = the CO2 emissions associated with your trip.
As of 2005, we get only about 1% of our global electricity from wind and about 1% from geothermal; fossil fuels are the basis of > 80% of the worlds commercial energy, with nuclear ~ 17; the rest is renewables (not much!!). So, while there are abundant prospects for alternatives out there - and some changes are hapening -- we should be working harder than we are to implement changes NOW as well as to develop new tools for the future.
E.g., the G.W. Bush administration put a big emphasis on development of hydrogen fuel. According to an article in Science (13 Aug 04), "The trouble with the plan to focus on research and the future is, of course, that the exploding trajectory of g'house gas emissions won't take time off while we are all waiting for the hydrogen economy "
I list only a few of the possibilities below, addressing a variety of greenhouse gases. I'm sure that you can think of many more!
Curb CFC production -- this is being done (but radiative properties of substitutes need work...)
Encourage reforestation -- can delay increase -- rapidly takes up and stores CO2 at leaast temporarily and during certain phases of the forests life. How much forest might it take? Lots -- (depends on species, site quality, etc.) For Douglas fir, it is estimated roughly that about 192 mill ha would be required to capture US anthropogenic CO2 emissions for a 50 yr period at current emission rates. This is about 25% of the total area of the lower 48 states, and the total world wide area of commercial forest plantations in mid-80's was only about 92 mill ha
Encourage adoption of conservation tillage -- Models suggest that rates of decomposition (hence CO2 evolution) are slower with conservation till than with conventional
Maintain or increase investment in the CRP - reforestation and increasing soil organic matter both sequester carbon
Decrease tropospheric O3
Decrease reliance on inorganic nitrogen as sources of fertility in agriculture (would diminish emissions of N2O as well as of CO2)
Control growth rate of the human population
Diminish emphasis on ruminant animals in our diets (gets at CH4, CO2, N2O )
Most of these make sense to do anyway -- these would reap benefits even if climate changes do not materialize as forecast. Is the will to make change there??? Well see over the coming years .
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Page maintained by Patricia Muir at Oregon State University. Last updated Nov. 12, 2008.