ENERGY AND EMISSIONS
1.1. Global warming, local initiatives
10 December 2006 , Los Angeles Times
Unhappy with federal resistance to world standards, communities are curbing their energy use and emissions.
Frustrated with the federal response to global warming, hundreds of cities, suburbs and rural communities across the nation have taken bold steps to slash their energy consumption and reduce emissions of the pollutants that cause climate change.
This outdoorsy college town recently adopted the nation’s first "climate tax" — an extra fee for electricity use, with all proceeds going to fight global warming. Seattle has imposed a new parking tax, and the mayor hopes to charge tolls on major roads in an effort to discourage driving — a leading source of greenhouse gas pollution.
Cities not typically associated with liberal causes have also jumped on board. In Fargo , N.D. , Mayor Dennis Walaker swapped out every traffic-light bulb for a light-emitting diode, or LED, which uses 80% less energy. In Carmel , Ind. , a suburb of Indianapolis , Mayor James Brainard is switching the entire city fleet to hybrids and vehicles that run on biofuels (made from plant products rather than petroleum).
"It’s quite incredible, the number of things cities are beginning to do. It’s very heartening," said Tom Kelly, who directs a national environmental group called Kyoto USA .
Boulder Mayor Mark Ruzzin says skeptics often ask why global warming must be a local priority. He responds by acknowledging the obvious: "Even if Boulder could somehow wish away all of our greenhouse gas emissions, that wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket. It would be a drop within a drop."
Then he argues that the city must try anyway — if only to prove to larger communities that they, too, can reduce pollutants without spending huge sums or slowing economic growth.
"Every one of us has the ability, small as it may be, to make change," Ruzzin tells his residents, asking them to substitute a push mower for a gas mower, or at least to turn out the lights when they leave a room. "No one’s going to be able to escape the responsibility."
The movement began nearly two years ago, when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced that his city would strive to meet the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that aims to control global warming. The treaty requires industrialized nations to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that hover in the lower atmosphere. In what is known as a greenhouse effect, these pollutants create an invisible shield that keeps the sun’s rays from dissipating. Many of the trapped rays are reflected back to Earth, raising temperatures.
Greenhouse gases are directly tied to energy use, because the process of burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide. So any measures to conserve energy can indirectly cut greenhouse emissions.
Planting trees can also help, because they absorb carbon dioxide — and several cities have launched campaigns to take advantage of that fact. Denver , for instance, plans to plant an average of 140 trees a day for the next 20 years, while Los Angeles is replacing its famed fan palms with more leafy sycamores and oaks. Chicago encourages the planting of lush rooftop gardens, which have the added effect of cooling buildings, reducing the need for air conditioning.
Fargo acts on climate change more directly by trapping the methane that normally wafts out of its landfill as a byproduct of rotting garbage. The methane — a potent greenhouse gas — is then sold to a soybean processing plant, which uses it in its boilers.
"All these cities are like little laboratories, experimenting with what works. Then we learn from each other," Brainard said.
President Bush rejected the goals of the Kyoto treaty soon after he took office, calling it ineffective and unfair because developing countries such as China and India are exempt. He also argued that it would be enormously expensive for the U.S. to comply.
Determined to prove him wrong, Nickels c to adopt Kyoto ‘s targets at the local level. He has received more than 330 pledges from mayors representing 54 million people. All have vowed to reduce their cities’ emissions below 1990 levels within the next several years.
The nation’s biggest urban areas have made the pledge: Los Angeles , San Francisco , New York , Miami , Dallas , Denver . So have Turtle River , Minn. (population 79) and North Pole, Alaska (population 1,778).
Meridian , Miss. , where nearly 30% of residents live in poverty, has signed on to the Kyoto goals. So have Sugar Land , Texas ; Dubuque , Iowa ; and Norman , Okla. Scores of blue-state coastal cities are on the list, including Berkeley and Cambridge , Mass. The industrial Rust Belt town of Gary , Ind. , is also taking part.
Some of the cities that made the pledge have since lost interest. Topeka , Kan. , is on the list, but that’s because a former mayor signed up. The current mayor, Bill Bunten, has other priorities: "Our environmental problems in this city are just trying to make it clean and attractive."
But enough cities remain active in the program that the U.S. Conference of Mayors this fall hosted a climate summit. Also this fall, actor Robert Redford invited several dozen mayors to his ranch in Sundance , Utah , to talk global warming. There’s even a new website — http://www.coolmayors.org — where city officials can exchange policy ideas.
The 70 cities that reported statistics last year reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an aggregate total of 23 million tons. That’s not a huge sum considering that the U.S. would have to eliminate more than 1.6 billion tons to meet the Kyoto targets.
But those working on the issue expect the numbers to pick up dramatically in the coming years. More than 100 mayors have found the reforms so painless that they’ve set far more ambitious targets than those laid out in Kyoto , according to Michelle Wyman, executive director of ICLEI, a nonprofit working with local governments on climate change.
Governors, too, are joining the effort. At least 20 states, including California , have laws requiring a certain percentage of electrical power to come from solar, wind and other renewable sources. Just last week, former Vice President Al Gore announced a grass-roots campaign to encourage communities to hold emissions of greenhouse gases at their current levels rather than let them rise year after year as energy consumption increases.
Here in Boulder , even a skeptical Chamber of Commerce decided to back the climate tax, reasoning it would give the city’s image a boost and attract progressive businesses. The tax, which will cost the average homeowner less than $2 a month, won approval in November from 59% of voters. City officials will use the money for conservation education, including subsidized energy audits.
On a recent morning, Kathie Joyner opened her modest bungalow to just such an audit. Inspector Michael Broussard prowled every cranny, looking for drafts, leaks and wasted energy.
Broussard, who runs a private company that contracts with a local nonprofit for the audits, urged Joyner to add weather stripping here and caulking there, to insulate her water pipes and consider a fiberglass front door instead of wood. He even suggested she trade in her desktop computer for a more energy-efficient laptop.
If Joyner implements every suggestion — which could cost her $4,000 — Broussard said her utility bills should drop by at least a third and she would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 9,000 pounds a year.
Taking careful notes, Joyner promised to get to work. "I used to think it would be a drop in the bucket; what could it possibly mean?" she said. "But there are lots of local governments taking steps to make a difference. It pushes the country along."
1.2. Kyoto Gets a Slap in the Face from Canada
9 December 2006 , Tierramérica
Much to the surprise of most Canadians and the world community, Canada is reneging on its international commitments under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which could weaken an international agreement to fight climate change after Kyoto expires in 2012.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, elected early this year, and the new environment minister, Rona Ambrose, have dismissed Canada ‘s Kyoto commitments for reducing greenhouse gases as impossible to achieve.
They have also cancelled a five-million-dollar pledge to help least developed countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and have withdrawn Canada ‘s participation and funding of the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
"That’s totally irresponsible… It’s a slap in the face to the people of small island states and Inuit people of the North," said Enele Sopoaga, permanent representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations. His small island country in the South Pacific is experiencing flooding due to rising sea levels.
"I am extremely frustrated by the double standards of industrialised nations. Canada criticises other countries about their human rights policies or about the death penalty while they are playing with the lives of island people and the Inuit," Sopoaga said in a Tierramérica interview.
In an unusual move, Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme chastised Canada in the news media.
Appealing to the Canadian business sector, Steiner said that backing away from Kyoto would harm the country’s economy, and business would be left out of the international greenhouse gas emissions trading system that may be worth 100 billion dollars by 2016.
Ironically, Canada had been a champion of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce emissions that contribute to the atmospheric greenhouse effect. Under Kyoto , 35 industrialised nations, including Canada , are obligated to reduce their emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
But Canada ‘s emissions have risen 30 percent since 1990, mainly due to a booming oil and natural gas sector. By comparison, U.S. emissions rose 16 percent in the same period.
At the recent XII UN Conference on Climate Change, in Nairobi , Environment Minister Rona Ambrose publicly blamed the previous Canadian government for inaction on the matter.
Ambrose was widely criticised for that statement. Sopoaga says such attitudes undermine the basis for international cooperation: "You can’t have a group of cowards come into power and say we’re not going to keep international commitments made by a previous government."
Canadians widely support the Kyoto Protocol and want action on climate change. A public opinion poll taken Nov. 10-16 by Ipsos Reid found that Canadians place climate change as a top issue of concern, more important than jobs, the economy or healthcare.
"The climate change issue could bring down the government, (which) is not listening to the people," Johanna Whitmore, of the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental group, told Tierramérica.
In fact, most Canadians did not vote for Harper. Canada ‘s multi-party system allowed the Conservative Party to win with just 36 percent of the popular vote. As a result, the Harper administration needs the cooperation of at least one other party to stay in power.
Canada ‘s oil, coal and gas sector is making the country rich. That sector is responsible for much of the increase in emissions, and the previous and current governments are reluctant to do anything that might slow the energy boom.
As an alternative to Kyoto , the Harper government’s "Made-in-Canada climate plan", announced last month, set a goal of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases 45 to 65 percent below 2003 levels by 2050. Such a long-term goal allows the current government to postpone action on climate change indefinitely, says Whitmore.
Unfortunately the Kyoto agreement doesn’t have any financial penalties for failing to meet the emissions reduction target. All that happens is that countries have to make up for their shortfall plus an additional 1.3 percent penalty in the next reduction commitment period of 2013 to 2018.
In fact, the Harper government has cut funding for environmental programmes designed to reduce Canada ‘s greenhouse gas emissions.
"By its actions, Canada ‘s government shows that it doesn’t think climate change is a real issue," Whitmore said.
Canada ‘s Inuit people, who live in the far north and Arctic areas, know it’s a real issue.
"We see signs every day up here. It’s quite obvious," said Duane Smith, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada , from Inuvik , a small town 200 km north of the Arctic Circle .
"Winter starts later and leaves sooner, there are changes in the sea and river ice, we get more snow — and its affecting all the wildlife," Smith told Tierramérica.
Scientists have also documented a wide range of changes due to climate change. Neither Harper nor Ambrose have visited Canada ‘s far north to see the impacts first hand, according to Smith.
"I believe very strongly that Canadians want more aggressive action on the issue," he added.
1.3. Recent Global Stabilisation of Atmospheric Methane
7 December 2006 , Science for Environment Policy
Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas, and therefore contributes to the phenomenon of global warming. A lesser known aspect of methane is that it also contributes to the growth of global background levels of tropospheric ozone (O3), another greenhouse gas and air pollutant.
Atmospheric methane levels have more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s. About two-thirds of methane emissions can be associated with human activities, such as fossil-fuel extraction, rice paddies, landfills, and cattle farming.
A recent American study presents the most recent global atmospheric levels of methane, obtained between 1978 and 2005. The scientists used canisters to collect sea-level air in locations in the Pacific Rim , from northern Alaska to southern New Zealand . They then measured the amount of methane in each canister and calculated a global average. Furthermore, in order to better understand the evolution of methane levels over time and the influencing factors, the scientists also quantified levels of other gases, including ethane (C2H6), a by-product of petroleum refining that is also formed during biomass burning, and perchloroethylene (C2Cl4), a chlorinated solvent often used in the dry-cleaning process.
The results show that, from 1978 to 1987, the amount of methane in the global troposphere increased by 11 percent, a more than one percent increase each year. By the late 1980s, the growth rate slowed to between 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent per year. It continued to decline into the 1990s, but with a few fluctuations, which scientists have linked to non-cyclical events such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 and Indonesian and boreal wildfires in 1997 and 1998. Then, from December 1998 to December 2005, the samples showed a near-zero growth of methane, ranging from an annual 0.2 percent decrease to a 0.3 percent gain.
Reasons for the slowdown in the growth of methane concentration are not yet clear. They may include the reduction of fossil fuel leakage through, for example, leak-preventing repairs to oil and gas pipelines and storage facilities, which can release methane into the atmosphere.
Moreover, the researchers found that methane level fluctuations followed over time those of ethane, a gas emitted during fires. Perchloroethylene, one of the other studied gases, showed a different pattern. This finding provides further evidence that methane is formed during biomass burning and confirms the influence of this activity on large scale methane fluctuations. Consequently, large-scale fires, like those in Indonesia in 1997 and Russia in 1998, can also be a major source of atmospheric methane.
The authors highlight that methane levels may increase as a result of increased natural gas and energy use, for example, and therefore it is not possible to assume that methane growth will remain at near-zero levels in the future. Nevertheless, previous projections that methane will increase by 2010 and 2020 appear unlikely with the results presented in this study. Furthermore, the findings suggest that if emission control measures are introduced, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere could begin to decrease, in which case methane may not be such a large contributor to global warming in the future as it was in the past.
Source: Simpson, I. J., F. S.Rowland, S. Meinardi, and D. R. Blake (2006)« Influence of biomass burning during recent fluctuations in the slow growth of global tropospheric methane» , Geophys. Res. Lett., 33.
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1.4. Germany Aims to Cap Airline’s CO2 Emissions
6 December 2006