State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup – Week of 8/2

Climate News Roundup – Week of 8/2

Stern Says U.S. Bargaining Position for Cancun Remains Unchanged, The New York Times

The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, stated on Monday that the United States will still slash its greenhouse gas emissions despite Congress’s inability to bring a climate change bill to the floor this summer.  The failure of the bill has put pressure on Stern’s negotiating team, as it brings into question whether or not the U.S. can meet the obligations it proposed at the Copenhagen summit in December.  Climate negotiators are due to reconvene this year in Cancun, and the lack of a robust climate law in the US, and the legislature’s reluctance to pass one, has long been a stumbling block for international climate negotiations, leading to frustrations and disappointment.  Still, new EPA regulatory powers make it reasonable to expect that the Obama administration can meet its 2020 climate goals although longer-term emissions reductions will require more robust legislation.

Climate Change Prolongs Interior Alaska Growing Seasons, The Anchorage Daily News

In Alaska, farmers and scientists are observing longer growing seasons that may, in the short term, provide an agricultural boon to Alaska.  The Alaska Climate Research Center notes that temperatures are, on average, up by 2.5 degrees F since 1910, humidity is 11% less, and the growing season has effectively stretched from 85 days in the early 20th century to 123 days today. Gerd Wendler, the director of the ACRC, says this shift could have significant negative consequences, as well. While a longer growing season can mean more crops, it can also mean major changes in tree populations that will have long-term consequences for Alaskan ecosystems.

China Reports Improved Energy Efficiency, The Wall Street Journal

Earlier this year China initiated a crackdown on wasteful industries that appears to be paying off.  China has noted improved energy efficiency for the second quarter this year,.  According to the Wall Street Journal, relative consumption of energy to economic output increased by 0.09% for the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. This was significantly slower than the observed 3.2% increase in energy intensity for the first quarter of this year, which led to China’s crackdown on waste in numerous industrial sectors, including steel, cement, and leather.  China’s ability to increase its energy efficiency is seen as a measure of its commitment to tackling climate change, especially as China relies heavily on the burning of coal for its energy.  Still, doubts remain if the relative increase in efficiency can last, whether the  official numbers are inaccurate, or whether they result  from a slowdown in economic growth.

Diplomats Ponder Temporarily Extending the Kyoto Protocol, The New York Times

Delegates from 200 countries met in Bonn, Germany, last week to discuss extending the Kyoto protocol for up to two years.  The first commitment phase of the treaty expires in 2012 and it is unknown if the current European-brokered trading system will continue on after its demise. A number of political factors are pressuring negotiators into extending the Kyoto Protocol. Namely, there is no effective treaty to take the place of the Protocol and negotiators worry that about a gap between the end of the Protocol and the next treaty comes into effect. Developing nations, writes the Times, are keen to preserve the Kyoto Protocol as the mechanism for mitigating climate change, as developed nations are held to pre-1990 emissions standards and developing nations granted leniency to allow for economic development.  Developed nations seem to be pressing towards a new treaty, with Japan suggesting that the Copenhagen Accord formally take the place of the Kyoto Protocol.

Biggest Ice Island for 48 Years Breaks off Greenland Glacier, The Guardian

While not necessarily causally linked to climate change, it was a remarkable event last week when a 100-square mile block of ice broke off of the Petermann Glacier in Greenland.  The “ice island,” as it has been dubbed, is 600 feet thick and four times the size of Manhattan Island.  It contains enough fresh water to “keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days,” and the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years.  The breaking up of glacial ice shelves is a normal event, but for such a large piece to break off is very unusual.  Scientists note that, globally, the first half of 2010 was the one of the hottest six months on record, which is partly attributable to El Nino conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.  As Andrea Muenchow, professor of ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware says, “Nobody can claim this was caused by global warming. On the other hand nobody can claim that it wasn’t.”

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