Obama and Other World Leaders Agree on Interim Goal for Copenhagen. By John M. Broder, NYTimes, November 16, 2009. "This weekend in Singapore, President Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders agreed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year... Mr. Obama expressed support on Sunday for a proposal from Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark to pursue a two-step process at the Copenhagen conference. Under the plan, the 192 nations convening in the Danish capital would formulate a nonbinding political agreement calling for reductions in global warming emissions and aid for developing nations to adapt to a changing climate. The group would also promise to work to put together a binding global pact in 2010, complete with firm emissions targets, enforcement mechanisms and specific dollar amounts to aid poorer nations. 'We must in the coming weeks focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible,' Mr. Rasmussen said in Singapore, making clear he would prefer to lock in the progress that has been made to date and not postpone action until countries are prepared to accept legally-binding commitments. Although many read the compromise as a sign that the Copenhagen talks were doomed to produce at best a weak agreement, Yvo de Boer, the United Nations official managing the climate negotiations, said the statements out of the Singapore meeting did not limit his ambitions. 'Copenhagen can and must deliver clarity on emission reduction targets and the finance to kick start rapid action,' Mr. de Boer said. 'I have seen nothing that would change my view on that.'"

Asia Pacific Leaders Back Down, But Brazil Steps Up to the Plate. By David Fogarty, Reuters, November 14, 2009. "Asia Pacific leaders backed away on Saturday from supporting a global halving of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, even as Brazil pledged deep cuts of its own over the next decade. An initial draft leaders' statement from an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore had said that global emissions will need to ... be reduced to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.' But a later, watered-down version stated: 'We believe that global emissions will need to peak over the next few years, and be substantially reduced by 2050, recognizing that the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing economies.' APEC includes the top two greenhouse gas emitters -- China and the United States -- and its meeting is the last major gathering of global decision-makers before a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in three weeks, meant to ramp up efforts to fight climate change. Its retreat may further dampen hopes that the Copenhagen meeting can yield a legally binding framework [agreement]... Brazil pledged on Friday to take its emissions back to 1990s levels by 2020 -- potentially a cut of some 20% from the 2.1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases it produced in 2005. The commitment by Latin America's biggest economy could put pressure on other nations to adopt more aggressive targets."

European Environment Agency Reports Successful Compliance with Kyoto Commitments. Press Release, EEA, November 15, 2009. "A report by the European Environment Agency released on November 12 shows that the European Union and all Member States but one are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Whereas the Protocol requires that the EU-15 reduce average emissions during 2008-2012 to 8% below 1990 levels, the latest projections indicate that the EU-15 will go further, reaching a total reduction of more than 13% below the base year... The EEA report shows that the reductions in the period 2008-2012 will be achieved through a combination of existing and additional policies, the purchase by governments of credits from emission-reducing projects outside the EU, the trading of emission allowances by participants in the EU emission trading scheme (EU ETS) and forestry activities that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The trading scheme primarily covers large carbon-emitting industries, which represent about 40 % of EU greenhouse gas emissions." Editor's Note: While acknowledging that this compliance is encouraging we cannot help wondering how much the reliance on offsets and trading emission credits calls into question the significance of these results.

International Energy Agency: The Time for Hard Choices is Now. By Jad Mouawad, NYTimes, November 11, 2009. "As the world heads for tough negotiations over a global climate deal next month, an influential forecasting agency said on Tuesday that current energy policies were not sustainable, and that a vast transformation of energy use was required to fend off the worst consequences of global warming. In the absence of a global deal to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed for climate change, energy consumption will soar over the next decades. This would result in a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, according to the International Energy Agency, an adviser to industrialized nations that is based in Paris... The warning was contained in the annual World Energy Outlook [PDF, 62 pp excerpt], a 698-page publication that focuses this year on policies needed to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide... The cost of reducing carbon emissions -- through energy efficiency, more investments in renewable power, electric vehicles, expansion of nuclear power, and building carbon capture and storage technology for coal-burning power plants -- would be high. But for each year of delay in an agreement, the world will eventually have to spend an additional $500 billion to cut emissions, the agency said."

Climate Bill Unlikely This Year or Next. By John Harwood, NYTimes, November 9, 2009. "Congress is unlikely, this year or next, to establish the 'cap and trade' system for curbing carbon emissions that Mr. Obama and party leaders seek. Nor are world leaders at a climate conference in Copenhagen next month likely to strike a concrete deal to limit emissions in the name of curbing global warming. The Democrats' challenge, then, is to make enough progress to avoid defeat in the near term and achieve their priorities in the long term. Though advocates insist that transforming energy policy will bring economic and environmental benefits alike, rising joblessness has amplified attacks from critics who deride Mr. Obama's energy policy as a big-government 'cap and tax' plan... Prospects for an energy bill capping carbon emissions appear shaky even next year... The House-passed energy bill called for a 17% reduction, while also limiting the EPA's regulatory authority to curb emissions. Some environmental advocates said such concessions -- and more that might be needed to win a Senate vote -- might prompt the White House to abandon legislation altogether and simply use its regulatory power."

Memo to Sen. Kerry: Climate Science Includes Economics. By James Handley, CarbonTaxCenter, November 12, 2009. "U.S. climate activists are gleeful at Sen. John Kerry's demolition of a sometime climate skeptic [Ken Green, a resident scholar for the corporate-financed American Enterprise Institute] at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday... The interchange, summarized in a 6½-minute video... showcases Sen. Kerry's skill as a cross-examiner and reveals just how flimsy and muddled the case questioning the climate crisis really is. Lost in the euphoria, however, is evidence of the Senator's own confusion -- not on the need to act to avert climate catastrophe, but on the workings of competing means of pricing carbon emissions... In an earlier part of this week's hearing, Sen. Kerry repeated a point he made in an August 4 Finance Committee hearing on Climate Change Legislation: Allowance and Revenue Distribution: a carbon tax wouldn't reduce emissions... In the August hearing, Sen. Kerry questioned whether American businesses and households would actually respond to higher fuel and energy prices... He had evidently forgotten what happened during the summer of 2008 when gasoline hit $4/gallon: traffic congestion eased, carpools, buses and trains filled up, and SUV sales tumbled. And that was only the short-term effect of a price spike; a long-term, predictable carbon emissions price increase would allow sound business planning and create incentives for long-term investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon alternatives. But his ongoing misunderstanding of the workings of carbon pricing is almost as shocking as the AEI witness's misrepresentation this week of climate science. It's past time for both sides to get it right: The consequences of unmitigated climate change will be grave, whereas clear, simple, predictable carbon pricing is essential to catalyzing the solutions."

Consumer Advocates Missing from Climate Bill Witness List. By Anne C. Mulkern, Greenwire, November 12, 2009. "A total of 33 people from a spectrum of energy companies and interests have appeared at three hearings before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and two before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. There were 25 witnesses from schools or think tanks, 25 from government, 15 from non-energy companies and 13 from environmental groups, according to the tally [PDF, 8 pp] from a consumer and environmental coalition. Consumer groups had two witnesses, said the alliance of groups, which wants consumers to have a louder voice in how new climate and energy policy is formulated. The coalition includes AARP, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, Public Citizen, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and several others. It does not have a formal name. The alliance that issued the witness tally wants climate legislation, but it said that the current bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) does not pick the best option for ensuring that a carbon cap does not pinch consumers. The alliance backs a climate policy that would cap carbon emissions, auction all carbon emissions permits and return the proceeds to consumers via a rebate or revolving trust, a system known as cap and dividend." See Analysis of S.1733, The Kerry-Boxer Climate Bill (PDF 12 pp), an October 29 critique by a similar collations of climate advocates."

Oil Companies Lubricate Access to Senate Finance Committee Members. By Anne C. Mulkern, Greenwire, November 10, 2009. "Oil and gas companies and electric utilities over the past two decades have poured $8 million into the campaign coffers of lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee who could now look to shape climate legislation... The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over much of the structure of a cap-and-trade program including how much companies will be able to bank emissions permits in one year and use in another, and whether free permits given to companies could be turned into a kind of security that could be bundled and sold like mortgages, said Kenneth Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute... Of all those on the Finance Committee, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has received the most money from companies and trade groups with an interest in climate legislation in this campaign cycle. A third-term senator who this summer became chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, Lincoln is one of five committee members up for re-election. A moderate Democrat, she is also considered a key swing vote on the climate bill. For the 2010 campaign, Lincoln has taken in $195,796 from 72 different energy interests. In comparison, she has received $242,250 from companies and groups with stakes in health care legislation -- another major issue that goes through the Finance panel."

Boxer and Inhofe: Antagonists and Friends. By Lisa Lerer, Politico, November 10, 2009. "Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and ranking GOP member Jim Inhofe traded fierce fire last week as their committee battled over whether to move forward with a climate change bill. But behind closed doors, the California liberal and the Oklahoma conservative say they prefer exchanging global warming gag gifts more than partisan jabs... 'We are really very good friends,' said Boxer. 'It's a good working relationship we have. People are very surprised about it.' Publicly, the two seem like anything but best buddies as they wrangle over the science of global warming in a fiercely partisan policy feud that has pushed their committee to the outskirts of the climate debate... Former aides speculate that the two are so friendly because both realize that the public sparring helps their political careers."

EPA Orders Employees Critical of Cap-and-Trade to Remove Video from Web. Press Release, PEER.org, November 9, 2009. "EPA has ordered two of its attorneys to remove a video they posted on YouTube about problems with climate change legislation backed by the Obama administration or face 'disciplinary action,' according to documents released on November 9 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The couple had received clearance for posting the video but EPA took issue with its content following publication of an op-ed piece by the two in The Washington Post on October 31. The video, entitled The Huge Mistake, is by Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two [California] EPA enforcement attorneys speaking as private citizens. The video explains why the cap & trade plan endorsed by President Obama will not accomplish its goals, let alone effectively curb climate change... Williams and Zabel, who are married to each other, go to great lengths in the video and other writings to provide disclaimers affirming that their views are personal and do not represent the agency. However, EPA now objects to them even referring to their on-the-job experience as the basis for their views... Read the EPA directive to remove the video... Watch the censored video... See their Washington Post op-ed... View Williams and Zabel's more detailed critique of cap & trade."
Central and Eastern European 'Hot Air' Carbon Credits Continue to Undermine E.U. Cap-and-Trade Effectiveness. By Paul Voosen, Greenwire, November 9, 2009. "A surplus of U.N. carbon emission credits piling up across Central and Eastern Europe is threatening to destabilize nascent carbon markets across the world and dampen efforts to curb global warming, market... Already this year, sales of emission credits from countries like the Czech Republic, Latvia and most notably Ukraine have caused the price of a ton of carbon in Europe's cap-and-trade system to plunge by more than a euro, a significant drop, said Kevin James, the vice president of carbon finance at Climate Change Capital. To date, some 147 million tons of the credits -- known in U.N. legalese as assigned amount units and in policy circles as 'hot air'... Ukraine alone is estimated to be in negotiations to sell an additional 450 million tons to Japanese firms... 'It's a hot potato that no one wants to touch,' said Peter Zapfel, an official at the environment directorate of the European Commission... Credits are building up largely thanks to the economic malaise that afflicted Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. The rapid decline and deindustrialization of post-communist countries means they won't come close to using the amount of emission credits granted to them by the United Nations' previous round of climate talks last decade. Because of the gap between prediction and reality, these countries are expected to have a stockpile of 6.5 billion tons of CO2 credits by 2013, mostly held by Russia and Ukraine. For comparison, the United States emitted a total of some 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2007... The looming conflict over the excess emissions is a prime example of how flawed policies, bad data and optimistic growth projections can undermine government-created trading."

Top U.K. Travel Agency Drops Carbon Offsetting. By Jerome Taylor, London Independent, November 7, 2009. "One of Britain's leading ethical travel operators has launched a scathing attack on the carbon offset industry and has decided to stop offering offsets to its customers as a way of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Justin Francis, the founder of www.responsibletravel.com, said he had decided to abandon offsets because he believes they have become a 'medieval pardon that allows people to continue polluting.' In 2002 his company became one of the first British travel operators to begin offering customers the opportunity to buy into an offsetting scheme. By paying money to a third party operator that ran carbon-reducing projects in the developing world, holidaymakers could jump on board flights supposedly happy in the knowledge that any carbon dioxide released during their journey would eventually be reduced by the equivalent amount somewhere else... 'Carbon offsetting is an ingenious way to avoid genuinely reducing your carbon emissions,' he said. 'It's a very attractive idea -- that you can go on living exactly as you did before when there's a magic pill or medieval pardon out there that allows people to continue polluting.' As some of the top polluters, the aviation and travel industries have been keen to promote carbon offsetting to their customers."

EPA Endangerment Finding Sent to White House for Review, In Preparation for Climate Bill Alternative. By Tom Doggett, Reuters, November 9, 2009. "EPA has sent its final proposal on whether CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to human health and welfare to the White House for review, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Reuters on November 9. The EPA's final finding, if it follows the agency's earlier assessment and is approved by the Office of Management and Budget, would allow the EPA to issue rules later to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, even if Congress fails to pass legislation to cut U.S. emissions of the heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming... Jackson said the OMB has up to 90 days to review the proposal, but the EPA would like a quicker timetable... Along with its final endangerment finding, the EPA also sent to OMB the agency's final finding on whether cars and trucks 'cause or contribute to that pollution,' Jackson said. Such a finding would allow the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions by increasing vehicle mileage requirement. Jackson said the government is facing a 'hard deadline' of next March to let automakers know of any required increases in fuel economy standards that would affect vehicles built for the 2012 model year."

New Army Corps Policy Forces Project Designers to Consider Rising Seas. By Taryn Luntz, Greenwire, November 11, 2009. "The Army Corps of Engineers must consider the effects of climate change as it draws up plans for flood control, navigation and other water projects under a new agency policy... Experts said the policy signals a shift in the culture of corps leaders, some of whom rose in the ranks during a time of growing awareness about rising seas. 'The people who had just joined this corps when we were pushing this idea, 25 years later, they're now the bosses,' said Jim Titus, a U.S. EPA researcher who specialized in sea-level rise. Titus last month privately published a study in the journal Environmental Research Letters that showed 60% of coastal lowlands along the Atlantic Coast are likely to be developed in the next century and less than 10% of that area is set aside for conservation. 'To ignore rising sea level in the design of civil works would be like ignoring the health effects of smoking a cigarette,' Titus said. 'We've gotten to that point.'"

White House Recommends Creating National Oceans Council, But Shuns NOAA. By Les Blumenthal, McClatchy, November 8, 2009. "Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have absorbed 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide. They're now absorbing about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide a day... More than 60% of the nation's coastal rivers and bays are moderately to severely degraded by nutrient runoff from products such as fertilizer, creating algae blooms that affect the kelp beds and grasses that are nurseries for many species of fish... The danger signals are everywhere, some related to climate change and greenhouse gases and others not... As the grim news mounts, a storm is brewing in Washington, D.C., over who should oversee oceans policies. A White House task force has recommended creating a National Ocean Council that would develop and implement national ocean policy and include the secretaries of state, defense, agriculture, interior, health and human services, labor, commerce, transportation and homeland security. It also would include the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the administrators of NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency , the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Plus the president's advisers on national security. homeland security, domestic policy and economic policy. The chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy would head the council.

"However, NOAA, the nation's primary ocean agency, which includes the National Ocean Service, the nation's premier science agency for oceans and coasts; the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages living marine resources; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which studies climate, weather and air quality; and the National Weather Service -- is missing from the task force's list. 'I am mystified why NOAA has been exempted,' said Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the top Republican on the subcommittee. 'It was a surprise,' Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- Wash., said in an interview. 'I didn't know it would be this sensitive.' Cantwell chairs the oceans subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Her panel held a hearing on the issue in early November."

EPA's Chief Air Quality Regulator Appears Ready for a Good Fight. By Robin Bravender, Greenwire, November 13, 2009. "U.S. EPA air chief Gina McCarthy has a thick Boston accent, a shock of cropped white hair and a penchant for a good fight... That is lucky for McCarthy, 55, whose job as the nation's top air regulator has her in what may be the world's hottest spot: the center of a political free-for-all over climate regulation and other air pollution policies. As President Obama's nominee for the air office post, McCarthy got a whiff of how contentious her new job could be before she was even confirmed by the Senate. Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming stalled the vote on her confirmation for nearly a month last spring to protest EPA's movement toward using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases... McCarthy quickly made up for lost time when she finally moved in June into her fifth-floor office at EPA headquarters, the Ariel Rios Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. McCarthy and her staff quickly rolled out several climate policies in response to the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision, which gave the agency the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants. Environmentalists have hailed the proposals, which they say were long overdue, while conservative lawmakers and many industry groups have accused EPA of attempting to impose new regulations that would cripple a struggling economy. But McCarthy, a veteran regulator and a pioneer in a Northeastern regional program to curb global warming emissions, has taken criticism and praise in stride."

Mounting Criticism for Fast-Tracking Solar Thermal Projects. By Scott Streater, Greenwire, November 12, 2009. "The federal government's determination that a 400-megawatt solar thermal power plant will not cause significant harm to a pristine strip of the Mojave Desert is a victory for those who want to place dozens of solar arrays on federal land in Southern California. But a closer look at a federal draft environmental impact statement released last week reveals that even with extensive mitigation, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project would destroy rare plants and permanently alter prized views from the nearby Mojave National Preserve. It would also annually consume an estimated 32 million gallons of groundwater in a region where water is scarce. Such findings concern environmentalists who are almost certain to challenge the project. They also add to mounting criticism that the Obama administration is rushing to permit utility-scale renewable energy projects without considering the projects' effects on pristine public lands and the rare plants and animals that inhabit them."

East Coast Advocates of Offshore Wind Seek to Fast-Track Federal Permitting. By Evan Lehmann, Greenwire, November 9, 2009. "The United States has yet to plant its first turbines in the seafloor, while Europe widens its lead, adding 1-megawatt every day on average, according to its industry group. Europe's offshore winds now produce a total of 1,471 megawatts, the amount of electricity produced by a very large coal-fired power plant... Offshore advocates hope the United States won't repeat its mistakes of three decades ago, when it watched Europe overtake it as the onshore turbine-making headquarters of the world. To make a fast push toward cornering the offshore market, the country needs to establish a nationwide requirement on utilities that makes them use more renewable energy, several industry and government experts said. That would turn eyes toward the East Coast, where land-based wind farms are hard to site, but where strong offshore winds are blowing near big cities that could use the electricity... Nationwide, the United States has seen its onshore turbine production increase twelvefold since 2005, rising from $450 million in components, then to $5.6 billion at the end of last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The group notes that 'we are in a foot race to build up a wind turbine manufacturing base here in this country'... General Electric Co., a major maker of onshore turbines, believes the 'focus for offshore activity will continue to be in Europe,' at least in the near term, according to a spokesman, Howard Masto. 'The U.S. is beginning to talk more seriously about offshore wind, but we feel that offshore projects here are still some years away.'

"Representatives from Coastal states in the East... are having discussions with the U.S. Interior Department, which approves seabed leases, about shortening the long line of regulatory hurdles that developers need to clear before they can begin construction. They believe Interior Secretary Ken Salazar might help them convince all the federal agencies involved in offshore to work in cooperation to reduce overlapping requirements for environmental impact statements and other requirements. 'This is a need to bring together all the federal agencies with the states to lay out a rational pathway for review of the projects,' said Mark Sinclair, executive director of the Clean Energy Group, which is leading the effort. 'The justification for that is the Cape Wind project. That's a clear example of where there was no coordination. We should use the Cape Wind project as Exhibit A as what not to do.'"

Brazilian Wind Power Gets a Huge Boost. By Robert Walzer, NYTimes, November 9, 2009. "On Dec. 14, the Brazilian government conducts its first wind-only energy auction. The bidding is expected to lead to the construction of two gigawatts of wind production with an investment of about $6 billion over the next two years. The auction has attracted a number of international players, including the local units of Energias de Portugal, Electricité de France, Spain's Iberdrola, EnerFin of the United States and several Brazilian companies, among others. Interest has been so great, in fact, that the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which is conducting the auction, postponed it by three weeks to allow extra time to evaluate the preliminary bids... Industry and the government had anticipated proposals for 4.5 gigawatts to 6 gigawatts of projects, but 'we came to the astonishing number of 13.3 gigawatts' from 441 proposals, said Pedro Perrelli, the executive director of ABEEólica, the Brazilian Wind Energy Association... Within days, the government plans to release the auction's technical manual, allowing participants to refine their bids... The winners will get a 20-year power-purchase agreement from the state. Brazil counts on hydroelectricity for more than three-quarters of its electricity, but authorities are pushing biomass and wind as primary alternatives. Wind energy's greatest potential in Brazil is during the dry season, so it is considered a hedge against low rainfall and the geographical spread of existing hydro resources. 'In Brazil, wind is very complimentary to hydro,' said João Carlos Mello, the chief executive of Andrade & Canellas, an energy consulting firm advising some bidders in the wind-power auction."

Toxic Metal: An Issue for Ultrathin PV Panels. By James Kanter, NYTimes, November 9, 2009. "The rapid growth of FirstSolar [based in Tempe, Arizona] is the result of its focus on ultrathin photovoltaic panels that are more versatile than conventional crystalline models. The technology has helped displace the view that solar power could never become an affordable or realistic way of lowering emissions on a large scale. But these new panels contain a compound of cadmium, an extremely toxic metal already banned from most products in Europe. The compound is made with the element tellurium to create cadmium telluride, which enables the conversion of light to electricity... First Solar is the world's largest maker of such panels, and they are its sole product, and that makes the company more vulnerable than many of its competitors to a new effort to tighten up laws on hazardous chemicals in Europe... The European Photovoltaic Industry Association [EPIA], an industry organization... warned that a 'young, growing industry' still striving 'to reach competitiveness' should not be subject to the hazardous waste rules."

Wave Power Project Set to Start Construction in Australia. By Victoria Ryan, Reuters, November 6, 2009. "Renewable energy firm Ocean Power Technologies has won a A$66.5 million ($61 million) grant from the Australian government for a project set to be one of the first to generate power from waves on a utility scale... Work on the 19 megawatt project, enough to power 10,000 homes, was expected to begin by the second quarter of 2010. The company uses buoys floating up and down to drive an electrical generator, with the power generated being transmitted onshore via an underwater cable. The project is off the coast of Victoria is being carried out in conjunction with Leighton Contractors, a unit of Australian mining contractor Leighton Holdings."

Study Calls for More Government Help for Low Emission Transportation Technology. By Katie Howell, Greenwire, November 12, 2009. "Several low-emission technologies have the potential to transform the transportation sector within five years if policymakers and regulators can help clear hurdles to commercial markets, according to a new report [Betting on Science, PDF, 39 pp]. The report, released Tuesday by the consulting firm Accenture, identifies 12 technologies -- including algae-based biofuels, next-generation internal combustion engines and electrification -- that it considers most likely to quickly transform the fuels sector. But those technologies will need help, the report says... The report recommends that policymakers use mandates, tax incentives and direct investment to help the technologies develop. Also needed, the report says, are new policies for intellectual property, synthetic biology, battery technology, and the relationship between energy and water in biofuel production."

Carpooling is Effective, But Not Popular. By Jenny Mandell, ClimateWire, November 10, 2009. "We all know carpooling is good for the Earth. So highway departments build high-occupancy vehicle lanes and companies offer prime parking spaces for employees who share rides. But carpooling is unlikely to save the environment. It's too hard. So say scientists who have studied how people confront environmental and energy challenges. Carpooling, they say, has low 'plasticity' -- that is, people are unwilling to do it -- so its 'reasonably achievable emissions reductions' are low, as well... Mike Vandenbergh, director of Vanderbilt University's Climate Change Research Network. 'A real value is in looking not just at potential emissions reductions, but also at plasticity. Because otherwise, you'll be frustrated.' Carpooling, it turns out, is frustrating. Vandenbergh was part of a research team that examined 17 environment-saving behaviors, finding carpooling the second most effective in potential energy savings but dead last in potential consumer uptake. Their paper [PDF, 11 pp] was published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

World Bank Issues Study on Energy Intensity. By John Collins Rudolf, NYTimes, November 6, 2009. "'Emissions intensity' -- the amount of atmospheric carbon generated from fossil fuel use per unit of gross domestic product -- fell globally in all but two years between 1994 and 2006, according to a World Bank study [Changes in CO2 Emissions from Energy Use, PDF, 100 pp] released earlier this week. But emissions reductions in individual countries presented a mixed picture, according to Masami Kojima, the lead energy specialist with the World Bank, and one of the authors of the study, which highlights the challenge of de-coupling emissions from economic growth... A handful of countries, including Denmark and Germany, drastically reduced emissions, both over all and in relation to economic growth. The study did not analyze the specific policies within each country that led to changes in emissions, but Warren Evans, the director of the World Bank's environment department, said that countries that succeeded in reducing emissions while still expanding their economies should be examined closely by other nations during upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen."

Warren Buffet Bets Big on Coal. By Bradford Plumer, New Republic, November 3, 2009. "One of the big business stories this month that Warren Buffett is planning to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which boasts one of the largest freight-rail networks in the country. The BNSF railway serves a lot of coal fields in the West, including Wyoming's vast Powder River Basin, and hauls enough coal on its routes to supply about 10 percent of the electricity in the United States. So Buffett's essentially betting that coal's going to remain a major part of the U.S. energy mix for quite some time, even as the country moves to cut carbon emissions. (Via e-mail, Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch points out that Buffett also owns MidAmerican Energy, a large Western utility that owns 11 coal-fired plants and has fought hard against caps on carbon emissions.) Is it crazy to bet on coal in the face of looming climate legislation? Eh, not really. As a new Greenpeace report points out, the House climate bill actually does quite a bit to ensure that coal has a bright future. There's $10 billion for research into capturing carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, plus billions more for deployment. And the bill exempted many existing plants from new pollution standards, which will enable utilities to keep some of their older, dirtier plants chugging along for years to come. Environmentalists have been lobbying to change some of these provisions in the Senate, but Buffett seems awfully confident that won't happen."

Megatons to Megawatts: Former Bomb Material from Russia Now Fuels 45% of U.S. Nuclear Energy. By Andrew E. Kramer, NYTimes, November 10, 2009. "Salvaged bomb material now generates about 10% of electricity in the United States. Utilities have been loath to publicize the Russian bomb supply line for fear of spooking consumers: the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it. But at times, recycled Soviet bomb cores have made up the majority of the American market for low-enriched uranium fuel. Today, former bomb material from Russia accounts for 45% of the fuel in American nuclear reactors, while another 5% comes from American bombs, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade association in Washington. Treaties at the end of the cold war led to the decommissioning of thousands of warheads. Their energy-rich cores are converted into civilian reactor fuel... The program for dismantling and diluting the fuel cores of decommissioned Russian warheads -- known informally as Megatons to Megawatts -- is set to expire in 2013, just as the industry is trying to sell it forcefully as an alternative to coal-powered energy plants, which emit greenhouse gases. Finding a substitute is a concern for utilities today because nuclear plants buy fuel three to five years in advance. One potential new source is warheads that would become superfluous if the United States and Russia agree to new cuts under negotiations to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires on Dec. 5."

Warming Atlantic Driving Traditional New England Fish Further from Shore. By Clarke Canfield, AP, November 12, 2009. "Fishermen have known for years that they've had to steam farther and farther from shore to find the cod, haddock and winter flounder that typically fill dinner plates in New England. A new federal study documenting the warming waters of the North Atlantic confirms that they're right... That temperature rise doesn't sound like much -- less than half a degree Fahrenheit, on average -- but it's been enough to cause fish to slowly move to areas with temperatures more to their liking... Among commercial species, movements of more than 100 miles were observed for southern stocks of yellowtail flounder and red hake, as well as American shad and alewives. Some fish exhibited little movement to the north, but rather moved to deeper waters where temperatures are lower, according to the report. Small-boat fishermen on Cape Cod caught most of their haddock and flounder, as well as the peninsula's namesake fish, in waters close to shore 20 years ago, said Tom Dempsey, of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association. Nowadays, they have to travel as far 100 miles offshore to find those same fish, he said. At the same time, he said, Massachusetts fishermen are catching more fish traditionally found in the Middle Atlantic -- Atlantic croaker, in particular, usually caught off Virginia and North Carolina."

Northern Forest Account for Over Half of World's Forest Based Carbon Sinks. By John Lorinc, NYTimes, November 12, 2009. "A coalition of conservation groups are calling on international climate negotiators in Copenhagen next month to develop land-use policy incentives intended to encourage governments to protect natural carbon storehouses -- especially those in northern boreal forests and peatlands found in Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. 'The 208.1 billion tons of carbon estimated to be stored by forest and peatland ecosystems within Canada's Boreal Forest region is equivalent to 26 years worth of the world's carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning, as measured in 2006,' noted a report [The Carbon the World Forgot, PDF, 36 pp] released Wednesday by the Canadian Boreal Initiative. Undisturbed northern boreal forests, the report says, account for almost 60% of the world's forest-based carbon sinks. By contrast to rain forests, much of the boreal carbon is stored in underground root and soil systems, and will accumulate for thousands of years. Its extent has been underestimated, the authors say."

Brazilian Deforestation Shows Largest Drop in 20 Years. By Marco Sibaja, AP, November 12, 2009. "Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped nearly 46% from August 2008 to July 2009 -- the biggest annual decline in two decades, the government said Thursday. Analysis of satellite imagery by the National Institute for Space Research shows an estimated 7,008 square kilometers (2,705 square miles) of forest were cleared during the 12-month period, the lowest rate since the government started monitoring deforestation in 1988. 'The new deforestation data represents an extraordinary and significant reduction for Brazil,' President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a statement. The numbers have been falling since 2004, when they reached a peak of 27,000 square kilometers (10,425 square miles) cleared in one year, according to the space research institute."

Palm Oil Plantation Owners Thwart Efforts to Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions. By Pete Browne, NYTimes, November 6, 2009. "Earlier this month the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an association of palm oil producers, manufacturers, and environmental groups, concluded its annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a decision not to include greenhouse gas emissions standards in its certification criteria for 'sustainable' palm oil... But according to Kenneth Richter, a biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth International, even as the roundtable aimed to address the emissions arising from the conversion of forest and peat swamp areas into oil palm plantations, 'attempts to develop appropriate criteria have been frustrated by roundtable members representing Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil growers.'"

Desalination Equipment Maker Sees Rapid Growth. Reuters, November 6, 2009. "Energy Recovery Inc, which makes equipment for desalination plants, sees the industry that converts sea water to fresh water growing as much as 25% annually and is looking to expand its operations through the acquisition of new technologies... Energy Recovery produces equipment for desalination plants that cuts energy use by 60%. Desalination needs pressure about 40 times higher than from a tap at home, which requires a lot of energy to create. The Energy Recovery product transfers pressure from the waste stream of brine to the incoming seawater. The primary method of desalting water is reverse osmosis, which pushes water under high pressure through fine membranes that separate out the salt... Energy costs account for about 40%t to 50% of the cost of desalination, which has given it a reputation for being expensive as well as bad for the environment in a world focused on carbon emissions from energy... Energy costs account for about 40% to 50% of the cost of desalination, which has given it a reputation for being expensive as well as bad for the environment in a world focused on carbon emissions from energy. But energy costs for producing desalinated water in southern California are comparable with costs for transporting water to the region from major sources in the north of the state and the Colorado River, said G.G. Pique, president of Energy Recovery... Most of the world's high-capacity desalination projects are in the Middle East, though a handful of relatively small desalination plants operate in California now."

Climate Change Compounds Ethiopia's Food Crisis. By Aaron Maasho, AFP, November 14, 2009. "Twenty-five years after a scathing famine killed a million people in the Horn of Africa nation, Ethiopia announced last month that more than six million required food relief out of a population of about 80 million. The government appealed for 159,000 tons of food aid worth 121 million dollars to feed its hungry population. Official figures also indicate that nearly 80,000 children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition and that nine million dollars is required for moderately malnourished children and women. Although none of Ethiopia's six national droughts since 1984 have been as devastating, aid groups say the grim prospects of food shortages will linger for years to come due to climate change. Average temperatures in Ethiopia are predicted to rise by 3.9 degrees celsius by 2080, Oxfam said, making drought the norm, hitting the region in up to three in every four years in the next 25 years.'"

Lake Superior Warming 1.2 Degrees Per Decade. Science Daily, November 15, 2009. "Rising water temperatures are kicking up more powerful winds on Lake Superior, with consequences for currents, biological cycles, pollution and more on the world's largest lake and its smaller brethren. Since 1985, surface water temperatures measured by lake buoys have climbed 1.2 degrees per decade, about 15% faster than the air above the lake and twice as fast as warming over nearby land... 'The lake's thermal budget is very sensitive to the amount of ice cover over the winter,' says Ankur Desai, atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 'There is less ice on Lake Superior during the winter, and consequently the water absorbs more heat.' A wide temperature differential between water and air makes for a more stable atmosphere with calmer winds over the relatively cold water. However, as warming water closes the gap, as in Lake Superior's case, the atmosphere gets more turbulent."

South America's Largest Lake is Receding Rapidly. By Carlos Valdez, AP, November 12, 2009. "Evaporation blamed on global warming has reduced Lake Titicaca, one of the world's highest navigable lakes, to its lowest level since 1949, authorities said Thursday. Diminished rainfall and a rise in solar radiation have in the past four years led to critically low water levels that now threaten fish spawning areas and plant life, the Lake Titicaca Authority said in a statement. Titicaca's waters have dropped 81 centimeters (2.65 feet) since April and flora and fauna are apt to suffer damage if they drop another 30 centimeters (one foot), the statement said. Navy Capt. Jorge Ernesto Espinoza told ATB television that South America's largest lake is receding by 2 to 3 centimeters (about an inch) a week. The lake, straddling Bolivia and Peru at 3,800 meters (12,493 feet) elevation, is an 8,400 square kilometer (3,240 square mile) oasis on an arid high plain an hour's drive from the Bolivian capital, La Paz. The lake is fed by rainfall and melt water from glaciers, which scientists say are shrinking rapidly due to global warming and could disappear altogether by mid-century."

Global Warming a Growing Threat to Reindeer. By Catherine Marciano, AFP, November 13, 2009. "On Norway's border with Russia, the consequences of climate change are affecting the reindeer population as rising temperatures hit food stocks and industry growth eats into vital grazing land... The reason: the lichen his animals graze on has become tougher to find as winter temperatures rise. The snow thaws, and along with rain, then freezes anew -- covering the ground in layers impervious to all but the most tenacious reindeer. Grazing land is also disappearing under the weight of industry as buildings, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure increasingly dot old pastures... Norwegian Sami follow the herd with vehicles, but their cousins in Russia still accompany the animals with sleds, camping as they go. But the drive, and the ability to follow the reindeer, has been increasingly hampered by industrialization." The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is also known as the caribou when wild in the North American Arctic. See: The difference between reindeer and caribou.

Scientists Warn Caribou Collapse Not Unlike Disappearance of Cod Stocks. By Bob Weber, CanadianPress, November 6, 2009. "Once a gigantic bloom of life that sustained entire societies, the cod fishery was closed in 1992 after a near-total collapse of fish stocks... Recent surveys on two major caribou herds in Canada's North suggest the same thing may be happening there... Nine of Canada's 11 herds are in decline. Concern has been building for years. But this summer, survey results carried a distinct whiff of impending catastrophe... Northwest Territories biologists estimated the Bathurst herd of the central barrens had fallen from over 120,000 animals in 2006 to 32,000... The news was even worse to the east... A herd that numbered 280,000 animals only 15 years ago was simply gone... Caribou herds have always fluctuated, sometimes wildly. The George River herd in Arctic Quebec grew from as few as 5,000 animals in the early 1960s to 700,000 by the 1990s (although it's now shrinking). But new factors are putting wobbles in the caribou cycle. Recent research is beginning to show how climate change, aboriginal hunting and industrial development may be preventing populations from recovering... The territory is warming up faster than almost anywhere else on the globe. Temperatures already show a two-degree average increase since 1948 and higher increases further north. Research also shows that warmer conditions are allowing southern shrubs to spread north and take over from plants such as lichen. Shrubs produce more plant material, but they aren't very good caribou food... Winter changes are even more significant. Warmer temperatures mean heavier, icier snow... not fluffy and easy to kick aside when you want to dig through it to get your food... Higher temperatures also improve conditions for warble flies, biting, bloodsucking bugs that drive caribou crazy and impair their ability to breed by preventing them from building their strength."

U.N. Report: Invest Billions in Protecting Threatened Ecosystems Today, Save Trillions Tomorrow. By Marlowe Hood, AFP, November 13, 2009. "Investing billions today to protect threatened ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity would reap trillions in savings over the long haul, according to a UN-backed report issued Friday. More than a billion of Earth's poorest denizens depend directly on coral reefs, forests, mangroves, aquifers and other forms of "natural capital" to eke out a living. Unless world leaders take swift action to halt the accelerating depletion of these resources, the result could be hunger, conflict and environment refugees, the study warned. 'Recognizing and rewarding the value delivered to society by the natural environment must become a policy priority,' said Pavan Sukhdev, who headed the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity [PDF, 48 pp] paper released in Brussels."

Turtles Are Casualties of Warming in Costa Rica. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYTimes, November 14, 2009. "'We do not promote this as a turtle tourism destination anymore because we realize there are far too few turtles to please,' said Álvaro Fonseca, a [Costa Rican] park ranger. Even before scientists found temperatures creeping upward over the past decade, sea turtles were threatened by beach development, drift net fishing and Costa Ricans' penchant for eating turtle eggs, considered a delicacy here. But climate change may deal the fatal blow to an animal that has dwelled in the Pacific for 150 million years. Sea turtles are sensitive to numerous effects of warming. They feed on reefs, which are dying in hotter, more acidic seas. They lay eggs on beaches that are being inundated by rising seas and more violent storm surges. More uniquely, their gender is determined not by genes but by the egg's temperature during development. Small rises in beach temperatures can result in all-female populations, obviously problematic for survival... In places like Playa Junquillal, an hour south of here, local youths are paid $2 a night to scoop up newly laid eggs and move them to a hatchery where they are shaded and irrigated to maintain a nest temperature of 29.7 degrees Celsius (85.4), which will yield both genders."

Hawaii's Famed White Beaches are Shrinking. By Audrey McAvoy, AP, November 14, 2009. "Geologists say more than 70% of Kauai's beaches (near Honolulu) are eroding while Oahu has lost a quarter of its sandy shoreline. They warn the problem is only likely to get significantly worse in coming decades as global warming causes sea levels to rise more rapidly... The loss of so many beaches is an alarming prospect for Hawaii on many levels. Many tourists come to Hawaii precisely because they want to lounge on and walk along its soft sandy shoreline. These visitors spend some $11.4 billion each year, making tourism the state's largest employer. Disappearing sands would also wreak havoc on the environment as many animals and plants would lose important habitats. The Hawaiian monk seal, an endangered species, gives birth and nurses pups on beaches. The green sea turtle, a threatened species, lays eggs in the sand."

Is There a Quick Fix for Climate Change? Book Review by Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, November 16, 2009 issue. "Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in their new book, SuperFreakonomics [offer a simple message]: if, at any particular moment, things look bleak, it's because people are seeing them the wrong way. 'When the solution to a given problem doesn't lie right before our eyes, it is easy to assume that no solution exists,' they write. 'But history has shown again and again that such assumptions are wrong'... To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that SuperFreakonomics takes, even as its authors repeatedly extoll their hard-headedness."
Lester Brown: We Shouldn't Count on Copenhagen to Save Us. Interview by Matilda Lee, Ecologist, November 10, 2009. "Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute and the WorldWatch Institute, [shares his views on a number of climate issues]... 'This year the number of automobiles will drop by 4 million -- 14 million scrapped and 10 million new sales -- a market shrinkage... Over the past couple years, the US has seen the development of a powerful grassroots movement opposing new coal fired power plants. It has created a de facto moratorium on new coal-fired plants. I doubt that anyone is ever going to get a new license for a coal fired power plant. There are now 22 slated for closing, and many more next year... Just looking at what has happened in the last 9 months is important. In February, just after President Obama took office, he announced new automotive fuel standards (42 mpg for cars and 25 mpg for pickups and SUVs) and instructed the Department of Energy to get cracking in translating a backlog of legislation on energy efficiency into regulatory standards (e.g. raising the efficiency of household appliances, legislation which for years under the Bush administration wasn't implemented)... We've reduced carbon emissions in the US 9% in the last two years -- the larger part of that is because of the recession, but a substantial part is energy efficiency and a shift to renewables...

"'[However] most population growth around the world is happening where soils are eroding and water tables are falling. The number of failing states we have in the world today is disturbing - 16 of the top 20 have high rates of population. I don't think that's a coincidence - I think it is associated with the problems of population growth. It will take outside help - in terms of technical assistance, investment and filling the family planning gap itself to halt this growth... Much of Asia's rice is grown on low-lying river deltas -- half of Bangladesh's rice land [will be] under water with a one metre rise in sea level. If Greenland goes entirely it is seven meters. With the Mekong delta, producing half the rice of Vietnam, Vietnam being the number two rice exporter, a one metre rise in sea level means a good part of that is gone. We need more people to look at the big picture... The top two priorities are campaigns that aim to stop the use of coal and coal-fired power plants, and efforts to stabilize the world's population... I think we should go to Copenhagen with a bold proposal and push really hard but I don't think we should count on it to save civilization." Lester Brown's new book Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (WW Norton, 2009) can be downloaded here[PDF, 199 pp].

Power Shift Kicks off Global Warming Speeches Across 13 states. PowerShift, November 10, 2009. "On Sunday, November 8, 2009, student global warming activists teamed up with the Cascade Climate Network, the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group and the Sierra Student Coalition to create 'Power Shift West '09' a series of actions and speeches to draw attention to the global warming crisis. The inspiring and compelling keynote speech [PDF, 10 pp] for the event was presented by Mary C. Wood... 'In fighting carbon pollution, invoke your authority. You have a moral authority called generational justice. It moves entire nations, and it can move this entire world. It is premised on an endowment that has sustained human life through the ages. This endowment holds all of the natural assets that we need to survive, including the atmosphere. It's called Earth. Earth is like a huge trust account, but with assets much more valuable than money. You can think of Earth as your survival account. Every generation has an equal right to inherit this endowment. The right to survive is the most basic human right. The protection of crucial natural resources is a moral covenant that has bonded one generation to another throughout all of human time.'"
Chris Smith: UK's MP Plotting a Green Revolution. London Times, November 7, 2009. "Chris Smith is the respectable radical. He was the first openly gay MP. As the Culture Secretary in Tony Blair's Government, he pioneered free admissions to museums. Later, from the back benches, he masterminded opposition in the House of Commons to the war in Iraq. Now Lord Smith of Finsbury wants to start a green revolution -- and the mild-mannered rambler might just succeed. As chairman of the Environment Agency, his job is to persuade a sceptical public that, despite the recession, climate change remains the greatest threat to Britain."

Green Islamic Teaching in Indonesia. By Peter Gelling, GlobalPost, November 16, 2009. "Scattered on a forested hillside in a remote, almost pristine area of Central Java is the Ilmu Giri Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school that six years ago began offering a new kind of curriculum to a handful of local farmers. Today, students of Islam, young and old and from all over the country, are flocking to this tiny, mostly outdoor campus to hear its founder, Nasruddin Anshory, preach about a Muslim's ordained responsibility to protect the environment. 'As a Muslim,' he says to the students, who sit cross-legged in the dirt beneath the jungle canopy, feverishly taking notes, 'you must do something.' Ilmu Giri rose to prominence during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, where Anshory was celebrated for his teachings. But environmentalism had been taught in Indonesian Islamic boarding schools, known as pesantren, since at least the 19th Century -- long before anyone paid attention to melting ice caps or rising sea levels."

Greenpeace International Has a New Leader. By Donna Bryson, AP, November 16, 2009. "A South African who battled apartheid as a teen, then went on to lead global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights takes over today as the new executive director of Greenpeace International. Kumi Naidoo said climate change makes his new job a logical addition to his resume. 'If the whole planet is under threat... what's the point of not addressing that and saying we'll do other development work?' he said in an AP interview on Thursday. Naidoo, 44, has fought for the rights of women and children, among the most vulnerable when droughts bring hunger or floods disrupt livelihoods. He has pushed to strengthen international cooperation and ensure the concerns of poor countries are heard when rich nations plan the future... 'We either get it right and all of humanity comes out on the other side with a new world,' Naidoo said of the U.N. climate negotiations. 'Or we get it wrong and all the world is going to sink.'"