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Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the economic opportunities and environmental risks emerging in the Arctic. Climate change, technological advances, and a growing demand for natural resources are driving a new era of development in the Arctic region. Many experts assert that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice in a matter of decades, opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, most notably in energy production and shipping.

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Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns: Summary of a Workshop (2014)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns: Summary of a Workshop (2014)
Source: National Research Council

The Arctic has been undergoing significant changes in recent years. Average temperatures are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world. The extent and thickness of sea ice is rapidly declining. Such changes may have an impact on atmospheric conditions outside the region. Several hypotheses for how Arctic warming may be influencing mid-latitude weather patterns have been proposed recently. For example, Arctic warming could lead to a weakened jet stream resulting in more persistent weather patterns in the mid-latitudes. Or Arctic sea ice loss could lead to an increase of snow on high-latitude land, which in turn impacts the jet stream resulting in cold Eurasian and North American winters. These and other potential connections between a warming Arctic and mid-latitude weather are the subject of active research.

Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns is the summary of a workshop convened in September 2013 by the National Research Council to review our current understanding and to discuss research needed to better understand proposed linkages. A diverse array of experts examined linkages between a warming Arctic and mid-latitude weather patterns. The workshop included presentations from leading researchers representing a range of views on this topic. The workshop was organized to allow participants to take a global perspective and consider the influence of the Arctic in the context of forcing from other components of the climate system, such as changes in the tropics, ocean circulation, and mid-latitude sea surface temperature. This report discusses our current understanding of the mechanisms that link declines in Arctic sea ice cover, loss of high-latitude snow cover, changes in Arctic-region energy fluxes, atmospheric circulation patterns, and the occurrence of extreme weather events; possible implications of more severe loss of summer Arctic sea ice upon weather patterns at lower latitudes; major gaps in our understanding, and observational and/or modeling efforts that are needed to fill those gaps; and current opportunities and limitations for using Arctic sea ice predictions to assess the risk of temperature/precipitation anomalies and extreme weather events over northern continents.

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes

April 9, 2014 Comments off

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Dramatic distribution losses and a few major distribution gains are forecasted for southwestern bird and reptile species as the climate changes, according to just-published research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University.

Overall, the study forecasted species distribution losses – that is, where species are able to live – of nearly half for all but one of the 5 reptile species they examined, including for the iconic chuckwalla. The threatened Sonoran (Morafka’s) desert tortoise, however, is projected to experience little to no habitat losses from climate change.

Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines.

The iconic pinyon jay is expected to experience from one-fourth to one-third loss in breeding habitat in the future, as its welfare is tied to declining pinyon pine habitat.

CRS — Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (updated)

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. On May 10, 2013, the Obama Administration released a national strategy document for the Arctic region. On January 30, 2014, the Obama Administration released an implementation plan for this strategy.

Record low extents of Arctic sea ice over the past decade have focused scientific and policy attention on links to global climate change and projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. These changes have potential consequences for weather in the United States, access to mineral and biological resources in the Arctic, the economies and cultures of peoples in the region, and national security.

IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses; Responses will face challenges with high warming of the climate

March 31, 2014 Comments off

IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses; Responses will face challenges with high warming of the climate (PDF)
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report today that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

+ Summary and Full Report

CRS — Climate Change Legislation in the 113th Congress

March 26, 2014 Comments off

Climate Change Legislation in the 113th Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In the 113th Congress, Members have introduced multiple bills that include provisions that would directly or indirectly address climate change-related issues. In some cases, it is difficult to distinguish between direct and indirect climate change bills, because a specific bill or action may seek to achieve multiple objectives. The bills listed in this report include provisions that directly address climate change, as opposed to those that primarily address other issues (e.g., energy efficiency) but could have ancillary impacts on climate.

Human Rights, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration: A New Paradigm

March 25, 2014 Comments off

Human Rights, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration: A New Paradigm
Source: Migration Policy Institute

Climate change and environmental degradation will likely displace millions of people in the coming years, either directly or indirectly. Although today’s international legal framework provides a degree of protection to certain environmental migrants, major gaps in the framework often prevent recognition of their vulnerability and endanger their rights.

One major problem is that there is little consensus on the definition of environmental migrants, in large part because it is difficult to ascertain the influence of environmental factors, such as degradation and climate change, on migration. In the absence of a precise definition, ambiguity about the legal rights of migrants and the responsibilities of governments and international organizations lead to difficulties in implementing solutions.

This issue in brief emphasizes the need to defend the rights of migrants whose movement is induced by environmental degradation or climate change, particularly in the highly vulnerable Asia-Pacific region, by pursuing an integrated approach to climate change that incorporates rights-based strategies. The brief evaluates the current human rights framework; identifies gaps both in the legal framework and in implementation; and then reviews different legal options available to the international community. Finally, the brief makes recommendations on how to strengthen the “soft law” approach as an interim step before there is broad global consensus on a possible binding framework to protect the rights of environmental migrants.

Asia — Energizing Green Cities: Solutions to Meet Demand and Spark Economic Growth

March 21, 2014 Comments off

Energizing Green Cities: Solutions to Meet Demand and Spark Economic Growth
Source: World Bank

Cities in Southeast Asia (SEA) are growing twice as fast as the rest of the world and by 2030, it is expected that 70 percent of SEA population will live in cities. Worldwide, cities account for around two-thirds of global energy demand and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While cities have always been the engines of economic growth, now they also hold the key to a sustainable development in SEA. Given their size and dynamic growth, SEA cities today have a unique opportunity to also become global engines of green growth by choosing energy-efficient solutions for their infrastructure needs.

Improving energy efficiency isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for economic growth, says a World Bank report, “Energizing Green Cities in Southeast Asia – Applying Sustainable Urban Energy and Emissions Planning.” According to the report, there is a clear correlation between investments in energy efficient solutions in infrastructure and economic growth, based on a study of three cities – Da Nang in Vietnam, Surabaya in Indonesia and Cebu City in the Philippines. By improving energy efficiency and reducing GHG emissions, cities not only help the global environment, but they also support local economic development through productivity gains, reduced pollution, and more efficient use of resources.

Climate Change: Evidence and Causes (PDF Booklet) (2014)

March 19, 2014 Comments off

Climate Change: Evidence and Causes (PDF Booklet) (2014)
Source: National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society

Climate Change: Evidence and Causes is a jointly produced publication of The US National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society. Written by a UK-US team of leading climate scientists and reviewed by climate scientists and others, the publication is intended as a brief, readable reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative information on the some of the questions that continue to be asked.

Climate Change makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies, as well as on the newest climate-change assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It touches on current areas of active debate and ongoing research, such as the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming.

What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change

March 18, 2014 Comments off

What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems. The scientific community has convened conferences, published reports, spoken out at forums and proclaimed, through statements by virtually every national scientific academy and relevant major scientific organization — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — that climate change puts the well-being of people of all nations at risk.

Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement. Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real. Moreover, while the public is becoming aware that climate change is increasing the likelihood of certain local disasters, many people do not yet understand that there is a small, but real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on people in the United States and around the world.

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present key messages for every American about climate change…

CRS — Keystone XL: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessments in the Final Environmental Impact Statement

March 12, 2014 Comments off

Keystone XL: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessments in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a national “Climate Action Plan” to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), as well as to encourage adaptation to climate change. During his speech, the President made reference to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project—a pipeline that would transport crude oil derived from Canadian oil sands deposits in Alberta to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. He stated that an evaluation of the proposed pipeline’s impacts on climate change would be “critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

The State Department released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on January 31, 2014, to inform the project’s national interest determination. Among the various environmental impacts analyzed, the FEIS estimates GHG emissions that would be attributable to both the approval and the denial of the permit application for the project.

Members of Congress remain divided on the merits of the project, as many have expressed support for the potential energy security and economic benefits, while others have reservations about its potential health and environmental impacts. Though Congress, to date, has had no direct role in permitting the pipeline’s construction, it has oversight stemming from federal environmental statutes that govern the review. Further, Congress may seek to influence the State Department’s process or to assert direct congressional authority over approval through new legislation.

CRS — Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

March 12, 2014 Comments off

Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recent congressional interest in U.S. energy policy has focused in part on ways through which the United States could secure more economical and reliable petroleum resources both domestically and internationally. Many forecasters identify petroleum products refined from Canadian oil sands as one possible solution. Increased production from Canadian oil sands, however, is not without controversy, as many have expressed concern over the potential environmental impacts. These impacts include emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) during resource extraction and processing. A number of key studies in recent literature have expressed findings that GHG emissions per unit of energy produced from Canadian oil sands crudes are higher than those of other crudes imported, refined, and consumed in the United States. The studies identify two main reasons for the difference: (1) oil sands are heavier and more viscous than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more energy- and resource-intensive activities to extract; and (2) oil sands are chemically deficient in hydrogen, and have a higher carbon, sulfur, and heavy metal content than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more processing to yield consumable fuels by U.S. standards.

The Effect of Renewable Energy Development on Carbon Emission Reduction: An Empirical Analysis for the EU-15 Countries

March 7, 2014 Comments off

The Effect of Renewable Energy Development on Carbon Emission Reduction: An Empirical Analysis for the EU-15 Countries (PDF)
Source: Institute for the Study of Labor

The increased concerns about climate change have made renewable energy sources an important topic of research. Several scholars have applied different methodologies to examine the relationships between energy consumption and economic growth of individual and groups of countries and to analyze the environmental effects of energy policies. Previous studies have analyzed carbon emission savings, using renewable energy usage as an individual source or in combination with traditional sources of energy (e.g., hybrid plants) in connection with lifecycle analysis methods. It is shown that after a certain period, economic growth leads to the promotion of environmental quality. However, econometric modelling critiques have opposed the results of these studies. One reason is that the effectiveness of governance-related parameters has previously been neglected. In this research, we analyze the impact of renewable energy development on carbon emission reduction. We estimate a model to evaluate the effectiveness of renewable energy development, technological innovation, and market regulations in carbon emission reduction. The empirical results are based on a panel data estimation using the EU-15 countries data observed from 1995 to 2010. The elasticities of CO2 emissions are estimated, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of each parameter. The findings show that the effects of a negative climate change could be mitigated by governance-related parameters instead of economic development.

CRS — President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (updated)

March 6, 2014 Comments off

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan (CAP) to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), and to encourage adaptation to expected climate change. The President affirmed his 2009 pledge to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. In 2011, U.S. gross GHG emissions were approximately 7% below 2005 levels.

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan (CAP) to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), and to encourage adaptation to expected climate change. The President affirmed his 2009 pledge to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. In 2011, U.S. gross GHG emissions were approximately 7% below 2005 levels.

The President stated willingness to work with Congress toward enacting a bipartisan, marketbased scheme to reduce GHG emissions. He also said that he would take executive branch actions in the absence of congressional support. His CAP identifies measures in three categories:
• Cut carbon pollution in America.
• Prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change.
• Lead international efforts to address global climate change. Many measures in the CAP have been under way. The plan specifies few timelines or metrics for evaluating progress of individual measures.

CRS — Drought in the United States: Causes and Current Understanding

March 6, 2014 Comments off

Drought in the United States: Causes and Current Understanding (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Drought is a natural hazard, often with significant societal, economic, and environmental consequences. Public policy issues related to drought range from how to identify and measure drought to how best to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to drought impacts, and who should bear associated costs. Severe droughts in 2011 and 2012 in Texas and the midcontinent region, and the current drought in California and the American Southwest, have fueled congressional interest in drought and its near-term effects on water supplies and agriculture, as well as interest in long-term issues, such as drought forecasting and links between drought and human-induced climate change. Continuing drought conditions throughout the country contribute to ongoing interest in drought.

New From the GAO

March 4, 2014 Comments off

New From the GAO
Source: Government Accountability Office

Reports

1. Climate Change: Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts. GAO-14-74, January 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-74
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660559.pdf

2. Human Capital: Agencies Should More Fully Evaluate the Costs And Benefits Of Executive Training. GAO-14-132, January 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-132
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660579.pdf

3. Countering Overseas Threats: DOD and State Need to Address Gaps in Monitoring of Security Equipment Transferred to Lebanon. GAO-14-161, February 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-161
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661162.pdf

4. The Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Competitive Procurement. GAO-14-377R, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-377R

Testimony

1. Medicare: Contractors and Private Plans Play a Major Role in Administering Benefits, by Kathleen M. King and James Cosgrove, directors, health care, before the Subcommittee on Health, House Committee on Energy and Commerce. GAO-14-417T, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-417T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661318.pdf

Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise

February 12, 2014 Comments off

Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Coastal flood damages are expected to increase significantly during the 21st century as sea levels rise and socioeconomic development increases the number of people and value of assets in the coastal floodplain. Estimates of future damages and adaptation costs are essential for supporting efforts to reduce emissions driving sea-level rise as well as for designing strategies to adapt to increasing coastal flood risk. This paper presents such estimates derived by taking into account a wide range of uncertainties in socioeconomic development, sea-level rise, continental topography data, population data, and adaptation strategies.

Climate change effects on human health: projections of temperature-related mortality for the UK during the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s

February 5, 2014 Comments off

Climate change effects on human health: projections of temperature-related mortality for the UK during the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s (PDF)
Source: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

Background
The most direct way in which climate change is expected to affect public health relates to changes in mortality rates associated with exposure to ambient temperature. Many countries worldwide experience annual heat-related and cold-related deaths associated with current weather patterns. Future changes in climate may alter such risks. Estimates of the likely future health impacts of such changes are needed to inform public health policy on climate change in the UK and elsewhere.

Methods
Time-series regression analysis was used to characterise current temperature-mortality relationships by region and age group. These were then applied to the local climate and population projections to estimate temperature-related deaths for the UK by the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. Greater variability in future temperatures as well as changes in mean levels was modelled.

Results
A significantly raised risk of heat-related and cold-related mortality was observed in all regions. The elderly were most at risk. In the absence of any adaptation of the population, heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by around 257% by the 2050s from a current annual baseline of around 2000 deaths, and cold-related mortality would decline by 2% from a baseline of around 41 000 deaths. The cold burden remained higher than the heat burden in all periods. The increased number of future temperature-related deaths was partly driven by projected population growth and ageing.

Conclusions
Health protection from hot weather will become increasingly necessary, and measures to reduce cold impacts will also remain important in the UK. The demographic changes expected this century mean that the health protection of the elderly will be vital.

Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

February 5, 2014 Comments off

Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins
Source: PLoS ONE

Climate change is causing more frequent and intense storms, and climate models predict this trend will continue, potentially affecting wildlife populations. Since 1960 the number of days with >20 mm of rain increased near Punta Tombo, Argentina. Between 1983 and 2010 we followed 3496 known-age Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) chicks at Punta Tombo to determine how weather impacted their survival. In two years, rain was the most common cause of death killing 50% and 43% of chicks. In 26 years starvation killed the most chicks. Starvation and predation were present in all years. Chicks died in storms in 13 of 28 years and in 16 of 233 storms. Storm mortality was additive; there was no relationship between the number of chicks killed in storms and the numbers that starved (P = 0.75) or that were eaten (P = 0.39). However, when more chicks died in storms, fewer chicks fledged (P = 0.05, R2 = 0.14). More chicks died when rainfall was higher and air temperature lower. Most chicks died from storms when they were 9–23 days old; the oldest chick killed in a storm was 41 days old. Storms with heavier rainfall killed older chicks as well as more chicks. Chicks up to 70 days old were killed by heat. Burrow nests mitigated storm mortality (N = 1063). The age span of chicks in the colony at any given time increased because the synchrony of egg laying decreased since 1983, lengthening the time when chicks are vulnerable to storms. Climate change that increases the frequency and intensity of storms results in more reproductive failure of Magellanic penguins, a pattern likely to apply to many species breeding in the region. Climate variability has already lowered reproductive success of Magellanic penguins and is likely undermining the resilience of many other species.

See also: Antarctic Climate Change: Extreme Events Disrupt Plastic Phenotypic Response in Adélie Penguins

Fact Sheet: Keystone XL Pipeline

January 31, 2014 Comments off

Fact Sheet: Keystone XL Pipeline
Source: U.S. Department of State

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State (“the Department”) released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final Supplemental EIS). The analysis in the Final Supplemental EIS was done consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act and is in response to TransCanada’s application (May 4, 2012) for a Presidential Permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The President’s authority to approve or deny a cross-border pipeline permit is delegated to the Secretary of State or his designees in Executive Order 13337.

The analysis in the Final Supplemental EIS builds on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released on March 1, 2013 as well as the documents released in 2011 as part of the previous Keystone XL Pipeline application.

The proposed Keystone XL project consists of a 875-mile long pipeline and related facilities to transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana. The pipeline would cross the U.S. border near Morgan, Montana and continue through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska where it would connect to existing pipeline facilities near Steele City, Nebraska for onward delivery to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast area.

The Final Supplemental EIS is not a decisional document on whether to approve or deny the proposed project. The Final Supplemental EIS is a technical assessment of the potential environmental impacts related to the proposed pipeline. It responds to over 1.9 million comments received since June 2012 (from both the scoping and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement comment periods). The Final Supplemental EIS reflects the most current information on the proposed Project as well as discussions the Department has had with both state and federal agencies. Notable changes since the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released in March 2013, include: an expanded analysis of potential oil releases; an expanded climate change analysis; an updated oil market analysis incorporating new economic modeling; and an expanded analysis of rail transport.

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