Thursday, December 1, 2011

United Nations Climate Summit and More Emails from East Anglia

United Nations Climate summit in Durban, South Africa began on Monday, November 28, 2011 and will run until December 9th 2011. The Durban meeting is the 17th conference of the parties to the United Nations convention on climate change or COP17. This international meeting may have been entirely ignored by the general public given the economic turmoil in Europe and the United States, but for the release last week of a new batch of emails reported to have been stolen from the servers at the University of East Anglia.

I spent couple of hours randomly reading emails and did not find any new insights. This appears to be another group of emails very much overlapping the 2009 hacked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) a collaborator with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The released emails revealed some researchers willingness to suppress or massage data and use the peer-review process to control the publication of scholarly work and suppress the publication of dissenting points of view. The hacked emails have shown some of the weaknesses in the climate data and models used to forecast global warming, as well as some rather questionable behavior by scientists in controlling information provided to the public even to the extent of reviewing and approving the BBC reports. There really does not appear to be much that is new in this latest group of emails, though the new emphasis on BBC’s lack of objective reporting seemed new to me.

After the first release of emails, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) investigated the claims of scientific wrongdoing. In its report in August 2010, it recommended improvements in the management structure of the IPCC, ensuring that the data included in its reports had been properly published in the scientific literature, and finally that the full range of scientific opinion should be reflected in the reports. Nonetheless, IPCC confirmed their conclusions that the earth is warming and that activities of mankind have caused this warming. Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study finished their analysis of global temperature studies this past fall and confirmed global warming since the industrial revolution. EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, never wavered from the EPA’s full acceptance of findings reached by outside groups, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Administrator Jackson explained "relied on decades of sound, peer-reviewed, extensively evaluated scientific data that the combined emissions of …greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." The EPA has proceeded to create a number of new regulations including 2025 targets for auto mileage and power plant emissions standards on mercury after putting the direct greenhouse gas regulation of power plants on hold this past fall.

This month the Department of Energy, DOE, reported that in 2009-2010 the world pumped out almost 6% more carbon dioxide than during the previous year. According to the DOE on their Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center web site the increase is due to increased emissions from the People's Republic of China. Since 2001 global carbon dioxide emissions worldwide have increased 33%. During this same period; however, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have not increased, our national impact has become less relevant. From 2001-2010 global temperatures have not increased, but remain approximately 1.13°F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. To measure climate change, scientists look at long-term trends. The temperature trend, including data from 2010, shows the climate has warmed by approximately 0.36°F per decade since the late 1970s. Carbon dioxide has shown a less direct relationship to global temperatures than the climate models had predicted.

The U.S. never ratified Kyoto, arguing it should contain 2012 goals for emerging economies and would cost U.S. jobs. The U.S. has also failed to adopt a comprehensive domestic program for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, despite recent regulatory activity by the EPA and DOE funding of billions of dollars of solar projects disguised as a loan guarantee program. Nonetheless, the American Clean Energy and Security Act,” also known as the Waxman-Markley energy bill, failed to pass the senate in 2010 and is seen as dead. Thought, the California Air Resources Board unanimously voted to adopt the nation's first state-administered cap-and-trade regulations for greenhouse gases in 2011. Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 a California law that is designed to achieve quantifiable, reductions of greenhouse gases. At the Copenhagen meeting in 2010 President Obama pledged to reduce U.S greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below the 2005 levels by 2020. Due to the recent drop in industrial production and electricity usage, we have already cut U.S. emissions by 6%; the Administration is well on its way to achieving this goal. The California Cap and Trade program requirements will help the current crop of California renewable energy projects funded under the DOE program to reduce power consumption in California by increasing the cost of electricity by at least 15% above the cost of using natural gas according to the Division of Ratepayer Advocates at the California PUC.

The newest release of hacked emails serves to turn our attention to the proceedings in Durban more than anything else. The Kyoto Protocol, which committed developed nations to cut their emissions, is set to expire in 2012. After both the Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010) Climate summits failed to produce a legally binding climate treaty, delegates to the Durban talks are under immense pressure to produce some kind of deal that will be acceptable to both rich and developing nations. However, it is reported that cap-and-trade concept is losing support among the previous signers of the Kyoto treaty. Canada, Japan and Russia have stated that they will not agree to an extension of Kyoto unless China, India and Brazil who are now major producers of greenhouse gas become subject to the requirements.

The “emerging nations,” including China, India and Brazil want an extension of Kyoto, which required the industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels from 2008-12. The world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters are China and the United States. China because of concern about employment and a slowing international demand for their products have no interest in having any climate treaty apply to their nation. China’s economy appears to be slowing down significantly based on the falling global demand for oil and copper. China was exempted as an emerging economy, and though it is now the largest greenhouse gas emitter on earth, it wants to remain exempted from reducing or even stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions under any new agreement. In September India announced that it would not accept any legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emission, and Japan announced that they are reconsidering plans to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 25% by 2020 due to closing of a significant portion of its nuclear power generation, and the costs of the carbon-credit programs that required the spending of almost $11 billion on carbon abatement programs in other countries during a decade long economic malaise.

Overall, expectations for the future of the Kyoto Protocol are low and some doubt whether if a second commitment period is feasible with only support from EU which accounts only around 11% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is itself reconsidering its nuclear power generation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors were damaged after the recent earthquake. If nuclear reactors are going to be phased out as low greenhouse gas emission power generation there is no way to achieve carbon reductions without reducing the size of the economy, the standard of living or the size of the population. During her opening remarks to the conference, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change Christiana Figueres said countries can take two major steps in Durban to address climate change. The first is completing a comprehensive package to help developing countries adapt to climate change and limit the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions, and the second relates to how governments can work together to limit the global temperature rise and thus prevent further natural disasters. This seems to be a stepping away from the more rigorous stance of previous conferences.

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