2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #18A

Adaptation will fail without emissions cuts, funding insufficient

The funds available to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change are “pathetically insufficient”, and adaptation efforts risk failing altogether if countries that produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions don’t agree to “very rapid” cuts, the United Nations’ climate chief warned on Wednesday.

Global emissions, which are still growing, need to peak within the next 10 years, with the world rapidly moving to become “carbon neutral” in the second half of the century, said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The alternative is that “the costs of adaptation will exponentially rise to the point where adaptation is not only extremely difficult but virtually impossible,” she said at the close of a week-long conference in Nepal on financing community-based climate adaptation.

Adaptation will fail without emissions cuts, funding insufficient - UN climate chief by Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Apr 29, 2014

Almost half of Americans live with unhealthy levels of air pollution

Nearly half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report released Wednesday.

Nearly 148 million people live in areas where smog and soot particles make it unhealthy to breathe the air, according to the ALA's annual study on US air quality.

The report, which is based on data collected between 2010 and 2012, found smog, or ozone, had worsened in 22 of the 25 biggest US metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Houston, Washington-Baltimore, New York City and Chicago – and said there was a high risk of more high-ozone days because of climate change.

Almost half of Americans live with unhealthy levels of air pollution by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Apr 30, 2014

Climate change a growing concern for companies expanding their footprint

Traditionally, the most important factors in choosing a location for a new factory or operation have always been workforce supply and economic incentives. But a new consideration, climate change, is quickly moving up the ranks as a major factor for corporate decision-makers. Recently, as climate-related crises have hit cities across the globe, it's become increasingly clear that companies need to consider the financial impact of a paucity – or an excess – of water.

Operational, strategic and quality-of-life issues factor heavily in the decisions that giant enterprises make about where to locate their much sought after capital projects. As the devastating environmental conditions associated with climate change – including water shortages, severe storms, natural disasters, rising seas and hotter climates – become more pressing, it's clear that these, too, will become key considerations for companies hoping to press their competitive advantages.

As a result, these decisions will begin to dramatically affect both traditional and emerging business, transportation, manufacturing and travel hubs. And as with anything else involving corporations, real estate, jobs and money, there will definitely be winners and losers.

Climate change a growing concern for companies expanding their footprint by Joyce Coffee, Sustainable Business/Water Hub, The Guardian, April 28, 2014

Did climate change contribute to the Rana Plaza disaster?

Could climate change have contributed to the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh a year ago?

The idea isn’t as far-fetched as you might think, says Shameem Siddiqi, who represents The Asia Foundation in Bangladesh.

Difficulties in growing food due to increasingly extreme weather that has worsened erosion and pushed seawater into fields and drinking water sources in coastal areas have driven a rising number of failed farmers to Bangladesh’s cities in search of work.

Did climate change contribute to the Rana Plaza disaster? by Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Apr 29, 2014

Fear of setbacks to California air quality progress in a warmer climate

California has some of the most stringent air quality standards in the world, making the state a closely watched and often-mimicked trendsetter in national and international air quality and climate change circles.

But heat waves, wildfires, and other projected consequences of continued warming could unravel decades of progress in the Golden State, according to a new report by the California Air Pollution Control Officers’ Association.

To get an idea of what could be at risk in a warmer California, consider this: over the last 20 years, the state’s population has increased by 22 percent and the average daily miles driven have increased by 45 percent. Yet, over that same period statewide emissions of smog-forming pollutants have fallen by more than 50 percent.

Officials Fear Setbacks to California Air Quality Progress in a Warmer Climate by Bruce Lieberman, The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, April 30, 2014

In victory for Obama, Supreme Court backs rules for coal pollution

In a major environmental victory for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate the smog-causing pollution from coal-fired power plants that wafts across state lines from 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states to the East Coast.

The 6-to-2 ruling upholds a centerpiece of what has become a signature of President Obama’s environmental agenda: a series of new Clean Air Act regulations aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans and the coal industry have criticized the effort as a “war on coal.”

Legal experts said the decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, signaled that the Obama administration’s efforts to use the Clean Air Act to fight global warming could also withstand legal challenges. The E.P.A. is expected to unveil in June a sweeping new climate change regulation, using the authority of the Clean Air Act to rein in carbon pollution from coal plants.

In Victory for Obama, Court Backs Rules for Coal Pollution by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Apr 28, 2014 

It is "very likely" that scientists are confusing us about global warming

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a big, big production. Its reports, released roughly every five years, are considered the gold standard of climate science, and are always a major media event. Thousands of scientists contribute to the reports, all of them volunteering their expertise to make the world just a little bit better.

There's just one problem: According to a new paper out in Nature: Climate Change, the IPCC may be dramatically undermining its own work through one of its trademark tools: A system of language that the group uses to describe how certain (or uncertain) researchers are about its scientific findings. According to the new study, this system (which involves describing conclusions as "likely," "very likely," and so on) has the unfortunate effect of making peopleless sure than they ought to be of the IPCC's most important conclusions.

Unintentionally, then, the IPCC seems to be doing just what climate skeptics and deniers are so often accused of: Sowing doubt.

Study: It Is "Very Likely" That Scientists Are Confusing Us About Global Warming by Chris Mooney, Mother Jones, Apr 29, 2014

Pacific Ocean acidity dissolving shells of key species

In a troubling new discovery, scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found the first evidence that increasing acidity in the ocean is dissolving the shells of a key species of tiny sea creature at the base of the food chain.

The animals, a type of free-floating marine snail known as pteropods, are an important food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.

If the trend continues, climate change scientists say, it will imperil the ocean environment.

Climate change: Pacific Ocean acidity dissolving shells of key species by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, Apr 30, 2014

Typhoon Haiyan was just the start – prepare for an ever stormier future

In November 2013, typhoon Haiyan delivered destruction to the Philippines and a stark message that the world is underprepared for the violence of climate change.

Dozens of typhoons hit the Philippines every season but this was not just another storm. Climate scientists have long predicted that as the Earth warms extreme weather events will become more extreme. Haiyan was a marker of how far we have gone down that road. Its unprecedented power and devastation gave us an insight into a dangerous future in which climate change fuels weather of hitherto-unimagined ferocity.

But aid agencies say Haiyan is likely to just be the overture. The rising intensity of tropical storms, combined with their increasingly unseasonal timings, means rebuilding may be incomplete when the next super typhoon hits. This would compound the disaster into a catastrophe. Tariq Reibl, Oxfam's humanitarian response manager for the Philippines, says that climate change will mean destructive storms, disastrous enough in isolation, will increasingly occur in procession. 

Typhoon Haiyan was just the start – prepare for an ever stormier future by Karl Mathiesen, Climate Change: Defining Moments, The Guardian, Apr 28, 2014

US corporate progress on sustainability remains incremental

If a car is hurtling at full speed towards the edge of a precipice, would it suffice to ease up a little on the gas?

This is the perfect metaphor for how America's largest companies are responding to the rapidly worsening social and environmental challenges the world is facing.

The latest evidence that businesses are failing to grasp the need to restructure their business models comes from an analysis of 613 major publicly listed US companies, which represent three-quarters of the country's total stock market capitalisation. 

Ceres Report: US corporate progress on sustainability remains incremental by Jo Confino, Sustainable Business Blog, The Guardian, Apr 30, 2014

US energy chief Moniz: Three reasons for hope on global warming

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited Boston Tuesday to commemorate Earth Day at the New England Aquarium. Before heading to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game, he sat down with the Monitor's David J. Unger to talk about the Ukraine crisis, oil exports, methane leaks, and his optimism about tackling climate change. Here are excerpts (edited for clarity): 

US energy chief Moniz: Three reasons for hope on global warming by David J. Unger, The Christian Science Monitor, Apr 26, 2014

Will Alberta's Oilsands Become 'Stranded Assets'?

On first impression, Matt Patsky seems about as average as portfolio managers come: solidly middle-aged, glasses, crisp-collared shirt and the carefully measured speech of someone who deals with a lot of money. Yet when I met earlier this month with Patsky, who is the Boston-based CEO of Trillium Asset Management, I was struck by the framed Mahatma Gandhi quote hanging on his corner office wall. "The Earth has enough for everyone's need," it read, "but not for everyone's greed."

If that's not typical office decor for a finance executive, then neither is Trillium's approach to investing. Founded in 1982, Trillium is America's oldest independent advisory firm "investing in businesses that are trying to have minimal impact on the environment," Patsky said. It operates under the belief markets can and should do more good for society than simply line the pockets of investors, and that there's an inherent financial advantage over time, he said, to not "causing anybody harm."

Such notions have for decades kept "socially responsible investors" like Trillium at odds with the mainstream financial world. Yet recent and unexpected energy market trends now bring both camps closer to consensus on an investment thesis with existential implications for Alberta's oilsands. That is, there may soon come a day when global demand for oil peaks, production starts to decline, and many oil operations, as well as the companies running them, become uneconomic. 

Will Alberta's Oilsands Become 'Stranded Assets'? by Geoff Dembicki, The Tyee, Apr 28, 2014 

Posted by John Hartz on Thursday, 1 May, 2014

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