PICS CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 19 JULY 2011
- Economists find flaws in federal estimate of climate damage
- One in ten species could face extinction
- Green energy investment hits record global high
The PICS News Scan is produced by ISIS at the Sauder School of Business in partnership with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). To be added to the News Scan distribution list or to provide content feedback and/or suggestions about interesting news items, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Australia unveils carbon tax plan
July 10, 2011. From the end of this year, the 500 largest greenhouse gas emitters in Australia may face a carbon price of AU$23 (CA$23) per tonne. According to the government’s climate change plan, around half of the estimated $8bn revenue from large emitters would be returned to households with the remainder going to help businesses decarbonize. The carbon price will increase by 2.5% per year to 2015, when the system will convert to a hard emissions cap with tradable permits. Australia produces the most carbon dioxide per head of population of all countries, including the US.
The design of Australia’s initial system – with carbon pricing matched by tax cuts – will be familiar to British Columbians, who should be encouraged that their early action provides an international benchmark. Differences include the targeted rebates in Australia (versus across-the-board income tax cuts in BC), a considerably more limited scope and aspiration (Australia hopes to cut emissions by 5% of 2000 levels, compared with 33% of 2007 levels in BC) and the pre-planned conversion to cap-and-trade. Australia’s plans have more than just domestic significance: if two of the world’s top-three coking coal exporters (Australia, Canada and the US) have successful domestic cap-and-trade systems in place by 2015, this could increase the likelihood of a global carbon price on coal.
Green energy investment hits record global high
July 7, 2011. Over $200bn was invested in renewable energy in 2010, an increase of one third over 2009 and the highest ever total spend, according to the report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011, prepared for the UN by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report also notes that, for the first time, developed countries were outspent by developing countries, led by Chinese wind-farm development, and that European rooftop solar panels were a large contributor to the 2010 figures. Global investment in solar photovoltaic generation is now close to matching that of wind generation.
Canadian investment in climate-friendly electricity generation featured on the world leader-board, growing 47% over 2009 to $4.9bn. The single largest global VC investment in waste-to-energy was in Canadian firm Plasco Energy, and Brookfield Power were highlighted for their hydro-electric developments in Brazil. The strong growth and global scope of clean energy investments should serve to remind policymakers of the great economic opportunities available from the transition to a low-carbon economy.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Plants in cities are an underestimated carbon store
July 11, 2011. A new study, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, saysvegetation in towns and cities can make a significant contribution to carbon storage and could lock away even more carbon if local authorities and gardeners planted and maintained more trees. Using satellite data and information gathered around parks and gardens, the researchers surveyed vegetation across the City of Leicester, UK. They found 231,000 tonnes of carbon locked in Leicester’s above-ground vegetation, equivalent to 3.16 kg of carbon per square metre of the city. The study states that trees, particularly large ones, should be protected and well maintained. Despite urbanization being a major driver of land-use change globally, there have been few attempts to quantify and map ecosystem service provision at a citywide scale.
Urban centres likely account for more than 80 per cent of the world’s GHG emissions. As a result, local authorities in every jurisdiction, including throughout British Columbia, are central to national efforts to cut carbon emissions. The report articulates the potential benefits of accounting for, mapping and appropriately managing above-ground vegetation carbon stores, and demonstrates a need for reliable data at the city-level to help establish and underpin realistic carbon emission targets and reduction trajectories, along with acceptable and robust policies for meeting these goals. Cities like Vancouver could benefit from greater urban tree planting efforts, and policies to protect trees already in place when building new developments.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
One in ten species could face extinction
July 12, 2011. A study linking the effects of climate change on plants and animals with predicted future declines suggests that as many as 1 in 10 species could face extinction by 2100 given current trends. The study reviewed existing research of over 200 studies covering the recorded effects of climate change as well as future predictions, and demonstrated that projected declines have matched recorded impacts. The results suggest that estimates of species extinction are accurate and, therefore, more stringent policies are required to safeguard species at risk. According to Parks Canada, species at risk are those in danger of becoming extinct and are usually threatened because of environmental or human-induced changes to them or their habitat on a local, regional or global scale.
In BC, the Species-At-Risk Task Force released a report last week indicating that BC’s existing regulations are not effective in protecting species in the province, and offered recommendations for improving species protection. The existing policy of dealing with each species separately is creating a complex and failing system that needs to be changed if BC is to successfully protect its biodiversity. The information in this latest study should be used to accurately assess the impact to our local biodiversity, which many would argue is the most valuable asset we have in “the most beautiful place on earth”.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Climate change and confirmation bias
July 12, 2011. A new study from the Yale Cultural Cognition Project suggests that values, not level of education, determine views about climate change. The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes as main causal factors limited popular knowledge of science and the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information. The study, using a large nation-wide (US) survey, challenges this widely held belief suggesting that scientifically literate subjects are slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate ones. The researchers suggest this also causes significant cultural polarization. According to the study, respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned. Increased science literacy enhanced their ability to seek out and make sense of – or if necessary explain away – empirical evidence relating to their pre-determined position on climate change.
Action in BC is sometimes predicated on the belief that greater education about climate science and better communication about these complex topics to the general public will inherently lead to behaviour change and support for climate action. This study suggests that driving action and convincing the public to support policy is slightly more complicated, and influenced by values. It is important to note that this influence of existing values also extends to climate scientists when they are asked to identify the policies they wished to see implemented. The few conservative climate scientists surveyed were somewhat less eager to adopt these policies except for the ambiguous “use market incentives” policy, and only 61 percent of politically conservative climate scientists favor a tax on polluters. Scientific communication is not enough to mobilize support for climate action in the province. Communication intended to spur action and policy support must take into account the role of values, not just knowledge.
Economists find flaws in federal estimate of climate damage
July 13, 2011. According to a recent study, governments are underestimating the social cost of carbon (SCC) when making emissions-related decisions, and are simultaneously ‘underestimating the benefits of avoiding climate change’. This results in suboptimal or lesser investment in emissions-reduction efforts, despite a recognition that global emissions must be cut. A recent report by the World Resources Instituteoutlines the role that the social cost of carbon plays in policies and decision-making, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the concept. The SCC is a complicated idea, and has been dubbed ‘the most important number you have never heard of’. The US has pegged the social cost of carbon at $21/tonne, and the UK at $83/tonne, but both are deemed too low to spur the appropriate level of action to mitigate climate change.
The social cost of carbon is both an economic and social issue in BC. The SCC is meant to be a representation of the future economic implications of emitting carbon into the atmosphere now, and is used to steer governments and organizations towards making decisions that do not adversely affect the future. In other words, the SCC monetizes the future impacts of our current fossil fuel practices. These economic impacts also represent a social issue and one that future generations will be required to deal with.
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