PICS CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 10 JANUARY 2012
- Forest management programs may increase forest carbon emissions
- 2011 is UK’s second warmest year, Met Office confirms
- Smart meter usage increasing worldwide
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
Extreme weather events result in record insurance losses in 2011
January 4, 2012. An annual report released by Munich Re AG says insured losses totaled $105 billion in 2011 – exceeding the previous record of $101 billion set in 2005. The earthquakes in Japan ($40 billion insured losses) and New Zealand ($13 billion insured losses) were major contributors to this record total; however, much of the $48 billion were a direct result of extreme weather events. Flooding in Thailand cost $10 billion in insured losses, while insured losses from severe tornadoes in the United States (US) and from Hurricane Irene, which hit the Caribbean and US in late August, were approximately $7 billion each. This series of severe weather events can largely be explained by the La Niña climate phenomenon. Under such conditions, extreme weather events are more probable than in “normal” years.
Although the report blames La Niña for the extreme weather, what it doesn’t say is that the effects of both La Niña and El Niño may be amplified by climate change. Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Leeds reported in July 2011that dramatic climate swings were responsible for major flooding in both Pakistan and Australia. This statement is supported by a report by researchers at Princeton University, published in the Journal of Climate. The study found that day-to-day weather has grown increasingly erratic and extreme, with significant fluctuations in sunshine and rainfall affecting more than a third of the planet. Insurance companies are assessing the risks associated with the world’s changing climate and expect insurance premiums to climb substantially as extreme weather events become more frequent. The BC Climate Action Toolkit acknowledges these insurance-related concerns and the fact that the global insurance industry has been calling for climate action for a decade.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Smart meter usage increasing worldwide
January 3, 2012. Pike Research reports that 19.2 million smart meters were shipped worldwide during the third quarter of 2011, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous quarter. Strong growth was reported in North America and China, but Europe looks to be leading the way with a predicted 100 million new smart meters expected to be installedbetween now and the end of 2016. Smart meters have become an integral contributor to building sustainable communities, as nations aim to achieve greater energy efficiency and increased reliance on renewable sources of energy. According to the report, European investment in smart grid improvements will reach €6.8 billion annually, with much of that money targeting advanced meter infrastructure, energy distribution automation, and electric vehicle technology. In Canada, BC Hydro selected Itron to supply 1.8 million new meters over the next 2 years, while Hydro-Quebec chose Landis+Gyr to supply the bulk of the 3.75 million smart meters it plans to deploy over the next 5 years.
BC’s smart meter installation plans have met some resistance from groups that believe the technology could pose risks to their communities. The main concern relates to increased radio waves, but this criticism appears to be unfounded. Large-scale adoption of smart meters in Europe, which has strict radiofrequency regulations, indicates an emerging consensus about the safety of the technology. BC Hydro believes the switch to smart meters will significantly improve energy management in communities around the province. The two key contributions of smart meters to climate change goals in the province are their support of new technologies, especially the integration of electric vehicles into the transportation infrastructure, as well as improved energy efficiency and reduced energy waste, both of which advance the overall reduction of BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
2011 is UK’s second warmest year, Met Office confirms
December 30, 2011. The UK’s preeminent meteorological organization, the Met Office, has confirmed that 2011 was the second warmest year on record for the region. Early figures indicate that 2006 was the only warmer year, with an average temperature of 9.73 degrees Celsius compared to 2011’s 9.62 degrees Celsius. 2011 was characterized by high temperatures for extended periods of time, including the warmest April and spring on record, the second warmest fall, and the warmest October day. The Met office data is based on a mean temperature taken over day and night. All but one of the UK’s top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997 and the top seven warmest years occurred in the past decade.
Like in Europe, temperature and precipitation patterns are changing in Canada. This country is currently experiencing a record warm winter across the Prairies, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada says severe-storm-related water damage now comprises 44% of claims, compared to just 22% in 1992. Such phenomena have an economic impact: insurance premiums have increased for all Canadian families. There is also an impact on infrastructure. Most sewer systems, for example, have been designed to handle storms expected to occur only once every 50 years, but over the past two decades in Toronto alone there have been seven of these ‘one-in-50-year’ events. Swiss Re and Ernst and Young have also testified on the impact of climate change on disaster risk.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Forest management programs may increase forest carbon emissions
December 20, 2011. New research casts doubt on claims that popular wildfire control strategies – such as forest thinning and firebreaks – are net carbon beneficial. The paper is an explicit rebuttal of three academic publications in 2008 and 2009, which argued that cutting down trees to produce firebreaks and to thin forests should be positively accounted for in carbon emission mitigation programs. The authors evaluate how the interactions of fuel treatments and wildfires vary over time and space, concluding that there is little evidence of a carbon benefit.
This study is of particular significance to BC, because its large forests play an important role in the province’s carbon balance. BC’s Forest Carbon Offset Protocol includes “improved forest management” as an eligible project type, allowing activities such as “thinning” and “management to reduce natural disturbances”. The protocol demands evidence to support any cause/effect relationships altered in the project scenario, such as fuel reduction treatments to reduce fire severity. This new paper will help consultants verify the validity of any proposed forest management as a mitigation action.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Should we talk about climate change?
January 4, 2012. Yes, climate change is a serious issue and we should continue to talk about it, according to leading scientists and bloggers. Some climate change supporters suggest that rather than focusing on the real issues of climate change and mitigation, the conversation should be concealed ‘inside a debate focused on innovation, energy security, and economic competitiveness’. Ignoring the realities of the situation will never lead to meaningful change of the required magnitude. The study concludes by drawing parallels to the Second World War (WW II), when some politicians suggested that rather than facing Germany’s Hitler head-on through war, political posturing and declarations of peace would suffice.
In BC, the provincial government appears to be retreating from climate change programs in favour of other economic initiatives that target jobs in the primary-resource exploitation sector. Yet, as the above link points out, by ignoring the obvious foundational role that our ecosystems and environment play in everyday lives, we are risking catastrophic planetary impacts that will be beyond human control. Such concerns remain disturbingly peripheral to mainstream considerations, however, and this is in part related to human psychological behaviour. These have been examined by John Cook, award-winning founder of the website Skeptical Science, who was recently hosted by PICS. A recording of his presentation is available online. Other interesting work includes a widely distributed article on how to discuss climate change with your uncle during the holidays. Whether the analogy with WW II holds up to scrutiny, the underlying message is that there has never been a more important moment for decision-makers to take decisive action on climate change.
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