CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 06 March 2012
- Investors worth $10 trillion issue direct call for carbon emission reductions
- Digital tools for climate change conversations
- Investors worth $10 trillion issue direct call for carbon emission reductions
The PICS News Scan is produced by ISIS at the Sauder School of Business and 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
Investors worth $10 trillion issue direct call for carbon emission reductions
February 20, 2012. Over four hundred of the world’s biggest emitters received letters this week, signed by 92 banks, asset managers and pension funds, demanding actions to curb carbon and energy costs. Canadian signatories to the letter included TD Asset Management as well as pension funds representing federal public sector workers and the national federation of unions (Bâtirente). The letters were sent on behalf of these investors by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a global not-for-profit carbon data company. The recipients included utilities, manufacturers, transportation companies and retailers. This direct lobbying follows other recent work acknowledging the financial risks of relying on global carbon sinks, including the Bank of England’s evaluation of fossil fuel risk to the country’s financial stability and China’s new “green credit” guidelines issued to commercial lenders.
These actions serve as a reminder that investors are growing ever more aware of the financial risks posed by companies’ carbon emissions. BC’s pension investor, the BC Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), was not a signatory to these letters, but the corporation does respond to the CDP’s annual climate risk information request and has signed the UNEP Declaration on Climate Change. The province’s greenhouse gas legislation has helped set a course away from polluting and financially risky fossil fuels: all major emitters must report their pollution annually and most greenhouse gas emissions come with a price. It will be important for policymakers to ensure policy signals and publicly directed investments keep BC on this path to a low-carbon economy.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
The role of electric bikes in promoting green transportation
February 28, 2012. The recently issued final report from the 33-month-long European PRESTO Cycling Project provides insightful advice to municipalities that are attempting to make cities more attractive to cycling. The report highlights three areas that cities should focus on, including 1) improvements to cycling infrastructure, 2) promotion of cycling and 3) the use of electric bicycles. Many of these messages will be well known to BC municipalities who have embarked upon new infrastructure and public engagement campaigns in recent years. One area of note, however, is the prominent focus the report gives to encouraging citizens to consider electric bicycles. In the report’s many case studies, several cities undertook efforts to promote electric bicycles by hosting test ride events, enlisting local VIPs to ride them and ensuring that their promotion was part of other bicycle-oriented festivals and events.
While Canadian sales of electric bicycles are on the rise (20,000 units in 2010), they pale in comparison to the large numbers in Asia and Europe. Other countries are also seeing the environmental advantages of electric bicycles in terms of lower greenhouse gas and fine particulate emissions. While many BC public engagement campaigns focus on the advantages of simply biking over driving a car, the PRESTO report underscores that older segments of the population and those who encounter hills on their trips find electric bicycles an appealing alternative when educated on the option. These international examples provide helpful strategies to get more people out of their cars and could be an impactful complement to recent improvements to cycling infrastructure.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Carbon emissions are unraveling the diversity of marine ecosystems
March 1, 2012. According to research presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the diversity of marine life is adversely affected as levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) rise due to increases in the acidity of seawater. Researchers from both England and Florida sounded the alarm at the recent AAAS annual meeting in Vancouver, suggesting that if CO2 levels don’t start to decline, marine ecosystems will begin to degrade. Marine diversity was ‘diminished by 30 percent’ in areas with low pH (higher acidity), but all forms of life were affected. Sea grasses lost their ability to deter pests, and fish would not deposit their eggs in low-pH zones. Overall, the effect is an ‘unraveling’ of the marine ecosystem, which would be difficult or even impossible to reverse.
Off the west coast of BC and the US, ocean acidification is already being seen, and has been pointed to as a factor in the periodic wipeouts of farmed shellfish. Still other research points to the negative effect that ocean acidification has on coastal BC marine life. Overall, the picture is bleak for both wild and farmed marine ecosystems if CO2 levels continue to rise, affecting BC both economically and culturally. While it was previously thought that ocean acidification would occur initially and primarily in deep waters far offshore, research and recent experiences are showing that this is not the case.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Digital tools for climate change conversations
February 20, 2012. Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are using computer visualizations to help communities understand the impacts of rising sea levels. The community of Delta, BC, surrounded by water on three sides, is using this tool to assist neighbourhoods with assessing priorities and trade-offs in decision-making. The tool helps visualize how sea level changes will occur, allowing stakeholders to see the impact of their decisions on the future. Like many coastal communities, Delta has large areas of infrastructure and neighbourhood developments that sit below mean sea levels predicted for 2100.
Delta is one of many communities in BC that will be affected by sea level rises, and visualization tools are a critical piece for engaging communities in finding solutions to this and other impending challenges related to climate change. At UBC, a newly designed laboratory within the Centre for Interactive Research in Sustainability (CIRS) building allowsresearchers and community groups to project large images and scenarios on its spacious walls and interact with touchscreens and other devices throughout the space in order to help participants visualize and interact with future scenarios. The role of gaming and visualization was covered in a previous news scan, and similarly pointed to the important role that ‘seeing the future’ has for engagement and decision-making.
RESEARCH THEME IV: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
BC’s forests face decline in long-term productivity
February 17, 2012. A recent report by the Auditor General (AG) of British Columbia, John Doyle, has generated controversy about the future productivity of BC’s forests. In his report, Doyle suggests that 1.1 million hectares are in need of replanting, but that the government lacks a clear plan. Without this plan, “the value of the forest is going to be diminished and future generations are not going to have what we had,” he said in a follow-up interview. While private forest companies operating on Crown land are legally responsible for replanting trees, there are no explicit requirements for the government to do so, despite its obligation to ensure an “economically valuable supply of commercial timber”. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations did not fully agree with the AG’s recommendations, but did concede that the report was useful in highlighting the need to conduct a more robust and transparent inventory of BC’s forests.
The gap in productivity identified by the AG is largely driven by the mountain pine beetle (MBP) infestation, as well as several major fire seasons in the past decade. This threat to the long-term fibre supply is of concern to the forest industry, which makes capital investment decisions over a 50-year time frame. Beyond fibre constraints, the AG’s report also has implications for forest carbon. The extent of impacted forests demonstrates how sensitive these ecosystems, and the carbon they store, are to the impacts of climate change. But they also present an opportunity. Alberta, California and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) are all in the final stages of including forest carbon offsets in their carbon markets. The under-stocked forest areas, ravaged by the MPB, present an opportunity for creating forest carbon offsets on a massive scale. Given that the government is likely unable to afford replanting economically marginal but ecologically devastated forests, revenue-generating carbon offsets could potentially play an important role.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
Download pdf version: Week 126 PICS News Scan 06 March 2012
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