CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 08 May 2012
- Ancient forest unveiled, revealing impacts of climate change
- Study says half of worldwide emissions come from livestock
- Cycling and walking increase in US pilot communities
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Adapting to climate change: Balancing short-term profit vs. long-term success
May 3, 2012. Relatively few Canadian companies are taking a structured and explicit approach to addressing the threats created by climate change, says the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) in its recently published report Facing the Elements: Building Resilience In a Changing Climate. This may threaten the profitability and overall economic health of the Canadian economy. By failing to actively limit the downside vulnerabilities associated with climate change, such as risk to people and property caused from unpredictable and extreme weather, businesses may jeopardize existing infrastructure, facilities and capital equipment. While developing climate change adaptation strategies may be low on the list of priorities for most Canadian businesses, at the global level UK and continental European companies are responding, not only by acting as good “corporate citizens”, but also in order to ensure their own long-term success. Interestingly, there is a strong correlation between businesses that proactively manage their climate change business risks and their financial performance.
A good example of a Canadian business that began managing climate change risks by developing adaptation strategies is British Columbia’s own Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. Using data from theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Whistler Blackcomb was able to determine that it could take action to withstand the financial consequences of an increase in global temperatures of between 2 and 3.5° C this century – relative to 1980 to 1999 levels – by diversifying its operations and expanding into new business opportunities. This approach should ultimately strengthen the company’s market position relative to its peers.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Cycling and walking increase in US pilot communities
April 28, 2012. Four US communities that received targeted federal funds for sidewalks and bike lanes saw a significant increase in active transport via cycling or walking. The Report to the US Congress on the Outcomes of the Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program details the investments made and the evaluation methods used. It also includes lessons for future programs. The funds were disbursed between 2005 and 2009, and the pilot communities were monitored over the following three years. The communities each had unique physical and demographic characteristics, and were able to devise locally tailored strategies, from installing sidewalks, to road diets and bike share schemes. The report also identifies the public safety, environmental and community connectivity benefits from the investments.
In its conclusion, the report notes how facilitating non-motorized transportation can enrich communities. In addition to the important lessons about managing infrastructure investments in communities, this should be a key message for municipalities in British Columbia: Investment in active transportation enhances the quality of life in communities. Although the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is no longer accepting applications for the Built Environment and Active Transportation program, regular transportation maintenance funds can be used to separate pedestrians and cyclists from fast-moving traffic. The report also highlights a key role for public officials: Their strong support as champions of active transportation investments is considered critical to current and future success. Indeed, the results of surveys like the report to Congress are closely monitored by Transport Canada.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Climate change causing plants to flower even faster than previously thought
May 2, 2012. A new report by UBC researchers published in the journal Nature finds that current scientific models are failing to accurately predict the impact of global warming on plants. The study states that spring flowering and leafing should continue to occur five to six days earlier per year for every degree Celsius of warming, a rate that is up to eight times faster than anticipated by existing models. This conclusion was drawn after observing the timing of flowering and leafing of plants in observational studies and warming experiments across four continents and 1,634 plant species. Part of the reason for the difference between forecast and reality is due to poor study design, a lack of investment in experiments, and the difficulties in simulating the impacts of nature in an artificial setting.
The impact of these results will likely be significant and have an impact on the forecast made by existing models. The faster-than-anticipated flowering and leafing of plants may affect future food production and water-use planning. On a related note, a new study in the journal PLoS ONE finds that the ecosystem value of crop pollination driven by bees, butterflies and other flying insects has increased in the past two decades from $200 billion to $350 billion. The resource constraints caused by climate change identified in these two studies are worth noting in the contexts of the BC Agriculture Plan and BC Parks Conservation Program.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Study says half of worldwide emissions come from livestock
April 30, 2012. How will the international community come together and achieve the emissions reductions the world needs? According to a new report published by the World Watch Institute, 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from livestock production, up from a previous 2006 estimate of 18%. The researchers highlighted a number of exclusions or underreported figures that account for the new higher estimate. Livestock produce the powerful greenhouse gas methane from ingested organic material, require more energy inputs than meat alternatives, and affect land uses in ways that result in deforestation. A one-fourth drop in meat consumption would have a dramatic impact on global GHG emissions, helping countries to achieve much-needed emissions reductions more easily than by replacing fossil fuels with clean alternative sources.
Consuming less meat is a simple and highly effective way for British Columbians to reduce their carbon footprint, and according to the study, may be the single largest change individuals and families can undertake to combat climate change. While it has been known for a number of years that consuming less meat is good for the planet, this new research highlights just how significant a switch from meat to other alternatives is. According to US statistics, meat consumption is already on a decline, though the reasons behind the drop are unclear. In BC, the success of Meatless Mondays and the concept’s uptake by organizations is certainly an indication that people are becoming more conscious of their food choices.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
Ancient forest unveiled, revealing impacts of climate change
April 30, 2012. Scientists in southern Illinois have uncovered a massive fossilized forest. Approximately 307 million years old and 50 times larger than other similar finds, the forest rests 250 to 800 feet underground. It is at least 100 miles long; its width remains unknown. Decades of coal mining in the area have revealed the extent of the perfectly preserved landscape. Researchers have found fossilized ferns, leaf litter, and trees in pristine condition. The extent of the find offers the unprecedented opportunity to study an entire ecosystem. Evidence suggests that the forest gradually suffocated from an incremental increase in regional precipitation. The remains of a massive river transect the site and, as rainfall increased, seasonal floods gradually submerged and buried with sediments the entire forest, preserving it in an undamaged state. Increased seasonal rainfall related to progressive warming at the time––albeit at a rate much slower than being experienced today––is believed to have caused this remarkable change in the landscape.
Forests, both fossilized and ancient, can provide important clues to Earth’s climate history. BC has no known fossilized forests of a similar extent; however, a fossil forest near Kamloops has been exploited as a source of salvagable petrified wood. Fossilized trees can be removed from Crown land with no permit. More recent trees are also important in understanding the past. Dendrochronology, the science of tree-ring analysis, has played a vital role in measuring the influence of climate on forest health and terrestrial ecosystems. At UBC, researchers have used tree-ring samples to identify the influence of El Niño and thePacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) on regional fire patterns. At the University of Victoria, dendrochronology has been used to identify temperature patterns in the Rockies dating back to the 1770s. Forests are important in efforts to abate climate change, but their role in helping us understand the history of climate change is also worthy of recognition.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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