CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 15 May 2012
- Mobility will grow, but today’s politicians can determine the carbon impact
- Civil disobedience as a means of expression
- Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rise 17%
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rise 17%
April 26, 2012. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recently released a review report on Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) annual submission. The report found that total GHG emissions increased by 17% between 1990 and 2009. The key drivers behind this rise were in the energy sector due to increases in fuel use (e.g. coal as a fuel source used in industrial processes) and the oil and gas sector due to increased production of oil from conventional and unconventional sources. The review team noted the need for more transparency in the reporting structure and improvements required in the annual submission’s methodological and data descriptions. A highlight in the submission, however, was a decrease in emissions caused by deforestation and improved soil management, such as no-till farming practices.
Some of the UNFCCC’s recommendations could be relevant to BC. While BC’s next GHG inventory submission is due for release later this year, a look at BC’s previous GHG inventory shows a 19% increase in emissions levels between the years 1990 and 2008. Similar to the federal emissions inventory, the greatest increases were seen in the energy sector. However, the BC profile differs most distinctively in that the transportation sector accounts for the greatest share of BC’s emissions. Recognizing an opportunity, the Premier’s office earlier this year released a natural gas strategy that promotes natural gas as a fuel source and climate solution, as it has a lower GHG emissions per unit of energy released than coal or oil. By promoting natural gas as a transition fuel to a low carbon economy, BC hopes simultaneously to reduce its emissions, increase productivity and improve the province’s environmental sustainability.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Mobility will grow, but today’s politicians can determine the carbon impact
May 3, 2012. A new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasts large increases in annual kilometres traveled by humans in 2050, and suggests that policies that enable “seamless” transit can help to mitigate this. The OECD report calls for transport systems that minimize obstacles to inter-connection and barriers for users seeking information and access to mobility services. London’s “oyster” card system is praised, for example, for its lack of staffed fare gates, its integrated rail, bus and seabuses, and its off-site processing of ticket payments. Previous studies have shown that the transport sector is today responsible for almost one quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and that the sector’s emissions share is expected to grow to one-third by 2050. This new report goes even further in predicting a doubling of CO2-emissions from transport between 2010 and 2050. The key factor is the forecasted tripling of global car ownership by 2050, although this could be kept to just a twofold increase if policies and regulations encouraging walkable urban forms are implemented.
The messages from this report are of vital importance for the health and prosperity of British Columbians and their children. In coordination with municipal land use planning, much of provincial investment in transport infrastructure for the past 50 years has been designed to enable private car use alone, with the result that many communities are today entirely car-dependent. As a result, the inevitable traffic congestion not only means that transportation is the largest contributor to BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also that the province is saddled with high infrastructure maintenance costs relative to the value of land, and increasing healthcare costs from obesity, diabetes and asthma. If the provincial government is to meet its 2050 targets of an 80% reduction below 2007 GHG emission levels, public investments made today must enable urban forms that are transit-serviceable and walkable.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Canada’s coastal ecosystems store ‘Blue Carbon’ and deliver economic benefits
May 3, 2012. The potential benefits of restoring Canada’s coastal ecosystems were highlighted recently by the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montréal. Researchers at McGill University have calculated that restoring Canada’s coastal salt marshes and seagrass meadows previously drained for agricultural use would create a carbon sink equivalent to 6% of Canada’s original commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. Restoration would generate the additional benefit of protecting biodiversity and providing ecosystem services estimated at $14,535 per hectare. Salt marshes and seagrass meadows can be found in shallow tidal areas around the globe, and are exceptionally fast and efficient at storing carbon in their soils or sediments. This carbon, known as ‘Blue Carbon’, will remain locked away for thousands of years if left undisturbed.
BC is home to approximately 400 km2 of coastal salt marsh and seagrass habitat. Because Blue Carbon storage is so efficient, this relatively small area sequesters as much carbon as the province’s expanse of boreal forest, equivalent to the emissions of more than 200,000 cars. The Sierra Club of BC recently issued a report on Blue Carbon storage in BC’s coastal ecosystems, describing the scope and current status of these areas. Although the vast carbon storage potential of BC’s salt marshes and seagrass meadows is a relatively recent discovery, the considerable ecosystem services that they provide have long been widely recognized. These services include protecting against storm surges and tsunamis while providing critical habitat for socially and economically important species such as salmon, crab and herring. In recent years, federal and provincial governments, First Nations and community groups have collaborated to map the locations of seagrass throughout the province in order to support conservation efforts and integrated ocean management planning.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Civil disobedience as a means of expression
May 9, 2012. Protesters last week took a stand against BC coal exports, blocking a train on its way to a port near White Rock, BC. After 12 hours, one stopped train, and a court injunction to end the protest, 13 Canadians were taken peacefully into custody. The protest, part of a wider campaign to draw attention to exports of coal from BC, was also aimed at the federal government’s lack of action on climate change issues. BC-based energy economist Mark Jaccard supported the efforts, pointing to a “very urgent” need for all citizens to take action and demand strong policy change from our government. Given the ongoing discussions on pipelines to the US and oil tanker exports to Asia, it seems likely that acts of civil disobedience will increase as frustrations mount in the face of government inaction.
The export of coal from BC is a $5.1 billion industry, and while BC itself uses mostly renewable energy sources for electricity, ethical questions associated with coal exports still arise given BC’s mandate for a low-carbon economy and efforts to stimulate green economic development in the province. Westshore Terminals, located 20 miles south of downtown Vancouver, is larger than all other coal shipping facilities in Canada combined, and exports an average of 21 million metric tons of coal per year. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has recently expressed his concern for planned coal exports from northwest ports and in view of federal avoidance of firm action on the climate file in Canada, it would seem that civil disobedience could become an increasingly popular way for concerned citizens to take a stand against climate change.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
Big trees carry their weight in providing ecological benefits from forests
May 2, 2012. Researchers in Yosemite National Park have confirmed what was long suspected – large trees play an important role in the ecological health of forests. Scientists measured 34,500 trees on a 25.6 ha plot and found that 1.4% of the trees, those with a diameter of three feet or more, constituted 49.4% of forest biomass. These trees, at least 200 years old, played a dominant role in sequestering carbon in the forest by photosynthesizing CO2 into plant tissue. Beyond carbon, the trees support biodiversity by providing habitats that smaller trees cannot. The researchers suggest that land managers should recognize the importance of big trees. Removing brush or debris from the base of large trees, for example, could help them survive fire events. Preserving these giants would help forests continue to provide ecological functions after fires, which are expected to increase in intensity and frequency as the climate changes.
BC has many forest ecosystems where large trees play an important role. Coastal forests, with temperate climates and abundant precipitation, are home to many of the largest trees in the world and BC has been moving towards protecting these ecosystems. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, a landmark accord between industry, government and activists, permanently protected 2.1 million hectares from logging. However, activists are still waging campaigns to ensure that more old growth is permanently set aside. Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew, was recently removed from an active harvesting license. Sensing an opportunity, activists have named another nearby forest “Christy Clark Grove” in the hopes of having additional Crown land preserved. In the Interior, the future of old growth forests and forest reserves is less secure. A memo was recently leaked that suggested the government may allow logging in protected areas to ensure an adequate supply of timber, as the dwindling stock of pine beetle wood could leave many Interior mills without in the near future. However, the short-term economic benefits of keeping these mills open should be contrasted with the ecological functions, including long-term carbon sequestration, that forests provide. The creation of more forest carbon credits, for example, could help preserve old growth. It is clear that balancing the imperative of providing jobs in rural communities with the need to preserve forests and fight climate change creates a political and policy challenge.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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