CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 12 June 2012
- Finding the tipping point for Earth’s biosphere
- Voluntary markets for forest carbon growing
- California increases the energy efficiency of its buildings
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Global carbon market value hits record $176 billion
June 6, 2012. The global carbon market grew in value by 11 percent to $176 billion in 2011, according to a recent World Bank report. A total of 10.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission units changed hands last year, up 17 percent from 2010, with at least 10 different types of emission units now being traded worldwide. The world’s largest carbon market, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), grew in value to $147.8 billion, rising 16 percent over 2010. Meanwhile, other national and regional carbon markets also experienced growth: New Zealand’s nascent carbon market grew 250 percent to $351 million; California’s first deals have been valued at $63 million; and Quebec adopted its own cap-and-trade plan and is currently preparing to link with California’s market as part of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). In addition, 14 emerging nations are considering market-driven emissions crediting systems, among them China, which plans to pilot several regional cap-and-trade programs to provide the foundation for a nationwide scheme expected by 2015.
At the national level, Canada has retreated from the idea of pricing carbon and instead aims to reduce emissions through direct regulation. The federal government also formally announced its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011. Provincially, the British Columbia (BC) government passed enabling legislation in May 2008 to lay the foundation for participation in the emissions trading component of the WCI. However, since Premier Christy Clark took office in 2011, the provincial government has put its participation in the regional cap-and-trade scheme on hold and also announced plans to review the province’s broad-based carbon tax. Though the government has not formally abandoned its carbon pricing policies, such reviews cast doubt on BC’s future direction, just as interest in market-driven approaches in other parts of the world are on the rise.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
California increases the energy efficiency of its buildings
June 1, 2012. Despite California’s ongoing economic troubles, the state’s energy commission recently approved energy efficiency standards for new homes and commercial buildings. California’s energy efficiency standards are already among the most stringent in the country and have helped save Californians an estimated $66 billion on their electricity and natural gas bills since 1978. Yet, the Commission’s 2013 Building Energy Efficiency Standards are 25 percent more efficient than previous residential construction and 30 percent more efficient for non-residential construction. New standards will add about $2300 to the cost of a 2,200 square-foot home; however, over a 30-year period, this will yield $6,200 in energy-related savings. Despite some concerns about these standards being too ambitious in the midst of a weak economy, there has been widespread support from investor-owned utilities across the state and environmental groups, among others.
BC made recent amendments to its Energy Efficiency Act, including new standards for televisions manufactured after January 1, 2012, but energy efficiency standards for buildings are not included in the Act. BC’s Housing Statutes Amendment Act of 2008 (Bill 10) aims to assist local governments in achieving greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions; it specifically enables the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to impose new requirements on a selective or gradual basis in relation to GHG emissions and energy efficiency. As of now, very little has been done in BC for addressing energy efficiency standards in buildings although the Climate Action Secretariat did fund the development of a Green Building Retrofits protocol. California’s recent standards may serve as a model for how BC pursues its GHG reduction targets, particularly with regards to both residential and non-residential buildings. Achieving such standards requires a significant amount of analysis to clarify costs, and convey benefits.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Finding the tipping point for Earth’s biosphere
June 6, 2012. It has been difficult to nail down accurately a specific tipping point when runaway climate change may occur. A new paper by 22 internationally renowned scientists compares the historical record of past incidents of global change with processes underway today, and assesses evidence for where the tipping points are, based on what we currently know. The drivers for temporally irreversible changes in the planet’s biosphere are climate change, population growth, and the widespread destruction of natural ecosystems. Findings indicate that reaching the tipping point will result in a “reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water”. The scientists call for focused research to determine the indicators of a global shift in the biosphere and increased efforts to address the underlying causes.
These findings have been published in anticipation of the Rio +20 Summit starting in two weeks. From a BC perspective, researchers estimate that major environmental changes would see the disappearance of some plant and animal species, new hybrids of remaining species, and shifts in where and when agricultural crops can thrive. This work highlights the increasing importance of taking a long-term view when considering the utilization of our environmental resources, which should be viewed as synonymous with our natural resources, a term that today often only applies to the oil and gas, forestry and mining sectors. The first step towards the effective management of our environmental resources is to measure and monitor them accurately. This ability is currently being threatened at the federal level, where Bill C-38 threatens to unravel much of the environmental legislation in place in Canada. The Green Party has created a petition for those opposed, and commonly refers to Bill C-38 as the Environmental Devastation Act.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Surveys show changing public perception of climate risk over time
June 5, 2012. The results from two recent studies reveal how the public’s perception of climate change has shifted in the past decade. The images and emotions that the American public associates with global warming have changed notably. The proportion of naysayer images, such as “hoax”, was less than 10 percent in 2002, but rose to over 20 percent in 2010. Alarmist images depicting “the end of everything” increased from 2002 to 2008, and then decreased slightly in 2010. The researchers also found many Americans perceive climate change to be something that happens somewhere else and won’t have a direct impact on their lives. This second study was based on work in the UK that focused on the role “psychological distance” plays in promoting action and the importance of uncertainty when people justify inaction. The authors found that “generally lower psychological distance was associated with higher concern about climate change”. Risk communication, therefore, should focus on making the problem psychologically more familiar. However, the scientists added, concern does not naturally become action; to promote action, it is important to continue to highlight the global impacts of climate change.
These two studies provide insight into the underlying characteristics of attitudes towards climate change in the US and the UK. While the majority of Canadians believe that the federal government should take more of a leadership role in responding to climate change, the government has said it will act only in response to measures taken by the US, and by implementing similar policies. This is despite the two countries having different economic structures and emissions profiles, making it difficult to achieve lowest cost reductions from the most appropriate sources. Federal action in Canada is, therefore, explicitly tied to the American public’s perception of climate change. The second study is a useful reminder of how communications around climate change in BC should continually focus on bridging the psychological distance barrier; yet not lose sight of the global significance of our actions here.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
Voluntary markets for forest carbon growing
May 21, 2012. The market for voluntary carbon credits was worth $576 million in 2011, according to Ecosystem Marketplace, an environmental and financial information service provider. This figure was the highest since 2008, showing the perseverance of carbon despite economic malaise and stalled climate change negotiations. Corporations bought 65% of the carbon credits on the voluntary markets, with European corporations being the largest purchasers. However, American companies were the fastest growing buyers, using carbon credits to green their supply chains and improve relations with customers and employees. Forest carbon credits had a smaller share of the voluntary market compared to previous years. This was attributed to the growth of other offset categories, such as credits from wind power, and the slow pace of UN climate change negotiations. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) is a major component of multi-lateral climate negotiations, but disagreement over how to fund REDD is hindering the forest carbon market. Despite these setbacks, the price for forest carbon credits remained steady, avoiding the declines experienced by other credit types.
In BC, the Forest Carbon Offset Protocol has embraced voluntary carbon standards (VCS) to help define forest carbon projects. Projects that use a VCS can qualify for the Pacific Carbon Standard, the standard used by the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), a crown entity that exists to help the provincial government reach its goal of carbon neutrality. Offset providers in BC have the advantage of developing projects that satisfy PCT requirements, but also qualify for other carbon markets. BC offset companies could potentially access a $178 million market, the value of voluntary credits sold in North America in 2011. Given the ongoing commitment of PCT and the sustained market for voluntary carbon credits globally, forest carbon projects in BC are well positioned to use voluntary standards to sell carbon while preserving forests in BC.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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