CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 19 June 2012
- Major forest fires to increase as climate changes
- What makes some people greener than others?
- Global investment in renewable energy reaches new heights
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Global investment in renewable energy reaches new heights
June 11, 2012. Investment in the renewable energy sector reached another record in 2011 with over $257 billion spent globally, a 94% increase over the 2007 numbers. Excluding large-scale hydro, renewable power accounted for 44% of all new generating capacity added worldwide and the sector has grown to supply 16.7% of the total global energy consumption in 2011, according to a recently published report. Solar power experienced particularly large gains jumping up 52% to $147 billion, which is almost double the amount invested in wind energy at $84 billion. The reach of renewable energy technologies into new markets also increased with around 50 countries installing solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, wind power capacity, biomass and geothermal sources in new regions. While there are many drivers of investment in renewable energy – from climate change concerns and energy security issues, to the need to electrify rural and urban areas in developing countries – the renewable energy sector has become a major factor in spurring economic growth towards low carbon, resource efficient and green economies.
Canada’s investment in clean energy grew to $5.5 billion in 2011 with over 85% directed towards wind resources and the solar sector. British Columbia (BC) has such abundant hydro resources that historical investment in renewable energies such as wind and solar power has been extremely limited. Nevertheless, the BC government has begun taking steps to drive investment into other renewable energies, such as considering biomass, ocean wave, tidal, solar, wind and geothermal energy as resources eligible for funding under the province’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund. The ICE Fund supports development of clean power and energy efficiency technologies in various sectors such as electricity, alternative energy, transportation and oil and gas. In the past five years, over $72 million has been approved for 56 projects in over 37 communities across BC, representing a total value of over $390 million.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Intelligent Transportation Systems can improve mobility and the environment
June 8, 2012. Recent research from the US describes the potential to leverage technology to maximize environmental and safety performance in transportation systems. The work comes at a time when mounting traffic congestion in North American cities is being exacerbated by aging and neglected infrastructure. Evidence has shown that such congestion cost the US economy a total of $87 billion last year. In the face of limited public dollars for transportation infrastructure, jurisdictions are increasingly embracing a suite of technological solutions known as Intelligent Transportation Systems(ITS) to manage congestion challenges and improve transportation mobility. These tools are being used to boost safety, productivity, and environmental protection by connecting information technologies with transportation infrastructure and vehicles. Portland, Oregon, for example, has used synchronized traffic signals to reduce congestion at several major intersections by 20 percent while also achieving a reduction in 157,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, equivalent to taking 30,000 cars off the road.
This discussion resonates in Metro Vancouver where, in 2005, cars and trucks constituted the largest share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 35 percent. Metro Vancouver’s AirCare program and the Scrap-It program are two ongoing air quality improvement initiatives that aim to reduce large volumes of air pollution produced by passenger and light-duty vehicles. However, to reduce GHG emissions, the region could use a suite of cost-effective ITS tools, such as eco-driving, smartphone applications to show real-time congestion and open parking spaces, or synchronized traffic signals, to improve the mobility of private transportation while enabling motorists to reduce their impact on the environment and air quality. Portland’s success from its synchronized traffic lights, which won them the ITS America Smart Solution Spotlight award in February 2010, is illustrative of how simple solutions can have large gains for sustainable transportation.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Robust sea-level rise planning should include secondary impact assessment
June 13, 2012. A new study on the effects of sea level rise points to the significant impacts that human relocation will have on ecosystems and mammal habitat. Researchers from Vienna and Denmark assessed the secondary impacts of human relocation on habitat and ecosystems, and found that in some instances they will meet or exceed the primary effects of sea level rise for certain regions. As humans are forced to relocate urban areas and agriculture to higher ground, other mammals will be displaced as a result. According to the researchers, failing to assess these secondary impacts of sea level rise will result in an underestimation of the potential for biodiversity loss and leave governments and communities under-prepared to respond to climate change.
This is a topical discussion considering the current debate in North Carolina on how best to adapt to sea level rise. Much of the prime agriculture land in BC is located in river deltas, with substitutable land at higher elevations scarce, given the province’s topography. Relocating agriculture production may thus not be feasible, even before considering the secondary impacts, and communities like Delta may instead be forced to protect existing land with dykes.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
What makes some people greener than others?
June 12, 2012. A new report reveals that different attitudes and cultural values will have a significant impact on the development of a sustainable and climate-resilient global society. Researchers explored the cultural values associated with sustainability that might make some groups more inclined to adopt sustainable attitudes and behaviours than others. The researchers collected sets of different values and attitudes from a range of demographic groups throughout Europe, which were then contrasted to what is considered to be the definition for sustainable behaviour. Both data sets were then correlated with sustainable practices within the target countries. An overwhelming association was found between populations that were oriented towards high levels of social cohesion and sentiments of tolerance and respect and the score relating to levels of environmental and social sustainability.
The researchers conclude that: “The strong correlations suggest that it is possible that adopting sustainable practices can reinforce the attitudes that prompted the initiative towards greater sustainable behavior in the first place.” Having the right attitudes to make the first move towards more sustainable practices may be all it takes to initiate movement towards a pro-sustainability agenda, in both business and society in general. BC’s population is comprised of many different demographic groups containing a wide variety of cultural and social norms, and is expected to increase by about 35.9 percent between 2010 and 2036, largely due to immigration. It will be useful to keep this research in mind when rolling out sustainability initiatives across the province and targeting those who may be most responsive to such initiatives.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
Major forest fires to increase as climate changes
June 7, 2012. According to a report by the Insurance Bureau of Canada the number of major forest fires in BC will likely increase by over 50 percent in the next 40 years. The report, authored by climatologist Gordon McBean, examined the effects of changing weather patterns across Canada. A key finding for BC was that forests will be increasingly vulnerable to lightning strikes, which already cause 60% of forest fires in the province. Increased drought, a decreased snowpack, and hotter summers could all lead to bigger and more frequent fires. The BC government, commenting on the report, suggested that the impacts of climate change on BC’s forests are already being felt. In 2010, for example, 331,000 hectares of forest were impacted by fire, the highest number in two decades.
Forest managers in BC have options for coping with these increased risks. The Wildfire Management Branch of the BC government has embraced the concept of ‘fire-resilient landscapes.’ This approach involves the use of controlled burns to decrease the build-up of fire accelerants like leaf litter, increasing public education on wildfire management, and encouraging at-risk communities to better prepare for major fires. Foresters are also considering adaptive management techniques to help mitigate the risk of fires. Managers are identifying forests that are particularly vulnerable to the stresses of drought and fire. They are also thinking about how to replant after harvesting or major blazes, using a mix of species that better cope with a decline in rainfall and hotter temperatures. Major blazes increase the amount of CO2released into the atmosphere by forests. This could accelerate climate change, compounding already present risks. This kind of feedback loop demonstrates why climate change is such a grave threat to forests.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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