CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 26 June 2012
- The pathway to profitability for wind energy
- BC research animates Rio+20 associated events
- Vancouver launches subsidized public bike sharing system
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
The pathway to profitability for wind energy
June 18, 2012. A study published by the Crown Estate provides a roadmap for the United Kingdom (UK) government on how to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy and make the industry globally competitive. The overarching goal of bringing the cost of offshore wind to £100 per megawatt hour by 2020 will require industry and organizations to work with the government to make offshore wind energy costs competitive with other carbon free energy sources. By combining improvements to technology, growth of the supply chain and reductions to financing costs for wind energy projects, the cost of offshore wind could be cut below £100 per megawatt hour provided that total capacity reaches at least 17 to 18 gigawatts. A key factor in achieving this goal is the smooth and timely implementation of government policy in order to spur competition in key supply markets and provide long-term certainty for offshore wind investors. The ultimate prize will be a world-leading industry in the UK, jobs, and domestic investment, not to mention the prospect of achieving low-carbon, clean energy targets by 2020.
Given British Columbia’s plentiful wind resources, harnessing its wind energy potential is an attractive way to diversify the province’s hydroelectricity supply and meet BC’s accelerating demand for affordable, clean energy. While BC has not yet invested in offshore wind energy, there are two onshore wind energy farms currently in operation: the Dokie Wind Farm and the Bear Mountain Wind Park and a third, the Cape Scott Wind Farm, is now under construction on northern Vancouver Island. To date, BC Hydro has assessed a total of 121 sites that have the potential of generating 39,000 GWh of clean electricity per year from wind energy, about two-thirds of BC’s current total domestic demand. Just like in the UK, investing in wind energy could drive homegrown job creation, provide new economic benefits to our local communities and assist in developing an electricity system capable of meeting BC’s future energy challenges.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
BC research animates Rio+20 associated events
June 21, 2012. PICS sustainable communities theme leader Mark Roseland unveiled two PICS-funded projects in Brazil this week at events associated with the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. These events included the 2012 World Congress of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability in Belo Horizonte, the ICLEI Global Town Hall at Rio+20, and the parallel People’s Summit in Rio. The featured projects were a new edition of Toward Sustainable Communities: Solutions for Citizens and Their Governments, a comprehensive up-to-date collection of sustainability tools and strategies used by communities around the world; and Pando, a multilingual online network for facilitating collaborative partnerships between sustainable communities researchers and practitioners. Roseland’s Community Capital Tool, a free, online tool for community sustainability planning, was also launched during the summit.
At the Rio+20 Summit, Roseland was struck by the contrast between the slow-moving, increasingly circumscribed conversation among diplomats about sustainability inside the heavily guarded event, and the peaceful, festive protest monitored by riot police and military helicopters just outside of it. Local media estimated that more than 50,000 people converged in Rio streets to express their frustration with the social, economic and environmental status quo.
Vancouver launches subsidized public bike sharing system
June 13, 2012. The City of Vancouver plans to introduce a subsidized public bike share system by the spring of 2013. The program will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.9 million per year and Alta Bicycle Share of Portland, Oregon will likely be given the contract to install 1,500 bikes at 125 self-service stations throughout downtown and along the Broadway corridor. Public bike share systems provide residents and tourists with alternate transportation options and have been installed in many cities around the world including oft-cited examples in Montréal, Quebec and Hangzhou, China. City of Vancouver Director of Transportation Jeff Dobrovolny is hopeful that a Vancouver system will follow the trends of other cities that have implemented bike sharing and experienced a subsequent increase in overall cycling as well as a decline in automobile use.
As public bike share systems become more popular, communities in BC have an opportunity to learn about their successes and challenges. These systems can increase overall cycling mode share in the city and help achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in the transportation sector. David Suzukiexplains that the benefits of cycling go beyond reducing the risk of global warming, as they make cities more enjoyable places to live. In addition, bike sharing has a complementary impact on the support for dedicated bike lanes by further increasing demand. Evidence from Vancouver, Chicagoand other cities shows that separated bike lanes alone are increasing the number of bicycles on the road and bike sharing programs will increase this further. Studies have also found that separated bike lanes can encourage more people to cycle to work and the infrastructure investments yieldpositive cost-benefit ratios. Given the evidence, Vancouver’s public bike share system could be a success, and may draw some valuable planning lessons through the Velo-city Global cycling conference taking place in the city this week.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Soil has a strong effect on how grasslands respond to elevated atmospheric CO2
10 June 2012. Grasslands have attracted attention due to their potential to sequester carbon in soil and contribute to GHG mitigation. The same management techniques that help to sequester carbon also increase soil productivity and deliver the additional benefits of food security, biodiversity and water conservation, as well as improved ecological resilience in the face of climate change. The carbon balance of grasslands is affected not only by changing climate conditions, but also by changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. A new study in Nature Climate Change has found that the type of grassland soil strongly influences the increase in productivity that occurs when the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases. This effect appears to occur through changes in soil moisture, nitrogen availability and plant species composition. These results will improve our ability to predict how grassland ecosystems respond to atmospheric CO2, but also highlight that feedbacks in the soil can have important effects that remain poorly understood. Understanding how soils respond to rising CO2 levels is important for predicting how rapidly carbon will increase in the global atmosphere, and also for developing effective management strategies to maximize the carbon storage potential of different grassland areas.
Grasslands in BC are expected to expand with a warming climate, although they may also undergo many changes. BC’s grasslands are valuable as rangeland for the ranching industry, but also because they are home to many species at risk and provide other important ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration. A suite of studies that support effective rangeland management in BC in the face of climate change have been conducted as part of BC’s Future Forest Ecosystems Initiative. The preliminary results indicate substantial opportunities for carbon sequestration in the grasslands of the Thompson-Nicola region. In order to effectively develop the carbon storage potential of BC’s grasslands and rangelands, it will be important to understand how feedback loops in the soil system are likely to influence carbon cycling.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
UN paints a bleak picture of Earth System, calls for collective thinking
June 20, 2012. As the world’s leaders gathered at Rio+20 to discuss global sustainable development, the United Nations has released a new report which calls upon countries to increase the power of collective thinking, creativity and coordination in order to avoid exceeding critical thresholds and causing abrupt, irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet. The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) paints a bleak picture of the state of the Earth’s ecosystems, noting that changes in the Earth’s Systems are already having serious consequences for wellbeing. The report, which assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals established by world leaders, found that significant progress has been made on only four of them.
The findings of the report come at a time when the Province of BC faces unprecedented decisions surrounding its resource development and energy future. Consultations and environmental assessments are underway on two major development projects, including the Site C Hydro Electric Dam and the Enbridge Northern Gateway. On June 14, the Apache Corporation announced it had discovered “the most prolific shale gas resource test in the world” 100 km west of Horn River. It is estimated the discovery contains 210 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. Prior to this discovery, overall Canadian reserves were estimated at 70 tcf.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
Greener Arctic bad for climate, researchers warn
June 17, 2012. Research published in Nature Climate Change has shown that a greener Arctic might not be good for the planet. As the planet warms, tree growth near the Arctic is set to increase. This new growth absorbs carbon, and scientists previously thought that it would help offset GHG emissions. However, researchers in Sweden have found that tree growth in previously unforested areas could stimulate soil decomposition, releasing more carbon than captured. The lead author of the report suggested that, “greater plant biomass may not always translate into greater carbon storage at the ecosystem level.” The root of the problem is that soils in the tundra store massive amounts of carbon. Certain trees, like Birch, disrupt organic matter stored in the soil. Even once these trees have matured, the new aboveground carbon is only half the amount of the disrupted belowground carbon previously stored in soils.
Although BC has no Arctic Tundra, it does have an extensive area of Alpine Tundra, where the soil characteristics can be similar and the same unintended consequences could apply. Alpine Tundra can be found across the province in mountainous regions, starting at an elevation of 1000 m in the north and at much higher elevations in other parts of the province. As the climate changes, certain tree species may be able to take root where they previously could not. Researchers are currentlyinvestigating how climate change impacts tree growth at different elevations beneath the recently completed Peak2Peak Gondola in Whistler. The impacts of climate change on forest carbon, however, are unclear. Some forests may sequester more carbon, but changing ecosystems could end up offsetting any gains made. Furthermore, climate change can destabilize forests in other ways, such as through infestation or drought. These uncertainties are key drivers for why most forest carbon projects have 50% buffers in order to accommodate potential variation.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
Download pdf version: Week 142 PICS News Scan 26 June 2012
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