CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 10 July 2012
- Europe’s cities move on adaptation planning
- Australia kicks off carbon tax, BC boosts its own
- Majority of Canadians concerned about climate change, poll finds
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
Australia kicks off carbon tax, BC boosts its own
July 1, 2012. Add Australia to the growing list of countries and jurisdictions that have put a price on carbon emissions. Australia’s carbon tax came into effect on July 1, 2012. The tax will cover 60 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution with the aim of encouraging Australians to use cleaner energy and prompting industry and households to be more efficient in a country dependent on coal for electricity production. Australia’s biggest polluters, from coal-fired power stations to smelters, now pay A$23 ($24 Cdn) per tonne of emissions, more than twice the cost of carbon pollution in the European Union. The economic pain will be dulled by billions of dollars in sweeteners for businesses to minimize the impact on costs, with the consumer price index forecast to rise an extra 0.7 percentage point in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The scheme allows emissions trading beginning in 2015, when polluters and investors will be able to buy overseas carbon offsets, or ultimately link up with schemes in Europe, New Zealand and trading partners in the Pacific Rim region such as California, South Korea and China.
July 1, 2012 also marked the four-year anniversary of BC’s carbon tax and its increase by $5, bringing the province’s carbon levy to $30 per tonne. While unpopular with some BC motorists and used as a political bludgeon by the federal Conservative party, BC’s carbon tax appears to have delivered on its promises of cutting the province’s GHG emissions with little economic disruption. In fact, BC’s GDP growth has outpaced the rest of Canada since the carbon tax came into effect. As for environmental benefits derived from BC’s carbon tax over the past four years, British Columbians have reduced their consumption of petroleum fuels by 15.1 percent while the rest of Canada has increased its use by 1.3 percent. With a review of the carbon tax set for later this year, environmentalists and green economy proponents hope that BC can build on the success of these policies and maintain its competitive advantage over competing jurisdictions.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Europe’s cities move on adaptation planning
June 28, 2012. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a UK-based emissions measurement group, released a report last week outlining how several European cities are planning to adapt to climate change. The full report surveyed 22 cities across Europe, representing over 60 million people in total. Seventeen of the 22 cities surveyed have completed risk assessments to better understand how climate change may impact their jurisdictions. Some cities have gone one step further in preparing adaptation plans to address these risks. The report presents seven best practices being implemented in European cities ranging from the measurement and reporting of emissions to the development of adaptation plans. The report concludes by calling for European cities to work together to define common strategies and report on their emissions annually. Transparency around emissions reporting can help cities strive to not only improve their climate mitigation practices, but ultimately their adaptation strategies, such as flood hazard management techniques used in Dutch cities, for example.
The report resonates well with BC as the province is beginning to see evidence of climate adaptation at the local level. This past year, the District of Elkford – the first jurisdiction in BC to integrate adaptation criteria into its Official Community Plan – was featured in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change guidebook “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Options”. Elkford, while much smaller in population than the cities featured in the CDP report, was successful in completing a climate risk assessment and developing an adaptation plan. Together, these tools have enabled the city to foster a climate action ethos committed to real changes in order to protect current and future generations. BC municipalities striving to follow Elkford’s lead can go one step further in adopting some of the best practices featured in the CDP report. Signatories of BC’s Climate Action Charter are already committed to reducing their GHG emissions. This sets an impetus to promote climate adaptation planning, such as embedding risk assessments into Official Community Plans, to allow communities to jointly mitigate emissions and plan for adaptation to improve climate risk management as a whole.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Anemone fish learn to cope with rising CO2 in the world’s oceans
July 3, 2012. A new report published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that thanks to their parents, some coral reef fish may be better prepared to cope with the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the world’s oceans. The study originated from a widespread concern that baby fish are highly vulnerable to small increases in acidity, as more CO2 released by human activities dissolves into the oceans. Researchers found that, in the case of anemone fish, their offspring can adjust to the anticipated changes in the ocean’s acidity levels over the next century as long as their parents are also raised in more acidic water. Scientists expect human activity to increase the acidity of the world’s oceans by 0.3 to 0.4 pH by the end of this century, based on our present trends in CO2 emissions. Despite these new findings, the authors caution that the fate of the world’s reefs remains highly uncertain given the predicted rises in CO2 concentrations.
For researchers in BC, it is encouraging news that some fish may be less vulnerable to high CO2 and an acidifying ocean than previously thought. The two notable uncertainties are 1) whether the ability to cope with increasingly acidic oceans will last for the lifespan of the fish and 2) how the parent fish actually pass on the ability to deal with acidity to their offspring since one generation is too short a time period to result in a genetic adaptation in the traditional sense. This ‘parental effect’ should be factored in as we assess the vulnerability of our fish stocks to the expected changes in ocean chemistry. Anemone fish, after all, may be more capable of dealing with hostile environmental conditions than those we rely on as a food source. The Ministry of Environment keeps a record of species and ecosystems at risk in BC, and will no doubt find this information useful for further research purposes.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Majority of Canadians concerned about climate change, poll finds
July 4, 2012. A newly released three-country opinion poll finds that Canadians are more likely to agree that climate change is real and man made than their American or British counterparts. The poll, released on June 27 by Angus Reid, finds that a majority of Canadians (58%) believe that climate change is happening and is man made. In comparison, only 42% of Americans and 43% of the British population believe in anthropogenic climate change. 21% of respondents from both the UK and US believe that climate change is not happening at all, whereas only 14% of Canadians believe climate change to be a theory that has not yet been proven. The poll also finds that Canadians are more likely to support environmental protection than the Americans or British, even when action could negatively impact the economy. 58% of Canadians agree that it is important to protect the environment, “even at the risk of hampering economic growth”. Only 20% of Canadians agree that economic growth should be fostered at the risk of the environment.
The poll comes at a time when, federally, Canada is doing little to stem the effects of climate change. In December 2011, the Canadian government formally announced it would renege on its Kyoto commitments. The 2012 federal budget, which re-wrote the Environmental Assessment Act to shorten the environmental review process, is widely reported to make approval easier for projects transporting oil sands bitumen. The Alberta oil sands are among the world’s largest sources of crude oil, a central cause of anthropocentric climate change. In BC, the public agrees that humans are the cause of climate change and supports action in numbers even higher than the national average. In a June 2012 poll, 72% of British Columbians agreed that “the BC government should continue to take an active role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change”.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
New rules for wood debris a boon for bioenergy
June 26, 2012. The BC Liberal government recently announced regulatory changes that will provide access to wood waste and slash on logging sites. Prior to these changes, wood waste on logging sites had to be gathered and burned in order to mitigate the risk of forest fires by removing a potential fuel source. A new kind of tenure license will allow operators to obtain small trees, branches, limbs and tops that remain after traditional harvesting has been completed. This so-called “waste” is in reality a useful source of fibre. Pellet plant operators, for example, can harvest this debris and produce goods for the ever-growing pellet market. Other bioenergy producers, however, will not benefit. Wood waste is a “heterogeneous feedstock”, meaning it is a mixture of species, branches, roots, bark and leaf matter that tends to be wet and ill-suited for more sophisticated bioenergy projects like bio gasification.
There are downsides to such wood debris removal. For one, it is costly, requiring the extensive use of heavy machinery to gather and transport the debris. Wood debris from harvest sites that are in close proximity to bioenergy plants will therefore be of the highest value, with short hauls of approximately 50 kilometers or less incurring less prohibitive fuel costs. Under some circumstances, such as long hauling distances, removing wood debris would provide no real carbon benefit, as the fuel required to produce a pellet would negate the benefit of burning it as an alternate energy source. Wood debris has also been shown to play an important role in the biodiversity of a logging site after harvest. Researchers from UBC found that many small mammals rely on wood debris as a source of shelter, food, and safety. Regardless, the new tenure system for wood waste will provide a novel source of fibre for the bioenergy industry and help it cope with the predicted fibre supply shortage.
Also in the news
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