PICS CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 21 August 2012
- Rising water temperatures affect salmon breeding patterns
- Recycle to save the environment, not money, says research
- Wastewater electricity proving to be a promising sustainable energy alternative
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Research Theme I: The low carbon emissions economy
Financial institutions reexamine social and environmental investment standards
August 14, 2012. The largest private sector banks in the world, such as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Barclays, are meeting later this month to update a set of standards used to assess and manage social and environmental risks associated with project finance deals. Introduced in 2003 and last updated in 2009, the Equator Principles were originally modeled on the environmental standards of the World Bank and the social policies of the International Finance Corporation, and have since evolved into a benchmark for other organizations developing similar social and environmental measures. The Principles have increased attention to standards for indigenous peoples, improved health and safety measures, provided open, transparent consultation venues for affected communities, and offered a framework for managing environmental and climate impacts. They apply to all new project financings globally with a total capital cost of US$10 million or more, across all industry sectors. The consultation phase on an updated version of the Principles (EP III) is open until mid-October and feedback is encouraged from both stakeholders and the public.
While global financial institutions use the Equator Principles to provide social and environmental guidance on capital projects, carbon offset projects in British Columbia (BC) must adhere to the British Columbia Emission Offsets Regulation (BCEOR). This regulation addresses the quality of greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets in BC and sets out requirements for projects seeking to be recognized for legitimate emission reductions. All BC carbon projects must be supported by a verified project report, ownership must pass through the Pacific Carbon Trust (a Crown corporation), and the reductions must not have been previously claimed by another offset program. Underpinning the BCEOR and all other carbon offset standards is the concept of “additionality,” which assumes that the emission reductions would not have been created but for the financial benefits derived from the offset project, and would not have been realized by any other means.
Research Theme II: Sustainable communities
Wastewater electricity proving to be a promising sustainable energy alternative
August 13, 2012. New research at Oregon State University (OSU) has determined more effective methods to produce electricity from the processing of wastewater. The research team at OSU has developed a technology that has improved the performance of microbial fuel cells that can now produce 10 to 50 times more electricity per volume from wastewater compared to other approaches. The benefits of this breakthrough are two-fold: it can produce significant amounts of electricity, while cleaning the wastewater at the same time. Treating wastewater requires electrical energy that is usually produced by combusting fossil fuels. While analysts estimate that only about three percent of electricity consumed in the US and the developing world is used to treat wastewater, this still produces unnecessary GHGs. If wastewater-based microbial fuel cells reach their full potential, they could produce more energy than is required to process the water, thereby reducing GHGs and providing opportunities for reusing energy. With advances in microbial fuel cell technology, wastewater microbes may soon be able to produce enough electricity for commercial use.
There is a precedent in BC for using wastewater as an energy source. Indeed, the Saanich Peninsula Thermal Energy Recovery Project captures thermal energy from wastewater effluent to provide hot water and space heating by using heat recovery technology. The recovered heat is currently being used to supplement heating requirements for the pool at the Panorama Recreation Centre in the Capital Regional District (CRD). Recovered heat has reduced the need for natural gas use at the recreation centre and early estimates suggest that it has mitigated GHGs by 300-500 tonnes per year, with about $75,000 to $100,000 per year in reduced energy costs. The CRD has plans to expand this heat recovery project to other nearby facilities. Given the evidence from the OSU research, and the data from the CRD project, wastewater is proving to be a valuable and cost-effective source of energy, helping communities to achieve their goals of becoming more sustainable.
Research Theme III: Resilient ecosystems
Rising water temperatures affect salmon breeding patterns
August 12, 2012. According to recent research, Atlantic salmon are delaying mating and spending an extra year or two at sea before migrating inland to mate. The study looked at salmon cohorts from 1991 to 2005, and found an increase in the amount of time spent in the ocean before returning to spawn. The likely cause, the research suggests, is rising water temperatures in the Atlantic, which affect the salmon’s food supply. Increasing temperatures are affecting the quality and quantity of food sources further down the food chain. Without sufficient nutrients, the salmon take longer to mature and hence delay their migration until they are sufficiently healthy enough to make the journey inland. The researchers believe that the additional time spent in the open waters increases the chance of salmon being consumed by predators, which results in depleted overall salmon populations.
Climate change is being blamed for temperature increases in both the Pacific Ocean and rivers throughout BC. The Fraser River is seeing rising temperatures and earlier peak flows, both of which have adverse impacts on breeding salmon populations. By the time the salmon begin to migrate upstream, the waters are warmer and the flow is lower than what the salmon are accustomed to. Consequently, fewer salmon are reaching the spawning grounds and many of those that do are too weak to mate. The costs to BC, both in loss of biodiversity and in economic returns to the province, could be significant as the climate continues to change. Already, eight of the last ten summers in BC have been the hottest on record.
Research Theme IV: Social mobilization
Recycle to save the environment, not money, says research
August 12, 2012. When crafting campaign messaging, environmental communicators aim to create messages that are effective at getting their audience to be more environmentally responsible. A common way to do this is to include statements that inspire action by linking a pro-environmental behavior to the reader’s self-interest. For example, campaigns may point out that a certain action (such as recycling or producing fewer GHG emissions) will save money, time, or effort. Such campaigns can work together to promote action in more than one area, or create a ‘spill over effect’: A campaign designed to promote recycling can also inspire readers to be more pro-environmental in other aspects of their life, for example by joining a car co-op. This ‘spill over’ is an important part of environmental campaigning. However, new research is showing that to achieve this positive ‘spill over’, it is actually better to avoid all mention of self-interest (cost savings etc.) and simply use messaging that focuses on the positive effects the desired action will have on the environment. In other words, recycle because you feel good about saving the environment, not because it will save you money.
Such research could change the way that much of our climate change communication is done. In BC, it is commonplace to see pro-environment campaigns that focus on self-interest. For example, LiveSmart BC, a campaign run by the BC government to raise awareness of and promote climate action, often focuses on energy cost-savings that can be achieved by reducing emissions. Likewise, the City of Surrey’s community action on energy messaging suggests that addressing climate change will ‘keep money in your pocket’. While there is nothing wrong with environmental messaging focused on self-interest, this latest study suggests that these campaigns could be more effective at achieving both their goals and a positive ‘spill over’ by avoiding all mention of cost savings, and instead focus on the desired outcome alone, be it a cleaner environment or a safer climate.
Research Theme V: Carbon management in BC forests
Rotting trees should be considered in climate models
August 7, 2012. Living, diseased trees are emitting more methane than scientists previously estimated, according to research from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Scientists found that inside 80 to 100 year-old outwardly healthy, but internally diseased trees, methane concentrations exceeded 15,000 parts per million. This compares to an ambient level of two parts per million in the atmosphere. The lead author of the study, Kristofer Covey, suggested that “these are flammable concentrations” and that the findings point to a “globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas.” The trees are being hollowed out by a common fungal infection that slowly eats through the trunk, creating conditions favorable to bacteria that release methane as they decompose diseased wood. According to estimates, these rotting trees have a warming potential equivalent to 18 percent of the carbon sequestered in the area of forest studied, reducing the overall climate benefits of the forest by nearly one-fifth. The highest concentrations of methane were found in red maple, but other species such as oak, birch and pine were also producing the gas. During the summer months, the rate of emissions was 3.1 times higher, which could potentially lead to a dangerous feedback loop as increasingly warm summers cause more methane to be produced.
The forests investigated in this study are unlike those in BC. However, the phenomenon of living rotting trees is prevalent in all forests. Furthermore, the calculation of BC’s forest carbon budget is complicated by basic scientific discoveries. In the past six months, scientists have found that trees absorb less carbon than climate models suggest; that elevated carbon levels in the atmosphere speed up the decomposition of soil; and that old trees play a big role in the carbon balance of a forest. All of these findings came from basic field research and influenced how we calculate carbon levels in forests. Managers of forests are well aware of the challenges associated with measuring carbon and plan accordingly. Forest carbon credits include generous buffers to compensate for any uncertainties. With the pine beetle infestation disrupting so much of BC’s forested area, measuring the impacts of methane from rotting trees will be a pressing question for both scientists and policymakers.
Also in the news
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