Climate News Scan – 11 September 2012
- Europeans permanently switch incandescent light bulbs off
- Reframing of climate change can lessen polarization
- Becoming smarter about the risks of sea level rise
The PICS News Scan is produced by ISIS at the Sauder School of Business and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). To be added to the News Scan distribution list Subscribe Here or to provide content feedback and/or suggestions about interesting news items, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research Theme I: The low carbon emissions economy
Europeans permanently switch incandescent light bulbs off
August 31, 2012. On September 1, Europeans turned off their incandescent light bulbs for the last time, as the phased ban on their sale was completed. Originally adopted in 2009 with the passage of Directive 244/2009, the European Union (EU) began restricting the sale of incandescent bulbs in favour of higher-efficiency lighting technologies such as CFLs, halogens and LEDs. The restrictions are predicted to save 39 terawatt-hours of electricity across the EU annually. While the phase-out has been relatively smooth, it has encountered some resistance by those concerned with the higher up-front costs and poor performance of replacement bulbs. With that said, the replacement bulbs have proven to be at least as reliable and costs are expected to decrease as volumes of sale increases. The Energy Saving Trust of the UK estimates that replacing just one incandescent light bulb with an energy-saving light bulb can save £3 a year – and swapping all incandescent bulbs in a home for energy-saving alternatives can save around £30 a year in residential energy bills.
In 2007, Canada proposed banning the sale of inefficient light bulbs by the end of 2012. However, this past February, the federal government delayed implementation of the ban until 2014. Reasons cited for the delay in implementation of the light bulb ban include more time needed to communicate research findings to the public, and more time needed to install CFL disposal programs. In BC, the sale of higher wattage incandescent bulbs, such as 75 or 100-watts, was banned in 2011. The rationale offered by both the federal and BC provincial government for phasing out inefficient lighting is the same: to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Research Theme II: Sustainable communities
Becoming smarter about the risks of sea level rise
September 4, 2012. A research study published in Nature Climate Change presents a new model that can better predict coastline erosion from rising sea levels. With more intense climatic change, projections show that coastlines around the world will become more vulnerable to sea level rise (SLR). The authors’ model, co-created by UNESCO-IHE, TU Delft and Deltares, claims greater accuracy than previous models; when used to examine future coastline erosion, for example, it accounts for changes in rainfall. Previous models have relied exclusively on the Bruun effect, which enables scientists to predict coastline recession by calculating a rate based on a given rise of sea level. The largest contribution of the new model is the ability to make accurate predictions of how a coastline will develop between river inlets due to rising sea levels. As such, planners and coastal management practitioners can benefit from using this model to improve estimates of coastline erosion due to SLR. This model is also timely given the new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) titled “Making Cities Resilient Report 2012″.
Here in BC, coastline erosion and sea level rise are emerging issues. Communities on Graham Island, for example – the largest and northern-most island in Haida Gwaii – are vulnerable with a current local sea level rise of more than 1.5 mm per year. Natural Resources Canada completed an adaptation planning case study of Graham Island in 2009. The case study outlined vulnerabilities to climate change and identified several possible steps to minimize impacts from sea level rise, including the development of a community-wide emergency plan. In May 2012, SFU’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) released a comprehensive report titled “Adaptation to Sea Level Rise in Metro Vancouver: A Review of Literature for Historical Sea Level Flooding and Projected Sea Level Rise in Metro Vancouver”. Among the report’s findings, Bing Tom Architects estimates that a 1-metre sea level rise could result in $12 billion in damages to the City of Vancouver with dike mitigation estimated to cost between $255 and $510 million. Given BC’s active interest in understanding better the connection between sea level rise and coastline erosion, application of the new UNESCO-IHE model to the BC coastline might better position the province to adapt to the serious threat that long-term SLR represents.
Research Theme III: Resilient ecosystems
Solutions to improving agriculture yields
August 29, 2012. A study published in Nature suggests that worldwide crop production could see gains in yield, without further adverse environmental impacts, if water and nutrient use were managed more strategically. Global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 and the common assumption is that more food will be produced, but with increasing costs to the environment. Conventional agriculture consumes large amounts of fossil fuels and water, and reduces natural habitat as more land is cleared for farming; all of which contributes to climate change. The study reviewed data for 17 major crops and assessed ‘how much water and nutrients it would take to bring under-performing farmlands to meet their food production potential’, while also reviewing ‘places where fertilizer use could be cut down without substantially reducing crop yield.’ The biggest improvements to be made were found in Eastern Europe, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where small increases in nutrient use could increase crop yields by up to 75 percent.
After this year’s droughts in the US, many expect volatility in global food prices to become the new norm. Agriculture is closely linked to many other issues including population increases, climate change impacts and rising fossil fuel prices. Taking a broader approach to these issues using systems thinking will enable improved understanding of interdependencies and opportunities for improving food production, while maintaining environmental and social values. A study reviewed in last week’s news scan highlighted the role that no-till agriculture can play in improving yields in the face of rising temperatures. Reduced tillage coupled with improved nutrient, water and energy management will play important roles in future food production systems.
Research Theme IV: Social mobilization
Reframing of climate change can lessen polarization
September 4, 2012. Climate change is a polarizing issue, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the United States where an individual’s political leanings can predict whether they accept or reject the science of climate change. These great divides between ‘left’ and ‘right’ can be ideological and are thought to be the result of deeply rooted beliefs. Among the research reviewed, a study conducted by the Department of Social Psychology at NYU, demonstrates that the gulf between these two positions can be crossed. In this work, the researcher reframed the issue of climate change from being a threat to government and industry and turned it into “a threat to the American way of life”. The results showed that after this re-framing, study participants who displayed traits typical of conservatives were more likely to sign petitions that aimed to prevent oil spills and protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Within Canada, the current federal government’s view that Canadians should aim for a strong economy at the cost of the environment is leading to a similar polarizing effect. This ‘zero-sum’ framing has caused a standstill on the issue of climate change at the federal level and has deepened the political divide along the Canadian political spectrum. Contrary to this reasoning, however, BC’s 2008 suite of climate change policy initiatives was built upon the argument that good environmental policy doesn’t necessarily hurt the economy; in fact, it can help it. It was this framing that garnered enough public support to allow the province’s climate change policies to be passed, and policy evaluation studies released earlier this year demonstrate that BC’s carbon tax and other climate policies were indeed good for business. The above research and British Columbia’s experience in 2008 both suggest that appropriate re-framing of the issue of climate change can bring previously polarized parties together to find solutions.
Research Theme V: Carbon management in BC forests
Diversified management needed to survive economic realities of climate change
August 24, 2012. Strict guidelines on when to harvest trees and which trees to harvest are ill suited to the realities of climate change, according to new research from Finland. Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland identified two general approaches to forest management – anticipatory optimization and adaptive optimization. The first approach requires fixed cutting years, tree diameters and locations. Adaptive management, in contrast, encourages land managers to harvest different species of different sizes depending on market conditions. If prices for different species are predictable, both management options produce the same results. However, if prices are stochastic – that is, random and intermittent – adaptive management allows landowners to harvest specific species when prices are high or before ecological conditions change too dramatically. The lead author of the study, Prof. Timo Pukkala, suggested that adaptive management will be vital in the future: “When future wood prices and uses are unknown, the landowner should continuously have several tree species and timber assortments in his forest. Growing only spruce in even-aged stands is risky business. We hope that our study will promote diversified forest management, leading to diversified forest structures.”
The findings from Finland are pertinent to BC, where there are only a few predominant tree species in most forests. However, where most of Finland’s forests are privately owned and managed, almost all of BC is Crown land. To ensure the long-term health of BC’s forests, the government puts in place fixed harvesting schedules for different blocks of land. The difficulty is identifying what to harvest, and when, in the face of climate change. The mountain pine beetle, for example, created an enormous surplus of dead lodgepole pine, an ecological crisis that anticipatory management could not have foreseen. For the past ten years, companies have depended on a huge supply of cheap dead or dying trees, but this supply is dwindling. Analysts, including the Auditor General of BC, fear that within 10 years a major supply shortage could cripple industry in the province. Implementing adaptive optimization in a province where forest companies operate on public land will be a challenge, but the realities of climate change demand a more flexible approach that has been applied in the past.
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Download pdf version: PICS News Scan 11 September 2012
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