Posts Tagged ‘Carbon dioxide’

Bonn Climate Change Summit Has Its Own Storm Clouds

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Disagreement emerged early during the latest round of international climate change talks in Bonn, with the European Union (EU) and developing countries clashing over the future of the Kyoto protocol.  Under the terms of last year’s Durban Platform, the EU had agreed to sign an extension of the Kyoto protocol before it lapses at the end of this year in return for an agreement from all nations that a new binding treaty will be completed by 2015 and enacted by 2020.

Climate negotiators want to build on the progress achieved in Durban last year, like the agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty which limits the emissions of most developed countries but which expires at the end of this year.  The length of the second commitment period is one of the issues under discussion in Bonn.  Unfortunately, Kyoto plays an progressively more marginal role in the climate-change issue because it doesn’t include the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.  The United States exited Kyoto, claiming it was unfair because it didn’t impose any emissions reductions on fast-growing developing nations such as China and India.  Canada also said it would withdraw from the treaty last year.

Last year’s United Nations (U.N.) climate talks in Durban supported a package of measures which would ultimately force the world’s polluters to take legally binding action to slow the pace of global warming.  Delegates agreed on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” – a process that would apply to all parties under the U.N.’s climate convention.  A clear timetable and targets have not yet been set.  “Parties need to think between now and Doha how they want to organize their work between now and 2015 and how they will move towards that legal agreement,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, said.  “My hope is they will establish milestones along the way so they are able to measure their progress.”

Figueres cited new research that predicts that the Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels on current pledges.  “We still have a gap remaining between intent and effort,” Figueres said.

Additional issues discussed in Bonn and at a larger climate change conference in Qatar later this year include implementing an extension to the Kyoto Protocol; how long that will last; how to raise ambition on emissions cut pledges, as well as raising long-term financing to help vulnerable countries adapt to the harmful effects of climate change.

The treaty currently being negotiated would require all nations to curb warming.  Identifying those requirements is the primary challenge, which is why negotiators are focusing on solving incremental, less contentious issues before moving on.  “First and foremost we have to ensure that there is no backtracking on what was agreed in Durban,” said Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen, a Danish official representing the European Union.  Climate activists warned that potentially disastrous consequences of global warming, including floods and droughts and rising sea levels, will be impossible to prevent unless the pace of negotiations accelerates.  “If you look at the science, we’re spending time we don’t have,” said Tove Ryding, Greenpeace’s climate policy coordinator.

We have all the means at our disposal to close the gap, and the long-term objectives of governments remain attainable,” Figueres said.  “But this depends on stronger emissions reduction efforts, led by industrialized countries.  A sufficient level of ambition to support developing country action, concrete and transparent implementation, today, tomorrow and into the foreseeable future, is the answer.  Progress here in Bonn can give countries the confidence they need to push ahead with national climate policies.  In turn, many countries are beginning to adopt ambitious climate change legislation, which is sending good signals to the international negotiations.  All of this can give society and businesses confidence to act faster themselves.”

EPA Putting the Lid on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new greenhouse-gas standards for power plants, following through with the authority conferred by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  The new regulation effectively bans new coal-fired power plants unless they capture and sequester carbon dioxide.  Advanced natural-gas plants would meet the standard without mitigation, while existing power plants would be grandfathered in.  The regulation would require new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt‐hour of electricity generated.

What are the implications?  It is clear that the short-term impact will be minimal: cheap natural gas derived from plentiful shale deposits is already overtaking coal as a source of power.

An average coal-fired plant generates more than 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt. The majority of natural-gas fired plants – and the bulk of power plants currently under construction – emit less than the new standard, approximately 800 pounds per megawatt.

Environmentalists praised the proposed restrictions, while the coal industry warned that the change would lead to higher electricity prices.  “Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  “We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American-made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”  Currently, there is no consistent national limit on the amount of carbon emissions that new power plants can release.  According to an EPA fact sheet, the agency was obliged by the landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling “to determine if (the emissions) threaten public health and welfare.”  In December of 2009, the EPA formally confirmed that greenhouse gases “endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

Older coal plants have already been going offline, thanks to low natural gas prices and weaker demand for electricity. Nevertheless, some accused the Obama administration of clamping down on low-priced, domestic energy sources and said the regulation raises questions about the seriousness of the president’s pledge for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.  “This rule is part of the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to change America’s energy portfolio and eliminate coal as a source of affordable, reliable electricity generation,” said Representative Fred Upton, (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  “EPA continues to overstep its authority and ram through a series of overreaching regulations in its attacks on America’s power sector.”

“There are areas where they could have made it a lot worse,” said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of power companies.  Nevertheless, “the numerical limit allows progress for natural gas and places compliance out of reach for coal-fired plants” not planning to capture carbon dioxide.  Steve Miller, CEO and President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a group of coal-burning electricity producers, was more negative about the proposal.  “The latest rule will make it impossible to build any new coal-fueled power plants and could cause the premature closure of many more coal-fueled power plants operating today,” Miller said.

Writing for Reuters, John Kemp, Senior Market Analyst, Commodities and Energy notes that “Because natural gas is currently so much cheaper than coal, the agency projects gas-fired units will be the facilities of choice until at least 2020.  ‘Energy industry model ling forecasts uniformly predict that few, if any, new coal-fired power plants will be built in the foreseeable future,’ according to the proposed rule.  The key word is ‘foreseeable’.  No one can predict the economics of natural gas as far ahead as 2020, let alone 2030.  Recent development of abundant gas reserves through fracking may have caused prices to plunge, leading to a ‘golden age of gas’, but just seven years ago the industry was gripped by panic about gas production peaking and thought America stood on the brink of needing to import increasing quantities of expensive gas.”

Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone writes “So this new rule is, at best, a baby step in the right direction.  As always with the climate crisis, physics is moving much faster than politics.  Just yesterday top scientists warned that global warming is close to irreversible now. In the biggest sense, we’re still doing next to nothing to confront this crisis.  Global carbon pollution is rising faster than ever, and the weather – to say nothing of future our future climate – is getting wilder.  The urgency of our situation just underscores the need for an economy-wide price on carbon, or cap-and-trade system, which would impact all major emissions sources and actually limit the amount of carbon we dump into the atmosphere, rather than just speeding the shift from coal to gas.  Still, this is an important moment, a small sign of progress.  Goodbye, Mr. Coal.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

LED Lightbulbs More Affordable, Easy on the Electric Bill

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

If you’d like to slash your electric bill, switch to the LED light bulb, the “light-emitting diode” that General Electric invented 50 years ago.  Now, LED bulbs are the focus of intense competition among all of the major lighting manufacturers.  “There are two races going on,” said Todd Manegold, LED product manager for Philips Electric.  “One is the race to equivalency.  It’s about delivering light bulbs that replicate or imitate what people are used to.  Once you reach equivalency, the game is how to make it more affordable.  We think we have gotten it more affordable.”

According to industry experts, within 10 years LEDs will surpass conventional lighting such as halogen and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  This will not occur because of government regulations, but rather because it makes economic sense.  The changeover is already underway for commercial customers, particularly in new construction, where newly designed fixtures incorporated LEDs.  But there are an estimated 2.6 billion light sockets in American homes, making them a major market for the industry.  Philips for some time has offered LED bulbs to replace conventional 40-watt, 60-watt and 75-watt lamps.

LED prices are falling rapidly.  Replacing an old 60-watt bulb with a Philips 12.5-watt LED bulb cost approximately $40 one year ago.  The price now averages $25.  Introduced in 2010, the first household LED able to direct light in all directions — the 8.5-watt bulb — was $50.  Now it retails for $30 to $35.  Philips considers CFL bulbs and especially its halogen bulbs as “bridge technology” to LEDs — products that people will use until LEDs become more affordable.  GE Lighting has had virtually the same experience.  “Think of it as a lighting revolution,” said Linda Pastor, GE’s LED product manager.  The switch will take less than 10 years, industry experts say.  “I absolutely believe that the incumbent lighting technology will be replaced by solid state alternatives — all of them with very rare exceptions, within 10 years,” said Tom Griffiths, president and publisher of Austin-based Solid State Lighting Design.

Writing for MSNBC Real Estate, Brian Clark Howard says that “If you want to consider an LED bulb for your fixture, you’ll get even better efficiency and longer life.  For a 60-watt replacement, one popular choice right now is the Philips 12-watt Ambient LED, which produces remarkably soft, yellow light.  It’s also fully dimmable, and is rated to last 25,000 hours.  It costs $40, which we know is more than you’re used to spending on a bulb.  But let’s calculate potential savings.  For a lamp that’s on six hours a day, that would give us 12 watts x 6 hours x 365 = 26.3 kWh.  At 12 cents per kWh, that’s $3.12 a year to operate.  Subtract that from $16, and that’s a savings of more than $12.80 a year.  With a lifespan of 25,000 hours, it should theoretically last for about 12 years in this application.  Over 12 years, we would otherwise have to buy 24 incandescents, for a cost of $18, or about $1.50 each year.  With the annual savings of $12.80 in energy and $1.50 in bulbs, the LED will pay for itself in just under three years.´

Another advantage that LED has over CFL bulbs is that they don’t emit a mercury hazard into the atmosphere.  Many states have been instrumental in passing laws to reduce toxic pollution in their workplaces, communities and our environment.  Additionally, the majority strongly support replacing harmful products with safer alternatives when available.  In the case of light bulbs, the switch to CFLs cuts mercury and other pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.  CFLs use less mercury because they require less electricity to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a power plant emits four times more mercury pollution to produce the electricity that lights an incandescent bulb than a CFL for the same amount of time.  CFLs do contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – though  no mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.  That is why it is important to recycle these bulbs.  Many states provide convenient venues to recycle old CFLs, which prevents spent bulbs from breaking in the trash and releasing mercury into the environment.

Experts Agree (Sort of): 2011 Was One of the Warmest Years on Record

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Depending on who you listen to, 2011 was either the 11th warmest on record — that’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the 9th — according to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration — NASA.

According to scientists at NOAA, 2011 broke records for climate extremes, as much of the United States faced historic levels of heat, precipitation, flooding and severe weather.  This was driven in part by La Niña events at both ends of the year that impacted weather patterns in the United States and around the world.  NOAA’s annual analysis of U.S. and global conditions, conducted by scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, reports that the average temperature for the contiguous 48 states was 53.8 degrees F, 1.0 degree F above the 20th century average, making it the 23rd warmest year on record.  Rain from coast to coast averaged near normal, despite record-breaking extremes in both drought and precipitation.

Kathryn Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator, described 2011 as an “extraordinary year.”  “It was extraordinary regarding major weather and climate disasters in particular in our country, from tornadoes to droughts to floods and extreme storms,” she said.  “America endured an unusually large number of extreme events causing damages totaling more than $55 billion dollars.”

By contrast, NASA research counters that 2011 was the 9th warmest year since records were first taken in 1880.  In fact, since that year, nine of the 10 warmest years on record have been in the decade since 2000, a rise in global temperature is evident. The only of the 10 warmest years that was not during the past decade was in 1998. Meanwhile, 2010 is still the warmest year on record overall.  The data was gathered from more than 1,000 meteorological stations across the globe.  NASA estimates that over the next few years we’ll see a year that will top 2010′s record breaking temperatures.  “It’s always dangerous to make predictions about El Niño, but it’s safe to say we’ll see one in the next three years,” James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “It won’t take a very strong El Niño to push temperatures above 2010.”

According to NASA scientists, 2011 demonstrated a continuing strong trend linked to greenhouse gases.  NASA noted that the current warmer temperatures are primarily sustained by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is created by a variety of human activities, such as coal-fired power plants to fossil-fueled vehicles to human breath.  At present, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceed 390 parts per million (ppm), compared with 285 ppm in 1880 and 315 by 1960, according to NASA.

Writing in The Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen says that “In 1880, when the study’s temperature record-keeping begins, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 285 parts per million. Today it is more than 390 parts per million and rapidly rising. Many top climate scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, have argued that a level not exceeding 350 parts per million is necessary ‘if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.’”

Rising Greenhouse Gases in the Air to Bring Stormy Weather

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The three gases that contribute the most to global warming rose to their highest levels ever, according to the United Nations (UN). Carbon dioxide, the most significant heat-trapping gas, rose 0.59 percent to 389 parts per million molecules of air, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.  Methane rose 0.28 percent to 1,808 parts per billion; and nitrous oxide gained 0.25 percent to 323.2 parts per billion.  Rising greenhouse gas emissions threaten to “close the door” on limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Even if we managed to halt our greenhouse-gas emissions today, and this is far from the case, they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

Even worse, greenhouse gases rose faster in 2010 than the average over the past 10 years, according to the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Unfortunately, the report is bad news for the earth. Climate change will make droughts and floods like those that have battered the United States and other countries in 2011 more frequent, according to a new report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The report, that follows a two-year process, suggests that researchers are far more confident about the prospect of more hot weather and heavy rains than they are about how global warming is impacting hurricanes and tornadoes.  The new analysis highlights a broader trend: The world is facing a new reality of more extreme weather, as policymakers and business are beginning to adjust.

Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report’s reviewers, said it highlights why climate change is more than just a gradual rise in the global temperature reading.  “The fact is, a small change in average temperature can have a big impact on extremes,” Meehl said.  “It’s pretty straightforward. As average temperatures go up, it’s fairly obvious that heat extremes go up and (the number of) low extremes go down.”

“The time is now for this report,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Don Wuebbles, citing recent studies linking climate change to extreme weather.  “Scientific studies such as a report in the journal Nature have linked the deadly 2003 heat wave in Europe to climate change.”

CO2 levels are currently 389 parts per million, an increase from approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago. According to WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa, CO2 emissions are to blame for about 80 percent of the rise.  But he noted the delay between what is emitted into the atmosphere and its impact on climate.  “With this picture in mind, even if emissions were stopped overnight globally, the atmospheric concentrations would continue for decades because of the long lifetime of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said.

Representatives from a majority of the world’s nations are gathering to try to agree on how to avoid the worst of the climate disruptions that experts say will result if concentrations hit 450 parts per million.  At the present rate, that could happen within several decades, although some climate activists and at-risk nations say the world has already passed the danger point of 350 parts per million and must be undone.  According to the WMO, the 2.3 parts per million increase of CO2 in the atmosphere between 2009 and 2010 shows a speeding up when compared with the average 1.5 parts per million increase during the 1990s.  Since 1750, the WMO says, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have jumped 39 percent; nitrous oxide has gone up 20 percent; and methane concentrations soared 158 percent.  Fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and fertilizer use are the primary culprits.

Earlier this year, BP released data showing that global carbon dioxide emissions grew at their fastest rate since 1969 in 2010, as nations recovered from economic recession.  According to the WMO, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rose by 1.4 percent last year from 2009 and 29 percent since 1990.  The WMO measured the global amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, gathered from monitors in more than 50 nations, including natural emissions and absorption processes – known as sources and sinks – as well as human activity.

The WMO noted that methane is increasing following a brief period of “relative stabilization” between 1999 and 2006.  “Scientists are conducting research into the reasons for this, including the potential role of the thawing of the methane-rich Northern permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands.”