Friday, November 7, 2008

Special Guest Contribution: Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children? -- Dr. Chris McGrath

Dr Chris McGrath is an Australian lawyer and researcher on laws protecting the GBR from climate change. This article is based on a previously published research paper, McGrath (2008).  Submitted 30 October 2008.

 

Amidst the current policy debate in Australia and internationally on climate change is a surreal argument that policies that will destroy the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBR) and other coral reefs around the globe are acceptable and economically rational.

Nicolas Stern (2007: 330) concluded that “coral reef ecosystems [will be] extensively and eventually irreversibly damaged” by temperature change relative to pre-industrial levels of 0.5-2°C. He found that at 2°C warming “coral reefs are expected to bleach annually in many areas, with most never recovering, affecting tens of millions of people that rely on coral reefs for their livelihood or food supply” (Stern 2007: 94).

Yet for what were clearly reasons of pragmatism and feasibility he recommended the global stabilisation goal should lie within the range of 450-550 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalents (ppm CO2-eq), thereby implicitly accepting a likely warming of 2-3°C and loss of coral reefs, including the GBR.

Ross Garnaut, the Australian Government’s handpicked economic advisor on responding to climate change, followed Stern’s approach and was alive to the damage to the GBR. He recommended that Australia should initially aim for a global consensus next year at COP-15 in Copenhagen to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 550 ppm CO2-eq and hope that global consensus can be reached later for lower stabilisation.

Garnaut (2008a: 38) was brutally frank in his supplementary draft report: “The 550 strategy would be expected to lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs.” His final report does not shy away from this conclusion (Garnaut 2008b). 

The new Australian Government has silently avoided the issue of the expected impacts to the GBR when explaining the costs and benefits of its climate policies. It does not yet have a stabilisation target for the rise in global temperatures or greenhouse gases but recent modelling of economic impacts of mitigating climate change considered only three stabilisation targets.

The Australian Treasury (2008) considers only stabilisation at 450, 510 and 550 ppm CO2-eq, aiming to stabilise mean global temperature rises between 2-3°C. The only reference to impacts on the GBR is to a “very high risk [of] loss of complete ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef [if] the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rises to over 1,500 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 [giving an] increase in global average temperature of 5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100” (Australian Treasury 2008: 35).

In fact, as Stern recognised, the current science indicates that the GBR will be devastated long before such levels are reached and within the lower stabilisation range the Australian Government appears to be aiming for.

Stern and Garnaut’s frank admissions of the expected impacts to the GBR reflect research findings since mass coral bleaching occurred globally in 1998 and 2002. Rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity of the oceans due to our use of fossil fuels are now well-recognized as major threats to coral reefs and the marine ecosystem generally in coming decades.   

In relation to coral bleaching the IPCC (2007b: 12) found that:

“Corals are vulnerable to thermal stress and have low adaptive capacity. Increases in sea surface temperature of about 1 to 3°C are projected to result in more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality, unless there is thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals.”

The findings of the IPCC suggest that a rise of 1°C in mean global temperatures and, correspondingly, sea surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels is the maximum that should be aimed for if the global community wishes to protect coral reefs. The range of 1-3°C is the danger zone and 2°C is not safe. Supporting this conclusion Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and his colleagues concluded in a review of the likely impacts of climate change to the GBR edited by Johnson and Marshall (2007: 295):

“Successive studies of the potential impacts of thermal stress on coral reefs have supported the notion that coral dominated reefs are likely to largely disappear with a 2°C rise in sea temperature over the next 100 years. This, coupled with the additional vulnerability of coral reefs to high levels of acidification once the atmosphere reaches 500 parts per million [CO2], suggests that coral dominated reefs will be rare or non-existent in the near future.”

The IPCC’s (2007a: 826) best estimate of climate sensitivity found that stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols at 350 ppm CO2-eq would be expected to lead to a rise in mean global temperatures of 1°C, stabilising at 450 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 2°C, and stabilising at 550 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 3°C.

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols have already passed 350 ppm CO2-eq making stabilisation at that level extremely difficult if not impossible in practice, particularly in the context of current global growth and energy use patterns. Atmospheric CO2 reached 379 ppm in 2005 and was increasing by around 2 ppm per year (IPCC 2007c: 102). Including the effect of other greenhouse gases such as methane, the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases was around 455 ppm CO2-eq in 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102). However, the cooling effects of aerosols and landuse changes reduce radiative forcing so that the net forcing of human activities was about 375 ppm CO2‑eq for 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102).

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the major anthropogenic greenhouse gas, are growing at approximately 3% per annum, which exceeds even the “worst case” IPCC projections (Raupach et al 2007). This places global greenhouse gas emissions on a trajectory to rise by 150% between 2000 and 2050 on “business as usual”.

When the conclusions of the IPCC are synthesised, it is clear that reductions of greenhouse emissions of 60% by 2050, such as proposed by the Australian Government (2008), even if they can be achieved, are not likely to prevent serious damage to the GBR and other coral reefs. A 60% reduction in global emissions by 2050 is likely to lead to a mean global temperature rise around 2.4°C (IPCC 2007d: 67), which is likely to severely degrade coral reefs globally. Stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols around 350 ppm CO2-eq and allowing a rise in mean global temperature of 1°C appear to be the highest targets that should be set if coral reefs are to be protected from serious degradation.

This brings us back to the current policy debate – Stern and Garnaut’s frankness in recognizing the likely damage to the GBR and coral reefs from the targets they recommend is welcome but their conclusions leave us to wonder: is this the best we can do? Should we be prepared to write-off the GBR and other coral reefs and their economic, social environmental values?

As a young boy growing up in Australia’s Whitsundays Islands in the 1970s I did not dream that the GBR that I swam and fished on would be severely damaged by human activity within my own lifetime. Much less would I have dreamt that we would choose to allow these impacts to occur, as we are currently doing.

Stern and Garnaut’s targets are not ambitious enough and we should not accept them.

We should judge our climate change policies by this simple test: will we leave the GBR and other coral reefs around the world for our children? At present the answer we are giving to this question is “no”. We are all responsible for changing the answer to “yes”.

We should demand targets based on what we as a society want to achieve. We should not accept targets that will produce unacceptable outcomes.

The current science indicates our aim should be stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gases at 350 ppm if we want to protect the GBR and other coral reefs, but this is rarely even mentioned as a potential target.

We do not yet know if we can stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases as 350, 450 or 550 ppm CO2-eq but think of it this way: if we want to build a bridge across a river that is 1 kilometre wide we would not ask our engineers to build us a bridge that is 500 metres long. We should apply the same logic to climate change policy and set targets for our engineers and scientists to achieve that produce results that we want to achieve.

We need vision, ambition, and hard work to solve the climate crisis. Stern and Garnaut’s approaches lacks the vision and ambition that is needed. We need to add these ingredients to the global community’s many hard workers to solve the climate crisis.

References

Australian Government (2008), Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (Department of Climate Change), http://www.climatechange.gov.au/greenpaper/index.html.

Australian Treasury (2008), Australia’s Low Pollution Future: The Economics of Climate Change Mitigation (Australian Government Treasury), http://www.treasury.gov.au/lowpollutionfuture/.

Garnaut R (2008a), Garnaut Review Supplementary Draft Report: Targets and trajectories (Garnaut Review, Canberra, 5 September 2008), p 38, available at http://www.garnautreport.org.au/.

Garnaut R (2008b), Garnaut Climate Change Review Final Report (Cambridge University Press), http://www.garnautreview.org.au/index.htm.

Hoegh-Guldberg et al, “Vulnerability of reef-building corals on the Great Barrier Reef to climate change”, Ch 10 in Johnson JE and Marshall PA (eds), Climate Change and the GBR: A Vulnerability Assessment (GBRMPA, 2007), p 295, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/22598/chapter10-reef-building-corals.pdf

IPCC (2007a), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of WGI to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.

IPCC (2007b), Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. WGII Contribution to the IPCC AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm.

IPCC (2007c), Climate change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of WGIII to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg3.htm.

IPCC (2007d), Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (IPCC), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-syr.htm

McGrath C (2008) “Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?” (IUCN), http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel_op_mcgrath.pdf.

Raupach MR, Marland G, Ciais P, Le Quéré C, Canadell JG, Klepper G, and Field CB, (2007) “Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions” 104(24) PNAS 10288-10293, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/24/10288.

Stern N (2007), The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, http://www.occ.gov.uk/activities/stern.htm.

 

November 7, 2008 in Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cabinet Speculation

 Here are some predictions/picks on the Cabinet positions of most significance to environmental matters according to Politico's semi-official leaks.  My picks and comments are in green.

Attorney general: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; Eric Holder, who was deputy AG under Clinton and is now with Covington & Burling and led Obama’s vice presidential search; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Odds on favorite is Holder

Supreme Court nominee: Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett; legal scholar Cass Sunstein; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York; Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School. Consensus is it would most likely be a woman. First nominee has got to be a woman - Kagan is smart and has credibility, but this is a much shorter list than Obama will look at.

Secretary of State: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.); Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind)  State is too important to give to a Republican, Kerry's too valuable in the Senate, and Richardson was UN Ambassador so he knows  international diplomacy

Environmental Protection Agency administrator: Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.); Kathleen McGinty, former head of the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency Again, McGinty is an odds on favorite who knows her stuff

Commerce secretary: Penny Pritzker, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)  Need some Republicans and Olympia Snowe is a liberal one; although she's more valuable in the Senate.  So maybe one of the non-environmental positions will go to a Republican and Obama will stick with a Democrat.  I'd take Sebelius -- she's articulate and mid-Western.

Secretary of the Interior: Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  This is the position most likely to go to someone who hasn't been in the running.

Secretary of Energy: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.); My pick would be Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican who understands environmental issues as well as energy issues.  Again, Bingaman's too valuable in the Senate. 

Secretary of Agriculture: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)  Vilsack is odds on favorite.

 

 


 

 

 

November 4, 2008 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Mining, North America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Microcosm of Biodiversity Loss from Global Warming

Stanford's article by Dan Stober in the Stanford Report reported on a study made available on the  PNAS website this week.  The study by Stanford graduate student Sarah McMenamin and Professor Elizabeth Hadly concluded that Yellowstone National Park frogs and salamanders are being killed by global warming at a devastating rate.

Lauren Palumbi frog

A Columbia spotted frog is one of several species of amphibians found in Yellowstone National Park.

Sarah McMenamin frogs lamar

Lamar Valley, in northern Yellowstone, holds dozens of small fishless ponds where the habitat has been ideal for the breeding and larval development of blotched tiger salamanders, boreal chorus frogs and other amphibians. Researchers say the creatures' numbers are shrinking as global warming causes the ponds to dry up.

Yu-Jun Lee frogs mcmenamin

Sarah McMenamin, a graduate student in biology, has spent three summers in a remote area of Yellowstone Park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that were surveyed 15 years ago.

Frogs and salamanders, those amphibious bellwethers of environmental danger, are being killed in Yellowstone National Park. The predator, Stanford researchers say, is global warming.

Biology graduate student Sarah McMenamin spent three summers in a remote area of the park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that had been surveyed 15 years ago. Almost everywhere she looked, she found a catastrophic decrease in the population.

The amphibians need the ponds for their young to hatch, but high temperatures and drought are drying up the water. The frogs and salamanders lay eggs that have a gelatinous outer layer—basically "jelly eggs," McMenamin says—that leaves them completely unsuitable for gestation on land. If the ponds dry up, so do the eggs. "If there isn't any water, then the animals simply don't breed," she said.

Biology Associate Professor Elizabeth Hadly, McMenamin's graduate adviser and co-author of a research paper published this week on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has worked in Yellowstone since 1981 and has witnessed the ponds going dry. "They're just blinking off," she said. "It's depressing."

"Precipitous declines of purportedly unthreatened amphibians in the world's oldest nature reserve indicate that the ecological effects of global warming are even more profound and are happening more rapidly than previously anticipated," the researchers wrote.

The disappearing ponds lie in picturesque northern Yellowstone, specifically the lower Lamar Valley, which holds dozens of small fishless ponds where the habitat has been ideal for the breeding and larval development of blotched tiger salamanders, boreal chorus frogs and Colombia spotted frogs. As the world's first national park, it is one of the most environmentally protected areas in the world.

The researchers studied climate and water records going back a century, ranging from handwritten logs of water flow in the Lamar River to satellite imagery, and could find no cause for the drying ponds other than a persistent change in temperature and precipitation. "It's the cumulative effects of climate," Hadly said.

During the summers of 2006 through 2008, McMenamin, wearing hip waders and carrying a dip net, cataloged the amphibian life—or lack thereof—in and around 42 ponds that had been surveyed in 1992-1993. In that earlier survey, involving 46 ponds, 43 supported amphibian populations for at least one of the two years. But in the recent inspection, only 38 of those same ponds even contained water in summer.

In their fieldwork, the researchers were able to visit 31 of the 38 wet ponds (the remainder were off limits, to protect nesting trumpeter swans). Only 21 of them supported amphibian populations for even one of the three years they were checked, 2006-2008. In 15 years the number of ponds with frogs and salamanders had dropped drastically.

"That's when we really got alarmed, because the data just showed such a huge difference," Hadly said.

Historically, the ponds—as small as backyard fish ponds, as large as small lakes—have been recharged during the summer by the groundwater in the soil. But the water table is dropping, the researchers say, as human-induced climate change produces a deadly combination of higher temperatures and less rain and snow. Moreover, the seasonal wetlands near the ponds, usually ideal amphibian habitat, are evaporating earlier in the spring, the result of an earlier snowmelt.

During the course of their study, the researchers witnessed the loss of four amphibian communities because of pond drying. Each event left hundreds of dried tiger salamander corpses behind. The ponds had dried rapidly, over just a few days, too fast for larvae to metamorphose and adults to migrate.

"Everybody can identify with the loss of glaciers, but in Yellowstone the decrease in lakes and ponds and wetlands has been astounding," John Varley, the former chief scientist for Yellowstone, told New West. "What were considered permanent bodies of water, meaning reference was given to them in the 1850s, '60s and '70s, and bestowed with a name as a lake, are now gone. Some wetlands that were considered permanent ponds are no longer there. Some lakes have become ephemeral."

The problem is not going to go away, McMenamin said. "It's extremely depressing and there aren't any evident solutions that come to mind. It's a symptom of a much, much larger problem."

Stanford Report, October 29, 2008

November 3, 2008 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Food for Thought

The book "THE FUTURE CONTROL OF FOOD:  A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security," edited by Geoff Tansey and Tasmin Rajotte, has become available for free download at http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-118094-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html.

It addresses key issues of intellectual property and ownership, genetics, biodiversity, and food security. In addition to an introduction and overview of the issues, the book’s chapters cover negotiations and instruments in the World Trade Organization, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, and various other international bodies. The final part discusses civil society responses to relevant changes and developments in these issues, how they affect the direction of research and development, the nature of global negotiation processes and various alternative futures.

November 3, 2008 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Linking the Global Financial Crisis and the Environment: Respite for Resources or Increased Pressure?

Admittedly, it is guesswork, but last week in Geneva, I raised the global financial crisis as a challenge and an opportunity for those of us committed to bringing clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education to everyone.  It is a challenge, of course, to find funding in such times.  But it is an opportunity because finally the mesmerizing power of the myths about unfettered free enterprise has been broken.


Although I was not in Barcelona for the IUCN World Congress, apparently everyone there was considering the same question.  Here is one of the reports that came out of Barcelona:


ENVIRONMENT:
Global Financial Crisis a Bad Sign for Andean Biodiversity

by Julio Godoy* - Tierramérica

BARCELONA, Oct 16 (IPS) - The crisis affecting the financial sector and stock markets around the world could fuel the expansion of extractive industries in South America's Andean region, warn experts.

Investors from the industrialised world may feel pressure to seek alternative means for financial liquidity, forced by divestment from stocks in recent weeks, Stewart Maginnis, director of forest conservation for the World Conservation Union (IUCN), told Tierramérica.

Debate on the environmental repercussions of the financial crisis overtook much of the World Conservation Congress held by the IUCN Oct. 5-14 in Barcelona, Spain, which drew some 8,000 experts.


But the uncertainty is such that others predict reduced pressure on natural resources as a result of the economic crisis.

Maginnis pointed to the current high prices of fuels, noting that investment in the expansion of mining and oil company activities now is attractive -- and constitutes a threat to protection efforts in areas like the Amazon jungle region in Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

The phenomenon could be intensified by the existing policies of the Andean Community trade bloc, made up of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, that favour extractive industries and clash with the interests and development ideas of local indigenous communities. That contradiction was evident in Barcelona during a debate among environmental experts, government delegates and representatives of indigenous groups from the four Andean Community nations.

Continue reading

November 3, 2008 in Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Mining, South America, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Strategic Trade - An Opening for Sustainability

Yesterday the Guardian published an opinion piece by Kevin Gallagher (Washington Consensus Dead?) on Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman's work on strategic trade policy, pointing out that his Nobel Prize is the nail in the coffin of the free trade "Washington consensus."  Krugman explains why it is rational for governments to engage in strategic use of tariffs and subsidies in order to create a niche industry.  The same sort of strategic trade policy makes it rational for governments to engage in strategic use of tariffs and subsidies to support ecological sustainability and social well-being.  Perhaps the pendulum will swing against the free traders enough so that we can protect the global environment through trade and other economic sanctions against nations unwilling to act in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Gallagher's opinion:
Last Friday the New York Times quoted the World Bank as saying "There's no question the Washington consensus is dead," indeed it "died at the time of the $700bn bail-out." If the bail-out is death, then awarding Paul Krugman the Nobel prize for economics is the nail in the coffin.

Paul Krugman did not win the Nobel for his popular critiques of Bush-era economic policy in his New York Times column, though the column no doubt helped raise his profile outside the economics profession. The Nobel committee cited Krugman's theoretical contributions to the economics of international trade, the policy implications of which fly in the face of the Washington consensus ( where the mantra is to free up trade every chance you get).

Among Krugman's achievements in the field of international trade is "strategic trade policy". In this work Krugman (and others) showed that tariffs and subsidies to domestic industries can divert profits away from highly concentrated foreign firms and increase a nation's income. Though Krugman himself shies away from prescribing such policy, the textbook example of strategic trade theory is the choice by the Brazilian government to subsidise and develop the aircraft company Embraer. The free-trade theories espoused by the Washington consensus would warn Brazil of the high cost of subsidisation. To free traders, Brazil should focus on its advantage in agricultural products and forget about climbing the manufacturing ladder. Strategic trade theory helps explain why Brazil was willing to gamble in the short term to become one of the finest aircraft manufactures over the long term. They squeezed foreign firms out of the market and carved out a global niche for themselves.

In another classic book, Development, Geography, and Economic Theory, Krugman argued that the government should also play a role in connecting beneficiaries of strategic trade policy to the overall economy. Evoking the work of economists such as Albert O Hirschman and Paul Rosenstein Rodan, Krugman argued that developing countries often needed a "big push" of coordinated government investments to help strategic industries get off the ground and to link the growth of such industry to the economy as a whole.

Problem is, today's trading system is out of whack with these frontier issues in economic thought. In a study published by Boston University's Pardee Centre for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, trade lawyer Rachel Denae Thrasher and I examined the extent to which the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, European Union trade agreements, and United States trade agreements bit into a nation's ability to deploy strategic trade and other industrial policies to benefit from the globalisation process.

We find that in general the world's trading system makes it much more difficult for nations to craft strategic trade and industrial policies for growth and development. Indeed, enshrined in virtually all trade agreements is the "national treatment" idea that says a nation may not treat its domestic industries any differently than foreign ones. That may make sense when rich nations compete against each other, but in a world where 57.6% of the population lives on less than $2.50 per day, one size can't fit all. This restriction is accentuated in provisions for foreign investment, intellectual property, and subsidies.

Interestingly however, we find that there is more "policy space" for innovative growth strategies under the WTO than under most regional trade agreements – especially those pushed by the US. In fact, we find that US-style trade agreements are the most severe in constraining the ability of developing countries to deploy such policy. EU agreements, interestingly, tend to have the same policy space as the WTO.

It doesn't make sense that the World Bank and (implicitly) the Nobel committee are declaring the death of the Washington consensus when the US is choking the ability of nations to use policies that are gaining increasing legitimacy in theory and practice. Change is in the air. As we know in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the US has justified – like never before – a strong role for government in economic affairs. And, of the two presidential candidates, Obama has expressed concern over the direction of US trade policy and has pledged to rethink it. Perhaps these events will make strategic trade and industrial policy rise again.

October 15, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Mining, North America, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Community-based Water Development

I just returned from an International Water Training Conference hosted by EDGE Outreach in Indiana. 

It was a bit different from your standard conference: I actually learned to do something.  I can build and install a community water purification system.  I can build and install a community water treatment system.  I can do a community water, sanitation, and hygiene assessment.  I can lead community hygiene education.   I even learned a bit about how to do all of this in a cross-cultural situation!

The training was aimed at people who are actively doing community-based water development work.  The development community itself appears to be broken into three parts: (1) the official development organizations, funding projects through official development aid and international financing from the World Bank, IMF, regional development banks and such; (2) the non-governmental organizations run by professional water management types -- who provide water and sanitation in developed countries and who do charitable work in developing countries -- WaterAid and Water for People; and (3) the missionaries who work on lots of issues throughout the developing world.  This conference was organized and aimed at the third group.

I spent time talking to people who work in Ghana, Guyana, Kenya, Haiti, Costa Rica, and dozens of other places.  The need is immense and unrelenting.   1.5 million people are dying of preventable water borne diseases every year -- a child every 15 seconds.  You really can install a village water purification system for a bit more than $ 1000; you really can develop new water supplies for a village for $ 5000 - $15,000.  You can really make a difference.

One of the best parts of the conference was Bill Deutsch from Auburn discussing watershed management and the need to look upstream to prevent some of the water contamination problems.  The light bulbs going on in people's minds were almost visible -- there will be some sustainable water systems developed throughout the world thanks to the wisdom he shared.  The other concept he shared was that most of the work being done is first and second "generation" development work -- aimed at disasters and individual communities.  The work that isn't being done and needs to be done is third and fourth "generation" development work -- the regional, national, and international policy levels.  That's really my work in the area.  We need to secure the human right to clean drinking water.  We need to assure that the community-based water development work is sustainable in terms of being coordinated with integrated water resources development and with climate change adaptation planning.  We need to find ways to increase the funding available for community-based water development -- beyond official aid and international financial institutions.  This is the challenge.  Let me know if you want to help.


October 13, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 6, 2008

1 in 4 Mammals Face Extinction Due to Habitat Loss, Hunting and Climate Change

The IUCN released its most recent Red List of Threatened Species today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. IUCN Red List link The list shows at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals on Earth are known to be threatened with extinction. At least 76 mammals have become extinct since 1500. But the results also show conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild. “Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives.”

The real situation could be much worse as 836 mammals are listed as Data Deficient. With better information more species may well prove to be in danger of extinction. “The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International and lead author in a forthcoming article in Science. “This indicates that conservation action backed by research is a clear priority for the future, not only to improve the data so that we can evaluate threats to these poorly known species, but to investigate means to recover threatened species and populations.”

The results show 188 mammals are in the highest threat category of Critically Endangered, including the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), which has a population of just 84-143 adults and has continued to decline due to a shortage of its primary prey, the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  China’s Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus), is listed as Extinct in the Wild. However, the captive and semi-captive populations have increased in recent years and it is possible that truly wild populations could be re-established soon. It may be too late, however, to save the additional 29 species that have been flagged as Critically Endangered Possibly Extinct, including Cuba’s Little Earth Hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis), which has not been seen in nearly 40 years.

Nearly 450 mammals have been listed as Endangered, including the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), which moved from Least Concern to Endangered after the global population declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years due to a fatal infectious facial cancer.

The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), found in Southeast Asia, moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to habitat loss in wetlands. Similarly, the Caspian Seal (Pusa caspica) moved from Vulnerable to Endangered. Its population has declined by 90 percent in the last 100 years due to unsustainable hunting and habitat degradation and is still decreasing.

Habitat loss and degradation affect 40 percent of the world’s mammals. It is most extreme in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America.

The Grey-faced Sengi or Elephant-shrew (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is only known from two forests in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, both of which are fully protected but vulnerable to fires. The species was first described this year and has been placed in the Vulnerable category.

But it is not all bad news. The assessment of the world’s mammals shows that species can recover with concerted conservation efforts. The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) moved from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered after a successful reintroduction by the US Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. Similarly, the Wild Horse (Equus ferus) moved from Extinct in the Wild in 1996 to Critically Endangered this year after successful reintroductions started in Mongolia in the early 1990s.

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened, although its status varies considerably across its range. The move reflects the recent and ongoing population increases in major populations in southern and eastern Africa. These increases are big enough to outweigh any decreases that may be taking place elsewhere.

“The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions,” says Dr Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme. “We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where – we have no more excuses to watch from the sidelines.”

The project to assess the world’s mammals was conducted with help from more than 1,800 scientists from over 130 countries. It was made possible by the volunteer help of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s specialist groups and the collaborations between top institutions and universities, including Conservation International, Sapienza Università di Roma, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, University of Virginia, and the Zoological Society of London.

More Information from IUCN News Release and IUCN Review of the 2008 Red List continues below



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October 6, 2008 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

McCain's Freeze on Discretionary Spending Includes all Energy and other R&D

Jeffrey Mervis of ScienceNOW Daily News [link] reported yesterday that next year's federal budget will not contain even one penny more for scientific research, technology development, and science education if McCain is elected, assuming Congress cannot muster enough votes to override a veto.  McCain intends to freeze all discretionary spending for a year to evaluate all programs.  Democratic Senator Barack Obama (IL), on the other hand, proposes doubling the budgets of many U.S. science agencies over the course of the next decade.

McCain had promised support for R & D in August, but his science aide Brannon said yesterday that there's been no talk within the campaign of allowing any flexibility in the proposed freeze. It would be part of McCain's 2010 budget submission next spring to Congress for the fiscal year that begins in October 2009, should he defeat Obama in November. "Senator McCain realizes that it's difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of basic research," Brannon told Science. "But the freeze applies to the entire budget, most of which doesn't relate to science."

September 20, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Legislation, Physical Science, Social Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Corps Jurisdictional Determinations are not Final Agency Actions under APA

The 9th Circuit ruled on Friday in Fairbanks North Star Borough v. U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that a final jurisdictional determination by the Army Corps of Engineers that an entire parcel is subject to CWA 404 jurisdiction is not a final agency action reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act.  Fairbanks North Star Borough opinion   The decision indicates that, even though the Corps does not contemplate additional action regarding jurisdiction, its jurisdictional determinations do not finally fix or deprive the plaintiff of any rights or privileges.  That occurs only in the permitting decision that follows the jurisdictional determination. 

The Corps had created a regulation establishing a procedure for obtaining final jurisdictional determinations in the 1980s after defending a spat of lawsuits challenging its jurisdictional determinations.  On a policy level, the Corps preferred to litigate the question of jurisdiction early.

The 9th Circuit's decision is consistent with the Fourth Circuit's decision in Champion Intl. Paper v. U.S. EPA that EPA assuming jurisdiction to grant a permit under CWA 402(d) is not final agency action, because the agency will be making a permit decision.

September 15, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Findlaw Environmental Law Case Summaries

   

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

                  

• Kentucky Waterways Alliance v. Johnson
• Geerston Seed Farms v. Monsato Co.
• Wong v. Bush
• Sierra Club v. Johnson
• Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Comm'n.

   
To view the full-text of cases you must sign in to FindLaw.com.
   
                           
             

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, September 03, 2008
Kentucky Waterways Alliance v. Johnson, No. 065614
In a matter brought under the Clean Water Act (CWA), judgment of district court in favor of defendant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded where: 1) with respect to plaintiffs' challenge to the EPA's approval of Kentucky's categorical exemption of six types of pollution discharges from Tier II review, though the EPA's decision document details the tests conducted to measure each exemption's impact, the document often fails to include the resulting measurements; 2) court cannot review this legal conclusion's reasonableness without the EPA first discussing its assimilative-capacity loss estimates and explaining why it deems them insignificant; 3) EPA's approval of Kentucky's classification of certain waters as eligible for Tier I protection rather than Tier II protection was not arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law. Case is remanded to EPA so that it may address the deficiencies in its consideration of ! state's de minimis exemptions. Read more...

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, September 02, 2008
Geerston Seed Farms v. Monsato Co., No. 07-16458
In a National Environmental Policy Act case, grant of permanent injunction against planting disputed genetically engineered alfalfa seed pending completion by the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of an Environmental Impact Statement and deregulation decision, is affirmed despite the lack of an evidentiary hearing because the district court performed the traditional balancing test and the injunction would last only until completion of APHIS analysis. Read more...

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, September 05, 2008
Wong v. Bush, No. 07-16799
In a case alleging First Amendment and National Environmental Protection Act violations by the U.S. Coast Guard in establishing safety zones insulating a private super-ferry from blockade by local protesters, denial of declaratory judgment is affirmed despite plaintiff's standing to sue where: 1) the safety zones established by the Coast Guard did not violate the First Amendment; and 2) the Coast Guard need not consider the secondary environmental effects of the super-ferry itself in the decision to establish safety zones. Read more...

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, September 02, 2008
Sierra Club v. Johnson, No. 0711537
In a Clean Air Act case involving a dispute over what triggers the Environmental Protection Agency's statutory duty to object to the issuance of a Title V operating permit, petition to review EPA decision is denied where: 1) EPA Administrator's actions fell within the bounds of his discretion; and 2) a violation notice and civil complaint are merely initial steps in an enforcement action and do not, by themselves, inevitably trigger the EPA Administrator's duty to object under 42 U.S.C. section 7661d(b)(2). Read more...

California Appellate Districts, September 02, 2008
Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Comm'n., No. C055059
Judgment overturning rejection of petition is affirmed where the California Fish and Game Commission erred in rejecting at the threshold a petition to add the California tiger salamander to the Commission's list of endangered species, under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Read more...

 

September 12, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Cases, Environmental Assessment, Law, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

OSU scientists establish the value of old growth forests as carbon sinks

Today, OSU scientists and other international researchers are publishing an analysis in Nature that runs counter to 40 years of conventional wisdom.  Their report suggests that old growth forests are usually "carbon sinks" - they continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigate climate change for centuries.

According to the OSU press release:

these old growth forests around the world are not protected by international treaties and have been considered of no significance in the national "carbon budgets" as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol. That perspective was largely based on findings of a single study from the late 1960s which had become accepted theory, and scientists now say it needs to be changed.

"Carbon accounting rules for forests should give credit for leaving old growth forest intact," researchers from Oregon State University and several other institutions concluded in their report. "Much of this carbon, even soil carbon, will move back to the atmosphere if these forests are disturbed."

The analysis of 519 different plot studies found that about 15 percent of the forest land in the Northern Hemisphere is unmanaged primary forests with large amounts of old growth, and that rather than being irrelevant to the Earth's carbon budget, they may account for as much as 10 percent of the global net uptake of carbon dioxide.

In forests anywhere between 15 and 800 years of age, the study said, the net carbon balance of the forest and soils is usually positive – meaning they absorb more carbon dioxide than they release.

"If you are concerned about offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and look at old forests from nothing more than a carbon perspective, the best thing to do is leave them alone," said Beverly Law, professor of forest science at OSU and director of the AmeriFlux network, a group of 90 research sites in North and Central America that helps to monitor the current global "budget" of carbon dioxide.

Forests use carbon dioxide as building blocks for organic molecules and store it in woody tissues, but that process is not indefinite. In the 1960s, a study using 10 years worth of data from a single plantation suggested that forests 150 or more years old give off as much carbon as they take up from the atmosphere, and are thus "carbon neutral."

"That's the story that we all learned for decades in ecology classes," Law said. "But it was just based on observations in a single study of one type of forest, and it simply doesn't apply in all cases. The current data now makes it clear that carbon accumulation can continue in forests that are centuries old."

When an old growth forest is harvested, Law said, studies show that there's a new input of carbon to the atmosphere for about 5-20 years, before the growing young trees begin to absorb and sequester more carbon than they give off. The creation of new forests, whether naturally or by humans, is often associated with disturbance to soil and the previous vegetation, resulting in decomposition that exceeds for some period the net primary productivity of re-growth.

Old growth forests, the study said, continue to sequester carbon for many centuries. And when individual trees die due to lightning, insects, fungal attack or other causes, there is generally a second canopy layer waiting in the shade to take over and maintain productivity.

One implication of the study, Law said, is that nations with significant amounts of old forests may find it somewhat easier to offset greenhouse gas emissions if those forests are left intact. It will also be necessary, she said, for land surface models that attempt to define carbon balance to better characterize function of old forests.

Many of the conclusions from the study were based on data acquired from the AmeriFlux and CarboEurope programs, researchers said. Multiple funding sources included the U.S. Department of Energy, CarboEurope, the European Union, and others. Authors were from institutions in the U.S., Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom.

September 12, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Findlaw Environmental Law Case Summaries

   

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

                  

• Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Nat'l Highway Traffic Safety Admin.
• El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart v. Warmerdam
• James River Ins. Co. v. Ground Down Engineering, Inc.
• Sierra Club v. Envtl. Prot. Agency

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U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 18, 2008

Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Nat'l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., No. 06-71891
States' and public interest organizations' petition for review of a rule issued by the NHTSA setting corporate average fuel economy tandards for light trucks, including many SUVs and other vehicles, is granted where: 1) the rule is arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) in its failure to monetize the value of carbon emissions, failure to set a backstop, failure to close an SUV loophole, and failure to set fuel economy standards for all vehicles in a particular weight class; and 2) an Environmental Assessment was inadequate under NEPA and petitioners raised a substantial question as to whether the rule may have a significant impact on the environment. (Substituted opinion) Read more...

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 20, 2008
El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart v. Warmerdam, No. 06-16000, 06-16131
In a challenge under section 304 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) brought by a coalition of community organizations against California state officials responsible for designing and implementing a state air quality plan, challenging the process by which EPA approval of the plan was obtained and the final outcome of the approval process, summary judgment for plaintiff and a remedies order are reversed and vacated where, because section 304 of the CAA provides jurisdiction only to enforce an "emission standard or limitation," and because the challenged conduct did not implicate such a standard or limitation, the court was without jurisdiction to order a remedy. Read more...

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 20, 2008
James River Ins. Co. v. Ground Down Engineering, Inc. , No. 07-13207
In plaintiff-insurer's claim seeking a declaratory judgment that it is not obligated to provide a legal defense to defendant-insured, dismissal of claim is vacated where: 1) district court erred in holding that the pollution exclusion does not apply; and 2) the pollution exclusion clearly covers the claims asserted against defendant. Read more...

August 25, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Teaching in the 21st Century -- An Experimental Offering -- Hands of God

    Dear friends and colleagues, Here's my video offering called "Hands of God."  I am busy taking a course in Communication Theology -- and I'm reading about how 21st century students learn differently and may even have brains structured differently than those of us who are 20th century babies..  Obviously, if you are here, you are somewhat familiar and comfortable with new media.  I am just experimenting with how to use YouTube and other new media to communicate with and teach our 21st century digital native students.  If you haven't tried this, give it a whirl -- but be forewarned -- a 5 minute video, even one as imperfect as this, is about a 25 hour investment.  It may only be worth the effort if the message is really important.  That's why I bothered with this one.

July 21, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Environmental Case Summaries

Here are Findlaw's environmental case summaries:

Table of Contents
ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• City of Bangor v. Citizens CommunicationsCo.
• Morrison Knudsen Corp. v. Ground Improvement Techniques, Inc. (continuation page)
• Wilderness Workshop v. US Bureau of Land Mgmt.
• Am. Wildlands v. Kempthorne
• N.C. v. EPA
• Florida Dept. of Envtl. Protection v. ContractPoint Florida Parks, LLC (continuation page)

   To view the full-text of cases you must sign in to FindLaw.com.                

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, July 09, 2008
City of Bangor v. Citizens CommunicationsCo., No. 07-2193, 07-2255, 07-2759, 07-2777
In a suit involving the responsibility for the cleanup of the contamination of a river bed in Maine under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), entry of a consent decree allocating certain responsibilities among various parties and dismissal of motions for judgment as to non-settling third and fourth parties' liability are affirmed where: 1) appellants had standing to challenge the consent decree; 2) the deference given to Maine's decision to sign onto the consent decree is not the same as that given to the EPA in a consent decree, and does not displace the baseline standard of review for abuse of discretion; 3) there was no abuse of discretion in not scrutinizing the purported assignment to test its validity; 4) there was no abuse of discretion in finding the decree to be procedurally fair; 5) the district court's substantive fairness finding was well within its discretion; 6) there was no abuse of discretion in a finding ! that the consent decree complied with CERCLA; and 7) there was no obligation to rule on the motions for judgment before it approved the decree. Read more...

U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, July 08, 2008
Wilderness Workshop v. US Bureau of Land Mgmt., No. 08-1165
In a suit challenging a decision by agency defendants authorizing defendant/intervenor to construct, operate, and maintain a natural gas pipeline through roadless national forest land, denial of plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction is affirmed where: 1) plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood of success as to a claim that defendants' authorization of the project violated the Forest Service's Roadless Rule; 2) they also failed to show a substantial likelihood of success as to a NEPA claim; and 3) there was no abuse of discretion as to the analysis of the remaining prongs of the preliminary injunction test. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, July 08, 2008
Am. Wildlands v. Kempthorne, No. 07-5179
In a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the westslope cutthroat trout as a threatened species due to interbreeding with other trout species, denial of the petition by the agency and a denial to supplement the record with material supporting plaintiffs' cause are affirmed where: 1) although new data might require a future listing of the fish as threatened, the agency engaged in reasoned decision-making based on the best available science; and 2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to supplement the record. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, July 11, 2008
N.C. v. EPA, No. 05-1244
In a petition for review of various aspects of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and several challenges to the EPA's authority under Title I and Title IV, the circuit court vacates the rule in its entirety based on several fatal flaws in the rule, and the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the rule as one, integral action. Read more...


 

 

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July 14, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

1/3 of coral reef building species in danger of extinction

One-third of coral reef-building species are in danger of extinction -- according to a recent study by Kent Carpenter.  He reviewed 704 reef-building coral species and rated them according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) standards of extinction risk. One-third of those species fall into the threatened or near-threatened categories, which are considered at increased risk for extinction. Science.

The highest concentration of jeopardized species lives in two areas: the Caribbean Sea and the western Pacific "Coral Triangle," which spans Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and nearby areas. Using current figures and extrapolations from historical data, the researchers estimated that in the 1990s less than 5% of the 704 species would have been placed in the threatened or near-threatened IUCN categories.

July 14, 2008 in Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A fish eye view of global warming

Global warming will extinguish dozens of marine fish species that cannot migrate to colder waters, according to a study by University of British Columbia researchers Pauly and Cheung.  Science synopsis of research   Replacing the lost biodiversity with new species will take millions of years.   A change in ocean temperature of even a degree or two forces species to migrate to new ecosystems with different foods and different predators.  Indeed, already almost two-thirds of fish in the North Sea now live in different locations or depths because of rising sea temperatures (Science, 13 May 2005, p. 937).

Pauly, Cheung and their colleagues have done ocean-wide modeling of the effects of climate change on marine fishes.  They modeled a range of habitat conditions that species can tolerate such as water temperature, depth, and distance from sea ice, predicted habitat changes that will occur in response to global warming, and predicted how fish and invertebrate populations will respond to those changes.

Changes in the polar region will likely include extinction of about 50 species of commercial fishes living at or near the poles that require cold polar water, such as the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni).  Other species, living farther from the poles, will probably migrate toward the Arctic or Southern oceans, disturbing existing ecosystems.  Yet other populations such as the giant croaker (Totoaba macdonaldi), of the Sea of Cortez  and local hake (Merluccius merluccius) from the Meditteranean  Sea will be unable to migrate to colder waters and therefore face extinction.

July 14, 2008 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Buying silence...the Tejon Ranch habitat conservation plan

An AP report yesterday by Noaki Schwartz disclosed that a development company has bought the silence of  3 of the 6 or so condor specialists, evaluating the habitat conservation plan for a major housing development proposed in critical habitat of the endangered condor.  Apparently the Sierra Club, NRDC, Audubon California and other environmental groups helped negotiate the plan, which sets aside 375 square miles for the bird and other wildlife species.  And the developer then sought to retain virtually all of the scientists who could potentially testify about the plan's effects on the condor.  Environmental groups, the USFWS, and NOAA should implement a policy that rejects habitat conservation plans where the proponent seeks to silence potential independent evaluators with confidentiality agreements.  Any decision reached under such circumstances can hardly be based on the best scientific information available...just the best scientific information that hasn't been bought.Common Dreams

May 27, 2008 in Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boxer releases new, improved Senate global warming bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released a substitute global warming bill (PDF) today with significant changes from the version approved last December in the Environment and Public Works Committee.    It includes an $800 billion tax break to help Americans cope with high energy prices, greater use of international forestry programs and a cost-containment program that allows extra greenhouse gas emission allowances to be auctioned off if the price for carbon credits reaches a certain level.

Some of you may not follow the bouncing ball of global warming legislation, so here's my summary.

  • The bill caps annual US greenhouse emissions at 5775 million tons in 2012, reducing the cap every year until it reaches 1732 in 2050 -- a 70% reduction from projected 2012 emissions.
  • Covered facilities are required to obtain allowances for every carbon dioxide equivalent (CDE) of greenhouse gases that they emit
  • Covered facilities include:
    • (A) any entity using more than 5,000 metric tons of coal in a year;
    • (B) natural gas processing plants (except in Alaska)
    • (C) natural gas producers in Alaska and federal waters within the Alaska OCS;
    • (D) natural gas importers, including liquefied natural gas
    • (e) petroleum or coal-based manufacturers of fuel (i.e. refineries) that causes GHG emissions;
    • (F) importers of oil, coke, coal or petroleum based liquids or fuels that cause GHG emissions;
    • (G) any entity manufacturing  more than 10,000 carbon dioxide equivalents of non‐HFC GHG;
    • (H) importers of more than10,000 carbon dioxide equivalents of non‐HFC greenhouse gas; and
    • (I) manufacturers of HFCs.
  • Allowances may be obtained through several means: allocation, regular auctions, cost-containment auctions, domestic offset projects (up to 15% annual US allowances), international offsets and allowances (up to 5% annual US allowances so long as and to the extent that domestic projects are less than 15%).
  • Covered facilities that fail to secure enough allowances must pay three times (3x) the market value of the allowances that they are short and must provide an equal or greater amount of allowances the next year.  They also are subject to enforcement and citizen suits under the Clean Air Act.
  • An advanced clean fuel efficiency standard is set for fleets at the average 2010 GHG emissions in 2010, reduced to the baseline adjusted for renewable fuels in 2012-2022, reduced to 5% less than baseline by 2023, and finally reduced to 10% less than baseline by 2028.
  • A carbon duty or tariff is placed on covered goods from countries that do not make a comparable effort to the United States.
  • An enormous variety of programs are created that either (1) directly allocate allowances to protect the interests of particular groups affected by the cap and trade program or (2) provide for auctions of allowances to create funds for various carbon mitigation and adaptation efforts.
  • State regulations of GHG are protected by a broad savings clause for state regulation of greenhouse gases:   
    (a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (b), nothing in this Act precludes, diminishes, or abrogates the right of any State to adopt or enforce—
    (1) any standard, limitation, prohibition, or cap relating to emissions of greenhouse gas; or
    (2) any requirement relating to control, abatement, mitigation, or avoidance of emissions of greenhouse gas.
    (b) EXCEPTION.—Notwithstanding subsection (a), no State may adopt a standard, limitation, prohibition, cap, or requirement that is less stringent than the applicable standard, limitation, prohibition, or requirements under this Act.
  • EPA may authorize tribes to be treated as states for purposes of the Act.
  • Enforcement will occur through the enforcement and citizen suit provisions of the Clean Air Act.
  • Judicial review will be largely in accord with the judicial review provisions of the Clean Air Act.
  • The President is given authority to make an emergency proclamation modifying provisions of the Act for up to 6 months where the President determines that a national security, energy security, or economic security emergency exists, and that it is in the paramount interest of the United States to modify any requirement under this Act to minimize the effects of the emergency.

Here are some of the details about the allocation and funding programs created by the bill:

  • Allocation programs include:
    • Carbon intensive manufacturers of iron, steel, pulp, paper, cement, rubber, chemicals,
      glass, ceramics, sulfur hexafluoride, or aluminum and other non‐ferrous metals will be allocated 11% of the annual allowances for the first 10 years, with the allocation reduced by 1% per year until it reaches 0 in 2030. EPA may allocate 10% of these allowances to petroleum refiners.
    • Petroleum refiners also are guaranteed their own allocation of 2% of annual allowances from 2012-2017 and 1% of annual allowances from 2018-2030.
    • Natural gas processing plants (Alaska), natural gas producers, and natural gas importers will receive 3/4 of 1% of the annual allowances through 2050.
    • Power plants will be allocated 18% of the annual allowances in 2012, which will reduce to 2.75% of the annual allowances by 2030.
    • States heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing will receive 3% of the annual allowances initially, increasing gradually to 4% for 2031-2050
    • A Renewable Energy Program will be allocated 4% of annual allowances from 2012-2030 and 1% of allowances from 2031-2050.
    • States that led in reducing emissions, as scored annually according to their historical State investments and achievements in reducing greenhouse‐gas emissions and increasing energy efficiency, will be allocated 4% of the annual allowances in 2012, gradually increasing to 10% for 2032-2050.  However, states that have established their own cap-and-trade program.
    • Celluosic Biofuel producers will allocated 1% of annual allowances in the first 2 years, 3/4 of 1% from 2014-2017, and 1% from 2018-2030.
  • Allowance funded programs include:                
    • A Climate Change Worker Training and Assistance Fund funded with 1% of annual allowances for 2012-2017, rising to 2% for 2018-2027, 3% for 2028-2030, 4% for 2031-2019, and dropping to 3% for 2039-2050.
    • A Consumer Assistance Fund will initially be allocated 3.5% of the annual allowances for auction, increasing gradually to 15% from 2035-2050.
    • A Transportation Emission Reduction Fund will initially be allocated 1% of the annual allowances for auction, increasing to 2.75% between 2022-2050.
    • A Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program will be allocated 2% of the annual allowances for auction.
    • An Efficient Energy Use Program will auction 2.25% of annual allowances to reward efficient buildings, efficient equipment, and efficient manufacturing (divided equally).
    • A Zero or Low Carbon Generation Technology Fund will provide incentives for manufacturers by auctioning 1.75% of annual allowances 2012-2021, 2% 2022-2030, and 1% 2031-2050.  Advanced research into such technologies will be funded from auctions of .25% of annual allowances over the entire period.
    • A Carbon Sequestration and Storage Early Deployment Program will provide financial support for early CSS projects through a "Kick-Start" Program, funded by auctioning 1% of annual allowances from 2012-2025.  Long-term incentives will be created by allocating 3% of allowances to those projects from 2012-2025, 4% from 2026-2030, dropping to 1% from 2031-2050.  Bonus allowances will also be made available, starting at 2% in 2012 and gradually dropping to 1/2 of 1% in 2050.  The legislation sets the following performance standards to qualify for allowances:  (1) Existing units that commence operation of CCS equipment in 2015 or earlier must treat at least the amount of flue gas equivalent to 100 MW of output and meet a 85%  capture and sequester standard; (2) Existing units that commence operation of CCS equipment after 2016 must achieve an average annual emissions rate of not more than 1,200 pounds of CO2/MWH; (3) New units for which construction of the unit commenced prior to July 1, 2018 must achieve an average annual emissions rate of not more than 800 pounds of CO2/MWH; (4) New units commenced on or after July 1, 2018 must achieve an average annual emissions rate of not more than 350 pounds of CO2/MWH; (5) Units at covered facilities that are not electric generation units must achieve a 85% average annual capture standard.

                   The bill also contains a variety of provisions necessary to create sequestration capacity.

    • Commercial fleet owners who purchase clean hybrid vehicles will be rewarded from 2012-2017 through an auction of 1/2 of 1% of annual allowances
    • A Federal Natural Resources program will fund federal lands firefighting efforts and implementation of a Federal Wildlife Adaption Strategy with funds from auctioning 3% of allowances in 2012, 2.5% from 2013-2022, 3% from 2023-2024, 4% from 2025-2031, and 5% from 2032-2050.
    • International efforts will be funded also through 1% for forestry capacity building, 1/2 of 1% for clean development technology deployment, and most significantly 1% in 2012 gradually rising to 7% in 2039-2050 for international climate change adaptation efforts.
    • Last, but decidedly not least, reduction of the federal deficit will be funded by 5.75% of allowances in 2012, rising gradually to 19.75% in 2031, dropping to 17.75% for 2032-33, and stabilizing at 16.75% for 2034-2050.





 

May 21, 2008 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spotted Owl Recovery Plan Released

The Fish and Wildlife Service released the final recovery plan for the northern spotted owl today, emphasizing forest conservation and reducing the threat of rival barred owls.  The plan identifies 34 recovery actions necessary to address the risks from the barred owl, timber harvest and catastrophic wildfires.  The recovery plan estimates that it will take 30 years and nearly $ 500 million to reach the goal of delisting the spotted owl.  However, due to the continued decline in population during the Northwest Forest Plan, the recovery plan calls for immediate actions during the next 10 years.

The plan for the western Cascades is to create a network of 133 Managed Owl Conservation Areas with 6.4 million acres of federal land.   In addition, the plan suggests the Forest Service and BLM maintain older, complex forests outside the MOCAs to provide a buffer between barred owl and spotted owl populations.  In the eastern Cascades, the plan does not envision a connected network because of wildfires and insect infestation, but instead relies on protecting spotted owl habitat in patches.

As specified in the plan, its long-term objectives are:
• Spotted owl populations are sufficiently large and distributed such that the species no longer requires listing under the ESA.
• Adequate habitat is available for spotted owls and will continue to exist to allow the species to persist without the protection of the ESA.
• The effects of threats have been reduced or eliminated such that spotted owl populations are stable or increasing and spotted owls are unlikely to become threatened again in the foreseeable future.

The "interim expectations" for the next 10 years are:
• The Barred Owl Work Group has quantified the threats from the barred owl on the spotted owl, control techniques and appropriate implementation plans have been developed, and a decision on managing barred owls has been made.
• The MOCA network has been established in the western Provinces with appropriate management of habitat-capable lands inside the MOCAs to support spotted owls.
• The Dry-Forest Landscape Work Group has developed, and Federal land management agencies have initiated and are implementing, a comprehensive program to restore ecological processes and functions, thus reducing the potential for significant habitat loss by stand-replacement fires, insects, and disease.

The final plan is already under attack from both conservation and timber groups for lack of detail about the type and amount of older forests that will be preserved in buffer ranges.

May 16, 2008 in Biodiversity, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)