2009 Articles for Climate Change Chapter 9:
What Are Governments Doing About Climate Change

2009 Dec 15. Weather Device Also Tracks Greenhouse Gas. By KENNETH CHANG. Excerpt: A satellite instrument designed to improve weather forecasts has provided a wealth of data on the flow of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday.
The data also verified a mechanism in which rising temperatures increase the rate of ocean evaporation, and the increased water vapor, also a potent greenhouse gas, raises the earth's temperatures further.
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder - called AIRS for short - aboard NASA's orbiting Aqua spacecraft measures temperature and cloud cover by recording infrared emissions across the entire globe twice a day. The data helps meteorologists predict major storms.
... "In essence, we're videotaping the atmosphere and its constituents," Thomas Pagano, the instrument's project manager, said at a news conference in San Francisco during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union....

2009 November 23. U.S. to Set Emissions Target Before Climate Talks. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The United States will propose a near-term target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions before the United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen next month, a senior administration official said Monday. President Obama, the official said, will announce the specific target “in coming days.”
... The lack of consensus in Congress puts Mr. Obama in a tricky domestic and diplomatic bind. He cannot promise more than Congress may eventually deliver when it takes up climate change legislation next year. But if he does not offer some concrete pledge, the United States will bear the brunt of the blame for the lack of an international agreement....

2009 November 2. E.P.A. Lawyers Challenge ‘Cap and Trade’ for Climate. By Andrew C. Revkin, The NY Times. Excerpt: When an economist at the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the Obama administration’s stance on global warming by  writing an unsolicited report challenging the scientific consensus on greenhouse dangers, groups fighting restrictions on greenhouse gases hailed him as  a courageous maverick. Climate campaigners said he was  irrelevant and ill informed.
Now two more functionaries at the agency — Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, who are lawyers and a married couple — have sharply criticized the core element of climate legislation pushed by Democratic lawmakers and President Obama.
Their views are unlikely to be welcomed by either side in the political fight. Like the administration, they say that human-driven climate change poses enormous risks; they just completely reject the  cap and trade system favored by Democratic leaders and some environmental groups. This system would force overall emission reductions but allow flexibility through a market that trades credits accrued by companies or institutions that make extra-deep cuts.
...They argued that the trading system provides far too much leeway for dealing in “offsets,” credits earned by avoiding or preventing emissions of carbon dioxide. In summary, they wrote: “Together, the illusion of greenhouse-gas reductions and the creation of powerful lobbies seeking to protect newly created profits in permits and offsets would lock in climate degradation for a decade or more.”...

2009 October 29. China outperforms US on green issues. By Jim Giles, NewScientist. Excerpt: China is often accused of not doing enough to reduce the carbon dioxide and other pollution pouring from its factories and coal-fuelled power stations. But a new report suggests the country is doing more to tackle climate change than it gets credit for: in fact, its environmental standards surpass the US in some key measures.
The World Resources Institute (WRI), a respected environmental think tank based in Washington DC, says China is on track to meet its main climate change target, which is a 20 per cent reduction in energy intensity – the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product – by the end of next year....
China is also making good progress towards its goal of generating 15 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, according to the report. By the end of the next decade it will have 150 gigawatts of wind power installed – over five times the current US level. One in 10 Chinese homes already has solar heaters, with the number growing by 20 per cent per year....

2009 October 14. Arctic Now Traps 25 Percent of World's Carbon -- But That Could Change. USGS. Excerpt: The arctic could potentially alter the Earth’s climate by becoming a possible source of global atmospheric carbon dioxide.  The arctic now traps or absorbs up to 25 percent of this gas but climate change could alter that amount, according to a study published in the November issue of Ecological Monographs.
In their review paper, David McGuire of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and his colleagues show that the Arctic has been a carbon sink since the end of the last Ice Age, which has recently accounted for between zero and 25 percent, or up to about 800 million metric tons, of the global carbon sink. On average, says McGuire, the Arctic accounts for 10-15 percent of the Earth’s carbon sink. But the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic – about twice that of lower latitudes – could eliminate the sink and instead, possibly make the Arctic a source of carbon dioxide....
Carbon generally enters the oceans and land masses of the Arctic from the atmosphere and largely accumulates in permafrost, the frozen layer of soil underneath the land’s surface. Unlike active soils, permafrost does not decompose its carbon; thus, the carbon becomes trapped in the frozen soil. Cold conditions at the surface have also slowed the rate of organic matter decomposition, McGuire says, allowing Arctic carbon accumulation to exceed its release.
But recent warming trends could change this balance. Warmer temperatures can accelerate the rate of surface organic matter decomposition, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of greater concern, says McGuire, is that the permafrost has begun to thaw, exposing previously frozen soil to decomposition and erosion. These changes could reverse the historical role of the Arctic as a sink for carbon dioxide....

2009 August 7. Glacier melt accelerating, federal report concludes. By Jim Tankersley, LA Times. Excerpt: ...Washington - The federal government Thursday released the most comprehensive study of melting glaciers in North America -- and the results show a rapid and accelerating shrinkage over the last half a century because of global warming.
One of the glaciers in the study, the South Cascade Glacier in Washington state, has lost nearly half of its volume and a quarter of its mass since 1958, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey said. The two others in the study, the Wolverine and Gulkana glaciers in Alaska, have both lost nearly 15% of their mass.
In all three cases, the melting has increased over the last two decades. The acceleration is the result of warmer, drier climates in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska caused by global warming, the researchers said.
"By having a 50-year record, you can look over what's going on, look over the meteorological, climatological record, and really get an idea of what's going on in the mountains," said Edward Josberger, a scientist with the USGS Washington Water Science Center in Tacoma, Wash., who has worked for a decade on the study.
"Climate change effects are starting to become more and more noticeable," he added, "and this is one of the effects that's being displayed."...

2009 July 16. NASA RELEASE : 09-167. NASA Airborne Expedition Chases Arctic Sea Ice Questions. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- A small NASA aircraft completed its first successful science flight Thursday as part of an expedition to study the receding Arctic sea ice and improve understanding of its life cycle and the long-term stability of the Arctic ice cover. The mission continues through July 24.
NASA's Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment, known as CASIE, began a series of unmanned aircraft system flights in coordination with satellites. Working with the University of Colorado and its research partners, NASA is using the remotely-piloted aircraft to image thick, old slabs of ice as they drift from the Arctic Ocean south through Fram Strait -- which lies between Greenland and Svalbard, Norway -- into the North Atlantic Ocean.
NASA's Science Instrumentation Evaluation Remote Research Aircraft, or SIERRA, will weave a pattern over open ocean and sea ice to map and measure ice conditions below cloud cover to as low as 300 feet.
"Our project is attempting to answer some of the most basic questions regarding the most fundamental changes in sea ice cover in recent years," said James Maslanik, a research professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and principal investigator for the NASA mission. "Our analysis of satellite data shows that in 2009 the amount of older ice is just 12 percent of what it was in 1988 -- a decline of 74 percent. The oldest ice types now cover only 2 percent of the Arctic Ocean as compared to 20 percent during the 1980s."...

2009 July 9. World powers accept warming limit. BBC News. Excerpt: Developed and developing nations have agreed that global temperatures should not rise more than 2C above 1900 levels, a G8 summit declaration says. That is the level above which, the UN says, the Earth's climate system would become dangerously unstable.
US President Barack Obama said the countries had made important strides in dealing with climate change. But the G8 failed to persuade developing countries to accept targets of cutting emissions by 50% by 2050. On Wednesday, the G8 agreed its own members would work towards 80% cuts by the same date.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the G8 had not done enough and should also set 2020 targets. He said that while the G8's Wednesday agreement was welcome, its leaders also needed to establish a strong and ambitious mid-term target for emissions cuts.
...RK Pachauri, who chairs the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, praised the declaration's mention of the 2C limit but said more details were needed.
"It certainly doesn't give you a roadmap on how you should get there but at least they've defined the destination," he told the BBC World Service Newshour programme.
...BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin says the declaration is a significant step, with all big countries rich and poor agreeing there is a scientific limit on the amount we should warm the climate. But there is still a huge way to go, he says, as developing nations like India will not sign up to any 2050 targets unless rich nations show more determination and offer more cash....

2009 June 27. House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change. By JOHN M. BRODER, NY Times. Excerpt: The 219-212 vote marked the first time that either house of Congress has approved a bill aimed at curbing the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change, and it could lead to sweeping changes in the economy.

2009 June 12. Climate Change Treaty, to Go Beyond the Kyoto Protocol, Is Expected by the Year’s End. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: The world is on track to produce a new global climate treaty by December, the top United Nations climate official said Friday as delegates from more than 100 nations concluded 12 days of talks in Bonn, Germany.
The delegates issued a 200-page document that they said would serve as the starting point for treaty negotiations that open in Copenhagen in December.
...The goal is a climate treaty that would go beyond the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a climate-change agreement that set emissions targets for industrialized nations. Many of those goals have not been met, and the United States never ratified the accord.
The document issued Friday outlines proposals for cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases by rich countries and limiting the growth of gases in the developing world. It also discusses ways of preventing deforestation, which is linked to global warming, and of providing financing for poorer nations to help them adapt to warmer temperatures.
...environmentalists took heart from the strong involvement of many nations, especially the United States and China, which jointly produce 40 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions. (In declining to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the United States cited China and India’s lack of participation.)...

2009 April 27. Clinton Says U.S. Is Ready to Lead on Climate. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — After eight years largely on the sidelines of the international policy debate on climate change, the United States is prepared to lead negotiations toward a new global warming treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.
“The United States is fully engaged and determined to lead and make up for lost time both at home and abroad,” Mrs. Clinton told delegates from 16 countries at a State Department conference on energy and climate. “We are back in the game.”
The meeting in Washington was the first of three planned sessions among the participating countries, who together account for roughly 75 percent of emissions of the gases blamed for the heating of the planet....
...Mrs. Clinton said there was no longer any question that growing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases were causing a warming of the planet, with potentially catastrophic results. She said global climate change posed environmental, economic, health and security challenges that must be addressed by individual countries and by the community of nations.
Speaking directly to representatives of developing nations, who are skeptical of the motives of the United States and other industrialized countries on the issue, Mrs. Clinton that the United States would not seek to limit the use of energy in the developing world but would help make it cleaner.
“We want your economies to grow,” she said as representatives of Brazil, China, India and Indonesia listened. “We want your people to have a higher standard of living.”...

2009 April 6. NASA RELEASE: 09-079. Satellites Show Arctic Literally on Thin Ice. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- The latest Arctic sea ice data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the decade-long trend of shrinking sea ice cover is continuing. New evidence from satellite observations also shows that the ice cap is thinning as well. 
...Scientists who track Arctic sea ice cover from space announced today that this winter had the fifth lowest maximum ice extent on record. The six lowest maximum events since satellite monitoring began in 1979 have all occurred in the past six years (2004-2009). 
Until recently, the majority of Arctic sea ice survived at least one summer and often several. But things have changed dramatically, according to a team of University of Colorado, Boulder, scientists led by Charles Fowler. Thin seasonal ice -- ice that melts and re-freezes every year -- makes up about 70 percent of the Arctic sea ice in wintertime, up from 40 to 50 percent in the 1980s and 1990s. Thicker ice, which survives two or more years, now comprises just 10 percent of wintertime ice cover, down from 30 to 40 percent. 
According to researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., the maximum sea ice extent for 2008-09, reached on Feb. 28, was 5.85 million square miles. That is 278,000 square miles less than the average extent for 1979 to 2000. 
"Ice extent is an important measure of the health of the Arctic, but it only gives us a two-dimensional view of the ice cover," said Walter Meier, research scientist at the center and the University of Colorado, Boulder. "Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover. As the ice cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it grows more vulnerable to melting in the summer."...

2009 February 17. New York Must Prepare for Global Warming, Mayor’s Panel Says. By Mireya Navarro, The NY Times. Excerpt: New York City must prepare for higher temperatures, more rain and an increased risk of coastal flooding in the coming decades as a result of global climate change, an advisory panel said on Tuesday.
The panel, formed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to study the potential effects of global warming on the city, said that mean annual temperatures in New York could increase by up to 3 degrees and the average sea levels rise by 2 to 5 inches by the 2020s. By the 2080s, temperatures could increase by up to 7 ½ degrees, and sea levels could rise 12 to 23 inches by the end of the century, the panel said.
...City officials said that to prepare for the expected effects of climate change, the city should plan to keep cooling centers for people without air-conditioning open longer during heat waves, move critical equipment in city buildings above sea level and incorporate climate changes into the design of buildings, among other measures.
...“Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after the catastrophe,” the mayor said in response to the report. “We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”...