Facebook icon Twitter icon Forward icon


18 December 2012

The PICS Climate News Scan is a weekly summary of the major climate-change related science, technology, and policy advances of direct relevance to the BC provincial and the Canadian federal governments and more generally to businesses and civil society. The News Scan focuses on cutting edge climate issues and solutions gathered by the fellows and faculty of ISIS, a research centre at the UBC Sauder School of Business, in partnership with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). Access to some referenced articles may require a journal subscription or purchase of the article, and appropriate links are provided for this purpose. To provide content feedback and/or suggestions, please email picsscan@uvic.ca.

Authors: Chanda Brietzke, Justin Bull, Liz Ferris, James Noble, Sarah Thomas
Editors: Neil Thomson (ISIS), James Tansey (ISIS), Jessica Worsley (PICS), Tom Pedersen (PICS)

Research Theme I: The low carbon emissions economy

Global environmental market grows, Canada missing out

November 19, 2012. Despite the slow recovery of the global economy and a lack of political will for tackling environmental and climate change issues, the annual value of the global environmental market was estimated to be $866 billion in 2011, up 4% from the year before, according to a report by the Environmental Business Journal. The United States (US), Western Europe and Japan remain, by a substantial margin, the three largest environmental markets as well as the oldest and most mature. Growth in the global environmental market in 2011, however, was led by Africa (up 10%), followed by the Middle East and the rest of Asia (both up 9%). In terms of business sectors tracked in the report, the largest is solid waste management, followed by water utilities and treatment. Recycling, green building, energy efficiency and other areas under the resource recovery and clean energy umbrella are all growing at faster rates than the overall economy in most nations.

A new report from Sustainable Prosperity (SP) estimates that Canada’s combined environmental marketplace is worth between $462 million and $752 million annually. Much of the difference between the high and low estimates is due to a lack of transparency and the definition of “environmental market”. In the SP report, it is defined as a market having a buyer, a seller and the exchange of an environmental attribute. Although in total, these markets may add up to a significant financial sum, most of the individual ones are small and underdeveloped in terms of their infrastructure and scope. There exists, however, a large untapped potential for environmental markets in Canada and scaling up the use of such markets can dramatically reduce the cost of environmental policies. Greater certainty in terms of environmental policy and regulatory flexibility to allow for the increased use of markets would help attract the necessary capital from the private sector to expand and grow Canada’s burgeoning environmental marketplace.

Nations agree on the Doha Climate Gateway

December 9, 2012. The annual United Nations global climate negotiations – or Conference of the Parties (COP) 18 – took place in the City of Doha, Qatar from 26 November to 8 December 2012. Qatar was an interesting choice of venue by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, because the country boasts the highest per capita emissions in the world at 50 tonnes per person. Last year’s negotiation at COP 17 in Durban, Australia saw the parties agree to create a treaty by 2015 to cap emissions at scientifically acceptable levels (restricting warming to a two degree Celsius increase in global average temperature). The treaty would be effective and legally binding by 2020. The objectives for this year’s conference were to move the collective agreement forward at an appropriate rate to meet the 2015 deadline. This goal was achieved by and large, with spoils claimed on a number of fronts:

  1. The Kyoto Protocol (the world’s only existing legally binding agreement) was officially extended for a second commitment period from 1 January 2013 to 2020. A number of previous signatories, including Canada, have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, which now covers only 15% of the world’s emissions. Its primary participants are the European Union and Australia.
  1. The final text of the agreement “encourages” developed nations to pay $10 billion a year to 2020 to help developing nations access clean energy and adapt to the effect of climate change. This is not legally binding and does not ascribe blame to developed nations for “loss or damages” experienced as a result of events related to climate change.

An important achievement external to the COP was that 25 members of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition agreed to significantly reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants, including soot, methane and ozone, and excluding carbon dioxide (CO2). It is estimated that this agreement could reduce the expected temperature increase by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, a fraction of the four to six degrees forecast by the end of the century if we stay on the current CO2 emissions path. One negotiator at COP 18 remarked, “It does seem that every year the meetings go on forever, more and more demands are being made to developed countries and at some point it feels like people are just going to get fed up and walk away”. Next year’s COP will be hosted by Poland, which is another interesting choice, as the country is widely considered the laggard in Europe’s climate mitigation efforts.

Research Theme II: Sustainable communities

Who knew? Vancouver poised to become the largest exporter of coal in North America

December 6, 2012. A recent survey conducted by Justason Market Intelligence indicates that, by and large, British Columbians are unaware of the plans for expansion of coal exports from British Columbia ports. Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) is currently reviewing two separate proposals to increase US coal shipments through the port. When poll respondents were asked if they were aware of the plans, two thirds said they were not. Furthermore, after hearing of these plans, 47 percent of British Columbians are opposed to them. A widely supported open letter opposing the coal expansion plans is calling for PMV to delay the projects' approval until broader public hearings and consultation can occur. Despite this, the Port Authority says, "there's no expectation that there's going to be any further public engagement activities”. The Letter of Opposition goes on to emphasize that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be considered for products shipped through the port, in addition to local impacts.

Burning coal has been singled out as the largest cause of global warming. The CO2 emissions from the burning of the coal exported by PMV would be 100 megatonnes (Mt) annually. This is much larger than the combined total of BC’s emissions each year, which ran to 62 Mt in 2010, calling into question the integrity of the emissions reductions targets that BC legislated in 2008. In addition to the emissions generated from burning the coal, the expansion of the ports would result in increased coal train traffic and a corresponding increase in the dispersal of coal dust, a significant health risk to communities in the region.

Research Theme III: Resilient ecosystems

Increasing CO­2 levels detrimental for grain production

November 30, 2012.  A study published earlier this year in Global Change Biology shows potentially severe consequences for food security in a future world with elevated levels of CO2 and ground level ozone (O3). Researchers found that higher amounts of both of these gases can lead to changes in the yield of wheat crops as well as the grain’s protein content – its nutritional value. Increased CO2 levels lead to higher grain yields but lower protein concentration, while elevated ozone levels cause a significant reduction in yield but an increase in protein. Researchers warn that these effects, while opposite, are not equal, and some regions will see reductions in the overall amount of both grain and protein their wheat crops produce. While changes to nitrogen fertilizer regimes and genetic modification could potentially mitigate these decreases, changing CO2 and O3 levels will continue to have a significant impact.

Concern about world food security is rising, especially as the gains of the “green revolution” are proving inadequate to meet growing demand. For example, a high-yielding strain of rice developed in the 1960s that staved off fears of food shortages has since produced continuously declining yields. Researchers have now linked this decrease to higher levels of CO2, but this type of physiological change in how plants produce food is rarely a consideration in agricultural adaptation policies worldwide. BC, for example, has recently released its Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation Risk and Opportunity Assessment. The report mainly focuses on the effects of changes in precipitation and temperature extremes, pests and disease on crop production, but does not directly consider changes in yields or nutritional content. The research described above highlights the complexity that agricultural climate change mitigation strategies must consider in the face of future food security concerns.

Research Theme IV: Social mobilization

To get conservatives to care for the environment, show them polluted drinking water

December 10, 2012. More often than not, environmental messaging found in the Op-Eds of our most-read newspapers is couched in a framing of morality; readers are asked to protect and care for the environment because of a sense of moral obligation. However, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, that framing is likely to appeal to people with a liberal political persuasion, not to conservatives. To appeal to conservatives, say the UC Berkley study authors, messaging must be framed through the lens of “purity”, for example through images of a forest filled with garbage, a city under a cloud of smog or a person drinking dirty water. The study, which recruited participants via Craigslist, asked people to identify their political preference on a scale from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative” and then showed them a series of media clips, some framed through a moral lens and others through the lens of purity. It was found that conservative-leaning individuals shown purity-themed messages felt higher levels of disgust, which consequently increased their support for protecting the environment.

Within BC, purity-themed messaging has become a central tool used by environmental, social justice, First Nations and other advocacy groups seeking to protect BC’s coastline from further pipeline expansion. For example, the Dogwood Initiative’s No Tankers campaign logo shows a tanker covered in oil, and the Leadnow campaign image depicts a scorched landscape, over-run with equipment used in tar sands extraction. It is possible that this type of messaging is having an impact on public opinion within BC. According to the results of a new independent poll conducted by Forum Research Inc., 60 percent of British Columbians oppose the Enbridge Pipeline project, up from 46% a year ago. While these and other campaigns effectively depict the devastating impacts a catastrophic oil spill would have on BC’s coast, the findings of the Berkley study suggest that to reach people of conservative leanings, campaign images should focus even more on depictions of impurity.

Research Theme V: Carbon management in BC forests

Big trees need looking after, worldwide

December 7, 2012. Three of the world’s leading ecologists published a dire warning in the journal Science this week, describing tree mortality for large and old trees in forests across the world. Trees 100 to 300 years old in forests, woodlands, agricultural areas and savannahs are all facing an increased risk of death. By examining historical records from across the world – including sites in Australia, Brazil, California and Sweden – the scientists discovered that large trees were dying at a faster rate than their smaller counterparts. The loss of big trees is a critical threat to ecosystem health. Big trees provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. In some ecosystems, over 30% of all animals rely on big trees for shelter. Big trees also store huge amounts of carbon, produce large volumes of fruit that many species rely on and help stabilize soils with their extensive root systems. The loss of big trees in so many different areas is driven by a variety of forces: agricultural activity, changes in fire regimes, timber harvesting, insect attacks and rapid climate change. The scientists compared the loss of big trees to that of big animals, like elephants, tigers and rhinos, all species that are imperiled worldwide and unlikely to ever return to their previous population levels. "The decline of big trees foretells a different world where ancient behemoths are replaced by short-lived pioneers and generalists that can grow anywhere where forests store less carbon and sustain fewer dependent animals," the authors warn.

BC has many forest ecosystems wherein large trees play an important role. Coastal forests with temperate climates and abundant precipitation are home to many of the largest trees in the world. To help protect these big trees and the forests they occupy, the government, First Nations, industry and environmentalists have worked together to create programs like the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, permanently protecting 2.1 million hectares of land from logging. But even when protected from logging, trees are still at risk. The yellow cedar, for example, has been gradually disappearing along many parts of the North Coast. So-called “skeleton forests” have emerged, as cedars die from winter frosts. Their roots used to be protected by a deep snow-pack, but warmer winters equate to less snow, making root systems more exposed and vulnerable. Once again, the imperative of mitigating climate change presents itself, but the realities of adaptation must also be considered.

Also in the news

The budding health care costs of climate change

Renewables and storage could power grid 99.9 percent of the time

Site-specific, long-term research expanding understanding of climate change

More than words required on climate change

Climate skeptics swayed by consensus, not evidence

Climate change conforming to UN predictions: scientists

Enbridge proceeding with $6.2B pipeline expansion

Chicago skyscrapers go green, slash energy costs

Climate change threatens winter recreation

Locked greenhouse gas in Arctic sea may be 'climate canary'

Report on climate change agreement released by C2ES

Syracuse University students join climate change divestment campaign

Report compares greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions tracking across North America

Foreign takeovers, trade deals draw barbs

Asset Owners climate index warns pension funds have 'head in the sand'

Majority of world’s largest companies shifting to clean energy

Climate science predictions prove too conservative

Arctic wildfires speed melting of Greenland ice, study

Metro Vancouver dike improvements could cost $9.5 billion by 2100: new report