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22 January 2013

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), Stephanie Inman (PICS), Tom Pedersen (PICS)

Research Theme I: The low carbon emissions economy

Climate change laws advance around the world

January 14, 2013.  In 2011, more than 190 nations pledged to sign a new deal to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to levels scientists say is needed to prevent droughts, floods and mass migration due to runaway climate change. Many nations have since passed their own domestic legislation in hopes of clearing a pathway to an agreement in 2015 at UN brokered climate negotiations. GLOBE International, which tracks national climate legislation and helps legislators scrutinize existing laws, published findings detailing efforts in 32 of 33 nations. Of particular interest, most of the nations tackling climate change legislation are those with emerging economies.  Some of the key measures taken in the countries outlined in the study are: Mexico passing the General Law on Climate Change, with a target to reduce emissions by 30 percent; South Korea passing legislation that introduces an emissions trading scheme; and Japan introducing a carbon tax. The full study can be downloaded here.

In the three years during which the report was produced, Canada is the first country deemed to have regressed, due to its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The government of Canada maintains a commitment to achieving real environmental and economic benefits for Canadians, as inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord. However, in the absence of significant national policies to combat climate change, some provinces are moving ahead with their own plans and policies. In terms of climate change leadership, Quebec, Ontario and BC are often considered the strongest among the provinces with Alberta and Saskatchewan near the bottom. Applying the best policies and practices of the provinces on a national scale would go a long way in helping Canada achieve its stated national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Research Theme II: Sustainable communities

Sustainability strategies emerge for rural BC communities

January 9, 2013.  The Fraser Basin council in collaboration with The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions recently released a report providing tools and recommendations for effective sustainability planning for rural areas and small municipalities in British Columbia. The report aimed to determine the elements of a successful planning process for rural areas, suitable actions for a rural sustainability strategy, and the role of rural areas in broader provincial sustainability goals. Results were obtained through surveys and focus groups with hundreds of local government elected officials, staff, and academics. Strong community support, leadership from in-house staff as well as outside experts, and adopting a final report were cited as important tools. Furthermore, protecting drinking water supplies and pursuing economic diversification were outlined as likely first steps of a sustainability strategy. Finally the report emphasized that, “the plan has to be believable and the public has to believe that it can be accomplished”.

Environmental, economic, and social sustainability are crucial both in urban and in rural areas. Governments and communities are starting to devise long-range plans and alter policies to create more sustainable regions. An initiative originating from the 2005 Gas Tax Agreement encourages communities to develop Integrated Community Sustainability Plans. The seven principles of the plans are long-term thinking, broad in scope, integration, collaboration, public engagement, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Plans are often labour intensive to develop, requiring extensive financial and human resources, but are an important stepping stone to organize efforts towards sustainably, energy reduction, and resilience. Many communities across BC have already developed integrated plans, however, ongoing support from other levels of government is needed for the many local governments who have yet to apply the principles or begin the planning process.

Research Theme III: Resilient ecosystems

What we didn’t know about black carbon

January 15, 2012.  A team of international collaborators has recently published a comprehensive report on the sources, uncertainties, climatic impacts, and mitigation strategies for black carbon. Black carbon is tiny particulate matter resulting from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, solid fuels, and biomass. In North America and Europe, nearly 70% of black carbon emissions are from diesel vehicles, while coal is a major factor in emissions from China and other regions. Black carbon has previously been known to affect climate warming through increasing solar absorption and the melting rates of snow and ice, but new estimates on the magnitude of these effects are nearly double previous quantifications. This makes black carbon the second-highest man-made contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide and ahead of methane. The authors argue that even though it remains in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time, black carbon is a substantial category of emissions that, if reduced, could slow the rate of climate change in the short-term.

While the health effects of black carbon and other fine particulate matter were not considered by the study, they are being felt in smog-choked Beijing, where record-high levels were observed on January 12. BC does not face such extreme issues of localized air quality, but the province does contribute to issues in China, as a large portion of coal mined here is destined for Asian markets. Critics argue that BC’s emerging status as a fossil fuel distribution hub to Asia is in direct contradiction with the values upon which we base our local economy. BC’s reported greenhouse gas emissions do not include those from coal mined in the province when it is burned elsewhere; this is consistent with global accounting rules. BC does target in-province black carbon sources and other particulate matter emissions from diesel vehicles, although the actions have been motivated more by health-related concerns, rather than climatic. The 2008 Air Action Plan identifies numerous actions that will reduce emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which will ultimately help to slow the rate of climate change.

Research Theme IV: Social mobilization

Campaign urging university divestment from fossil fuels comes to BC

January 10th, 2013.  In the fight to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, 350.org, a grass roots organization has launched a fossil free campaign that encourages universities and colleges to divest endowment funds from fossil fuel companies. The campaign supports students, faculty and alumni in developing petitions and building grass roots support for endowment divestment, using tools developed by anti-apartheid movements on America’s campuses in the 1980s. By creating a powerful narrative that draws a ‘moral line in the sand’, the campaign is building momentum. According to 350.org, the fossil free campaign has come to 210 colleges and universities including three British Columbia campuses: Camosun College, located in Victoria, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

At the University of British Columbia, UBC 350, a group of students, faculty and staff who are committed to using political action to address climate change have joined the challenge. Student coordinators believe this campaign, similar to that which is gaining strength in the United States, will focus on research and capacity building for the remainder of this academic year. The UBC community can expect some outreach and small-scale events to start the conversation in the coming months. The group is currently focused on bringing the issue of climate change to the forefront in the upcoming British Columbia Provincial Election. According to UBC Terry blog, approximately $4.5 million of the University’s endowment fund is currently invested in oil and gas. Recent UBC grad Kyuwon Kim believes there is room for improvement. She is one of three students who have started a petition to include an assessment of ethical investment in the annual university rankings published by Maclean’s Magazine. The petition, which began in December 2012, has over 9000 signatures and is growing fast.

Research Theme V: Carbon management in BC forests

A mixed forest is a rich forest

January 14, 2013.  New research out of Sweden highlights the importance of diverse tree species in maintaining forest health. While it has long been known that forests rich in diversity are healthy, this study demonstrated that a species mix resulted in more productive forests too. The research examined six different ecosystem services: tree growth, carbon storage, berry production, food for wildlife, occurrence of dead wood, and biological diversity. These services were then correlated with the number of tree species present, and for each service it was found that with increased diversity came increased productivity. For example, plots with more birch present had higher values of carbon storage, plots with spruce had higher levels of tree growth, and plots with pine had the highest levels of berry production. This suggests that if forests are to be managed for maximum value, a diversity of tree species should be present. In Sweden only 7.5% of productive forests are mixed forests, according to data from 2011.

British Columbian forests of are considerably different than those in Sweden, but there are still lessons to be learned. Until recently, logging companies were not required to plant a mix of tree species after harvesting. However, they now must plant a variety of species to promote secondary growth forests that better mimic undisturbed natural counterparts. Fire plays a predominant role in the long term speciation of BC’s forests, and often times certain species – such as the ponderosa pine or the Douglas fir – excel in different fire regimes, leading to ecosystems where one species is dominant, at least for a time. BC’s forests also produce a variety of mushrooms, including pines, morels, and chanterelles that are very valuable and require a suitable mix of tree species. And finally, more and more carbon projects are emerging in the province, which require both high levels of sequestration and long-term forest health. A diversity of tree species in different forest stands is necessary for maintaining both forest health and effective sequestration.

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China's carbon intensity falls over 3.5 percent in 2012: official

World Bank to strengthen focus on climate change

First car ferry powered by electric drive system

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Climate study highlights wedge issue

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Roads melt, gas evaporates in Australia's unprecedented heat wave

The greenest office building in the world is about to open in Seattle

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Emissions limits could cut climate damage by two-thirds: study

Ontario phases out coal-fired power

Global warming has increased monthly heat records worldwide by a factor of five, study finds

Eastern Europe: Tree rings reveal climate variability and human history

Urgent CO2 cuts may spare millions hardship, report says

China’s Li calls for patience as government works to reduce smog

Advanced energy represents $1 trillion global market, new study shows

NASA finds 2012 sustained long-term climate warming trend

Study finds growing evidence of global warming threat to future food supplies

US says 2015 may be last chance for UN climate pact

More than 3,500 US weather records smashed in 2012