Archive for December, 2011

Finding tomorrow’s agriculture, today

(December 8, 2011)

CGIAR Climate Change: Agriculture and Food Security

In an effort to make climate change adaptation more tangible, this new report encourages the exchange of knowledge between communities around the world regarding current agriculture practices that can help farmers maintain productivity in the future, despite potentially dramatic shifts in growing conditions.  “With climate change posing a threat to food production around the world, scientists are developing a form of virtual time travel that can offer farmers in many countries a glimpse of their future by identifying regions where growing conditions today match those that will exist 20 years from now.”

Climate Talks in Durban Yield Limited Agreement

(December 11, 2011)

New York Times

The Durban Climate Talks ended with a promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.  The future treaty deal renews the Kyoto Protocol while beginning a process for a new treaty that will treat all nations equally.  The established Green Climate Fund is a new reserve to help poor countries adapt to climate change and for “measures  involving the preservation of tropical forests and the development of clean-energy technology”, though the precise source of the money has not yet been determined.

According to AFP (December 14, 2011), in the end, there was little headway in Durban on deforestation, “opening the way to a future carbon market and stressing the need for rules to guarantee emission curbs and protect indigenous communities and biodiversity.”  The future challenges of a new global treaty will pose a plethora of challenges for the EU and Climate Chief Hedegaard, who “has a next-to-impossible task ahead of striving to shame the world’s biggest polluters into real action and tackling the EU’s own environmental shortcomings” (Reuters, December 15, 2011).

Canada Announces Exit From Kyoto Climate Treaty

(December 12, 2011)

New York Times

In a long-expected decision by Canada’s Conservative party government, the nation announced that it would withdraw from the 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Canada had until the end of the year to announced it’s intent to withdraw from the treaty, or face huge penalties for failing to meet the treaty’s emission reduction targets.

Scrubbing Carbon Dioxide from Air May Prove Too Costly

(December 13, 2011)

Scientific American

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the seemingly ideal answer of simply vacuuming up greenhouse gases from the air is far-fetched and tremendously expensive.  Such processes would cost far more than measures to prevent the air from getting dirty in the first place, and using traditional sources such as coal or natural gas, would produce as much or more emissions from the energy needed to run them than they cleaned up.

New UN iPhone Application Highlights Role of Ecosystems in Tackling Climate Change

(December 13, 2011)

United Nations Environment Programme

A new iPhone application allows users to calculate their personal carbon footprint for journeys taken by air, train, or road, and then shows them the equivalent area of a particular ecosystem (such as a tropical forest) that can store this amount of carbon dioxide.  The application also provides in-depth information on critical ecosystems and key climate initiatives.  It is available for download at the Apple Store.

Changing Climate Will Make Massive Shifts in Earth’s Vegetation

(December 16, 2011)

Scientific American

According to researchers at at NASA and the California Institute of Technology, “climate change will alter the mix of vegetation on 49 percent of Earth’s land surface by the end of this century, scrambling and shifting existing ecosystems.”   37% of ecosystem types are projected to change to a different type, with the largest changes in the far Northern hemisphere.  The study, published in Climatic Change, is based on computer modeling of middle-of-the-road emission projections developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


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U.S. Climate Envoy Seems to Shift Position on Timetable for New International Talks

(December 8, 2011)

New York Times

The chief American negotiator at the Durban Climate Talks has firmly denied that the US is dragging its feet in an effort to put off climate change action.  He was put on the defensive by a narrative developing at the conference that the US is opposed to any further action to address global climate disruption until after 2020, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a primary United Nations climate agreement, and voluntary programs negotiated more recently have run their course.  He then seemed to endorse, but remained non-committal, to a European Union “roadmap” for future discussions leading to a formal climate change treaty to be completed by 2015 and to take effect in 2020.

Seeing REDD: Forest Program May Be Only Success of Climate Talks

(December 7, 2011)

Voice of America

With deadlock on major initiatives at the Durban, South Africa Climate Conference, one of the few potential successes could be with progress on the REDD+ Forestry Program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).  REDD provides financial value for carbon stored in trees, allowing developed countries to invest in standing forests in developing countries to offset their own carbon emissions.  The program has been protested at the conference by indigenous groups, representing those people that live in and use the forest resources.

New estimate boosts permafrost contribution to climate change

(December 1, 2011)

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

“An international group of researchers believes greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost will be released at a much faster rate- 1.7 to 5.2 larger than previously estimated, which could have significant implications for climate change projections.”

New plant reflects optimism on biofuel:  Enzyme producer thrives as political support falls

(November 21, 2011)

Delaware Online/ Associated Press

“The leading maker of the enzymes used to produce biofuels says the declining political support for ethanol subsidies hasn’t diminished the long-term prospects for the industry making fuel from plants.”

A Quiet Push to Grow Crops Under Cover of Trees

(November 17, 2011)

New York Times

The Department of Agriculture began an initiative this year to encourage agroforestry, the science of incorporating trees into traditional agriculture. Depending on the species, trees make all sorts of contributions to agriculture, experts say, in a science that goes back many centuries around the world.  “A major hurdle to widespread adoption of agroforestry, though, might be conventional thinking about trees,” with farmers traditionally expending significant energy to remove trees in order to establish agriculture.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Adds 16,000 Jobs and $1.6 Billion in Value to Northeast Economies, Study Finds

(November 15, 2011)

Climate Progress

“A new report finds that America’s first mandatory, market-based carbon cap and trade system added $1.6 billion in value to the economies of participating states, set the stage for $1.1 billion in ratepayer savings, and created 16,000 jobs in its first three years of implementation.”


Cellulosic ethanol won’t reach first-generation price until 2020

(November 21, 2011)

E&E Publishing via Governors’ Biofuels Coalition

“Even with subsidies, ethanol made from crop waste or wood chips won’t be competitive with fuel made from corn until 2020 at the earliest, which is at the tail end of the most optimistic industry predictions, a new study said this week”:

“So-called second-generation ethanol faces significant extra costs due to the need for pre-treatment of the sturdy, cellulose-rich raw materials, as well as the more complex enzymes employed, says the study by the Department of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.”Production requires significant cost reductions and at least the same level of financial support that was given to the first-generation systems if second-generation ethanol is going to be fully competitive by 2020,” said the study’s lead author, Jamie Stephen.Cellulosic ethanol’s potential appears to be enormous. With over 1.3 billion tons of biomass available for ethanol production, the United States could in theory replace all gasoline made from imported oil with ethanol.”

Observed increase in local cooling effect of deforestation at higher latitudes

(November 17, 2011)


While planting trees has been widely touted as a strategy for controlling climate change, this research provides concrete evidence that in some locations, trees do not prevent warming, and in fact, deforestation leads to cooling temperatures.  This “albedo effect” only happens at northern latitudes, and occurs through altered biophysical processes in response to ground cover and air movement changes from deforestation on a local level.

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