Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Report Updates Climate Change Science - It's Getting Worse, Faster

In anticipation of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the International Alliance of Research Universities has issued a report presenting an update of a broad range of research relating to climate change. The report synthesizes "the newest research results relating to climate change and what action can be taken in response to climate change."

According to the IARU, "the 36 page report is written for non-specialists and is based on discussions and presentations made at the scientific congress “Climate change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions” held in Copenhagen in March."

The report is organised into six key messages:

1. Climatic Trends. Recent observations indicate that many aspects of the climate are changing according to the more severe IPCC projections. Sea level rise is changing at even greater rates than IPCC projections and new modelling methods suggest a rise of around one metre by 2100. Since 2007, Arctic sea ice has rapidly decreased. Recent work has indicated that the vulnerability of natural carbon sinks will further amplify these changes.

2. Social and Environmental Disruption. Although a 2ºC rise is the quoted threshold above which climate change is deemed dangerous, this level still has significant risks for society and the environment. For example, modelling studies indicate that a 2ºC temperature rise would double the death rate caused by heatwaves. Increasing atmospheric CO2 is causing acidification of the oceans and threatening marine ecosystems. There are already reports of 19 per cent decrease in the growth of Great Barrier Reef corals.

3. Long-term strategy: Global targets and timetables. Recent studies indicate that if the peak and subsequent decline of greenhouse gases (GHGs) does not occur until after 2020, emission reduction rates will have to exceed 5 per cent per year to meet the 2ºC threshold. Immediate reductions are needed with a long-term expectation that carbon prices will rise.

4. Equity Dimensions. The impacts of climate change are greater for the poor, the uneducated and the isolated. In a 2050 world of 9 billion people, carbon emissions per capita will need to be about 2 tonnes of CO2 per annum, or less, to avoid dangerous climate change. Current per capita emissions vary widely. For example, in the USA they are over 20 tonnes and in China (which has the greatest total emissions) they are 4 tonnes.

5. Inaction is inexcusable. Renewable energy technologies are already available and, combined with reduced energy use and improved efficiency, they have the potential to achieve a 50 per cent decrease in GHG emissions by 2050. There are also positive developments in land management, deforestation and transport.

6. Meeting the Challenge. Cultural dimensions of climate change need to be included in research and policy. For example, a recent analysis indicated that 12 billion people could be nourished on less than one third of the present agricultural area by using the best sites for the most appropriate crops. Linking climate change with broader consumption and production issues can help sustainable development but will require long-term global deals.

The full report can be downloaded at the IARU conference site here.

If you skipped over it, go back and read key message 1 above. It's getting worse, faster than we had anticipated. Now reread key message 5 above.

The time to act is now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

EPA outlines "Essential Principles" for TSCA Chemical Control Reform

Previously I have reported on EPA's shutting down of the voluntary ChAMP program of chemical control priortization. We've been waiting for word of what might replace it as reform of TSCA - the current chemical control law in the US - is under discussion in a very busy Congress. Well, the first signs of a framework are beginning to emerge in a presentation given by EPA Administrator yesterday.

Jackson outlines a series of "principles" that she hopes will be incorporated into new legislation. These principles underline the core belief of the Administration, which is that "it is important to work together to quickly modernize and strengthen the tools available in TSCA to increase confidence that chemicals used in commerce, which are vital to our Nation’s economy, are safe and do not endanger the public health and welfare of consumers, workers, and especially sensitive sub-populations such as children, or the environment."

According to Jackson and the EPA web site:

The following Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation (Principles) are provided to help inform efforts underway in this Congress to reauthorize and significantly strengthen the effectiveness of TSCA. These Principles present Administration goals for updated legislation that will give EPA the mechanisms and authorities to expeditiously target chemicals of concern and promptly assess and regulate new and existing chemicals.

Principle No. 1: Chemicals Should Be Reviewed Against Safety Standards That Are Based on Sound Science and Reflect Risk-based Criteria Protective of Human Health and the Environment.

EPA should have clear authority to establish safety standards that are based on scientific risk assessments. Sound science should be the basis for the assessment of chemical risks, while recognizing the need to assess and manage risk in the face of uncertainty.

Principle No. 2: Manufacturers Should Provide EPA With the Necessary Information to Conclude That New and Existing Chemicals Are Safe and Do Not Endanger Public Health or the Environment.

Manufacturers should be required to provide sufficient hazard, exposure, and use data for a chemical to support a determination by the Agency that the chemical meets the safety standard. Exposure and hazard assessments from manufacturers should be required to include a thorough review of the chemical’s risks to sensitive subpopulations.

Where manufacturers do not submit sufficient information, EPA should have the necessary authority and tools, such as data call in, to quickly and efficiently require testing or obtain other information from manufacturers that is relevant to determining the safety of chemicals. EPA should also be provided the necessary authority to efficiently follow up on chemicals which have been previously assessed (e.g., requiring additional data or testing, or taking action to reduce risk) if there is a change which may affect safety, such as increased production volume, new uses or new information on potential hazards or exposures. EPA’s authority to require submission of use and exposure information should extend to downstream processors and users of chemicals.

Principle No. 3: Risk Management Decisions Should Take into Account Sensitive Subpopulations, Cost, Availability of Substitutes and Other Relevant Considerations.

EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take into account a range of considerations, including children’s health, economic costs, social benefits, and equity concerns.

Principle No. 4: Manufacturers and EPA Should Assess and Act on Priority Chemicals, Both Existing and New, in a Timely Manner.

EPA should have authority to set priorities for conducting safety reviews on existing chemicals based on relevant risk and exposure considerations. Clear, enforceable and practicable deadlines applicable to the Agency and industry should be set for completion of chemical reviews, in particular those that might impact sensitive sub-populations.

Principle No. 5: Green Chemistry Should Be Encouraged and Provisions Assuring Transparency and Public Access to Information Should Be Strengthened.

The design of safer and more sustainable chemicals, processes, and products should be encouraged and supported through research, education, recognition, and other means. The goal of these efforts should be to increase the design, manufacture, and use of lower risk, more energy efficient and sustainable chemical products and processes.

TSCA reform should include stricter requirements for a manufacturer’s claim of Confidential Business Information (CBI). Manufacturers should be required to substantiate their claims of confidentiality. Data relevant to health and safety should not be claimed or otherwise treated as CBI. EPA should be able to negotiate with other governments (local, state, and foreign) on appropriate sharing of CBI with the necessary protections, when necessary to protect public health and safety.

Principle No. 6: EPA Should Be Given a Sustained Source of Funding for Implementation.

Implementation of the law should be adequately and consistently funded, in order to meet the goal of assuring the safety of chemicals, and to maintain public confidence that EPA is meeting that goal. To that end, manufacturers of chemicals should support the costs of Agency implementation, including the review of information provided by manufacturers.

I will be looking more closely into these principles and reporting further in the days ahead.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Senate Climate Change Bill Expected September 30th

It appears that Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer Sources will finally introduce climate change legislation on Wednesday, September 30th. Boxer is planning hearings in her Environment & Public Works Committee during the week of Oct. 5 with a markup the following week.

According to a New York Times article, the two Senators "hope will be the vehicle for broader Senate negotiations and an eventual conference with the House," acknowledging that this is "just a 'starting point' in a bid to win over moderate and conservative Democrats, as well as Republicans."

This is the beginning of what will eventually be a climate change bill coming from the Senate, which then will go to conference with the bill passed earlier this year by the House and on to President Obama for signature. The timing of the final law being in place remains pretty uncertain at this point, but while possible, it's likely it won't be ready before the global climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December. But progress is being made.