Saturday, March 14, 2009

Climate Scientists in Copenhagen Issue Key Messages

As I noted two days ago, the University of Copenhagen this past week hosted an international scientific congress on climate change under the heading "Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions," and was attended by more than 2,500 delegates from nearly 80 countries.

The main aim of the congress was to provide a synthesis of existing and emerging scientific knowledge necessary in order to make intelligent societal decisions concerning application of mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to climate change. Following the congress they issued a press release with the key messages; the conclusions will be published into a full synthesis report June 2009.

The six preliminary key messages are noted below:

Key Message 1: Climatic Trends

Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

Key Message 2: Social disruption

The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on "dangerous climate change." Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2oC will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

Key Message 3: Long-Term Strategy

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid 'dangerous climate change' regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

Key Message 4 - Equity Dimensions

Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches 'economic, technological, behavioural, management' to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Key Message 6: Meeting the Challenge

To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

The full text of the press release can be found here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Climate Scientists in Emergency Meeting to Stimulate Action

"This is not a regular scientific conference," says University of Copenhagen marine biologist Katherine Richardson, "This is a deliberate attempt to influence policy."

Pretty direct for a scientist, to say that they intend to stimulate action by politicians. That's how serious climate researchers feel the situation is right now...they are making direct calls for policy-makers to do something, and do it now.

The event is the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change , which features keynotes by leading advocates for dramatic global warming policies, as well as most of the world's climate scientists. These scientists are in Copenahagen to collate the latest scientific findings so they can exert pressure on the negotiating teams that will meet in Copenhagen next December. The concern is that the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007 is already severely out-of-date. In fact, recent studies suggest that the pace of climate disruption has quickened, so that we may already be too late to stop changes that scientists warned of just five years ago. In fact, the most recent IPCC report failed to adequately account for several climatic tipping points ― like methane released from a thawing tundra, and decreased albedo from a melting arctic ― which are happening earlier than predicted. The concern now is that climate change could accelerate so quickly that humanity will be unable to slow the outcome.

The conference will synthesize the latest climate change science and publish a master document for negotiators heading to the larger meeting to be held in December, also in Copenhagen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Got Imagination? Get $100,000 in Research Awards

Are you imaginative? Okay, I should be a little more exact than that. Are you imaginative and do research in the fields of wastewater, water reuse, biosolids, stormwater, watersheds, and similar areas?

Yes? Well, welcome to WERF.

The Water Environment Research Foundation (that's the WERF part), through its Paul L. Busch Award, is offering $100,000 to encourage researchers in the above fields to "use their imagination, take risks, explore new directions, and ultimately realize the possibilities inherent in their valuable work." The annual Award is one of the largest in the water quality industry, and has provided nearly a million dollars in its nine years "to support researchers imbued with the visionary spirit of its namesake, a leader in the water quality community who challenged engineers and scientists to devise new technologies and solutions for addressing ongoing water quality issues."

According to WERF, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia, "recent recipients are already addressing many of the growing concerns of today’s communities, such as maintaining healthy waters in which we fish, swim, and play; improving energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gasses and improve the air we breathe; and assuring that we are prepared to address new challenges as they arise."

One recent recipient, David Sedlak of the University of California, Berkeley extols the benefits of the $100,000 award: "By the very nature of it being an award and not a more traditional grant," he explains, "it has given us a lot more flexibility to explore the possibilities and to pursue new lines of research that arise in our ongoing work." It should be noted that the Award can go to a team of researchers, or to an individual.

Interested individuals or teams must submit their application to WERF by June 1, 2009. More information on the Paul L. Busch Award, as well as the application process, is online at

Monday, March 9, 2009

Science Policy Takes Center Stage at the White House - Embryonic Stem Cells and More

Today, American President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The ban was put in place by past-president George W. Bush shortly after taking office in 2001. In lifting the ban, Obama said "we will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."

But perhaps even more importantly, Obama took this occasion to issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy "to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making."

In sharp contrast to what many feel was a former president adverse to science, President Obama insisted that supporting science was a critical function of government. The memorandum, he said, would

"ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives."

He made clear that his decision was not made based on his belief in science alone: "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering." Further, he said that "a false choice has often been presented between science and faith, and that corrupting, shielding, or shying away from the facts science lays bare benefits nobody."

The emphasis on science is very welcome to most scientists who feel that their ability to pursue meaning research has been unduly restricted in recent years.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

White House Favors National Fuel Standard

The saga continues. During the Bush administration California passed a law that would require a 30% reduction in emissions by 2016. The idea was to encourage burning of less fuel or burning it more efficiently, whouch would improve gasoline mileage and reduce emissions. The law would also speed the entry of electric vehicles into the marketplace. The overall goal is reduce CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

But the California law requires a waiver from federal law to proceed. EPA during the Bush administration refused to grant that waiver and the newly installed Obama administration instructed EPA to rereview the waiver application. Many thought this would mean that the waiver would be granted and California could proceed.

As always, however, the issue is more complicated than the oversimplified picture ideologues in various camps would have you believe. In fact, if California proceeds it is likely to be followed by about a dozen other states. But many states would not follow suit. This would result in a patchwork of emissions standards that makes it very difficult for manufacturers to adjust their practices. It is especially difficult for the auto industry, which as we all know is undergoing some trying times.

Meanwhile, there is a less stringent federal regulation in the works that would stimulate the vehicle design changes needed to satisfy a congressionally ordered fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2010. That amounts to about a 40% improvement over current industry performance. Both President Obama and auto industry representatives indicated this past week that a single national standard for fuel efficiency would present a more manageable system. The goal would be to address both California's desire for more stringent standards and the need for consistent standards across the distribution area. Otherwise there is the potential of having to produce cars meeting different standards depending on where they are shipped (or driven post consumer purchase as individuals relocate around the country).

Congress, EPA, the President, and industry are all contributing to the debate. After the Congressional hearing last week it was still unclear which direction legislation would go, though the single standard seems a more efficient way to address the issue.