July 4, 2014

Valuing Nature's Services - $125 to 145 Trillion / Year

The benefits human civilization enjoys from the world's natural ecosystems — grasslands, marshes, coral reefs, forests, and the like — amounts to something in the vicinity of $142.7 trillion a year. That's over eight times the value of the entire U.S. economy ($16.2 trillion a year), and almost twice the value of the world economy ($71.8 trillion a year). [Climate Progress]
In 1997, the global value of ecosystem services was estimated to be $46 trillion a year in 2007 $US. 
Using the same methods as in the 1997 paper but with updated data, the estimate for the total global ecosystem services in 2011 is $125 trillion per year (assuming updated unit values and changes to biome areas) and $145 trillion per year (assuming only unit values changed), both in 2007 $US. 
From this we estimated the loss of eco-services from 1997 to 2011 due to land use change at $4.3–20.2 trillion/yr, depending on which unit values are used. 
Many eco-services are best considered public goods or common pool resources, so conventional markets are often not the best institutional frameworks to manage them. However, these services must be (and are being) valued, and we need new, common asset institutions to better take these values into account. [Global Environmental Change] [NY Times]

Massachusetts already achieved 30% lower emissions than 2005

A power plant in Massachusetts, one of at least 10 states that have already met President Obama's goal of cutting emissions from the electricity industry by at least 30 percent by 2030.

Massachusetts continues to lead the way for the rest of the country in terms of emission reductions. [NY Times]

At least 10 states have cut their emissions by that amount or more between 2005 and 2012, and several other states were well on their way, almost two decades before President Obama's deadline for the rest of the nation runs out.

May 15, 2014

Predictable Carbon Tax vs. a Wildly Unpredictable Climate Change Tax

Seth Godin suggests that when talking to businesses - we should be asking managers, owners, shareholders if they'd prefer a predictable tax on emissions or a wildly erratic and totally unpredictable tax on their businesses? 

Climate Change: The shift in our atmosphere causes countless taxes on organizations. Any business that struggled this winter due to storms understands that this a very real cost, a tax that goes nowhere useful and one that creates countless uncertainties. As sea levels rise, entire cities will be threatened, another tax that makes it less likely that people will be able to buy from you.

The climate unpredictability tax is large, and it's going to get bigger, in erratic and unpredictable ways.

Decreasing carbon outputs and increasing energy efficiency are long-term investments in global wealth, wealth that translates into more revenue and more profit

We're Running Out of Time

Here's the key finding [from the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report]: The world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming. 

"We cannot afford to lose another decade," says Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. "If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization."


NASA Preparing Orbital Carbon Observatory for launch

A NASA spacecraft designed to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere is at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, to begin final preparations for launch.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 arrived at its launch site on California's central coast after traveling from Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Gilbert, AZ. The spacecraft now will undergo final tests and then be integrated on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket in preparation for a planned July 1 launch.

The observatory is NASA's first satellite mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth's carbon cycle that is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate. It replaces a nearly identical spacecraft lost due to a rocket launch mishap in February 2009.

OCO-2 will provide a new tool for understanding both the sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and how they are changing over time. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, the burning of fossil fuels, as well as other human activities, have led to an unprecedented  buildup in this  greenhouse gas, which is now at its highest level in at least 800,000 years. Human activities have increased the level of carbon dioxide by more than 25 percent in just the past half century.

While scientists understand carbon dioxide emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels and can estimate their quantity quite accurately, their understanding of carbon dioxide from other human-produced and natural sources is relatively less quantified. Atmospheric measurements collected at ground stations indicate less than half of the carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere stays there. The rest is believed to be absorbed by the ocean and plants on land.

But the locations and identity of the natural "sinks" absorbing this carbon dioxide currently are not well understood. OCO-2 will help solve this critical scientific puzzle. Quantifying how the natural processes are helping remove carbon from the atmosphere will help scientists construct better models to predict how much carbon dioxide these sinks will be able to absorb in the future.

The mission's innovative technologies will enable space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide with the sensitivity, resolution and coverage needed to characterize the sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the natural sinks that moderate their buildup, at regional scales, everywhere on Earth. The mission's data will help scientists reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions.
In addition to measuring carbon dioxide, OCO-2 will monitor the "glow" of the chlorophyll contained within plants, a phenomenon known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence, opening up potential new applications for studying vegetation on land. NASA researchers, in collaboration with Japanese and other international colleagues, have discovered that data from Japan's GOSAT (Greenhouse gases observing SATellite, also known as Ibuki in Japan), along with other satellites, including OCO-2, can help monitor this "signature" of photosynthesis on a global scale.

The observatory will fly in a 438-mile altitude, near-polar orbit in formation with the five other satellites that are part of the Afternoon, or "A-Train" Constellation. This international constellation of Earth-observing satellites circles Earth once every 98 minutes in a sun-synchronous orbit that crosses the equator near 1:30 p.m. local time and repeats the same ground track every 16 days. OCO-2 will be inserted at the head of the A-Train. Once in this orbit, OCO-2 is designed to operate for at least two years. This coordinated flight formation will enable researchers to correlate OCO-2 data with data from other NASA and partner spacecraft.

Scotland plans to write environmental protection into the constitution

An independent Scotland would be greener, cleaner and "lead the world in tackling climate change", the country's Environment Minister has claimed.

Richard Lochhead said that enshrining protection for the environment in the written constitution of Scotland would be one of five "big green gains" that would result should this year's independence referendum return a "yes" vote.

Scotland would also become nuclear-free, ensure a fairer share of EU funding is targeted at environmental schemes, leverage its direct representation in Europe to drive the green policy agenda, and show international leadership in tackling climate change and championing climate justice. 

The Scottish government has already set a target to use its abundant wind and marine resources to meet 100 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by the end of the decade and is also pushing faster on emissions reductions than England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, aiming for a 42 per cent cut by 2020. 

Independence offers the opportunity to create a greener, cleaner, nuclear-free Scotland which is a world leader in tackling climate change and championing climate justice," he said in a speech at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. "Our vision for Scotland is to make the most of Scotland's extraordinary green energy assets to deliver a secure, sustainable energy future. 

"With independence, we can seize the opportunity to place the environment at the heart of our nation by enshrining environmental protection in a written constitution. And an independent Scotland will show international leadership in tackling climate change, with a seat at the global top table enabling us to inspire and influence others to follow our ambition. [Business Green]

Climate Change ...biggest challenge of all time.

"Climate change is not the biggest challenge of our time, it's the biggest challenge of all time."
Those were the words of Sir David King, UK's erstwhile chief scientist and current Foreign Office adviser on climate change. King responded to a question asking whether climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism.