Brazil’s Congress Approves Controversial Forest Law

The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has approved controversial legislation that eases rules on how much land farmers must preserve as forest. Brazil’s powerful farmers’ lobby argues that the changes will promote sustainable food production. But environmentalists say the new forest code will be a disaster and lead to further destruction of the Amazon. The bill now goes to President Dilma Rousseff, who may use her veto to remove some clauses. Wednesday’s 247-184 vote in favour of the new forest code capped a year of political wrangling.

Brazil’s farmers have long pushed for changes, arguing that uncertainty over the current legislation has undermined investment in the agriculture sector, which accounts for more than 5% of GDP. Severe environmental restrictions have also forced many smaller farmers off their land, they argue. Rural producers would have “more stability and political support,” said Deputy Paulo Piau, who drew up the Chamber’s version of the bill. “Production and the environment will only benefit from that. With a confused law there is no benefit,” he said.

But opponents said the new law was a step back. “Over the years, we have slowed deforestation and intensified production. Now we are going to modify all the things that resulted in the decrease of deforestation by changing the legislation,” said Deputy Sarney Filho. Greenpeace urged President Rousseff to veto the changes, saying: “It is unbelievable that the forest code is being eroded weeks before Brazil hosts the Rio summit (on sustainable development).”

Several former environment ministers had warned that Brazil would miss its emissions targets if the code were weakened, Greenpeace noted. Deforestation of the Amazon has slowed in recent years, as a result of better law enforcement, with authorities using satellite images to track clearance. Under the Forest Code, which dates back to 1965, landowners must conserve a percentage of their terrain forested, ranging from 20% in some regions to 80% in the Amazon. This provision remains, but environmentalists say other changes to the code will erode key protections. Under the new bill, farmers will be able to cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks, which are especially vulnerable to erosion if trees are chopped down. The bill also provides an amnesty from fines for illegally clearing trees before July 2008, although larger landholders would have to replant most of the cleared area or preserve the same amount of land elsewhere. President Rousseff faces a political dilemma, correspondents say, as she seeks to combine support for economic development, but also uphold environmental pledges made during her election campaign in 2010.

From the BBC

Energy Agency in Climate Plea

Leading energy ministers have been told the world is on track for a long-term temperature increase of 6C unless they change their priorities. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on current trends, emissions would double from 2009 to 2050. The deputy director of the IEA, Richard Jones, urged ministers: “Please take our warning seriously.”
He was speaking at the Clean Energy Ministerial, a forum for 23 major nations. Mr Jones said the world could still possibly hold CO2 under 32Gt – the level equated with a 2C temperature rise – but only if nations co-operated urgently on clean technology.

The report Tracking Clean Energy Progress, says: “The current trend of increasing emissions is unbroken with no stabilisation of GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations in sight.” It projects that if this continues, “energy use will almost double in 2050, compared with 2009, and total GHG emissions will rise even more. Long-term temperature rise is likely to be at least 6C.” Mr Jones presented a traffic light scorecard. Of 11 technologies to reduce emissions, only renewable power – particularly from wind and solar – merited a green for being on track. Fuel economy, electric vehicles and industry were given an amber. Most of the chart is red, including biofuels for transport; building efficiency; nuclear power; carbon capture and storage in industry and power generation; and cleaner conventional coal.

Mr Jones said countries were still ignoring easy gains in energy efficiency. It is less “sexy” than some other policies, he admitted – but it is especially good at creating local jobs. Coal is another concern for the IEA. Energy-hungry emerging economies are still building old-style power plants with an efficiency of just 35% whilst modern plants running at very high temperatures like those built in Japan are 50% efficient or more. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – in which CO2 emissions are captured and pumped into underground rocks – is described as “woefully off pace”.

Under their scenario for stabilising global temperature rise at 2C, the IEA envisages CCS providing 19% of global emissions cuts. Mr Jones said that 65 CCS plants are on the drawing board, but not one is operating at scale. Only four small projects carry out sufficient monitoring to demonstrate permanent storage of CO2, he said. “CCS remains trapped in its infancy. Many fear it will remain stillborn,” he explained. This would be grave, he said, as so many countries will rely on coal-fired power stations for the next 40-50 years until they wear out. Mr Jones said the main reason for the CCS failure is lack of government will. But one government source told BBC News it was difficult for politicians to provide the billions needed to kickstart CCS when the investment did not actually provide energy – unlike renewables. Mr Jones said countries needed to be bold with their investments and policies, even during a recession to reap the benefit of plentiful clean power in later years.

This was not just about preventing the potential of dangerous climate change, he said. Investment in clean energy would bring energy security, reduce dependency on oil and save money that would be needed to adapt to climate change.
“Five trillion dollars of investment is needed in a decade. In the long term it will lead to net savings. Delay is false economy,” he said. He said one bright spot had been the emergence of wind and solar photovoltaics. In both technologies, he said, costs are plummeting as firms scale up production prompted by government policy.

Globally, more than $1 trillion had been invested in clean energy, and in Europe investment in renewables now outstrips that for fossil fuels. But the meeting’s chairman, the UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey, warned that renewables investment fell significantly in the first quarter of 2012. He said: “The risk is that recession delays low-carbon investment, leaving us a high-carbon legacy even when the global economy recovers, making meaningful action on climate change more expensive.” Mr Davey also announced today a £35m fund to prompt small entrepreneurs in the UK to devise low carbon. The first wave is in energy efficiency for buildings, including advanced lighting, heat pumps and ventilation technologies.

Mr Davey earlier told BBC Today programme that the government was relying on the Green Deal to provide insulation to millions of homes, to cut emissions. The Green Deal has been under fire from some people sceptical that the climate will change as much or as fast as projected. The government also announced that it would allocate up to 60 million to support CCS in emerging markets. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, gave estimates for warming of between 1.8C and 4C under different scenarios during the 21st Century. The IEA projections are based on work done with the modelling group developing scenarios for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. The 2C target is designed to offer an 80% likelihood on best estimates of staying within the 2C threshold.

From the BBC.

Carbon capture ‘viable with long-term support’

Capturing and burying the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from power stations is viable – but long-term government support will be needed, a report says. Specialists in technology and economics spent two years researching the issue for the UK Energy Research Council. The government recently announced a £1bn fund to help carbon capture and storage (CCS) develop; but the report says wider support is needed.

CCS is widely seen as an important part of a low-carbon electricity system. “CCS is seen as the key to many scenarios of how to mitigate climate change, whether that’s the UK meeting its targets on cutting emissions or global targets that keep warming below 2C,” said the report’s lead author Dr Jim Watson, director of the energy research group at Sussex University. “But unlike other low-carbon technologies, CCS doesn’t exist at the commercial scale. We don’t know when they will be technically proven at full scale, and whether costs will be competitive with other low-carbon options. “So it is vital that the government’s commitment leads to several full-scale CCS projects as soon as possible; only through such learning by doing will we know whether it is a serious option for the future.” Other countries including Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, the US and China are also exploring the technology.

The government opened its first competition for CCS funds in 2007, but abandoned it four years later when the last contender – the Longannet coal-fired power station near Edinburgh – withdrew, saying the economics did not work out. The new government scheme is far more flexible over what types of technology are eligible for funding, which the report says is the right approach. Equally, it says, the single £1bn fund will not be enough to take the industry from its current fledgling state to the government’s target of having 10GW of UK generation capacity equipped with CCS by 2030.

Equipping coal- and gas-fired plant with CCS makes them considerably more expensive to run. The plant itself becomes less efficient, meaning more fuel has to be burned to produce the same amount of electricity. The CO2 must be transported to its resting place – probably in liquid form through a pipeline – and a disposal site must be properly explored beforehand and monitored afterwards to make sure nothing escapes. The report says the economic incentives for this extra investment will have to come from reforms to the electricity market that the government is working out at the moment, designed to supply additional and enduring support through guaranteeing prices for low-carbon electricity. It also says the UK is well placed to lead the global market in skills and technology, and perhaps even sell some of the copious storage capacity that exists below the UK seabed to other countries. “The UK has a huge amount of potential storage, amounting to about 700 years worth of emissions,” said another of the report’s authors, Prof Stuart Haszeldine from Edinburgh University. “But that is as yet unproven; and no commercial company is going to go ahead and build a CCS facility costing maybe £1bn if they don’t know they’ll be able to inject CO2 for 30 years into that site.”

Proving that a site is suitable for CO2 storage needs the same type of exploration needed in oil and gas exploration, he said – and investigating a single site could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and take five to 10 years, meaning that a programme for doing it should be developed soon. The government will also have to work out rules on liability for leakage, he said, that are fair to both companies and the public purse. Matthew Spencer, director of the Green Alliance, which produced its own analysis of CCS recently, agreed that investors needed support and confidence. “Levels of interest from business are phenomenal, despite the years of prevarication,” he told BBC News.
“We’ve lost a lot of time, and investors have to have much more certainty now if we’re not to lose them; but we do have a good story in the UK of a rapidly growing industry. “If the government pulls out the stops, we think 10GW is feasible.”

From the BBC

CO2 ‘Drove End to Last Ice Age’

A new, detailed record of past climate change provides compelling evidence that the last ice age was ended by a rise in temperature driven by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The finding is based on a very broad range of data, including even the shells of ancient tiny ocean animals. A paper describing the research appears in this week’s edition of Nature.

The team behind the study says its work further strengthens ideas about global warming. “At the end of the last ice age, CO2 rose from about 180 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere to about 260; and today we’re at 392,” explained lead author Dr Jeremy Shakun. “So, in the last 100 years we’ve gone up about 100 ppm – about the same as at the end of the last ice age, which I think puts it into perspective because it’s not a small amount. Rising CO2 at the end of the ice age had a huge effect on global climate.”

The study covers the period in Earth history from roughly 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. This was the time when the planet was emerging from its last deep chill, when the great ice sheets known to cover parts of the Northern Hemisphere were in retreat. The key result from the new study is that it shows the carbon dioxide rise during this major transition ran slightly ahead of increases in global temperature. This runs contrary to the record obtained solely from the analysis of Antarctic ice cores which had indicated the opposite – that temperature elevation in the southern polar region actually preceded (or at least ran concurrent to) the climb in CO2. This observation has frequently been used by some people who are sceptical of global warming to challenge its scientific underpinnings; to claim that the warming link between the atmospheric gas and global temperature is grossly overstated. But Dr Shakun and colleagues argue that the Antarctic temperature record is just that – a record of what was happening only on the White Continent. By contrast, their new climate history encompasses data from all around the world to provide a much fuller picture of what was happening on a global scale. This data incorporates additional information contained in ices drilled from Greenland, and in sediments drilled from the ocean floor and from continental lakes. These provide a range of indicators. Air bubbles trapped in ice, for example, will record the past CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Past temperatures can also be inferred from ancient planktonic marine organisms buried in the sediments. That is because the amount of magnesium they would include in their calcite skeletons and shells was dependent on the warmth of the water in which they swam.

“Our global temperature looks a lot like the pattern of rising CO2 at the end of the ice age, but the interesting part in particular is that unlike with these Antarctic ice core records, the temperature lags a bit behind the CO2,” said Dr Shakun, who conducted much of the research at Oregon State University but who is now affiliated to Harvard and Columbia universities. “You put these two points together – the correlation of global temperature and CO2, and the fact that temperature lags behind the CO2 – and it really leaves you thinking that CO2 was the big driver of global warming at the end of the ice age,” he told BBC News.

Dr Shakun’s team has now constructed a narrative to explain both what was happening on Antarctica and what was happening globally:

This starts with a subtle change in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun known as a Milankovitch “wobble”, which increases the amount of light reaching northern latitudes and triggers the collapse of the hemisphere’s great ice sheets;
This in turn produces vast amounts of fresh water that enter the North Atlantic to upset ocean circulation
Heat at the equator that would normally be distributed northwards then backs up, raising temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere
This initiates further changes to atmospheric and ocean circulation, resulting in the Southern Ocean releasing CO2 from its waters
The rise in CO2 sets in train a global rise in temperature that pulls the whole Earth out of its glaciated state

Prof Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey was the chief scientist on the longest Antarctic ice core, which was drilled at Dome Concordia in 2001/2002. This core records eight ice ages, not just the most recent, stretching back some 800,000 years. He was not involved in the Nature study. Prof Wolff told this week’s Science In Action programme on the BBC World Service: “It looks as though whatever kicked off this whole sequence of events to get out of the ice age was something really, in global terms, rather minor and regional, and yet it led to a sequence of events that led to a complete change in the way the surface of the Earth looked, with ice sheets disappearing. “So, that just reminds us that although climate might seem quite steady to us because it’s been relatively steady for the last few thousand years, it is actually capable of undergoing big changes. And as one famous palaeoclimatologist put it: ‘we poke it at our peril’.”

From the BBC