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This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

October 2014

Featured Item
Colorado’s Updated Inventory of Heat-Trapping Pollutants

In early October, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released the final Colorado greenhouse gas inventory: 2014 update. The report responds to a 2008 Executive Order by then-Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., calling for an update of the state’s 2007 inventory of heat-trapping gases every five years, and instruction by current Governor John Hickenlooper to CDPHE to undertake the update. (His instruction followed the governor’s appearance at the 2012conference of the Colorado Climate Network, when the governor announced his support for the updated inventory.) To generate the inventory, CDPHE used the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Inventory Tool (SIT) dated February 2013. This inventory includes a comprehensive summary of 1990-2010 outputs from the current SIT model as well as emission projections for 2020 and 2030.

While a positive step forward, the inventory, as the report acknowledges, is subject to the limitations of using the SIT tool. The bottom line is that it cannot be used to accurately assess the state’s progress towards the goals for emissions reductions established in the same executive order (20 percent reduction of emissions by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to a 2005 baseline). As the inventory report explains, the inventory generally uses default data generated by several sources that EPA relies upon. In some cases for the tallies of historic emissions from 1990-2010, some more accurate Colorado-specific data was plugged in. However, for the 2020 and 2030 projections, the EPA SIT does not allow for using Colorado-specific data. This means that the projections may not include significant state policy changes scheduled to take effect after 2010, including the emission control strategies adopted for both the electricity and oil and gas production sectors. The report also does not accurately account for emissions from wildfires, either historically or projected forward.

The updated inventory does use actual Colorado data (particularly in the oil and gas sector) through 2010, and it identifies a 6 percent increase from 2005 to 2010. Of that increase, most is in emissions of methane (or natural gas), which accounts for 5 million of the 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by which Colorado’s 2010 emissions were higher than 2005. By comparison, the EPA’s latest national inventory shows a 5 percent decline in nationwide emissions from 2005 to 2010, with national methane emissions essentially unchanged. Measurement of methane emissions is uncertain and controversial, and it is not yet clear to RMCO whether there are important differences in methodology between the state and national inventories and, if so, what to make of any such differences.

The projected 9 percent increase in emissions increase in 2020 (compared to 2005) needs more refinement. As the report appropriately states, “ Due to the limitations with the Projection tool, and the failure to account for recently enacted GHG reduction strategies, definitive conclusions about the trend in GHG emissions in Colorado during the next 20 years are not warranted at this time.” Appropriately then, the report recommends that a working group of stakeholders examine the opportunities for improving understanding of emissions from specific sectors of the inventory (including electrical power, oil and gas, and electricity consumption) to ensure that the next update to this inventory is as accurate as possible. RMCO fully supports this recommendation and will be urging the Air Quality Control Commission to give careful consideration to it.

See also a related newsletter item below regarding the EPA’s release in late September of emissions data from large facilities.

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO

News coverage and commentary continues on Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, a joint report release by RMCO and the Union of Concerned Scientists in September detailing how a changing climate is affecting forests in this region, and how further climate change may lead to far greater impacts than those seen before. Examples are Colorado's iconic aspens face steep decline from climate change, KUNC Northern Colorado Community Radio, September 30, 2014, and articles in SustainableBusiness.com, October 3, 2014, and Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life, WI, October 2, 2014.

The Local Resilience Project convened by the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Climate Network, and coordinated by RMCO, is well underway with each of five work groups completing their first of four rounds of meetings.  Representatives of 39 local jurisdictions are identifying possible actions for local governments and others to work together in preparing for and addressing climate change impacts, and what resources are needed from the state and federal governments and other sources to do so. Liaisons from state and federal agencies and resource experts are providing valuable input to the work groups as they shape actions to prepare for a changed climate. The project’s initial outcome will be a report, expected by January, identifying those possible actions and needs. 

News about Climate Disruption

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

In extreme weather, more sign of human fingerprints, Daily Climate, September 30, 2014. The American Meteorological Society publishes Explaining Extreme Events of 2013, 22 studies on 16 extreme events across the globe, assessing how or whether human-driven climate change contributed to increased likelihood or intensity of extreme events during 2013. The authors recognize the science of attribution remains challenging, and say that even though climate signals were not found in many of the studies, “ . . [that] does not prove anthropogenic climate change had no role to play.”

Boulder researcher: 2013's flood-triggering rains not caused by climate change, Denver Post, September 29, 2014. In one of the AMS report studies, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers Martin Hoerling and Klaus Wolter compared two 30-year periods – 1870 to 1900 and 1983 to 2013 – and did not find climate change signals in the devastating September 2013 floods along Colorado’s Front Range. However, Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research takes sharp exception to this study and its conclusion.

Portland will still be cool, but Anchorage may be the place to be, New York Times, September 22, 2014. The concept of climate refugees is gaining attention, and some observers say that the far Northwest, Alaska, and inland cities such as Salt Lake City and in the Upper Midwest, may find they need to be ready.

Drought

Drought dries up California hydropower, Climate Central, October 6, 2014. The state’s historic drought results in hydropower production dropping from 20 percent of the total electricity supply to 10 percent. Correspondingly, electricity from oil and gas is up 16 percent from the previous decade’s average, and solar and wind power combined are up 17 percent this year, making up about 30 percent of the state’s total power supply.

Ecosystems

On the cusp of climate change, New York Times, September 22, 2014. Among the paper’s extensive coverage of the World Climate Summit in New York was a profile of climate risks worldwide, including a study on phenological (seasonal timing) changes in Colorado wildflowers.

Wildfire

All California wildfires under control for first time in months, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2014. Even though the state’s fire season normally really takes off in October, over the last 10 months CalFire has fought nearly 5,000 blazes, at least 1,000 wildfires more than they do in an entire average year. The state's $209-million wildfire-fighting budget is depleted, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to tap $70 million more from a reserve account.

Tree killers, yes, fire starters, no: Mountain pine beetles get a bad rap, study says, Phys.org, September 29, 2014. University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington State Department of Natural Resources researchers conclude pine beetle outbreaks contributed little to the severity of six wildfires that affected more than 75,000 acres in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2011. Instead, weather and topography played a greater role in the ecological severity of fires than bark beetles. They also show that the beetle outbreaks, which occurred from 2000 through 2010, have not directly impacted post-fire recovery of the forests.

University of Colorado fire study of 8,000 trees finds pre-suppression forests burned hot, Denver Post, September 24, 2014. Using tree ring analyses, the researchers recreate fire severity conditions back to the 1600s and find that generally in Colorado Front Range forests, those above 7,400 feet in elevation naturally grow densely and are in little need of restoration. Recent large wildfires in the Front Range are not fundamentally different from similar events that occurred historically under extreme weather conditions. Where forests do need restoration and treatment is in lower elevation forests. The findings argue for concentrating forest treatment efforts in the wildland urban interface and watersheds. "Severe fires are not new to these forests. What's new is the increased acres burned, due to drought, and more people living in the forests," says co-author Tania Schoennagel. See online Plos One report.

Climate change may add billions to wildfire costs, study says, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2014. In Flammable Planet: Wildfires and the Social Cost of Carbon, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, and the Natural Resources Defense Council say that U.S. wildfires cost as much as $125 billion annually, but climate change could add as much as $60 billion to the bill by 2050. The total cost estimates include direct market damages such as lost timber and property, non-market damages such as health effects, and added expenditures such as fire prevention.

Agriculture

California is burning, New York Times, September 29, 2014. Stark photos of parched farmlands in California’s Central Valley underscore the severity of the state’s historic drought.

Heat-Trapping Emissions

EPA releases greenhouse gas emissions data from large facilities, EPA news release, September 30, 2014. Reported is an overall emissions increase in 2013 from large industrial facilities 20 million metric tons higher than the prior year, or 0.6 percent, driven largely by an increase in coal use for power generation. But see also, Why EPA’s press release doesn’t reflect the real methane emissions numbers, Environmental Defense Fund blog, October 6, 2014. This commentary points out that the EPA’s calculation of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector of a 12 percent decrease in 2013 fails to fully account for a large portion of emissions from oil and gas production and transmission equipment.

Who are the Big Ten in the carbon pollution business? ClimateWire, October 6, 2014. An analysis of the top ten methane emitters from the oil and gas industry indicates a wide variation in investments in methane capture by companies, attributed to lack of comprehensive regulation of methane escape.

Global rise reported in 2013 greenhouse gas emissions, New York Times, September 22, 2014. The Global Carbon Project reports a worldwide 2.3 percent increase in emissions in 2013 to record levels, including a U.S. increase of 2.9 percent (after declines in recent years) due to a resurgence in coal burning.

News about Climate Action 

Ecosystems

For trees under threat, flight may be best response, New York Times, September 23, 2014. As documented in the joint RMCO/Union of Concerned Scientists report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, the changing climate threatens the survival of whitebark in the northern Rockies. Assisted migration may be an option to preserve the species–a pilot project wherein seeds were planted 500 miles north of the current range is showing some success. See also High in Yellowstone, a foundational tree falters, Daily Climate October 8, 2014; and also Building an ark for the Anthropocene, New York Times, September 28, 2014 for coverage on a wider range of adaptive strategies for plants and animals.

Transportation and Land Use

New Denver apartment projects come with much less parking than in past, Denver Post, September 28, 2014. As the Denver city core gets noticeably denser with a proliferation of apartment building construction, architects are working with city planners to intentionally reduce the parking spots per resident ratio to encourage tenants to use public transit, bike, and walk.

National Climate Policies

Udall, Gardner clash on energy in 2nd debate, Associated Press, October 6, 2014 and Republican candidates keep stumbling over climate change questions, New Republic, October 8, 2014. Climate change is a very visible issue in the Colorado U.S. Senate race, with one of the starkest differences on the issue between the major party candidates in the nation.

HUD launches $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition, press release, September 17, 2014. The Department of Housing and Urban Development partners with the Rockefeller Foundation on the National Disaster Resilience Competition announced by the White House as part of its climate initiative in June. It makes $1 billion of Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery funds available to communities that have been struck by natural disasters in recent years. The competition promotes risk assessment and planning and will fund the implementation of innovative resilience projects to better prepare communities for future storms and other extreme events. 

Resource of the Month

State of the Climate in 2013
American Meteorological Society

The report, compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries, provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on air, land, sea, and ice. Dozens of climate indicators are used to track patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system, including greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. These indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. The report also details cases of unusual and extreme regional events.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Bob Berwyn, RMCO director of communications: berwyn@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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