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BC’s carbon tax leads the way on Canadian climate policy

Sustainable Prosperity, a think tank based at the University of Ottawa, has rated British Columbia’s carbon tax the most effective climate policy of its kind in Canada.

The group’s findings, which slammed the BC NDP’s alternative to the current carbon tax policy as the weakest solution in Canada, also acknowledge that the BC government must take further steps in order to achieve eight key principals it has identified that are key to making carbon pricing effective in fighting climate change.

According to Sustainable Prosperity, a fully effective carbon pricing plan must be comprehensive, nation-wide, simple and readily implemented, transparent and accountable, complemented by other measures, environmentally effective, ultimately comparable to carbon prices in other countries, and predictable but adaptable.

BC’s plan fell short in two areas by the findings’ standards: the policy lacks national reach, and is only environmentally effective in the medium turn. But it’s a start, and a good one at that! In comparison to other provinces, BC beat out second place Quebec by 22 points, with Alberta trailing in last place.

ACT’s upcoming Energy session, from September 2009-February 2010, will look at the urgent need for new standards and solutions for BC’s energy sector in light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as the pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods to climate impacts create new opportunities as well as challenges.

The session, made possible by BC Hydro and Plutonic Power, will also emphasize the importance of partnering mitigation with adaptation strategies, and will explore the emergence and influence of a global low carbon economy.

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Hurricane Katrina lawsuit highlights need for infrastructure adaptation

A lawsuit in the United States has highlighted the importance of adapting infrastructure to deal with the effects of extreme weather events such as storms. Last week, six plaintiffs in New Orleans filed a civil lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, stating that a channel they had constructed adjacent to the city exacerbated the impact of Hurricane Katrina on dwellings in the vicinity.

‘MR-GO’, otherwise known as ‘Mister Go’, is a 122 km-long channel that provides a shortcut between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans’s inner harbour. After much criticism for its negative environmental effects, such as erosion and alleged increased storm surge during Katrina, the channel was recently closed to ship traffic.

A geological expert, testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims that Mister Go was responsible for “one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the United States.”

As the four-week court case unfolds, homeowners from areas similarly affected by Katrina look on anxiously; a ruling in the favour of the six plaintiffs could open up a platform for 400,000 other parties who have also filed negligence claims against the government for devastation caused by the hurricane.

ACT’s second set of policy findings – on adaptation measures for extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina – is scheduled for release mid-May 2009.

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EPA declares ‘compelling and overwhelming’ scientific evidence GHGs are harmful to humans

In a groundbreaking announcement this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gasses are pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, stating that the science supporting the findings was “compelling and overwhelming.”

Amongst other threats, the agency identified effects of rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and the other gases that include increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires, a steeper than anticipated rise in sea levels, more intense storms, and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems – findings that further highlight the urgent need for adaptation planning to build resilience and adaptive capacity for communities who will be, and are already, feeling the effects of a shifting climate.

EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said: “This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low-carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation.”

ACT’s first set of policy findings – on biodiversity – includes recommendations for building resilience against climate change impacts for ecosystems. ACT’s second set of policy findings, on Extreme Weather Events, is due for release late spring 2009.

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Canada’s security and climate change: Harper government missing the mark?

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is failing to grasp the security risks that climate change threatens for Canadians, according to a recent article by Margaret Purdy, research associate in the Centre of International Relations at the University of British Columbia, and Leanne Smythe, PhD candidate in political science at UBC, published in the Toronto Star.

The severity and frequency of climate change-related events such as storms, flooding, droughts, and pest infestations will have “dramatic social, economic and international relations repercussions,” according to Purdy and Smythe, and “could strain – if not overwhelm – our emergency preparedness, disaster response, critical infrastructure protection, public health, law enforcement and military capacities.”

In comparison, our neighbours to the south appear to be developing a better grasp of the effects of climate change on national security. During his first week in office, Obama warned that unchecked climate change “could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines and irreversible catastrophe;” and has surrounded himself with advisors who speak candidly about climate change in security terms.

Purdy and Smythe propose that Canada could assume a global leadership role by undertaking serious assessment of how the changing climate will impact our national security, public safety and international security interests over the next 30 years. And that “Ottawa could do what no other government has yet done – use a country-specific risk assessment as the basis for developing a national adaptation and preparedness strategy.”

But they’d better hurry – the UK, a country already far ahead of many others on both mitigation and adaptation planning, has recently mandated a national risk assessment to be repeated every three years that considers climate change as a principal risk factor. Now that’s action!

ACT’s second set of policy findings – on Extreme Weather Events, which includes recommendations for emergency preparedness and public safety policy – is due for release late spring 2009.

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2009 the “crunch year” for global forestry planning

The world’s forests are key to reducing the damaging effects of climate change caused by humans, but if leaders attending a key UN summit in December do not find a way to halt deforestation, it could be too late.

Head of climate change research for Earthwatch Dr. Dan Bebbe warns, “This year is the crunch time for forests and climate change. We are hoping for big things from the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of 2009.”

“Unless we tackle the question of forests as a mitigation method for climate change,” he adds, “then we will really have lost the battle to keep greenhouse gas concentrations below levels that many people would consider to be dangerous.”

As ACT’s climate change adaptation and biodiversity report suggests, it’s time we began valuing forests in terms of ecosystem goods and services rather than traditional market returns. A recent report by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch proposes paying developing nations not to deforest land, thus providing aid while preserving vital carbon sinks and biodiversity.

Such a scheme could reduce deforestation rates by up to 75% by 2030, Mr Eliasch concludes; an important development, given that old growth tropical forest removal – trees being felled or burned to convert fertile land into arable farmland – currently accounts for almost 20% of human-caused CO2 emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol, a controversial international initiative that sets binding targets for reducing GHG emissions, is due to expire in 2012, and member countries must design an effective follow-up. Global forestry practices were not included in Kyoto, and must now find their place within the broader solution, according to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the UN secretary general’s climate change envoy.

ACT’s first set of policy recommendations on climate change adaptation and biodiversity are available on our website.

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Back to the roots: will the food revolution gain more attention with a new US administration?

A change in the United States administration is providing hope for US food activists lobbying in support of organic and locally-grown food. The case for organically and locally grown food has fallen upon deaf ears in previous years on Capitol Hill.

wheatBut watching First Lady Michelle Obama tearing up strips of the White House lawn for a vegetable garden, and Tom Vilsack, the new secretary of agriculture take a jackhammer to a section of pavement outside his headquarters to create his own organic “people’s garden”, has given hope to advocates like Gary Hirshberg, chief executive of Stonyfield Farm Organic Yoghurt.“This has never been just about business,” he says. “We are here to change the world.”

Nutritious and sustainable food supply has long been on the agenda of food advocates, as have changes in the way the federal government oversees the nation’s food supply and farms.

The core argument for the sustainable-food movement is that America’s mass-produced and cheaply made foods are detrimental, not only to the health of the nation’s people, but also to the health of the environment. For instance, crops rely heavily on chemical fertilizers and methods of distribution that use massive amounts of fossil fuels.

But major changes in the agri-business of the US could still be years away. “The movement is not ready for prime time,” says Michael Pollan, author of the best-selling title The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. “It’s not like we have an infrastructure with legislation ready to go.”

Last year, Congress passed a farm bill that details policy for the next five years, and farm-state legislators say they are not interested in starting over. However, organic and locally-grown food advocates hope changes in legislation will eventually incorporate efforts to combat climate change such as reducing domestic and international shipping that relies heavily on fossil fuels.

However, a further piece of the puzzle seems to be missing. Neither the current nor proposed legislation includes policy that addresses major changes in climate that have already started to impact the food system. Increasingly extreme weather, including flooding and droughts, will affect the viability of crops, as will other impacts of climate change such as the spread of pests. Sustainability planning must include policies that take these challenges, as well as new opportunities, into account, as well as the ramifications of potential responses such as increased investment in GM food designed to handle heat stress and dry conditions.

Two upcoming ACT sessions will touch on these important topics: Fresh Water Supply, which runs from February-August 2010; and Crop and Food Supply, in 2011.

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Flood-prone Bangladesh receives support from Japan and Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Flood-prone Bangladesh will be receiving a technical assistance grant of $2 million USD from the Japan Special Fund from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to enhance the capacity of government agencies to cope with the effects of climate change. The report addresses topics ranging from food security, disaster preparedness in the even of extreme weather, and other issues related to climate change, in a 10-year strategy and action plan.

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta and typhoon-prone location, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather, and projected warming trends threaten to increases the number and severity of violent tropical cyclones and storms in the region. Estimates of average sea levels rising by around 30 centimeters by 2050 would render approximately 14% of the country’s population highly vulnerable to flooding.

“This assistance will help put the country on a low carbon economic growth path, make it more climate-resilient and help strengthen its food and energy security,” said Zahir Ahmad, Project Implementation Officer for ADB’s Bangladesh mission.

The plan is slated to build up the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ and other government agencies’ adaptive capacity in dealing with complex climate change issues. It will support a number of new climate change mitigation and adaptation programs and projects, and establish initiatives designed to attract private sector business and key stakeholders to invest in clean energy projects eligible for carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

ACT’s second set of policy recommendations, on Extreme Weather Events, is scheduled for release mid-April 2009.

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ACT policy findings presented at Pew Center for Climate Change workshop on Capitol Hill

ACT is proud to announce that Jon O’Riordan, the policy author for ACT’s first session – Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity – presented our findings on natural capital at a workshop of the Pew Centre for Global Climate Change held on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Jon was the only Canadian to present at the workshop.

Pew Centre for Global Climate ChangeThe Pew Center on Global Climate Change brings together business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and other experts to bring new approaches to climate change issues, working to protect the climate while sustaining important economic growth. Over the past ten years, Pew has issued over 100 reports from top-tier researchers on key climate topics including economic and environmental impacts, and domestic and international policy solutions. The Center, which distributes its reports to more than 4,000 opinion leaders throughout the world with thousands more downloaded monthly from the Center’s website, is regularly featured in major news stories from the Associated Press, Nature Magazine, The New York Times, and other media.

ACT Policy Author Jon O\'RiordanThe U.S. government is considering a range of near-term actions to address the risks of climate change, and the Obama administration and Congress vow to make climate legislation a top priority this year. The quickest action, however, may come from federal agencies being pressured by the courts, the states, and President Obama, to issue rules limiting CO2 emissions under existing legislative authority. The two-day workshop, which consisted of a symposium assessing the benefits of avoided climate change, followed by a moderated roundtable discussion, covered key elements of federal rulemaking in assessing the costs and benefits of proposed policies.

Drawing from the climate change economics, impacts, and risk assessment communities, the workshop considered what useful insights can be gleaned now about quantifying the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of developing practical recommendations that decision makers can employ now, and a research plan for improving related decision-making tools over time.

In addition to Jon, workshop speakers included:

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center
Dina Kruger, Director, EPA Climate Change Division
Janet Peace, Vice President for Market and Business Strategies, Pew Center

Panel 1 – Government Perspectives on Decision Making for Climate Change
Martha Roberts:  Incorporating the benefits of climate protection into federal rulemaking
Christopher Pyke:  A proposal to consider global warming under NEPA
Paul Watkiss:  Social cost of carbon estimates and their use in UK policy
James Lester/Joel Smith:  Previous decisions to mitigate—California, Australia, the UK

Panel 2 – Challenges for Quantifying Damages and Risks from Climate Change
Joel Smith: Dangerous climate change: an update of the IPCC reasons for concern
Mike MacCracken & Tony Janetos: Challenges to providing quantitative estimates of  the environmental and societal impacts of global warming
Kris Ebi: Societal Vulnerability and Risk
Brian O’Neill: Uncertainty and learning in climate policy

Panel 3 – Economic Analysis of the Benefits of Climate Policy
Kristen Sheeran: Limitations of IAMs for analyzing the costs and benefits of climate policy
Steve Rose: Federal policy needs for evaluating climate change impacts: Working with what you have
Gary Yohe:  An analytical framework based on the IPPC’s “iterative risk assessment” paradigm

ACT’s second set of findings – on Extreme Weather Events, by Dr. Gordon McBean and Dan Henstra – will be released on April 20th, 2009.

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Carbon marketing turns competition crisp

Despite the striking similarities in their packaging and products, the UK’s Walkers crisps and North America’s Lay’s potato chips might as well be selling apples and oranges. Although both brands are owned by the PepsiCo company, Walkers has decided to add one significant detail to their packets – a label stating that 75.0 grams of carbon were emitted to produce a 34.5 gram bag of chips.

Walkers was the first major food brand to display such information, which came about as a collaboration with their parent company PepsiCo, and Carbon Trust – a UK government funded not-for-profit who’s mission it is to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies.

The ‘carbon reduction label’ introduced in 2007 for consumer products may well be setting a precedent for future marketing plans as shoppers become increasingly concerned with buying products from companies that are environmentally sustainable and take climate change remediation seriously.

But ‘greenwash’ is also an issue that’s being taken to the fryer. Consumers are forever weary that corporations do little in terms of practical mitigation beyond the branding and marketing campaigns they roll out for new products. In order to retain the right to use the Carbon Trust label, businesses that partner with the Carbon Trust must commit to its measurement standards and to a two-year programme of carbon reduction.

Carbon Trust has also developed a “Code of Good Practices on GHG Emissions and Reductions Claims.” The code helps businesses use certified data to clearly communicate product life cycle GHG emissions, and support effective communication of the lifecycle GHG emissions of products and/or emission reductions, assessed in conformity with PAS 2050 – Carbon Trust’s official standards for evaluating carbon sustainability (known as the “Publicly Available Specification 2050” or PAS 2050).

ACT’s third session, on clean energy production and distribution, is scheduled to begin April 2009. We’ll look at the new, clean energy technologies people are coming to rely on as ways to reduce emissions, and ask, “Will climate change pose real problems for production and delivery of energy sources such as hydro and wind power?”

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SFU study highlights importance of adaptive capacity for fishery-dependent nations

SFU researcher Nick Dulvy, a Canada Research Chair in marine biodiversity and conservation, has co-authored a new report published this month in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

Dulvy, together with an international team of biologists and geographers, studied 132 countries and their dependence on fish for protein and income, as well as their social and economic ability to adapt to climate change impacts.

Findings from the study identified 33 countries that are “highly vulnerable” to effects of global warming such as rising ocean temperatures, severe flooding, coral bleaching, increased coastal storms and pronounced changes in river flows. Some of these countries include Malawi, Guinea, Senegal, Uganda and Yemen in Africa, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan in Asia, and Peru and Columbia in South America.

Dulvy proposes that these countries be given precedence in efforts to help them adapt to climate change, noting they account for over 20% of the world’s fish exports: “They are not necessarily the places that will suffer the greatest climate impacts on their fisheries. Rather, they are countries where fish play a large role in diet, income and trade yet there is a lack of capacity to adapt to problems caused by climate change.”

According to Dulvy, “more work is needed to predict with greater precision the impact of climate change on fish-dependent populations, so that national governments and international agencies can help the most vulnerable societies to anticipate and cope with climate change.”

ACT’s first set of policy recommendations, on climate change adaptation and biodiversity, can be found on our website at http://www.sfu.ca/act/.

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Death toll in Australian wildfires rises to over 180; highlights urgent need for extreme events adaptation planning

The deadly wildfires currently ravaging Victoria, Australia as a result of record high temperatures are a chilling example of the extremes scientists project will occur at an increasing rate as climate change accelerates.

In a testament to the need for adaptation planning worldwide, survivors of the bushfires are demanding fundamental changes to the country’s emergency response system.

With little to no warning of the wall of flames surging toward them, many residents from affected areas escaped with no more than the clothing on their backs. Some were not so lucky. At least 180 residents of the southeastern state of Victoria are confirmed dead, with emergency crews and volunteers still sifting through ruined homes, charred cars, and other commercial property.

Considered to be one of the most demoralizing episodes in modern Australian history, citizens are now considering how such scenarios will be dealt with in the future.

“I think we really do need to look at our early warning systems,” said Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

ACT’s second set of policy recommendations – on Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather Events, by IPCC author Dr. Gordon McBean – is scheduled for release in April.

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ACT Releases background report to Biodiversity Recommendations

ACT is pleased to announce the release of the Adaptation to Climate Change Biodiversity Background Report, a compendium of research references and conclusion supporting our first set of policy recommendations: Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity: Transitioning to an Ecosystem-based Economy in British Columbia. We have also released an updated version of the policy recommendations.

The updated report contains policy recommendations for decision-makers on how to address and administer the urgent need for ecosystem protection, and specifically recommends that ecosystem protection and management take the form of an economic model that considers the value of ecosystem goods and services.

To download a copy of the policy recommendations or Background Report, visit the ACT website at www.sfu.ca/act/.

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ACT Executive Director Authors White Paper for PICS

PICS (the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions) has released a white paper authored by ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford exploring climate change challenges facing BC in the context of nine top-of-mind issues. The paper, entitled “Adaptation to Climate Change: Planning for BC” references local, national and international responses and proposes practical recommendations designed to facilitate “smart adaptation” strategies that both acknowledge and leverage the links between adaptation to climate impacts and emissions reduction, or “mitigation”.

The white paper is one of eight commissioned by PICS, a new inter-university initiative of SFU, UBC, UVic and UNBC made possible by the BC government.

Visit the ACT website to download a copy of the white paper.

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ACT co-founder Dr. Richard Lipsey featured in Globe and Mail on “creative revolution” strategies for Canada’s industrial decay

ACT co-founder and eminent Canadian economist Dr. Richard Lipsey was featured yesterday in an article by the Globe and Mail on a creative revolution spurred by new technology that he believes is the solution to Canada’s industrial decay. The article provides insight into how Dr. Lipsey sees uncertain economic times affecting dramatic decline in Canada’s manufacturing industries, and his prediction of a market “boom” in alternative energy production over the next ten years, following the current economic slowdown.

In the article, Dr. Lipsey describes his work with ACT in preparing local governments for the massive changes brought on by climate change as “urgent.”

“Municipalities are on the frontlines,” he says, as coping with the effects of increased flooding, landslides, public health risks, and other extreme weather-related hazards is an increasingly frequent reality for many communities.

“The best industrial policies consist of co-operation between the government, universities and the private sector to push new technologies,” states Dr Lipsey. This principal is a cornerstone of ACT’s goals, as we engage expert multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral groups in research into and formation of dynamic new policy recommendations, designed to help smooth the path ahead.

ACT’s second set of policy recommendations on Extreme Weather Events is due for release in April 2009.

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ACT Announces New Sponsors for 2009 ‘Energy’ Session

ACT’s third six-month session – on energy – scheduled for the spring and summer of 2009, is off to a great start! We are pleased to welcome three key partners who are helping to make it happen: Plutonic Power Corp, the BC Government’s Climate Action Secretariat, and BC Hydro.

The Energy session will look at the urgent need for new standards and solutions for BC’s energy sector in light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods to climate impacts create new opportunities as well as challenges.

BC is an ideal province to use as a model for exploration in this context, due to the fact that we have plentiful energy resources, a dynamic technology sector, and a range of vulnerabilities to climate change impacts. The session focus will include energy self-sufficiency and economic stimulation for resource-based communities, and BC’s leading role in emerging carbon market mechanisms such as the carbon tax.

Scheduled for March-August 2009, ACT’s Energy session will include several multi-stakeholder conferences. Through these and a policy research process, we will examine available and developing energy technologies, their efficiency and vulnerability in the context of climate change, and new developments and policies that can help smooth the path ahead. The session will include an exploration of emerging emissions market incentives, roles, structures and mechanisms; and we are discussing the prospect of partnering with offset market experts Habitat Enterprises in the latter section.

Findings from this session will be presented in ACT’s third summary report, to be released in Fall 2009.

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ACT’s First Report on Biodiversity “Ark” Sparks Media Attention

The release of ACT’s first policy report on biodiversity in BC, authored by Jon O’Riordan – a former Deputy Minister for the BC government’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development, has drawn media coverage from several major publications. Content from the December 3 press conference releasing details of the report was covered in the Vancouver Sun, The Tyee, and the Globe and Mail.

The final version of O’Riordan’s report will be available on the ACT website (www.sfu.ca/act) and blog Friday December 19th. The background research compendium and accompanying economic analysis by researcher Eric Kimmel will also be available.

Video highlights and presentations from our second six-month session – Extreme Weather Events, held May-December 2008 – are now on the ACT website. You can also find presentations from our November 20th International round table event, held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue that featured climate change adaptation experts from Africa, Australia, South America, and the Arctic.

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