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Focus on climate change in the Arctic could yield environmental and financial dividends, panel concludes

Wed, 03/06/2013 - 9:36am

Climate change in the far north is occurring far more rapidly than elsewhere around the planet, but common-sense efforts to mitigate key emissions and protect the fragile Arctic environment could slow this trend and benefit communities, the environment, and companies. This was the central message delivered in Washington, D.C. during the workshop, "Tackling Climate Change in the Arctic: An International Emergency," one of the pre-conference activities kicking off the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference sponsored by the American Climate Change Officers, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the Climate Registry, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

"During 2012, the extent of summer Arctic sea ice plunged to its lowest levels in recorded history, and the volume of autumn and winter sea ice plummeted as well," said Charles Bayless, retired CEO of Tucson Electric and Illinois Power and retired President of the West Virginia University Institute of Technology. Arctic sea ice not only provides critical habitat for polar bears, he explained, but also helps keep the whole planet cool by reflecting light back into space. "These changes are just the tip of the iceberg. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is starting to be released as the frozen tundra thaws, as well as methane clathrates that have long been locked in the sediments of continental shelves. The bottom line is that the time has come to challenge both the public and private sectors to scale up their efforts to protect the Arctic."

"Fortunately, there are many ways to begin tackling climate change in the Arctic," said Tim Warman, workshop moderator and a well-known specialist on climate change issues in the environmental advocacy community. "Reducing soot emissions from ships, improving the efficiency of airplane engines and rerouting flights, avoiding ice-breaking at critical times, deploying alternative cook stoves, and managing fires in the boreal forests are just some of the ways we can make a huge dent in this problem."

Dr. Michael MacCracken, chief climate scientist for the Climate Institute and member of the synthesis team for the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, described an important new effort to upgrade the way organizations account for their climate impacts. The upgrades in climate accounting metrics, which are contained in a new voluntary consensus standard being developed under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process that is now nearing draft publication, are aligned with the most recent discoveries in the field of climate science.

"This standard represents a very promising complement to the set of approaches available for policymakers to consider as they develop policies at the national and international level," MacCracken said. The standard, referred to as LEO-SCS-002, complements international standards for life-cycle assessment, describing detailed methods for evaluating the environmental and human health impacts of industrial systems and products over their entire life.

Among other advances, the draft standard's climate metrics will make it possible for the first time for carbon registries to account for the effects of short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Just last month, a prestigious study published in Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres concluded that black carbon, the soot produced by burning fossil fuels and biomass, is a major contributor to global climate change, second only to carbon dioxide.

"The newly emerging science will serve as the foundation for the development of an Arctic Climate Action Registry standard and methodologies that will aim to incentivize projects to mitigate important short-lived climate forcers," said John Kadyszewski, Director of Winrock International's American Carbon Registry. "This will enable companies, communities and agencies to pursue the registration of emissions reduction projects especially beneficial to the Arctic, creating verified and serialized credits that can be sold and retired by concerned companies and individuals."

Tobias Schultz, Life Cycle Assessment practitioner with SCS Global Services, rounded out the workshop by providing a more detailed look at the calculation methods. "In addition to the short-lived emissions that directly affect the region, it is important to point out that each of us has an Arctic climate footprint, since a percentage of the greenhouse gases we emit anywhere on the planet end up contributing to Arctic climate change. As such, in the face of this international emergency, each of us also has an important role to play in helping to slow this change."

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