SOIL CARBON AND CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS
From Kansas State University's:
Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases (CASMGS)
Charles W. Rice, K-State Department of Agronomy, National CASMGS Director
(785) 532-7217 firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Staggenborg, K-State Department of Agronomy (785) 532-7214 email@example.com
Steve Watson, CASMGS Communications (785) 532-7105 firstname.lastname@example.org
November 18, 2009
* Forests important to future carbon sequestration, but low nitrogen availability could limit potential
* Specially treated urea fertilizers may reduce nitrous oxide emissions
* New studies re-examine biofuel’s effect on greenhouse gases
* Fixing a critical climate accounting error
* Status of climate change legislation in U.S.
* Officials discuss linking regional U.S. trading systems
* U.S. CO2 emissions fall by 5.9 percent in 2009
* Packard Foundation awards grant for work on agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation
Forests important to future carbon sequestration, but Low nitrogen availability could limit potential
Forests are important in reducing the green house gas carbon dioxide (CO2). For the period 2000-2007, it has been estimated that from the 8.9 billion ton of carbon released by human activities, approximately 46% is returned to the atmosphere. The remaining 54% is removed by being absorbed in oceans and taken up by forests and other vegetation. The role of forest growth is assumed to increase in the future due to climate change and increasing CO2 concentrations.
So-called Earth System Models, making predictions for the globe, estimate that the effect from increased forest growth can be very large. Research results, based on measurements at hundreds of European forest monitoring plots, however, indicate that the effects of increased forest growth on CO2 increase are overestimated when neglecting the limitation imposed by low nitrogen availability. Low availability of other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, can also limit the growth. Overall, nutrient limitation may reduce the estimated forest growth increase by a factor of more than two. This is one of the results of a study published in a special issue of Forest Ecology and Management of September, edited by Wim de Vries of Alterra, part of Wageningen UR.
Despite nutrient limitations, it is expected that the carbon pool in trees could increase by 35-40% by 2100 due to future environmental change. It should be noted, says Wim de Vries, that this is an average value with large regional variations. Climate change will not lead to an increase in carbon sequestration all over Europe. Increased growth is specifically expected in boreal climates due to the dominating effect of an increase in temperature, but in large parts of Southern Europe, the effect is opposite due to increased drought stress. Research at the forest monitoring plots has also shown that for every 1 kilogram of nitrogen deposited from the atmosphere, approximately 30-70 kg of carbon will be sequestered in both forests and forest soils. Multiplying this range by an estimated global N deposition, this corresponds to an annual global carbon sink of 0.15 - 0.35 billion ton, being 2-4% of the estimated release by human activities.
For more information, see:
-- Science Daily, October 8, 2009
Specially treated urea fertilizers
May reduce nitrous oxide emissions
USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have found that using alternative types of fertilizers can cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, at least in one part of the country. They are currently examining whether the alternatives offer similar benefits nationwide.
Nitrogen fertilizers are often a necessity for ensuring sufficient crop yields, but their use leads to release of nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Fertilizer use is one reason an estimated 78 percent of the nation's nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture, according to Ardell Halvorson, a soil scientist at the ARS Soil Plant Nutrient Research Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo.
Halvorson compared nitrous oxide emissions from corn fields treated with either a conventional nitrogen fertilizer (urea) or either of two specially formulated urea fertilizers-one with "controlled release" polymer-coated pellets, and the other with inhibitors added to "stabilize" the urea to keep more of it in the soil as ammonium for a longer period.
In a two-year experiment at Fort Collins, he collected the emissions using static vented chambers, similar to small "pillbox" structures placed over the soil. He chose a no-till cropping system because it's known to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He found that the controlled-release fertilizer cut nitrous oxide emissions by a third, and that the stabilized fertilizer cut them almost in half.
Halvorson's results are so far limited to the irrigated fields and cool, semi-arid conditions in and around Fort Collins. But nitrous oxide releases are the result of a complex interplay of conditions that vary from one area to the next, such as soil water content, soil temperatures, soil types, microbial activity, climactic conditions and rainfall patterns. So Halvorson is expanding the study, with support from the fertilizer industry and cooperation of other ARS locations, to see how the fertilizers respond at seven sites around the United States.
For more information, see:
-- USDA-ARS News Service, November 17, 2009
New studies re-examine biofuel’s
effect on greenhouse gases
A global biofuels program will lead to intense pressures on land supply and can increase greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes. Using linked economic and terrestrial biogeochemistry models, Jerry Melillo with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, and colleagues examined direct and indirect effects of possible land-use changes from an expanded global cellulosic bioenergy program on greenhouse gas emissions over the 21st century. Their model predicts that indirect land use will be responsible for substantially more carbon loss (up to twice as much) than direct land use; however, because of predicted increases in fertilizer use, nitrous oxide emissions will be more important than carbon losses themselves in terms of warming potential. A global greenhouse gas emissions policy that protects forests and encourages best practices for nitrogen fertilizer use can dramatically reduce emissions associated with biofuels production.
-- Science Express, October 22, 2009
fixing a critical
climate accounting error
An important but fixable error in legal accounting rules for bioenergy could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging deforestation, accounting to new analysis by 13 prominent scientists and land-use experts. The team of experts published its analysis as a “Policy Forum” article in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Science.
In the article, the team explains that rules for applying the Kyoto Protocol and national cap and trade laws make a mistake by exempting the carbon dioxide emitted by bioenergy – energy derived from burning wood and other vegetation – regardless of its source. This legally makes bioenergy from any source, even that generated by clearing the world’s forests, a potentially cheap, yet false, way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by foresters and farmers as well as oil companies, power plants and industry as they face tighter pollution limits.
According to a number of studies, including one by the U.S. Department of Energy, replicating this loophole in a global climate treaty could lead to the loss of most of the world’s natural forests as carbon caps tighten.
“The solution, which we explain in our paper, is to count all carbon dioxide emissions from energy use, whether from fossil fuels or bioenergy and then develop a system to credit bioenergy to the extent it uses biomass derived from ‘additional’ carbon sources, which offset energy emissions,” says William L. Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, and co-lead author of the article.
The burning of bioenergy and fossil energy release comparable amounts of carbon dioxide from tailpipes or smokestacks, but bioenergy use may reduce emissions overall if the biomass results from additional plant growth, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and offsets the emissions from the eventual burning of the biomass for energy.
On the other hand, using carbon that would otherwise be stored in forests adds carbon to the atmosphere in the same way as using carbon otherwise stored underground in carbon or crude oil.
-- Nicholas School News, Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, October 22, 2009
For complete details, see:
Status of climate change
legislation In U.S.
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed the Boxer-Kerry climate change legislation out of committee on November 5, 2009. This bill would establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, and is the same in many respects from the Waxman-Markey bill passed earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives. Among many other things, the bill includes a goal of reducing US emissions 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
In addition, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and five co-sponsors introduced legislation that would add an agriculture piece, including an agricultural offsets program, to the Boxer-Kerry draft. Termed the Clean Energy Partnership Act, this legislation will be added to the Kerry-Boxer cap-and-trade bill. The Stabenow bill would put USDA in charge of agriculture and forestry offset programs, and provide various types of support and numerous incentives to agriculture and forestry.
The Clean Energy Partnership Act lists specific eligible offset types. They include:
• Coalmine methane, landfill gas and fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector
• Projects involving afforestation or reforestation of acreage not forested as of January 1, 2009
• Forest management and reduced deforestation
• Carbon capture and storage
• Recycling and waste minimization projects
• Projects relating to agricultural, grassland and rangeland management
• Animal management practices
• Urban tree-planting
The bill does not specify which existing voluntary carbon credit registries would be eligible to issue compliance-worthy carbon credits in this new system, however. This is important because it would affect whether those in current voluntary carbon markets would be eligible to be accepted into any new federal greenhouse gas market system.
Under the Stabenow bill, companies subject to mandatory carbon caps can buy carbon credits – but these carbon credits must come from offset programs that have approved project standards, methodologies, and protocols.
Examples of current voluntary programs that may or may not be approved for inclusion in any new federal system include the Voluntary Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve (the California-based voluntary offset standard), the American Carbon Registry, and the Chicago Climate Exchange.
What happens now? The Senate finance, energy, agriculture, commerce and foreign relations committees are all expected to hold hearings on portions of the bill. Once they have completed their hearings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to merge the Kerry-Boxer bill with the energy bill, which passed out of committee with bipartisan support in June. The energy bill requires utilities to generate 15 per cent of their electricity from renewable energy sources or energy efficiency improvements by 2021.
To try to gain the 60 votes needed for passage of any climate change legislation in the Senate, there is likely to be an additional changes made to the bill to expand the areas where oil and natural gas companies can drill in the US, provide subsidies to the nuclear power industry, and funnel money toward the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology.
The differences between Kerry-Boxer and Waxman-Markey will be worked out in a conference committee if and when the Senate passes Kerry-Boxer.
Agricultural organizations remain divided in their support or opposition to federal climate change legislation.
-- Steve Watson, CASMGS Communications
Officials discuss linking
regional U.S. trading systems
Regional U.S. emission trading programs continue to discuss inter-linking, but obstacles remain, said representatives of the U.S.’s three regional greenhouse gas reduction programs when they met in Washington D.C. in November.
They discussed how they might merge their cap-and trade systems if a federal scheme fails to emerge. Linking would provide greater carbon market liquidity and prevent manufacturers from moving across state lines to avoid regulation, they said. But certain policy elements would need to be aligned for the systems to recognize each other’s allowances, and there are still big differences between the programs.
“In order to have a functioning, three-region market, there are certain things that would have to line up. What we were doing this morning is exploring what those things are,” said Doug Scott, who represents the seven-member Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. Michael Gibbs, who represents the 11-member Western Climate Initiative (WCI), said the systems do not have to be identical to be linked, but listed policies that would be “deal breakers.”
“Some deal breakers people talk about is a safety valve or price cap,” Gibbs said. “If you are in a program that doesn’t have a price cap and you think that is a bad policy, you can’t link with somebody that does have a price cap or you in essence have their price cap.”
-- Carbon Market North America, November 13, 2009
U.S. CO2 emissions fall By
5.9 percent in 2009
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels in 2009 to be 5.9 percent below the 2008 level. Projected coal CO2 emissions will fall by 10.1 percent in 2009, primarily because of lower consumption for electricity generation. Coal accounts for 63 percent of the total decline in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels this year. Forecast lower natural gas and petroleum emissions this year make up 7 percent and 30 percent of the projected total decline in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, respectively.
A decline in coal, natural gas, and electricity consumption in the industrial sector, a result of the weak economy, accounts for 140 million metric tons, or about 40 percent, of the total projected reduction in CO2 emissions.
Forecast coal, natural gas, and electricity consumption in the commercial and residential sectors is also lower this year because of the weak economy, a slightly warmer winter, and milder summer.
Projected reductions in CO2 emissions associated with changes in the electricity generation mix reflect both increases in emission-free generation from hydropower, wind, and nuclear power and, with substantially lower natural gas prices, decisions by some electricity suppliers to back out some coal generation in favor of natural gas generation.
The decline in CO2 emissions from petroleum consumption, which occurs primarily in economy-related reductions in jet fuel and distillate fuel consumption, accounts for the other 30 percent of the forecast reduction in CO2 emissions.
But emissions will be on the upswing next year, the EIA said. The agency predicts emissions will rise 1.1 per cent in 2010 as the economy improves.
The full EIA report can be found at:
Packard Foundation Awards Grant for Work on
Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University has received a $628,000 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to establish the Technical Working Group for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (T-AGG).
The Packard Foundation grant will fund a two-year initiative by T-AGG to conduct a transparent, scientifically based review of greenhouse gas mitigation opportunities in the U.S. and abroad. For the best of these opportunities, the team will then develop the analytical background necessary to assess and initiate the development of high-integrity methodologies.
The team’s findings will be published by the Nicholas Institute in a series of technical reports with executive summaries for stakeholders and decision makers. The project began in October 2009 and be completed by mid-2011.
“Our goal is to provide the scientific and analytical foundation needed for high-quality market, state and federal agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation strategies in the United States, and begin to assess the next steps for international agriculture as well,” says Lydia Olander, senior associate director of ecosystem services at the Nicholas Institute.
“This will be done with significant expert and practitioner input,” Olander stresses. “Ongoing stakeholder engagement with farm groups, policy makers and other key constituents is a priority.”
Charles W. Rice, University Distinguished Professor of Soil Microbiology at Kansas State University, and Robert B. Jackson, Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change and Professor of Biology at Duke and director of Duke’s Center on Global Change, will collaborate with T-AGG team members at the Institute.
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions provides nonpartisan research and analysis to key stakeholders on energy and climate policy issues. For more information, go to www.nicholas.duke.edu/institute.
The Packard Foundation, established in 1964, is a family foundation that works to help improve the lives of children, enable the creative pursuit of science, advance reproductive health, and conserve and restore the Earth’s natural systems.
For more information, see: http://www.packard.org/home.aspx.
-- Lydia Olander, email@example.com
MEETINGS OF INTEREST
15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP15) and 5th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (MOP5)
August 29-September 3, 2010
The 9th International NCCR Climate Summer School
Adaptation and Mitigation: Responses to Climate Change
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