Friday, January 31, 2014

Who Is Legally Responsible for Climate Change Impacts (and avoiding them)?

English: Aerial view of Kivalina, Alaska, USA....
English: Aerial view of Kivalina, Alaska, USA. View is to the southeast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
International Climate Change Liability: A Myth or a Reality? (Jennifer Kilinski, 42 page pdf, J. of Transnational Law & Policy, Spring 2009)

Also discussed here: Office of the Auditor General 2012 Annual Report (City of Ottawa, Nov. 28, 2013)

And here: The Alaskan village set to disappear under water in a decade (Stephen Sackur, HardTalk, BBC News Magazine, Jul. 29, 2013)

And here: The Moral and Criminal Case Against Canada's Climate Negligence (William Rees, Dec. 7, 2013)

Today we review the liability of companies which emit greenhouse gases for losses caused by anthropogenic climate change. Several suits have been raised in the last 5 years by plaintiffs that have suffered significant impacts against the main emitters of carbon pollution which in the USA is the electrical generation industry which is responsible for 25% of that nation’s emissions. 

While these suits concern flooding from sea level rise of Arctic islands, such as Kivalina, Alaska, the Auditor General for the City of Ottawa found that “Lack of a systematic and comprehensive climate change adaptation plan may result in impairment to municipal infrastructure and services due to extreme weather resulting from climate change. This could then result in potential legal action due to sustained property damage”. This liability was linked to the provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act requires an emergency preparedness plan be in place. 

Taking this thinking a step further, most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions originate in cities and one of the principal GHG emitters is the transportation sector and private vehicles n particular which are owned and driven by around 70% of the city’s population. Those most affected by air pollution from these vehicles are too young or too old to drive. Just as the Inuit on a small Alaskan island are among the lowest emitters of GHGs and suffer the most from climate change, the same logic applies to the young and elderly in cities who conceivably could launch a valid class action against those responsible for vehicle emissions for both health impacts, accentuated by climate change, and for damage to property and infrastructure as the Auditor General found. The Court found in the Kivalina case that regulation of greenhouse gases was a political rather than a legal issue and one would look for accountability at that level. 

 However, the failure of the City of Ottawa to prepare a plan of action to protect and adapt to climate change appears to provide a potential legal recourse for those suffering losses, whether they be structural or health. In addition, cities have a dominant role and mandate in regulating traffic, congestion and roads, as well as the ability to price use of these, which in turn gives cities the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and the liability that goes with this responsibility. How long will it take those who are impacted to sue the city and vehicle owners for damages?

Key Quotes:
“Human activities caused global GHG emissions to increase more than 70 percent between 1970 and 2004 alone.. The global sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm a year before 1993 and 3.1 mm a year since then”

“the ideal plaintiffs are those individuals or group of individuals who contribute the least but are harmed the most, who are discrete and identifiable, and who can demonstrate significant and specialized harms readily linked to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“the Inupiat Eskimo Village of Kivalina, Alaska filed suit against twenty-four of the world’s largest oil and energy companies,157 alleging that they caused the global warming responsible for significant harms to Kivalina…. The suit was dismissed by the United States district court on September 30, 2009, on the grounds that regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts.”

“for a climate change suit, plaintiffs need to demonstrate that the emissions caused by the named defendants are such that they interfere with the public health, safety, peace, convenience, or comfort, and that defendants knew or had reason to know of the effects upon the public right.”

 “in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co.,141 Connecticut, seven other states, the City of New York, and several environmental groups sued a group of electric utilities under federal public nuisance common law, asking them to abate the global warming nuisance… the defendants were the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States..”

“- The Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan[City of Ottawa, 2004]..outlined a risk assessment and mitigation plan to be undertaken in phase II (scheduled to occur in 2005-06), but no progress was made in this area….Lack of an assessment of the impact of climate change to waste water infrastructure will exacerbate risks noted in that area as well..The level of control over adapting to climate change is not well controlled as no ownership has been identified and attention to adaptation requirements is sporadic..”

"Everyone is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons” [Canadian Criminal Code (Section 219))
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What is Public Transit's Role (if any) in Reducing Traffic Congestion?

Do density and transport resolve congestion? (Cities Matter, Dec. 11, 2013)

Today we review a look at the links between congestion on the one hand and transit, population density and city location. The short answer is that better transit does not correlate with less congestion. The only significant link is between higher urban population density and higher congestion. This is the opposite way to what planners frequently assume- that higher urban densities process more efficient public transit and less congestion. A side result reveals which cities have poorer performance than expected and here there are surprises: in Canada, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal have 5-10% higher congestion than Toronto, Calgary or Edmonton. As the contrarian blogger who wrote this article, Phil McDermott , wryly comments: “transit creates a commitment to a land use pattern that promotes congestion, delaying or distorting the decentralisation of employment that might otherwise occur in a well-connected city”.

What was not analysed is the impact of road pricing on congestion and the results from cities which have tried it- from Dubai to Stockholm and from London to Singapore seem to point to this being the best way to reduce congestion and pollution. The conclusion seems to point to a combination of lower population density (i.e. sprawled cities) combined with road pricing as the best option to address congestion in (already sprawled) cities in the US and Canada, rather than expanding expensive and, from this analysis, ineffective
public transit. 

Key Quotes:

“Among the North American cities only population density was statistically significant, explaining 52% of the differences in morning congestion among cities. By and large, as densities increase, so does congestion”

“Boston has higher levels of congestion (48%) than predicted (27%) on the basis of its density (just 800 persons per square km)… The other poor performers based on this analysis include both high density Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and low density Atlanta”

“The results for European cities were completely different, adding weight to the argument that context matters:.. the poor performers are Warsaw (density 3,100), Marseilles (1,300), Istanbul (9,700), Toulouse (1,100), Rome (3,400) and Brussels (2,600). The better performers include the smaller cities of Malmo (density 3,600), Zagreb (5,700), Valencia (3,000), Seville (5,600) and Bern (2,300).”

“the European evidence also offers no grounds for suggesting that density is a prerequisite either to better commuting conditions or that congestion reflects the quality of transit systems.”
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How Does Bad Air Affect the Economy?

 Ripple effects of air pollution felt in many sectors (China Daily, Dec. 10, 2013)

Also discussed here: Smog Hits Half Of China, 104 Cities Severely Polluted (Lu Chen, Epoch Times, Dec. 8, 2013)

And here: Air pollution kills 21,000 Canadians each year - Transportation-related emissions to blame, say UBC researchers (Pamela Fayerman, Vancouver Sun, Oct. 22, 2013

And here : Commissioner hints at new EU air quality measures (Air Quality news, Dec. 11, 2013)

Today we review a news story which brought up an interesting aspect of heavy air pollution and the reaction by the people it affects – mainly the older and younger generations. In this case, it is an example from large polluted Chinese cities, but the levels observed are not that much different from those observed in the downtowns of many large congested western cities, so the same reaction and impacts can be expected. This includes the travel industry where those with the time and money to travel deliberately – the baby boomers over 65 - chose destinations with cleaner air and avoid those with polluted air. Schools are closed in China for the same reason that those in urban areas of the USA and Canada which are within 200 m of heavy traffic should be closed.

While the Chinese government seeks to improve its air quality (by 20% in 4 years!), and action is being taken to strengthen EU air quality guidelines, their counterparts in Canada and USA focus only on ambient air standards while roadside air quality becomes worse as cities attract more and more polluting vehicles and traffic congestion. Only one jurisdiction in Canada (Halton Region in southwestern Ontario) has taken steps to monitor roadside emission and keep heavy traffic away from residences because of vehicle pollution and the health threat this represents. Meanwhile, more people die from air pollution than from obesity and traffic accidents combined (at last count, 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada).

 Heavy Smog Hits East China  

Key Quotes:

“Data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection shows that air quality in 104 cities in 20 provinces are suffering from heavy pollution…China’s air pollution in 2013 is the worst in the past 52 years, and 13 provinces have set all time highs for air pollution this year”

“The air quality index published by the US Consulate stood at 442 ("hazardous") at 7 am, falling to 185 ("unhealthy") by 5 pm. The figures reported by the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center were 179 and 238 at those same times.”

"Demand for food deliveries has surged a lot…Of the people coming to our restaurant, 80 percent are wearing a mask”

"People didn't pay special attention to air quality when they chose destinations before, but now clean air is a major attraction, especially for the senior age group…Over the weekend, we have seen people cancel their trips to cities with severe pollution, like Nanjing…destinations with relatively clear air — such as Xiamen, in Fujian province, Sanya, in Hainan, and Lijiang, in Yunnan — have become more popular”

 "Young children are more vulnerable to pollutants, so classes in kindergartens and primary schools should be suspended on such polluted days,"

"The target is to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 by 20 percent in 2017 from 2012 levels in Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu,"

[in Canada] "Nearly a third of the country's population lives within 500 metres of a highway or 100 metres from a major urban road, exposing them to toxic fumes from more than 15,000 cars per day,”

[in the EU] “The Commission will adopt a new and ambitious air quality package, based on a thorough review of the existing air policy, launched in early 2011. The review was based on almost three years of intensive consultations with stakeholders, a thorough analysis of the latest scientific evidence on air pollution, a full assessment of the pros and cons of the existing EU air policy, and its impact on health and environment, and an in-depth examination of available cost-effective measures”
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Is 2 deg C the Most Effective Goal to Control Climate Warming?

The difficult, the dangerous and the catastrophic:Managing the spectrum of climate risks (14 page pdf, Amy L. Luers, Leonard S. Sklar, Earth’s Future, Nov. 17, 2013)

Today we review an article that examines the challenges that exist with adopting a single goal for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions- which currently has been accepted as a 2C warming of the global surface tenmperature. The authors point out that this single goal is seen as a far off line separating the difficult from the catastrophic, thus becoming an obstacle because of the need to define “catastrophic” according to the needs and interests of individual and diverse countries. It also puts the focus mainly or solely on the mitigation of emissions without a balancing effort to adapt to the coming climate changes which may become the most important aspect. A different framework is presented which presents the major impacts of climate change (which vary from one user to another with differing conditions and interests and varying interpretations of risk ) from the present to the far future as one axis and the degree of impact as a second axis while adaptation and mitigation are presented with the same axes. This risk management framework may be applied to any one country or situation- or to the world at large. mitigation vs adaptation  

Key Quotes:

“the focus on a single target has now become an obstacle because it reinforces three key problems:
  • it frames climate change as a distant abstract threat - “This focus is amplified by a popular narrative that the threshold is a ‘red line’ separating difficult impacts from the truly catastrophic”
  • it impedes integration of mitigation and adaptation - “the single dangerous threshold has impeded integration of efforts to reduce the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses (mitigation) with efforts to adjust to the changing climate (adaptation), because it has focused the climate discourse narrowly on policies and technical solutions for reducing emissions to greenhouse gases.”
  • it fails to recognize the diversity of values and risk perceptions of people around the globe - “One stakeholder may value species threatened with extinction more than another stakeholder, and thus judge their loss as more severe. Stakeholders also perceive the likelihood of future events differently, especially when scientific estimates of the probability have large uncertainties”
“The substantial uncertainty about what will happen if temperatures rise by2°C ……combined with the diversity of stakeholder priorities, has contributed to the “climate change collective action problem,” in which countries would be better off collectively reducing emissions but perceived self‐interest compels them to continue emitting at high levels “

“we present a climate risk space defined by the severity of potential impacts and the time scale over which impacts may be realized with rising temperatures.”

“The single dangerous threshold focuses on the upper right portion of this space. Yet the differing values and risk perceptions of global society require consideration of the full space.”

“Because of the warming already committed to by past and present emissions, and the inertia of our biophysical and social systems, mitigation policies implemented today will not have a significant influence on the climate for decades “
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Health Impacts from Long-Term Exposure to Roadside Emissions

English: Vehicles emissions standards in EU, U...
English: Vehicles emissions standards in EU, USA and Japan Français : Comparaison des valeurs limites d’émissions des voitures dans l’Union Européenne, au Japon et aux États-Unis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Effects of long-term exposure to air pollution on natural-cause mortality: an analysis of 22 European cohorts within the multicentre ESCAPE project (Abstract, Rob Beelen, Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, Massimo Stafoggia, Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, Gudrun Weinmayr, Barbara Hoffmann, Kathrin Wolf, Evangelia Samoli, Paul Fischer, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Paolo Vineis, Wei W Xun, Klea Katsouyanni, Konstantina Dimakopoulou, Anna Oudin, Bertil Forsberg, Lars Modig, Aki S Havulinna, Timo Lanki, Anu Turunen, Bente Oftedal, Wenche Nystad, Per Nafstad, Ulf De Faire, Nancy L Pedersen, Claes-Göran Östenson, Laura Fratiglioni, Johanna Penell, Michal Korek, Göran Pershagen, Kirsten Thorup Eriksen, Kim Overvad ,Thomas Ellermann, Marloes Eeftens, Petra H Peeters, Kees Meliefste, Meng Wang, Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, Dorothea Sugiri, Ursula Krämer, Joachim Heinrich, Kees de Hoogh, Timothy Key, Annette Peters, Regina Hampel ,Hans Concin, Gabriele Nagel, Alex Ineichen, Emmanuel Schaffner ,Prof Nicole Probst-Hensch, Nino Künzli, Christian Schindler, Tamara Schikowski, Martin Adam, Harish Phuleria, Alice Vilier, Françoise Clavel-Chapelon, Christophe Declercq, Sara Grioni, Vittorio Krogh, Ming-Yi Tsai, Fulvio Ricceri, Carlotta Sacerdote, Claudia Galassi, Enrica Migliore, Andrea Ranzi, Giulia Cesaroni, Chiara Badaloni ,Francesco Forastiere, Ibon Tamayo, Pilar Amiano, Miren Dorronsoro, Michail Katsoulis, Antonia Trichopoulou, Bert Brunekreef, Gerard Hoek, The Lancet, Dec.9, 2013)

Also discussed here: Air pollution 'kills at levels well below EU guidelines' (European Lung Foundation, Dec. 12, 2013)

And here: Air pollution 'kills at levels well below EU guidelines' (Medical News Today (MNT), Dec. 9, 2013)

Today we review a comprehensive Europe-wide assessment of the links between traffic emissions, the resulting concentration of pollutants and the mortality rates of people breathing air within 100 m of these roads over the long term. Results indicate a clear association between PM2.5 levels and mortality even when these levels are well below the EU guidelines (annual mean 25 μg/m3), indicating that safe levels need to be reassessed and people need to be kept further away from roadside emissions.

Key Quotes:

“we aimed to investigate the association between natural-cause mortality and long-term exposure to several air pollutants.”

“investigated two traffic intensity variables—traffic intensity on the nearest road (vehicles per day) and total traffic load on all major roads within a 100 m buffer.”

“for every fine-particle matter increase of 5 micrograms per cubic meter exposure in a year, the risk of dying from natural causes increased by 7%.”

“HRs [hazard ratio] for PM2·5 remained significantly raised even when we included only participants exposed to pollutant concentrations lower than the European annual mean limit value of 25 μg/m3”

"These data, along with the findings from other large cohort studies, suggest that further public and environmental health policy interventions are necessary and have the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality across Europe. Movement towards more stringent guidelines, as recommended by WHO, should be an urgent priority."

“EU limits should move toward WHO recommendations. The current World Health Organization (WHO) guideline is just 10 micrograms per cubic meter”

Long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution was associated with natural-cause mortality, even within concentration ranges well below the present European annual mean limit value.”
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