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December 31, 2013
Top Sustainable Investment Stories for 2013 Part 1
    by Robert Kropp

As the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpasses 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes tha human activity is responsible for climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has come in for more than its share of criticism over the years, which is not so surprising given its prominence on a subject whose successful resolution is vital to a sustainable future.

While one hopes that fewer climate deniers are around now than there were in 2009, the tempest in a teapot that occurred then following the leaking of emails among climate scientists emboldened domestic deniers in positions of influence to trot out the 2005 charge by US Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

On the other hand, among those who believe climate change to be the gravest crisis confronting us are some who have argued that the findings in the series of assessment reports released by IPCC have been too conservative; that the organization's role as an aggregator of scientific information has led it to seek a balanced approach instead of emphasizing the urgency.

The full Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC is not due for publication until later this year, but during 2013 a draft version as well as a summary for policymakers found their way to publication.

The atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are now at a level “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” the 36-page summary states. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

“The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, which focused on the physical science basis of climate change.

The 1,200-page Third National Climate Assessment was published by the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) in January, and every one of the report's key findings imply that not enough is being done. "The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels," the report unequivocally states. Furthermore, many effects of climate change, such as extreme weather and other climate events—including high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and severe drought—are already being felt.

On the issue of public health, "Climate change is increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of waterborne diseases," the report finds. "Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the US and across the globe, and is affected by climate change. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are also increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of unfamiliar health threats."

Further underscoring the urgency of acting on climate change was an announc ement in May by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reporting that for the first time, the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) at its measurement station in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

The levels of CO2 measured at Mauna Loa have not been experienced on Earth in at least three million years.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere "has increased every year since scientists started making measurements on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano more than five decades ago," NOAA scientists reported. "The rate of increase has accelerated since the measurements started, from about 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the last 10 years."

"Climate changes forced by CO2 depend primarily on cumulative emissions," NOAA continued, "making it progressively more and more difficult to avoid further substantial climate change."

It will be a happy year-end wrapup when this reporter can state that the the US Congress has finally taken substantial legislative action to address climate change, but that hasn't happened yet. In February, Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders introduced comprehensive legislation on climate change, which would impose a fee on carbon pollution emissions and end the surreal practice of providing subsidies to fossil fuel companies. The proposed legislation would also require companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process.

And in a speech in June, President Obama proposed rules that would limit the amount of carbon emissions from power plants, which are responsible for 40% of the nation's emissions. Obama said that he was directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, basing its authority to do so on the Clean Air Act of 1970.

Sustainable investors have been calling for just such measures for years, and were quick to applaud Obama's statements. In a press release, US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment stated that it “applauds President Obama’s plan to address climate change,which sets the United States on the necessary path to a lower carbon economy.”

Next: Sustainable investors seize on concept of stranded assets to pressure fossil fuel companies to address long-term risks associated with climate change.


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