Environmental ▼ News Perchlorate report doesn’t dispel controversy
erchlorate is not as hazardous draft risk assessment, and making focused on making sure that fetuses as U.S. EPA scientists estimata determination to proceed with a and infants would be protected. ed, but it is more harmful than regulation. Further data on perchloThe committee based its dose many perchlorate manufacturers rate in food will be acquired by the recommendation on the 2002 Greer have suggested, says a National U.S. Food and Drug Administration study, in which healthy men and Academy of Sciences (NAS) commit(FDA) and other groups—FDA’s prewomen were given perchlorate to detee in a long-awaited report released liminary survey found perchlorate termine at what dose iodine inhibion January 10. in lettuce and milk from across the tion occurs (Environ. Health Perspect. The safe dose recommended country. In the meantime, states are 2002, 110, 927–937). That study by the committee, 0.7 micrograms likely to carry on developing their found no signiﬁcant inhibition at 7 per kilogram of a person’s body own standards, Roberson says. µg/kg-day, a conclusion supported weight per day (µg/kg-day), is 23 Perchlorate disrupts thyroid by four additional studies. The comtimes higher than EPA’s draft referfunction by competitively inhibiting mittee applied an uncertainty factor ence dose but at least 7 times lower iodine uptake in a dose-dependent of 10 to protect the fetuses of pregthan perchlorate industry groups’ fashion. Because thyroid hormones nant women who might have hyporecommendations. The report, play a major role in brain developthyroidism or iodine deﬁciency and however, is unlikely to dispel conment, EPA and the NAS committee hence came up with the 0.7 µg/kgtroversy about safe levels of day recommendation. perchlorate in drinking waRisk assessments Possible perchlorate standards vary ter because calculating such are usually based on an levels involves additional identiﬁcation of adverse according to food, drink, and body information about exposure effects in a sensitive popuweight sources as well as choices lation. But for perchlorate, The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recabout whom to protect, acthe committee emphaommended a reference dose of 0.7 micrograms per kicording to Alan Roberson, sized that the reference logram (kg) per day, or 0.7 parts per billion (ppb). To who is regulatory affairs dose should be based on convert this dose into a drinking-water standard, regudirector at the American inhibition of iodine uplators will have to determine or estimate how much perWater Works Association in take by the thyroid in chlorate exposure comes from the food and water a Washington, D.C. humans, which is not an person consumes per day, based on their body weight. Despite numerous quesadverse effect but the key The U.S. EPA’s default assumptions are a 70-kg male tions about these choices biochemical event that who drinks 2 liters (L) of water per day and gets 20% and the drinking-water isprecedes any health efof the dose through water, but regulators can use othsue during a January 10 press fects caused by perchloer numbers. California’s proposed drinking-water stancall, committee members rate exposure. “Iodine dard of 6 ppb assumes that water contributes 60% of refused to comment on it. uptake inhibition is more exposure. They explained that the asreliable, quantitatively sumptions used to derive valid, and unequivocally Drinking-water standard (ppb) drinking-water standards demonstrated in human Water consumption % Perchlorate dose from water involve public-policy choices experiments,” says com100% 60% 20% that were beyond the committee chair Richard B. 70-kg male mittee’s charge. Johnston, Jr., of the Uni1 L/day 49.0 29.4 9.8 “This is a political deciversity of Colorado School 2 L/day 24.5 14.7 4.9 sion that gives EPA ﬂexibiliof Medicine in Denver. “Us50-kg pregnant female ty,” says Roberson, who adds ing human data in a con2 L/day 17.5 10.5 3.5 that from this point, crafttrolled setting with dosing 2.5 L/day 14.0 8.4 2.8 ing a regulatory standard by mouth is the optimal 4-kg baby consuming only ﬂuids usually takes 5 or 6 years. way to derive a reference 0.6 L/day 4.7 n/a n/a Tasks facing EPA include dose,” he says. Source: ES&T calculations based on NAS reference dose. evaluating the 192-page reThe committee’s analyport, producing another sis differed from EPA’s, 96A ■ ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / MARCH 1, 2005
© 2005 American Chemical Society
Council accused the White House and the Department of Defense of unduly inﬂuencing the report and questioned whether some committee members had conﬂicts of interest. NAS executive ofﬁcer William Colglazier denied the allegations, saying that there was nothing unusual about how the study was conducted. —REBECCA RENNER
Turbulence on the wind farm The turbulence generated by the spinning rotors of thousands of large wind turbines on a farm in the southern Great Plains could cause changes in local meteorological conditions, according to research presented at the American Geophysical Union’s December meeting. However, improved turbine design could reduce this impact, while at the same time increasing operational efﬁciency by capturing energy now being wasted. Researchers at Princeton and Duke universities used an atmospheric model to simulate the effects from a vast array of 10,000 turbines—each 100-m tall, with 50m rotor blades—over a hypothetical wind farm in Oklahoma. This size, at the gigawatt scale, is far larger than that of any wind farm proposed to date, but it is not out of line with what might be developed decades down the road if wind energy is to make a dent in fossil-fuel consumption, says Somnath Baiyda Roy, a regional climate modeling expert at Duke and the study’s lead investigator. What happens is that as the rotors spin, they suck in the wind’s kinetic energy to generate electricity. But the turbulence created in the rotors’ wake tends to increase vertical mixing, in which cool, moist ground-level air is pulled skyward and warm, dry upper-level air is transported downward, Baiyda Roy explains. These effects are more
pronounced at night because winds over the southern Great Plains are typically stronger then, and consequently the turbine rotors are often working all night. Additionally, vertical mixing is usually weak during these hours, so the increased mixing caused by the rotors has a stronger impact. The magnitude of these effects “is comparable to what you’d see with large-scale deforestation or land-use change,” Baiyda Roy says. In other words, the upward movement of cool, moist air could increase cloudiness and rainfall over the wind farm, whereas surrounding areas could receive less rainfall. However, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), an industry group, and the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, take issue with the study, noting that it’s based on a ﬂawed hypothesis of an unrealistic concentration of wind turbines. “Everyone is anticipating more wind power development, but the way it tends to happen is that it’s much more diffused in terms of location,” says Christine Real de Azua, an AWEA spokesperson. She highlights the 310-megawatt MidAmerican Energy Co. project proposed for Iowa, which would be the largest land-based wind farm in the United States to date. “It’s being developed and ﬁnanced as a single wind farm, but it will be built
News Briefs Cicadas and pesticides
After spending well over a decade sucking the sap out of underground tree roots, cicada larvae pupate. The adult insects then emerge from the ground in great numbers, molt, mate, and die. But during their extensive larval period, can they also accumulate dangerous levels of pesticides? Research suggests that the answer is both yes and no. Gilpin R. Robinson, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, collected cicadas from orchards sprayed with arsenical pesticides at cumulative rates up to 37 kilograms per hectare. He found that these cicadas had higher levels of lead and arsenic compared with those from areas not sprayed. “The concentration levels of metals in these adult cicadas do not pose a dietary threat to birds and other wildlife that preferentially feed upon cicadas during emergence events,” says Robinson.
Sodas with warnings
India’s Supreme Court has ordered PepsiCo, Inc., and the Coca-Cola Co. to label their drink containers with warnings of the amounts of certain pesticides they may contain, such as lindane, DDT, malathion, and chlorpyrifos. The ﬁrms, which have seen their sales in India plummet, must now submit a draft label to the state court of Rajasthan, which will approve the label’s exact language. The companies can appeal to the Supreme Court if they consider the state court’s demands to be unreasonable. The decision follows a scare in August 2003, when an environmental group, the Centre for Science and Environment, found pesticide residues many times the European limits in 12 samples of beverages in India.
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ARTHUR D. GUILANI
in part because they gave more credence to human than animal studies. “We had three of the best thyroid people in the country and many physicians. We are comfortable with human data and conﬁdent that this is a conservative healthprotective approach to perchlorate risk assessment,” Johnston says. The National Resources Defense
Environmental▼ News in different locations,” Real de Azua notes. Moreover, the 10,000 turbines assumed in the study “represent more than 60% of all turbines, of every size, currently installed in Germany, the world’s leader in wind energy,” says Janet Sawin, director of Worldwatch’s Energy and Climate Change Program. Baiyda Roy acknowledges this factor, but points out that as experience has shown with manufacturing and agriculture, any kind of
scaling up to reap economic advantages also brings environmental concerns. “Why should wind be any different?” he asks. This research “presents a unique opportunity to ﬁx this problem even before it becomes an issue” by using low-turbulence rotors. And “the increase in operational efﬁciency provides the immediate ﬁnancial incentive to do so,” Baiyda Roy adds. And researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center
Research soon to appear in Environmental Management calculates for the ﬁrst time how cultivating turf affects the United States’ water and carbon cycles. The research ﬁnds that lawns are a carbon sink but possibly not a very effective one. “It’s about 40 million acres of tended lawn,” says study author Cristina Milesi, with NASA’s Ames Research Center. “That’s three times more acreage than the largest irrigated crop, which is corn,” she adds. To keep those lawns, golf courses, and parks a lovely emerald green, Americans pour about $10.4 billion every year into seed, sod, and fertilizer, estimates the National Gardening Association (NGA). This number does not include the billions more spent on professional lawn maintenance. Milesi’s turf estimate builds on previous work that calculated the total coverage of impervious surfaces in the United States. For this new study, she used multiple data sets, including census data, satellite imagery, and aerial photography of 13 metropolitan areas, to calculate probable lawn surface. She then applied this calculated area to urban environments across the United States. Bruce Butterﬁeld, the research director at NGA, says the organization has calculated a ﬁgure of 30 million acres of turf in the United States, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data. “I think these two
American lawns impact nutrient cycles
Americans love grass. New research estimates the U.S. has about 40 million acres of tended lawn, which, if treated right, could actually be a sink for carbon.
numbers are pretty much in agreement,” he says. Because the United States is so large and contains diverse ecosystems that support different types of grass, Milesi calculated turf growth requirements for 865 different cities across the country with populations greater than 40,000. This model took into account grass types, local climate, soil proﬁle, and nutrient requirements. For instance, golf courses and athletic ﬁelds require annual inputs of about 490 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) of nitrogen fertilizer, whereas residential lawns soak up an estimated 146 kg/ha. Further, lawns in the arid West require more
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are working to do just that. Anytime you put up a blockage, such as the trees planted on croplands to create windbreaks or even buildings or other structures, “you’ll create some downwind turbulence,” explains Robert Thresher, the center’s director. “We’re trying to improve the efﬁciency of the [turbine] rotors in the way they extract the energy so that a higher amount is actually captured and makes electricity rather than generating wake turbulence.” —KRIS CHRISTEN
irrigation than turf grown in the wetter southern states. She then treated this vast network as one giant lawn and simulated different inputs of water and nitrogen fertilizer. For instance, if all this turf was treated for one year with 146 kg/ha of fertilizer and weekly watering of one inch, then U.S. lawns would suck up 17 million kg of carbon. However, if the clippings were bagged instead of mulched, the number would drop to 6 million kg. Steven Running, a professor of ecosystem and conservation science at the University of Montana and one of the study authors, calls this research “a ﬁrst estimate” of how pouring resources into our lawns affects the carbon and water cycles. Although turf does end up being a sink for carbon, he says that this is probably offset by the amount of energy put into fertilizer production and emissions from lawn mowers. “We didn’t calculate these other steps because there are already too many assumptions built into this model,” he says. Milesi echoes this statement and adds that she feels Americans waste vast amounts of water to keep their lawns green. She currently resides in northern California, which boasts yards with beautiful lawns in the same hot, dry environment as her native Italy. “We don’t have these kinds of yards where I come from,” she says. “We don’t even have a word for lawn in my language. We call them ‘English lawns’.” —PAUL D. THACKER
Asia pumps out more mercury than previously thought bon monoxide appears to be a good marker for mercury emissions from Asia. Such a marker provides a signature that can be used in models and at other monitoring stations. Jaffe’s group has determined the same ratio at the high-elevation mercury monitoring station on Mt. Bachelor, Ore., and the signature value was previously measured during airplane sampling in 2001. TOBY PRIMBO, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
Airborne concentrations of mercury traveling westward from Asia are double previous best estimates, according to the ﬁrst direct measurements of these emissions, collected last summer on the island of Okinawa by a team of U.S. and Japanese scientists. “These data provide further evidence that we are way off in estimating the global mercury cycle,” says chemist Steve Lindberg at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “We keep ﬁnding new and bigger sources, but we think that levels of elemental mercury in the atmosphere are not increasing.” Asia is the largest source of atmospheric mercury emissions on the planet, according to team member Daniel Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell. During the past 20 years, as mercury emissions have decreased in North America and Europe, mercury levels in Asia have grown steadily, mainly from sources in China, Korea, and Japan. More than half of the global anthropogenic emissions are now from Asia, while Europe and North America contribute about 10% each, according to U.S. EPA estimates. With new mercury pointsource regulations expected for the United States this spring, sources from other countries are likely to face increased scrutiny, Jaffe notes. Atmospheric scientists previously estimated Asian emissions at about 770 tons/year (t/yr) of mercury emissions; however, based on the Okinawa measurements, Jaffe and colleagues now calculate the amount to be 1460 t/yr. Their results will be published in Atmospheric Environment. The scientists monitored emissions at Cape Hedo, the remote northernmost tip of Okinawa. From March 23 to May 2, they measured gaseous elemental mercury, reactive gaseous mercury [Hg(II), RGM], and particulate-bound mercury, along with other combustion pollutants, such as ozone and carbon monoxide. According to Jaffe, the ratio of gaseous elemental mercury to car-
Greenhouse gas data
Atmospheric chemist Daniel Jaffe helps set up a monitoring station at a remote location on Okinawa. There, researchers measured mercury air emissions from Asia that are double previous best estimates.
Levels of RGM were surprisingly low, says Jaffe. “This suggests that mainland China gets hit with high mercury deposition and that mercury may be high in Chinese waters,” he adds. The scientists also observed a daily pattern that strongly correlated peak values of RGM with the highest levels of sunlight. This ﬁnding suggests that RGM may be related to reactions with halides in the marine boundary layer. Although Asian sources are major contributors to the global pool of mercury, the low levels of RGM imply that direct long-range transport of Asian mercury is not likely to be a major factor on western North American mercury deposition, says Jaffe. The scientists plan to test this hypothesis in 2005 by measuring mercury species during long-range transport events on the U.S. West Coast. —REBECCA RENNER
Do you need to know South Africa’s total emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in 2000 or which business sectors in Asia emit the most GHGs? All of this useful information is compiled from a range of government sources in the updated version of the online Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), which is maintained by the nonproﬁt World Resources Institute. The tool helps users to explore data on the 6 major GHGs for 186 countries, as well as socioeconomic factors, such as life expectancy and energy use per capita, and information submitted by parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It also includes assessments of how vulnerable countries are to the effects of global warming, such as the number of people living on low-lying land. CAIT is located at http://cait.wri.org.
Independent energy strategy for the U.S.
A report from the independent National Commission on Energy Policy advocates a mandatory tradable permits system to curb U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. The 16 specialists from the academic, environmental, energy, and business sectors reached consensus on all of their recommendations, whereas the U.S. Congress has failed to pass comprehensive energy legislation since President Bush released his energy plan in 2001. Ending the Energy Stalemate: A Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America’s Energy Challenges, released in December, is an attempt to get beyond the “political and regional polarization” that has kept Congress from adopting sensible approaches to energy problems, the authors write. Environmental groups praised several of the report’s suggestions but criticized the push for government subsidies to jump-start the nuclear power industry. The report is available at www.energycommission.org.
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Environmental▼ News China’s wild card on transgenic tree front With commercial plantings of genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees taking root in China, this could be where the grand experiment on the potential of controversial transgenic tree technology plays out, according to forestry researchers. Commercialization seems imminent in South America too, where Brazil is likely to plant transgenic eucalyptus trees for commercial purposes within the next year or so, says Roger Sedjo, director of the Forest Economics and Policy Program at Resources for the Future (RFF), an independent environmental policy think tank. There is some irony that the current theatre of action is shifting away from the United States, given that UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics indicate that nearly two-thirds of all research activities on genetic modiﬁcation in forest trees have taken place in that country. However, these have involved only heavily restricted experimental ﬁeld tests. The one exception is the papaya orchard tree genetically engineered to resist the insect-borne ring spot virus devastating the industry in Hawaii. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has approved this tree for commercial use. Environmental concerns, similar to those that have roiled the planting of GE agricultural crops, have stymied the commercial development of transgenic trees in North America and Europe (next page). But countries like China are moving forward aggressively because “they actually need this technology,” said Alvin Yanchuk, forest genetics program manager for the British Columbia Ministry of Forests in Canada, at a forum sponsored by Duke University’s School of Environment and Earth Sciences in November. This “may be the new arena where the rest of the world watches and determines how risky this technology may be for their own publicly owned forests.”
Indeed, disastrous ﬂoods in the mid-1990s led China to ban all logging in the headwater regions of major rivers, which immediately eliminated a signiﬁcant portion of their wood supply, explains Al Sample, president of the Pinchot Institute, a nonproﬁt sustainable forestry think tank. Consequently, China is now a net importer of wood, “which is a big problem as they’re just hitting their stride in terms of [economic] growth,” he notes. “Without biotechnology applications, which don’t necessarily need to include genetic engineering, they’re likely to become a signiﬁcant drain on world resources and stimulate illegal logging throughout Asia, which is already happening.” Sedjo agrees, adding that China has been establishing tree plantations for more than 20 years, some for environmental purposes. China’s “Great Green Wall”, for example, was launched in 2001 as part of a government-sponsored reforestation project that aims to plant a 2800-mile-long shelterbelt of trees across China’s northwest rim, skirting the Gobi Desert. With insects now devastating wide swaths of the country’s remaining forestlands, the Chinese are believed to have planted 300– 500 hectares of hybrid poplar trees engineered with the Bt gene to confer resistance, according to Yousry El-Kassaby, a forest geneticist at the University of British Columbia (Canada). He bases this ﬁgure on exchanges with Chinese researchers at a November 2003 FAO meeting on forest gene resources. However, there seems to be no ofﬁcial documentation of the planting. The release of these commercial Bt poplar trees was made possible through China’s regulatory system for transgenics, which is somewhat looser than those in North America and Europe. In China, transgenics fall into one of four risk categories: zero, low, medium, or high, Sedjo explains. If researchers ﬁnd a zero or low
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risk inherent in a release, then deregulation is almost automatic, although some post-deregulation monitoring can still occur. “Bt poplar was perceived as having no or low risk to the environment and hence was released,” he notes. Europe, on the other hand, will tolerate no risk—if any risk of harm is associated with a release, it’s automatically vetoed, Sedjo says. By contrast, in the United States and Canada the notion is that the risk can be no greater than the risk that would be involved with the release of a traditionally modiﬁed crop. “If it’s not any greater, we’re able to accept that amount of risk,” Sedjo explains. And once deregulation occurs, no follow-up monitoring is required, although that could change under a regulatory overhaul being conducted by APHIS on GE plants and likely to be proposed this spring, says Michael Wach, an environmental protection specialist with APHIS. Overall, transgenic tree research promises widespread payoffs in the environmental arena, and the ﬁeld got a big shot in the arm this fall with the sequencing of the Populus genome, the ﬁrst tree to be completely sequenced. The sequence data collected by an international team of scientists “will provide researchers with a critical resource to develop faster growing trees, trees that produce more biomass that can be converted to fuels, and trees that can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere or be used to clean up waste sites,” said Spencer Abraham, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. As of 2000, 124 ﬁeld tests of genetically altered trees had been authorized in the United States, including transgenic spruce, pine, poplar, walnut, citrus, cherry, apple, pear, plum, papaya, and persimmon, Sedjo reports in an RFF paper that was released in November. Other countries undertaking ﬁeld trials include Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. —KRIS CHRISTEN
Environmental▼ News PERSPECTIVES Transgenic trees: Opening Pandora’s box?
JERALD SCHNOOR, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
over time, a possibility that researchers acknowledge. “It’s very difﬁcult to make sterile Further complicating the assessment trees, because ﬂowering is such an Transgenic tree research received is the fact that, unlike agricultural important characteristic of ﬁtness,” a major shot in the arm in October crops, trees are long-lived perennials. says Stephen DiFazio, a molecular with the unveiling of the Populus Although trees deposit much of geneticist at Oak Ridge National genome, under which hybrid poplars, cottonwoods, and aspens fall. their pollen nearby, strong winds Laboratory who was part of the inPopulus is the ﬁrst tree to have its can transport it as far as 2000 kiloternational consortium that secomplete genome sequenced, and meters away, says Roni Avissar, a quenced the Populus genome. Trees scientists are hopeful that better professor of civil and environmental have a very redundant system for deunderstanding of how individual engineering at Duke. Preliminary termining ﬂowering, he explains, so genes work will allow chances are “if you knock their performance to out one gene, there’s anbe manipulated for other one somewhere else increased carbon sewith an overlap in funcquestration, phytoretion, and you could still mediation, and biomass get functional ﬂowers.” production for converAdditionally, the knocked sion to biofuels. out gene could at some But for all the prompoint revert to being exise that genetically engipressed again, he notes. neered (GE) trees offer “It’s not that we’re in solving some of our opposed to transgenmost intractable enviics just because this is a ronmental problems, the new technology,” says technology’s further deJane Preyer, director of velopment depends on Environmental Defense’s how a range of issues— Southeast ofﬁce. Rather, Environmental researchers are using recombinant-DNA methods to in particular, possible “there’s been very little design plants that can better accumulate toxins, sequester carbon, environmental and sodiscussion and serious or provide biomass. However, the technology is moving faster than cioeconomic impacts— the regulatory and social frameworks needed to deal with the plants’ thoughtful debate about are addressed. And based introduction into the environment. the kind of policies needon the concerns voiced ed to manage this risk,” results from a pollen dispersal modat a recent forum sponsored by Duke she explains, calling for a moratoUniversity, the technology will face el developed by his group suggest rium on any commercial releases huge challenges in moving forward. that biocontainment zones similar until the risks are fully identiﬁed “It’s the ﬁrst time our ability to to those used for agricultural crops and addressed. Other environmenmanipulate genomes is outpacing aren’t an option with trees. tal groups want to ban the release of the regulatory and societal frameInstead, it may make sense to deGE trees. works to deal with it,” acknowlsign trees that are sterile, says Rick “The fact is, it’s the application edged Robert Jackson, director of Meilan, a molecular tree physiologist of the science that we’re worried Duke’s Center for Global Change, at Purdue University’s Hardwood about, and who’s going to pay the at the Landscapes, Genomics, and Tree Improvement and Regeneraprice for this technology,” says Transgenic Conifer Forests forum tion Center. “One of the ways of acAnne Petermann, co-director of held in November. complishing that is to genetically the Global Justice Ecology Project, Key environmental concerns, engineer the plants to be reproduca nonproﬁt based in Hinesburg, similar to those that have plagued the tively sterile so that either they don’t Vt. “Industrial forest plantations planting of GE agricultural row crops, produce ﬂowers or they don’t proare typically concentrated in areas where land and labor are the cheapcenter around whether transferred duce functional ﬂowers.” He adds genes could escape and mix with wild that the U.S. Department of Agriculest, which is often the global South relatives to create an extreme pest ture’s Animal and Plant Health Inor places with poor rural populaor quasi-invasive species that could spection Service is likely to make tions or indigenous peoples, and upset or change the competitive balsuch containment a precondition of we worry that that’s where GE tree ance in a natural ecosystem. The any deregulation. plantations will be located as well.” consensus among researchers at the Environmentalists, however, reTalk about the use of GE trees forum was that some gene ﬂow will main unconvinced that such a stratfor carbon sequestration projects occur, but whether it will persist and egy could work, noting that any conunder the Kyoto Protocol’s clean cause harm is still an open question. ferred sterility could become unstable development mechanism is parMARCH 1, 2005 / ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ■ 101A
Environmental Environmental ▼ News ▼ News PERSPECTIVES ticularly frightening, Petermann notes, because the carbon trade market has the potential to become the largest market ever. Consequently, “there’s going to be a huge ﬁnancial incentive for creating GE tree plantations that sequester carbon faster, enabling companies in the North to continue polluting,” she maintains. Because of such concerns, the Forest Stewardship Council, the primary group certifying whether timber has been sustainably harvested, has decided not to certify plantations with GE trees. Some forestry researchers, however, contend that the risks posed
by conventional tree breeding are potentially far greater than those created by genetic engineering. “We already tolerate very large, uncontrolled genetic variation when we introduce exotic species, when we create hybrids, or when we do conventional breeding,” notes Steve Strauss, a molecular tree geneticist at Oregon State University who has had tree test plots destroyed by environmental activist groups. “Genetic engineering is a more scientiﬁc, rational, predictable approach than [unregulated] traditional breeding, which is really a black box, and nobody really knows how it works.”
A fresh look at curbing greenhouse gases With the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change ofﬁcially going into force in February, the battle among countries to bring the protocol to life is now over. But those gunning for a slowdown in worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have a new challenge: Countries that have ratiﬁed the agreement now face the daunting task of charting a course to stabilize emissions beyond 2012, when the protocol expires. “I think arriving at effective approaches to take us beyond Kyoto will be far more challenging than bringing Kyoto to life,” says Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an independent think tank that considers new approaches to protecting the climate and sustaining economic growth. Robert Bradley attended an international climate change meeting last December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as an observer with the independent think tank World Resources Institute (WRI). He says that two big issues still hang over the climate change effort: what can be done to bring the United States back into discussions on mandatory reductions, and how delegates can engage developing counties, both
those with growing economies and those that are the least developed. The two issues are very closely tied together. When President Bush pulled the United States out of the protocol talks in 2001, saying that the reduction commitments would harm the U.S. economy, even be-
hind-the-scenes talks slowed on the vexing question of how to proceed after 2012, says environmentalist Jeff Fiedler of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Ratiﬁcation by the Russian government last November was expected to reinvigorate international discussions on this topic, Fiedler adds. But when the representatives from 167 governments met December 6–17, 2004, in Buenos Aires for climate change talks, the protocol
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Ecologists, for their part, recommend a more cautious approach to releasing transgenic trees in the environment. “Meeting the world’s growing demand for wood on less land would be an ecologist’s dream in some sense,” says William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist at Duke University and past president of the Ecological Society of America. “It’s a new technology with lots of potential, lots of encouragement to use it, and money to be made by using it; we just need to be careful and make sure we have a sufﬁcient ecological understanding of it upfront,” Schlesinger cautions. —KRIS CHRISTEN
was not yet in effect, Bradley says. They met as the Conference of Parties (COP 10) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The protocol is an amendment to the UNFCCC, the international agreement signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that pledges signatory countries to stabilize GHG concentrations at levels that would prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Unlike the protocol, UNFCCC does not include emissions limits or market-based mechanisms. The protocol, agreed upon in 1997, requires developed countries to reduce their GHG emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels. It also requires that countries begin discussing this year what they will do after the protocol expires. Yet, at COP 10 many governments were reluctant to begin talks aimed at new reduction goals, says Bradley, making it “largely a frustrating COP” for Kyoto supporters. Harlan Watson, the senior climate negotiator at the U.S. Department of State and the head of the U.S. delegation to COP 10, instead reiterated Bush’s 2001 climate change statement that it would be premature to discuss a post-2012 policy. A
Environmental▼ News PERSPECTIVES 2012 review of U.S. emissions would determine whether any other actions should be taken to reduce GHG growth, Watson told participants. Many in the U.S. energy and business communities support Watson and believe, as Bush does, that the protocol will slow growth. During COP 10, ofﬁcials from India, China, and oil-producing Saudi Arabia backed Watson’s position, which he expressed as a signatory to the UNFCCC. Watson’s position was eventually accepted. For protocol adherents, “the reality is that the news is not good,” Bradley says. “The best we could get was [that] we could have talks about talks.” During the ﬁnal hours of the last day of COP 10, participants agreed to a seminar in May that is described as “an informal exchange of information” by government representatives only. The agenda is to discuss steps that governments are taking to carry out their commitments under Kyoto and ways they can “continue to develop” climate-related actions. “This seminar does not open any negotiations leading to new commitments,” the UNFCCC document says. The diplomatic language lets all sides claim a victory, observers say. Participants can ﬂoat ideas for next steps, which could be brought up again in subsequent meetings. “It is really a hair-splitting difference,” Bradley adds, “and is indicative of where we are in the process.” But for EU countries, where the public doesn’t support abandoning Kyoto, other nations that have taken steps to reduce GHG emissions, and those least developed countries, anything that keeps the process moving forward can be seen as a victory. Kevin Fay, executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, which is composed of large, multinational companies with voluntary reduction programs, predicts that the U.S. withdrawal from the protocol is apt to bring talks about reductions in the second phase to a screeching halt. Several ofﬁcials from industrialized and
developing nations said they won’t proceed post-2012 without the United States, says Fay, who also attended COP 10. “Kyoto without the U.S. and developing countries after 2012 is not very viable.” Others agree. “It would be hard for countries that are moving forward with their Kyoto commitments, such as the EU and Japan, to move even further beginning in 2012 without the U.S.,” says Dan Bodansky, former climate change coordinator at the U.S. Department of State and negotiator from 1999 to 2001, now at the University of Georgia School of Law. Things aren’t too likely to be affected by the lack of U.S. participation in the protocol now, but in ﬁve or six years, there is bound to be more pressure on the U.S. to come back to the climate change negotiations, Bodansky says. “Most countries want the U.S. to re-engage more generally,” he adds. “I think there can be progress [after 2012] without the U.S., but progress might be faster with the U.S. on board,” says Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization. China, for example, “is ready to play ball on this,” he says, “but they are reluctant to do so without U.S. leadership.” The Chinese are investing in energy efﬁciency projects and renewable energy sources. Because of their rapidly growing population and expanding economy, the Chinese see beneﬁts in shifting from a carbon-based energy system toward one that is more sustainable, Flavin says. In light of the re-election of Bush last November, environmental groups and other nongovernmental organizations urged the parties at COP 10 to forge ahead with discussions about the next steps without U.S. participation, hoping to reach agreements on even more progressive solutions. Industrialized nations, in particular the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan, instead urged the group to keep the United States involved in these talks, no matter what. “With European industry wor-
ried about the competitiveness impacts of Kyoto’s emission targets, EU governments want to show they are engaging other countries in discussions to broaden and extend commitments post-2012,” says Diringer. With at least one meeting set for this year to discuss progress, many experts predict that when talks begin on the post-Kyoto commitments, they won’t involve higher emission reduction targets. “You will need something different than Kyoto to move to the next stage, because you need to draw different parties in,” says Diringer. During COP 10, Pew researchers released their report Beyond 2012: A Survey of Approaches, which discusses more than 40 proposed approaches for continuing international climate change and emissions reduction policies after 2012. Any new agreement must be able to accommodate the range of individual country strategies. Rather than set reduction targets, negotiators instead can call for actions that bring about reductions and move toward climate stabilization, such as achieving zero net emissions from the power sector or replacing gasoline with hydrogen by 2050, Diringer suggests. Ironically, the United States was advocating a broader Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in the late 1990s, but most negotiators from developing countries were suspicious and wanted to keep the focus limited to individual projects, Bodansky says. The CDM, agreed to under the protocol, allows industrialized countries to fund projects in developing countries in return for emissions credits. Views have changed, and developing countries are likely to show “a lot more openness” to broaden the CDM in the talks about postKyoto actions, Bodansky says. An updated CDM could include policy-related changes, such as removing subsidies from a country’s energy sector to allow market forces to decide the cost of fuel, which might raise the price of and reduce the consumption of carbon-based fuel. —CATHERINE M. COONEY
MARCH 1, 2005 / ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ■ 103A