This post was co-authored with Kate DeAngelis, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.
Ambition is a word often used in the context of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. While most people think of ambition as a strong desire to achieve something, the word has a more specific meaning when it comes to international climate action.
What Does Ambition Mean and Why Is it Important?
The UNFCCC’s ultimate goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a “level that would prevent dangerous, anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Scientists have found that in order to avoid devastating consequences such as mass desertification, glacier loss, extreme weather, and sea level rise, the international community must limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will—through both domestic action and international initiatives—to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 2°C goal. Ambition further represents the actual steps countries are taking to meet that temperature goal.
Collective ambition is deemed to be lacking when the aggregate policies and actions of all countries are deemed insufficient to meet the 2°C goal. Countries are also judged on their own individual ambition levels, which are assessed based on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In recent years, effective implementation of policies has emerged as an additional method for evaluating whether individual countries are sufficiently ambitious or not.
China and the United States have a lot in common. China’s rapid economic development and America’s industry have turned the two nations into world’s largest energy users, as well as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So it’s fitting that experts from these two countries share ideas on how to grow their economies in ways that also protect the environment.
That’s exactly what happened this week when WRI hosted a high-level Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. The event was part of a larger study tour organized by MIT, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. More than 20 representatives from Chinese research institutions and central and local government gathered to learn about low-carbon development strategies and policies, with WRI serving as one of the tour’s first stops.
“I spent a great deal of time in China, and I believe very strongly that we have as much or more to learn from you as you have to learn from us,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, to the Chinese delegation.
What is the best way to protect vulnerable rural communities from the damaging impacts of climate change? Insurance could be an answer, but it raises a number of difficult questions.
To illustrate, the New York Times recently ran a story, “Report Says a Crop Subsidy Cap Could Save Millions.” The piece discusses a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that investigated the costs and distributive effects of the federal insurance program that protects farmers against crop failure and low market prices. This is a costly program for the federal government – farmers pay only 38 percent of the premiums, and the rest is covered by federal subsidies. Payouts are skewed toward the largest farms, which may receive very large payments because there is no subsidy cap. The cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2011 was $7.3 billion.
This post was co-authored by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Manish Bapna, Acting President of WRI. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
The United Nations climate change convention is 20 years old this month. As we see from the just-completed climate talks in Bonn, Germany, we still haven't solved the problem, nor even agreed how to solve it. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change become more apparent, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Within this statement lies a deep injustice: Those most affected by climate change did least to cause the problem. We need to put a human face on climate change. In the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh, sea-level rise, the increased incidence of cyclones, and higher temperatures are causing freshwater ponds to become salty. These are major challenges for families who rely on water for drinking, washing, irrigation and aquaculture. The impacts are so serious that they threaten the very ability of families -- who produce virtually no greenhouse gases -- to continue to live there.
What do you do when extended droughts make your family’s traditional farming vocation harder and harder to sustain? Or when your town’s water supply is no longer sufficient for people to draw water from their wells, forcing them to buy water from private suppliers? Or when the weakening agricultural economy leads families to pull their children out of school to do household chores, as their fathers seek seasonal work farther and farther from home?
If you represent the national or local government in a developing country, you are beginning to face more climate-related questions like these, making decisions on resource allocation increasingly difficult. You always have to start with the present – to support farmers during droughts, find ways of improving water services and see how children of poor families can be protected. However, you sense that you are not dealing with temporary phenomena, but with the foreboding of longer-term change.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final rules to reduce air pollution at natural gas wells and other sources in the oil and gas industry. The rules—a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and National Emissions Standards for hazardous air pollutants—establish the first federal standards for emissions from production wells (natural gas processing plants were already covered). They are designed to limit the release of VOCs and other air toxics that contribute significantly to smog and are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. (For more on the oil and gas rules, see M.J. Bradley & Associates’ Issue Brief.)
In addition to reducing VOC and air toxics emissions, these rules will help reduce methane emissions from shale gas development. According to the EPA, there are over 11,000 new hydraulically fractured wells each year, and while water-related environmental concerns have received the lion’s share of public attention and are the focus of EPA’s ongoing hydraulic fracturing study, uncontrolled emissions from hydraulic fracturing can negatively impact air quality and the climate.
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries have pledged to provide “fast-start” finance approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012. Now, in the final year of the fast-start period, these countries are under pressure to demonstrate that they are meeting this pledge. But divergent viewpoints on what constitutes fast-start finance – coupled with unharmonized approaches to delivering and reporting on it – complicate such an assessment.
Starting in May 2012, the Open Climate Network (OCN) will release a series of reports that aims to shed light on these discussions by clarifying how developed countries are defining, delivering, and reporting their fast-start finance.
This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.
The U.S. electric power system is gradually shifting toward cleaner forms of generation. One sign of this transition is the declining use of coal for electric power production. In 2011, coal dropped to its lowest level of power generation in more than a decade, according to the U.S. government’s independent Energy Information Administration (EIA). In fact, the EIA recently reported that coal’s share of U.S. electric power generation fell below 40% for the last two months of 2011, the lowest level since 1978.
To understand the cause of this decline, it is important to examine the underlying market forces. Doing so provides important context for recent coal plant retirement announcements, particularly given that some companies have attributed retirements to EPA rules that are still years away from going into force. For example, FirstEnergy Corp. announced in late January 2012 that it would retire several of its smaller coal-fired power plants, explaining that the decision was “based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.” FirstEnergy, however, had previously cited a range of reasons for its decision to reduce operations at many of its smaller coal plants.
For too long, the United States has lacked a clear, national energy policy. Today, Senator Bingaman took a step in that direction by introducing the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (CESA), which would create certainty for clean energy investments, diversify the U.S. power mix, and yield meaningful carbon emissions reductions.
This week, WRI released a new report summarizing assessments of institutional readiness for adapting to climate change. The report, Ready or Not, focuses on pilot applications of the National Adaptive Capacity (NAC) framework in three countries: Bolivia, Ireland, and Nepal. Co-authors Heather McGray and Aarjan Dixit respond to questions about the NAC framework, which provided the analytic basis for this report.
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