This article first appeared in Project Syndicate
Water is never far from the news these days. This summer, northern India experienced one of its heaviest monsoon seasons in 80 years, leaving more than 800 people dead and forcing another 100,000 from their homes. Meanwhile, Central Europe faced its worst flooding in decades after heavy rains swelled major rivers like the Elbe and the Danube. In the United States, nearly half the country continues to suffer from drought, while heavy rainfall has broken records in the Northeast, devastated crops in the South, and now is inundating Colorado.
Businesses are starting to wake up to the mounting risks that water – whether in overabundance or scarcity – can pose to their operations and bottom line. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, experts named water risk as one of the top four risks facing business in the twenty-first century. Similarly, 53% of companies surveyed by the Carbon Disclosure Project reported that water risks are already taking a toll, owing to property damage, higher prices, poor water quality, business interruptions, and supply-chain disruptions.
The costs are mounting. Deutsche Bank Securities estimates that the recent US drought, which affected nearly two-thirds of the country’s lower 48 states, will reduce GDP growth by approximately one percentage point. Climate change, population growth, and other factors are driving up the risks. Twenty percent of global GDP already is produced in water-scarce areas. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in the absence of more sustainable water management, the share could rise to 45% by 2050, placing a significant portion of global economic output at risk.
“The time to act is now… We cannot afford to do nothing.”
This was the message of Mayor Will Sessoms from Virginia Beach, VA, delivered last Friday at a conference on "Adaptive Planning for Flooding and Coastal Change." Like so many cities along the Atlantic coast, Virginia Beach is at the frontlines of climate change, experiencing impacts like sea-level rise and recurrent coastal flooding. But as we learned at the event, the city and its surrounding communities are emerging as leaders in engaging in initiatives to address these issues.
“We are not as well prepared as we need to be to address the full scope of projected realities in the year 2100” Mayor Sessoms stated, “and we can, and must, make continued improvements.” His message was echoed by a group of bipartisan mayors and state delegates, city planners, legal experts, and university scientists. They stressed that while state and federal governments often struggle to move beyond the political debate of whether manmade climate change is happening, residents of the Tidewater area of Virginia are focused on developing a robust response to rising seas and recurrent coastal flooding.
Mayor Sessoms’ sentiments paralleled the earlier statements of Democratic Mayor Paul Fraim from Norfolk, VA that "[t]his is one of the greatest threats of our lifetime,” and “a threat that we can no longer afford to ignore."
Natural gas wells represent a significant source of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as many of them leak methane, which is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But while scientists know that “fugitive methane” is a concern, there’s much uncertainty about the full extent of the problem. A new study from the University of Texas—developed in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund and nine natural gas production companies (Anadarko, BG Group, Chevron, EnCana, Pioneer, Shell, Southwest, Talisman, ExxonMobil)—sheds some light on this perplexing issue.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves forward with standards to reduce emissions from existing power plants—expected to be proposed by June 2014—many states are beginning to think about how they will comply. WRI’s fact sheet series, Power Sector Opportunities for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions, examines the policies and pathways various states can use to cost-effectively meet or even exceed future power plant emissions standards. This post explores these opportunities in Michigan. Read about additional analyses in this series.
New analysis by WRI reveals that Michigan has already made big strides to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, including saving energy and increasing renewable power. And, it has the potential to go even further. According to our research, Michigan can reduce its power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 33 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 by complying with existing policies and improving infrastructure already in place. Taking these actions now can help the state meet future EPA emissions standards for existing power plants and achieve significant economic benefits.
The last in a series of expert workshops and consultations under the UNFCCC’s work-programme on long-term finance concluded late yesterday. This 2013 extended work programme on long-term climate finance is designed to “identify pathways for mobilizing the scaling up of climate finance to USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from public, private, and alternative sources” and inform “enabling environments and policy frameworks to facilitate the mobilization and effective deployment of climate finance in developing countries.”I had the opportunity to participate quite actively in this year’s series, as WRI is working with co-chairs from the Philippines and Sweden to facilitate discussions on how to mobilize scaled-up finance for climate action.
A number of programs that require businesses to report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have emerged in the past decade at the regional, national, and sub-national levels. Most of these programs operate in developed countries, but some developing countries are also showing an interest in adopting mandatory emissions disclosure programs.
Establishing these programs is a resource- and time-intensive exercise. It can be a daunting task for developing countries with competing priorities and limited resources. So where can these countries begin as they consider setting up their greenhouse gas reporting schemes?
WRI’s new working paper, Designing Greenhouse Gas Reporting Systems: Learning from Existing Programs, reviews corporate and facility-level greenhouse gas reporting programs in Australia, California, Canada, the European Union, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The paper identifies steps to implement a mandatory reporting program and discusses factors to be considered at each step in designing the program.
It also discusses some strategies for developing countries keen to set up reporting programs. Developing countries may find it easier to adopt a gradual, phased approach to develop a reporting program. Engaging in the following three key steps allows developing nations to make the most of their more limited resources:
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves forward with standards to reduce power plant emissions—which are due to be finalized in June 2015—many states are wondering how they will comply. WRI’s fact sheet series, Power Sector Opportunities for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions, examines the policies and pathways various states can use to cost-effectively meet or even exceed future power plant emissions standards. This post explores these opportunities in North Carolina. Read about additional analyses in this series.
International climate action took an encouraging step forward today. President Obama reached agreements with the G-20 and with China to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.
As extreme weather events like wildfires, heat waves, downpours, and droughts continue to make headlines in the United States and around the world, many have wondered what their connection is to climate change. A new report sheds some light, firmly drawing correlations between several extreme weather events in 2012 and human-induced warming.