This post was written by Lord Nicholas Stern, president of the British Academy, and Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and a WRI Board member. It originally appeared on Project Syndicate.
This Friday, in its latest comprehensive assessment of the evidence on global warming, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will show that the world’s climate scientists are more certain than ever that human activity – largely combustion of fossil fuels – is causing temperatures and sea levels to rise.
In recent years, a series of extreme weather events – including Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, floods in China, and droughts in the American Midwest, Russia, and many developing countries – have caused immense damage. Last week, Mexico experienced simultaneous hurricanes in the Pacific and in the Gulf of Mexico that devastated towns and cities in their path. Climate change will be a major driver of such events, and we risk much worse.
This puts a new debate center stage: how to reconcile increased action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with strong economic growth.
Brazil is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. What is less known is that the country is the fourth largest industrial roundwood (timber left as logs, not sawn into planks) and wood pulp producer and ninth largest paper producer in the world. Brazil’s forest sector contributed 5 percent to the national gross domestic product in 2012. Brazil’s forests are not only home to communities and a haven for biodiversity, they are also part of the country’s economic backbone.
Brazil’s government has made impressive progress towards balancing forest protection and production. In 2012, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped to its lowest rate in more than two decades. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research has pioneered the use of satellite data to prevent illegal logging. And the forest sector uses the Forest Source Document system (Documento de Origem Florestal, DOF), a sophisticated electronic system to track the wood flow throughout the supply chain.
Despite these positive steps, illegal logging and associated trade in the Amazon continues. Beyond the negative social and environmental impacts, illegal logging poses a serious problem for businesses producing legal wood products. With a price difference of up to 40 percent, legal wood simply cannot compete with cheaper illegal wood.
To reduce illegal logging and support the legal actors in the forest sector, Brazil must strengthen its forest control systems and policies.
Low-carbon development has become the core theme of China’s urbanization. In fact, it’s one of the country’s key strategies to achieve its target of reducing carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has identified 36 pilot cities and assigned them several tasks.
When the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, takes the floor of the UN general assembly this week, he will address two of the most pressing challenges of our time: poverty and climate change.
Future U.S. power suppliers will need to limit their carbon pollution, thanks to new standards announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The proposed emissions standards for new power plants are an important measure in implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan (announced in June) to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming.
EPA’s announcement comes against the backdrop of our deepening understanding of the science of climate change. It also arrives as we witness multiple extreme weather events that present a vivid picture of what we are likely to experience in a changing world. This summer, we saw record rainfalls on the southeast coast, massive wildfires in California and Idaho, and most recently, deadly flooding in Colorado. These extreme events--to say nothing of their massive economic cost--remind us of why the United States has an obligation to cut its emissions.
As we’ve previously written, the President’s plan recommits the United States to meeting its international commitment of reducing its GHG emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. With these new standards--along with additional recent steps toward increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions of potent greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons and methane--the Administration is making progress in all of the sectors WRI identified in our report earlier this year.
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.