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  • Blog post

    New Study Raises Question: What Don’t We Know About Water Scarcity?

    A new study from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reveals troubling news: The aquifers that millions of Americans rely on for freshwater are being depleted at an accelerating rate. In fact, aquifer depletion in the years between 2004 and 2008 was nearly triple the historical average.

    Population growth and increasing demand—in particular for irrigating crops—are straining these underground freshwater sources. In many cases, aquifers have accumulated over the course of millions of years.

    There are two lessons we take away from this USGS study:

    1. Growing demand is increasingly coming into conflict with our finite global water supply. Even in places that are historically water-abundant, growth in water demand is outstripping available supply. (That’s why WRI’s Aqueduct project focuses on water stress – the ratio of water supply and demand – more than measures of water quantity.)

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  • Blog post

    What Exporting U.S. Natural Gas Means for the Climate

    This post originally appeared on The National Journal's Energy Experts blog.

    The U.S. Department of Energy made a big announcement late last week, green lighting the country’s second liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project. Many argue that natural gas exports will bring economic and geopolitical benefits for the United States--with Japanese and French companies coming on board as key partners in the proposed export station.

    Indeed, natural gas can contribute to a lower-emissions trajectory--but only if it’s done right. With effective policies and standards in place, natural gas can help displace coal while complementing lower-carbon, renewable energy sources. But without these protections, U.S. LNG exports will likely lead to an increase in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, as discussed below, may have a negative effect on global climate change.

    The question becomes whether government agencies and businesses will take the necessary steps to limit the emissions risks associated with natural gas, including through LNG exports.

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  • Blog post

    Walking the Talk: WRI Uses Fiber Analysis to Test Office Paper Products

    Here at WRI, we are constantly working to understand and minimize the environmental impacts of our work. Using research and expertise from around the Institute to guide us, WRI is committed to limiting the resources we use and purchasing products that reflect our environmental and social mission.

    Our guidelines at our Washington, D.C. office require paper products to be certified[^1] and have high recycled fiber content. However, we had not identified other requirements beyond product certification, nor had we effectively communicated these guidelines or any paper purchasing standards with our non-D.C. offices. We also found that we were not maintaining records on all our offices’ paper purchases.

    Considering our ongoing work to help companies comply with U.S. Lacey Act requirements, we decided it was time to examine the paper products in our own offices. We wanted to better understand our supply chains and use fiber analysis to test the paper content.

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  • Blog post

    U.S. Natural Gas Exports: Friend or Foe?

    U.S. natural gas production is booming. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), production grew by 23 percent from 2007 to 2012. Now—with production projected to continue growing in the decades ahead—U.S. lawmakers and companies are considering exporting this resource internationally. But what are the climate implications of doing so?

    This is a topic I sought to address in my testimony yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. The hearing, “U.S. Energy Abundance: Exports and the Changing Global Energy Landscape,” examined both the opportunities and risks presented by exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). I sought to emphasize a number of points that are often overlooked in this discussion; in particular, fugitive methane emissions and cost-effective options for reducing them.

    Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas Production

    While burning natural gas releases half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal, producing the fuel comes with considerable environmental risks (see: here, here, and here). We’re already seeing these risks play out domestically. In addition to habitat disruption and impacts on local air and water quality, one of the most significant implications of natural gas production is fugitive methane emissions.

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  • Publication
  • Blog post

    5 Reasons Why It’s (Still) Important to Reduce Fugitive Methane Emissions

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory report. Using new data and information, the EPA lowered its estimate of fugitive methane emissions from natural gas development by 33 percent, from 10.3 million metric tons (MMT) in 2010 to 6.9 MMT in 2011. While such a reduction, if confirmed by measurement data, would undeniably be a welcome development, it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved.

    There are still many reasons why reducing fugitive methane is important. Even better, WRI’s recent analysis finds that we have the technologies and policy frameworks to do so cost effectively.

    Here are five big reasons we should care about fugitive methane emissions:

    1) Emissions Are Still Too High.

    Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and a key driver of global warming. Methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time period and 72 times stronger over a 20-year period. In fact, 6.9 MMt of methane is equivalent in impact to 172 MMt of CO2 over a 100-year time horizon. That’s greater than all the direct and indirect GHG emissions from iron and steel, cement, and aluminum manufacturing combined. Reducing methane emissions is an essential step toward reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the rate of global warming.

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  • Blog post

    Nearly Half of U.S. Fracking Sites Overlap with Water-Stressed Regions

    A new report from CERES draws a connection between water risk and hydraulic fracturing in the United States. The report adds an important dimension to the conversation about how energy use and water stress will play out in the years ahead.

    The report, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water, brings together Aqueduct’s high-resolution water stress maps with FracFocus.org data on the location and water use of U.S. shale oil and gas wells. The complete map (see below) shows where potentially water-intense hydraulic fracturing is happening in water-stressed areas.

    The results of the study are eye-opening: Almost half of the more than 25,000 oil and gas wells mapped by Ceres are in water basins with either high or extremely high water stress.

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  • Blog post

    How Much Did the United States Contribute to International Fast-Start Finance?

    This post was co-authored with Jenna Blumenthal, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy program.

    As U.S. government officials take stock of last week’s Ministerial Meeting on Mobilizing Climate Finance and prepare for upcoming UNFCCC talks in Bonn, WRI’s Open Climate Network (OCN), along with Climate Advisers and the Overseas Development Institute, are taking a look back at U.S. efforts on climate finance. (See our new fact sheet).

    Back in 2009, developed countries pledged to provide $30 billion in climate finance by the end of 2012 in order to help developing countries implement low-carbon, climate-resilient development initiatives. This funding period—which took place from 2010 to 2012—is known as the “fast-start finance” period.

    Our analysis reveals two sides to the U.S. contribution of roughly $7.5 billion in fast-start finance: On one hand, it represents a significant effort to increase international climate finance relative to previous years, in spite of the global financial crisis. On the other, it is not clear that the entirety of the contribution aligns with internationally agreed principles, which stipulate that the finance be “new and additional” and “balanced” between adaptation and mitigation. In any case, the United States, along with other developed countries, is now faced with the challenge of scaling up climate finance to developing countries to reach a collective $100 billion per year by 2020.

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  • Presentation
  • Blog post

    Exploring Prospects for U.S. Coal Exports to China

    This post originally appeared on ChinaFAQS.org.

    The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies. They are also the two largest producers and consumers of coal, and the largest emitters of carbon dioxide. In recent years, however, their paths on coal have started to diverge.

    Over the last few years, coal consumption has dropped dramatically in the United States, mainly due to low natural gas prices. In response to weak domestic demand, the U.S. coal industry has been rushing to find its way out to the international market. Last year, U.S. coal exports hit a historical high of 114 million metric tons.

    However, it is worth noting that the shift away from coal in the U.S. may not be permanent. As my colleague, Kristin Meek, pointed out in an earlier blog post, coal use in the U.S. power sector was on the rise again towards the end of 2012, likely driven by the new uptick in natural gas prices.

    On the other side of the globe, China’s appetite for coal continues to grow. In response, Chinese power companies are looking to tap the international coal market for sources that are more reliable and cost competitive. Among those markets is the United States. In 2012, China imported 290 million metric tons of coal. China was the third largest destination for U.S. coal exports, behind the Netherlands and the U.K.

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Not Featured GeographyWRI Office

WRI established its U.S. office in 1982. We work to improve water quality, increase awareness of local climate change impacts, and identify cost-effective emissions-reduction opportunities in the United States. Learn more about our Eutrophication and Hypoxia, Water Quality Trading, U.S. Local Climate Impacts Initiative, and U.S. Climate Action projects.

Mounting Evidence: Climate Change Threatens America’s Energy Sector

Extreme weather and climate events such as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires visibly impact not only our communities and livelihoods, but also our resources and related infrastructure. In its latest report, U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) warns that domestic energy supplies are likely to face more severe disruptions given rising temperatures that result in extreme weather events. The report accurately outlines the risks climate change poses to the energy sector in the United States and serves as a wake-up call on this critical issue, which I highlighted in my testimony before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year.

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Karl Hausker

Senior Fellow

Karl is a Senior Fellow in WRI’s Climate and Energy Program. He has worked for 28 years in the fields of climate change, energy, and environment in a career that has spanned legislative and...

Cutting Carbon through Industrial Energy Efficiency: The Case of Midwest Pulp and Paper Mills

While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.

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Andrew Maddocks

Outreach and Development, Aqueduct

Andrew is the lead on communications for Aqueduct, WRI’s tool for measuring and mapping water risks. He works to maximize the Aqueduct’s visibility and tell the project’s story to audiences...

4 Promising Themes Emerge in U.S.-China Agreements at Strategic and Economic Dialogue

This post originally appeared on WRI's ChinaFAQs blog.

This has been a big week for U.S.-China collaboration on climate change. Yesterday the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), which was established in April by the Joint Statement on Climate Change, presented their report on bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Not only does it lay out actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a close reading sheds light on important themes for the future of U.S.-China collaboration on climate change.

The report centers on five separate “action initiatives.” to address key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in both countries. The U.S. and China make up more than 40 percent of global CO2 emissions, so significant collaboration between the countries is absolutely essential to addressing the problem. The five areas that the report singles out include: vehicle emissions; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization and storage; greenhouse gas data collection and management; and building and industry energy efficiency.

Although the report is built around these five initiatives, four big themes can also be seen:

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