Germany’s energy transition (or “Energiewende”) is the most ambitious current effort to put a large industrial economy onto a sustainable energy path, recognizing the 21st century reality of a climate-constrained world. If the world’s fourth largest economy demonstrates that this shift is possible without undermining economic growth, it could be a major factor in enabling a global energy transition. And with climate change intensifying – 2012 was the 36th straight year of above-average global temperature, and 2011 and 2012 each produced more extreme weather events costing over one billion dollars each than any other year in recorded history – reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative for any future energy system. Thus, the Energiewende is critical to the ongoing fight against global warming.
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 work in the United States.
When President Barack Obama announced the country’s first national climate strategy, many people wondered what it would mean across the nation. Yet, the strategy may carry even more significant implications overseas.
The plan restricts U.S. government funding for most international coal projects. This policy could significantly affect energy producers and public and private investors around the globe.
As impacts from climate change become more visible and costly, leaders across the nation are responding. In the wake of projections from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science showing that Maryland could face sea-level rise of more than six feet by the end of the century, Governor Martin O’Malley unveiled a state climate action plan this week. The initiative will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also supporting job creation and economic growth.
Last month, Death Valley, California experienced the highest June temperature ever recorded (129 degrees F!). Fires have been blazing in the western United States, leading to catastrophic losses of life. We’re barely more than a month into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and it has started off extreme.
The Case of Midwest Pulp and Paper Mills
This report highlights the critical role of energy efficiency in improving the economic and environmental performance of Midwest pulp and paper mills. WRI’s analysis finds that less efficient facilities could realize significant annual energy cost savings, and decrease their greenhouse gas...
New energy efficiency legislation has been introduced by Senators Shaheen and Portman that could come before the U.S. Senate as early as this month. This bill, formally known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761), provides goals, incentives, and support for energy efficiency efforts across the U.S. economy. Passage of this bill would be a positive step toward saving money through improved efficiency while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The passage of the American Climate and Energy Security bill by the House of Representatives in June 2009 represents the biggest step yet taken toward an ambitious national climate policy. The bill sets forth a long-term roadmap to shift the U.S. economy to a low carbon path.
John Larsen is a senior associate on WRI’s forty-person climate team. For three years, he has analyzed the greenhouse gas emission reduction trajectories in numerous proposals in the run-up to the bill.
“There’s a real appetite on Capitol Hill for WRI’s objective research and analysis,” says Larsen. “Lawmakers turn to our climate experts to better understand the bill’s impact on complex issues like U.S. competitiveness, trade, and jobs.” Larsen’s own work helped inform the bill’s targets and timetables. WRI, he believes, helped make the bill as strong as politically possible. No bill would have been possible without buy-in from the business community. As a co-founder of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), WRI helped bring leading businesses and environmental organizations together to urge significant and mandatory regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP recommendations helped shape the bill’s provisions and were widely cited in Congress as a basis for the legislation.
Alexander Perera leads WRI’s work in renewable energy. Looking back to the year 2000, he recounts how few companies were thinking about green power options and how few utilities offered them. “Commercial and industrial use of renewable energy in the U.S. totaled less than 250 megawatts – equal to just one quarter the output of a large coal-fired power plant.”
Nine years later, a pioneering group of fifteen U.S. companies quadrupled this output, reaching a collective goal of purchasing 1,000 megawatts of new, cost competitive green power generated from renewable resources. In reaching this landmark, the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) has helped catalyze a dramatic scale up of the domestic renewables industry.
WRI convened the Group and has worked with companies to explore workable renewable energy technologies, financing strategies, and partnership arrangements. It also helped the Group establish best practices for green power purchasing. “Companies now obtain green power from a variety of sources,” says Perera, “including solar and wind power, biomass, low-impact hydropower, and landfill gas.”
Core members of the GPMDG include Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, FedEx, GM, Georgia-Pacific, Google, IBM, Interface, J&J, Michelin NA, Natureworks, Pitney Bowes, Staples, and Starbucks.
In January 2010, two WRI-recommended features were incorporated into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) regulations for implementing the new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). These regulatory features will help minimize the negative impacts of biofuels by ensuring comprehensive accounting of their lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The 2007 expansion of the RFS program required the EPA to set lifecycle GHG threshold standards to ensure that biofuels being used to meet the RFS emit fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel they replace. The framework the EPA would develop to calculate the GHG emissions factors of biofuels was critical. A framework that was less than comprehensive could end up creating incentives for U.S. biofuels that would actually lead to more GHG emissions than the traditional fossil-based fuels they replace. Two accounting factors were particularly important: How to account for carbon dioxide emissions that occur in the future. WRI recommended applying a zero discount rate over a shorter time horizon, rather than the more popular proposal of a two percent discount rate over a 100 year time horizon. Our recommendation was more consistent with prior research and would minimize the risk of artificially inflating the emissions reductions benefits of bio-fuels.
Whether or not to include the emissions associated with indirect land-use changes. For example, a shift from soybean to corn farming in Iowa to make ethanol can result in a ripple effect that drives land conversion for soya in the Brazilian Cerrado. This land conversion may result in significant emissions of carbon dioxide. The uncertainty of indirect land use impacts does not render them insignificant. WRI recommended that emissions associated with global indirect land-use changes be included in the framework, along with approaches for refining the estimates as the science improves.
EPA adopted both our recommendations. In particular, the adoption of an accounting methodology that accounts for the emissions associated with global indirect land use impacts of domestic policy sets a precedent that has significant implications well beyond the biofuels sector.
WRI was the pioneering voice on the zero discount rate. WRI’s Biofuels and the Time Value of Carbon was the first and, to the best of our knowledge, only publication to address the issue of how to choose a discount rate for physical carbon in the context of biofuels accounting. WRI’s Liz Marshall was selected as one of five professional peer reviewers for the time parameters portion of the RFS rule. WRI’s perspective on indirects, set forth in Biofuels, Carbon, and Land-use Change and Rules for Fuels, also provided the analytical foundation for advocacy NGOs during the course of this debate.