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.
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.
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.
In January 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued new guidance clarifying that publicly-traded companies need to disclose financially material impacts related to climate change. Material impacts may range from compliance costs related to emissions regulation, to the physical impacts of changing weather patterns on operations.
The SEC ruling creates more incentives for capital to flow to sustainable businesses, while also improving awareness of the importance of climate change among the financial community. Companies are expected to improve GHG emissions accounting and reporting - an important stepping stone to managing and reducing corporate carbon footprints. WRI plans to continue engagement with the SEC, companies, and other advocates to help develop more specific rules, methodologies, and guidance relating to environmental disclosure.
For the past decade, WRI’s Markets and Enterprise Program (MEP) has been working to analyze material impacts of climate change on companies. MEP’s publication, Coming Clean, was one of the first reports identifying the need for improved corporate disclosure and providing specific recommendations for the SEC that were grounded in detailed financial analysis. Since then, WRI has worked closely with the investment community, as well as businesses, to foster support for better financial analysis and climate change-related reporting.
Meanwhile, WRI’s GHG Protocol team has worked over the last six years to build the foundation, constituency and the accounting infrastructure for companies to engage in corporate emissions disclosure and prepare for exactly this type of requirement. The GHG Protocol’s Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard in particular is an important precursor to the SEC requirements. The SEC guidance refers to three business programs – the Carbon Disclosure Project, The Climate Registry, and the Global Reporting Initiative - that illustrate increasing corporate disclosure of climate change impacts and risks. All three of the programs’ greenhouse gas emissions reporting components are based on the GHG Protocol’s Corporate Standard.
Since 2007, both the Markets and Enterprise Program and the GHG Protocol Team have also been working through an international collaborative effort – the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), which includes the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), The Climate Registry (TCR), CERES, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to inform and guide SEC and other national financial accounting regulatory boards to address the issue of climate change reporting in the financial statements.
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.