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6 Top Environment and Development Stories to Watch in 2013

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg.com.

As we enter 2013, there are signs of growth and economic advancement around the world. The global middle class is booming. More people are moving into cities. And the quality of life for millions is improving at an unprecedented pace.

Yet, there are also stark warnings of mounting pressures on natural resources and the climate. Consider: 2012 was the hottest year on recordfor the continental United States. There have been 36 consecutive years in which global temperatures have been above normal. Carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise – last year the world added about 3 percent more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. All of these pressures are bringing more climate impacts: droughts, wildfires, rising seas, and intense storms.

All is not lost, but the window for action is rapidly closing. This decade--and this year--will be critical.

Against that backdrop, experts at WRI have analyzed trends, observations, and data to highlight six key environmental and development stories we’ll be watching in 2013.

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Communicating the "Financeability" of Energy Efficiency Projects (EEPs)

Guide to Data Needs for Financing EEPs in China

This guide will help companies be better prepared as they seek to secure attractive external financing for energy efficiency improvements at their facilities in China. The guide can be used by industry, energy services companies, and financiers to achieve a smoother financing process and prompt...

New Coal Report Underscores the Urgent Need for Global Clean Energy Development

The latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2012 re-confirms the dangerous path the world is on--a path of increasing dependence on coal, which carries serious environmental risks for people and the planet. According to the report, the world will burn 1.2 billion metric tons more coal per year by 2017 compared to today, surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source.

Coal already contributes 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions--the IEA projects this figure to grow to 50 percent over the next 25 years. Greenhouse gas emissions--which again reached record levels this year--are driving global climate change, the impacts of which we’re already seeing through more extreme weather events, droughts, and rising sea levels.

To alter course and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need a new approach that’s grounded by stable long-term policies, investments, and innovation that leads to a global transition to clean energy. While it may seem that the road to greater coal production is inevitable, the reality is that we can avoid this pathway--if we start now.

A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment

When it comes to overseas development finance, China is definitely a country to watch. Due to the country’s unprecedented economic growth, China’s overseas investments have increased exponentially in recent years. Between 2009 and 2010, two Chinese state-owned banks lent more money to other developing nations than the World Bank did. In fact, between 2002 and 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) stock grew from $29 billion to more than $424 billion.

But what factors are driving all of this growth? What areas of the world are on the receiving end of China’s OFDI flows? And what sorts of social and environmental standards are in place for banks’ and enterprises’ investments? WRI seeks to answer these questions and provide additional background information in its recently updated slide deck, “Emerging Actors in Development Finance: A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment.”

The Trillion RMB Question: How Can China Fund its Sustainable Urban Transport Growth?

This piece was co-authored with Daniel Bongardt, Project Director of Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) China.

China—especially its cities—has embraced sustainable transport in a big way. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently urged Chinese cities to increase the number of travelers using non-motorized transportation to at least 50 percent by 2015. The country has been undergoing the most rapid expansion of urban rail systems in world history, and it leads Asia in bus-rapid-transit (BRT) and busway implementation. Plus, dozens of cities are expanding non-motorized transport. Hangzhou, for example, has built up the largest public bike program in the world, accumulating 65,000 bicycles in fewer than two years.

But while China leads the developing world in sustainable urban transport expansion, the country faces great challenges when it comes to financing the construction, maintenance, and operation of new and existing public urban transport projects.

The Great Challenge of Funding Sustainable Transport Projects in Chinese Cities

China lacks dedicated funding structures for planned public transit, biking, and walking facilities—at both the national and local levels. The Ministry of Transport provides funding only for inter-city highway projects, acquiring this revenue from gasoline taxes and vehicle registry fees. Local governments, which are often in charge of urban public transport development, currently support metro or BRT construction through per project-based funding, mainly via land leasing and local loans--neither of which is sustainable.

Policy Experts Provide Insights into China’s Leadership Transition

This post was co-authored by Dominique Labaki, an intern with WRI's External Relations department.

Last Friday, experts from the ChinaFAQs Network and top media representatives participated on a press call on climate and energy policy under China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, and other new leaders. The participants focused on the drivers underlying China’s energy and climate policies and actions. Key issues included whether the country can sustain its renewable energy growth, confront rising coal demand, and follow through on its climate change targets in the 12th five-year plan. All of these issues are emerging as the country faces its first major economic slowdown in more than a decade. This blog post highlights experts’ discussion during the press call.

New Leadership and the 12th Five-Year Plan

Kenneth Lieberthal, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development at Brookings, opened the discussion. As he explained, nearly 70 percent of China’s top leadership positions are expected to change in November, but the make-up of the Standing Committee of the Politburo remains uncertain. In Lieberthal’s view, China’s new leaders will first focus on domestic challenges, primarily around re-balancing the economy.

What Is the Future of King Coal in China?

This post originally appeared on WRI's ChinaFAQs site.

When it comes to coal consumption, no other nation comes close to China. The country reigns as the world’s largest coal user, burning almost half of the global total each year. About 70 percent of China’s total energy consumption and nearly 80 percent of its electricity production come from coal, and its recent shift from being a historical net coal exporter to the world’s largest net coal importer took only three years.

China’s great thirst for coal is undeniably troubling from a sustainable development standpoint. However, the situation may be changing. I recently joined three other experts to speak at a Congressional briefing entitled, “Why China Is Acting on Clean Energy: Successes, Challenges, and Implications for U.S. Policy.” While my fellow speakers spoke about the progress of clean energy development in China, I sought to explain how the growing constraints on coal development are acting as one factor pushing China to move more aggressively towards clean energy.

Listen to the recording of WRI's press call on "China's Leadership Transition and Implications for Energy and Climate.

Chinese Leaders and WRI Experts Share Knowledge on Low-Carbon Development

China and the United States have a lot in common. China’s rapid economic development and America’s industry have turned the two nations into world’s largest energy users, as well as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So it’s fitting that experts from these two countries share ideas on how to grow their economies in ways that also protect the environment.

That’s exactly what happened this week when WRI hosted a high-level Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. The event was part of a larger study tour organized by MIT, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. More than 20 representatives from Chinese research institutions and central and local government gathered to learn about low-carbon development strategies and policies, with WRI serving as one of the tour’s first stops.

“I spent a great deal of time in China, and I believe very strongly that we have as much or more to learn from you as you have to learn from us,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, to the Chinese delegation.

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