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400 PPM: Carbon Dioxide Levels Cross a Sobering New Threshold

Last week we passed an unfortunate marker when it comes to climate change: concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have hit 400 parts per million (ppm) near the Arctic.

What Does it Mean and Why Should We Care?

This level was discovered by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who have long measured CO2 concentrations at stations around the world through two ways: (1) volunteers collect air samples and send them to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado for analysis; and (2) half a dozen baseline observatories continuously monitor CO2 levels. One of these observatories is located in Barrow, Alaska. The observatory in Barrow, as well as air samples from several other northern locations including Canada, Finland, and Norway, show that 400 ppm was surpassed sometime this spring.

Where do Renewable Energy Purchases Fit into a GHG Inventory?

I recently presented at the 7th Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) World Forum Summit, a gathering of experts brought together by Berlin-based think tank Thema1 “to foster and facilitate international discussion on how to assess, reduce, and communicate the impact of goods and services on the climate.” This group historically has focused on the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and product-level emission inventories. But this year’s theme included an additional focus: whether and how renewable energy purchases should be reflected in corporate GHG emissions calculations.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have no GHG emissions associated with generation and thus play a vital role in reducing overall emissions from electricity use. Many companies seek to purchase this energy and use the zero-emissions rate in calculating their indirect emissions from electricity consumption (also known as scope 2 emissions). However, several uncertainties surround how this practice should be used in GHG accounting—or whether it should be permitted at all.

The Lows and Highs of the Bonn Climate Talks

Two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I left Washington for two very different dates with international climate action. She headed to Indonesia to work with women farmers who are reintroducing native, drought-tolerant crops in order to build resilience to climate change. I, on the other hand, went to Bonn, Germany for the most recent round of UNFCCC climate change negotiations. The contrast could not have been starker. I spent 10 days watching with astonishment as countries bickered over committee chairs, agendas, and footnotes. There were highs in Bonn, too, as I outline below, but overall the atmosphere at this session was one of mistrust and reluctance.

You Spoke, We Listened: WRI’s Climate Science Video Survey Wraps Up

In early May, we invited participants to vote for their favorite video method for communicating recent climate science findings. The survey is now complete. More than 1,500 votes were cast, and we are in the midst of analyzing the results.

We are grateful for the time so many of you took to help – it really shows the high degree of interest there is in communicating climate science. We want to thank Google.org, which provided financial support for the project, and to the many groups that helped raise awareness, including Real Climate and Climate-L.

Climate Justice: Creating Urgency and Safeguarding Rights

This post was co-authored by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Manish Bapna, Acting President of WRI. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The United Nations climate change convention is 20 years old this month. As we see from the just-completed climate talks in Bonn, Germany, we still haven't solved the problem, nor even agreed how to solve it. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change become more apparent, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Within this statement lies a deep injustice: Those most affected by climate change did least to cause the problem. We need to put a human face on climate change. In the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh, sea-level rise, the increased incidence of cyclones, and higher temperatures are causing freshwater ponds to become salty. These are major challenges for families who rely on water for drinking, washing, irrigation and aquaculture. The impacts are so serious that they threaten the very ability of families -- who produce virtually no greenhouse gases -- to continue to live there.

Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change: A Critical Policy Challenge

What do you do when extended droughts make your family’s traditional farming vocation harder and harder to sustain? Or when your town’s water supply is no longer sufficient for people to draw water from their wells, forcing them to buy water from private suppliers? Or when the weakening agricultural economy leads families to pull their children out of school to do household chores, as their fathers seek seasonal work farther and farther from home?

If you represent the national or local government in a developing country, you are beginning to face more climate-related questions like these, making decisions on resource allocation increasingly difficult. You always have to start with the present – to support farmers during droughts, find ways of improving water services and see how children of poor families can be protected. However, you sense that you are not dealing with temporary phenomena, but with the foreboding of longer-term change.

On Clean Energy, Time to Follow Where Google, GE, Buffett Lead

This post also appears on Forbes.com

Google is backing it. So is Warren Buffett, America’s most-watched investor. GE, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, is too.

Each of these corporate icons is placing big bets and hundreds of millions of dollars on a future powered by wind and solar power. Apple just joined them, announcing plans to power its main U.S. data center in Maiden, North Carolina, entirely with renewable energy by the end of this year. So why - yet again - are pundits making dire warnings about prospects for renewable energy?

The answer is that the clean tech industry is at a critical crossroads.

WRI Celebrates Leaders in Sustainability at 30th Anniversary Dinner

2012 is WRI’s 30th anniversary year. To celebrate, we are bringing together big thinkers from government, business, and philanthropy who share a strong commitment to solving the world’s biggest environmental and development challenges.

Tonight’s gala dinner in New York City will be both a celebration of WRI’s achievements over the past three decades and a launch pad for its future efforts.

We will honor two people who have made outstanding contributions to the global environment. Jonathan Lash —president of Hampshire College, who, as WRI’s president for 18 years, pursued and personified our goal of putting ideas into action—and WRI Board member Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies, a global real estate company, and who is a proven leader in sustainability. We will also introduce Andrew Steer, currently the World Bank’s special envoy on climate change, who will take the helm as WRI’s third president in August.

WRI’s 30th Anniversary: A Look Back at Three Decades of Big Ideas

This year, the World Resources Institute celebrates its 30th anniversary. Every organization has great backstories, and in my five-plus years here as head of External Relations, I’ve heard many of WRI’s—multiple versions of them!

Many of these tales came from WRI’s own staff and very loyal alumni, some of whom have worked for the organization nearly all three decades of its existence. More emerged from interactions with WRI’s past and present board members and with meeting many of our partners around the world. But it all added up to just a lot of interesting fragments of folklore without any real sense of how it all fit together. No one had put it all down on paper.

Why Institutions Matter For Climate Change Adaptation In Developing Countries

This post was written with Youba Sokona, coordinator of the African Climate Policy Center (ACPC) at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ACPC and WRI have signed a memorandum of understanding to partner on analysis, convening, and other joint activities to promote low-carbon, climate-resilient development in Africa.

WRI recently published "Ready or Not", a report on the roles of national institutions in adapting to climate change, based on WRI’s National Adaptive Capacity (NAC) framework. On February 21, WRI Vulnerability and Adaptation Initiative Co-directors Heather McGray and Johan Schaar led a workshop introducing the NAC framework to 17 staff and fellows of the African Climate Policy Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Gebru Jember of the Ethiopia Climate Change Forum also shared his organization’s experience using the NAC through the ARIA project.

When you have a simple headache, you can take an aspirin, and it usually clears up. But if you have heart disease, you will likely need to make some major changes in your lifestyle: diet, exercise, plenty of doctors’ visits, and perhaps a long-term course of expensive prescription medicine.

Climate change, unfortunately, is no mere headache. Building a climate-resilient society will require long-term and potentially fundamental transformations, including changes both large and small. This is why institutions are central to the climate-resilient development agenda.

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