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New data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reveals a troubling trend: Coal-fired power generation—and its associated greenhouse gas emissions—were on the rise as 2012 came to an end.

According to the data, which was released yesterday, natural gas prices have risen significantly since April of 2012, prompting a rise in coal-fired electric generation (see figure below). This increase marks a dramatic change from the trends we’ve seen in the United States over the past several years. U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector had been falling, mostly due to more electricity being generated by renewables, slowed economic growth, and a greater use of low-cost natural gas, which produces roughly half the CO2 emissions of coal during combustion.

The new uptick in gas prices and coal use suggests that we cannot simply rely on current market forces to meet America’s emissions-reduction goals. In fact, EIA projects that CO2 emissions from the power sector will slowly rise over the long term. To keep emissions on a downward trajectory, the Administration must use its authority to prompt greater, immediate reductions by putting in place emissions standards for both new and existing power plants.

Agriculture is a major actor in spurring global climate change. The sector is already responsible for at least 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and agricultural emissions are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030.

Mitigating agricultural emissions, then, could go a long way toward mitigating global climate change. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is currently developing an Agricultural Guidance to help companies measure and reduce their agricultural emissions. We’ve just released a second draft of the Guidance for open comment period, which will run until May 31, 2013.

Key Challenges to Measuring Agricultural Emissions

Reporting agricultural emissions in GHG inventories is a decidedly complex endeavor, which can hinder reduction efforts. For example, agricultural emissions are strongly affected by weather and are therefore often calculated with a large amount of uncertainty. This ambiguity makes it challenging to set and track progress toward reduction targets. The carbon stored in biomass and soils can often be emitted into the atmosphere, making it imperative that companies do not over- or under-count the impact of farming practices on stored carbon. And companies vary widely in how they control different parts of agricultural supply chains—such as commodity production, processing, and retail —so it’s difficult to maintain consistency in how inventories are reported.

Now is a critically important time for the world to focus on climate finance. Developing nations—those least responsible for causing global warming but most vulnerable to its impacts—need funding to adopt clean energy, protect infrastructure from sea level rise, and engage in other adaptation and mitigation strategies. But these activities are costly—the world will need to figure out how to fund them now in order to protect countries from future climate change.

The problem is that it’s hard to draw attention to a topic that’s difficult to understand. The issue of climate finance is decidedly complex. Several entities--think-tanks, banks and other financial institutions, international institutions, governments, and public sector agencies--are involved in myriad activities related to climate finance. Understanding how they operate, interact, and contribute can be confusing. Even the vocabulary that defines climate finance can be inconsistent, abstract, and nebulous at times. These complexities make climate finance an issue that’s hard for people--even experts, sometimes --to wrap their heads around.

Introducing the Climate Finance FAQs Series

That’s where WRI’s new blog series, Climate Finance FAQs, comes in. Our experts will attempt to shed light on basic climate finance issues through a series of blog posts. By explaining these topics in plain language, we can make climate finance more accessible--and hopefully, draw broader attention to the pressing issue of how to pay for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

UPDATE 4/11/13: After this blog post was published, the OECD released updated figures for 2010 and 2011. The data still shows a decrease in commitments for adaptation, mitigation, and climate finance, as this blog post states. However, adaptation expenditures were 3 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010, as opposed to unchanged. (View updated figures.) The changes in the numbers are a result of donors entering new data for previous years or updating their old data. Preliminary data for 2012 shows that aid to developing countries continued to fall. Detailed figures for 2012 will be released in June 2013.

At the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, developed nations committed to provide a collective $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change’s impacts. Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released some surprising new data on this pledge. The figures indicate that developed nations’ recent climate finance contributions have fallen rather than risen toward the level of their 2020 commitment.

A Look at the New OECD Data

The OECD is a consortium of 34 wealthy countries. Among other joint initiatives, it provides a platform to monitor and share statistics on aid flows and climate finance contributed by its members. Most OECD members report both their climate finance expenditures and commitments using the “Rio Markers” (see text box), and the OECD secretariat periodically makes these numbers public. OECD members’ climate finance contributions represent a significant portion of the collective $100 billion commitment, so the numbers reported by the OECD give a good indication of developments in the climate finance field.

Surprisingly, new OECD numbers show that while adaptation expenditures in 2011 remained the same as in 2010, expenditures for mitigation activities decreased. Plus, the total commitment for climate finance decreased from $23 billion in 2010 to $17 billion in 2011.

While a “commitment” refers to the total amount of money a country will spend on an adaptation/mitigation project over a multi-year period—which is reported at the beginning of a project—an “expenditure” refers to the amount a country spends in a particular year on adaptation/mitigation activities. In January 2013, the OECD updated its data for 2011. It is difficult, of course, to predict or analyze trends based on only two years of data (the only data that’s currently available on OECD climate finance commitments). But given developed nations’ agreement to scale up climate finance significantly by 2020, this decrease is surprising—and could be concerning.

As the world continues to feel the effects of drought, sea level rise, and more volatile weather, it’s clear that adaptation efforts have never been more imperative. These initiatives are critically important in order to protect communities—especially in impoverished places—from the worsening impacts of climate change.

WRI’s Vulnerability & Adaptation team has been working to ensure that adaptation is a central component of the international development agenda. Over the past few years, WRI and its partners have conducted practical research and analysis on three continents across a broad spectrum of adaptation topics, including monitoring and evaluation; case studies on information use for adaptation; the role of national institutions; and a broad set of decision-making principles for a changing climate. But what have we learned from the results of these efforts? And how can we ensure that global adaptation efforts are conducted effectively and efficiently?

We recently stepped back and evaluated the work we’ve done to try and answer these questions. One of our clearest conclusions is that much remains to be learned about “what works” in adaptation. The results of our efforts point toward five areas of long-term, practical, applied research that could help provide a foundation for effective adaptation moving forward: adaptation success, critical thresholds, adaptation options, information systems, and institutions.

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America is blessed with abundant energy sources, from an array of traditional fuels and natural gas to solar, wind, and other renewable resources. But as the pressure on these resources grows, the United States must have a plan to ensure a stronger and more sustainable future. In today’s world, any smart and effective energy strategy must take into account the risks of climate change.

Climate change impacts are already here. They do not have a political affiliation, nor are they constrained by state boundaries. Moreover, climate impacts are taking a serious toll on America’s infrastructure and economy.

Let’s look at some examples:

America’s coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, as rising sea levels and heavier precipitation are increasing the impacts of hurricanes and other storms. More than 58 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, some $8.3 trillion, is generated in coastal areas (including the Great Lakes). This accounts for some 66 million jobs. Florida, in particular, faces significant threats due to rising seas.

Temperatures hit an unseasonably warm 61˚F in Washington D.C. earlier this week. The Middle East is blanketed in record rainfall and rare heavy snowfall, ending a nearly decade-long drought. Australia witnessed its hottest day on record this past week, stoking wildfires. And China is experiencing a bitterly cold winter, where temperatures are the lowestthey’ve been in almost three decades. We’re only two weeks into 2013, and already we are getting a reminder of the extreme year we just emerged from.

2012: A Year of Extreme Weather

How extreme were last year’s weather and...

A Critical Decade for Climate Policy

Tools and Initiatives to Track Our Progress

WRI and the ClimateWorks Foundation convened climate policy experts for a Practitioners' Workshop on Climate Policy Tracking in October 2012. Informed by the workshop, this working paper presents a landscape assessment of independent efforts to track the adoption, implementation, and impact...


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