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This post originally appeared on the National Journal's Energy Experts blog. It is a response to the question: "What's holding back energy and climate policy?"

We are in a race for sure, but it is not a race among various national issues. It’s a race to slow the pace of our rapidly changing climate. The planet is warming faster than previously thought, and we cannot afford to wait for national politics to align to make progress in slowing the dangerous rate of warming.

Recent events, like the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, propelled gun control front and center. Last year’s elections shifted the national conversation on immigration. Climate change, too, should demand the attention of our national leaders.

The evidence of climate change is clear and growing. In 2012, there were 356 all-time temperature highs tied or broken in the United States. As of March, the world had experienced 337th consecutive months (28 years) with a global temperature above the 20th century average. Global sea levels are rising and artic sea ice continues to shrink faster than many scientists had predicted.

There are indications that Americans are deepening their understanding about climate change, especially when it comes to its impacts. People are beginning to connect the dots around extreme weather events, rising seas, droughts and wildfires, which have been coming in increasing frequency and intensity in recent years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated that weather-related damages in the United States were $60 billion in 2011 alone.

This piece was co-authored with Tara Shine, head of research and development at the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice.

We recently travelled to Santiago, Chile, a sprawling city of six million people just beyond the Andes. Our purpose was to attend the first sub-regional workshop of the Climate Justice Dialogue, a new initiative led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice (MRFCJ). But before we even made it inside the conference center, we were confronted by a poignant, real-life example of climate justice.

Upon arrival in Santiago, a taxi took us to a charming and quirky family-owned hotel. As we were welcomed at the concierge desk, we were surprised to find Chile’s Second National Communication among the tourist books and magazines.

National communications are reports submitted by countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They provide scientific information about national climate mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as project proposals that help increase a country’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. They’re important documents for climate negotiators and policymakers because they hold countries accountable for their commitments under the UNFCCC. They are not, however, something you would expect to find as recommended tourist literature.

We asked the hotel owner why he displayed this document so prominently . He responded with a wise smile, “Because it is important.” He then explained how climate change is already affecting Chile’s tourism industry: The retreat of Andean glaciers affects the availability of freshwater for irrigation and domestic use, mountain recreation, and for the animals and plants that depend on glacier-melt for survival. It also makes the glaciers—as well as the related fauna and flora—less accessible to tourists, affecting his revenue. He also expressed his concern over the inadequate response to climate change from the international community, the national government, and a Chilean middle class that’s engaging in unsustainable consumption patterns. He concluded that climate change is part of Chile’s current and future reality, and therefore should matter to anyone who cares about his country—including tourists.

Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.

I’m referring here to the human quest for food and the human quest for fuel.

Unsustainable Food Production

Food production has significant―but often underestimated―impacts on the environment. Take climate, for instance: About one-quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture-related. In particular, nearly 13 percent of global emissions comes from livestock, fertilizer use, and farm-related energy consumption, while another 11 percent results from the clearing of forests and other ecosystems, primarily for agriculture.

This post originally appeared on the Climate Development and Knowledge Network's (CDKN) website.

Having recently left the bustling streets and warm hospitality of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I’m taking a moment to reflect on all that I have learned at CDKN’s workshop on “Climate Finance in East Africa.” Representatives of government departments and research institutes from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda--as well as members of the donor community and international think-tanks--reflected on their experiences and the challenges faced in mobilizing and effectively deploying climate change finance.

I was inspired by the sense of optimism and confidence among participants as they discussed the ways in which their countries are tackling the climate change challenge. And I was struck by the effort and considerable progress that these East African countries have already made, despite limited resources and numerous obstacles.

Climate Action in East Africa

For example, last month Kenya launched a holistic national climate change action plan, following a comprehensive planning process that brought together all key government ministries, subnational governments, civil society, the private sector, and development partners.

Putting the Pieces Together for Good Governance of REDD+

An Analysis of 32 REDD+ Country Readiness Proposals

This working paper presents positive trends and overarching gaps in how countries designing programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are proposing to address governance challenges. It can serve as a starting point to help governments, donors, and civil...

This is the first installment of our blog series, Climate Finance FAQs. The series explores the often nebulous world of climate finance, providing clarity on some of the key terms and current issues. Read more posts in this series.

Surprising as it may sound, there is no standard definition of climate finance. In fact, there are many differing views on what type of funding constitutes climate finance, how it should be delivered, and how much money developing nations will need to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. This vortex of information can be confusing to navigate. Here, we'll do our best to break down all of the components that define “climate finance.”

Defining Climate Finance: Broadly to Narrowly

In its broadest interpretation, climate finance refers to the flow of funds toward activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or help society adapt to climate change’s impacts. It is the totality of flows directed to climate change projects—the same way that “infrastructure finance” refers to the financing of infrastructure, or “consumer finance” refers to providing credit for purchases of big-ticket household items.

The term is most frequently used in the context of international political negotiations on climate change. In this context, climate finance—or international climate finance—is used to describe financial flows from developed to developing countries for climate change mitigation/adaptation activities, like building solar power plants or walls to protect from sea level rise. This interpretation builds off the premise that developed countries have an obligation to help developing countries transform their economies to become less carbon-intensive and more resilient to climate change.

The rapid expansion of natural gas development in the United States has been a double-edged sword. While natural gas supporters are quick to point out its economic benefits and green attributes—natural gas produces roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal during combustion—this isn’t the whole story. Natural gas comes with environmental consequences, including risks to air and water quality.

One risk is “fugitive methane emissions,” potent greenhouse gases that escape into the atmosphere throughout the natural gas development process. This methane—which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe—contributes to global warming and undercuts the climate advantage that cleaner-burning natural gas has over coal and diesel. (Learn more about fugitive methane emissions in our recent blog post.)

Despite the controversy surrounding natural gas development, energy forecasts suggest that natural gas is here to stay. Fortunately, several pathways are available to limit the climate impacts associated with its development. WRI just released a working paper, Clearing the Air: Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Natural Gas Systems, which outlines a number of state and federal policies and industry best practices to cost-effectively reduce fugitive methane emissions. We find that with the right amount of reductions, natural gas does offer advantages from a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions perspective over coal and diesel.

Clearing the Air

Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Natural Gas Systems

This working paper focuses primarily on evaluating and reducing upstream methane emissions in the natural gas sector. We outline a number of state and federal policies and industry best practices to cost-effectively reduce fugitive methane emissions.

Six years after the release of the landmark Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Lord Nicholas Stern revealed yesterday the most challenging hurdle ahead for international climate action. Overcoming this obstacle is not a matter of figuring out the scientific or policy pathways needed to curb climate change—nor is it determining what technologies to adopt or what investments must be made. “What’s missing is the political will,” said Stern.

The famed economist elaborated on this problem during an address yesterday hosted by WRI and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Fostering Growth and Poverty Reduction in a World of Immense Risk.” Dr. Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, provided opening remarks, articulating the serious economic and human risks climate change poses. Stern focused on the main hurdle to mitigating these risks—political will.

The problem, according to Stern, reflects a lack of understanding in three main areas: climate change’s real risks, the benefits of an alternative pathway, and the need for collaboration and mutual understanding.

Natural gas is booming in the United States. Production has increased by 20 percent in the last five years, fueled largely by technological advances in shale gas extraction. Other countries--including China--are now studying our experience with this abundant new resource.

But the growing role of natural gas in the U.S. energy mix hasn’t come without controversy. Natural gas development poses a variety of environmental risks. In addition to habitat disruption and impacts on local water and air quality, one of the most significant concerns is the climate impact resulting from the “fugitive methane emissions” that escape into the atmosphere from various points along the natural gas supply chain.

So what are fugitive methane emissions, and how big of a problem are they? How do emissions from natural gas compare to those from coal? And are there ways to mitigate them? The answers to these questions will help us better understand how natural gas development will affect climate change.


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