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The world has been asking: How will the United States turn its climate change talk into real action? President Obama began to answer that question this week when he announced his National Climate Action Plan, laying out concrete steps to curb climate change at home and abroad, including a policy that would bar the U.S. from financing conventional coal plants internationally.

The concrete steps he described are vital--most importantly because they represent actions, not just words. But everyone should also take note of the starting point in his speech. It reveals the critical role the international climate change process can play in stimulating climate action.

Reducing the vulnerability of local communities exposed to climate change by increasing the volume and effectiveness of finance directed towards adaptation.

EMBARQ catalyzes and helps implement environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable urban mobility solutions to improve quality of life in cities.

Working toward an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015 that is informed by science, considers the specific needs of the most vulnerable populations, and catalyzes sustainable development.

President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.

Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.

The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands

Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.

This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.

Michael Obeiter, a Senior Associate at WRI, also contributed to this post.

With today’s announcement of a national climate action plan, President Obama is pushing forward to tackle the urgent challenge of climate change. This is the most comprehensive climate plan by a U.S. president to date. If fully and swiftly implemented, the Obama Administration can truly reset the climate agenda for this country.

The plan looks to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions in a comprehensive way and takes on the question of how to protect the country from the devastating climate-related impacts we are already seeing today. With a clear, national strategy in place – and concrete steps to implement it – the administration can protect people at home and encourage greater ambition internationally.

Importantly, the president is recommitting the United States to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. WRI’s recent analysis demonstrates that meeting this target is achievable, but requires ambitious action across many sectors of the economy. WRI identifies four areas with the greatest opportunity for emissions reductions – power plants, energy efficiency, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and methane – which are all specifically included in the plan.

The plan is also notable for addressing climate impacts and encouraging increased international engagement. Together, these steps can help the United States reclaim lost ground on climate change. While there are many details to be worked out, this plan is a welcome step to putting the United States on a pathway to a safer future.

Now, let’s look at some of the specific elements in the plan:

Getting Every Ton of Emissions Right

An Analysis of Emission Factors for Purchased Electricity in China

This working paper identifies common errors when accounting for greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity in China. It provides solutions and recommendations for policy makers and corporate users.

This post originally appeared on the National Journal's Energy Insiders blog.

Climate change impacts are already being felt in the United States and around the world. The latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report confirms that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions hit an all-time high last year.

Is it time to give up on reducing emissions? Absolutely not.

Better to Pursue Climate Action Now

While things may look bad today, unchecked global warming will exponentially increase the human and economic toll of responding to a permanently altered planet. A recent report from the World Bank outlines the devastating effects of a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial levels: flooding of coastal cities, risks to food production, unprecedented heat waves, increased frequency of killer storms, and more. This is not the future that we want to leave our children and grandchildren. Nor can we simply adapt to this future – even if we wanted to.

The IEA makes it clear that acting now will be less costly than waiting until later on. We should be moving toward a low-carbon future, investing in low-carbon energy systems, and preparing our infrastructure for oncoming climate impacts. According to the IEA, delaying action would increase the costs by having to retrofit energy sources and risking their becoming obsolete. The IEA lays out four sensible measures that countries can undertake to curb growth in GHG emissions by 2020—and which come at no net economic cost.

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