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Rio+20: Seizing the Opportunity for a Sustainable Future

The 1992 Earth Summit was a bright moment for the environmental movement. For the first time, presidents and prime ministers—more than 100 in all—were “coming together to save the earth,” as a headline on the cover of Time magazine put it. What’s more, the U.N.-led conference in Rio de Janeiro yielded some genuine results. Among them were major global treaties on the climate and biodiversity. Rich and poor countries alike also made a broad new commitment to sustainable development— as spelled out in the Rio Declaration and an accompanying “action plan."

Was it too much to hope that humanity had turned a corner?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question appears to be yes. Despite some progress, the world is still waiting for the global response that the original Earth Summit seemed to promise— a promise that will now be revisited, as thousands of representatives of government, civil society, and business return for the Rio+20 conference.

Priorities for the Green Climate Fund in 2012

With the first meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) fast approaching, two regional groups – Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean – have yet to nominate their Board members. Negotiated over the last two years, the GCF is expected to deliver large-scale finance to developing countries to address climate change. Without completing the nominations, though, the Board cannot begin the important task of making the “main global fund for climate change finance” operational.

Earlier this year, WRI and Climate Analytics facilitated a meeting in New York City of representatives from prospective Board member countries and others involved in the Fund’s design (see summary note). Participants exchanged ideas and perspectives on the Board’s program of work for 2012 and priorities for its first meeting. In addition to the basic administrative arrangements – like selecting a host country and establishing a secretariat – the Board needs to do the following in 2012:

Asian Organizations Commit to Advance Corporate Action on Climate Change

Companies around the world are increasingly measuring and managing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in response to drivers like consumer preference, purchaser demands, and sustainability goals. As a growing number of Asian companies look to manage their emissions, they’ll require training and resources available in their own languages and cultural contexts. To that end, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol recently held a week-long training session in Delhi, India to further build Asian companies’ capacities to measure and curb emissions.

Training participants included government representatives, business and industry council leaders, and NGOs from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The workshop focused on providing those in the region with tools to teach companies how to develop GHG inventories based on the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard and establish programs to measure and report their emissions. The Program Design Course provided a forum for participants to share experiences and future plans, and identified the steps involved in designing a blueprint to establish their own programs. The course drew on case studies from existing corporate GHG reporting programs like the Brazil GHG Protocol Program, the Mexico Greenhouse Gas Program, the Israel Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Registry, and the former U.S. EPA Climate Leaders Program, all of which are based on the GHG Protocol.

Clean Energy for All: Strategies for Expanding Access in the Developing World

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Check out the first installment.

Accessing reliable energy is one of the greatest obstacles the developing world faces. Globally, about 1.3 billion people go without electricity, while 2.7 billion lack modern energy services. Providing these populations with energy is difficult—ensuring that generation occurs in environmentally sustainable and cost-effective ways makes the task significantly more challenging.

Expanding clean energy access has been a big part of the conversations during this week’s Asian Clean Energy Forum, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID in partnership with WRI. The talks mirror discussions that clean energy project developers and financiers had at a March 2012 workshop that was organized by WRI and the DOEN Foundation. Knowledge from this group and demonstration of their business models showcase the key elements to in implementing successful clean energy projects.

Paying a Premium for Climate Resilience

What is the best way to protect vulnerable rural communities from the damaging impacts of climate change? Insurance could be an answer, but it raises a number of difficult questions.

To illustrate, the New York Times recently ran a story, “Report Says a Crop Subsidy Cap Could Save Millions.” The piece discusses a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that investigated the costs and distributive effects of the federal insurance program that protects farmers against crop failure and low market prices. This is a costly program for the federal government – farmers pay only 38 percent of the premiums, and the rest is covered by federal subsidies. Payouts are skewed toward the largest farms, which may receive very large payments because there is no subsidy cap. The cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2011 was $7.3 billion.

Clean Energy for All: A Global Challenge

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment, which will highlight specific ways institutions can implement successful clean energy projects.

This week, key leaders from the policy, industry, government, NGO, banking, and civil society sectors are gathering in the Philippines for the 7th annual Asian Clean Energy Forum (ACEF). The event, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID, aims to foster discussions about how to scale up clean energy initiatives and curb climate change in Asian nations.

One the forum’s key themes is access to clean energy. In March 2012, the World Resources Institute and the DOEN Foundation also organized a workshop focused on innovative practices in providing access to clean energy in developing countries (check out the new video about this forward-thinking event). The workshop brought together an inspiring group of practitioners, project developers, and financiers who are all successfully implementing clean energy access projects in communities across the world. These practitioners are bringing efficient cook stoves to Africa, solar home systems to India, and small-scale hydro to Indonesia – reaching poor rural communities who are in great need of clean energy solutions.

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.

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