This piece originally appeared on TheHill.com.
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...
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...
After a year of extreme weather events and recent studies outlining climate change’s impacts, it’s become increasingly clear that we must understand what emissions reduction pathways are necessary to avoid these risks. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) last Assessment Report, for example, outlined the emissions reductions needed from developed countries to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) consistent with limiting warming to 2°C. Further research has continued to examine the global GHG emissions reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate change. And as countries implement existing policies and consider new ones, the scale of required emissions cuts is a fundamental question. In fact, it’s one of the most pressing questions facing the international climate change community.
One new study shows that we have to reduce emissions even more than scientists initially thought in order to avoid climate change’s worst impacts. A paper published in Energy Policy on February 20th by Michel den Elzen and colleagues examines new information on likely future emissions trajectories in developing countries. This includes recent clarification of assumptions and conditions related to developing country pledges. In addition, countries have also come forward with further information on their emissions projections. As a result, the report finds that developed countries must reduce their emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have a medium chance of limiting warming to 2°C, thus preventing some of climate change’s worst impacts.
This level of reductions is considerably higher than what the scientific community thought was necessary to meet the 2°C goal. The most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report laid out a recipe for a medium chance[^1] of limiting warming to 2°C. This report—compiled by the world’s leading climate scientists—stated that developed countries would have to reduce their emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and developing country emissions would have to be reduced substantially from their business-as-usual emissions trajectories.
On February 20, WRI President Andrew Steer participated in event with GreenBiz CEO Joel Makower at the annual GreenBiz summit in New York City. This post builds off that discussion.
Sustainability has become a major business buzzword in recent years. For many, though, it’s still viewed as a philanthropic initiative, disconnected from a company’s core goals, or even a burden that competes with other strategic priorities. That must change.
Fortunately, more leaders are recognizing sustainability risks. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, leaders in business, government, academia, and civil society named climate change and water supply as two of the top five global risks facing companies today—and with good reason.
Extreme weather and climate impacts are becoming increasingly common and carrying a significant economic toll. According to the insurance group Munich Re, the number of weather-related loss events over the past three decades has quintupled in North America, quadrupled in Asia, and increased in Africa, Europe, and South America. In the United States alone, 11 events crossed the $1 billion mark in losses in 2012. Hurricane Sandy cost U.S. taxpayers more than $60 billion, striking at the heart of a heavily populated business and financial zone. And, drought in the United States is expected to cost 1 percent of the annual GDP, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in the country’s history.
Likewise, water risks are increasingly on companies’ radars. More than 1.2 billion people are already facing water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will likely experience water stress. According to a 2012 report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, the associated costs of water events for some companies reached $200 million, up 38 percent from the previous year.
So, how can companies link these risks to corporate strategy? How can they push the management of sustainability issues into the center of businesses’ strategic decision-making?
There’s a popular saying in the news that two events are a coincidence, but three make a trend. Over the past few days, there have been two major developments in the national media that will likely have a big impact on coverage of environmental issues. It’s clear that a troubling trend is already underway.
First, the New York Times announced on Friday that it will discontinue its environmental “Green Blog.” (See good pieces by Columbia Journalism Review and the Times’ Dot Earth blog.) This was a pretty shocking development, given that most media outlets are expanding their blogging platforms and online integration. In a sign of the times, the Times editors later posted a list of Twitter handles for some of its top environmental reporters. This news came on the heels of the newspaper’s earlier announcement that it was disbanding its environment desk and reassigning its environmental reporters.
Then, yesterday, the Washington Post announced that it is creating a new “online strike force” to expand its political coverage. One consequence is that the newspaper’s leading environmental reporter, Juliet Eilperin, will be moving to the White House beat. This, too, will be a loss for serious environmental news coverage. While it’s perhaps unfair to compare Eilperin’s work to that of the Times’ entire environment desk, it’s hard to argue that there’s a more influential national reporter on environmental issues.
UPDATE: The deadline to apply to pilot test the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GPC) has been extended to March 31, 2013. Download the Terms of Reference and Application Form for the pilot project, as well as other relevant documents about the GPC. Or, for more information, please contact Wee Kean Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You cannot manage what you cannot measure” is a well-known adage for business, and the phrase is increasingly relevant for cities. In the past decade, many cities have started measuring their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data. GHG inventories are essential for building effective low-carbon strategies, tracking GHG reductions, responding to regulations and local GHG program requirements, and securing climate finance. Some cities also believe that tracking emissions can eventually conserve financial and other resources.
The challenge is that most cities conduct their inventories using different methodologies. Without an internationally consistent framework for GHG accounting and reporting, inventory results can be confusing and misleading to decision-makers, investors, and civil society stakeholders. This lack of consistency can even jeopardize the accountability and effectiveness of cities’ emission-reduction efforts.
The Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions
But there is a solution: WRI partnered with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) to develop the Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions (GPC) Pilot Version 1.0. This guide—which is now beginning its pilot-testing phase—is set to become the first internationally accepted framework for city-level GHG inventories.
As the GPC begins its pilot-testing phase, city leaders may wonder about the specific benefits of using a standardized GHG accounting method. Let’s take a look at GHG reporting trends in cities and the risks of using inconsistent methods.
Stricken by record heat, wildfires, drought, and hurricanes, the United States endured devastating impacts from extreme weather and climate events in 2012. This fact sheet outlines the records broken by these extreme events, which are expected to become more frequent as the climate warms.