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The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.

While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.

These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.

Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.

This piece originally appeared on CNN.com.

As leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos today, signs of economic hope are upon us. The global economy is on the mend. Worldwide, the middle class is expanding by an estimated 100 million per year. And the quality of life for millions in Asia and Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace.

Threats abound, of course. One neglected risk--climate change--appears to at last be rising to the top of agendas in business and political circles. When the World Economic Forum recently asked 1,000 leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society to rank risks over the coming decade for the Global Risks 2013 report, climate change was in the top three. And in his second inaugural address, President Obama identified climate change as a major priority for his Administration.

For good reason: last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States, and records for extreme weather events were broken around the world. We are seeing more droughts, wildfires, and rising seas. The current U.S. drought will wipe out approximately 1 percent of the U.S. GDP and is on course to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Damage from Hurricane Sandy will cost another 0.5 percent of GDP. And a recent study found that the cost of climate change is about $1.2 trillion per year globally, or 1.6 percent of global GDP.

Shifting to low-carbon energy sources is critical to mitigating climate change's impacts. Today's global energy mix is changing rapidly, but is it heading in the right direction?

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg.com.

As we enter 2013, there are signs of growth and economic advancement around the world. The global middle class is booming. More people are moving into cities. And the quality of life for millions is improving at an unprecedented pace.

Yet, there are also stark warnings of mounting pressures on natural resources and the climate. Consider: 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. There have been 36 consecutive years in which global temperatures have been above normal. Carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise – last year the world added about 3 percent more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. All of these pressures are bringing more climate impacts: droughts, wildfires, rising seas, and intense storms.

All is not lost, but the window for action is rapidly closing. This decade--and this year--will be critical.

Against that backdrop, experts at WRI have analyzed trends, observations, and data to highlight six key environmental and development stories we’ll be watching in 2013.

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With more than 400 million of its 1.2 billion citizens without access to electricity, India needs extensive energy development. A new initiative aims to ensure that a significant portion of this new power comes in the form of renewable energy.

The Green Power Market Development Group

Today, WRI and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) launched the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) in Bangalore, India. The group will help boost the country’s use of renewable energy like wind and solar power.

The public-private partnership brings together industry, government, and NGOs to build critical support for renewable energy markets in India. For starters, the group will connect potential industrial and commercial renewable energy purchasers with suppliers. A dozen major companies belonging to a variety of sectors—like Infosys, ACC, Cognizant, IBM, WIPRO, and others—have already joined the initiative and have committed to explore options for increasing their use of renewable energy.

The group also aims to make India’s clean energy development more mainstream. Green power buyers and generators in India currently face policy and regulatory barriers—such as high transmission costs and extensive approval processes. Through the GPMDG, the private sector will be able to work constructively with government agencies to instigate the types of renewable energy policies that will spur greater clean energy development.

Communicating the "Financeability" of Energy Efficiency Projects (EEPs)

Guide to Data Needs for Financing EEPs in China

This guide will help companies be better prepared as they seek to secure attractive external financing for energy efficiency improvements at their facilities in China. The guide can be used by industry, energy services companies, and financiers to achieve a smoother financing process and prompt...

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency finalized the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule today to protect people from exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers. By encouraging industry to use cleaner-burning fuels and to make efficiency improvements, Boiler MACT will modernize U.S. industry, reduce toxins, and cut carbon pollution.

The Boiler MACT rules, which are required by the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, will only target the most significant sources of toxic air pollution. Most boiler-based emissions come from a small handful of very large industrial and commercial facilities that operate coal, oil, and biomass-fired boilers. As such, according to EPA:

  • Fewer than 1 percent of all U.S. boilers will be required to reduce their emissions to levels that are consistent with demonstrated maximum achievable control technologies, or MACT standards. Operators of these types of boilers will have three years to reduce toxic air pollution and meet new emissions limits.

  • A larger subset of U.S. industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers (roughly 13 percent) would not be required to meet the specific MACT standards, but would need to reduce their toxic air emissions through other means (as described below).

  • About 86 percent of all U.S. boilers are relatively small, limited-use, or gas-fired boilers, and are not covered by the new rules.

The latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2012 re-confirms the dangerous path the world is on--a path of increasing dependence on coal, which carries serious environmental risks for people and the planet. According to the report, the world will burn 1.2 billion metric tons more coal per year by 2017 compared to today, surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source.

Coal already contributes 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions--the IEA projects this figure to grow to 50 percent over the next 25 years. Greenhouse gas emissions--which again reached record levels this year--are driving global climate change, the impacts of which we’re already seeing through more extreme weather events, droughts, and rising sea levels.

To alter course and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need a new approach that’s grounded by stable long-term policies, investments, and innovation that leads to a global transition to clean energy. While it may seem that the road to greater coal production is inevitable, the reality is that we can avoid this pathway--if we start now.

This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new proposal detailing how they would like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants. Their analysis predicts that their proposal would reduce power sector GHG emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, or 17 percent below 2011 levels.

Standards for existing plants are essential if the United States is to make meaningful strides toward a low-carbon economy. NRDC’s proposal provides a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about how best to design these standards.

U.S. Emissions Are on an Unsustainable Path

Even though the United States has made progress on reducing emissions – most notably through the Obama administration’s new standards for passenger vehicles – we need more action if the country is to prevent climate change’s worst impacts. While U.S. energy emissions have fallen nearly 9 percent below 2005 levels, these trends are not expected to continue without ambitious new climate and energy policies. This is the clear takeaway from both the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012 and a recent analysis by Dallas Burtraw and Matthew Woerman at Resources for the Future.

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