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This post originally appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Expert Blog. The question was, "The summer of 2011 marked the second-lowest ice coverage on record for the Arctic Ocean...Is the U.S. prepared to face this century of change in the Arctic?"

With the climate problem growing more urgent every year, the United States is not well prepared for a changing Arctic, and its continued dependence on fossil fuels only makes the situation more serious. The recent climate science, as explored in WRI’s Climate Science 2009-2010: Major New Discoveries, shows that the Arctic is indeed changing rapidly, with implications for a very different world.

The Open Climate Network recently concluded a three-day workshop in which participants from 18 organizations in 13 countries gathered to refine methodologies for the network’s first national assessment report, expected next year. The report will analyze country progress on climate change commitments, with a view towards “ground-truthing” countries’ performance on implementing effective policies that contribute to the low-carbon transition.

This post was written with James Anderson, Communications Coordinator at the World Resources Institute.

“This is unprecedented fire behavior. We’ve never seen conditions like this before. Not a single one of our firefighters has ever faced such extreme conditions.”

This statement from the director of the Texas Forest Service makes it clear that the recent wildfires that scorched Texas belong in a new category of disaster. Already, the state’s wildfires this season have consumed 3.6 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut), swallowed over 1,500 homes, and killed at least four people. According to NOAA, the current wildfire is costing more than $1 million per day and exceeds $5 billion in overall damages across the Southwest. These are costs that will be borne by government, business and residents, alike.

A version of this piece originally appeared in a special energy section of The Hill.

2011 was the summer of extreme weather— from the massive drought in the Southwest to record-breaking heat waves to Hurricane Irene’s torrential rains. Each of these events serves as a stark reminder of the growing impacts of climate change. Even so, the main recent discussion around climate change comes from Republican presidential candidates who have been debating the issue. Notably, Jon Huntsman recently Tweeted that he trusts scientists on global warming, adding “Call me crazy”– an invitation surely welcomed by some of his competitors.

With forests being converted at a rapid pace in the South, conservation easements are one of the most promising approaches to conserve and sustainably manage them. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement in which a landowner agrees to sell or donate the development rights to his or her land. In contrast to some traditional approaches to forest conservation, conservation easements can prevent forest loss while still allowing landowners to own their land. This has made conservation easements an increasingly popular land conservation tool in the United States. While the use of conservation easements continues to grow nationally, adoption lags behind in the South (Figure 1).

WRI’s new issue brief, “Gaining Ground: Increasing Conservation Easements in the U.S. South,” released today jointly with the American Forest Foundation, aims to increase the use of conservation easements in the South by helping landowners, conservation professionals, and conservation funders understand the unique benefits that conservation easements provide, key barriers to their implementation, and how to best address those barriers.

While the potential role of ‘green jobs’ is hotly debated, many participants in this debate are talking past one another – starting from different assumptions and definitions, working from different datasets, or hailing from opposite ideological viewpoints on the “true” costs of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions.

A review of the literature provides evidence that clean energy policies and investments can help create job opportunities and competitive gains for the economy. These findings should heighten the demand for policies and investments that hasten a shift to a low-carbon economy and the creation of more clean-energy jobs.

This piece was written with Paula Swedeen of the Pacific Forest Trust

A new issue brief, released today by the World Resources Institute and the Pacific Forest Trust, looks at the economic opportunities for southern landowners created by emerging forest carbon offset markets. This new revenue stream can offer real rewards to landowners who steward their forests for climate benefits.

Original economic analysis done by the authors suggests that under current market conditions (offset prices in the $8-$12/metric ton CO2e range), income from carbon offsets may be sufficient in some instances to pay property taxes or the “incremental” costs of sustainable forest management certification. From a purely financial perspective, however, revenue from offsets in today’s still-developing market is not likely sufficient to outcompete real estate development in the region.

Vice President Joe Biden had it right in his recent visit to China. Global stability, he declared in an August 18 speech in Beijing "rests in no small part on the cooperation between the United States and China."

The U.S. vice president was referring to economic stability. But the world's ability to come up with a stable and sustainable energy and environmental policy for the 21st century will also depend significantly on cooperation between the world's current and emerging superpowers. As I have found from my experience in China, Beijing's door is increasingly open to such cooperation. The United States would do well to come knocking.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff is holding a workshop today on additional details that were recently announced for California’s cap-and-trade program. These details on allowance allocation, reporting, verification, and other aspects of the program, and the recent announcement on the program’s timing by CARB Chairman Mary Nichols are important, since they show that California is taking the time needed to get it right.

What happens with this program is important for U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions – California represents one-eighth of the U.S. economy and the program will place a price on carbon for 85 percent of its emissions. In the absence of a comprehensive federal climate policy, state-level and regional actions like these will be key drivers for achieving GHG emission reductions in the U.S. in the near term.


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