The passage of the American Climate and Energy Security bill by the House
of Representatives in June 2009 represents the biggest step yet taken toward an
ambitious national climate policy. The bill sets forth a long-term roadmap to
shift the U.S. economy to a low carbon path.
John Larsen is a senior associate on WRI’s forty-person climate team. For three
years, he has analyzed the greenhouse gas emission reduction trajectories in
numerous proposals in the run-up to the bill.
“There’s a real appetite on Capitol Hill for WRI’s objective research and
analysis,” says Larsen. “Lawmakers turn to our climate experts to better
understand the bill’s impact on complex issues like U.S. competitiveness, trade,
and jobs.” Larsen’s own work helped inform the bill’s targets and timetables.
WRI, he believes, helped make the bill as strong as politically possible.
No bill would have been possible without buy-in from the business community.
As a co-founder of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), WRI helped
bring leading businesses and environmental organizations together to urge
significant and mandatory regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP
recommendations helped shape the bill’s provisions and were widely cited in
Congress as a basis for the legislation.
In January 2010, two WRI-recommended features were incorporated into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) regulations for implementing the new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). These regulatory features will help minimize the negative impacts of biofuels by ensuring comprehensive accounting of their lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The 2007 expansion of the RFS program required the EPA to set lifecycle GHG threshold standards to ensure that biofuels being used to meet the RFS emit fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel they replace. The framework the EPA would develop to calculate the GHG emissions factors of biofuels was critical. A framework that was less than comprehensive could end up creating incentives for U.S. biofuels that would actually lead to more GHG emissions than the traditional fossil-based fuels they replace. Two accounting factors were particularly important:
How to account for carbon dioxide emissions that occur in the future. WRI recommended applying a zero discount rate over a shorter time horizon, rather than the more popular proposal of a two percent discount rate over a 100 year time horizon. Our recommendation was more consistent with prior research and would minimize the risk of artificially inflating the emissions reductions benefits of bio-fuels.
Whether or not to include the emissions associated with indirect land-use changes. For example, a shift from soybean to corn farming in Iowa to make ethanol can result in a ripple effect that drives land conversion for soya in the Brazilian Cerrado. This land conversion may result in significant emissions of carbon dioxide. The uncertainty of indirect land use impacts does not render them insignificant. WRI recommended that emissions associated with global indirect land-use changes be included in the framework, along with approaches for refining the estimates as the science improves.
EPA adopted both our recommendations. In particular, the adoption of an accounting methodology that accounts for the emissions associated with global indirect land use impacts of domestic policy sets a precedent that has significant implications well beyond the biofuels sector.
WRI was the pioneering voice on the zero discount rate. WRI’s Biofuels and the Time Value of Carbon was the first and, to the best of our knowledge, only publication to address the issue of how to choose a discount rate for physical carbon in the context of biofuels accounting. WRI’s Liz Marshall was selected as one of five professional peer reviewers for the time parameters portion of the RFS rule. WRI’s perspective on indirects, set forth in Biofuels, Carbon, and Land-use Change and Rules for Fuels, also provided the analytical foundation for advocacy NGOs during the course of this debate.
While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.
This has been a big week for U.S.-China collaboration on climate change. Yesterday the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), which was established in April by the Joint Statement on Climate Change, presented their report on bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Not only does it lay out actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a close reading sheds light on important themes for the future of U.S.-China collaboration on climate change.
The report centers on five separate “action initiatives.” to address key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in both countries. The U.S. and China make up more than 40 percent of global CO2 emissions, so significant collaboration between the countries is absolutely essential to addressing the problem. The five areas that the report singles out include: vehicle emissions; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization and storage; greenhouse gas data collection and management; and building and industry energy efficiency.
Although the report is built around these five initiatives, four big themes can also be seen:
The White House’s climate action plan aims to transform the U.S. electricity system in the coming decades. The President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and implement standards to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, double renewable energy in the United States by 2020, and open public lands to an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy development, enough to power more than 6 million homes.
The big question is: Are renewable energy sources up to the task of taking on a significant portion of the country’s electricity? Recent trends and data show that the answer to this question is a definitive “yes.”
Four big signs that renewable energy is ready for the limelight include:
While reactions to President Obama’s newly announced climate plan have focused on domestic action, the plan actually has potentially significant repercussions for the rest of the world. These repercussions will come in part through his commitment to limit U.S. investments in new coal-fired power plants overseas. If fully implemented, the plan will help ensure that the U.S. government channels its international investments away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. The move sends a powerful signal—and hopefully, will inspire similar action by other global lenders.
President Obama’s newly announced National Climate Action Plan will make serious progress on reducing pollution and curbing climate change. But importantly, the United States can also save billions of dollars each year by fully implementing all aspects of the plan.
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.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.