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While Congress Dawdles, Florida Counties Show Leadership on Addressing Climate Change

"Think globally, act locally" is a slogan that aptly describes what I witnessed last week at the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit. At the event, local government officials from four counties gathered to discuss how to mitigate and adapt to climate change’s impacts.

Yep, you heard that correctly – government officials in the United States—in a “purple” state, no less—came together in a bipartisan manner to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. In fact, mayors, members of Congress, county commissioners, and officials in charge of water issues in the state discussed how to move forward with action plans in response to sea-level rise – a climate change impact which is not theoretical, but happening now.

Putting Aside Partisanship for Action

Unlike Congress, these public officials aren't debating the facts of climate change and its impacts or whether we should act. They see current effects and understand that in the face of streets flooding more regularly, drinking water supplies threatened by salinization, and models showing that some neighborhoods could become uninhabitable, what political party you support is irrelevant. Climate change impacts like sea level rise don't discriminate between Democrats and Republicans.

Domestic Ambition: A Key Ingredient to Tackling Climate Change

In the UNFCCC international climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to keep global average temperature increase below 2°C. While most countries have made international pledges to limit GHG emissions, these pledges are not “ambitious” enough to add up to the GHG cuts needed to meet the 2°C temperature goal. That’s why many groups are calling on parties in Doha to step up their commitments. Equally important, though, is ensuring that countries are effective in implementing domestic policies that meet – or exceed – the international commitments they have made already.

What Makes for an Effective Domestic Climate Policy?

The “implementation deficit” – a difference between the expected and actual amount of emissions reductions of an enacted policy—stems from a lack of complete implementation of a climate policy. This kind of “deficit” is well documented in a number of policy sectors, with significant implications for the countries’ abilities to meet GHG-reduction targets. Conversely, when climate policies are effectively implemented, they demonstrate that mitigation actions can work, in turn encouraging other countries to adopt similar policies and actions.

The effectiveness of any policy depends on several key factors, including:

Experts Weigh In: How Can We Make Progress at the Doha Climate Talks?

“Two years ago at the UNFCCC conference in Cancun, negotiators agreed that the world would seek to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius,” Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, said during a recent press call. “We are not on track for that. We’re a long way off, and the situation is very urgent.”

That’s why the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18) are so critically important. As sea level rise, wildfires, and devastating droughts showcase, climate change’s impacts are already being felt across the globe. Meanwhile, extreme weather events—most recently, Hurricane Sandy—serve as powerful reminders of what will likely become more and more the norm if action is not taken. When negotiators meet in Doha at the end of this month, they’ll need to figure out a way to make progress, both to finalize the rules of past decisions and how to come to an international climate agreement by 2015.

Listen to a recording of WRI's press call on the upcoming Doha climate talks.

Following is a statement by Andrew Steer, President, World Resources Institute:

“With his re-election, President Obama has the opportunity to fulfill the promise of his campaign and tackle the greatest challenges of our generation. At the top of the list should be climate change—which is already taking a serious toll on people, property, resources and the economy.

4 Key Issues Surrounding Climate Policies, Carbon Markets, and Competitiveness

Even in the absence of an international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, several countries, states, and provinces are developing and implementing climate policies. A growing number of these policies include market-based programs, some of which aim to link to each other through regional and global carbon markets. Countries like the United States can learn a lot from the economic and political experiences of these climate policy “first movers.”

Earlier this week, I sat on a panel at Carbon Forum North America entitled “International Trade and Carbon: It’s a Competitive World.” At this session, we considered current issues and concerns involved with implementing climate policies, especially how pricing carbon pollution can impact economic competitiveness.

4 Key Issues that Came Up During Our Discussion:

  1. Carbon markets are on the rise. According to Jeff Hopkins, a fellow panelist and principal adviser for international energy and climate policy at Rio Tinto, by 2014, roughly 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions will be covered under market-based emissions-reduction programs. Hopkins also estimates that by 2014, 75 percent of emissions from Rio Tinto’s operations will occur in jurisdictions that have enacted market-based emissions-reduction policies.

America Can Learn from Australia’s New Clean Energy Future Package

Australia, one of world’s most carbon-intensive countries, recently began implementing a comprehensive national policy to address climate change and transition to a clean-energy economy. Yesterday, WRI had the pleasure of hosting Mark Dreyfus, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who outlined his country’s plans to a group of business, congressional, and NGO representatives.

One point that came through at the event is that Australia’s recent energy and climate choices can be very instructive to the United States. This post provides a quick look at Australia’s new policy and explores how it can inform and inspire U.S. efforts to move toward a low-carbon future.

Why Did Australia Adopt a National Climate and Energy Policy?

Australia faces a high level of climate risk, with significant vulnerability to sea level rise as well as to extreme weather events like drought, heat waves, and wildfires. At the same time, the country is heavily dependent on carbon-intensive resources. Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of any country in the developed world, and it's the 15th largest emitter overall.

What to Look for in the EPA’s Forthcoming Standards on Emissions from Light-Duty Vehicles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are working to finalize rules for light-duty vehicles that could significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

These rules, which could be released this week, will establish new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025. Light-duty vehicles represent a significant portion of U.S. greenhouse gases, accounting for approximately 17 percent of U.S. emissions. If the forthcoming rules resemble the proposed standards published by EPA and NHTSA last November, they will be an important step forward in protecting the environment and shielding consumers from higher gas prices.

Highlights from the Proposed Rules

The proposed rules would establish an emissions standard of 144 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile for passenger cars and 203 grams of CO2 per mile for trucks. If vehicles meet the standards entirely through fuel economy improvements, cars will achieve 61 miles per gallon (mpg), while trucks will achieve 43 mpg [^1]. If cars and trucks attain these standards, vehicles sold in 2025 will consume roughly half the fuel as vehicles sold in 2008 (27 mpg), emitting about half the greenhouse gases.

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