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Climate, Energy & Transport

As we’ve seen recently with Hurricane Sandy, epic drought, and wildfires, climate change visibly impacts lives and livelihoods throughout the United States. Global warming’s effects extend beyond people, wildlife, and ecosystems, though: They’re threatening America’s energy infrastructure.

Today, I testified on this very subject before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing entitled “American Energy Security and Innovation: An Assessment of North America’s Energy Resources.” I highlighted the energy risks and opportunities climate change presents, the role that clean energy should play, and actions Congress can take to mitigate global warming’s threats. Excerpts from the testimony are included below, or you can download my full testimony.

Climate Change Threatens Energy Infrastructure

Climate instability directly affects the future security of the U.S. energy sector. For example:

  • Each successive decade in the last 50 years has been the warmest on record globally, and according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, average temperatures will continue to rise. Energy demand is directly impacted by these temperature increases. A recent study in Massachusetts estimates that rising temperatures could increase demand for electricity in the state by 40 percent by 2030.

This post originally appeared on National Geographic's "City Solutions" blog.

City leaders face incredible pressure to deliver sustainable transportation. Cities now account for more than half of the world’s population—by 2050, they will hold 75 percent of us. These people--increasingly from the middle class--will need ways to commute to work, travel, and carry out their livelihoods.

At the same time, 1.27 million people die from traffic accidents every year—about half of these fatalities occur in cities. Cities also account for about 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, much of which is transportation-related.

Cities, then, are tasked with a huge challenge: provide reliable, safe, and affordable transportation systems that can benefit both people and planet.

Meeting this challenge is a topic we discussed at length during the 10th annual Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. The two-day event looked at the various ways to scale up sustainable transportation and share lessons learned. Examples of city leadership were featured prominently throughout the event—and can serve as inspiration for how urban centers can meet transportation challenges.

In a little more than one generation—by the time your grade-schoolers will be seeing their own kids off to school—our planet will be home to 9 billion people. This will create an unprecedented demand for water, food, and energy--and stress the supporting infrastructure required for life in the 21st century. How are we to meet this demand while respecting planetary boundaries? And importantly, how will we pay for it?

A recent publication by the Green Growth Action Alliance (G2A2), aims to provide some answers. WRI and others provided guidance, case studies, research, and data to the publication, The Green Investment Report: The ways and means to unlock private finance for green growth. The findings were discussed widely at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

Under current OECD growth projections, the world will need to invest $5 trillion annually until 2020 in the water, agriculture, telecommunications, power, transport, buildings, industrial, and forestry sectors. However, solely delivering this investment to maintain “business-as-usual” economic growth will not lead the world onto a sustainable growth path. We need to find ways to “green” our growth to cope with resource scarcity and alleviate risks from climate change and environmental degradation. Greening this investment will require a mix of appropriate policies and capital. The lion’s share will need to come from the private sector, given the scale required.

The “Green Investment Report” estimates that an additional $700 billion will be needed annually to green the business-as-usual investment in the global economy. This is a large sum, but relatively insignificant compared to the cost of inaction as negative environmental impacts increasingly take their economic toll.

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.

Sustainable Cities

In October 2011, WRI launched a five-year global initiative to advance the progress of building environmentally sustainable and livable cities in China, India, and Brazil.

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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?

Two leaders on urban development recently came together on the same stage: Dr. Jim Yong Kim and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kim, president of the World Bank, and Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, headlined a panel at the Transforming Transportation conference, an event co-organized by the World Bank and WRI’s EMBARQ Center for Sustainable Transport. Through a discussion moderated by Zanny Minton Beddoes, an editor at The Economist, and closed by WRI’s president, Dr. Andrew Steer, Kim and Bloomberg took on the meaty topic of how to shape the future of urban transport.

It was an interesting pairing of perspectives. Bloomberg is a leader in business, government, and philanthropy who has had an enormous impact on New York City. Kim brings a public health and international perspective, and now, at the World Bank, focuses on advancing the goal of reducing poverty and boosting “shared prosperity” across the globe. Despite their different backgrounds, the two shared the idea that sustainable transport goes beyond moving vehicles and infrastructure. At its core, transportation is about improving the health and quality of life for people.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transport

As both Kim and Bloomberg noted, the world is moving unsustainably—literally. About 1.3 million people die every year as a result of traffic accidents. In most cities, motorized transport is responsible for 80 percent of local air pollution. And with 70 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, these urban problems are likely to worsen.

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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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 climatic events? In the continental United States, 2012 was the hottest year on record and the second most extreme year, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). On top of that, the United States experienced 11 extreme weather events that each caused more than $1 billion in damages.

And 2012 did not spare the rest of the world; it brought severe drought to the African Sahel, torrential rains to China, Europe’s worst cold snap in 25 years, and flooding in Manila and Bangladesh, among other devastating events.

We took stock of 2012’s extreme events in an interactive timeline. It is by no means comprehensive, but reminds us how climate change is affecting global communities and citizens’ lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

The need for action on sustainable transport has never been more apparent than it is today. The world’s population is expected to reach a whopping 9.8 billion people by 2050, with about 70 percent of these people residing in cities. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are on the rise. Transportation contributes 13 percent of global emissions, spurring climate change and creating dangerous air pollution.

Sustainable transport—like public transport systems, bicycling lanes, and walking—has the capacity to save lives, reduce energy use and GHG emissions, facilitate access to goods and services that support sustainable development, and enhance the overall quality of life in cities. While the need for sustainable transport has long been accepted in some parts of the world, it is now gaining momentum globally. Cities, which are so important to the global economy, play a key role.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transportation

Multi-lateral development banks (MDBs) signaled a paradigm shift when they committed $175 billion for sustainable transport over 10 years at the Rio+20 summit this past June. While the funding comes from resources already allocated for development, this commitment represents the first time that MDBs have earmarked dollars of this magnitude for sustainable transport. This financial commitment can help leverage the impact of investments in transport infrastructure, which already account for more than $1 trillion a year globally. It can also support work at the national level, as well as cities’ historic leadership on transportation.

We are now presented with a chance to truly embrace sustainable transport at the local, national, and international levels. It’s imperative that we capitalize on the opportunity presented by this unprecedented alignment of wills.

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