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Climate, Energy & Transport

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.

The draft U.S. National Climate Assessment was released last week, confirming that the climate is changing, that it is primarily due to human activities, and that the United States is already being adversely impacted. These top-line messages should come as no surprise, as they reconfirm the major findings of previous National Climate Assessments and of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports.

But the 1,000-plus pages of the Assessment also carry important findings—many of which have not been highlighted in media reports thus far. WRI’s experts reviewed the assessment in its entirety. Below, we boil down some of the highlights from this comprehensive body of work, including its findings on how increases in greenhouse gas emissions have impacted temperature, sea level rise, precipitation, ice cover, ecosystems, and human health in the United States and globally.

Temperature

Build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has already caused America’s average temperature to rise by 1.5 ˚F since 1895, according to the assessment. With continued increases in emissions, U.S. temperatures are projected to increase 5-10˚F by the end of the century. Rising temperatures have implications for human health, drought, storm intensity, and species and ecosystem health, among others. A few other notable statistics include:

This post was co-written with Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

A new federal report reveals alarming statistics on climate change. According to the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released in draft form today from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the world could warm by more than 12°F by the end of the century if action isn’t taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The evidence is clear and mounting,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, in response to the report. “The United States sits at the center of the climate crisis. Record heat is devastating crops, rivers are drying up, and storms are bearing down on our cities. Climate change is taking its toll on people and their economies, and will only become more intense without a strong and rapid response here in the United States and around the globe. It’s not too late to take action, but given lags in policy and geophysical processes, the window is closing.”

This assessment comes on the heels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) announcement earlier this week that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. According to NOAA’s National Climate Data Center, the country saw 356 all-time temperature highs (and only four all-time lows) tied or broken and experienced 11 extreme weather events each causing more than $1 billion in damages.

Here are a few of the report’s key findings:

This blog post was co-written with Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

According to new data, 2012 was a chart-topping year for the United States – but not in a good way.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climate Data Center (NCDC) recently declared 2012 to be the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. This year shattered the previous record temperature, set in 1998, by 1.0°F. The year was also marked by 11 extreme weather events that each caused more than $1 billion of damages.

In a year that brought the United States record-breaking wildfire activity, an ongoing drought, and Hurricane Sandy, perhaps these announcements aren’t surprising. But they are troubling: Record-breaking temperatures and the rising frequency of extreme weather events illustrate that climate change is happening. These trends are expected to worsen the longer we delay serious action to reduce carbon pollution.

Take a look at a few of the figures illustrating the intensity and impacts of 2012’s extreme weather and climate events:

This post originally appeared on TheCityFix.com.

Zipcar’s $500 million acquisition by Avis-Budget Group announced last Wednesday is a watershed moment for the car-sharing industry. What will it mean for car sharing?

Barely 10 years ago, no one knew whether car sharing could even work in North America, let alone become a staple of trendy and pragmatic urban living. Yet today Zipcar, plus dozens of innovative start-ups like City CarShare, PhillyCarShare, I-Go, and CommunAuto, have grown into robust community assets in every major U.S. and Canadian city.

Car sharing has made an indelible mark on how we live in cities. Membership exceeds one in five adults in many urban neighborhoods from Montreal to San Francisco. Each shared vehicle in North America has been shown to replace nine to 13 personal cars, and reduce driving by an average of 44 percent – as members pocket the savings and choose to walk, bike, and take public transit.

Zipcar has been at the forefront of this transformation. Launching in Cambridge, Mass., with a handful of lime-green Volkswagen Beetles, the feisty start-up pioneered early innovation, catalyzed massive scale-up around the world, and helped inspire a whole movement toward shared access to everything from houses to bicycles to parking spaces—and even pets.

Experts say that developing nations could require more than $100 billion for adaptation each year. Developed countries say that they have already delivered more than $33 billion so far towards this climate adaptation funding.

However, some question whether these funds are going to the right places and meeting real needs. Is adaptation finance being directed towards the nations that need it the most? Is it being used to support projects that will allow people to adapt to climate change’s impacts?

We currently don’t have adequate answers to these questions—but we hope to soon. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, Oxfam, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and WRI launched the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative to help civil society organizations find out where adaptation finance is really going.

The Question Is: Where Should Adaptation Finance Go?

The easy answer is that adaptation finance should go to activities that strengthen the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of countries most susceptible to climate change’s impacts. People in developing countries will likely be hit hardest by global warming.

This year has been one of those worst-of-years and best-of-years. In its failures, there are signs of hope.

An unprecedented stream of extreme weather events worldwide tragically reminded us that we’re losing the fight against climate change. For the first time since 1988, climate change was totally ignored in the U.S. presidential campaign, even though election month, November, was the 333rd consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the long-term average. A WRI report identified 1,200 coal-fired power plants currently proposed for construction worldwide. The Arctic sea ice reached its lowest-ever area in September, down nearly 20 percent from its previous low in 2007. And disappointing international negotiations in June and December warned us not to rely too much on multilateral government-to-government solutions to global problems.

But 2012 was also a year of potential turning points. A number of new “plurilateral” approaches to problem-solving came to the fore, offering genuine hope. A wave of emerging countries, led by China, embraced market-based green growth strategies. Costs for renewable energy continued their downward path, and are now competitive in a growing number of contexts. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that global investment in renewable energy was probably around $250 billion in 2012, down by perhaps 10 percent over the previous year, but not bad given the eliminations of many subsidy programs, economic austerity in the West, and the sharp shale-induced declines in natural gas prices. And the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, coupled with the ongoing drought covering more than half of the United States (which will turn out to be among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history) may have opened the door to a change of psychology, in turn potentially enabling the Obama Administration to exhibit the international leadership the world so urgently needs, as many of us have advocated.

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.

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