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Climate, Energy & Transport

A Look Back at the Durban Climate Talks

This post originally appeared in The Environmental Forum: The Policy Journal of the Environmental Law Institute.

The negotiations in South Africa were challenging and the politics complex. Countries were uncertain whether the international community would succeed in laying the groundwork for a legally binding agreement. Until the final weekend the prognosis was bleak, with several predicting the talks would collapse. Hence the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was by no means an insignificant achievement. It was a product of politically sensitive negotiations that saw, for the first time, the emerging economies taking on an active role in shaping a climate agreement.

For Clean Energy, Taking Risks to Reap Rewards

This post originally appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Expert Blog. The question was, “Where Can Government Energy R&D Have Most Impact?”

Innovation in breakthrough energy technologies is notoriously challenging, despite having potentially large rewards. Individual innovations are embedded in larger systems where change is very hard. These innovations often carry significant capital costs to demonstrate, commercialize, or reach economies of scale. Unlike the latest cell phone, consumers are often unwilling to pay more for a new energy innovation, especially when the rewards are in the future.

Making the Most of a Second Chance: What Next for REDD+ Safeguards?

This piece was written with Gaia Larsen and Crystal Davis.

This spring, Parties to the UNFCCC must decide whether or not to continue discussions on the REDD+ safeguard information system (SIS) guidance that started in Durban. In particular, Parties have the option of developing further guidance related to the “transparency, consistency, comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the information” in the SIS. Parties may not wish to reopen this discussion given the many topics that still need to be addressed to make REDD+ operational, but not re-opening the discussion may be a missed opportunity for REDD+ countries seeking to improve the effectiveness of the implementation of the REDD+ safeguards. In order for these conversations to move forward, Parties may wish to have informal discussions next week during the REDD+ Partnership meeting in London.

National Adaptive Capacity Framework Helps Countries Get Ready for Climate Change

This week, WRI released a new report summarizing assessments of institutional readiness for adapting to climate change. The report, Ready or Not, focuses on pilot applications of the National Adaptive Capacity (NAC) framework in three countries: Bolivia, Ireland, and Nepal. Co-authors Heather McGray and Aarjan Dixit respond to questions about the NAC framework, which provided the analytic basis for this report.

China's Population Challenge: Designing Sustainable Cities for the Future

This piece originally appeared on Forbes.

Between meetings with President Obama this week, China’s vice president and leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping will make time to visit Iowa farm country. Back at home, cities– not the countryside– will likely dominate Xi’s domestic agenda.

In a momentous shift, more people in China now live in cities and towns than in rural areas. Forty years ago, eight in ten people in the world’s most populous country were peasant farmers, living off the land. Today, 51 percent of its 1.35 billion people live in sprawling cities, with high-rise skylines.

China surpassed this milestone in a fraction of the time it took Western Europe to shift from rural to urban societies. Nor is it alone. A similar exodus is taking place across Africa and Asia, prompting the United Nations Population Fund to estimate that almost 5 billion people worldwide will live in cities and towns by 2030, up from around 3.5 billion in 2010. This transformative shift in human society offers both big challenges and great promise for sustainable development.

Transparency and Accountability (MRV) in the Durban Climate Deal

The Durban climate deal reached in December 2011 marked an important milestone in the design of a system to measure, report, and verify (MRV) countries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their actions to reduce them. The deal succeeded in making the MRV system operational. However, the text still falls short on several important issues that WRI outlined before the meeting. In this post, we review the main MRV elements of the Durban deal.

Ambition in the Durban Climate Deal

The UNFCCC’s ultimate goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a “level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Thus, the most compelling measure of success of the Durban climate negotiations is arguably its ability to secure an adequate level of collective ambition on the part of countries. In this post, we review how well the Durban decisions can help reach this goal.

2012: A Breakthrough for Renewable Energy?

This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “I will not walk away from clean energy.”

His words were a sharp rebuttal to critics harping on the Solyndra bankruptcy and others making dire predictions about the downfall of the renewable energy industry.

So, who is right? Will 2012 be a breakthrough year for renewable, or will it collapse?

The Role Of Cities In Meeting China’s Carbon Intensity Goal

Part 3: Methodologies and Analytical Tools for Low-carbon City Planning

This piece was written in collaboration with Cui Xueqin, Fu Sha, and Zou Ji.

In 2009, China’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan set a goal to cut the country’s carbon intensity by 17 percent by 2015. Responsibility for achieving portions of this target has been allocated to provinces and cities. This three-part series explores the vital role of China’s municipalities in reaching the national carbon intensity goal. Part 1 presented low-carbon city targets and plans developed to date. Part 2 explored some challenges related to designing city-level low-carbon plans and mechanisms to track progress towards them. Part 3 presents different tools to address these challenges.

The Program of Energy and Climate Economics (PECE) at Renmin University of China has developed a toolkit for low carbon city planning based on its experience working at the city level. These analytical tools have been employed in the Asian Development Bank Qingdao Low Carbon City Project (mentioned in part 2 of this series), and are described below.

Weird Winter Weather and the Climate Connection

Punxsutawney Phil may have forecast six more weeks of winter, but for much of the country winter has not yet arrived. Once again, weird weather is dominating the headlines. Temperatures have recently hit highs of 63F in New York City and 72F in Washington, D.C., where cherry blossoms are already flowering.

The National Climatic Data Center released its January data yesterday for the United States and the summary was not surprising to anyone who has enjoyed the warmer weather. January was 5.5F higher than the long-term average and the fourth warmest January on record. Twenty-two states experienced temperatures over the past two months that were among their ten warmest on record. And, amazingly, none of the states reported temperatures that were lower than average.

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