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Climate, Energy & Transport

This post originally appeared on WRI's ChinaFAQs site.

When it comes to coal consumption, no other nation comes close to China. The country reigns as the world’s largest coal user, burning almost half of the global total each year. About 70 percent of China’s total energy consumption and nearly 80 percent of its electricity production come from coal, and its recent shift from being a historical net coal exporter to the world’s largest net coal importer took only three years.

China’s great thirst for coal is undeniably troubling from a sustainable development standpoint. However, the situation may be changing. I recently joined three other experts to speak at a Congressional briefing entitled, “Why China Is Acting on Clean Energy: Successes, Challenges, and Implications for U.S. Policy.” While my fellow speakers spoke about the progress of clean energy development in China, I sought to explain how the growing constraints on coal development are acting as one factor pushing China to move more aggressively towards clean energy.

Listen to the recording of WRI's press call on "China's Leadership Transition and Implications for Energy and Climate.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

What do three leading chemical, automobile, and software companies have in common? All three – Honda, BASF, and SAP – are looking to curb risks and take advantage of opportunities across their global supply chains. They’re doing so by measuring their greenhouse gas emissions—not just in their operations, but up and down their value chains.

Many other multinationals are heading in the same direction. The Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) annual survey of the Global 500, released last month, reveals that seven in ten respondents measured some value chain emissions in 2011, up from about half in 2010. (Note this figure is based on WRI’s analysis of the 405 companies that submitted data to the CDP 2012 survey data.)

What’s driving the world’s biggest corporations down this path? In a nutshell: reputation, risk, and opportunity.

This post was co-authored with Wendi Bevins, an intern in WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

On September 25, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) signed a Memorandum of Understanding, formally launching the "Climate Justice Dialogue." This initiative aims to mobilize political will and creative thinking to shape an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015—one that ensures environmental integrity and protects the communities most vulnerable to climate change.

The State of International Climate Negotiations

It’s now a full 20 years since adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is designed to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Despite important steps forward in Cancun and Durban, governments acknowledge that their combined efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to limit a global average temperature increase to 2°C.

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.

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.

China and the United States have a lot in common. China’s rapid economic development and America’s industry have turned the two nations into world’s largest energy users, as well as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So it’s fitting that experts from these two countries share ideas on how to grow their economies in ways that also protect the environment.

That’s exactly what happened this week when WRI hosted a high-level Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. The event was part of a larger study tour organized by MIT, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. More than 20 representatives from Chinese research institutions and central and local government gathered to learn about low-carbon development strategies and policies, with WRI serving as one of the tour’s first stops.

“I spent a great deal of time in China, and I believe very strongly that we have as much or more to learn from you as you have to learn from us,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, to the Chinese delegation.

It’s a long way from Bonn to Bangkok—literally and figuratively. It would be a great understatement to suggest that the June session of the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany were acrimonious. In Bonn, governments spent the week arguing about procedural issues such as the nomination of chairs and the finalization of agendas. At the Bangkok negotiations that took place this past week, they argued over substance instead.

These arguments actually represent progress. Because the 50-plus issues under negotiation are contentious and have real impacts on national interests, they are deserving of robust debate. But we still have a long way to travel to get to Doha, Qatar, the location of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) COP 18 summit, which takes place this November. Significant differences of opinion persist on each of the three key issues identified in our pre-Bangkok blog post:

Over the past several months, extreme weather and climate events in the form of heat waves, droughts, fires, and flooding have seemed to become the norm rather than the exception. In the past half-year alone, millions of people have been affected across the globe – from Europe suffering from the worst cold snap in a quarter century; to extreme flooding in Australia, Brazil, China, and the Philippines; to drought in the Sahel. Records have been broken monthly in the continental United States, with the warmest spring and 12-month period experienced this year and severe fires and drought affecting large swaths of the country.

So how bad has it really been? Below we have put together a timeline of extreme climate and weather events in 2012. We have by no means attempted to be comprehensive in listing events, but have aimed to include some of the most significant occurrences this year. Please let us know through the comment section if we are missing some, as we plan to update the timeline periodically.

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

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

Almost seven years ago to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, a new hurricane came ashore on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. While Hurricane Isaac has been much less intense than Katrina, it has caused serious damage, with heavy rains, storm surge, and winds of up to 100 miles per hour.

Hurricane Isaac comes at the end of a U.S. summer season filled with extreme weather events. From heat waves to droughts to wildfires, the United States has seen little in the way of relief from severe events over the last several months. In fact, the majority of the lower 48 states are still facing drought. While Isaac may relieve drought conditions in some areas of the country, recent forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center project drought conditions to continue through large parts of the country at least through November.

America’s Vulnerability to Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

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