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WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here, here, and here.

Going into Rio+20, we knew that climate change wasn’t going to be a major focus on the formal agenda – yet its presence was amply felt. Simply put, you cannot create a more sustainable future without addressing the climate challenge.

From forests to energy, oceans to the green economy, our changing climate is already having an undeniable impact—and the recent signs are not good. Just taking the United States as an example, so far this year we’ve seen record-breaking spring temperatures, with another major heat wave sweeping through. In Colorado, dry, hot conditions are leading to massive wildfires. In the Northeast, the U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that sea levels are rising even faster than previously expected. These conditions come as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – and yet for the most part, governments are not putting policies in place at the scale needed to address this problem.

Last week’s Rio+20 conference failed to yield strong sustainability commitments from corporations. As Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute (WRI) stated earlier this week, companies in Rio didn’t “grasp the fundamental recognition that the planet is on an unsustainable course and the window for action is closing.” The gap between where we need to get to avoid climate change’s worst effects and the actions companies are willing to take to get us there have never been further apart. While governments have an important role to play in setting policies to reduce emissions, legislation on its own will never be enough to put us on a development trajectory that is sustainable. Leadership from business is urgently needed.

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WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here and here.

During the informal sessions of the U.N.’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last week, Rio de Janeiro city officials and the World Bank jointly launched a very timely project: the Rio Low-Carbon City Program. Under this initiative, the city will introduce low-carbon strategies like bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors, upgraded urban rail systems, bikeways, and an integrated solid waste management system in order to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The program came about due to the city’s landmark 2011 municipal climate change law, which requires Rio to avoid 20 percent of 2005 GHGs emissions by 2020. This cut will amount to a reduction of 2.27 million tons of carbon dioxide from the business-as-usual scenario.

On June 25, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the 2012 Annual Energy Outlook (2012 AEO) – the same day the public comment period closed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new power plants. The NSPS proposal marks EPA’s first step toward controlling carbon pollution from stationary sources, and the agency received a record-breaking more than two million comments supporting the rule. EPA will take the comments it receives into consideration before finalizing the rule later this year. (Get more information on the proposed rule, including WRI’s official comment).

WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." Check Insights this week and next for more post-Rio+20 coverage.

As we look to make sense of the Rio+20 conference that concluded last week, we can confidently say that transportation drove its way to the top of the sustainable development agenda. It’s a far departure from the last global development conference 10 years ago in Johannesburg, when transportation was conspicuously absent from the agenda and the resulting Millennium Development Goals. After the Rio+20 conference last week, transportation is now poised to become a significant part of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, which are beginning to take shape as one of the conference’s major outcomes.

With transportation intricately tied to so many of the global mega-trends today—climate change, traffic fatalities, city growth and congestion, poverty, and air pollution—it was exciting to see sustainable transport finally included in development discussions. Here are a few of Rio+20’s major transportation outcomes:

Climate change may not have been on the official Rio+20 agenda, but that didn’t stop mayors from megacities around the world from making major headway on the issue. At the Rio+20 conference on Tuesday, the network of C40 city leaders announced new data showcasing the fact that these cities' initiatives could cut 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030.

At the decidedly urban event—perched in a colorful, high-tech auditorium miles from Rio+20’s official negotiations in the suburbs—Mayors Bloomberg (NYC), Paes (Rio de Janeiro), Park (Seoul), and Tau (Johannesburg)—as well as President Clinton (via video) and other leaders—made a compelling case for global action through cities. The mayors asserted that cities are proving to be the most effective government entities in addressing global climate change. In addition to announcing goals to reduce 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030, leaders cited already-taken actions that will cut 248 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2020. The cities’ achievements contrast with international negotiations (and some national governments), which have been unable to agree to binding CO2 reduction targets.

This past Sunday, WRI’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol team conducted a session at the Rio+20 event, “The Green Economy: Driving Business Value and Competitiveness.” The session included great dialogue between business leaders, policy makers, and WRI experts, and featured one very significant declaration: The British Ambassador to Brazil, Alan Charlton, announced GHG Protocol’s groundbreaking new work with Brazil’s agriculture sector. For the first time, GHG Protocol will develop a guidance that allows Brazilian companies and individual farms to measure, report, and manage greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Rio+20 has not quite concluded, but we’re rapidly approaching the end line. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Rio+20 outcome document was largely finalized yesterday afternoon. NGOs have weighed in on what this means, and most are rightfully frustrated. Almost across the board, the document is much too soft and vague to solve today’s sustainability challenges. Much of the text is merely a reaffirmation of previous agreements or worse, a regression from those agreements.

That said, we’ve believed all along that the more groundbreaking action at Rio+20 would be outside of the formal process. Certainly, after attending many side events and informal meetings this week, I’ve come across numerous examples of civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, companies, and others who are moving forward with innovative approaches to address sustainability. Perhaps more importantly, outside of Rio, many national and local governments are genuinely pushing ahead on sustainability in exciting ways.

The picture at Rio is much like the world today: complex, incremental and not rising to the challenges in front of us.

More than 50,000 international experts and leaders from government, NGOs, business, and other sectors are flocking to the United Nations' Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Taking place 20 years after the first Earth Summit, Rio+20 aims to address two major, globally important themes: building a green economy and establishing a framework for sustainable development that will decrease poverty, boost social equity, and protect the environment.

Rio+20's informal sessions kicked off last week and will continue right up until the official conference on June 20th-22nd. WRI's experts in business, climate, energy, forests, governance, transportation, and more are on the ground for all the action. (Check out a full list of official WRI events at Rio+20).

Before WRI's staff headed to Rio, I asked our experts the following question: What is significant about the Rio+20 conference, and what do you hope will come out of it?

How can policymakers deliver low-carbon development, particularly clean energy, at affordable costs? What strategies have countries used to attain the economic benefits of building a clean energy industry while keeping the burden to consumers low —and who is succeeding, and why? These are just a few of the questions that policymakers grapple with when tackling the challenges associated with transitioning to a green economy, one of the key themes of the Rio+20 conference. They’re also questions that WRI seeks to answer through our upcoming, cross-country analysis of clean energy industry development.


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