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Climate, Energy & Transport

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.

The latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2012 re-confirms the dangerous path the world is on--a path of increasing dependence on coal, which carries serious environmental risks for people and the planet. According to the report, the world will burn 1.2 billion metric tons more coal per year by 2017 compared to today, surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source.

Coal already contributes 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions--the IEA projects this figure to grow to 50 percent over the next 25 years. Greenhouse gas emissions--which again reached record levels this year--are driving global climate change, the impacts of which we’re already seeing through more extreme weather events, droughts, and rising sea levels.

To alter course and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need a new approach that’s grounded by stable long-term policies, investments, and innovation that leads to a global transition to clean energy. While it may seem that the road to greater coal production is inevitable, the reality is that we can avoid this pathway--if we start now.

With the latest round of global climate negotiations at an end, many countries, states, and cities around the world are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through mitigation policies and goals. Decision-makers need to understand the emissions impacts associated with these initiatives in order to evaluate effectiveness, make sound decisions, and assess progress.

However, there is currently little consistency or transparency in how such analysis is done. WRI aims to address this situation through forthcoming Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol standards for mitigation accounting, which have recently been released for review.

The Need for Accounting Standards for Mitigation Policies and Goals

To date, no standardized approach has existed for quantifying the GHG effects of policies and actions and tracking performance toward mitigation goals. For example, there is an ongoing debate on whether the United States is on track to meet its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. A recent study by Resources for the Future found that the United States is on track to meet its goal. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook expects carbon dioxide emissions to be only 9 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as a result of policies currently in place. This difference in findings reflects differences in assumptions about the emissions impacts of policies, such as performance standards for power plants and vehicle fuel efficiency standards. These variations have very real policy implications for the degree to which the United States needs to ramp up actions to meet its 2020 goal.

This piece was written with analysis from Athena Ballesteros, Edward Cameron, Yamide Dagnet, Florence Daviet, Aarjan Dixit, Heather McGray, and Clifford Polycarp.

Expectations were low for this year’s UNFCCC climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18), which concluded last week. It was scheduled to be a “finalize-the-rules” type of COP, rather than one focused on large, political deals that went into the early hours of the morning. Key issues on the table included finalizing the rules for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period; concluding a series of decisions on transparency, finance, adaptation, and forests (REDD+); and agreeing on a work plan to negotiate a new legally binding international climate agreement by 2015. The emissions gap was also front-and-center, as the new UNEP Gap Report showed that countries are further away than even a year ago from the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below two degrees C.

In the end, countries were successful in making progress, but only incrementally. The lack of political will was breathtaking, particularly in light of recent extreme weather events.

Here’s a look at what happened across nine key issues that were on the table:

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

If you asked five different people what they think “equity” means, you’d probably get five different answers. Their personal experiences and opinions would be overlaid on their cultural perspectives. A philosopher might bring up Aristotle’s teachings on justice; an economist would likely talk about maximizing utility and efficiency. A Buddhist and a Muslim might frame their answers from different perspectives that are difficult to compare, just as the viewpoints would likely vary between people raised under different forms of government.

So it’s no surprise that when climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries come together at the end of each year, they can’t agree on what exactly ‘equity’ means as applied to addressing climate change. To further complicate matters, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ties equity to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC).”

There are many legitimate views of what equity means in the context of the UNFCCC, reflecting sharp contrasts on how to share both the burdens and opportunities of the global transition to low-carbon development. Some countries emphasize “responsibilities,” usually explained as the historical responsibilities developed countries have because of the greenhouse gases they emitted in the process of growing economically. Other countries focus on “capabilities,” the capacity countries have now to deal with climate change, such as their financial and technological resources to reduce domestic emissions or support adaptation research and activities. Several options for “differentiation” have been suggested over the years, including historical responsibility, levels of economic development, and vulnerabilities and needs. The current approach to equity has become a tug-of-war between countries that are reluctant to make greater climate change action commitments without assurances that others will also act.

History of Equity in the UNFCCC: Capability vs. Culpability

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