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Climate, Energy & Transport

As we move into the second week of the UN climate talks, the desert sand is swirling around the conference center in Doha, Qatar. Countries spent the first week tying up some loose ends on several issues, but there are still many details to be worked out before the sand settles and Parties head home. It’s hard to tell whether this meeting will turn into a full sandstorm or clear up.

The uncertainty here in Doha contrasts greatly with the increasingly clear (and grim) climate picture that we’re seeing around the world. Yet another report was just published finding that global carbon emissions are at an all-time high. This publication comes on the heels of the recent UN Environment Programme report showing that the gap in emissions is growing even wider. And, recent World Bank analysis reinforced the potential catastrophic impacts of moving beyond 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise. The warnings are clear, but it’s hard to tell if negotiators are ready to respond with the urgency that’s needed.

The Current State of COP 18

Indeed, it is fair to say that most of the critical issues on the table at COP 18 are not yet resolved. All the questions around the Kyoto Protocol and a second commitment period are still open. Issues surrounding finance – including medium-term pledge levels, the long-term work plan, and how to track countries’ climate finance commitments – have yet to be worked out. Roundtables on the Durban Platform resulted in a good exchange of views, but it’s still unclear whether there will be a firm work plan for 2013 or whether it will remain vague. The most vulnerable countries are understandably asking for more action now – even before a new 2020 agreement kicks in – but most countries haven’t put forth specific proposals.

While it’s not surprising that so many topics are stuck after the first week, the lack of action puts additional focus on the role of Ministers. Many are already in Doha, and they have their work cut out for them if they want to make progress in the remaining week of the conference.

As negotiators in Doha move toward a new global climate agreement this week, politicians and planners in the United States are still busy absorbing the lessons of Hurricane Sandy.

With half of all Americans living near the ocean, Hurricane Sandy provides a wake-up call for state and municipal authorities in coastal areas nationwide. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is leading the way, pledging a new generation of storm-resistant infrastructure and forming three commissions to explore how the state can better prepare for climate change’s coming impacts.

Sandy wrought a 1,000-mile trail of damage in towns and cities along the East Coast shoreline. As climate change intensifies, more severe storms (and storm surges), rising seas, extreme heat, and other destructive impacts loom on the horizon. How can New York City; Newark, N.J.; and other cities hit by Sandy rebuild in ways that avoid a repeat of the devastation that deprived millions of the basic essentials of modern life? How can other coastal cities adapt to become more resilient to a warming climate?

Put simply, they need to “build back better,” a phrase first coined by President Clinton following the 2004 Asian tsunami. In practice, this means coupling short-term efforts to get communities back on their feet with longer-term urban development that adapts to expected climate change impacts.

As they seek to make our coastal cities and towns more climate resilient, urban leaders should adopt three key approaches that we believe will be critical to success:

The international climate deal reached in Durban, South Africa last December marked an important milestone in designing a system for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of countries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions-reductions efforts. In 2014, all countries will submit verifiable biennial reports with information on their GHG emissions, actions to reduce emissions, and support received or provided to other countries for emissions reductions. The Conference of the Parties (COP) also strengthened guidelines for developed countries’ (Annex I) GHG inventories, an important milestone for building trust among all countries.

Despite this progress, however, a number of outstanding issues remain. These issues will need to be resolved at COP 18 in order to ensure that there is an effective MRV system in place that tracks countries’ climate action commitments and holds them accountable.

5 Key MRV Issues that Countries Must Resolve at Doha

While COP 17 mandated revising guidelines by 2014 for developed countries’ national communications (i.e., a document submitted in accordance with the Convention and the Protocol informing other Parties of activities undertaken to address climate change), it failed to begin a similar process for developing countries, whose guidelines are similarly outdated. The Durban text also failed to establish the accounting rules required to prevent the double counting of GHG emissions, where both buyers and sellers of carbon offsets count emissions reductions toward their mitigation targets. COP 18 must build on the momentum generated in Durban to ensure a cost-effective, credible MRV and accounting framework.

This post was co-authored with Kate DeAngelis, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

Ambition is a word often used in the context of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. While most people think of ambition as a strong desire to achieve something, the word has a more specific meaning when it comes to international climate action.

What Does Ambition Mean and Why Is it Important?

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.” Scientists have found that in order to avoid devastating consequences such as mass desertification, glacier loss, extreme weather, and sea level rise, the international community must limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will—through both domestic action and international initiatives—to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 2°C goal. Ambition further represents the actual steps countries are taking to meet that temperature goal.

Collective ambition is deemed to be lacking when the aggregate policies and actions of all countries are deemed insufficient to meet the 2°C goal. Countries are also judged on their own individual ambition levels, which are assessed based on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In recent years, effective implementation of policies has emerged as an additional method for evaluating whether individual countries are sufficiently ambitious or not.

This piece was co-authored with Daniel Bongardt, Project Director of Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) China.

China—especially its cities—has embraced sustainable transport in a big way. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently urged Chinese cities to increase the number of travelers using non-motorized transportation to at least 50 percent by 2015. The country has been undergoing the most rapid expansion of urban rail systems in world history, and it leads Asia in bus-rapid-transit (BRT) and busway implementation. Plus, dozens of cities are expanding non-motorized transport. Hangzhou, for example, has built up the largest public bike program in the world, accumulating 65,000 bicycles in fewer than two years.

But while China leads the developing world in sustainable urban transport expansion, the country faces great challenges when it comes to financing the construction, maintenance, and operation of new and existing public urban transport projects.

The Great Challenge of Funding Sustainable Transport Projects in Chinese Cities

China lacks dedicated funding structures for planned public transit, biking, and walking facilities—at both the national and local levels. The Ministry of Transport provides funding only for inter-city highway projects, acquiring this revenue from gasoline taxes and vehicle registry fees. Local governments, which are often in charge of urban public transport development, currently support metro or BRT construction through per project-based funding, mainly via land leasing and local loans--neither of which is sustainable.

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg.com.

The reality of a world with more extreme weather events, rising seas, and longer droughts is becoming clearer by the day. Even more troubling is that we are on course for still greater changes to our planet in the years ahead.

That’s the key takeaway from a major new report by the World Bank, which examines the impact of a 4 degrees Celsius warmer world. At the same time, new analysis from WRI finds that there are nearly 1,200 proposed coal plants worldwide. If these plants come online, our chances of staying within 2 degrees of warming—the level recommended to prevent the worst consequences of climate change—would be nil.

4 Degrees of Warming Could Reshape Our World

The World Bank is not prone to hyperbole. Its warning that we could be heading to 4 degrees of rising global temperatures should be taken extremely seriously by leaders around the world. The World Bank’s assessment reaffirms what many of us already understand: scientific evidence of human-caused global warming is unequivocal. Given that it took little more than 4 degrees of cooling to create the last Ice Age, it would be hard to overstate how 4 degrees of warming could reshape our world by the end of this century.

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions—one that could be increasing significantly globally, according to new analysis from the World Resources Institute.

Several months ago, WRI began compiling and analyzing information about proposed new coal-fired plants in order to assess potential future risks to the global climate. We released our findings today in the Global Coal Risk Assessment working paper. Our research shows that 1,199 new coal-fired plants with a total installed capacity of 1,401,268 megawatts (MW) are being proposed globally. If all of these projects are built, it would add new coal power capacity that is almost four times the current capacity of all coal-fired plants in the United States.

View the locations of proposed coal-fired power plants by country in our interactive map below.

As the U.N. climate change conference in Doha, Qatar (COP 18) rapidly approaches, the urgency of climate action has never been more evident. Extreme weather has wreaked havoc in many corners of the globe, most recently with Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in loss of life and severe economic hardship in all the countries in its pathway. Many countries—from the United States to those with far less capacity to respond—are still trying to comprehend what happened and how much it will cost to get back to normal.

They also understand that this just may be, to quote New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, “the new normal.” The World Bank Group has just released a shocking report of what a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer would look like. We must hope that when delegates arrive in Doha, they grasp the urgency of this issue, recognize the immediate and far-reaching threat to human security, and summon the necessary political will to craft an ambitious and equitable global response.

What Can We Expect This Year as Countries Meet for COP 18?

Last year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa was a potentially important turning point, launching a new round of negotiations to create a legally binding international agreement by 2015 to limit global average temperature increase to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. However, after three consecutive years of rather “big moment” COPs, Doha is more about giving operational momentum to the decisions reached in Durban. COP 18 will likely confirm the design of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, bring some long-standing work streams to a successful close, and set the parameters for the negotiations leading to a new international climate agreement in 2015.

The global renewable energy industry has experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Renewable energy capacity (excluding hydropower) has more than doubled since 2005. In 2011, new clean energy investments reached a record $257 billion (a six-fold increase from 2004), and approximately half of the world’s new electric capacity came from renewable sources. These gains came despite the tumultuous backdrop of a global financial crisis and a rapidly changing clean energy technology industry - one that’s experiencing increased global competition, rapidly falling industry prices, and oversupply in the solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind sectors.

However, the benefits of the clean energy industry have not been shared evenly around the world. WRI’s new working paper, Delivering on the Clean Energy Economy, shows that countries have varied widely in their success of growing renewable energy industries that achieve both global competitiveness and domestic benefits. The main reason for this variation lies in the types of national policies the countries have in place.

According to our new research, countries who have been successful with their clean energy development have:

  • Taken a Comprehensive Approach: Policies are integrated at the national level

  • Sustained Policy in a Predictable Manner: Policies have an established lifetime of at least three-to-four years to enhance industry certainty

  • Implemented Targeted Policies: Policies address the needs of different technologies and target the needs of the entire value chain

Over the next 24 hours, citizens worldwide who are concerned about our changing climate can tune in to a unique, global event involving hundreds of experts. 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report is a live, online broadcast led by former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. (Mr. Gore is also a WRI board member.)

The event will feature news and discussion on climate change from all 24 time zones. I will join a panel discussion at 10 p.m. EST tonight to discuss the U.S. response to climate change, as well as how business is responding to our changing planet. (Check out the panel on the Climate Reality Project website).

As climate change impacts are becoming more apparent, this is a critical moment for people around the world to engage in this issue.

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