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Climate, Energy & Transport

5 Insights from Developed Countries' Fast-Start Finance Contributions

Sven Harmeling, Takeshi Kuramochi, and Steffen Kalbekken also contributed to this post.

How are we going to deliver climate finance at a sufficient scale to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change? Parties to the UNFCCC--including those at this month’s intersessional in Bonn--are struggling to agree on the answer to this question. The UNFCCC established a Standing Committee on Climate Finance to take stock of global progress towards this goal, while a work program on Long-Term Finance will continue this year.

As these various groups debate the future of climate finance, it’s important to look back at progress and trends thus far. The fast-start finance (FSF) period offers important insights into how different developed countries are approaching the challenge of delivering international climate finance. These lessons can inform future efforts.

Major Insights from the Fast-Start Finance Period

Developed countries report that they delivered more than $33 billion in FSF between 2010 and 2012, exceeding the pledges they made at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. But how much of this finance is new and additional? How has it been allocated, and what is it supporting?

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4 Topics on Clean Energy and Climate Change Obama and Xi Should Consider

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

When President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping meet in California this week, they will be seeking to build trust and chart a course for improved relations. While tensions abound over various issues, clean energy and climate is one area where cooperation can work.

Last month, the United States and China released a statement declaring that joint action on climate change can “set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.” These two countries have the opportunity to tackle this global challenge, helping keep the world within 2 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, and embrace clean energy on the path to a low-carbon future.

Given the stakes, business leaders should be paying attention.

Clean energy is one of the most important growth sectors in the global economy. It has been projected that $2.3 trillion will be invested in clean energy by 2020, reaching $269 billion last year. China was the number world’s top clean energy investor in 2012, with a record $68 billion. China’s investments are not only within its borders. China’s total overseas investment in 2011 extended to over 130 countries and topped $60 billion.

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6 Lessons Brazilian Cities Learned from Greenhouse Gas Inventories

This piece provides insights from a recent Greenhouse Gas Protocol seminar in Brazil. The Seminar was part of WRI’s Sustainable Cities Initiative funded by the Caterpillar Foundation.

Last week in São Paulo, WRI, ICLEI, C40, USP-IEE, and EMBARQ Brazil jointly brought together more than 200 Brazilian city officials and experts to discuss how to use the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GPC) to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cities. Representatives from Brazil’s federal and state governments, as well as city-level governments including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Piracicaba, shared their experiences in conducting GHG inventories and implementing local climate actions.

Brazilian cities and municipalities vary in the status of their efforts to collect GHG data and conduct emissions inventories. The event focused on emissions management efforts so far. Below are six lessons highlighted by participants in the discussion:

1. Strong political commitment is crucial for success. Many cities in Brazil have made strong political commitments to address climate change. For example, Rio and Belo Horizonte have created municipal climate change laws with mandatory GHG reduction targets. Rio’s target is to reduce emissions by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, while Belo Horizonte’s is 20 percent by 2030. In both cases, city-wide GHG inventories have been conducted to inform and track performance toward these targets.

2. The inventory is the first step in low-carbon development. Participants stressed the importance of the GHG inventory process (see figure below) as a planning tool to help cities assess their emissions, identify emission sources, set reduction targets, prioritize mitigation actions, and track performance. For instance, Belo Horizonte’s inventory found that the transportation sector is the city’s major source of GHG emissions (71 percent); this information will help the city identify reduction measures. Prof. Jose Goldemberg, former federal Minister and São Paulo State Secretary of Environment, stressed that GHG inventories help cities identify key emission sources and implement low-carbon technologies. Nelson Moreira Franco, Director for Climate Change Management and Sustainable Development for the City of Rio, stressed that the “GHG inventory is a powerful instrument to manage emissions and influence policy-making.”

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Global Signs of Leadership on Clean Energy

This post originally appeared on the National Journal's Energy Experts blog.

As evidence of climate change mounts, President Obama has made it clear that tackling this issue will be a priority in his second term. Yet, as weeks go by, the administration has been slow to clarify its strategy. With each passing day, it becomes harder and more expensive to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, other global powers are moving forward--and many of them carry valuable lessons which American policymakers can look to. The most successful countries are showing national leadership, strong and consistent policies, and commitment to clean energy.

Where, then, are signs of progress on clean energy?

Germany’s Energiewende: Leading the Way

High on the list is Germany, whose ambitious energy transformation strategy--or “Energiewende”--aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 to 95 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This will be achieved by enhancing energy efficiency, reducing primary energy consumption by 50 percent, and ramping up renewable energy to at least 80 percent of electricity consumption in the same time-frame.

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Building on Momentum: 2 Ways to Make Progress at the Bonn Climate Talks

Delegates at the April UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany made some encouraging progress. As negotiators gather again this week, it’s important that they build on this progress and take action on two key topics: raising ambition, and establishing core elements of the 2015 international climate action agreement.

Indeed, there’s an even greater sense of urgency since delegates met for the April intersessional. The world crossed a perilous and alarming threshold, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm, a level that has not been experienced in at least 800,000 years and possibly not for millions of years. Plus, this may be the last intersessional before COP 19 in Warsaw in November. Negotiators must move forward on raising ambition and establishing the 2015 Agreement if COP 19 is to have a successful outcome.

Raising Ambition Now

The need for countries to make more ambitious emissions-reduction commitments remains self-evident—even more so, now that the world has exceeded 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Bonn, negotiators are set to focus on the transformation of the energy system.

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Turning Climate Action into a Reality

This post was written by Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and a member of the high-level advisory panel for the Climate Justice Dialogue. The Climate Justice Dialogue project is a joint initiative between WRI and the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. This piece originally appeared on Reuters Alertnet.

Global emissions just crossed 400 parts per million, an ominous threshold for the climate. Despite this marker, there are signs of new life for international climate action, including during the recent United Nation’s climate meeting in Bonn, Germany.

It’s become abundantly clear that in order for the world to reach an international climate agreement by 2015, the usual approach isn’t going to work. World leaders need to find common ground and work toward solutions. They need to engage their citizens and infuse new passion into the issue. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is one of the great moral tests of our times.

In Chile, we know all too well the impacts of climate change, marked in particular by more frequent droughts and increasing water scarcity. This affects people and our economy across sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to mining and energy. Sadly, the people most affected by climate change are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

In the face of this challenge, we need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one. We need to create a world in which people prosper but without increasing pollution. This is not a distant dream, but a real possibility.

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Nitrogen Trifluoride Now Required in GHG Protocol Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories

Scientific understanding of the chemicals that contribute to climate change is constantly improving. So, too, is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), as we work to keep abreast of such advances and ensure that they are reflected in our tools and standards.

One recent example concerns the greenhouse gas (GHG) nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), a chemical that is released in some high-tech industries, including in the manufacture of many electronics. The GHG Protocol now requires NF3 to be included in GHG inventories under the Corporate Standard, Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard, and Product Standard. A new GHGP Amendment updates the existing requirements.

How does this update affect my organization?

NF3 is used in a relatively small number of industrial processes. It is primarily produced in the manufacture of semiconductors and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panels, and certain types of solar panels and chemical lasers. To the extent that these processes occur in your company’s direct operations or value chain, they may need to be reflected in future inventories to ensure conformance with GHG Protocol standards.

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What Exporting U.S. Natural Gas Means for the Climate

This post originally appeared on The National Journal's Energy Experts blog.

The U.S. Department of Energy made a big announcement late last week, green lighting the country’s second liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project. Many argue that natural gas exports will bring economic and geopolitical benefits for the United States--with Japanese and French companies coming on board as key partners in the proposed export station.

Indeed, natural gas can contribute to a lower-emissions trajectory--but only if it’s done right. With effective policies and standards in place, natural gas can help displace coal while complementing lower-carbon, renewable energy sources. But without these protections, U.S. LNG exports will likely lead to an increase in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, as discussed below, may have a negative effect on global climate change.

The question becomes whether government agencies and businesses will take the necessary steps to limit the emissions risks associated with natural gas, including through LNG exports.

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5 Achievements from Germany’s “Energiewende”

Germany is in the midst of an unprecedented clean energy revolution. Thanks to the “Energiewende,” a strategy to revamp the national energy system, Germany aims to reduce its overall energy consumption and move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The country has already made considerable progress toward achieving this ambitious goal.

In fact, other countries like the United States can learn a lot from the German clean energy experience. That’s why WRI is hosting a German energy speaking tour in the United States this week, May 13th-17th. Rainer Baake, a leading energy policy expert and key architect behind the Energiewende, and WRI energy experts will travel to select U.S. cities to share lessons, challenges, and insights from the German clean energy transformation. They will be joined by Dr. Wolfgang Rohe and Dr. Lars Grotewold from Stiftung Mercator.

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U.S. Natural Gas Exports: Friend or Foe?

U.S. natural gas production is booming. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), production grew by 23 percent from 2007 to 2012. Now—with production projected to continue growing in the decades ahead—U.S. lawmakers and companies are considering exporting this resource internationally. But what are the climate implications of doing so?

This is a topic I sought to address in my testimony yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. The hearing, “U.S. Energy Abundance: Exports and the Changing Global Energy Landscape,” examined both the opportunities and risks presented by exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). I sought to emphasize a number of points that are often overlooked in this discussion; in particular, fugitive methane emissions and cost-effective options for reducing them.

Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas Production

While burning natural gas releases half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal, producing the fuel comes with considerable environmental risks (see: here, here, and here). We’re already seeing these risks play out domestically. In addition to habitat disruption and impacts on local air and water quality, one of the most significant implications of natural gas production is fugitive methane emissions.

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