Last month, Death Valley, California experienced the highest June temperature ever recorded (129 degrees F!). Fires have been blazing in the western United States, leading to catastrophic losses of life. We’re barely more than a month into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and it has started off extreme.
Climate, Energy & Transport
New energy efficiency legislation has been introduced by Senators Shaheen and Portman that could come before the U.S. Senate as early as this month. This bill, formally known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761), provides goals, incentives, and support for energy efficiency efforts across the U.S. economy. Passage of this bill would be a positive step toward saving money through improved efficiency while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The ancient metropolis of Istanbul is now a sprawling megacity, struggling with congestion, air pollution, and the submergence of its cultural heritage beneath new overpasses and car infrastructure.
EMBARQ – The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport – introduced Istanbul transportation officials to the concept of bus rapid transit (BRT) five years ago. A first line opened on the European side of the city in 2007, and is now one of the most heavily traveled BRT lines in the world. In March 2009, the city unveiled the world’s first inter-continental BRT corridor across the famous Bosphorus Bridge, a major bottleneck for travelers between Europe and Asia.
EMBARQ developed the plan in coordination with city officials, conducted travel demand studies, and recommended the particular routing and station locations that ultimately were built. At each step, EMBARQ provided critical technical assistance to enable the project to move forward. “Crossing the bridge by car takes as long as 3 hours, but commuters using BRT now cross in about 30 minutes and produce 95% fewer CO2 emissions than drivers,” says Sibel Bulay, director of the EMBARQ Network’s Center for Sustainable Transport in Turkey. “It is a very visible symbol of the city’s commitment to sustainable transit solutions.”
Forest loss and degradation are major contributors to global GHG emissions. Yet, the issue has not played a significant role in international efforts to combat climate change.
This is changing, explains Smita Nakhooda, a senior associate in WRI’s Institutions and Governance Program. “Several large-scale multinational initiatives have emerged to help developing countries reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. REDD is the shorthand for this objective, which will likely be part of any new global climate change agreement.”
Improving forest governance – the rules and practices that determine how decisions about forest resources are made – will be critical to the success of REDD efforts. How will governments balance the need to maintain forest cover and the need for other land uses? How will they ensure that the rights of forest dependent communities and indigenous peoples are respected?
WRI’s timely and sound analysis on forest governance has been pivotal in shaping new REDD initiatives at the UN and World Bank. “The battle against climate change cannot be won without protecting the world’s forests, and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods,” says Nakhooda. “WRI is committed to ensuring REDD programs are as robust as possible.”
The passage of the American Climate and Energy Security bill by the House of Representatives in June 2009 represents the biggest step yet taken toward an ambitious national climate policy. The bill sets forth a long-term roadmap to shift the U.S. economy to a low carbon path.
John Larsen is a senior associate on WRI’s forty-person climate team. For three years, he has analyzed the greenhouse gas emission reduction trajectories in numerous proposals in the run-up to the bill.
“There’s a real appetite on Capitol Hill for WRI’s objective research and analysis,” says Larsen. “Lawmakers turn to our climate experts to better understand the bill’s impact on complex issues like U.S. competitiveness, trade, and jobs.” Larsen’s own work helped inform the bill’s targets and timetables. WRI, he believes, helped make the bill as strong as politically possible. No bill would have been possible without buy-in from the business community. As a co-founder of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), WRI helped bring leading businesses and environmental organizations together to urge significant and mandatory regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP recommendations helped shape the bill’s provisions and were widely cited in Congress as a basis for the legislation.
Alexander Perera leads WRI’s work in renewable energy. Looking back to the year 2000, he recounts how few companies were thinking about green power options and how few utilities offered them. “Commercial and industrial use of renewable energy in the U.S. totaled less than 250 megawatts – equal to just one quarter the output of a large coal-fired power plant.”
Nine years later, a pioneering group of fifteen U.S. companies quadrupled this output, reaching a collective goal of purchasing 1,000 megawatts of new, cost competitive green power generated from renewable resources. In reaching this landmark, the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) has helped catalyze a dramatic scale up of the domestic renewables industry.
WRI convened the Group and has worked with companies to explore workable renewable energy technologies, financing strategies, and partnership arrangements. It also helped the Group establish best practices for green power purchasing. “Companies now obtain green power from a variety of sources,” says Perera, “including solar and wind power, biomass, low-impact hydropower, and landfill gas.”
Core members of the GPMDG include Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, FedEx, GM, Georgia-Pacific, Google, IBM, Interface, J&J, Michelin NA, Natureworks, Pitney Bowes, Staples, and Starbucks.
In March 2009, Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, unveiled a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The 27-station, 16-km system services 130,000 passengers per day and feeds into light rail and other bus services, with fully integrated fares. The project has reduced travel time by 30 percent and is expected to cut the city’s (CO2) emissions by 36,000 metric tons per year, equivalent to removing about 7,000 cars from the roads.
“It’s the first phase of an ambitious plan to transform the entire transit system in this city of four million,” says EMBARQ’s Adriana Lobo. EMBARQ – The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport – and its allied Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico conceived the project, delivered financing, and helped restructure the entire feeder bus system. “EMBARQ,” explains Lobo, “in effect, served as an extension of city staff to lead the design and implementation of the project.”
By working with cities around the world to improve their transportation, EMBARQ seeks to make cities clean, livable, and prosperous. Since 2002, the EMBARQ Network has expanded into seven countries and employs more than 60 experts in fields ranging from urban planning to air quality management, and from geography and sociology to civil and transport engineering.
With a lending portfolio of $10.5 billion in 2008, the Asian Development Bank wields significant influence over the economic development policies of countries in the fast-growing Asia Pacific region.
In 2009, the Bank adopted a new energy policy geared toward supporting clean energy and low-carbon economic growth. Key commitments included: requiring carbon footprinting of proposed projects, technical support for countries to undertake low carbon strategies, and tools to help countries determine more efficient energy options. The Bank backed it up by committing to provide $2 billion annually to clean energy projects starting in 2013. This would represent a doubling of such investments based on 2008 lending.
“Taken together, these initiatives provide some of the strongest commitments yet by an international financial institution to clean energy investment,” explains Isabel Munilla, whose work at WRI focuses on aligning public and private investment with sustainable development and poverty reduction. “It sends a strong signal to other multilateral and regional development banks that they can play a catalytic role in helping developing countries deploy cleaner, safer, renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.” WRI and its partners in the region played a pivotal role in helping Bank officials develop the new policy.
In the lead-up to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties 15 in Copenhagen, in December 2009, it became very clear that issues around accountability and transparency in greenhouse gas accounting were going to be a central focus. While the Kyoto Protocol includes robust accounting standards for industrialized countries, it was looking as if a new ‘pledge and review’ system’ would do away with those standards, thus removing any ability to compare the efforts of countries or create a common understanding of what is occurring country to country. In addition, increased transparency around developing country actions was becoming not only central but controversial, creating tension between the U.S. and China.
WRI identified these issues early on and worked to ensure that the complex but vital accounting topic was understood as a core outcome of the Copenhagen process. WRI also worked with key partners to provide analysis and textual solutions both on why Annex I accounting rules were vital and why it was possible for the US to sign up to these standards.
WRI used its analysis to increase awareness in the U.S. with the White House, Senate and State Department of the importance of the issue and with other countries to provide solutions and context. This work directly resulted in specific text around developed country, or Annex I, targets in the Copenhagen Accord around the need to “ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent” (REF) a hook to building the system we need. No other institution was focused heavily on this outcome. WRI also started working early in China to increase understanding both in China and internationally concerning what systems for Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) China already has in place, thus highlighting where transparency existed and could be enhanced in China. We engaged top Chinese experts and negotiators more than a year before Copenhagen on these issues and continued to provide solutions throughout the UNFCCC meeting. WRI was far ahead of other organizations in providing both the analysis and the space to create understanding and trust among countries. While the issue became polarized during the meeting, it is fair to say that WRI’s background work provided a basis for the final transparency text in the Copenhagen Accord.
In January 2010, two WRI-recommended features were incorporated into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) regulations for implementing the new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). These regulatory features will help minimize the negative impacts of biofuels by ensuring comprehensive accounting of their lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The 2007 expansion of the RFS program required the EPA to set lifecycle GHG threshold standards to ensure that biofuels being used to meet the RFS emit fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel they replace. The framework the EPA would develop to calculate the GHG emissions factors of biofuels was critical. A framework that was less than comprehensive could end up creating incentives for U.S. biofuels that would actually lead to more GHG emissions than the traditional fossil-based fuels they replace. Two accounting factors were particularly important: How to account for carbon dioxide emissions that occur in the future. WRI recommended applying a zero discount rate over a shorter time horizon, rather than the more popular proposal of a two percent discount rate over a 100 year time horizon. Our recommendation was more consistent with prior research and would minimize the risk of artificially inflating the emissions reductions benefits of bio-fuels.
Whether or not to include the emissions associated with indirect land-use changes. For example, a shift from soybean to corn farming in Iowa to make ethanol can result in a ripple effect that drives land conversion for soya in the Brazilian Cerrado. This land conversion may result in significant emissions of carbon dioxide. The uncertainty of indirect land use impacts does not render them insignificant. WRI recommended that emissions associated with global indirect land-use changes be included in the framework, along with approaches for refining the estimates as the science improves.
EPA adopted both our recommendations. In particular, the adoption of an accounting methodology that accounts for the emissions associated with global indirect land use impacts of domestic policy sets a precedent that has significant implications well beyond the biofuels sector.
WRI was the pioneering voice on the zero discount rate. WRI’s Biofuels and the Time Value of Carbon was the first and, to the best of our knowledge, only publication to address the issue of how to choose a discount rate for physical carbon in the context of biofuels accounting. WRI’s Liz Marshall was selected as one of five professional peer reviewers for the time parameters portion of the RFS rule. WRI’s perspective on indirects, set forth in Biofuels, Carbon, and Land-use Change and Rules for Fuels, also provided the analytical foundation for advocacy NGOs during the course of this debate.