UN climate talks: Fresh start or stuck in the past?

The U.N. climate negotiations often have the feel of a multi-ring circus – several negotiating bodies, each including virtually all the same parties, wrangle over different issues in different rooms. You have the COP, the CMP, the SBI, the SBSTA, the AWG-KP, the AWG-LCA, not to mention the various contact groups, informals, and informal informals.

So when the talks resume next week in Bonn, Germany, it will be a rare moment. For the first time since the 1997 conference that produced the Kyoto Protocol, parties will be devoting their entire time to a single negotiating body. Its aim: a comprehensive new agreement in 2015 to start in 2020.

Small steps now, or big solutions? Both.

I recently replied to a question on the National Journal blog on what's keeping Washington from making the type of progress on energy and climate policy that is being made on other issues.

You can read responses at the National Journal.

Here is my response:

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Coping with coastal flood risk

Political leaders in the Northeast have very different ideas about how to treat coastal properties ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Some aim to reduce development along exposed coasts while others say let’s rebuild. How they proceed could set important precedents for managing rising flood risk along the nation’s coasts. 

Motivated by concerns about more frequent and intense extreme weather, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to buy back damaged coastal properties from homeowners willing to sell and preserve the land as undeveloped public spaces. Cuomo’s plan would use funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which requires that purchased properties not be developed.  

The future of cars and light trucks

Can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions from running our cars and light trucks by 80 percent by 2050? According to a new report by the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is yes, but it will be difficult, and it can only happen with a set of strong, sustained, and adaptive public policies.  

For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the NAS Committee that produced this new report. We concluded that four fuel and vehicle pathways can help us meet our goals: (1) continuous improvements in the efficiency of conventional gasoline-powered cars, (2) biofuels, (3) hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, and (4) plug-in electric vehicles. Each of these could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, but each also faces enormous challenges.

Schools’ Challenge provides lasting lessons

Teaching students how to save energy and help the environment provides lessons that can last a lifetime. That’s the biggest takeaway of our third annual Change Our 2morrow (CO2) Schools’ Challenge.

The 2013 Schools’ Challenge, an initiative of Alcoa Foundation and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’ Make an Impact program, took place last month in seven schools across five states. Thousands of middle school students, their teachers, families and community members participated in interactive lessons, completed an energy-saving pledge list, and calculated their carbon footprint as part of the month-long program. Collectively, 10,433 people committed to take actions in their daily lives that will save more than 21 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road for one year.