Extreme Weather in 2011

For the second year in a row, unprecedented numbers of extreme weather events have occurred across the globe. However, more of 2011’s impacts occurred in the United States. From the drought in Texas to the floods in the Midwest and Northeast, this past year underscored the huge economic costs associated with extreme weather.  While specific weather events are not solely caused by climate change, the risks of droughts, floods, extreme precipitation events, and heat waves are already climbing as a result of climate change. This year reminded us of our vulnerability to those events.

Evaluating Durban

This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.

Was the Durban climate conference a success or failure?  As always, the answer depends on one’s frame of reference.

As compared to the expectations going in, the outcome was more than I think most people thought possible. In a pre-Durban paper entitled “W[h]ither the Kyoto Protocol,” I identified three scenarios: (1) business-as-usual, with modest progress in developing the Copenhagen/Cancun framework and no political breakthroughs; (2) agreement to a “political” (not legally-binding) second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; and (3) agreement to a Kyoto Protocol amendment establishing a second commitment period, combined with a mandate for a new negotiating process to develop a legally-binding agreement addressing the emissions of the other major economies.  Many thought that (1) was the default option, (2) represented the best-case scenario, and (3) was politically unrealistic.  But the Durban outcome is in fact closest to (3):

  • It wrapped up much of the remaining work to elaborate the Copenhagen/Cancun process, by adopting the governing instrument of the new Green Climate Fund and transparency rules for both developed and developing countries' pledges.
  • It agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol by another 5-8 years.  Although the emissions targets for Kyoto’s second commitment period still need to be worked out, and the formal amendment won’t be adopted until next year, the basic political decision to extend the Protocol was made in Durban.
  • It agreed to launch a new negotiating process to develop a “protocol, another legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force,” addressing the post-2020 period  and “applicable to all Parties.”

Durban – How Big a Deal?

Only time will tell whether the Durban climate talks produced an historic breakthrough.  It’s possible.   What’s clear for now is that the Durban deal keeps the global climate effort intact and moving – however incrementally – in the right direction.

The deal is delicately poised between two eras – the fading age of Kyoto, and a new phase beyond Kyoto, with developed and developing countries presumably on a more equal footing.

Politically, there were four essential ingredients to the deal: Developing countries – and South Africa in particular – were adamant that Kyoto not die on African soil.  Europe was adamant that it would only do another round of Kyoto if Durban launched new talks toward a comprehensive binding agreement.  The United States (along with Japan, Australia, Canada and Russia) was adamant that any such agreement include major developing countries too.  And, for the first time, China, India and other emerging economies appeared to agree.

The result: Europe (and a handful other developed countries) agreed to a “second commitment period” under Kyoto, with their new targets to be put in legal form next year.  And parties launched the Durban Platform, aimed at producing a new deal by 2015 to take effect in 2020.

Low-Carbon Innovation for a Strong Defense

As discussed in the first part of this blog series A Strong Defense for Low-Carbon Innovation, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has both the demand for and procurement capabilities to advance the development and deployment of innovative low-carbon technologies. This post highlights a variety of leading businesses innovating and creating new opportunities in response to the U.S. Department of Defense efforts, and some of the challenges businesses encounter along the way.

Strategic public-private partnerships are key to helping the DOD meet its energy goals and present significant low-carbon business opportunities. Employing the expertise of companies, such as those specializing in electricity generation or computer technology, gives the DOD access to specialty skills and knowledge needed to advance innovative low-carbon technologies. Businesses, in turn, have the potential to enhance their competencies through government-funded research and development, or provide new technologies for commercial markets after large-scale demonstration through the DOD.

The Nuts and Bolts of the New CAFE and GHG Vehicle Standards

This is Part 2 of a series on the new EPA-DOT vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) and fuel economy standards. Part 1 took a first look on the goals of the standards.

These days, most cars can go from 0 to 60 mph in a pretty short time – but can the nation’s car fleet go from 27.3 to 49.5 mpg in 15 years flat?

As we mentioned in Part I, a 49.5 mpg CAFE standard (or 54.5 mpg by the EPA’s calculation) is the new vehicle standard for 2025. Considering that the current CAFE level is 27.3 mpg, closing the 20 mpg gap will need some pretty quick acceleration, efficiency-wise.

Though the new standard may seem daunting, the key takeaway is that passenger vehicles will use many technologies we already know about and still deliver the freedom of mobility and convenience found in today’s cars. In fact, most of the fleet will still be powered by diesel and gasoline but with under-the-hood technological improvements that improve the bang for each buck of gas.