Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more


Durban Climate Conference - COP 17

UN Climage Change Conference
COP 17 & CMP 7

Durban, South Africa
November 28-December 11, 2011

In what could prove to be a key transitional moment, governments meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, adopted a package of decisions initiating another phase of the Kyoto Protocol and simultaneously launching a new round of talks aimed at producing a successor agreement starting in 2020. 


Other Resources:

Find key resources, insights, and analysis of the global climate change negotiations on this page.

New Publications:

  • Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, November 2011.
    A number of established multilateral regimes offer important avenues for climate mitigation efforts complementary to those of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC ). Tackling discrete dimensions of the climate challenge in regional, sectoral and other global venues can yield action on multiple fronts, contributing toward closing the gap between national pledges and the UN FCCC goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This brief examines ongoing and potential efforts in the International Maritime Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Montreal Protocol, and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
  • Common Metrics: Comparing Countries’ Climate Pledges, September 2011.
    To enable a better understanding of the mitigation pledges offered under the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements, this analysis converts the 2020 pledges of the major economies into four common metrics: percent change in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990; percent change from 2005; percent change from “business as usual” and; percent change in emissions intensity from 2005.
  • W[h]ither the Kyoto Protocol? Durban and Beyond, August 2011.
    This discussion paper analyzes the options going forward for the Kyoto Protocol, including adoption of a legally-binding second commitment period, a “political” second commitment period, or no new commitment period. It also considers the legal implications of a gap between the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period and the adoption of a new legal regime to limit emissions, the prospects for the Clean Development Mechanism in the absence of a second Kyoto commitment period, and the relationship between the Kyoto Protocol negotiations and the emerging regime under the Cancun Agreements.

Press Briefings in Durban:

  • Monday, December 5
    C2ES Executive Vice President Elliot Diringer and VP for Strategic Outreach Manik Roy share their insights and take questions on the outlook for Durban and for U.S. climate policy. Click to watch.
  • Tuesday, December 6
    Elliot Diringer joins Arizona State University Law Professor Dan Bodansky to discuss multilateral climate efforts beyond the UNFCCC. This is the subject of a C2ES report authored by Bodansky. Click to watch.


Making Progress in Durban

Download the full brief (pdf)

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban is an opportunity to strengthen the international climate framework. The top priority should be implementing the Cancún Agreements with steps to: 1) improve the transparency of countries’ efforts, and 2) strengthen support for developing countries, including a new Green Climate Fund. If established, a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol should be transitional in nature. Looking ahead, parties should set the longer-term aim of working toward a comprehensive binding agreement.  

At the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) face immediate decisions on strengthening key aspects of the multilateral climate system, and issues concerning the future direction of the international effort.  A central issue for many countries is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, whose emission targets expire at the end of 2012.

World leaders agreed two years ago in the Copenhagen Accord to a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius and to establish new mechanisms to strengthen the international effort. More than 80 countries pledged 2020 targets or actions under the Accord, and its essential elements were formally incorporated into the UNFCCC in last year’s Cancún Agreements. Parties were able to agree on a broad package of incremental steps in Cancún in part by putting aside differences on the regime’s future direction and legal form.  With the Kyoto targets expiring, however, those issues are now reemerging.

In Durban, parties should again strive for tangible near-term progress even if they remain stalemated on the longer-term legal issues. By building on the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, a well-crafted Durban outcome can help cement a new phase in the evolution of the climate regime: taking steps to incrementally strengthen the international architecture – and, thereby, national efforts – while working toward the goal of a comprehensive binding agreement.

Key Operational Decisions

Strengthening the UNFCCC architecture can promote stronger action in the near term, build parties’ confidence, and create a foundation for a future binding outcome. The Cancún Agreements established the basic parameters of new mechanisms on finance, transparency, adaptation, technology and forestry. Decisions are needed in Durban to begin operationalizing them.  

Improving Transparency.  The Cancún Agreements called for a series of measures to strengthen and expand the UNFCCC’s system for the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of countries’ actions. In Durban, parties should begin implementing these measures by:

  • Adopting guidelines and an initial deadline for new biennial reports from countries on progress in implementing their pledged targets and actions and, for developing countries, on greenhouse gas inventories. (Developed countries already submit annual greenhouse gas inventories.)
  • Adopting procedures for International Assessment and Review (IAR) and International Consultations and Analysis (ICA), two new processes to periodically assess the national mitigation efforts of developed and developing countries, respectively, and support from developed countries. Both processes should include technical analysis of countries’ reports; open sessions where parties present and take questions on their implementation efforts; public release of inputs and proceedings; and “facilitative” consequences (assistance to improve implementation).

Mobilizing Finance. The Cancún Agreements set finance goals for 2010-2012 and for 2020, and called for a new Green Climate Fund and a new Standing Committee on finance.  In Durban, parties should:

  • Establish the Green Climate Fund by adopting the governing instrument negotiated by the Transitional Committee, which provides for: a 24-member board, with equal representation from developed and developing countries, operating “under the guidance” of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP); an independent secretariat;  funding windows for mitigation and adaptation; and a facility to finance private sector activities.
  • Establish the Standing Committee to promote coordination among climate funding mechanisms, monitor financial flows, and advise the COP on finance needs and effectiveness.
  • Provide assurances of continued finance between the “fast-start” period (2010-12) and 2020, and launch a process to explore potential long-term sources of finance.

Kyoto Second Commitment Period

Without binding commitments by the United States and the major emerging economies, most other developed countries are unwilling to assume new binding emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol. However, the European Union and some others are prepared to enter into a second commitment period established by a decision of the parties (rather than a legally binding amendment to the Protocol) – provided parties launch a process in Durban to negotiate a comprehensive binding agreement for the post-2020 period. Such a “political” second commitment period would ensure Kyoto’s survival on a transitional basis as parties work toward a successor agreement.  Kyoto mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) remain operational even without binding emission targets.

Future of the Climate Framework

In Cancún, parties agreed to a review in 2013-2015 of the adequacy of the 2-degree goal and of “overall progress towards achieving it.” The Cancún Agreements sidestepped the question of future commitments, saying that “nothing in this decision shall prejudge prospects for, or the content of, a legally binding outcome in the future.”  While most parties voice support for the goal of binding commitments, they remain far apart on the specific form or timing. In Durban, parties should:

  • Agree that the 2013-2015 review will consider not only the adequacy of the long-term goal and existing commitments, but also the broader structure of the UNFCCC.
  • Affirmatively declare their intent to work toward a comprehensive binding agreement, while leaving open all options on specific legal form.

Other resources:


Press Release: New Report Examines Options for International Climate Action

Press Release                                        
November 21, 2011
Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

Looks at Opportunities in Multilateral Venues Beyond UN Framework Convention

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new report released today by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) highlights opportunities to strengthen efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through multilateral agreements other than the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The policy brief, Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, examines ongoing and potential climate-related efforts in four venues:  the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Montreal Protocol, and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP).

“The UNFCCC must continue playing a central role in mobilizing the global response to climate change, but it can’t do the job on its own,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen.  “Our climate and energy issues are multi-faceted, and different multilateral forums offer opportunities to tackle different dimensions of the overall challenge.  We need to pursue every available avenue if we want to make real progress.”

The brief notes that sectoral forums such as IMO and ICAO can target efforts to specific emissions-intensive sector; regional agreements such as CLRTAP can address pollutants such as black carbon with largely regional impacts; and the Montreal Protocol, which has already made a significant indirect contribution to the climate effort, can contribute further through limits on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The brief was authored by Daniel Bodansky, the Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics, and Sustainability at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.  Bodansky, a leading authority on the multilateral climate effort, last year coauthored The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change, a report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, C2ES’s predecessor organization.

“At the start of the international effort, many hoped that climate change could be addressed through a single comprehensive agreement.  But 20 years of experience tell us that we need a more incremental, evolutionary approach,” Bodansky said.  “While the UNFCCC will likely remain the hub of the global effort, complementary efforts in other multilateral forums can make a major contribution to its evolution and, hopefully, to its success.”


About C2ES
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in November 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, long recognized in the United States and abroad as an influential and pragmatic voice on climate issues. C2ES is led by Eileen Claussen, who previously led the Pew Center and is the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.


Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC

November 2011

by Daniel Bodansky

Download the full brief (pdf)

Press Release


A number of established multilateral regimes offer important avenues for climate mitigation efforts complementary to those of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC ). Tackling discrete dimensions of the climate challenge in regional, sectoral and other global venues can yield action on multiple fronts, contributing toward closing the gap between national pledges and the UN FCCC goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This brief examines ongoing and potential efforts in the International Maritime Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Montreal Protocol, and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.


Global climate change draws the attention of governments at every level, from the village board to the U.N. Security Council. At the international level, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been the hub of efforts to address the threat of climate change. But over time, many other international institutions have become engaged in climate-related work. Indeed, one recent study identified more than sixty institutions that perform some governance function, broadly defined. These include international organizations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Bank, privately-sponsored initiatives such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and publicprivate partnerships. Together these institutions form what some have called a “transnational regime complex” related to climate change.

Tackling the climate change problem outside the UNFCCC presents both risks and opportunities. On the one hand, proceeding in a piecemeal way in multiple forums may fragment efforts, making it more difficult to mobilize strong global action. On the other hand, given the breadth and complexity of the climate challenge and the limited progress within the UNFCCC, tackling discrete dimensions of the climate challenge in other forums can allow targeted, incremental progress in the near-term, building toward a stronger global response. Moreover, given uncertainties about the success of any individual negotiating process (including the UNFCCC), diversifying one’s portfolio of policy approaches helps reduce the risk of failure.

Among other reasons to pursue climate efforts in other multilateral forums:

  • In institutions with a track record of success, such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, participants have developed working relationships that help instill trust and promote cooperation.
  • Institutions with a sectoral focus, such as the IMO and the ICAO, have a tradition of cooperation that can help facilitate agreement, and allow a response tailored to the specific nature of the sector.
  • Some institutions have procedural rules that make agreement more likely. For example, in contrast to the consensus rule in the UNFCCC, the IMO allows decisions to be made by a qualified majority vote—a voting rule that allowed the recent adoption of mandatory efficiency standards for new ships, despite opposition by China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and others.
  • Some, such as the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), provide a regional forum for action where established relations may make it easier to achieve agreement around shared interests and objectives, particularly where regional aspects of climate change are at issue.

This paper examines the status of, and prospects for, climate-related efforts in a number of established multilateral regimes—specifically, the IMO, ICAO, the Montreal Protocol and CLRTAP. It focuses, in particular, on options to use these negotiating forums to limit emissions. In taking this focus, this paper does not address other important subjects, including (1) work related to adaptation; (2) the host of activities by sub-state actors, private groups, and public-private partnerships to address climate change; (3) the broader political discussions of the climate change issue in forums such as the U.N. Security Council, the G-20, the Major Economies Forum (MEF), and the U.N. Human Rights Council; and (4) the potential to address climate change through adjudication or other forms of dispute settlement.

Daniel Bodansky

Letting Go of Kyoto

November 2011

This commentary was originally published by Nature

A preoccupation with binding commitments blocks progress in the global effort against climate change. It’s time to correct course, says Elliot Diringer.

When governments gather for another round of United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations later this month in Durban, South Africa, they face a familiar thicket of issues. Yet for many – and, no doubt, for headline writers around the world – one stands above all the rest: the survival or death of the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto’s emission targets expire at the end of 2012, making Durban the last chance to set new targets in time to avoid a ‘commitment gap’.

Kyoto will likely emerge from Durban alive, but just barely. This should not be cause for alarm. While the protocol remains an important emblem of multilateralism, it has become, in reality, more of an impediment than a means to genuine progress. More important than ensuring Kyoto’s long-term survival is building something better to take its place.

Durban affords an overdue opportunity to honestly reconsider what it is we can look to the UN climate process to deliver, and when. With the start of the Kyoto negotiations 16 years ago, the international community decided that legally binding commitments were the answer to climate change. A binding-or-nothing mentality has held sway ever since, and the result often has been ‘nothing’.

Although it has been obvious for some time that most of the developed world is unwilling to one-sidedly assume new binding targets, many developing countries will arrive in Durban insisting on precisely that.  Without a compromise, the outcome this time may be less than nothing. It might, in the worst case, be the unraveling of the entire enterprise.

The more sensible course is an incremental one. Modest successes were achieved at last year’s climate-change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico. The parties should build on that with further steps to strengthen the regime; they should also declare their intent to work toward binding commitments, while acknowledging that this will take time.  Meanwhile, governments and climate advocates must work at home to build domestic support for strong national action.  Without that, future international commitments will mean little, binding or not.

In Durban, governments will again be challenged by the same two fundamental issues that dominated at the very start of the global climate effort two decades ago. One is governance: Is the best approach a binding top-down treaty with sanctions for non-compliance, a loose bottom-up arrangement with countries free to define their own voluntary commitments, or something in-between? The second is fairness: How is effort against this quintessentially global challenge equitably apportioned among countries whose degrees of responsibility and capacity vary so widely, and are continually evolving?

First principles

The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change took a first stab at both. On fairness, it established the principle that countries should act “in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Applying that principle, it set specific obligations for developed countries only – returning their greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. But this was simply an “aim”, not a binding target. As to the ultimate shape of the regime, the Convention left the door wide open.

It soon became evident that most developed countries would miss this goal, and in 1995 the parties launched a new round of talks that led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.  They agreed right off that new commitments would apply to developed countries only. And, inspired in part by the success of the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, they decided that this time the targets would be legally binding. (The prescribed consequences for non-compliance, however, are technically not binding – illustrating the many shades of grey associated with the ‘binding’ concept.)

It took until 2005 for Kyoto to win enough ratifications – notwithstanding its renunciation by the United States – to enter into force. In that time and in the years since, the emissions picture has shifted dramatically. Global greenhouse-gas emissions are up 25% since 1997. China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest annual emitter. Collectively, developing country emissions are now 58% of the total, and rising fast.

Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that countries such as Japan, Canada and Russia adamantly refuse to assume new binding targets unless the other major economies at present outside Kyoto’s reach – most notably, the United States and China – do so as well. And for now, the odds of that happening are nil.

Yet for many, binding commitments remain a holy grail. This produced a near disaster two years ago at the Copenhagen meeting, where the widely held but wholly unrealistic expectation of a binding outcome was destined to go unmet. World leaders managed to hash out a political deal, the Copenhagen Accord, but in the final vitriolic hours, a handful of parties blocked its formal adoption. To both those in the room and those watching from afar, the UN climate process appeared to teeter. Another go-round like that in Durban could push it over the edge.

A key premise of the Kyoto experiment was that binding international commitments would drive national efforts. Yet outside Europe, where concern about climate change has always run strongest, there is little evidence that this is true. A prime counter example is Canada, where emissions are now 17-30% above 1990 levels (depending on whether land-use emissions are counted), despite a binding commitment to reduce them to 6% below.

Where ambitious national efforts have emerged, two other drivers appear more influential: political will and economic self-interest. Australia is arguably a case of the former. Heavily reliant, like Canada, on natural resources and energy-intensive exports, Australia’s last government fell when it tried to push through emissions trading. But the new minority government – a coalition including the Green party – recommitted to the issues and just this month enacted an ambitious carbon-pricing scheme.

The mercantile motive, meanwhile, is nowhere more evident than in China, which has quickly dominated the emerging clean-energy market and now produces nearly 50% of the world’s wind turbines and solar panels.  China will also soon introduce emissions trading at the regional level.

In most cases, economic motive and political will both play a part. Germany and the United Kingdom are going beyond European Union (EU) mandates with 2020 emission targets 40% and 34%, respectively, below 1990 levels. South Korea devoted most of its 2009 US$38-billion economic stimulus to green growth, including energy efficiency and renewables. It and some other developing countries, including Brazil, India and South Africa, are fashioning or implementing market-based policies to drive efficiency or reduce emissions. Where neither political will nor competitive drive has yet taken hold, as in the United States, investment and action unfortunately lag.

If the principal drivers of action are domestic, do international commitments matter? Yes. In the long term, Kyoto’s adherents are right: emissions commitments should be binding. Strong, sustained action to preserve a global good requires confidence that all are indeed contributing their fair share. But we need to be more realistic about how and when we get there.

Fortunately, if governments are prepared to look beyond Kyoto, they can find in last year’s Cancún Agreements the seeds of a more viable successor. That pact gave the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord the UN imprimatur, and offered countries the opportunity to pledge explicit targets or actions for 2020. More than 80, including all the major economies, have now done so.     

This time, the numbers were set unilaterally, not negotiated as in Kyoto; pledges came from both developed and developing countries; and they are voluntary, not binding. In other words, even as the Kyoto negotiations have dragged on, a parallel ‘bottom-up’ framework has begun to take shape.    

As yet, it is hardly adequate. To begin with, the 2020 pledges are too weak to put countries on track towards limiting warming to 2 °C, the goal set in Copenhagen and affirmed in Cancún. Beyond that, the operational elements of Cancún – a new Green Climate Fund for developing countries, stronger reporting and scrutiny of countries’ actions, and new adaptation and technology mechanisms – are mere shells, with a raft of details still to be agreed on.

Small Steps

In Durban, parties should indeed set their sights towards eventual binding commitments. But they should focus primarily on the more prosaic nuts and bolts of strengthening transparency and support for developing countries. However incremental, such steps will get us further than a recurring cycle of false expectation and failure.

For the Kyoto Protocol itself, the likely outcome is some sort of half-measure. A leading option is to set new emission targets through a ‘political’ second commitment period, which can be approved outright by ministers gathered in Durban, rather than a legally binding amendment to the protocol, which would have to be brought home and ratified, a long and difficult process for many governments. Even if joined by only the EU and a handful of others, such a life-support mechanism would avert a blow-up, and buy time to build a sounder alternative.

Looking across the multilateral landscape, it is clear that strong, durable agreements don’t typically spring forth fully formed – they evolve over time. Kyoto was a bold attempt to short-circuit the process. The real tragedy is not its demise, but that the binding-or-nothing mindset has in the meantime kept us from pursuing other multilateral means of tackling climate change. Durban is a chance to correct course. 

Elliot Diringer is Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

by Elliot Diringer--Published in Nature magazine

Eileen Claussen Highlights C2ES's Goals, Energy Policy on E&E TV

Watch the Interview

November 16, 2011

On E&E TV's OnPoint, Eileen Claussen discusses goals of the newly-launched Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and assesses the current state of energy policy talks in Washington. Claussen also gives her views on the Obama administration's handling of energy policy. Click here to watch the interview.

Click here for additional details on C2ES.

Yes, You’ve Come to the Right Place

For those of you who came to our website today expecting to find information and resources from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, please don’t click away. Today we announced an exciting transition. We are now C2ES — the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. In addition to changing our name, we’ve refreshed our mission and strategic approach, updated our website, and made other changes to ensure that we can continue to craft real solutions to the energy and climate challenges we face today.

Yes, a great deal has changed in the last 24 hours. But what hasn’t changed is the need for straight talk, common sense and common ground. Today’s climate and energy issues present us with real challenges — and real opportunities as well. This is about protecting the environment, our communities and our economy. And it is about building the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable future.

Common Metrics: Comparing Countries' Climate Pledges

September 2011

Read the full brief (pdf)

To enable a better understanding of the mitigation pledges offered under the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements, this analysis converts the 2020 pledges of the major economies into four common metrics: percent change in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990; percent change from 2005; percent change from “business as usual” and; percent change in emissions intensity from 2005.

Back to the Post-2012 International Climate Policy Briefs page


Q&A with Eileen Claussen for Singapore International Energy Week

This Q&A orginally appeared on Singapore International Energy Week's website.

September 2011

Q1. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Do you see an agreement on its successor during negotiations at Durban later this year? Or is an extension of the Kyoto Protocol or a move to a transitional framework a more likely outcome?

Eileen Claussen: The Kyoto Protocol has played an important role in advancing climate change efforts in some parts of the world. Most notably, the European Union established its successful Emissions Trading System and other policies in order to fulfil its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. However, because developing countries are exempt from Kyoto's emission targets and because the United States has chosen not to join, the Protocol covers just one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Japan, Canada and Russia have made clear that they will not take on new binding targets post-2012 without commensurate obligations by the United States and the major developing countries, which are not prepared for binding commitments. Hence, there appears very little prospect of new Kyoto commitments being adopted in Durban.

While our ultimate aim should be a comprehensive and binding international climate framework, we must accept that getting to binding commitments will take time. The Cancún Agreements made important progress in strengthening the existing frameworks in the areas of finance, transparency, adaptation and technology. Further incremental progress in these areas will promote near-term action and will strengthen parties' confidence in one another and in the regime, thereby building a stronger foundation for a later binding agreement. At the same time, countries must continue strengthening political will and policies domestically. In Durban, parties should make concrete progress in implementing the Cancún Agreements--for instance, by establishing the Green Climate Fund and agreeing on stronger transparency measures--while affirming their intent to work toward binding outcomes.

Q2. Global GHG emissions increased by a record amount last year. Is the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degree Celsius just a "nice Utopia" as IEA's Dr Fatih Birol put it?

EC: Long-term goals are tricky. On the one hand, they provide a rallying point to help focus attention and orient action, and a yardstick for measuring progress. On the other hand, they are meaningful only if they can be operationalized, and if interim efforts don't appear to be on track, people may be discouraged as a result and the will to act may actually weaken. In the case of climate, a temperature goal is appealing because it is easily related in the public mind to the core issue--global warming. But as a metric, it is several steps removed from the action that is needed: Reducing emissions. From a practical standpoint, a global emissions goal might be more helpful.

Countries' pledges to date clearly do not put us on the path to meeting the 2 degree goal. While achieving the goal is not yet out of the question, it would require a dramatic acceleration of efforts around the globe. The bottom line is that we know what direction we must go. Whatever our long-term goal--indeed, whether or not we have a long-term goal--the immediate challenge is the same: Ramping up our efforts as quickly as possible.

Q3. How much of an impact will the recent nuclear power crisis in Japan have on GHG emissions reduction?

EC: It is still too early to know what impact the Fukushima disaster will have on energy choices and greenhouse gas emissions around the world. The most dramatic example is the recent decision by Germany to completely phase out nuclear power. While many in Germany believe that the gap can be filled by renewable energy and improved energy efficiency, others are deeply concerned that the country will deepen its reliance on coal, making it impossible to achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Other countries must assess for themselves the implications of Fukushima for their energy futures. For those countries choosing to continue or deepen their reliance on nuclear power, the tragedy clearly offers lessons for improving safety. Given the continued growth in energy demand projected in the future, particularly in developing countries, it is difficult to imagine that we will be able to meet the world's energies needs and simultaneously meet the climate challenge without continued reliance on nuclear power. It is therefore imperative that we continue striving to enhance safety and solve the issue of long-term waste disposal.

Q4. Technology is seen as a key enabler to achieve low emissions growth. In your opinion, what are the top three technologies available today that can make the biggest impact?

EC: There are thousands of technologies available today that could make a huge impact with the right policy support, such as a price on carbon. But the problem, at least in the US today, is that it is unclear when such policy support will be forthcoming. So I will pick my top three based on the ones that need the least additional policy support to make a contribution, either because they yield multiple economic benefits beyond climate, or because they benefit from existing policy drivers. 

a. Batteries in cars. Batteries can be used in vehicles in a variety of ways. While a battery-only vehicle may only be able to fill a niche market, hybrid vehicles that run on either gasoline or electricity will likely have broader appeal, and start-stop batteries, which turn off the gasoline engine while a vehicle idles, can be applied to just about any vehicle, achieving modest per-vehicle reductions that add up to significant reductions fleet wide. The combination of new US standards for fuel economy and GHG emissions and electric utility interest in selling electricity can drive battery costs down. The potential emission reductions are enormous, but they depend on cleaning up the electricity grid.

b. Information technology. IT can enable dramatic GHG reductions, for example through energy efficiency (e.g. smart buildings that turn on lights and HVAC when they're needed and turn them off when they're not), substituting videoconferencing for travel, and using wireless communication to optimize transportation routing for people and goods. Convenience and time savings are such powerful drivers of IT that it needs little incremental policy support.

c. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2. CCS is technically available, and potentially a game changer, enabling us to continue to use fossil fuels but with very low CO2 emissions. CO2-EOR is already economic using naturally occurring CO2, and is close to economic using captured CO2.  With very little policy support, EOR using captured CO2 could yield some near-term emission reductions while driving CCS costs down, thereby enabling enormous emission reductions in the future.

Q5. Energy efficiency has long been touted as the lowest hanging fruit to address the energy and climate change challenges. Many Asian countries have announced ambitious targets to cut their energy and carbon intensities. For example, as part of its 12th Five-Year Plan, China has indicated that it aims to cut energy intensity by 16 percent and carbon intensity by 17 percent in the next five years. Do you think Asian countries are doing enough? What more can they undertake to help combat climate change?

EC: Efficiency improvements that generate more economic output with less energy input are important for a variety of reasons, including energy supply security, pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, and improvement of livelihoods. Countries such as Korea, China and India have taken significant measures to improve efficiency, with the result that the energy intensity of their economies has been lowering over the past decade.

Many energy efficiency measures are classified as "low hanging fruit," meaning the energy savings and other benefits they produce far outweigh the cost of investing in them. Asian countries are currently focusing on exploiting these low hanging fruit, notably in the industrial and power sectors, as well as in appliances and equipment, and large commercial and public buildings. Eventually, achieving additional energy savings will require more expensive investments, and targeting more difficult sectors, such as small and medium enterprises and households.

Asian governments will need to adjust policy tools to meet these new challenges. Policy certainty and appropriate price signals are important to ensure the efficiency improvement potentials of current investments are maximised. One way of providing these is through cap-and-trade type systems, such as those being considered or developed in China, India and Korea. This will also require the phase-out of subsidies that artificially decrease energy prices and encourage consumption rather than conservation. Though progress is slow, several Asian countries have taken or are taking steps in this direction as well.

Limiting the growth of or reducing energy consumption is, of course, essential. However, shifting to less carbon-intensive sources of energy is equally important in the medium to long term. As such, many Asian countries should also be commended for investing in developing less GHG-intensive energy sources.

Published by Singapore International Energy Week
Eileen Claussen

September 2011 Newsletter

Click here to view our September 2011 newsletter.

The Pew Center's September 2011 newsletter highlights a new intiative focused on expanding carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery, a new brief on international climate assistance, the lessons we can learn from Hurrican Irene, and more.

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