Climate Compass Blog

A critical opportunity to build on the Paris Agreement

International negotiators will gather in Kigali, Rwanda, next month with the goal of phasing down one of the most potent and rapidly expanding greenhouse gases affecting the climate. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrial chemicals used worldwide in air conditioners, refrigeration, foam products, and aerosols.

Momentum for taking action is building. On the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly, more than 100 nations signed a declaration calling for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to ambitiously deal with HFCs, with an early freeze date for developing countries and an early first reduction step for developed countries.

To jump start the transition away from HFCs, 16 donor nations have offered $27 million in new and additional money for use by developing countries in limiting HFC use in 2017. Donor countries are also committing to support the longer-term phase-down costs under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

In an unprecedented move, a group of philanthropists (19 foundations and private individuals including Bill Gates and Tom Steyer) have offered an additional $53 million to developing countries to support efforts to move from HFCs to more energy-efficient alternatives.

The business community also added its voice to that of governments and philanthropic organizations with more than 500 companies and organizations issuing a call to action in support of an ambitious agreement on an HFC phasedown in October.

Action on HFCs is the single most significant step nations can take this year to advance the goal established in the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Estimates are that an ambitious HFC amendment would reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees by the end of the century. 

While momentum for an ambitious agreement this year is strong and building, it is by no means assured. Even with more than 100 nations on board, reaching an international consensus in Kigali will not be easy. 

A large number of developed and developing countries have supported a developing country freeze in HFC use beginning around 2021, but India has supported a 2030 freeze date and Gulf Cooperation Council countries proposed a 2028 freeze. 

Issues under discussion include the costs and availability of alternatives, the role and timing of patent protections, the rules governing support of projects under the Multilateral Fund, and the need for updated standards for the safe handling and use of more flammable refrigerant alternatives. While there is general support for incorporating enhanced energy efficiency into the transition away from HFCs, there are questions about the ways to achieve this objective.

Solutions are on the table for all of these issues. Given progress to date and the financial resources now available to developing countries to support an ambitious HFC amendment, agreement in Kigali is well within reach. The costs of acting to reduce HFCs are small compared to the very real and present costs of inaction to limit changes to our climate.

Building resilience from the ground up

L to R: Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director, The U.S. Conference of Mayors; Daniel A Zarrilli, Senior Director, Climate Policy and Programs, Chief Resilience Officer, New York City Office of the Mayor; Josh Sawislak, Global Director of Resilience, AECOM; Mayor Chris Bollwage, Elizabeth, NJ, Mayor Javier Gonzales, Santa Fe, NM; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, MD; Bob Perciasepe, President, C2ES.

 

Mayors know what’s going on in their communities. Businesses know how to get a good return on investment. So it seems like a natural fit to have them work together on innovative ways to finance clean energy, strengthen resilience to climate impacts, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To promote that collaboration, C2ES and The U.S. Conference of Mayors formed the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, which held its first public forum during Climate Week NYC.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, past president of the conference, told the gathering that cities are where the work is getting done when it comes to addressing climate change. “Nations talk about energy efficiency and climate action, but mayors are doing it every day,” she said.

At the same time, she noted, mayors need tools to get the job done. “We have to do more with less resources. We’re all in this together.”

That’s where business comes into the picture.

Josh Sawislak, global director of resilience for AECOM, a global engineering, consulting and project management company, said businesses want to get involved in building resilience, and they can do more on the local level.

He noted, however, that there needs to be a sound business case for clean energy investments, and for small businesses, the return on investment needs to be immediate.

“Climate change is costing us money. Not investing in these things is costing us money. We’re not doing the math right,” he said.

Some cities are already taking an innovative approach to bridging the gap between the two interests.

Santa Fe, NM, Mayor Javier Gonzales, the alliance’s chairman, explained how his city’s new Verde Fund taps into community needs and business expertise to help low-income residents access clean energy. “More well-to-do people can navigate complicated systems to get rooftop solar on your house,” he said. “The Verde Fund helps disadvantaged residents do the same.”

When low-income residents can save money on their electricity bills by going solar, he said, they have more money to spend on food, clothing and other essentials. The jobs created by these projects benefit the community as well.

Elizabeth, NJ, Mayor Chris Bollwage, whose city’s vulnerability to climate impacts was exposed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, said some visionary leadership is also needed to imagine today what will be needed tomorrow.

“When we built Elizabeth’s midtown parking garage, we put in five spaces for electric vehicle charging,” he said. “No one used them the first two years, but now three cars are charging there every day.”

In New York City, officials are being proactive in other ways, like working through the city’s OneNYC plan to reduce energy use in buildings, the source of 70 percent of the city’s emissions. Daniel Zarelli, Mayor Bill de Blasio's senior director of climate and sustainability policies and chief resilience officer, said the city’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 30 percent by 2025 and to retrofit one million buildings so they’re energy efficient.

All the panelists agreed that federal, state, and local policy must become aligned to move in the right direction. One way to do that is by citizens letting both their government and business leaders knowing that they value sustainability.

Cities and businesses join to build resilience

How does a city become resilient? With more communities facing climate impacts, including more severe storms, heat waves, and sea level rise, it’s a question many city planners are struggling with. And it’s a question best answered through collaborative efforts.

To move its resilience planning forward, the City of Providence brought together state officials, city departments, local businesses, universities, hospitals, utilities, and others for a two-day workshop facilitated by C2ES. At the workshop, AECOM and IBM led city and community officials through the Disaster Response Scorecard where participants discussed the risks they face, strategies in place or needed to lessen those risks, and how they can respond now and in the future to minimize loss of life and damage to critical infrastructure.

Providence has already seen rising sea levels and increased flooding. In Rhode Island, sea level could rise as much as 2 feet by 2050 and 7 feet by 2100. The Third National Climate Assessment says the region will experience heat waves, more heavy downpours, and more coastal flooding.

With its extensive waterfront, Providence is on the frontlines of climate change. As Mayor Jorge Elorza told the Providence Journal, “We simply can’t afford to kick the can down the road. By planning ahead we can make wiser investments … to minimize our risk and enhance resilience.”

Cities like Providence are one of many working to strengthen their resilience to climate change now, rather than waiting for a disaster to occur. C2ES held a similar exercise with the City of Anchorage, and will soon hold resilience workshops with Kansas City, MO, Miami Beach, FL, and Phoenix, AZ.

Cities across the U.S. are looking to change how they prepare for and respond to extreme weather and climate change impacts. Strategies to improve resilience include:

  • Working with community leaders. Cities are working together with diverse community groups to raise citizens’ awareness of climate change and extreme weather. For example, Providence recently held a workshop with faith-based organizations on hurricane preparedness.  
  • Partnering to pool resources. The adage “There’s strength in numbers” holds true. Through memorandums of understanding, cities are partnering with their local businesses and non-profits to prepare for and respond to extreme weather. Some businesses are funding collaborative resilience efforts. PG&E will award $1 million  to local governments in their utility territory that propose resilient solutions, focused on disadvantaged communities, that others can replicate.
  • Visualizing and combining information and data. Mapping of climate change risks can help people understand vulnerabilities. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has mapped sea level rise, storm surge, and other risks to coastal communities in the state.
  • Developing innovative solutions. The City of Hoboken, N.J., which experienced devastating flooding during Hurricane Sandy, is partnering with BASF to build a park and parking garage that can double as floodwater storage. Once finished, it could hold at least 1 million gallons of excess water.

Innovative solutions like these could help communities improve their resilience to climate change and extreme weather events, and C2ES will continue to share new approaches and best practices

Cities flex their muscles to improve existing commercial buildings

With up to 70 percent of total global emissions originating within the boundaries of cities, local governments are at the center of the fight against climate change.

One area where local governments are stepping up to meet this challenge is the building sector, which offers a variety of opportunities to reduce energy demand. Local governments have long sought to improve energy performance among new buildings, however, new buildings aren’t replacing older ones at a fast enough rate to put a noticeable dent in commercial building energy use. In response, cities are working to improve the performance of the existing commercial building stock.

The new C2ES brief, Local Climate Action: Cities Tackle Emissions of Commercial Buildings, explores four commercial building policy strategies that leading cities are adopting: energy use benchmarking and disclosure mandates, retro-commissioning, retrofitting, and requirements for building upgrades to meet current codes. The brief offers examples of how these policies are developed, structured, and implemented. We looked at several examples in an earlier blog post.

These policies are showing promise for reducing emissions in cities that adopt them. For example, New York City is pursuing a suite of building actions, including a local law that requires buildings greater than 50,000 square feet to ensure all lighting systems meet current city standards in common areas and non-residential tenant spaces greater than 10,000 square feet by 2025. Those non-residential spaces must also be sub-metered, and energy use disclosed to tenants. The city intends to extend the policy to include buildings between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet. The move is expected to reduce annual emissions by about 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2e) and cut energy costs by $35 million annually.

As we reviewed these four policy categories, two conclusions became clear:

  1. Although policies like New York’s retrofitting requirement are not common in U.S. cities, replicating them broadly could provide widespread co-benefits in our communities and possibly contribute measurable greenhouse gas reductions at the national level.
  2. A larger energy transformation is needed to achieve the aggressive community emissions targets cities have set, and that won't happen without stronger collaboration.

While a number of federal programs provide cities with technical assistance and funding, additional support could be provided by U.S. states and businesses in the form of complementary programs, private investment, and active engagement in policy development. We’ve already seen more of this kind of collaboration through initiatives like the City Energy Project. The increasing number of businesses publicly committing to climate goals indicates there are many more opportunities.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan requires states to meaningfully reduce emissions from the power sector. Properly designed, state implementation plans for the Clean Power Plan could incentivize utilities and commercial building operators to improve the performance of the building stock.

If the actions of New York City, Seattle, and others are any indication, local governments have the potential to enact policies that foster climate action. These key players must continue taking bold actions to help create a policy environment across the country that promotes high-performing buildings, no matter when they were built. 

Models tell us Clean Power Plan will cut emissions at low cost

In the year since the Clean Power Plan was finalized, natural gas prices have dropped and federal tax incentives for renewables have been extended. Both developments make it cheaper to generate lower- emitting electricity.

C2ES compared five economic modeling studies released this spring and summer to get an updated look at the Clean Power Plan’s expected impact on carbon emissions, the U.S. power mix, and electricity prices. Each study included several scenarios and made slightly different assumptions, so we focused on observations found in multiple studies. Three key findings were:

1. The Clean Power Plan reduces total power sector emissions compared to business-as-usual scenarios in every study.

Market forces alone, such as lower costs for renewables and natural gas-fired generation, do not achieve the same reductions, even with federal tax credit extensions for wind and solar. On average, the scenarios project total emissions in 2030 will be 18 percent lower with the Clean Power Plan than what they’d be in a business-as-usual scenario.

2. Renewable energy increases and coal decreases compared to business-as-usual generation levels across all five studies.

In each study, power sector emissions decline under the Clean Power Plan because of changes in the electricity generation mix. The models are clear that the Clean Power Plan will cause an increase in renewables and a decrease in coal. The models are less clear on the impact the rule will have on natural gas and nuclear generation, though they suggest that these technologies will benefit from Clean Power Plan implementation. In all studies, the diversity of power generation is maintained.

3. The Clean Power Plan will have minimal impact on U.S. national average retail electricity rates.

Two of the five studies examined the plan’s likely impact on rates. In most scenarios, rate changes range from a 2 percent decrease to a 5 percent increase, depending on how the Clean Power Plan is implemented in each state. A 5 percent increase translates to $4.65 per month, or about 15 cents a day, for the average household.

The chart shows the projected CO2 emissions in 2030 from the studies we examined for three scenarios: business as usual (BAU), mass-based Clean Power Plan implementation, and rate-based Clean Power Plan implementation. One studied modeled a mixed, or “patchwork” implementation scenario. The five studies are:  MJ Bradley & Associates (MJB)U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC)Center for Strategic and International Studies partnering with Rhodium Group (CSIS/Rhg), and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University.

Another key finding is that cumulative carbon dioxide emissions are very similar under rate-based and mass-based compliance plans (See Figure 1). In other words, the choice of implementation approach doesn’t seem to affect the overall reductions — at least, not when every state makes the same choice.

The Clean Power Plan gives each state an emissions target and leaves it up to the state to determine the best path forward. This gives states maximum choice, even though it could lead to fewer reductions than a comprehensive national approach.

Many states are weighing whether to use a mass-based approach, similar to what California and the nine Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative use that limits the total amount of carbon emissions, or a rate-based approach that limits emissions per unit of electricity produced.

What’s clear from the models is that if states choose to go different directions, a patchwork of mass- and rate-based implementation, emissions are likely higher than if they all choose a similar path.

From these studies, we can be confident the Clean Power Plan will reduce power sector emissions compared with business as usual. Now it’s up to states to choose how they will implement the plan to best serve the needs of consumers and reduce the emissions that are causing damaging and costly climate impacts to our communities.