Climate Compass Blog

US-China climate goals go well beyond business as usual

The climate targets announced this month by the United States and China will require a significant effort beyond a business-as-usual scenario for both countries. More details will likely follow in the weeks and months ahead, but here is what we know so far for each country.

China

China announced a goal for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030 or sooner. This marks the first time that China has pledged a peak or absolute target for greenhouse gas emissions, rather than an intensity-based target. In business-as-usual scenarios, China’s emissions wouldn’t peak until 2040 or later.

China also announced it would boost its share of zero-carbon energy, which includes nuclear, hydropower and renewables, to 20 percent – up from about 13 percent today. Meeting that goal will require a substantial build-out of nuclear power stations, hydroelectric stations, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as transmission and other infrastructure. In a separate announcement, China said it plans to cap its coal consumption by the year 2020.

China can’t, as critics claim, sit idly by for 15 years and reach these targets. It will need to significantly restructure its energy system. China will have to add more than 1 GW of zero-carbon power a week for the next 15 years – an amount roughly equal to the entire installed electricity capacity of the United States.

United States

The United States announced a goal of reducing its emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This will require the successful implementation of several announced proposals as well as significant additional measures that have not yet been formally offered.


Requirements for the U.S. to meet its post-2020 emissions goal. Source: C2ES analysis.


In 2012, U.S. emissions were already 10 percent below 2005 levels. But under a business-as-usual scenario, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are projected to rise, leaving U.S. emissions just 2.5 percent below 2005 levels in 2025.

EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, if implemented in its current form, will likely reduce emissions in 2025 by at least 491 Mt, or about 7 percent of the 26-28 percent reduction targeted. This is based on achieving a 30 percent reduction of power sector emissions from 2005 levels by 2025.

Additionally, programs to reduce HFCs, methane, and other actions announced in June 2013 as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan could achieve a further 4.5 percent reduction.

This would leave a gap of around 880 Mt, or 12 percent of the target. Some of this gap could be made up by more stringent vehicle standards for heavy-duty trucks, increased regulations to reduce HFCs and methane, as well as stronger efficiency standards for equipment, appliances, buildings and industrial sources.

U.S. emissions could fall further if the Clean Power Plan or other mechanisms drive stronger substitution of natural gas for coal, more use of renewable energy and nuclear, and/or higher levels of energy efficiency. Greater use of biofuels and policies that promote the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles could also lower emissions.

The announced targets are China’s and the United States’ intended contributions to an international climate agreement to be negotiated in late 2015 in Paris. The fact that the two largest emitters have proposed targets that require significant ambition beyond business-as-usual, well ahead of the Paris meeting, makes us optimistic that other large emitters will be encouraged to make meaningful contributions as well.

Climate Resilience Toolkit is important resource

Anyone who needs to plan for future risks -- whether a city manager, a state official, or a business leader -- needs good information that’s easy to find and easy to use. The federal government took an important step to help managers plan for the impacts of climate change with the release this month of the Climate Resilience Toolkit.

This new online portal offers a wide range of resources and interactives that consolidate some of the “greatest hits” from federal climate data sets, guidance for resilience planning, and examples of resilience projects.

The toolkit is likely to be especially helpful for communities and businesses in the early stages of resilience planning, or for individuals who want to know more about managing climate risks. I took a spin through the toolkit’s resources and here’s my take on some of its components.

Process

The toolkit promotes a five-step process for building resilience: Identify the Problem, Determine Vulnerabilities, Investigate Options, Evaluate Risks and Costs, and Take Action.


The Climate Resilience Toolkit’s five-step process for building resilience.

 

What Works:The simple, linear process for addressing resilience demystifies tackling climate risks and builds on the actual experiences of practitioners. The five steps are quite similar to the steps C2ES found leading businesses are taking, and are almost a CliffsNotes version of more rigorous “how-to” guides for thinking about climate impacts.

What Needs Work: The process description, while valid, is insufficient for a user who might be farther down the road in resilience planning. For example, under Determine Vulnerabilities, only two sentences are offered to address “Dealing with Uncertainty.”

3 reasons to light the holiday season with LEDs

Image courtesy youngthousands, Flickr.

On a dark winter night, twinkling holiday lights lift our spirits. Over the centuries we have gone from decorating trees with candles (not the best idea) to using electric-powered lights, which were first draped around a tree in 1882 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison.

Today, thanks to three Japanese scientists who recently won the Nobel Prize for their development of a blue light-emitting diode (LED), we can move beyond Edison and choose an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly light source, the LED bulb. Although they’ve been on the market for some time, LED lights are now coming down in price, making them an even more attractive option for everyday and holiday lighting.

When decorating this season, keep in mind these three reasons why LEDs are a better way to brighten your holidays.

  1. LEDs are a better choice for your pocketbook. With continued advances in LED technology (especially around heat regulation) by producers like GE and  CREE, the cost of home LED bulbs is now nearing the price of compact fluorescent lights. Since lighting is responsible for 14 percent of a home’s electricity use, more efficient bulbs can reduce home energy bills. If you’re wondering how much you could save by making the switch, check out the CREE LED calculator. When it comes to holiday decorating, LEDs will lead to significant savings over the years. For example, lighting the tree with incandescent lights will cost you around $122 over 10 seasons (including replacement strands), compared to just $33 for a tree adorned with LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if all decorative strands purchased this year were ENERGY STAR rated, Americans would save $45 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 630 million pounds annually.

How we engaged employees, strengthened community ties, and made the world a little greener

Nearly 2,000 Alcoa employees, their families, and members of their communities learned how to save energy, save money, and help the environment at green fairs over the past three months.

These fairs, organized by the C2ES Make an Impact program in partnership with Alcoa and the Alcoa Foundation, are an example of an evolving approach to corporate social responsibility and employee engagement.

Building awareness of environmental challenges is important, but it isn’t enough. A new approach, bringing together several engagement strategies, aims to build a work force that is both knowledgeable and active in local organizations. The goal is to create stronger relationships among a company, its employees, and community stakeholders, a win-win-win.

Employees, community members and even two mayors came to Alcoa Green Fairs to meet with local businesses and groups providing sustainability solutions. The events took place on weekends or during work breaks in Fullerton and Torrance, Calif.; Hampton, Va.; and Warrick, Ind. Participants could ask questions and get tips about recycling, saving energy and water, and making choices to promote sustainability.

Hands-on activities made it fun. For example, at each fair, we challenged people to see how much physical energy is needed to turn a hand crank (pictured at left) and produce enough power to light an old-fashioned incandescent bulb compared with a modern, efficient compact fluorescent bulb, which requires 75 percent less energy.

The team from Virginia Naturally challenged Hampton fair-goers to guess how long it takes for different types of litter to decompose, driving home the importance of recycling. California employees answered trivia questions from Heal the Bay about storm water management and water conservation.

The fairs informed employees and strengthened Alcoa’s connections to its local communities. More than 50 organizations participated, paving the way for future partnerships and employee volunteer opportunities that will improve the sustainability of each community.

Understanding climate change, even if you're not a scientist

A catchphrase has cropped up in discussions about climate change: “I’m not a scientist…”

You hear it from some elected leaders opposed to taking action to reduce climate risks. It’s usually followed by an argument that climate science is too hard to understand or there’s not enough information that climate change is a serious problem.

With this in mind, we’ve revamped our Science and Impacts webpages to ensure we’re providing understandable, up-to-date climate science information so that anyone can connect the choices we make in producing and consuming energy to the risks of climate impacts.