Climate Compass Blog

Brazil Green Fair demonstrates how climate solutions can be scaled

Photo by Amy Morsch

A volunteer from Escola University uses a model home to demonstrate energy-saving tactics at the first Brazilian Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas.

Seeing is believing, even if it’s a meticulously built model used to illustrate action in real life.

Take the model home Escola University volunteers displayed at a recent Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas, Brazil. From top to bottom, it demonstrated energy-saving actions in every nook to help visitors see how each small change can save kilowatts -- and money.

Communities can use the same concept to illustrate and communicate what actions will help save energy and reduce climate impacts.

The way we talk about climate and energy issues can either empower people to act or leave them overwhelmed. People won’t necessarily be moved to act just because they know about the challenges. More often, they will be moved because they feel a collective responsibility for a shared problem and understand how they can make a positive impact.

Through the Alcoa Green Fairs, C2ES and the Alcoa Foundation work to drive action on climate and energy issues in a positive and engaging way. Now, Alcoa and C2ES have pushed this successful U.S. program to the international stage. The first-ever fair in Brazil in August attracted 17 organizations and more than 750 people to Alcoa’s Poços de Caldas plant, about four hours north of the capital Sao Paulo, to see demonstrations, learn about resources, and discover new ways to be eco-friendly.

Events like the Alcoa Green Fairs highlight how organizations are stepping up to reduce their impacts, both collectively and one employee at a time. This leadership was evident when Alcoa plant managers, employee champions, the Alcoa Foundation, C2ES, and Sustainable Poços Association (APS) gathered at an early-morning roundtable discussion before the fair.

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Native trees given to all fairgoers at the first Brazilian Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas.

The roundtable showcased programs and solutions that are inspiring people to cut their carbon footprints, save money, and improve the environment. For example, APS is leading Poços citizens to participate in worldwide environmental days, recycle waste, go car-free on some days to lower community carbon emissions, and conserve water.

Brazilians clearly care about climate change. A Pew Research poll this year found that 75 percent say they are very concerned about it. And it’s encouraging to see this awareness extending to personal action. To further encourage eco-friendly action, Alcoa gave everyone at the recent Green Fair native trees to plant. Each will capture about 220 pounds of carbon per year.

These organizations and individuals are building successful solutions at the scale that impacts them the most. Their efforts illustrate the kinds of actions we can all take to reduce energy use and carbon emissions – at home, in the workplace, or in our communities.


What would a "legal" agreement in Paris look like?

There is broad acceptance that the new international climate pact due this December in Paris will be a legal agreement. But governments have yet to agree on precisely which elements will be legally binding, an issue that directly affects whether and how the United States and other key countries will become parties.

The Paris negotiations are taking place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The outcome will likely be a package containing a mix of legal and political outcomes housed in a variety of instruments: the core agreement, related decisions of the Conference of the Parties (COP), and parties’ intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

Under the 2011 Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which launched the negotiations, the Paris conference, known as COP 21, is to produce a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”

In a recent C2ES policy brief, two prominent international legal scholars, Dan Bodansky of the University of Arizona and Lavanya Rajamani of the Center for Policy Research in Delhi, conclude that the Durban mandate arguably requires a treaty within the meaning of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.  They also note that what the agreement is called – protocol, accord, etc. – is legally irrelevant, and that a legal agreement can contain both binding and non-binding provisions.

Precisely which provisions should be binding was a major topic of discussion in C2ES’s Toward 2015 Dialogue, which brought together senior negotiators from 24 countries to examine options for a Paris agreement.

The final report from the dialogue co-chairs says the agreement should include binding procedural commitments for parties to: inscribe and maintain nationally determined contributions (NDCs), report on progress in implementing their NDCs, and participate in procedures holding them accountable. 

There remain sharp differences, however, over whether parties should be legally obligated to implement or achieve their NDCs.  Some believe this would provide greater confidence that the targets will be met, while others believe other parties would lower their ambition if held to a legally binding target, or be unable to accept the Paris agreement altogether. The co-chairs’ report notes that the strength of the agreement will rest ultimately on the transparency and accountability it provides and on parties’ political will to implement it.

Whether NDCs are binding will be one important factor in determining whether and how the United States joins the Paris agreement.

In contrast to countries which provide only a single procedure for entering into international agreements, U.S. law and practice recognizes several routes:

  • the best known, involving the advice and consent by two-thirds of the Senate pursuant to Article II of the Constitution;
  • requiring approval by both houses of Congress;
  • or by the president acting alone on his statutory, treaty, or constitutional authority.

According to a C2ES legal analysis by Dan Bodansky, the president would be on relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC.  On the other hand, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits, this would weigh in favor of seeking Senate or congressional approval.

With only one more negotiating session between now and December, parties are pressed for time, and the legal issues may be among the toughest to resolve.

In the end, we need an agreement that delivers both broad participation and strong ambition. This will likely require a finessed approach that provides enough legal rigor to ensure a degree of accountability but not so much that key countries choose not to join.


Are businesses prepared for climate impacts?

Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on communities and companies alike. While some businesses are taking steps to assess and address climate risks, many face internal and external challenges to building climate resilience.

In a new report, Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resiliencereleased at Climate Week NYC, C2ES examined how major global companies are preparing for climate risks, and what is keeping them from doing more.

C2ES reviewed public disclosures of S&P Global 100 companies, conducted in-depth interviews, and held workshops with business leaders, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Key findings include:

Major companies recognize and report climate risks.

We found 91 of the world’s largest 100 companies see extreme weather and other climate impacts as business risks. Business leaders see climate risks firsthand – in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.

Most (84 companies) discussed climate risk concerns in CDP questionnaires. Fewer companies did so in their sustainability reports (47) or financial filings (40).

More companies are assessing their vulnerabilities.

The vast majority of companies rely on existing risk management or business continuity planning to address climate risks.

Many see climate change as a “threat magnifier” that exacerbates risks they already know and understand. This lens puts climate change into a familiar business context, but companies could overlook or underestimate the threats they face.

There is no one “right” approach to manage climate risks.

After talking to dozens of major companies, we saw approaches falling into two main categories.

Some companies broadly examine climate risks across their entire enterprise. Diageo, a global beverage company, conducts an annual companywide evaluation of potential climate risks in over 30 countries where they have production and distribution facilities.

Others take a more narrowly focused approach, looking at specific facilities, regions, or threats, like impacts on water supply. Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining operations, focused on its high-risk facilities in Brazil and South Africa.

For companies looking to examine climate risks, it may help to start small with a limited-scope vulnerability assessment. This can build internal awareness of the issues and support a broader assessment.

Although some companies are taking action, they also face obstacles.

A wealth of climate data is available, but companies struggle to connect the dots between global or national data and business decisions focused on a narrower geographic area. There’s also a disconnect between longer-term climate impacts and the shorter-term horizon of investment decisions.

Business leaders told us they need “actionable science” to translate data into risk scenarios.

Companies and communities can work together to build resilience.

A lot of risks are outside a company’s control, like climate impacts on infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water and electricity systems.

Cities play a key role in designing and maintaining critical infrastructure. Many cities have started examining their climate risks and developing adaptation plans, sometimes in partnership with universities and nonprofits.

It’s less common for cities and companies to partner on resilience. That’s a missed opportunity.

Cities often have user-friendly, locally specific data and models that could give companies a head start in considering their own risks. For example, New York City has a Panel on Climate Change to develop city-level information about climate variables to use in planning.

Companies often can provide investment for resilience strategies that go beyond risk reduction to also enhance community facilities and improve air or water quality. In Philadelphia, private developers are partnering with city government, schools and neighborhood groups to fund green infrastructure to better handle storm water runoff.

More of these kinds of partnerships – to analyze data, evaluate climate risks, do cost-benefit studies, and implement resilience planning – will strengthen both companies and communities.

How states can best promote clean power

The federal Clean Power Plan gives each state the flexibility to use its own ideas on how best to reduce greenhouse gases from the power sector. One proven, cost-effective approach is to use market forces to drive innovation and efficiency.

It worked before to curb acid rain. It’s working now in California and the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. And it can work again with the Clean Power Plan.

The options available to states go beyond creating or joining a cap-and-trade program or instituting a carbon tax. Pieces can be put in place, such as common definitions, measurement and verification processes, so that states or companies could be in a position to trade within their state or across borders. Modest programs that allow companies to trade carbon credits could be explored.

In an op-ed published in The Hill, Anthony Earley, CEO of California energy company PG&E, and C2ES President Bob Perciasepe urge states to give these options serious thought.


Read The Hill op-ed.

Record-setting temperatures and a strengthening El Nino

July 2015 was a month like no other.

The three agencies with the most extensive global temperature records dating back more than 100 years, NOAA, NASA, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), all recently published data indicating July 2015 was not only the warmest July on record, but the warmest month ever recorded.

Source: NOAA

How warm was it?

According to NOAA, July 2015 was 0.81°C (1.46°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F).

This may not sound like much, but July is only one in a string of recent months that have been warmer than usual. The average global temperature for February, March, May, and June all broke their respective records. January was the second warmest January on record, April the third warmest.