Climate Compass Blog
When the vast majority of Americans turn on the lights, the electricity is coming from a centralized, fossil fuel power plant.
However, there is a big change on the horizon that will alter that - distributed (also called decentralized) generation. This is when power is produced much closer to where it is used, such as with rooftop solar panels or natural gas-fired combined heat and power systems, including fuel cells and microturbines.
Currently, less than 7 percent of U.S. electricity is generated outside a centrally located power plant. Expanding distributed generation will bring exciting opportunities to increase efficiency, improve our resilience to extreme weather, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will also bring challenges for our existing grid on which we must continue to depend.
These opportunities and challenges were the focus of a discussion I participated in this week at the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy annual conference with WADE Executive Director David Sweet, Duke Energy Chairman James Rogers, and PSEG President Ralph LaRossa.
In response to a National Journal question about the efficacy of U.N. global climate talks, I noted that while it is a mistake to put too much faith in the U.N. climate process, it would be a bigger mistake to write it off. Climate change is a global challenge that requires action on multiple fronts. For all its many flaws, no other forum brings together all nations across the full breadth of climate-related issues. And the current round of talks may well deliver genuine progress.
By its nature, the U.N. climate process is inherently neither “top down” nor “bottom up.” The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) contains elements of both. With the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, parties did begin pursuing a more top-down approach. But more recently, the UNFCCC has evolved in a very different direction.
Although few in Washington have paid close attention, agreements reached since the Copenhagen debacle have established a more bottom-up framework that for now exists in parallel with Kyoto. Within this framework, more than 90 countries, including the United States, China and every other major economy, have pledged voluntary emissions goals for 2020. Parties also have created mechanisms to more closely monitor one another’s efforts.
Of all the risks businesses face, the ones they can’t control, such as increasingly frequent and intense bouts of extreme weather, can seem the most formidable. Businesses confronting the growing threat of devastating storms and other climate impacts will need to become more resilient to avoid the most serious damage, even if they do have to close their doors for some time.
In a C2ES business resilience webinar shortly after the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Jay Bruns, vice president for public policy at The Hartford, discussed how his company evaluates climate risks and how it encourages and helps its customers to prepare.
The insurance industry regards severe weather as a serious and growing risk. From 1992-2011, weather-related losses across the United States accounted for more than 85 percent of catastrophic insurance losses, those with claims totaling more than $25 million. Those totals don’t include losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Last year, the most costly weather-related disaster worldwide was Hurricane Sandy, with an estimated $65 billion in damage.
Earlier this year, The Hartford surveyed more than 450 small businesses in areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut hit by Hurricane Sandy to find out what challenges they faced and what lessons they learned.
In the year since California launched the nation’s largest greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, the state has proven that climate change action can be led by states and can even spread across national borders.
Under a cap-and-trade system, companies must hold enough emission allowances to cover their emissions, and are free to buy and sell allowances on the open market. Since California held its first auction of carbon allowance credits on Nov. 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has auctioned roughly 64.4 million allowances valued at $780 million. Through the smooth operation of its auctions and sales of 100 percent of 2013 allowances to date, California has demonstrated its capacity to successfully administer a cap-and-trade program.
California does not have the first emissions trading program in the United States, although it’s certainly the most ambitious. The multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was the pioneer, but California’s cap-and-trade program is more substantial due both to the size of state’s economy and the number of sectors covered. By 2015, California’s program will expand to be about twice as large as RGGI.
Negotiations toward a new global climate agreement reach a mid-point next month in Warsaw. And while countries have begun putting forward some concrete ideas about the kind of pact they want, the more immediate question is the process they’ll use to get to a final agreement in Paris in 2015. They’re planning an important game of show-and-tell between now and then, and need to agree on the terms.
The current round of talks was kicked off two years in Durban, South Africa, when parties set a 2015 deadline for a new agreement that will have “legal force” and be “applicable to all.”
Heading into November’s COP 19 – the 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – very sharp divides remain, particularly over perennial issues such as the differentiation of commitments between developed and developing countries.
But as I describe in a recent article in Nature, there is growing convergence among many parties on a new approach with both “top-down” and “bottom-up” elements. In this emerging model, countries would define their own individual commitments, and agree on a common set of rules to compare them and track their implementation.