Climate Compass Blog

Practical Energy Solutions

The White House Jobs Council recently released its year-end report outlining a plan to strengthen the United States’ economic future. While the tax and regulatory reform proposals are bound to cause disagreements, the Council developed pragmatic recommendations regarding energy’s role in improving the economy. The report recognizes the state of politics and low-carbon energy deployment, while highlighting the economic opportunities—including energy savings, leading emerging technology markets, and enhanced energy security—made possible by transitioning to a low-carbon economy. The Council’s energy recommendations include:

The Role of Constraints in Low-Carbon Innovation

Climate change is the global innovation challenge of our time.  That was the theme of a Green Innovators in Business Network “Solutions Lab” in Cambridge, MA, last month co-hosted by C2ES, EDF, Innocentive, and others.  Dr. Andrew Hargadon, a leading expert in technology management and author of “The Business of Innovating,” articulated for participants the enormous scale of innovation needed to achieve a clean energy economy.  “Low-carbon innovation” is about dealing with new problems—carbon emissions, skyrocketing energy costs—that emerge from traditional solutions for making our economy work, such as for transporting goods or lighting our buildings.  Transforming energy-consuming activities to emit less carbon requires that we deploy new technologies that will work with conventional behaviors, and develop entirely new behaviors. 

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

Yesterday, EPA announced the public release of reported greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large facilities across the country. Under legislation signed by President George W. Bush, most large sources of GHG emissions, including refineries, power plants, chemical plants, car manufacturers, and factories emitting more than 25,000 tons of CO2 equivalent a year, have been reporting their annual emissions electronically to EPA since 2010, while small sources are specifically exempted from the rule. Now, in accordance with the law, EPA is making that data public.

Some similar information was public already. Power plants have been required to report their CO2 emissions since the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, while many other companies have voluntarily reported their emissions through programs like the Carbon Disclosure Project

Extreme Weather in 2011

For the second year in a row, unprecedented numbers of extreme weather events have occurred across the globe. However, more of 2011’s impacts occurred in the United States. From the drought in Texas to the floods in the Midwest and Northeast, this past year underscored the huge economic costs associated with extreme weather.  While specific weather events are not solely caused by climate change, the risks of droughts, floods, extreme precipitation events, and heat waves are already climbing as a result of climate change. This year reminded us of our vulnerability to those events.

Evaluating Durban

This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.

Was the Durban climate conference a success or failure?  As always, the answer depends on one’s frame of reference.

As compared to the expectations going in, the outcome was more than I think most people thought possible. In a pre-Durban paper entitled “W[h]ither the Kyoto Protocol,” I identified three scenarios: (1) business-as-usual, with modest progress in developing the Copenhagen/Cancun framework and no political breakthroughs; (2) agreement to a “political” (not legally-binding) second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; and (3) agreement to a Kyoto Protocol amendment establishing a second commitment period, combined with a mandate for a new negotiating process to develop a legally-binding agreement addressing the emissions of the other major economies.  Many thought that (1) was the default option, (2) represented the best-case scenario, and (3) was politically unrealistic.  But the Durban outcome is in fact closest to (3):

  • It wrapped up much of the remaining work to elaborate the Copenhagen/Cancun process, by adopting the governing instrument of the new Green Climate Fund and transparency rules for both developed and developing countries' pledges.
  • It agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol by another 5-8 years.  Although the emissions targets for Kyoto’s second commitment period still need to be worked out, and the formal amendment won’t be adopted until next year, the basic political decision to extend the Protocol was made in Durban.
  • It agreed to launch a new negotiating process to develop a “protocol, another legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force,” addressing the post-2020 period  and “applicable to all Parties.”