Climate Compass Blog

We can build on innovative power sector policies

This week's National Journal Energy Insiders discussion posed the question, "Should the United States adopt the ambitious renewable-energy and climate-change policies that California is pursuing?"

My response is that while Congress has been inactive on climate change, California and other states have been leading the way in encouraging low-carbon energy sources. Now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving ahead to develop proposals to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants, these innovative state-level policies have the potential to be strengthened and expanded.

Climate change is a business risk

We used to talk mostly about mitigation – using policy, technology and other actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. But increasingly we also have started talking about resilience – making sure our public and private infrastructure can withstand the changes in the climate that we can’t avoid.

That’s because climate change is no longer a far-in-the-future possibility; it’s a right-now reality. Sea level is rising and global temperatures are higher. Climate scientists tell us to expect more frequent and intense heat waves, more severe droughts in some regions, more expansive wildfires, and more intense downpours.

Many of these changes can exacerbate the types of extreme weather that can cause costly impacts. So all of us -- individuals, communities, governments and businesses -- need to figure out how to deal with the impacts we’re already experiencing, and the ones to come.

After releasing our report, Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change, we have been talking about resilience at several forums, including Climate Week NYC and most recently at the annual conference of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD).

Efforts to limit aviation emissions advance at ICAO

The United Nations’ body that oversees civil aviation has reached an important milestone in international efforts to craft effective and equitable solutions to climate change from this fast-growing sector. And this success last week in Montreal should send a hopeful signal to other UN organizations as they grapple with the challenges of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

At the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments endorsed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at achieving an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020. The October 4 accord brings together a number of measures being developed by ICAO, including: a certification requirement for a global CO2 efficiency standard for aircraft; support for an updated, more efficient air traffic control regime; continued development of sustainable biofuels; and updating national action plans laying out country strategies to reduce emissions.

Proud of what we've done, but there's still more to accomplish

When I founded a new nonprofit organization 15 years ago, the United States and the world urgently needed practical solutions to our energy and climate challenges. That need has only grown more urgent.

Earlier today, I announced my plans to step aside as the President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) once my successor is on board. As I look back, I find we have come a long way. That said, any honest assessment of our progress to date in addressing one of this century’s paramount challenges must conclude that we have much, much further to go.

When our organization, then named the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, first launched in 1998, 63 percent of the world’s electricity generation came from fossil fuels. Incredibly, that number is even higher today – 67 percent. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, is also higher than it was then – in fact, at its highest level in more than 2 million years.

Scientists around the globe have just reaffirmed with greater certainty than ever that human activity is warming the planet and threatening to irreversibly alter our climate. Climate change is no longer a future possibility. It is a here-and-now reality. It’s leading to more frequent and intense heat waves, higher sea levels, and more severe droughts, wildfires, and downpours.

We at C2ES have believed from the start that the most effective, efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur the innovation needed to achieve a low-carbon economy is to put a price on carbon. It’s a path that a growing number of countries, states, and even cities are taking.

The new coal plant standard

With all the fuss around the EPA’s proposed carbon dioxide standard for new power plants, you would be forgiven for missing the following line: “EPA projects that this proposed rule will result in negligible CO2 emission changes, quantified benefits, and costs by 2022.” That’s right, the standard will likely have little to no effect before the date by which EPA will be required by law to revise it.

Why? As I recently told the National Journal, because the most credible projections have natural gas so inexpensive for the next several years that very few power companies are planning to build new coal plants – compared with the 150 natural gas power plants in the works. Pulling the proposed standard wouldn’t change that reality. In fact, the one coal plant being built today includes carbon capture and storage (CCS), and is expected to meet the tough carbon standard EPA has proposed. A handful of additional coal plants with CCS may move forward in the next several years, as well.

So what’s all the fuss about?