Friday, November 27, 2015

Business calls for carbon pricing and climate action ahead of Paris summit

The big annual climate negotiations start in Paris next week (COP21), and the stakes are high. We're overdue on initiating strong, international climate policy, and now we have to play catch up.

There are many strong statements of support, all of which should give negotiators cover in creating an ambitious deal.  Here are a few recent statements:

What's less clear is even with all of these statement of support from companies, how effectively they are supporting the political process to put a price on carbon. There is still a lot of false rhetoric about how a price on carbon will hurt the economy, despite the evidence to contrary; and those making such claims often claim to represent the 'business sector'.  In addition to important statements like these, we need to see more companies advancing their enlightened self-interest in the political arena by actively and aggressively lobbying for a price on carbon.

Stay going.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Political Will

Today the president announced that the Keystone XL pipeline would not be approved. You probably heard about this, it's getting front page coverage on news outlets across the world. This is a big victory in the fight against climate change, even if it is in many ways symbolic.

In reading the president's announcement (below) I was just struck by how far we've come in the past 10 years in terms of finally starting to wake up on this issue. We could barely dream of a president making this kind of speech 10 years ago.

And while talk is cheap, and we still haven't started implementing nearly the kind of action we need to (and should have been for the past 25 years) -- this is real progress. Once the political will is there, we can start implementing changes much faster than we typically think, as the president mentions below.  Worth the read:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market.

This morning, Secretary Kerry informed me that, after extensive public outreach and consultation with other Cabinet agencies, the State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision.

This morning, I also had the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. And while he expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward. And in the coming weeks, senior members of my team will be engaging with theirs in order to help deepen that cooperation.

Now, for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.
To illustrate this, let me briefly comment on some of the reasons why the State Department rejected this pipeline.

First: The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy. So if Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it. If they want to do it, what we should be doing is passing a bipartisan infrastructure plan that, in the short term, could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year as the pipeline would, and in the long run would benefit our economy and our workers for decades to come.

Our businesses created 268,000 new jobs last month. They’ve created 13.5 million new jobs over the past 68 straight months -- the longest streak on record. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent. This Congress should pass a serious infrastructure plan, and keep those jobs coming. That would make a difference. The pipeline would not have made a serious impact on those numbers and on the American people’s prospects for the future.

Second: The pipeline would not lower gas prices for American consumers. In fact, gas prices have already been falling -- steadily. The national average gas price is down about 77 cents over a year ago. It’s down a dollar over two years ago. It’s down $1.27 over three years ago. Today, in 41 states, drivers can find at least one gas station selling gas for less than two bucks a gallon. So while our politics have been consumed by a debate over whether or not this pipeline would create jobs and lower gas prices, we’ve gone ahead and created jobs and lowered gas prices.

Third: Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security. What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world. Three years ago, I set a goal to cut our oil imports in half by 2020. Between producing more oil here at home, and using less oil throughout our economy, we met that goal last year -- five years early. In fact, for the first time in two decades, the United States of America now produces more oil than we buy from other countries.

Now, the truth is, the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition -- as we must transition -- to a clean energy economy. That transition will take some time. But it’s also going more quickly than many anticipated. Think about it. Since I took office, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025; tripled the power we generate from the wind; multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy. And thanks in part to the investments we’ve made, there are already parts of America where clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.

The point is the old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers. But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

Today, the United States of America is leading on climate change with our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants that will protect our air so that our kids can breathe. America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. In part because of that American leadership, more than 150 nations representing nearly 90 percent of global emissions have put forward plans to cut pollution.

America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face -- not acting.

Today, we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.

As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world. And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now. Not later. Not someday. Right here, right now. And I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together. I’m optimistic because our own country proves, every day -- one step at a time -- that not only do we have the power to combat this threat, we can do it while creating new jobs, while growing our economy, while saving money, while helping consumers, and most of all, leaving our kids a cleaner, safer planet at the same time.

That’s what our own ingenuity and action can do. That's what we can accomplish. And America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.

Thank you very much.
-- President Barack Obama


Stay going. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

How To Meet The Challenges Of Rapid Urbanization

The following is a guest post by Ray McNeal, Real Estate and Environment Blogger:

The number of people living in cities worldwide is expected to nearly double by the year 2050, increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to more than 6 billion. This rapid growth will surely present challenges, but it will also provide huge opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to develop more connected and efficient cities. In addition to environmental sustainability, well-planned urban areas could mean improved public health, job growth, a reduction in excess spending, and an increased economic appeal for investors.

The issue is that resources – limited land, water, electricity, and transportation – must increase dramatically in order to support population growth, putting serious additional strain on the environment. To ensure success, public sector urban planners and private sector developers are already working to get ahead of some of the challenges that come with supporting a mass migration to cities, finding ways to stretch resources and make more efficient use of limited space.

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a prime example of a forward-thinking initiative created to prepare for expected growth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area as a whole is expected to see significant growth in jobs and housing over the next 25 years, with the majority concentrated within its three central cities – San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. As part of the initiative, officials from each central city meet regularly with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to discuss progress in developing a transportation and housing plan that reduces dependence on cars and makes efficient use of land. MTC Commissioner Mark Luce considers it an historic step forward in serving future generations. Advocates of Plan Bay Area acknowledge that decisions regarding land use are ultimately local, but that the creation of a joint initiative will lead to smarter, more eco-friendly cities able to reach the common goals of each region.

The private sector is also making efforts to be more environmentally responsible in urban development. At the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 fall conference, real estate developer and Tishman Speyer President and co-CEO Rob Speyer addressed the need to look beyond the obvious solution of LEED Certification, focusing instead on how individuals make use of structures within cities. “Buildings don't exist in a vacuum, and the behavior, and the lifestyles of the people that live and work in our buildings? That's what's really going to determine the future of the environment,” said Speyer.

Tishman Speyer is the owner of Rockefeller Center in New York City, and Speyer often cites the structure as an example of a “happy building” – one that makes the best possible use of space in a crowded city. Aside from a green rooftop, it also provides the opportunity for shopping, entertainment, and office space in one central location and cuts down on the need for transportation that can drain the environment.

Multi-city transit systems and buildings designed to serve more than one purpose are two pieces to the solution in supporting rapid urbanization. Developers and urban planners are headed in the right direction, but must continue their focus on developing well-connected and efficient cities.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Green Bronx Machine

Here's an amazing and inspiring video, showing how all that theory about 'win-win-win' sustainability strategies can look in action. Green Bronx Machine:

One Great Idea: Planting Seeds of Social Innovation for 21st Century Leaders and Learners- Stephen Ritz

Stay going.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Power Dialog

See below for an announcement about an exciting new project aimed at getting students civically engaged around the Clean Power Plan, and share with teachers and students who might be interested:

Dear Colleagues,

Over the next two years, students have a unique and critically important learning and civic engagement opportunity.  Student voices can impact the scope and direction of state implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, mandating global warming pollution cuts in the electric power sector.

We are circulating this call to help organize a Power Dialog in March of 2016: hundreds of college, graduate, and high school level classes in states across the country taking field trips to meet with their Department of Environmental Conservation heads to discuss state implementation of the EPA’s new rules.

State agency leaders are already seeing their calendars fill up with meetings with utility executives and coal industry lobbyists. Why not our students?

By 2017, each state is required to come up with a plan to meet the targets set by the EPA. New York, for example, has to cut the emission rate from the power sector by at least 44% by 2030; in Ohio the required target is 28%; in Texas, 38%. These are big numbers. They could be bigger. State level plans can be more ambitious then the EPA requires. Yet the states and EPA are being pressured to relax the targets.

According to Dr. Dallas Burtraw, Senior Researcher at Resources for the Future, the climate policy dialogue has moved “outside the Washington beltway to 50 state capitals where stakeholders have long-term relationships and a long-term stake in the outcome. Citizen input is a critical part of the process-- whether it is technical, or simply provides the decisionmakers with information that the public cares about the issue.”  

Typically, it is the state DEC or DEQ that is the lead agency in drafting these plans. With the action now beyond the partisan wrangling of Washington and the state legislatures, students can gain both a powerful learning opportunity and a real voice in the policy process.

DEC officials will welcome visits from unusual suspects. Hearing the voice of students—young people who will live to see the late 21st century first-hand-- will provide a fresh perspective, focused on the long-term impacts of today’s policy decisions.    

This is not a lobbying effort. We have no collective policy agenda for which we are advocating. Rather it is a learning opportunity for students, and also a chance for students to share their own individual thoughts and policy insights with state officials.

If you are interested in helping organize a class field trip, along with colleagues in your state, to visit your state capitol for a meeting with the relevant state officials, please sign up here. As we move forward with an organizing plan, we will connect you with other interested professors and university staff in your state, and will develop and circulate learning materials to prep your students for the conversation.

The Power Dialog will take place in March 2016, so there is lead-time for planning. The Bard Center for Environmental Policy will be hosting a dial-in conversation on February 18 at noon eastern to brainstorm how to help build a power dialog in your state over the coming year.

Learn more about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan here, or listen to a podcast by RFF’s Burtraw about the EPA’s program and the importance of state level engagement. As a group, we will start scheduling our trips to Phoenix, Nashville, Salem, Tallahassee, Boston and Peoria. 
Sign up here to learn more, and thank you for the work you are doing.

Eban Goodstein, Ph.D.
Director, Bard Center for Environmental Policy
Director, Bard MBA in Sustainability

David Blockstein, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
National Council for Science and the Environment


Stay going. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day is tomorrow (and Saturday) -- it's a big global push to keep building the fossil fuel divestment movement's momentum.  This video tells the story:

The really interesting part of this is the coordinated counter attack from the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this week, a report commissioned and funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America was released. It was highlighted in the NY Times, and the report's author penned an opinion piece in the WSJ. It makes a dubious case that divestment could hurt college endowments.  And then this amazing video from the 'Environmental Policy Alliance' (a PR group) that suggests the alternative to fossil fuels is going back to the time of Adam and Eve (only without food): 

We all know fossil fuels have brought us tremendous benefit and advances that have immeasurably improved the lives of countless people. They've also set the stage for us to take the next step, especially now that we know the incredibly dangerous unintended impacts of our burning them.

We have what we need to maintain, even improve, quality of life while getting off fossil fuels. It won't be easy, and our future won't look the same, but it doesn't have to be worse.  Dramatic increases in energy efficiency and reduced need for transport from smart building and community design can reduce our overall demand for energy. An LED bulb doesn't decrease quality of life; and it uses 90% less electricity, saving money over the life of the bulb. Passive House design can eliminate the need for heating and cooling systems altogether. People in walkable communities don't need cars. And with that reduced demand, and the rapidly decreasing costs of renewables, it's entirely possible to get off fossil fuels

Here's a compelling vision for getting there:

As the Guardian piece evaluating the oil industry divestment report notes, this scenario is playing out like a text book Ghandian change movement: "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Feels like we're just moving into the 'laughing at you' phase. The 'fight you' phase could get really ugly. But, a clean, healthy, sustainable future will win. For all the talk of how the divestment movement is ineffective, it seems to be having quite an effect.  #Divest.

Stay going.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The New Climate Economy

A recent report from The New Climate Economy highlights (again) the need for action on climate change; and emphasizes (again) how delays will increase costs:

The New Climate Economy Report comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate -- a group of high-level representatives from various sectors in countries around the world.

The report includes a pretty good list of 10 things we know we need to do avoid to minimize the damage of climate change:

  1. Accelerate low-carbon transformation by integrating climate into core economic decision-making processes. 
  2. Enter into a strong, lasting and equitable international climate agreement
  3. Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural inputs, and incentives for urban sprawl
  4. Introduce strong, predictable carbon prices
  5. Substantially reduce capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure investments
  6. Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies, tripling public investment in clean energy R&D
  7. Make connected and compact cities the preferred form of urban development
  8. Stop deforestation of natural forests by 2030
  9. Restore at least 500 million hectares of lost or degraded forests and agricultural lands by 2030
  10. Accelerate the shift away from polluting coal-fired power generation
The core take-away is that all countries will be able to sustain lasting growth while addressing climate change, but that the next 15 years will be crucial.

This brings up the whole concept of economic growth -- what we mean by that and if unlimited growth in possible on a finite planet. If you're talking about crude, raw, physical growth of stuff -- increasing economic throughput, as measured by GDP -- the answer is clearly "no."  But if you're talking about a more nuanced "growth of value" -- ways of increasing well-being while at the same time dematerializing and reducing throughput, then I think there are no limits.

Clearly, in some areas, in some economies, physical growth is still necessary to increase well-being (Exxon's recent blog post arguing against fossil fuel divestment skews this point to make a case for continued reliance on oil). But at a certain point -- long-since crossed by many developed economies, more stuff doesn't necessarily equate with more well-being.

Coupled with the recent Risky Business report, this report is another big step in making the economic case for climate action, and more broadly for integrating sustainability principles into all we do.

Stay going.