climate and energy policy
If we do not take urgent and immediate action to protect the climate, the threats from climate change could become irreversible.
The goal of climate policy should be to keep the global mean temperature rise to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We have very little time within which we can change our energy system to meet these targets.This means that global emissions will have to peak and start to decline by the end of the next decade at the latest.
The only way forwards is a rapid reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
In recognition of the global threats of climate change, world governments negotiated the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, committing to preventing dangerous climate change. Five years later the convention was strengthened with a Kyoto Protocol that included binding emission caps for industrialised countries.
In Copenhagen 2009, members of the UNFCCC were expected to arrive at a new binding agreement with new emission reduction commitments. Unfortunately, these expectations were not met. Countries did, however, announce voluntary emission reduction pledges for 2020.
An evaluation of the climate pledges for 2020 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) shows that the targets are woefully inadequate to keep temperature increase below catastrophic warming of 2°C or more – a target governments have committed to. Instead the targets put us on a path towards 2.5°C to 5°C warming, which would have devastating consequences for humanity.2
In 2012 governments decided to give it another try, and to negotiate a new comprehensive climate agreement by 2015.This is our chance to get it right and learn from past mistakes.The new agreement must ensure broad participation of all major emitters, apply a fair sharing of effort, provide finance and support for the vulnerable and catalyse faster emission cuts before 2020 and beyond, so that warming can be kept as far below 2°C as possible.
This means that the new agreement in 2015, with the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC on its heels, should strive for climate action for 2020 that ensures that the world stay as far below an average temperature increase of 2°C as possible. Such an agreement will need to ensure:
- Industrialized countries increase the ambition of their 2020 targets adopted in Cancun, to close the gap between current commitments and what science demands for avoiding surpassing 2°C.
- Developed countries capitalize the Green Climate Fund, making good on their agreement to provide $100 billion per year, and work hard at home to generate political support for significantly more finance to help developing countries adapt to climate impacts, protect their forests and be part of the energy revolution.
- Developed and developing countries alike announce ambitious post-2020 commitments (i.e., 2025) as soon as possible, with the intention they be enshrined in a 2015 Paris Treaty that is internationally legally binding.
international energy policy
At present there is a distortion in many energy markets, where renewable energy generators have to compete with old nuclear and fossil fuel power stations but not on a level playing field.This is because consumers and taxpayers have already paid the interest and depreciation on the original investments so the generators are running at a marginal cost. Political action is needed to overcome market distortions so renewable energy technologies can compete on their own merits.
While governments around the world are liberalizing their electricity markets, the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy should lead to higher demand. Without political support, however, renewable energy remains at a disadvantage, marginalized because there has been decades of massive financial, political and structural support to conventional technologies. Developing renewables will therefore require strong political and economic efforts for example, through laws that guarantee stable tariffs over a period of up to 20 years. Renewable energy will also contribute to sustainable economic growth, high quality jobs, technology development, global competitiveness and industrial and research leadership.
USA climate protection and energy policy
In June of 2013, President Obama gave a climate speech at Georgetown University where he announced a ‘climate plan’. Obama announcing a climate plan came with the realization that action by Congress seems a lost cause for the rest of his presidency. Climate denialism remains the position of the Republican Party, which controls the House of Representatives. Obama’s climate and energy policies achieve little in terms of what is needed from the US on climate pollution reduction, and much of the policies in Obama’s plan were already announced or implemented. However, several policies are very good steps toward scaling up renewable energy.
One goal that was already achieved upon announcement of the Obama climate plan was permitting enough renewables on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes. According to the Bureau of Land Management, 7.8 GW of capacity in wind, solar, and geothermal has been approved. Obama’s plan expanded a program to encourage efficiency in commercial, industrial, and multi-family buildings, with the goal that buildings be 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. The Obama administration also strengthened a goal for itself, aiming to increase the electricity it uses from renewables to 20% by 2020. The federal government is the largest energy consumer.
The Obama administration has also implemented, proposed, or announced plans for policies to deal with climate pollution from the transportation and electricity sector. Even if these policies do not achieve sufficient mitigation, they do encourage renewables. The pollution restrictions applying to passenger vehicles made from 2017 may already be helping to encourage electric vehicle production, marketing and development. Pollution limits on future power plants were supposed to be already finalized and promulgated, which has been delayed repeatedly. The limits on future plants would obviously have no impact with respect to current emissions, whereas no one knows what EPA may propose for limits on existing plants. Obama’s climate plan aims to finalize standards for future plants by 2014, and for existing plants by 2015. Implementation of these standards would be phased in under the next President. Despite the feeble effort by Obama to deal with coal, the threat that the utility sector regulations may force some internalization of climate pollution costs does not stand on its own. President Obama also continues to call for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, reflected in his budget proposal, although a policy objective also dependent on assent from Congress.
States continue to lead in implementing policies to advance renewable energy, with a variety of policies in use in all end-use sectors—power, heating and cooling, and transportation. However, the rate of new policy enactment has slowed and some incentives have been reduced in recent years due to a combination of factors including the economic slump and falling renewable energy costs.
city and local policies
Thousands of city and local governments around the world have put in place policies, targets or plans to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency, and many of these are in the United States. For example, A growing number of U.S. cities have also enacted FITs, including Los Angeles and Sacramento in California, and Gainesville in Florida, which passed a FIT program in 2011 after the city’s Assistant General Manager Ed Regan visited Germany to evaluate their FIT model up close.The Long Island Power Authority unveiled a new feed-in tariff program that offered 20-year contracts to projects of 50 kW - 20 MW in size, with an aggregate cap of 50 MW; the queue for applications opened in July 2012.
Other developments include the following: Ithaca in New York switched to renewable electricity in late 2011 and planned to produce 100% renewable electricity for all of the city’s consumers starting in 2012. In late 2011 or early 2012, the city of Austin, Texas became the largest local U.S. government using 100% renewable energy. San Francisco has established a public utility to provide the city with 100% renewable electricity by 2020, and Cincinnati, Ohio, has developed a power aggregation deal to provide 100% renewable electricity to all customers. Cities have also adopted policies and programs to transform their buildings and transportation systems. For example, St. Paul in Minnesota started a program in 2011 that began providing solar district heat to 80% of its downtown. Chicago and New York City have built solar- powered charging systems to encourage use of electric vehicles that can run on renewable electricity. As of October 1, 2012, New York City mandates the use of 2% biodiesel in all oil heat to be used in the city (although this was temporarily suspended following “super storm” Sandy and not in effect as of early December).