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Publications / Climate

The Climate Movement: What’s Next?

A GTI Forum on the climate movement.

Featuring Bill McKibben, Tom Athanasiou, Hans Baer, Jeremy Brecher, Guy Dauncey, Riane Eisler, Neva Goodwin, Kerryn Higgs, Virág Kaufer, Karen O’Brien, Hermann Ott, Vicki Robin, Karl-Ludiwg Schibel, Gus Speth, Mimi Stokes, and Anders Wijkman.

An Unnatural Disaster

Without concerted action, Hurricane Matthew will be remembered in the annals of climate change as a precursor to an era of intensifying and increasingly ruinous, unnatural storm disasters. Time is short. Neither denial nor incrementalism is acceptable. Nothing less than the well-being of our children, and their children, is in the balance.

Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for the Earth

A movement is gaining traction to recognize the wanton destruction of nature by states and corporations as a crime under international law. The resistance will be fierce, but the emerging ecocentrism in law and citizen activism offers grounds for hope.

Bleak Visions, Blind Spots

In A Rough Ride to the Future, contrarian Gaia theorist James Lovelock counsels abandoning all hope of preventing global environmental change, and adapting to it instead. But by assuming the fixity of human behavior and institutions, he resigns humanity to a passive present and a grim future.

A Tragic Scenario, Narrowly Cast

In The Collapse of Western Civilization, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway depict a dystopian future resulting from climate inaction. But the constricted dramatis personae in their scenario stacks the deck against the social agents that could emerge to alter the narrative.

Critical Review of: ‘Making or breaking climate targets—the AMPERE study on staged accession scenarios for climate policy’

This critical review of the integrated assessment modeling (IAM) research underlying the AMPERE study is also relevant to many other IAM-based model comparison papers. One of the main symptoms of the serious methodological problems of these studies is that the results produced by different models for what are portrayed as the “same” scenarios differ quite substantially from each other. While the authors of the AMPERE study correctly raise the important question of whether these differences are due primarily to differences in model structures, or to differences in the sets of input assumptions for the “same” scenario used by different research teams, they never address this question in a logically systematic and credible way. In fact, they cannot and do not arrive at an answer, since each modeling team generally relies on a single but different set of most input assumptions for the same scenario. Finally, the research teams involved in the AMPERE project, and other similar projects, fail to understand the fundamental impossibility of forecasting net mitigation costs or benefits over the long run given both the practical and deep uncertainties implicit in both the equations comprising these IAMs, and the input assumptions on which they rely.

Metro Boston Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Report

Given the magnitude of climate change impacts on the natural environment, development and infrastructure, economy, and public health in the region, it is imperative that climate change adaptation is adequately addressed at the Regional Level. The primary goal of this Strategy is to prepare recommendations for local, regional, and state action to reduce vulnerability to future hazards and impacts of climate change within Eastern Massachusetts. This Strategy builds upon findings of the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, September 2011 and other pertinent publications developed to date.

Resilience Through Risk Prevention and Management and Environmental Sustainability

Prepared as input to the United Nations process to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide the post-2015 global development agenda, this paper discusses the importance of building community resilience, including minimizing climate change impacts, and the challenges cities face while trying to effectively manage rapid population growth and alleviate poverty. It then moves on to identify potential urban resilience targets within an urban SDG. This paper is part of a set of issues papers developed for the Communitas Coalition to address the critical role of cities and regions in advancing sustainable development.

The Economics of Mitigating Climate Change: What Can We Know?

The economics of mitigating climate change in the long run has played a high profile role in the most important analyses of climate change in the last decade, namely the Stern Report and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment. However, the various kinds of uncertainties that affect these economic results raise serious questions about whether or not the net costs and benefits of mitigating climate change over periods as long as 50 to 100 years can be known to such a level of accuracy that they should be reported to policymakers and the public. Because of these serious technical problems, policymakers should not base climate change mitigation policy on the estimated net economic impacts computed by integrated assessment models. Rather, mitigation policies must be forcefully implemented anyway given the actual physical climate change crisis.

Developmental Benefits from a Low-Carbon Pathway

The release of the Interim Report of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth in May 2011 gives us an occasion to place India’s climate stance in perspective. The Report, while useful in discussing opportunities for greenhouse gas emissions reductions in various sectors, does not make inclusivity its priority. Rather, with growth as its starting point, it gives us little or no sense of what “inclusive growth” amounts to or indeed what should motivate the country to embark on a low-carbon pathway. Although such a growth path is socially, financially, and politically the right way forward, it must be articulated in much more explicit terms.

Originally published in Economic & Political Weekly 36, no, 34 (August 2011): 15-18.

Blue Alert

This study shows that if global temperatures rise by about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius in the course of the century, as they are projected to under business-as-usual growth in greenhouse gas emissions, the South Asian region could face a wave of migrants displaced by the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and drought associated with shrinking water supplies and monsoon variability. It concludes that the resultant catastrophe may well be the greatest humanitarian and economic catastrophe that the developing world will face in the coming decades and demands and recommends policy steps to mitigate climate change and steer development in a sustainable direction.

Climate Change, Development, and the Three-Day Week

Among the efforts to take affluence seriously are various proposals to reduce CO2 emissions while still permitting development to occur. Under these proposals, there are direct or indirect economic benefits for the less developed nations and substantial costs for the developed countries. As one might expect, developed countries either reject such proposals outright or provide only half-hearted support. One could enhance the appeal of the climate and development proposals by adding a call for a reduction in working hours. Addressing climate change, fostering development, and promoting a shorter work week is a policy package with benefits for the majority of the residents of the developing and developed countries.

Hydrogen Transitions in a Greenhouse Gas Constrained World

In order to realize the promise of a hydrogen economy in this United States, it is essential to couple it with a simultaneous commitment to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy. This study, which uses detailed scenario analyses for the country as a whole and for urban areas, finds that a large-scale switch to hydrogen produced by a clean energy system would lead to twice the environmental benefits compared to what would be achieved in a hydrogen transition under a business-as-usual energy mentality. By 2050, when a “clean” transition to hydrogen would be nearly complete, greenhouse gas emissions would be roughly half of what they are today, compared to about a billion tons more, even with hydrogen produced from coal and natural gas.

The Suicidal Planet: How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe

Climate change is the single biggest problem that humankind has ever had to face, as we continue with lifestyles that are way beyond the planet’s limits. Mayer Hillman, Tina Fawcett, and Chella Rajan explain the role technology can play, how you and your community can make changes, and what governments must do now to protect our planet for future generations. The Suicidal Planet proposes, among other things, a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions by the world’s governments; global carbon rationing to reduce our individual carbon outputs to a fair and ecologically safe level; and helpful guidelines for the home, travel, and leisure.

Available for purchase here.

Climate Change: Redemption through Crisis

Sivan Kartha explores the complexity of the climate problem and ways to address it. He considers contrasting optimistic and pessimistic narratives of the future, and outlines a Great Transition society living in peace with its climatic constraints. He then discusses the pathway toward such a society.

Essay #13 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

Climate Change Dilemma: Technology, Social Change or Both? An Examination of Long-Term Transport Policy Choices in the United States

This paper reviews the prospects for emissions reductions in the US passenger transport sector and the technical, economic, social, and political barriers to developing policies that focus solely on technology or pricing. Using scenarios, it shows that, in order to meet stringent emissions targets over the coming half century, technology and pricing policies may have to be supplemented by strategies to change lifestyles and land uses in ways that effectively reduce car dependence. In the medium to long term, bold initiatives that treat vehicle users as citizens capable of shifting their interests and behavior could form kernels of social change that, in turn, provide opportunities for removing many of the social and political constraints.

Adaptation Policy Frameworks for Climate Change: Developing Strategies, Policies and Measures

The development of the Adaptation Policy Framework (APF) is intended to help provide the rapidly evolving process of adaptation policymaking with a much needed roadmap. The APF can be used by countries to both evaluate and complement existing planning processes to address climate change adaptation. As an assessment, planning, and implementation framework, it lays out an approach to climate change adaptation that supports sustainable development, rather than the other way around. The APF is about practice rather than theory; it starts with the information that developing countries already possess concerning vulnerable systems such as agriculture, water resources, public health, and disaster management, and aims to exploit existing synergies and intersecting themes in order to enable better informed policymaking.

Technical reports available here.

Scoping and Designing an Adaptation Project

Using the Adaptation Policy Framework (APF), this technical paper seeks to assist project teams in designing projects to develop and implement adaptation strategies, policies, and measures that can ensure human development in the face of climate change. The APF provides a basis by which countries can evaluate and modify existing planning processes and practices to address climate change impacts. To do so, this paper walks the reader through a series of recommended tasks, preparing them for the hands-on work of project scoping and design.

California Leadership Strategies to Reduce Global Warming Emissions

The state of California has been a historical leader on energy and environmental policy, and it is well-positioned to take a leadership role on climate. From August to November 2004, Tellus Institute worked closely with staff members of the California Energy Commission (CEC), the Air Resources Board (ARB), the California Environmental Protection Agency, and other state agencies to review existing forecasts, identify strategies, and compile estimates of potential emissions reductions that are likely to be compatible with strong, long-term economic growth. This report presents the methods, assumptions, and findings of this assessment and served as a basis for Governor Schwarzenegger’s climate target announcement on June 1, 2005.

Cutting the Gordian Knot: Adequacy, Realism and Equity

Despite the almost impossible complexity of the climate deadlock, it is possible to map its most profound contours. They range, unsurprisingly, outside the traditional domains of climate politics, across lands defined by post-Cold War geopolitics, the struggle for development, the challenges of sustainability. For all this, however, they define a tangle—a Gordian Knot—in which three principle strands may be clearly discerned: adequacy, realism, and equity. To help map the way forward, this paper proposes the concept of an “equity reference framework”—a framework that allows us to ask, before we prejudge what is and isn’t realistic, what would actually be fair. There will be no adequate way forward that does not involve a radical redefinition of realism.

Turning the Corner on Global Warming Emissions: An Analysis of Ten Strategies for California, Oregon, and Washington

This report makes a compelling case that the West Coast states can significantly reduce their global warming emissions over the next fifteen years. By 2020, the ten strategies in this report would reduce global warming pollution by 200 million metric tons—26 percent below the emissions that would otherwise occur, and 1 percent below today’s levels. While these reductions are not nearly enough to stabilize the climate, the ten strategies would represent a significant down payment on deeper emissions reductions.

South-North Dialogue: Equity in the Greenhouse

Regardless of when or whether the Kyoto Protocol enters into force, the challenge of future climate negotiations will be to embed the next steps in a long-term framework that aims at an adequate and equitable global climate agreement that takes into account the right to sustainable development of all countries. This proposal examines equitable approaches to mitigation—including both deep cuts in the North and differentiated mitigation commitments for developing countries. It also examines adaptation, as no agreement will be equitable or adequate if it fails to incorporate appropriate burden sharing mechanisms to address the needs of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Practical Baseline Recommendations for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Projects in the Electric Power Sector

This report constructs a decision framework that can be applied to all electricity projects. No single methodology can suit all the potential diversity of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism projects in the electricity sector, which span a wide range of scales, fuels, and technologies and will take place in a varied set of electric sector contexts, both on and off the grid. This paper proposes a three-category framework for the different projects, with baseline and additionality methods specific to each, in order to balance the objectives of low transaction costs and environmental accuracy.

An Approach for Better Aligning the Nation’s Clean Air and Clean Energy Goals

This study considers modifications to the Clean Air Act that would increase the number of emission allowances allocated to renewable energy generation to enable renewables to compete fairly in emission trading and clean air compliance markets, and estimates the economic and environmental benefits of these changes. This analysis provides better understanding of the benefits that would derive from a renewables role in Clean Air Act compliance regimes. The estimated impacts of these modifications are compared with those of other policies, including national renewable portfolio standards (RPS), a tighter cap for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and trading, modifications to the State Implementation Plans (SIP) for (nitrogen oxides (NOx) trading), multi-pollutant cap/trade, and a combination of multi-pollutant cap/trade and RPS.

The Path to Carbon Dioxide-Free Power: Switching to Clean Energy in the Utility Sector

To achieve necessary emissions reduction goals, emissions from the power sector, currently responsible for 40 percent of annual US CO2 emissions, must be dramatically reduced. Fortunately, there are technologies available today affecting both electricity consumption and production that could bring about this change. This report examines the policies and measures needed to accelerate the use of those technologies and dramatically reduce US heat-trapping gas emissions by 2020. It explores a broad set of national policies to increase energy efficiency, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technologies, and shift energy use to more efficient power systems while reducing the electricity bills of consumers and businesses.

Carbon Abatement with Economic Growth: A National Strategy

This paper presents the results of a study showing that the United States could dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades while the economy continues to grow. It examines a set of policies to increase energy efficiency, accelerate adoption of renewable energy, reduce air pollution, and shift to less carbon-intensive fuels. The policies are targeted within and across sectors—residential and commercial buildings, industrial facilities, transportation, and power generation. They include incentives, standards, codes, market mechanisms, regulatory reform, research and development, public outreach, technical assistance, and infrastructure investment.

Clean Electricity Options for the Pacific Northwest

This report assesses the efficiency and renewable resources that could be tapped to meet Pacific Northwest electricity needs over the next two decades. The last regional assessment of this type was compiled for the Northwest Power Planning Council’s 4th Power Plan in 1994-96. Since then, the landscape of technologies, markets, and policy options has shifted, while growing concerns about electricity price volatility, energy security, and global climate change have increased the value of investments in efficiency and renewable resources.

Characterization of Criteria Air Pollutant and Greenhouse Gas Emission Factors Associated with Energy Use in the USA: Sources, Assumptions, Methodology

This report characterizes emission factors for both criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of processes across the industrial, commercial, residential, transport, and electric sectors. This report is divided into two major parts, one for baseline-based emission factors and the other for measure-based emission factors. Baseline-based emission factors represent average sector-wide emission factors based on the existing and projected equipment vintage, and expected future emission regulations. Measure-based emission factors represent average lifetime emission factors for new technology. The sources, assumptions, and methodology used in characterizing these emission factors are included.

Coal: America’s Past, America’s Future

As this report shows, a coal-focused national energy strategy would be fundamentally misguided. Wearing foggy and myopic lenses, one might perceive the California power crunch, high natural gas prices, and talk of “clean coal” as ample economic and technical justification for more coal. But closer and clearer examination reveals that there is a long way to go before coal will be truly, if ever, clean and an even longer way before such coal would be competitive. Policy efforts to promote coal would threaten to seriously exacerbate pollution, climate change, and health risks and would would render the chances of international accord in tackling global climate change even more remote.

Clean Energy: Jobs for America’s Future

In order to create a responsible, forward-looking energy policy, the United States will need to examine a number of important issues. Will the policy help meet America’s energy needs? Will it enhance national security? Will it contribute to a strong economy? Will it help meet America’s needs for a safe and healthy environment? In order to begin to answer these questions, World Wildlife Fund commissioned the Tellus Institute to consider the potential impacts of implementing a broad suite of clean energy policies over the next twenty years. This study analyzes the employment, macroeconomic, energy, and environmental impacts of implementing such policies.

New England’s Global Warming Solutions

This report presents a new detailed analysis of the energy impacts, carbon and pollutant emissions reductions, and economic benefits in New England of the national policies and measures analyzed in America’s Global Warming Solutions. That study indicated that the region would reap about one sixth of the net national employment created. Now, achieving such benefits by 2010 would require an even more aggressive set and schedule of policies, or else the benefits would occur somewhat later in time. Nonetheless, these results show that a truly aggressive national policy commitment to the problem of climate change could achieve large near-term carbon emissions reductions along with environmental and economic gains.

Texas’ Global Warming Solutions

The economic analyses of America’s Global Warming Solutions indicated that Texas would be the state with the highest net job creation from the national policies evaluated. This report presents a new detailed analysis of the benefits that Texas would derive from those national policies and measures to combat global warming. Many of these policies and measures could be pursued in the state, appropriately tailored to its conditions and institutions, with similar results and benefits for Texas citizens.

Cleaner Generation, Free Riders, and Environmental Integrity: Clean Development Mechanism and the Power Sector

This study provides a first-cut estimate of the potential carbon emissions impacts of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), focusing on new power plants in the power sector of non-Annex 1 countries. We conclude that while the CDM could induce some legitimate lower-emission electricity generation in host countries, it could also give rise to a considerable amount of spurious emissions allowances by crediting non-additional (“free-rider”) activities—activities that would have taken place even in the absence of the CDM. We find that under some plausible CDM regimes, the CDM could serve primarily as an instrument for generating spurious credits, and only secondarily as an instrument for economic efficiency or sustainable development.

Viewpoint: Economic Theory and Climate Change Policy

What is the appropriate role for economics in the development of climate change policy? Ideally, when formulating public policy, decision-makers should rely on expertise from a variety of disciplines, economics among them. Yet economics is often looked upon as the ultimate arbiter of policy choices, because it seems to offer something the other sciences do not: a theoretical framework capable of valuing the consequences of different policy choices with a single metric. This paper argues that this practice is not legitimate, and that most economic policy assessment models, in their current forms, are biased against non-marginal policy changes such as those required to meaningfully address the challenges of climate change.

Potential and Cost of Clean Development Mechanism Options in the Energy Sector

This report presents an assessment of the potential and cost of the Clean Development Mechanism as an instrument to partially meet the Greenhouse Gases emission limitation commitments of the Netherlands for the first budget period, 2008-2012. The mitigation potential in non-Annex I countries is significant when compared with Annex I reduction requirements. The inventory of mitigation options suggests that an annual mitigation potential in the first budget period at costs up to 1990 USD 10/ton CO2 is approximately 1.7 Gt CO2 equivalents.

America’s Global Warming Solutions

This study finds that the US could reduce its carbon emissions to its Kyoto target and, indeed, to significantly below that target. Moreover, this can be achieved with overall net savings in the costs of energy and energy-using equipment. These policies and measures yield many other benefits, such as for human and ecosystem health, technological innovation, and job growth. They would also demonstrate clearly to the rest of the world the seriousness with which the US is acting to meet its climate protection responsibilities and, thereby, to help advance the goals of the climate convention.

A Pragmatic CGE Model for Assessing the Influence of Model Structure and Assumptions in Climate Change Policy Analysis

This report presents a simple pragmatic CGE model with an emphasis on industrial energy use. The purpose of the model is to serve as a tool for the exploration of model structure and assumptions. The motivation for this work was the fact that economic modeling studies influence the debate on the merits of climate change abatement studies and are consulted by policymakers seeking guidance. These studies assess the effectiveness and merits of policy options based on simulations of energy policies with energy-economic models. Policymakers, analysts, stakeholders, and the interested public should understand the strengths and weaknesses of the models and assumptions employed in such studies so that they can use them constructively.

An Evaluation of Integrated Climate Protection Policies for the US

This paper presents and discusses an integrated set of policies designed to reduce US carbon emissions over the next four decades. This innovation path also aims to promote environmental quality, particularly by reducing emissions of criteria air pollutants, to reduce US dependence on imported oil, and to induce technological innovation and diffusion in energy production and consumption. In addition to such environmental benefits, such a path would lead to net savings and substantial job growth.

Originally published in Ecology and Society 2, no. 2 (1998): 1-17.

A Small Price to Pay: US Action to Curb Global Warming is Feasible and Affordable

This report debunks arguments about the difficulty and costs of compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. Tellus Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists surveyed and compared a series of studies from the past ten years that examine the future prospects for energy-efficient and low-carbon fuel technologies. According to such studies, great technological potential exists for the United States to significantly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. In many cases, the resulting savings on energy bills from the use of more efficient measures would outweigh the cost of implementing those measures. Moreover, the same measures that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions would also yield other significant environmental and public health benefits.

Modeling Carbon Reduction Policies in the U.S. Electric Sector

The U.S. electric sector contributes about 35 percent to the nation’s total annual carbon dioxide emissions. Modeling climate change policies in the electric sector, however, poses a number of challenges. This report uses PCNEMS (1995 Version), a computer model constructed and applied by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and ancillary analyses to assess several policies designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in this sector, including extension of EPACT renewables credits, system benefits charges for sustained orderly development of renewables, carbon taxes and caps, accelerated deployment of new technologies, and incentive financing.

National Greenhouse Gas Accounts: Current Anthropogenic Sources and Sinks

This study provides spatially disaggregated estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from the major anthropogenic sources for 145 countries. The data compilation includes emissions from CO, CH4, N2O, and ten halocarbons, in addition to CO2. The sources include emissions from fossil fuel production and use, cement production, halocarbons, landfills, land use changes, biomass burning, rice and livestock production, and fertilizer consumption. The approach used to derive these estimates corresponds closely with the simple methodologies proposed by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Task Force of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.