What Lies Ahead For International Action On Global Warming In 2012?

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"What Lies Ahead For International Action On Global Warming In 2012?"

by Jake Schmidt, via NRDC’s Switchboard

With the haze of the Durban climate negotiations finally lifting, the climate negotiations in Germany at the midway point, and one month before Rio+20 it is time to reflect on the path that lies ahead for the rest of this year.  While global negotiations have slowed since the high-intensity period over the last three years (in Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban), that doesn’t mean we can afford for action to slow down.  After all, as the International Energy Agency just pointed out the door for avoiding the greatest impacts is quickly closing.

Four key themes are critical to watch the remainder of this year that are essential ingredients for progress on international global warming action: (1) the actions countries take at home right now; (2) the actions countries commit to implement at Rio+20; (3) how much progress is made in closing the “mitigation gap”; and (4) what stage is set this year for the international legal agreement that is to be reached in 2015.

Acting at Home Right Now

No global political signal or agreement is sufficient if countries don’t act at home to pass laws, adopt regulations, or support incentives which spur the necessary actions.  As a result, what happens in key countries around the world is essential for putting the world on a safer path.  So here are some key actions to watch in some of the key countries the rest of this year.

Some important countries have taken additional action at home this year. Mexico has adopted a national law which establishes in domestic law the country’s target to reduce its emissions 30 percent below business-as-usual emissions by 2020 and 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.  The law sets in place the foundation for even greater action by Mexico under future Administrations.

The South Korean Government approved a mandatory carbon trading program for its biggest polluters. The legislation is set to go into effect in 2015 and would cap the carbon pollution from power plants, steel plants, ship makers, and large universities.  The final details are still to be worked out sometime this year so stay tuned.

South Africa announced that it will introduce a rising price on carbon pollution from major sources starting in 2013.  The proposal is to implement the carbon tax at a level of $16 per ton in 2013, with annual increases of 10 percent through 2019.  Final details could come later this year.

The European Union program to reduce the carbon pollution from aviation has gone into effect. Starting this January all aircraft that choose to use European airports have to reduce their carbon pollution that is causing global warming.  It is a common-sense approach which helps to slow the growth of pollution from aviation – which is set to almost double by 2025 if left uncontrolled.  Unfortunately this program is under constant attack by the “coalition of the inaction”, but to date the E.U. has shown no signs that it is willing to let these attacks undermine its law.

The U.S. has proposed some new rules for the carbon pollution from power plants and methane from natural gas.  More than one million citizens have submitted comments in support of the power plant rules—the most in the history of any environmental rule in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. government has finalized important standards for major appliances that will significantly reduce how much energy they use (e.g., clothes washing machines and microwaves).  Later this year we also expect that the final standards for the global warming pollution from new passenger vehicles will be extended through 2025.

Clean energy continues to soar. In 2011, new clean energy investments rose to a record $263 billion – a 6.5 percent increase from last year. So while many policymakers and commentators still perceive renewable energy as something that can be done only if you have lots of extra money for incentives, the reality is quite different.  For example, one new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that: “power generated from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is much closer to competitiveness with conventional electricity generation than many policy-makers and commentators have realized.”

The Brazilian decision on changes to the forest law – will reductions in deforestation slow? In recent years Brazil has shown remarkable progress in reducing the rate of deforestation and the associated global warming pollution thanks to some policies the government adopted.  But just as Brazil is about to host a critically important high-level Summit – Rio+20—President Dilma Rousseff is being confronted with a law that changes the Brazilian Forest Law in a way that would dramatically increase deforestation in the coming years. Will she veto this law as more than 1.8 million people have now demanded or will Rio+20 be chopped down by deforestation?

Acting Now: What Other Actions Will Come This Year?

Over the remainder of this year it will be critical that the countries that made commitments at Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban follow through with even more action as their existing action isn’t sufficient to meet their commitments or fully address global warming.  In addition, it will be critical that the remaining big polluters step up to the plate and make commitments as there is a “missing 20%” of the world’s global warming pollution that have yet to outline their commitments.

Will further steps be taken this year by the key countries and will new countries come forward with commitments?

Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard and was reprinted with permission.

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4 Responses to What Lies Ahead For International Action On Global Warming In 2012?

  1. Mark Shapiro says:

    Key point: “(1) the actions countries take at home right now.”

    International negotiations are slow, agonizing, and nothing but frustration. Thanks for slogging through them. It highlights the importance of each nation’s policies.

    • Jake Schmidt says:

      Thanks. Yes they are slow, painful, and not always productive. But they are critical and the only international process we have.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    . . . one new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that: “power generated from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is much closer to competitiveness with conventional electricity generation than many policy-makers and commentators have realized.”

    The opportunity to marry PV to high-value electronics is right here, right now.

  3. Dano says:

    Britain is – right now – figuring out how to make dwelling unit building envelopes more energy-efficient.

    Big task. Compare this effort with the paltry efforts in the US.

    Best,

    D