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Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

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What the Big U.S.-China Climate Announcement Means

by Michael Levi
REUTERS/Carlos Barria REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping surprised even the closest climate watchers last night when they jointly announced new emissions-cutting goals for the United States and China. This is a serious diplomatic breakthrough after years of unsuccessful efforts to do something big and joint that goes beyond clean energy cooperation and gets to one of the most sensitive parts of climate policy. What it ultimately means for emissions, of course, will be determined over many years. Read more »

The Total Cost of Climate Policy Isn’t What Matters Most

by Michael Levi
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reuters/Lee Jae Won

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is out with its synthesis report and the coverage, beyond warning of the consequences from unfettered emissions, has emphasized that tackling the problem would shave only 0.06 percentage points off annual global growth. That’s almost certainly wrong – realistic models would predict higher figures – but, when it comes to the cost of climate policy, not what really matters. Read more »

A Dispatch from the People’s Climate March

by Michael Levi
People's climate march New York city Climate Change summit My kind of protest sign.

The People’s Climate March, which drew a reported three hundred thousand people to the New York streets on Sunday, deserves much of the applause and attention it’s attracted. No one who attended the march can deny the enthusiasm of the crowd, or the fact that the gathering has helped keep climate change on the front page for a week.  And yet, throughout the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d stumbled into an anti-fracking march that also happened to be about climate change.  And I couldn’t escape the conclusion that this focus could end up undermining the very climate change goals that the march was ostensibly about achieving. Read more »

Is Solar Power Making Climate Policy Cheap?

by Michael Levi
Solar power plant clean energy REUTERS/Fabian Andres Cambero

For the second time this year, Paul Krugman has written a column explaining that serious studies consistently conclude that slashing global carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t need to be expensive. Also for the second time, he gives much of the credit to falling costs for renewable energy, particularly solar power. He’s absolutely correct on the broader point – but dead wrong in explaining why the studies come to that conclusion. Read more »

How Will China Clean its Air?

by Michael Levi
Chinese woman struggles with air pollution A woman wearing a mask rides her bicycle along a street on a hazy morning in Beijing, February 28, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily

“I’ve been working my whole life on climate change. And now, because of policies to fight local air pollution, Chinese carbon emissions will peak and begin to decline in less than ten years, and our efforts on climate change will have nothing to do with it.” Read more »

How the Copenhagen Climate Talks Succeeded

by Michael Levi

Negotiators are gathering in Warsaw this week and next for the nineteenth annual UN climate talks (COP19). Their job will be to prepare the groundwork for a big summit in Paris in 2015 where countries are supposed to ink a new climate agreement. Many diplomats and observers are likely to warn against repeating what they see as the disastrous 2009 Copenhagen summit. That meeting merely produced a voluntary pact, but only legally binding commitments, many will insist, can do the job. Read more »

Another Reason that Changing Course on the Climate Diplomacy is so Hard

by Michael Levi

Difficulties in the UN climate talks in recent years have prompted calls for shifting negotiations to a smaller and more nimble group. The argument for doing this (and I’ve made it myself) often turns to an analogy with the GATT. That foundational trade agreement, people point out, didn’t start with every country on earth. Instead it began with a small group, figured out how to make that relatively tractable arrangement work, and then built on success. Climate negotiators should do the same. Read more »

A Sticking Point for Climate Diplomacy

by Michael Levi

President Obama’s big climate change speech in late June has spurred a lot of optimistic talk about the possibility of concluding an international deal in 2015, the deadline set last year for a new climate agreement. By pursuing new regulations under existing authority, the United States could deliver on its Copenhagen promise of cutting its emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, presumably strengthening its bargaining hand. The draft 2014 U.S. Climate Change Report, released late last month, admirably reinforces the message, modeling a range of plausible policy shifts that could deliver on the 2020 goal. Read more »