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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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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 »

Keystone, Science, and Politics

by Michael Levi

Jeff Tollefson has an excellent new piece in Nature exploring the debate within the scientific community over Keystone XL. It makes two things pretty clear. As a matter of substance, there’s pretty much no one beyond Jim Hansen willing to come close to endorsing the “game over” claim. Yet there’s still a ton division among scientists – it’s over political tactics instead. Ken Caldeira captures the situation well: “I don’t believe that whether the pipeline is built or not will have any detectable climate effect,” he tells Nature. Nonetheless, here’s his bottom line: “The Obama administration needs to signal whether we are going to move toward zero-emission energy systems or whether we are going to move forward with last century’s energy system”. That sort of sentiment is political– and there’s nothing wrong with it – but, as the Nature article nicely shows, it’s distinct from any scientific debate. Read more »

Reading Between the Lines of Obama’s Climate Change Plan

by Michael Levi

Anyone who reads a newspaper has probably heard about President Obama’s climate change speech today and seen more than enough commentary on its highlights. Instead of piling on, I thought it would be enlightening to reflect on five things that are buried in the plan released alongside the speech but could have important consequences. Read more »

Another Way to Think About Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases

by Michael Levi

Climate discussions of late have focused a lot of so-called short-lived forcers. These are substances such as methane and black carbon that don’t stay in the atmosphere for all that long but trap a lot of heat while they’re there. Analysts use global warming potentials (GWPs) as shorthand to compare these gases with carbon dioxide. For example, over a 20-year period, methane traps 72 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, giving methane a 20-year GWP of 72. Read more »

Could Cheap Natural Gas Undermine a Carbon Price?

by Michael Levi

Cheap natural gas has split the climate debate into two camps. One celebrates the development, emphasizing that natural gas cuts emissions when it replaces coal, and arguing that abundant gas reduces emissions as a result. The other bemoans the news, noting that inexpensive natural gas makes it tougher for zero-carbon energy to compete and arguing that this will ultimately result in higher, not lower, emissions. Read more »