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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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Hurricane Sandy: Is There Anything We Can Do About Climate Change Soon?

by Michael Levi

The East Coast is slowly returning to normal life after Hurricane Sandy – and pundits, scientists, and journalists are quickly diving into a debate over what the storm says about climate change. I have nothing useful to add on that matter. But I do wanted to shed light on an important related question that has come up: is it even possible to change the course of climate change over the next fifty or so years? Read more »

Would Cap and Trade Have Increased U.S. Emissions?

by Michael Levi

When the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill collapsed a few year back, advocates of aggressive action on climate change despaired. But a fascinating and provocative new analysis from Dallas Butraw and Matt Woerman at Resources for the Future suggests that people might want to revisit that judgment: by 2020, they write, domestic emissions will “probably [be] less than would have occurred if the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade proposal had become law”. Whether you believe that depends on some important details. Read more »

Revisiting a Major Methane Study

by Michael Levi

The ongoing fight over whether shale gas operations are leaking dangerous amounts of methane – a question that many have called critical to determining whether shale gas is good or bad – has suffered from a paucity of data. That’s why a much talked about study, authored by thirty scientists (mostly from NOAA) and published in early February, made such big waves: it was the first (and remains the only) study to estimate shockingly high emissions based on actual observations in the field (data was collected in Colorado in 2008). Read more »

How Can We Cope With Deep Climate Uncertainty?

by Michael Levi

When you’re faced with a lot of uncertainty that’s difficult or impossible to quantify, your best bet is usually to develop a strategy that’s robust to unknowns, rather than one that tries to optimize outcomes. David Roberts had a great post last week explaining this. (It’s usually the most important frame that I use to think about public policy.) A focus on robustness, though, often runs into its own special challenges. In this post, I want to walk through one of those that’s particularly important in the context of climate change. Read more »

Why Have U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Plummeted?

by Michael Levi

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions for January-May are down six percent from 2011 to 2012. Headlines have highlighted the fact that emissions from January-March hit a twenty year low. What explains the shift?

That question has been the subject of intense debate. John Hanger argues that 77 percent of that decline can be attributed to the shift from coal to gas. The folks over at CO2Scorecard, looking at January-March data, put that number at a more modest 21 percent. These are drastically different figures. What number should we believe? Read more »

The Climate Change Limits of U.S. Natural Gas

by Michael Levi

The Associated Press reported last week that U.S. greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to a twenty-year low on the back of abundant natural gas. “The question,” it correctly observed, “is whether the shift is just one bright spot in a big, gloomy [climate change] picture, or a potentially larger trend.” Read more »

What the Higgs Boson Tells Us About Climate Skeptics

by Michael Levi

Scientists around the world are celebrating the discovery of the Higgs boson. Last December, researchers announced that they might have glimpsed the elusive particle, but refrained from declaring victory, since there was a one percent chance that their result was a fluke. Now they’re confident: the odds of error in the new calculations are less than one in three million. Read more »

The Clean Energy Ministerial: What I Learned about Solar PV and Global Governance

by Michael Levi

On April 25 and 26, I had the good fortune to participate in parts of the third annual Clean Energy Ministerial (known informally as the CEM), a forum launched by U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu in 2010. The initiative brings together energy ministers from most G20 countries, along with a handful of others, to learn lessons from each others’ clean energy efforts, and, critically, to identify places where intergovernmental initiatives could boost the odds of success. One thing that distinguishes the forum from other international initiatives is the integral role that the private sector has played from day one. The first afternoon of the CEM was spent in a series of small public-private dialogues that brought together ministers, regulators, operators, investors, and experts in science and technology to discuss areas ranging from smart financing tools to support energy efficiency investment to integration of variable renewable sources in the grid. Read more »

Is Burning Fossil Fuels Really Immoral?

by Michael Levi

Prominent climate scientist Ken Caldeira has published an impassioned plea to those who care about climate change in which he essentially says that building (and presumably continuing to operate) any fossil fuel fired power plants is “immoral”. He is particularly upset by support for natural gas as an alternative to coal: if we emit greenhouse gases half as rapidly as we do today”, he points out, “we will wind up in the same place but it will take us twice as long to get there”. Cutting emissions without ditching fossil fuels entirely thus appears to be essentially worthless in his eyes. Read more »