Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

The G20 and Climate

by Michael Levi Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trevor Houser has a new working paper out that takes a careful look at what the G20 can and should do on climate change. He argues that the G20 is the wrong place to try and resolve the tough issues in the UN negotiations, at least right now. In particular, he writes, “ there is significant risk that marrying climate change and the G-20 will end up introducing the acrimony of the UN negotiations into G-20 discussions rather than bringing the civility of the G-20 to climate change diplomacy.” That sounds about right to me. I’d add that while many in the climate world seem to believe that the G20 has been a spectacular success, many folks in the international economics world don’t quite seem to see things the same way. Without the firm institutional foundation that climate experts mistakenly think already exists, though, it’s far from clear that the G20 is ready to tackle thorny issues like those blocking the climate talks. Read more »

In India, A Reality Check

by Michael Levi Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I visited India in January, I came away deeply uncomfortable about any international climate change effort that pushes India to do more than what is already in its self-interest. On my visit last week, I spend my last two days in several rural villages, where a household income of ten dollars a day makes you rich, and wandering around Calcutta, which has largely missed the “New India” that you see in the office towers of Mumbai and Bangalore. Those two days only reinforced my earlier sense. India is simply too poor, and too ridden with other immediate problems, to be asked to make climate change a priority. Read more »

Kyoto Lives!

by Michael Levi Thursday, October 21, 2010

I’m in India this week for a series of meetings on energy, climate, and global governance, and I’ve been reminded, once again, of how wedded some major countries still are to the Kyoto protocol.

A quick bit of recent history: U.S. analysts (and many U.S. policymakers) spent much of 2009 trying to dream up the best possible successor to the Kyoto protocol. Kyoto itself, they assumed, was essentially in the past as a negotiating issue. (This was a natural extension of the U.S. domestic scene, where Kyoto is irrelevant.) Then they showed up at Copenhagen and were forced to spend much of it debating the future of Kyoto. Indeed many of the procedural issues that made a mess of the conference had to do with how Kyoto would be handled. Read more »

Digging into the “Post-Partisan Power” Study

by Michael Levi Thursday, October 14, 2010

The new Brookings/AEI/Breakthrough “Post-Partisan Power” study, which calls on policymakers to focus on energy innovation rather than carbon pricing, has been generating a lot of debate over the last day. I symphathize with those who have criticized the study for pretending to be more “bipartisan” than it actually is, and for overselling the potential of energy innovation absent government incentives that increase demand. But set that aside: what’s being missed in this debate is that most of the paper is actually a smart and thoughtful discussion of how to do energy innovation policy right. Read more »

Overselling Energy Innovation

by Michael Levi Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Leonhardt has a column in today’s New York Times which looks at at the potential for government-sponsored innovation to drive U.S. climate policy. I’m sympathetic to the argument that carbon pricing (and other demand-side policy) isn’t enough alone to transform how we produce and consume energy. But Leonhardt indulges in some bad logic that’s common enough to deserve rebutting: Read more »

The Chinese Energy Intensity Circus

by Michael Levi Wednesday, October 6, 2010

China has been much praised for its target of cutting energy intensity by twenty percent from 2005 to 2010. Indeed many of the measures it’s using to back that target up are impressive. If we’re being honest with ourselves, though, we need to admit that we have no clue whether the target is being met. Worse, we need to acknowledge that some of the steps being taken to meet it are downright counterproductive. Read more »

Explaining the BASIC Coalition

by Michael Levi Monday, October 4, 2010

I had the privilege of participating in a workshop last week in Shanghai that included participants from all four BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China). Our conversations took me back to a question that’s been bothering me since the rise of the BASIC coalition last year, and its influential (and in many ways very counterproductive) influence at Copenhagen. With BASIC set to continue its role as a major negotiating coalition, it’s important to make sure we understand what motivates each of its members to negotiate collectively. Here are some thoughts: Read more »

Regulating Oil Drilling in Cuba

by Michael Levi Friday, October 1, 2010

Cliff Krauss’s otherwise excellent article in the New York Times yesterday on the safety risks from Cuban oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had one big and important omission: it said nothing about the quality of the Cuban regulator. That quality, of course, will have big implications for the odds of the sort of oil spill that the article talks about. In a trip to Cuba this past July, I had a chance to meet with Cuban regulators and understand a bit about how they’re thinking. Read more »