Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

India Steps Up At Cancun

by Michael Levi Tuesday, November 30, 2010

India is one of the more inscrutable players on the global stage. Four years ago, when I was still spending most of my time thinking about nuclear security, I marveled at how much difficulty they had in accepting a U.S.-India nuclear deal that every non-Indian analyst thought was a gift to New Delhi. Last year, I watched in fascination as Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, floated a very forward-leaning approach to the international climate talks, only to get smacked down by the rest of the Indian establishment (and by some foreign partners). Given how Indian politics works, I suspected that that wasn’t the last we’d hear. Read more »

Could the U.S. Walk Out at Cancun?

by Michael Levi Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The buzz around the Cancun climate talks is that progress is possible on a range of issues, including things like technology centers, support for avoided deforestation, and a financial mechanism for helping developing countries. What these all have in common is that they involve developed countries doing things for developing countries. The one thing that developed countries could get in return is progress on transparency – but that file is in worse shape. Read more »

A Hint of What’s in Store at Cancun

by Michael Levi Monday, November 22, 2010

We’re now a week away from the start of the Cancun climate talks. Two big questions looming over the negotiations have been how China will address the question of transparency – it agreed last year to a process of “international consultation and analysis”, but has been balking on fleshing out the details – and whether there will be fissures within the broader group of developing countries. (There are, of course, many other big questions, not the least of which is what the United States can do given its domestic deadlock.) Read more »

A New Study on Energy Technology

by Michael Levi Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three colleagues of mine and I have a new study on low-carbon technology out today. We’re focused on what an academic would call the international political economy of energy technology and innovation policy. In plain English, what we’re asking is this: How do you craft energy technology policy when everyone seems to want to win a clean energy race? In particular, how should the United States view others’ strength in clean technology – which could encourage them to also adopt those technologies, and lower the cost of low-carbon options for everyone – when that strength can also come at the expense of U.S. economic success? Read more »

Foreign Aid, Austerity, and Climate Policy

by Michael Levi Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One of the few levers that the United States has used successfully in international climate diplomacy in the last couple years is the promise of financial help for the poorest countries in the world. Foreign aid, though, is at the top of the hit list for spending hawks in the new Congress. If you take a look at the Simpson-Bowles budget plan, released last week, you’ll see that foreign aid takes a several billion dollar hit. (Never mind that this wasn’t necessary to their assigned task of balancing the budget.) This trend shouldn’t be a surprise: during the 2008 campaign, even the Obama campaign went straight to foreign aid when asked which part of the budget they’d target if triage became essential. Read more »

A New Paper on Energy Poverty

by Michael Levi Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I’m a coauthor on a new paper, “Understanding the Scale of Investment for Universal Energy Access”, just published in Geopolitics of Energy. (The other authors are from UNIDO, the IEA, and Margaree Consultants.) We assess the cost of delivering basic electricity and modern cooking fuels to those who currently lack them (about 1.3 and 3 billion people respectively). After presenting a comprehensive review of other estimates, we derive our own: $12-134 billion for electrification, and $1.4-2.2 billion for clean cooking fuels. To be clear, this isn’t a cost estimate for government spending: it is the total annual cost, including private expenditures. The sources of this money and the policy framework for mobilizing it are separate matters. Read more »

An Oil Import Fee?

by Michael Levi Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I’m skeptical about the potential for significant progress on energy policy over the next two years. One dark horse, though, is a fee on imported oil. The politics could work: climate hawks could back it because it would cut greenhouse gas emissions; security hawks could back it because it would cut oil imports; deficit hawks could back it because it would raise revenues without raising taxes. It was particularly intruiging to see Mitch Daniels, whom some are trying to draft for a (long shot) bid for the Republican presidential nomination, float the idea a few weeks ago. Read more »