Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

An Important Report on Climate and Extreme Events

by Michael Levi Friday, November 18, 2011

The IPCC has issued a special report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (SREX). It’s an immensely useful document. Those of us whose research focuses on policy responses to climate change are bombarded daily with new studies that claim to have established that this or that cataclysmic outcome (devastating drought, mass species extinction, hurricanes galore) is a virtual certainty. But I’ve picked through too much bad climate-related work, including in top journals like Science and Nature, to simply accept every peer reviewed paper on faith. Indeed while these studies are often compelling, it’s difficult to separate those that are genuinely solid from ones that rest on less stable ground. That’s why institutions like the IPCC, and reports like this new one, are so valuable. Read more »

Has Government Spending on Energy Research Been a Waste?

by Michael Levi Monday, November 14, 2011

Steve Mufson had a piece in the Washington Post Outlook section this past weekend suggesting that the $172 billion that the U.S. government has spent on early stage energy research since 1961 has largely been a waste. (I say “suggesting” rather than “arguing” because Steve doesn’t quite make the point explicitly; that said, it’s hard to read his essay without being nudged toward that conclusion.) There’s a lot of smart stuff in the piece, but in the end, it’s unconvincing. Read more »

Can the Keystone XL Coalition Stop Climate Change?

by Michael Levi Friday, November 11, 2011

Bryan Walsh, writing at TIME, is right: Bill McKibben and the Keystone XL protestors have pulled off something pretty impressive. I’m not talking about the merits of the indefinite delay to the pipeline that the State Department announced yesterday – the substantive case for blocking Keystone is weak. But you’d have to be pretty blinkered not to acknowledge that, purely as a matter of organizing and impact, the anti-Keystone movement is punching way above its weight. Read more »

Are We All Toast After 2017?

by Michael Levi Thursday, November 10, 2011

The annual International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO) was published yesterday with an attention-grabbing headline: the chance of avoiding dangerous climate change will “be lost forever” unless the world changes course by 2017. The basic argument is simple. The world is constantly accumulating more fossil fuel based infrastructure (power plants, cars, and so on). If the infrastructure that’s expected to be in place by 2017 is allowed to live out its economic lifetime – something that seems like a realistic assumption – it alone will generate enough emissions to put the world on course for a greenhouse gas concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm), which much of the climate policy world focuses on. Since it’s implausible to imagine that no more carbon-emitting infrastructure will be built after 2017, the net result will be to bust through the safe limit. The only way out it to start curbing emissions now. Read more »

Could Expensive Oil Be Good for America?

by Michael Levi Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A basic disagreement lies at the root of many of today’s most heated energy debates: some people think that expensive oil is bad for the United States, while others think that it’s good. One side asserts that the economic benefits of cheap oil outweigh all else, while the other insists that the environmental and other damages stemming from inexpensive oil are clearly paramount. Read more »

Could Aggressive Climate Targets Backfire?

by Michael Levi Wednesday, November 2, 2011

For the past several years, international climate diplomacy has been focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions deeply enough to keep global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees centigrade.  In private, many experts and diplomats have acknowledged that that goal might be unrealistic. In public, though, pretty much everyone presented a more optimistic face. Read more »