Tracking climate initiatives

The launch of Climate Interactive’s scoreboard widget has been a hit – 10,500 views and 259 installs on the first day. Be sure to check out the video.

It’s a lot of work to get your arms around the diverse data on country targets that lies beneath the widget. Sometimes commitments are hard to translate into hard numbers because they’re just vague, omit key data like reference years, or are expressed in terms (like a carbon price) that can’t be translated into quantities with certainty. CI’s data is here.

There are some other noteworthy efforts:

Update: one more from WRI

Update II: another from the UN

State Emissions Commitments

For the Pangaea model, colleagues have been compiling a useful table of international emissions commitments. That will let us test whether, if fulfilled, those commitments move the needle on global atmospheric GHG concentrations and temperatures (currently they don’t).

I’ve been looking for the equivalent for US states, and found it at Pew Climate. It’s hard to get a mental picture of the emissions trajectory implied by the various commitments in the table, so I combined them with emissions data from EPA (fossil fuel CO2 only) to reconcile all the variations in base years and growth patterns.

The history of emissions from 1990 to 2005, plus future commitments, looks like this:

State emissions commitments, vs. 1990, CO2 basis

Note that some states have committed to “long term” reductions, without a specific date, which are shown above just beyond 2050. There’s a remarkable amount of variation in 1990-2005 trends, ranging from Arizona (up 55%) to Massachusetts (nearly flat).

Continue reading “State Emissions Commitments”

Dimensions of The Deal

In the Tällberg event we talked a lot about the deal we need, without really defining what was meant by that. I think it has at least four dimensions:


What science drives the goal? Is it 350ppm? 450ppm? 550ppm? 2C?


What regions or sectors will move first, and what transfers will the rich or the winners use to induce the poor or the losers to play along? Do transfers consist of money, intellectual property, or both?


What form will commitments take, who will make them, and how will they be implemented? Will the mechanism favor taxes or trading, for example? Will standards be expressed as intensities or absolute emissions or … ? How will goals and mechanisms adapt as we learn about uncertainties?


We don’t have a deal now because we don’t have the coalition needed to make it happen. Some combination of the public, politicians, media, religion, education, etc. needs to come together to create critical mass behind a policy. We have fragments (the EU, California) but not a whole. I rather doubt that there is a quick, transformative solution (unless catastrophe drives us to one, which I’d rather not contemplate).

I say “critical mass” deliberately, because what we’re all implicitly searching for is a reinforcing feedback that will grow policy out of its current dysfunctional state. The question is, what is that loop? My guess is that it involves starting gradually. Don’t shoot for the moon and fail. Instead, take a little medicine at first. Impose a modest carbon tax. Observe that the economy doesn’t collapse, and efficiency is cheap or even profitable. Greentech gets a little more profitable, and the more numerous low-carbon voters grow to enjoy their tax rebates. Enlisting their support allows the tax to be ratcheted up further, and soon you’re rolling toward real emissions controls. But is the gain on that loop high enough to yield emissions reductions in time to avoid catastrophe?