Climate change has been a constant reality for many Filipinos, with impacts ranging from extreme weather events to periodic droughts and food scarcity. The most affected populations are coastal residents and rural communities that lack proper disaster preparedness.

Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan. Credit: The Guardian

According to the Center for Global Development, the Philippines is the world’s fourth most vulnerable country to the direct impacts of extreme weather events. Averaging 20 tropical cyclones a year, it may be the world’s most storm-exposed nation. Last November, Supertyphoon Haiyan, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded, claimed more than 10,000 lives, affected over 9 million people, and left over 600,000 Filipinos homeless. With both the oceans and the atmosphere warming, there is broad scientific consensus that typhoons are now increasing in strength.

Like most developing countries, the Philippines plays a minor role in global carbon emissions yet suffers an inordinately higher cost. With over a third of its population living in poverty, the country emits just 0.9 metric tons of carbon per capita, compared to the United States’ 17.6 metric tons. “We lose 5% of our economy every year to storms,” observes Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano. The reconstruction costs of Haiyan alone are estimated at $5.8 billion.

As the Philippines embarks on a long road to recovery, sustainability is key for post-Haiyan rebuilding. “We must build back better and more resilient communities,” says Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Philippines’ Senate Committee on Climate Change, who was named a Regional Champion by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “We must prevent disasters and be prepared for the next natural hazards. This disaster also tells us about the urgent need to save and care for our environment.”

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Climate Change, emissions reductions, energy, low-carbon, philippines, renewable energy, sustainable development, Typhoon Haiyan

One of the biggest challenges with using renewable energy for electricity generation—specifically wind and solar power—is intermittency. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Affordable, reliable, and deployable storage is seen as the holy grail of renewable energy integration, and recent advances in storage technology are getting closer to finding it.

The current electricity grid has virtually no storage—pumped hydropower is the most prevalent, but is largely location dependent. As higher levels of solar and wind energy are added to the grid, however, storage will become increasingly fundamental to ensuring that the power supply remains stable and demand is met. Utilities and businesses around the globe are starting to use large-scale batteries to complement their renewable energy generation: in Texas, for example, Duke Energy installed a 36 megawatt lead-acid storage system to balance its wind power.

Storage system ratings

Credit: Energy Storage Association

Storage technologies not only provide utilities with grid reliability for renewable integration, but also offer additional benefits such as ancillary services, ramp rate control, frequency regulation, and peak shaving, which can lower costs and improve the performance of the transmission system. Power system operators have always had to match electricity demand with supply, and energy storage is an additional tool in their grid-management toolbox.

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batteries, CAES, compressed air energy storage, electricity, electricity grid, intermittency, lithium-ion batteries, pumped-hydro storage, renewable energy, solar power, Storage, wind power

While many participants had hoped for a rocking performance by negotiators, they left still straining to hear the sounds of success.

The most recent round of the United Nations climate change negotiations began early the morning of November 11. After a marathon final session that lasted more than 24 hours, talks concluded at nearly 9 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. This dramatic finish has become an almost yearly occurrence of governments rocking all Friday night and partying every (Satur)day. With so much activity late in the game, observers might reasonably have expected a lengthy set of agreements to step up the fight against climate change. Or, at the very least, confirmation that Saturday night’s alright for fighting when nations can’t agree.

Instead, based on the reactions from many participants, the final agreements said more about the state of negotiations by what they left out than what they included. To be fair, these negotiations were not intended to reach a final decision on major climate change issues. Warsaw was built as a step toward agreement on a new climate change treaty at negotiations in Paris in December 2015. A successful agreement in Paris depends on countries making commitments to reduce their carbon pollution. Putting their cards on the table as early as possible would help even more. It would leave more time to assess if the commitments will be enough to stop dangerous and potentially runaway levels of climate change. And to negotiate stronger commitments if not.

Rather, governments, particularly the wealthiest and most polluting, spent all of Warsaw showing each other their best poker faces, with no new commitments pledged. Governments did manage to agree to state their commitments “well in advance” of Paris. They did not, however, clarify when exactly that would be.

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adaptation, Adaptation Fund, climate finance, Climate Policy, Green Climate Fund, Lima, loss and damage, music videos, Paris, Peru, Poland, REDD, Secretary-General, Typhoon Haiyan, UNFCCC, Warsaw

I arrived in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, five weeks ago. In the days prior, I had read up on this southwestern African country and its tourist sites, learned about the wildlife conservation successes it has achieved since independence in 1990, and was even reminded that this was where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie chose to give birth to their first child. But on my first night here, I was confronted with a different side of Namibia that isn’t making as many headlines.

A typical arid landscape in the Erongo region of Namibia.

Jet-lagged and disoriented, I stumbled out of my room at 2 a.m. and ran into Johannes Gabriel, the night guard at the guesthouse where I’m staying for three months. Gabriel, an Ovambo man from the village of Okapa, told me of the drought that is gripping the nation, the worst in three decades. “Many cattle and people are dying, schools are closing because children aren’t interested in education, people are waiting on long lines for food.” While much of the world may know Namibia for tourism, wildlife conservation, and famous babies, the drought has received relatively little media exposure. Greater international attention and support will be needed if these conditions are indicative of climate challenges to come.

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Africa, Climate Change, drought, ecotourism, Namibia

Over the past twenty years, climate negotiations have been dominated by concerns that addressing global warming is anti-business and onerous to future development.  The insufficient progress we have made at the last 18 COPs towards ‘preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system,’ the ultimate goal of the UN Climate Convention, is a consequence of this – and the summit currently underway in Warsaw is not exactly on course to make a change. Working in many places around the world, from Haiti to India to Europe and the United States, I have witnessed little success in convincing people of the importance of sacrifice for the global commons.  This approach has proven ineffective.

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Climate Policy, COP19, energy, Typhoon Haiyan

The European Union’s emission trading scheme (EU ETS) has hit a brick wall erected by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In an October 4 resolution, the ICAO denied a country (or in this case, a region) the right to unilaterally include another country’s airline in its ETS. Instead, the ICAO committed to agree, in 2016, to a global emissions trading mechanism that would take effect in 2020. There is no guarantee, however, that such a system will be introduced, and that it would be as environmentally beneficial as an all-inclusive EU ETS.

Source: Dave Keeshan

This is widely perceived as a political defeat of the EU, which had offered to exclude from its scheme any emissions released outside of EU airspace, but to include all emissions within it. In doing so, the EU had hoped to reach an international deal, particularly with the United States and China, which have opposed inclusion of their airlines in the EU ETS.

The EU has justified the inclusion of foreign airlines in its ETS on the basis of the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which allows for each country’s sovereignty of its own airspace. Although the consequences of the ICAO resolution are unclear, the decision is poised to make enforcement of the EU ETS in the aviation sector much more difficult.

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airline emissions, EU-ETS, European Commission, European Union, greenhouse gas emissions, United States

Significant price differences between regional natural gas markets have driven many European countries to increase coal consumption while decreasing use of natural gas (Source: BP).

Coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012 as the growth of worldwide energy use continued to slow due to the economic downturn. The relative weight of these energy sources keeps shifting, although the change was ever so slight. Natural gas increased its share of global primary energy consumption from 23.8 to 23.9 percent during 2012, coal rose from 29.7 to 29.9 percent, and oil fell from 33.4 to 33.1 percent. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2017 coal will replace oil as the dominant primary energy source worldwide.

The shale revolution in the United States is reshaping global oil and gas markets. The United States produced oil at record levels in 2012 and is expected to overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas combined in 2013. Consequently, the country is importing decreasing amounts of these two fossil fuels, while using rising levels of its natural gas for power generation. This has led to price discrepancies between the American and European natural gas markets that in turn have prompted Europeans to increase their use of coal for power generation. Coal consumption, however, was dominated by China, which in 2012 for the first time accounted for more than half of the world’s coal use.

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China, coal, Europe, India, natural gas, oil, Russia, shale gas, United States

The 40th anniversary of the Arab Oil Embargo offers a unique opportunity to reflect on four decades of developments in the energy sector in the United States and around the world. In many ways, the shock of the embargo helped reshape the world energy sector, yet four decades later many of the same problems faced in 1973 persist, especially in the United States.

The Oil Embargo forced gasoline rationing across the U.S. (source: Wikipedia)

To a large extent, fossil fuels continue to power global economic growth and energy security, and the competition for these resources remains a significant concern for governments around the world. Just as in 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the oil that its member states produce continue to be an undeniable force in global geopolitics. OPEC’s hold over 81 percent of the world’s proven crude reserves gives it a largely unchecked control over international oil prices, which it achieves by setting OPEC-wide production targets.

Although OPEC has played a key role on the production side of the international oil market over the past four decades, the consumer landscape has changed dramatically since 1973. Significant economic growth in the developing world has led to increasing competition for energy resources. Oil demand in developing countries topped demand in the industrialized nations of the OECD for the first time ever in April 2013, a drastic change from just a decade ago when all developing countries combined consumed only two-thirds of the oil used in OECD member states (by volume).

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energy policy, Oil Embargo, renewable energy, United States

In early April, leading French nuclear company AREVA signed a series of strategic agreements with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to foster a strategic civil nuclear partnership between France and China. With presidents Francois Hollande and Xi Jinping in attendance, the two governments finalized a letter of intent to build a facility for treating and recycling spent nuclear fuel in China.

Citizens protest nuclear energy in China.

Just three months after the agreement, China cancelled a planned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) nuclear fuel processing project in Heshan, Guangdong province, in the wake of opposition from local residents. Although China has both official support and the technological capacity for nuclear energy development, emerging public resistance to nuclear projects is an increasing challenge.

In 2011, nuclear power provided 13 percent of the world’s electricity, but less than 2 percent in China. The country still relies heavily on coal—accounting for 68.5 percent of electricity generation in 2012—because of its lower cost and greater accessibility. Meanwhile, China’s carbon emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 7 percent since 2000, reaching 7.57 billion tons in 2011, according to the International Energy Agency.

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China, Climate Policy, greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power, wind power

During my past efforts to decipher the UN climate negotiations on this blog, I’ve said once or twice that the most important thing about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences, a.k.a. the COPs (Conference of the Parties), is not so much what they deliver – often very little – but rather the conversations they start, the incoherencies they lay bare, and the movements that emerge in their trail.

Peru is preparing to host the 20th round of UN climate talks in 2014, a crucial step on the path to a global agreement in 2015 (Source: Peruvian Government).

At the Regional Workshop organized by CliMates in Bogotá, Colombia last week, I had the chance to observe it for myself. CliMates, an international, student-led think-and-do-tank dedicated to the elaboration and implementation of innovative solutions to climate change, had put together this conference in an effort to gather young climate leaders from the LAC region, so that they could share skills, exchange climate knowledge, and elaborate together a strategy for Latin American youth involvement and influence in 2014.

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Climate Change, Climate Policy, COP 20, Copenhagen Accord, Latin America