Sustainability is an often used term, but its meaning can be elusive. In natural resource planning, deciding what's sustainable is context-specific and requires stakeholders with often conflicting objectives to come together and develop a shared understanding of sustainability.
SEI's work in California water resources management provides many examples of how researchers and decision makers can work together to articulate the abstract notion of sustainability into its locally-specific, multi-dimensional components. One such effort, "Implementing California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act: Farmer Perceptions And The Balance Of Groundwater And Economic Sustainability", has been supported by a recent $484,764 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by SEI will work with water users in Yolo County, California, to help form their groundwater sustainability agency and to draft a groundwater management plan.
Groundwater provides a buffer that farmers who rely on irrigation can draw on in times of drought. But this economic benefit often comes at the cost of groundwater depletion from over-extraction, and associated impacts like land subsidence. This is especially true in areas like the U.S. High Plains and California's Central Valley.
Economic and food security benefits of using water for farming are well known: California produces about 13% of U.S. agricultural output, including half of its fruit and vegetables. This production is very water intensive. The state draws 11% of the nation's freshwater, with 80% of human water use going to agricultural irrigation. Aquifers supply 38% of California's total water supply on average, and 74% of that groundwater extraction occurs in the Central Valley. A trend away from annual crops to perennial fruit and nut trees means farmers can no longer let land go fallow in times of drought. Trees must continue to be irrigated to survive, come rain or shine.
Meanwhile, cities, industry and the environment also demand water, and climate change is already reducing supply, causing an estimated 10% decline in average spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada over the past century. When there's less surface water flowing out of the mountains, users draw more from underground.
Until recently, the state left groundwater management as a voluntary activity up to local managers, except in "adjudicated basins" where the courts have stepped in to regulate groundwater use. That changed with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), adopted in 2014.
Click on the external link below to read the full article on the SEI website.
A huge demand has developed for oil for biodiesel and now also for aviation biofuel, but finding a sustainable source has been hard.
Oil palm is sturdy and highly productive, but grows best in wet tropical areas, and vast swaths of rainforest have been razed to make way for it. Jatropha also raised hopes, because it can grow in poor soil with minimal inputs, but it turned out not to be as hardy and self-sufficient as initially thought.
Now, Acrocomia aculeata, also called macaúba or macaw palm, is gaining attention as a potential sustainable biomass feedstock, particularly for biofuel. A newly published paper says the tree has promise, but also faces significant risks, and more study must be done before attempting commercial cultivation.
The macaw palm is common from Florida through South America. It has been used traditionally for food, fodder, fibre, medicine and soap. Recent studies have shown that oil extracted from the pulp of the plant’s fruit has great potential for use as biofuel, while oil from the pit is good for cosmetics and food products. In addition, the press cake left over after oil extraction is good for animal feed, and the shell of the pit can be used as fuel or for producing activated charcoal.
It appears to grow well in areas that have been disturbed by human activity and have meagre resources, such as degraded pastures and along roads. That’s important to ensuring its use for biofuel wouldn’t displace other land uses. It also helps that the largest natural populations are in Brazil, one of the world leaders in biofuels production.
"It has relatively high yields, even in natural stands," says Rob Bailis, an SEI-US senior scientist who co-authored the paper. "So that with some effort to breed high-yielding cultivars, production could rival palm oil, but with far fewer negative impacts."
Air travel and freight play a growing role around the world. Passenger bookings nearly doubled from 2004 to 2015, to 3.5 billion, and are expected to rise to 6.63 billion by 2032. Cargo flights are forecast to nearly triple, to 4.4 million in 2040. And with this growth, greenhouse gas emissions are rising as well.
International aviation emitted about 490.4 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide in 2013, 1.5% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion that year. The UN agency that oversees the industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), expects CO2 emissions to rise to 682–755 Mt by 2020 and to 1223–1376 Mt by 2035, even with projected efficiency improvements in aircrafts and operations.
Amid growing pressure to curb aviation emissions, ICAO set a global aspirational goal that growth from 2020 onward be "carbon neutral" in terms of net CO2 emissions. Improvements to aircraft technology and operations would narrow the gap. The rest would be closed by using alternative fuels and a global Market-Based Measure (MBM) that would allow carriers to offset their emissions by buying permits and credits from other sectors, starting in 2020. Final approval of the MBM is expected at the 39th ICAO Assembly, scheduled for September 27 to October 7.
In a study commissioned by WWF-UK, SEI examined the potential supply of carbon offsets and of jet fuel alternatives, considering both climate benefits and potential sustainable development impacts.
The offset analysis found that in 2020–2035, carbon offsets from project types for which there is high confidence in environmental integrity, and which also advance sustainable development goals, could yield cumulative emission reductions of around 3.0 Gt CO2e, or 70–90% of ICAO’s projected demand for emission reductions of 3.3–4.5 Gt CO2e.
U.S. fossil fuel production is at an all-time high, up by 20% in energy terms since 2010. The U.S. now ranks first in the world in oil and gas, and second in coal production. About a quarter of the fuels being extracted, including two-fifths of all coal, come from lands and waters leased to producers by the federal government.
These leasing systems have been in place for generations and are a significant source of government revenue. Yet the capital-intensive investments they enable can "lock in" coal, oil and gas production at high levels for decades to come, making it more difficult and expensive to transition to cleaner, low-carbon alternatives.
At the same time, President Obama has made climate change a policy priority. He’s moving fast to ratify the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming "well below 2°C" and try to stay closer to 1.5°C. In his 2016 State of the Union address, he said we need "to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet".
As part of a review of the federal coal program, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), which oversees the fossil fuel leasing systems, is considering a possible declining schedule of leases "consistent with the United States' climate goals and commitments". The administration is also looking at its offshore oil and gas leasing program, and could take climate considerations into account there as well. U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have also introduced legislation that would stop all future leasing activity.
Climate and energy policy observers sometimes argue that supply-side measures like this are ineffectual, because even if fossil fuel production goes down in one place, someone else will quickly fill the gap. Yet a new analysis from SEI suggests it could make a real difference.
"Even after accounting for increased production elsewhere, and after considering that, for example, some coal will be replaced by added gas, we found fossil fuel consumption would drop enough to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 100 million metric tons in 2030," says Peter Erickson, a senior scientist in SEI's U.S. Center in Seattle and lead author of the study. "That is a substantial benefit – greater than that of several of the policies the Obama administration has proposed in its Climate Action Plan."
SEI Senior Scientist Peter Erickson has been focusing attention on how changes to the supply of fossil fuels can affect consumption and, therefore, CO2 emissions. In a new blog post, Erickson looks into the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) plan to lease new areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic for offshore oil and gas drilling. As part of its required environmental review, the DOI has looked at how much expanding offshore oil and gas supply would affect CO2 emissions.
A draft analysis by the DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of the implications of the plan estimates that the leases would, over the projects' 50-year lifetimes, yield more than 8 billion barrels of oil. It found emissions from oil consumption "are assumed to be roughly equivalent under both the Program and No Sale options". In other words, adding 8 billion barrels of oil to the world would make no difference for oil consumption and CO2 emissions.
But BOEM's own analysis found the new oil production would leave a net increase in U.S. consumption of about 450 million barrels, equivalent to almost a year's worth of all U.S. offshore oil production, and release 190 million metric tons of CO2 when combusted. Also, an estimated 7.5 billion barrels of oil from other countries that the U.S. would no longer import would have ripple effects elsewhere. A very simple calculation showed an increase in consumption outside the U.S. of 4 billion barrels, equivalent to 1.7 billion metric tons of CO2.
Click on the external link below to read a blog post by Erickson on the impact of offshore oil and gas exploration.
High in the Andes mountain range, well above the treeline, grass and scrub grow on soft, spongy soil dotted with chilly blue ponds. It is a unique tropical alpine ecosystem, the páramo, which covers some 36,000 km2 across parts of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
The remote wetlands are crucial to the water supply of farms and towns downstream. Researchers have estimated that 40 million people depend directly on Andean páramos for their water resources. In Peru's Piura region, near the Ecuadoran border, SEI has estimated that although páramos cover only 5% of the watershed area, they contribute up to 50% of river flows during dry seasons in those watersheds.
"They act like sponges, absorbing rain and moisture from the air," SEI Senior Scientist Francisco Flores-López says. "In the dry season, especially, water from the páramos may be the main source of water for human, animal and agricultural use, and even for hydropower generation in some basins."
Building on a World Bank-financed study that had emphasized the importance of páramos for water security, SEI set out to build capacity within local communities, government agencies and regional water resource management authorities to conserve and manage páramos in the Piura region.
The first step was to develop a good model of páramo hydrology. Due to the geophysical diversity of the landscape and limited data availability, few studies have modelled the páramos, and those that have looked only at the ecosystems themselves — not on what happens to the water as it flows down from the mountains. Using SEI's Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) system, Flores-López and colleagues developed a more comprehensive model to simulate the impacts of both climate change and human activities, as well as the benefits of potential adaptation measures.
The model showed that rising temperatures and reduced precipitation would affect water availability. But land use change — specifically, the conversion of páramo to new uses and degradation of the páramo — had an even greater effect.
Between 2012 and 2015, SEI-US Senior Scientist Marisa Escobar led a major project in Colombia that aimed to build climate change adaptation capacity in the country's watersheds by combining state-of-the-art modeling, technical training, and participatory techniques.
The project, Ríos del Páramo al Valle, por Urbes y Campiñas (rivers from the moorlands to the valley, through cities and countryside), was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Using a practice called robust decision support, together with Colombian academic and NGO colleagues, SEI worked with regional water management agencies (Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales or CARs), to evaluate risks and competing demands for water and identify adaptation options to reduce vulnerability, support sustainable development, and help conserve vulnerable ecosystems.
Colombia is rich in water resources, but some of its largest rivers have been greatly altered to provide hydropower, irrigation and water for household and industrial use, impacting both the quantity and quality of available water. This year in particular, reduced flows due to a strong El Niño have raised questions about the reliability of the country's water supply. Looking ahead, it is clear that Colombia will need to manage its resources carefully. This is all the more important in the post-conflict era, as securing rural livelihoods is critical for long-term peace.
Click on the link below to read a blog from Escobar synthesizing lessons from the project.
Richard Denniss, of the Australia Institute, says it's simple: His country wants to build massive new coal mines. World leaders want to reduce carbon emissions. "One of us is going to have to lose."
At the Paris Climate Change Conference and at countless rallies and demonstrations, activists made it clear that they see growing fossil fuel supplies as a major threat to the climate, and they want governments to stop subsidizing fossil fuel production, stop investing in infrastructure that supports fossil fuel industries, and stop new mines and oil fields from being developed.
Yet, as Harro van Asselt, co-leader of SEI's Initiative on Fossil Fuels and Climate Change, notes, the term "fossil fuel" does not appear once in the Paris Agreement. Even a line urging the Parties to "reduce international support for high-emission investments" was cut from the final text.
Are policy-makers ignoring a key part of the solution to the climate problem? And if they did want to tackle the fossil fuel supply, how would they go about doing it? That was the focus of two events hosted at COP21 by the fossil fuels initiative.
The first, on 3 December, brought together a group of about 35 experts and policy-makers to explore supply-side climate policy options, including potential benefits, limitations, and opportunities for and barriers to their implementation. The second, on 4 December in the Climate Generations space set up for civil society, drew more than 150 people from a broad range of backgrounds.
Cities have emerged as pioneers in climate action, with mayors working to improve public transit, reduce traffic congestion, promote walking and biking, create more green space, and also often to promote renewables, energy efficiency, and measures to boost climate resilience.
Through high-profile alliances such as C40 and the Compact of Mayors, urban leaders have also become prominent advocates for global climate action, urging their peers to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in their communities, sharing knowledge, and promoting best practices.
Yet as important a role as cities play, a new SEI analysis funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies shows that on their own, they can only achieve a fraction of their mitigation potential. To achieve the rest, support from national and state/provincial governments will be crucial: from new laws, regulations and standards, to funding, to reforms that give cities the powers they need to take action.
"Many cities today are leaders and pioneers, pushing policy forward in a bottom-up fashion, and the work they’re doing is essential, but it's not enough," says Derik Broekhoff, a Seattle-based researcher at SEI-US and lead author of the study. "What is really needed is for all levels of government to work together to address emissions in the fastest, most effective, and most efficient way possible."
The study, What Cities Do Best: Piecing Together an Efficient Global Climate Governance, builds on prior work by SEI that showed that urban mitigation actions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3.7 Gt CO2e in 2030 relative to current trends, and up to 8 Gt CO2e in 2050; that is up to 15% of the global GHG reductions required to stay on a 2°C pathway, the authors estimated.
The new analysis identifies three potential roles that cities can play in achieving those reductions:
• They can be the primary policy architects and leaders. Spatial planning, transit systems, and waste management are prime candidates for this, as city governments are likely to have the technical capacity, and knowledge of local circumstances and stakeholders is paramount.
• They can be critical implementers of policies developed and enacted at higher levels of government. Energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and vehicles, for example, have the greatest impact when they are widely applied, and the greatest potential to transform markets.
• They can be strategic partners, by pursuing locally targeted actions to maximize the impact of policies orchestrated at higher levels of government. In this case, cities would not implement the national policies, but undertake separate, complementary actions.
For more than 20 years, Senior Scientist Charlie Heaps has worked to develop and improve LEAP, the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system. He has traveled around the world, training hundreds of people to use the software – and teaching them new ways to think about climate and energy.
He created COMMEND, an online community for energy planners in developing countries that now has more than 20,000 members. He has applied LEAP in numerous national, sub-national, regional and global studies, and secured funding to further expand LEAP's capabilities and to train more users.
In recent years, LEAP has become the tool of choice for many developing countries doing integrated resource planning, greenhouse gas mitigation assessments, and low-emission development strategies. Several countries also used it crafting their mitigation pledges ("intended nationally determined contributions", or INDCs) for the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference.
On October 16 in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Heaps, who was also U.S. Center director from 2006 to 2014, was honored with one of the first-ever LEDS Global Partnership Leadership Awards, for "Leading Design".
Heaps was one of three "champions" from around the world recognized for their "outstanding vision and action to achieve low-emission, sustainable development". Andrea Guerrero, director of economic, environmental and social affairs in Colombia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, won an award for "Acting on Implementation", and Kanya Onsri, president of the Environmental Conservation and Alternative Career Community in Thailand, was recognized for "Achieving Results".
"These LEDS leaders are transforming the way development is done on the ground," said Ashley Allen, LEDS coordinator for the U.S. State Department, in a news release. "Their efforts show that climate-smart economic development can benefit people, communities, and the environment."
LEAP has been used by thousands of organizations in more than 190 countries around the world to guide decisions on sustainable development. LEAP and its associated training materials and documentation are available free of charge to qualified academic, governmental and not-for-profit organizations based in the developing world and to students worldwide. Consulting companies, utilities and other businesses can also get access to LEAP through affordably priced licensing arrangements.
As the summer draws to a close in California, all hopes are on El Niño rains providing much-needed relief for this drought-stricken state. Yet even if rain falls where it's most needed – in the northern and central parts of the state – the water crisis will be far from over. With demand that exceeds the sustainable supply, and climate change leading to hotter and drier weather conditions, water scarcity is almost certainly "the new normal", as Governor Jerry Brown has put it.
SEI has worked with water resources managers in California for many years, and as state and local officials seek long-term solutions to the water crisis, they are relying on SEI's Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) tool and on the expertise of SEI scientists based in Davis, in the heart of the Central Valley.
"The main lesson from these four years of drought is that we need a more sustainable and long-term approach to water use – and one in which decisions are made involving all key water stakeholders in the state," says Vishal Mehta, a senior scientist at SEI-US. Using WEAP and a complementary participatory approach developed by SEI, "robust decision support" (RDS), water agencies in California are exploring their options for a drier future.
Water has long been a contentious issue in the state, with supplies strained by a growing population of 39 million and 50 billion USD, water-intensive agriculture sector. Declining river flows also threaten biodiversity and hydropower. Policy-makers and planners thus face tough choices. Accurate information and good tools to model supply and demand under different scenarios are crucial.
This is where WEAP comes in. First developed by SEI in 1988, and constantly expanded and improved since, WEAP takes an integrated approach to water resources planning, looking at supply and demand together to identify key factors that affect water system performance and to model different management strategies.
"WEAP gives us a holistic view," says SEI-US Water Group Director David Purkey. "It allows us, in collaboration with our water management partners in California, to look at how climate change might affect snowmelt in the Sierras, the patterns of runoff in rivers, what is needed for the health of ecosystems under a warmer future, and how this affects different water users such as farmers or urban residents. Then we can test different policy options, and find the solutions that are most robust in a wide range of future scenarios."
Hydropower is very important for Colombia – in the last decade, it has provided three-quarters of all electricity. With the economy growing by an average of 3.5% per year, the country needs to boost energy production, and there are plans to build several dozen new large and mid-sized hydropower dams.
From an energy perspective, the benefits are clear: 26 dams on the Magdalena River Basin, Colombia's largest, already provide about 33,400 GWh of power per year, and two major plants under construction, plus 30 planned projects, would boost hydropower capacity in the basin by more than 160%.
But the Magdalena River is not just an energy source: it also feeds a natural treasure, the wetlands of the Mompos Depression. Annual large-scale inundation of the Mompos floodplains regulates water, nutrient and sediment cycles that sustain a rich biodiversity and crucial ecosystem services.
Aiming to ensure that hydropower development is sustainable and does not disrupt key ecosystems, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has promoted a basin-wide integrated management and planning approach, "Hydropower by Design". As part of this approach, TNC teamed up with SEI to build a model of the Magdalena River Basin using SEI's Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system.
"This is part of a broader project funded by USAID [the U.S. Agency for International Development] to develop tools to support adaptation to climate change in Colombia," says Marisa Escobar, a senior scientist at SEI-US and leader of the USAID project.
"TNC was already studying the Magdalena basin, and they asked us for technical support to integrate WEAP with their concept of ELOHA (ecologic limits of hydrologic alteration), a process to identify conservation areas in the context of water systems management. USAID suggested that we work together to support sustainable hydropower development."
As part of the SEI Initiative on Fossil Fuels and Climate Change, SEI-US senior scientists Peter Erickson, Michael Lazarus and Sivan Kartha have been studying the dynamics of "carbon lock-in" – the tendency for certain carbon-intensive technological systems to persist over time, "locking out" lower-carbon alternatives, due to a combination of linked technical, economic, and institutional factors.
In a new journal article, they present a simple approach to assessing the speed, strength, and scale of carbon lock-in for major energy-consuming assets in the power, buildings, industry, and transport sectors. They pilot the approach at the global level, finding that carbon lock-in is greatest for coal power plants, gas power plants, and vehicles. Below, the researchers answer questions about their work.
Q: When people talk about carbon lock-in, coal power is often the top concern. Is that justified, and what can be done to avoid this kind of lock-in?
PE: Our research confirms that there's very little, if any, room for new coal power plants in a low-carbon future. Moratoria on new coal plants, or aggressive performance standards for new power plants such as have been implemented in the U.S., should be seriously considered, particularly in higher-income countries. Countries that have already taken this step and have large coal deposits (again, the U.S. is a good example) may want to go further by moving away from coal extraction, so that their coal resources don’t flow to other countries and contribute to carbon lock-in there. (We explore carbon lock-in risks on the supply side in a separate discussion brief.)
Q: You find a relatively low carbon price could "unlock" coal plant emissions. But wouldn’t that just create stranded assets?
ML: Indeed, lock-in and stranded assets are like the opposite side of the same coin. Moving rapidly to a low-carbon energy system will necessarily mean retiring some coal plants early. By ceasing to build new coal plants now, government and industry decision-makers can avoid both lock-in and further stranding of assets. The problem is that few countries today even have high enough carbon prices to send this signal (30 USD/tCO2 and up).
Twenty-five years ago, SEI published the first version of its Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system. Year after year, the software kept evolving and expanding, adding new features as SEI helped policy-makers and planners tackle ever more complex challenges.
Several U.S. government agencies, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and many others have funded key enhancements. In 2001–05, for example, for a major project for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SEI added land use change and climate scenario modelling, which would become crucial for water resources, development and adaptation planning.
Today, WEAP is used by planners and researchers around the world. More than 40 WEAP-based studies were published last year alone – and the WEAP user forum has more than 18,000 members. Free one-year licenses to nonprofit, governmental or academic organizations based in developing countries have brought powerful analytical tools to users who could not otherwise afford them.
And through SEI research and capacity-building projects, WEAP capabilities continue to grow. In August, developer Jack Sieber, deputy director of SEI's U.S. Center, released a major new update of WEAP that brings together multiple enhancements made for recent SEI projects:
• A new tool to model glacier shrinkage and growth and its impact on water systems, developed through SEI work in the Andes;;p;>
• Capacity to analyze the impacts of changes in streamflow due to human activities (e.g. building a dam, deforestation) on ecosystems, through the integration of The Nature Conservancy's Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration – the result of a collaboration in Colombia;
• Modelling of the complex interactions between wetlands, river networks and floodplains, with improved understanding of flood risks – also a result of the Colombia project;
• Much faster processing, up to 100 times faster for some models, making it easier to work with very large models with many scenarios – an improvement that greatly helped the California State Water Board in its use of WEAP for statewide water planning.
"Managing water resources sustainably requires understanding a lot of complex interactions, weighing many different factors, and grappling with significant uncertainties," says Sieber. "That is why WEAP is designed to be flexible, easy to expand and connect with other tools – so users can adapt it to their specific setting. We expect these new features to be useful to analysts all around the world, in both developed and developing countries."
Click on the external link below to read the full story on the SEI website.
The first in-depth review of JI's environmental integrity shows about three-quarters of credits may not represent actual emission reductions, and their use to meet mitigation targets may have increased emissions by about 600 million tonnes. The findings are directly relevant to ongoing UN climate talks.
Joint Implementation is one of two offsetting mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, along with the Clean Development Mechanism. It enables countries with emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to generate Emission Reduction Units (ERUs) from greenhouse gas reduction projects and transfer them to other countries. As of March 2015, almost 872 million ERUs had been issued under JI.
But while JI is meant to support climate change mitigation by making it more cost-effective, a new SEI study shows that it seriously undermined global climate action. In a random sample of 60 JI projects, 73% of the offsets came from projects for which additionality was not plausible – that is, the projects would likely have proceeded even without carbon revenues.
The study also examined the six largest project types across JI, and found only one, N2O abatement from nitric acid production, had overall high environmental integrity – meaning the projects were likely to be truly additional and not overcredited. Altogether, the study found that about 80% of ERUs issued came from project types of low or questionable environmental integrity.
The design of JI is meant to safeguard against non-additional projects: Host countries must cancel one of their emission allowances for every ERU issued. But the study found more than 95% of ERUs were issued by countries with significant surpluses of allowances. If those countries issued non-additional ERUs, they would not have to make up the difference by further reducing emissions at home. Thus, ERUs worth about 600 Mt CO2e issued as of March 2015 may not represent actual emission reductions.
"The implications are particularly serious for the EU Emissions Trading System," says Anja Kollmuss, an SEI associate who led the study. "Almost two-thirds of JI credits were used in the EU ETS, so the poor overall quality of JI projects may have undermined the EU's emission reduction target by some 400 Mt CO2e. For context, that is about a third of the emission reductions required by the EU ETS from 2013 to 2020."
Just five months from now, world leaders will gather in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) to negotiate a new global agreement to reduce emissions and address the unavoidable impacts of climate change. To a great extent, the discussions are political – but science also plays a crucial role. It is science that explains how greenhouse gas emissions from different sources are affecting the climate, and how well different mitigation or adaptation measures will work to reduce climate risks. Scientific research is also important for understanding and addressing key challenges in climate governance and finance.
Our Common Future Under Climate Change (CFCC15), which brings together nearly 2,000 scientists from almost 100 countries, aims to ensure that negotiators have the best and latest research to inform their work. Building on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, the meeting will explore the latest scientific understanding of all dimensions of climate change management, from sustainable economic models and social attitudes, to technological innovations.
"This conference is deliberately solutions-focused," says Chris Field, chair of the CFCC15 Scientific Committee and head of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, in the conference announcement. "A wide variety of evidence-based solutions are economically attractive and scaleable, to both limit the amount of climate change that occurs and prepare us to deal as effectively as possible with the changes that cannot be avoided. It is not scientists' role to tell governments what to do in December, but to illuminate the choices – each with different levels of cost and risk, as well as opportunities to help build robust economies and vibrant communities."
The meeting is co-hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Université Pierre et Marie Curie. It is organized under the umbrella of the International Council for Science (ICSU), Future Earth, UNESCO and major French research institutions, with the support of the French Government.
SEI is convening two parallel sessions on Day 3 of the conference (Thursday, 9 July) – one on climate finance, and a second on fossil fuels and climate change mitigation. Each builds on ongoing SEI Initiatives.
A symposium on June 3 in Bogotá brought together experts from water management institutions and academia to share lessons from a major USAID-funded project on climate change adaptation.
Three years ago, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), SEI launched the project "Ríos del Páramo al Valle, por Urbes y Campiñas" (rivers from the moorlands to the valleys, through cities and countryside). The aim was to develop capacity for climate change adaptation in water resources management in Colombia's coffee-growing region and other areas.
Since then, the project team has worked closely with stakeholders to develop WEAP models of the Río La Vieja and Alto Magdalena watersheds, built local capacity for water resources planning and adaptation, and worked to strengthen local institutions.
A symposium on June 3, in Bogotá, "Water, Climate and Adaptation", provided an opportunity to take stock of the project, bringing together experts and decision-makers to discuss the lessons learned about climate change adaptation through the use of tools and local capacity built through the past three years' efforts.
"This dialogue builds on our work over the last three years, backed by USAID, in which we have used technical information from models to examine the future of these watersheds under different external pressures from climate change and development," says Marisa Escobar, a senior scientist at SEI-US in Davis, Calif., and native of Colombia who has led the project.
"This information, built into a participatory process, has enabled us to identify the adaptation measures that would best meet sectors' water needs in the face of future uncertainties," she adds. "It has also allowed the technical staff of the Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales [the regional bodies that manage water resources] to learn about methods to quantify the effects of climate change and understand adaptive capacity in the watershed."
Colombia's National Policy for Integrated Water Resources Management (PNGIRH) has enabled important advancements in legislation and in planning processes. Still, the challenges faced by decision-makers trying to plan for the future of key watersheds are complex, riddled with uncertainty. The process is further complicated by the violence in Colombia's recent past; key decisions about future development are closely linked with the peace and reconciliation process.
"Watershed planning in Colombia with a view to adapting to climate change is of crucial importance for ensuring that development associated with the peace process is sustainable," Escobar says.
In this context, the Ríos del Páramo al Valle project aimed not only to provide improved technical tools to support decision-making, but also to develop participatory processes that could engage a broad range of stakeholders in identifying key challenges and finding solutions.
By adapting the RAND Corporation's robust decision-making approach to local needs (in an approach dubbed "Robust Decision Support"), SEI has worked to create a systematic process for gathering and analyzing information, with stakeholder participation at every key step. A wide range of partners in Colombia have been worked on the project, resulting in a substantial capacity-building that will benefit the region well after the project is finished.
The symposium was structured as a series of techno-political dialogues, each including a technical adviser, a policy adviser, and a decision-maker. Participants were asked for feedback about the project results, and about the potential for the tools and methodologies developed through the project to strengthen planning processes. They were also asked about expectations and plans for the future.
Click on the external link below to visit the project blog.
A new analysis shows that replacing coal with gas in the power sector can bring significant benefits, but the climate-economy "win-win" seen recently in the U.S. may be hard to replicate – or even to sustain long-term.
The U.S. shale gas revolution has dramatically increased supplies of low-cost natural gas, upended U.S. coal markets, and led many electric utilities to switch from coal to natural gas, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While there remain concerns about some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the trend toward increasing use of natural gas is widely expected to continue.
The U.S. experience has heightened interest in natural gas as a potential "bridge" to a low-carbon energy future. Energy demand continues to rise rapidly around the world; without new policies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that more than 1,000 GW of new coal power capacity will be added in 2013–2035 alone. Expanding the natural gas supply, many argue, could help avoid "locking-in" coal power by providing a cleaner, more efficient alternative while renewable technologies are scaled up.
Yet an analysis for the New Climate Economy project shows the climate implications of increased natural gas use are far from straightforward. While it could, indeed, help avoid "lock-in" of new coal power plants, it could also "lock out" other, lower-emission alternatives. Without carefully designed policy "guardrails", the authors warn, using a natural gas as a "bridge" could be very risky.
"Natural gas is inherently attractive to policy-makers – it has air pollution benefits, it's a conventional option, and if produced locally, it enhances energy security and creates jobs. So it's very tempting to see it as a climate solution in the short to medium term," says Michael Lazarus, senior scientist and U.S. Center director at SEI and lead author of the paper.
Michael Lazarus, who became Center Director on Jan. 1, has built his career at SEI. He joined the U.S. Center in 1989, when it was housed at the Tellus Institute in Boston, focusing on reform of the U.S. electricity sector and on energy planning and climate change mitigation capacity-building.
In the early 2000s, after moving to Seattle, he turned his attention to state and local climate action, working with stakeholders in nearly a dozen U.S. states. He has also worked extensively on international climate policy, including carbon markets, and served on the Clean Development Mechanism's Methodology Panel. Most recently, he has focused on what he calls "the vast gulf between energy policy and climate policy" - in particular between the push to exploit fossil fuel resources and support for a transition to a low-carbon, green economy.
Q: What led you to apply for the Center Director position?
ML: I care deeply about SEI and the U.S. Center, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to help it grow, in size, in global impact, and in workplace vibrancy and fulfillment. I have been with SEI since its inception, and have stayed on for three core reasons: the mission, the colleagues, and the ability to continuously reinvent and stretch oneself that SEI offers. SEI is great place to work, to explore intellectual passions, and to translate insights into policy change.
Q: What are your goals as director?
ML: Among my initial goals are to diversify our research capabilities, attract new talent, and increase our presence in both academic and policy-oriented publications. Ultimately, I want to amplify our collective contributions at the intersection of science and policy, where SEI fills a unique and highly valued role. That said, I see goal-setting for the Center as a very interactive process that builds on the ambitions and talents of our team, and we're putting a number of steps in place to strengthen that process.
One of SEI's greatest strengths is the breadth of our knowledge, skills and perspectives. We have a well-recognized global presence, at the level of international processes (climate, energy, water, etc.) as well as among national, regional and local institutions and policy-makers. The U.S. Center is home to one of the top experts on climate equity, as well as some of the world's most widely used energy and water planning software tools (LEAP and WEAP), with a global capacity building-programme. We also work closely with stakeholders and policy-makers in the states where we have offices – Massachusetts, California and Washington – to guide state and local water, energy and climate goals and policies.
In the lead-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015, countries around the world are exploring what role they could play in global emission reduction efforts, which will be communicated as pledges called "intended nationally determined contributions" (INDCs).
As evidenced by the heated debates in Lima, which stretched the conference well past its scheduled ending, multiple factors will play into the scope and ambition of INDCs – most notably what governments perceive as fair and in their citizens' interests.
But at least as important is what is actually possible: some countries have ample renewable-energy potential, for example, while others do not; some still have large populations without electricity, and cooking with firewood; others are middle-income countries where increasingly, emissions are driven by the consumption of burgeoning middle classes.
Two major interlinked projects, CLIMACAP and LAMP (Latin America Modelling Project), sponsored by the EU and the U.S. government, respectively, have been exploring the potential for mitigation in Latin America – both across the region, and specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. SEI is part of the CLIMACAP team, and it has also worked extensively with Latin American countries using the LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) tool.
On 12 December, SEI and the CLIMACAP/LEAP coordinators co-hosted a side-event to share project findings and discuss more broadly how international and national-scale models can inform more ambitious climate policies. Mónica Araya, co-founder of NIVELA and Costa Rica Limpia, two NGOs focused on low-carbon and sustainable development, moderated the event.
SEI's Charlie Heaps, developer of LEAP, focused his presentation on how national planners can develop similar studies in their own countries. To show key aspects of a useful national model, Heaps briefly demonstrated LEAP, showing how different policy levers could be adjusted to immediately gauge the impact of a measure on emissions, energy security and other factors.
The Lima Climate Change Conference ran from 1 to 13 December. This is the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP10).
Eleven SEI staff, including three from SEI US, participated in events on low-emissions development, intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), adaptation knowledge-sharing, frontier landscapes and other topics, and shared SEI's latest work.
One of the biggest obstacles to climate action is the fear that it will stanch economic growth – and, in poorer countries, much-needed development. But a major new report co-authored by SEI shows that today's fast-changing economy offers many opportunities to improve economic growth and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.
In fact, the evidence shows, there are real benefits to tackling both together, rather than separately.
"The New Climate Economy report refutes the idea that we must choose between fighting climate change or growing the world's economy. That is a false dilemma," said former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which comprises 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries.
"Today's report details compelling evidence on how technological change is driving new opportunities to improve growth, create jobs, boost company profits and spur economic development," Calderón added. "The report sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time."
The report is the product of an intensive year of research, analysis and consultations. It has been reviewed by an expert team of world-leading economists chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern, and was formally unveiled at a global launch event on 16 September at UN headquarters in New York, attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and government, business and finance leaders. Launch events were also held simultaneously in Stockholm and in Oslo and Addis Ababa.
A paper by SEI researchers published in Nature Climate Change has reignited debates about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the need to look at the supply side of the fossil fuel economy.
The analysis applies a simple economic model to gauge the potential impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on global greenhouse gas emissions, based on its potential impact on global oil supplies and prices.
The authors, Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, find that for every barrel of increased production, global oil consumption would increase by 0.6 barrels due to incrementally lower global oil prices. Thus, depending on the extent to which Keystone XL led to greater oil sands production, its net annual impact could range from virtually none to 110 million tonnes CO2 equivalent annually.
This spread is four times wider than found by the U.S. State Department (1-27 million tonnes CO2e), which did not account for global oil market effects. Click on the external link below to read a Q&A with Erickson and Lazarus on the SEI website.
The newest version of SEI's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system includes a scenario explorer, enhanced graphics, a simpler interface, and multiple performance improvements.
LEAP is a powerful, versatile software tool for integrated energy planning and climate change mitigation assessment developed by SEI's U.S. Center, and distributed at no charge to academic, nonprofit and government organizations in the developing world and to students worldwide. In the last year alone, more than 2,000 people actively used the tool, and the LEAP online community has now grown to over 22,000 members in 191 countries.
LEAP can be used at a wide range of scales, from cities and states to national, regional and even global applications. It is fast becoming the de facto standard for countries undertaking integrated resource planning and GHG mitigation assessments, especially in the developing world, and for creating Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS).
The newest version, LEAP 2014, released on June 6, makes it easier to share and discuss modelling results with non-technical audiences, with improved charts and results tables, and a new Scenario Explorer (see figure).
With the new Scenario Explorer, you can explore the implications of different policy choices, using slider bars that are connected to key parameters in the underlying LEAP data set. As you pull on these sliders, results are immediately recalculated and shown in overview charts. The tool can also be used to quickly switch on and off specific measures within an overall scenario, such as energy efficiency, fuel switching, renewables, or reducing process emissions, to decide which overall strategy is best in terms of overall costs, emissions reduction potential, energy security or how the measures contribute to key national development objectives. This, combined with dramatic speed improvements and a new Full Screen View, makes LEAP even more useful for use in interactive settings such as LEDS stakeholder workshops.
Follow the external link below to read the full article on the SEI website.
Learn more about LEAP2014 »
SEI is a partner in CLIMACAP, an EU-funded project that is helping four of the region's largest economies to enhance their energy and emissions modelling for better climate and development policies.
Governments and researchers across Latin America have used SEI's LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) system to model energy systems and identify opportunities for low-carbon development and climate change mitigation.
Now, as part of the CLIMACAP project, SEI is using LEAP in collaboration with seven Latin American and European institutions, building national and international models for Latin America and enhancing modelling capacity in the region. The work is funded by the European Commission. Follow the link below to read a Q&A with Jason Veysey, a senior scientist at SEI-US who is leading the national modeling work.
The U.S. Agency for International Development Low Emissions Asian Development (USAID LEAD) program, in collaboration with the USAID Indonesia Clean Energy Development (USAID ICED) program and the Asian Greenhouse Gas Management Center (AGMC), will host two regional events in March 2014 on using LEAP for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation assessment.
1. Using LEAP for GHG mitigation at the sub-national scale
This four-day training workshop, which will take place on March 25-28, in Indonesia, is intended to develop capacity to apply LEAP at the sub-national scale (typically provincial- or city-scale modeling of GHG mitigation).
The workshop will be open to professionals based in Asia, with strong preference given to those who are actively engaged in GHG mitigation activities, who are proficient in LEAP system modeling, and who intend to use LEAP in their future work. Preference will also be given to staff from government agencies, research institutes, and NGOs. Participants will likely have professional training as scientists, engineers, or economists.
The workshop will enable participants to increase their knowledge and skills about the applications of the LEAP system model by:
A draft agenda is available here.
2. Strengthening the Asian community of practice on LEAP
This three-day roundtable workshop, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from March 31 to April 2, will bring together policy-makers and practitioners to share knowledge and engage with peers working in the field of energy policy analysis and GHG mitigation. It is NOT intended to teach participants how to use LEAP.
This workshop will be open to professionals based in Asia, with strong preference given to staff of government agencies, research institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Participants will likely have professional training as scientists, engineers, or economists and must be experienced LEAP users.
Participants will strengthen the regional community of practice for LEAP by:
How to apply:
For both events, limited funding is available, courtesy of the USAID LEAD program, to cover some of the travel costs for selected individuals from the LEAD program countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. If you wish to apply for either event, please complete the application form, and return it to Benjarus Wattanapichedpong of the LEAD program.
Application forms are available in Microsoft Word and PDF formats. If using the PDF format, you will need to complete, print and then scan the file. The deadline for applications is Monday, March 3, 2014.
Learn more about LEAP on the COMMEND website »
A new SEI analysis finds that, to the extent that Keystone XL enables significantly greater development of Canadian oil sands, the pipeline's greatest impact on GHG emissions could be its effect on global oil prices and, in turn, consumption.
Climate policy and analysis often focus on energy production and consumption, but seldom consider how the choices we make about energy infrastructure – coal export terminals, oil and gas pipelines – might help shape future energy systems, energy use, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal to extend the Keystone XL pipeline, to connect Canadian oil sands production with refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico, has brought these questions to the fore. Environmental activists have argued that Keystone XL would strike a serious blow to the climate, and President Barack Obama has said he will only approve Keystone XL if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution". Similar issues have been raised with regard to proposed coal export terminals in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
A new paper by Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, senior scientists at SEI-US, identifies a major gap in existing estimates of Keystone XL's potential emissions impact: they appear to pay little attention to the pipeline's effect on the global oil supply, prices and resulting demand.
Even if those effects are small in global terms, they could be significant in relationship to Keystone XL and U.S. climate policy. To gauge the pipeline's potential impact, they built a straightforward supply-and-demand model using publicly available supply curves and peer-reviewed demand elasticities (the extent to which changes in oil consumption have responded to changes in oil prices).
They examined three possibilities: 1) that if the Keystone XL permit were rejected, the same amount of oil (100% of Keystone capacity) would reach the market by other means; 2) that half of it would; or 3) that none would. For the latter two cases, they found that the pipeline's impact on global oil prices, though modest (less than 1%), would be enough to increase global oil consumption by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.
If none of the oil would otherwise reach the market, Keystone XL could increase global oil use by as much as 510,000 barrels per year, or 62% of Keystone XL capacity, they found. Including those price effects, the pipeline's annual emissions impact would be 93 million tCO2e per year, four to five times greater than the GHG implications of simply displacing average crude imported into the U.S. with oil-sands crude. If half the oil would still reach markets anyway, the pipeline's GHG impact would be that much smaller.
Read the paper, Greenhouse gas emissions implications of the Keystone XL pipeline »
Read the full version of this article on the SEI International website »
Climate change is driven primarily by the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and sharply reducing CO2 emissions is the top priority in the effort to avoid dangerous long-term impacts. But pollutants that don't remain in the atmosphere for long, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and black carbon (soot), play an important role in the short term, with particularly large impacts in urban areas and sensitive regions such as the Arctic. They also affect human health, crop yields and ecosystems.
In February 2012, aiming to catalyze rapid action on these pollutants, the governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the U.S. and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC).
Since then, the coalition has grown to 66 partners: 33 countries and 33 intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. SEI, which coordinated two major scientific reports on SLCPs that have guided much of the coalition's work, has been involved from the start, and has made it an institutional priority to support CCAC.
SEI Policy Director Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna, an expert in air pollution issues, sits on the coalition's Science Advisory Panel, and he also leads an initiative to help countries develop SLCPs National Action Plans, and is coordinating a new regional assessment of SLCPs in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As part of the planning initiative, SEI has developed a tool to assess the potential for mitigating SLCP emissions in each country, based on the institute's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system, which is already used by thousands of planners and researchers around the world.
The new LEAP-SLCP tool is part of a CCAC National Action Plans "toolkit" that also includes a Rapid Benefits Calculator developed by SEI's York Centre and the BenMAP-CE tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which focuses on the health benefits of reducing air pollution.
The toolkit got its first trial runs in the pilot phase of the national planning initiative, which began in January with four countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana and Mexico. Initial results were presented at a CCAC meeting in Mexico City on July 22-26, where the coalition also approved $1.9 million USD in new funding to support additional countries' national planning efforts.
CCAC members also approved more than $3 million in new funding for initiatives to address SLCP emissions from household cooking and heating, brick kilns and landfills.
"CCAC fits perfectly with SEI's mission," says Kuylenstierna. "It is trying to achieve action to reduce emissions, and helping developing countries reduce emissions while achieving development benefits – all closely informed by science."
The coalition's next scheduled meeting is in September in Oslo, Norway, with environment ministers and other senior officials from the partner countries. Both Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna and SEI Executive Director Johan L. Kuylenstierna plan to attend.
To learn more about CCAC, visit www.unep.org/ccac; a summary of the meeting is available here. To learn more about the LEAP-SLCP tool, email developer Charles Heaps. For an overview of the science of SLCPs and the benefits of addressing them, watch a video with SEI's Kevin Hicks.
SEI has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, in Bogotá, Colombia.
The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources, one of five government research institutes in Colombia, is in charge of biodiversity assessment at the national level. The new agreement, which covers an initial term of three years, creates a framework for collaboration on research, training and support for environmental policy management.
SEI has a growing presence in Latin America, in multiple realms, including water resources management and climate change adaptation. Marisa Escobar, a senior scientist at SEI-US and a native of Colombia, has examined how the water-energy-land use "nexus" approach can be used to understand socio-ecological transformations in the Orinoco River basin in Colombia, and she is also leading a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to build adaptation capacity among regional water resources management boards.
Through this new collaboration with the Humboldt Institute, SEI will contribute to the design of programs and projects related to environmental management systems, analysis of development patterns, climate change adaptation and transformation of governance and institutions.
Both institutions will explore opportunities to finance long-term research to develop the Orinoco River basin. They will draft joint proposals, exchange knowledge and organize conferences and workshops.
In the first step in the partnership, Escobar visited the Humboldt Institute with David R. Purkey, director of the SEI-US Water Resources Group, and Jack Sieber, developer of SEI's Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system, for a workshop on 18 July. The focus was on development and implementation of a WEAP tool to model hydrology and climate change in the Orinoco region in Colombia.
A new version of SEI's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system (LEAP) is now available, with features improvements to LEAP's optimization calculations including support for modeling a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and support for more realistically modeling the different sizes (capacities) of different types of power plants by using Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP). The update also allows LEAP to be used simultaneously by multiple user accounts on a single PC.
The new RPS feature allows users to set targets for renewable generation as part of their optimization calculations. At the module level you can specify a Renewable Production Target variable as a percentage of total production from the module. At the process level you can specify for each process, what fraction of production is qualified for the RPS target using the Renewable Qualified variable.
For example, coal and oil would typically have a value of 0%, while wind and solar would have a value of 100%. Some RPS policies don't allow hydropower and biomass to be included. A coal plant fired with 10% biomass might have the Renewable Qualified variable set to 10%.
Users can also now set the minimum size of each capacity addition using the Minimum Addition Size variable. For example, wind power plants may have a minimum size of just a few megawatts, while a nuclear power plant may have a minimum size of a many hundreds of megawatts. If the variable is set to zero, there is no minimum and the optimization calculations will use a faster linear programming approach. If non-zero, the optimization calculations use the much slower technique of Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP). Note that this is still an experimental feature.
The Institute for Energy Economics of the Fundación Bariloche (IDEE/FB)is hosting the 12th Annual Workshop on Energy Policy for Sustainable Development and Use of the LEAP Modeling System. The workshop is designed for energy and environmental professionals and is open to participants from any country, but please be advised that sessions will be conducted in Spanish, so a high degree of fluency in Spanish is required. A limited number of scholarships are available to help defray the costs of attending.
For more information or an application, visit the COMMEND website.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Low Emissions Asian Development (LEAD) program will host a one-week regional training in New Delhi, India, on using LEAP to analyze low emission development strategies (LEDS). The training will also show how to construct marginal abatement cost (MAC) curves. The workshop is open to up to 40 LEDS practitioners from 10 LEAD partner countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Participants will be selected based on their qualifications and how actively they are engaged in LEDS. The LEAD program will arrange for the travel and accommodation of the selected participants.
For more information or an application, download the event flyer.
SEI has released a new version of WEAP, available now for download. Highlights include:
• 3-D chart to show MODFLOW groundwater flow field vectors;
• Improvement of Mabia catchment method via a 2-bucket model;
• Enhanced display of background maps, including thematic coloring from geographic data;
• New Lookup function for expressions;
• Spanish translation complete; partial translations for Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Korean, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Russian, Thai and Vietnamese;
• Numerous other improvements, optimizations and bug fixes.
Click on the link below for a complete list of changes. Current WEAP users should be able to easily update WEAP to this new version. When WEAP starts, it should find this update and offer to download and install it automatically. If not, go to the menu in WEAP: Help, Check for New Version.
Debates over equity – the fair distribution of resources, costs, and benefits – and a closely related topic, economic inequality, have arisen in the wake of the recent financial crisis.
If we are to build a prosperous society, does inequality do more to help or hinder the pursuit of that goal? As we simultaneously seek an equitable and just society, then what level of inequality is consistent with an equitable outcome?
As part of a major international project, SEI hosted a conference at Tufts University on Nov. 9-10 to address these questions – looking at equity and inequality through the lens of sustainability and, conversely, at sustainability from the point of view of equity and inequality.
The conference, co-hosted by Tufts' Center for International Environment & Resource Policy (CIERP), brought together sustainability, equity, and inequality researchers from four continents.
The agenda was built on three themes: notions of equity for sustainability; economic structures for sustainability, and inequality and equity in a sustainability transition – each framed by its own keynote address. At the end of the second day, all participants were invited to discuss important policy-relevant questions on the possibility of a "vicious circle" linking inequality and unsustainable practices, social equity in the green economy, and the political role of the equity debate in international agreements.
New releases of SEI's LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) system and SEI's Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) system, both used by thousands of planners and researchers worldwide, link the two tools to offer powerful new integrated modeling.
Climate, water and energy are intricately linked, so choices in any one sector can often reverberate across the others. To achieve the best possible outcomes, policy-makers need to understand the changing dynamics in each sector as well as cross-sector interactions and tradeoffs – the so-called "nexus". Thanks to extensive scientific research and analysis, the nexus framework is now fairly well understood. Yet applying it in practice has been difficult because of the lack of usable quantitative tools. The WEAP-LEAP linkage fills that gap.
The Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system, used in more than 190 countries, is a powerful, versatile software system for integrated energy and greenhouse gas mitigation planning. It is widely used for energy assessments and Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDs), and has been applied in dozens of National Communications on Climate Change to the United Nations.
The Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system is used in 170 countries worldwide for integrated water resources management and planning at a range of spatial and temporal scales. WEAP models both water demand – and its main drivers – and water supply, simulating real-world policies, priorities and preferences.
In a two-year project funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sectoral Applications Research Program, WEAP developer Jack Sieber and LEAP developer Charles Heaps worked together to link the two tools to allow users to model evolving conditions in both water and energy systems and examine cross-sectoral impacts of different policy choices. The complete modeling suite was launched at World Water Week in Stockholm on August 30.
SEI is actively encouraging both WEAP and LEAP users to take advantage of the new linkage, which allows them to easily exchange key model parameters and results. For example, LEAP users can now import water availability projections from WEAP to see how much hydropower they can count on in any given month – and how much energy they'll need to supply from different sources. Similarly, LEAP can help WEAP users explore the energy and GHG emissions implications of desalinating seawater to meet growing urban demand.
SEI recently published the technical documentation for the National Bioenergy Investment Model, a scenario model that simulates decision-making by domestic and foreign investors whether to invest in biofuel projects in a developing country.
Now the model is available for download on our website. It is open-source and free.
The NBIM is useful for rapidly exploring the implications of broad types of policies by seeing how they perform in a simulation. It cannot be used to evaluate specific policies or to make projections, but it can be used to gain insight.
NBIM is a dynamic model that features "boom and bust" investment cycles. For this reason, you might see investment peaking and then falling. Also, you might see some land that was converted to biofuel feedstocks being idled as feedstock prices fall too low.
The UN Secretary General has named 2012 the year of "Sustainable Energy for All", and energy access figured prominently on the Rio+20 conference agenda. But what would achieving the UN's goals entail?
A new SEI report, Energy for a Shared Development Agenda, combines a global assessment of energy scenarios up to 2050, case studies, and an in-depth analysis of policy and governance issues to show how it could be done – and the massive changes required.
The authors explore three scenarios: business as usual; basic energy access (BEA), which seeks to meet household needs for lighting, heat and cooking, and shared development agenda (SDA), which examines the implications for energy systems if all nations achieve per capita annual incomes of at least $10,000 USD (at 2005 purchasing power parity rates).
Developing nations are already expanding energy access on their own, and the report shows that if current trends continue, global energy demand would rise from 365 exajoules (EJ) in 2010 to 775 EJ by 2050, with South Asia as the biggest consumer. Global CO2 emissions would rise to 64% above 1990 levels by 2020 and to 152% above 1990 levels by 2050, making it near-certain that temperatures will increase by more than 2°C.
In the BEA scenario, energy demand dramatically decreases due to concerted efforts to improve energy efficiency and sharply reduce the energy intensity of economies. Primary energy use continues to rise until 2020, peaking at 575 EJ but declining to 441 EJ by 2050. Global CO2 emissions increase by 38% in 2020 relative to 1990, but by 2050 decrease by 92% on 1990 levels.
In the SDA scenario, energy demand rises sharply across much of Africa, and to a lesser extent, in South Asia. Yet global energy demand is only 33.5 EJ (11%) higher in 2050 than in the BEA scenario, partly due to sharper reductions in U.S. and Canadian energy use, but with no major changes elsewhere. Carbon emissions are virtually the same as under BEA.
The authors' verdict: Sustainable energy access for all is attainable, but only if nations work together to transform global energy systems. Incremental changes are simply not enough, the authors stress, nor is this simply a technological challenge. Governance at all levels must be strengthened and improved, and effective policies must be adopted to guide public- and private-sector investment.
The scenarios were produced by SEI-US Director Charlie Heaps using the LEAP (Long range Energy Alternatives Planning) system, which has been used by governments, academics, NGOs, companies and energy utilities in more than 190 countries for energy policy analysis and climate change mitigation assessment.
"This is one of the first global energy assessments to be entirely open-source," says Heaps. "We hope that others will build on our work to continue to explore these important issues."
A new study led by Seattle-based SEI researchers combines "production-based" and "consumption-based" greenhouse gas inventories for King County, Wash., and shows how this and other local governments can track and reduce emissions. The project, one of the first of its kind in the United States, was commissioned by the county to update its prior greenhouse gas inventory and provide a more complete picture of how people in the county contribute to global climate change – and what local leaders can do about it.
Along with the two measures, the SEI report includes a new tracking framework that focuses on a "core" set of emission sources that can be most directly affected by local policies, and can be tracked with readily available data: local building energy use, vehicle travel, and waste disposal.
"Local governments have profound influence over the form of urban areas – from land use codes, to transportation systems and building energy performance," says Peter Erickson, an SEI senior scientist and lead author of the report. "This study sets up a new framework for King County to use to track progress over time in the sources of emissions that are most sensitive to local government policy. It also helps quantify the impact of consumption, and in doing so, helps shed light on how consumer actions – from eating less meat to buying less stuff – can help reduce global emissions."
A Bangalore native now based in SEI-US' Davis office, Vishal Mehta is now leading a project to map the city's resource use in the context of socio-economic and demographic trends, to help local decision-makers and stakeholders plan for a more sustainable future – and in the process, develop a model that could be replicated in other cities.
The project, Urban Metabolic Mapping: Securing the Biophysical Foundation of Indian Cities, is funded by SEI with Indian partners. The key policy tool it is developing is a modeling framework that treats cities as living entities that use energy and resources to generate useful products and waste.
Consumption data will be compared with social, economic and demographic information. Current and future development scenarios will be gauged against dimensions of economic efficiency, social equity and environmental sustainability, facilitating civic discourse on the nature and impacts of various development pathways of Indian cities, and engaging civic bodies at city, state and national level.
Along with Mehta and Eric Kemp-Benedict of SEI, the multidisciplinary team includes ecological economists and environmental scientists at the Indian Institute of Management and the Indian Institute of Science. Throughout the project, the team is also engaging closely with the diverse actors involved in crafting solutions: from government, to civil society.
As part of the project, on Feb. 2, Kemp-Benedict and Mehta presented the urban sustainability framework at the Bangalore World Water Summit. The following day, SEI and IIM co-hosted a day-long participatory planning exercise for stakeholders, Imagining Bangalore: A scenarios workshop on the city's long-term sustainability; participants included government agencies, academic scientists and NGOs.
Follow the link below to see early results from the project.
This blogpost applies SEI's Climate Impact Equity Lens tool to the Caribbean to show the wide range of projected impacts from climate change on people in the region. The authors note that the Caribbean islands include the countries with the lowest and highest average incomes in the greater Latin American and Caribbean region: Haiti, at less than $500 per year, and the Cayman Islands, at $52,000, and there is great income diversity within countries as well.
Impacts on individuals also differ greatly depending on their source of income, with higher projected damages among those who work in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, or other climate-vulnerable sectors. And physical vulnerabilities such as exposure to sea-level rise and water scarcity also vary throughout the region.
This diversity of experiences, the authors argue, shows how crucial it is for policymakers to look beyond the regional average in order to understand the severity of impacts on the most vulnerable.
The link below leads to the Climate & Knowledge Development Network blog, where the article first appeared; it was also reposted on RealClimateEconomics.
Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif., recently went on a field trip with SEI and University of California-Davis researchers to learn firsthand about Chinook salmon in Butte Creek, whose survival is threatened by climate change.
The interdisciplinary research team linked SEI's WEAP system to a salmon population dynamics model to analyze tradeoffs between different ecosystem services, including fish habitat and hydropower.
Spring-run Chinook salmon used to be plentiful in California's Central Valley but are now an endangered species, down from about a million fish to only about 16,000, and limited to a handful of watersheds. Because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in the fall, they are particularly threatened by climate change.
The Butte Creek study found that without changes in water management, the water in the streams will become too warm within decades, and Chinook salmon will likely go extinct in Butte Creek and all of California. The study also found that halting the diversion of water from Butte Creek at one major dam during the critical July-September holding period could significantly improve the salmon's survival chances, but at the expense of large amounts of power generation.
Regulation of coal-ash disposal at the federal level would lead to a net job gain, not massive losses as industry claims, a new SEI policy paper shows.
The paper addresses claims made in an industry-sponsored study that regulating coal ash under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the stricter of two options being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would lead to the loss of up to 316,000 jobs nationwide. SEI senior economist Frank Ackerman finds the study deeply flawed, on multiple levels.
Ackerman's own calculation, based on cost estimates from an industry-sponsored study and the IMPLAN model of the U.S. economy, shows a net gain of 28,000 jobs per year.
"The claim that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, especially in such troubled economic times, would seem to suggest that we can't afford to regulate coal ash, no matter what the benefits might be," Ackerman said. "But this report shows that what we can’t afford is such careless and exaggerated calculations of job impacts."
"Despite industry's claims to the contrary, strict regulation of coal-ash disposal would have a net positive effect on jobs," he added. "That fact doesn't, by itself, clinch the argument for regulation. But it does free us of the unfounded fear of massive job loss, allowing us to evaluate the regulation on its merits."
Launched by SEI and the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, CORE provides an up-to-date analysis and synthesis of the most influential carbon offset programs and activities. It reflects on lessons learned, and aims to inform consumers as well as offset program participants and designers.
The site includes three sections: in-depth information and analysis about offset design and policies; information for offset buyers; and information about GHG calculations from aviation for carbon offsetting.
With the re-launch, which is being phased in, the website is being updated to reflect recent program changes and policy debates. To learn more about the updates, click here.
SEI-U.S. research on California's spring-run Chinook salmon, how they are threatened by climate change, and the implications for hydropower, was featured at World Water Week 2011, a week-long conference held in Stockholm on Aug. 21 to 26.>
Wild Pacific salmon populations in California, Oregon, and Washington have been declining for many years, stressed by overfishing, changes in ocean conditions, water quality and habitat degradation, genetic mixing with hatchery stocks, and the damming of rivers.
Spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), which used to be plentiful in California’s Central Valley, are now an endangered species, down from about a million fish to only about 16,000, and limited to a handful of watersheds. And because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in the fall, they are greatly threatened by climate change.
SEI has used WEAP, its Water Evaluation And Planning system, in combination with other tools to project the long-term impact of climate change on Chinook salmon in California's Butte Creek. At the conference, SEI-U.S. researcher Marisa Escobar presented the study findings, which suggest that the only way to protect Chinook salmon from extinction by the century's end is to suspend water diversions for hydropower generation during the summer months.
More than 150 dams in California are set to be relicensed in the next decade, Escobar noted, and the conditions placed on those dams could make a difference between survival and extinction.
Leon J. 'Lee' Schipper, 64, an internationally renowned scholar in the fields of transport and energy efficiency, passed away in Berkeley, Calif., on August 16.
Schipper was a project scientist for the Global Metropolitan Studies Initiative at the University of California-Berkeley; senior research engineer for the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University; founder of the World Resources Institute's center for sustainable transport, EMBARQ; and a longtime contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He was also the father of Lisa Schipper, a senior scientist at SEI-U.S., as well as a friend and occasional partner in SEI research.
Follow the link below to read a tribute on the SEI-International website.
A new SEI analysis raises serious questions about the U.S. government's estimate of the "social cost of carbon" – a calculation of the damage caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere – and a key policy-making factor, used in cost-benefit analyses of everything from power plant regulations to car fuel-efficiency standards.
The figure the U.S. government has used since last year, developed by an interagency group, is $21 per ton of CO2. But that number, the report shows, is based on fundamentally flawed methodologies and grossly understates the potential impact and uncertainty of climate change. Making small adjustments to the models to address these issues leads to values as high as $893 per ton in 2010 and $1550 in 2050.
Comparing prior research on the cost of reducing emissions with the report's new findings on the cost of carbon, the authors conclude that it is highly likely it is costing the United States more to do nothing about climate change than it would to adopt mitigation measures.
Globalization has shifted a large share of U.S. carbon emissions abroad, but that doesn't make Americans' carbon footprints any smaller – we just have to measure them differently.
This webinar, held June 7, 2011, and attended by about 340 people, looked at how and why we measure the environmental impacts of our consumption, and how that measurement can inform us on our path to more sustainable patterns of consumption in our communities.
SEI researchers presented their work on the CBEI (Consumption-Based Emissions Inventory) model, which has now been applied to Oregon; King County, WA (Seattle), and San Francisco and California, and more broadly on greenhouse gas emissions inventories.
Version 3.1 of WEAP, SEI's Water Evaluation And Planning system, allows users to export results to Google Earth, providing a powerful and convenient way to package and share the materials. Click here for a demonstration. The new version also updates the linear program solver, allows users to constrain reservoir release due to a maximum hydraulic flow, and makes other small improvements.
This update follows a major new WEAP release in January that pulled together two years' worth of upgrades, adding improved analytical tools, more customization options, and full compatibility with Windows 7, including the 64-bit version. WEAP was created by SEI scientists more than 20 years ago and has been applied to water systems in countries around the world.
SEI, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) and CATIE are hosting a 'writeshop' July 25-29 in Costa Rica for early-career researchers and professionals working in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Sixteen participants will be selected. All costs, including travel, are covered by the organizers.
The writeshop will involve one-on-one work with facilitators to provide supplemental training on academic writing and argumentation, to help new authors reach a standard of writing suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The writeshop will be held in Spanish; papers may be written in Spanish or English, and for anyone who wishes to have a paper translated into English, the cost will be covered.
The Latin America writeshop is the third in a series cosponsored by SEI and UN/ISDR that aims to bring more developing-country perspectives into the peer-reviewed journals that help shape climate policy worldwide. Read more about the initiative on the SEI International website.
Two years ago, the Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences (ICARUS) was launched to bring together researchers, students, decision-makers and activists interested in social-science and humanistic approaches to climate change adaptation.
The ICARUS II Conference on Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Marginal Peoples and Environments was held May 5-8 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and two SEI-US researchers, Lisa Schipper and Amanda Fencl, presented their work.
Schipper spoke about the wide range of definitions for "adaptation," and how to ensure that activities done under that name don't actually do more harm than good. The answer, she said, is not necessarily to create a single, specific definition of the term, but to agree that the overarching goal of adaptation is to stimulate change toward sustainable development.
Fencl's presentation focused on a case study completed by SEI researchers last year in Northeast Thailand, "Using social network analysis to understand innovation and diffusion of sustainable agricultural water resource management in a changing climate."
The Kingdom of Jordan is using SEI's WEAP system to monitor and manage all its aquifers and to develop a National Water Plan. The government unveiled the project at a WEAP regional conference May 3-5 in Amman that was co-sponsored by SEI, the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD), the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan.
SEI has released a major new version of LEAP, the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system, its powerful, versatile software system for integrated energy planning and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation assessment.
LEAP is already used by thousands of organizations in over 190 countries, including government agencies, academics, non-governmental organizations, consultants, and utilities, and is becoming the de facto standard for countries undertaking GHG mitigation assessments and creating Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDs).
The new release, LEAP2011, is more streamlined and easier to use than previous versions, but also adds significant new capabilities. For example, it includes optimization modeling – a technique that automatically calculates least-cost configurations of future energy systems under different conditions, such as specific GHG emission reduction targets.
LEAP2011 also includes more powerful tools for modeling seasonal and time-of-day variations in energy demand and supply, a crucial feature as energy planners seek to dramatically increase the share of power generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, which are intermittent by nature.
In addition, LEAP's code has been substantially reengineered, making it faster and more robust, allowing it to fully support any language. LEAP2011 also has a simplified, easier-to-use interface, with wizards that provide step-by-step assistance to users.
To learn more or to download LEAP2011, visit www.energycommunity.org.
China faces many modernization challenges, and responding to climate change may be the most pressing. China must find a new economic growth model that is environmentally sustainable, doesn't depend on fossil fuels, and can improve living standards for the population.
But what does such a model look like? And how can China best make the transition from its present macro-economic structure to a low-carbon future?
A new book based on a groundbreaking study led by SEI and the Chinese Economists 50 Forum tries to answer those questions. Leading international thinkers map out a deep carbon reduction scenario, analyze economic policies that shift carbon use, and show how China can dramatically reduce its carbon emissions over the next 40 years while maintaining high economic growth and minimizing adverse economic effects.
The book, rated among the top 40 sustainability books of 2010 by the University of Cambridge, argues that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is an essential part of China's development and modernization, and it would present opportunities for China to improve its energy security and move its economy higher up the international value chain.
Click here to learn more about the book and the project on which it is based.
A new SEI paper and policy brief show that potential double-counting of international greenhouse gas emission offsets, if not addressed, could reduce the ambition of 2020 pledges under the Cancun Agreements by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e, and outline possible policy solutions.
The paper, The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Mitigation, was presented by Michael Lazarus on March 29 in Paris, at a seminar on carbon markets and accountability hosted by the OECD and the International Energy Agency. It notes that to date, 42 developed countries have submitted emission reduction pledges, projected to reduce emissions by up to 4 billion tons (Gt) CO2e in 2020 from "business as usual," and over 40 developing countries have submitted nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs).
It's unclear, however, whether both developed (buyer) and developing (seller) countries will be able to count emission reductions from offset projects towards their respective pledges. Double-counting offsets, the paper shows, could effectively reduce the ambition of current pledges by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e in 2020 – equivalent to 10% of the total abatement required in 2020 to stay on a 2°C pathway.
The paper outlines policy approaches that could reduce the risk of double-counting, which the authors said would enhance the credibility and environmental integrity of international offsets under the Cancun Agreements.
The important fields of water and energy policy are becoming increasingly connected. One emerging challenge is the provision of adequate water supplies to match the world's growing demands for energy. This will likely be difficult both with traditional approaches to energy production such as thermal power plants, which require huge amounts of cooling water, but also for some renewable energy systems such as solar power, which need to be sited in areas where sunshine is plentiful but water generally is not. In addition, our water supply systems' energy needs are growing rapidly and will continue to grow as we become more dependent on groundwater from steadily falling aquifers. A third emerging challenge is how best to manage the competing demands on our water systems, particularly with respect to how dams are managed for hydropower, agricultural irrigation and the protection of ecological systems.
Our day-long symposium, held on November 4, 2010 at Tufts University and attended by 80 participants, explored how these and other perspectives on water and energy can be assembled into a useful framework that can support the development of sustainable water and energy management policies in a changing world.
To read more and download the presentations, click here.