Negotiating climate change as if development really mattered

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Nov 182013

Alexander Ochs, Worldwatch Institute

Published in Outreach, 18 November 2013

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

I wrote in this publication a couple of years ago that ‘new energy for the negotiations’ was needed. The article’s title, of course, was a play on words: More than anything else we need to quickly transition to new energy systems built on efficient consumption and renewable resources, as well as decentralised and smart transmission solutions, in order to decarbonise our societies and help them to adapt to climate change. But we also need new, renewable and sustainable energy for the negotiations.  Discussing climate mitigation as what can be won, rather than what must be given up, and a strategy that at its core builds on the experiences that already have been made in many places around the world on the way to building low-emissions economies might not just inspire scale-up and replication of on-the-ground action but also revitalise international partnership and ambition. Continue reading »

Sustainable Energy Roadmaps – Presentation at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar

 presentation  Comments Off on Sustainable Energy Roadmaps – Presentation at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar
Jan 132013

Sustainable Energy for Island Economies:
A High Impact Opportunity of SE4ALL – Vision 20/30

This session, moderated by Nasir Khattak, Climate Institute, presented the global programme “Sustainable Energy for Island Economies,” launched in 2000 and included in 2012 as one of the “high impact opportunities” under the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, with some panelists showcasing projects from their island states. Continue reading »

Amid Gloomy Climate News, Doha Talks Enter Final Week

 online interview, radio interview  Comments Off on Amid Gloomy Climate News, Doha Talks Enter Final Week
Dec 042012
Rosanne Skirble

December 04, 2012

High level officials from more than 200 countries are in Doha, Qatar, for talks that began last week on the next steps after the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. climate change treaty expires this year. The ministers arrive in the face of bad news for the planet. A spate of new scientific studies finds worldwide greenhouse gas emissions rising and ice sheets melting rapidly, and predicts a planetary warming of as much as five degrees Celsius by the end of this century unless nations act immediately to reduce their industrial emissions of CO2 and other climate-changing greenhouse gases.  (…)
While hopes are high that the U.S. will take the lead in Doha with new emission pledges, some experts doubt if the Obama Administration has the political support at home to significantly alter its climate policies.  Alexander Ochs, an energy and climate analyst with the World Watch Institute in Doha says the U.S. has its hands bound.
“On the one hand, having this high expectation here of other countries that the United States should be  in a leadership role and on the other hand not being able to move more ambitiously to fulfill those targets and those commitments because of domestic resistance.”
Find the full article [here] and on VOA Online.
You can find the full radio report [here].

Developing Countries Want Wealthier Ones To Increase Climate Finance Pledges in Doha

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Dec 032012

By Avery Fellow, Bloomberg Daily Environment Report, 3 December 2012

Developing countries are seeking increased pledges from wealthier countries for climate mitigation and adaptation financing at international climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar, observers of the talks said Nov. 30. The G77, or group of 77 developing countries within the United Nations, proposed at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-18) that developed countries raise $60 billion a year starting in 2013 for “medium-term” climate assistance as they scale up to offering $100 billion a year by 2020, observers said. (…)

Developed countries initially promised to direct at least 50 percent of pledged funds to climate adaptation, said Alexander Ochs, director of climate and energy at the Worldwatch Institute. (…)

Ochs said he did not expect a global deal on climate finance in Doha. “I do not think in this negotiation round we will see a full agreement on how to bridge the gap between 2012 and 2020,” he said. “I’m hoping that countries fill the current gap … [and] individual countries start putting money on the table for 2012 to 2020. But I do not expect a global deal on the issue.” (…)

You can find the whole article [here].

More Energy for the Negotiations

 magazine article  Comments Off on More Energy for the Negotiations
Nov 282012

Published in Outreach | COP-18, Doha |  28 November 2012 

Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy, Worldwatch Institute

More than half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels for energy supply. Even excluding traditional biomass, fossil fuel combustion accounts for 90 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Against this background, it is surprising how limited a role energy is playing in the ongoing climate negotiations. And yet this discussion could be instrumental in refocusing the debate about what is necessary and what is possible in both the areas of climate mitigation and adaptation—bringing it back down from the current inscrutable spheres of negotiation tracks, subsidiary bodies, parallel sessions, ad-hoc working groups, and special meetings (which, let’s be frank, nobody outside the negotiators understands anymore).

First, a focus on energy shows how far we are from solving the climate crisis. Energy-related CO2 emissions grew 3.2 percent in 2011 to more than 31 gigatons—despite the economic crisis. We know that if we don’t want to lose track of the 2-degree Celsius threshold of maximum warming that would hopefully avoid major disasters, energy emissions must decline by at least one third to 20 gigatons in 2035, despite expectations that energy demand might double in the same time frame. .

So the challenge is enormous. But—and this is where the good news starts—clean energy solutions are at hand, ready to be implemented. The costs for wind, solar, sustainable hydro, biomass and waste energy technologies all continue to fall rapidly, and, in many markets, they are becoming price competitive with fossil fuels—even if externalities and fossil fuel subsidies are not internalized. If they are, the cost that our societies pay for our continued reliance on fossil fuels becomes truly outrageous: Coal, responsible for 71 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions, causes more than US$100 billion in local pollution and health care costs annually in the United States alone, in addition to the personal hardships of those suffering from these impacts. Add the costs for climate change, and it becomes incomprehensible why our societies continue down the fossil path despite the availability of alternatives.

Continue reading »

On Climate and Human Change – What Hurricane Sandy Tells Us

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Nov 012012

Re|Volt, 1 November 2012

By now, the heartbreaking photos of neighborhoods swept to sea and a climbing death toll have reminded us all of the immeasurable pain and tragedy our environment can incur. We think of the millions of people who continue to be affected by the storm, the tens of thousands who have lost all that they own, and the hundreds who have lost their lives.

Widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen via CNET)

Sandy also tells us a lot about ourselves. From a pessimistic standpoint, it shows human failure: our failure to listen to those who understand far better than most of us do the impact of human behavior on the atmosphere, our climate system, and the ecosystems that surround us. While it is true that no singular weather event can be directly linked to human-caused global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – since its establishment in 1988 arguably the most thorough and meticulous scientific undertaking in human history – has reported with increasing confidence that weather extremes will become more frequent, more widespread, and more intense with rising greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC’s assessments, and those of many other leading scientific bodies, have led prominent commentators—among them Nobel laureates, prime ministers, presidents, secretary-generals, and even movie stars—to call out global warming as this century’s greatest threat. But Sandy demonstrates in dramatic fashion our inability to take more profound steps to tackle global challenges, despite our knowledge that we endanger ourselves if we don’t. Sandy reveals our refusal to take responsibility for our actions and our skepticism that real change (of natural systems as well as of our own behavior) is possible. Continue reading »

United States climate policy: what’s next? epa regulations as an alternative pathway to comprehensive federal action?

 academic article/report  Comments Off on United States climate policy: what’s next? epa regulations as an alternative pathway to comprehensive federal action?
Dec 012011

Camille Serre (Sciences Po), Emmanuel Guérin (IDDRI), Alexander Ochs (Worldwatch) 

Working Paper published by IDDRI, Worldwatch Institute & SciencePo, December 2011,

The United States finds itself in a schizophrenic situation: its domestic climate policy has clearly been in a stalemate since the Congress failed to adopt comprehensive climate and energy legislation in 2010. On the  other hand, U.S. delegates confirmed the target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 17% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels at the  Cancún UN climate summit in December 2010. How then will the U.S. fulfill its international obligations without being able to reach a consensus at home? While climate policies at state and regional levels show some encouraging signs, the extent to which the diffusion of climate initiatives across states could gain momentum is still uncertain.

Shifting back from a market-based approach to a command-and-control approach, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations seem to be the only viable improvement at the federal level. The EPA set exante GHG emissions standards for a given pollutant by industry sector, based on available and cost-efficient technologies. And it also provides not directly GHG-related regulations which could indirectly help the U.S. curb its GHG emissions trajectory.

Yet, in a highly politicized context, EPA regulations are only a second best option, which cannot make up for comprehensive Congress-adopted climate policy in the long-run: it is doubtful that they can alone manage to trigger a relevant infrastructure change. Technological and emissions standards are one piece of the required policy mix, and should be backed up by complementary policies. But in the current tense, partisan and unpredictable context, no clear investment signals can be sent to shift to a low-carbon economy.

[Find the whole paper HERE]

“Obama is not the problem” – Interview with Alexander Ochs on the current debate about U.S. Climate and Energy Policy

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on “Obama is not the problem” – Interview with Alexander Ochs on the current debate about U.S. Climate and Energy Policy
May 052011

[This is the translation of my recent interview for the Italian magazin e La Nuova Ecologia] 

1)      Can you explain to our Italian readers what the current status of Climate Change legislation is in the United States?

The situation in the United States is a bit tricky to understand for European observers due to the country’s complicated political system of “divided government” that provides “checks and balances” between the executive and legislative governmental branches. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy & Security Act, a far-reaching climate and energy bill in June 2009. This was the first time that a chamber of the U.S. parliament – or “Congress” – passed a bill that sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions: 17 percent emission reductions below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The decision was very tight with a vote of 219-212, with 211 Democrats and only 8 Republicans supporting the bill. Since the House legislation has passed, all focus is on the Senate, the second chamber of the Congress. Here, Democrats Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act in September of last year. This bill would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 3 percent below 2005 levels by 2012, 20% by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050. The bill also includes massive public investment in clean energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) research. While hailed by environmentalist, from the moment of its introduction the 821 pages of the Kerry-Boxer bill have faced fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and Conservative commentators as too complicated, too wide-ranging, and too costly. It is clear that the bill will not be passed in its original version.

 2)      So what happens next?

There is now an additional bill that has gained some attention: First, the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, introduced in December 2009 by Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins. With more modest mandatory caps below 2012 levels of 5% by 2020 and 80% below by 2050, this legislation tries to find new middle ground for the climate change and energy debate. Most importantly, it would create a “cap and dividend” system that gives up to 75% of the revenue generated from auctioning of pollution permits to American households to offset the likely rise in energy costs after companies get regulated. The remaining revenues go into a fund intended to continue energy research and transition to a clean energy economy. In order to securely pass the Senate, any climate bill will need 60 votes. Currently, I would estimate the numbers of very probable supporters in the low 40s. About one third of the Senators are passionately opposed. The rest are fence sitters that will decide whether there will be climate legislation in the United States or not.

Continue reading »

AICGS Podcasts – Alexander Ochs on the Copenhagen Climate Conference

 podcast  Comments Off on AICGS Podcasts – Alexander Ochs on the Copenhagen Climate Conference
Oct 162009

Alexander Ochs, AICGS Senior Non-Resident Fellow and Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Worldwatch Institute, talks about the parameters for success or failure at the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change with Dr. Jackson Janes. This AICGS Podcast premiered on October 16, 2009

To download this AICGS Podcast directly, please click here.

Alexander Ochs Chosen to Head Worldwatch Climate and Energy Program

 press release  Comments Off on Alexander Ochs Chosen to Head Worldwatch Climate and Energy Program
Sep 302009

by Press on September 30, 2009,

Washington, D.C.-The Worldwatch Institute announced today that Alexander Ochs, a well-known expert on international climate and energy policy, has joined the Institute as Climate and Energy Program Director. Prior to joining Worldwatch, Alexander was the director of international policy at the Center for Clean Air Policy. He is the founding director of the Forum for Atlantic Climate and Energy Talks (FACET) and a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University. He resides in Washington, D.C.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome Alexander Ochs to our team. His extensive background and expertise on both sides of the Atlantic will strengthen Worldwatch’s work during the run-up to the historic climate talks in Copenhagen this December,” said Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute.

Alexander Ochs was a senior research associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin from 2001 to 2007, where he co-founded and later directed the International Network to Advance Climate Talks. Ochs has held research and/or teaching positions at the City University of New York, Princeton University, Munich University, and the Freie and Humboldt Universities in Berlin. He has been a member of the German delegation to the UN climate negotiations and is co-editor of two books and author of numerous scholarly articles and policy papers. Ochs is a regular commentator for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, as well as Grist Magazine, and a member of various climate and energy advisory committees.

“After years of following Worldwatch’s pioneering work, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to this influential organization,” said Ochs. “Our immediate goal is to help advance the worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change in the lead up to Copenhagen and beyond.”

America’s Opposite Hand: Germany’s Parties Agree on the Necessity of Environmental Protection and a Green New Deal

 essay  Comments Off on America’s Opposite Hand: Germany’s Parties Agree on the Necessity of Environmental Protection and a Green New Deal
Jul 102009

“The political system pushes the parties toward the middle,” “party homogeneity is rather weak” … in Germany’s antiquated libraries, students might pick up these messages from text books about the U.S. political system. We all know that today’s reality is a different one. Over the last twenty-five years or so, the U.S. electorate has drifted further and further apart. The election of Ronald Reagan marks the beginning of the U.S. drift to the right in the 1980s. The two Bush presidents and even Bill Clinton—“it’s the economy, stupid!”—continued Reagan’s doctrine of the supremacy of a preferably untamed capitalism. The chimera of “the invisible hand of the market” has become an imperative of all political action, and arguably hit the “soft issue” of environmental protection even more than others. The U.S., once an environmental leader—the country with the first national environment plan, the birthplace of the idea of national parks, the place of departure for the global spread of the green movement in early 1970s—became the epitome of subordinating environmental protection under economic priorities.

To be sure, the U.S. in the mid-1980s became a leader in brokering a global treaty for the protection of the ozone layer—after Dupont had claimed the patents for the substitutes of ozone-depleting substances. When TIME magazine chose “Endangered Earth” as Person of the Year 1988, Bush Senior began referring to himself as the environmental president—albeit with limited credibility, the 1990 reform of the Clean Air Act notwithstanding. Clinton chose the greenest senator of all times, Earth in the Balance author Al Gore, as his vice president, but his sublime green agenda for the most part collapsed already in the first few years.

Later on, he signed the Kyoto Protocol but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification because its defeat on the Hill was certain. Then Congress shifted toward a more pro-active stand on climate and green energy in the beginning of this century—mostly because even a Republican majority considered Bush Junior too much of a market radical.

Contract with America: Let ‘em Pollute! Please read my essay for Transatlantic Perspectives here.

AICGS Event – The Third Industrial Revolution: Energy Security, Transatlantic Relations, and the Economic Case for Climate Policy

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on AICGS Event – The Third Industrial Revolution: Energy Security, Transatlantic Relations, and the Economic Case for Climate Policy
Dec 032007

On December 3, 2007, AICGS was pleased to host AICGS Senior Fellow Alexander Ochs for a lecture titled “The Third Industrial Revolution: Energy Security, Transatlantic Relations, and the Economic Case for Climate Policy.” This lecture was made possible by the generous support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Mr. Ochs began his presentation with an overview of American and European climate policy, including the differing international, national, and sub-national approaches taken by the U.S. and the EU; the difficulties facing the Kyoto Protocol (namely the gridlock between the U.S. and major developing countries); and the main sticking points of transatlantic disunity (including disagreements over the necessity of binding emissions reduction targets and time frames, mechanisms for their implementation, and the inclusiveness of the international regime). He then offered his perspective on the next crucial steps for successfully implementing effective international climate policy. These included the importance of U.S. domestic legislation, the design of a sustainable post-Kyoto framework, a leadership role for the U.S., and the EU’s willingness to continue leadership both at home and in the international sphere.

The challenges of climate change and energy security, Mr. Ochs argued, are intrinsically tied to each other. The climate problem cannot be solved without reforming the energy sector and, likewise, energy security is not possible or affordable with our current energy mismanagement. Thus, we are faced with an ecological problem (increased global temperatures lead to more frequent and intense weather extremes, sea-level rise, and risks to plant, animal and human life); a political problem (overcoming the horizontal and vertical complexities of the world’s “most global” problem); an ethical problem (the poor countries are the most adversely impacted but the rich countries are most responsible for the problem); and an economic-technological challenge (reforming an economy that has been thriving based on fossil fuels for most of the last one and a half centuries since the second industrial revolution).

[Please find a full summary here and the presentation slides here]