Energy, Deforestation Among ‘Top 2013 Stories to Watch’

by | Jan 16, 2013

Energy demand and supply, deforestation and President Obama’s political leadership on climate change are among the top environmental and sustainability stories to watch in 2013, according to the World Resources Institute.

CO2 emissions are on the rise globally, from 6 billion tons in 1950 to 35 billion tons in 2012 as the world becomes more urbanized — from 30 percent urban in 1950 to a projected 75 percent by 2050 — WRI president and CEO Andrew Steer said in a presentation yesterday. This increasing urbanization also puts more pressure on natural resources.

The global energy mix will likely emerge as a key story in 2013, Steer said, adding that 1.3 billion are without access to electricity. While more than 55 US coal plants shut down in 2012, 395 remain open. The US is using less coal at home but it has tripled its coal exports in the last decade (see graph).

Steer said India and China make up 75 percent of new planned coal-fired power plant capacity.

News stories to watch in 2013 include how many of the proposed coal power plants are built, and whether US coal imports continue to grow.

Also under the energy story category, Steer said to watch the shale gas boom in the US, and renewable investments around the world. Investments in renewable energy totaled $268.7 billion in 2012, and while much of the world has renewable energy targets the US does not. Steer said to watch countries’ progress on renewable energy commitments in the coming year, and to look for new counties to announce targets.

Other stories to watch in 2013:

  • Ecological progress in China. China has 10 percent of the world total GDP and produces 20 percent of global CO2. It also consumes 45 percent of all steel, 47 percent of coal, 48 percent of iron ore and 53 percent of cement. Meanwhile, the county’s environmental degradation is massively costly — 9.2 percent of China’s GDP equivalent, compared to the average county’s 8 percent.
  • Urbanization in Africa. Some 36 percent of Africa’s population lived in cities in 2010 compared to a projected 67 percent urban population in 2050. Meanwhile 65 percent currently live in slums.
  • Are we turning the corner on forests? Forests provide $720 billion to global economies, but 13 million hectares of forest are lost per year, Steer said. Brazil and Indonesia are vital players: Brazil with 35 percent of tropical deforestation between 1990-2010 and Indonesia with 23 percent. Other counties have 42 percent. But deforestation in Brazil is on the decline, from a high of about 27,000 square kilometers lost in 2004 to less than 5,000 in 2012.
  • Green investment. Some $364 billion was spent in 2010-2011 to finance efforts to slow climate change, but $1 trillion is needed. Street said to watch for new funding mechanisms and look to companies to recalibrate risk and adopt longer-term perspectives.
  • President Obama’s political leadership on climate change. In 2006, then-Sen. Obama said “The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril.” Citing extreme weather in 2012 — the hottest year on record for the US, with $60-plus billion in damage from Hurricane Sandy and 1 percent of GDP lost from the summer’s drought — Steer asked “will the Obama administration be a go-getter on climate change?”

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