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Weathervane in Brief

In Weathervane, RFF’s climate policy blog, was launched in 1997 and is designed to advance and inform debates surrounding the environmental and economic aspects of climate change. Since its inception, Weathervane has fostered a vibrant discussion of current climate change policy research and debate. Below are clips from recent posts, covering topics from climate adaptation to the Green Climate Fund, to carbon emissions in China—a small sample of issues covered on Weathervane. To read the full version of any story below, click its headline.

Climate Adaptation in U.S. Policy
One area where the federal government can take action is in reforming institutions and getting incentives right, in order to better incorporate risks from climate into price signals. As one measure, we recommend reshaping subsidy programs (such as the National Flood Insurance Program) to better reflect the actual climate risk that consumers face.–Daniel Morris

Clean Energy Standard (CES) in the United States
It is important to note that there are likely no efficiency gains under a CES by crediting existing facilities, but serious regional implications exist because the distribution of existing nuclear and hydro plants is not uniform across the country. For example, the Pacific Northwest has a lot of existing hydropower, and if those facilities aren’t credited, they will be treated just as coal under a [CES] program—receiving no credit, despite their “clean” nature. If that were the case, electricity prices in the Pacific Northwest would increase substantially under a CES. But if those hydro plants do get credits, prices would rise by a much smaller amount. In that scenario, however, consumers nationwide will be paying more and so interregional transfers of wealth will occur, depending on whether or not existing facilities are credited.–Anthony Paul

Is Bioenergy Carbon Neutral?
Although carbon released by fossil fuels or biofuels has an equivalent impact on the atmosphere, important differences do exist. In the case of fossil fuels, the release of carbon means an irreversible flow of carbon from the fossil fuel stock to the biosphere, resulting in a net permanent addition to the total amount. For biomass, by contrast, the amount of carbon in the biosphere does not change. This lack of equivalence is not without consequence. Only the form has changed—carbon moves over time from being captured in biomass to being released into the atmosphere, from where it might once again be recaptured in biomass. The release of fossil fuel emissions is thus, in principle, completely irreversible, whereas biomass emissions are reversible and can be returned to biomass. Biomass carbon is a zero sum game—in the long run. Over shorter periods of time and for individual sites, however, the question is more complex. –Roger Sedjo

Three Responses to U.S. Cap-and-Trade Troubles
Governor Chris Christie has decided to pull New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Northeast’s carbon cap-and-trade program. New Hampshire’s legislature has also voted to leave, though the governor may veto the bill. Other states are considering their positions. Three reactions are possible: 1) Despair (Cap and trade gets a knife in the back to match the one in the front); 2) Indifference (“Wait…New Jersey had a carbon policy?”); and 3)Optimism (Playing the long game). Which of these three is right? Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three are appropriate to some extent. Pricing carbon is the most effective climate policy—so it is troubling to see it lose ground. RGGI itself is largely irrelevant to both the science and politics of climate. And the long view matters most of all.–Nathan Richardson

How Big Will the Green Fund Grow?
Unless a truly international mechanism is established that bypasses national coffers, which is possible although it seems unlikely at the moment, this introduces a timing complication in determining the size of the Green Climate Fund. Using the rough estimates above, it is plausible that between $5 billion and $20 billion per year could be available for the Green Climate Fund, given sufficient political will. The first pledging period is unlikely to start for several years because of the slow negotiations around this type of fund and the lag for national contributions. For a notional three-year pledging period that lasts from 2019–2021, however, the size of the fund seems likely to range from $15 to $60 billion (of which only the annual average would be comparable to the $100 billion pledge).–Andrew Stevenson

Scoring U.S. Federal Government Emissions Reductions
Significant emissions reductions from U.S. government departments and agencies can lead to a decrease in overall U.S. emissions—without the need for sweeping national congressional legislation or Environmental Protection Agency action. According to the data, overall, the federal government emitted 121.3 million metric tons of carbon in 2010. The majority of this, as we have said before, comes from the Department of Defense (DOD). In 2008, the DOD ranked 47 in the world for carbon intensity—emitting more carbon than Israel, Chile and the Philippines.–Lynann Butkiewicz

The Challenge of Reducing Carbon Emissions in China
Carbon taxes and cap and trade are facing similar problems gaining traction in China. As in the United States, the first and perhaps most significant obstacle is political will. Instead of being played out in town halls and talk radio, however, China’s debate is mostly within the government. Some believe that the costs of these programs are too high for China’s rapidly growing economy to bear. Others see an opportunity to improve the efficiency of China’s economy and boost energy security or combat the economic threat of climate change.–Andrew Stevenson​​

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