10 Climate Trends That Will Shape Business in 2010

As 2010 begins, there are looming questions about climate change action: Will the political agreement made in Copenhagen in 2009 be developed by the next “COP” meeting to include detailed targets and rules? Will those targets and rules be binding?

What will happen with the U.S. Senate’s vote on cap-and-trade? Will U.S. public opinion about climate change — which has a major impact on how the Senate votes — ever begin to converge with science?

There’s no doubt that the year’s most interesting stories could turn out to be “black swans” that we can’t currently foresee. But even amid the uncertainty, there are some clear trends that will significantly shape the business-climate landscape.

1. A Better Dashboard

Carbon transparency isn’t easy — it takes science, infrastructure, and group decisions about standards to allow for more accurate information. We have started moving in that direction. Web-based information services provide illustrations: country commitments needed for climate stabilization, indications of where we are now, and the critical path of individual U.S. policymakers.

Meanwhile, more attention is being paid to real-time atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, remote sensing technology that tracks atmospheric GHGs, and a new climate registry for China. As these data tools become more available, business leaders should begin to see — and report on — a clearer picture of their company’s real climate impacts.

2. Enhanced Attention to Products

There are signs that more consumers will demand product footprinting — that is, a holistic, lifecycle picture of the climate impacts of products and services ranging from an ounce of gold to a T-shirt or car. Fortunately, a new wave of standards is coming. The gold-standard corporate accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, aims to issue guidance on footprinting for products and supply chains late in the year, and groups like the Outdoor Industry Association and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition plan to publish consensus-based standards for their industries in the near future.

3. More Efforts to Build Supplier Capacity to Address Emissions

With more attention on products comes an appreciation of product footprinting’s limitations. Many layers of standards are still needed, from the micro methods of locating carbon particles to time-consuming macro approaches defining common objectives through group consensus. Accurate footprinting that avoids greenwashing requires statistical context, especially related to variance and confidence levels, that companies often think stakeholders don’t want to digest.

Progressive companies such as Hewlett Packard, Ikea, Intel, and Wal-Mart are therefore pursuing partnerships with suppliers for carbon and energy efficiency, and they are focusing their public communications on the qualitative efforts to build supplier capacity–as opposed to pure quantitative measurements, which can imply more precision than really exists.

4. Improved Literacy About the Climate Impacts of Business

The bulk of companies’ climate management falls short of directly confronting the full scale of effort required to address climate change. That’s partly because organizational emissions accounting tends to treat progress as change from the past, as opposed to movement toward a common, objective planetary goal. But companies are becoming more aware of the need to be goal oriented. Firms such as Autodesk and BT have begun bridging this gap by illustrating that there is a common end–which is measured in atmospheric parts per million of emissions–and that company metrics can be mapped to their share of their countries’ national and international policy objectives toward them.

5. More Meaningful Policy Engagement

Related to the previous item, more companies realize that pushing for the enactment of clear and durable rules to incentivize low-carbon investment is one of the most direct things they can do to stabilize the climate. Therefore, more companies are engaging earlier — and in more creative ways — in their climate “journey.” There is growing realization that you don’t have to “reduce first” before getting involved.

There is also a general awakening to the fact that strong climate policy is good for jobs and business. Already, more than 1,000 global companies representing $11 trillion in market capitalization and 20 million jobs (PDF) agree that strong climate policy is good for business. There has never been a better time to get involved, especially in the United States, where the Senate is expected to vote on domestic legislation by Easter. Effective corporate action can help fence-sitting senators (PDF) gain the support they need by educating the public in their districts about the importance of strong climate policy.

6. Higher Stakeholder Expectations

As climate management enters the mainstream, stakeholders expect companies to do more, and watchdogs will find new soft spots. Companies should be prepared for new stakeholder tactics, such as the profiling of individual executive officers, who are perceived as having the greatest impact on company positions, and heightened policy advocacy efforts. The media’s role in promoting public climate literacy will continue to rank as an important part of stakeholder expectations. Currently, the U.S. public, which plays an important role in the critical path to a global framework, has far less confidence about the importance of acting on climate than scientists do, and the media can help educate them.

7. Increased Power of Networks

Economists see energy efficiency as a solution to 40 percent or more of climate mitigation, and with the technology and finance already available globally, companies can play a significant role in accelerating progress. While the price makes the energy market, and policy helps to set the price, companies like Walmart have shown that creating expectations for performance improvement, while providing tools and training, can help suppliers and partners clear the economic hurdles they need to get started. After this initial “push,” experience shows that suppliers take further steps on their own. As more companies take on supply chain carbon management, watch for lessons on how to do it effectively.

8.    More Climate Connections

Energy efficiency, which constitutes the core of many companies’ climate programs, offers a platform for broader resource-efficiency efforts. We expect to see many companies expand their programs this year to address water. Given that this is the “Year of Biodiversity,” we can also expect more movement related to forestry and agriculture. The nexus between climate change and human rights is also likely to become a hot topic, building on momentum developed during the run-up to Copenhagen.

Finally, watch for the climate vulnerability of mountain regions to gain attention, due to increased environmental instability, disruption of natural water storage and distribution systems, and stress on ecosystem services in regions near human populations.

9. Greater Focus on Adaptation

Climate management has already broadened to include adaptation, and this will receive increasing attention in 2010. This is already evident in company reporting, as evidenced by responses to the Carbon Disclosure Project (see answers to questions 2 and 5 about physical risks and opportunities). Companies are addressing many adaptation-related issues, including insurance, health, migration, human rights, and food and agriculture. It is important to note that adaptation efforts can–and must–also support mitigation, as in the case of resource efficiency.

10. More Political Venues Up for Grabs

The Copenhagen Accord (PDF) was produced only during the last few hours at COP15, as part of a last-ditch “friends of chair” effort involving around 25 countries. This nontraditional process proved to be an effective way to move swiftly in getting broad support, yet still failed to achieve consensus in the general assembly, with a small handful of nations vetoing due to a few apparently intractable disputes. In consideration, there are growing calls for additional forums beyond the regular United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, to offer more responsive action in developing the global climate agreement needed.

Most notably, attention is on the G-20 countries, a group that comprises the vast majority of emitters and has shown that it can move efficiently, even while avoiding the troublesome distinction between developed and developing nations. Country associations are also changing. For example, instead of “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), we are more often hearing about BASIC (BRIC minus Russia plus South Africa) and BICI (BRIC minus Russia plus Indonesia). The point is, before Copenhagen, most thought updating Kyoto meant developing a global treaty through the formal U.N. structures. Now there is growing appreciation of the opportunity for complementary efforts, and new countries are coming to the fore in multilateral engagement.

In 2010, business leaders will be considering their best next steps after Copenhagen. At the same time, as BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer has written, while an overall framework agreement is important, we need to look beyond forums like Copenhagen for real results on climate — and that means looking to business. Business is important for two reasons: By engaging in policy, business can help increase the likelihood that policymakers will develop a strong framework. And by innovating and committing to progress, business will help a treaty achieve desired results.

At BSR, we will be tracking the opportunities related to these trends and working with business to focus on innovation, efficiency, mobilization, and collaboration for low-carbon prosperity. For more information about how your company can contribute, contact me at rschuchard@bsr.org.

First posted at GreenBiz.

What Happened at COP15

As BSR predicted, COP15 came down to hard bargaining between the United States and China, and the event materialized as much less of an end to climate policy than as a beginning. This turned out to be an understatement: no binding commitment was reached, and it is increasingly clear that an effective agreement will take much more than simply another meeting.

In terms of progress, views are mixed. Some have called it a complete failure. That is because leaders have been working on the issue for two decades and have had two years since Bali, where they agreed to develop firm action plans. Yet, at Copenhagen, nothing concrete or enforceable was produced; rather, negotiators simply agreed to have more talks, a result which the UN “took note” of—that is, acknowledged symbolically weakly.

Also, the process leading to that point was rather undiplomatic. A deal (the Copenhagen Accord) was rammed through by a few countries—notably the United States and China—without real involvement by the G77 or the EU in crafting it. This subverted the regular UN process while passing over details on critical issues like forestry and carbon markets.

On the other hand, there weren’t any surprises. In the time leading up to Copenhagen, it became clear that such a complex undertaking would require more than one event. That is due in part to the fact that U.S. President Obama cannot act unilaterally on behalf of his government, no matter how ambitious he may be.

The fact that there were no real walkouts or other disasters, and that a foundational political agreement was developed, shows that there was real progress forward. Moreover, Copenhagen proved that climate change has not only become a mainstream agenda item, but that it has become one of the most important political movements in history, with more than 100 heads of state involved (at Kyoto, there was only one there, and it represented the hosts).

On balance, it is disappointing that Copenhagen did not produce more needed clarity and predictability to encourage companies to invest in low-carbon energy, agriculture, and emissions markets. But perhaps there will be a method to this madness. There is still time to act, and we have the ability to ratchet up commitments once it is understood how these commitments contribute to jobs and investment opportunities. Also, for better or for worse, it appears that Copenhagen will spawn negotiations and forums among smaller numbers of large countries (such as the G-20), to expedite progress. This will likely increase opportunities for businesses to contribute in progressive ways.

As for next steps, Al Gore—someone who arguably has more insight into these negotiations than anybody—offers two things: First, why not keep up the momentum and hold COP16 in Mexico City in July 2010 rather than November? Second, says Gore, “The key to success remains as it has always been: to convince people one by one, person by person, family by family, community by community, of the need for the present generation to accept and understand the obligation we have for the future of humanity, to take the steps necessary in our time to safeguard their future.” Gore is referring to grassroots communication. Keep that in mind as the U.S. Senate debates American legislation—which will be key to building (or losing support for) multilateral commitments—this winter.

Originally published at BSR.

What New Climate Change Policies Will Mean for Your Business

To read about policy developments taking place this year, see “Looking for Signs Along the Road to Copenhagen.” Listen to advice from Ryan on positioning your business at “Reading the Tea Leaves of Evolving Climate Change Policy.”]

As global leaders prepare to negotiate an updated version of the Kyoto Treaty at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, the big question is whether China and the United States will join the 183 countries that have already signed on. If that happens, we’ll be on our way to a serious global effort to stabilize the climate.

What would this mean for your company? An agreement that includes China and the U.S. — the world’s No. 1 and No.2 emitters — will commit all signatory countries to broad reductions in domestic emissions. Beyond outlining general principles for international cooperation, however, the treaty likely will leave it up to countries to figure out how to do so. Therefore, an evolved global agreement will help speed up and synchronize country-level efforts, but national governments will continue at the helm of climate policy design.

Through that lens, consider the following ways in which policy will impact individual companies, starting with the most direct effects.

1. The Price of Carbon

From global to local, the essence of climate policy is putting a price on carbon emissions, which means either direct regulation by taxes or what’s known as “cap-and-trade” — a requirement for companies to buy tradable permits when they exceed a certain threshold of emissions. Generally, when experts talk about the “regulatory risk” of climate change, they’re referring to direct exposure to just such a price, and this is rightly considered one the most immediate and tangible climate-related risks.

The onset of a carbon price affects companies directly in two main ways. First, for those paying, there is a per-unit price, which, in recent years, has ranged between $1 to more than $50 per ton of carbon in voluntary carbon offset markets and regulatory schemes like the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The Economist suggests that range may move and narrow to between $38 and $63 in the future.

The second direct impact on companies is the uncertainty over what the price will be, and who will have to pay it. This may be more profound than the price impact itself, which is why companies in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership are asking for a system of regulation. Since most emissions come from fossil fuels, regulation is closely related to the supply and the cost of energy. And because corporate energy expenses are so substantial — many companies spend more on energy than they do on taxes — an increasing number of firms see regulation as a good deal, as long as the government clarifies it soon.

2. “Supporting” Policies

In addition to direct regulation, there are various supporting policies. One main type is standards, which include transportation sector fuel economy specifications and efficiency requirements for energy-using products in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry. Standards typically set out requirements for end products, but as international sectoral approaches take shape, standards increasingly will cover production processes as well.

Another main type of supporting policy is technology incentives, which include funding for R&D, the removal of barriers to enter new industries (particularly energy), and financial incentives such as tax credits to encourage companies to generate renewable energy on site.

While the three instruments mentioned so far tend to constrain emissions, there is also a widespread movement to develop “market mechanisms” that create positive incentives by taking advantage of the commodity aspect of carbon. For instance, since a ton of carbon emissions is a ton anywhere, it’s possible to use the market to promote activities being done at the lowest-cost locations — where investments in activities that reduce carbon emissions are cheaper. With market mechanisms, companies can buy reductions when it is cheaper than “making” them. Examples of markets include the U.S. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.

Despite the promise of environmental finance-based market systems, two big questions loom: whether and how carbon instruments can be “imported” from elsewhere, and whether forestry-related carbon instruments should be allowed at all.

3. All Policy is Climate Policy

Policies that reduce carbon emissions are not always named as “climate” policies. Case in point: Transportation accounts for a third of emissions in the U.S., so climate will be a significant topic when the U.S. transportation bill comes up for its six-year reauthorization in September. Also, with 20 percent of global emissions caused by forestry and land-use change, and with the food and agriculture sector looking for rewards for good behavior, climate considerations are also likely to come into play in agricultural policy.

In addition, climate issues are becoming ubiquitous in policies that address economic and social issues. For example, the growing risk of international legal and border disputes, the greater likelihood of damaging weather events, and the increasing vulnerability of energy security all mean climate change is a key security policy issue (PDF). It’s no coincidence that the first carbon tax bill — America’s Energy Security Trust Fund Act, which was introduced in the House earlier this month — has “security” in its name. Climate relations are also ground zero for trade issues. Realizing there is a legal basis (PDF) for using trade measures to enforce environmental initiatives, the U.S. and China are debating who is ultimately responsible for cross-border emissions. In other words, climate policy is trade policy.

4. Society as the Policy Authority

Ultimately, policy is part of a general contract between business and society, and social groups may start to hold companies accountable via direct pressure. These actions, according to a recent Harvard paper (PDF), can range from events targeting single companies to strikes and riots deriving from social instability exacerbated by climate change.

To stay ahead of this risk, companies should conduct broad policy assessments of sociopolitical situations, using resources like the Economist Intelligence Unit, the International Country Risk Guide, Business Environment Risk Intelligence, and S. J. Rundt & Associates.

5. Everyone is Affected

According to the Peterson Institute and World Resources Institute, the most vulnerable industries are those that have high energy intensity of production, low potential for efficiency improvement, little ability to switch to low-carbon energy sources, and high elasticity of demand. These include, in particular, energy utilities and heavy manufacturing sectors.

This analysis, like many, focuses on policies that likely will have a direct impact on a relatively small number of players — for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed reporting rule covers 85 to 90 percent of domestic emissions by focusing on just 13,000 facilities. Nonetheless, all of the policies mentioned so far may reverberate to impact the fundamental conditions on which all businesses depend. For instance, a carbon tax impacting the price of carbon-intensive energy could lead to reduced availability of carbon-intensive inputs such as steel. Such a tax could also lower demand for products that create higher emissions during their use.

These types of policies could also influence competitive dynamics. For example, incentives for renewables might lower entry barriers for ICT companies in the energy sector, while feed-in tariffs might enable consumer products companies to develop better cost positions over rivals. Also, with investor groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project demanding more information about companies’ self-appraisals of policy risk, those firms that are willing and able to disclose more have increasingly preferential access to capital.

Putting it in Perspective

By no means are the effects of climate policy all negative. The economy as a whole stands to benefit from comprehensive climate policy. Without it, a wide scale of human rights, health, disease, and energy problems will likely result.

But more pragmatically, for most climate policy risks, there is also opportunity. Companies that generate and rely on low-carbon energy are set to prosper, as are those that can exploit technological breakthroughs in resource efficiency and materials. Those firms generating new forms of energy — in particular, renewables — will participate in a massively growing market. Companies in industries that address adaptation problems, such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, stand to gain. In the end, as the world’s climate policies are developed and strengthened, there will be important roles for companies from almost every industry.

First posted at Greenbiz.

Looking for Signs Along the Road to Copenhagen

The path to a new international climate change treaty is filled with potential twists and turns that will impact how businesses operate in a carbon-constrained economy.

United Nations climate negotiations are planned in Bonn later this month, a U.S. House of Representatives climate bill is expected by May, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule is due to be published by June, and an additional climate bill from the U.S. Senate is possible at any moment.

Each of these theaters of emerging climate policy has the potential to impact business in several ways, including raising the cost of energy, imposing new production process requirements, and changing competitive dynamics all around.

We’re taking this opportunity to look at which developments businesses should monitor over the next several months on the road to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. In the second part of this series we’ll explore how climate policy is likely to affect the business community, and how companies can engage in the discussion and help shape future climate policy.

1. Sealing Leaks: Negotiations for an International Treaty

If advocates have their way in Copenhagen this December, negotiators will close the deal on a global treaty for greenhouse (GHG) gas emissions. Such a treaty, which is essential (PDF) for combating the critical problem of “leakage” (when sources of emissions migrate to the places of least regulation), would outline common but differentiated responsibilities—holding all countries responsible to protect the global climate, but taking into account their different historical contributions and relative capacity to act in requiring commitments.

In practice, such an agreement would require developed countries to make significant reductions to their aggregate, absolute, point-source emissions, and would require developing countries to reduce their intensity of emissions and abide by new sector-specific standards. It would also aim to promote innovation by creating positive incentives for low-carbon energy and activities all around.

Key Climate Policy Events in 2009
Feb. 26: Western Climate Policy Forum  (Denver, Colo.)
March 10-12: Research Congress on Climate Change 2009 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
March 11: Midwest Climate Policy Forum (Columbus, Ohio)
March 29-April 8: U.N. Climate Change Conference  (Bonn, Germany)
May 24-26: World Business Summit on Climate Change (Copenhagen, Denmark)
June 1-12: U.N. Climate Change Conference (Bonn, Germany)
July 8-10: G8 Summit (La Maddallena, Italy)
Aug. 31–Sept. 4: WMO World Climate Conference (Geneva, Switzerland)
Sept. 28–Oct. 9: U.N. Climate Change Conference (Bangkok, Thailand)
Dec. 3-6: Copenhagen Climate Exchange (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Dec. 7-18: U.N. Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Dec. 15-17: Copenhagen Climate Conference for Mayors (Copenhagen, Denmark)

What this means for business:
A global treaty will establish parameters that shape domestic legislation, as well as border measures enforceable (PDF) under the World Trade Organization — creating many layers of price and risk for companies that use, produce, or manage value chains that rely on carbon-intensive energy.

Specifically, the treaty is expected to outline regulations and incentives related to not only reducing emissions, but adaptation, technology transfer, finance and international development, a global carbon market, and deforestation.

In spite of these concrete subjects, the Copenhagen meeting itself (known as “COP 15”) is largely symbolic. The real action will take place at the various United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings leading up to Copenhagen (see sidebar), and also afterward.

As the Economist has pointed out, Kyoto, Copenhagen’s 2001 predecessor, was a “bust up.” The actual deal wasn’t completed until another meeting the following year. Thus, Copenhagen is just one stop — albeit one with a big agenda — along a road of continuous negotiations.

What to watch:
A key area to watch is interactions between country coalitions.

The most influential is the relationship between developed and developing countries—what the UNFCCC calls “Annex 1” and “non-Annex 1” countries—which has reached a stalemate over who should act first.

Other coalitions, known as “party groupings,” include the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries, the European Union, the Umbrella Group and Environmental Integrity Group, OPEC, CACAM, the League of Arab States, and the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie.

To stay close to the global negotiations related to Copenhagen this year and onward, follow the UNFCC press headlines, COP 15 News, UN News Centre, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Climate Action Network, and Third World Network.

2. Critical Path: The United States Senate

In order for a treaty to work, the U.S. must ratify it — and for the first time, this is possible. U.S. President Obama wants to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, is committed to vigorous diplomatic engagement, and has called on Congress to enact a market-based cap. More generally, there is growing evidence that clean energy is not at odds with jobs, and consensus among economists (PDF) that now is the time to act.

Nonetheless, ratification requires a two-thirds vote by Congress, where politics, not policy, rules. This will take two steps.

First, explains Al Gore, who failed to get the U.S. to sign the Kyoto Treaty in 1997, the Senate needs a clear picture of how the U.S. will actually meet its targets, which will almost certainly depend on both the Senate and the House approving a centralized cap-and-trade system. Second, in addition to the 60 Senators needed to support regulation, a full 67 are required to ratify the international treaty. The critical path, therefore, is winning over “brown state” Senators, who are concerned about unemployment.

What this means for business:
Centralized emissions regulation is likely to happen during this Congress and maybe even this year. But ratifying the treaty, while possible, is not likely to happen in time for the Copenhagen meeting in December. Elliot Diringer of Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Joseph Romm of Climate Progress fall generally in this camp. Others expect a treaty, albeit a watered down version.

As an optimistic way forward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to strategically sequence legislation in 2009, beginning first with a renewable energy bill, before introducing a measure to improve grid transmission. Once those foundations are laid, he will tackle a cap-and-trade.

What to watch:
As Congress negotiates the details of international competition, technology, cost containment, and offsets, energy and climate bills will develop in both the House and the Senate. Watch for markup on a climate bill by Memorial Day in the House, where 55 of 126 fence-sitters — which include fiscally conservative “blue dog Democrats” — need wooing to achieve a 163-vote majority. In the Senate, Reid aims to hold a floor debate on a climate bill by the end of the summer, when Senate supporters will need to win over 13 of the 21 senators now undecided. 

If and when discussion turns to ratification, the collection of moderate Democrats from the Midwest, the Rust Belt, and the West (known as the “Gang of 15”) will be critical to achieving support from the additional seven senators that are needed. Given the rocky economy, the central issue will be whether a commitment represents an investment or a cost, especially for U.S. manufacturing.

Watch how opinion leaders like the 17 players most influential to cap-and-trade affect the discourse, as well as influential climate change skeptics such as Senators Joe Barton and James Inhofe, in part with the help of contrarian scientists.

3. Game Theory: The U.S.-China Axis of EmissionsBut the real theater to watch, says Jonathan Lash, director of the World Resources Institute, is the interaction between the United States and China — the No. 1 and No. 2 greenhouse has producers that emit more than 40 percent of the global total — which Lash refers to as the “axis of emissions.”

“If the U.S. and China find agreement, the world will move,” according to Lash. Romm, of ClimateProgress, goes further, saying that Obama’s entire presidency and the fate of the planet depend on it.

Getting the 67 U.S. Senate votes needed to ratify a treaty, says Romm, will not happen without binding commitments by China to cap emissions by 2020. In response, Obama is taking negotiations with China seriously. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited China as part of her first diplomatic mission last month, which included a two-day stop in Beijing devoted to climate. She was accompanies by  new climate change envoy Todd Stern, who believes “nothing is more important for dealing with (climate) than a U.S.-China partnership.”

So far, however, China firmly opposes binding commitments, resists the need to act in advance of the U.S., and instead calls on developed countries like the U.S. to provide financial support and a transfer of technologies. Chinese leadership has taken this stance because it believes the country should be as unrestricted in industrializing as the U.S. was under the Industrial Revolution. Clinton’s retort? Everybody knows better today.

Regardless of this debate, much of China’s emissions come from manufacturing goods headed to the West, and deciding whose emissions are whose and what constitutes progress is far from settled.

What this means for business:
Diplomats will look for every opportunity to build common ground, and reports by the Pew Center, the Asia Society (PDF), and Brookings Institution provide roadmaps. One big opportunity is for the two governments to share investments in R&D: China wants help with technology and finance but most cleantech in the United States is owned by private companies and the U.S. Congress is unlikely to make major appropriations.

Among investments, two technologies are wildcards: carbon capture-enabled coal and nuclear. Although evidence shows that they should be the low-carbon energy choices of last resort, coal is enticing because each country has such huge deposits, and public attitudes in the face of climate change are evolving more favorably towards nuclear.

What to watch:
For both the U.S. and China to commit to an international climate treaty, the U.S. will need to lead the way with binding commitments and each country must show successive signs of good faith.

If it happens, it’s most likely that China will sign “process-oriented” commitments, such as adopting emissions-per-GDP (or “intensity”) targets, renewable energy requirements, sector-specific emissions limits, plant- and building-efficiency standards, and possibly carbon taxes.

After that, U.S. Congress might approve a cap-and-trade scheme in anticipation that China would follow. A key event to watch is the April meeting in London between U.S. President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

There, the leaders intend to reveal more about their “strategic dialogue,” which Clinton’s visit initiated.

First posted at GreenBiz.