For the Love of Acronyms: Understanding the Climate-Energy Nexus

“Step back, doors closing…next stop Union Station.” Ok, it’s official–I’m not in New York anymore. As the train doors shut and the familiarity of Annandale-on-Hudson fades into the background, I find solace in the “Eye of the Tiger” pumping through my earbuds in the final moments of my journey.

I exit the train, walk to the lobby of my office building, hop on the elevator, ride it all the way to the 9th floor and head straight to my desk. I remove the ear buds and despite my heart pounding ferociously in my chest, I manage to maintain my professional composure, knowing that for the next few months this is where I will put the concepts of sustainable development, climate policy and renewable energy analysis I learned at Bard CEP into real-world practice.

 

The Center for Clean Air Policy–leading climate and air quality policy

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At CCAP’s office in Washington D.C.

I’m serving as the International Policy Associate Intern for Latin America at the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) in Washington, D.C. CCAP is an independent, non-profit think tank known for its leadership role in climate and air quality policy at the local, national and international levels. With its extensive reach, knowledge base, and the distinct skill sets of its staff members, CCAP is able to assist governments in developing and implementing groundbreaking climate, air and energy solutions that balance countries’ unique environment and economic development interests.

Through its flagship program, the Mitigation Action Implementation Network (MAIN), CCAP supports developing countries in Asia and Latin America in designing and implementing Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). The MAIN program consists of five key components:

  1. Regional dialogues with policymakers, experts, and potential funders
  2. Video conferences with policymakers
  3. Harvesting best practices, case studies, policy analysis and policy papers
  4. On-the-ground support for NAMA design and in-country workshops
  5. Global dialogues and policy lunches for climate change policy and finance negotiators and senior policymakers

Over the short space of a month, I have already been involved in two major projects here at CCAP. These projects are sharpening my professional skills and understanding of the UNFCCC process, the components needed for formulating climate finance proposals and renewable energy analysis. They’re also helping me understand how to apply the academic skills I learned at Bard CEP on the ground, especially in the development of mitigation and energy efficiency projects.

So, what skills have I learned and how are they being transferred into the workplace? Well, here are two important areas in which I’m developing at CCAP:

Being Precise in INDC Analysis

The 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) negotiations in Warsaw called upon all member states to the UNFCCC to prepare an “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC) for the post-2020 period. These INDCs represent efforts countries are willing to undertake to reduce their emissions and/or adapt to climate change. Some countries have already submitted their INDCs, while others are still in the process of developing them en route to COP 21 in Paris.

As the International Policy Intern I conduct research as well as quantitative and qualitative analysis on various INDCs, looking at relative levels of ambition against different criteria. The quantitative portion of this work reminds me of how I learned to approach problem sets in Professor Gautam Sethi’s Statistics class at Bard CEP. When completing my calculations or typing in commands, I hear Gautam’s advice: “When developing policies, it’s not only about doing the statistics and getting the answer, but it’s about being able to know and explain the meaning of each variable–in English–and how they come together to derive that solution.”

My research and analysis helped inform a memo that was ultimately delivered to one of CCAP’s developing country partners as a tool to help them gauge the relative ambition of, and expected reaction to, the INDC they were considering putting forward.

Agenda setting: Residential Building Efficiency in a MAIN Partner Country in Latin America

CCAP staff has also been working together with a MAIN partner country in Latin America to explore mitigation opportunities in the building sector. Currently, residential buildings in that country account for over 70% of the sector’s energy use, most of which is used for residential heating.  The team is currently in the scoping phase of a potential mitigation project that would tackle energy efficiency by way of retrofits and more energy efficient installations. A key component would focus on replacing traditional wood heaters with more efficient ones fueled by pellets from biomass residues or other cost-effective alternatives.

Since burning wood for heat is both a cheap and customary part of that country’s culture, my work focuses on finding ways to help the population understand the importance of transitioning to a healthier, more energy efficient alternative that can lead to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Additionally, as part of the policy team I will be conducting analyses that compare GHG emissions from wood with a spectrum of other efficient fuel alternatives, while simultaneously completing a literature review on the various residential efficiency awareness building campaigns and financial mechanisms that have facilitated the success of residential energy efficiency programs in other countries with similar levels of development.

 

What’s Next?

20150917_115236These projects have only begun to scratch the surface of what’s in store for me here at CCAP. As I type this blog post, my calendar notification has just reminded me of tomorrow’s call with a member of the Ministry of Energy in another Latin American Country on their upcoming projects. The execution of these upcoming projects will require me to be much more hands on, which I welcome–especially since they will address some important components for the successful planning and implementation of renewable energy projects, components which I intend to explore in my upcoming capstone thesis.

As I prepare my notes and the Spanish part of my brain for tomorrow’s dialogue, the words of former UNEP Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper sound in my head: “You’ve prepared your entire life for this moment so when the spotlight is on you, it’s no time to rehearse.”

This blog post is a discussion of the author’s personal experience as an intern, and any opinions or conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Clean Air Policy.

About Keston Finch

Keston Finch holds a B.S. in Environmental and Natural Resources Management and is a Climate Science and Policy Master's candidate at Bard CEP. He is currently interning at the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington D.C. Originally from a small island state whose country is driven largely by non renewable resources, he has developed a strong interest in exploring energy and climate policy, energy storage and energy efficiency options in Latin America and the Caribbean.