#1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
This network of thousands of international scientists has been around since the late 1980s, but it was in 2007 that the IPCC — charged with forging a scientific consensus on climate change — really made its mark. In its fourth assessment report on climate change, which comprised a series of reports released throughout the year, the IPCC made the final case that global warming is real, and that humans are the main cause. The IPCC also detailed the potential consequences of unchecked warming, and produced a road map for the kind of economic and technological changes needed to avoid the worst-case scenarios. Climate change is a momentous challenge, but the IPCC — which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore this year — has shown us the way.#2. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP)
The total lack of federal action on climate change is disheartening, but it has left the door open for initiatives from other sectors. One of the best is the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Launched in January, USCAP brought together corporate heavyweights like General Motors and General Electric with environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy. Together, they’re out to lobby the government to do something unusual: increase regulations. USCAP called for mandatory cuts of 60% to 80% in carbon emissions by 2050, and a uniform nationwide market for carbon. When big business is this far ahead of government, it’s clearly time for a change.#3. The Green Supply Chain
In the age of the international conglomerate, business may have the ability to create more radical change than any single government. A $180 billion company like Wal-Mart has ties to tens of thousands of smaller companies around the world, and through the power of sheer size, it can all but force those suppliers to sell their goods cheaper — or, if Wal-Mart wishes, greener. That’s exactly what the Bentonville retailing giant has done this year, pressuring its suppliers to go green. Wal-Mart’s initiative was followed this October by the launch of the Supply Chain Leadership Coalition, in which some of the biggest companies in the world — including Procter & Gamble and Unilever — banded together to press suppliers to report their greenhouse-gas emissions and be more open about their efforts to combat climate change.#4. Avoided Deforestation
Forests, especially on the tropics, are virtual carbon banks — and when they’re cut down, that carbon is released into the atmosphere. At least 80,000 acres of forest disappear from the Earth each day, and deforestation is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global carbon emissions. One way to slow deforestation might be for rich nations to compensate poorer nations for taking care of their tropical trees, but such avoided deforestation deals weren’t recognized under the Kyoto Protocol. That looks about to change. In June the World Bank began raising $250 million for a pilot fund for avoided deforestation projects, and with further talks at this year’s UN climate summit held in Indonesia — the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, thanks chiefly to the speed at which it is massacring its trees — the idea is gaining momentum.#5. Green-Collar Jobs
Saving the polar bears would be great, but most Americans won’t move on climate change until it hits something they really care about: the economy. But opponents of global warming action have always argued that trying to curb climate change — chiefly by raising the price of fossil-fuel energy — would hurt the economy and cost Americans jobs. Look again. If America shifts smartly into cleaner tech, it can create an entirely new class of jobs: green-collar ones. From making buildings greener to installing solar panels to working as an organic farmer, going green can create jobs — 6.3 million by 2015, according to Management Information Services, Inc. So when we save the polar bear, we might also save the American worker.#6. Plug-in Hybrids
Don’t want to wait for Toyota to come out with that 100-mpg hybrid? You don’t have to, thanks to the people at CalCars. Headed by a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, the geeks at CalCars can help you take a standard Toyota Prius hybrid — which currently gets nearly 50 mpg — and tweak it so that it runs almost entirely on the electric engine, powered via a standard 120-volt outlet. That means that your hybrid can run almost entirely on electric power for most short journeys, with the gas engine in reserve for longer trips. The conversions are still rare and pricey right now, but mainstream auto manufacturers are working on their own custom models, and many experts think that plug-in hybrids could be the wave of the future.#7. E-Flex
The car of the future will be powered by hydrogen. No, wait, ethanol. No, electric batteries. Though the automobile is clearly at a crossroads, no one knows exactly which clean technology will succeed the gasoline-powered engine. That’s why General Motors’ E-Flex system is smart. Introduced early this year on its concept electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, the E-Flex platform can be adapted to run on an electric battery, a hydrogen fuel cell, ethanol or standard gasoline. That gives GM the flexibility to adapt to what lies ahead.
#8. Congestion Pricing
Whether it’s water, energy or Hannah Montana tickets, the best way to encourage efficient use of a commodity is by putting the right price on it. Ditto for driving. Cities around the world — including London and Singapore — have adopted congestion pricing, which seeks to reduce car use by charging drivers to use the most heavily trafficked inner urban streets. Car-loving America has avoided the policy, until this year, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would bring congestion pricing to the most gridlocked area in America: Manhattan. Bloomberg’s plan, part of a long-term sustainability blueprint for the city called PlaNYC, would charge cars $6 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a weekday. If he pulls it off, congestion pricing could help cut carbon dioxide levels and New York’s sky-high asthma rates — and perhaps more importantly, show other American cities the way to go.#9. Carbon Capping
If we have any hope of averting the most dangerous consequences of climate change, we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions by up to 80% of 1990 levels by the middle of the century. But putting a cap on carbon will exert a price on consumers, as fuel and electricity will likely become more expensive until alternative energy becomes fully competitive. Opponents of capping say that it will amount to a regressive tax, borne most heavily by the least well off. But Peter Barnes and the Tomales Bay Institute have an answer for that. They argue that, rather than being given away to industry, the permit to emit greenhouse gas should be sold by the government to companies that burn carbon — and that the proceeds should be kicked back to ordinary Americans in the form of a tax refund. That policy could be both environmentally effective and politically viable.#10. Geo-engineering
It used to be considered the stuff of science fiction, but a growing number of experts are voicing qualified support for a radical solution to climate change. It’s called geo-engineering, and it involves purposefully attempting to cool the climate through planetary-scale actions like blocking sunlight by stationing mirrors in space. Other fixes include seeding the seas with iron to help plankton absorb more greenhouse gases, and injecting sulfur into the upper atmosphere to create sunlight-deflecting clouds. These are clearly last resorts, and scientists have no idea whether the cure could be worse than the disease, but the very fact that experts now support researching into geo-engineering shows just how desperate the climate crisis has become.