As 2011 gets underway, experts are looking at the growing influence of environmental events on both economics and politics. Policies on food safety, energy and transportation, among other issues, are being shaped by environmental developments.
Nearly 25 car models - all electric or plug in hybrids - will hit the U.S. market this year. Major corporations have announced large purchases to replace their fleets of cars.
The World Resources Institute has just released its annual forecast of environmental events for 2011.
"There are questions about the degree of environmental benefit from shifting to electric vehicles," said Jonathan Lash, the organization's president. "If you drive an electric vehicle in an area where most of the electricity comes from coal, you got about a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions."
Lash released his annual forecast during a recent meeting in Washington.
Transportation, he says, will be a major topic.
Congestion in megacities has become an issue of great concern. Colombia and Brazil are already transporting millions of people with rapid bus systems, avoiding major investments and traffic jams.
"Bus rapid transit is cheap and able to move fast, and we are going to see it expanding rapidly because developing countries' megacities need to do something immediately," Lash said.
For travel between cities, Lash says China has been investing heavily in high speed trains, more than any other country .
At the moment, he says, China has more high speed rail tracks than the rest of the world combined.
China is also making major investments in renewable energy.
"One cannot look at what China is doing without being impressed at the scale of their ambition in terms of the scale of environmental change and the level of commitment," said Lash.
Lash said, politically, the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world.
Last year, Congress failed to approve climate change legislation. As a result, he says, progress in clean energy in the U.S. will slow. But he hopes changes in the individual states will lead to national change.
"If we look at what’s happening at the state level, more than 20 states pursuing their own climate programs, or what’s happening at the community level, several hundred cities, or at the corporate level, you see a lot of movement going on," he said.
In the breach, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will begin to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and toxic substances.
The regulations are already facing opposition from industry representatives and some politicians.
Lash says another phenomenon to watch is food prices. They are pushed up not only by greater demand for energy and population growth.
"This tendency is exacerbated by climate events that we are seeing all over the world," he said. "Floods, droughts, storms disrupt agricultural supply."
Christopher Delgado at the World Bank in Washington says weather events like those in Russia last year are affecting grain production.
“We are a little better off this time than what we were in 2008 because there is more grain in storage, but that will only last for so long,” he said.
Experts say unless the world pays attention to the impact of climate change on agriculture, the situation for poor countries is likely to get worse.
“If we don’t take serious action, yields in parts of the world that currently have the most poor people, such as Africa, yields will decline," said Andrew Steer, a special envoy for climate change at the World Bank. "Some of the estimates indicate that some of the yields in Africa in 2100 will be down by almost 50 percent.”
Steer says the World Bank is working in more than 130 countries to reduce the effects of climate change, especially in agriculture.