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India’s dam building bonanza

March 16, 2014 in Climate risk, Dams, Development Issues, Flooding, Himalayas, India, Water

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Boatman on the Brahmaputra: his life is changing Image: Kieran Cooke

Boatman on the Brahmaputra: his life is changing
Image: Kieran Cooke

By Kieran Cooke

India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans.

Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow.

Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.

It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.

Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.

Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure.

Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.

“The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.”

The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.

But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.

There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats.

Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.

Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

Half of plants may move in warmer world

February 16, 2014 in Adaptation, Agriculture, Arctic, China, forest fires, Vegetation changes, Warming, Wildlife

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Vegetation changes on a warmer planet may mean that giant pandas go hungry Image: Jeff Kubina via Wikimedia Commons

Vegetation changes on a warmer planet may mean that giant pandas go hungry
Image: Jeff Kubina via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

An international team of scientists says that by the end of the century one probable consequence of climate change will be a change in patterns of vegetation over much of the planet’s land surface.

LONDON, 16 February – By 2100, vegetation patterns will be shifting in almost half the land area of the planet, according to new research in the journal Global and Planetary Change.

Song Feng of the University of Arkansas in the US and colleagues in Nebraska, China and South Korea have taken a long cool look at what the projected patterns of warming are likely to do to the planet’s mosaic of climate types. And they predict dramatic changes.

Climate type is a century-old idea useful for making sense of geographical zones: regions are grouped according to the type of vegetation they support. Since a global map of native vegetation types can also deliver useful information about altitude, rainfall, soil type, prevailing weather and latitude, geographers regard the Köppen-Geiger classification – and an updated version known as Köppen-Trewartha – as a helpful way of describing the world.

Feng and his colleagues decided to see what projected changes in temperature would do to climate types. He wasn’t the first to do so; scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2013 in Nature Climate Change on the probable speed of change in such zones.

But science advances by challenge and replication, and the Arkansas team began looking for themselves at the details of simulated change under the notorious “business as usual scenario”  – the one in which global fossil fuel use continues to increase and higher levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases concentrate in the atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made a series of predictions of rising global average temperatures, but plants, of course, don’t care about global average temperatures: they are however distinctly vulnerable to local extremes of frost and heat.

The Feng scenario projected an increase of between 3°C and 10°C; the team analysed observations made between 1900 and 2010, and then ran computer simulations from 1900 to 2100.

Drastic changes ahead

In the last three decades of the 21st century, for instance, northern winter temperatures are likely to rise by between 3° and 12°C; Arctic coastal temperatures are likely to rise by 8°C; warming in mid-latitudes is likely to be between 5°C and 7°C, the tropics and the southern hemisphere around 5°C.

The Arctic will shrink. Sub-polar vegetation is expected to advance by 5° of latitude and the temperate zones will push northwards too. Arid and semi-arid climate zones are expected to expand by somewhere between 3.3 and 6.6 million square kilometers in the last three decades of this century.

What this does to native vegetation types is hard to predict in detail but some projections have been made. In the Qinling mountain region of China, for instance, somewhere between 80% and 100% of the bamboo forests on which the giant pandas depend could disappear, because the rising temperature would be “no longer feasible for bamboo growth.”

In the south-western US higher temperatures and drier conditions could lead to more forest fires, and pest outbreaks could lead to changes in forest structure and composition.

As the plants change, the animal species that evolved with the vegetation types could be increasingly at risk. Altogether, up to 46.3% of the planet’s land area could shift to warmer or drier climate types

“Climates are associated with certain types of vegetation. If the surface continues to get warmer, certain native species may no longer grow well in their climate, especially in higher latitudes. They will give their territory to other species. That is the most likely scenario”, said Feng. – Climate News Network

Worse cyclones will hit East Asia

January 16, 2014 in China, Coastal Threats, Extreme weather, Japan, Korea, Ocean Warming, Weather Systems

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Tacloban in the Philippines, November 2013: East Asia stands to be worse hit by cyclones Image: Trocaire from Ireland via Wikimedia Commons

Tacloban in the Philippines, November 2013: East Asia stands to be worse hit by cyclones
Image: Trocaire from Ireland via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines are trying to piece together their lives after the devastation caused late last year by tropical cyclone Haiyan. New research shows that while such cyclones are growing in strength they are increasingly tracking northwards to hit the coasts of China, Korea and Japan.

LONDON, 16 January – It will be of little comfort to people in the southern and central Philippines repeatedly hit by tropical cyclones over the years, but a new study indicates that storm patterns might be shifting northwards.

The study, by a team of scientists at Seoul National University and other South Korean scientific institutions, looks at tropical cyclone activity across the north-west Pacific between 1977 and 2010.

Researchers found that increasing sea surface temperatures likely due to climate change, together with changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, have led to a significant increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting the east Asia region over the 30-year period.

“Noticeable increases of greenhouse gases over the globe could influence rising sea surface temperature and change large-scale atmospheric circulation in the western North Pacific, which could enhance the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting land over east Asia”, says Professor Chang-Hoi Ho, one of the study’s authors.

Intensity changes

The study, which appears in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyses five separate sets of data relating to the growth and behaviour of tropical cyclones across the north-west Pacific.

It found that the area of maximum storm intensity had shifted both westward and northward: while the intensity of tropical cyclones had lessened somewhat in areas of south-east Asia it had increased significantly in east Asia – particularly in coastal regions of central China and of Japan and around the Korean peninsula.

The study found that cyclones were tending to build up around the northern Philippines and track along coastal areas from Vietnam northwards, gaining energy along the way.

The researchers say a significant factor behind the alteration in the intensity and direction of tropical cyclones is a change in what’s called the Walker circulation – an ocean-based atmospheric circulation system over the Pacific.

Sea temperature difference

The Walker circulation strengthens as the difference between sea temperatures in the warmer western Pacific and the colder central-eastern Pacific grows more marked: the result is that wind flows associated with the Walker circulation drive tropical cyclones towards the north-eastern coast of Asia, where they reach maximum intensity.

“This change in large-scale climatic fields suggests that the principal region in which many tropical cyclones attain peak intensity during their lifetime might have been translocated”, says the study.

Cyclone Haiyan ravaged a large part of the central coastline of the eastern Philippines. However, the study found that over the 30-year period analysed, tropical cyclone activity in seas off the east Philippines coast had decreased while “the maximum intensity has shifted toward east Asia and intensified landfall intensity.”

That’s bad news for millions of coastal dwellers in central and northern China, Japan and on the Korean peninsula. More catastrophic tropical cyclones will strike east Asia in future than ever before, says the study. – Climate News Network

Carbon trading slides again

January 4, 2014 in Business, Carbon Trading, Climate finance, Economy, Europe

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Emissions from an Estonian power station: Without ambitious climate targets, carbon prices will remain low Image: By Ivo Kruusamägi via Wikimedia Commons

Emissions from an Estonian power station: Without ambitious climate targets, carbon prices will remain low
Image: By Ivo Kruusamägi via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Carbon trading has been lauded by some as a key way to cut back on climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Trouble is, the market has been stuck in the doldrums for years.

LONDON, 4 January – The performance of the world carbon market continues to disappoint.

According to the latest figures from Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, a specialist group analyzing carbon market activity, a total of €38.4 bn worth of carbon allowances and credits was traded last year – a decline of nearly 40% on the 2012 figure.

The value of trading in the market has now declined for three years in a row – in 2011 trades were valued at €96 bn. 2013 also saw the volume of emissions units traded around the world drop for the first time since 2010.

“The main explanation for the falling prices in carbon markets around the world is the very modest emissions reduction targets adopted for the period up to 2020”, says Anders Nordeng, senior carbon analyst at Point Carbon.

“Without ambitious climate targets there is no need for deep emission reductions and carbon prices will remain at low levels.“

Too cheap to work

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) dominates the world’s carbon trading, accounting for 94% of the market’s total value and 88% of the volume of emission units traded.

The scheme, which has been in operation since 2005, was set up with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by requiring companies such as energy suppliers and other industrial conglomerates to pay for their emissions through the buying and selling of allowances or “pollution permits.”

Initial market mismanagement resulted in a chronic over-supply of tradeable permits. In recent years Europe’s economic crisis lessened economic activity and reduced the demand for allowances.

Allowances, based on the market price of a tonne of carbon, are now trading at around the €5 mark though at one stage in 2013 the price dropped to under €3.  Market analysts say a price of at least €25 is needed in order to persuade companies to decarbonise and for carbon reduction targets to be achieved.

Point Carbon says it’s not all gloom in the market. While the ETS continues to underperform, other carbon markets are developing. Trading in North America, driven by activity in California, in north-eastern states in the US and Quebec in Canada, grew both in value and volume last year.

Chinese potential

“2013 was the year the North American carbon markets blossomed”, says Olga Chistyakova, a Point Carbon analyst.

China is also stepping up carbon trading, having launched the first of seven proposed regional trading schemes in mid-2013.

“Although the traded volumes are still modest, the sheer size of some of the covered provinces and cities (Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai) points to a great potential”, says Point Carbon.

Meanwhile, the ETS has undergone some limited changes aimed at shoring up carbon prices. After months of wrangling between states, the sale of 900 million ETS allowances has been postponed. And what’s billed as a comprehensive structural reform of the ETS is due to be announced in mid-January.

There are also signs that the corporate sector, particularly in the US, is adopting carbon trading as part of business strategy. A recent survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project found that many large US corporations are setting their own internal carbon pricing in anticipation of future environmental legislation and to assess the value and risk of various investment projects. – Climate News Network

China’s pollution problems threaten Oz coal exports

December 23, 2013 in Australia, China, Coal, Energy

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Sunset nears in Shanghai: Air pollution is prompting a rethink on coal use in China Image: Suicup via Wikimedia Commons

Sunset nears in Shanghai: Air pollution is prompting a rethink on coal use in China
Image: Suicup via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Australia has been growing rich from exporting coal and other resources to China. The good times could be coming to an end, says a new report.

LONDON, 23 December – Coal mining companies in Australia have been enjoying the good life in recent years, making millions of dollars from feeding the seemingly insatiable energy appetites of Asia’s tiger economies – particularly that of China.

But a new report by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) at Oxford in the UK warns that Australia’s coal mining party could be coming to an end.

It says coal demand in China looks likely to fall in the years ahead due to concerns about climate change and other factors, leaving billions of dollars of investments in Australian coal mining projects in jeopardy.

The report, Stranded Down Under, details the considerable growth of Australia’s coal production in recent years. Coal has been one of the main reasons behind the continuing health of the country’s economy – it now accounts for 16% of the total value of exports.

Producers want to increase output from the present level of around 440 million tonnes per year to 550 million tonnes by 2020, the main part of production going  for export.

Altogether investments of AU$100bn (US$90bn) involving 89 projects are planned over the next 15 years according to Australia’s federal Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE).

Water running short

The conservative Coalition government led by Tony Abbott, elected to office earlier this year, is rolling back taxes and environmental regulations in order to encourage mining investments.

The report says weakening global coal prices, plus a likely decline in coal demand in China – by far Australia’s biggest export market – make the outlook for these projects very uncertain.

“Demand below expectations – and lower coal prices as a result – would increase the risk that coal mines, reserves and coal-related infrastructure could become mothballed or abandoned.”

At present China accounts for half the world’s coal consumption: it imports more than 30% of its annual needs from Australia.

The report says concerns about the environment and the chronic air pollution experienced by many cities in China will lessen the role of coal in the country’s energy mix. Coal needs a lot of water – whether for “washing” or for driving steam turbines.

“Increasing water scarcity could also adversely impact coal demand, while domestic shale gas and changing international gas markets will result in more coal-to-gas switching.”

Ignoring reality

The study points out that China is investing heavily in renewables and has made clear in the present four-year plan its commitment to increasing energy efficiency and developing alternative non-fossil fuel supplies.

The authorities in Beijing have also introduced carbon pricing and trading, with the first emissions trading scheme implemented in the southern city of Shenzhen in mid-2013.

All this is likely to have a significant impact on Australia’s coal exporting industry. Yet, says the report, owners and operators of the country’s coal assets are, for the most part, ignoring what’s going on.

Any slowing of coal demand from China will have a big impact on both federal and state government finances. The state of Queensland alone – the site of many of the biggest mining projects – is paid more than AU$3bn (US$2.7bn) each year in royalties by the mining conglomerates.

The report points out that the warning signs for what is one of Australia’s biggest industries are already there: in recent months thousands of workers in the sector have been laid off and a number of projects have been suspended.

Coal is by far the most polluting of fossil fuels, contributing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year and so increasing global warming.  On a per capita basis, Australia has among the highest CO2 emissions in the world. – Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 12(a): All nations accept CO2 targets

November 23, 2013 in Adaptation, Climate finance, Deforestation, Emissions reductions, Forests, Greenhouse Gases, Redd+, UNFCCC

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One clear winner in Warsaw was the struggle to slow the destruction of forests Image: Hugo.arg via Wikimedia Commons

One clear winner in Warsaw was the struggle to slow the destruction of forests
Image: Hugo.arg via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

Paul Brown, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has reported from the UN climate talks in Warsaw since the start. In his final despatch on the unscheduled last day, he reports how compromises have kept the talks on track – but only just.

For the first time, all countries of the world have agreed to make contributions in cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the planet’s temperature rising above the 2°C danger limit previously agreed by politicians.

Thirty hours after the climate conference in Warsaw should have ended, a series of compromises rescued the talks from collapse, although the deal fell far short of developing countries’ original expectations.

The last stumbling block preventing agreement was overcome with an addition to the climate convention (UNFCCC), enabling the use of an existing mechanism to provide money from rich nations for loss and damage suffered by developing countries because of extreme climate events and long-term problems like rising sea levels. This would potentially allow the Philippines to apply for funds to help with the effects of this month’s super-typhoon.

One concrete achievement was to finalise an agreement to conserve the world’s forests and to make it operational.

The Warsaw meeting was billed as a preparatory step to the 194 participating countries signing a legally binding agreement in Paris in 2015 to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and also as a vehicle for providing poorer countries with finance – both to adapt to climate change and also to deal with irreparable damage like loss of islands through sea level rise.

Dangerous overheating

Previously only the rich industrial nations have agreed to make commitments to cut greenhouse gases, but emissions from developing countries have been rising so fast that without contributions from them there is no hope of preventing the atmosphere dangerously overheating.

Reluctance by India and other larger developing countries to make commitments to limit emissions was overcome by calling targets “contributions” and so avoiding making them appear legally binding.

An important part of the agreement is for all countries to come up with their national “contributions” by the spring of 2015. This will allow scientists to evaluate all the targets offered by countries to see if this will keep world temperatures below a 2°C rise.

Nick of time

If they are not sufficient, then the less ambitious countries will be encouraged to improve their contributions in time for the Paris conference in December that year.

Jennifer Morgan, from the World Resources Institute, said: “Just in the nick of time, the negotiators in Warsaw delivered enough to keep the process moving.

“Country representatives now need to return home to make significant progress on their work plans and national offers that can become the backbone of a new climate agreement. Progress will also depend on mobilizing more financial support for vulnerable countries.”

A statement by the Third World Network, an organisation helping developing nations, said the agreement meant that all countries needed to discuss their contributions towards the ultimate objective of the convention, which was “truly to avoid dangerous climate change.”

Meena Raman from the Network said the negotiations next year would have to grapple with the emission budget required and how to share it fairly. This would need to take into account   the historic contributions to climate change of developed countries.

China, now the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gases, acknowledged here that developing countries’ emissions now exceeded those of the developed countries and needed to be limited.

Forest prospects brighten

Agreements on finance were fudged. At the conference $110 million was promised, mostly by EU countries, to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

Attempts to get a much larger sum of $70 billion from the developed world by 2016 were blocked by the United States. Instead, a pledge to provide $100 billion a year from 2020, which had been promised at previous climate talks, remained on the table, although as yet which countries are going to provide this money remains unstated.

One outstanding success of the conference was the agreement designed to reward countries that prevent the destruction of their forests.

Tree loss is estimated to increase man-made emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 12% a year.  It has long been the concern of developed countries to find a way of preventing tropical forests being cut down, but it has taken 20 years to create an international agreement on how to do it.

The agreement called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) provides compensation for countries that lose revenue from not exploiting their forests. Countries that have satellite monitoring and can show they protect the rights of forest peoples and biological diversity can now claim from climate funds for carbon emissions avoided.

Some less developed countries still do not have adequate verification schemes in place, but key states like Brazil, where the Amazon losses are carefully monitored, should benefit from REDD immediately, provided they can reduce forest loss. - Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 12: Too little too late to save the planet

November 22, 2013 in Adaptation, Alliance of Small Island States, China, Climate finance, Emissions reductions, Policy, UNFCCC

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Sea level rise threatens beaches like this in India: Warsaw offers little prospect of help Image: Frederick Noronha via Wikimedia Commons

Sea level rise threatens beaches like this in India: Warsaw offers little prospect of help
Image: Frederick Noronha via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

The Climate News Network’s Paul Brown has been in Warsaw for two weeks at the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. With the talks in their final hours, he reports on the probable outcome, a  depressingly familiar one.

While every country has agreed it is vital to keep the planet from overheating by more than 2°C, there is no sign in Warsaw that the political action needed to achieve that is possible.

As the negotiations dragged on through the final day and into the night, countries were still wrangling over details of draft agreements that will take another two years to negotiate.

A bleak assessment by the 44 countries that make up the Alliance of Small Island States is that politicians have not faced the reality of what is about to happen.

Even though they feel desperate about the lack of progress, delegates still avoid naming names to avoid diplomatic embarrassment. But one tired negotiator said: “We know that it is probably too late to prevent whole countries disappearing beneath the waves, but that is only a small part of it.

“There will be an intense escalation of global instability caused by trans-boundary migration of displaced people, massive hikes in the price of food causing civil unrest, and many more climate-related disasters. That is the situation we are walking into.”

Refusing liability

There have been several strands to the negotiations here. The developing countries want access to new funds from rich nations to prepare for the ravages of climate change. At these talks $100 million was pledged by developed countries, but it was unclear how much of it was new money, or existing aid money diverted to the climate from other sources.

Since at previous conferences countries have pledged to provide $100 billion a year of new aid by 2020, the Warsaw pledges are seen by developing countries as hopelessly inadequate.

But the most contentious issue was “loss and damage”. There is already a fund for adaptation to climate change, but the developing countries say that this does not cover irreversible losses, for example whole areas, even countries, disappearing into the sea. Other examples are loss of coral reefs and fisheries and the destruction of agriculture through climate change.

What developing countries want is a separate fund to cover these losses. But the richer countries fear this is an open-ended commitment they cannot afford, and they will never agree to it. They want to shift this issue into the adaptation fund and avoid the notion of being liable for compensation for climate damage.

Anyone for fudge?

The United States, China and the European Union are much keener to talk about the new international agreement due to be signed in Paris in 2015, in which all 194 countries that are parties to the Climate Change Convention will take on responsibilities to reduce or at least limit emissions.

A fourth draft of a proposed agreement to limit emissions, and a timetable for achieving them, are now being talked about. The optimists hope that countries will begin to offer new pledges to cut emissions beyond 2020 on 23 September 2014, when the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called a climate summit of world leaders in New York.

If this happens, then all the pledges can be examined over the following months to see whether countries have done enough to keep the temperature rise below 2°C. If scientists tell politicians that their pledges do not limit the rise enough, then there will be time for more to be done before aiming for final agreement in Paris in December 2015.

Perhaps the only bright part of the talks in Warsaw has been the attitude of China, now the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Partly because of domestic pressure to reduce pollution, the Chinese are making huge efforts at home to become more energy-efficient. There were even hints here from the Chinese delegation that their country would accept an emissions reduction target. This would be a remarkable transformation in attitude.

The final result in Warsaw will be a political fudge.  It will be denounced by green activists and developing countries as too little progress, and probably too late to save the planet from unacceptable climate change. Increasingly, that looks like the correct assessment. – Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 8: King Coal gets a kicking

November 18, 2013 in Banking, Business, China, Climate finance, Coal, Economy, Europe, Investment, UNFCCC

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One of Poland's coal-fired power plants, which produce 86% of its electricity Image: Slawomir Duda-Klimaszewski via Wikimedia Commons

One of Poland’s coal-fired power plants, which produce 86% of its electricity
Image: Slawomir Duda-Klimaszewski via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

Paul Brown, a Climate News Network editor, is in the Polish capital for the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Today he reports on concerns at COP 19 that banks are paving “the highway to hell” by investing billions in coal and so worsening climate change.

Coal has dominated the agenda in Warsaw, with demonstrations against the Polish Government’s decision to hold a coal summit during the climate talks.

Scientists, UN officials and green groups said coal reserves must be left in the ground if the climate is not to overshoot the internationally agreed safe maximum temperature increase of 2°C over pre-industrial levels.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who had left the climate talks to address the Coal and Climate Summit, had an uncomfortable message for the assembled chief executives of coal companies.

“I am here to say coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake”, she told them. Coal use could continue only if carbon dioxide was captured and stored, otherwise the world should switch to wind and solar, which she said were already competitive on cost in many parts of the world.

During the coal summit 27 of the world’s leading climate and energy scientists issued a statement saying investment in new coal plants without capturing the carbon dioxide emissions from them was unacceptable.

Banks’ “hypocrisy”

One of them, Dr Bert Metz, a former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said even the most efficient coal plants were unacceptable if the climate was to be kept safe – they were twice as polluting as gas and 15 times more so than renewables. Alternatives to fossil fuels are readily available and affordable, he said.

Beata Jaczewska, head of the Polish delegation at the climate talks, defended her Government’s decision to call a coal summit at the same time as the climate talks by saying that “coal has to be part of the solution.” Poland produces 86% of its electricity from coal.

Environment campaigners exposed what they called “the hypocrisy of banks” in claiming they care about the climate while providing billions of dollars to finance new coal mines, underwrite share issues and even own mines themselves.

A report, Banking on Coal, “provides a Who’s Who list of the financial institutions undermining the Earth’s climate system and our common future.” The report says American, Chinese and British banks are currently the biggest investors in coal, and if all the investments pay off then there is no hope of saving the planet from the ravages of global warming.

Heffa Schücking, one of the report’s authors, said: “It is mind-boggling to see that less than two dozen banks from a handful of countries are putting us on a highway to hell when it comes to climate change. Big banks already showed that they can mess up the real economy. Now we’re seeing that they can also push our climate over the brink.”

American banks lead

In the period since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 four American banks, Citi, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, have been the biggest coal investors. Between them they have ploughed more than €24 billion into mining coal.

To expose their “hypocrisy”, the report says some of the banks claim to be carbon-neutral while investing in the fossil fuel that is most damaging to the planet. Citi claims to be “most innovative investment bank for climate change and sustainability.” Morgan Stanley will “make your life greener and help tackle climate change”, while Bank of America claims to be “financing a low carbon economy.”

The Americans do not have a monopoly on any hypocrisy, because most of the 20 leading fossil fuel banks mention their relatively tiny investments in renewables or energy efficiency, and make their underwriting of vast coal developments hard to find. All of them claim to be responsible lenders.

Chinese on the rise

European and Chinese banks fill most of the remaining top 20 places in the table of what the report calls “mining banks.”  Researchers note that since 2011 the Chinese have stepped up their coal investments and have leapfrogged other banks to take four of the top seven places in the coal investment league.

Despite this, the US has still been the biggest coal investor in the last two years, with more than €15 bn in direct loans or underwriting shares and bonds. China is second, with just below €15 bn, the UK third with €8 bn and France fourth with just under €5 bn.

Top 20 mining banks 2011- mid-2013. 1 Morgan Stanley, 2 Citi, 3 Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, 4 Bank of America, 5 China Construction Bank , 6 Agricultural Bank of China, 7 Bank of China, 8 Royal Bank of Scotland, 9 BNP Paribas, 10 China Development Bank, 11 JPMorgan Chase, 12 Standard Chartered, 13 Barclays, 14 Deutsche Bank, 15 UBS, 16 Credit Suisse, 17 Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, 18 HSBC, 19 Sumitomo Mitsui, 20 Goldman Sachs.

Banking on Coal was published by the German environmental NGO Urgewald, the Polish Green Network, the international NGO network BankTrack and the CEE Bankwatch Network.

Warsaw – Day 8: China is ‘unsure progress is possible’

November 18, 2013 in Adaptation, China, Climate finance, UNFCCC

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 18 November

China, now the world's biggest carbon emitter, is working to cut its carbon intensity Image: Shubert Ciencia via Wikimedia Commons

China, now the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, is working to cut its carbon intensity
Image: Shubert Ciencia via Wikimedia Commons

The UN climate talks in Warsaw move up a gear in this second and final week, as countries scramble to make some progress on outstanding issues. A key player is China. Fu Jing, Deputy Chief of China Daily’s European Union Bureau, sent this report.

WARSAW, 18 November – The leader of China’s climate negotiating team at the talks, Su Wei, says he is “not sure whether we are able to make much progress.”

Having said he should “keep silent for a while” over Japan’s reduction in its efforts to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide, Su said: “I don’t know how to describe the meetings and negotiations here in Warsaw.” But he said the European Union’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions were “not at all ambitious”.

Nor did he accept any responsibility for events which many believe are connected to climate change. Asked what linked Typhoon Haiyan and China’s growing carbon emissions, he said historic and accumulated carbon concentrations in the atmosphere should be blamed for the disaster.

Though China is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, he said: “We are below or around the world’s average in terms of emissions per capita and historical accumulations.

“In spite of this, we have made great efforts to transform our development patterns and decrease the carbon intensity of our economic output.”

Finance crucial

Speaking at a media briefing here, Su also urged the developed countries to come up with a specific timetable and roadmap to deliver on their promises of finance and technology for poorer countries.

He said it was not clear whether the developed countries had implemented their plan to give US$10 bn to poorer countries annually from 2010 to 2012. Nor was it known how they would fulfill their promise to give $100 billion from 2013 to 2020, while they were gradually emerging from the economic downturn.

“We are almost at the end of 2013 and so it is urgent to have actual provisions of resources confirmed and to achieve the finance goal by developed countries by 2020,” said Su.

This week government ministers are gathering in Warsaw in an effort to raise the political will to solve the human challenge of climate change.

High hopes

Su said China and other developing countries had come to Warsaw with expectations, hoping progress to enhance efforts to address the threat could be made.

“We saw the Warsaw conference as an important occasion for all the parties to implement the decisions made from the Bali talks in 2007 to Doha last year,” said Su.

But one of the key issues of implementing that consensus was financial transfers from the developed countries, which had used much of the carbon budget during their process of urbanisation and industrialisation.

“At the core of implementation in Warsaw is finance, and we hope we can make progress on that,” said Su. “That is a very important starting point, and also is key to the successful conclusions of post-2020 climate talks.”

Su Wei said China had been implementing programmes for reducing carbon intensity, with the target of cutting it by 40-45% by 2015 on 2005 levels. “China is very committed to delivering its promises agreed by previous UN climate change negotiations,” said Su. – Climate News Network

China may own UK’s nuclear stations

October 17, 2013 in Business, China, Economy, Energy, Nuclear power, Policy, Technology

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Hinkley Point power station: France and China will build its successors Image: Ken Grainger via Wikimedia Commons

Hinkley Point power station: France and China will build its successors
Image: Ken Grainger via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Britain, a pioneer of nuclear power, is handing over its industry to the French and Chinese in a move likely to see a doubling of electricity prices.

LONDON, 17 October – The Chinese are to help finance and build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom, helping out the French giant EDF which can no longer afford the £14 billion cost of the first station on its own.

The agreement, announced in China by George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer [Finance Minister] at the end of a visit, is bound to be controversial. Initially the Chinese will take only about a 30% interest in this first station, but in future reactor building programmes they will be allowed to own a majority stake.

The British Government deal with EDF, which already operates all the existing civil nuclear stations in the UK, is to heavily subsidise the new construction by guaranteeing the price of electricity for 35 years.

The exact price is yet to be announced but it is expected to be double the existing price of electricity and is sure to spark an inquiry by the European Union, which bans subsidies because they interfere with competition.

Many will see the decision to build two European Pressurized Reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset as extraordinary in view of the appalling cost overruns and delays of two similar ventures in Finland and France.

The same design of plant being built in Finland, Olkiluoto 3, is seven years late and billions over budget. Construction began in 2005 and the station was due to produce electricity in 2009. The latest estimate is that it will be on line in 2016.

EDF is building a second reactor at Flamanville in France. Work began in 2007, and the reactor was due to be completed in 2012 at a cost of 3 bn euros. Currently the completion date has slipped to 2016, and the cost has almost tripled to 8.5 bn euros.

“It may be shocking to some that businesses and investors from Britain… will not own the new generation of nuclear power plants, and they may instead belong to China’s nuclear power giants as well as to the French.”

Mr Osborne claimed the deal was good for investment in Britain and for jobs, and asserted that it would mean lower long-term energy costs for consumers.

Despite his optimism EDF has already told British companies that they are unlikely to get many contracts. This is because it is 20 years since any British companies were involved in building nuclear power stations and they no longer have the expertise to do so. Most of the jobs are likely to go to French and Chinese companies.

Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor, summed up some reaction in Britain: “When you think about the history of nuclear power, it may be shocking to some that businesses and investors from Britain – whose scientists and engineers were pioneers in this technology in the early days – will not own the new generation of nuclear power plants, and they may instead belong to China’s nuclear power giants as well as to the French.

“The Government is refusing to finance these hugely pricey projects directly – although it will allow the owners of any new nuclear generators to charge well above the current market price for any power they produce in years and decades to come, so that the billions in development and construction costs can be recouped.”

The announcement comes at a time when some older power stations in Britain are being closed because they are producing too much carbon dioxide and have not been modernised. The Government has been warned that Britain is in danger of power cuts in the next five years if there are cold winters.

However, the proposed nuclear stations will make no difference to this situation because they are likely to take 10 years to come on line if the current pattern of delays and cost overruns is repeated. – Climate News Network