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Nuclear subsidy deal ‘will kill renewables’

April 7, 2014 in Energy, Europe, Nuclear power, Renewables, Subsidies, United Kingdom

EMBARGOED UNTIL 1101 GMT ON MONDAY 7 APRIL

Hinkley Point nuclear power station, up for renewal: But on what terms? Image: Barbara Cook via Wikimedia Commons

Hinkley Point nuclear power station, up for renewal: But on what terms?
Image: Barbara Cook via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

The battle over the UK’s plan to subsidise nuclear power will decide Europe’s energy mix for the next 50 years, say critics.

LONDON, 7 April – The United Kingdom’s plans to build heavily subsidised nuclear power stations have come under withering attack from a coalition of Members of Parliament, academics, energy industry experts and environmental groups.

Evidence has poured into the European Commission, which is investigating whether the deal with the giant French nuclear company EDF breaks EU competition rules. The evidence from many objectors, whose submissions had to be made by today, claims that if the contract goes through it will wreck Europe’s chance of building up renewable energies to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

They say renewables will have to compete in an unfair market where one generator, nuclear, is guaranteed to be able to sell all its electricity at a stable price and with a built-in profit until 2058.

The UK Government has agreed a minimum price of £92.50 (US $153) a megawatt hour from a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the west of England from 2023 – roughly double the existing price of electricity in Britain. The price will rise with inflation and runs for 35 years, a deal unprecedented in the energy sector, and not available to renewable energies like wind and solar. The guarantee will continue for all future nuclear stations too.

The Government has gone further, guaranteeing loans for construction, and providing insurance and compensation payments if policies change for any reason. It claims that the deal will save £75 a year on the average consumer’s bill if electricity prices rise by 2023, as it forecasts. If they do not, then consumers will be paying far more for their electricity than they would otherwise.

EU test case

No-one involved in the investigation into whether the deal constitutes unfair state aid doubts that climate change is a severe threat and needs to be tackled. The argument is about which is the best set of technologies to help deal with the problem.

There are 12 states in Europe interested in nuclear power generation, slightly under half the EU’s members. All see the UK subsidies investigation as a test case into whether they also will be able to give state aid to nuclear stations.

One of the submissions, from the Nuclear Consulting Group, with more than 100 signatures from MPs from six parties in the UK and European Parliaments, plus engineers, academics and energy experts, says the proposed aid to guarantee nuclear’s profitability is incompatible with EU State Aid rules. The NCG says it unfairly discriminates in favour of nuclear and will damage renewable energies with far greater potential.

Given that this level of support is unavailable to other low carbon technologies, it is certain to significantly distort competition and strongly affect trade between member states.

“The development of sustainable and affordable low carbon energy remains a growing economic sector with huge potential for job creation. To seek to delimit this diversity through particular State Aid support of nuclear power at the expense of other, potentially more flexible, safe, productive, cost-effective and affordable technologies seems, at the very least, unwise,” says the submission.

It says the British Government has also not been completely honest about the prospects for existing nuclear power stations. In its announcement about subsidies the Government claimed that all but one of the eight existing nuclear power stations were due to close about the time the new Hinkley Point plant is finished in 2023.

In fact EDF, which owns the plants, and is also building the new one, intends to keep them open until 2030 or even longer if safety conditions allow. If the Government’s current power station-building plans succeed, then more than 50% of Britain’s electricity would be generated by subsidised nuclear stations, effectively cutting out renewables.

Delays and cost over-runs

One big problem for the UK’s plans, apart from the European Commission inquiry, is that the building schedule for the European pressurised water reactors (EPRs) planned for Hinkley Point, and for Sizewell in eastern England, is in doubt.

The first two prototypes, under construction in Finland and France, are subject to severe construction delays and cost over-runs. The Finnish Olkiluto 3 EPR was due to be completed in 2009 at a fixed price of €3 billion (US £4.1 bn), but the cost has now escalated to €8.5 bn and completion has been put back to 2018. The French new build by EDF at Flamanville is already four years behind schedule and the cost has more than doubled to €8.5 billion.

Other groups objecting to the UK subsidy plan also say that rather than promoting a diversity of supply, as ministers claim, the decision to back nuclear will reduce the scope for other technologies.

Bad value

Friends of the Earth says that currently there are seven to ten viable renewable energies being developed in the UK, among them wind on and off shore, solar, biogas, wave, under-sea turbines, small-scale hydro, biomass, and hot rocks, all of which could contribute to the energy mix if nuclear had no guaranteed unfair advantage.

These were all comparatively new technologies, where the price of generation was coming down all the time. In contrast, FoE says, nuclear has been operating for 60 years and still requires a 35-year price guarantee.

By the time Hinkley is in operation, solar and on-shore wind will be far cheaper, with costs falling fast, and it is likely that offshore wind will be in a similar position. The nuclear subsidy “represents extremely bad value for money for UK citizens,” the submission concludes. – Climate News Network

Bulgaria’s micro-hydro power surge

March 30, 2014 in Energy, European Union, Hydropower, Renewables, Technology

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By Kieran Cooke

Bulgaria, one of the European Union’s more recent members, is in the midst of a micro-hydro boom. The hydro plants form part of an overall EU energy package which sets a binding target of achieving 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 in order to tackle carbon emissions and climate change. The plants are controversial, with allegations that they are not properly licensed and monitored – and that they threaten the environment.

BOROVETS, Bulgaria, 30 March -  Dimitar Lobutov, an entrepreneur investing in a micro-hydro plant here, has little time for environmentalists.

“They are the biggest racketeers in the country – they make all manner of accusations but can’t prove anything”, says Lobutov. “It’s people like me who are developing Bulgaria – the greens just do nothing but complain or try and sabotage our efforts.”

Unobtrusive, but not always uncontroversial: The micro-hydro plant at Borovets Image: Kieran Cooke

Unobtrusive, but not always uncontroversial: The micro-hydro plant at Borovets
Image: Kieran Cooke

Lobutov, among other things a property developer and importer of electrical equipment, stands proudly by his soon-to-be-completed 1,300 kilowatt micro-hydro power plant in a beautiful narrow mountain valley about 30 miles from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Just down the road is one of the country’s main ski resorts. There is thick snow: the clear waters of the river Iskar flow nearby.

Micro-hydro is very much in fashion in Bulgaria, with plants being built on rivers throughout the country. They are relatively simple to construct and operate: pipes are laid perhaps two kilometres upriver, and water is then fed through the pipes, to flow down and drive turbines at a power station.

Electricity generated is sold to the national grid. Investors like Lobutov – he says he’s invested more than two million Bulgarian lev (€1 m/US $1.375 m) in his plant – are guaranteed a set price from the Government, in his case over a period of 15 years.

Threat to rivers

“I plan to get my investment back within six or seven years”, says Lobutov. “I want to leave a financial legacy for my grandchildren.”

Petko Tzetkov works for the Sofia-based Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation. “Many people think micro-hydro is a clean energy solution and will help us achieve EU renewable targets. But the reality is these plants are being built without any overall energy plan and are often not properly licensed or monitored”, he says.

“They have a big and damaging impact on water resources and wildlife – many are being built within national parks and other protected areas.”

Ivan Mishev, head of a fishermen’s union, says: “It’s a dire situation. In the old communist days about 20% of the country’s rivers were destroyed by badly planned dam projects. Now rivers are being destroyed by micro-hydro.

‘Money launderers’

“Fish stocks are being ruined. Romania, our neighbour, is much bigger and has far more water resources than we have. Yet double the number of permits for micro-hydro have been issued here. If we continue on this path our rivers will exist in name only.“

Government officials defend the micro-power projects. A Ministry of Environment spokeswoman described environmental impact assessments – paid for by the developer – as “very comprehensive.” And she denied there was any corruption involved in the issuance of licenses.

Local opinions about the power plant being built here differ. “Those projects – they’re just a way of laundering money”, says a marketplace trader. Another local disagrees: “We need more entrepreneurs to build up the country. We can’t stand still, we have to develop.”

It’s been an exceptionally warm winter in the Bulgarian mountains: the skiing has not been good and snow-making machines have had to be used. Many feel the climate is changing.

“What happens if the river dries up, or when there’s much less water during the summer months?” asks a local fisherman. “Will the micro-hydro plant close down, or will the owner drain the river in order to protect his investment?”

Other renewables

As its contribution to overall EU renewable energy targets, Bulgaria has to produce 16% of its energy from hydro, wind, solar power and other renewable sources by 2020.

A large part of its energy comes at present from imports of gas from Russia and from heavily subsidised power produced by the Kozloduy nuclear plant, on the Danube in the north of the country. Plans for a second nuclear plant were shelved two years ago while negotiations continue with foreign contractors on updating Kozloduy.

A late 2011 report by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said Bulgaria had considerable wind resources which could be exploited. Energy could also come from biomass.

The IIED also called for greater transparency — and said the Government should address corruption and domination of the market by a monopoly in the energy sector. – Climate News Network

Bricks on wheels face road closure

March 23, 2014 in Carbon Dioxide, Economy, European Union, Road Transport, Safety, Technology, United Kingdom

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A brick on wheels? The traditional British lorry may before lone give way to a new and perhaps safer design Image: By Adrian S Pye via Wikimedia Commons

A brick on wheels? The traditional British lorry may before long give way to a new and perhaps safer design
Image: By Adrian S Pye via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

The European Parliament has voted in favour of changing the design of goods lorries throughout the EU – from their present brick shape to a more streamlined-looking vehicle. The idea is not only to increase fuel efficiency and cut back on CO2 emissions, but also to reduce accidents.

LONDON, 23 March – It’s one of those small steps that could help in the battle against greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Lorry design in the European Union at present is governed by legislation dating back to the mid-1990s, stipulating total maximum lengths for cabs and trailers.

This has resulted in the general adoption by road hauliers of a brick-shaped design for cabs on lorries: by making the cab more upright and shorter, transport companies have more space for goods.

But according to Transport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based group which campaigns for more sustainable and environmentally friendly transport policies within the EU, lorries have lagged seriously behind other vehicles in terms of environmental performance over the past 20 years.

“Whilst only three per cent of vehicles (in the EU), lorries account for a quarter of Europe’s road transport emissions. That share is expected to grow as traffic increases further”, it says.

Improving protection

T&E says the brick-shaped design is not only inefficient in terms of fuel consumption – it is also dangerous: “Lorries also have a dreadful safety record: every year 15% of all fatal collisions – around 4,200 deaths – involve lorries.”

About 75% of freight in Europe is delivered by lorry. Studies indicate road freight transport is one of the fastest-growing sources of CO2 emissions in the EU, with emissions from the sector likely to increase by more than 20% over the next 15 years. The EU imports 500 million barrels of oil each year, wortharound €60bn, to power its freight fleet.

European Parliament members say relatively simple changes in design can bring about advances in fuel efficiency and cut back on CO2 emissions. Under the Parliament’s proposals, the brick-shaped cab design would be replaced by a more streamlined, aerodynamic nose. The rear of the vehicle would also have aerodynamic flaps and shaping.

T&E says giving lorries a rounder front and putting in place other improvements could improve fuel economy by between seven and ten per cent. It says a more curved cab front would also give drivers greater visibility, eliminate blind spots and so avoid accidents.

Powerful backing

“Today is a good day for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, hauliers and the environment”, said William Todts of T&E following the EU Parliament vote. “This vote brings the end of the brick-shaped cab closer. It’s a key decision that will reduce road deaths and kickstart progress on lorry CO2 emissions after 20 years of stagnation.”

After a spate of fatal accidents involving lorries and cyclists, London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has joined the call for changes in lorry design.

The era of more fuel-efficient, safer lorries in Europe is likely to be delayed for some time. Hauliers and truck manufacturers object to the costs of design changes.  To compensate for the haulage space lost due to any new shapes for lorries, the trucking industry is likely to press for bigger, longer vehicles.

The Parliament’s vote still needs to be confirmed by the full parliamentary body. It then goes forward to be considered by all member states. The brick on wheels could be charging down Europe’s roads for some time yet. – Climate News Network

Biofuels from waste ‘need EU backing’

March 3, 2014 in Adaptation, Agriculture, Biofuels, Business, Carbon Dioxide, Energy, European Union, Forests

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The bales head  for the farm: Straw is an agricultural waste suitable for making biofuel Image: Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK via Wikimedia Commons

The bales head for the farm: Straw is an agricultural waste suitable for making biofuel
Image: Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The countries of the European Union could slash their greenhouse gas emissions and save significant amounts of oil by making fuel from waste, researchers say. But they think policymakers should give a lead.

LONDON, 3 March – Europe has the technology and the raw material to make a big cut in the amount of oil its transport uses, researchers say. But it will fail to reap the benefits on offer unless the European Union comes up with more radical policies.

A report, Wasted: Europe’s Untapped Resource, says the continent has significant unexploited potential to convert waste from farming, forestry, industry and households into advanced low-carbon biofuels, saving more than a sixth of the EU’s expected total fuel consumption for road transport 16 years from now.

But it says the conversion will not happen unless EU policymakers give greater priority to sustainability and to the need to lower the dependence of transport on high-carbon fuels by 2030.

The research which produced the report was carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and NNFCC, a UK research consultancy. The project was supported by a group of companies interested in introducing new technology, including two airlines, British Airways and Virgin, and by WWF, BirdLife Europe and several other environment NGOs.

The report says that if all sustainable waste from farms, forests, households and industry is used for transport fuels, that could make enough to replace about 37 million tonnes of oil annually by 2030 – the equivalent of 16% of the EU’s road transport fuel demand by then.

Safeguards needed

It also says that so long as the new fuels came from sustainable sources, they would produce less than 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Using them would inject up to €15 billion (US$21 bn) of extra revenue into the rural economy every year and create up to 300,000 new jobs by 2030.

The sorts of wastes that could be used include straw and other crop left-overs, forestry residues, municipal solid waste and used cooking oil.

But the report carries a warning too: safeguards would be needed to ensure the waste was obtained sustainably, including land management methods to protect biodiversity, water and soil.

And the benefits of biofuel from waste would have to be paid for. The report says some combinations of feedstock and technology would need short-term financial incentives, although others are already close to being competitive and would need little more than certainty about policy.

Easier challenge

The authors say cautiously that the research shows it is possible to develop a biofuel industry based on farm and forest wastes “which in the case of the cheapest feedstocks could become cost-competitive with only modest incentives…” Biofuel from other wastes might need different levels of subsidy.

Chris Malins led the analysis for the ICCT. He said: “Even when taking account of possible indirect emissions, alternative fuels from wastes and residues offer real and substantial carbon savings. The resource is available, and the technology exists – the challenge now is for Europe to put a policy framework in place that allows rapid investment.”

David Turley of the NNFCC, who led the economic analysis, said advanced biofuels from agricultural and forest wastes would require “little or only a modest additional incentive” to stimulate production at prices comparable to those of current fuels made from specially-grown crops.

The report concludes that while trying to use all the available waste might be thought optimistic, achieving just 2% of current EU road transport fuel use in 2020, as suggested by the European Parliament, would be less challenging.

Even that more modest aim, the report says, would still add about €163 million (US$224 m) in net revenues to the agricultural sector and €432 m (US$594 m) to the forestry sector. It would also generate an extra 37,000 permanent jobs in the rural economy, and 3,500 more in biofuel refineries. – Climate News Network

Europe’s flood risk may double by 2050

March 2, 2014 in Europe, European Union, Extreme weather, Flooding, Weather Systems

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Floods submerge St Mark's Square in Venice: The prospect is for worse to come Image: Wolfgang Moroder via Wikimedia Commons

Floods submerge St Mark’s Square in Venice: The prospect is for worse to come
Image: Wolfgang Moroder via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

As much of Europe recovers from the severest winter in several centuries, scientists say average annual flood losses could be almost five times greater by mid-century.

LONDON, 2 March – The catastrophic floods that soaked Europe last summer and the United Kingdom this winter are part of the pattern of things to come. According to a new study of flood risk in Nature Climate Change annual average losses from extreme floods in Europe could increase fivefold by 2050. And the frequency of destructive floods could almost double in that period.

About two thirds of the losses to come could be explained by socio-economic growth, according to a team led by Brenden Jongman of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler of theInternational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

That is because more development and investment means there is more at risk from any flooding. But the other third of the increase will be delivered by climate change, and a shift in rainfall patterns in Europe.

From 2000 to 2012, floods in European Union countries averaged €4.9 billion (US $6.8 bn) a year in losses. In the floods of June 2013, losses tipped €12 bn (US $16.6 bn) in nine countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The annual average losses could increase to €23.5 bn (US $32.4 bn) by 2050.

Unprecedented floods like those of 2013 occur on average once every 16 years now. By 2050, the probability will have increased to once every 10 years.

Floods widespread

The team looked at monthly peak river discharges in more than 1,000 river sub-basins to begin making their estimates: they also matched these peak flows with atmospheric circulation patterns. The point of the study was to deliver more accurate information.

“We brought together expertise from the fields of hydrology, economics, mathematics and climate change adaptation, allowing us for the first time to comprehensively assess continental flood risk and compare the different adaptation options,” said Brenden Jongman.

And Dr Hochrainer-Stigler said the new study for the first time accounted for the correlation between floods in different countries. Risk-assessment models tended to consider river basins as independent entities. “But in actuality, river flows across Europe are closely correlated, rising and falling in response to large-scale atmospheric patterns that bring rains and dry spells to large regions.”

All of this points to greater strains on the pan-European Solidarity Fund that finances recovery from disaster within the European Union. “If the rivers are flooding in Central Europe, they are also likely to be flooding in eastern European regions,” he said. – Climate News Network

US fracking revolution dilutes EU climate & energy plan

January 23, 2014 in Economy, Emissions reductions, Energy, Europe, Policy, Renewables, UNFCCC, USA

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Spanish protest: Fracking divides opinion in Europe Image: By Zarateman via Wikimedia Commons

Spanish protest: Fracking divides opinion in Europe
Image: By Zarateman via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Tackling climate change comes off second best in the European Union’s latest package of climate and energy targets. Instead, maintaining economic competitiveness – particularly with the US – is the priority.

LONDON, 23 January – On the face of it, this week’s EU climate and energy package, with its targets for cutbacks in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the uptake of renewable energy up to the year 2030, looks impressive.

The central element in the package is a binding EU-wide 40% reduction in GHG emissions over 1990 levels by 2030. Significantly, this has to be achieved “through domestic measures alone” – meaning member states can’t meet emissions reductions obligations by making offsetting GHG cutbacks in other countries.

There’s also a binding target of achieving at least a 27% share of the European energy mix from renewables by the same year and plans for a major overhaul of the EU’s ill-performing Emissions Trading System (ETS), with the aim of lifting the market price for carbon and encouraging emission reductions across the industrial sector.

“If all other regions were equally ambitious about tackling climate change, the world would be in significantly better shape”, says Connie Hedegaard, the EU Climate Commissioner.

Yet while the figures might impress, it’s clear the fracking revolution in the US has the EU’s energy strategists on the run. According to the European Commission, US gas prices fell by 66% between 2005 and 2012 while in Europe they rose by 35% over the same period.

‘No contradiction’

Reflecting intense lobbying by Europe’s industrialists and several governments, the EU package repeatedly emphasises the need to retain economic competitiveness.

“Climate action is central for the future of our planet, while a truly European energy policy is key to our competitiveness” says Jose Manuel Barroso, the EC President.

Barroso insists that tackling the two issues simultaneously is not contradictory, but the EU’s critics say the latest package is designed more to satisfy short-term economic aims than to seriously tackle climate change.

The long-term goal of EU climate and energy policy is to reduce GHG emissions by up to 95% by 2050, limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2°C over pre-industrial levels and so hopefully averting runaway climate change.

Climate scientists and green groups within the EU say the 2030 targets are not nearly ambitious enough and make the 2050 goal very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

“We ask questions as if the science is in any real doubt. It is not.”

“We have to take into account that the 40% target is the death knell of 2°C and probably much more aligned with 4°C once all the trading/CDM/offsetting scams are factored in”, says Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in the UK and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

“As a climate community, we continually forget that not acting now has repercussions that in themselves change what the future will be – we ask questions as if the science is in any real doubt. It is not.”

The EU’s target for renewables has also come under fire, with critics saying the Commission has once again given in to powerful EU fossil fuel, nuclear and shale gas lobby groups.

Goal optional

Earlier proposals by a number of countries, including Germany, called for a 2030 renewables target of at least 30%.

At the insistence of countries such as Britain, which has both announced plans for a large-scale expansion of nuclear energy and is giving incentives to encourage the fracking industry, and Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal for its power and is also intent on exploiting shale gas, the target was lowered.

Furthermore the 27% goal for renewables is binding only on an EU-wide basis and not on individual member states: the result is likely to be that some countries will choose to reduce or opt out of meeting the target figure, leaving others to make up the shortfall by dramatically upping renewables use. In such circumstances, arguments could quickly develop.

By contrast, the present EU renewables target – a 20% share in the energy mix by 2020 – is binding on individual states.

Door open for shale

Ultimately, it is the need for Europe to maintain its economic competitiveness that is dominating EU strategy. That has meant scaling back on emissions cutbacks and renewable ambitions – and opening the door to the shale gas industry.

EC President Barroso says shale gas is changing the energy landscape in a dramatic way. Many in Europe are fiercely opposed to shale gas, yet the EU has stood back from imposing any EU-wide regulations on the industry, only issuing guidelines in its new package covering health and safety issues.

“It’s a good demonstration of the role the EU should play, setting the cross-border rules for environmental health and safety but not meddling in the energy mix that is chosen by member states”, says Barroso.

The package of EU proposals will now move on to be discussed by Europe’s leaders in March. – Climate News Network

EU’s new energy strategy faces doubts

January 21, 2014 in Business, Carbon Trading, Economy, Emissions reductions, European Union, Renewables

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Tidal electricity generator awaiting installation: Europe is rich in renewable energy potential Image: MyName (Fundy) via Wikimedia Commons

Tidal electricity generator awaiting installation: Europe is rich in renewable energy potential
Image: MyName (Fundy) via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

The European Union has been a world leader in establishing binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building up renewable energy supplies. But as officials in Brussels unveil a new energy strategy, questions are being asked about Europe’s commitment to combatting climate change.

LONDON, 21 January – Governments have stated their positions. Legions of lobbyists have presented final arguments. On 22 January the European Commission is scheduled to release its latest comprehensive climate and energy package, focused on developments in the energy sector up to the year 2030.

Negotiations on the package have been long and arduous: power utilities and big industrial conglomerates within the EU have been particularly vociferous in their opposition to a further set of emissions reductions or renewables targets which, they say, will seriously undermine the EU’s economic competitiveness.

Key issues to be announced by the Commission are 2030 targets for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the renewables share of the EU’s energy mix and – crucially – whether these targets will be made legally binding on states within the union.  Measures aimed at achieving greater energy efficiency within the EU will also form part of the new package.

Present EU legislation sets binding targets of a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels and achieving a 20% share of renewables in energy consumption by 2020. The legislation also sets an indicative, non-binding, target of making a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

The big question now is at what level the Commission proposes to set its 2030 targets: while many countries in the EU, including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, support a binding target of a 40% cut in emissions by 2030, others – including Poland with its large coal industry – say that target is too high.

Meanwhile green groups and non-governmental organisations say the EU must be more ambitious. They say a 2030 emissions reduction target of at least 50% is needed if the internationally agreed goal of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to 2°C over pre-industrial levels by 2050 is to be achieved and runaway climate change prevented.

Resistance to renewables

They also say the EU cannot expect cutbacks on GHG emissions by other nations – particularly by high carbon emitters such as China and India – if the Commission fails to back continuing substantial GHG cutbacks within the EU.

The EU has declared a long-term target of cutting GHG emissions by between 80 and 95% by 2050.

Upping the target on renewables is proving even more contentious. Though most countries within the EU subscribe to the idea of achieving a greater share of renewables in their energy mix, several are opposed to the setting of legally binding targets. Included in this group is the UK, which has recently announced a major expansion in nuclear energy and also plans a large-scale programme for the exploitation of shale gas.

Latest figures indicate global investments in renewables and low carbon energy fell last year for the second year in a row, with investments in Europe falling by more than 40%.

The EU’s power utilities and other large industrial enterprises have been lobbying hard against setting binding renewables targets and have called for the reduction or abolition of subsidies given to the renewables sector.

‘Uncompetitive’

They say the EU, by emphasising renewables, is jeopardizing Europe’s economic future: they say EU industries can no longer compete with those in the US, where energy costs are substantially lower due to the large-scale take-up of shale-based oil and gas in recent years.

Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission, is reported to be among those against any insistence on establishing a legally binding target for renewables for 2030.

On the other side of the argument members of the European Parliament’s environment and energy committees earlier this month voted in favour of legally binding targets for both emissions and renewables. They also said there must be more decisive action on reducing overall energy usage within the EU and called for a binding 40% target on energy efficiency by 2030.

The new EU climate and energy package is expected to include measures aimed at reforming the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), once touted as a key element in cutting industrial GHG emissions. The ETS has underperformed due to mismanagement and an oversupply of emissions allowances or so-called “pollution credits”.

In March 2014 leaders of the EU’s 28 member states are due to meet to decide whether or not to endorse the Commission’s new proposals. – Climate News Network

Parts of Europe ‘ 5°C warmer’ by 2100

January 11, 2014 in Adaptation, Drought, Europe, European Environment Agency, Temperature Increase, Water

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A dry river bed in a peat upland in northern England: Not just southern Europe will be affected Image: Catherine Moody via imaggeo.egu.eu

A dry river bed in a peat upland in the north of England: Not just southern Europe will be affected
Image: Catherine Moody via imaggeo.egu.eu

By Alex Kirby

Severe temperature rises in parts of Europe by the end of the century will be accompanied by much more frequent droughts, scientists say.

LONDON, 11 January – With exquisite timing, as parts of Europe endure the worst storms for decades, researchers have issued a highly topical warning.

By the end of this century, they say, summer temperatures in parts of southern Europe are expected to be up to 5°C higher than they were from 1961 to 1990, with droughts inevitably becoming more frequent and intense, because of both climate change and increased water use.

The researchers, from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the University of Kassel in Germany, have published their findings in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU). The scientific article is available online, free of charge.

“Our research shows that many river basins, especially in southern parts of Europe, are likely to become more prone to periods of reduced water supply due to climate change”, says Giovanni Forzieri, a researcher in climate risk management at the JRC and lead author of the study. In Europe the cost of drought over the last three decades has totalled over €100 billion (£83 bn).

The researchers wanted to find out if and where in Europe increasing temperatures and intensive water consumption could make future droughts more severe and long-lasting.

Marked regional differences

To do this they analysed climate and hydrological models under different scenarios up to 2100. They then used these projected conditions to drive a hydrological model that mimics the distribution and flow of water on Earth. By running this model until 2100 for all river basins in Europe, they could evaluate how drought conditions may change in magnitude and severity over the 21st century.

The research shows that southern Europe will be the most affected. Stream and river minimum flow levels may be up to 40% lower, with periods of water shortage up to 80% more frequent because of climate change alone in the Iberian Peninsula, the south of France, Italy and the Balkans.

Higher temperatures will result in more water evaporating from soil, trees and water and will also mean more frequent and prolonged dry spells. The emission scenario used in the study predicts that average global temperature will increase by up to 3.4°C by 2100 above the years 1961 to 1990.

But regional rises are liable to be significantly greater, as for example in the case of the Iberian Peninsula, says Luc Feyen, a hydrologist at JRC and co-author of the paper.

Spreading effects

Apart from climate warming, intensive water use will also worsen drought conditions by 10-30% in southern Europe, as well as in the west and centre of the continent, and in some parts of the UK.

In 2010 a study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research projected serious drought impacts by the 2030s, and suggested those by the end of the century could surpass anything in the historical record.

In 2012 a report by the European Environment Agency, Vulnerability to Water Scarcity and Drought in Europe – ETC/ICM Technical Report 3/2012, said there had been an observable increase in the number of countries affected by drought each decade from 1971 to 2011.

The occurrence of drought had increased significantly in the decade from 2001, not only in southern and central parts of the European Union, but in the northern and eastern parts of the bloc as well. – 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

Carbon market looks a little livelier

December 27, 2013 in Carbon Trading, CDP, Emissions reductions, Europe

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Carbon emissions from industry and power plants could be reined in by the new measures Image: DavidB via Wikimedia Commons

Carbon emissions from industry and power plants could be reined in by the new measures
Image: DavidB via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

In Europe the immediate prospects for attempts to cut climate emissions from industry look a little brighter, while many US companies are adopting their own internal carbon pricing systems.

LONDON, 27 December – Don’t put any bets on it – but at long last the world-wide trade in carbon looks set to improve, if only just a little.

In mid-December the European Union adopted an emergency law designed to  firm up prices in its Emissions Trading System (ETS). Many people see carbon trading as a key weapon in the battle against climate change, though others say it has so far been ineffective in tackling the problem.

The ETS, the world’s biggest carbon trading scheme, seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by requiring companies such as energy suppliers and oil and gas conglomerates to pay for their pollution.

But the ETS, which has been operating since 2005, has underperformed. Market analysts say carbon allowances or so-called “pollution permits” need to be traded at a price of at least €25 in order to reflect the true cost of emissions and persuade companies to decarbonise.

Recently allowances, based on the market price of a tonne of carbon, have been trading at around the €4.50 mark.  At one stage earlier in 2013, prices dropped to under €3.

Mishandling of the market led to a chronic over-supply of tradeable allowances. Europe’s economic crisis also lessened economic activity and reduced the demand for allowances.

Comprehensive reform

The EU’s new law postpones the sale of 900 million ETS carbon allowances: the move, referred to as “backloading”, aims to lift prices from levels which the EU admits are too low to encourage companies to invest in low-carbon technologies.
It came after 18 months of political wrangling between member states, with some saying the ETS market should be allowed to find its own price levels, without intervention by Brussels.

Various non-governmental organisations, while welcoming the change as a step in the right direction, say the measure – which is only temporary – is only  “a patch-up solution”.

They say at least 2.2 billion allowances need to be permanently removed from the ETS by 2020 if decarbonisation goals are to be met. In mid-January 2014 the EU is scheduled to announce proposals for a comprehensive structural reform of the ETS.

Meanwhile a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) indicates that other moves are under way which could breathe new life into the moribund carbon market.

Less reluctant

The CDP, investigating the carbon policies of a number of large companies in the US, says many firms are setting their own internal carbon pricing as “a core element in their ongoing business strategies”.

For some companies internal carbon pricing is aimed at being ready for future environmental legislation. Internal carbon pricing is also used to assess the value of projects and calculate the risk of various investment decisions.

Some of these companies might have previously been reluctant to become involved in carbon pricing or discussions of climate change.

“Such carbon pricing has become standard operating practice in business planning, in that companies acknowledge the process of ongoing climate change – including extreme and unpredictable weather events – as a key relevant business factor for which they wish to be prepared”, the report says.

Interestingly, internal pricing set by the US companies is often considerably higher than that in the ETS. Exxon Mobil, in setting its own carbon market, anticipates a price of US$60 by 2030. BP and Shell at present use a price of US$40.

At the other end of the scale, Google uses a price of US$14, while the Walt Disney organisation, which has set itself the long-term goal of “zero net greenhouse gas emissions”, uses prices of between US$10 and US$20. – Climate News Network