Renewable energy redoubles its global reach

Renewable energy redoubles its global reach

As the world economy and energy use both grew in 2014, renewables continued their rapid rise but carbon emissions did not. 

LONDON, 27 June, 2015 − A significant threshold has been crossed by renewable energy as analysts report that the sectorʼs size last year reached double the level it was at just 10 years earlier.

This expansion happened in a year when the global economy and energy use both grew, but without a matching rise in emissions of carbon dioxide − the main greenhouse gas targeted in efforts to restrain global warming.

The report by REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, says the result is an example of sustainable development. Despite the worldʼs annual 1.5% increase in energy consumption in recent years and 3% GDP growth last year, 2014ʼs CO emissions were unchanged from 2013ʼs total of 32.3 billion tonnes.

The reportʼs authors say this decoupling of economic and CO growth is due to Chinaʼs increased use of renewables and to efforts by OECD countries to promote more sustainable growth, including by increased energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.

“Renewable energy and improved energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to 2°C and avoiding dangerous climate change,” says Arthouros Zervos, who chairs REN21.

Distorting subsidies

Solar, wind and other technologies, including large hydro-electric schemesused in 164 countries added another 135 Gigawatts last year to bring the worldʼs total installed renewable energy power capacity to 1,712 GW. This was 8.5% up on 2013, and more than double the 800 GW of capacity recorded in 2004. One GW can power between 750,000 and one million typical US homes.

The authors say the sectorʼs growth could be even greater were it not for more than US$550 bn paid out in annual subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy. They say the subsidies keep the prices for energy from these fuels artificially low, encouraging wasteful use and hindering competition.

Infographic: REN21

Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, says: “Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Removing fossil fuel and hidden nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”

By the end of 2014, renewables comprised an estimated 27.7% of the worldʼs power generating capacity − enough to supply an estimated 22.8% of global electricity demand.

The amount of electricity available from renewables worldwide is now greater than that produced by all coal-burning plants in the US. Coal supplied about 38% of US electricity in 2013, compared with around 50% in the early 2000s.

Solar photovoltaic capacity has had a rapid 68-fold growth, from 2.6 GW in 2004 to 177 GW in 2014, while wind power capacity has increased eightfold, from 48 GW in 2004 to 370 GW in 2014. Employment in the sector is also growing fast, with an estimated 7.7m people worldwide working directly or indirectly on renewable energy last year.

Outpacing fossil fuels

New investment globally in renewable power capacity was more than twice that of investment in net fossil fuel power capacity, continuing the trend of renewables outpacing fossil fuels in net investment for the fifth year running.

Investment in developing countries was up 36% from the previous year, to $131.3 bn. It came closer than ever to overtaking the investment total for developed economies, which reached $138.9 bn in 2014 − up only 3% from 2013.

China accounted for 63% of developing country investment, with Chile, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey each investing more than $1bn. By dollars spent, the leading countries for investment were China, the US, Japan, the UK and Germany. Leading countries for investments relative to per capita GDP were Burundi, Kenya, Honduras, Jordan and Uruguay.

But REN21 points out that more than a billion people − 15% of humanity − still lack access to electricity, and the entire African continent has less power generation capacity than Germany.

The report says that off-grid solar PV has “a significant and growing market presence”, and other distributed renewable energy technologies are improving life in remote off-grid areas.

However, it stresses that this growth rate is still not enough to achieve the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) goals of doubling renewable energy and energy efficiency, and providing universal access for all by 2030. − Climate News Network

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Delegates accused of ‘fiddling’ while the planet burns

Delegates accused of ‘fiddling’ while the planet burns

Tame end to Bonn climate talks leaves critics fearing that hopes are fading of a binding agreement being signed to keep global warming in check.

LONDON, June 11, 2015 − For a meeting on which the future of the planet depends, there were remarkably few headlines coming out of the UN climate change conference in Bonn as it ended yesterday.

Critics believe that progress, after nearly two weeks of talks, was so slow that the chances of world leaders signing up to an agreement on tackling climate change in Paris later this year are receding − and that there is a lack of political will to do so.

Delegates agreed that a “streamlined” text of a legal agreement based on the negotiations so far should be drawn up and sent to governments to review.

This will cover issues such as how the agreement can be financed, who will cut greenhouse gas emissions, how to adapt to climate change, and compensation for nations badly affected. The negotiators will then come back to Bonn and try again.

Optimists will argue that this is progress, and that the talks were not supposed to be final, but merely moving towards a legally-binding agreement that will be signed by heads of state at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December.


However, for many environment groups lobbying the talks, it was certainly not enough. The phrase “sleepwalking into Paris” was how Christian Aid  described it.

Their senior climate change adviser, Mohamed Adow, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “There has been too much time spent fiddling around with the unimportant details of the text. Negotiators have acted like schoolchildren colouring in their homework timetable and not getting round to any actual homework.”

It was not all bad news. One of the surprising breakthroughs was an agreement that will enable poorer countries to receive money for keeping their forests standing.

Trying to preserve the world’s forests in order to store carbon, and so protect the climate, has been a thorny issue since the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

“Negotiators have acted like schoolchildren colouring in their homework timetable and not getting round to any actual homework”

The scheme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, known as UN-REDD, was originally going to be a Forest Convention, but developing countries rejected that on the grounds that it was up to them how they used their own natural resources. In any case, they said, the developed world had already cut down its forests.

After 20 years of talking, the increasing recognition that forests are more valuable in their pristine state than logged or clear-cut, and that rich countries were prepared to compensate poorer ones for not cutting them down, finally led to agreement.

Brazil, still battling to reduce Amazon deforestation, was among the countries pushing for an early settlement.

Package of deals

Although the agreement has been reached, it cannot come into operation until the end of the Paris conference, when it is supposed to be part of the package of deals that will save the climate from going over the internationally-agreed 2˚C temperature rise limit above pre-industrial levels.

The main sticking point in the past, at the Bonn talks, and for the future is the small matter of $100 billion pledged in aid by the rich countries to developing nations by 2020 to help them to adapt to climate change and still develop at the same time.

Money has been trickling in to various funds set up for the purpose, but there is no sign that the bulk of the donations will actually materialise.

Another serious problem is that the pledges that larger countries have made to reduce emissions are not enough to stop the world overheating beyond the 2˚C limit agreed by politicians.

So far, more than 30 countries have pledged to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, with around 150 smaller countries yet to set goals.

A bright spot on the pledges front was the agreement of the G7 group of countries to phase out all electricity production from fossil fuels by the end of this century.

However, as critics pointed out, what the leaders failed to do was outline any measures they were prepared to take now to set the world on the right course.

Another vexed issue yet to be resolved is compensation for the loss and damage suffered by poorer countries because of sea level rise and storms for which they are not responsible.

Impatient with progress at the talks, some of the poorer nations − Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines − announced that they would be taking a human rights case again big oil, coal and gas companies, and demanding compensation.

There are signs that public opinion − so often in the past indifferent to the issue of climate change − is now taking the issue more seriously.

A vast poll that involved testing public opinion in 70 countries on the same day found that 80% of people are very concerned about climate change, and 67% back a legally-binding agreement for all countries to reduce emissions.

Avoided showdown

Jan Kowalzig, Oxfam climate change policy adviser, summed up the feelings of environmental observers in Bonn when he said: “Negotiators avoided a showdown over crunch issues such as finance and increasing near-term emissions cuts, but they are only delaying the inevitable.

“A clearer mandate from heads of state and ministers is needed to ignite the talks and ensure key questions are answered.

“Political leaders need to give a clear steer on how to address the inadequacy of current emissions reductions pledges, but also on the urgent financial support needed for the most vulnerable countries and populations.”

Once governments have had a chance to review the “streamlined texts”, delegates will return to Bonn in August and October for more rounds of talks, before the Paris summit at the end of the year. – Climate News Network

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World must wake up to China’s energy revolution

World must wake up to China’s energy revolution

New report says a successful outcome at this year’s Paris climate talks will be far more likely if the world takes note of how China is reducing emissions.

LONDON, 11 June, 2015 − The pace of change in China’s energy policy means that the targets it has set for cutting  greenhouse gases (GHGs) are likely to be achieved sooner than expected, according to a new study.

As part of a joint China/US agreement last November on tackling climate change, China said its GHG emissions – the highest in the world – would peak in 2030 and subsequently decrease. It could now be five years ahead of schedule.

The joint study by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment says that wholesale changes taking place in energy and industrial policy mean that China’s emissions are, in fact, likely to peak in 2025 – and fall sharply thereafter.

The report says: “The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris later this year will be more successful if governments everywhere understand the extent of change in China, its implications for global emissions, and the positive impact that China’s clean industrial development, investment and innovation plans are likely to have on global markets for clean goods and services.”

Likely to plateau

The authors − including Nicholas Stern, who produced the Stern Report in 2006 on the implications of climate change for the world economy − say that China’s use of coal, which is by far the most polluting fossil fuel, is likely to plateau over the next five years.

Quoting official statistics, the report says China’s coal consumption fell by nearly 3% last year, and has fallen more steeply in the first months of 2015. Meanwhile, coal imports fell by 11% in 2014 and by 45% in the first three months of this year.

In recent years, there has been mounting concern over the environmental and health costs of China’s fast-track economic growth. The President, Xi Jinping, has said the country’s current economic model is “unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable”.

“A fundamental shift is taking place – away from heavy industries primarily reliant on coal to more service-orientated, sustainable activities”

Particulate matter pollution has been linked to 1.23 million deaths in 2010 – equivalent in monetary terms to a loss of between 10% and 13% of gross domestic product.

Now, says the LSE report, a fundamental shift is taking place in China’s economy – away from heavy industries primarily reliant on coal to more service-orientated, sustainable activities. Massive investments are being made in renewable energies such as solar and wind power.

Much still needs to be done if China’s GHG emissions are to decrease, the study says. It recommends that a coal tax should be brought in, with funds raised being used to encourage clean energy innovation. Energy savings can also be made through long-term, sustainable plans, such as building high-density, energy-efficient cities.

The study’s authors say that what’s happening in China has a profound effect elsewhere. A cut in China’s emissions means that the goal of keeping a rise in average global temperatures to 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century becomes more achievable. Also, other developing nations are influenced by China and are likely to follow its lead in tackling climate change.

Despite the progress being made on China’s emissions reductions, analysts point out that the country is likely to be dependent on coal for many more years. China still produces and consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.

Concerns raised

Although its renewables sector is growing fast, it still accounts for only a small portion of total generating capacity, and concerns have been raised about the impacts of China’s large-scale hydroelectric generation programme.

Some experts have criticised the country’s big investments in nuclear power plants, arguing that it is being undertaken without sufficient planning and consideration for safety.

Also, while China is taking steps to cut back on coal use, other countries − particularly India − are intent on continuing to make use of coal resources that often are heavily subsidised.

Earlier this month, the international charity Oxfam called on world leaders to phase out the use of coal to save lives, money and the planet. – Climate News Network

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European power is slipping away from King Coal

European power is slipping away from King Coal

Analysis of falling demand for electricity within the EU sends a stark warning to investors in new coal plants that their assets could be left stranded.

LONDON, 10 June, 2015 − Coal, the muscle that for two centuries powered Europe’s economic dominance of the world, is steadily losing its grip as cleaner fuels take its place and energy efficiency cuts electricity consumption, according to new analysis.

The European Union’s electricity demand fell by 3.3% from 2008 to 2013 − even though GDP grew by 4.1% − and the analysts say changing market conditions for utilities leaves new coal plants failing to generate positive cash-flows even in the most optimistic scenario.

Not only that, but the proportion of electricity being generated in the EU from coal and other fossil fuels is also falling, says the study, “Coal: Caught in the EU Utility Death Spiral”, by the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative.

“In many respects, the EU’s electricity sector has been the ‘canary in the coal mine’ with regard to understanding how the low-carbon transition will create winners and losers,” says Matthew Gray, adviser to Carbon Tracker and lead author of the report. “What has happened in Europe over the last five years should send a stark warning to investors.”

Inevitable stranding

The authors analysed the Vattenfall energy company’s new Moorburg hard coal plant in Hamburg, Germany, and say that “stranding” is almost inevitable − a stranded asset being one that for some unexpected reason has been written down.

Modelling of the plant’s cash flows found that even if coal prices and carbon prices were low and the load factor high, it struggled to make a profit, making it near-impossible to recover its €3 billion ($3.35bn) cost.

“Utilities need to change their business models and move away from coal to avoid being left with stranded assets”

James Leaton, Carbon Tracker’s head of research, says: “New German coal plants are struggling to break even in an optimistic scenario – there is only downside risk for operators. Utilities need to change their business models and move away from coal to avoid being left with stranded assets that don’t provide a return for shareholders.”

The report is published while UN climate talks in Bonn continue, and just after the G7 summit in Bavaria − two critical meetings that will help to shape the text of the UN climate change negotiations in Paris later this year.

It also appears as Norway’s $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, is set to withdraw billions of dollars from coal investments after a unanimous parliamentary committee recommendation. The committee called for the fund to divest its holdings in companies that generate more than 30% of their output or revenues from coal-related activities.

Collective loss

The Carbon Tracker study shows how Germany’s E.ON and RWE, France’s GDF Suez and Électricité de France (EDF) and Italy’s Enel collectively lost €100bn − 37% of their stock market value − from 2008 to 2013.

The analysis found evidence that heavily coal-reliant utilities fared worse. Enel, performing best of the five, generated the most renewable energy as a percentage of total generation, while RWE, which performed worst, was more focused on coal generation.

All five, which provide nearly 60% of Europe’s electricity and have been subject to downgrades by Moody’s credit ratings agency, significantly under-performed Germany’s stock market, which grew by 18% in the same period.

Despite claims of a coal renaissance in Europe, use of the fuel in the EU as a whole fell by 4.7% in total and 4.2% in electricity generation from 2008 to 2013. By contrast, the five utilities covered in the study together increased their reliance on coal generation by 9% in the period.

Carbon Tracker says the continued growth of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, and rising carbon prices will further squeeze out uneconomic coal plants, and that some major investors are already taking note. − Climate News Network

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World leaders urged to kick killer coal habit

World leaders urged to kick killer coal habit

Oxfam report says coal-fired power plants in the G7 group of countries should all be phased out to save lives, money and the planet.

LONDON, 6 June, 2015 – Leaders of G7 countries at this weekend’s summit in Germany are being called on today to show leadership by pledging to end all coal burning for electricity generation in the industrialised world.

“Let Them Eat Coal”, a report by  the international relief charity Oxfam, explains how it can be achieved without financial difficulty, and warns that continuing to burn coal will kill millions because of the food shortages that climate change will cause.

The report is endorsed by a group of scientists, politicians, industrialists, trade unionists and campaigners, who say that only with political leadership from G7 can the prospects of dangerous climate change be averted.

Weapon of destruction

It points out: “Each coal power station can be seen as a weapon of climate destruction – fuelling ruinous weather patterns, devastating harvests, driving food price rises and ultimately leaving more people facing hunger. With these climate impacts falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable and least food-secure people, the burning of coal is further exacerbating inequality.”

It points out that G7 coal plants emit twice as much fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions as the whole of Africa, and that “rich industrialised countries must stop hiding behind countries like China and take the lead in kicking their own coal habit”.

Coal provides 41% of the world’s electrical power but 72% of power-sector emissions. The report details how it is now cheaper to invest in and produce electricity with renewables than in coal plants in G7 countries.

The report details how many ageing coal plants each G7 country still operates, and how the wealthiest countries of the world can switch to alternatives, while creating jobs and without losing money.

“This is not a pipe dream – it is a clear
political opportunity that G7 governments
can and must seize”

Few of the G7 countries have built new coal plants, so closing them down would not lose capital investment. Ironically, Germany, which sees itself as a world leader in renewables and is the G7 host, has opened massive new coal-burning plants and will take longest to phase out coal unless it is prepared to lose money.

The report concludes that, without financial loss, France could phase out coal by 2020, the UK by 2023, and Italy by the mid-2020s. Canada and the US could follow by 2030, Japan by 2035, and Germany by 2040.

Apart from Germany and Japan, which have invested heavily in new coal plants, all G7 countries have an ageing fleet in which the original investment has long been repaid. For example, the average age of coal plants in the US is 45, and in the UK it is 41. Even in Germany and Japan, most coal plants are of the same vintage.

The report warns: “Coal power plants are the biggest obstacle standing between us and the internationally-agreed target to limit warming to 2 degrees [Centigrade].

Clean technologies

“G7 leaders meeting in 2015 can signal the beginning of the end of the coal era. By doing so, they can establish new momentum towards this year’s crucial UN climate talks in Paris and create thousands of new jobs in the clean technologies of the future.

“As the country-specific coal exit plans outlined in this paper make clear, this is not a pipe dream – it is a clear political opportunity that G7 governments can and must seize.”

Among those endorsing the report is Professor Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. He said coal-fired stations “increasingly look like weapons of destruction aimed at those who suffer the impacts of changing rainfall patterns as well as of extreme weather events. Getting rid of our addiction to coal is both possible and necessary.”

Dr Michael Grubb, senior research fellow at the Cambridge University Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, said: “The extraordinary irony is that study after study is showing that coal is bad for G7 economies. The damages associated with extracting and burning coal outweigh any apparent economic value – before even considering its impact on climate change.” – Climate News Network

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Africa’s advocates say fossil fuel subsidies must go

Africa’s advocates say fossil fuel subsidies must go

With more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still lacking access to electricity, the continent is being urged to take a leading role in crucial climate negotiations.

LONDON, 5 June, 2015 − Developed countries should rapidly end subsidies for fossil fuels, says a group established to argue for equitable and sustainable development for Africa.

The Africa Progress Panel (APP), chaired by the Nobel laureate and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, says the G20 countries should set a timetable for phasing out the payments, with a ban on exploration and production subsidies as soon as 2018.

“Many rich country governments tell us they want a climate deal, but at the same time billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money are subsidising the discovery of new coal, oil and gas reserves,” Mr Annan said. “They should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsidising a climate catastrophe.”

The APP also urges African governments, investors, and international financial institutions to increase investment in energy significantly in order to unlock Africa’s potential as a global low-carbon superpower.

Poverty and inequality

The report, “Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities”, calls for a tenfold increase in power generation to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030. This, it says, “would reduce poverty and inequality, boost growth, and provide the climate leadership that is sorely missing at the international level”

The panel recognises recent improvements in the negotiating positions of the European Union, the US and China. But it says that current proposals still fall far short of a credible deal for limiting global warming to the internationally-agreed threshold of no more than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

It also condemns Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia for, as it puts it, effectively withdrawing from constructive engagement on climate.

“By hedging their bets and waiting for others to move first, some governments are playing poker with the planet and future generations’ lives,” Mr Annan said. “This is not a moment for prevarication, short-term self-interest, and constrained ambition, but for bold global leadership and decisive action.

“Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa are emerging as front-runners in the global transition to low carbon energy. Africa is well positioned to expand the power generation needed to drive growth, deliver energy for all, and play a leadership role in the crucial climate change negotiations.”

“Some governments are playing poker with the planet and future generations’ lives”

Mr Annan said the panel categorically rejected the idea that Africa had to choose between growth and low-carbon development.

The report tells a stark story of what the continent’s energy poverty means. In sub-Saharan Africa, it says, 621 million people – more than half of Africa’s population – lack access to electricity, and the number is rising. Excluding South Africa, which generates half the region’s electricity, the whole of sub-Saharan Africa uses less electricity than Spain.

It would take the average Tanzanian eight years to use as much electricity as an average American consumes in a single month. And, over the course of one year, someone boiling a kettle twice a day in the UK uses five times more electricity than an Ethiopian consumes in a year.

The report urges African governments to use the region’s natural gas to provide domestic energy as well as exports, and to harness Africa’s vast, untapped renewable energy potential.

Energy infrastructure

It says corruption must be cut, utility governance made more transparent, regulations strengthened, and public spending on energy infrastructure increased.

It calls as well for strengthened international co-operation to close Africa’s energy sector financing gap, estimated to be US$55 billion annually to 2030. This includes US$35 billion for investments in plant, transmission and distribution, and US$20 billion for the costs of universal access.

A global connectivity fund, with a target of reaching an additional 600 million Africans by 2030, is needed to drive investment in on-grid and off-grid energy provision.

The report challenges African governments and their international partners to raise their ambitions for the United Nations climate summit in Paris in December.

It says 2015 is the year not only for a climate agreement, but for agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals and how to finance them. And it recalls Nelson Mandela’s words on the ending of apartheid: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Climate News Network

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Apollo initiative asks for the moon in switch to renewables

Apollo plan asks for the moon in switch to renewables

Eminent group urges governments to make the massive research investment that would enable the world to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2025.

LONDON, 3 June, 2015 − The vision is simple, the cost would be eye-watering, and the result could stop the growing threat from burning fossil fuels in its tracks.

The authors of an initiative called the Global Apollo Programme say that, given the required high level of investment, it should be possible within 10 years to meet electricity demand with reliable wind and/or solar power that is cheaper in every country than power based on coal.

They say the scale of ambition needed to produce “baseload” power from renewable energy that is generated consistently to meet minimum demand matches that which sent the first humans to the Moon in 1969 − at a cost, in today’s prices, of £150 billion (around US$230bn).

Each country involved in the Global Apollo Programme would be expected to contribute at least 0.02% of its GDP − the total value of its economy − for 10 years to finance research, development and demonstration (RD&D) with an annual boost of £15bn.

The seven authors of the Programme include: Sir David King, former chief scientist to the UK government; Lord Martin Rees, a former president of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science; Lord John Browne, a former CEO of the energy giant BP; and the economist Lord Nicholas Stern, who led the team that published the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.

Irreparable damage

To avoid irreparable damage to the planet, they argue, world governments’ agreement to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 2 ̊ C above pre-industrial levels demands an absolute limit on the total accumulated CO2 that can be produced. On present trends, that limit will be breached by 2035.

To reduce our annual output of CO2 as urgently as we must, carbon-free energy will rapidly have to become cheaper to produce than energy based on coal, gas and oil. The major scientific and technological research programme required will demand the best minds in the world and the best science.

The authors say the Programme should be modelled on the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which has reduced semiconductor prices year on year for 30 years.

A committee appointed through the Programme’s member countries will co-ordinate international research to unblock bottlenecks it identifies, including electricity storage and transmission, and the generation of wind and solar power.

“Over the last year, the Programme has been privately discussed with governments worldwide and has been widely welcomed”

The Programme hopes to be able to base itself beside the International Energy Agency in Paris, but it will include many countries that are not members of the IEA. All members will still be responsible for spending their own national renewable energy RD&D budgets.

The authors say: “Over the last year, the Programme has been privately discussed with governments worldwide and has been widely welcomed. The issue will be discussed at the G7 meeting on 7-8 June, and it is hoped that by the end of the year the major countries of the world will have decided to join.”

Their timetable is challenging. Last year, Sir David King said: “The objective is that, by 2020, renewable power should be cheaper than coal in all sunny parts of the world, and by 2025 in all parts of the world.”

Immense gains

But the gains would be immense, not only in combating climate change but also in tackling health problems and poverty as well.

The Programme is intent on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in baseload energy generation. But for the many millions of people who are not on the electricity grid, the need is for a solution closer to hand. Success for the Programme would spur renewables on both national and household scales.

For example, the UK-based charity SolarAid aims to eradicate expensive kerosene lamps from Africa by 2020, replacing them with affordable solar lamps in remote rural regions. Set up by the company Solar Century, it says a $10 solar lamp pays for itself in a month, releasing money for health, education and farming – and providing clean, free light for years.

Sir David said green energy was already cutting air pollution and reducing carbon emissions, but making it cheaper mattered too. “Once we get to that point,” he says, “we are winning in all the battles.” − Climate News Network

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China’s investment in renewables soars by a third

China’s investment in renewables soars by a third

Despite a slowdown in its economy and the continued reliance on coal, China is pumping billions of dollars into its renewable energy industry.

LONDON, 30 May, 2015 − China invested more than US$89 billion in renewable energy projects in the country in 2014 – a growth of 31% on the previous year, according to a detailed report on the country’s energy sector.

The soaring increase is revealed in a report by the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). But it adds that fossil fuels − particularly coal − still look set to continue to dominate China’s power sector.

Coal is by far the most polluting fossil fuel, and China is the world’s leading emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Wind power production went up by nearly 40% in the 2012-13 period. Although there are still big gaps in the transmission infrastructure, the aim is to generate 200 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from wind by 2020.

Government subsidies

“China is also aggressively investing in solar power and hopes to increase capacity from 15 GW at the end of 2013 to 100 GW by the end of 2020,” says the EIA. Substantial government subsidies have helped to fuel growth in the solar sector.

The EIA says similar levels of expansion are happening in other non-fossil fuel industries, in line with the Beijing government’s goal of producing 15% of total energy consumption from non-fossil fuels by 2020.

“Because of its cost effectiveness and sizeable resource potential, hydroelectricity
has become China’s key source
of renewable energy generation”

A large-scale hydroelectricity programme continues, with dams being constructed throughout the country.

“Because of its cost effectiveness and sizeable resource potential, hydroelectricity has become China’s key source of renewable energy generation,” says the EIA’s analysis.

At present, China produces 230 GW of power from hydro, accounting for about 8% of total energy consumption. The goal is to increase this to 350 GW over the next five years.

Although there was a pause in China’s nuclear power plant construction programme in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the sector is now expanding at a rapid pace.

The EIA, quoting figures from the International Atomic Energy Agency, says China has added 10 reactors to its nuclear power capacity since the beginning of 2013. At present, installed nuclear power is 23 GW, but the aim is to more than double that figure by 2019.

Top coal producer

Although China’s renewables growth is impressive, its energy consumption is still dominated by fossil fuels.

Coal accounted for about 66% of energy consumption in 2012, says the EIA, with oil and gas making up an additional 20%. China is the world’s top coal producer, consumer and importer – and accounts for almost half of global coal consumption.

Coal consumption was almost three times higher in 2013 than in 2000,  the report says. Due to a slowdown of growth in China’s economy and to increasing concerns about serious levels of air pollution in many parts of the country, coal consumption has slowed in recent years, but is likely to remain the main source of power for many years ahead.

Late last year, in what was described as a major step in the battle against climate change, China and the US agreed to cut back on their carbon emissions.

China says its  emissions are likely to continue to rise in the short term, peaking in 2030, but will fall rapidly in the following years. – Climate News Network

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Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Trillions of dollars need to be redirected into building low-carbon economies to avoid serious climate change, the UN warns.

LONDON, 27 May, 2015 − The world’s financial system must undergo comprehensive change by 2035 if humanity is to make the transition needed to reduce the threat of dangerous climate change, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, on an inquiry into aligning the financial system with sustainable development, says finance must be focused on moving investments into low-carbon projects.

It quotes World Bank estimates that investments of more than US$90 trillion will be needed over the next 15 years to enable the switch  to a low-carbon future that would let the world  stay within the internationally-agreed limit of a 2°C rise in global temperatures on pre-industrial levels by mid-century.

Short-term thinking

The risks of climate change are not properly priced in financial systems, says UNEP. Market and policy failures are exacerbated by short-term thinking and misguided incentive structures, such as the enormous subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry each year.

Rising carbon emissions cause health problems and affect water supplies and food production, which in turn can cause volatility in financial markets and hit economic growth. In Kenya, says UNEP, climate change is already costing up to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Radically altering how the global financial system operates will not only help in the battle against climate change, but is also vital  to ensure sustainable development.

“The globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth. It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says: “Integrating sustainability criteria that include environment and social factors into the rules that govern the financial system can substantially strengthen the resilience of the world’s financial system, which has been a key goal of governments and regulators since the global financial crises of 2008.

“If brought to scale, the approximately US$300 trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.”

Stronger action is needed to drive the demand for green finance through such measures as giving more incentives to clean energy projects and implementing carbon pricing systems.

At present, UNEP says, the world’s emerging economies are leading the way in transforming their financial and capital markets to reflect the realities of climate change.

In China, annual investment in various green industries and associated infrastructure could reach US$320 billion in the next five years.

In Brazil, integrating environmental risk factors into investment considerations is seen as a way to strengthen the financial system.

Companies and institutions in most developed countries have been slow to recognise the impact that climate change will have on their financial systems.

Climate risks

A notable exception, says UNEP, is the Bank of England, which recently announced a review exploring what risks climate change might pose to the country’s financial system.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says the goal is clear: a peaking of global emissions over the next 10 years, followed by a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy.

“In order to achieve this, and support the aspirations for growth and poverty eradication of developing countries, the globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth,” she says. “It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Figueres believes the UN conference on climate, to be held in Paris in December, “can be a trigger that starts directing the trillions of dollars required away from high-carbon, high-risk investments and infrastructure towards the low-carbon, green economy that is everyone’s future”. – Climate News Network

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Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Economic links with China help Pakistan tap into enormous solar energy potential that can provide clean power to boost production and reduce poverty.

ISLAMABAD, 19 May, 2015 – One of the world’s largest solar plants has been opened in Pakistan with the aim of supplying clean, reliable energy and helping alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages.

The plant, spread over more than 200 hectares of desert land in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province, will generate 100 megawatts (MW) in its initial phase and more than 300MW by the end of the year, according to government officials.

More than a third of Pakistan’s population do not have access to electricity, and power shortages are a serious impediment to economic growth.

Inaugurating the plant, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country.”

Mushahidullah Khan, the Federal Minister for Climate Change, told the Climate News Network that the government is determined to make use of what it sees as the country’s enormous solar energy potential.

Energy crisis

He said: “Tackling our energy crisis is the top priority of the present government as we believe it is vital in order to achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, boost agricultural and industrial production and – through the provision of clean, solar power – reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”

The plant – called the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park – was constructed in less than a year by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company, at a cost of US$131 million.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult”

China has been forging ever closer economic links with Pakistan as part of a plan to link China’s western Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The government in Islamabad says China is likely to invest more than $30 billion in solar and other power projects in Pakistan in the coming years.

At present, more than 60% of Pakistan’s power is generated from oil and gas, and about 30% from hydro power.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Erratic flow

In particular, the flow of water in the Indus river – upon which millions depend for hydro power and for irrigating crops – has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.

Government officials say they are determined to push ahead with more solar and wind projects throughout the country.

Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said the development of solar and other renewable energies was hampered in the past by inconsistencies in government policy, and by a lack of understanding of clean energies.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult, such as Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh provinces,” he said.

As part of the push for more solar projects, the government recently announced the abolition of duty on the import of solar panels. − Climate News Network

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