India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

There is no sign from President Obama’s visit that India will be pressured into making any immediate plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

NEW DELHI, 27 January, 2015 − Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark.

A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line − although Modi said it does intend to increase its use of renewable energy.

Mod did not offer any hint of a reduction in coal use. And on possible targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he said nothing beyond agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, while insisting that India demands equal treatment in cutting GHGs.

India is the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US, but generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.

Limited liability

The two leaders smoothed the way for further Indian use of nuclear power, outlining a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe.

Referring to the recent agreement between the US and China to work together on CO2 cuts, Modi said: “The agreement that has been concluded between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country. But climate change and global warning itself is huge pressure.”

Analysts here point out that there has been little time yet for Modi and Obama to develop a strong working relationship, and that it could be premature to dismiss the outcome of this meeting as disappointing.

“The agreement . . . between the US and China
does not impose pressure on us;
India is an independent country.”

Before last month’s UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, India said it had put in place several action plans for achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are key elements of the bold climate agreement that many governments hope will be signed at the next round of talks in Paris in December.

India continues to maintain that its INDCs will be announced “at an appropriate time with specific contributions”.

Last week, Modi called for a paradigm shift in global attitudes towards climate change – from “carbon credits” towards “green credits”. He urged nations with the greatest solar energy potential to join India in innovation and research to reduce the cost of the technology and make it more accessible.

“Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency, and what more can be done in these areas,” he said.

Modi and Obama announced action to advance India’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and India reiterated its goal of increasing its solar target to 100 gigawatts by 2022, which the US said it would support.

Ambitious agreement

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said they had “stressed the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015”.

Anu Jogesh, a senior research associate with the Centre for Policy Research’s Climate Initiative, said: “There was a lot of buzz in policy circles and the media that there might be some kind of announcement, not on emission cuts per se but on renewable energy. However, apart from the nuclear agreement, little else has emerged.”

Answering fears that India might become a ready market for US companies, Dr Pradipto Ghosh, Distinguished Fellow at the Energy and Resource Institute, said: “The large scale will inevitably bring down costs and companies will offer competitive prices, and also bring in more reliability, efficiency and product quality.” − Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

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Energy poured in to cutting-edge conservation ideas

Energy poured in to cutting-edge conservation ideas

A battery that could treble electric car mileage and cut costs is among the innovations moving closer to reality on the frontiers of science.

LONDON, 23 January, 2015 − Here’s a plan for cutting your carbon footprint: fit your electric car with a high-performance lithium sulphur battery that can treble the mileage for a much lower cost.

That’s just one of many examples of innovative energy conservation solutions that scientists are currently on the brink of turning into reality. Others include fitting your clothes with zinc oxide nano-generators that can harvest mechanical energy from the moving fabric to charge your portable devices.

Then you could move into a new suburban development carefully planned to maintain all the trees that store and sequester carbon. You’ll be in a city anyway − and cities are best placed to plan new energy efficiencies.

Linda Nazar, chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and colleagues believe that a lithium-sulphur battery is one step nearer reality.

Light and cheap

Sulphur is abundant, light and cheap, and a rechargeable sulphur cathode could be so much less costly than the lithium cobalt ion in lithium-ion cells – if only the sulphur could be stopped from dissolving after a few cycles.

She and her team report in report in Nature Communications that ultrathin, nanoscale sheets of manganese oxide could stabilise the sulphides and deliver a cathode that could be recharged more than 2000 times. So far, the Waterloo team claim only to have worked out the mechanism that would stabilise a sulphur battery: there is much more to be done.

Meanwhile, a group at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology report in Applied Physics Letters that piezoelectric zinc oxide nanotechnology could be used to harvest mechanical energy.

Any movement – any sound, any vibration, any exertion of muscle, any step, any movement of fabric – represents energy that could be turned into electrical current, especially with a little help from exquisitely-designed aluminium nitride insulators.

Illustration showing stacked flexible nanaogenerators (left) Image: Giwan Yoon/KAIST

Illustration showing stacked flexible nanaogenerators (left)
Image: Giwan Yoon/KAIST

So someone wearing, for instance, a medical device that monitors heart rate and breathing could actually provide the power for the device just by walking about, or breathing. That’s the possibility: more exploration is needed, say the scientists.

Both pieces of research are reports from the frontiers of energy conservation science. But at the University of Florida, one group zeroed in on the oldest carbon storage and sequestration technology of all: the tree.

Homes needed

There are 19 million people in Florida now. By 2040, the population could be 25 million. That’s a lot of new homes needed − and it would help if they started off in a conservation-friendly way.

Environmental specialist Richard Vaughn and colleagues report in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning that they looked at a plan to build 1,835 homes on a 700 hectare site that is – for the moment – a managed pine forest.

They grouped the trees according to age and calculated that, since older trees hold more carbon than younger ones, it would make sense to reduce the area for subdivision and group the homes closer together so as to preserve the oldest trees.

One of the designs saved 71% of the original stored carbon and 82% of the carbon that would have been sequestered by the forest.

“If you have a compact subdivision, you’ll have fewer roads,” said one of the Florida report authors, Mark Hostetler, professor specialising in biodiversity conservation. “With fewer roads, you have less energy used to produce the roads.

Patches for wildlife

“That impacts how much carbon is released. With more patches of biodiversity, you also have natural patches for wildlife. And there’s water. With compact neighbourhood design you’ve decreased the pavement and you’ve kind of separated the built areas from the natural areas.”

All urban areas offer scope for energy savings, because all cities generate a higher proportion of carbon emissions than rural areas.

Felix Creutzig. head of the land-use, infrastructures and transport group at Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, and colleagues looked at energy and emissions data from 274 cities in 60 countries – cities home to 21% of the global urban population – and considered the future under a “business-as-usual” scenario.

They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that energy use would triple by 2050. Another two to three billion people would crowd into the cities, and the urban “footprint” would grow by 1.2 million square kilometres – an area the size of South Africa.

Some thoughtful urban planning and energy policies, however, could make a big difference − especially if the planners got to work early.

“This window of opportunity exists especially for low-emissions cities in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, where urbanisation and associated rises in income could lead to high increases in urban energy use if current trends continue,” they report. – Climate News Network

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Coal casts a cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

Coal casts cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

Germany cut emissions and boosted renewables last year, but critics say CO2 reduction targets can’t be met unless it closes coal-burning power stations.

BERLIN, 20 January 2015 − The energy market in Germany saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply − leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind.

But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%.

Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes.

This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Lowest level

Beyond that, Germany’s primary energy consumption – which includes the energy used in power generation, heating and transport − fell to its lowest level since reunification with East Germany in 1990, AGEB report. It shrank by 4.8% compared with 2013.

Estimates by AGEB indicate that Germany’s CO2 emissions will have fallen in 2014 by around 5% compared with 2013, as consumption of all fossil fuels fell and the contribution from renewables rose. Half the CO2 savings came from power generation.

Germany’s use of hard coal − sometimes called black coal, which emits much less CO2 than brown coal, as lignite is known − in electricity generation was 7.9% lower than in 2013, and lignite 2.3%. The share of fossil fuels in the overall energy mix fell from 81.9% in 2013 to 80.8%.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal”

At first sight, that looks like a big success story. But it comes after several years of rising emissions that have cast doubt on the “Energiewende” − the ambitious German energy transition plan for a simultaneous phase-out of nuclear power and a move to a carbon-free economy.

While all of Germany’s remaining nine nuclear power plants must by law be shut down no later than the end of 2022, there is no such legally-binding phase-out for the coal industry. So no one can tell how long Germany will go on burning the worst climate change contributors, lignite and hard coal.

Dirty 30

In July 2014, a group of NGOs published a study on the EU’s 30 worst CO2-emitting thermal power plants. German power stations featured six times among the 10 dirtiest.

CROP-WWF-dirty-30-2014

Never heard of Neurath, Niederausssem, Jänschwalde, Boxberg, Weisweiler and Lippendorf? These are the sites of Germany’s lignite-powered stations, which together emit more than 140 megatonnes of CO2 annually − making Germany Europe’s worst coal polluter, followed by Poland and the UK.

And international banks, including Germany’s biggest investment bank, keep on financing coal. A study by BankTrack shows that 92 commercial banks financed the coal industry in 2013 to the tune of at least €66bn – a new record. The top investor was the US bank JP Morgan Chase. Deutsche Bank was tenth.

That level of investment puts into perspective the US $10bn that is now in the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations fight climate change.

Germany has one of the most ambitious climate targets worldwide: by 2020, its CO2 emissions are due to be 40% below their 1990 level. But how can it achieve this?

Climate goals

The latest Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the German Cabinet on 3 December last year, says that 22 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved “by further measures, especially in the power sector”.

Does that mean less power from coal? In any case, it will not put Germany back on track, as nearly 80 million tonnes of CO2 must be saved to reach the country’s 2020 climate goals. The Greens pointed out that a coal-fired power plant such as Jänschwalde alone produces more than 22 million tonnes of CO2 − and Jänschwalde is not even the biggest German polluter.

So, right now, the Energiewende seems a story both of success and of failure.

Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer who co-authored the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, says: “The only way of countering the rise in CO2 is to expand renewables. The technology is there − it just has to be used.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal. Otherwise we have no chance of achieving our climate targets.” − Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries.
    LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener

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Nuclear dream is fading as wind and solar soar

Nuclear dream is fading as wind and solar soar

Governments are still spending billions on nuclear research, but it looks like being an unhappy new year for the industry as it continues to shrink while renewables grow.

LONDON, 30 December, 2014 − With nuclear power falling ever further behind renewables as a global energy source, and as the price of oil and gas falls, the future of the industry in 2015 and beyond looks bleak.

Renewables now supply 22% of global electricity and nuclear only 11% − a share that is gradually falling as old plants close and fewer new ones are commissioned.

New large-scale installations of wind and solar power arrays continue to surge across the world. Countries without full grids and power outages, such as India, increasingly find that wind and solar are quick and easy ways to bring electricity to people who have previously had no supply.

Developed countries, meanwhile, faced with reducing carbon dioxide emissions, find that the cost of both these renewable technologies is coming down substantially. Subsidies for wind and solar are being reduced and, in some cases, will disappear altogether in the next 10 years.

Speed of installation

The other advantage that renewables have is speed of installation. Solar panels, once manufactured, can be installed on a rooftop and be in operation in a single day. Wind turbines can be put up in a week.

Nuclear power, on the other hand, continues to get more expensive. In China and Russia, costs are not transparent, and even in democracies they hard to pin down. But it is clear that they are rising dramatically.

Building of the proposed twin European Pressurised Water reactors, called Hinkley Point C, in Britain’s West Country is due to start in 2015, but the price has risen several times already. Estimated construction costs have now jumped from £16 billion to £24 billion − before the first concrete has even been poured.

The other problem with nuclear is the time frame. Originally, Hinkley Point C was due to be completed by 2018. This has now slipped to 2024, but even this is optimistic judging by the performance of the two prototypes in Finland and France, both of which are late and over budget.

One of the key problems for the nuclear sector is that reactors have been designed to be at full power all of the time

The Finnish plant was due to open in 2009, but is still at least three years from commissioning. The French plant is five years overdue.

In many countries, there are plans on paper for new nuclear stations, and China, South Korea and India are among those that are continuing to build them. Other countries, particularly where private capital is needed to finance them, are putting their plans on hold.

Extend life

The US, which still has the largest number of reactors of any country in the world, is opting instead to extend the life of its plants. Many operators are considering applying for such extensions from 60 to 80 years. Provided they are up to modern safety standards, there seems no barrier to this.

Many other countries, including the UK, are extending the lives of their plants as long as possible, so the industry won’t be disappearing any time soon.

But one of the key problems for the nuclear sector is that reactors have been designed to be at full power all of the time. With renewables taking an increasing share of the market, a combination of nuclear, wind and solar can produce more electricity than required − leaving a problem of what to turn off.

A way round this problem being developed in Britain is large, strategically-based batteries. A five-megawatt battery, the largest in Europe, has just been commissioned in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, in the middle of England.

This is charged up when there is too much power in the grid, and releases its energy when there is a surge in demand.

If, during a two-year trial, this works to smooth the peaks and troughs of demand, and cuts the costs of switching on expensive gas turbines, then a network of batteries will be installed across the country to harvest the intermittent supplies of renewables.

The only bright spot for nuclear at the moment is the development of small nuclear reactors. These are from 30 megawatts upwards and are designed to be built in a factory and assembled on site − a bit like wind turbines are.

These can be installed singly or in a series, depending on the demand. Their two greatest selling points are that they would be good in remote locations far from other power sources, and are said to be much safer than their larger cousins.

Price tag

However, a drawback is the price tag of around $3 billion dollars. Both the US and UK are supporting private firms in research and development, but commercial operation is a long way off.

Whether a small nuclear power station would be any more welcomed than a wind or solar farm to provide power in a neighbourhood is a question still to be tested.

Nuclear enthusiasts − and there are still many in the political and scientific world − continue to work on fast breeder reactors, fusion and thorium reactors, heavily supported by governments who still believe that one day the technology will be the source of cheap and unlimited power. But, so far, that remains a distant dream.

In the meantime, investors are increasingly sceptical about putting their money into nuclear − whereas renewables promise an increasingly rapid return on investment, and may get a further boost if the governments of the world finally take climate change seriously. – Climate News Network

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Investment falters as fossil fuels face ‘perfect storm’

Investment falters as fossil fuels face ‘perfect storm’

Increasing oil production but falling demand is creating big problems for the fossil fuel industry as some investors are now turning away from the sector.

LONDON, 28 December, 2014 − The world’s investors – both big and small – think primarily in terms of making good returns on their money. And, over the years, investing in the fossil fuel industry has been considered a safe bet.

Yet maybe, just maybe, attitudes are changing – and fairly profoundly – as financial analysts warn that the industry faces “a perfect storm” as it enters 2015.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI), a London-based financial thinktank, analyses the energy industry and lobbies to limit emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

On one side, CTI says, the industry is being buffeted by a crash in oil prices and a drop in demand. On the other, there’s the threat of increasing regulation aimed at cutting GHG emissions and a worldwide growth in renewable forms of energy.

Cool reception

Anthony Hobley, CTI’s chief executive, says investors are realising that the energy world is changing.

“At one stage, when we talked to investment firms about the risks of investing in fossil fuels we were given a cool reception,” Hobley told Climate News Network.

“Now we are being invited to brief the big investment funds. Investors have an enormous amount of power – they are weighing up the risks of investing in fossil fuels and wondering just how safe their money is.”

The CTI has long warned of the dangers of a “carbon bubble”, with investments in fossil fuels becoming ”stranded assets” due to the imposition of stricter regulatory controls on emissions and the widespread adoption of renewable energy.

“The carbon bubble is not going to burst in 2015,” Hobley says. “The transition from fossil fuels to other forms of energy is going to take place over several decades.

“But a combination of more regulations, new technologies, the falling price of renewable energy, and the need for a more efficient use of resources, is making investors rethink their investment strategies.”

Energy companies are also reconsidering their plans. EON, Germany’s largest power utility, announced earlier this month that it would be reorganising its structure in order to focus on the development of renewables.

Concern in boardrooms

A worldwide campaign calling for divestment in fossil fuels is another factor causing some concern in the boardrooms of the big fossil fuel companies.

The industry is powerful and, despite the problems it’s facing, it is unlikely to collapse anytime soon. But it has been severely damaged by recent events.

Goldman Sachs, the global investment bank, says a trillion dollars of investments in various oil and gas projects around the world are at risk − or stranded − due to the fall in oil prices.

A rapid rise in production from US shale deposits in recent years has caused a glut on the global oil market.

Analysts say a significant slowdown in the rate of economic growth in China is also a major factor behind the present fall-off in oil prices, and in the big declines in coal prices on the world market. – Climate News Network

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Professors tell greens to accept nuclear power

Professors tell greens to accept nuclear power

Academics argue that nuclear power is essential to save the planet from climate change, but critics say they seem to have forgotten the danger of a nuclear winter.

LONDON, 26 December, 2014 − Seventy-five professors from the world’s leading universities have signed a letter urging environmentalists to re-think their attitude to nuclear power as a way to save the planet from climate change and preserve its animals, plants and fish.

Ironically, it is two Australian academics who came up with the research. They come from a country whose government has repudiated the Kyoto Protocol, reversed measures to cut climate change, is one of the world’s biggest coal exporters, and has no nuclear power. Australia has just recorded the hottest spring since records began 100 years ago.

The two professors are Barry W. Brook, Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania, and Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. Their backers include many leading experts on ecology, biodiversity, evolution and geography from the US, UK, China and India.

The letter is significant because previous pleas for a role for nuclear power have mostly come from physics professors, who could reasonably be said to love the technology for its own sake.

But this group has no stake in nuclear power, and their argument is based purely on the need to save the planet and its species from overheating and excess use of valuable land for renewables. Professors Brook and Bradshaw have had a paper published in the magazine Conservation Biology, in which they evaluated all possible forms of energy generation. Wind and nuclear power had the highest “benefit-to-cost ratio”.

“…we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources…”

The letter urges environmentalists to read the paper, and says the two professors “provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling − as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency.

“This multi-pronged strategy for sustainable energy could also be more cost-effective and spare more land for biodiversity, as well as reduce non-carbon pollution (aerosols, heavy metals).

“Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position.

“However, much as leading climate scientists have recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change, we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources, using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

“Although renewable energy sources like wind and solar will likely make increasing contributions to future energy production, these technology options face real-world problems of scalability, cost, material and land use, meaning that it is too risky to rely on them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels.

Conflict risk

“Nuclear power − being by far the most compact and energy-dense of sources − could also make a major, and perhaps leading, contribution. As scientists, we declare that an evidence-based approach to future energy production is an essential component of securing biodiversity’s future and cannot be ignored. It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy arena.”

The letter has attracted a wide variety of comments. Some are supportive, but others say that the professors have ignored one of the greatest threats to the planet – a nuclear war.

Dr Jim Green, writing in the Ecologist magazine, makes the point that nuclear power and nuclear proliferation go hand in hand:  “Even a modest exchange of nuclear warheads could profoundly affect biodiversity, and large scale nuclear war certainly would.”

Dr Green also attacks the paper for endorsing fast breeder reactor technology as the solution to climate change. He says that the “fast reactor techno-utopia presented by Brook and Bradshaw is theoretically attractive”, but has already been tried unsuccessfully, and cannot be made to work in the real world. – Climate News Network

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New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

Climate change analysts say latest commitments by China, the US and Europe on emissions cuts could mean significant progress towards ensuring that global average temperatures this century will rise less than predicted.

LIMA, 11 December 2014 − This really does appear to be a good news story about climate change − and even the not-so-good qualification that accompanies it still leaves something to celebrate.

Researchers say the post-2020 plans announced recently by China and the US and the European Union mean projected warming during this century is likely to be less than expected. The downside is that, even then, the world will still not be doing enough to limit the increase in average temperatures to below 2˚C.

The research, released at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, comes from the Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based assessment that tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions. It comes in the form of an assessment by four organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

International goal

Together, the four groups measured government pledges and actions against what will be needed to limit warming below the agreed international goal of a maximum 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperature levels, and against the goal of bringing warming below 1.5°C by 2100.

China − which recently announced a cap on coal consumption from 2020 − and the US and EU together contribute around 53% of global emissions. If they fully implement their new, post-2020 plans, they would limit global temperature rise to around 3˚C by 2100, which is between 0.2˚C and 0.4˚C lower than it would have been.

Their plans are more ambitious than earlier commitments, and represent what the researchers call “significant progress“. But they won’t limit warming to below 2˚C.

“In the context of increasing momentum towards a global agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015, this represents a very important first step towards what is needed,” said Bill Hare, executive director of Climate Analytics.

“Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century”

“Tempering this optimism is the large gap that remains between the policies that governments have put in place that will lead to warming of 3.9°C by 2100, compared to the improvements they’ve made in their promises. These new developments indicate an increasing political will to meet the long-term goals.”

Niklas Höhne, founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, said: “We estimate that China will likely achieve its 2020 pledge and the objectives stated for 2030, reaching 20% share of non-fossil fuels in a manner that is consistent with peaking COemissions by 2030. Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century.

“China’s post-2020 emissions levels remain unclear and difficult to quantify. Its peak by 2030 falls somewhat short of a 2°C pathway. However, if emissions peak just five years earlier, this could make a very big difference and move them very close to a 2°C pathway.”

Höhne said that the US, with full implementation of its proposed policies, appears likely to meet its 2020 goal of 17%. But further measures would be needed to meet its newly-proposed 2025 goals.

Ambitious target

The researchers say the EU’s current policies put it on a good trajectory towards meeting its 2020 target. But, with current policies, it is not on track to meet its more ambitious conditional target of a 30% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, and the 40% reduction target by 2030.

They say that governments in countries such as India could do more. Recent discussions indicate that India could be considering putting forward next month a peak year for emissions between 2035 and 2050, which − depending on the level at which this peak occurred − could be consistent with a 2°C pathway.

“We only have a very limited amount of carbon that can be burned by 2050, and we calculate that current policies would exceed this budget by over 60% by that time,” Hare said. “We clearly have a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

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India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

While the political spotlight focused on the  world’s two biggest polluters − China and the US − in the run-up to the Lima climate talks, pressure is mounting on India to set emissions targets to help prevent the planet overheating.

NEW DELHI, 10 December, 2014 − India’s contribution to global carbon emissions was only 7% last year, yet there are fears being expressed in the western world that rapid population growth and development will mean this vast country will soon be a major polluter − like its neighbour, China.

For the world, it is a continued worry that if the country soon to have the largest population in the world develops − as China has − by burning coal, climate change will surely get out of control.

No commitments on climate change have so far been made by India, as it waits to see what the developed countries offer to prove they are serious about aid, technology transfer, and targets to reduce their own emissions.

Carbon tax

But while priority in India has been given to development − particularly providing electricity for the millions who live without it − and tackling poverty, the newly-elected government has made a promising start on recognising the importance of climate change.

It has a new energy policy centred on an ambitious increase in solar power capacity − from the current 20,000 megawatts to 100,000 MW in five years. There is a Rupees 5 billion ($80 million) budget this year alone for “ultra mega” solar projects. And a carbon tax on coal has also been doubled for the purpose of subsidising solar and other renewables.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change minister, said before heading for the UN climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru: “This game-changer energy mix will give us enhanced energy efficiency and save 50 million tonnes of coal. That’s a huge contribution to the world, and will affect our emissions. We will walk the clean water, clean air, clean power path.”

“Both solar and coal power will increase,
but that is our energy mix”

There have been reports about a possible announcement next month – when US president Barack Obama visits New Delhi − of the year in which India intends its greenhouse gas emissions to peak.

However, Javadekar refused to set a timeline, despite the apparent pressure after the US-China joint declaration that the US will reduce emissions by 2025 and China’s will peak by 2030. All countries are supposed to inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by March 2015 of their action plans for emission reductions.

Javadekar said India is putting in place several action plans for achieving the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the 2015 agreement. But he made clear that the “peaking year” will not be the benchmark set at Lima; it will be “India’s contribution” − and will be much more than expected.

India, which is expected to surpass China’s current 1.3 billion population by 2030, has always defended its position, as its emissions are less than 2 tonnes per capita, compared with about 7.2 tonnes in China and 16.4 tonnes in the US.

“Our growth cannot be compromised,” Javadekar said. “We have the right to develop, and our priority is to eliminate poverty and meet the aspirations.”

Objections raised

Asked how India will address objections raised by developed countries to it digging more dirty coal, despite its ambitious solar programme, Javadekar insisted: “We are not going on the ‘business as usual’ path − although we are entitled to it. Both solar and coal power will increase, but that is our energy mix. We are doing our own actions under domestic legislations.”

There is a rift at the Lima talks between the developed and the developing countries on the issue of capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund under the 2015 Paris agreement, and this has already seen the G77 group of nations banding together.

Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment thinktank, referred to this in talking about the “politics of climate change”, and how the global south is being short-changed by the global north.

She said climate change talks are about achieving clean economic growth, but, 25 years after talks began, the world is “still procrastinating and finding excuses not to act”. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

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Outlook is bright for UK’s solar power potential

Outlook is bright for UK’s solar power potential

While critics argue that solar energy has no immediate future in the UK’s famously grey and wet climate, a new report says it could be thriving and commercially competitive there by 2020 without government support.

LONDON, 6 December, 2014 − Solar energy is sometimes dismissed as a fanciful idea with little to offer so far in such a cloudy country as the UK, but a new report says power from the sun could thrive in Britain in barely five years’ time − without the need for any subsidy.

The report – published on the website of Thema1, a Berlin-based group that works to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon society − says solar energy is leading changes in the power market as hardware costs have fallen relentlessly over the last decade, recalling the boom in the semiconductor industry.

Last month, the German utility E.ON announced that it was hiving off all its conventional fossil fuel generation to focus on renewables and energy services.

Dr Johannes Teyssen, E.ON’s chief executive, said on 1 December: “More money is invested in renewables than in any other generation technology. Far from diminishing, this trend will actually increase.”

Large-scale projects

The authors of the new report − energy expert Gerard Reid, founder of the corporate finance company Alexa Capital, and Gerard Wynn, of the GWG Energy climate policy and energy consultancy − say it was written in the context of the UK’s plan to force large-scale solar projects to compete with onshore wind for a smaller pot of support, which they say will seriously undermine that market.

Solar power, they predict, would be competitive without subsidies as soon as 2020 in the British commercial rooftop market, which includes schools and offices. The domestic rooftop and large-scale solar markets would be economic within the next 10 years.

“We are firmly convinced that solar will become the bedrock of the global power system going forward,” said Reid, whose company finances low-carbon energy projects in Germany and the UK.

“That said, the road going forward is uncharted and difficult. Our message to the UK Government is to reduce support for solar, but to do so gradually.”

“As battery costs fall, households will be able to deploy solar panels without government support”

Once all support is withdrawn, domestic solar power will critically depend on households increasing the amount that they consume, rather than exporting it to the grid. In this way, they will avoid selling surpluses at very low wholesale power prices, while buying less mains electricity at much higher domestic power prices.

Batteries could be important, allowing households to consume their own stored power for several hours after sunset − a critical factor in the British domestic market, where peak demand is in the early evening.

“As battery costs continue to fall, households will be able to deploy solar panels without government support,” Wynn predicts.

The report says batteries could reduce payback periods for homeowners to little more than a decade by 2020.

But it adds that these are not the only people who can look forward to a windfall: the three markets in solar power – large-scale “solar farms”, and commercial and residential rooftop users – will become economic in the UK without subsidy within the next decade.

Consistent supply

Critics of solar power say it cannot provide the consistent supply of power modern society needs − a charge that has proved mistaken − and that it can do nothing at this stage of its development for a famously grey and wet country like the UK.

The  UK Government’s former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who lost his job last July, told a London audience in October: “Solar power may one day be a real contributor to global energy in low latitudes and at high altitudes, and in certain niches. But it is a non-starter as a significant supplier to the UK grid today and will remain so for as long as our skies are cloudy and our winter nights long.”

He added: “It’s an expensive red herring for this country, and today’s solar farms are a futile eye-sore, and a waste of land that could be better used for other activities.”

Germany’s experience, and the prospects for the UK, may give him cause to think again. − Climate News Network

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Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

A group of international experts says time is rapidly running out to take serious steps to avert the impacts of global warming by prioritising a switch to clean energy systems.

LONDON, 4 December, 2014 − The all-too-familiar story of ice loss in the world’s polar regions, repeated over and over by researchers in the last two years, is being told yet again – this time for the benefit of delegates at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, Peru.

A report in Earth’s Future journal by distinguished scientists from an international group called Earth League aims to remind the delegates that time is running out to avert the serious impacts of climate change.

Each summer, most of the surface of Greenland now starts to melt – and to darken, which means it absorbs more light, and becomes increasingly more likely to go on melting.

The same thing is happening in the Arctic Ocean, where open sea is now absorbing radiation that would once have been reflected by sea ice.

Irreversible melting

In West Antarctica, a warming ocean has begun to advance, and the glacial ice to retreat, which means more loss of ice, and more warming, and more retreat. With this retreat comes the first sign of irreversible melting in some parts of the ice sheet.

The snows of the Greenland ice sheet alone hold enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres or more. But the retreat of the ice in the Arctic quite literally opens up new territory for another feedback: as permafrost thaws it will release tens of thousands of years of stored carbon, to stoke up greenhouse gas levels and trigger yet more warming.

There is still a chance that humanity can take steps and limit global average temperature rise to 2°C, but the current rates of greenhouse gas emissions could push temperatures to an average of 4°C or more above the averages at the start of the Industrial Revolution by the end of the century.

“Our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age”

“If this occurs,” the Earth League scientists warn, “our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age some 18,000 to 20,000 years ago.”

They add:  “Considerable risks, with potentially serious impacts, are already expected at 1°C to 2°C warming, which will require large investments in adaptation.”

If the temperatures rise beyond the 2°C target, societies will experience increasing risks from extreme events, along with other changes that could make several parts of the world “susceptible to extremely high social and economic costs.

This includes risks to global food production, freshwater supply and quality, significant sea level rise, changes in disease patterns and possibly higher risk of pandemics.”

All this, too, has been said before. But the fact that a group of scholars, economists, geographers and meteorologists from distinguished universities, institutes, academies and laboratories in Europe, the US, Mexico, Brazil and India felt the need to say it once more, with feeling, is an indicator of the urgency of the problem.

Greater risk

As things stand, they say, there is a 30% probability that global average temperatures will exceed 2°C by the end of the century. This is a risk “much greater than we normally accept for other potentially dangerous societal risks, such as nuclear power generation, terrorism, and human health epidemics”.

The report’s authors point out that change is possible, and that a global energy revolution has already begun. Energy demand is many developed countries is falling, and renewable energy use increasing.

“The world may be approaching a point,” they say, “where the technological feasibility and economic benefits clearly tip in favour of a large-scale transition to an economy powered by clean and efficient energy.”

However, they warn that these changes can only happen “by prioritising access to cheap modern energy systems and higher mitigation requirements on richer nations who have caused the bulk of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels so far”. – Climate News Network

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