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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Europe’s nuclear giants are close to collapse

Europe's nuclear giants are close to collapse

Doubts that the biggest construction project in Europe will get the final go-ahead from the UK government leave the European nuclear industry facing a struggle for survival.

LONDON, 24 November, 2014 − Plans to build two giant nuclear reactors in south-west England are being reviewed as French energy companies now seek financial backing from China and Saudi Arabia − while the British government considers whether it has offered vast subsidies for a white elephant.

A long-delayed final decision on whether the French electricity utily company EDF will build two 1.6 gigawatt European Pressurised water Reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset − in what would be the biggest construction project in Europe − was due in the new year, but is likely to drift again.

Construction estimates have already escalated to £25 billion, which is £9 billion more than a year ago, and four times the cost of putting on the London Olympics last year.

Costs escalate

Two prototypes being built in Olikuoto, Finland, and Flamanville, France, were long ago expected to be finished and operational, but are years late and costs continue to escalate. Until at least one of these is shown to work as designed, it would seem a gamble to start building more, but neither of them is expected to produce power until 2017.

With Germany phasing nuclear power out altogether and France reducing its dependence on the technology, all the industry’s European hopes are on Britain’s plans to build 10 new reactors. But British experts, politicians and businessmen have begun to doubt that the new nuclear stations are a viable proposition.

Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, London, said: “The project is at very serious risk of collapse at the moment. Only four of those reactors have ever been ordered. Two of them are in Europe, and both of those are about three times over budget. One is about five or six years late and the other is nine years late. Two more are in China and are doing a bit better, but are also running late.”

Tom Greatrex, the British Labour party opposition’s energy spokesman, called on the National Audit Office to investigate whether the nuclear reactors were value for money for British consumers.

Peter Atherton, of financial experts Liberum Capital, believes the enormous cost and appalling track record in the nuclear industry of doing things on time mean that ministers should scrap the Hinkley plans.

Billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe, who wants to invest £640 million in shale gas extraction in the UK, said that the subsidy that the British government would pay for nuclear electricity is “outrageous”.

Leaks from civil servants suggest that the government may be getting cold feet about its guarantees

Finding the vast sums of capital needed to finance the project is proving a problem. Both EDF and its French partner company, Areva, which designed the European Pressurised water Reactor (EPR), have money troubles. Last week, Areva suspended future profit predictions and shares fell by 20%.

Chinese power companies have offered to back the project, but want many of the jobs to go to supply companies back home − something the French are alarmed about because they need to support their own ailing nuclear industry. Saudi Arabia is offering to help too, but this may not go down well in Britain.

On the surface, all is well. Preparation of the site is already under way on the south-west coast of England, with millions being spent on earthworks and new roads. The new reactors would be built next to two existing much smaller nuclear stations − one already closed and the second nearing the end of its life. The new ones would produce 7% of Britain’s electricity.

But leaks from civil servants in Whitehall suggest that the government may be getting cold feet about its open-ended guarantees. The industry has a long history of cost overruns and cancellations of projects when millions have already been spent – including an ill-fated plan to build a new nuclear station on the same site 20 years ago.

The Treasury is having a review because of fears that, once this project begins, so much money will have been invested that the government will have to bail it out with billions more of taxpayers’ money to finish it − or write off huge sums.

The whole project is based on British concern about its ageing nuclear reactors, which produce close on 20% of the country’s electricity. The government wanted a new generation of plants to replace them and eventually produce most of the country’s power.

Guaranteed prices

In order to induce EDF to build them, it offered subsidies of £37 billion in guaranteed electricity prices over the 60-year life of the reactors. This would double the existing cost of electricity in the UK.

The European Commission gave permission for this to happen, despite the distortion to the competitive electricity market. But this decision is set to be challenged in the European Court by the Austrian government and renewable energy companies, which will further delay the project.

Since the decision was made to build nuclear power stations, renewable energy has expanded dramatically across Europe and costs have dropped. Nuclear is now more costly than wind and solar power. In Britain alone, small-scale solar output has increased by 26% in the last year.

In theory, there are a number of other nuclear companies − from the US, China, Japan and Russia − keen to build stations of their own design in Britain, but they would want the same price guarantees as EDF for Hinkley Point.

With a general election in the UK looming in May next year, no decisions will be reached on any of these projects any time soon. And a new government might think renewables are a better bet. – Climate News Network

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China and US deliver radical climate surprise

China and US deliver radical climate surprise

It’s been called an historic agreement − a game changer in the battle to combat climate change. But can China and the US fulfil the promises in their announcement of plans to cut carbon emissions?

LONDON, 13 November, 2014 − China went to considerable lengths to make sure that this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Beijing was a successful affair.

Factories were shut down, car traffic and even cremations were restricted, and schools and most government offices were closed. As a result, delegates experienced blue skies over the Chinese capital, rather than the city’s notorious smog.

But the most newsworthy and surprising event came on the summit sidelines, with President Xi Jinping and President Obama warmly shaking hands as they unveiled plans for radical cutbacks in emissions of CO2 − the most potent of the climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Biggest emitters

China and the US are by far the world’s biggest emitters of CO2, with China accounting for more than 20% of total global CO2 emissions and the US 15%.

Under the plans announced in Beijing, the US says it will reduce CO2 emissions by between 26% and 28% from 2005 levels by 2025, and will achieve “economy-wide reductions in the order of 80% by 2050”.

Meanwhile, China for the first time announced a date when it says its CO2 emissions will peak − 2030 − and then taper downwards. It also said it would be ramping up its already ambitious renewables programme, with the potential of cutting back on CO2 emissions at an earlier date.

“These announcements send a clear signal to the private sector and the financial markets on where global policy is now heading”

In addition, Obama and Xi – despite their considerable differences on territorial, trade and other issues − announced plans to expand co-operation on various research and technology projects related to climate change.

“The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have a critical role to play in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity,” said a White House statement.

“ The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.”

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the Beijing announcement was an important step towards a better and more secure future for human kind.

“Together, these announcements send a clear signal to the private sector and the financial markets on where global policy is now heading,” Figueres said.

Resilient world

“These announcements have the potential to unleash and accelerate the kinds of entrepreneurship and innovation needed to propel all economies towards ever greater levels of ambition – if not significantly exceeding their ambitions – en route to a low-carbon, resilient world over coming years and decades.”

However, amid the euphoria, some big questions remain:

  • Global CO2 emissions are still increasing, despite years of climate change negotiations and increased warnings from the scientific community about the dire consequences of a warming world. Experts say cutbacks have to be achieved much sooner than 2030 in order to halt runaway climate change.
  • Doubts persist about how realistic these cutbacks are. Under the plans, China will need to produce an extra 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of power from wind, solar and nuclear sources over the next 15 years − more power than its coal plants produce today. And experts point out that Beijing’s timeline for reducing emissions does not represent a binding target.
  • Obama is going to have a tough time pushing these plans through. Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress, have already denounced the measures, saying they will seriously damage the US economy.
  • Negotiations on tackling climate change and limiting emissions of GHGs have been held on a worldwide basis under UN auspices. Such bilateral agreements as the one announced by the US and China could undermine the global consensus and weaken UN processes.

But the news from Beijing has been generally welcomed in the scientific community.

Nicholas Stern, lead author of the 2006 Stern Review on the economics of climate change, says the US/China announcement will give momentum to a new global deal on climate due to be negotiated in Paris late next year.

“President Obama and President Xi should be congratulated for demonstrating real leadership with this historic announcement,” Stern told the Financial Times in London. – Climate News Network

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UK ignores pledge to end fossil fuel support

UK ignores pledge to end fossil fuel support

Despite promises to phase out subsidies to the coal, oil and gas industries, a new report says the UK and other G20 governments are still providing them with massive financial help.

LONDON, 12 November, 2014 − Leaders of the G20 group of industrialised countries agreed in 2009 to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels “in the medium term”, and repeated that promise in 2013. Yet a new report says that the UK is still giving close to £1.2 billion ($1.9bn) annually to support oil, coal and gas.

The Overseas Development Institute thinktank (ODI) and the Oil Change International (OCI) campaign group say in their joint report, “The Fossil Fuel Bailout”, that G20 governments are estimated to be spending $88bn every year subsidising exploration for fossil fuels.

“Their exploration subsidies marry bad economics with potentially disastrous consequences for climate change,” the authors say. “In effect, governments are propping up the development of oil, gas and coal reserves that cannot be exploited if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

Triple-lose scenario

“By providing subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, the G20 countries are creating a ‘triple-lose’ scenario.

“They are directing large volumes of finance into high-carbon assets that cannot be exploited without catastrophic climate effects.

“They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives, such as solar, wind and hydro-power.

“And they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious climate deal in 2015.”

The report says the UK government is pouring £750m ($1.19bn) a year in national subsidies into the declining North Sea oil and gas industry – and £414m ($65m) into overseas exploration.

TheFossilFuelBailout_Infographic_A

 

The report − published just before the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane, Australia, on 15 and 16 November − contains the first detailed breakdown of fossil fuel exploration subsidies by the UK and G20 countries.

The authors say that, despite the 2009 pledge, the UK “has dramatically expanded the scope of its oil and gas exploration subsidies, in particular for shale gas and offshore resources”.

Since 2009, generous tax breaks for exploring in riskier, deep-water fields in the North Sea have benefited some of the largest oil and gas firms in the world. The report estimates that the biggest beneficiary was the French oil giant, Total, which received £524m, while Norway’s Statoil was given £253m and the US’s Chevron £45m between 2009 and 2014.

The government’s expenditure of £414m annually in public finance for fossil fuel exploration outside the UK included Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Nigeria, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, Uganda, and the US.

Shelagh Whitley, climate and environment research fellow at the ODI, says: “Scrapping fossil fuel exploration subsidies would begin to create a level playing field between renewables and fossil fuel energy.”

Bad economics

The report’s authors say that further exploration for new reserves is not only environmentally unsustainable but is also bad economics. With rising costs for hard-to-reach reserves, and falling coal and oil prices, public subsidies are propping up fossil fuel exploration that would otherwise be deemed uneconomic.

The top 20 private oil and gas companies invest £23bn globally in exploration − less than half the £55bn being ploughed in by G20 governments. The report says this highlights the industry’s dependency on public subsidies to find new reserves.

Yet £55bn is almost double what the International Energy Agency estimates is needed annually to provide electricity and heat for all by 2030.

The report recommends that phasing out exploration subsidies should be the first step towards meeting the G20 governments’ existing commitments to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and to avoid harmful climate change. − Climate News Network

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EU plans power supergrid to boost renewables

EU plans power supergrid to boost renewables

The European Union, nervous about Russia cutting off gas supplies and keen to cut emissions by developing renewable energy sources, aims to link all its 28 member states to one electricity grid.

LONDON, 5 November, 2014 − An electricity supergrid is being planned to connect all 28 European Union countries and provide them with insurance against power blackouts.

Forty leading organisations from research, industry, utilities and grid operators are combining in a €63 million research programme aimed at incorporating all renewable energies into a supergrid that can balance intermittent sources of electricity and ensure uninterrupted supplies.

It is part of a wider European Union policy to make the 28 states less reliant on imports of power. States along the border with Russia are particularly concerned about over-reliance on gas pipelines from Siberia, which have been turned off periodically in the recent past because of disputes over prices.

Policies in disarray

The new supergrid research will not bear fruit until 2018, but the EU is already spending billions on new interconnectors between states. These are to prevent states being threatened with being cut off from Russian gas − and also to help outposts such as the UK, whose energy policies are in disarray.

Under the Connecting Europe Facility, a total of €5.85 billion has been allocated for connectors between states in the period 2014 to 2020. To be eligible for a grant, a scheme has to enhance security of supply, reduce carbon emissions, and benefit at least two member states.

Grants are normally up to 50% of the cost of the project, but can be up to 75%. Part of the latest round of grants totalling €647 million has gone to help gas projects in the Baltic States, and Central and South Eastern Europe, which have in the past been heavily reliant on Russian imports. These regions will get new terminals to import liquefied natural gas from other sources.

But aside from what is short-term nervousness about Russian gas supplies, the main thrust of the European policy is to provide a grid that can make the best use of renewables, and so cut the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Commission’s decision . . . will help strengthen energy security and deliver lower energy bills”

The British government received €75 million towards electricity interconnectors between states, one of which will be the longest proposed sub-sea electricity cable in the world, between Norway and the UK.

A grant of €40 million will also link the UK to Norwegian hydropower, and to two new inter-connectors to France.

One of these will be to provide power to the UK from a proposed tidal generation project in the Channel Islands. These small islands have massive currents between them that could produce large quantities of renewable energy, but need a way of exporting it to market. Undersea cables could provide links to France and to the UK.

Together, the new projects will double the amount of power the UK will be able to import from overseas.

Edward Davey, the UK’s Energy Secretary, said: “This is excellent news for the UK and Europe. The Commission’s decision to fast track funding is a real boost to getting these projects built.  It will help strengthen energy security and deliver lower energy bills.”

There is a large range of different policies in European governments about how to deal with electricity supplies and climate change.

Reducing reliance

The French are currently increasing renewables, and reducing reliance on nuclear power from 78% to 50%, while Germany is phasing out nuclear altogether. But the UK wants to build nuclear plants and is cutting grants for renewables, even though it already has the largest offshore wind farms in the world.

Despite these differences, all EU nations agree that a grid that connects all member states is essential so that surpluses in one area can be passed to others.

The Norwegians, for example, have too much hydropower at certain times of the year during snowmelt, but too little during summer droughts. Denmark, which was a pioneer in wind power, already exports some of its surplus to Germany.

One of the fast-growing new sources of power are offshore wind farms, but these require new grid connections and are often remote from the cities that most need the electricity.

Part of the research taking place is into ways of using super-conducting cables and direct current in new grids so the power can be transferred long distances with losing voltage on the way. – Climate News Network

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Threat to rivers as hydropower gets set for global boom

Threat to rivers as hydropower gets set for global boom

Scientists predict a doubling in production of renewable energy from hydropower over the next 20 years, but building new dams will have a damaging effect on some of the world’s major rivers.

LONDON, 28 October, 2014 − Hydropower, the renewable technology that sets gravity to work and harnesses the energy of rivers, is about to double its output.

The growth will be mostly in the developing world − but the construction of new dams on rivers in South America, South-east Asia and Africa comes at a cost. Around a fifth of the world’s largest remaining free-flowing rivers will be dammed, which presents yet another threat to the wild things that live in or depend on wild water.

Christiane Zarfl − now assistant professor for Environmental System Analysis at the University of Tübingen, Germany − and former colleagues at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin presented their findings at the International Alliance of Research Universities congress on global challenges, hosted by the University of Copenhagen. The research is also published in the journal Aquatic Sciences.

Renewables, such as solar energy and wind power, now provide about a fifth of the world’s electricity production, and hydroelectric power makes up four-fifths of that. The researchers believe that, within the next two decades, another 3,700 dams may more than double hydropower’s total electricity capacity to 1,700 GW.

Surge of activity

China will remain the global leader, but because of the surge of activity in other countries, its share will fall from 31% to about 25%. The largest number of new dams in South America will be in the Amazon and La Plata basins of Brazil. In Asia, the biggest effort will be in the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin and along the Yangtze.

But while some national economies look for a brighter electric future from hydropower, others have to confront and come to terms with the capriciousness of freshwater delivery.

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, and colleagues argue in Science magazine  that too much water − as well as too little – can seriously damage a nation’s economic health. And climate change means that this unpredictability is likely to present even greater difficulties in the decades ahead.

But challenges exist already. In Ethiopia, a sustained drought has reduced economic growth by 38%. In Thailand, floods in 2011 cost the country $16 billion in insured losses and $43 billion in overall economic losses. In parts of India, half the annual rainfall splashes onto the dusty soils in just 15 days, and 90% of the annual river flows are concentrated into about four months of the year.

Rainfall can vary according to season and from year to year. Climate scientists have also repeatedly warned of a possible increase in extremes of heat and flood. So there are at least three dimensions to the delivery of water on tap.

In the arid regions – and these include most of Australia, the southwestern US, the Middle East and North Africa – conditions are marked by what hydrologists call “strong interannual variability”, which is a delicate way of saying that droughts can last for years and then end suddenly with catastrophic flash floods.

“When these dimensions are combined,” the report’s authors say, “the situation is most challenging – a wicked combination of hydrology that confronts the world’s poorest people.” – Climate News Network

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Europe faces crunch decision on climate policy

Europe faces crunch decision on climate policy

As European leaders meet to take a final decision on a new climate and energy policy up to 2030, there is intense interest worldwide to see if Europe opts to take a bold lead in tackling climate change.

LONDON, 23 October, 2014 − It has not been easy. Negotiations on the new climate and energy policy involving all 28 European Union member states have been going on for months – and, in some instances, for years.

The European Council meets today and tomorrow in Brussels with a heavy agenda – including the ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The European Commission’s 2030 policy framework on climate and energy that is up for discussion has two key elements:

  • A binding agreement to cut overall EU CO2 emissions by 40% over 1990 levels by 2030.
  • Achieving savings of at least 30% in energy efficiency across the EU, also by 2030.

The long-term goal is an ambitious one – nothing short of the transformation of Europe’s energy system and its economy. The EU will be decarbonised: the plan is to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by between 80% and 90% by 2050.

There are other ingredients in the package, which is designed to replace the existing policy, focused on 2020 targets. These include commitments to renewables and to the reform of the EU’s ailing Emissions Trading System, moves towards a more integrated cross-border energy system, plus the phasing out of subsidies for Europe’s coal industry.

The devil, as always, is in the detail. Achieving agreement among EU member countries – each with its own distinctive political set-up and economic ambitions – is difficult, some would say impossible. Many compromises have had to be made.

Binding targets

Some countries still have reservations about the whole idea of setting binding emission reduction targets, saying this will increase energy costs and result in Europe losing its economic competitiveness − particularly with the US, where the price of energy has dropped significantly due to the widespread take-up of shale oil and gas.

Poland is one of the countries that will be hard to convince. It is heavily dependent on coal for its energy, and is fighting against any move to phase out subsidies for the coal industry.

A group of countries, led by Germany, wants EU energy efficiency targets to be binding, while others, led by an increasingly Euro-sceptic UK government, say each country should be allowed to set its own energy efficiency goals – and that there should be less interference by Brussels.

Meanwhile, scientists and economists say the new package – even if it is approved − is not nearly ambitious enough.

Professor Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says countries are doing only what is politically achievable, rather than what is necessary to transform the EU’s energy sector.

“I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is,” Skea told BBC news. “It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40% for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets.”

Some business interests remain firmly opposed to the EU’s new energy regime, but many of Europe’s biggest corporations − frustrated by frequent changes in policy and by political interference − are backing a call for more robust action on climate change.

Risks and impacts

“We remain increasingly concerned at the costs, risks and impacts associated with delayed action on climate change on our markets, supply chains, resources costs, and upon society as a whole,” says an open letter to the European Council from the Climate Group and 56 other leading EU businesses and organisations.

With relations between the EU and Russia increasingly strained due to events in Ukraine and elsewhere, European countries are concerned about their energy security and dependence on gas imports from Russia.

A report by the ECOFYS consultancy and the Open Climate Network group says gas imports into Europe could be cut in half by ramping up investment in renewable energy and achieving greater energy efficiency. Emissions targets would also be met much sooner.

A separate report by Ernst & Young, the professional services company, says the EU is in danger of missing out on the financial benefits of developing renewable technologies.

Stable long-term targets and smart industrial policy, Ernst & Young says, can help Europe secure its slice of “a cake that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars by the turn of the century”. – Climate News Network

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