Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Reducing climate-warming gases enough to prevent global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C rise is simple – if all countries do as well as the best. 

LONDON, 31 July, 2015 – European researchers investigating ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the internationally-agreed safety level have arrived at the good news that we can just about achieve it – provided all nations show the political will to do so.

They conclude that applying globally the climate policies that are already working in some countries could substantially reduce emissions, close to where they need to be to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial level.

The researchers − from the NewClimate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis − detail their findings in a report that examines the impact of “good practice” emission reduction policies in nine different areas globally and across six countries: China, Brazil, India, the US, Russia and Japan.

Energy efficiency

The areas examined include: renewable energy; a variety of energy efficiency standards for buildings, car fuel efficiency, appliances and lighting, and industry); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); emissions from fossil fuel production; electric cars; and forestry.

The researchers looked at the most ambitious “good practice” policies around the world that are being implemented now, and calculated the difference they would make if every country applied them. They say that difference is huge.

In the arcane language of the greenhouse gases, the unit the researchers use is known as the GtCO2e − an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. It is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.

“If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would
have a significant impact”

The report says that implementing good practice policies is projected to stabilise GHG emissions at 49-50 GtCO2e by 2020, decreasing to 44-47 GtC02e by 2030 – not too far from the level needed to attain the 2°C emissions range (30-44 GtCO2e) that the world is aiming for by 2030.

Direct replication of good practice policies is expected to halt emissions growth significantly in most regions before 2030. In contrast, current policies are expected to see emissions continue to increase to around 54 GtCO2e by 2020 – and 59-60 GtCO2e by 2030.

“It is clear that governments can learn from each other to find effective policies to reduce emissions,” says Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute. “If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would have a significant impact.”

The study found that the good practice policy area that could reduce the most emissions was renewable energy (3.7-6.0 GtCO2e), where China, Costa Rica, Germany and Tuvalu’s policies were among the world’s best.

Interesting targets

With F-gases (fluorinated GHGs), where good practice policies could reduce emissions by around 1.1 to 2.2 GtCO2e, the EU, Mexico, China and the US had what the authors call “some interesting policies or targets”

On energy efficiency, the analysis shows that good practice policies can significantly reduce the impact on GHG emissions of economic growth, by decarbonising the energy supply and improving energy efficiency in the demand sectors, which it says is good news for developing countries.

The opportunities were particularly significant for China, whose emissions are projected to increase to approximately 15 GtCO2e by 2030. But under a good practice policy scenario, they would peak around 2020, and in 2030 would be at about 12 GtCO2e or lower.

However, the report says China is already among the leaders in policies in a number of areas.

Hanna Fekete, another founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says climate policy-making in China has picked up speed in recent years, and that  recent developments in reduction of coal consumption, for example, set a promising basis for further action in the future.. – Climate News Network

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Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

The campaign to convince investors not to use their money to support the extraction and use of fossil fuels is failing to gain enough converts, experts say.

LONDON, 29 July, 2015 – There’s sobering news for campaigners trying to persuade investors to withdraw their funds from the fossil fuel industry: UK experts say their efforts are unlikely to achieve enough quickly enough.

One expert, using the term often applied to the global energy industry, told a meeting in London: “The incumbency is winning the cold war.”

Senior members of asset management firms and carbon risk specialists were invited this week by a prominent British charitable foundation, Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, to discuss the prospects for disinvestment and the attitudes in the City of London to attempts to match investment policies with avoidance of climate change risks.

They say the continued confidence of the industry in the long-term viability of coal, oil and gas − despite the plunging cost of many renewable fuels − means that the UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year will fall short of its aims.

More face time

One participant, Mark Campanale, a former fund manager who founded the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, told Climate News Network: “The key question is face time. The fossil fuel CEOs get far more face time with investors than they do with climate scientists, for example.

“There are some signs of hope, but we’re not seeing the City, as a group, changing its attitudes.

“Do the companies have the right people on their boards? Their approach is to say: ‘There’s doubt about the science. We’re ready to grow.’ And so, by default, they go back to business-as-usual, and Paris will not hit a home run.”

There was praise from many speakers at the meeting for the disinvestment campaigners’ commitment and imagination − and especially for Bill McKibben, co-founder of the 350.org campaign, for “brilliantly unleashing the naive energy of a generation of students”.

“You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands

Others questioned the language of the disinvestment campaign. One said: “The word ‘divest’ is campaigner talk, not a form of language that will advance the argument very far.” Instead, he suggested, it could be better to speak, in unthreatening language, of the need for “portfolio decarbonisation”.

But for many participants it was the basic facts and the simple arithmetic that the campaigners needed to assert.

One said: “The industry argues that the problem is cyclical, and that we’re now at the bottom of the cycle. But we need to know why, with crude oil now at US$55-60 a barrel, Shell is investing in projects that won’t break even until the price has gone back up to about $90 a barrel.”

Cleaner fuels

Another pointed to the rapid decline in the cost of cleaner fuels: “The economics of renewables are already much better than we’re often led to believe. You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands.”

The foundation that hosted the meeting supports Europeans for DivestInvest, part of a global movement that seeks to encourage charitable foundations and high net worth individuals to divest from fossil fuels and invest 5% or more of their portfolio in climate solutions − including renewable energy, clean technology, and energy efficiency.

In September 2014, more than 360 investors managing over $24 trillion in assets urged world leaders to agree to a strong global climate deal. – Climate News Network

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Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Hydraulic engineers in Norway aim to use surplus power from wind and sun to cut the need for fossil fuel plants to boost European electricity supplies.

LONDON, 26 July, 2015 − Norway is hoping to become the “green battery of Europe” by using its hydropower plants to provide instant extra electricity if production from wind and solar power sources in other countries fade.

Without building any new power stations, engineers believe they could use the existing network to instantly boost European supplies and avoid other countries having to switch on fossil fuel plants to make up shortfalls.

Norway has 937 hydropower plants, which provide 96% of its electricity, making it the sixth largest hydropower producer in the world − despite having a population of only five million.

Europe already has 400 million people in 24 countries connected to a single grid, with power surpluses from one country being exported to neighbours or imported as national needs change.

Supply and demand

As more and more renewables are installed across the continent, the problem of balancing supply and demand gets more difficult.

Because supply from wind and sun sources fluctuates, the grid needs back-up plants to keep the power constant. At present, this means that many countries have to keep gas and coal plants on standby to make up any shortage.

However, the Hydraulic Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim believes it can engineer the country’s vast power plants so that they can themselves be a giant standby battery that can be turned on and off.

When there is surplus wind or solar power in Europe, the electricity it generates can be imported to pump water uphill to keep re-filling the Norwegian reservoirs. This is, in effect, electricity that is stored, because when energy is needed again the generators can be turned back on to produce hydropower.

“Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The problem at the moment is that even hydropower is not instant. This is because water takes time to flow through the vast network of pipes and the turbines to reach the correct speed to provide stable power to the grid at the correct frequency of alternating current.

Norway currently has more kilometres of pipes carrying water to its hydroelectricity plants than it has miles of road, so controlling the flow is the key.

But Kaspar Vereide, a doctoral student in the department of hydraulic and environmental engineering at NTNU, has designed a model solution, with funding from the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy.

By creating a sealed surge chamber in rock close to the turbines, engineers can feed electricity, at the right frequency, into the grid immediately. The empty chamber contains air that is compressed as the space is filled with water. So, when the valves are open, the water can instantly turn turbines at the correct speed.

Vereide says: “Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The length of the waterway, he says, can be many kilometres, though this will require the engineers to accelerate the water to reach the turbines.

His solution involves blowing out a cavern inside the water tunnel near the turbine where the electricity is to be generated, creating a surge chamber where water at the correct velocity can reach the turbines immediately.

Fluctuations in power

He admits that his design is still at the early stages of development. The surge chambers have to be designed to avoid fluctuations in power needs, which can cause uncontrolled blowouts of air into the power plants, risking damage.

“We have to be able to control these load fluctuations that occur,” he says. “Among other things, it’s important to determine how big surge chambers need to be to function best. My task is to figure out the optimal design for the chambers.”

Vereide says that plants have traditionally been run very smoothly and quietly, with few stops and starts to create these fluctuations. But to become the green battery of Europe, the power plants would need to be started and stopped much more often − and then the problem of load fluctuations would increase significantly.

“We’ll benefit a lot from developing these new technologies, both in order to keep electrical frequency stable and to run power plants more aggressively to serve a large market,” he says. – Climate News Network

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Recession cut US emissions, not falling coal use

Recession cut US emissions, not falling coal use

Researchers say it was the economy rather than the replacement of coal by natural gas that drove the recent drop in US emissions of the main greenhouse gas.

LONDON, 21 July, 2015 – Between 2007 and 2013 emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels burnt in the US fell significantly − by about 11% − and many analysts credited this to a change from coal to natural gas in electricity production.

But new research says it was, in fact, the economic recession that explains most of the decline, and more extensive use of natural gas may not do much to slow global warming.

“Natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal when used to make electricity,” says research professor Laixiang Sun, of the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), who conducted the study with colleagues from the University of Maryland, US.

Release of methane

But that is only part of the story, he says in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications. “This calculation fails to take into account the release of methane from natural gas wells and pipelines, which also contributes to climate change.”

Methane is 34 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a century, but 84 times more over just 20 years.

In the US, coal-powered electricity fell from 50% to 37% of the generation mix between 2007 and 2012, with most of it replaced by natural gas − in large part, due to fracking and underground mapping technologies.

If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future”

The researchers say that because this shift occurred at the same time as the reduction in emissions, many commentators linked the two, mistaking temporal co-incidence for causality.

Apart from the state of the economy, they say, there were several other factors involved: population growth, for example, and energy efficiency, which both also affect total emissions.

“If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future,” says Klaus Hubacek, an ecological economist at the University of Maryland.

So the researchers used a method known as structural decomposition analysis to tease apart the various contributions of different factors related to energy use and CO2 emissions.

This enabled them to determine the relative influence of changes in population, amount and patterns of consumption, production structure, and changes in fuel mix on total emissions of greenhouse gases.

They found that from 1997 to 2007, a period of rising emissions, 71% of the increase was due to increasing US consumption of goods and services, with the remainder due to population growth.

Mix of factors

But from 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83% of the decrease was due to economic factors, including consumption and production changes, and just 17% of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. After 2009, emissions declined by only about 1%, and this was due to a mix of all three factors.

Knowing the relative influence of such factors on emissions is important for devising effective policies for future climate mitigation, the researchers say.

In particular, they say their findings may indicate that further increases in the use of natural gas may not have major benefits for the climate.

Natural gas can replace coal, but research also shows that, if it is cheap and abundant, it can limit the growth of carbon-neutral renewable energy sources.

Prof Sun says: “Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama Administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the US economy, as well as radical decarbonisation of the energy sector.” – Climate News Network

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People and planet benefit from ‘green’ buildings

People and planet benefit from ‘green’ buildings

Research worldwide shows that environmentally-friendly buildings are much better for the health of the people who live and work in them, as well as for the Earth.

LONDON, 19 July, 2015 – Buildings that are designed to cut water and energy use and make as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible make life much better for their occupants too.

Studies into 69,000 buildings − homes, offices and factories − in 150 countries show that there are fewer illnesses among residents and workers, who report they are more comfortable and happier. Employers also find they are more productive.

Companies that opt for “green” buildings gain because workers stay longer in their jobs and have fewer absences, while recruitment is easier because new employees are attracted to environmentally-friendly buildings.

Dr. Joseph Allen and fellow environmental health researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the US studied reports from across the world into the effect of green buildings on the health of the occupants. Fifteen studies are incorporated into the review, published in the journal Current Environmental Health Reports.

Healthier effects

There are now 3.5 billion square feet (0.325 sq metres) of certified green building space available worldwide, and researchers in many different countries have been measuring the effects to see if these buildings are also “ healthier” buildings.

“Overall, the initial scientific evidence indicates better indoor environmental quality in green buildings versus non-green buildings, with direct benefits to human health for occupants of those buildings,” Allen says.

Occupants of green buildings are in general more satisfied with the indoor air quality, their workspace, building cleanliness, and maintenance in general, he adds.

The information is important for future building design because modern humans
spend 90% of their time indoors.

The research measured internal air quality, light, noise and the presence of chemicals that might adversely affect health, as well as asking the people who live and work in them about their experience.

The information is important for future building design because, as the researchers point out, modern humans spend 90% of their time indoors.

To gauge the effect on health and well-being, the scientists looked at many studies that had taken into account factors that influence health − including radiological, chemical, biological and physical aspects of indoor environmental hazards.

Air quality

They looked at air quality, ventilation, filtration, lighting and acoustics, and studied the architecture, the quality of the canteens, access to natural light, and the building’s surroundings.

In residential buildings, there were fewer asthma and other respiratory illnesses among children, and across all green buildings there fewer cases of sick building syndrome symptoms, with better physical and mental health all round.

The one area that did not score better was acoustics, with several studies reporting lower satisfaction about noise levels.

Where hospitals had been constructed as green buildings, the researchers found a better quality of care for patients. In one study, there were 70% fewer blood stream infections, improved record keeping, and overall patient mortality fell by 11% − although the scientists were unable to pinpoint what factors produced such a startling improvement. – Climate News Network

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Coal investment is the most urgent climate threat

Coal investment is the most urgent climate threat

Head of the OECD says wealthy countries should help poorer nations that cannot afford to replace coal with low-carbon alternatives.

LONDON, 5 July, 2015 − The future of coal has come under scrutiny from a perhaps unlikely source – the head of the organisation representing wealthy nations that relied on coal for 32% of electricity generation last year.

Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the scale of new investments in “unabated” coal-fired electricity generation − where greenhouse gases are emitted directly to the atmosphere − posed the most urgent threat to the Earth’s climate.

Speaking in London, he said governments should be sceptical about the benefits of coal for their citizens. They should rethink the role of coal in energy supply, and conduct a more rigorous evaluation of its true costs.

Environmental costs

With prices failing to fully account for the environmental, health and financial costs of coal, many of the coal plants being built today might have to be shut down before the end of their economic lifetimes.

The OECD, founded to stimulate economic progress and world trade, has 34 members drawn from the richest and most powerful industrialised countries.

But Gurría, in a passage that will hearten many developing countries in the approach to the UN climate change negotiations in Paris in November/December this year, said that if poorer nations could not afford low-carbon alternatives, then richer countries should find the money to close the cost gap.

“We have been in a process for over 20 years and, so far, the commitments simply don’t add up

Without new mitigation measures, coal generation is projected to emit more than 500 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050 − eating up around half the remaining carbon budget that scientists say is consistent with keeping a global temperature rise below 2°C.

In any case, Dr Gurría said, countries’ contributions to emissions reductions after 2020 are not consistent with a 2°C pathway. He said the carbon clock was ticking and the Paris COP21 climate conference must give a clear and credible signal that governments are determined to go for a higher level of ambition.

“Calling something a process doesn’t guarantee an outcome,” he said. “We have been in a process for over 20 years and, so far, the commitments simply don’t add up.”

Continued investment in coal is one of many “misalignments” between climate goals and countries’ policies in other domains, Dr Gurría said.

Action undermined

A report by the OECD, its specialised Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency and the International Transport Forum says policy misalignments undermine climate action in areas from tax to trade, electricity market regulation and land use.

The report says two-thirds of global energy investments still go into fossil fuels, 50% of agricultural subsidies in OECD countries harm the climate, and various tax provisions encourage fossil fuel production and use.

This “policy incoherence”, as the report describes it, limits the effectiveness of countries’ climate change efforts, and increases the cost of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Dr Gurría urged governments to consider what needed to be done to resolve such misalignments, starting with a demand that each ministry should regularly report on which of its policies run counter to desirable climate results. − Climate News Network

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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.

Sleepwalking

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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