Monday 21 April 2014

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What should be the EU’s stance energy and climate change? This covers topics such as energy security, deforestation and CO2 emissions.


A little bit more

Posted by on 14/04/14

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations. In Germany, it is called „Weltklimarat“, what means in direct translation „World Climate Council“. This has more impetus than a normal committee of scientists would have. Maybe this describes best why its most current warning on climate change is the usual one but well recognized here. When scientists like Ottmar Edenhofer are stating that „we have to move away from our actual way of doing business“ he wants us to shift completely from fossil fuels towards renewables. That’s not a really big news. Increase in CO2 emissions over the last 10 years is certainly wrong direction. There would be only few people not agreeing to this. Even conclusions, that Germany has contributed to this „wrong way” by its coal-fired power plants are right. But it should be also mentioned that Germany is leading in renewables and the higher percentage of coal to the energy mix is due to phasing out nuclear. It’s a large industry with many employees, this renewables in Germany. This is also a reason why councils like IPCC are more to Germans than only another scientific council. We recognize what they say, even when its an old truth.

Will humanity take effective action against climate change?

Posted by on 14/04/14

In the fall of 2015 the international community is set to adopt a comprehensive action plan to combat climate change. Paris having been chosen as the meeting place the French government is showing more interest in climate issues and trying to mobilise the EU on a rapid agreement of its 2030 climate objectives.

The UN preparatory machinery keeps running full steam to obtain a successful outcome.

This goes above all for the scientific aspects.

In the last seven years, Humanity has accumulated a huge amount of scientific data on the climate change that has taken place during the 20th century and is likely to occur during the 21st century. Never have human beings known so much about the climate. It is therefore no longer possible for anyone to deny climate change taking place and being mostly man-made.

There is also a consensus on its main causes: C02 and methane emissions from burning fossil energies for heating, cooling, transport, industrial processes and massive deforestation are the principal villains.

If Humanity were able to contain these major causal factors within the next five decades it would still have a chance of mitigating climate change.

Theoretically this is possible.

Humanity can do without burning as much fossil energy as it does. This goes in particular for the wealthy West and China.

Wind, solar, biomass and waves can substitute fossil energy, provided storage facilities and long-distance grid interconnections are in place.

As long as they are still more expensive than coal and gas temporary subsidy regimes should offer incentives.

But why should the 2015 “big bang” in Paris be any different from the 20 preceding “Conferences of the Parties” and lay out a convincing path for Humanity to throw off the burden of climate change that will weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the coming generations?

The 195 countries that will attend the COP 21 remain deeply divided on the nature of the commitments and the burden sharing they will have to accept for a successful outcome. So far they are likely to agree only on the necessity to contain global warming within the critical margin of two centigrade; but that would be nothing new and rather meaningless without firm and verifiable commitments as to the actions to be taken.

But the international community is less than ever concerned about climate change. According to the last assessments the impact of climate change on the global economy is likely to be much lower than projected only six years ago by the Stern Report. And how many politicians care already about the impacts on biodiversity, natural catastrophes or even a steep increase in the numbers of “climate refugees”!

It is therefore not surprising to see the emphasis shifting from mitigation to adaptation. Humanity seems to prefer the costs for adaptation rather than invest in mitigation efforts, even if that will be risky because of the irreversible effects of climate change.

It is fully in line with this trend that:

  • big polluter countries like Japan, Australia, Canada or Russia are anything but keen combating climate change;
  • all major fossil energy producing countries refuse phasing out their massive oil and gas subsidies;
  • EU climate policy suffers from the global indifference. The EU rightly underlines that its efforts matter less and less as its share of global emissions is approaching 10 per cent. Contrary to the wishes of the UN Secretary General, it is not likely to play the role of a powerful locomotive in Paris, however regrettable this may be.

China and USA, the two emission giants, accounting for about half of global emissions, might be a glimpse of light in the gloomy picture.

But China will take another 20 years or so before its emissions might start falling; and the US objective of reducing its emissions by 17 per cent until 2017 compared to 2005 will not be a glorious achievement, considering its extremely high per capita emissions of 14 tons and the EU scheduled reductions and by at least 40 per cent until 2030 over 1990.

In conclusion, it looks presently unlikely that the COP 21 in Paris will turn out to be a thrilling success.

It would be a great progress if:

  • the 20 major emitter countries responsible for about 75 per cent of global emissions committed themselves to formulate 20-year strategies within a UN framework and to submit annual performance reports;
  • all rich countries, including the oil/gas exporters, offered the World Bank the financial means – say $ 100 billion per year – to help finance a big programmes for wind, hydro and solar energy;
  • the tropical forest countries were to curb illegal wood cutting and receive appropriate compensation for these efforts.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 11/4/2014

Electromobilité : le plan d’action berlinois

Posted by on 07/04/14

Le 26 mars dernier s’est tenue la seconde conférence sur l’électromobilité dans la ville de Berlin. Les deux autorités en charge, l’agence s’occupant du programme et le Sénat de Berlin, ont ainsi révélé leur plan d’action. Locations de voitures et vélos électriques, production d’énergies renouvelables décentralisées, développement des smart grids…  Alors que de nombreuses stratégies sont déjà mises en place depuis plusieurs mois, voire années, les projets de la ville sont aujourd’hui encore ambitieux.

Alors que Paris vient à peine de réussir à sortir du niveau d’alerte maximum en termes de pollution aux particules fines, une ville comme Berlin surprend par son engagement et montre sans nul doute l’exemple que la capitale française devrait suivre depuis déjà de longues années. Preuve qu’il est possible aujourd’hui de réduire les émissions dans une grande ville sans en faire pâtir les habitants, la ville s’est dotée, ces dernières années, de pas moins de 5 plans d’action : le Plan cadre Berlin Ville d’industries 2010-2020, le Plan de développement urbain Transport, le Plan d’action ProIndustrie, la Stratégie énergétique 2030 et la Stratégie commune d’innovation Verlin-Brandebourg. Une totalité de cinq plans réunis plus  globalement sous l’appellation « Plan d’action 2020 ».

L’enjeu est de taille pour la ville : être reconnue dans le monde entier comme un modèle de l’électromobilité en instaurant une économie forte afin de créer une nouvelle chaîne de valeur. Les transports sont bien évidemment au centre de ce plan d’action, sous toutes leurs formes. La ville développe aujourd’hui un réseau de voitures et de vélos électriques pour les déplacements individuels, mais réfléchis également à développer d’autres modèles de transports personnels comme l’auto-partage. Pour les transports de fret, extrêmement polluants, deux axes sont envisagés. Il serait d’abord possible de remplacer les propulsions habituelles par des propulsions électriques. L’électrification du dernier kilomètre des livraisons ou encore la micro-mobilité électrique pour les livraisons de courte distance, d’autres solutions innovantes existent.

Vous l’aurez compris, Berlin mise sur l’énergie électrique pour réduire au maximum ses émissions. Celle-ci n’est cependant pas infinie et pour mener à bien ces projets, la ville doit également réfléchir à une meilleure gestion de son réseau ainsi qu’à l’intégration de plus d’énergies renouvelables dans celui-ci. Pour cela, personne n’a douté un seul instant : les smart grids constituent la piste la plus intéressante. Capables d’intégrer à un réseau électrique conventionnel de l’électricité provenant de sources d’énergie renouvelable, les réseaux électriques intelligents peuvent également aider la ville à adapter l’offre en électricité à la demande et ainsi éviter les pics de consommation ou les gaspillages.

Les infrastructures de rechargement seront également prochainement repensées. Outre les smart grids, la ville pourrait également faire le choix de décentraliser sa production d’énergies renouvelables à Brandebourg. L’augmentation du nombre de vélos et de voitures électriques en location s’accompagnera du développement de nouveaux types de batteries basés sur l’hydrogène et l’induction. Enfin, la dernière étape de la transformation de Berlin en une capitale mondiale de l’électromobilité passera par une large stratégie de communication. Évènements, salons, et coopérations internationales seront les pendants de cette révolution énergétique berlinoise. Paris n’a plus qu’à en prendre de la graine.

Combating climate change will be a long difficult haul

Posted by on 07/04/14

While the international community is due to finally take serious action against climate change it is worthwhile having a look at Denmark, Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland and Norway that have succeeded to generate two thirds of their electricity from renewable sources, mostly from wind and water.

But despite intensive efforts and favourable conditions – zero population growth, large forest areas, a very big hydro power potential and ideal wind conditions – they are still miles away from a fossil-free energy supply which Denmark aspires by 2050.

Still, the international community might learn a few lessons from their experience:

  • build a strong political and popular support.

Without such a support technical efforts will go nowhere. This support is there in each of the countries.

  • set long term objectives, buffered by short-time targets on which to focus concrete action.

    Thus by 2020 Denmark aims to cover one third and until 2050 its entire energy needs from renewable sources.

Similarly the EU operates with 2020/30 targets within a 2050 horizon.

  • put in place a strong institutional framework: a climate and energy ministry and energy agency.

    Denmark has led the way.

  • introduce cost-effective support schemes for accelerating the shift from fossil to renewable energy.

    Denmark has tried a panoply of measures, strongly focused on wind power, its principal renewable source, investment grants to enterprises shifting their energy supply from fossil to renewable sources and recently also premiums for solar power.

    Unlike Germany which has wasted huge amounts of subsidies for photovoltaic installations, not ideal in a country lacking sun during much of the year, the Scandinavian countries have concentrated their efforts on wind energy of which they have plenty. Such a focus on the most effective source of renewable energy is crucial for obtaining cost-effectiveness.

  • offer subsidies only for a limited period (10 years) and adapt them to falling production costs.

    Here too Denmark is a better example than Germany that has offered premiums unchanged for 20 years.

  • invest from the start in energy storage and interconnections for periods without wind or sunshine.

    Here Germany has also failed for a long time.

  • begin with renewable electricity even if heating and transport are more important energy consumers.
  • do not forget pushing for more effective thermal insulation of the building stock, where the Nordic countries have also been outstanding.

  • do not renounce mandatory action, for example energy efficiency standards if you can monitor their implementation.

  • last not least, phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil energy.

In conclusion, if Humanity is serious with reducing green house gas emissions every major energy consuming country must without delay put in place the institutional and legal bases for reducing its fossil energy consumption.

To be effective it must draw up an appropriate strategy containing a long term vision and short term operational measures.

It is up to the UN to invite its most appropriate institution to help countries in that exercise and make sure that those countries implementing effective climate strategies will benefit from the financial assistance that has been promised by the international community.

But even with the most devoted efforts the Nordic countries` experience shows that it will take decades before such policies will produce strong results. Homework should therefore start without any further delay.


EU Energy targets for 2030. On the way to 2050?

Posted by on 01/04/14

The European Union strives for less than 2 degrees temperature rise this century in comparison with the pre-industrial times. In order to reach this goal, scientists have calculated that the carbon emission should be reduced by 80% in 2050 (1). There are different ways in which this reduction could be reached: achieve a higher energy efficiency, increase the use of renewable energy, and reduce the share of polluting energy sources are ways to decrease the greenhouse gasses emissions.

Every ten years, the European Commission proposes new mid-term energy targets. The current energy targets are set for 2020, and the first energy proposal for 2030 was recently voted upon in the Parliament. The proposal of the European Commission for 2030 is a 40% reduction of greenhouse gasses and reach a 27% (non-binding) share in renewable energies in the mix. The Parliament voted in favour on a resolution of 40% reduction of carbon emission, 30% share of the renewable energy market and 40% energy efficiency improvement by 2030. The Parliament criticised in this way the proposal of the European Commission (2): the renewable energy target is set to 20% in 2020, and increasing it only by 7% in 2030 would be unambitious. Furthermore, there are no national targets for renewable energy, which makes the Member States unaccountable. Additionally, the energy efficiency should be a very important objective, and there is no target set about this topic in the proposal of the Commission right now. However, the resolution of the EP is not binding, and the final proposal will be voted upon by the new Parliament in October.

In an analysis of the Friends of the Earth,  a decrease of 60% of carbon emission would be in line with the targets of 2050, instead of the 40% proposed right now. In total there should be a reduction of 80% in carbon emission by 2050 to strive for less than 2 degrees temperature rise at the end of this century (compared to the pre-industrial times). The reduction of only 40% in 2030 means that after 2030 there should be still an additional reduction of 40% in 20 years. There are no changes in the Emission Trade System so far, and the carbon prices will be low until 2030 when nothing is done (3). Internationally, Europe will continue the trend of losing its leading position in carbon emission with this proposal. The US and China will probably have more ambitious plans and targets to reduce their carbon emission in the future.

We wonder: where is the voice of the scientist and the youth in this proposal? The knowledge of the scientists is used to support decisions when it is in the benefit of the decision-makers, but non-scientific arguments become suddenly more important when the scientific facts are not pointing in the direction of the interest of the political forces. The youth has the power to reform the present in order to preserve the future; their voice and their concerns should be heard!

For many European citizens, the legislators in Brussels seems to be the big angry power which limits the growth of their countries when they impose a limitation of the carbon emissions. It is the responsibility of governments to explain why these energy targets are so important for the future of Europe, and show that this is the only way for a long term successful economy. We should develop not by bringing the healthy future of our planet and children in danger, but striving for a sustainable Europe.

To the decision makers we would like to say: about the importance of a sustainable future, do not only talk but act accordingly!

Written by Iris Hordijk, Policy Officer of AEGEE-Europe for Sustainability

UPDATE: Danube dam-busting – Under the radar EU funds grab spotted in Slovakia

Posted by on 25/03/14

A highly problematic Danube dam project has found its way into the Slovak Operational Programme for the Cohesion Policy spending in the 2014-2020 period and has become a small scandal in the country.

by Roman Havlicek and Miroslav Mojzis, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

Following publication of this blog, a meeting was requested and convened by the Slovak Ministry of Transport with the Slovak NGO Green Coalition on March 28. With more information now coming to light about this project, please see the Update at the end of this blog post.

As part of their ongoing participation in the programming process for the allocation of EU funds money in the 2014-2020 period, a group of Slovak organisations – including Bankwatch member Friends of the Earth Slovakia-CEPA – has uncovered the presence of a highly problematic Danube dam project that, the organisations fear, has been sneaked into investment proposal documentation at the behest of the Slovak dam lobby.

The project in question, going by the name of ‘Bratislava-Pecniansky les’, is primarily intended to enhance inland navigation. The proposed dam would raise Danube water levels in the vicinity of the Slovak capital Bratislava and the Austrian border by roughly ten metres to enable large cargo ships to pass through difficult river sections during periods of low water levels. The dam would also be used for electricity production, with proposed installed output of 135 megawatts, providing an annual average production of 900 gigawatt hours.

However, both the project’s expected impacts – involving the potential flouting of EU law – and the way in which it has wound its way into Slovakia’s draft ‘Operational Programme for Integrated Infrastructure’ have become the subject of a mini-scandal in recent weeks, with Slovak media picking up the case [sk] following the initial raising of the alarm by NGOs.

The potential environmental impacts are various, and have also been raising concern in the village of Wolfsthal on the Austrian side of the border that would be affected by a change in the water regime if the project moves forward.

EU protected NATURA 2000 habitats in both Slovakia and Austria would be adversely impacted, with certain fish species also under threat due to fundamental changes in the river habitat that would result. From what Friends of the Earth Slovakia-CEPA can discern at this stage, the dam project would contravene the EU habitats directive and potentially also the water framework directive. Moreover, drinking water sources that serve a substantial area of Bratislava would also be affected – such drinking water impacts could be mitigated, though probably at vast expense and with no guarantee of success.

In Austria, with the Donau Auen National Park also within the project’s scope, opposition is emerging, with the mayor of Wolfsthal speaking out on behalf of residents not enthusiastic about the prospect of a large wall having to be constructed to protect property and land from a significantly higher river level.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this case is the attempt by the ‘Bratislava-Pecniansky les’ promoters – at this stage principally the Slovak ministry of transport, that is responsible for the conceiving of the draft OP Integrated Infrastructure – to circumnavigate the EU funds process and European Commission efforts to tighten the requirements for dam financing in the new seven year spending round.

To understand the context we have to look back in time.

The consultancy, design and construction companies involved in the Slovak water sector – in particular dam-builders – no longer have it as good as they once did in the early 1990s when they enjoyed the favour of a generous government. In part this is due to new economic realities, with limits now on the state budget deficit compelling the government to channel public finances to projects that can bring bigger and quicker effects both in economical and political terms – in short, and in the Slovak context, this means motorways are the favoured subsidy sector at the present time.

The dam lobby may have moved down the national budget pecking order, but they have maintained their influence at least at the national level. And new hope duly arrived with the preparation in the last 18 months or so of EU Structural funds programming for the upcoming 2014-20 period. With the European Commission keen to promote investments related to climate change adaptation in 2014-2020, the dam constructors took this as an opportunity to push their old business but with a coat of new green paint applied.

However, the European Commission stuck to its guns and, in mid 2013, rejected the Slovak proposal to finance dams, as had been presented in the draft ‘Operational Programme Quality of Environment’ as part of climate change adaptation measures .

However, it would appear that the environment was not the only sector in which the dam promoters wanted to play the game for EU money. Within the proposed Operational Programme for Integrated Infrastructure we recently spotted the innocuous sounding project title “Implementation of technical measures to remove obstacles and improve the navigability of the Danube river”. Only the statistical classification gave the game away – the number ’2152′ appended to the project title signifies, in the Slovak classification, ‘dams’.

When confronted last week by journalists inquiring about Friends of the Earth Slovakia-CEPA’s and the Slovak Green Coalition’s recent alarm letter (pdf) to the European Commission outlining our concerns about the Bratislava-Pecniansky les project, the ministry of transport replied that it has not decided what these “technical measures” will be exactly, nor even if the main activity will be the dredging of the Danube bottom to enable ships to pass through the river bottlenecks.

Such a response may have been credible, but not when we’ve been reading about and actually hearing from dozens of dam promoters and engineers who are clearly advocating for the construction of the dam as the key measure for improving navigation in the first place. A further question relates to whether dredging activities and moving gravel in several places along the Danube would, on their own, require over EUR 75 million, the lower threshold figure for large projects that are to be included in the EU funds project list. The actual costs involved in realising the dam would easily exceed EUR 75 million. There is thus potentially a lot of EU money at stake here, and the project waters are muddy to say the least.

Meanwhile, the precious nature of the Danube, as well as drinking water sources, remain the priceless values at issue in this case. The potential losses cannot be justified by the standard, generalised reasoning regularly trotted out by the ministry of transport and the dam building lobby – namely that inland waterways are ‘the most ecological transport means’ that exist.

Slovak NGOs have thus alerted and are calling on the European Commission to fully scrutinise the proposed “Implementation of technical measures” project. With final agreement on Slovak spending lines for the 2014-2020 to be negotiated and arrived at in the next six months, the Commission needs to keep asking the Slovak authorities the right questions about dam construction ambitions. Hopefully we will see no flagrant use of EU money for the unnecessary destruction of ecosystems.

Update – March 28, 2014

The ministry of transport called Green Coalition to a meeting a few days after this blog was posted. During the meeting, ministry representatives assured us that, while the Danube dredging project is moving forward, it will not involve a dam.

It was explained to us that there had been some confusion regarding the statistical classification number referred to above in the blog. The ministry representatives confirmed to us that the use of the reference number ’2152′ was in fact in line with newly required EU (ie Eurostat) project classification, and it corresponds to various categories of project, including dams, and dredging.

We are happy to make this clarification. For now it would appear to be the case that the controversial dam project is not being promoted by the ministry of transport, and will not be proposed for EU funding in the 2014-2020 budgetary period.


Climate change will leave Europe and world hot and hungry

Posted by on 25/03/14

by Lies Craeynest, Oxfam EU’s climate change expert

Climate change is the biggest threat to our chances of winning the fight against hunger. As governments gather in Japan to agree a major new scientific report, which is expected to highlight the grave dangers climate change presents to food production, a new report from Oxfam demonstrates how the world is woefully underprepared for it for the impacts.

Worryingly, the impacts of climate change on food are likely to be far more serious and hit much sooner than previously thought. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.

Hunger is not inevitable. If the EU wants to play a serious role in eradicating hunger in the next decade, it should start with taking a pioneering stance in the fight against climate change. We will only have a chance to stop the worst climate impacts on hunger if the EU steps up its global leadership ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris next year. That means agreeing as soon as possible to cut greenhouse emissions by at least 55% by 2030, as part of the EU’s new climate and energy package. Anything less does not give us enough of a chance to keep global warming below the dangerous 2 degree limit and will not give a strong enough signal to governments and business across the world that climate change needs to be tackled and that it can be done.

Food production is already being hit in Europe. In the UK earlier this year over 5,000 properties and thousands of hectares of farmland were submerged beneath floodwaters. Meanwhile, the 2003 heat wave saw EU countries lose more than €13 billion worth of produce as crops were unable to grow. If the impacts on domestic production weren’t serious enough, Europe also imports more than 70% of its food from developing countries, many of which are at great risk of climate impacts.

Oxfam’s new briefing paper, ‘Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger’ analyses ten key factors that will have an increasingly important influence on countries’ ability to feed their people in a warming world. Across all ten areas, Oxfam found serious gaps between what governments are doing and what they need to do to protect our food systems.

The ten gaps, “failing” policy areas that will undermine the world’s ability to feed itself in a warming world, are depicted below:

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

Oxfam is calling on governments and business across the world to act now to stop climate change making people hungry by building communities’ resilience to hunger and climate change, slashing greenhouse gas emissions and securing international agreements to tackle climate and hunger.

Individuals can join the global campaign to stop climate hunger at

The EU should invest more in urban mobility

Posted by on 21/03/14

Urban mobility is bound to become one the most pressing global issues in the coming decades. By 2050, three quarters of Humanity are expected to live in urban regions, with detrimental consequences for mobility, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe scores substantially better than most other regions on earth; but even in Europe mobility and air pollution have kept deteriorating in recent decades. The most recent smog alarm in several French cities and Brussels should have been an alarm signal for European governments neglecting the issue.

Within Europe mobility and air qualities vary widely between cities and regions, with Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Germany faring much better than Italy, Greece or Portugal.

The time necessary to get to work exceeds more than 30 minutes in most European cities and tends to lengthen rather than shorten, as it should.

About one third of the people continue to use individual cars to get to work. No surprise that 40 per cent of all C02 emissions from transport are generated in urban areas and C02 emissions per person exceed one ton in most cities.

The costs of urban traffic (congestion, pollution, noise, health impact, damage to buildings) in Europe are estimated to amount to € 100 billion annually, one per cent of the EU GDP and almost the equivalent of the EU budget. That is far too much to ignore!

The EU must therefore step up its efforts to ease urban mobility and lower emissions.

That requires courageous measures. The number of European cities having done so and offering examples is impressive.

Urban mobility and pollution do not fall under EU competences. It is therefore impossible for the EU to intervene directly.

This may explain, at least partially the lack of progress during the last 20 years, notwithstanding the Commission’s efforts in producing white papers, green papers and action plans.

In early 2014, 40 per cent of European city dwellers complained of air pollution, congestion and transport costs. That is an unacceptably high percentage.

Copenhagen, Europe’s 2014 green Capital, deserves praise for having established a long-term strategy addressing mobility and pollution: it aims at half of its inhabitants using the bicycle to go to school or work next year, and by 2025 it wants to be C02-neutral!

All European cities should follow Copenhagen’s approach and elaborate their strategies for improving mobility and air quality.

The EU can support such efforts in two major ways:

  • by making available long-term financing. The EIB should make such financing a top priority until 2030.
  • by encouraging municipalities to engage in an intensive exchange of experience , whether through the existing “ Mayors` Covenant” or a new expert group for urban mobility, as recently suggested by the EU Commission.

The big investments necessary for the improvement of urban mobility and air quality will contribute to the creation of jobs in the next years.

Whatever the ways of tackling the issue, it would be a shame if Europe were unable to successfully address a vital issue for its citizens` well-being, starting with good health!

Urban mobility and clean air should become a political top priority for the next Commission and European Parliament.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 17/3/2014

USA tackles coal-fired power plants

Posted by on 20/03/14

President Obama will enter history as the most committed and successful US President in the fight against Climate Change. His goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 to 2020. He will do essentially by exploiting the executive powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), against tenacious resistance of the Congress.

The EPA has introduced increasingly stricter fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars which have turned American gas-guzzlers into modern cars with low fuel consumption, comparable to European and Japanese ones.

It is engaged to do the same with heavy-duty trucks in the next few years.

Even more important, it has started tackling emissions from power plants.

The USA has already achieved big progress in reducing CO2 emissions by switching from coal to shale gas.

In parallel, the EPA is presently engaged in issuing rules for reducing CO2 emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants, which will have a deep impact on power generation in the USA.

New coal-fired power plants will have to reduce their C02 emissions to no more than 0.5 tons per MW electricity generated compared to 0.8-0.9 tons per MW for the most efficient power plants currently in operation. That requires a big efficiency jump through investing in technologies like combined cycle (power +heat) or carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is, however, still expensive and unproven.

Investors will therefore be likely to shun away from coal-fired power and rely even more on shale gas as the main feed-stock for electricity generation, certainly as long as shale gas remains as cheap as during the last few years.

The same standards becoming also applicable to existing power plants many old ones which are no longer suited for refitting will be decommissioned in the coming years.

Imposing a cut of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by roughly half through improved technology constitutes a courageous act by the US Administration.

Hopefully, it will set an example for the rest of the world. Indeed, coal still accounts for some 40 per cent of global inputs for electricity generation. It is the single major source of C02 emissions and Humanity will increasingly turn to coal as oil and gas reserves will deplete in the course of the century.

The 20 biggest emitter countries should therefore urgently get together and explore the most suitable ways of following the American example and introduce similar fuel emission standards. That would be a giant step in the fight against climate change.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/3/2014


China’s ‘war’ on air pollution will be the litmus-test for its climate policy

Posted by on 18/03/14

China has a long reputation of a country severely plagued by air pollution. In 2013 China registered its worst record on air pollution; Beijing is considered the second most polluted city in the world.

The air pollution has been the consequence of two decades of super-rapid economic growth without the government addressing its negative by-effects on air and water quality. All eyes were fixed on growth, ignoring its devastating impact on the quality of life.

Rapid growth was not possible without fast increase of power generation, cement and glass production, all responsible for high air pollution and C02 emissions.

China has,of course, introduced environmental legislation ;but without imposing the appropriate technical standards against dust particles, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide, and attaching effective enforcement mechanisms and severe penalties for infringement.

This will change if the National Peoples` Congress is serious in implementing the stern pledges of its chairman, Zhang Dejiang, at its session in early March, after the Chinese Prime Minister had “declared the war” on pollution a few days earlier. The smog spell in February affecting 15 per cent of the country and provoking more and more  complaints from the urban population has no doubt added urgency to the issue.

We should therefore normally expect serious actions to be taken starting in 2014.

Among these should be the strengthening of existing legislation on air pollution, including stricter supervision and harsher punishment.

But this will not suffice. The government will have to address the two main sources of air pollution: coal-fired power generation and car traffic in big cities.

New coal-fired power plants and cement factories must become subject to more stringent emission standards for dust, sulfur dioxide and C02. Only low- emission cars must be be allowed for registration; and their numbers should be reduced in big cities in favour of more metro, trams and buses.

The seriousness of these measures will reflect the willingness of the Chinese elite to effectively tackle climate change. We should not expect much from China for the 2015 Climate Conference if it proves unable to start seriously eradicating the most visible forms of pollution with their devastating health impact on the urban population.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/3/2014

Carbon bubble trouble: the illogic of ignoring our climate predicament

Posted by on 14/03/14

By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office

On 5 March the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament presented a new study about the ‘carbon bubble’ – the amount of fossil fuel reserves that are unburnable if we want to avoid dangerous global warming – and the implications for players like banks and pension funds in the financial market. If we move rapidly to curb carbon, then fossil fuel companies are by definition overvalued since most of their assets in the ground are unusable. A revaluation would hit investors, including those like pension funds, upon whom many people rely.

Most of the study’s analysis is predicated on the idea that we genuinely want to keep to the goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, and that the technological and policy changes needed to ensure that are put in place.

But that rapid change scenario is accompanied by two others: an uncertain transition that initially dulls the impact of the carbon bubble on the financial system, but stores up even greater trouble for later as we rush to reduce emissions in time, and a third, more ominous scenario, where we revert to a carbon-based development model and suffer the full impact of climate change, which is by far the worst outcome for all concerned.

So in which world are we currently living?

In some respects, we are certainly witnessing rapid change. Since 2008, half the world’s added electrical generating capacity has been renewable. Non-hydro renewables, mainly wind and solar, were 70% of European capacity additions in 2012. China got more generation from wind in 2012 than from nuclear, and it added more generation from non-hydro renewable energy than from fossil and nuclear combined. That included a whopping 12 GW of solar in 2012. In the United States the energy intensity of economy has declined 50% in 10 years, and Texas, the oil state par excellence, already gets 10% of its energy from wind. And if a country were to want to install the same amount of solar in the next ten years that Germany has in the past ten, it would pay only 1/3 the price for the technology, such is the pace of change.

And despite the slow movement of international climate negotiations, at national level there is more room for optimism. Climate policies are being implemented around the world, as the recent Globe report indicates. There is everything from economy-wide targets as in Mexico, to renewable energy targets and support in a wide variety of countries. In the past decade the reduction in deforestation in Brazil has accounted for greater avoided emissions than EU and US emissions reductions combined.

In the field of investment, we’ve seen public sector banks leading the way. WWF currently has an international campaign called ‘Seize Your Power,’ which has contributed to the effort to push coal out of the lending portfolios of the EIB and EBRD. While we didn’t get everything we wanted from their decisions, we were happy to see the EIB put in a higher shadow carbon price and an emissions performance standard – which is a measure we think ought to be part of EU policy overall. The EBRD’s presumption against coal could effectively mean an end to lending. These moves are part of a wave of decisions by public lenders in Europe and North America that are pointing in the right direction for rapid change.

However, as Europe prepares its framework for 2030 climate and energy policy, the debate raging around us very clearly shows the signs of different scenarios at work. Resistance to policy that would act decisively to get us off of fossil fuels and onto a renewables pathway is highly vocal from a few influential sectors of the economy.

The Magritte group of 10 big energy company CEOs is a canary in the coal mine for the carbon bubble – as Greenpeace’s new report shows, companies like theirs have made the wrong investment decisions and have missed the boat on renewable energy, suffering the consequences. Rather than redoubling their efforts to ensure that coal is definitively ruled out and gas plays an appropriate role in a transition to renewable energy, they shoot in all directions at once, including at renewables and efficiency, and hide behind the promise of an emissions trading system with powers of achievement neither to be predicted in theory nor showing any evidence in reality.

Energy-intensive manufacturing has skilfully played a mantra of victimisation at the hands of climate and energy policy, getting the issue to the point where it dominates the agenda of the next European Council meeting that was meant to agree decisions on the Commission’s 2030 white paper. In fact, while there are clearly reasons to pay close attention to energy prices and the competitiveness of the these sectors, their greatest challenges lie well outside the climate and energy sphere: the quality and availability of researchers, scientists, engineers, and skilled labour consistently tops the list of important elements for competitiveness, with energy costs only 7th of 10 factors in the most recent Deloitte study of CEOs. The recent European Competitiveness report similarly looks at the issue more broadly, finding many opportunities in enhanced knowledge and technology. And the IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlook estimates that despite persistent energy price differentials, EU manufacturing will likely continue to increase output through 2035, by which point it will still have more than double the global market share of either China or the United States.

What we are witnessing is not a battle over climate change policy as such, but the intersection of competing principles of prioritisation: the overriding need to ensure the public is protected from the worst effects of climate change competes with, among other factors, the central aim of business, which is to maximise financial return within the confines of the risk and reward system in which they are currently operating.

Other factors can be invoked to enhance the argument for delaying action on the carbon bubble. Last month I debated Lord Browne, ex-CEO of BP and now chairman of the fracking company Cuadrilla, on the subject of shale gas development in the UK. One of my central arguments was that the carbon bubble dictates that we examine the impact of any new fossil fuel development very critically. Our primary challenge is not to find new and unconventional ways of getting fossil fuels out of the ground, but rather to find new and unconventional ways of keeping them in the ground. Lord Browne fairly astonished me by rebutting that if there is shale gas in the ground it would be Britain’s patriotic duty to extract it.

But perhaps that shouldn’t have been so surprising, since everywhere you go in the world, there is a justification for why their fossil fuels are important and different – because they are responsible operators in Norway or Canada, because it’s a counterweight to North American imperialism in Venezuela, because it’s necessary for economic development in Nigeria, or because the effort to extract it is the lowest in the world on the Arabian peninsula.

With so much at stake, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an important subtext to the messaging among vested interests: how much we really need to combat climate change and whether there is a line to be drawn anywhere in particular, at 2 degrees or elsewhere.

It comes in the form of the commonly-heard phrase ‘rebalancing competitiveness and security of supply with environmental protection in EU policy’ – as if these were simply fungible, and a bit less environmental protection can be made up for by other things. It’s evident in the way that I’ve heard chemical industry spokesmen in Brussels question whether the climate has stopped warming, and perhaps our concern is overblown. It’s evident in the way petroleum companies produce analyses and forecasts that they claim are completely dispassionate, all showing the world far off track to avoiding dangerous global warming, and then calling these ‘real-world’ and ‘non-ideological’ scenarios that generate an air of fatalism. Resistance is futile.

In Europe, there is an even more facile argument which is to state that whatever the desire to tackle climate change, it’s not going to be affected by what is done in Europe, so there’s really no point in sticking our necks out. It’s interesting to hear certain industries, any one of which accounts for a couple percent of Europe’s GDP, describe Europe’s emissions, which are about 11% of the global total, as being ‘insignificant’.

This combination of a stealthy questioning of the importance of climate change, a steady mantra of stories about shale gas and energy costs, and an emphasis on instruments to combat it that have proven to be inadequate on their own, is a dangerous one. It questions the underlying premise of the carbon bubble report and pushes us firmly into the second or even the third scenario.

This is why a spokesman for the pension fund that is the most exposed to carbon risks in Europe, the UK Universities Superannuation Scheme, recently said to a UK parliamentary inquiry that he questioned whether policymakers would in fact act to implement policies that cause a bubble to burst, citing the failure of the EU Emissions Trading System. In other words, “go ahead, write your reports. We don’t think anything will happen to us.”

It is essential to prove him wrong, because the consequences for everyone, including industry, are far worse than pressing forward with rapid change. And despite the pessimism and power games in the corridors of European capitals, in the streets, the people get it. The new Eurobarometer poll shows that eight in ten Europeans agree that fighting climate change and improving energy efficiency can boost the economy and jobs in the EU (including 7 in 10 Polish people).   And nine in ten Europeans think it is important that national governments set targets to increase the amount of renewable energy used by 2030, including almost half thinking it is very important (and, yes, 88% of Polish people think it is important).

As Europe heads to the polls to select a new European Parliament, and potential Commissioners are vetted, it is vital that we connect with Europeans’ desire to fight climate change by facing the issue head on, and pressing forward with rapid change. Delay and diversion is a losing strategy.


Major countries tackle C02 emissions from trucks

Posted by on 13/03/14

When talking about climate change we usually think of electricity, passenger cars, airplanes, but hardly ever of heavy-duty trucks. That is a mistake, for heavy-duty trucks account for a substantial share of C02 emissions from the transport sector, which is second among the key emitters after electricity.

So far only Japan has introduced heavy-duty truck fuel consumption standards that are in force since 2005.

This is bound to change in the near future. USA, China, Canada and EU are in the process of adopting, implementing or reinforcing fuel-efficiency standards.

The US has adopted such standards for the first time in 2011, and President Obama has just announced a more stringent set of standards applicable for 2014-18.

Canada will apply standards based on the American ones as of model year 2014. China has also adopted fuel efficiency standards and start implementing them in 2015. So will the EU, based on C02 emissions.

Major automotive countries are thus tackling the most important source of C02 emissions after electricity, industry and passenger cars.

They do so in the interest of the users and their truck industries, which have to compete internationally and are therefore willing to support their governments` approach. Obama has been careful to emphasise the advantages of tougher standards for innovation and lower fuel cost and has earned more praise than complaint when presenting his latest proposals, which cost the industry $ 8 billion but save truck users $ 50 billion during the life time of the trucks through improved fuel efficiency.

The EU has not been on the forefront in this sector, probably because its trucks enjoy already high fuel efficiency. But this should not impede it from inviting major producing countries in view of harmonising standards internationally. After all, this should be an important aspect for the forthcoming negotiations on the international climate agreement to be concluded in the autumn of 2015.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 7/3/2014


Energies renouvelables : encore un (sérieux) effort à faire !

Posted by on 07/03/14

A l’heure où le gaz de schiste est soutenu par une partie croissante de la majorité. Au moment où la question du prolongement de la vie du parc nucléaire français fait débat. Force est de constater que les énergies renouvelables n’ont pas beaucoup la cote en France. Si le battage médiatique autour d’elles donne l’impression qu’elles sont partout, le panorama 2013 des énergies renouvelables nous fait retomber sur terre.

2014 a commencé avec le bilan de l’année 2013, et il y a de quoi faire la soupe à la grimace. Les énergies renouvelables (éolien et solaire) ne représentent que 4,3 % de l’énergie électrique consommée en France. Les efforts sont encore à faire et il ne serait pas inutile de se concentrer sur les projets plutôt que sur les grandes déclarations face caméra. Entre l’Airbus de la transition énergétique franco-allemand et une Union européenne plus que timorée, le climat réel de la transition écologique n’est pas si favorable. Le déclaratif supplante le concret et le syndicat des énergies renouvelables (SER) n’a plus qu’à dénombrer les pertes.

Le SER regroupe l’ensemble des acteurs des énergies renouvelables et est engagé depuis 1993 en faveur de la production et de la consommation de sources d’énergies plus propres. Il connaît donc son affaire et lorsqu’il publie le panorama des énergies renouvelables, les chiffres donnés et les constats dressés font figure d’arbitres impartiaux. Des arbitres stricts en 2013, qui indiquent que les efforts à faire en matière de transition énergétique sont encore importants.

L’éolien ne représente que 3,3 % de la consommation électrique française et le solaire qui a connu bien des déboires l’année dernière ne constitue qu’1 % de l’électricité consommée. Une vraie déception alors que les énergies renouvelables n’ont pourtant jamais été autant sous le feu des projecteurs. Si la part des énergies renouvelables suit une progression au cours des dernières années, l’évolution est plutôt lente et « le rythme des raccordements n’est pas suffisant » pour reprendre les termes employés par le SER. Les nouvelles installations raccordées en 2013 ont chuté de 23 % par rapport à 2012 et même si les raccordements en attentes sont nombreux (plus de 10 000 MW), les énergies renouvelables souffrent d’une réelle « insécurité juridique autour du cadre réglementaire ». Autrement dit, les lois et les normes ne cessent de changer, ce qui en décourage plus d’un.

Un environnement technologique pourtant favorable

Ca coince donc au niveau juridique et la loi sur la transition énergétique qui tarde à venir laisse tous les acteurs dans l’expectative la plus complète. Les normes présentes ou futures sont aujourd’hui des freins à la mise en place à une très grande échelle de solutions énergétiques propres. Un dommage bien grand surtout qu’au niveau technologique, les idées foisonnent et sont promises – pour certaines d’entre elles – à un avenir grandiose.

Entre la prochaine commercialisation d’éoliennes de 8 mégawatts par l’entreprise Vestas, le développement de l’hydrogène et l’impact croissant des smart grids sur les modes de consommation d’énergie, la technologie n’a jamais été aussi proche de transformer notre consommation de manière aussi profitable pour nous et notre environnement. Le marché français et mondial des smart grids est en plein boom et ces appareils du XXIe siècle sont de plus en plus prisés par les grandes entreprises qui comptent bien profiter de cette évolution du marché de l’énergie. Les smart grids sont l’avenir, mais ils subissent les contrecoups de changements incessants de normes dans le secteur de l’énergie. Les grands projets hexagonaux comme Linky et Gazpar ne sont pas assez mis en avant alors qu’ils pourraient/devraient constituer le fer de lance d’une nouvelle manière de consommer.

Les énergies renouvelables et leurs petits ont encore beaucoup de chemin à faire. Tâche aux dirigeants qui se targuent d’être des amis de l’environnement de faire en sorte qu’elles puissent se développer à leur juste mesure.


Cold shower for Czech incinerator plans

Posted by on 05/03/14

by Ivo Kropacek, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

The Czech Republic’s long-standing difficulties in realising major waste incinerator schemes via EU funds investments have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks as the European Commission has poured cold water on the country’s incineration plans, both as they apply to the 2007-2013 EU funding period and to the forthcoming 2014-2020 period now entering the final stages of negotiations.

First off, a municipal waste incinerator project planned for EU funds support in 2007-2013 in Plzen, Czech Republic’s fourth largest city, has been flatly rejected by the European Commission. One media report quotes Joe Hannon, spokesman for European environment commissioner Janez Potočnik, as saying:

“We can not fund this incinerator because the Czech Republic can not explain how it relates to the [country's] waste management system, designed to meet the objectives of the [European Waste Framework] Directive.”

A further recent pronouncement confirms wider Commission scepticism about the preparedness of and rationale behind ongoing incineration plans in Czech Republic. The Commission commented in late January on a near final draft of Operational Programme for the Environment (OPE), one of several key blueprint texts that will shape and dictate how the country spends its EUR 20.5 billion of EU funds in 2014-2020.

And the Commission’s verdict on the OPE waste proposals wastes no time in getting its point across, kicking off with this:

“The analysis presented and the specific objectives proposed to be met do not correspond to actually existing problems with the waste management policy in the Czech Republic … The presented OP is, according to p. 61 (CZ version), based on the existing National Waste Management Plan (from 2003), which is not in compliance with the European Waste Framework Directive and should have been replaced in 2013 by an updated plan. Therefore, the Commission cannot agree with the assertion of the Czech authorities that the National Waste Management Plan correctly addresses the obligations of the Waste Framework Directive.”

Turning specifically to waste incineration, and continuing its roasting of the Czech authorities, the Commission verdict effectively ‘locks out’ Czech incinerators from EU funding support:

“According to the latest discussion with the Czech authorities, there is no clear strategy including the number of the incinerators actually needed in the short or long-term perspective. Therefore, there is no justification for large and costly waste incinerators. Moreover, the higher levels of the waste hierarchy [eg, reuse and recycling] within the Waste Framework Directive should be supported by the EU funds. In order to avoid a ‘lock-in’ situation leading to the burning of waste which discourages waste prevention and recycling (as also raised during the meeting between Commissioner Potočnik and the Minister of the Environment in January), these investments should not be supported from the OPE.”

So, the current EU programming period (2007-2013) has seen no EU funding support for any municipal waste incineration project, and there is not going to be any such support in this period – indeed the poorly conceived incinerator plans (in Plzen, and too in the towns of Karvina and Most) have lead to around EUR 180 million being reshuffled unstrategically across Czech Republic’s EU budget lines, when such money could have been deployed effectively and prudently for sustainable waste management initiatives in the first place. A great deal of the failed incinerator money may in fact end up being sent back to Brussels.

In my view, if the benefits of concentrating our waste planning on much greater waste prevention and recycling were not already blindingly obvious, then the European Commission’s concerns surely underscore the pressing need to do something rather different in the Czech waste sector.

Yet the Czech ministry of environment remains intent on ‘recycling’ the same old thinking for 2014-2020 EU spending.

The Plzen and Most incinerator projects are back in the most recent EU funds spending drafts, with a potential overall EU subsidy of EUR 77 million. The same money could support providing waste bins for full waste separation that would benefit 380,000 Czech households. It would also mean a lot less messing around and time wasted trying to develop these pie in the sky, ‘landfill in the sky’ incinerator projects that are so unpopular with communities. But it seems, despite recent history and all the warnings, that the Prague authorities are determined to bring about another fine EU funds mess.

A harbinger of things to come

Posted by on 04/03/14

Why renewables and efficiency investment makes sense sooner rather than later

By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office

Europe has been the driving force behind the surge in renewable energy that has become a global phenomenon. Nevertheless, the financial and economic downturn that began in 2008 has had a marked effect on the commitment to keeping up the pace of clean energy development. Political attention has shifted to the short-term need to stabilise economies, and with capital more scarce, roll-backs in government support programmes make investment more challenging.

Powerful forces who have been losing out in the clean energy revolution are pushing back, relying on the economic situation as a ready stick to prop up their arguments. Some of them clothe their position as an alternative vision of decarbonisation – wait for renewable energy technologies to get cheaper, relying in the meanwhile on a sort of middle-ground of somewhat better use of fossil fuels.

Similar thinking is seen in the European Commission’s new 2030 white paper, which envisions halving the recent pace of renewable energy growth between 2020 and 2030, leaving much of the heavy lifting for subsequent decades. In their economic models, this all works out smoothly.

But fast-forward to 30 years from now. Fossil fuels have become steadily harder to access, sucking up significant capital to do so. A few countries, perhaps in Asia, have pushed forward in clean energy technology and now fully dominate the market, making renewables less attractive politically in Europe. Power plants running on coal and gas (notionally ‘carbon capture-ready’, but still unabated), are still serviceable and their owners are reluctant to decommission them prematurely, putting pressure on politicians to relax efforts to cut emissions.

Meanwhile, whether due to the impacts of climate change itself or the regular action of economic cycles, we continue to be buffeted by periodic crises that squeeze access to capital and put the brakes on enthusiasm to invest in clean technology. Then, while the economy is again resurgent we face the twin challenges of expanded consumption putting upward pressure on emissions, and governments and industry reluctant to ‘harm the fragile recovery.’

In other words, waiting is a losing game. Models like those underpinning the Commission’s analysis ignore the political influence of incumbents, fail to capture the importance of cycles and crises in real-world economics, and woefully underestimate the real impacts of climate change on those same crises. A future marked by costly ‘natural’ disasters and pressure from global food, water and health crises, is not one in with easy access to reliable project finance in support of an aggressive technology transition. It will be like the past five years, on steroids.

Believe it or not, we are still relatively well off and resilient right now – we are up the proverbial creek, but still have a paddle. But not for long. There’s no time to lose.