Tuesday 27 January 2015

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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.


Governments must hurry and tax ultra-cheap oil

Posted by on 25/01/15

International oil prices have declined to $ 50/barrel, levels not seen for years; but governments fail to neutralise these ultra-low prices by raising excise taxes. They seem to be much more interested in pleasing consumers than in seizing the opportunity for reducing their budget deficits and fighting climate change.

This is irresponsible! Have governments completely stopped being guided by long-term concerns. Are they no longer able to be flexible?

Why have we not heard calls from IEA or OCDE to resort to higher oil taxation?

Why does the UN in charge of the December Climate Conference in Paris remain silent? Should a rise or the introduction of excise taxes on gasoline, diesel and heating fuels not a be a simple “contribution” against climate change which it has invited all governments to submit before the Paris Climate Conference ?

Why has the EU Commission not recommended member states to raise their taxes ?

If it takes so long to decide on a simple excise tax, how long will it take governments to take more complex action against climate change?

In a rapidly changing world, governments must learn to act much faster than last century!

Brussels 25.01.2015 Eberhard Rhein

A plea for concrete climate action in Paris

Posted by on 22/01/15

In the 21st century the international community will increasingly have to cope with issues going beyond the scope of individual or groups of states.

These issues should be dealt with by UN; but the UN is handicapped by the absence of a proper political authority and the consensus required for all decisions.

In 2015, the international community will be bluntly tested on its ability to take long overdue decisions and implement these if it wants to successfully fight climate change. So far it has failed in its endeavours to fix clear objectives, let alone a fair burden sharing among the 195 countries of the international community. These have not been able to understand the urgency of finding an effective solution. For the last two decades that climate change has been on the international agenda no country really has felt responsible. This might go on indefinitely until climate change may have reached dimensions for effective action to come too late.

The 21st international climate conference (COP 21) to take place in Paris December 2015 will be the crucial test for the international community to start taking necessary action to avoid dramatic consequences for mankind.

Climate change is a particularly complex issue for the international community to decide and deliver.

Only some 20 countries are responsible for having damaged the global climate by emitting rising amounts of green house gases or destroying tropical forests. It would be enough for these countries to agree on taking concrete action to reduce their emissions by 80 per cent until 2050.

But the UN Secretary General, the authority competent to propose such a solution, does not dare to take an initiative. He is only too well aware that 180 mostly poor countries affected by but so far hardly responsible for climate change want exploit their numerical force to extract financial “concessions” from the “developed” countries that have been so far largely responsible for the accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere.

The prospect of reducing the negotiation format in Paris to the core emitter countries is therefore highly unlikely.

The international community should therefore focus on quantifying global and individual objectives and actions for reducing emissions.

So far it has done no more than “agree” that the average global temperature should not rise by more than two centigrade above the pre-industrial levels at the end of the 19th century. The average temperature today is only about 0.9 centigrade higher than in1870. This might reassure many people. But the rise of temperature has kept accelerating in the last two decades. This trend is most likely to continue unabated as long as green house gas emissions continue to rise.

Humanity therefore better speed up its efforts to reduce emissions. To that end, it needs to define the correlation between temperature and the volume of green house gas emissions. Climatologists have done so by introducing the notion of “climate budget”, the volume of emissions the earth can support without devastating consequences. According to their findings Humanity has spent already about two thirds of its 1000 GT climate budget.

Distributing the remaining 350 GT among 200 countries and surveying their future emissions should therefore be the decisive step to be taken before and after the Paris Climate Conference next December.

These must be quantified. To that end, the climatologists from different parts of the earth having worked on climate budget should propose before the end of April the optimal path for reducing global emissions and its distribution among countries, in conformity with the “principle of common but differentiated responsibility and capability” in order to enable the “Working Group on the Durban Platform for Advanced Action” to prepare its draft text as agreed in Lima.

Most probably the time will be too short to introduce this change which would make negotiations substantive and lead to a meaningful agreement, as demanded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the COP 20 in Lima.

The failure of the first week of post-Lima negotiations in Bonn appears to confirm this pessimistic view.

To avoid this from happening Ban Ki-oom, assisted by the French host, must focus all its energy on the preparation of a meaningful text with substantive “contributions” annexed and announce that the plenary meeting in Paris will be deferred as long as the parties have not agreed to a succinct and credible document. The failure of the first post-Lima talks in Bonn early January, with Japan coming forward with ridiculous small contributions, proves the dire need for such an approach.

Brussels 15.01.2010 Eberhard Rhein


All aboard? Paris climate deal must address aviation and shipping

Posted by on 22/01/15

By Andrew Murphy, Transport & Environment’s aviation policy officer

The latest round of climate talks concluded in Lima last month with a sense that some of the basics have been agreed to set the foundations of a global agreement in Paris next year.

While the final outcome fell short of expectations, all parties seem to have accepted in principal the need to curb their emissions to keep an increase in global temperature below 2C.

However, the two international sectors, aviation and shipping – the emissions of which have not been allocated to parties – seem to be the exception. Together, international aviation and shipping emissions account for 5.3 per cent of global CO2 emissions – equivalent to being the sixth largest nation state CO2 emitter. A failure at Paris to recognise the need for these sectors to contribute to keeping within the 2 degree target would be remarkable.

Parties to the Kyoto Protocol were unable to reach agreement on how to address emissions from these sectors, and instead delegated responsibility to the UN agencies responsible – the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for shipping and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for aviation. Progress by both bodies since then has been painfully slow. ICAO is working to a 2016 target date to agree a global market-based measure (MBM) based on carbon neutral growth to take effect in 2020. The IMO has agreed a design efficiency standard for new ships but has no overall reduction target and is not even discussing one. In this regard, two developments at Lima may be significant.

The first is that countries re-iterated that by, March 2015, they all should ideally submit an INDC (Intended Nationally Defined Contribution) – which would include information on how each country will limit its greenhouse gas emissions. All 190 countries that are part of the UNFCCC process are encouraged to outline what action they will take. We can then compare these commitments – developed and developing – with what the ICAO and IMO has pledged to do.

The second is that the annex of the negotiation text for a new climate deal includes a reference to net zero emissions of carbon by 2050. This proposal was supported by many countries. It is uncertain if this reference will survive negotiations over the final text to be agreed in Paris, but it sends a clear signal to businesses and governments about the path we are on.

So far aviation and shipping commitments fall well short of complete decarbonisation by 2050: international shipping is expected to increase its emissions by up to 250 per cent by 2050, according to its own report released earlier this year. Discussions at the IMO on any MBM have been frozen for three years and the organisation and industry seem to think they have a licence to grow their emissions.

International aviation is growing three to four per cent per annum and could see its emissions increase 400 per cent between 2006 and 2050. The global MBM that ICAO is discussing will at best offset emissions above a 2020 baseline but whether such offsets represent real emissions reductions is a fundamental question hanging over the whole process. A major gap seems to be developing between the ambition of the UNFCCC and its 190 members on the one hand, and the IMO and ICAO on the other hand.

Though international aviation and shipping managed to escape serious attention in Peru, a number of states called for their inclusion by requiring the Paris agreement to cover all global GHG emissions. Member states in both ICAO and IMO should recognise that momentum is shifting behind a meaningful agreement in Paris and they should act to ensure the ambition of the aviation and shipping sectors matches that of the rest of the world.

The Real Value of Arctic Resources

Posted by on 18/01/15

By Nina Jensen, Secretary General of WWF-Norway

As the annual Arctic Frontiers meeting starts in Tromso Norway, much of the talk and media coverage will once again be centred on Arctic resources. This is usually code for oil and gas development in the Arctic, and the potential geopolitical conflict over the exploitation of these resources. This focus is entirely misguided.

The Arctic’s most significant renewable resources are ice and snow. The ice and snow in the Arctic reflect significant amounts of the sun’s energy. As we lose that reflective shield, the Arctic absorbs more solar energy. A warming Arctic warms the entire planet, causing billions of dollars’ worth of avoidable damage, displacing millions of people, and throwing natural systems into disarray. We continually undervalue the critical role of the Arctic is shielding us from wrenching change. Instead, we ironically look to it as a source of the very hydrocarbons that are melting away the Arctic shield.

Apart from the question of whether we should be developing hydrocarbon resources anywhere in the world, let us look at the question of specifically developing them in the Arctic, which in many cases means the offshore Arctic, under the ocean.

We know there are no proven effective methods of cleaning up oil spills in ice, especially in mobile ice. Even without ice, the effects of a spill in Arctic conditions will linger for decades. Oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska still pollutes beaches, more than 25 years later. We know that drilling for oil in the offshore Arctic is extremely risky – just look at the mishaps that Shell has encountered in the last couple of years in its attempts to drill off the Alaskan Coast. So there is a high risk of mishap, and no proven effective method of cleaning up after such a mishap. No matter what the price of oil, $50 or $200 a barrel, is it worth the risk?

We do not need to make the same mistakes in the Arctic as we have made elsewhere. We can instead use the Arctic as a proving ground for greener, cleaner technologies. Tidal power, wind power, hydro power, all have potential in the Arctic. The Arctic, with its smaller population centres is ideal for smaller scale technologies to produce such renewable power.  Such local power generation can create local jobs, and make Arctic communities more self-sufficient, able to withstand the fluctuations in price of petroleum-based fuels that will eventually bankrupt them.

This message is not just coming from WWF. If you look at the US government plans for its chair of the Arctic Council starting later this year, it also recognizes the value of replacing fossil fuels with community-based renewable power sources – it also just put the valuable fishery of Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development. So it’s not just NGOs and Arctic peoples who are questioning the value of fossil fuels in the Arctic, versus the real value of the Arctic to the world – as a regulator of our global climate.



3 lessons learned from an 8-year battle for cleaner fuels in Europe

Posted by on 12/01/15

By Nusa Urbancic, Transport & Environment‘s energy programme manager.

We live in a world where governments struggle to address climate change. Scientific advice on what needs to be done to stop warming our planet is very clear: stop burning fossil fuels. Even the rather conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) agrees: we need to leave more than two-thirds of proven oil reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. It would seem logical that we start with the dirtiest and costliest oil, euphemistically dubbed ‘unconventional oil’. But logic does not always guide political decisions – they are often more about power, influence and how many bucks someone has to oil the lobbying machine. The Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) – a EU law devised to reduce the carbon footprint of transport fuels – is the latest victim of the power of vested interests over science and the common good.

We have worked on the FQD from the start and have always seen it as a smart piece of legislation. This is a law that could have been a technology-neutral way of bringing cleaner fuels to market without picking winners. Policymakers would only have to ensure that the carbon footprint of different fuels was aligned with the best available evidence and then let the market decide which fuels are worth investing in and which ones should be left in the ground. The scientific advice was unquestionable: the knowledge available was robust enough to label the significant variations in the carbon intensity of different fossil fuel sources, including higher values for fuels such as coal-to-liquid, tar sands, oil shale and gas-to-liquid.

Once again, the call of the scientific community fell on deaf ears: following almost eight years of heavy-handed lobbying by Canadathe US and oil majors, in October 2014 the Commission re-tabled a diluted proposal that fails to discourage oil companies from using and investing in the world’s dirtiest oil.

The European Parliament tried hard but failed to veto the watered-down proposal. Now EU countries can finally implement a law that was enacted in 2009 – it’s noteworthy that this was the last unimplemented law of the 2008 Climate and Energy package proposed by the first Barroso Commission. The result is rather poor: emissions from ‘unconventional’ fuels will not be properly accounted for, while the other critical part of the law – how we account for indirect emissions from biofuels – is still being discussed by the Parliament and the Council. In a perfect world, the FQD would follow the best available science and enable fuel suppliers to make their choices based on the true environmental impacts of fuels. In practice, we will probably see some ‘unconventionals’ coming to Europe and loads of unsustainable biofuels to meet the FQD’s 6% reduction target.

We take three key lessons from the lobbying battle:

1. The technology-neutral approach failed due to the massive amount of lobbying

First and foremost, the passing of this law marks the failure of the technology-neutral approach, which used to be quite a holy grail for the Commission. The technology-neutral approach looks great in theory: politicians just set targets, do not pick winners, all that needs to happen is for the science to get the numbers right and the market will do the right thing. But real life works with imperfections. It was impressive to see the amount of ‘evidence’ that was fabricated by businesses and third countries, chiefly Canada, to muddy the scientific waters. In a nutshell, they argued that either unconventional oil values or ILUC values were not the “right ones” or that there are other sectors that are equally bad or, in some cases, worse (for example, Russian oil). The Commission, who should have been the guardian of science, failed to defend its own research and impact assessment and caved in to special interests. This makes it very difficult for the Commission to publicly defend its technology neutrality. We think that the Commission should learn from the oil industry’s utter refusal to clean up their products. Much more emphasis should be placed on electrification of transport in combination with renewable electricity sources, which are truly domestic and truly sustainable – a no-regret option.

2. Trade deals threaten environmental legislation

The FQD is the first casualty of negotiations of free trade agreements with Canada (CETA) and with the US (TTIP). These negotiations have given these countries and their respective oil industries additional venues to influence the outcome of the FQD. While Canada was very candid about its intentions, stating publicly that it will not hesitate to defend its interests in front of the WTO, US officials were much more subtle. They publicly said that they were only concerned about the transparency of the process, but we have the evidence that they played a much dirtier game behind the scenes, pushing for the FQD to be weakened. The Commission dropped the ball because of this pressure, and not because the original proposal would have been too costly or too difficult to implement. It clearly shows that much more public scrutiny is needed on how trade negotiations impact on the democratic right of countries to regulate.

3. More democratic decision-making is needed

The peculiarity of the comitology procedure and the immense power that it gives to the Commission made it very difficult for progressive member states and the Parliament to improve the proposal. Once the Commission decided to weaken the FQD, the only thing the other two institutions could do was to veto it – with the risk of never getting anything better out of the Commission. There is a case to make this process more democratic – after all we are deciding on the future of the planet and not just a small technical issue, as is often the case in comitology. The same conclusion could apply to the process that led the Commission to unilaterally scrap the decarbonisation target for fuels post-2020 in its communication on 2030 climate and energy framework. They first got rid of the target and then used this decision to argue for weaker implementing measures until 2020.

How to move ahead

Perhaps it is too early to proclaim technology neutrality as dead. It is now up to the new Commission to decide whether they will revive the FQD after 2020 or not. In any case, there are some no-regrets measures that they can and should take. These are: an aggressive push for the electrification of transport; tougher efficiency standards for all vehicles; and finalisation of the reform of the biofuels policy including the phase-out of high-ILUC biodiesel. On oil it is clear that demand should be curtailed – transport is Europe’s biggest client for oil companies – and that the most polluting unconventional oil should stay in the ground. Reporting trade names in the FQD is the first step in this direction, but it should be strengthened and made mandatory in a way that oil companies are accountable for what they place on the market. With the commitment of at least a 40% domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by 2030, transport will have to cut its GHG emissions aggressively and there is no space for ever-dirtier fossil fuels in this equation.

Slowing population growth works against climate change

Posted by on 05/01/15

World population is expected to increase by one third until the middle of the century, from 7.3 to to 9.5 billion. This is bound to have a negative impact on climate change. Population will essentially continue growing in poor countries whose green house gas emissions are presently close to zero.

According to the “Lima Accord” all countries are committed to communicate their plans for reducing emissions before the end of March 2015.

For most African countries it would not make much sense to submit energy-related programmes, as their per capita emissions are minimal – generally far less than one ton. Their optimal contribution to the global fight against climate change should rather consist of lowering their excessive population growth.

Lowering population growth is in their interest. It facilitates necessary investments in health, education and socio-economic infrastructure and helps reducing structurally high unemployment.

It requires little public investment except for girl schools and medical teams for distributing contraceptives or sterilisations. External help, especially from the UN and the EU which has far too long ignored demography, should be available to all governments willing to tackle their population issue. Ethiopia and Rwanda are positive examples of what can be achieved.

The new bottom-up approach to climate change should offer a new opportunity for re-assessing the positive long-term contribution from smaller populations to mitigating climate change.

The UN should therefore invite all countries with fast population growth to also submit population programmes as a valid contribution to minimising climate change.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 30.12. 2014

Energy independence for Ukraine?

Posted by on 04/01/15
By Kaj Embrén Issues of energy efficiency and sustainable energy production may present the greatest opportunity for Kiev to seize control of its own fortunes. European investment can play a crucial role.

Aviators’ boss ‘confused’ about airline efficiency: the impact of the oil price slide

Posted by on 19/12/14

The rapid slide in oil prices, down 41% since June, has left the aviation industry struggling to defend its continuing high fuel surcharges and reports of record profits, writes Andrew Murphy. Here is IATA’s director general, Tony Tyler, updating his stance on oil prices in light of recent developments:

Reuters reported in November 2014: “Lower jet fuel prices, which make up around one-third of the cost base of airlines, would take time to filter through due to hedging strategies, IATA said. ‘And it could even be an indicator of difficulties ahead if the fall is driven by declining demand for oil rather than rising supply capacity,’ Tyler said.”

While in March 2012 he was singing a different tune: “The risk of a worsening Eurozone crisis has been replaced by an equally toxic risk – rising oil prices. Already the damage is being felt with a downgrade in industry profits to $3.0 billion,” Tyler said.

However, for those of us concerned about the climate impact of aviation, there is no confusion – lower oil prices could fatally undermine the drive towards more efficient flying. Two recent reports show that, even when prices were above $100 dollars a barrel, the aviation industry was not able to acheive its own goal of 1.5% fleet efficiency improvement per annum. A report from the German-based Atmosfair found that the efficiency of the world’s largest airlines was around 1% over the past year while a report from the ICCT found that domestic US aviation saw zero net improvement in its efficiency in 2013.

With oil today falling to $66 a barrel, there is a real risk that airline operators will hold off investing on more efficient aircraft and aircraft manufactures will resist investing in a new generation of even more efficient aircraft. Purchasing aircraft, or the R&D for developing more efficient ones, is not cheap and the industry needs certainty that such investments will pay off – wild flucations in oil prices are a barrier to this. We now risk moving further way from the IATA goal of 1.5% efficiency improvement per annum and ICAO’s even more ambitious goal of 2% per annum. While the drop in the price of oil may not last forever, any delay in improving efficiency will further fuel the increase in aviation emissions, which are already predicted to increase by between 60% and 80% by 2026 due to passenger growth of 4% per annum.

ICAO is working to develop a market-based mechanism. However, even if it is approved at its next Assembly in 2016, it will be 2020 before it comes into force. As the climate cannot wait six more years, we need the new European Commission to use 2015 to set out a credible path to reducing aviation emission and adopting measures that will encourage greater efficiency. This should include a revision of the EU ETS for the 25% of Europe’s aviation emissions that are still covered by this scheme since “stop the clock” so that it sends a real price signal to industry. It should also include an amendment of the Energy Taxation Directive so that aviation, like every other transport sector, is subject to fuel duty.

What progress did the UK make tackling climate change in 2014?

Posted by on 18/12/14

It’s been more than four years since David Cameron famously claimed his would be the ‘greenest government ever’ when the Conservative party came to power in 2010.

But his path to green greatness has not been an easy one; our air is illegally polluted, our renewable industry smarting from hit after hit and our government littered with climate change sceptics.

This year alone year alone has been filled with multiple public protests, threats ranging from malaria to mass immigration and missed job growth and economy recovery opportunities due to reluctance to invest in renewable energy.

But let’s break it down and take a look back at the year that was:

Q1 2014


Well, it’s hardly like 2014 kicked off to a great start; just a few weeks into January a newspaper investigation discovered the government had slashed its spend on preparing the UK for adverse climate change effects by almost a half.

Under the then Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, government spending dropped from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14.

The timing couldn’t have been worse; the nation was in the midst of the wettest winter on record and 5,800 homes and businesses were damaged by flooding as a result of the extreme weather.

The move was, unsurprisingly, widely condemned by critics; not least of all by the Committee on Climate Change who threatened the cuts could lead to an extra £3 billion in avoidable future flood damages.

By March warnings of potential threats to the UK as a result of climate change were coming in thick and fast.

Firstly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the UK would soon be hit by a wave of mass immigration as millions of climate change refugees were made homeless by extreme weather, food shortages and consequential war, disease and famine.

Then came a report from consultancy firm PWC which showed food prices in Britain looked set to rise dramatically in the next few years as extreme weather in other countries damaged crops and the other food imports we rely on.

We only have to look a few years back to see the actualisation of the above warning, when the heat waves of 2010 damaged crops in Eastern Europe causing food prices in the UK to rise by 5%.

Despite the above evidence, the government took eight months to recognise and respond to the pressing need for the UK to not just reduce its own carbon footprint, but to also help developing countries battle climate change.

Q2 2014


April brought with it more bad news as Oxford University announced that manmade climate change would lead to many more extreme flooding events in the UK.

Previously the UK had only seen flooding like winter 2013’s every 100 years, but the study suggested similar events would occur in the South of England every eight years as a direct result of climate change.

The Met Office then issued a warning that climate change was also likely to cause more flash flooding in the UK as heavy rainfall reacted with the arid land caused by drier than average summers.

Though it wasn’t all bad news; April also brought with it some progress as the UK government finally agreed to back eight major renewable energy projects.

The three biomass plants and five windfarms planned came with a promise of 8,500 jobs and the ability to power millions of homes in the UK with clean energy.

Fast forward to June and the government’s top science adviser and UK chief scientist Sir Mark Walport pleased environmentalists by calling for urgent debate on climate change mitigation.

He requested a stop to debates on whether or not climate change exists and the relating energy and resources instead to be used for creating policies on how best tackle it.

He made clear his belief that ‘climate change is happening and humans are significant contributors’ and said there needed to be more roles for scientists and engineers to research and establish the pros and cons of new energy sources and technologies designed to combat climate change.

He also backed fracking, which he said was safe and environmentally sound when done properly.

June was also the month that China’s head of government visited the UK and a joint statement was released from both nations agreeing on the urgency and importance of action against climate change and the need for renewable energy.

However, it was noted that while China was putting a cap on its coal use, the UK government was refusing to regulate the UK’s ageing coal plants and was still not doing enough to encourage greater renewable energy production and use in the UK.

Q3 2014


But still it seemed the government was not doing enough and in September 40,000 people including Vivienne Westwood, Emma Thompson and Peter Gabriel, took to the streets demanding greater action against climate change.

Unperturbed, David Cameron announced that he believed he had kept his pledge to run the UK’s greenest government yet when speaking at the UN summit on climate change.

At the meeting of world leaders in New York on September 23rd he said: Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing our world. And it is not just a threat to the environment. It is also a threat to our national security, to global security, to poverty eradication and to economic prosperity.”

He said his party had doubled the UK’s renewable energy capacity in the last four years, created the world’s first green bank and the UK was well on its way to cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

But it seems his words may have rung a little hollow; his speech came days after a poll revealed nearly three quarters of Conservative MPs didn’t  believe climate change was caused by human activity, with 18% of Tory MPs admitting they thought the notion of man-made climate change was ‘environmentalist propaganda’.

Q4 2014

It took until almost the end of the year for the government to assert some authority and not only agree to spend £600m on helping poor countries tackle climate but to also quash the critics who questioned it.

After a year filled with scientifically backed reports on the negative effects climate change in other countries could have on the UK, Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey was correct in saying in November: “People recognise that we live in a global economy where when something happens in another part of the world it can impact on our lives here. The idea we should be isolationist Little Englanders is absolute nonsense.

However, this one spot of good government action could not prevent more bad news emerging; a report issued by London’s Imperial College in November showed the UK would fail to meet its carbon emissions target set for 2030 unless significant policy changes were made.

There was also a warning from the UK’s Royal Society in December who found future heat waves caused by global climate change would have catastrophic results on the UK’s elderly population, who are less able to look after themselves in extreme conditions.

All this was followed by a scathing letter written by Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband who slammed chancellor George Osborne’s failure to mention climate change or carbon emission targets in the Autumn Statement and accused David Cameron of making a ‘long retreat from the principles in which he once claimed to believe [in]’.

However, it is possible the year may end on a high (of sorts) with the reintroduction of the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund.

The financial package aimed at helping residents improve the energy efficiency of their homes was closed a few weeks after launching earlier on in the year due to a lack of preparation.

But now it is back, and as of December 10, householders can apply for free cash to pay for home improvements such as solid wall insulation and double glazing to help them reduce their energy use and carbon production.

Round Up

2014 has certainly been a mixed bag, key politicians were certainly keen to be quoted saying they thought climate change was an important topic to be addressed, but while there was some progress made in 2014 there was certainly much more that could have been done.

With a hotly contested election due in May next year who knows what 2015 will bring.

Link Credit: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4

Effective climate policy requires action by governments and people

Posted by on 09/12/14

COP 20, the 20th annual climate conference, has started in Lima in a mood of increasing realism. Those who still believe in containing global warming within two degrees Celsius target are becoming rarer. The issue becomes more and more if Humanity will get away with acceptable conditions of survival or succumb to famine, non-ending natural disasters, tens or even hundreds(?) of millions of climate refugees and conflicts for water and fertile land.

The 20-year history of “combating” climate change has been a succession of “too little, too late”, starting with the Kyoto Protocol that turned into a failure because of its late entry into force and the non-participation of the biggest emitter countries.

For the last 20 years, we have continued to live as if climate change did not exist. The political elites in major emitter countries like Australia, Russia or, until most recently, even USA have continued to simply ignore it, whatever the rising numbers of natural catastrophes across the planet.

No political leader has dared to impose hardship on potential voters, say gasoline prices of €3/litre or electricity rates of €0.15/kWh. Our life has remained as comfortable as ever, with no restrictions on heating, cooling and lightening our homes and using planes or cars as before the climate challenge.

The global “climate policy elite” seems satisfied with the few “positive” developments in 2014, from the bilateral China-USA“deal” with the Chinese promise to peak its emissions latest until 2030 and generate 20 per cent of its energy from non-fossil sources and the US commitment to lower emissions by close to 30 per cent until 2025.

It puts a lot of faith in the bottom-up/top-down approach for the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, under which each of the 190-odd participant countries is expected to present a strategic road-map for reducing green house gas emissions.

Judging by the response given by China to start reducing emissions latest by 2030 and the more than wary reactions from India,which will become the biggest emitter country in a few decades the outcome from Paris will not have a a positive impact on the global climate in the first half of the21st century. After all, it will have taken the EU from 1990 to 2030 to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent and, if everything works to schedule, 60 years to reduce them by 80 per cent until 2050. And the rest of the world is far behind the EU in terms of preparedness.

Climate scientists have not stopped warning policy makers about the need to go fast. But their calls have gone unnoticed because policy makers have constantly been engaged in more pressing day-to-day issues and have not dared to confront their citizens with painful measures to be taken.

Let us therefore hope that the international community will finally get serious and step up its joint efforts, focusing on mitigation and considering adaptation as the secondary issue. Indeed, if humanity fails to mitigate emissions dramatically financing adaptation will no longer help. We must prevent the natural glaciers storage of the Himalayas from melting instead of financing artificial dams for storing water.

On December 15th, at the end of the Lima Conference, which so far has not been very successful in solving the well-known technical details, we should be better able to assess the chances of success of the crucial meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 6/12/2014

Energy access, development and decarbonisation: uneasy bedfellows in the UNFCCC

Posted by on 07/12/14
By Jason Anderson, WWF The UN is a slow grind of thousands of negotiators meeting regularly to hash through minutiae is the world’s biggest intercultural exchange project, creating understanding one coffee break at a time.

Germany to EU: if your climate policies aren’t up to the job, we’ll have to solve it ourselves

Posted by on 04/12/14

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

Yesterday Germany announced that it will continue its national commitment to achieve a cut of 40% in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, despite EU policy that is insufficient to support that aim. It will put in place measures to cut energy use and emissions, including from sectors covered by the ailing EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Germany’s announcement is important and ambitious, considering the reduction achieved up to 2013 was only 24%. It also makes the national commitment for 2020 more binding and concrete.

When the European Council endorsed a 2030 framework that would allow the EU to continue its weak approach, pressure mounted in Germany to drop or delay its 40% 2020 target. The government has countered by reinforcing its resolve instead. This this a clear signal to the EU: if your policies aren’t up to the job, we’ll have to solve it ourselves.

On the one side it’s a challenge to the system. On the other, it is exactly the spirit that the EU and others are explicitly encouraging in the UN climate talks, now underway in Peru: countries should strive to do more than they have put on the table, and seek diverse ways to achieve those reductions.

The reaction in Europe should be for those countries that are serious about fighting climate change to push for more ambitious legislation – starting with reform of the EU ETS through what is called the ‘market stability reserve’ (MSR). It will take tonnes out of the oversupplied ETS, but only starting in 2021, and only to store them for later return – an insufficient approach. The MSR should start sooner, and include mechanisms to retire excess tonnes that world otherwise continue to drag the system down.

See WWF Germany’s reaction to Germany’s announcement of its climate action programme

What LEDs in Lima tell us about climate action

Posted by on 03/12/14

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

I arrived in Lima Saturday morning for the COP20 UN climate negotiations and went directly to my hotel for a 12-hour WWF preparatory meeting, to get into the spirit of the event. One of the key issues we discussed is how we come to terms with the gap between the contribution to emissions reductions needed from different countries compared to their current likely contributions – which are much too low both individually and in aggregate.

In the case of the EU, its 2030 target is ‘at least 40%’ below 1990 levels, but according to EcoEquity’s online equity calculator, the EU’s cuts should be 80% at a bare minimum, counting both domestic and supported international action together: far, far beyond what is being proposed.

Staring at the ceiling seeking inspiration for how to close that huge gap, I noticed that all of the spot lighting was LEDs – the latest 5 watt lights that replace 35-50 watt halogens. That means that every year the meeting room saves more than the equivalent of my own home’s entire annual electricity use.

Three Japanese scientists received the Nobel prize this year for inventing the technology that makes commercial white LED lights possible. As the Nobel committee’s press release says:

“The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power. The invention of the efficient blue LED is just twenty years old, but it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all.”

To get LEDs to the point that they are cheap enough to be of interest to developing countries, they had to go from a lab experiment to an inexpensive commercial technology – often a long road. The world leader is the Dutch company Philips (three of the top 10 are European, one is American and six are Japanese). Philips made a laudable business decision that LEDs were a big future market, but their confidence is likely reinforced by the supportive European policy environment. The EU is in the process of phasing out incandescent light bulbs, giving LEDs an opening that it will capitalise on in competition with compact fluorescents, as they reduce costs and improve performance. That tipping point has now basically been crossed, bringing LEDS to the point that a mid-range Peruvian hotel has chosen to install them without phase outs, mandates or subsidies.

Naturally, China is in line to become a big player in LEDs. The NDRC predicts that by 2015, the country will earn $30 billion in manufacturing and 20% of the market will be LEDs. Not uncoincidentally, China is also phasing out many types of incandescents in the next three years.

The LED story reflects the whole package we want to see across clean energy technologies: basic research lays a solid basis; companies are willing to take those technologies into nascent markets; governments, recognising they have environmental and economic goals to reach, set efficiency standards that expand those markets, encouraging more investment in the technology. Costs drop to the point that it becomes accessible globally.

We could tell a similar story about solar PV: obligations and subsidies, first in Japan, and then at even larger scale in Germany, increased markets to the point that large-scale manufacturing, including in China, brought down costs for everyone. Germany’s efforts driving PV down the innovation cost curve means that its efforts save the globe billions of dollars every year, and gives countries across the development spectrum the opportunity to take advantage of solar’s benefits.

The nature of the international negotiations can promote a static understanding of the actions needed to reach global decarbonisation well before the end of the century: it appears to be a numbers game, with the full range of efforts supposedly contained in percentages for which governments are meant to take responsibility, but come nowhere near achieving, with the remainder of the effort deferred, or shoved under the carpet.

This view is depressing and disempowering – it makes failure appear nearly inevitable, and it undermines the momentum everyone knows is actually building globally. Technology, investment, policy and public engagement have turned a corner, and emissions reductions will follow if we continue to do two things: slow down processes that emit and speed up ones that don’t. It’s a pretty straightforward concept. If we add to that the efforts and finance needed to increase our resilience in the face of the amount of climate change that is already inevitable, then we have the main aspects covered.

In the UNFCCC, the language of commitments for such a package will of course be couched in its own abstruse form of performance art. There are elements of an international deal long under discussion that sound promising – like ‘technology transfer,’ which is one of many cul-de-sacs from which nothing ever emerges. But fortunately when looking at the draft negotiating documents coming out of the important ‘ADP’ sessions (The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, for heaven’s sake), most of the ingredients for a more inclusive, more flexible, and yet still equitable agreement with real commitments, are on (or at least hovering near) the table.

A good litmus test for the agreement in Europe will be whether it accommodates – or even facilitates – clearing up some currently perverse situations. Consider that the EU will blow past its 2020 target but is unwilling to commit to this in the UN. It has tabled 2030 obligations that is knows represents a slow-down in action over the previous decade, but feels compelled to paint it as a glorious achievement to avoid upsetting the perceived balance of international burden sharing. The UNFCCC needs to provide opportunities for countries to aim high, and keep ratcheting the level of efforts to help stay below 2 degrees. It should hold their feet to the fire in light of the urgent need for emissions reductions, and work towards a better recognition of the positive actions Parties can take individually and collectively.

While the reality of climate change is becoming dire, avoiding the worst of it is a challenge we will rise to only by creating a positive spirit of change and opportunity. I’m certainly hoping that staring at the ceiling two days before the start of the COP isn’t the most uplifting moment of the fortnight!


Passive Houses for dummies

Posted by on 29/11/14

For many years now, since 2003, the second weekend of November hosts the International Passive House Days: Passive House owners and residents around the globe open their Passive House homes and offices and share their experiences, showing what this “Passive House” idea/concept is all about.

Hungary joined this initiative in 2009, when the Hungarian Passive House Association (MAPASZ) became responsible for a local program. In 2012 the Association of Hungarian Passive House Architects (PAOSZ) followed this lead and offered its own, separate set of programmes which resulted in an even more adequate coverage of these innovative and energy efficient buildings here in Hungary.

To complete the picture, an EU-funded project dedicated to the topic of nearly zero energy buildings (Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Open Doors Days) also organised building visits this year which partly overlapped with the other two tours (organised by MAPASZ and PAOSZ), but ensured the mobilisation of further interested parties to engage with this global event.

This year Geonardo – within the frame of its AIDA project – joined forces with MAPASZ in order to reach out to and mobilise an ever increasing number of people who are genuinely interested in the concept of Passive Houses and the related advanced building engineering technologies. Similarly to previous years’ experience, only a small fraction of the participants had an architect or similar building industry-related background: the majority of them were only open to the concept and wanted to learn more about the featuring success stories, or wanted to gather some operational experience before they engage into their own passive building project.

The first day covered a wide array of innovative buildings from Western Hungary featuring a few private homes, a school, a dental clinic and an apartment building, demonstrating that not only regular houses can be considered when developing such a project but essentially any type of building can achieve this cutting-edge energy standard. Despite their versatility, the buildings on display had a few basic features in common which are absolutely essential when it comes to a nearly zero energy building (nZEB) or passive house. The most important of them are air-tightness and thermal insulation.

It is easy to understand that if you want to have an energy efficient real-estate you can’t afford wasting energy on heating or cooling the outside environment as a result of a “leaking” building envelope. This is especially true if you have a renewable-based low-temperature heating system planned/installed with an output just sufficient (with little reserve) if the building meets certain energy standards but which might prove inadequate if the structure fails to comply with those initially planned figures. The blower-door test is a common tool to measure the air-tightness of buildings: “Blower door tests are used to assess the construction quality of the building envelope, locate air leakage pathways, assess how much ventilation is supplied by the air leakage, assess the energy losses resulting from that air leakage and to determine if the building needs mechanical ventilation.” (source: Wikipedia).

The test is highly recommended when there is still some room to fix the potential problems at a relatively low cost (half-ready status), rather than wait until the building is finished, only to engage into costly repair works aiming to bring the house up to the planned standards.

One of the main highlights of the first day came when the owners described their reactions when the blower door test concluded its findings on the given building.

Some of them were relieved that the construction crew did its job properly securing the air-tightness of the property while others were quite disappointed by the results. Since the Passive House technologies and standards are relatively new there aren’t many contractors prepared enough to tackle the challenges such a job requires.

We were told that most of the tasks which make the difference between good and poor results (an additional layer of sealing around the windows, a bit more filling around the cables entering the structure etc) require no special knowledge or ability to perform them, rather patience, a bit of time and devotion. The latter of which is usually lacked by the crews responsible for the job. The general consensus was that you have to do these tedious bits for yourself if you want them properly done or you might face costly consequences to get them fixed.

It’s a cliché that thermal insulation is a key factor when it comes to energy efficiency of buildings, and in case of nearly zero energy buildings or passive houses it gets even more important.

There is a relatively wide range of building materials that are suitable for such buildings, but their inherent thermal properties alone wouldn’t make them fit for the purpose without additional layers of thermal insulation applied over them either from the inside or the outside. On our tour we came across various structures built of regular, hollow, fired clay-bricks, sandlime bricks or even cast-concrete, demonstrating that personal preferences can be taken into consideration when building an energy efficient structure and that there is more than one way to skin the cat.

For instance, the owner of the concrete building said that his home was erected in just under 2 months. Insulated concrete form (ICF) is a system of formwork for reinforced concrete usually made with a rigid thermal insulation that stays in place as a permanent interior and exterior substrate for walls, floors, and roofs. The forms are interlocking modular units that are dry-stacked (without mortar) and filled with concrete. The units lock together somewhat like Lego bricks and create a form for the structural walls or floors of a building. Because of the uniform wall structure there is no surprise that this house’s blower door test results were by far the best among the ones visited. But in my personal opinion I wouldn’t want to voluntarily live in a reinforced-concrete-walled house even though its energy performance, speed of delivery and visual appearance makes it a quite appealing option. The rest of the programme buildings followed a more traditional wall structure using different types of bricks with various thickness of insulation covering them.

In general it can be said that the main difference between a passive house and a regular home lies in the thickness of the insulating layer and in the quality of finishing.

When it comes to passive houses or highly energy efficient buildings a common concern is usually raised about not-to-be-opened windows. It makes sense to rely on the mechanical ventilation, and not to use the windows for uncontrolled ventilation once you spent so much on making your structure air-tight and thermally insulated. All of the buildings in our programme were equipped with such a system; thanks to their sophisticated ability to heat the fresh air from the outside using the heat of the used air from the inside, they minimised the amount of energy needed to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures and moisture levels. Hence we were told that in case guests are over, they might end up overheating the house simply through the overall body heat, so the fans need to be turned higher to cope with the increased demand.


It is quite fascinating to see that adequate air tightness and thermal insulation may render regular heating options obsolete or even futile. Some of the visited buildings had been equipped either by radiators or floor heating, but only as a backup, since 99% of the time ducted-air heating meets the needs.

Of course passive house owners may also use their windows in a traditional way (unless they choose fixed windows), but they usually do so when the temperature difference is minimal between the inside and the outside (Spring, Autumn etc). In all other cases they have uninterrupted access to fresh pre-heated or pre-cooled and moisture-controlled air via their heat-recovering ventilation system and they do not have to waste the energy they used to heat or cool the air inside when opening the window for fresh air. Nowadays many manufacturers offer amazingly compact devices which could even fit in your kitchen cupboard and take care of all building engineering tasks (heating, cooling, ventilation, DHW) in a single unit, though such a sophisticated piece of engineering comes with a hefty price tag.

Some owners prefer these types of solutions, though the more complex the design, the more specialised maintenance has to be done in case something goes wrong. We have seen a few buildings where the owners were pursuing to keep the building engineering system as basic and easy-to-repair as possible. A young couple for instance after having an air-tight and thermally insulated structure with a simple heat recovering ventilation in place, added only electric heating films to cover for their additional heating needs, if necessary using their solar PV produced energy. It is a plain, simple, cheap and easy-to-maintain solution.

Though the number of newly built and retrofitted passive houses and nearly zero energy buildings are getting more and more numerous, year by year the total number of such buildings is still in the range of a few hundred at tops, compared to the 4.2 million homes in Hungary. On one hand it is delightful to see this tendency in Hungary, but on the other hand these innovative structures can only be considered as the few exceptions to the general rule so far. A rule which still represents the traditional way of building a home using outdated approaches, concepts and materials. As long as this is the prevailing rule, such buildings will remain a minority and no bigger scale building energy targets can be met effectively.

Gambling on China’s Energy Revolution

Posted by on 27/11/14

The joint announcement signed by presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing brought climate change back to the international headlines. The document set targets for both sides to achieve and was welcomed or damned in equal measure.

Although the announcement binds neither side, it was seen by many politicians and observers as a step forward. Two key global powers, the largest CO2 emitters, had come to an agreement on climate change. China had for the first time committed itself in an international agreement to targets. In the announcement. China stated that it, “intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030”.

But the critics and sceptics have been many, especially of the targets China has set. One criticism had been that the emissions target is too loose, and allows China to continue emitting CO2 without constraint until 2030. Another, focusing on the non-fossil fuel target, has been that it is too easy, in fact setting out no more than what China plans to do anyway.

The announcement made the point, emphasized by President Obama, that meeting the target would require China to install 800 to 1000 GW of zero-emissions energy generating capacity by 2030, which is greater than the current coal-fired generating capacity in China. One man at least, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who believes in the future of coal, was happy with the apparent weakness of the target on the grounds that according to him it meant that by 2030 80% of China’s energy would still come from coal. His government predicts that since China will still need to import large quantities of Australia’s coal its economic future is thus assured.

The EU has been pretty much on the sidelines in all of this, but it too has a stake in China’s commitments. The stake is not just political concern over global policy on climate change. Like others, the EU has an interest in the future direction of the Chinese economy. The EU does not have much coal of offer, but it does have environmental and energy technology and know-how that would find a market in a China committed to reducing energy use and emissions.

Predicting China’s future energy demand and emissions is difficult. The variables to be taken into account lead to huge differences in possible outcomes. But one of the most important elements in China will be government policy and its targets. In China this gives some idea of whether it will meet its commitments in the announcement, at least the 20% non-fossil fuels target for 2020.

In 2013 China’s primary energy production (in Standard Coal Equivalent (SCE), the measure used in China) was 75.6% coal, 8.9% oil, 4.6% natural gas, and 10.9% hydro, nuclear and wind. In this mix, coal has recently declined slightly, oil has also declined, while natural gas and non-fossil fuels have been rising. But primary energy consumption shows a different picture. Primary energy consumption in 2013 was 66% coal, 18.4% oil, 5.8% natural gas and 9.8% hydro, nuclear and wind. Coal has clearly declined from a recent peak of 71.1% a few years ago, oil has remained more or less at the same level for several years, while natural gas and non-fossil fuels have increased their share. The difference between primary energy production and consumption is accounted for by imports and exports. China imports most of its oil and increasing amounts of natural gas. In recent years, despite huge domestic production, it has also imported significant amounts of coal.

Table 1: China Share of Primary Energy Production Source: National Bureau of Statistics


Table 2: China Share of Primary Energy Consumption Source: National Bureau of Statistics

As these figures show, Tony Abbott’s belief that in 2030 80% of China’s energy will still come from coal is already wrong. He appears to suffer from two possible confusions. While it is true that currently close of 80% of primary energy production is coal this is not the case for consumption, which is what the announcement refers to. Abbott’s other possible error is a belief that even if China meets the target that 20% of energy consumption will come from non-fossil energy in 2020, then the remainder must come from coal.

Will China meet the target? Earlier this year Xi Jinping spoke of the need for a revolution in China’s energy production and consumption. At the time, he referred only to broad principles. The State Council has issued a Strategic Action Plan for Energy Development (2014-2020) which gives some detail on how this revolution will be achieved. The plan sets some targets. Non-fossil fuels are targeted to reach 15% of energy consumption by 2020, natural gas more than 10% and coal less than 62%. Although it is not specified, this leaves about 13% for oil.

The plan also calls for an installed capacity of over 200 GW of wind power in 2020, over 100 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV), 350 GW of normal hydro power and 58 GW of nuclear, with a further 30 GW of nuclear to be under construction. By comparison, at the end of 2013 China had 91.4 GW of grid-connected wind capacity and 19.4 GW of grid-connected solar PV capacity. The goals are reachable. In 2013 added 12.9 GW of solar PV and 16.1 GW of wind capacity, both the largest in the world. It also added 29.9 GW of hydro capacity.

Is not clear whether these targets will be the final word for the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP) which will cover a key period from 2016 to 2020. In recent years targets for renewables have been repeatedly raised as previous ones have been exceeded. One recent article in the Chinese media quoted an official from the planning department of the National Energy Agency (NEA) discussing the 13th FYP as saying the target for 2020 would be for coal to account for less than 60% of primary energy consumption, and he also said that the target for 2030 would be less than 50%.

On the current trend, the target for coal to account for under 62% of energy consumption by 2020 seems feasible. If the target of 15% for non-fossil fuels by 2020 is achieved, which on today’s rates of installation it probably will be, then another 5% in the following decade will not be difficult. One of the reasons why the target will be “easy” is not because it is low, but because China already is the largest investor in renewables in the world. Even if China merely continues renewable energy installations at the current rates over the next 16 years it will reach the added capacity the announcement says is required in the range of 800 to 1000 GW by 2030 with some to spare.

There are many uncertainties in all of these outcomes. President Obama has taken a political gamble on China’s energy revolution, while Tony Abbott is betting against it without apparently really understanding the odds. From a European perspective, a bet on rather than against China’s energy revolution seems wiser.