Tag: clean energy

Domino effect of energy security: binding targets, higher ambition, a good deal in Paris.

While ECO has been busy this week in Bonn, our spies in Luxembourg have been keeping an eye on EU environment and energy ministers. Yesterday, a joint EU Council meeting tackled two burning, and linked, issues: EU energy security and its post-2020 climate and energy framework. ECO’s intelligence network says this will be agreed in October. 

You don’t have to be in the CIA to know that Europe as a whole is getting worried about its energy security. Countries like Germany have a secret weapon: binding targets for renewable energy and energy savings. Achieving these targets in Germany would mean at least 35% of its electricity will be supplied by largely home grown renewable sources. Similar policies in other EU countries will result in a 40% reduction in EU GHGs below 1900 levels by 2030. This recent development makes ECO feel slightly optimistic that EU politicians won’t need a decoder ring to discover that fossil fuels don’t equal energy security.

ECO hopes that all delegates took note of the EU’s intervention at the ADP ministerial meeting last week. The EU’s 40% reduction target by 2030 is just the first initial domestic offer, not the final number on the table with member states like UK, Germany and Sweden already calling for the EU to go further.

But what about you France, our 2015 host? ECO hears you are in the process of adopting a national energy transition law, but you’re strangely silent about that EU package. Would that be because you're planning to do better AND push the EU for a stronger target? Normalement, oui quand meme?

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It's the Politics, Stupid!

The UNFCCC wouldn’t be the UNFCCC if the United States of America didn’t ruffle some feathers. So, right on cue, Friday’s intervention by US lead negotiator Jonathan Pershing in the ADP ambition roundtable certainly did the trick by labelling, yet again, the UNFCCC as a long and winding road to nowhere. This comes less than a month after Dr. Pershing's boss, Todd Stern, rocked his fellow negotiators with his assertion that negotiating "a treaty with binding emission targets stringent enough to...[hold] the increase in global average temperature to less than 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels" is "entirely logical" but "ignores the classic lesson that politics – including international politics – is the art of the possible."

After a firestorm of reactions to his speech from both negotiators and NGOs, Stern issued a clarification that the US still supported the 2 degree goal agreed to by President Obama and other world leaders.  But the damage was done.

Don’t get us wrong – ECO, along with most others here in Bangkok, shares the frustration at the glacial (at least there are still glaciers somewhere) speed at which these negotiations proceed. But to paraphrase Bill Clinton: it’s the politics, stupid! The continual swipes and undermining of this process demonstrates the bad faith of the US.

ECO agrees with the US – and virtually everyone else – that other processes must help deliver the much greater ambition required to save civilisation as we know it.  We need all hands on deck. This battle can’t be won in the confines of the UNFCCC alone. But the UNFCCC is an essential element of an effective global response to climate change, and the US vision of a fragmented, bottom-up international process will never deliver enough ambition to keep us well below 2 degrees. Our experience with the agreements reached first in Rio, and more recently in Copenhagen, clearly proves this.

Higher degrees of trust and accountability are required to encourage greater ambition. Isn’t this why the US pushed so hard in Copenhagen and Cancun for more robust MRV from China et al? It claimed that reassurances of other countries' ability to meet their pledges is essential to persuade its Congress and public that the administration's pledge to reduce US emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (read: -4% based on 1990 levels) is reasonable. But now that the shoe is on the other foot, and it's constructive action that is demanded of the US to encourage others to act, all we get are claims of


The assertion that top-down agreements produce lower-ambition results is nonsensical. It goes without saying that complementary investments to support change in the real economy are critical to change a country’s perception of its national interest. But top-down agreements are essential to incentivise ambition, as only a serious multilateral regime can convince those whose capital allocation decisions shape the economy that a high-carbon business model will expose them to greater risk and hit their returns harder than betting now on a low-carbon future.

The Kyoto Protocol, though far from perfect, gave us a legal framework that culminated in European taxpayers and companies investing at least €40 billion to purchase international carbon credits. The Kyoto Protocol spurred on Europe’s renewable energy investments, which have helped create a global revolution in renewable energy investment now outstripping annual new fossil fuel-powered investments. Thanks to Kyoto, it is Europe’s energy regulations and standards which emerging economies are emulating, and which underpin a global market worth US$3 trillion. Without Kyoto, China would not have decided to implement a Five-Year Economic Plan based on the core assumption of rapidly expanding global markets in clean energy. It's clear that Kyoto, a top-down multi-lateral agreement, has shaped global economic reality. 

The sluggish progress we witness at these negotiations is not due to the intrinsic nature of the UN system, but is truly a reflection of the woeful political leadership of countries like the United States. It's ironic that a decade after the world was compelled to defend the Kyoto Protocol against the vicious and unfounded attacks of the Bush administration, the US is yet again proving a grave threat to the progress needed in these talks.

ECO would suggest the next time Dr. Pershing feels the urge to make yet another comment about the rapidity and effectiveness of agreements here in the UNFCCC, that he stop and take a long, hard look at what the US is doing, compared to its fair share of the much greater global effort needed to address the urgent threat of climate change.


Where is the energy in Rio?

After being energised by the magnificent rhythms and colours of Brazilian samba, ECO realised that there was something strangely missing from the official negotiation agenda: energy. Right now there are no public meetings on the energy paragraphs, and nothing is scheduled for the remainder of the conference. How can this be?

Intelligent and ambitious approaches to energy are crucial to ensure sustainable energy for all and a world free from climate chaos and dirty and risky energy. The energy section deals with a number of critical issues that mustn’t be lost, namely: sustainable energy for all, renewable energy deployment, energy access, energy efficiency, and the critical issue of fossil fuel subsidies.
Unless country delegates take the energy paragraphs seriously and make bold commitments, there is little 
hope in achieving many other goals in the Outcome Document. According to the International Renewable 
Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable technologies are now the most economic solution for off-grid electrification and grid extension in most areas, as well as for centralised grid supply in locations with good resources.
Making progress in phasing out fossil fuel subsidies could free up much needed funding from problems to putting the money into funding solutions. If even a small amount of the hundreds of billions of dollars handed out to the fossil fuel industry were redirected to renewable energy and sustainable development, Rio+20 would represent a helpful and hopeful step forward. But all of that is currently at risk of being ignored, much less realised.
ECO urges negotiators to make sure that energy issues don not disappear into the shadows at Rio+20 and instead are given the priority attention they deserve.


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Climate change and Sustainable Development: Clarifying linkages

Achieving sustainable development entails making progress on the three integrated strands of the social, the environmental and the economic. Climate change and its impacts touch on all the three strands – causing environmental damage and degradation; increasing social vulnerability, and exacerbating economic instability.

The Rio+20 Conference gives us a chance to address two key issues – reinventing our economy and strengthening our international institutions to support and ensure sustainable development. Our ability to build a truly green economy depends on preventing climate disruptions, and dealing with unavoidable impacts of climate in building social, environmental and economic resilience, robustness and integrity. Both adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change form an integral part of building green economies across the globe so that it actually does become a means to achieving sustainable development.

There are significant concerns that a narrow focus on a green economy will result in the loss of one of the main qualities of the Rio process - an integrated approach to sustainable development and its focus on the three strands of the economic, social and environmental development. There are also fears that focus on a green economy is the next step in a global march to further commercialise and commoditise natural resources and human relations to the detriment of those who are already most vulnerable. Ignoring the climate change agenda and not treating it as an integral part of the sustainable development will only reinforce this concern and further exacerbate the challenges faced.

Within the national context, the long years of treating sustainable development as a separate strain of development, removed from the mainstream economy, requires a serious reorientation and an urgent rethink. As part of this rethink nation states need to reassess the challenges and vulnerabilities their economies face - affecting them environmentally, socially and economically. The devastations of the impacts of climate change – current and future – will need to be counted in the core list of these challenges that we face while we plan and build a green economy.

The window to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic and irreversible runaway climate change is also rapidly closing. Shrinking access of communities to diminishing natural resources, over-utilization of natural resources, unsustainable consumption patterns, and the increasingly fragile and unstable global financial systems are together increasing the vulnerabilities of a large portion of the world's population, exposing them to worsening economic, social, environmental, and climatic impacts. These issues lie at the core of the sustainability agenda that Rio must address. These are reflected in the various issues and themes the Rio process seeks to negotiate.

Globally - and as the consequences of climate change become more visible - freshwater scarcity, access, and sanitation are increasingly issues of concern. Clearly, protecting and restoring water resources are crucial for environmental stability and sustainable development, including poverty eradication, health, agriculture, food security, rural development and hydropower.

Increasing energy access and security within an equitable Green Economy is not only necessary but also entirely doable. The urgency comes from the climate crisis and the current scale of energy deprivation, while the opportunity presents itself in the existing and the prospect of new technologies with the potential to facilitate the necessary energy transformation.

The green economy will not be green if it is built on nuclear and fossil fuel-dependent energy infrastructure. Subsidising the oil, gas and coal industries worldwide demonstrates that nations and the world are not currently financing deployment of sustainable, green and renewable energy. The establishment of an equitable green economy must be accompanied by the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and other subsidies that harm the environment, distort markets and create barriers to sustainable development.

Technology development and deployment within an equitable green economy would require technology development policy with focus on climate adaptation and dissemination of green technologies that incorporate goals for sustainable development and principles aimed at identifying the range of diverse technologies required for a green gconomy, and facilitation of the maintenance and promotion of environmentally-sound indigenous technologies.

Rio was the birthplace of the UNFCCC. It has now come home to Rio again to seek further ambition and direction in order to build consistency, momentum and comprehensiveness across the multi-lateral framework.

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Historic Landmark in German Energy Policy

ECO clearly missed a presentation by Germany in Thursday’s workshop on developed country mitigation. Germany could have taken the opportunity to present its package of wide reaching energy and infrastructure legislative proposals, presented this Monday, as a response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

While these negotiations rarely deal with nuclear energy, delegates would surely have been intrigued to witness what could become a historical turn in energy policy taking place in a leading industrial country. One that, if planned and executed carefully, could become a development! model for many other countries struggling with their dependence on increasingly expensive, climate change causing fossil fuels or nuclear energy with its risks and dirty and dangerous legacy. Because, ECO notes, the government has confirmed that phasing out nuclear energy will not alter the country’s resolve to cut itsgreenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050. Not replacing the nuclear threat with a new climate threat is ambitious, but possible, as numerous experts from all sides have confirmed. ECO hopes that dirty industry and its buddies in government aren’t going to screw it up.

The most prominent piece is the accelerated phase out of nuclear power plants, with the 8 oldest plants not going online anymore at all, and the remaining ones shutting down one by one more gradually until 2022. Earlier phase out, such as in 2017, would have been possible, but nonetheless the legislative proposals, which have now been presented to the German Parliament represent a significant shift.

The renewable energy act is confirming the principles of a long-term guaranteed feed in tariff and grid priority for renewable electricity. ECO has learned that this means the ambition to meet 35% of German power demand from renewable electricity by 2020 is therefore not a cap, but a minimum floor, from which to build beyond 2020. The dynamic development of renewable energies in Germany is a result of that policy.

The grid infrastructure laws are attempting the ambitious goal of increasing public participation and acceptance while reducing the length of the permitting procedures. Most proposals are sound but it remains to be seen how successfully they can be implemented.

The laws on energy efficiency could be much more ambitious and goals more binding. However, the conservative liberal coalition in Germany has set up a multi- billion support programme for efficiency measures, e.g. in the building sector.

All these proposals are slowly but surely exploring the practical possibility for a paradigm change in the systems of electricity generation, distribution and consumption.

Some industry lobbyists are, together with the four big utilities, warning that a “deindustrialization of Germany” is imminent. However, the overwhelming majority of studies show that a whole new industry – with substantial positive growth and labor market impacts – is emerging. The economic benefits of such a transformation will hopefully be understood by other sectors (e.g. transport) as a signal that the chances and rewards associated with such transition to a low carbon future are tremendous.

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