Obama lays out plans for climate action

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington DC yesterday, President Obama announced he would use his executive powers to enforce new rules on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

He laid out a package of measures aimed at tackling climate change, including lowering emissions from existing power plants.  The President also unveiled plans for an expansion of renewable energy projects, improved flood resilience and calls for an international climate deal.

A statement released by the White House said:

While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.

Roger Harrabin, Environment Analyst writing for the BBC news notes that ‘16 years after the global agreement to tackle climate change in Kyoto Protocol, the World can see how the US intends to play its part‘.  Harrabin goes on to say that

It may be cutting CO2 only 4% on 1990 levels by 2020 – less than a fifth of the amount achieved in the EU – but this is at least a plan, and some of the US green think-tanks are grateful for it.

This move by President Obama is hugely significant.

Here is the fact sheet on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

[updated to include a link to the Climate Action fact sheet]

Final communiqué: G8 leaders ‘strongly committed’ to delivering global climate change

Despite not being on the agenda as a topic of discussion at the G8 in Ireland this week, in the final communiqué, leaders expressed their commitment to tackling climate change, acknowledging that it is a ‘contributing factor in increased economic and security risks globally’.

Having faced strong criticism for its failure to include climate change on the agenda, the final communiqué nonetheless dedicates a page to climate change stating that ‘it is one of the foremost challenges for our future economic growth and wellbeing’.

We note with grave concern the gap between current country pledges and what is needed and will work towards increasing mitigation ambition in the period to 2020.

In acknowledging the slow progress of climate change action globally, the communiqué states that leaders will work with a raft of international groups to accelerate action on climate change, including the UNFCCC, the Major Economies Forum, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which aims to reduce emissions of short-live climate pollutants, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Maritime Organisation, both of which are currently working on proposals for new carbon pricing regimes.

We remain strongly committed to addressing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2020 and to pursue our low-carbon path afterwards, with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, consistent with science.

Leigh Stringer, writing on the summit for edie.net, says that in considering the means to better respond to the climate change challenge and its associated risks, ‘international climate policy and sustainable economic development are mutually reinforcing’.

Green Deal assessments on the up

According to government figures, assessments lodged under The Green Deal Scheme hit 18,816 by the end of April, up from 9,294 in March and compared with 1,729 in February.

With momentum growing in assessments, the number of businesses offering Green Deal services is also growing fast.

The Green Deal was launched in England and Wales on 28 January 2013 and in Scotland on 25 February.

In the article Green Deal assessments more than double in April for edie.net, Leigh Stringer considers the figures versus the concerns.

Commenting on the figures, Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said it is still early days for this ‘long term initiative‘ but the figures show a ‘clear sign‘ of growing interest from consumers and that ‘The Green Deal market is showing healthy signs of growth’.  However, despite the rise in assessments there are those who remain concerned.

The scheme has come in for a slew of criticism, before and after its launch, especially for its high interest rates and lack of marketing.  This has led to the government calling on industry to add momentum to the scheme.

Despite all the criticism, the scheme is growing significantly.  This is most definitely a scheme to watch…

Read the full article here

‘European Energy is a failure….’

Energy Policy in Europe is a failure, the industrial sector is in crisis: we must act urgently

This is the message sent by Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of GDF Suez, who along with the CEO’s of seven other European energy companies issued a joint statement to the European Council drawing to the attention of EU leaders “the urgent need to tackle the perilous situation facing the European energy sector”.

The CEO’s include Fulvio Conti of ENEL, Gertjan Lankhorst of GASTERRA, Ignacio Galan of IBERDROLA, Paolo Scaroni of ENI, Peter Terium of RWE, Johannes Teyssen of E.ON, and Rafael Villasecca Marco of GASNATURAL FENOSA

Meeting in Brussels, the day before the European Council meeting on energy and tax fraud on 22 May 2013, their joint statement underlines the seriousness of current challenges facing the sector and proposes appropriate policy actions. They say that the “current lack of visibility on energy policies and regulatory uncertainty will inevitably lead to an absence of energy investments” resulting in “negative effects on security of supply, employment and reactivation of the European economy. The status quo is simply not an option.”

According to their press release it is not too late for a revitalized EU approach to ensure competitive energy prices and a secure supply of energy for European citizens.

…this action would serve to restore the confidence of energy companies in the attractiveness of a European energy market. It is absolutely crucial that this revamped EU approach continues to support the fight against climate change, in addition to encompassing the following fresh elements:

  1. An improved market design, including a European coordinated approach to capacity mechanisms in which all assets contributing to the security of supply of European customers are fairly remunerated.
  2. A European carbon market able to support climate-friendly technologies and in which a reliable perspective is provided, notably, by establishing ambitious but realistic and stable post – 2020 greenhouse gas emissions targets.
  3. A more sustainable approach to the promotion of renewables so as to reduce costs for citizens and favour greater convergence between Member States.
  4. A strengthening of the policy framework to trigger investments in promising technologies, such as energy storage, new renewables, carbon capture and storage, smart grids and meters and shale gas.

Their statement goes on to say that they “very much look forward to EU political leaders taking stock of the critical situation the energy sector is facing” urging them to define a new policy direction based on the elements in their joint statement that are centred on contributions that investments in the energy sector make, not only in providing a secure and efficient product, but also through creating jobs and efficiently reactivating the economy.

Before the meeting with European Heads of State – in an interview with Denis Arnaud Cosnard in Le Monde – Gerard Mestrallet explains their approach:

This is a précis of the key points from the interview, translated from the French.

What do you expect?

First they must acknowledge that energy policy so far has failed, with the result that Europe is destroying part of its energy industry. There is an urgent need to redefine political ambitions and resources. We want to attract the attention of Heads of State to the acute nature of this crisis. We want to launch a solemn appeal.

Where did this initiative come from?

We decided to come together to send a message to world leaders. We are not asking for subsidies, but for visibility, for stable and consistent rules in Europe and for quantifiable targets in the fight against global warming.

EDF is excluded from the club?

No, EDF was invited but could not come. Naturally, EDF will also be invited next time.

So, Energy in Europe is a failure?

European policy on energy has a triple purpose: to fight against global warming, to improve competitiveness and to ensure the supply security of the continent. But each of these components is a failure.

In matters of environment Europe really is a failure? How did it happen?

Yes. Despite the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite the introduction of the carbon market on CO2 emissions, the energy sector has recently contributed to the increase in emissions, especially in Germany.

One reason is the revolution of shale gas in North America. The massive influx of gas derived from shale has driven down the price of gas and encouraged local electricity companies to burn gas rather than coal in their plants.

Accordingly, the United States has begun exporting cut-price coal to Europe that they had no use for themselves. This has made coal more competitive than gas and this is the opposite of what was intended.

And the carbon market?

This has been badly exposed. With the financial crisis, the price of carbon has collapsed to 3 euros per ton when it was planned to be around 25 to 30 euros to prompt a shift in behaviour.

In matters of competitiveness why are you talking about failure?

Electricity costs twice as much in France as in the United States. For industry, electricity cost 50 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) in the States and 115 euros in France and 140 euros in Germany!

What is needed is not that energy should be expensive, but that the price reflects the cost of generation. This is not the case, particularly for renewable energy, which is highly subsidized.

So, too much so?

In Germany, yes, that’s clear. Germany has undoubtedly gone too far in its support of solar and wind power and even the SPD says so. Between the economic crisis and the energy savings, electricity consumption continues to decline in Europe. The peak was reached in 2008. This has led to overcapacity in electricity production. It would make sense to reduce capacity.

Should we stop subsidising the cleanest energies?

No, our companies have among the world’s leading renewable energies and we are convinced of the need to fight against climate change. But we ask the Heads of State to harmonize support for these energies. And there must be a bearable cost for citizens. Above all, the priority must be to ensure security of supply.

What do you mean?

Never has the risk of blackouts been as strong as it is today. Europe has over-capacity in the production of electricity on an annual average, but lacks the capabilities to meet the peak demand. Imagine: in mid-winter, a cold anticyclone over Europe, very cold temperatures. The demand is very high, especially for heating, but there is no wind to make wind turbines work and no sun to operate solar panels. At such times, the balance cannot be made up by combined cycle power plants – or those that are closed at that moment because they are losing money.

So….

We must compensate owners of these plants to keep them operational. Otherwise they are all going to close. Some countries are beginning to implement such mechanisms. In Finistere, Direct Energy is building a gas-fired power plant which may not ever be turned on but will stop Brittany being plunged into darkness in the event of a crisis. And this company will remunerated. What we recommend is that this type of mechanism is established in a coordinated way throughout Europe.

Le Figaro: ‘we’ve done it….

….highest levels of atmospheric CO2 and acidification of the Arctic

Recent findings from the Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii – that CO2 levels have reached 400ppm for the first time in human history – have sparked a good deal of concern.

Le Figaro says there’s worse to come

we’ve done it in reaching the highest levels of CO2 in the atmosphere in human history, but there is another effect that is only beginning to be measured: namely, such high levels of CO2 in the air promote acidification of the oceans.

Last week, during the Arctic Ocean Acidification International Conference held in Norway at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, a sixty-strong international research team spelled out the actual and potential impact of these recent findings:

“The Atlantic Ocean is rapidly accumulating CO2, resulting in a decline in pH.”  This means that “marine ecosystems and biodiversity will change, creating new economic, social and policy challenges”

According to scientists at the conference, the average acidity of the ocean’s surface has increased by 30% over the last two hundred years.  The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to this phenomenon due to the vulnerability of cold waters, which absorb more CO2.  In addition, the Arctic is supplied by fresh water from rivers and melting ice which makes it “less able to chemically neutralize the effects of CO2 acidification”.

Researchers are trying to understand the risks to marine species from acidification, the main consequence of which is calcification which endangers corals as well as many molluscs, feeding fish and oysters.

Some species may be able to adapt, as with purple sea urchins found along the coasts of California and Oregon where the Pacific waters are more acidic than anywhere else. Scientists at Stanford University are currently researching the mechanisms of this species.  This is the news article in Stanford News: Stanford seeks sea urchin’s secret to surviving ocean acidification

‘Miriam Maes Among 100 Women To Watch….’

Researchers at The School of Management at Cranfield University in association with Sapphire Partners (‘leaders in diverse professional talent’), have identified 100 women who are currently on the executive committees of FTSE listed companies, major financial institutions or professional service firms or in senior executive roles in large charitable organisations and who are poised and ready for a Board position.

Operating since 2009, the ‘100 Women To Watch’ supplement of the Female FTSE report continues to be popular and increasingly inspiring.

You can download the full report here.

“Resolve energy needs or see lights go out” says CBI Chief

In an interview with the FT, Sir Roger Carr, CBI President and Chair of Centrica, owners of British Gas, warned that:

“Britain faces a serious threat of the lights going out unless the country’s energy policy needs are resolved as a matter of urgency.”

Ahead of the CBI’s annual dinner next week, Sir Roger praised the government for “responding to the business case on issues such as lower taxes, reducing regulation and pursuing industrial strategy” but added that “execution was not fast enough” and communication was clumsy”.

Read the full article here.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is the UK’s biggest business lobby group.

Collapse in EU:ETS price is not good for UK industry

The decision by Conservative and UKIP MEP’s to vote down the backloading initiative of the European carbon emissions trading scheme proposal was perverse, according to Andrew Warren.

In his latest column for Energy in Buildings and Industry (EIBI) Magazine, Warren considers how the recent vote, which would have removed 900 million allowances from the auction schedule over the next three years, weakens the carbon emissions trading scheme (EU:ETS).  EUA trading prices are now forecast to stay at or around the present spot price of €3.40 per tonne for the rest of the decade given the level of oversupply which the backloading initiative would have to some degree mitigated.

Warren points out that for British manufacturers the effective trading price is £16 per tonne this year, increasing each year subsequently.  This is because our Chancellor has unilaterally introduced a floor price for carbon paid in Britain regardless of the trading price on the Continent.

Despite rock bottom trading prices, the European Parliament is determined to make a go of the carbon emissions trading scheme, despite less than wholehearted support from the UK.

As the only country in the EU with such a high price, the question is how long the Chancellor will be able to stick to a carbon price floor.  It would be great if he does but no doubt British Industry will tell him it will make them uncompetitive.

Read the full Warren Report here.

As well as columnist for EIBI, Andrew Warren is director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, ACE.

DECC Electricity Demand Reduction announcement

The Department of Energy & Climate Change – DECC – has announced that it has tabled amendments to the Energy Bill so that permanent reductions in electricity demand could be delivered through the Capacity Market.

Under the proposals, those who install measures that deliver permanent reductions in the amount of electricity they use could receive financial incentives.  Government is exploring whether to test the proposed approach via a pilot in order to gather evidence that will inform final decisions on an incentive.

This decision follows a consultation (launched in November 2012) to explore what more can be done to reduce electricity demand as part of DECC’s mission to realise the energy efficiency potential in the UK economy, as set out in their Energy Efficiency Strategy.

This is hugely positive and clearly shows that change can happen.

Let’s see how the structural Energy Efficiency Tariff will pan out in the pilot.

Read the full Government response to the consultation here

Atmospheric CO2 levels reach highest in human history

Concentrations of CO2 in the global atmosphere have reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history, according to the latest data from the US government agency lab in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

According to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the results mark an important milestone because Mauna Loa, as the oldest continuous carbon dioxide (CO2) measurement station in the world, is the primary global benchmark site.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) senior scientist Pieter Tans said:

That increase is not a surprise to scientists.

The evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas is driving the acceleration.

At last month’s international discussions on climate change in Bonn, the UN warned that a growing sense of urgency is needed as greenhouse gas emissions looked set to hit record levels.

Read the full article by Leigh Stringer.

To see what 400ppm means in an historical context, take a look at this graph taken from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report:  Changes in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide found in polar ice core records of atmospheric composition dating back 650,000 years.