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Energy and technology: Let there be light

Thu, 2015-01-15 09:51
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Let there be light Fly Title:  Energy and technology Rubric:  Thanks to better technology and improved efficiency, energy is becoming cleaner and more plentiful—whatever the price of oil, says Edward Lucas Main image:  20150117_SRD002_0.jpg A CAREFUL OBSERVER might note the chunky double glazing on the elegant windows and the heat pump whirring outside the basement entrance. From the outside the five-storey house in London’s posh Notting Hill district looks like any other. Inside, though, it is full of new technologies that aim to make it a net exporter of power. They exemplify many of the shifts now under way that are making energy cleaner, more plentiful, cheaper to store, easier to distribute and capable of being used more intelligently. The house in Notting Hill is a one-off, paid for by its green multimillionaire owner. But the benefits of recent innovations can be reaped by everybody. That makes a welcome change from the two issues that have dominated ...

Energy: Seize the day

Thu, 2015-01-15 04:33
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Seize the day Fly Title:  Energy Rubric:  The fall in the price of oil and gas provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix bad energy policies Main image:  20150117_LDP001_0.jpg MOST of the time, economic policymaking is about tinkering at the edges. Politicians argue furiously about modest changes to taxes or spending. Once in a while, however, momentous shifts are possible. From Deng Xiaoping’s market opening in 1978 to Poland’s adoption of “shock therapy” in 1990, bold politicians have seized propitious circumstances to push through reforms that transformed their countries. Such a once-in-a-generation opportunity exists today. The plunging price of oil, coupled with advances in clean energy and conservation, offers politicians around the world the chance to rationalise energy policy. They can get rid of billions of dollars of distorting subsidies, especially for dirty fuels, whilst shifting taxes towards carbon use. A cheaper, greener and more ...

Explorers look to the long term with shale gas

Tue, 2015-01-13 23:04
With their eyes on long-term diversification of domestic energy supplies, Chinese oil giants will maintain their shale gas exploration drive this year even as global crude prices have tumbled.

Senate Votes to Start Debate on Keystone Bill

Mon, 2015-01-12 18:56
Taking up a bill that would force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline kicks off the first Senate debate in years on energy and climate change.

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

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:22

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.

Garbage Incinerators Make Comeback, Kindling Both Garbage and Debate

Sat, 2015-01-10 15:38
With the country’s record-setting trash output unyielding, new waste-to-energy plants are being considered, raising concerns about emissions.

Experts Say That Battle on Keystone Pipeline Is Over Politics, Not Facts

Thu, 2015-01-08 21:03
The bill, which President Obama has said he would veto, was sent along for consideration by the full Senate the day before the House was expected to approve its own version of the bill.

Dot Earth Blog: Brazil’s Former Sports Minister is Moved to Science Post Despite Rejection of Global Warming Science

Wed, 2015-01-07 17:47
Brazil’s president picks a former sports minister who rejects global warming science as her new science minister.

Slowing population growth works against climate change

Mon, 2015-01-05 11:52

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?

Sun, 2015-01-04 10:54
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.

Gasoline-Tax Increase Finds Little Support

Fri, 2015-01-02 18:38
Advocates like Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee find it tough to penetrate Washington’s antitax mood, even as gas prices fall and the federal transportation funds the taxes support face huge deficits.

Dot Earth Blog: Tracing the Roots of Pope Francis’s Climate Plans for 2015

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:45
A closer look at Pope Francis’s planned push on climate change in 2015.

Norwegians Turn Ambivalent on Statoil, Their Economic Bedrock

Tue, 2014-12-30 20:39
Though oil and gas provide a quarter of Norway’s G.D.P., concern over climate change is fracturing the country’s bond with its flagship company.

Tycoons bathe in wealth amid global turmoil

Tue, 2014-12-30 19:08
The richest people on Earth got richer in 2014, adding $92 billion to their collective fortune in the face of falling energy prices and geopolitical turmoil.

Non-fossil energy rises in the mix

Tue, 2014-12-30 01:07
Non-fossil fuels accounted for 11.1 percent of China's primary energy use in 2014, up from 9.8 percent last year, as the world's second-largest economy cut emissions to fight climate change.

The Big Fix: Nuclear: Carbon Free, but Not Free of Unease

Tue, 2014-12-23 10:34
Advocates continue to argue that reactors make sense in a world fighting climate change, but the industry is sagging.

Natural Gas Glut Isn’t Deterring Southwestern Energy

Mon, 2014-12-22 18:39
Southwestern, the No. 4 domestic producer of natural gas, is developing over 400,000 acres of reserves in the shale fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Big Fix: Natural Gas: Abundance of Supply and Debate

Mon, 2014-12-22 17:45
Depending on one’s point of view, natural gas can be either an essential tool for meeting the challenge of climate change or another dirty fossil fuel that will speed the planet down the path to calamitous warming.

The right choices for 2015

Sun, 2014-12-21 22:31
Growth, trade, development, and climate change: 2015 will be a rendezvous of important multilateral initiatives. We cannot afford to see them fail.

Balance common ground and competition

Sun, 2014-12-21 21:31
China and the US could join hands to fight cross-border terrorism, climate change, drug trafficking, the Ebola epidemic, and even corruption.