Sustainability is in the Singapore air
Singapore is in the news because we’re here for the National Sustainability Conference, but we cannot ignore the reports from Australia on the Labor’s excuse for a climate change policy. We offer words of sheer disappointment that the best Julia Gillard can come up with is a “people’s assembly”. The plot for a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions! Not much better news from the US where the Democrats have decided to hold off plans to put its climate/energy bill to the Senate. Sane commentators are looking for someone to blame for this inaction when Washington and half the world are experiencing the extreme weather we can expect from climate change. The hottest half year the globe has ever experienced and measured. Maybe the US EPA boss Lisa Jackson has a way to deal with it. Hope abounds: Like a solar robot-controlled journey from Italy to China. A space plane that runs on hydrogen. Better and cheaper ethanol from sugar to sweeten up the energy supply and a way to utilise CO2 for air conditioning and heating. We cannot fail to mention our find of the week – a very Green School in Bali built with love out of bamboo! – Ken Hickson
Archive for July, 2010
Sustainability is in the Singapore air
Profile: Lisa Jackson
While the focus has been on the US Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency, under its administrator, Lisa Jackson, has been quietly preparing to crack down on coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, as never before. She has said the idea that progress on the environment has to hurt the economy is a “false choice” — greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. Steps are being taken to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, power plants and factories as well as mainstream pollutants, which can cause diseases.
By Timothy Gardner in New York Times and International Herald Tribune (26 July 2010):
WASHINGTON — A proposed rule on mercury, a pollutant bad for fish and the people who eat too many of them, could help the administration of President Barack Obama get near its short-term climate goal, even if the U.S. Congress fails this year or next to pass a bill tackling greenhouse gases directly.
Senate Democrats crafting an energy bill have abandoned it until September, and for the rest of the year they probably will not debate climate measures like carbon caps on power plants and mandates for utilities to produce more power from renewable sources like wind and solar.
But while many people concerned about climate control have been focusing on the Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency, under its administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, has been quietly preparing to crack down on coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, as never before.
Under Ms. Jackson — who has said the idea that progress on the environment has to hurt the economy is a “false choice” — the agency declared late last year that greenhouse gases endangered human health and welfare.
The agency has begun to take steps to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, power plants and factories. But its proposed rules on mainstream pollutants, those that can cause diseases, may limit carbon dioxide emissions the most.
While the agency is considering new rules for coal, its proposal for emissions of mercury, which go up smokestacks at coal-fired power plants and enter the environment, could pack a bigger punch.
The rule, which the agency was required by U.S. courts to issue by November 2011, is likely to help push many of the oldest and dirtiest emitters of carbon into retirement.
Environmental groups and a nurses’ group sued to compel the agency to issue the rules, which it has to start enforcing three years after issuing them.
Scientists say mercury from coal accumulates in many fish. Children exposed to the metal, through mother’s milk or by eating contaminated fish, are at risk of learning and developmental problems. Adults who eat too many contaminated fish also face risks.
When combined with the agency’s other current and coming rules on “criteria” pollutants, like ones that cause acid rain and smog, the mercury measure would require utilities to invest tens of millions of dollars on technologies to remove the substances.
Many of those plants are about 50 years old and are already inefficient.
“Those investments are just not going to be justifiable,” said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at Ceres, a group of environmentalists and institutional investors.
François Broquin, who has written reports on coal for Bernstein Research, said the combined rules could push as much as 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired electric generation capacity into retirement by 2015. “Obviously that will have an impact,” he said.
Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group, said that retirement of a large number of coal-fired plants could help the country exceed Mr. Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, measuring from 2005 levels.
“We’ve thought for a long time that proper enforcement of the Clean Air Act, laws already on the books, can have the unintended benefit of really doing something on climate,” he said.
The World Resources Institute, an international environmental group, said Friday that aggressive action on existing U.S. national rules and state plans could reduce emissions almost as much as Mr. Obama wants by 2020. But it said implementation of the proposed rules on mercury and other issues could get even closer.
Utilities are likely to replace coal-powered plants with plants that burn natural gas, which emits half the carbon that coal does. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar power, which provided most of the U.S. electricity capacity added last year, could also become more attractive to utilities.
To be sure, the rate of retirements may also depend on the price of natural gas, which is relatively cheap now, as new drilling technologies have granted access to vast new supplies.
In addition, coal companies and utilities could sue to stop or delay implementation of the rules.
But several utilities have already announced plans to shut coal plants.
They know the agency is also considering rules like regulating coal ash waste since a dike ruptured in 2008 at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant, unleashing a gush of slurry that flattened houses. Cleaning up after the disaster could cost $900 million.
Additional rules on chemicals that cause smog would add new costs, either to comply with or fight in court.
The agency’s rules alone would not get to the huge reductions of 80 percent in greenhouse gases by 2050 that scientists say are required to stop the world from suffering the worst effects of climate change. Ultimately, Congress would have to create a law to achieve those cuts.
Until that happens, the agency’s rules could serve as a bridge.
The rules are also not going to achieve Mr. Obama’s 2020 reduction goals, Mr. Broquin of Bernstein Research said, “but they are a first and important step.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article erroneously described Lisa P. Jackson as a former chemical engineer. Ms. Jackson received a scholarship from an oil company but never worked as an engineer.
Lisa P. Jackson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for the Obama administration.
She has 20 years of experience as an environmental regulator and a reputation as a consensus builder. Ms. Jackson brought a more policy-driven approach to New Jersey’s historically politicized Department of Environmental Protection as its commissioner. During her 33 months in that job, the state began conducting compliance sweeps to crack down on polluters in environmentally ravaged sections of Camden and Paterson, ended its controversial bear hunt and unveiled a plan to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Like her former boss, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, Ms. Jackson supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton over Mr. Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries. Besides making a $1,000 donation to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007, Ms. Jackson was an at-large delegate pledged to Mrs. Clinton; only later in 2008 did she donate $200 to the Obama campaign. Shortly after she was named Mr. Corzine’s chief of staff in late October — taking over on Dec. 1, becoming the first woman and first African American to hold the post — she was chosen by President-elect Obama in mid-November to serve on his transition panel for energy and the environment.
She was an administrator in the federal Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years, where her duties included regulating the cleanup of hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program. She also ran various enforcement programs at both the E.P.A. and New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as New Jersey’s Land Use Management Program.
The E.P.A. criticized New Jersey in a recent report for moving too slowly to clean up some toxic waste sites. Some environmentalists also say she caved in to pressure from big business by supporting a plan that would privatize cleanup of hazardous waste sites, and from developers by diluting a proposal to enact stricter groundwater quality standards.
Although her tenure at the Department of Environmental Protection involved dealing with an assortment of volatile political issues, Ms. Jackson’s measured approach won praise even from those who opposed her decisions; those diplomatic skills led Mr. Corzine to name her his chief of staff.
Ms. Jackson was born Feb. 8, 1962, in Philadelphia; she was adopted a few weeks later and raised in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. First in her class at St. Mary’s Dominican High School (she once described her academic career, saying, “I was a straight ‘A’ student a geek basically”), she graduated summa cum laude from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering and earned a master’s in chemical engineering from Princeton University. An avid cook, her signature dish gumbo is a tribute to her Louisiana roots. She is renowned for her annual Mardi Gras party, which she has not thrown since Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown in 2005.
Will the US Energy Climate Bill Ever Come to Pass?
As Senator John Kerry promises he’ll be back to try to get his comprehensive bill before the end of the year, Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times wonders who to blame as Democrats once again abandoned efforts to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy. “The best thing about improvements in health care is that all the climate-change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.”
Business Week (23 July 2010):
Bloomberg — U.S. Senator John Kerry said Democrats may take up his comprehensive climate-change bill in a lame-duck session after the November elections, while calling on President Barack Obama to escalate his advocacy for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday introduced a more limited energy bill that doesn’t include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, citing the lack of support for a broader bill.
The bigger measure “is not dead,” Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “If it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling that they can take a risk or do something.”
Kerry, who co-authored the Senate climate measure with Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, urged Obama to lobby for the bill in private meetings with undecided senators and at public events.
“People have to know it really counts,” said Kerry, 66.
On climate legislation, Kerry said Democrats have “well over 50” votes for a cap-and-trade program that requires power plants to buy and sell carbon-dioxide pollution rights. At least five Democrats from rural and Rust Belt states say they won’t support the plan and no Republican supports the bill, which will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
“There is basically sort of a political shutdown going on here in Washington,” Kerry said.
The scaled-back legislation introduced by Reid mandates new offshore oil and gas drilling regulations, energy-efficiency programs and incentives for natural-gas-fueled vehicles. The bill will also increase the $75 million liability cap for companies that cause oil spills.
Legislation passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in June would eliminate the cap entirely, while Republican proposals would double the current cap to $150 million or expose a company to damages equal to the last four quarters of its profits.
Kerry said the Senate is more likely to raise the cap than eliminate it entirely.
“We ought to find out what the political market here and the Senate will bear and get to a realistic figure,” he said.
By Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times News Service (27 July 2010):
When I first heard Thursday that Senate Democrats were abandoning the effort to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases that cause global warming and promote renewable energy that could diminish our addiction to oil, I remembered something that Joe Romm, the climateprogress.org blogger, once said: The best thing about improvements in health care is that all the climate-change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.
Alas, so are the rest of us.
I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one GOP senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Barack Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the chamber of commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill.
The truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilized to press for this legislation. We will regret it.
We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign – even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so.
Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is what we’re doing.
Since I don’t have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and e-mails.
Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: “BEIJING – The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target …”
A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)
Making our country more energy efficient is not some green feel-good thing. Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Anderson, who was Gen. David Petraeus’ senior logistician in Iraq, e-mailed to say that “over 1,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan hauling fuel to air-condition tents and buildings. If our military would simply insulate their structures, it would save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save lives of truck drivers and escorts. … And will take lots of big fuel trucks (aka Taliban Targets) off the road, expediting the end of the conflict.”
The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted:
“Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for … what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: The fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their PR skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”
Thomas Friedman is a New York Times columnist.
A Spectacular Failure of Leadership
So wretched is Labor’s new climate change policy, it makes the CPRS, and its dog of an emissions trading scheme, look like a model of best practice. Bernard Keane says Julia Gillard’s “citizens’ assembly” has effectively outsourced responsibility for climate policy to “ordinary Australians”, on whose “skills, capacity, decency and plain common sense” the Government will rely to tell her about the community consensus on climate change.
Canberra correspondent for Crikey.com Bernard Keane writes
It’s hard to describe just how truly wretched Labor’s new climate change policy is. It makes the CPRS, and its dog of an emissions trading scheme, look like a model of best practice. It is a spectacular failure of leadership.
Julia Gillard’s “citizens’ assembly” has effectively outsourced responsibility for climate policy to “ordinary Australians”, on whose “skills, capacity, decency and plain common sense” Gillard will rely to tell her about the community consensus on climate change. In effect it institutionalises what is already apparent — this is a Government controlled by focus group reactions.
Labor has been playing politics with climate change for three years and it hasn’t stopped. But whereas for most of that time it used climate change to damage the Coalition, now it is having to defend itself against the issue. It will only be with the political cover afforded by this nonsensical Assembly that the Government will take any action on a carbon price.
Rarely has so much goodwill and political capital been wasted on such an important issue.
The consensus the Government insists it needs the protection of before acting already exists. It’s not just in the opinion polls, which show time and time again that the majority of voters want action on climate change and supported the Government’s CPRS. In 2007, let’s not forget, both sides of politics told Australians they were going to introduce an ETS. The 2007 election endorsed a community consensus on the need for action.
Instead, in 2010, neither party will commit to any sort of carbon price mechanism for at least three years. Instead, they’re offering excuses as to why they don’t want to take action. We’ve done anything but move forward on climate action.
Gillard’s interim actions are little better. The new emissions standard she proposes won’t even apply to four coal-fired power stations being built or brought back on line currently. They may not apply to two more, the massive Mt Piper and Bayswater projects in NSW, which will together add 4% to national CO2-equivalent emissions when they come on line. Holding the baseline for the CPRS at 2008 levels won’t give electricity generators any more investment certainty when it remains unclear whether there will ever be an emissions trading scheme in Australia. Nor does it change the simple fact that State Governments continue to drive Australia into a coal-fired future.
Labor’s craven pandering to key outer-suburban electorates in its population and asylum seeker policies was bad enough. But abdicating executive responsibility for action on climate change is a new low in cynical politics, beyond the depths even reached by NSW Labor. Politicians are elected to lead. Deferring every controversial issue back to the electorate is a clumsy variant of leadership by polling and focus groups.
So blatant is Labor’s refusal to lead that it raises serious questions about its fitness for government. The only problem is that the alternative is an economically-illiterate party whose leader doesn’t believe in climate change at all, but who insists on wasting $3b on the most expensive possible means of addressing it.
What a choice, two major parties incapable of leadership and unfit to govern.
Labor’s Lost Love: Lamenting a State of Limbo
The lack of policy signals to encourage major investments in lower emissions plants and technologies has again been lamented, this time by Elaine Prior, the climate change and carbon specialist at Citigroup. “Regulatory limbo appears the only certainty” is the title of her analysis of the policy proposals of the two mainstream political parties and the Greens in the current election campaign. Giles Parkinson reports in Climate Spectator.
Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator (28 July 2010)
Lamenting ETS limbo
The lack of policy signals to encourage major investments in lower emissions plants and technologies has again been lamented, this time by Elaine Prior, the climate change and carbon specialist at Citigroup. “Regulatory limbo appears the only certainty” is the title of her analysis of the policy proposals of the two mainstream political parties and the Greens in the current election campaign. “The only certainty post the August election is uncertainty about a carbon price,” she writes.
Prior is dismissive of the Labor policy that allows for early action. “We doubt that major investments in lower emissions plants and technologies will occur without confidence in a long term carbon price signal. The policy leaves industry in limbo,” says Prior. “It seems risky to build high emissions plant given the likelihood of future carbon costs, but it may be risky to over-invest in low emissions technologies. Prior says the Coalition policy is heavily contingent on substantial reductions via soil carbon at $8-10/tonne, a concept she thinks is unlikely to be achieved. “The proposal does not allow the potential for emissions reductions to be sourced at “lowest cost” via a carbon market, including via access to international markets.”
America’s other windy city
Construction began this week on what is currently expected to be the world’s largest wind energy project, the Alta Wind Energy Centre in central California. The brainchild of the now collapsed Australian finance group Allco, the 1,550MW complex will have a similar capacity to many large-scale coal and gas fired generators, and comprise nearly 600 turbines on completion in 2016, although it may ultimately have a capacity of 3000MW. The Alta project was bought by Terra-Gen, a company backed by New York energy investment group Arclight Capital after the collapse of Allco in 2008. Last week, it secured a $US1.2 billion financing deal that included a leaseback arrangement with Citibank, the first such deal of its type in the wind industry, and one that could unlock further financing initiatives for the US wind industry.
King of the hill
In New Zealand, the state-owned utility Genesis Energy has announced plans for a 600MW wind energy farm near Castle Hill on the north Island. The announcement is part of an anticipated rapid build-up of wind capacity, at least partly driven by the introduction of its emissions trading scheme on July 1. Castle Hill, which had an original capacity target of 400MW, is one of three large-scale wind energy farms planned for New Zealand, each of which is bigger than the country’s entire installed capacity to date. Meridian Energy is proposing a 630MW project in central Otago and Contact Energy’s is planning a 540MW wind farm on the coast north of Raglan.
The unpredictable nature of renewable energy supplies was underlined by the UK-based Scottish and Southern Energy, which this week revealed that output from its renewable energy projects – consisting largely of wind, biomass and hyrdro-electric – had fallen 30 per cent over the last three months compared with the same period a year earlier. SSE said in an interim statement that output had been cut to 700GWh in the three months since April 1, 2010 from 1,000MWh. Unusually, mild weather was to blame. The company is currently building more than 500MW of onshore wind capacity and more than 850MW of offshore wind facilities.
Down on coal
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has cut the credit rating of the Loy Yang B brown coal power station to BBB minus – just one notch above junk bond – and given it a negative outlook. The downgrade was based on S&P’s concerns about rising refinancing costs – it needs to renegotiate some $1.1 billion by 2012 – and uncertainty about legislation on greenhouse emissions. Loy Yan B is majority owned by the IK-based International Power, which also owns the Hazelwood brown coal power station, currently the target of the Victorian state government as part of its plans to cut 4 million tonnes of emissions a year from its stationary energy sector.
More hot rocks
Hot Rock Ltd has announced that its geothermal resource in Victoria’s Otway Basin has increased by 170 per cent following the addition of two new hot sedimentary aquifer reservoirs near the town of Casterton, in the south-west of the state. Hot Rock says this takes its total Inferred and Indicated geothermal resources to 180,000 petajoules from around 66,000PJ. The company says 6,700PJ would be enough to provide energy for up to 50,000 households. The company expects to start drilling its first production appraisal well early next year.
– Giles Parkinson
Hotter Than Ever But is it Caused by Climate Change?
The first six months of 2010 brought a string of warmest-ever global temperatures, but connecting these dots to long-term climate change patterns remains frustratingly difficult, experts say. Not only was last month the hottest June ever recorded, it was the fourth consecutive month in which the standing high mark was topped, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
AFP reports in Sydney Morning Herald July 20, 2010
The first six months of 2010 brought a string of warmest-ever global temperatures, but connecting these dots to long-term climate change patterns remains frustratingly difficult, experts say.
Not only was last month the hottest June ever recorded, it was the fourth consecutive month in which the standing high mark was topped, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Indeed, 2010 has already surpassed 1998 for the most record-breaking months in a calendar year.
As a block, the January-to-June period registered the warmest combined global land and ocean surface temperatures since 1880, when reliable temperature readings began, NOAA said.
Arctic ice cover – another critical yardstick of global warming – had also retreated more than ever before by July 1, putting it on track to shrink beyond its smallest area to date, in 2007.
On the face of it, these numbers would seem to be alarming confirmation of climate models that put earth on a path towards potentially catastrophic impacts.
Without steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the global thermometer could rise by 6 degrees compared with pre-industrial levels, making large swathes of the planet unlivable, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned.
Voluntary national pledges made after the Copenhagen climate summit in December would most likely cap that increase at 3.5 to 4 degrees, still far short of the 2 degree limit that most scientists agree is the threshold for dangerous warming.
But making a direct link between year-on-year variations in the weather and changes in climate – best measured in centuries – is simply not possible, scientists say.
“When we are looking at the scale of a season or a few months, we can’t talk about trends related to climate change,” Herve le Treut, head of France’s Laboratory of Dynamical Meteorology, said.
“The problem is knowing whether these numbers fit into a long-term evolution, and that only becomes apparent over at least two or three decades.”
For scientists, he said, it would be like trying to figure out which way the tide is moving by watching only a few waves lapping at the shoreline.
A hotter-than-average 2010 is due at least in part to the influence of periodic El Ninos, which disrupt weather patterns in the equatorial Pacific, le Treut and other experts point out.
“We now know that the year following an El Nino will be globally unusually warm,” said Andrew Watson, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain.
“1998 was such a year. It’s clear that 2010 will be very close to 1998 and quite possibly it will beat it,” he said.
At the same time the long-term trend of warming is unmistakable, and at least one figure from last month can be said to add to the mounting evidence that climate change is firmly upon us.
June was the 304th consecutive month with a global surface temperature above the 20th-century average, the NOAA reported.
The most recent month to dip below that average was February 1985, more than a quarter century ago.
“Taken in isolation these figures say nothing about climate change,” said Barry Gromett, spokesman for Britain’s national weather and climate centre, the Met Office.
“But if taken in the context of 2000-2010 being the warmest decade on record, and this set be another near record or record warm year, then this is further evidence that the climate is warming,” he said.
The Met Office uses different methods than the NOAA to calculate climate trends, and has not yet calculated data for June, he explained.
The 10 warmest average annual global temperatures recorded since the end of the 19th century have occurred in the past 15 years.
Do Nothing When The Heat is on Washington
Washington has just endured its hottest June since records began in 1872. Yet US senators and their aides seemed to be on the verge of deciding to do approximately nothing, says David Leonhardt. The most efficient way to begin attacking the global swelter is no mystery. It involves raising the price of carbon emissions, which are warming the planet, and then letting the private sector find innovative ways to use less dirty energy.
By David Leonhardt in the International Herald Tribune( 22 July 2010):
Washington – This city just endured its hottest June since records began in 1872, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So did Miami. Atlanta suffered its second-hottest June, and Dallas had its third hottest.
In New York, the weather was relatively pleasant: only the fourth-hottest June since 1872. Then again, New York is on pace for its hottest July on record.
Yet U.S. senators and their aides seemed to be on the verge of deciding to do approximately nothing about global warming before they were set to convene for a vote Wednesday on climate legislation. The needed 60 votes did not seem to be there, at least before the main event.
Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and President Barack Obama had to find a way to cobble together the votes, as they did on health care and financial regulation, by somehow persuading moderate Republicans to support a market-based limit on power plant emissions or getting Democrats to support a less ambitious set of rules.
Either way, most Senate watchers, inside and out, thought the odds of passing a major climate bill were not great. And if this White House and this Congress, controlled by Democrats, could not pass one, you had to wonder what the future of climate policy looked like.
All the while, the risks and costs of climate change grow. Sea levels are rising faster than scientists predicted just a few years ago. Himalayan glaciers are melting. In the American West, pine beetles (which struggle to survive the cold) are multiplying and killing trees.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2010 is on course to be the planet’s hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.
The most efficient way to begin attacking the global swelter is no mystery. It involves raising the price of carbon emissions, which are warming the planet, and then letting the private sector find innovative ways to use less dirty energy. Conservative economists, like N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University in Massachusetts, support this approach. So do liberals, like Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University in New York. But taxing carbon has never had much of a political chance. It is too honest. It acknowledges that the best way to reduce the use of a product is to increase its price. We all prefer a free lunch.
So Congress has been laboring to disguise a price increase in a more palatable package.
In June 2009, the House passed a cap-and-trade bill. It set a national cap on carbon emissions and required companies to have permits for such emissions. To keep emitting as much as they had been, companies would have to buy permits from more efficient companies.
Republican leaders, though, were only too happy to cast cap and trade as ”cap and tax.” In the process, they helped scare away senators who had long supported this very idea, like Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. The sad paradox is that cap and trade – which trusts in the efficiency of markets – was originally a Republican policy, signed by President George H.W. Bush to reduce acid rain, and disliked at the time by many liberals.
With a comprehensive cap off the table, Senate leaders began talking about a narrower version that would apply only to power plants, not to emissions from vehicles or factories. This utility-only cap has two advantages.
One, it goes after the emissions that energy experts think will be among the cheapest to reduce. Two, it involves another layer of political disguise. The cap would apply to unlovable utilities, not to American families and businesses.
Of course, the cap would ultimately raise utility rates. That is the point. As long as dirty energy remains inexpensive, people are going to use huge amounts of it.
But some policy makers have not been willing to acknowledge this. They continue to look for a solution without downsides. For them, a tempting option is a series of new rules requiring people to use cleaner energy. In a few cases, such rules really are a free lunch, in that they require people to take steps – like home insulation – that save money. But most rules increase costs. They push people away from the energy sources they are now using.
The classic example is the U.S. fuel economy rules from the 1970s that required car companies to make fewer gas guzzlers.
The newly imposed scarcity of guzzlers, in turn, increased their price. But the relationship was not obvious. Americans do not think of fuel economy rules as a tax on large vehicles.
This explains why the rule-based approach seems to be the best bet for winning Republican votes. Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, has proposed new rules not only for vehicles but also for appliances, building codes and power plants.
If these regulations were tough enough, they could make a difference, as the fuel economy rules have. So some Democrats and environmentalists see this approach as their best remaining chance.
On the other hand, such rules would require government regulators to make all kinds of decisions – about which dishwashers qualified as efficient, about which alternative energies power plants had to use and the like. Businesses and consumers could not look simply for the cheapest solution, as they could if Congress put a price on carbon. They would have to comply with specific provisions.
The result would almost certainly be higher, albeit better disguised, costs than with a carbon cap or tax. Even many advocates admit that new rules would not do enough, on their own, to reduce emissions and slow warming. Only a cap or a tax can accomplish that at a reasonable cost.
Thus the opposition among other Democrats and environmentalists to accepting the Lugar approach as a compromise.
Whether anything is done will be decided in the next few weeks, before the Senate breaks for its August recess, or in September, before the midterm election campaign takes over. Meanwhile, the temperature in Washington this week is supposed to hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius).
China is Leading By Example with Carbon Trading Plan
China is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. In addition, the country’s top 1,000 energy consumers have signed contracts with the central government to improve their energy efficiency.
By Li Jing in China Daily (22 July 2010):
BEIJING – The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target.
The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and attended by officials from related ministries, enterprises, environmental exchanges and think tanks, a participant told China Daily on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
“The consensus that a domestic carbon-trading scheme is essential was reached, but a debate is still ongoing among experts and industries regarding what approach should be adopted,” the source said.
The meeting concluded that such efforts are self-imposed and should be strictly separated from ongoing international negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, the source said.
As a developing country, China does not shoulder legally binding responsibilities to reduce carbon emissions, according to the basic principle set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.
China has mostly relied on administrative tools to realize its 20 percent energy intensity reduction target between 2006 to 2010. To that effect, the country’s top 1,000 energy consumers have signed contracts with the central government to improve their energy efficiency.
But with rising domestic energy demand, administrative measures are too expensive for the country to meet its future energy conservation targets – something that was also agreed at the meeting, said Tang Renhu from the low-carbon center at China Datang Corporation who also joined the discussion.
Although China has refuted the International Energy Agency’s label of being the world’s top energy consumer, its energy consumption for 2009 stood at 2.132 billion tons of oil equivalent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
“The market-based carbon-trading schemes will be a cost-effective supplement to administrative means,” said Yu Jie, an independent policy observer who previously worked for several international climate-related institutes.
Tang also said the differences are centered on whether the pilot carbon trade projects should start from a selected industry, or a certain area.
Possible sectors for piloting carbon trade projects include carbon-intensive industries such as coal-fired power generation, Tang said.
One of the proposals include setting an absolute cap on carbon dioxide emissions in a certain area or industry. Others argue that the country’s carbon intensity target can be converted to some carbon-related allowances for trading schemes.
China has pledged to cut its carbon emissions per unit of economic growth by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Yu said it would be very complicated to work out a trading scheme that allocates the carbon-related emission permits among the enterprises in an open and fair manner.
“My suggestion is that the number of participating enterprises should be limited, as the goal of pilot trading is to try out the rules and establish a mechanism especially suitable for China,” Yu said.
China has been testing the waters with voluntary carbon trade, aimed at developing the necessary financial systems and policy tools.
The country’s first voluntary carbon trade was sealed last August, with a Shanghai-based auto insurance company buying more than 8,000 tons of carbon credits generated through a green commuting campaign during the Beijing Olympics. The trade was carried out through the China Beijing Environment Exchange.
Sun Cuihua, an official from the NDRC’s climate change department, earlier said the government is also working out rules to guide voluntary carbon trade projects in China.
For the first time in history, a vehicle completely dependent on the sun for power will travel for over 13,000 km without a human in the driver’s seat. During the course of the 3-month drive, each VIAC vehicle will be equipped with specially-designed Smartphones that monitor CO2 levels, providing a live stream of environmental data throughout the journey, as well as identify quickly how pollution levels vary across continents.
Solar-Powered Robot Car Will Trek From Italy to China
For the first time in history, a vehicle completely dependent on the sun for power will travel for over 13,000 km without a human in the driver’s seat.
To showcase the benefit of green transportation, unmanned vans will drive through nine different countries as part of The VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge (VIAC), an epic 13,000km journey from Parma, Italy to Shanghai, China.
Not only are the vehicles are controlled by robots, but they run on electrical power and the whole electronic pilot is powered by solar energy, making this trip unique in history: goods packed in Italy will be brought to Shanghai on an intercontinental route with no human intervention and without using traditional fuel for the first time in history (VIAC).
Learning As You Go
During the course of the 3-month drive, each VIAC vehicle will be equipped with specially-designed Smartphones that monitor CO2 levels, providing a live stream of environmental data to the web via Twitter, @greenhaviour, throughout the journey.
“Visualising the data will enable us to identify quickly how pollution levels vary across continents. We will use IBM analytical tools to discover trends such as a correlation between certain illnesses and the quality of the air,” said Ed Jellard, consultant from IBM Hursley Development Lab.
If successful, the challenge will have accomplished two important goals: 1) it helps support the argument that electric vehicles can have all the power and stamina of the current gas or diesel powered options, and, 2) autonomous pilot can be installed without altering engine performance and without any requirement on additional power, being self-sustained.
With no need for human drivers, who can fall asleep at the wheel, or drive while under the influence, one might wonder if robotic transportation systems are safer as well as more efficient.
News from VisLab, Italy
Two electric vehicles will perform a 13,000 km trip mainly powered by solar energy, with no driver; two backup vehicles will be part of the trip as well. As a support, 4 Overland trucks will follow the expedition to provide a mechanic shop, storage, and accommodation; finally two additional trucks will be used for media coverage and will be equipped for live satellite broadcasting.
The first vehicle will drive autonomously in selected sections of the trip and will conduct experimental tests on sensing, decision, and control subsystems, and will continuously collect data. Although limited, human interventions will be needed to define the route and intervene in critical situations.
The second vehicle will automatically follow the route defined by the preceding vehicle, requiring no human intervention (100% autonomous). This will be regarded as a readily exploitable vehicle, able to move on predefined routes; at the end of the trip, its technology will be transferred to a set of vehicles to move in the inner part of Rome in the close future.
In case the first vehicle is in line of sight, the second will follow using primarily vision; in case the first vehicle is not visible (cut off by another vehc,e behind a curve, far ahead), the the second vehicle will use GPS info broadcasted by the first vehicle to determine a rough indication of the route. In any case, local sensing will be the primary means of avoiding obstacles, locating the road and the path (when driving off-road), locating other traffic, and -in general- understand the environment.
During the trip, demonstrations will be performed in specific hot spots; autonomous vehicles will follow given routes, negotiating traffic, avoiding obstacles, and stopping when required. The first demonstration was held in Rome at the EUR district on October 29, 2009, when Rome’s Major, Gianni Alemanno, officially presented this challenge.
If you want to witness the greatest challenge so far in the field of mobility, see how the vehicles move autonomously, interact with the engineers that will be following the vehicles, discuss about the great potential of this technology, please refer to this web page and stay tuned at vislab.it: a specific website (www.IntercontinentalChallenge.eu) is now online with news, feeds, video streaming from the vehicles while driving to Shanghai!
Singapore in Space Race For Zero Emissions
Aerospace firm European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) is considering a space-plane demonstration in Singapore, its executive adviser said on the eve of the National Sustainability Conference 29/30 July. The aerospace giant is developing its space plane as a precursor to a zero-emissions aircraft that can travel faster than sound and use hydrogen fuel.
Singapore may be site for ‘green’ space-plane demo
Grace Chua Straits Times 27 Jul 10;
Aerospace firm European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) is considering a space-plane demonstration in Singapore, its executive adviser said at a climate change conference this week.
The aerospace giant is developing its space plane as a precursor to a zero-emissions aircraft that can travel faster than sound, explained Mr Marvyn Lim.
The company announced at the Berlin Air Show last month that it would be starting a three-year study on the hypersonic plane. It is touted to use zero-emissions hydrogen fuel and can travel much faster than normal planes and at a much higher altitude.
He was speaking at a conference on European Union and Asian policy responses to climate change and energy security. The two-day conference, which continues today, is organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the Energy Studies Institute (ESI), and the EU Centre in Singapore.
The conference comes five months ahead of the United Nations’ climate change meeting in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of this year, which aims to hammer out international agreements to cope with climate change.
Mr Lim, a Singaporean, explained why the country was a good pick for a space-plane demonstration: ‘I believe that Singapore has the entrepreneurship and technology culture to appreciate such an animal.’
The aerospace company is also working with Singapore institutions such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences on projects such as algal biofuels. Other biofuels such as palm oil, however, came under scrutiny at the conference, which featured presentations from academics and industry players across Asia.
Dr Hooman Peimani, ESI’s head of energy security and geopolitics, cautioned that biofuel production could hasten environmental destruction if not done sustainably. ‘The way we produce biofuels today is highly pollutive, resource- and water-intensive, and takes fertiliser,’ he said, citing palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia as an example of biofuel production contributing to deforestation.
In Indonesia, for instance, 3.8 million ha of land were used for oil palm between 1996 and last year. That included palm oil for food, fuel and other use.
Biofuels and a diverse range of energy sources, however, are necessary for energy security and to ensure that developing countries have enough energy to grow, Dr Peimani and other speakers said.
Meanwhile, Mr Tan Yong Soon, permanent secretary of the National Climate Change Secretariat, said Singapore would work to secure a global agreement on climate change, and stick to its plans to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
‘I believe we can, and must, succeed in balancing our fight against climate change and in ensuring a high standard of living with good jobs for all,’ he said. ‘Singapore has always taken a balanced approach to growth and sustainability and we have been reaping the fruits of our on-going efforts as a reference site for other countries and cities.’
The National Sustainabilty Conference is on at the Amara Hotel, Singapore 29/30 July. For more information go to www.nationalsustainabilityconference.com