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In the headlines: Google and Microsoft help White House track climate change and EU delays 2030 climate and energy policy

24 March 2014
In the headlines: Google and Microsoft help White House track climate change and EU delays 2030 climate and energy policy

Clean Revolution news stories you may have missed:


Ban Ki-moon hails 20th birthday of UN’s climate change body
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked countries to “rediscover the commitment” that led to the establishment of the UN’s Convention on Climate Change, as it celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1994, setting up the basis upon which countries would start their efforts to tackle global warming. Twenty years later, the UN is still trying to negotiate an agreement that will secure the original goal of the Convention: to avoid dangerous levels of man-made climate change. RTCC, March 21

EU delays 2030 climate and energy policy package until October
Green groups have accused the EU of "kicking climate action into the long grass" after member states postponed a decision on the bloc's 2030 climate and energy policy package until the autumn. Heads of state meeting in Brussels over the past two days were considering proposals from the Commission to cut emissions 40 per cent across the 28 members, as well as a binding target to obtain at least 27 per cent of their energy from renewable sources and a non-binding target encouraging countries to improve their energy efficiency by 25 per cent through the 2020s. The proposals sparked fierce lobbying from member states, some of whom have pushed for greater ambition, while coal-reliant eastern European countries such as Poland want to hold back announcing EU goals until China and the US unveil their proposals ahead of negotiations late next year on a global climate pact due to take effect from 2020. Ministers hoped to finalise a position before a UN summit in September, but today delegates were unable to agree new targets and instead set out a roadmap for an agreement on targets by "October at the latest”. Business Green, March 21

Asia – Pacific

Report finds Asia driving clean tech firms
The Australasian Cleantech sector is profiled to a greater extent than ever before in a report to be launched this week at events in Brisbane and Perth. The report is the fifth published by Australian CleanTech, a research and advisory firm that works for cleantech companies, investors and governments to deliver growth in the sector. "This year we have found that whilst the term 'cleantech' has fallen out of favour politically in Australia, both Australian industry and the big Asian markets see it as one of their highest priorities. This presents a huge opportunity for Australian companies and, at the same time, will present significant challenges for our politicians," said John O’Brien, Managing Director of Australian CleanTech. The analysis of nearly 1,500 Australasian cleantech companies reviewed shows the leading sectors of activity and which regions are most active. As a sector, the companies had combined revenue of $32.5 billion and employed 58,000 people. Business Spectator, March 18

Global warming to hit Asia hardest, warns new report on climate change
People in coastal regions of Asia, particularly those living in cities, could face some of the worst effects of global warming, climate experts will warn this week. Hundreds of millions of people are likely to lose their homes as flooding, famine and rising sea levels sweep the region, one of the most vulnerable on Earth to the impact of global warming, the UN states. The report – Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – makes it clear that for the first half of this century countries such as the UK will avoid the worst impacts of climate change, triggered by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. By contrast, people living in developing countries in low latitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia, will suffer the most, especially those living in crowded cities. A final draft of the report, seen by the Observer, will be debated by a panel of scientists set up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week at a meeting in Yokohama, Japan, and will form a key part of the IPCC's fifth assessment report on global warming, whose other sections will be published later this year. The Guardian, March 22


Solar Makers Shift to Profit as Demand Eases Oversupply
Solar manufacturers are returning to profit as demand in China soaks up a supply glut that gutted margins for more than two years. The largest solar-panel maker Yingli Green Energy Holdings Co. (YGE) said yesterday that it expects to be profitable in the third quarter. It joins peers including JinkoSolar Holding Co., Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL) and JA Solar Holdings Co. in guiding investors to expect both income and higher shipments in 2014. Climbing demand for solar panels is countering a global oversupply of production capacity that erased profits across the industry and bankrupted more than a dozen companies. Developers installed 37.5 gigawatts of panels worldwide last year, up 22 percent from 2012, and that figure may increase as much as 39 percent this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That growth is starting to “sponge up” much of the glut, especially among Chinese manufacturers, that resulted from a buildup in the late 2000s, Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in Houston, said in an interview. “That has made a real dent in the overcapacity.” Bloomberg, March 19

China counts rising cost of climate change
Climate change fuelled storm waves and rising sea levels cost China 16.3 billion yuan ($2.9 bln) and killed 121 people in 2013, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said. China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases which scientists say is driving climate change. Southern Guangdong province was hit hardest, recording 7.4 billion yuan worth of damage, the SOA said in a new report. Storm waves caused 94 percent of the destruction, it said. Climate change-linked rising, warmer seas cause more frequent storms and typhoons, flood coastal areas, contribute to coastal erosion and salinate farmland, said SOA. Average sea-levels off China have risen 2.9 millimetres on average every year since 1980, faster than global sea-level rises, said SOA. "Sea temperature, air temperature, air pressure and monsoons are the main causes of the irregular sea-level changes," it said. Temperatures in coastal zones in China have increased by 0.34 degrees Celsius per decade since 1980 and sea surface temperatures by 0.18 degrees, it said. China plans to put in place a number of policies to protect itself from rising seas, which threaten megacities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin. Sydney Morning Herald, March 21


Obama and EU poised for climate change collaboration
The United States and European Union are set to make a joint commitment to slashing greenhouse gases later this month, when President Barack Obama makes his first visit to Brussels since his election in 2008. A leaked draft communique, seen by Reuters and prepared ahead of the US-EU summit on 26 March, states that "sustainable economic growth will only be possible if we tackle climate change". However, the commitment is still subject to negotiations, and with the summit likely to focus on the crisis in the Crimea and the EU-US transatlantic trade deal, it remains to be seen how much time will be given to how the two powers can co-operate to tackle climate change. Following the Brussels summit, Obama is also expected to meet Pope Francis to discuss their "shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality", the White House said. Business Green, March 17


First report of India-China joint climate study released
Facing similar challenges in dealing with rising pollution levels in their top cities, India and China today released for the first time a joint report to address the issues of climate change, providing practical recommendations for greater bilateral cooperation. ‘The China India Low Carbon Study’, the first project of its kind, was launched on the sidelines of the third Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), here attended, among others, by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The study examines the main factors in low carbon development – financing, low carbon technologies and on-the- ground implementation, Nobel Peace Prize winner and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra K Pachauri told the gathering. “The two countries operate in similar contexts in terms of local and global environmental issues that confront them today and will become increasingly important in the future,” said Pachauri, who released the report. The Free Press Journal, March 18

Indian Budget Cut Risks Hindering Effort to Expand Rooftop Solar
Indian cuts in its renewable energy ministry’s budget by more than two-thirds risk hindering efforts to shield against blackouts by expanding rooftop solar projects, according to consultant Bridge to India Energy Pvt. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been allocated 4.41 billion rupees ($72 million) in the financial year starting April, down from 15 billion rupees this year. “This is likely to have a negative impact on the rooftop solar market in India,” New Delhi-based Bridge to India told clients today by e-mail. States such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand may shelve rooftop incentives as they depend on the ministry to fund part of the programs, it said. India has built more than 2,000 megawatts of solar capacity in two years, mostly large desert farms that feed power into an archaic grid. It’s seeking to diversify by spurring businesses and households to generate power from rooftop panels to combat blackouts and reduce the burden on the transmission system. Business Week, March 18

North America

Renewables dominate new U.S. electrical capacity
First, the good news — break out the champagne! The overwhelming majority of new U.S. electrical capacity is coming from wind and solar, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC just released its monthly analysis for February, and the Sun Day campaign, a research and advocacy organization promoting sustainable energy, summarizes the findings: Wind and solar provided 80.9% of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity for the month of February. For the first two months of 2014, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 91.9% of the 568 [megawatts] of new domestic electrical generating installed. Coal, oil, and nuclear provided none while natural gas and 1 MW of “other” provided the balance. Now are you ready to get sober? The current U.S. energy portfolio is still overwhelmingly dirty. As Sun Day notes, “Renewable energy sources, including hydropower, now account for 16.14% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity.” That’s a start. But the U.S. is a massive energy consumer, the largest in the world. To reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will need to keep up this pace of renewable expansion while simultaneously taking coal-, oil-, and gas-burning plants offline. That can only be accomplished through a combination of higher prices for fossil fuels and reduced consumption through efficiency. Grist, March 20

What President Obama's Budget Means for Our Clean Energy Future
Earlier this month, President Obama submitted his proposed FY 2015 Budget to Congress which proposes to continue the powerful momentum of renewable energy growth from 2013. This year’s proposed budget contains $27.9 billion directed to the Department of Energy, a 2.6% increase from last year. Feel free to sift through the 208 page document on your own; but thanks to several tantalizing hours awaiting the delayed True Detective finale, yours truly had plenty of time to piece through the budget and see how it will help bring clean energy options, like wind and solar, to communities across the country. The Energy Collective, March 21


Set A Proper Energy Policy - And Then Leave It Alone
The UK government’s 2014 Budget, the last before next year’s general election, was billed as one in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UK finance minister, couldn’t afford to play politics, because of the continued need for austerity in the UK. Yet in its approach to environmental issues, George Osborne’s speech was relentlessly short-termist and populist in a way that was detrimental to the longer term health and sustainability of the economy. It also showed that he doesn’t really understand the benefits of moving towards a low-carbon economy in terms of tackling climate change, increasing energy security or benefiting the wider economy – and doing it sooner rather than later. As Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, says: “This year’s Budget was the Chancellor’s opportunity to fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise of being ‘the greenest government ever’. We are left waiting yet again by this government for the hard facts that will accelerate the UK’s transition to a low carbon, high growth economy. “The Chancellor made a commitment to ‘access every drop of oil we can’ in the North Sea,” he adds. “We must see this same, if not greater, level of commitment from the government towards building a resilient renewable energy sector. We need to attract investors to our shores, protect the UK’s energy security and add to the 18,000 people already employed full time in the wind, wave and tidal energy sectors. To do this we must send a clear message to the world that the UK is open for business with a trained workforce and a government fully committed to a low carbon future. At a time when the UK needs to be taking action to decarbonise its economy, the Chancellor’s constant flip-flopping on energy and climate change just scares investors away from committing funds to what could be a world-leading industry. “The Chancellor wants to see ‘made in Britain’ stamped on products across the world. So do we,” points out Kenber. “I want to see these three words on solar panels, smart grids, LED lighting, wind turbines and the next new low carbon breakthrough. The current figures show the UK green economy growing at 5% per annum. It is the unsung hero keeping Britain’s economy moving. We know that the businesses we work with are ready, and we’re ready to work with this government to make it happen.” Forbes, March 19

Green Rules Shutting Power Plants Threaten U.K. Shortage: Energy
The U.K. risks power shortages because utilities may react to Europe’s toughest carbon-emissions rules by closing plants without replacing them. The amount of electricity available over peak demand may drop below 2 percent next year, the lowest level in Western Europe, the nation’s energy regulator says. Centrica Plc, the biggest U.K. supplier, says investment in new generating capacity has “ground to a halt.” U.K. closures, already running at a record pace, may accelerate after a 2016 deadline to cut carbon emissions from old coal-fired generators. While Germany now gets 24 percent of its power from renewable energy after government policies encouraged the building of everything from wind farms to solar panels, in the U.K. the proportion is 12 percent. “We will be skating on very thin ice and there won’t be the resilience or the flexibility on the system to cope with demand shocks like cold weather,” said John Roberts, the London-based counsel for the Royal Academy of Engineering. Uncertainty over policy means “generators are going to sit on their hands and not invest,” he said. Bloomberg, March 19


Google and Microsoft Helping the White House Track Climate Change
The White House has announced that it's teaming up with Google and Microsoft to centralize its climate change data-and make it more accessible for public and researchers alike. The website's new climate portal is one of the results of President Obama's Climate Data Initiative (PDF), and it will be powered in part by teams at Mountain View and Redmond. While the raw data will continue to come from the likes of the Department of Defense, NASA and the US Geological Society, Google, Microsoft and others will massage and present it. So, Google will donate 50 million hours of its Earth Engine's computing power, and will also team up with academics to develop near real-time drought maps and monitoring systems. Microsoft is developing a system called FetchClimate that stores historical climate data and can forecast future weather trends based on the information. White House advisors John Podesta and John Holdren explain the benefits: "By taking the enormous data sets regularly collected by NASA, NOAA, and other agencies and applying the ingenuity, creativity, and expertise of technologists and entrepreneurs, the Climate Data Initiative will help create easy-to-use tools for regional planners, farmers, hospitals, and businesses across the country-and empower America's communities to prepare themselves for the future." Gizmodo, March 20

BMW electric cars to get new DC rapid charging solutions
BMW is believed to be readying a new DC rapid charging solution for its electric cars, with an announcement expected within the next three weeks. Exactly what the announcement will be, we aren’t sure as the BMW i3 is already able to use public DC rapid charging stations for a recharge time of just 30 minutes to 80 per cent battery capacity using the optional DC rapid-charge function. It could be that BMW decides to make this standard equipment. But Weiland Bruch, corporate communications chief for BMW i vehicles told "We will be making an announcement soon, so watch this space." The carmaker is already producing 70 i3 models a day at its Leipzig plant just months after its European launch with customers orders now banked up almost six months ahead. This is before the car is launched next month in the US and China in the summer. Bruch added: "Clearly we do not want people waiting five or six months for their cars and as we launch into more markets we need to think about increasing production." That's going to be a challenge as the new i8 plug-in hybrid sports car begins series production in Leipzig in April. Technology used on these electrified i vehicles will spread to other BMW, in particular the use of lightweight carbon fibre panels. These are already on the new M3 for example and Bruch says that the 1.5 litre turbocharged 3 cylinder engine with electric motor and battery pack, as used on the i8 will in the future be used on the X5 plug-in hybrid. The Green Car, March 21

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