1.1. Global warming linked to harsh winters
20 December 2010, IrishTimes
THE COLD spell Ireland and the rest of northern Europe has been experiencing may, paradoxically, be the result of global warming, rather than evidence it is not happening, according to the most recent scientific research.
The Journal of Geophysical Research suggested a link between diminishing levels of sea ice in the Arctic and an increased probability of harsh winters across Europe, saying these “do not conflict the global warming picture, but rather supplement it”.
As HSBC Global Research noted in its latest report, If the World is Warming, Why is it so Cold?, “climate change involves profound disruptions in global average temperatures. But as individuals we only experience local weather.” And “coming on the back of the unusual cold winters of 2009-2010, this cold spell has caused some commentary that global warming is over”. The explanation they offer is that the “warming trend is not uniform, and northern Europe has shown considerable cooling this winter”.
Despite the cold spell here, “almost all the areas of the world have shown considerable warming . . .”
According to the British Met Office, “although La Niña has stabilised, it is still expected to affect global temperature through the coming year. This effect is small compared to the total accrued global warming to date, but it does mean that 2011 is unlikely to be a record year.”
Last week, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) published the global temperature figures for January to November 2010, showing that this 11-month period has been the warmest since instrumental records began 131 years ago.
“High temperatures in 2010 have also been matched by a series of extreme weather events across the world, including droughts and floods in China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the US,” the HSBC report noted. “But are these driven by man-made global warming?
“Nasa’s James Hansen is clear: ‘Would these events have happened if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million?’ His answer is ‘almost certainly not’.”
Essentially, the sequence of events this year matches the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of “more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
2.1. ECJ Advocate General puts future of Europe’s coal power plants in doubt
16 December 2010, Greenpeace
The future of coal-fired power plants across Europe was thrown into doubt following advice today from a European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general.
Advocate-general Juliane Kokott stated that environmental permits for three Dutch coal-fired power plants might have been given unlawfully by the Dutch government because the country is exceeding agreed pollution limits. The advice could halt construction of three new coal-fired power plants there depending on whether it is accepted by the ECJ. A decision is expected in early 2011.
If the ECJ ratifies the advice, it will set a precedent for all EU countries. It could halt plans for industrial plants still requiring permits in countries at, or near thresholds for certain pollutants produced by power stations or other major industrial polluters . France, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom are expected to exceed pollution ceilings set by Brussels.
Greenpeace Netherlands started the legal action along with the Dutch Society for Nature and Environment and individual local opponents.
Greenpeace EU climate and energy policy manager Joris den Blanken said: “Coal is a strongly polluting fossil fuel and a disaster for air quality, the health of Europeans and our climate. We need power and industrial goods, but not at the expense of our health when there are plenty of alternatives at hand. We are delighted the advocate general has been strict in her advice to uphold the law on this point.”
2.2. Chinese giant strides into renewable technologies
16 September 2010, EurActiv
A perfect storm of environmental deterioration, economic opportunism and geopolitical jockeying for position is fuelling a rapid Chinese move into renewable technologies such as wind, solar and wave power, according to Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin.
"China is moving in the same direction as the European Union," Schreurs told Euractiv Czech Republic in an interview. "Europe still leads in the development and deployment of new renewable technologies but China is becoming an increasingly big player," she said.
"Of course, China does not want to simply follow Europe in this area. They want to compete, and maybe even overtake Europe," she added.
Along with soaring economic growth since 1990, climate degradation has increased massively in China. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese die early each year from pollution-related diseases, while desertification has now expanded the Gobi desert to within 50 km of Beijing.
"Every spring, there are massive sandstorms that shut the city down," Schreurs said. "There are days when the government warns people not to go outside because of all of the sand in the air. So people are feeling climate change in their daily lives. It not just off in the countryside where the peasants live but in the city centres where the elite are," she said.
Changing rainfall patterns and water shortages are exacerbating such problems.
Yet to sustain its annual 10% growth rate, China needs access to energy sources. Once energy-independent, the country now imports fossil fuels from Australia, Indonesia, the Middle East, Africa and Russia. Renewable energies - which in China include nuclear power - are seen as one ingredient in the country's 21st century energy mix.
"The conditions for wind power are excellent," Schreurs said. "There is also a lot of sun in China. They have got the whole Gobi desert. China is already the world's largest user of solar water heaters and one of the largest producers of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells."
But renewables are also part of a big foreign policy issue – climate change – that offers a platform for China to enhance its prestige, influence and access to markets on the world stage. "China wants to be a player," Schreurs said.
"China will not simply accept being pressured by the US. The problem is that this climate change game requires both the US and China to be on board. And the EU too."
Schreurs sees potential for greater China-Europe cooperation, especially over upgrading and increasing the proportion of renewables in the electricity grid. Despite Europe's relatively advanced infrastructure and long-term investments in renewables, Schreurs says that without further technological investment, the EU leadership is recognising that the continent has no future.
"With Europe's demographic trends, its ageing population and its relatively expensive labour inputs, the only way that Europe will be able to compete in the long run is to remain technologically on the cutting edge and highly energy and resource-efficient," she said. "This will require Europe to rapidly transition towards a low-carbon economy."
Schreurs had a further warning for Central and Eastern European states. "I think that if these countries do not start investing in new technologies – like China is doing – then in the long run they are going to be the losers," she said.
3.1. EU weakens fuel efficiency standards for vans
15 December 2010, T&E
The automotive industry, backed by the governments of Germany, Italy and France has succeeded in severely weakening an EU law setting CO2 standards for new vans.
The deal, agreed this evening at a behind-closed-doors meeting of representatives of the European Commission, Parliament and member states, will lead to higher fuel costs for millions of small businesses across Europe and runs counter to evidence of rapid progress in car emissions in recent years according to Transport & Environment (T&E).
The 'trilogue' agreement (1) between representatives of the three European institutions is for the average new van sold in the EU to emit 175g CO2/km in 2017 and 147g CO2/km in 2020. The original Commission proposal of 135g CO2/km in 2020 was weakened under enormous pressure from carmaking nations, led by Germany.
Kerstin Meyer, senior campaigner at T&E said: “The industry said it couldn’t make a 14% improvement in van efficiency over nine years, meanwhile it managed to improve car efficiency at more than three times that rate last year (2). Policymakers must to a better job of holding the industry to account when it makes such claims.“
Because CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency are directly linked, weaker emissions standards mean vans will use more fuel. Fuel is a major cost to small businesses who depend on vans to run their operations. Unlike the automotive industry, which has received billions of euros of taxpayers money during the financial crisis, small businesses have received little help.
Meyer commented: “The automotive industry, which has benefited from billions of euros of taxpayers money in subsidies, low interest loans and research grants has once again bullied politicians into getting an easy ride. Meanwhile, thousands of small businesses that have received little help in the crisis but depend on vans to run their operations, will suffer from higher fuel bills for years to come. “
The vehicle industry claims that it would be prohibitively expensive to make vans more fuel efficient. But research carried out for T&E by TNO/CE Delft showed that by simply returning to the engine power levels of 1997, fuel costs and CO2 emissions could be cut by up to 16%, vehicle purchase costs by up to 10%, and total cost of ownership by up to 12%. The changes required could also be introduced quickly and in existing models (3). In short, the cost of buying and running vans would go down rather than up.
3.2. EU signs off on carbon permits bonanza
20 December 2010, EurActiv
A new regulatory regime for dispensing around 100 billion euros of carbon permits has been approved by EU regulators, granting steelmakers and oil refineries free emission allowances in an effort to shield them from international competition after 2012.
Fears that tighter controls on CO2 emissions in Europe will drive factories to relocate abroad has led the EU to grant sweeping exemptions for industries deemed to be at risk.
Existing proposals for the permits to be allocated according to carbon intensity "benchmarks" were approved with only slight modifications by the European Commission on 15 December.
The permits will be issued under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the world’s largest carbon market.
Maria Kokkonen, spokesperson for Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, told EurActiv that the benchmarks were a means of setting an emissions cap and a price to carbon.
"They are an incentive to installations to cut emissions and improve energy-efficiency," she said.
The benchmarks chosen reflect the average greenhouse gas performance of the 10 most efficient installations in each sector, as calculated against the base year of 2007-2008. From 2013 until 2020, some 60% of permits will be auctioned but those for the most "climate-friendly" installations will be freely allocated for a transitional period.
This will be the third phase of the ETS. Phase I ran from 2005-2007 and Phase II from 2008-2012.
Previous carbon permit issues were criticised for being free, over-allocated, and containing carry-over provisions to the next market phase. "That was certainly a lesson," Kokkonen said "because we saw that there was no incentive to cut emissions if you could carry over."
Under the new scheme, the auctioned permits will be time-limited and (mostly) sold at costs set on a scale taking into account an industry’s carbon-intensity, environmental impact and the potential for carbon leakage. Over time, this auction process will become the ETS’s default operating system.
Thus the benchmark for hot metal has been set at 1.328 permits per ton of product (lower than the price sought by the steel lobby), while for oil refineries it is 0.0295 allowances per unit of output. Oil refinery output is measured by "CO2-Weighted Tonnes".
Warnings by some firms of "carbon leakage" – relocating across national borders to territories without carbon prohibitions – have led the Commission to identify 164 industrial sectors with higher CO2 costs, and higher exposure to international trade.
These companies will be awarded 100% of their benchmarked allowances for free until the end of 2014 to encourage them not to "leak". After 2014, the list will be revised according to unchanged criteria.
Environmentalists have expressed concerns that such high benchmarks may in effect subsidise carbon-intensive business sectors represented by powerful industrial lobbies. But Ms Kokkonen insisted that the new measures would deter leakage.
"It allows companies to earn money if they can reduce emissions at a cost below the carbon price," she said "as they would earn money from investing in reducing emissions and selling allowances. At the same time it shelters them from carbon leakage as they need to buy fewer allowances for maintaining existing activities."
Energy firms will not be eligible for free allocations under the scheme. However, in a major revision of the ETS, airline emissions will be included in the ETS system for the first time from January 2012.
3.3. Christmas comes early for Steel, cement and refineries in Europe, no emission reductions required until 2020.
17 December 2010, CAN-E
On 15th December 2010, EU member states agreed on rules for distributing free CO2 allowances to energy-intensive industries in Europe as from 2013. CAN-Europe acknowledges that big polluters managed to water down the regulation significantly compared to the draft proposal of the European Commission. This weakened regulation, combined with a surplus of free allowances from phase II (2008-2012) of the EU Emission Trading System, will most likely allow Europe's biggest greenhouse gas emitters to continue to pollute unabated until 2020.
The amount of free allowances to the manufacturing industry as from 2013 will be calculated using benchmarks. The default benchmark for a sector is the average greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product of the 10% most greenhouse gas efficient installations in Europe. The amount of allowances is calculated by multiplying the benchmark with production volumes.
In the spring of this year the draft proposals by DG Climate Action became public. Eversince, the big industrial sectors, with the complicity of some Member States and EU Commissioners, started an assault on the proposals. This pressure contributed to significantly water down the draft proposal and led to the following changes:
the steel benchmark got almost 25% less stringent;
the use of substitutes for cement production does not get counted in the benchmark anymore, which is most likely breaching the legal framework of the EU ETS directive;
the reference years used for the production volumes are now the years from 2005 to 2008, which represent exceptionally high production levels for the European manufacturing industry.
While further analysis of the actual outcome of the benchmarking decision is still needed, experts seem to have no doubts that sectors such as steel, cement and refineries won't have to reduce emissions or purchase emission allowances until 2020.
This is the result of weakened benchmarks and the surplus of EU allowances from phase II of the EU ETS. Sandbag, a UK based NGO and member of CAN Europe, calculated that over all the EU ETS sectors will not face emission reductions until 2017 due to the phase II hang-over and the use of CDM credits.
In the past year numerous reports pointed out the surplus of allowances for big European polluters and the fact that many companies are profiting from those free allowances. Potentially, billions of EUROs of windfall profits are generated through the EU ETS for the steel, cement and refineries sectors.
The current state of the EU ETS and in particular the never-ending shameless over-allocation of free allowances to big polluters is now forcing the hand of public support for this mechanism. Let' s all use the peaceful time over Christmas and New Year to consider the events of 2010 and make the most of the knowledge and momentum gained in the discussion to bring credible climate action to Europe in 2011.
3.4. Japan To Strengthen Monitoring Of 'Super' Greenhouse Gas Emissions
20 December 2010, Bernama.com
The Japan Meteorological Agency is planning to start monitoring levels of ''super'' greenhouse gases, which have an enormous effect on global warming compared with carbon dioxide, at two observatories as part of efforts to combat global warming under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.
Gases such as sulfur hexafluoride and dinitrogen monoxide, which respectively have 20,000 and 300 times more global warming effects than CO2, will be monitored at the meteorological observatory in Minamitori Island, Japan's easternmost island, and the atmospheric environment observatory in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, according to agency officials.
The average amount of sulfur hexafluoride, frequently used as an insulator in electronic devices, found in the atmosphere is relatively small at 6 to 7 parts per million compared with 380 ppm of CO2, but the level has doubled from the 1990s, mostly due to man-made emissions.
While the National Institute for Environmental Studies has been taking samples and analyzing them four times a year on Hateruma Island in Okinawa Prefecture, the agency plans to start monitoring levels once a week at the observatories in Minamitori Island and Iwate from fiscal 2011 starting April.
The agency has already been measuring dinitrogen monoxide, which is emitted through farming and chemical engineering activities, at Ofunato observatory, but it plans to monitor the gas on Minamitori Island as well.
The island, located 1,860 kilometers south of Tokyo, is hardly affected by urbanization and is suitable for monitoring the atmospheric environment over a long period, according to the agency.
The agency requested 330 million yen in its fiscal 2011 budget request for strengthening countermeasures against global warming, with officials saying it is crucial to monitor the heat-trapping gases to come up with effective measures to prevent global warming.
3.5. Italy shields companies from CO2 cuts, says NGO
16 December 2010, EurActiv
Italian taxpayers are set to pay €1.7 billion for unnecessary international carbon credits to meet the country's obligations under the Kyoto Protocol while Italy's government hands out free allowances to companies, according to climate NGO Sandbag.
Sandbag criticised Italy's strategy to meet its Kyoto targets in a new report published on 14 December, claiming that the government will have to spend as much as €1.8bn on international offsets between 2008 and 2012.
In addition, Italian companies will spend €500 million to fund emissions reductions in developing countries rather than invest at home, Sandbag said.
At the same time, the government will grant superfluous permits corresponding to 166 million tonnes of carbon for select installations under the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), the report shows.
The climate NGO argued that if Italy had made its installations participating in emissions trading shoulder greater emissions cuts instead of handing out surplus credits, the amount of offsets the country needs to buy would have fallen drastically from 181Mt to 15Mt. This would have saved Italian taxpayers €1.7bn in "unnecessary costs," it said.
"Ironically, while the Italian government will need to spend some €1.7 billion of public money on Kyoto compliance it will have given away €2.5 billion worth of carbon permits as windfalls to companies like Riva Group, Edipower and Italcementi," said Damien Morris, who authored the report.
Moreover, the report questioned the quality of offsets bought by Italy. It argued that in order to keep costs down, Rome is likely to prioritise so-called "hot air" credits from governments in Eastern Europe. These have ended up with large numbers of surplus Kyoto credits, probably as a result of post-communist de-industrialisation before the Kyoto commitment period started, it speculated.
Moreover, around 87% of international credits currently purchased by Italian companies come from controversial projects that destroy industrial gases HFC-23 and N2O, Sandbag noted.
Last month, the European Commission proposed to ban the use of such credits in the EU ETS after 2013 due to concerns that these projects have in fact increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Sandbag argued that while Italy's path is already set for 2012, it will need to change its "race to the bottom" strategy to avoid wasting billions more in offsets to meet its 2020 target.
The NGO called on the government to put in place stronger domestic climate policies to force Italian companies to invest in new energy infrastructure rather than paying for cheap offsets. Moreover, EU states should expand the scope of the EU ETS to encompass more sectors in order to make the obligations of the non-trading sector more manageable, it said.
"Companies follow ETS rules"
Italian energy giant Enel countered that the report had overlooked the fact that the allocations of ETS credits deemed excessive by Sandbag are more than offset by those facilities that are short of allowances. It pointed out that Italian ETS sectors are in fact short of around 40 million for 2012.
"Recommending not to make these allocations would go against the rules of the ETS as already approved and implemented. That would be paid for by those industry sectors that have been suffering most the current economic crisis," said Giuseppe Deodati, Enel's head of carbon strategy.
He argued that the weight of international offsets with respect to the compliance gap had increased because the economic crisis had brought Italy closer to its Kyoto target.
"However, this is not a sufficient reason to change the rules for the use of offsets, especially given the fact that the ETS is to continue beyond 2012 and that the amount of usable offsets will decrease dramatically," Deodati said.
He stressed that the use of international offsets is an additional instrument for Italy to meet its targets efficiently in the short term up to 2012. "In the long term Italy is investing substantial resources in clean technologies and energy efficiency incentives," he said.
"From the beginning, the EU ETS has allowed compliance entities, as the Kyoto Protocol allows Annex B [developed] countries, the ability to reduce costs buy buying emissions reductions from approved projects up to a certain limit. So this saves money, not wastes it," said Simone Ruiz, European policy director at the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).
She argued that while Italy is dragging its feet in terms of banning industrial gas credits or resisting a move to a 30% EU emission reduction target for 2020, numbers show that it is in fact not the black sheep amongst EU nations.
Italy's 10% gap to its 2020 target in non-traded sectors falls far short of many others, including 25% in Ireland and 19% in Spain, Ruiz pointed out. Moreover, Italian companies have so far used just above 10% of the full amount of offsets they are entitled to use, she added.
In terms of overallocation of credits to specific sectors under the EU ETS, the IETA director said that it is "not an isolated phenomenon in the EU" but one that will hopefully disappear when the EU moves to a centralised form of allocation in 2013.
"It makes sense to expect the traded sector to provide a higher abatement share, as the EU ETS allows to do this in the most cost-efficient way," she agreed. But she doubted that it would be easy to expand the scope of the ETS once a decision has been taken not to put a higher burden on the traded sector, as Italy has done.
3.6. EU Parliament Wants Binding Target for Energy Savings
15 December 2010, WWF
Strasbourg, France - Today the EU Parliament voted in favour of a binding 20 per cent energy efficiency target by 2020 as part of a report on the Revision of the Energy Efficiency Action Plan. WWF urges the EU Commission to follow Parliament’s lead and propose a binding 20 per cent energy saving target in the upcoming plan.
Arianna Vitali, Policy Officer for Energy Conservation at WWF European Policy Office, says:
“Today’s vote is a clear ask to the European Commission to solve one of the biggest incongruencies in the EU Climate and Energy Policy: energy saving is left to member states’ good will, with the result that the goal is being badly missed. Only a binding target will define the clear obligation to deliver the energy savings that EU citizens and industries are waiting for.”
Energy efficiency measures will guarantee lower energy bills for EU consumers, with potential savings of around 1000 euro per household every year and 1 million new jobs in Europe.
The European Parliament report aims to provide key inputs to the European Commission for the new Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which is expected at the beginning of March 2011.
4.1. Rethink of EU budget could be a win/win situation
16 December 2010, T&E
A win/win situation in which spending by the European Union achieves better value for money at the same time as promoting more environmentally sensitive solutions has been put forward by seven NGOs, including T&E.
The ideas are presented in a report ‘Changing Perspectives – How the EU budget can shape a sustainable future’ which was launched last month. It is the first time major Brussels-based NGOs have presented a joint proposal on how money in the EU budget should be spent.
The seven NGOs – BirdLife, CEE, Conservation International, EEB, FoE, T&E and WWF – say EU money should emphasise and promote sustainability in sectors such as transport and housing. T&E has called for transport spending to target plans and projects that actively reduce greenhouse gases. The NGOs say challenges such as tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and wasting resources should be prioritised ahead of funding for unnecessary infrastructure projects and subsidising intensive agriculture.
T&E policy officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘EU transport spending should be less about joining up points on a map, and more about smarter ways of using existing infrastructure. There should be incentives to help member states implement congestion charging schemes or modernise existing rail infrastructure, for example. And aviation, the most carbon-intensive mode of transport, should no longer receive taxpayers’ money from the EU.’
The report can be downloaded at tinyurl.com/333l7jl.
4.2. Commission documents confirm need for new conflicts of interest rules
15 December 2010, FOEE
Documents obtained under freedom of information rules and released today by Friends of the Earth Europe  reinforce the need to strengthen safeguards against conflicts of interest for former European Commissioners. The 86 documents relate to the approval procedures for six former Commissioners who left the Commission this year and took up positions in the private sector.
The documents shed new light on the Commission’s approval process related to the cases of former Commissioners Joe Borg, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Mariann Fischer-Boel, Meglena Kuneva, Charlie McCreevy and Louis Michel. Their publication follows scandals about the moves of several members of the 2004-2009 Commission to the private sector .
Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Overall the documents reveal the lack of consistency in the Commission’s current approach. Cases are being dealt with differently, with no systematic investigation into whether or not there is a potential conflict of interest. It is not enough to consider only whether the former Commissioner is taking an executive position. It is high time for the Commission to review its rules and to make sure there is a thorough and independent investigation for each and every case.
"A clear definition of conflicts of interest is urgently needed, as is a mandatory cooling-off period of at least three years. Friends of the Earth Europe believes that conflicts of interest exist in the cases of at least four former Commissioners exposed in these documents. The Commission should review these cases and should not to approve the move of former Commissioner Verheugen which is still under review."
In September Friends of the Earth Europe requested copies of communication between the Commission and its former top officials related to their moves to employment in the private sector.
The documents released now under EU freedom of information regulation expose blatant weaknesses in the functioning of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee (AHEC), which is presented by the Commission as the ultimate safeguard against conflicts of interest. The AHEC does not appear to undertake proper investigation when dealing with the cases, relying on the information provided by former Commissioners themselves instead of external expertise.
The current rules do not prevent Commissioners from negotiating contracts while they are still in office.
Commissioners can currently be cleared of conflicts of interest even when they are hired by companies to lobby,  as in the case of McCreevy whose contract with Ryanair states that he will take part in meetings with the Commission. The main criterion for defining a conflict of interest seems to be whether the new Commissioner's position is executive or non-executive, but this is insufficient to prevent a conflict of interest.
In cases deemed likely to bring conflicts of interest, the Commission attaches very weak conditions and relies on the Commissioners' willingness to be cooperative and to act in good faith. No accompanying mechanism ensures that the conditions set by the AHEC actually are respected.
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