1.1. Obama officials press Congress to act on climate
22 April 2009, Guardian.co.uk
Key Obama administration officials on Wednesday called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate change legislation to reduce U.S. oil imports and fight global warming.
"On this Earth Day, we must state in no uncertain terms that we have a responsibility to our children and their children to curb the carbon emissions from fossil fuels that have begun to change our climate," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The session is the second of four hearings this week to discuss draft climate legislation unveiled by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman last month. The bill seeks to lower carbon dioxide emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and more than 80 percent by 2050.
Waxman warned panel members that "the pace is going to accelerate" during the next four weeks to get an energy and climate change bill cleared by the committee by the end of May, paving the way for a vote before full chamber this summer.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he will wait for action from the House before bringing climate change legislation before the Senate this fall.
With the economy in recession, however, passing a bill that opponents say will raise energy prices for consumers and businesses will be difficult.
The Energy Department is still reviewing Waxman's proposal, but Chu said it would advance the administration's goals to strengthen the economy by developing the clean energy sector.
In addition to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and requiring companies to acquire permits to release carbon into the atmosphere, the bill would also mandate that utilities generate 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by 2025.
An Environmental Protection Agency analysis of Waxman's bill found that the bill would raise electricity prices 22 percent by the year 2030 and cost American households an average of $98 to $140 each year through 2050.
EPA head Lisa Jackson said the cost to Americans from the bill would be "modest compared to the benefits that science and plain common sense tell us a comprehensive energy and climate policy will deliver."
"We want to work with you in finding consensus in the coming weeks, so that we can reduce our dependence on oil, create millions of new jobs in innovative energy technologies, and significantly reduce greenhouse gases," Jackson told lawmakers.
Transportation Department Secretary Ray Lahood also pushed Congress to act to cap carbon emissions.
"Aggressive action to reduce the impacts of climate change is needed, and the U.S. must be a leader in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Lahood said.
However, Republican Representative Joe Barton warned that the legislation would cost businesses billions of dollars and "de-industrialize the United States of America." He said it would be like living in America in 1875 if emission levels were cut to proposed levels.
In a separate hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Obama administration's climate control specialist Todd Stern said international talks aimed at curbing carbon dioxide and other pollutants will hinge on Congress' action.
"Unless we stand and deliver, by enacting strong, mandatory nationwide climate and energy legislation, the effort to negotiate a new international agreement will come up short," Stern said.
Countries from around the world are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen in December to try to embrace a new plan for attacking climate change problems.
1.2. G8 looks to greener White House to lead on global warming
23 April 2009, AFP
The environment ministers of rich and emerging nations were looking Wednesday to Washington for new leadership at talks in Sicily on combatting global warming.
"We are all encouraged by the new position of the United States," Italian host Stefania Prestigiacamo said as the three-day meeting kicked off. "It is an important signal on the issues of the environment and technology."
The start of the talks coincided with Earth Day, an occasion US President Barack Obama used to launch a push for historic climate change legislation in the United States.
"The American people are ready to be part of a mission," Obama said in a speech in the Midwestern state of Iowa.
The United States is jockeying with China for the dubious distinction of the world's number one carbon polluter.
Green and humanitarian groups at the Sicily talks were also hopeful over the new US administration's green overtures after Obama's predecessor George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"The involvement of the United States gives some new opportunities for agreement," said Kim Carstensen, director of Worldwide Fund for Nature's Global Climate Initiative. "The United States is willing to engage," he told AFP.
Carstensen warned however: "It's not a done deal that a progressive American stance will just be accepted. There will be a lot of political fighting inside the United States."
The three-day meeting at Syracuse's medieval Castello Maniace brings together countries responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's carbon gas emissions.
The administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, was expected in Syracuse on Thursday on her first international trip in the job.
Last week, in a landmark turnaround that could impact US climate change regulation, Jackson's EPA deemed carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a health risk.
The move marks a significant shift on climate change from the Bush administration, which failed to heed EPA warnings on the possibly devastating consequences of inaction.
The British charity Oxfam said Wednesday that if the G8 failed to take the lead in the fight against global warming it would endanger hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
"We have reached a crossroads, and rich countries get to choose the route we all take," said Antonio Hill, a senior policy advisor for Oxfam.
"One route leads us out of today's economic and climate crises and towards a low carbon future; the other spells disaster for hundreds of millions of people across the globe," he said.
"We need governments to raise their game," said Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs, calling on wealthy countries to provide at least 50 billion dollars (38.5 billion euros) a year to help poor countries adapt to unavoidable climate change.
The G8 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan , Russia and the United States.
The G8 is one of several forums on the way to a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December aimed at sealing an international pact for curbing greenhouse gases beyond 2012, when Kyoto expires. The United Nations' top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, said: "Between today and Copenhagen we have to make concrete progress, and at a high level."
The G8 ministers have been joined by their counterparts from China, India, Brazil, Mexico , Indonesia, South Africa , South Korea and Egypt .
The Czech Republic -- current holder of the rotating European Union presidency -- plus the European Commission and Denmark as host of the upcoming Copenhagen conference are also attending the talks.
The Bush administration maintained that Kyoto would be too costly for American businesses to implement and demanded that developing countries should do more.
The UN goal is either to halve emissions compared with a benchmark year, or to peg temperature increases below 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.
1.3. Global warming to 'reshape' humanitarian aid agenda
21 April 2009, EurActiv
The number of people affected by climate disaster will more than double in the next six years, forcing the global community to both increase and improve humanitarian aid, a new Oxfam report to be published today (21 April) shows.
The development NGO predicts that climate disasters will affect the lives of 375 million people by 2015. This is due to a combination of entrenched poverty and mass migration, but also vulnerability and weather shocks, the report argues.
To respond to the growing number of disasters caused by climate change, international humanitarian aid will have to rise from $14.2 billion in 2006 to at least $25bn annually just to stay at current levels of contribution per person, Oxfam says. It adds that even this is "woefully inadequate to meet their basic needs".
Oxfam stresses that the humanitarian system will have to be recalibrated to allow developing countries to better prepare for future shocks. It adds that aid will have to become more impartial and more efficient in responding to disasters.
"The humanitarian system works as if it's a global card game dealing out aid randomly, not based on people's needs. The response is often fickle – too little, too late and not good enough," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.
Oxfam argues that the world has the financial means to meet the humanitarian needs of everyone affected by climate change disasters, like floods and droughts, which will drive up to a billion inhabitants away from their homes by 2050.
The report states that given that European governments found $42 billion to bail out their financial sectors in 2008, they could easily afford to provide at least $50 billion annually to finance climate adaptation in poor countries.
Rich countries must commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below the critical 2°C threshold and take the lead in mitigating the impact of climate change, Oxfam stresses. According to Elise Ford, who heads Oxfam International's EU office, the Union should provide at least €12bn annually as part of a €40bn global fund to help developing countries to adapt to the climate change effects that are already unavoidable.
"To avoid the most extreme potential impact of climate change in the longer term, a safe and fair post-2012 deal at Copenhagen must deliver clear rich-country commitments," she said.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, which launched the negotiations for a draft climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020, have so far made little progress in terms of concrete proposals.
EU leaders disappointed environmental organisations and many MEPs by failing to put figures on the table at their spring summit on financing climate efforts in developing countries, preferring instead to wait for the US to unveil its proposal (EurActiv 23/03/09).
International talks have now progressed to working on a draft agreement, which should be on the table by the time of the next round of talks in Bonn in June (EurActiv 09/04/09).
2.1. Europe’s new buildings get welcome push to produce as much energy as they use
23 April 2009, WWF
WWF has welcomed a European Parliament vote today that proposes a 2019 deadline for all new houses, offices and shops built in the European Union to produce the same amount of energy they consume. The deadline will be 2016 for all new public buildings.
“We commend the vision of the legislators in making zero net energy buildings the cornerstone of the revised directive,” said Arianna Vitali Roscini, WWF’s Policy Officer for energy conservation in buildings.
“Technically and economically there is nothing standing in the way of an earlier deadline for all new constructions, which could help the EU achieve the 2020 emissions reduction targets.”
The vote, revising a law aiming at improving energy performance in buildings, needs to be confirmed by the Council of the Ministers later this year.
“There is huge potential for buildings to consume less energy and produce renewable energy on site” Vitali Roscini said.
“Promotion of energy efficiency is a winning strategy for Europe. It improves energy security, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, encourages technology development and creates new jobs. This is a structural change within reach, it is up to political will to make it happen.”
WWF is also satisfied that energy efficiency standards will apply to all major renovations, not only to those of surfaces above 1,000 square meters, as it was in the previous law. This is particularly relevant because existing constructions represent the majority of the European building stock (approximately 25% of residential buildings in Europe were built before 1945).
In Europe buildings use 40 per cent of energy and are linked to 36 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of that energy and CO2 can be saved with better insulation, improved heating and cooling systems, double glazing, efficient lighting and smart meters.
This week WWF has organised an exhibition at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to showcase the new generation of efficient buildings in France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom.
2.2. A nuclear power renaissance? Maybe not.
22 April 2009, CNN
Don't expect more than three new plants to be built in the next 10 years, experts at a session on nukes at Fortune's Brainstorm: Green conference agree.
Three new nuclear power plants in the next ten years, max. That was the consensus among the experts attending Tuesday's morning session on nuclear power at Fortune's Brainstorm: Green conference. Maybe five, said one lonely voice. Either way, that's far from the nuclear renaissance we were reading about just a couple of years ago. What happened?
No. 1, the global recession. As economic activity slows, so does demand for energy. More cars with batteries would help. "The electric car," says NRG Energy CEO David Crane, "is the air conditioner of the 21st century." Maybe later. For now the market's way too small to spark big demand.
No. 2, sinking natural; gas prices. At $13.69 per thousand cubic feet, not just nuclear, but any alternative to natural gas for making electricity looks pretty good. At $3.48, where natural gas futures stood last week, the economic incentive shifts.
No. 3, the credit crunch. Big loans are hard to get these days, no matter what the infrastructure project, but they're all but impossible for one with all of nuclear's uncertainties. Among the persistent question marks: No clear idea yet of where the cost of carbon will land, if and when we get a climate-change bill in Washington; continued uncertainty surrounding the government's nuclear loan guarantee program, considered vital to unlocking private investment; and oh yeah, what do we do with the waste? Yucca Mountain will never happen.
Where does the new administration stand on nukes? Good question. President Obama is not anti-nuke but neither is he an active proponent. And while Energy Secretary Steven Chu might be open to new nukes, said one participant, speaking not for attribution, Carol Browner, President Obama's special assistant for climate, decidedly is not. And Browner, this participant added, is calling the shots.
2.3. FACTBOX-Nuclear power plants planned in Europe
23 April 2009, Reuters
Nuclear power is seen by some European countries as an effective way to keep up electricity supplies while cutting emissions of climate warming gases produced when fossil fuels are burnt.
Lingering concerns over nuclear safety, waste disposal and costs have limited the sector's growth in western Europe but several central and eastern European countries are keen to build them as a way of reducing their reliance on imported fuels.
Below are the nuclear plants being built or planned across Europe:
FINLAND - Building a fifth nuclear reactor, the 1,600 MWe Olkiluoto-3 European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), which is expected to come on line in mid 2012. [ID:nLD573803]
FRANCE - Building a 1,600 MWe EPR at Flamanville, which is expected to begin operation in 2012. France announced plans in January 2009 to build another one at its Penly power station. [ID:nLT288693]
ROMANIA - Plans to build two 720 MW reactors at its existing two-reactor power station at Cernavoda by 2015. [ID:nLK304690]
SLOVAKIA - Two 470 MW units being built at Mochovce and expected to operate from 2011-12. [ID:nL3328327]
BULGARIA - Is preparing to build two 1,000 MW Russian reactors at Belene which are expected to begin operations in 2014 but may be delayed. [ID:nLL621277]
POLAND - Planning to build some nuclear power capacity but initially is likely to join a joint project in Lithuania, with Estonia and Latvia which is planned to open in 2018. [ID:nLS682048]
TURKEY - Plans to have three nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 4,500 MWe operating by 2012-15. [ID:nLH698979]
BRITAIN - Many of Europe's leading utilities began bidding in mid-March for land to build new nuclear power plants on in England and Wales.
Source: World Nuclear Association, International Atomic Energy Agency, Reuters research. (Reporting by Daniel Fineren)
2.4. Payback time 'too long' for energy-efficient homes
27 April 2009, EurActiv
Governments must regulate to encourage energy-efficiency investments in the buildings sector to bring on a market transformation, Constant Van Aerschot from Lafarge, co-chair of the energy performance of buildings project at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), told EurActiv in an interview.
The WBCSD will today publish a report making recommendations on how to tap into the energy-savings potential of buildings. It has developed a computer model to compare the likely impact of different public policy packages targeting the energy performance of buildings in residential, office and retail buildings.
Van Aerschot said the research project had taken as a starting point the decisions of a single person, instead of making top-down prescriptions of what energy-savings could be if all buildings were insulated or every light system efficient.
The key conclusion, van Aerschot said, was that as individuals consider the return they get for investing in energy-efficiency improvements in their homes, they often realise that it can take a few decades before the investment pays back. "Payback is just too long and people's decision-making processes, based on financial criteria, will not lead to the market transition that is required," he said. The WBCSD thus argues that governments must improve their building codes with energy-performance criteria, which should be further strengthened over time. Van Aerschot pointed out that the problem was often poor enforcement of regulations rather than a lack of them. "Today, in many countries, you don't need to check on-site whether your building performs according to norms. Building inspectors go on-site to check the safety of the building, but they don't look whether the building performs according to what is required," he said.
Furthermore, tax packages and subsidies are needed to compensate for long payback periods and create demand for more efficient buildings, the report states. For example, revenues from carbon trading could be used to reduce the upfront costs of efficiency investments, it says.
No single policy is sufficient on its own to prompt market transformation, but a holistic design approach is needed, according to the WBCSD. "Public money should not be spent on single measures," van Aerschot stressed, explaining that changing windows will not bring any energy-savings should the heat continue to escape through uninsulated walls.
The report estimates that energy users in the six regions it looked at - Europe, the US, China, India, Japan and Brazil - would have to pay approximately $250 billion a year additionally to transform the buildings sector. It added nevertheless that building energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing energy consumption and consequently emissions.
"People invest a lot already, but they don't do it wisely. A lot of money is being spent, but a lot of it is not directed towards energy efficiency," van Aerschot stressed.
Ignorance about energy consumption and the ways to reduce it are consequently a major hurdle to efficient building, the WBCSD argues (EurActiv 24/11/08). Ž
"Mr and Mrs Jones, who will retrofit their inefficient building, don't necessarily have the knowledge and the capacity to understand what is really required," van Aerschot said. He added that a survey carried out as part of the report had exposed a big knowledge gap among professionals as well.
The report thus calls for mobilisation campaigns to create a new mindset, not only for policymakers but all the actors involved in the construction process, including building owners.
2.5. Parliament calls for zero-energy buildings from 2019
24 April 2009, EurActiv
The European Parliament yesterday (23 April) called for all new buildings to produce at least as much renewable energy as they consume by 2019.
EU co-legislators amended the Commission's proposals for the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, in line with the Parliament's industry committee's suggestions last month (EurActiv 01/04/09).
They also called on member states to set percentages for a minimum share of existing buildings to be energy neutral in 2015 and 2020.
The Parliament supported a Commission proposal to lift the 1000 m2 threshold for subjecting existing buildings to minimum energy performance requirements (EurActiv 14/11/08).
Therefore, all buildings undergoing renovations which cost more than 25% of their value or cover over a quarter of its surface would have to meet national energy efficiency requirements.
Smart meters should be installed by default in all new buildings, as well as when renovating older ones, MEPs stated.
And they deleted a Commission proposal to exempt holiday homes which are used for less than four months a year from the rules.
The Parliament also urged the Commission to propose an array of new financial instruments to support efficiency improvements by 20 June 2010.
According to the lawmakers, the EU should set up an 'energy efficiency fund' by 2014 and step up financing from regional development monies. They also floated the idea of reducing VAT rates for goods and services that reduce the energy consumption of buildings or increase the use of renewable energy.
'Good day for energy efficiency'
The construction industry and green groups welcomed the results of the vote.
EuroACE, the industry association representing energy-saving buildings, said the Parliament had sent a strong signal to member states to move swiftly on a final agreement, which it hoped would be achieved by the end of the year.
"This is a good day for energy efficiency," Andrew Warren, a senior adviser at EuroACE, said after the vote. He added that backing from all the major parties, by a majority of ten-to-one, in favour of the new legislation was "a striking endorsement from the European Parliament".
Eurima, representing insulation manufacturers, welcomed in particular the Parliament's focus on improving education and training mechanisms throughout the building chain.
Indeed, knowledge gaps were identified as a key obstacle to better performing buildings by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which will launch the final report of its Energy Efficiency in Buildings project on Monday.
Constant Van Aerschot, co-chair of the project, said lack of knowledge posed a particular problem for people consulting architects, designers and engineers about retrofitting poorly-performing buildings. "There is a big knowledge gap by professionals. We did a worldwide survey, and found out that architects are not the best people to ask what to do, because they don't necessarily have the right level of training."
Van Aerschot argued, however, that the new legislation is not ambitious enough because it only properly addresses new buildings, which make up just 1% of buildings in Europe. "When you retrofit your building, you need to bring the building to a certain level of performance. But if they have to do this, people will not do it, because then they will have to invest more," he said.
The conservation organisation WWF said the Parliament was on the right track by making zero-energy buildings the cornerstone of the revised directive. However, it had hoped for an earlier date than 2019.
"Technically and economically there is nothing standing in the way of an earlier deadline for all new constructions, which could help the EU achieve the 2020 emissions reduction targets," said Arianna Vitali Roscini, a WWF policy officer.
EU member states will now start working to adopt a common position on the dossier. The Czech EU Presidency is planning to present a progress report in June, but the finalisation of the first-reading position will be left to Sweden, which takes over the EU's six-month presidency in July.
3.1. Agreement reached on common plug for electric cars
19 April 2009, AFP
Leading automotive and energy companies have reached agreement on a common "plug" to recharge electric cars, a spokeswoman for German energy company RWE said Sunday.
The three-point, 400-volt plug, which will allow electric cars to be recharged anywhere in a matter of minutes, is set to be unveiled Monday at the world's biggest industrial technology fair in Hanover, northern Germany.
"A car must be able to be recharged in Italy in exactly the same way as in Denmark, Germany or France," an RWE spokeswoman, Caroline Reichert, was quoted as saying in an edition of Die Welt to appear Monday.
She gave no timeframe for the introduction of the plug, saying that talks between the companies were ongoing.
The agreement on a common standard for the plug comprises several major automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Fiat, Toyota and Mitsubishi.
Energy firms signed up to the accord include Eon, Vattenfall, EDF, Npower, Endesa and Enel.
Berlin hopes that one million electric cars will be on the road by 2020. RWE and Daimler launched a pilot project in Berlin in September.
The development of a common plug is a major step towards the mass production of electric cars, Reichert told Die Welt.
4.1. Intern for the position of Tour Assistant for its ENERGY UNION climate project
More at: http://www.foeeurope.org/job/intern_energyunion.html
5.1. Measuring the environmental achievements of EU neighbouring countries
The implementation of the environmental commitments of the European Neighbourhood Policy is lagging behind in all neighbouring countries. Civil society has a crucial role to play in accompanying EU neighbouring governments towards reforms in the fields of environment, energy and transport, as well as sustainable development.
The handbook published by WWF, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, aims to improve the participation of civil society in the implementation and monitoring of European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plans. The handbook is already being used by NGO partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
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