1.1. Methane seepage heightens pressure for climate treaty
27 August 2009, EurActiv
Evidence that methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, is escaping from the warming Arctic seabed makes securing a new international agreement to slash global-warming gas emissions even more urgent, scientists warn.
A British-German research team discovered that over 250 plumes of methane bubbles are rising from the seabed off West Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. The researchers discovered the seeps, which lie 150-400 metres deep, using sonar technology, they wrote in the Geophysical Research Letters earlier this month.
The methane was released from methane hydrates, "ice-like substances" that remain stable amid the high pressure and low temperature of marine sediments. Scientists have predicted that as ocean temperatures rise as a result of climate change, methane hydrates would begin to break down at greater depths. But the fact that the process has begun already surprised the team.
"Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started," said Professor Tim Minshull of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK.
Data collected over past decades shows that 30 years ago methane hydrates were stable at water depths as shallow as 360 metres in the Spitsbergen area.
"If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year – equivalent to 5-10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources, could be released into the ocean," Professor Graham Westbrook of the University of Birmingham cautioned.
Scientists have been warning that thawing permafrost in Siberia and Alaska is already releasing methane from the northern wetlands at an alarming rate.
Methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. Experts warn that once its release has begun, the result will be runaway climate change.
International agreement to cut emissions crucial
The scientific community is raising the alarm that while CO2 emissions from fossil fuels can be slashed, once global temperatures have risen high enough to start releasing methane from vast deposits in permafrost on land and at sea, climate change can no longer be stopped.
The UN's scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has stated that 2°C is the maximum temperature rise imaginable before which the most devastating impacts of climate change would kick in. But the influential Stern Review stated that the Earth is heading for a 2–3°C increase within the next fifty years if current trends continue.
"Methane escaping from the seafloor as a result of warming is an additional risk that could amplify global warming, and this is currently not included in the IPCC scenarios," Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told EurActiv.
Despite the imperative, the global community is becoming increasingly sceptical about whether it will be possible to agree a new framework limiting greenhouse gases under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The IPCC argues that industrialised countries should slash their CO2 emissions by at least 25-40% below 1990 levels to halt climate warming below the critical threshold. So far the countries' pledges only amount to 15-21%.
Furthermore, as the probability of an abrupt release of billions of tonnes of methane is difficult to estimate, the global community had better play it safe and make radical CO2 reductions now, climate researchers say.
"This risk - although it cannot yet be quantified - is an additional reason for rapid emissions reductions," Professor Rahmstorf said.
1.2. China lawmakers call for action on climate change
27 August 2009, Reuters
Chinese legislators said on Thursday that their country will "strive to control greenhouse gas emissions" and consider new laws to fight climate change, while warning against using the issue to raise trade barriers.
The positions were laid out in a resolution passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or parliament, adding to a flurry of statements on climate change from China, the world's biggest emitter of human-caused greenhouse gases.
"We must strengthen energy-saving and emissions reduction, striving to control emissions of greenhouse gases," said the resolution, urging more support for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy.
China will "draft laws and regulations based on practical circumstances to provide more vigorous legal backing for fighting climate change," said the resolution, which was issued to journalists.
But it also warned wealthy nations not to use the issue of climate change to impose any form of trade protection.
Some U.S. lawmakers have said products from China and other big emitters should face possible adjustment measures if these countries' governments do not do more to curtail greenhouse gas emissions in coming years.
The statement from China's Communist Party-controlled legislature came just over 100 days before nations meet in Copenhagen seeking to agree on a new international pact on global warming.
The NPC is controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and the Standing Committee is the inner council that meets more often than the annual full parliament session. NPC resolutions are political statements that do not have any binding legal force.
The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012 and negotiations on a replacement accord are scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in December.
China is already the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gas from human activities, especially carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
These gases absorb infrared radiation originating from the sun, and their growing presence is retaining more heat in the atmosphere and so altering the climate.
China's emissions of greenhouse gases per person are still much lower than the developed world's per capita average, and Beijing has insisted it will not accept mandatory emissions caps in any new agreement. The current Kyoto Protocol does not demand caps for developing countries.
1.3. Big role urged for energy research in climate pact
27 August 2009, Reuters
Research into clean energy technology should get a leading role in new U.N. climate pact ahead of ever tougher curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, a study said on Friday.
"We need to start talking a lot more about the technological revolution," said Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" who commissioned the report to give alternative ideas for a new U.N. climate treaty.
The report estimated that investments of $100 billion a year in research into new technologies -- such as solar power, hydrogen, nuclear fusion or sucking carbon dioxide from the air -- could avoid $11 of damage from climate damage for every dollar spent.
Stressing deep cuts in carbon emissions before technologies were ready was a "doomed approach," according to the study led by Chris Green, a specialist in environmental economics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
The report said that a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December risked putting emphasis on "how much to do in the next period, rather than how to do it."
Negotiations on the U.N. climate pact often focus on deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations by 2020. They also cover new technologies and finance to help developing nations curb their rising emissions and adapt to changes.
The panel of scientists that advises the United Nations concluded in 2007 that cuts in emissions could be achieved by "technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialized in coming decades."
But Green said that far more research was needed to ensure new technologies emerged.
"The amount of carbon emission-free energy required to 'stabilize' climate is huge -- at least 15 to 20 times more than current levels, almost all of which is supplied by nuclear and hydroelectric," he wrote.
And many technologies could not be deployed on a large enough scale to help counter impacts that the U.N. panel predicts will include desertification, mudslides, extinction of animals and plants and rising sea levels.
"Many people talk of building more windmills," Lomborg said. "But it's like constructing a bit of a bridge across a big chasm. After we get 20 percent across we don't know how to get any further." Former U.S. President George W. Bush favored research over cuts in emissions. Most nations did not follow his lead, fearing his "breakthrough technologies" might never materialize and that cuts were a more direct way of forcing a clean-up.
Green's study advocated imposing a predictable price on carbon emissions to raise funds for government-led research. A price could start at $5 a tonne in 2010 and double every decade, to $10 in 2020 and $20 in 2030, he said.
1.4. WWF challenges EU ministers to revisit CO2 standards
26 August 2009, EurActiv
WWF wrote to the Swedish EU Presidency on Friday (21 August) to urge governments to modify a "legally invalid" provision contained in draft rules on industrial pollution, which prevents member states from introducing CO2 emission standards.
The environmental organisation writes that the draft Industrial Emissions Directive (IPPC) is incompatible with the Treaty establishing the European Community when it states that operating permits for installations "shall not" include emission limit values for greenhouse gases in the case of industries that are included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS; see EurActiv LinksDossier). It notes that Article 176 of the EC Treaty guarantees member states that they can take "more stringent" environmental protection measures as long as these are compatible with the Treaty.
WWF argues that a "minimum harmonisation clause" of this type prevents the European Commission from prohibiting national introduction of emission performance standards for greenhouse gases for industrial installations.
"Such a prohibition represents in our view a maximum or complete harmonisation as it excludes the possibility to use a proven regulatory tool to limit emissions from specified activities in what is the 'general' and 'integrated' European regime for industrial pollution control," the letter reads.
WWF argues that the provision is misleading as member states believe emission limits on greenhouse gases are prohibited under the directive. In practice, the provision would not be enforceable, as a member state could easily challenge any Commission attempt to launch infringement proceedings against them for adopting such standards by referring to Article 176 in court, it added.
The letter was timed to reach the Council as it prepares its common position on the directive following the political agreement struck by environment ministers in June.
The NGO also plans to raise the issue with MEPs later in the autumn, when they start work on the second reading of the dossier.
The idea of including emission performance standards in the directive was floated by several MEPs before the Parliament adopted its first-reading position in March. But they were deemed inadmissible under the Parliament's rules of procedure (EurActiv 23/01/09).
Tool to reach climate goals
In January, a study by environmental groups WWF, Bellona Europa, ClientEarth, E3G and the Green Alliance argued that Europe could cut two-thirds of the greenhouse gases emitted by large power plants by 2020 if binding emission caps were introduced (EurActiv 14/01/09). Moreover, early implementation would make it cost-effective, it said.
Green groups would have liked to see the provision already included in the EU's emissions trading scheme last December, and have sought to include them in new legislation on industrial pollution instead.
WWF points out that emission standards have already been used successfully since 1988 as a way of slashing sulphur dioxide emissions from large combustion plants, which cause acid rain, by over 70%.
The NGO claims that similar success is urgently required on combating global warming gases as scientific evidence shows that the EU's 20% emissions reduction goal by 2020 falls far short of the 40% range that is sorely needed.
"Moreover, as the persistent weaknesses in the ETS are unlikely to be fixed in the near term, it is reasonable to expect that at least some member states will in addition wish to adopt more stringent measures, for example by including CO2 standards in some IPPC permits," the letter concludes.
2.1. Energy minister says Belene nuke not vital for Bulgaria
21 August 2009, The Sofia Echo
The Belene nuclear power project is not vital for Bulgaria’s energy security, Energy Minister Traicho Traikov said.
In an interview with bTV, he downplayed speculation that the country must bring the proposed station onstream if it is to guarantee supplies by 2020.
If it builds capacity at the coal-fired power plant Maritsa East 1, a gas station at the coal-fired power plant in Varna, on the northern Black Sea coast, and in the Maritsa East complex, the country could meet its domestic energy needs and secure exports.
Supporters of the 2000 MW Belene project, which is meant to offset the loss in generating capacity at the Kozloduy nuclear power facility following the premature closure of two pairs of 440 MW reactors, warn that idling the units in Bobov Dol, Varna and Maritsa 3 Dimitrovgrad coal-fired power plants would leave the country with a 1500 MW capacity shortfall.
The Belene scheme is estimated at 10 billion euro, a whopping increase on the four billion euro price tag set by the former cabinet of socialist leader Sergei Stanishev.
The next steps the new Government will take about the Belene scheme will be spelled out by the end of September, Traikov said. A financial and economic study is underway on the project. Unless the state throws its weight behind the 51 per cent stake state-controlled grid operator NEK holds in the future project company, the scheme will collapse, he said.
Meanwhile, the issue of electricity supplies to the deregulated market sparked a fiery exchange between Ivan Genov, executive director of the Kozloduy nuclear plant and energy minister Traikov.
Power trading on the free market provides the nuclear facility with proceeds to cover losses from supplies to the domestic market, Genov told Bulgarian National Radio.
The company posted a six-month profit of 54.3 million leva but has incurred a 35 million leva loss from selling energy at tariffs determined by the energy watchdog, he said, adding that the plant loses 10 leva on each supplied MW. The plant feeds about 60 per cent of its output into the national grid operator NEK.
On August 19 2009, Traikov said that Kozloduy had signed contracts that did not fully protect its interests and has picked traders to supply power to on fuzzy criteria.
The company accounted for the absence of tenders with the policy of the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (SEWRC) to set the quotas for supplies to the deregulated market twice a year.
Speaking to Dnevnik, Genov said that this is the first time they had invited traders to request volumes and prices for September for 200 MW available for export.
Rates on the regional market hover around 30 to 35 euro a MW at the moment. Companies say electricity supplied by Kozloduy is 50 per cent more expensive than regulated prices.
We set prices in the dark and keep them intact until traders start giving up the volumes, Genov said. The selection criteria involve desire and sufficient free volumes on the part of companies.
Traikov said that the Bulgarian Energy Holding, the parent company of the Kozloduy plant, should make a decision to dismiss Genov.
On August 19, Genov interrupted his holiday to announce that he would table his resignation as he felt insulted by the minister’s statement he had failed to defend the plant’s interests.
"If someone thinks I’m not in their team, let them just come out and say to me, ‘We have a good manager for Kozloduy NPP, you will be sacked," he said.
3.1. Poland may curb utility CO2 trade from 2013
26 August 2009, Reuters
Poland may ban utilities from selling European Union carbon emissions permits many of them will get for free from 2013 as a way of curbing windfall profits, a government source said on Wednesday.
At present, installations under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme, the 27-nation bloc's main weapon against climate change, are given most of their carbon permits for free.
That will change under an EU climate plan agreed last December which forces most utilities to buy all their permits at auction starting in 2013.
But Warsaw fiercely opposed the plan arguing it would hurt its coal-reliant economy.
Poland and other east European states finally agreed the package after their utilities were promised most of their permits for free from 2013, but eventually would have to pay for all of them by 2020.
"It would be logical to ban trade in those free permits utilities would get. Otherwise somebody could, for example, sell the permits the moment he gets them and close down the power plant," the source said.
"We have negotiated such a possibility with Brussels and we plan to use it. The open questions are when and how we distribute the free permits. And how we achieve full auctioning in 2020."
By giving utilities carbon permits for free, the EU risks handing them windfall profits as it did in previous years, analysts said.
Windfall profits are generated when companies pass on the cost of the permits to customers regardless of whether they were free or not.
In 2013, Poland will get as much as 70 percent of its permits for free based on historical emissions, the Polish government source added.
But analysts said this would have little impact as an overall shortage of permits throughout Europe would make trade unlikely.
"It's an almost zero impact. They (the Polish utilities) will probably be short from day one in 2013," said Trevor Sikorski of Barclay's Capital.
3.2. EU publishes list of airlines for emissions trading
25 August 2009, EurActiv
The European Commission last week (22 August) published a list of nearly 4,000 commercial carriers which will have to participate in the EU's emissions trading scheme from 2012.
The list includes commercial airlines and private jet charters that fly to and from the EU, aircraft manufacturers including Airbus, and armed forces like the US Navy. The Commission stresses that the list is a live document and will be updated every year.
The new regulation kicks off implementation of a directive on the inclusion of aircraft operators in the EU's emissions trading scheme (see EurActiv LinksDossier). The legislation was adopted in January (EurActiv 02/02/09) amid criticism from the aviation industry in Europe and the United States.
The industry fears that additional carbon charges will place too heavy a burden on airlines, which are experiencing negative growth due to the economic crisis (EurActiv 27/10/08).
But the most controversial aspect is the inclusion on the list of foreign airlines that operate flights to or from European airports. The EU faced accusations that its unilateral decision would be subjected to legal challenge as foreign airlines would end up subsidising the EU aviation industry (EurActiv 09/07/08).
To provide legal clarity, the list allocates each airline to an individual member state, under whose regulation it is subsequently bound to operate.
The list was adopted on 5 August after a long delay, which has led some countries to postpone deadlines for monitoring plans. The directive obliges airlines to submit these to their administering country by 31 August, detailing how they intend to monitor and report emissions.
The UK has announced that after its parliament has published the list, it will give its airlines eight weeks to hand in their plans, while Germany has given its operators six weeks to do so. Actual monitoring will start on 1 January 2010.
Making airlines pay for the CO2 they emit represents an attempt to slash global warming gases as part of the effort to achieve the EU's climate goals. Although the share of emissions from the aviation sector is relatively small, it is growing, while emissions overall are on the decline in the EU.
In the longer term, the EU hopes to address emissions from aviation through an international agreement to ensure the competitiveness of European airlines. The bloc is eyeing the inclusion of aviation in the successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
3.3. India lays foundation for $15bn cap-and-trade market
26 August 2009, BusinessGreen.com
The Indian government has provided early approval of a national energy-efficiency plan, including provisions for a cap-and-trade market that could be worth about $15bn (£9bn) a year.
Under the scheme, benchmarks for the consumption of electricity will be established for each industry. Echoing the EU's emissions trading scheme, companies that exceed their targets will need to buy energy certificates from firms that use less power due to efficiency practices.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week said the plan "will enable about [$15bn] worth of transactions in energy efficiency. In doing so, it will, by 2015, help save about five per cent of our annual energy consumption and nearly 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year."
The nation currently emits about three billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, making it the world's fourth-largest polluter.
Other initiatives under the plan include the expanded use of the global carbon market to help achieve its energy consumption targets.
Energy-efficiency projects approved under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism carbon offsetting scheme already comprise India's second-largest source of carbon credits after renewables. They include waste heat recovery projects undertaken by iron and steel producers, as well as controversial projects to improve the efficiency of traditional power and industrial plants.
The government scheme also outlines plans for a fund that would provide loan guarantees for energy-efficiency projects, while a separate venture capital fund would be created to support companies that manufacture energy-efficient products and provide related services in the sector. The government did not disclose the planned size of either funds.
India hopes to save 10GW of power by 2012 through the efficient use of energy, although the nation has refused to set an emissions reduction target, prompting criticism from some of the other countries involved in the UN Copenhagen talks to agree a new international climate change deal.
Singh hinted that he hoped the plan would help to break the current deadlock at the international talks, arguing that it would "be a powerful signal to the international community that we are willing to contribute in a significant manner to meet the global challenge of climate change".
Earlier this month, India announced that it would make energy-efficiency ratings mandatory for electric appliances, including air conditioners and refrigerators. The initiative, to commence in January, will also require fluorescent lights to bear labels that provide consumers with information about the product’s energy consumption.
By June 2010, the efficiency ratings system will expand to cover electric motors, colour televisions and LPG stoves. Indian appliance manufacturers would need to adhere to the scheme, no matter if their products are to be sold domestically or exported.
3.4. High-speed trains 'not the answer' for cutting emissions
24 August 2009, EurActiv
Heavy investment in high-speed train networks is not a viable strategy for fighting climate change and could place an excessively heavy burden on taxpayers, a report by a Swedish expert group has found.
The report, published by the Expert Group for Environmental Studies, an independent state body under the auspices of the Swedish Department of Finance, argues that a "political consensus has emerged that investing in high-speed railways can contribute to economic growth and reduced carbon emissions".
However, following a lengthy quantitative investigation, the authors have concluded that in reality, the carbon-reducing impact of these networks is minimal, and should not be sold to EU citizens as a realistic 'green' policy.
Speaking to EurActiv, expert group representative Björn Carlén explained that while the report's recommendations concern Sweden only, "the conclusions are equally applicable to other EU countries where similar investment strategies exist".
In many member states where high-speed networks are under consideration, their green credentials are a key selling point during the decision-making process, a fact Carlén bemoans as misleading. "The motivations behind these investments can be for a number of positive reasons, but reduced carbon emissions should not be one of them," he said.
Instead, the report argues that investments and resources should be diverted towards successful carbon trading schemes, where the "reductions in emissions would be far greater, and at a significantly lower cost".
Sweden's EU climate strategy: No details yet
It remains to be seen how this report may influence the Swedish government's policy planning at either the domestic or EU level. As current chair of the rotating EU presidency, Sweden – with its well-founded reputation as a world leader in "climate politics" – is expected to push hard for a coherent EU voice at this December's global summit on climate change in Copenhagen.
However, Carlén is quick to point out that, as yet, Sweden's negotiations in the build-up to Copenhagen have focused on the "level of ambition" the 27-member bloc will demonstrate in its approach, and "less on the specifics" of an EU-wide agreement.
3.5. Switzerland commits to 20 pct emissions cut by 2020
26 August 2009, AFP
The Swiss government on Wednesday committed to cut its carbon emissions by at least 20 percent from its 1990 levels by 2020, but green groups said the target was too modest.
The government's commitment also fell short of targets sought by a citizens' initiative which wants Switzerland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
Under the Swiss constitution, citizens can force a national referendum on an issue if they manage to collect at least 100,000 signatures for the initiative.
But the government said the commitment sought by the initiative "would not leave sufficient flexibility," as it called for the initiative to be rejected.
The government however noted that since the reduction levels must be agreed on by industrialised countries, it was prepared to raise its target to 30 percent.
"This depends anyway on the results of the United Nations conference on climate which will be held in December 2009 at Copenhagen," added the government in a statement.
Alexander Hauri, who leads Greenpeace Switzerland's climate campaign said the group "deplores the decision" by the Swiss government.
Such targets were "unacceptable" for an industrialised country.
"By adopting such weak climate targets, the Swiss government ignores scientific facts and refuses to take its responsibilities in the struggle against climate change," he added.
The Copenhagen conference is meant to seal a new international accord on fighting climate change after the Kyoto Protocol's requirements expire in 2012.
Rich economies are being pressed to cut their own emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels and help poorer nations cope with the impacts of climate change.
The vision is to set curbs on emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases beyond 2012, with intermediate targets for 2020 that would be ratcheted up all the way to 2050.
Disclaimer: We do not guarantee for the accuracy, reliability or content of information. For help or questions, contact: email@example.com.