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International Climate News April '14: China makes major reforms to its environmental law, data on 2013 global clean energy deployment

Jake Schmidt

Posted May 6, 2014 in Greening China, Solving Global Warming

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Below is a compilation of climate change and clean energy news from around the world. This compilation includes stories from April 2014. You can sign-up to receive these compilations in your email inbox.

CHINA SIGNIFICANTLY STRENGHTENS ITS ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

China’s top legislature approved major amendments to the country’s Environmental Protection Law (EPL), the first since the law was enacted 25 years ago. The new amendments put powerful new tools into the hands of environmental officials and the public, providing a strong legal foundation to the "war on pollution" declared last month by Premier Li Keqiang. Most notably, the revisions make three critical improvements: (1) they add a new penalty system where fines will continue to accumulate for each day the pollution violations continue (by eliminating the previous one-off fine system); (2) they formalize a much-needed performance assessment system that is based on an official’s environmental protection record rather than solely on economic growth; and 3) they allow for nongovernmental organizations to take legal action against polluters on behalf of the public interest.

The Director of NRDC China Environmental Law & Governance Project discusses the six ways that the reforms promote environmental transparency, public participation, environmental public interest litigation, pollutant discharge permits, and strengthen penalties for polluters.  My colleague discusses the public interest litigation component, noting that about 300 NGOs in China will have the right to bring public interest litigation against polluting enterprises. (See also China Dialogue for details on how weak reform was significantly strengthened.) See news coverage in Xinhua and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

GLOBAL CLEAN ENERGY DEPLOYMENT

2013 Clean Energy Investments.pngTotal global clean energy investment fell 11% percent in 2013 – to $254 billion – but that reflected significant cost reductions (e.g., the same investment in solar installs much more capacity) and the impact of policy uncertainty. Even with that drop it would still be the 32nd largest economy in the world if it were a country. China invested the most at $54.2 billion, followed by the US ($36.7 billion), EU ($34 billion) and Japan ($28.6 billion) – see figure.

And UNEP published its 2014 Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report which digs deep into the financing of renewable energy. Here are some other key findings from these two reports:

  • Renewables (excluding large hydro) accounted for over 41% of new installed power capacity worldwide in 2013 (compared to only about 16% in 2007).
  • All told, a record 40 gigawatts of solar generating capacity was installed in 2013  – an amount equivalent to the total solar installations from 2001 to 2010. And while total solar investment declined the amount of installed capacity grew by 29%, reflecting the cost drop in recent years.
  • Wind installations declined in 2013 but the sector still added 27 GW in 2013, pushing cumulative wind installations to over 307 GW.
  • The cost of generating electricity via onshore wind turbines and crystalline silicon PV systems has decreased by 15% and 53% since the end of 2009, respectively.

South Africa takes new steps to add more renewable energy to its electricity mix (CleanTechnica). Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar (CleanTechnica). And geothermal power is sustaining annual growth rates of 4-5%, with almost 700 projects currently under development in 76 countries (CleanTechnica).

CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS: ROAD TO PARIS 2015 & MORE

The EU and China issued a bilateral agreement that includes reference to collaborative views on climate change. The agreement stresses that the two countries will: (a) make "significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions through credible and verifiable domestic action”; (b)  present their emissions reduction contributions “well in advance of the Paris meeting’; and (c) “cooperate on taking domestic action to avoid or reduce the consumption of HFCs and to work together to promote a global phase-down of these substances” (see RTCC for more coverage).

Finding ways to effectively mobilize climate finance – both public and private – is a critical issue for the Paris 2015 climate negotiations. The World Resources Institute discusses some lessons on mobilizing private finance by looking at two U.S. financing instruments. And E3G discusses some steps in 2014 that are important for advancing climate finance in preparation for Paris 2015.

By making smart investments in a green economy Kenya could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 11% grow its GDP an additional 8% in 2025 by making smart investments in a green economy, according to a new report commissioned by UNEP.

The EU announced that it will strengthen cooperation with the Pacific island countries in supporting renewable energy and fighting climate change (Xinhua). These investments will include renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati  and the Cook Islands.

INDIAN RENEWABLES & ENERGY EFFICIENCY

India's renewable energy efforts are poised for a resurgence after a bumpy 2013, as my colleague discusses. There are promising signs in the solar and wind sectors. The solar market is recovering from a rough year of setbacks including an international trade dispute, reduced investments, slumping solar sales, and delays in both the Mission’s Phase 2 and state solar auction allocations. Although India already has the fifth largest wind generation capacity in the world at 20,000 MW, recent policy shifts have temporarily slowed wind energy’s momentum.

India has a total installed solar capacity of 2,632 MW as of the end of March 2014, almost 950 MW added between April 2013 and March 2014. The State of Gujarat remains the clear leader with 916 MW of installed capacity, followed by the State of Rajasthan. The State of Madhya Pradesh added the most capacity last year (with almost 310 MW added). And much more could be added as India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has increased its solar PV target by 30% in coming fiscal year. The Ministry is expected to auction 1,000 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity instead of the earlier planned 750 MW.

My colleague talks with the leader of a building energy efficient retrofit in India that proved that even existing buildings can be retrofit to significantly improve their energy use with a very fast economic payback.

Bharat Light and Power plans to invest $1 billion to expand its renewable energy capacity portfolio from 200 MW to 1,000 MW over the next five years (CleanTechnica).

Indian’s could add almost 3.3 years of their life if all parts of the country were to meet the government’s air quality standards (Business Standard). And a leading public health NGO in India – the Public Health Foundation of India – issued a “call to action” to address air pollution.

U.S. CLIMATE ACTION

The US Environmental Protection Agency took the first step promised under President Obama’s Strategy to reduce methane emissions when it issued a set of white papers examining five big sources of heat-trapping methane and other dangerous air pollutants from the oil and gas sector. The president’s methane strategy promises that EPA will decide in June what standards and safeguards are needed, propose them this fall, and complete federal and state steps to adopt them by the end of 2016. In our view, the white papers confirm the need for strong performance standards directly aimed at methane and other dangerous air pollutants throughout the oil and gas sector, using the Clean Air Act authority.

State building energy codes are changing fast as more states adopt standards and as these standards are becoming more aggressive (CleanTechnica).  The Department of Energy has proposed minimum energy efficiency standards for linear fluorescent light bulbs, the tube lamps that are located in virtually every office, hospital, school and airport in the US.

My colleague posts the second part of his series discussing the losing economics of investing in aging coal plants in the US. 

LATIN AMERICAN CLEAN ENERGY DEPLOYMENT

Mexico’s second largest retailer is going to install solar panels on 120 of its 600 buildings as will install 31 MW of distributed solar (CleanTechnica). And 60 percent of Volkswagen’s production facilities will get their energy from a Mexican windpark (Milenio). And two new wind farms in Mexico that will produce 252 MW are poised to begin construction this year and become operational by late 2016 (Empresa Exterior).

A new study confirms that Chile has huge potential for renewable energy. The study concluded that there are nearly 2,246 GW of renewable energy potential from the northern Arica region to Chiloé island – with 40GW of wind energy potential, 1,640 MW of solar PV, 552 GW of CSP, and 12 GW of mini-hydro.

CHINA COAL: COAL CAP PROJECT & RECENT COAL TRENDS

The China Coal Consumption Cap Plan and Policy Study Project held its second Research Steering Committee Meeting. The steering committee heard reports from the working groups on three aspects of their research progress: (1) scenario analysis for a national coal consumption cap; (2) preliminary analysis and results for regional allocation of a coal cap; (3) the environmental, public health, climate change, water resources and sustainable coal industry development constraints on coal consumption. In addition, some of the working groups held meetings to discuss their progress and to further coordinate the work (see here and here for more details).

A new briefing paper discusses six facts you should know about the end of China’s coal boom, including details on what regions have already committed to control coal consumption and the potential climate implications of these plans. A new report seeks to trace the smog pollution in the Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei region.

CHINA RENEWABLES, ENERGY EFFICIENCY, & CLIMATE POLICY

In 2013, China added another massive round of wind electricity as it added 16 GW.  These additions pushed total wind installation in the country to 92 MW at the end of 2013.  pushing the cumulative installed wind energy capacity to 92,038 MW at the end of 2013.

China's Hubei province formally launched its carbon market by imposing caps on greenhouse gas emissions from 140 major energy and industrial emitters (Reuters). Companies that fail to comply with the scheme will be fined $24,000 and given fewer free permits the following year.

Central and local government authorities are now adopting tougher measures and have also developed more effective incentive mechanisms, putting China back on track to meet its 2015 emissions targets (Reuters).

DEFORESTATION: WHAT’S THE DEAL INDONESIA & MORE

A recent article (part 1) provides an in-depth look at the “palm oil, politics, and land use in Indonesian Borneo”. Indonesia’s latest major forest and peat fires left a trail of devastation in their wake as the World Resources Institute discusses (see here). WRI discusses how to prevent forest fires in Indonesia with a focus on Riau Province’s peatland and illegal burning.

Johnson & Johnson unveiled a comprehensive palm oil sourcing policy that eliminates deforestation from its global palm oil supply chain. The company will implement the policy with The Forest Trust – a leading NGO working with a number of companies to clean up their supply-chain. The company is a giant in personal care products that sources the majority of the palm oil in its consumer products in the form of oleo-chemicals derived from palm oil and palm kernel oil. (See reaction from Greenpeace.) And a group of influential NGOs has signaled that it is going to target PepsiCo for its use of palm oil that leads to deforestation. PepsiCo is the largest globally distributed snack food company in the world and consumes more than 450,000 metric tons of palm oil annually for its snack food brands in the US, Mexico, Latin America, Asia and Europe.

This post discusses four actions companies can take to source legal wood.

DIVESTMENT IS STARTING TO GO MAINSTREM

Efforts to eliminate financing of fossils fuels continues to gain momentum. NRDC joined with BlackRock and FTSE Group, the global index provider, to launch the first stock market index to exclude fossil fuel companies. The new investment tool will allow climate-conscious investors, including foundations, universities and certain pension groups, to match their investment strategy and financial interests with their values. See the press release for comments from Christiana Figueres and Bill McKibben.

And countries still using public funding for coal projects are under pressure to join the growing ranks. According to the Washington Post Obama “raised concerns with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye about their financing of coal-fired plants in the developing world”. And the U.S. raised it with Germany as Chancellor Merkel attended meetings in the U.S. Japan is the largest the largest public financer of coal projects overseas, with Germany the 3rd largest and South Korea the 4th largest (according to soon to be released NRDC data).

CLIMATE IMPACTS: 3RD IPCC REPORT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued their third consensus report with this one focused on how to address the challenge. On commentator discusses the 3 key numbers you need to know about the costs of climate change. My colleague provides a round-up of the reactions. And this post discusses six things you need to know about reducing emissions from the IPCC report -- #1: without explicit action, we could see more than 4°C of warming; #2: limiting warming to 2°C is still possible; and more.

A powerful new Showtime series tells the story of life in the age of climate change. The series helps connect the dots by taking viewers to the front lines of climate change. And NRDC releases its latest edition of “This is What Global Warming Looks Like.”

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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