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International Climate Update Aug-Sept '13: US power plant standards, shifts in Chinese coal, HFCs, & more

Jake Schmidt

Posted September 25, 2013 in 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 Aug-Sept, 2013. You can sign-up to receive these compilations in your email inbox.

IMPLEMENTATION OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S CLIMATE ACTION PLAN BEGINS

Last Friday, EPA began steps to regulate carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. These proposed standards would limit carbon pollution from new power plants.  The standards are a prelude to developing standards for the existing fleet of power plants next year (set to be proposed before June 1, 2014). The proposed standards would require that:

  • new coal plants – if any are built – will also be limited to 1100 lbs CO2/MWh, a level that can be met with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology; and
  • large new combined-cycle gas plants will only be built if they emit less than 1000 lbs CO2/MWh. 

This is the first big step to implement President Obama’s ambitious Climate Action Plan, announced in June. (Here is an FAQ on the standard, EPA Administrator McCarthy’s op-ed,  the EPA Fact Sheet, the detailed proposal, Guardian op-ed from NRDC’s President, and a collection of responses to the standard).     

The Department of Energy has committed to push forward four delayed energy efficiency standards – another important step in the U.S. climate action plan— that could save enough electricity to power almost 4 million homes. The standards are to be finalized next year. DOE to toughen energy efficiency standards for new federal buildings (The Hill), reducing CO2 emissions by nearly 90 million metric tons over 30 years.

A new report confirms that methane emissions from U.S. natural gas production are a large contributor to climate change. EPA regulations from 2012 for most new fracked natural gas wells will make an important dent in controlling this pollution, but to be even more effective it is critical that these actions are implemented sooner, applied to existing wells, and extended to oil wells and hybrid wells that produce a combination of oil and gas.

SUPER GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS – HFCs

U.S., China, and the G-20 countries make new progress on curbing HFCs at the St. Petersburg Summit. Both the G20 agreement and the separate new agreement between the U.S. and China are a big deal. My colleague discusses (in Chinese) the next steps in the China-US agreement and what it means for action in China. India moves toward a phase-down of HFCs at the G20 Summit in a sign that it is reasserting its leadership role in the Montreal Protocol by agreeing to use this treaty to negotiate a phase-down of HFCs. And India and the U.S. are set to discuss HFCs when Prime Minister Singh and President Obama meet this week (Deccan Herald).

The upcoming meeting of the Montreal Protocol this October is a key opportunity to further advance negotiations on phasing-down HFCs under this treaty (as this Bloomberg article discusses).

GLOBAL CLEAN ENERGY DEPLOYMENT

Solar is surging in Asia – particularly China and Japan – with those two countries potentially accounting for half of global demand in the coming years (ClimateProgress). Japan has become the 5th country in the world to reach the “10 GW club” for installed solar PV (CleanTechnica).

More than 600 energy storage projects are underway worldwide (EnergyCollective), in a promising sign that the intermittency of renewables will be effectively managed as renewables become an even larger share of the electricity mix. And this post discusses how the “intermittency” of renewables is being addressed (CleanTechnica).

Wind energy became the #1 source of new U.S. electricity generation capacity in 2012. US joins elite solar club – the 10 GW club – as it installed more than 1.8 GW in the first half of the year. The U.S. is now the 4th country in the world to reach that milestone – joining Germany, Italy and China (GreenBiz). And last year the U.S. solar PV market continued to soar reaching record numbers (see here and here for more details on a new DOE report). A new website from Environmental Entreprenuers and NRDC tracks the clean energy job announcements across the U.S. (the site: Clean Energy Works for US!).

LATIN AMERICAN CLEAN ENERGY DEPLOYMENT

Deutsche Bank has a new report that documents how Chilean solar is at grid-parity without subsidies (RenewEconomy). A new analysis found that new Chilean buildings are extremely inefficient. And a new report from NRDC and the Chilean Renewable Energy Association – conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers—found that producing 20% of Chile’s energy from renewable resources would produce a net benefit of $1.600 billion to the Chilean economy over the next 15 years (Spanish media stories:  Pulso, Revista Electricidad, Suelo Solar, Nueva Minería).

The Mexican energy reform initiative proposed by President Nieto fails to lay out how the country will boost renewable energy production, according two local civil society groups. Mexican legislators are asking the president to include the production and use of renewable energy sources and not just on hydrocarbons in his energy reform proposal (El Economista).

A new analysis documents how much financial support is being provided to Mexico to address climate change and how that money is being spent (The Mexican Center for Environmental Law—CEMDA).

Peru unveiled a program to give solar electricity to 2 million of its poorest citizens (EnergyCollective). The program will allow 95% of Peru to have access to electricity by the end of 2016.

Solar deployment could pick up in Brazil as the government has announced that 2,700 MW Of solar PV will be up for grabs in the upcoming auction (CleanTechnia).

INDIA CLIMATE, SOLAR ENERGY, & ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The Chairman of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) discusses with NRDC how India can accelerate energy efficient buildings in its booming cities.

Wind energy is now cost competitive with new-build coal capacity in India, and solar is likely to follow suit sometime between 2016-18, according to a report by HSBC. India is preparing to launch a National Offshore Wind Energy Authority India to help the country open the offshore wind energy sector to the developers (CleanTechnica). Indian states are battling to set records in solar energy production (Hindustan Times), with 2.8 GW of solar PV capacity expected in 2014 (CleanTechnica with a good rundown by Indian State).

Despite India’s flourishing renewable energy market, the economic and employment benefits of these clean energy technologies and projects are not reported. My colleague discusses India's untold story that solar and wind projects create jobs.

CHINA CLIMATE, CLEAN ENERGY, & AIR POLLUTION

The Chinese State Council, (China’s cabinet) unveiled its long-awaited “Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan”. The plan envisions both reductions in air pollution and coal consumption in key provinces.

My colleague predicts that China will curb coal use faster than many predict as public anger over urban pollution and the impact of coal mining on water supplies is already stoking government efforts to expand renewable energy (The Age). And new studies from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Citibank document that Chinese emissions and coal consumption may peak before many previously predicted (hint it could be around 2020/2025).

One commentator discusses whether coal will remain king in China’s energy mix (EnergyCollective). According to a new WRI analysis, more than half of China’s proposed coal-fired power plants are slated to be built in areas of high or extremely high water stress.

As China’s pilot carbon trading programs are unveiled, one commentator discusses the status and obstacles on the path to a national carbon trading platform (EnergyCollective).

China’s State Council has outlined a target to quadruple its solar generation.  The State Council has envisioned that China will add around 10 GW of solar per year from 2013-2015 (Reuters). And with domestic solar deployment in China booming, the country has become the first country to reach the 3 GW solar milestone (Energy Collective). A recent post outlines some of the details of the steps the government is taking to unlock China's domestic solar market (Greenpeace East Asia) and the government has stepped up its effort to support commercial PV deployment by designating a group of “Distributed PV Generation” parks (CleanTechnica).

The Chinese Finance Minister has confirmed that a carbon tax is on its way (Business Green), but recent reports haven’t yet confirmed a specific timeline (ChinaDialogue).

COAL FINANCING AT THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS

Development Bank Coal Financing2.pngIn the release of a new energy strategy, the World Bank Group has committed to stop funding coal projects and step up its efforts to invest in clean energy. Hopefully this will spur other large financial institutions to follow suit. Over the past 5 years the development banks have invested more than $11.6 billion in coal projects (see figure). And the V.P. of Sustainable Development at the Bank discusses why the bank is proactive in addressing climate change (National Journal).

The U.S. Export-Import Bank won't finance a Vietnam coal-fired power plant – a 1,200 MW plant (Reuters  and Bloomberg) following on the heels of President Obama’s commitment to stop funding overseas coal projects.

The European Investment Bank will stop financing coal-fired power plants (Guardian). Over the past five years the Bank has invested $1.6 billion in coal projects. The Bank will require that new and refurbished coal-fired power plants will only receive funding if they meet a defined emissions level.

AVIATION

The International Civil Aviation Organization may be getting close to adopting a global market-based measure when it meets in Montreal starting this week (Aviation Week). The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization has partially backed a resolution that will call for the adoption of a global market-based measure by 2016 at the latest, but whether all countries will go along with the deal is uncertain. Part of the emerging deal would reflect a compromise from the EU to limit its program in the interim to emissions over its airspace (NY Times). But that compromise could quickly fall apart if ICAO fails to send a clear signal on adopting a global market-based measure.

DIRTY DIESEL POLLUTION: REDUCING BLACK CARBON

At the Mexican hosted meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition there was encouraging commitments from the Mexican government to reduce black carbon from vehicles. Mexico needs to pass strict standards regulating the quality of diesel fuels and vehicle emissions as soon as possible to avoid continued serious health and climate impacts.

Although Mexico’s air quality has improved markedly over the past two decades, but emissions levels far exceed recommended amounts as emissions from transportation —especially from diesel engines— are a major source of pollution. Leading my colleague to point out that Mexico's air quality is front and center as it hosted a meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

DEFORESTATION

While deforestation rates in the Congo have been the lowest of any major forest region in the world, some environmentalists fear that the Congo could be on the verge of a massive increase in deforestation for palm oil, rubber, and sugar production (Mongabay). And WRI discusses how to strengthening Cameroon’s forest governance.

One commentator discusses how China could lead the race to save tropical forests, by taking concrete steps to ensure that Chinese firms aren’t using wood and wood products sourced from illegal sources (ChinaDialogue).

Fires are once again flaring up in Indonesia, with almost half of them inside of logging, palm oil, and pulpwood concessions (WRI). And a new investigative report from BusinessWeek has found wide-spread human-rights abuses in Indonesia's palm oil industry. The report points out the critical role of consumer demand in China and India as they are the major importer of Indonesian palm oil.

A near real-time deforestation monitoring system is set to go global, allowing governments, NGOs, and policymakers real-time information on where to target deforestation reduction efforts (Mongabay). Another global tool should be available later this year (WRI).

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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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