The White House on Wednesday played down the possible impact of putting off major U.S. climate change legislation to 2010, vowing to press for progress on the issue ahead of global talks in December.
Asked whether a delay would amount to a setback for President Barack Obama’s priorities on the issue, spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters: “No, I think we can continue to make progress.”
“We’ve got to make progress and the international community’s got to make progress getting China and India and developing nations, and evolving world economies like Brazil, on board,” he said.
Gibbs spoke one day after Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the prospects of putting off action on the legislation until 2010, only to have his chief spokesman say Democrats still sought action this year.
“We are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year,” Reid said Tuesday. “And, of course, nothing terminates at the end of this year. We still have next year to complete things if we have to.”
Asked about his comments, spokesman Jim Manley replied: “We are still committing to passing health care reform, regulatory reform and global warming legislation by the end of the year.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the legislation in June, and leaders of key Senate committees are due to unveil their version later this month after agreeing to a delay of a few weeks from a mid-September target date.
India is ready to quantify the amount of planet-warming gas emissions it could cut with domestic actions to fight climate change, the environment minister said on Thursday, but will not accept internationally binding targets.
Jairam Ramesh’s comment marks a shift in the position of India, which is under no obligation to cut emissions and is trying to reach out to rich nations by underscoring the actions it is taking to fight global warming.
The stand is likely to strengthen India’s stance at crucial negotiations in Copenhagen in December on a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges 37 developed nations to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
Talks are currently deadlocked on the question of levels of emission cuts to be taken by rich countries and developing nations. Rich nations will also have to come up with billions of dollars in aid and green technologies for the poor.
“We do not see a problem in giving a broad indicative number on the quantity of (emission) reduction as a result of our domestic unilateral actions,” Ramesh told Reuters.
The emission reduction would not take the shape of legally binding targets open to outside scrutiny. Neither would it form a new negotiating position for India.
The minister described the new stand as a “nuanced shift” in India’s position aimed at calling the bluff of rich countries which want growing economies such as India to take emissions targets because it is among the biggest polluters.
White House officials are calling for international efforts to end fuel and electric power subsidies as part of the agenda for next week’s G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, according to a letter from a senior administration official.
The White House also says G-20 nations should take steps to improve oil market transparency and scale up financing for tackling climate change.
Michael Froman, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said in a Sept. 3 letter that cutting the subsidies would improve energy security and help fight climate change by encouraging conservation and boosting new technologies.
“The move away from subsidies should be managed to protect those most vulnerable to price increases,” Froman wrote. “The G-20 should commit to take the lead in eliminating non-needs based fossil fuel and electricity subsidies and to provide technical assistance to non-G-20 countries taking steps to reduce fossil fuel and electricity subsidies.”
A White House spokesperson could not be reached for comment about the letter, which is addressed to “colleagues.”
Reuters has some interesting quotes from Energy Secretary Steven Chu on how we shouldn’t undermine the post-Kyoto climate change treaty to be hammered out in Copenhagen in three months time by setting unachievable emission reductions targets. Unachievable politically, Chu means, and in the US:
“What the United States can bring and can agree to is certainly unknown but I think probably 40-30% (cuts) might be too aggressive for 2020 for the United States.”
Chu is of course just talking about political feasibility. He’s stated on a number of occasions that its technically possible to reduce emissions 30-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. It would be a “very aggressive” but “achievable” goal, he’s quoted as saying in this particular Reuters piece.
Keep in mind that it’s these sort of reductions that China, India, Brazil, several low-lying island nations, as well as a host of other developing nations are calling on the rich countries of the world to make. And keep in mind that these are the sort of reductions scientists say are required to keep temperature rise below 2°C — something which the US (as part of the G8) has agreed is a good goal, though doesn’t seem to grasp what’s required to achieve it.
Chu went on to say that setting lower targets and improving energy efficiency could essentially prove to people that green policies are not detrimental to the economy.
“If you could get all those gains in the first 20, 30 percent reduction in carbon, just by using energy efficiently, you can teach people that there is a path.”
Fair enough, the value of energy efficiency seems to be sidelined sometimes in the climate debate in favor of more physically tangible renewable energy and infrastructure projects. But Chu’s really dancing around the central issue here.
China has finally admitted it: It’s current approach to growth is unsustainable.
There just aren’t enough fossil fuels on the planet to support the developing country, says a Beijing think-tank, in a new report called “China’s Low Carbon Development Pathways by 2050.”
While this is not an official government report, Reuters says, “coming from a prominent institute that advises officials, it illuminates some of China’s key concerns less than three months before the climate pact negotiations culminate in Copenhagen.”
Chinese scientists laid out three sections to help their country achieve a low carbon solution:
1. Set greenhouse gas targets: the country should move towards a cap-and-trade market that buys and sells emissions. This would involve setting an absolute limit on emissions, a suggestion that may hurt economic growth.
2. Create carbon taxes: apply taxes to fossil fuels, natural gas, oil. The scientists propose a tax of 100 yuan ($14.6) for ever metric ton of carbon from 2010, and 200 yuan from 2030.
3. Energy market reforms: force coal-users to pay for environmental costs, and promote investment in clean energy.
The China Energy Research Institute, who wrote the report, doubts the world can keep its temperature increase below 2 degree Celsius, given the monstrous economic growth and energy consumption of the Asian giant. That ought to worry environmentalists hoping to stave off the effects of global warming.
With enough dedication and money, though, China’s emissions could peak around 2030-2035 and fall to 2005 levels by 2050. If unchecked, its emissions in 2050 will be 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon a year. The world together emits 8.5 billion tonnes now.
European proposals to give developing countries up to 15 billion euros ($22 billion) a year to help them fight climate change have been branded immoral by a Catholic aid agency.
The English and Welsh bishops’ Catholic Agency for Overseas Development wants the European Union to at least double the amount and to insist that the contributions of its 27 member states to combat climate change must be in addition to existing aid budgets.
The European Commission, which runs the European Union’s day-to-day affairs, has suggested between 2 billion and 15 billion euros as a target annual contribution to be reached by 2020.
But Liz Gallagher, head of climate finance policy at CAFOD, said in a statement that the proposal, announced Sept. 9, “seriously lacks ambition” and that the figure should be in the region of 35 billion euros.
“The commission’s communique is going for the lowest common denominator,” she said in a Sept. 10 press statement.
“There is no mention that the money provided by rich countries must be additional to pledged aid levels,” she said.
“The commission is neglecting its responsibility to compensate poor people for the damage our emissions have caused,” she added. “Poor people will suffer the first and worst due to climate change and yet have done the least to cause it.”
Power generator GE Energy today announced its plans to set up its first wind turbine generator plant in the country and help in shaping the nation’s renewable energy agenda.
“It is a moment of great pride for all of us at GE as this is going to be our first wind turbuine generator plant in India. We appreciate the government’s support in providing the project with necessary infrastructure to commence operations”, GE India President and CEO T P Chopra said here on the occasion of ‘GE Day’ celebrations.
The plant would commence production in second half of 2010, he said.
The company’s 1.5 XLE model wind turbine, most suited for India’s low wind environment, would eventually grow its capacity to ship 300 wind turbines yearly in line with the growth in demand, Chopra said.
The facility would also enable GE Energy to create a larger sourcing base from India for critical items, including blades, towers, gear boxes, castings and forgings.
“Today India is ranked as the fifth largest market globally for wind power in terms of installed capacity and this will only elevate in years to come. This is an important time to be involved with wind energy and in helping to shape the future of our nation’s renewable energy agenda,” he said.
“With our decision to set up a wind turbine generator plant, we want to make sure that we fully capitalise of opportunities available,” he added.
The United States must do more to tackle climate change, the EU presidency said Wednesday, in a challenge to President Barack Obama ahead of a key international summit in Pittsburgh.
“I hope to speed up the talks all over the climate issue,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in online comments, the day before a EU summit Brussels.
While acknowledging a promise by Japan’s incoming prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, to target 25 percent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Reinfeldt has been less impressed by Washington’s efforts so far.
“We need also clearer signals from the United States on mitigation efforts,” as well as other parts of the developed world, Reinfeldt said.
The European Union prides itself on taking the lead in the battle against climate change, with member states agreeing to make 20 percent cuts in CO2 emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels.
EU leaders are seeking a more ambitious global goal at international climate change talks in Copenhagen in December, and are ready to commit to 30 percent cuts if the rest of the world does likewise to attain the overall goal of restricting global warming to two degrees Celsius.
Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, raised questions on Wednesday about the viability of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants underground, and suggested that coal may not even be part of the energy mix by 2050.
“I actually can see a future where coal is not in the equation in 2050,” Rogers told reporters at an event in Washington.
He argued that it’s unlikely that the United States will be able to develop and bring to scale carbon-capture-and-storage – often called “clean coal” technology. “I think there’s no way we can scale in this country,” he said. “It’s more likely that China will develop and bring CCS to scale. I’d like to be China for a day so we can get CCS done. They’re more likely to get it scaled and deployed than we are. We’re going to be buying their technology.”
He also acknowledged that concerns about coal extraction methods like mountaintop removal may make coal more expensive in the near-term. “I’m under incredible pressure on moutaintop mining,” said Rogers. “Most of the coal we use in the southern part of the country is from mountaintop mining. I’m doing the math now and looking to determine my contracts and posing the question to my team, what if we made a policy decision that we’re not going to buy coal as a consequence of mountaintop mining.”
The future of mountaintop removal grew less certain last week as the Obama administration put the breaks on 79 surface mining permits in Appalachia. Rogers also cited concerns about the amount of space and infrastructure that would be needed to make CCS a reality, as well as concerns about the viability of storage. Instead, he says he foresees nuclear rising to become the biggest source of baseload power by 2050, along with solar and “a little wind,” and improved efficiency.
“On the time horizon, I have a higher probability of coming up with the next generation recycling [of nuclear waste], and it’s manageable,” he said. He argued that the spent fuel from the last 40 years from every nuclear power plant in the United States could be put on one football field, stacked seven feet high. But he said his company’s calculations have found that even storage of 20 percent of carbon emissions would require ten cubic miles over the life of a power plant.