With the arrival of the newly elected 112th Congress, likelihood of any significant progress on a focused federal clean-energy strategy in the United States is doubtful – and that’s not good news for the U.S. in its leadership battle with China, Japan, Germany, and other nations in this increasingly critical global industry. But against this uncertain federal landscape, U.S. states continue to lead the charge in driving clean-energy innovation and advancing the clean-energy economy.
Clean Edge’s first annual U.S. Clean Energy Leadership Index, announced today, provides the industry’s most comprehensive and objective analysis and ranking of how all 50 states compare across the spectrum of clean-energy technology, policy, and capital. And while West and East Coast states dominate the top 10 rankings, innovation and investment opportunities are found across the map in places such as Colorado, Iowa, Texas, and Michigan.
According to Clean Edge’s assessment and ranking of more than 80 different state-level indicators, the top three states in the nation are California, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Minnesota, and New Jersey round out the top 10. Indicators include such metrics as total electricity produced by clean-energy sources, hybrid vehicles on the road, and clean-energy venture and patent activity.
“In this newly launched service we track more than 4,000 public and private data points across all 50 states,” says Clean Edge cofounder and managing director Ron Pernick. “The industry needs to move beyond the days of using disaggregated and fragmented data to bolster subjective political claims about a state’s or region’s clean-tech prowess or as the basis of fundamental and significant business decisions. For the first time, Clean Edge is bringing timely clean- energy data and analysis under one roof, making this a critical tool for clean-tech decision makers within both the public and private sector.”
The Leadership Index paints an important and sometimes surprising picture of the U.S. clean-energy landscape with highlights such as:
— California is #1 in overall clean-energy leadership by a wide margin, leveraging its history of technology innovation, rich bounty of natural renewable energy resources and investment capital, and consistently supportive government policies.
— California leads in the technology and capital categories, but the #1 state for policy is Washington – just ahead of Massachusetts, which ranks first in regulations and mandates, and Illinois, the top state for incentives.
— Iowa is the nation’s leader in utility-scale clean electricity generation as a percentage of total electricity, receiving more than 14 percent of its in-state generation in 2009 from wind power. No other state exceeded 10 percent electricity from large-scale clean- energy sources.
— California-based companies accounted for nearly 60 percent of all U.S. venture capital investments in clean energy in 2009, but Massachusetts led in VC investments per capita.
— Michigan, with its recent focus on electric vehicle and automotive battery technologies, is the #1 state for clean-energy patents – a key indicator in the human & intellectual capital area of the Index’s capital category.
If you haven’t heard about this project yet, it is a HUGE, renewable energy project with a ton of cool features. The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is its name, though it has also been referred to as the Super Apollo Project by the project leader.
To start with, it will build a silicon manufacturing plant in the desert, a good location for such a plant. Using that silicon locally (rather than just shipping it around the world), solar power plants will be constructed nearby as well. Then, some of the electricity generated from those will be used to construct more silicon manufacturing plants. Sounds like a solar energy empire in the making.
You are probably wondering at this point which country the people doing all this are coming from. It is a joint project between universities in Algeria and Japan, and Hideomi Koinuma of the University of Tokyo is leading the project.
“The energy generated by the solar power plants will be distributed as direct current via high-temperature superconductors, a process that Koinuma said will be more efficient than using alternating current,” Lin Edwards of PhysOrg writes. “He envisages a large network of supercooled high-voltage direct current grids capable of transporting the expected 100 GW of electricity at least 500 kilometers.”
Sahara Solar Breeder Project Initial Goals
Initial project goals are to establish project viability, overcome some clear obstacles (i.e. “frequent sandstorms, the need to use liquid nitrogen to cool cables and to bury them in the sand to minimize fluctuations in temperature”), and train African engineers and scientists in research and development regarding this process.
Of course, it will not be completely easy for the researchers to achieve their technological goals. DigInfo TV writes:
“In this initial project, it will be important to demonstrate the possibility of manufacturing high-purity silicon from desert sand and constructing a high-temperature superconducting, long-distance, DC power supply system.”
Cost of the Sahara Solar Breeder Project
“The total research expenditure will be 100 million yen annually for five years, but that won’t be enough to complete the project,” Koinuma said (in the video above). “Nevertheless, we want to establish basic technology for providing an ultimate solution to the energy problem, which must be done before a global crisis occurs.”
As mentioned in the title, the long-term goal is to power half the world by 2050. That is quite an aim, much more than DESERTEC’s aim to power 15% of Europe by 2050.
Despite powerful opposition from the fossil fuel industry in court, a non-profit environmental organization, New Energy Economy, has succeeded in getting New Mexico to adopt a clean energy plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.
Yesterday, New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board adopted the New Energy Economy proposal on a 4-1 vote. It would begin in 2013, and entail 3% reductions annually.
The climate plan is as ambitious as those adopted by the EU, Japan or Australia to meet the Kyoto Accords, and upgraded at Copenhagen. Like those nations, New Mexico would achieve the greenhouse gas reduction by a move to clean and fuel-free energy sources, funded by pollution fees. The state is rich in untapped solar, geothermal and wind resources.
New Energy Economy provided New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board a detailed proposal on how to achieve the targets.
“¢ Under this rule, proposed by New Energy Economy – an independent nonprofit organization, electricity generation facilities, petroleum and natural gas facilities in New Mexico with greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution emissions exceeding 25,000 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide (CO2) would, starting in 2012, be required to reduce their GHG pollution emissions by 3% per year from 2010 levels. Electricity generation facilities, petroleum and natural gas facilities emitting less than 25,000 metric tons per year can opt into the regulation, and a baseline other than 2010 can be used if it’s more representative of a facility’s usual operations.
“¢ These requirements would initially apply only to electricity generating facilities (coal or natural gas) and the petroleum and natural gas (refineries, processing and treatment plants, and compressor stations) sectors of New Mexico’s economy, and would initially regulate only carbon dioxide (CO2). The baseline for new electricity sources would be 0.5 metric tons per MWh in 2012, and reduced 3% per year. For new petroleum and natural gas sources, the baseline would be best available control technology in the first year of operations.
“¢ An owner or operator of more than one source emitting GHG pollution may use excess reductions at one source to comply at a source that it also owns, operates or controls. In addition, sources can petition NMED for early action credit for voluntary emission reductions achieved by the emitter during or after 2005. Sources may propose the use of New Mexico offsets approved by NMED, or certified by the Climate Action Reserve, to meet their GHG pollution reduction requirements. These offsets could be based on reductions to any GHG pollution emissions, not just CO2. Sources may bank excess reductions indefinitely for later use, and may “borrow” (i.e. delay) emissions reductions for up to one year with a ten percent penalty.
“¢ Full compliance would be excused in any year that the facility demonstrates it has spent, over its prior year’s expenditure, $50 per metric ton times 3% (0.03) of its 2010, or baseline CO2 metric tons, on reasonable and effective GHG pollution mitigation measures. For example, a source emitting 100,000 metric tons in 2010 would be excused after it spent $150,000 ($50 x 100,000 x 0.03). The $50 limit increases by $1 each year after 2012. Sources may seek variances from these regulations.
“¢ During calendar year 2014, NMED would re-examine these regulations and may propose changes to the regulation, in order to have these regulations consistent with what the best science informs should be done to avoid catastrophic climate change. These regulations would no longer apply to any GHG pollution source whose emissions are limited by a regional or national GHG pollution reduction program and would sunset in 2020. Non-compliance would be subject to a penalty and/or other enforcement action, as determined by the New Mexico Environment Department.
Coming from a non-profit environmental group, this is a completely new paradigm. State policy is almost never put in place by outside environmental groups, let alone after facing down a heavily funded legal battle from the fossil energy industry in court. New Mexico is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and has a powerful fossil lobby.
I asked them how they did it. Lilia Diaz of New Energy Economy said, “one of the reasons that we were successful here is because we had a lot of community support throughout the hearings, with people from very different walks of life testifying in support of a cap on carbon pollution”.
Last year a sinkhole caused by years of poor oil and gas drilling practices opened up near interstate 285 in Carlsbad threatening a church, a highway, several businesses and a trailer park with massive fissures through the town. Awareness of the risks associated with fossil fuels is high.
There’s a catch though. The Environmental Improvement Board that passed the measure is selected by the Governor. A new Governor, Tea Party candidate Susanna Martinez will take over from termed-out Democratic Governor Bill Richardson on January 1st.
Like the Republican party platform, the Tea Party platform is ostrich-like in its complete disavowal of the looming realities of climate change, peak oil and the risk of US decline to third world status by its outright filibuster of clean energy. That risk is more serious now because not only Europe, but even China now speeds past the US in developing the coming clean energy economy of the 21st century.
China is adding 500 Gigawatts of renewable energy by 2020. The Recovery Act had 16 Gigawatts, an unprecedented jolt for the US – the only major US government investment since the Carter era – and now, likely the only one we will get.
A board member said last month that a simple edict from the governor is not enough to kill the plan and speculated that even a reconstituted board could take as long as a year to rescind the measures.
Either way, new Governor Susanna Martinez has a historic decision to make.
A grassroots coalition group that put together the support for this in New Mexico is making a smart move. Only those US states that have already put in place clean fuel-free energy will survive. There is a short window for transition in the next few decades.
Saying the health of the planet is at stake, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged 190 nations meeting in Mexico on Tuesday to agree to steps to fight climate change that fall short of a perfect deal.
“We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Ban told a first session of environment ministers at the November 29 to December 10 talks in the Caribbean resort of Cancun where rich and poor nations are split over cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
After U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders failed to work out a U.N. climate treaty at a 2009 summit in Copenhagen, Ban repeatedly stressed lower ambitions for the Cancun talks despite calls by some nations for radical action.
Ban told the ministers: “the stability of the global economy, the well-being of your citizens, the health of our planet, all this and more depend on you.”
The Cancun talks are seeking a package deal to set up a fund to oversee climate aid, ways to slow deforestation, steps to help poor countries adapt to climate change and a mechanism to share clean technologies such as wind and solar power.
Some developing nations, with Bolivia the most outspoken, have said that far more radical action by the rich is needed now to cut greenhouse gas emissions and deadly floods, droughts, desertification and rising sea levels.
Speaking on behalf of Africa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he was “deeply dismayed” by the loss of momentum since Copenhagen. “Every day of delay is being paid for by the lives of countless numbers of Africans,” he said.
About 1,500 people marched in Cancun in protest the low ambitions of the talks and dumped buckets of animal excrement in the street. Overnight, some protesters threw eggs at riot police and defaced a fast-food restaurant.
Developed and developing countries are most split about the future of the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliges almost 40 rich nations to cut emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels in the five-year period 2008-12.
“The Kyoto Protocol issue continues to be very tough. It’s not clear whether it’s resolvable,” U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told a news conference. He said that the Kyoto dispute was distracting time from other parts of the negotiations.
The United States is the only rich nation outside of the Kyoto Protocol after arguing that treaty wrongly omitted targets for 2012 for developing nations and would cause U.S. jobs losses. The U.S. absence is a core part of the problem in designing a new deal.
Japan, Russia and Canada have been adamant that they will not approve an extension to Kyoto when the first period runs out in 2012. They want a new, broader treaty that will also bind the United States and emerging powers like China and India to act.
Asked if Japan might ever agree to extend Kyoto, Akira Yamada of Japan’s foreign ministry told Reuters: “Yes. If U.S., China and other major emitters become Annex One countries.” Annex One lists rich nations bound by Kyoto.
Many rich countries, suffering weak growth and budget cuts, want emerging economies led by fast-growing China and India to do far more to reflect their growing power, including greater oversight of their curbs on greenhouse gas emissions
Developing states say rich nations have emitted most greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution and must extend Kyoto before poor countries sign up for action. Kyoto underpins carbon markets guiding a shift away from fossil fuels.
Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said positions were “diametrically opposed” and the future of Kyoto was not due to be decided in Cancun.
“Germans have a wonderful word ‘yein’ which means both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and I think that’s the kind of attitude countries are now engaged in,” she said.
A U.N. report showed that residents of the Himalayas and other mountain areas face a tough and unpredictable future as global warming melts glaciers and threatens worse floods.
This is the year that utility-scale solar in the U.S. broke. Hundreds of megawatts are now online and operational. And next year will be even more impressive.
The mantle of the largest U.S. PV plant has been passed from Florida Power and Light’s 28-megawatt (DC) DeSoto photovoltaic farm in Arcadia, FL to the 55-megawatt (DC) Sempra Copper Mountain solar facility in Boulder City, Nev., about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Construction at the 380-acre desert site began in January of 2010 with about 350 construction workers installing almost 775,000 First Solar solar panels. First Solar also served as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor.
The Copper Mountain facility was built by Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE). “Completing Copper Mountain Solar is a major accomplishment. It demonstrates that large-scale solar can be developed at a rapid pace to help this country meet its clean energy needs, and further solidifies our position as one of the leading solar developers in the U.S.,” said Jeffrey W. Martin, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation.
The power from Copper Mountain Solar and Sempra Generation’s nearby 10-megawatt El Dorado Solar plant has been sold to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under separate 20-year contracts.
It’s easy to see from the chart below that First Solar and SunPower dominate the utility PV market in the U.S. today; one of the two companies has been involved in every one of the 11 largest operating projects in the country. Greentech Media Research takes a deep look at the U.S. utility-scale solar marketplace in this report and both of these articles.
We took a detailed look at the Blue Wing solar project here and the proposed 50-megawatt Turning Point Solar project here.
As COP16 continues in Cancun this week, some onlookers in the U.S. are calling for a renewed focus on bottom-up, local initiatives rather than a top-down approach.
Washington, D.C. — Last year’s failed COP15 conference was a big blow to the climate advocacy community: In a period of weeks, hopes for an international agreement crashed and burned, leaving people wondering if any kind of movement would come. Shortly after, it became clear that the U.S. Congress wouldn’t pass a climate bill, further dimming prospects for action.
The November elections turned the chilly politics of global warming in America ice cold. After winning 65 seats in the House, Republicans are now taking control of key committees that could determine the future of energy policy; some of the leaders in the running for these committees are vociferous foes of climate science.
Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker who has been covering climate change issues for over a decade, profiled some of those leading Republicans in a piece last month.
“A lot of people who’s positions are not even necessarily mainstream…are going to come into power,” she explains in an interview.
There’s John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House, who said in a television appearance last year that “the idea that CO2 is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” He went on to opine that because people breath out CO2 and cows “do what they do,” we shouldn’t consider the gas a problem.
Then there’s John Shimkus, who’s been running for the Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He became well-known last year for quoting a passage from Genesis during a hearing as evidence that climate change is not an issue, saying “there’s a theological argument that we are a carbon starved planet.” (It should be noted that Shimkus is not a front-runner in the race. Fred Upton, who is considered far more moderate on climate and energy issues will likely get the seat. He’s battling Joe Barton, another leader who is extremely skeptical of climate science).
And there’s also Darrell Issa, the incoming Chairman of the House Committee for Oversight and Government reform. As leader of that body, he’ll have the power to open investigations on a variety of issues. One of his stated priorities is to investigate climate scientists associated with the “Climategate” scandal. (Multiple independent inquiries found no evidence that climate data was skewed by scientists).
These are a few among a handful of powerful politicians who have vowed to thwart climate-change mitigation efforts when they take leadership positions. Kolbert says this change in leadership makes it increasingly unlikely that the U.S. will play a positive role in international climate negotiations in the foreseeable future.
“This is a situation where irrationality has won the day,” says Kolbert. “Without strong leadership from the U.S., I have never seen how we are going to get from here to there.”
But some people don’t believe that all is lost. The renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors are maturing quickly, accelerating solutions to the problem. Although the politics around climate change are vitriolic, there is still strong bi-partisan support for clean energy.
Jigar Shah, the CEO of the non-profit investment firm Carbon War Room, has been telling renewable energy advocates to “stop bitching” and “go out and build businesses.” The industry made it this far, he says. Companies can continue to persevere in spite of the challenges.
His business partner, Virgin Airlines Founder Richard Branson, recently wrote a piece in the Guardian newspaper urging the investment community to stay ahead of policymakers: “Legislation and public policy will only shape the market, it will not deliver solutions,” he wrote.
Activity at the COP16 conference in Cancun mirrors this new political reality. Rather than push for a large-scale global agreement, negotiators are focusing on the details of a climate fund that will help finance renewable energy, energy efficiency and mitigation projects in developing countries. Even if political leaders can’t agree on how (or whether) to price carbon, there is still support for investment in technological solutions at the sub-national level.
In America, industry leaders are pushing for extensions of the federal grant program and key tax credits. (Aside from solar, which has an investment tax credit through 2016, tax credits for other technologies expire in one or two years, making it difficult to plan large-scale projects). Trade groups were hoping to have those extensions in a bill currently before Congress that will extend tax cuts and unemployment benefits, but they didn’t get them in.
Beyond that immediate priority, industry leaders have halted their push for a comprehensive energy policy on the federal level.
Lewis Milford, president and founder of the non-profit policy and investment advisory firm Clean Energy Group, believes there will be a trend toward more specific and localized action in the U.S. With the prospects for cap and trade or a national renewable energy standard virtually dead, Milford says the U.S. needs to focus on “policy pragmatism” and establish solutions on a more local level.
“We’ve tried big and grand, let’s try small and experimental and work from the bottom up, rather than assume we have the answers in Washington to all these problems,” he says.
He recently co-authored a report for the Clean Energy Group outlining some ideas on how to redeploy existing federal dollars to programs at the state level. By giving more local control over the money (which again, has already been appropriated to federal agencies) he says we can continue building the clean energy industry without a climate bill or national renewable energy target.
“This is the opposite of what many people have been promoting [on the federal level] for years,” he says.
A few ideas include: Using $100 million to mimic corporate technology-procurement programs and better link R&D and commercialization efforts; deploy over $1 billion to help state agencies procure electricity from emerging technologies; and invest $650 million into existing state-level clean energy funds to help grow technology funding partnerships, improve regulatory coordination and build workforce development programs. These efforts could leverage billions more dollars in private investment on the local and state levels, providing a direct economic boost.
Milford admits that these programs are only one piece of a long-term clean energy strategy. While this “Clean Energy Federalism” approach is good for helping early-stage technologies, it may be less effective for helping companies build large-scale wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and bioenergy facilities. Ultimately, long-term tax credits are the key to helping developers in that sector – and developers in most industries are nervously watching the expiration dates for those credits get closer.
With the exception of some possible tax credit extensions, Milford believes this approach is currently one of the only realistic options.
“We have to think smaller, more locally. I think this can reconcile the differences between the two groups who either do or don’t want do something about climate change,” he says. “It can really appeal to anyone.”
That is also the hope on the international stage. To keep momentum going, policy makers are trying to hammer out any viable package that will accelerate clean energy development on the national or sub-national level.
The New Yorker’s Kolbert sees this as a somewhat positive trend during an otherwise dismal period for climate action. Despite the continued attack on scientists and advocates trying to raise awareness of the issue, there is a wide-spread recognition that renewables and energy efficiency are an important investment.
“It’s a very frustrating time right now. But at least we can feel positive that we’re going in the right direction in some ways,” says Kolbert.
Since the introduction of its small power program in 2006, Thailand has signed contracts to develop 4,300 MW of renewable generation. Nearly half of the contracts–1,800 MW–are for solar energy alone.
Currently 850 MW of generation is online as a result of the program, says Chris Greacen, a former consultant to the Thai government. The large majority of that, 700 MW, is from biomass. Only 16 MW of solar is in operation, but the number of projects is growing rapidly, according to Greacen.
Thailand’s Very Small Power Producer (VSPP) program uses the “bonus model” of feed-in tariff design where the final tariff paid is composed of several “adders” on top of the avoided wholesale cost of generation.
As in successful program elsewhere, the Thai feed-in tariffs are differentiated by Technology. However, the Thai feed-in tariff program contains several unique features. There is a specific “adder” or bonus for offsetting diesel-fired generation. There is also a location adder or risk premium for projects in three southern provinces and an adder to compensate for fossil-fuel price volatility.
Thailand joins several other Asian countries, such as China, Malaysia, and the Philippines, that have moved to feed-in tariffs or are in the process of doing so.
The Thai program includes anti-gaming provisions to discourage “briefcase” project developers from clogging the program with applications that are unlikely to be built. The program requires 200 baht/kWh ($6/kW) deposit to prove the developer’s good faith. Further, no adder will be paid if project completion is more than 1 year past its due date.
Contracts to date are dominated by proposed biomass and solar thermal electric projects. There are 1,400 MW of solar thermal electric projects under contract, and 2,100 MW of biomass projects under contract.
To increase project diversity, Thailand is providing government-backed loans at 4% interest up to 50 million baht ($1.6 million) per project. Similar to Germany’s KfW (the German Bank for Reconstruction and Finance), the government has loaned 4 billion baht to 13 banks at 0.5% interest for use in the program.
The Thai program followed the introduction of a net-metering policy in 2002. The current feed-in tariff program went into effect in 2006.
Projects are limited to 10 MW.
Contracts vary from 7 to 10 years.
Most solar photovoltaic projects under contract are large, groundmounted arrays. Interestingly, nearly all will use inverters made by a domestic Thai manufacturer.
Payment for a typical solar project not located in the southern provinces would include 8 baht/kWh solar bonus, 2.6 baht/kWh for the wholesale avoided cost, plus 0.93 baht/kWh for the fuel volatility bonus. The total payment, 11.5 baht/kWh is about $0.38 USD/kWh. However, solar contracts are good for only ten years.
Here’s an interesting idea: use the energy of the sun or bacteria to create clean (or kind of clean) energy that also reduces CO2. It could happen. This concept was first presented to me during a trip through upstate NY, visiting a number of universities, including Cornell. In one cleantech approach, Emmanuel Giannelis, co-director of Cornell’s KAUST Center for Energy and Sustainability, says CO2 sequestration – made possible with nanoparticle ionic materials – could be combined with a solar photocatalysis process. “People are focused on systems where you can split water into hydrogen and oxygen and combine the hydrogen with sequestered CO2 to make methane or methanol. You can then store and use that just like gasoline or other fuels,” he said.
While I had not considered gasoline and other fuels, such as methane or butane, as a form of energy storage when setting out to create my blog on energy storage trends, they are of course the most commonly used forms of energy storage. I won’t be covering them much (if at all) moving forward, but it is interesting to think that they could be produced in a “green” fasion (i.e., without petrochemicals or biomass). I subsequently learned that this approach is actually the focus of an ARPA-E program called “Electrofuels.” Most of the methods currently under development involve converting biomass or waste, while there are also approaches to directly produce liquid transportation fuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide. Although photosynthetic routes show promise, overall efficiencies remain low. “The objective of this topic is to develop an entirely new paradigm for the production of liquid fuels that could overcome the challenges associated with current technologies,” notes the ARPA-E site. ARPA-E is looking for technologies that can use metabolic engineering and synthetic biological approaches for the efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to liquid transportation fuels. ARPA-E specifically seeks the development of organisms capable of extracting energy from hydrogen, from reduced earth-abundant metal ions, from robust, inexpensive, readily available organic redox active species, or directly from electric current. Theoretically such an approach could be 10 times more efficient than current photosynthetic-biomass approaches to liquid fuel production.
In one example, researchers from Columbia University will use the chemolithoautotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria N. europaea to produce isobutanol from carbon dioxide. The team will genetically engineer the microorganism to demonstrate that they can efficiently reduce ammonia that can be generated electrochemically from nitrite, or supplied from waste water streams.
The World Bank will today formally launch a new multimillion-dollar fund designed to help developing countries deploy carbon market mechanisms to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Trailing the announcement, which will be made later today on the sidelines of the UN’s climate change summit in Cancun, World Bank President Robert Zoellick released a statement yesterday confirming the bank would unveil a host of new measures designed to help those countries most vulnerable to climate change invest in adaptation and mitigation measures.
“We know that the poorest countries will suffer the earliest and the most from climate change,” he said. “We also know that, while these countries would like to see a comprehensive global accord on climate change, they are not waiting for one. They are acting now and acting differently to shift from being climate vulnerable to being climate smart. We are fully engaged and have been ramping up our efforts with countries as they put in place practical, effective solutions leading to low-carbon growth and inclusive efforts to overcome poverty.”
Central to the bank’s new climate initiatives will be the new fund to support developing countries’ domestic carbon trading schemes.
The organisation did not disclose the size of the fund or which countries will receive the new money, but it could be worth up to $100bn and China, Mexico, Chile and Indonesia are expected to be amongst those that will access the fund to accelerate their carbon trading plans.
The bank said it would also announce a new initiative to boost access to renewable energy by climate-vulnerable island states and an international ‘roadmap’ for improving agricultural practices to increase food productivity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance resilience to climate change.
The package of measures is the latest in a series of moves from the World Bank designed to establish it as a leading investor in low-carbon projects and overcome opposition from some developing countries and NGOs that have accused the bank of investing in carbon-intensive projects and imposing unsustainable levels of debt on developing economies.
The bank noted that it has pledged to deliver $6.4bn through its Climate Investment Funds and a further $2.5bn through its carbon finance funds, while helping to ensure that climate change plays a central role in countries’ development plans.
However, its support for carbon-trading mechanisms is likely to prove highly controversial, given that a group of left-leaning Latin American countries are currently threatening to hold up progress at the Cancun Summit in protest at the use of market mechanisms, such as the proposed REDD forest protection scheme, to help tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide emissions from man-made sources are causing the acidity level of the world’s oceans to rise at what is probably the fastest rate in 65 million years, threatening global fisheries that serve as an essential food source for billions of people, according to a new United Nations report.
Roughly 25 percent of the carbon dioxide generated by the combustion of fossil fuels enters the oceans, and as the gas dissolves in seawater, it changes into carbonic acid. One result has been a rapid alteration in ocean chemistry that is already affecting marine organisms.
The acidity of the oceans has grown by 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. At current emission rates, ocean acidity could be 150 percent higher by the end of the century, the report states.
Marine life and coral reefs have already shown vulnerability to rising levels of acidity, and the changes expected in coming decades are severe enough that they could have a serious impact on the ability of people around the world to harvest needed protein from the seas, according to Carol Turley, senior scientist at Britain’s National Oceanography Center and the lead author of the report.
“We need to start thinking about the risk to food security,” Dr. Turley said in a statement.
The report also warns that the rise in ocean acidity poses a severe threat to coral reefs, which are already under stress from pollution and the warming of oceans “” a concern shared by a growing number of marine scientists.
Acidification could conceivably wipe out most of the world’s already ailing coral reefs within a generation or two, said John Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, in an essay posted this week on the Web site Yale Environment 360.
“The potential consequences of such acidification are nothing less than catastrophic,” Dr. Veron writes.
As acidification continues, coral and marine organisms like shellfish will begin to suffer from osteoporosis “” an inability to fix calcium into shells and other structures.
“No doubt different species of coral, coralline algae, plankton, and mollusks will show different tolerances, and their capacity to calcify will decline at different rates,” Dr. Veron wrote. “But as acidification progresses, they will all suffer from some form of coralline osteoporosis.”
“The result will be that corals will no longer be able to build reefs or maintain them against the forces of erosion,” the article continues. “What were once thriving coral gardens that supported the greatest biodiversity of the marine realm will become red-black bacterial slime, and they will stay that way.”
Representatives of the renewable energy industries are scrambling to salvage what they say is a crucial federal incentive that has helped keep them afloat during the worst of the recession.
In a release circulated Tuesday afternoon, the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that “tens of thousands of Americans could lose their jobs or not get called back from layoffs” if the incentive program is not extended.
The program, part of last year’s federal economic stimulus package, allows qualified renewable energy projects to access a cash grant “” 30 percent of the project’s cost “” in lieu of traditional tax credits. The measure, industry representatives have said, proved vital in helping developers to secure financing amid the downturn.
The incentive will expire in a little over three weeks unless Congress extends it.
“We have people being laid off right now, and we expect to see more without fast action on the tax extenders now being negotiated,” Denise Bode, the chief executive of the wind energy association, said in a prepared statement.
“We are risking those jobs,” she added, “by not sending a clear signal that America remains open for business in wind energy.”
Proposals to extend the program have been floated, including one recently slipped into Congressional tax negotiations by Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat. But whether any sort of extension will be included in a pending deal on a new tax bill is far from certain.
As my colleague Matt Wald and I wrote recently, renewable electricity development in the United States has been reeling of late “” in part because of the recession and associated drops in electricity demand. Rock-bottom prices for natural gas “” a chief competitor for renewable forms of electricity “” are also proving a challenge, leaving the industry heavily reliant on what few federal incentives are available to it.
Renewables advocates had been certain that 2010 would yield a price on carbon dioxide emissions “” either through a direct tax or a cap-and-trade system “” or federal targets for renewable electricity generation. Neither of those, came to pass, however, and with Republicans signaling that issues like climate change will not be driving the energy agenda in the new Congress, it appears unlikely that such measures will be explored again anytime soon.
Meanwhile, developers are racing to meet eligibility deadlines for the existing grant program. To qualify, projects must be physically under way or have incurred at least 5 percent of the projected cost by the end of 2010.
The $3 billion grant program was established under what is known as Section 1603 of last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On Tuesday, the American Wind Energy Association posted a “Take Action” alert on its Web site, imploring visitors to lobby their representatives in Washington to extend the program as part of the compromise.
“We need you to CALL your Senators and Representative IMMEDIATELY,” the alert stated, “and ask them to only support a final tax bill that includes an extension of the 1603 Program.”