23 Responses to April 5 News: China buries U.S. ‘Sputnik’ clean energy goals; Trees more sensitive to climate change than expected
China is beating the U.S. in the race to supply clean-energy technologies to the world, helped by a government bank whose advisers include Henry Kissinger.
China Development Bank Corp., which listed the former U.S. secretary of state as an advisory board member in a 2010 bond prospectus, agreed last year to lend 232 billion yuan ($35.4 billion) to Chinese wind and solar power companies. The U.S. gave about $4 billion to their American competitors in grants and offered about $16 billion of loan guarantees. Adding in private investment, China also led.
CDB, which has almost twice the assets of the World Bank, is matching U.S. expertise with Chinese financing and manufacturing prowess to dominate a market both nations say is critical to their future. Chinese solar-panel makers such as LDK Solar Co. Ltd. were the biggest loan recipients and for the first time last year supplied more than half the global market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which begins its annual conference today in New York.
“What China’s doing is really smart,” said Jon Anda, vice chairman of UBS AG’s securities unit in Stamford, Connecticut, who runs the Swiss bank’s environmental markets business. “Without a clear policy path, we’ll get crushed.”
President Barack Obama said in January his country needs another “Sputnik moment” to wean itself of foreign oil. The U.S. had just slipped to third place behind China and Germany in a ranking of nations funding renewable power in 2010 as Republicans in Congress blocked the White House’s energy spending plans, according to a ranking by New Energy Finance.
Tree growth and fecundity — the ability to produce viable seeds — are more sensitive to climate change than previously thought, an 18-year U.S. study found.
The study of 27,000 individual trees by National Science Foundation-funded scientists identified earlier spring warming as one of several factors that affect tree reproduction and growth. It also found summer drought was an important risk factor for tree survival, and species in four types of trees — pine, elm, beech, and magnolia — are especially vulnerable to climate change, an NSF release said Monday.
The study will help scientists and policy makers understand which species are vulnerable to climate change and why, the researchers said.
“In a sense, what we’ve done is an epidemiological study on trees to better understand how and why certain species, or demographics, are sensitive to variation and in what ways,” lead study author James Clark of Duke University said.
The U.K. government will allow work on building new nuclear power plants to progress as it conducts a study of the disaster at an atomic facility in Japan, the minister in charge of climate change said.
There will be no “material delay” in the U.K.’s plan to allow new nuclear generators at eight sites, Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said in an interview in New York. The report, he said, is due to be handed to ministers next month.
Barker’s remarks were aimed at assuaging concerns that Britain’s reactor-building program would be held up while the nuclear regulator studies the accident in Japan, caused when an earthquake and tsunami interrupted power to cooling pumps at a Tokyo Electric Power Co. facility. The U.K. estimates it needs investment of 200 billion pounds ($320 billion) to replace aging generators including nuclear plants by 2010.
“We’re not proposing to build in an earthquake zone, and we’re not proposing to build somewhere prone to tsunamis, but we will be looking to see what can be taken from that terrible crisis,” Barker, a Conservative member of Parliament in the coalition government, said.
E.ON AG (EOAN), EDF SA (EDF) and RWE AG (RWE) are among the companies bidding for work replacing Britain’s aging atomic power stations. Germany halted nuclear stations and said it would review whether it should continue with building more, and China and India also are studying what they should change as a result of the accident in Japan.
The World Bank is planning to restrict the money it gives to coal-fired power stations, bowing to pressure from green campaigners to radically revise its funding rules.
The new proposals would not mean an end to funding for fossil fuels, but would represent a departure from previous regulations. Under these rules, the bank has provided sizeable financial support for coal-fired power stations in the developing world in spite of protests from governments and green groups.
Under the proposed new rules, only the very poorest countries would be eligible to receive grants or loans for building new coal-fired power stations, and then only if they could prove they were necessary and that alternatives – such as renewable energy – were not feasible.
An entirely new energy strategy is being written by the development bank, in part because of concerns that its current funding practices favour fossil fuel power. The new draft proposals, seen by the Guardian, emphasise the potential of renewable sources of energy.
But the proposals were criticised by campaigners as inadequate. “The draft strategy is disappointing. It looks as though the World Bank is trying to greenwash its activities while by and large continuing with dirty business as usual,” said Alison Doig, senior adviser on climate change at the charity Christian Aid. “While it proposes a ban on coal lending to middle-income countries, the bank will continue its fossil fuel investments in the poorest countries, condemning them to a high-carbon future. In real terms, this means that the bank could still end up spending more than ever on fossil fuels, because it intends to keep backing such dirty projects in the poorest countries.”
She added: “The draft strategy eloquently describes the plight of the more than 2 billion people who live in energy poverty, cooking on smoky open fires and with no electric lighting and no power for their small businesses. But it is worryingly vague about how it will tackle this and the target is woefully short on ambition – it would reach less than 2% of people who currently do not have electricity in their homes.”
The World Bank’s record on funding fossil fuels has long been a target of green campaigners. Last year, for instance, the World Bank was attacked for its controversial decision to grant nearly $4bn (£2.5bn) to the South African company Eskom to build what would be one of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations.
The latest issue of Newsweek claims that “a new study suggests” offshore wind farms cause whales to beach themselves. In fact, the authors of the study said their research did not establish such a link, and the UK newspaper that reported the claim pulled the story from its website and issued a correction.