Energy and Global Warming News for October 7: IEA says “China will be able to slow the growth of its emissions much faster than commonly assumed”; EIA’s forecasted CO2 drop “justifies tough carbon caps”

The IEA report is here. Photo is of wind turbines in Xinjiang, China.International Energy Agency Sees Gains in China

Little good can be said about the worst economic slump since the 1930s, but it has produced at least one piece of positive news: the downturn will make it a bit easier to slow the rise in emissions responsible for climate change.

The International Energy Agency made that prediction in a report Tuesday on global greenhouse gas emissions. Because of slower economic growth, the agency slashed, by 5 percent, its estimate of how much greenhouse gas emissions will be produced in 2020.

But the energy agency also cautioned against complacency, stressing that reaching a deal in climate talks to be held in Copenhagen at the end of the year is crucial to limiting the rise in global temperatures.

Another reason for cautious optimism, the report said, is that China will be able to slow the growth of its emissions much faster than commonly assumed because of its rising investment in wind and nuclear energy and its newfound emphasis on energy efficiency.

But avoiding some of the worst consequences of climate change will still require significant and rapid investments in clean technology, and more meaningful cuts in carbon emissions, the report said.

“This gives us a chance to make real progress toward a clean-energy future, but only if the right policies are put in place promptly,” said the agency’s executive director, Nobuo Tanaka.

As a result of the economic slump, global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, are expected to decline by 3 percent this year, the steepest drop in the 45 years according to figures compiled by the agency. That compares with an average growth of 3 percent a year over the last decade.

The report outlines how governments can achieve additional cuts through energy efficiency and investments in clean technologies. The goal is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Meeting that target will require reducing emissions by 23 percent in 2030 compared with what they would otherwise be, the agency said.

“The message is simple and stark: if the world continues on the basis of today’s energy and climate policies, the consequences of climate change will be severe,” Mr. Tanaka said.

And while it may not be news to CP readers — see EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 “” halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target — I’m glad to see Bloomberg pick up this story:

Drop in CO2 Justifies Tough Carbon Caps

A drop in carbon dioxide levels due to the recession and use of cleaner fuels to produce electricity means Democrats should stand firm on a 20 percent cut in U.S. emissions proposed last week, environmental groups said.

The Energy Information Administration today forecast a 5.9 percent drop in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions this year, less than a week after Senate Democrats John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California unveiled “cap- and-trade” legislation to cut U.S. emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The EIA projects carbon dioxide emissions from coal, oil and natural gas use at 5.45 billion metric tons, which would be 8.8 percent below the 2005 level of 5.97 billion tons.

“It reinforces our view that the 20 percent target that’s in the Kerry-Boxer bill is certainly achievable,” Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a telephone interview. “The level of effort required to achieve a 20 percent reduction is much more modest than had been anticipated.”

With emissions already below the 2005 levels used as a baseline for the House, Senate and White House cap-and-trade proposals, Kerry and Boxer shouldn’t negotiate away their 20 percent reduction target, Courtney Abrams, a global warming associate for Environment America, said in a telephone interview.

Business Coalitions Form to Back Climate Change Bill

A delegation of more than 150 businesses supporting the bill, which is sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., arrived in Washington yesterday and will flood senators’ offices today to urge movement on the legislation. They range from companies that would directly benefit — such as solar panel makers — to ones that just want consistent federal guidance on carbon emissions.

Some of them, including computer giant Apple, have left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the organization’s opposition to the House of Representatives climate bill, which passed in June.

“The fact that [Apple is] saying, ‘We have to do this’ is something that other industries and people who stand in opposition to this bill in the Senate and the House really need to start paying attention to,” Mr. McNeil said.

Representatives from the diverse group of businesses attended a reception last night with Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and will hold a news conference today. They are part of a group called We Can Lead, sponsored by business coalitions Ceres and Clean Economy Network.

Commerce Secretary: Clean Energy Key to Midwest

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told representatives of Midwest states on Tuesday that the growth of clean energy industries is key to the region’s economic recovery and future.

Locke said new federal efforts such as a one-stop office in the Detroit area to make his department’s services more accessible to businesses are part of a broader push to jumpstart job creation.

“Our fight to build a new, clean energy economy is just getting started and it is a fight that we simply must win,” Locke said. His remarks kicked off a two-day Midwestern Governors Association’s Jobs and Energy Forum in Detroit.

Locke said the CommerceConnect pilot program, if it’s successful, could be expanded to other areas around the country. A ribbon cutting was held Tuesday at the office in Plymouth, about 20 miles west of Detroit. Staff will act as case workers for individual businesses that seek assistance.

The governors association estimates that the Midwest has lost more than 1.2 million manufacturing jobs alone since 2000. Michigan’s unemployment rate in August was more than 15 percent, the highest in the nation, while Ohio’s was nearly 11 percent and Indiana and Illinois both had rates of about 10 percent.

Green Group says Climate Bill Won’t Hurt Farms

Global warming poses more of a threat to U.S. farm incomes than does the climate change bill passed by the U.S. House, which will have a “negligible” impact on American agriculture’s bottom line, an environmental group said on Wednesday.

“A more careful examination of the facts shows that climate change itself, not climate legislation, is the real threat to American agriculture, and that climate-induced crop losses will cost US taxpayers and farmers far more than could ever be caused by the (House) bill,” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said in its report.

Legislation introduced last week in the Senate aims for a 20 percent reduction in smokestack emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels. A bill that narrowly passed the House in June calls for a 17 percent cut by 2020 in pollution from utilities, manufacturers and oil refineries — industries blamed for global warming.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has warned that the House and Senate bills will drive up sharply the cost of farm fuel, fertilizer and pesticides.

But the EWG report said cost increases — such as higher expenses to produce crops — resulting from the climate change bill passed “are so small they would be lost in the background noise” of changes to farm income caused by routine fluctuations in yield, crop prices and input costs.

Furthermore, EWG said farmers stand to lose more from weather patterns, such as flooding, drought or higher temperatures, caused by global warming.

Report Highlights Deforestation

A new bipartisan coalition of business, government and environmental leaders is asking the Senate to make deforestation a centerpiece of the climate bill by allocating billions to fund tropical forest preservation programs in developing nations.

In a new report released to POLITICO, the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests argues that paying developing tropical countries to preserve their forests would provide economic incentives to stop deforestation, a major driver of global warming.

Tropical deforestation accounts for roughly 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a rate that makes Brazil one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases, along with far richer nations like the United States and China.

“It is truly time for America to launch a comprehensive response to this manageable threat,” writes former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. “Protecting the planet’s climate forests and fighting climate change can be the defining bipartisan issue of our time, but so far that bipartisanship has been largely absent.”

But deforestation has long been a thorny issue for domestic and international climate policy.

Previous efforts to curb deforestation have largely failed because of difficulties in verifying and monitoring the programs and reporting on them. Environmental groups have also criticized some of the programs as open to abuse by corrupt politicians in poorer countries and by illegal logging companies.

Now the commission is saying the time is finally right to ink some serious forestry provisions “” and action must start at home.

“This will be a big topic of discussion in Copenhagen, and clearly Copenhagen can be more successful to the degree the U.S. has a good program,” said Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek, referring to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Denmark this December.

E.U. Plan to Curb CO2 to Favor Solar Power

The European Commission is expected to introduce a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that directs the largest slices of ‚¬50 billion available for research and development to solar power and capturing and burying emissions from coal plants.

The plan, to be released on Wednesday, is partly intended to show that the European Union is taking the additional steps needed to meet ambitious goals to cut greenhouse gases before a summitmeeting in Copenhagen in December on reaching a new global agreement to curb climate change.

But the plan also signals the need for a reordering of the bloc’s industrial priorities by requiring governments to spend significantly greater sums of money on clean energy even as the world emerges from a deep financial crisis.

“Markets and energy companies acting on their own are unlikely to be able to deliver the needed technological breakthroughs within a sufficiently short time span to meet the E.U.’s energy and climate policy goals,” the commission said in a draft of the plan obtained by the International Herald Tribune.

Introducing low-carbon technologies also “represents a major challenge in the context of the financial crisis, where risk-aversion is higher and investment in new, riskier technologies is not high in investors’ priorities,” the draft said.

European Union commissioners are expected to seek agreement on the final sums to be allocated to low-carbon power industries at a meeting on Wednesday. The recommendation is from the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm.

Another winner under the draft plan would be a “Smart Cities” initiative focused on enhancing urban efficiency. The draft foresees ‚¬11 billion to develop a new generation of buildings and transport systems. The draft plan also would allocate ‚¬9 billion for bioenergy industries that produce electricity or fuels from plants or organic waste materials.

The commission said directing ‚¬7 billion to developing nuclear fission would aim to improve reactors’ safety, produce less radioactive waste, minimize proliferation and extend the range of what nuclear plants do.

Activists Sue Texas to Restrict Greenhouse Gases

Environmental activists sued the Texas environmental agency Tuesday in an effort to force the state to regulate greenhouse gases, asking that coal-fired power plant projects be halted until that happens.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issues air pollution permits that set limits on toxic releases, but the agency says there is no need to regulate carbon dioxide. Texas emits more greenhouse gases, made up mostly of CO2 emissions, than any other state.

The lawsuit by Public Citizen — which describes itself as a consumer advocacy organization — calls for greenhouse gas limits to be imposed as part of the permitting process, based on a 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that classified carbon dioxide as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

“The time has come for the TCEQ to take its head out of the sand and begin the process to regulate CO2 emission from Texas sources,” Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said in a statement announcing the suit.