Energy and Global Warming News for September 15: China’s new climate plans; House passes wind energy bill

China’s Hu to unveil new climate proposals to U.N.

China’s President Hu Jintao will present China’s new plans for tackling global warming at a United Nations summit on climate change later this month, the country’s senior negotiator said on Tuesday.

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“He will make an important speech,” Xie Zhenhua told reporters ahead of Hu’s trip next week to the United Nations and the G20 summit of major rich and developing economies in Pittsburgh. Hu “will announce the next policies, measures and actions that China is going to take,” added Xie, who steers China’s climate policy as vice director of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

Xie said China will strengthen its policies and take on responsibilities in keeping with its level of development and practical capacities, but declined to give further details. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a special summit on September 22, to discuss climate change.

House Passes Wind Energy Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that will authorize a comprehensive program to improve the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of U.S. wind energy systems, reports North American Wind Power. The Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009, H.R.3165, was sponsored by Rep. Paul Tonko, D, N.Y.

The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research and development to improve the energy efficiency, reliability and capacity of wind turbines; optimize the design and adaptability of wind energy systems; and reduce the cost of construction, generation and maintenance of wind energy systems, according to the press release.

The bill would also create a demonstration program to measure wind energy performance including a full range of wind conditions across the country, and requires that the demonstration programs be conducted in collaboration with private industry. The bill authorizes $200 million per year from 2010 through 2014 for these programs.

World Bank joins war on climate change

The World Bank is on Tuesday expected to join the many voices that have been calling on leaders to come up with strategies to combat climate change. The global financial institution will release a report calling for action to help tackle climate change. Environment minister John Michuki is scheduled to attend the event and launch the report titled: World Development Report 2010; Development and Climate Change at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

There is already overwhelming scientific evidence, as indicated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that climate change will threaten economic growth and long-term prosperity, as well as survival of the most vulnerable populations. IPCC projects that if emissions continue to rise at their current pace and are allowed to double from pre-industrial levels, the world will face an average temperature rise of around 3° C this century.

This will lead to a rise in sea-level, shifts in seasons, and more frequent and intense extreme weather such as storms, floods and droughts. Climate analyses indicate that Kenya will very likely be warmer by up to five degrees by 2100. Droughts will continue, possibly becoming more severe.

Whole Foods Market(R) Helps Fund New Wind Farm, Makes Landmark Purchase of Wind Energy Credits

Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI) today announced the completion of its 2009 landmark 776 million-kilowatt-hour purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs) from wind farms. The RECs are equal to 100 percent of the Company’s electricity use in its North American locations, and nearly 90 percent of this year’s purchase is helping to fund E.ON Climate & Renewables’ (EC&R) recently-completed Texas-based Panther Creek wind farm.

“Whole Foods Market is working hard to be a leader in environmental stewardship and to make sure that our investment drives new wind power growth for the country. Buying nearly all of our 2009 renewable energy credits from Panther Creek to help bring new power from the wind farm to the grid is a great example of that,” said Lee Matecko, Whole Foods Market global vice president of Construction and Store Development. “And as a Texas-based company, it also feels great to support a Texas-based wind farm. We appreciate Renewable Choice Energy for bringing this partnership together.”

Continuing its commitment to clean energy, nearly 90 percent of the RECs Whole Foods Market has purchased for 2009 came from a Big Spring, Texas-based wind farm, which is 50 miles east of Midland. The project is built and operated by EC&R North America, a renewable energy developer headquartered in Chicago, with development offices in Austin and Denver. The remaining RECs come from a number of different wind farms in locations across the U.S. and Canada. The total purchase of 776,115,000 kilowatt hours, the largest to date by a U.S. retailer, was made in partnership with Boulder, Colo.-based Renewable Choice Energy.

California feud breaks out on clean energy plan

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto a bill requiring the state to get a third of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources, his staff said on Monday in a fight that shows the difficulties of addressing climate change fast.

However, the governor on Tuesday will issue an executive order with the same goal, but different rules, his staff said. Schwarzenegger, whose legacy is largely pinned on driving California’s response to global warming, believes the bill passed in the last hours of the legislative session on Friday would make it more difficult to build solar plants in the state and to buy power from neighbors.

California’s rank as the largest market for renewable power makes any decision important, and as the U.S. Congress struggles to put together a federal plan, the state’s leadership and failures could shape a national plan. “The industry and regulators are going to wind up spending the next few years wrangling about how to implement the bill as opposed to actually putting steel in the ground,” said Public Utilities Commission Deputy Director Nancy Ryan on a call sponsored by the governor.

Hawaii Tries Green Tools in Remaking Power Grids

Two miles or so from this tiny town in the southernmost corner of the United States, across ranches where cattle herds graze beneath the distant Mauna Loa volcano, the giant turbines of a new wind farm cut through the air. Sixty miles to the northeast, near a spot where golden-red lava streams meet the sea in clouds of steam, a small power plant extracts heat from the volcanic rock beneath it to generate electricity.

These projects are just a slice of the energy experiment unfolding across Hawaii’s six main islands. With the most diverse array of alternative energy potential of any state in the nation, Hawaii has set out to become a living laboratory for the rest of the country, hoping it can slash its dependence on fossil fuels while keeping the lights on.

Every island has at least one energy accent: waves in Maui, wind in Lanai and Molokai, solar panels in Oahu and eventually, if all goes well, biomass energy from crops grown on Kauai. Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, seawater is also being converted to electricity.

Still, the state faces enormous challenges in delivering the power to the people who need it. While the urban sprawl around Honolulu consumes the bulk of the energy, most potential renewable sources are far from the city, 150 miles southeast or 100 miles to the northwest.

Each of the state’s six electric grids belongs to its own island and is unconnected to the others. And according to state figures, Hawaii still relies on imported oil to generate 77 percent of its electricity, a level of dependency unique in the United States. Coal-fired power provides 14 percent, and 9 percent comes from renewable sources like the wind or the sun.

Conference Brings Attention to Himalayan Climate Threat

Scientists, policymakers, and community representatives from across South Asia met earlier this month to discuss the many threats that climate change poses to the continent’s Greater Himalayan region.

Across Nepal and Tibet, average temperatures have been up to six times warmer in the mountains than in the plains, triggering changes in regional weather patterns. These changes have been accompanied by increases in pest and disease populations, losses in local biodiversity, and more than 3,500 forest fires in the Himalayas this spring alone.

“Accelerated melting of glaciers in the Himalayas is…posing a catastrophic threat to the 1.3 billion people in [the region’s] river basins,” said Uday Sharma, secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Environment, who attended the meeting in Kathmandu in early September.

Unseasonal weather, including floods, droughts, and late frosts, has also prompted crop failures from Tajikistan to northern India, according to Brian Peniston, Nepal and India country director with the Mountain Institute.

Climate Change Risks Could Cost Developing Countries Up to 19% of GDP by 2030

A report from the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group released today indicates that climate risks could cost nations up to 19% of their GDP by 2030, with developing countries most vulnerable. The report concludes, however, that cost effective adaptation measures already exist that can prevent between 40 and 68 percent of the expected economic loss with even higher levels of prevention possible in highly target geographies.

The report, titled “Shaping Climate-Resilient Development”, offers a comprehensive and replicable methodology to determine the risks that climate change imposes on economies. It provides a set of tools for decision makers to adopt a tailored approach for estimating these costs based on local climate conditions, and for building more resilient economies. These tools do not include estimates or measures for emissions reduction, which would need to be examined separately.

By determining a location’s total climate risk — calculated by combining existing climate risks, climate change and the value of future economic development — and using a cost-benefit analysis to create a list of location specific measures to adapt to the identified risk, the Working Group was able to evaluate current and potential costs of climate change and how to prevent them. The methodology was tested in localities within eight different countries (China, United States, Guyana, Mali, United Kingdom, Samoa, India, and Tanzania), which together represent a wide range of climate hazards, economic impacts, and development stages.

The working group estimated expected economic loss for the eight different case study regions leveraging natural catastrophe risk modeling techniques assuming current GDP growth estimates, under three different climate change scenarios — today’s climate (assuming that there is no additional impact from climate change); moderate climate change (based on the average forecast of climate change for the particular hazard in the location studied); and high climate change (based on the outer range of the climate change considered possible by 2030). The methodology is applicable in any setting where society must consider risk. For example, in Florida the report estimates an annual expected loss of $33 billion from hurricanes — more than 10 percent of GDP — under a high climate change scenario.