Energy and Global Warming News for September 24: India weighing emissions curbs; Buildings offer emission-cutting projects that pay for themselves

India Weighing Emissions Curbs

Trying to burnish its international reputation as it prepares for a major climate conference, India is considering adoption of curbs on carbon emissions that it has long resisted.

India had thus far rejected emission cuts, declaring that they would compromise the populous nation’s economic growth, even as developed countries criticized its intransigence. But under a proposed national law, India may set limits on greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade, focusing on energy efficiency, new building codes, clean energy and fuel economy standards.

India’s leadership hopes that by acting on its own, rather than responding to what are likely to be tough demands from other countries during the December climate conference in Copenhagen, the measures will garner more domestic support.

“We have to take up bold new responsibilities that we have evaded so far,” Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said at a recent trade conference. “But if we want durable political consensus, then it has to be rooted in domestic legislation and not in an international agreement.”

The cuts would be a national goal; they would be neither an internationally binding commitment nor open to international verification. Still, Ramesh said he hoped that the measures would portray India as a “positive player” in climate talks.

India’s emerging economic might and global ambitions are nudging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, to be more mindful of the nation’s image. His aides say he wants India to engage with the world in a way that befits its aspiration to be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and have greater say in the running of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Buildings offer emission-cutting projects that pay for themselves

The world is on the verge of seeing building efficiency in the same way that it sees building safety codes — as the default choice, not a pricey burden, according to the chairman of a major energy efficiency company.

“We don’t think about market solutions to building life safety. At all. We just don’t. We’re going to have building life safety, and the cost is modest,” said George David, current chairman and former CEO of United Technologies Corp. He said building efficiency is “in the same character of life safety, which is a standard we accept in our world.”

David, whose specialty includes elevators, observed that most people don’t worry about safety when they get into one. That’s because there are widely accepted and enforced standards for making elevators safe, he said — and no one complains about them.

But while these regulations have had a century to become standard, he said, building efficiency is just beginning to be seen as an obvious investment.

David’s remarks at the Peterson Institute for International Economics came as a new economic analysis found vast energy savings in the world’s building sector, with 80 percent of the cost of efficiency improvements recouped within 20 years.

The report, written by Trevor Houser of the Peterson Institute, found that the worldwide building sector is the cheapest source of emissions cuts, and that it can cut one-third of global emissions with investments that largely pay for themselves.

Houser used a model created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a business group that has done comprehensive studies on buildings in the world’s six biggest energy markets. He found that across rich and poor nations, the average cost of cutting a ton of carbon from buildings was $25.

State regulators vote for a national plan to cover natural disasters

The United States is unprepared to deal with the financial toll of increasing natural calamities and must pursue a national plan to deal with damages from looming “mega-disasters,” insurance regulators asserted yesterday.

Regulators from every state but one voted to adopt a controversial white paper that warns of massive new losses, mostly from hurricanes but also from earthquakes, tornadoes and other perils. The move, nearly five years in the making, comes as regulators also consider if they should develop an expensive computer model to test insurers’ assumptions about the increasingly dangerous behavior of hurricanes. The white paper was launched after Hurricane Katrina shocked the country in 2005, killing hundreds and causing $42 billion in damages. It marked the pinnacle of a decades-long rise of cataclysms that ravaged the nation’s increasingly developed coastlines.

“While Hurricane Katrina was devastating, catastrophe modelers have identified a number of possible natural disasters that would dwarf the damages caused by this event,” the paper warns.

Regulators agree that damage is rising, but they are deeply divided about what to do in response. The white paper underwent 15 rewrites and caused clashes between coastal states and inland states, which worry that money from safer areas of the country will be absorbed by Florida and other major hurricane targets.

Bringing Solar Power to Africa’s Poor

The Solar Energy Foundation, a Swedish nonprofit, is one of several organizations endeavoring to bring solar power to poor communities in Africa.

Politicians from 11 southern African countries gathered in Maputo, Mozambique, over the weekend to examine how to address climate change issues without reducing access to energy.

Off-grid solar is seen as one of the continent’s strongest options, capitalizing on Africa’s abundant sunlight without the need to invest in expensive grid networks.

Lawmakers and renewable energy experts were shown practical examples of how sensitive green energy developments have the potential to satisfy both requirements.

According to the World Bank’s 2010 development report, 1.6 billion people in developing countries still have no access to electricity.

“Decentralized solar systems have a huge potential,” said Jasper Groening of e-Parliament, an international network linking global citizens to their legislators and one of the organizers of the event.

In Djabula — 50 miles south of Maputo — Mozambique’s National Electricity Fund established a photovoltaic standalone station providing electricity for 45 residencies, a primary school and a heath outpost. Legislators and politicians visited the project to see how projects like this could provide answers to many of the energy and climate change problems facing communities across Africa.

Duke Energy signs another China cleantech deal

Duke Energy Corp (DUK.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) has signed a clean energy technology agreement with China’s ENN Group, adding to a deal it struck last month with the country’s top power provider in Duke’s push to cut carbon emissions.

The deal between Duke and ENN, a private Chinese energy company, includes potential U.S. solar projects and joint technology developments in areas such as biofuels, coal-based clean energy and efficiency, the companies said on Wednesday.

Duke, the third-largest U.S. electricity company by power sales, said China led the world in clean energy investment.

“We must move at ‘China speed’ to combat global warming,” Duke Chief Executive Jim Rogers said in a statement. Rogers had talked last week of developing more technology with Chinese companies.

Shippers back cap and trade scheme to cut CO2

A global trading scheme is the most effective means of cutting carbon emissions in the shipping sector, five shipping industry associations said in a study on Wednesday.

Shipping and aviation are the only industry sectors not regulated under the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for greenhouse gas emissions by rich countries from 2008–12.

The seaborne sector accounts for nearly three percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and pressure has grown for cuts ahead of December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen.

The national ship industry associations of Australia, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and the UK on Wednesday jointly launched a discussion paper arguing that a cap and trade scheme was best for the whole industry.

“We firmly believe that a trading solution is the right answer,” Jan Kopernicki, vice president of the UK Chamber of Shipping, told a news conference.

Spain’s Answer to Unemployment: Go Greener

As world leaders converge in Pittsburgh for a major economic summit this week, one of the biggest questions they face is this: How do you begin to replace the millions of jobs destroyed by the Great Recession, now that the worst of the crisis has potentially passed?

Here on the sun-drenched and windy Iberian Peninsula, Spain thinks it has an answer: create new jobs and save the Earth at the same time.

Green jobs have become a mantra for many governments, including that of the United States. But few nations are better positioned — or motivated — to fuse the fight against recession and global warming than Spain. The country is already a leader in renewable fuels through $30 billion in public support and has been cited by the Obama administration as a model for the creation of a green economy. Spain generates about 24.5 percent of its electricity through renewable sources, compared with about 7 percent in the United States.

But with unemployment at 18.5 percent, the government here is preparing to take a dramatic next step. Through a combination of new laws and public and private investment, officials estimate that they can generate a million green jobs over the next decade. The plan would increase domestic demand for alternative energy by having the government help pay the bill — but also by compelling millions of Spaniards to go green, whether they like it or not.

SCENARIOS: Possible outcomes of Copenhagen climate talks

The most anticipated climate meeting in years will be held in the Danish capital in December. Out of those talks a broader climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol is expected to emerge.

But the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen are fraught with risks and pit the ambitions of rich nations against those of the developing countries, whose emissions now comprise more than half of mankind’s greenhouse gas pollution.

At stake is an agreement that will mean rich nations likely spending hundreds of billions of dollars greening their economies by 2020 and helping poorer states do the same. In addition, wealthy states are expected to provide funds to allow developing nations to protect themselves against the impacts of climate change.

These core issues will be a key focus of a G20 leaders’ summit in the United States on Thursday and Friday.

Following are possible outcomes for December’s two-week gathering of delegates from about 190 nations.

US officials cite climate change threats in South

Top U.S. wildlife officials said Wednesday they will try to save barrier islands, fight invasive species and work with companies to restore wildlife habitat as they confront the risks posed by climate change across the South.

Sam Hamilton, new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the South is on the forefront of climate change threats and that coastal wildlife refuges from North Carolina to Louisiana are endangered.

“We’re seeing sea level rise issues, coastal erosion issues, we’re seeing a lot of the sea turtle nesting beaches are stressed and absolutely disappearing,” Hamilton said during a teleconference to unveil the agency’s draft strategic plan to deal with climate change.

Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior Department for parks and fish and wildlife, said President Barrack Obama’s administration is playing “catch up.”

“For way too long in the last eight years of the previous administration, the issue was ignored,” Strickland said.

With an estimated 30 percent of habitat in coastal refuges expected to be flooded as glaciers melt and seas rise, officials said they need to look at buying land to help species shift to higher ground in North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast.

Carper, Bingaman counter farm-state bid on ethanol emissions

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) are trying to counter plans by ethanol industry allies to block EPA from weighing greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes linked to biofuels production.

The fight over U.S. EPA’s fiscal 2010 spending bill in the Senate is the latest front in a larger battle over “indirect international land-use change” emissions.

A 2007 law that boosted the national biofuels mandate requires these fuels to have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels, and EPA must consider indirect emissions from land-use changes linked to biofuels production.

The ethanol industry is fighting EPA proposals that weigh factors such as deforestation in other countries that is a ripple effect of increased use of U.S. crops for making fuel.

Their strategy: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) drafted an amendment that blocks EPA from using the bill’s funds to consider emissions from international land-use changes when it implements the biofuels mandate (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

But Bingaman and Carper have prepared a second-degree amendment that could surface if the Harkin plan is offered. Their plan instead says EPA rules must consider the “an appropriate characterization of ranges … of the uncertainty in calculating the international indirect land use change emissions in the implementation of the renewable fuel program.” EPA would consult with the departments of Energy and Agriculture.

Senate aides today said it was unlikely the amendments would come up during debate on the bill, which also funds Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service programs.

Government backs a private emissions-trading experiment

The voluntary carbon market is coming to China, at least in a very limited and tentative way.Yesterday, at the New York Stock Exchange, officials unveiled their plans for the “Panda Standard,” a voluntary offset project design and verification scheme that would generate a greenhouse gas emissions abatement credit that climate-conscious companies or consumers could use to offset their own emissions.

While it is a private initiative, it enjoys the backing of a powerful Chinese government agency that is backing the project, suggesting central authorities may be prepared to use their strong clout to ensure that the new voluntary offset standard proves a success.

The standard, which would mark China’s first foray into voluntary offset credit trading, could be completed as early as December, just ahead of major international negotiations in Copenhagen. Though its proponents are touting the move as a major step forward for the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, the Chinese officials setting up the scheme are carefully emphasizing that the Panda Standard only represents an initial experiment in carbon trading.

Executives at the China Beijing Environmental Exchange (CBEEX), the organization behind the Panda Standard, are also taking pains to avoid any indication that the move marks that nation’s first baby steps toward a national cap-and-trade program.

“This new standard is only a pilot stage,” stressed Bi Jianzhong, assistant general manager at CBEEX.

The Panda Standard will not include carbon abatement projects in heavily polluting industries. And the system is modeled on open voluntary offset credit systems like the United States’ Voluntary Carbon Standard, under which a seemingly unlimited number of offset credits could be created for companies looking to “go green,” and not on the membership-based Chicago Climate Exchange, in which participants must commit to emissions cuts.

Warming climate brings new El Ni±o ‘flavor,’ study finds

Climate change may be the cause of a new “flavor” of El Ni±o that has emerged since the 1970s, according to a new study.

While the classic El Ni±o is marked by warmer surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and changes in wind patterns that, among other things, reduce hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the new variant is markedly different. Known by some as “Modoki,” a Japanese word meaning “similar, but different,” it heats up the central Pacific, leaving swaths of cooler water to the east and west.

And if climate change intensifies, the central Pacific El Ni±o could become a familiar sight to forecasters and scientists, concludes research published yesterday by the journal Nature.

Ben Kirtman, an author of the paper and a climate scientist at the University of Miami, said the central Pacific El Ni±o appears to be a natural pattern — but climate change is accelerating its evolution.

“The climate change [influence] is starting to get relatively large,” he said, “and that’s changing the frequency of these two different kinds of El Ni±o.”

Kirtman said he and his co-authors started with a deceptively simple premise: “Are the underlying conditions, the ‘seeds’ of El Ni±o, changing — and so will El Ni±o change?”

Those “seeds” include factors like how warm ocean water is at various depths and the strength and direction of trade winds, he said.

To determine whether climate change is affecting the pattern of El Ni±o events, the scientists began by examining sea surface temperature data to determine how often El Ni±o and El Ni±o Modoki occurred during the last 150 years, looking to see whether the frequency of each type of event changed over time.

Then, they turned to a group of 11 climate models to get a glimpse of what the future might bring. The scientists first tested the models by seeing if, supplied with historical information about greenhouse gas emissions and other factors that affect climate, they could replicate the storm pattern observed during the 20th century.