Wednesday, November 16, 2011

UK to seek legally binding deal at COP17

The Foreign Office has set out Britain's negotiating position at December's climate change talks, as the World Energy Council lists the five nations in the world most prepared to withstand climate chaos.

John Ashton, the Foreign Office's special representative for climate change, says the UK would like to see a legally binding approach come out of the COP17 UNFCCC climate summit, now only two weeks away, and that most people "would be right" to be alarmed if this "falls off the table at Durban".

This is because "a voluntary framework will not be enough to keep us within the 2oC limit of manageable climate change".

In June, Ashton met the Chinese Ambassador Liu and they agreed to maintain consultation and cooperation during the COP17 negotiations. Liu said China, the world's budgets emitter of greenhouse gases, "expected to carry out mutually beneficial cooperation with Britain in energy conservation, environmental protection and low-carbon economy".

In his article, Ashton says that "an effective [legal] regime must bind all major economies", but that this doesn't need to happen "all at once, any more than we needed to include everyone from the start to make the GATT work".

Such a deal would mean that "as soon as countries become sufficiently prosperous" they should undertake to "accept binding caps" in the form of "a second phase of Kyoto commitments for those willing to accept them".

The other major economies must unambiguously avow a "commitment to commit" by 2020.

"This would at last unblock the path to a binding regime with full participation."

This position represents the UK's response to calls from the most vulnerable countries to climate change made this week in Bangladesh for "a comprehensive and legally-binding global agreement" and "a second term of the Kyoto protocol without a gap between the first and the second", at the same time as balancing the reluctance of richer developing countries to invest in emissions reduction at the perceived expense of growth, and some developed countries' refusal to sign up to Kyoto II.

Ashton calls the Kyoto Protocol "arguably the EU's greatest diplomatic achievement" and compares the choice facing us to that between Churchill's determination to fight Hitler and Lord Halifax's attempt at appeasement before World War Two.

This choice "between what needs to be done but looks impossible, and what can be done but is clearly not enough, is as old as history", he says, but history shows us that when everyone is determined, we can prevail.

And we have to because "there really is no plan B for the climate".

The energy trilemma

Also today, the World Energy Council is calling on policymakers at COP17 to address what it calls the “energy trilemma” of energy security, social equity and environmental impact mitigation.

Launched in London by Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman of the World Energy Council and Honorary Chairman of EDF, its 3rd edition of the 2011 Assessment of Country Energy and Climate Policies, lists those countries which it thinks possess the most coherent and robust energy policies that most successfully manage the trade-off between the three dimensions of the trilemma. These are:
  1. Switzerland
  2. Sweden
  3. France
  4. Germany
  5. Canada.
Mark Robson, of consultants Oliver Wyman, which co-authored the report, explained that these and other top-ranked countries “are those that have diversified their energy resources and actively manage demand for energy through well-established energy-efficiency programmes".

Each of these countries have strengths in different areas. France scores because of its reliance on low-carbon nuclear, while Sweden has good social policies and energy efficiency, and Germany is a world leader in renewables.

Some will criticise Canada's position because of its rejection of Kyoto and its exploitation of shale gas, but this is mitigated for the WEC because it has rich energy resources and energy is affordable for its people.

Focusing exclusively on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not sustainable for reasons of expense and social equity, the WEC says, but that, while free market solutions alone can’t deliver sustainability, correctly managed market-based solutions are cost-effective.

The report says that "only vision led and coherent energy policies, that address the 'Energy Trilemma' have a chance of gaining public acceptance and investors’ trust to deliver a sustainable energy future".

Investors require political decisiveness and stable regulatory regimes, not, as in Australia, the threat that an opposition party could gain power and roll back policies.

This year’s report has focused on three critical key issues – transport, energy efficiency and finance.

Of transport, Christoph Frei, Secretary General of WEC said the sector “represents a quarter of total CO2 emissions" now, but by 2050 "could be 80% higher".

"However, with clear policies that empower governments, the public and private sector to intervene, we could limit this increase to 15%," he says.

"The pace of climate change is largely unknown," said Joan MacNaughton, Executive Chairman of the report and Senior Vice-President, Environmental Policies & Global Advocacy at Alstom, and so our response "must be based on the worst possible outcome, and focussed on the long term".

This is another reason why energy efficiency and robust policies are significant, because they will provide cost-effective and timely ways to sustainably address the trilemma.

She praised China for the extraordinary and often under-appreciated efforts it is making to reduce emissions.

The report emphasises that "promoting energy efficiency is widely viewed as being the largest, cheapest, and fastest option for tackling key energy problems, and many solutions are available already".

The report is also optimistic that transport and mobility policies can be designed that "make a real contribution to environmental and social objectives".

But it notes that attracting financing for energy-efficiency initiatives and encouraging consumers (residential and industrial) and energy suppliers to adopt even existing solutions is one of the biggest challenges facing energy policymakers.

The WEC estimates of cost are that about only 1.4% of global GDP will need to be invested each year in energy-supply infrastructures to 2035 and the report examines a range of financing instruments that address these challenges.

Renewable energy grows

Another report released today by the Worldwatch Institute and REN21 says that renewable energy is growing faster than fossil fuel energy and nuclear.

"While fossil fuels' annual growth is in the low digits, and nuclear's share further shrinks, renewable energy sources see growth rates of up to 70% every year," it says.

"Today, renewables already supply 16% of global primary energy consumption, and 20% of worldwide electricity."

The sector's growth has been a positive constant, despite the economic recession and public finance crises in many parts of the world.

Amongst the most rapidly growing national renewable energy markets in 2010 were China (+26%), Germany (+10.4), and the United States (+5%).

For the first time, developing country investments in renewables surpassed those of the developed world.

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