Blogs

Geisterzüge vs. Schildkröten

Heinrich von Arabien - 20 Februar, 2019 - 11:07

Was von den Zügen blieb – Tripoli (c) Bente Scheller

Vor einigen Monaten versuchte ich meinen Kindern einen Konferenzbesuch im nordlibanesischen Tripoli schmackhaft zu machen und stellte ihnen in Aussicht, wir würden danach auf den „Souq“ gehen, den alten Basar. Gesagt, getan, doch während der Große die engen Gassen und kleinen Läden spannend fand, verdunkelte sich das Gesicht des Kleinen zusehends, bis er schließlich in Tränen ausbrach: „Du hast uns versprochen, dann fahren wir ZUG! Wo ist der Zug?“ Souq hatte für ihn nach einer Reise im Zug geklungen.

Ich versuchte, zu retten was zu retten war und nahm sie mit aufs alte Bahngelände von Tripoli. Auf von Unkraut überwucherten Schienen reihen sich dort die rostigen Skelette gewesener Züge. Seit dem Bürgerkrieg liegt das 1895 in Betrieb genommenen Eisenbahnnetz des Libanons brach. Zu seinen besten Zeiten umfasste es mehr als 400km. Heute fahren nicht einmal mehr Straßenbahnen in Beirut. An vielen Stellen sind die Gleise eins geworden mit der Landschaft, und übrig geblieben sind nur gespenstische Ruinen der Bahnhöfe.

Godot wartete hier – der Bahnhof in Ain Sofar (c) Bente Scheller

Im Libanon mangelt es auf den ersten Blick an wenig – außer an allem, was man von staatlicher Grundversorgung erwartet: Zugang zu stabiler Strom- und Wasserversorgung, einem schnellen und verlässlichen Internet – oder eben öffentlichem Nahverkehr. Die täglichen Staus zehren nicht nur an den Nerven, sondern sind ein erhebliches wirtschaftliches Problem: Durch sie entstünde dem Land jedes Jahr, so die Weltbank, ein wirtschaftlicher Schaden in Höhe von 5 – 10 Prozent des Bruttoinlandsprodukts. Tendenz steigend –  obwohl das Verkehrsministerium über ein mit rund 8,6 Millionen Dollar im Jahr ansehnliches Budget verfügt. Dass Geld fließt, ohne, dass signifikante Leistungen dafür erbracht werden müssen, könnte ein Grund dafür sein, warum das Ministerium beim Ausbau des öffentlichen Nahverkehrs im Schneckentempo arbeitet. Abgesehen von einer Busflotte, die aus lediglich 40 maroden Vehikeln besteht, hat es nicht viel zu tun. Während das Besuchs von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel im vergangenen Jahr wurden all diese Versäumnisse genüsslich karikiert. Einer der Witze, die am häufigsten geteilt wurden, war ein Foto, das Hariri und Merkel auf dem über den Dächern von Beirut zeigte. Hariri deutet erklärend ins Blaue, die hinzugefügte Sprechblasenkonversation über die nicht existenten Züge:

„Sehen Sie unsere Schnellzüge?“ – Spott während des Besuchs von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel, 2018

Hariri: Sehen Sie dort hinten unsere Schnellzüge?

Merkel: Nein.

Hariri: Für die haben wir sogar eine eigene Abteilung mit einem Direktor und Angestellten, die wir bezahlen.

 

 

Das Schienennetz wieder zu beleben wäre eine überaus politische Angelegenheit. Nicht nur würde das eine Konfrontation mit den Betreibern der vielen kleinen privaten Minibusse nach sich ziehen, sondern es würde auch heißen, gegen die seit 1990 massiv betriebene Privatisierung öffentlichen Raums anzugehen. Gesetzlich sind Strände im Libanon öffentliches Gelände. In der Praxis ist es jedoch schwierig geworden, öffentliche Strände zu finden. Die meisten sind von Privatleuten in luxuriöse Strandclubs mit einem entsprechend hohen Eintritt verwandelt worden. Sie bleiben zumeist unbehelligt, weil sie mit politischen Größen verbandelt sind, die ihren Anteil abschöpfen.

Nun aber hat ein libanesisches Gericht der Privatisierung an einer Stelle den Kampf angesagt: Dem Orange House in Tyros, einem Gästehaus, dessen Besitzerin Mona Khalil sich dort seit 1999 dem Schutz der Meeresschildkröte widmet. Meeresschildkröten sind selten geworden im Libanon – nicht zuletzt, weil libanesische Politiker einen Teil des hiesigen Sandstrands absaugen und nach Zypern verkaufen ließen. Das hat das Habitat der Schildkröten zerstört, die ihre Eier stets dort legen, wo sie geschlüpft sind. Das Orange House kümmert sich um die Bestandspflege, schützt die Gelege der Schildkröten und bildet BesucherInnen darin fort, wie sie selbst einen Beitrag zum Umweltschutz leisten können. Nun wurde die Betreiberin Mona Khalil zu einer Geldstrafe von über 6.000 Euro verurteilt – weil ihr Projekt den Zugverkehr blockiere.

Nichts haben Libanons Eliten seit 30 Jahren unternommen, das seit dem Bürgerkrieg verrottende Bahnnetz wieder in Gang zu bringen. Nur jetzt, wenn es gilt, ein sowohl aus ökologischen Gründen wie auch als Touristenattraktion fantastisches Projekt kaputtzukriegen, um auch einen der letzten Sandstrände wegbaggern zu können, erinnern sie sich ihrer Geisterzüge.

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Kategorien: Blogs

Agribusiness Is the Problem, Not the Solution

Triple Crisis - 19 Februar, 2019 - 20:46

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Cross-posted at Inter Press Service.

For two centuries, all too many discussions about hunger and resource scarcity has been haunted by the ghost of Parson Thomas Malthus. Malthus warned that rising populations would exhaust resources, especially those needed for food production. Exponential population growth would outstrip food output.

Humanity now faces a major challenge as global warming is expected to frustrate the production of enough food as the world population rises to 9.7 billion by 2050. Timothy Wise’s new book Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press, New York, 2019) argues that most solutions currently put forward by government, philanthropic and private sector luminaries are misleading.

Malthus’ ghost returns

The early 2008 food price crisis has often been wrongly associated with the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. The number of hungry in the world was said to have risen to over a billion, feeding a resurgence of neo-Malthusianism.

Agribusiness advocates fed such fears, insisting that food production must double by 2050, and high-yielding industrial agriculture, under the auspices of agribusiness, is the only solution. In fact, the world is mainly fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale, often called family farmers who produce over two-thirds of developing countries’ food.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, neither food scarcity nor poor physical access are the main causes of food insecurity and hunger. Instead, Reuters has observed a ‘global grain glut’, with surplus cereal stocks piling up.

Meanwhile, poor production, processing and storage facilities cause food losses of an average of about a third of developing countries’ output. A similar share is believed lost in rich countries due to wasteful food storage, marketing and consumption behaviour.

Nevertheless, despite grain abundance, the 2018 State of Food Insecurity report — by the Rome-based United Nations food agencies led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — reported rising chronic and severe hunger or undernourishment involving more than 800 million.

Political, philanthropic and corporate leaders have promised to help struggling African and other countries grow more food, by offering to improve farming practices. New seed and other technologies would modernize those left behind.

But producing more food, by itself, does not enable the hungry to eat. Thus, agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters are often the problem, not the solution, in feeding the world.

Eating Tomorrow addresses related questions such as: Why doesn’t rising global food production feed the hungry? How can we “feed the world” of rising populations and unsustainable pressure on land, water and other natural resources that farmers need to grow food?

Family farmers lack power

Drawing on five years of extensive fieldwork in Southern Africa, Mexico, India and the US Mid-West, Wise concludes that the problem is essentially one of power. He shows how powerful business interests influence government food and agricultural policies to favour large farms.

This is typically at the expense of ‘family’ farmers, who grow most of the world’s food, but also involves putting consumers and others at risk, e.g., due to agrochemical use. His many examples not only detail and explain the many problems small-scale farmers face, but also their typically constructive responses despite lack of support, if not worse, from most governments:

• In Mexico, trade liberalization following the 1993 North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) agreement swamped the country with cheap, subsidized US maize and pork, accelerating migration from the countryside. Apparently, this was actively encouraged by transnational pork producers employing ‘undocumented’ and un-unionised Mexican workers willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions.
• In Malawi, large government subsidies encouraged farmers to buy commercial fertilizers and seeds from US agribusinesses such as now Bayer-owned Monsanto, but to little effect, as their productivity and food security stagnated or even deteriorated. Meanwhile, Monsanto took over the government seed company, favouring its own patented seeds at the expense of productive local varieties, while a former senior Monsanto official co-authored the national seed policy that threatens to criminalize farmers who save, exchange and sell seeds instead!
• In Zambia, greater use of seeds and fertilizers from agribusiness tripled maize production without reducing the country’s very high rates of poverty and malnutrition. Meanwhile, as the government provides 250,000-acre ‘farm blocks’ to foreign investors, family farmers struggle for title to farm land.
• In Mozambique too, the government gives away vast tracts of farm land to foreign investors. Meanwhile, women-led cooperatives successfully run their own native maize seed banks.
• Meanwhile, Iowa promotes vast monocultures of maize and soybean to feed hogs and bioethanol rather than ‘feed the world’.
• A large Mexican farmer cooperative launched an ‘agro-ecological revolution’, while the old government kept trying to legalize Monsanto’s controversial genetically modified maize. Farmers have thus far halted the Monsanto plan, arguing that GM corn threatens the rich diversity of native Mexican varieties.

Much of the research for the book was done in 2014-15, when Obama was US president, although the narrative begins with developments and policies following the 2008 food price crisis, during Bush’s last year in the White House. The book tells a story of US big business’ influence on policies enabling more aggressive transnational expansion.

Yet, Wise remains optimistic, emphasizing that the world can feed the hungry, many of whom are family farmers. Despite the challenges they face, many family farmers are finding innovative and effective ways to grow more and better food. He advocates support for farmers’ efforts to improve their soil, output and wellbeing.

Eating better

Hungry farmers are nourishing their life-giving soils using more ecologically sound practices to plant a diversity of native crops, instead of using costly chemicals for export-oriented monocultures. According to Wise, they are growing more and better food, and are capable of feeding the hungry.

Unfortunately, most national governments and international institutions still favour large-scale, high-input, industrial agriculture, neglecting more sustainable solutions offered by family farmers, and the need to improve the wellbeing of poor farmers.

Undoubtedly, many new agricultural techniques offer the prospect of improving the welfare of farmers, not only by increasing productivity and output, but also by limiting costs, using scarce resources more effectively, and reducing the drudgery of farm work.

But the world must recognize that farming may no longer be viable for many who face land, water and other resource constraints, unless they get better access to such resources. Meanwhile, malnutrition of various types affects well over two billion people in the world, and industrial agriculture contributes about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Going forward, it will be important to ensure affordable, healthy and nutritious food supplies for all, mindful not only of food and water safety, but also of various pollution threats. A related challenge will be to enhance dietary diversity affordably to overcome micronutrient deficiencies and diet-related non-communicable diseases for all.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

Kategorien: Blogs

Blown off-course? Despite rapid expansion across Europe, German offshore wind capacity growth is slowing

Energiewende Blog - 19 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

Even as larger turbines come online and are producing more energy less expensively, wind energy groups warn that political conditions are hampering growth throughout Germany, with both on and offshore generation capacities suffering. L. Michael Buchsbaum explains

Middelgrunden offshore wind farm (40 MW) in the Øresund, 3.5 km outside Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo by Slaunger, CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Blown Off-Course” is part one of a series on current wind energy challenges and opportunities. Upcoming blog posts will address the on-going tension between off- and on-shore wind development, challenges to onshore wind expansion, as well as the vital role community wind energy continues to play in Germany’s Energiewende.

Warning signs are beginning to appear for the German offshore wind industry.

With 276 MW of fully installed turbines far out at sea not yet feeding power to the electrical grid, a stubborn lack of grid expansion progress, and only a narrow investment pathway, investors specializing in offshore energy development are starting to look away from Germany.  Even as larger turbines come online and are producing more energy less expensively, groups warn that political conditions are hampering the growth of Germany’s critical wind energy sector, with the vital expansion of both on and offshore generation at stake.

2018 saw growth for offshore wind

According to new figures from the trade group WindEurope, total European offshore wind capacity grew by 2.6 GW in 2018. This includes about 400 new grid-connected turbines spread across 18 projects. Most of this new capacity (85%) was deployed in the United Kingdom and Germany, followed by Belgium and Denmark. Though investments in new offshore wind amounted to €10.3bn, a 37% increase over 2017, industry leaders UK and Germany connected slightly less capacity than previously.

Photo: Deutsche WindGuard

By the end of 2018, the UK had the largest amount of offshore wind capacity in Europe (44% of all installations measured in MW), followed by Germany (34%), Denmark (7%), Belgium (6.4%) and the Netherlands (6%).

WindEurope also reported that the average size of individual offshore wind turbines continued to increase to 6.8 MW in 2018, up 15% from the previous year. However, the UK installed the world’s biggest offshore turbines – 8.8 MW – and opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm – Walney 3 extension, at 657 MW. Germany also opened their largest wind farm to date, as the Borkum Riffgrund II (465 MW) was fully connected to the grid. As for project owners, Ørsted connected the largest amount of wind capacity in 2018, followed by E.ON, Global Infrastructure Partners, Equinor and Macquarie Capital.

In total, Europe now has 105 offshore wind farms comprised of over 4,540 turbines operating across 11 countries with a total capacity of over 18.5 GW. A further six offshore wind farms are currently under construction in Europe, including the giant Hornsea One in the UK; with a planned 174 turbines, it will be the largest offshore wind farm to date. Construction started in 2018, and in February the first installed turbines were ready to supply energy to the grid.

“The technology keeps developing. The turbines keep getting bigger. And the costs keep falling,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson. “It’s now no more expensive to build offshore wind than it is to build coal or gas plants. And it’s a good deal cheaper than new nuclear. More and more governments are recognising the merits of offshore wind.” Poland, which has previously blocked renewable energy at every turn, plans to build 10GW of offshore wind by 2040. Unfortunately, says Dickson, “Germany’s 2030 targets are modest and France has no plans to invest.”

German offshore industry calls for more ambitious targets

According to the figures published by the German WindGuard, over a thousand offshore turbines with a total output of 6,382 MW were feeding into the grid last year. While another 276 MW of fully installed turbines remain unconnected, offshore farms with a combined capacity of 966 MW are also under construction while another 112 MW of potential capacity still await a final investment decision.

Going forward, Germany’s legally possible expansion of 7.7 GW by 2020 is expected to be achieved as planned. However WindGuard and other industry groups argue that it is critical to raise expansion targets to at least 20 GW by 2030, particularly given the planned coal exit, which calls for the last coal-fired plants in Germany to close no later than 2038.

Photo: Deutsche WindGuard

To break the deadlock, at a news conference in late January, several groups including the German wind energy association (BWE) and the Association of German offshore wind farm operators (BWO), called for a special offshore wind capacity tender for no less than 1,500 MW in the first quarter of 2019. Moreover, they stressed that the industry needs a reliable framework and a clear political signal.

To achieve the goals of Germany’s coalition government to reach 65% renewable power by 2030, the offshore wind industry needs to expand to at least 20 GW by 2030 and at least 30 GW by 2035. However, “how offshore wind will contribute is not yet clear,” warned the groups.

“2019 must be the year of progress in energy policy. Offshore wind energy is of central importance for the achievement of climate protection targets and secures value creation in Germany as an industrial player,” said the BWO in the joint press release. “Insisting on the status quo costs jobs and threatens the international competitiveness of Germany. The current migration of qualified workers to foreign markets is a warning signal that must be taken seriously.” Germany’s accumulated offshore wind energy experience “is an essential advantage in the growing international competition that must be maintained. There must be no further delay.”

In a win for offshore wind, high-voltage power lines go forward

But there is good news for offshore wind industry: the German government will go ahead with power lines meant to move power from the windy north to the rest of Germany. In early February, Germany’s Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) finally decided on the route for the first part of a high-voltage power line.

Such high-voltage power lines are seen as an indispensable part of the Energiewende, and the best way to balance the fluctuations of wind energy from the north and solar energy from the south. Operators and the German federal government want to build another 4,650 kilometres of new transmission lines by 2025, including four north-south direct-current, high-voltage connections.

How that will happen is another open question – the plans have faced resistance from both citizen groups and advocates of distributed and community energy. But unless Germany develops, enacts and sticks to a pathway forward, how the nation will achieve the majority of its clean energy goals remains elusive. And while politicians continue to debate, impatient investors are already looking elsewhere.

Kategorien: Blogs

Plastik und Gesundheit – Die versteckten Kosten der Plastikkrise

Klima der Gerechtigkeit - 19 Februar, 2019 - 11:55

Ein absolutes Must-Read für alle, die sich für’s Plastikthema interessieren, ist heute erschienen: Plastic & Health – the Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet von CIEL, Earthworks, IPEN, GAIA, Break Free From Plastic und vielen anderen beschreibt und belegt detailliert die negativen Auswirkungen auf die menschliche Gesundheit, die sich entlang der gesamten Wertschöpfungskette von Plastik (vom Fracking bis zum Meeremüll) durch vor allem giftige Chemikalien und Mikroplastik ergeben.

Diese Infographik fasst das wunderbar zusammen:

Den gesamten Bericht gibt es hier: ciel.org/plasticandhealth

Die wichtigsten Ergebnisse auf einen Blick (bisher leider nur auf Englisch):

Key findings

At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals. The majority of people worldwide are exposed at multiple stages of this lifecycle.

Extraction and Transport

99% of plastic comes from fossil fuels. The extraction of oil and gas, particularly hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, releases an array of toxic substances into the air and water, often in significant volumes. Over 170 fracking chemicals that are used to produce the main feedstocks for plastic have known human health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, impairment of the immune system, and more. These toxins have direct and documented impacts on skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, liver, and brain.

Refining and Manufacture

Transforming fossil fuel into plastic resins and additives releases carcinogenic and other highly toxic substances into the air. Documented effects of exposure to these substances include impairment of the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, leukemia, and genetic impacts like low birth weight. Industry workers and communities neighboring refining facilities are at greatest risk and face both chronic and acute exposures during uncontrolled releases and emergencies.

Consumer Products and Packaging

Use of plastic products leads to ingestion and/or inhalation of large amounts of both microplastic particles and hundreds of toxic substances with known or suspected carcinogenic, developmental, or endocrine-disrupting impacts.

Waste Management

All plastic waste management technologies (including incineration, co-incineration, gasification, and pyrolysis) result in the release of toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, organic substances (dioxins and furans), acid gases, and other toxic substances to the air, water, and soils. All such technologies lead to direct and indirect exposure to toxic substances for workers and nearby communities, including through inhalation of contaminated air, direct contact with contaminated soil or water, and ingestion of foods that were grown in an environment polluted with these substances. Toxins from emissions, fly ash, and slag in a burn pile can travel long distances and deposit in soil and water, eventually entering human bodies after being accumulated in the tissues of plants and animals.

Plastic in the Environment

Once plastic reaches the environment in the form of macro- or microplastics, it contaminates and accumulates in food chains through agricultural soils, terrestrial and aquatic food chains, and the water supply. This environmental plastic can easily leach toxic additives or concentrate toxins already in the environment, making them bioavailable again for direct or indirect human exposure. As plastic particles degrade, new surface areas are exposed, allowing continued leaching of additives from the core to the surface of the particle in the environment and the human body. Microplastics entering the human body via direct exposures through ingestion or inhalation can lead to an array of health impacts, including inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis, which are linked to an array of negative health outcomes including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation, auto-immune conditions, neuro-degenerative diseases, and stroke.

Kategorien: Blogs

Methane Measurements and Short Attention Spans

Triple Crisis - 18 Februar, 2019 - 21:22

By Frank Ackerman

Third in a series of posts on climate policy.  Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) represents most, but not all, greenhouse gas emissions. In EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2016, CO2 represented 82 percent of gross U.S. GHG emissions, while methane represented 10 percent (measured as CO2-equivalents). The top three sources of methane are agriculture, the energy industry, and waste management.

As fascinating as some of us may find such details, the general public has a short attention span for new information about climate change. Within that constraint, what do we want to communicate? For methane, there are two choices, an introductory and an advanced message.

The introductory message emphasizes that methane, the principal component of natural gas, is an important cause of global warming under any version of the data. It is therefore crucial to reduce and eliminate all fossil fuels, gas included, as soon as possible, replacing them with efficiency, renewables and energy storage.

At a more advanced level, some new research suggests that conventional data understate methane emissions. And a different way of comparing methane to CO2 implies that methane should have a higher CO2-equivalent value, raising its relative importance in GHG accounting. Some combination of these factors might even make natural gas as bad as coal, from a global warming perspective.

The introductory message is the one that matters for public communication. It focuses discussion on the simple fact that natural gas, like other fossil fuels, has got to go: it is part of the problem, not the solution. The advanced message, in contrast, emphasizes technical controversies and interpretation of recent research. It tends to produce eyes-glazed-over responses along the lines of “I wasn’t that good at science in school.”

But if you’re reading this, you can probably follow the technical debates, at least partway down the rabbit hole. Consider three chapters of the story of methane: the time span for calculating CO2-equivalents; the issue of gas leaks; and the gas vs. coal comparison.

Thinking about tomorrow

Methane is a much more potent heat-trapping gas than CO2, but CO2 remains in the atmosphere and traps heat for much longer than methane. On balance, how much does a ton of methane emissions contribute to warming, relative to a ton of CO2?

The answer depends on the time period under consideration. Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 years. CO2 is affected by several processes that operate at very different speeds: 50 percent of CO2 is removed from the atmosphere within 30 years of emission, while 20 percent persists in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Zooming in on a timespan as short as 20 years after emissions means focusing mainly on years when methane is still present in the atmosphere, trapping a lot of heat. Over a longer interval such as 100 years after emissions, most of the years are ones when methane has faded away, while a significant fraction of the CO2 emissions remains in the atmosphere. As a result, the CO2-equivalent value of methane is 84 over a 20-year period, compared to only 28 over a 100-year period.

Early IPCC and other technical reports tended to standardize on the 100-year CO2-equivalent value, implying that methane is 28 times as bad per ton as CO2. More recent studies have often highlighted the 20-year CO2-equivalent value, making methane 84 times as bad.

Neither one or the other is the correct value. Climate change is a problem of both short-term urgency and long-term consequences, of 20-year impacts, 100-year impacts, and beyond. This produces an awkward situation for research and reporting on greenhouse gases: the “exchange rate” between the two leading gases is either 28 or 84. It is less of a problem for public policy, where either of the CO2-equivalent values for methane is enough to make the case: a low-carbon economy must eliminate methane emissions, not rely on natural gas as a bridge to anywhere we want to go.

Counting the leaks

Natural gas leaks from wells and pipelines, increasing the lifecycle methane emissions associated with gas-fired heating or electricity generation. EPA estimated that methane leaks represented 1.4 percent of gas production nationwide in 2015. But a new study based on extensive field measurement found that methane leaks were 2.3 percent of gas production that year. Other studies have reported even higher leakage rates in areas where fracking is widespread.

It would be a mistake, however, to pin the critique of natural gas solely to high levels of leaks. The same study that found leaks of 2.3 percent also found that “the higher estimates stem from a small number of so-called superemitters … most tied to [malfunctioning] hatches and vents in natural gas storage tanks at extraction wells.”

It is not hard to imagine the industry, under pressure from regulators, fixing the malfunctioning hatches and vents, and developing better ways to seal leaks in general. This would increase the amount of gas that could be delivered to customers, potentially increasing industry profits. The International Energy Agency, which estimates gas leaks of 1.7 percent worldwide, also finds that 40 to 50 percent of current methane emissions could be avoided at no net cost.

The key point about methane is not the current high levels of leaks. Rather, reducing methane emissions, from leaks and other sources, is one of the most cost-effective strategies for greenhouse gas mitigation.

Different shades of bad

Some environmental advocates now claim that burning gas is just as bad for the climate as burning coal. There are several strong counterarguments, which do not undermine the case against gas.

Above all, coal is an environmental disaster, causing havoc throughout its life cycle. Coal mining devastates local communities, on a level that equals or surpasses anything done by fracking. It even releases methane from coal mining, equal to 8 percent of U.S. methane emissions according to the 2016 greenhouse gas inventory. The canaries in the coal mines, back in the day, were brought in to detect carbon monoxide and methane, the deadly gases that threatened miners.

Coal combustion gives rise not only to CO2, but also to many toxic pollutants which kill people near the plants. Since coal plants are usually located in low-income and minority neighborhoods, plant siting raises issues of environmental justice. After combustion, coal ash must be disposed of, creating a whole new set of toxic risks and environmental justice concerns in the siting of these impacts. Gas does not cause local toxic emissions or leave ash behind when it burns.

Even restricting attention to greenhouse gas emissions, an extraordinary level of leakage is required to make gas as bad as coal from a 20-year perspective, let alone a 100-year perspective. The IEA has a graph displaying the relationship between leak rates, time horizon, and climate impacts from coal vs. gas.

Finally, consider the emotional meaning of the statement that gas is as bad as coal. It often seems as if activists feel the need to show that gas is as bad as it gets, in order to support opposition to gas-fired power plants. This is surely a mistake.

It is not necessary to make something the worst ever, in order to establish that it is bad. George W. Bush was a bad president, for the environment and so much else; now it turns out that he was not the worst possible president. There is no reason to claim that Bush was as bad as Trump – or that a return to Bush-era policies would be a bridge to the future. It’s just a different shade of bad.

A gas-fired electric grid is different from a coal-fired one. But from a climate perspective, they are different shades of bad: both involve carbon emissions far above a sustainable, climate-friendly level. The need for a carbon-free alternative is the conclusion that matters, independent of the latest research details on methane.

Frank Ackerman is principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the founders of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

Kategorien: Blogs

Corruption undermines public transit in Honduras

Energiewende Blog - 18 Februar, 2019 - 14:00

Public transportation offers the potential to reduce emissions and improve quality of life – but only if it’s finished. In Honduras, the corruption of the “Trans450” project ended with boarded up bus stations and frustrated citizens, writes Rebecca Bertram.

A barricaded bus stop in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (Photo by Rebecca Bertram)

I moved to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, at the beginning of this year. It is my first time in this Central American country that does not enjoy the most favorable international image, not least because of the recent news of many Hondurans fleeing the country to the United States. This is a country with significant problems: the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and there are high un- und underemployment rates. This leaves much space for improvement in itself.

But in this blog, I would like to focus on how an infrastructure project, meant to improve people’s everyday lives, was turned into a corruption scandal and, as a result, has put people off the idea of investing in a cleaner, climate-friendly and more efficient transport system.

The first day I got here, I was struck by something that resembled a bus stop. It was not a usual bus stop, because its entrance was barricaded. As I got to know more of Tegucigalpa during the days that followed, I saw more of its kind – all barricaded – with separate lanes for buses, but no buses to be seen anywhere. Instead, public taxis and small so-called “public” buses (public only in the sense that they would carry more than one party at a time but otherwise privately owned by a transport mafia) move the 200,000 people dependent on public transit for their commute around the city every day.

Such “public” buses represent a very inefficient and insecure mode of public transportation. They do not follow any set schedule, and there are reports of regular assaults of passengers. This is precisely why former Mayor Ricardo Alvarez initiated the new bus infrastructure Trans450 project in Tegucigalpa in 2010. The Trans450 was set to receive a grant of 50 million US$ by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and a 20 million US$ grant by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and to be finalized by the year 2017.

Mayor Ricardo Alvarez had made the Trans450 one of his most important infrastructure projects during his mayoral terms between 2006 and 2014. He had secured the loans for the project and pushed it forward, even though both the country’s National Assembly and the Finance Secretary had voted against the project due to its high costs and high public debt.

“At this point, it became very clear that this was going to turn into a corrupt project,” Ismael Zepeda from the Social Forum on External Debt and Development of Honduras (FOSDEH) told me. Subsequently, funds were either spent on building the infrastructure for the Trans450 or largely disappeared without any trace of the busses. Before Ricardo Alvarez’ mayoral term came to an end in 2014, he staged an inauguration of the project, ironically only with toy busses.

Today, the project remains unfinished. The next mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry Asfuera, never regarded the Trans450 as his project, and as there were no more funds available, left it largely neglected. Some of the Trans450 lanes actually interfered with his own infrastructure plans to build new bridges and were subsequently destroyed. In addition, the Trans450 has met considerable opposition by the powerful transport mafia in the city who of course do not want to see any competition to their ‘private’ buses and taxis.

This has left the Trans450 largely unpopular amongst Tegucigalpans. To them, the project does not only represent a clear case of corruption and a waste of public money but also a worsening of the transit system as some important pedestrian walkways had to give way for the project. They are now increasingly reclaiming the extra bus lanes to cope with the immense traffic in this city.

The sad thing with this story is that the image of a cleaner, more efficient and secure transport option for Tegucigalpa has been destroyed through this messy and corrupt process. There are rumors that the municipality will take up the project again later this year, but I believe it when I see it.

Over the next year, I will be writing more blogs on energy and climate related issues in the Latin American region. I thank the Heinrich Böll Foundation for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you via this medium.

Kategorien: Blogs

Wie lassen sich Multis besteuern?

Baustellen der Globalisierung - 18 Februar, 2019 - 13:18
Gastblog von Joseph Stiglitz

In den letzten Jahren ist die Globalisierung erneut heftig in die Kritik geraten. Ein Teil dieser Kritik mag unangebracht sein, aber in einer Hinsicht haben die Kritiker uneingeschränkt Recht: Die Globalisierung hat große multinationale Konzerne wie Apple, Google und Starbucks in die Lage versetzt, Steuern zu vermeiden.

Ein Musterbeispiel für die Steuervermeidung durch die Konzerne ist Apple, das rechtlich geltend machte, dass einige hundert Arbeitnehmer in Irland die wahre Quelle seiner Gewinne seien, und dann eine Übereinkunft mit der irischen Regierung schloss, die dazu führte, dass sich die vom Unternehmen gezahlten Steuern auf bloße 0,005% seiner Gewinne belaufen. Apple, Google, Starbucks und ähnliche Unternehmen betonen gern ihre soziale Verantwortung, doch das erste Element sozialer Verantwortung sollte darin bestehen, seinen fairen Anteil an Steuern zu zahlen. Würden alle Steuern vermeiden und hinterziehen, so wie diese Unternehmen das tun, könnte die Gesellschaft nicht funktionieren. Und schon gar nicht könnte sie jene öffentlichen Investitionen tätigen, die zum Internet führten, von dem Apple und Google abhängig sind.
Die multinationalen Konzerne ermutigen schon seit Jahren zu einem Abwärtswettlauf und erzählen jedem Land, dass es seine Steuern unter jene seiner Wettbewerber senken müsse. Die Steuersenkungen von US-Präsident Donald Trump 2017 haben diesen Wettlauf auf die Spitze getrieben. Ein Jahr später sehen wir, wo das hinführt: Der Zuckerrausch, den die US-Wirtschaft hierdurch erlebte, verfliegt schnell, und es bleibt ein Schuldenberg (der im letzten Jahr um mehr als eine Billion Dollar angewachsen ist).

Angesichts des drohenden Verlustes zur Finanzierung eines funktionierenden Staates erforderlicher Steuereinnahmen durch die Digitalwirtschaft (und der von dieser ausgehenden wirtschaftlichen Verzerrungen, die zu Lasten traditioneller Vertriebsmethoden gehen) erkennt die internationale Gemeinschaft nun endlich, dass etwas im Argen liegt. Dabei sind die Fehler des aktuellen Systems multinationaler Besteuerung – das auf sogenannten Transferpreisen beruht – seit langem bekannt...

... den vollständigen Kommentar lesen Sie >>> hier.
Kategorien: Blogs

Faire und offene Auswahl des neuen Weltbank-Chefs gefordert

Baustellen der Globalisierung - 15 Februar, 2019 - 17:50
Über 90 zivilgesellschaftliche Organisationen sowie 40 prominente Akademiker und Politik aus aller Welt haben einen Offenen Brief an den Rat der Exekutivdirektoren der Weltbank geschickt, in dem sie verlangen, dass diese zu ihrem Versprechen stehen, den nächsten Weltbank-Präsidenten in einem offenen, qualifikationsbasierten und transparenten Auswahlprozess zu bestimmen.

Der Brief stellt fest, dass der neue Präsident im Kontext „anhaltender Herausforderungen der Weltwirtschaft“ gewählt wird, die sich aus „wachsender Ungleichheit, einer wachsenden Bedeutung der Finanzen, der Finanzmärkte und finanzieller Institutionen in der Wirtschaft, einer drohenden Schuldenkrise und zunehmendem Konzernreichtums ergibt, die wiederum in eine Erosion der Souveränität der staatlichen Souveränität und deren Fähigkeit, ihre menschenrechtlichen Verpflichtungen zu erfüllen, mündet“. Darüber hinaus heißt es, „die Weltbank brauche einen Führer, der fähig und bereit ist, kritisch einzuschätzen, welche Rolle die Bank dabei spielen kann, das gescheiterte Modell, das uns bisher bestimmt hat, herauszufordern“.
Der Brief listet fünf wesentliche Kriterien auf, die der neue Präsident erfüllen müsse: * erwiesene Kenntnisse und Erfahrungen in Entwicklungsfragen; * Aufgeschlossenheit für ein breites Spektrum an Sichtweisen und Interessen, darunter der Zivilgesellschaft und der Wissenschaft; * Entschlossenheit, die Menschenrechte der Armen und Marginalisierten hoch zu halten; * Unterstützung des Pariser Klimaabkommen und der Nachhaltigen Entwicklungsziele (SDGs); * einen klaren Plan, die sozialen, menschlichen und Umweltrechte, wie sie von Staaten und Institutionen verletzt werden, zu fördern.
Die Weltbank sollte vermeiden, den gescheiterten Auswahlprozess ihre früheren Präsidenten Jim Yong Kim zu wiederholen, warnen die Autor*innen des Briefes. Kandidaten aus dem Globalen Süden und aus Nehmerländern sollten zur Bewerbung ermutigt werden.
Kategorien: Blogs

Germany is transforming its coal fields into renewable energy sites

Energiewende Blog - 15 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

Old coal fields have to be cleaned up in order to be used again. Germany is using its old coal mines for renewable energy sources. L. Michael Buchsbaum talks to developers to see how it works.

Wind farms could provide new renewable energy sources on the site of former coal mining areas (Public Domain)

Coal mining has left the Earth pockmarked with countless abandoned shafts, open pits and tens of thousands of hectares of disturbed lands from old surface mines.

Though many countries passed reclamation rules requiring mining companies to restore land back to its state after the extraction ends, mining companies have generally been slow to do so. The vast majority of post-mining lands are nowhere near as healthy or bio-diverse as they were prior to industrial activities.

But more and more, regulators and energy companies are realizing that developing these degraded areas into renewable energy sites enables them to transform them into clean revenue-generating assets.

As part of the European Commission’s support mechanism for transitioning away from coal, their Joint Research Centre published a study which looks at the best practices and opportunities throughout Europe, as well as suggestions of financial support (EU coal regions: opportunities and challenges ahead).

The report and developers agree that after a mine closes, converting the site to a renewable energy generation facility can provide new job opportunities and economic value, as well as contribute to a more secure energy supply.

Such projects can greatly benefit from the pre-existent infrastructure and land availability. The EC report finds that several coal producing regions in Spain, Greece and Bulgaria are particularly well situated for solar power generation while many current coal regions in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland have high wind availability.

Renewable redevelopment in Germany

Throughout Germany the report cites several redevelopment examples. One great success is the Klettwitz wind farm in southeastern Germany, built on former surface mining lands. When it opened in 2000, it was the largest wind operation in Europe; today it includes five separate sections. And following recent upgrades and re-powerings, it has a combined generation capacity of 145.5 megawatts.

Initially the biggest technical challenge of the pioneering project was the construction of turbines on unstable foil above the former pit. Now for almost 20 years, renewable energy has been generated “where previously climate-damaging coal was mined. A brilliant example of the green energy transition,” said Ralf Heinen, CEO of the developer, Ventotec.

Nearby, developer ABO Wind Energy is approaching completion of a wind park on the site of the Lausitz Energie Bergbau (LEAG) owned Jänschwalde open cast mine. The second such project for ABO, it’s the company’s largest to date and they see “enormous potential” for similar brown-to-green undertakings in the future, said company spokesman, Dr. Daniel Duben.

Prior to redevelopment, the site had been a more or less abandoned pit, filled in and awaiting recultivation for future farming. Mining activities at depths greater than 95 meters had left soil layers looser than those found in normal terrain, creating technically demanding construction conditions, ABO reported.

“Though normally foundations for 200-meter high wind systems are only three to four meters in depth, that does not suffice at Jänschwalde,” said Duben. Instead the company used water to flush gravel deeper and then compressed the loose soil. They followed this up by hammering 32 concrete piles, each between 15 and 21 meters long, into the ground to keep the foundations stable. Because of this, the project is more expensive. “Normally it takes less than a year for the wind mills to generate enough energy and income to pay for their installation. It will take a bit longer for the former post mine site because of the size of their concrete anchors,” continued Duben.

Nevertheless, ABO is now targeting similar sites. They view them as classic win-wins since one of the struggles for wind developers is locating sites where they won’t affect local wildlife, bird or human populations. Already impacted and cleared of trees and villages, former mine sites are “ideal” for such redevelopment. Though a handful of other companies are also moving in this direction, most avoid such redevelopment strategies because of the additional complications. But ABO is “keen on developing projects on these sites” because they “strongly believe in the necessity of energy transformation,” said Duben.

However, despite the need to create viable post-mining economies, at present there are no subsidies or technical assistances offered from the state or federal government. In fact “there are more technical and legal barriers to overcome in Germany to build wind farms on former mines than at other locations,” continued Duben.

Back in coal heavy North Rhine-Westphalia, fossil fuel dependent RWE AG has also redeveloped a sliver of their former mine sites into wind farms, in particular erecting the 67-megawatt Königshovener Höhe wind farm on a reclaimed site of their Garzweiler opencast mine.

But frustratingly in NRW, only about 12% of gross electricity generation is currently generated from green energies–about half of which is wind, despite the region’s enormous potential. This is in stark contrast to other areas of northern Germany or the country as a whole which is now averaging close to 40% renewable energy.

“Renewable development shifts the policy of the conservative CDU / FDP state government, which after taking over in 2017, is keen to slow down the expansion of wind energy,” said Dirk Jansen, head of the Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND).

Indeed, though the Hambach and Garzweiler pits are virtually surrounded by wind turbines, the gigantic residual holes of the RWE mines are supposed to be flooded after the end of operations, negating any wind energy potential.

Though other possibilities exist, both the state and RWE have been resistant to other alternatives. Worse still, the struggling “Coal Commission has also presented little in the way of concrete alternatives,” lamented Jansen. But perhaps presented with the success of other sites, RWE will adopt a different course. After all, there’s shareholder value at stake.

 

Kategorien: Blogs

Neue Studie: Öl ins Feuer – Wie Geoengineering die fossile Industrie stärkt und die Klimakrise beschleunigt

Klima der Gerechtigkeit - 14 Februar, 2019 - 09:19

Der aktuelle Bericht „Fuel to the Fire“ des Centers for International Environmental Law (CIEL) und der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung analysiert, wie das zunehmende Interesse an Geoengineering als vermeintlicher Wunderwaffe gegen den Klimawandel in Wirklichkeit die Klimaziele schwächt und die fossile Infrastruktur auf Jahrzehnte zementieren könnte.

Der Bericht Fuel to the Fire: How Geoengineering Threatens to Entrench Fossil Fuels and Accelerate the Climate Crisis illustriert die Instrumentalisierung der zunehmend eskalierenden Klimakrise um Geoengineering-Technologien salonfähig zu machen. Dabei geht es vor allem um bislang unausgereifte Technologien mit zum Teil unkalkulierbaren Folgen wie Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR – Entfernung von Kohlendioxid aus der Atmosphäre) oder Solar Radiation Management (SRM – künstliche Reduzierung der Sonneneinstrahlung). Der Bericht analysiert die tragende Rolle der fossilen Industrien wie Gas, Öl und Kohle bei der Entwicklung und Förderung von Geoengineering-Technologien und erläutert, wie diese Technologien in erster Linie die fossile Industrie am Lebenhalten und ihr neue Geschäftsfelder eröffnen.

Die wichtigsten Ergebnisse im Überblick:

  • Analysen weisen darauf hin, dass 85 % der US-Subventionen für Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS; CO2-Abscheidung und -Lagerung) und Direct Air Capture DAC (Direkte Luftabscheidung und Speicherung von CO2) in die „Enhanced Oil Recovery“ (Tertiäre Ölförderung) und damit in die Produktion von noch mehr Öl und Gas fließen.
  • Die Befürworter/-innen von Geo-Engineering gehen davon aus, dass durch CCS-Projekte bis zum Jahr 2040 alleine in den USA 40 % mehr Kohle und bis zu 923 Millionen Barrel Öl zusätzlich gefördert werden könnten.
  • Energieintensive Direct Air Capture (DAC)-Projekte werden in erster Linie für die Erzeugung von Kohlenwasserstoff-Brennstoffen genutzt, die dann ebenfalls verbrannt werden. Sie tragen dadurch entweder zu neuen CO2-Emissionen bei oder sie bedeuten eine massive Umwidmung erneuerbarer Energie mit energetisch hoch ineffizienten Ergebnissen, während gleichzeitig die Abkehr vom Verbrennungsmotor gebremst wird.
  • Befürworter/-innen der fossilen Industrie sagen offen, dass sie CCS und CDR zur Sicherung der Zukunft von Kohle, Öl und Gas und zur Erschließung von neuen Reserven für unerlässlich erachten. Damit ist das endgültige Überschreiten unseres CO2-Budgets vorprogrammiert.
  • Ungeachtet der Mahnungen des Weltklimarats (IPCC), dass die Welt bis 2050 Netto-Null-Emissionen erreichen muss, wollen Ölfirmen mithilfe von CDR die zentrale Rolle von Erdöl und Erdgas bis mindestens 2100 sichern.
  • Seit Jahrzehnten werben die Verfechter/-innen des Solar Radiation Management (SRM) für diese Technologie, da so Klimaschutzmaßnahmen verzögert und aufgeweicht werden können.
  • SRM-Befürworter/-innen gehen in ihren Modellen von der Grundannahme aus, dass die Menschheit über Jahrzehnte, wenn nicht gar Jahrhunderte, Sulfate oder andere Aerosole in die Stratosphäre sprühen wird – um gleichzeitig mit CDR die Emissionen wieder zu senken.
  • Angesichts der Tatsache, dass die Klimawandelleugner/-innen zunehmend auf verlorenem Posten stehen, nutzen sie Geoengineering als neues Argument, um ernsthafte Klimaschutzmaßnahmen zu verhindern oder hinauszuzögern.

Als wir die Arbeit zu diesem Report mit CIEL vor über einem Jahr begonnen, war uns schon klar, dass die Interessen der Öl- und Gasindustrie an CCS enorm sind und dass die überwiegende Mehrheit von CCS vor allem der Produktion von noch mehr Öl/Gas/Kohle dient (enhanced oil recovery / EOR).

Aber was CIEL nun aufgedeckt hat, geht weiter darüber hinaus: Die Interessen genau derjenigen Industrie, die am meisten zum Klimawandel beigetragen hat und beiträgt, sind wesentliche Treiber hinter diesen Technologien – und das seit Jahrzehnten!

Besonders überraschend kam das für uns – und bestimmt auch für viele anderen – bezogen auf Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Hier ein paar konkrete Beispiele aus dem Bericht:

  • Haroon Kheshgi and Brian Flannery von Exxon haben einige der ersten Artikel zum Thema SRM und ocean geoengineeering verfasst. Sie waren bis Mitte der 2000er Jahre aktiv und stetig in Workshops zum Thema dabei.
  • Für den einflussreichen Novim Climate Engineering Report hatte Steve Koonin den lead, zu einer Zeit, als er Chief Scientist bei BP war. Es ist belegt, dass Steve Koonin mindestens bis 2017 aktiv die Interessen der fossilen Industrie und Klimaskeptiker-Meinungen vertreten und befördert hat.
  • ExxonMobil war einer der wichtigen Unterstützer des Bipartisan Policy Center als BPC geoengineering als Lösung der Klimakrise vorschlug.

Eine weitere wichtige Erkenntnis aus dem Bericht ist die Rolle von Klimaskeptikern und ihren Finanziers beim Thema Geoengineering. Zum Beispiel:

  • David Schnare, senior environmental fellow beim Thomas Jefferson Institute (TJI), hat sich wiederholt für den Einsatz von Geoengineering ausgesprochen. TJI hat finanzielle Unterstützung vom Donors Trust und vom Donors Capital Fund erhalten – intransparente Organisationen, die Klimaskeptiker finanzieren.
  • Lee Lane, Co-Director des Geoengineering Projekts des American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) hat sich vor dem US Kongress für ein Geoengineering Forschungsprogramm stark gemacht. AEI (Finanziers: u.a. ExxonMobil, Amoco, Donors Capital Fund, Charles G. Koch Foundation) gehört zu den führenden Organisationen im Bereich Climate Denial. Ihr Geoengineering Projekt lief von ca. 2008 bis 2010 und hat sich aggressiv und lautstark für Geoengineering eingesetzt. Lane hat auch diverse Konferenzen zum Thema ausgerichtet sowie Artikel und Bücher verfasst. Einer seiner Artikel, An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Climate Change, wurde für das Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) geschrieben, dass sich aktiv gegen Klimaschutzmaßnahmen einsetzt. Der Artikel erschien später in einem Buch von CCC Präsident Bjørn Lomborg.

Und das sind nur ein paar der Beispiele aus „Fuel to the Fire“…

Steven Feit von CIEL, einer der Ko-Autoren des Berichts, fasst es ganz schön zusammen:

„Seit sechs Jahrzehnten behaupten die Ölfirmen, dass der Klimawandel nicht existiert, dass er nicht vom Menschen gemacht ist, und dass er, wenn er doch vom Menschen gemacht sein sollte, völlig unproblematisch ist. Seit einiger Zeit nun verkaufen uns die Unternehmen den Klimawandel als ein rein ingenieurstechnisches Problem – um im selben Atemzug zu behaupten, die Lösung liege in hochriskanten Geoengineering-Strategien – während sie selbst noch mehr Öl, Gas und Kohle fördern und genau so weitermachen wie bisher – ein Verhalten, das genauso gefährlich ist wie die Jahrzehnte des Leugnens.“

Der Report schaut sich jedoch übrigens auch die Alternativen an und listet eine ganze Bandbreite an neuen wissenschaftlichen Studien, Reports, Modellen und Szenarien auf, die klar machen: 1.5°C geht auch ohne Geoengineering, wenn wir neben radikal transformativen Emissionsreduktionspfaden auch auf den Schutz und die Wiederherstellung unserer natürlichen Ökosysteme setzen.

Mehr zum Thema Geoengineering gibt es beim GeoengineeringMonitor.

Mehr zum Thema 1,5°C und Transformationspfade in unserem Radical Realism Webdossier.

Kategorien: Blogs

Big money skews South Africa’s fossil fuelled economy

Energiewende Blog - 13 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

South Africa’s electricity sector has emerged from a turbulent decade that has been tamished by corruption and mismanagement. Vested political interests within the electricity industry here could still be locking the continent’s biggest carbon emitter on its current course as one of the dirtiest and most energy-intensive economies in the world, writes Leonie Joubert.

South Africa’s energy policy is dominated by new coal and nuclear energy deals (Public Domain)

Evidence of corruption and vested political interests within the South African electricity sector have been surfacing on almost every transparency platform in the past few years: the public protector’s State of Capture inquiry in 2016, and various legal commissions that domino-ed out of that investigation; legal submissions in various court processes, including one challenging the state’s nuclear procurement processes; and much of the associated media coverage.

These dirty dealings have surfaced in the government’s attempt to assign Russia to build a fleet of six nuclear power stations here, even though the Treasury showed that the cost would cripple the economy. It came through in the commissioning of various new coal-fired power plants. It skewed the numbers used in the modelling process for the country’s energy blueprint, the Integrated Resource Plan, which until recently favoured coal and nuclear because it didn’t accurately reflect the sudden drop in the price of renewable energy relative to new-build coal. It is evident in the deliberate obstruction of the country’s utility-scale renewable energy programme. And it has emerged in recent investigations into the state’s coal purchasing contracts with emerging mining companies.

During his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, president Cyril Ramaphosa tried to reassure international investors that these were precisely the kinds of dirty dealings that he would root out while in office.

But a local energy researcher argues that newly established coal interests, who are beneficiaries of ANC-insider patronage, have special leverage to influence government. And they’re using the fear of coal-related jobs losses to derail the country’s transition to a lower carbon economy.

Vested political interests in coal

South Africa gets between 85 percent and 90 percent of its electricity from coal.

It is also one of most energy intensive economies in the world. SA needs more energy to produce a unit of GDP than most countries, engineer and energy researcher Hilton Trollip said during a radio interview this week.

Trollip, who works with the University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre (ERC), referred to ongoing revelations of the newly established coal interests within the ANC under the rule of corruption-tainted former president Jacob Zuma.

‘Eskom spends more than R50 billion a year on coal,’ says “IT” Trollip. ‘This amount has doubled in the past ten years, even though the volume of coal it’s buying has stayed the same.’

From 2007 to 2015, Eskom shifted 30% of its coal supply from long-term coal-buying contracts, to short-term contracts with emerging mining companies. While some of these contracts are ‘above board’, Trollip points to the public protector’s State of Capture report which links some of these contracts with government insiders who are ‘connected to a faction in the ANC’ that benefited from this ongoing relationship with the coal industry.

Dirty dealings in the nuclear plan

As reported on in this column and elsewhere, by the end of 2017 the administration under then-president Jacob Zuma was on the verge of committing to a programme that would have locked the country into a deal with Russian to build up to six nuclear power stations here. Legal action stalled the procurement process just long enough for the ANC to recall the corruption-tainted Zuma, who had fired several finance ministers in his effort to force the deal through without following due process.

Zuma was replaced by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, who had the sense to listen to his Treasury’s warning that the cost of this deal would cripple the economy. Since then, Ramaphosa has called off the deal, but various court processes and state investigations, including the public protector’s State of Capture report, showed the vested interests within the Zuma administration which were pushing the deal for their own financial gain.

Tripping up the renewable programme

At the same time, the country’s utility scale renewable energy (RE) project, run between 2011 and 2015 and hailed as one of the most successful RE procurement processes in the world, came to a halt when the state utility, Eskom, refused to finalise the last round of contracts with private-sector investors, in spite of the energy minister instructing it to do so. This, too, was linked with pro-coal and pro-nuclear interests within the ruling party.

Once Ramaphosa was sworn in as president, suddenly the final stalled projects were signed off and allowed to reach completion. This, say pundits, is further evidence of the vested interests within the Zuma administration which were obstructing efforts to replace coal in the energy mix.

President Cyril Ramaphosa tried to reassure international investors at Davos that the new administration would root out the kind of corruption that has skewed the country’s energy policy away from what researchers at the ERC and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have calculated to be the most affordable and low-carbon transition plan for the economy: a steady decommissioning of old coal plants, while bringing on line utility-scale wind and solar, supported by gas, and also an increased shift to distributed energy resources such as roof-top solar panels, energy efficiency and batteries.

What’s still missing from the state’s energy transition plan, though, is a clear policy about how to support workers within the coal industry who will lose their livelihoods as the country phases out coal. Trollip argues that some interests, who rely on maintaining the coal economy for their patronage benefits with the ANC, are using the labour question as a way to continue to lobby against a transition to a cleaner energy sector.

Kategorien: Blogs

Climate Damages: Uncertain but Ominous, or $51 per Ton?

Triple Crisis - 12 Februar, 2019 - 22:53

By Frank Ackerman

Second in a series of posts on climate policy.  Find Part 1 here.

According to scientists, climate damages are deeply uncertain, but could be ominously large (see the previous post). Alternatively, according to the best-known economic calculation, lifetime damages caused by emissions in 2020 will be worth $51 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, in 2018 prices.

These two views can’t both be right. This post explains where the $51 estimate comes from, why it’s not reliable, and the meaning for climate policy of the deep uncertainty about the value of damages.

A tale of three models

The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is the value of present and future climate damages caused by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions. The Obama administration assembled an Interagency Working Group to estimate the SCC. In its final (August 2016) revision of the numbers, the most widely used variant of the SCC was $42 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2020, expressed in 2007 dollars – equivalent to $51 in 2018 dollars. Numbers like this were used in Obama-era cost-benefit analyses of new regulations, placing a dollar value on the reduction in carbon emissions from, say, vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

To create these numbers, the Working Group averaged the results from three well-known models. These do not provide more detailed or in-depth analysis than other models. On the contrary, two of them stand out for being simpler and easier to use than other models. They are, however, the most frequently cited models in climate economics. They are famous for being famous, the Kardashians of climate models.

DICE, developed by William Nordhaus at Yale University, offers a skeletal simplicity: it represents the dynamics of the world economy, the climate, and the interactions between the two with only 19 equations. This (plus Nordhaus’ free distribution of the software) has made it by far the most widely used model, valuable for classroom teaching, for initial high-level sketches of climate impacts, and for researchers (at times including myself) who lack the funding to acquire and use more complicated models. Yet no one thinks that DICE represents the frontier of knowledge about the world economy or the environment. DICE estimates aggregate global climate damages as a quadratic function of temperature increases, rising only gradually as the world warms.

PAGE, developed by Chris Hope at Cambridge University, resembles DICE in level of complexity, and has been used in many European analyses. It is the only one of the three models to include any explicit treatment of uncertain climate risks, assuming the threat of an abrupt, mid-size economic loss (beyond the “predictable” damages) that becomes both more likely and more severe as temperatures rise. Perhaps for this reason, PAGE consistently produces the highest SCC estimates among the three models.

FUND, developed by Richard Tol and David Anthoff, is more detailed than DICE or PAGE, with separate treatment of more than a dozen damage categories. Yet the development of these damages estimates has been idiosyncratic, in some cases (such as agriculture) relying on relatively optimistic research from 20 years ago rather than more troubling, recent findings on climate impacts. Even in later versions, after many small updates, FUND still estimates that many of its damage categories are too small to matter; in some FUND scenarios, the largest cost of warming is the increased expenditure on air conditioning.

Much has been written about what’s wrong with relying on these three models. The definitive critique is the National Academy of Sciences study, which reviews the shortcomings of the three models in detail and suggests ways to build a better model for estimating the SCC. (Released just days before the Trump inauguration, the study was doomed to be ignored.)

 

Embracing uncertainty

Expected climate damages are uncertain over a wide range, including the possibility of disastrously large impacts. The SCC is a monetary valuation of expected damages per ton of carbon dioxide. Therefore, SCC values should be uncertain over a wide range, including the possibility of disastrously high values.

Look beyond the three-model calculation, and the range of possible SCC values is extremely wide, including very high upper bounds. Many studies have adopted DICE or another model as a base, then demonstrated that minor, reasonable changes in assumptions lead to huge changes in the SCC. To cite a few examples:

  • A meta-analysis of SCC values found that, in order to reflect major climate risks, the SCC needs to be at least $125.
  • A study by Simon Dietz and Nicholas Stern found a range of optimal carbon prices (i.e. SCC values), depending on key climate uncertainties, ranging from $45 to $160 for emissions in 2025, and from $111 to $394 for emissions in 2055 (in 2018 dollars per ton of carbon dioxide).
  • In my own research, coauthored with Liz Stanton, we found that a few major uncertainties lead to an extremely wide range of possible SCC values, from $34 to $1,079 for emissions in 2010, and from $77 to $1,875 for 2050 emissions (again converted to 2018 dollars).
  • Martin Weitzman has written several articles emphasizing that the SCC depends heavily on the unknown shape of the damage function – that is, the details of the assumed relationship between rising temperatures and rising damages. His “Dismal Theorem” article argues that the marginal value of reducing emissions – the SCC – is literally infinite, since catastrophes that would cause human extinction remain too plausible to ignore (although they are not the most likely outcomes).

 

Whether or not the SCC is infinite, many researchers have found that it is uncertain, with the broad range of plausible values including dangerously high estimates. This is the economic reflection of scientific uncertainty about the timing and extent of climate damages.

 

How much can we afford?

As explained in the previous post in this series, deep uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of risks stymies the use of cost-benefit analysis for climate policy. Rather, policy should be set in an insurance-like framework, focused on credible worst-case losses rather than most likely outcomes. Given the magnitude of the global problem, this means “self-insurance” – investing in measures that make worst cases less likely.

How much does climate “self-insurance” – greenhouse gas emission reduction – cost? Several early (2008 to 2010) studies of rapid decarbonization, pushing the envelope of what was technically feasible at the time, came up with mid-century carbon prices of roughly $150 – $500 per ton of carbon dioxide abated.[1] Since then, renewable energy has experienced rapid progress and declining prices, undoubtedly lowering the carbon price on a maximum feasible reduction scenario.

Even at $150 to $500 per ton, the cost of abatement was comparable to or lower than many of the worst-case estimates of the SCC, or climate damages per ton. In short, we already know that doing everything on the least-cost emission reduction path will cost less, per ton of carbon dioxide, than worst-case climate damages.

That’s it: end of economic story about evaluating climate policy. We don’t need more exact, accurate SCC estimates; they will not be forthcoming in time to shape policy, due to the uncertainties involved. Since estimated worst-case damages are rising over time, while abatement costs (such as the costs of renewables) are falling, the balance is tipping farther and farther toward “do everything you can, now.” That was already the correct answer some years ago, and only becomes more correct over time.

That’s not the end of this series of blog posts, however. Three more are coming, addressing three policy problems that arise in climate advocacy: how to talk about methane and natural gas; taxes versus cap and trade systems; and the role of equity and economic obstacles to climate policy.

 

Frank Ackerman is principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the founders of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

 

[1] See the Ackerman and Stanton article cited above for description of studies. Prices were reported in 2005 dollars; multiply by 1.29 to convert to 2018 dollars.

Kategorien: Blogs

The German Coal Commission fails to honor the Paris Agreement

Energiewende Blog - 11 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

The German Coal Commission has recommended that all coal be phased out by 2038. But this trajectory won’t be quick enough to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, says L. Michael Buchsbaum.

Lignite mining area Gazweiler in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (Public Domain)

Days after the Coal Commission announced their recommendations, the climate activist members of the group held their own press conference to criticize the 20-year exit plan, claiming that although well-intentioned, its slow pace will nevertheless violate Germany’s international climate targets.

A quarter of Germany’s installed coal power capacity will be shut down between 2019 and 2022; the path for the years 2023 to 2029 is much less clear.

(Chart: CarbonBrief)

“Neither the planned final exit date of 2038 nor the vague path until 2030 are sufficient for an adequate contribution to climate protection from the energy sector,” read a declaration by the commission members Martin Kaiser (Greenpeace), Kai Niebert (umbrella NGO DNR), Hubert Weiger (Friends of the Earth Germany, BUND) and Antje Grothus (Climate Alliance Germany/Buir for Buir).

Indeed in their dissenting vote, the four commission members rejected the otherwise agreed-upon timetable. Lamenting that the commission had missed an “opportunity to combine ambitious climate protection with future-proof regional and economic development,” they nevertheless voiced their support for the compromise in general because it broke “Germany’s climate policy stalemate of the past years” and because it creates a phase-out through 2022 while at least recommending the preservation of the still-embattled Hambach Forest.

In addition, the group argued that it is still urgently necessary to specify the exit path from 2023 to 2029. Rejecting both the “non-concrete path from 2023 and the late exit date” of 2038, they fear the lack of concrete planning will “prevent a cumulative CO2 reduction of the energy sector compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.” On the contrary, “cumulative CO2 emissions in the atmosphere [will be] far too high for Germany to contribute to limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees…In the interest of climate protection, an exit would be necessary by 2030.”

Not progress, but business as usual

Their fears are backed up by an analysis from think tank Carbon Brief which suggested that coal capacity would barely fall faster under the Commission’s plan than under a business-as-usual (BAU) pathway. The lignite and hard-coal-fired power stations slated for shutdown in the near term are already expected to retire.

In their analysis, they state that without cutting deeper into planned power plant emissions, Germany will “breach a Paris Agreement-compatible pathway by more than a billion tonnes of CO2.”

Of course, one of the main challenges is that coal currently supplies nearly two-fifths of German electricity, and has long been the backbone of its generation capacity.With the largest fleet of coal-fired power stations in Europe, Germany also has the fourth-largest fleet in the world, after China, the US and India.

(Chart: CarbonBrief)

The proposed phaseout timeline could actually break EU law: it breaches the deadline for EU coal power to be phased out, as shown in the International Energy Agency (IEA) “below 2C” pathway. Indeed, even an accelerated 2035 coal phaseout would only be roughly in line with the IEA’s 2C pathway, but not its “below 2C” scenario.

In total, the commission’s recommended timeline could prevent a cumulative 1.8bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) from entering the atmosphere compared to business as usual, but could still breach the “below 2C” pathway by some 1.3Gt CO2. The 2015 Paris Agreement significantly raised the bar with its target of limiting warming to “well-below 2C” above pre-industrial temperatures and, ideally, only 1.5C. The EU has pledged to raise its 2030 targets and indicated it could commit to a net-zero goal in the longer term.

Critically, according to Carbon Brief, it is only after 2030 that the coal commission’s proposal starts to significantly bend the curve away from business as usual. In other words, it is recommending that forced early coal plant closures mainly take place after 2030, some 12 years into the future. The designated pathway before then really isn’t that ambitious.

The way forward

This looming planning failure seems even more worrying given that in early February Germany finally officially acknowledged that it is also not making the envisioned progress on climate change that had been formerly planned. Though by 2020 Germany is expected to emit around 32% less greenhouse gases than in 1990, the government had previously pledged a reduction of at least 40%. While experts have known for years that Germany would not be able to fulfill these goals (originally set in 2007), the 40% reduction was meant to inspire other EU countries to set more ambitious targets.  Instead, Germany’s failure may now inspire other nations to also fail to hold to established emissions pledges. Indeed when combined with the underwhelming ambitions of the coal commission’s emissions recommendations, this admission should signal that Germany’s long-term strategies are simply not working as promised.

(Chart: CarbonBrief)

In announcing the new report, German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) called for more courage and commitment to climate policy. She reiterated that she would therefore come up with a law that makes compliance with the 2030 climate goals more binding, something also suggested by the Coal Commission’s environmentalist wing, but ultimately watered down in the final report. As it stands now, by 2030, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions are planned to be reduced by 55 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the Coal Commission’s findings, stating that “by 2038, we want to have exited coal,” adding that “unfortunately we still have too much brown coal.”

However, rather ominously, the chancellor then said that by exiting coal, Germany “will have to use more gas.” The dissenting green commission members and much of the environmental community instead hopes that the planned structural reforms and renewable energy expansion will once again “change the discussion within a few years.” But with fossil gas proving to be as potentially harmful as coal, is Merkel’s climate change solution simply to take Germany from the frying pan into the fire?

Kategorien: Blogs

On Buying Insurance, and Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis

Triple Crisis - 8 Februar, 2019 - 21:43

By Frank Ackerman

First in a series of posts on climate policy.  

The damages expected from climate change seem to get worse with each new study. Reports from the IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Research Project, and a multi-author review article in Science, all published in late 2018, are among the recent bearers of bad news. Even more continues to arrive in a swarm of research articles, too numerous to list here. And most of these reports are talking about not-so-long-term damages. Dramatic climate disruption and massive economic losses are coming in just a few decades, not centuries, if we continue along our present path of inaction. It’s almost enough to make you support an emergency program to reduce emissions and switch to a path of rapid decarbonization.

But wait: isn’t there something about economics we need to figure out first? Would drastic emission reductions pass a cost-benefit test? How do we know that we wouldn’t be spending too much on climate policy?

In fact, a crash program to decarbonize the economy is obviously the right answer. There are just a few things you need to know about the economics of climate policy, in order to confirm that Adam Smith and his intellectual heirs have not overturned common sense on this issue. Three key points are worth remembering.

Worst-case risks matter more than likely outcomes

For uncertain, extreme risks, policy should be based on the credible worst-case outcome, not the expected or most likely value. This is the way people think about insurance against disasters. The odds that your house won’t burn down next year are better than 99 percent – but you probably have fire insurance anyway. Likewise, young parents have more than a 99 percent chance of surviving the coming year, but often buy life insurance to protect their children.

Real uncertainty, of course, has nothing to do with the fake uncertainty of climate denial. In insurance terms, real uncertainty consists of not knowing when a house fire might occur; fake uncertainty is the (obviously wrong) claim that houses never catch fire. See my Worst-Case Economics for more detailed exploration of worst cases and (real) uncertainty, in both climate and finance.

For climate risks, worst cases are much too dreadful to ignore. What we know is that climate change could be very bad for us; but no one knows exactly how bad it will be or exactly when it will arrive. How likely are we to reach tipping points into an irreversibly worse climate, and when will these tipping points occur? As the careful qualifications in the IPCC and other reports remind us, climate change could be very bad, surprisingly soon, but almost no one is willing to put a precise number or date on the expected losses.

One group does rush in where scientists fear to tread, guessing about the precise magnitude and timing of future climate damages: economists engaged in cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Rarely used before the 1990s, CBA has become the default, “common-sense” approach to policy evaluation, particularly in environmental policy. In CBA-world you begin by measuring and monetizing the benefits, and the costs, of a policy – and then “buy” the policy if, and only if, the monetary value of the benefits exceeds the costs.

There are numerous problems with CBA, such as the need to (literally) make up monetary prices for priceless values of human life, health and the natural environment. In practice, CBA often trivializes the value of life and nature. Climate policy raises yet another problem: CBA requires a single number, such as a most likely outcome, best guess, or weighted average, for every element of costs (e.g. future costs of clean energy) and benefits (e.g. monetary value of future damages avoided by clean energy expenditures). There is no simple way to incorporate a wide range of uncertainty about such values into CBA. The second post in this series will look more deeply at economists’ misplaced precision about climate damages.

Costs of emission reduction are dropping fast

The insurance analogy is suggestive, but not a perfect fit for climate policy. There is no intergalactic insurance agency that can offer us a loaner planet to use while ours is towed back to the shop for repairs. Instead, we will have to “self-insure” against climate risks – the equivalent of spending money on fireproofing your house rather than relying on an insurance policy.

Climate self-insurance consists largely of reducing carbon emissions, in order to reduce future losses.[1] The one piece of unalloyed good news in climate policy today is the plummeting cost of clean energy. In the windiest and sunniest parts of the world (and the United States), new wind and solar power installations now produce electricity at costs equal to or lower than from fossil fuel-burning plants.

A 2017 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that this will soon be true worldwide: global average renewable energy costs will be within the range of fossil fuel-fired costs by 2020, with on-shore wind and solar photovoltaic panels at the low end of the range. Despite low costs for clean energy, many utilities will still propose to build fossil fuel plants, reflecting the inertia of traditional energy planning and the once-prudent wisdom of the cheap-fuel, pre-climate change era.

Super-low costs for renewables, which would have seemed like fantasies 10 years ago, are now driving the economics and the feasibility of plans for decarbonization. Many progressive Democrats have endorsed a “green new deal”, calling for elimination of fossil fuels, massive investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, and fairness in the distribution of jobs and opportunities.

Robert Pollin, an economist who has studied green new deal options, estimates that annual investment of about 1.5 percent of GDP would be needed. That’s about $300 billion a year for the United States, and four times as much, $1.2 trillion a year, for the world economy. Those numbers may sound large, but so are the fossil fuel subsidies and investments that the green new deal would eliminate.

In a 2015 study, my colleagues and I calculated that 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could be eliminated by 2050, with no net increase in energy or transportation costs. Since that time, renewables have only gotten cheaper. (Our result does not necessarily contradict Pollin’s estimate, since the last 20 percent of emissions will be the hardest and most expensive to eliminate.)

These projections of future costs are inevitably uncertain, because the future has not happened yet. The risks, however, do not appear dangerous or burdensome. So far, the surprises on the cost side have been unexpectedly rapid decreases in renewable energy prices. These are not the risks that require rethinking our approach to climate policy.

Costs of not reducing emissions may be disastrously large

The disastrous worst-case risks are all on the benefits, or avoided climate damages, side of the ledger. The scientific uncertainties about climate change concern the timing and extent of damages. Therefore, the urgency of avoiding these damages, or conversely the cost of not avoiding them, is intrinsically uncertain, and could be disastrously large.

It has become common, among economists, to estimate the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), defined as the monetary value of the present and future climate damages per ton of carbon dioxide or equivalent. This is where the pick-a-number imperative of cost-benefit analysis introduces the greatest distortion: huge uncertainties in damages should naturally translate into huge uncertainties in the SCC, not a single point estimate.

Frank Ackerman is principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the founders of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

The next post in this series will examine the debates about the SCC, showing that there are indeed large uncertainties in its value, no matter how inconvenient that may be for economists and their models.

[1] Adaptation, or expenditure to reduce vulnerability to climate damages, is also important but may not be effective beyond the early stages of warming. And some adaptation costs are required to cope with warming that can no longer be avoided – that is, they have become sunk costs, not present or future policy choices.

Kategorien: Blogs

Dead lakes, dry holes: RWE’s post-mining plans threatened by climate change

Energiewende Blog - 8 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

RWE is digging the biggest hole in Europe for dirty lignite – and they don’t have a working plan to deal with the consequences, says L. Michael Buchsbaum.

RWE’s plans for land cleanup after mining are shockingly irresponsible (Photo by Ende Gelände, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last year’s record reduced water flowing through Germany’s Rhine River should be setting off alarm bells for myriad reasons. Ever-worsening climate change is reducing precipitation in its Swiss headwaters, suggesting that this year’s “low water event” will not be uncommon going forward.

This water scarcity will also have a major impact on the future of the three giant open pit lignite mines in the Rhineland coalfields west of Cologne. The pits are owned by RWE, which must now realize how preposterous its long-term recultivation plans are when faced with climate change-induced droughts.

Impacts of lignite mining

Put together, the Hambach, Garzweiler and Inden mines produce around 100 million tons of filthy lignite annually, which is fed into three nearby RWE owned power plant complexes. These plants are some of the most toxic emitters in Europe, the source of some 75 million tons of annual CO2 emissions.

While opposition to coal mining and burning has increased, international media has mainly focused on the continuing clashes around the embattled Hambach Forest or the looming destruction of several villages dotted around the growing surface mines. Most people don’t know that RWE’s plans for land cleanup after mining are shockingly irresponsible.

Producing over 40 million tons of lignite per year, the Hambach is the largest mine in Germany. Uncovering all that lignite requires miners to displace another 220 to 250 million square meters of “overburden” or soil, most of which is dumped nearby. Over 85 square kilometers in size and with mining operations in the pit over 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the surface, the Hambach is both the deepest and largest hole in Europe.

The German Great Lakes

But what’s to be done with the giant Hambach hole once mining is complete? RWE plans to turn it into a vast lake over 4200 hectares in size and up to 400 meters deep.

To fill it, the company will require a volume of over 3.6 billion cubic meters of water to be diverted from rivers over a period of at least 40 years, most likely through 2100.

However, the future artificial lake may be further enlarged if officials permit RWE to also flood the nearby Inden open pit mine as well as the older Bergheim pit. Either way, the planned “Lake Hambach” would become the deepest and, after Lake Constance, the second largest lake in Germany.

It won’t be the only mammoth new water body in the area.

Several kilometers away sits the currently expanding Garzweiler mine. When production there ends, also in the 2040s, RWE is planning to create Garzweiler Lake stretching across a 2,300 hectare surface area with waters over 200 meters deep. For this, the company plans to fill it up with another 60 million cubic meters of water per year, also over a 40-year period (roughly 2.4 billion cubic meters).

Beyond then, even after the lake reaches a planned water level of 65 meters above sea level, it will still need to be topped up annually with another 25 million cubic meters more of Rhine water in order to offset outgoing flow losses from years of RWE’s drilling into the Earth and disturbing the natural ground water table in the area.

RWE has no idea what they’re doing

Since the 1980s, RWE has “recultivated” much of the area by planting millions of trees, many of which populate the otherwise desert-like slopes of the largest artificial hill in Germany, the Sophienhöhe, sitting adjacent to and comprised of soil and dirt that was once inside the Hambach mine. However, polluted water run-off from this and other spoil heaps located directly beside the envisioned lakes will likely acidify them, fouling the diverted Rhine water and rendering the new lakes lifeless for decades to come as well as unsafe for most recreational activities. Though RWE and other companies proudly show off similar (albeit much smaller) artificial lakes–the largest only being only around 100 hectares–as positive post-mining land uses, experts admit that much of the “lake” water is unhealthy and humans should limit their recreational activities.

In addition, it’s not even clear if RWE will be able to get the water to fill the holes: diversions of this size have never been attempted before. And given that the Rhine River is now regularly flowing lower than usual, it’s also unsure where this water will even come from. It sounds almost like a cruel joke: the water needed to fill in these enormous pits is getting scarcer, due to climate change exacerbated by the reckless burning of lignite.

Finally, by flooding the mines, any potential for “standard” renewable energy to be built within these vast spaces will be eliminated unless expensive floating wind or solar farms are constructed. But even if RWE simply back-fills them with the removed earth, that’s not enough to allow renewable energy redevelopment. Once excavated and replaced, the uncompacted soil “swells” the land, rendering future wind-farming challenging as turbines cannot be safely anchored. That requires more expensive additional steps—as we will discuss in another post.

As ludicrous as these schemes are, beyond filling the pits with Rhine water, there doesn’t seem to be a Plan B. Nevertheless, RWE and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia insists that the mines should continue to be expanded for decades to come, seemingly unconcerned with what to do with the gaping holes once all that coal is removed.

Kategorien: Blogs

Das nennt man wohl Green Talk – Schweizer Banken finanzieren CO2

Klima der Gerechtigkeit - 8 Februar, 2019 - 11:12

Ein Gastbeitrag von Yvonne Anliker, Mediensprecherin Greenpeace Schweiz

Die zwei Schweizer Großbanken Credit Suisse und die UBS finanzieren eine Menge CO2: Durch die Geschäftsbeziehungen mit «nur» 47 Unternehmen haben die Banken zwischen 2015 und 2017 insgesamt 182,9 Millionen Tonnen Treibhausgasemissionen verantwortet. Allein 2017 finanzierten die Credit Suisse und die UBS 93,9 Millionen Tonnen Treibhausgasemissionen – das sind doppelt so viele, wie die Schweiz in einem Jahr verursacht. Klimaschutz sieht definitiv anders aus!

Die beiden Schweizer Großbanken Credit Suisse und UBS sind nicht nur gut darin, Geld arbeiten zu lassen. Sie wissen auch, wie man sich mit Worten ein gutes Image verpasst. «Als globales Finanzinstitut anerkennt die Credit Suisse ihren Teil der Verantwortung bei der Bekämpfung des Klimawandels durch die Unterstützung des Übergangs zu einer kohlenstoffarmen und klimaresistenten Wirtschaft und trägt dem Klimaschutz auf mehreren Ebenen Rechnung», heißt es etwa auf der Website der Credit Suisse . Auch die UBS geizt nicht mit großen Worten: «Die Welt und die Werte bewahren», steht da. Und «Die umfassende Klimawandelstrategie von UBS legt den Fokus auf die vielen Möglichkeiten zur Unterstützung des Übergangs zu einer CO₂-armen Wirtschaft.»

Diesen Worten Glauben zu schenken und sie nicht einfach als leeres Geschwätz und als ausgeklügelte Öffentlichkeitsarbeit abzutun, fällt schwer. Bislang haben die Credit Suisse und die UBS in keiner Weise Anlass zur Hoffnung gegeben, dass sie wirklich dazu bereit sind, wirkungsvolle Maßnahmen für einen starken Klimaschutz zu ergreifen. Es ist gar zu bezweifeln, ob die zwei Großbanken tatsächlich die Weltgemeinschaft bei der Erreichung des in Paris verabschiedeten Ziels, die Erderhitzung auf deutlich unter 2 Grad und möglichst 1,5 Grad zu beschränken, unterstützen wollen.

Nicht zuletzt deshalb, weil Greenpeace Schweiz jüngst aufzeigen konnte, dass die Credit Suisse und die UBS nach wie vor stark in das Geschäft mit Unternehmen im Bereich fossiler Brennstoffe involviert sind. Die zwei Großbanken stellten von 2015 bis 2017 insgesamt 12,3 Milliarden US-Dollar für 47 Unternehmen bereit, die besonders dreckige, so genannte extreme fossile Brennstoffe, nutzbar machen. Dazu zählen Kohle, Öl aus Teersanden, aus der Arktis und der Tiefsee sowie Flüssiggas (LNG).

Greenpeace Schweiz ließ die aus diesen Finanzierungen resultierenden Emissionen von ISS-Ethix aus Zürich berechnen und vom Datenanbieter right. based on science aus Frankfurt auswerten. Der Bericht zeigt, dass die beiden Großanken in den Jahren 2015, 2016 und 2017 mit den 12,3 Milliarden US-Dollar total 182,9 Millionen Tonnen Treibhausgasemissionen finanzierten. Die Credit Suisse war für mehr als zwei Drittel davon verantwortlich.

Im betrachteten Zeitraum war das Jahr 2017 besonders schädlich für das Klima: Zwei Jahre nach der Verabschiedung des Pariser Klimaabkommens finanzierten die zwei Großbanken über die untersuchten 47 Unternehmen 93,9 Millionen Tonnen Treibhausgasemissionen. Das sind rund doppelt so viele Emissionen wie die Schweiz im Inland in einem Jahr verursacht. Die Credit Suisse trug dabei mit 82,6 Millionen Tonnen weitaus am meisten zum klimaschädlichen Geschäft bei.

Statt also – wie mit blumigen Worten beschrieben – eine aktive und führende Rolle im Übergang zu einer kohlenstoffarmen Wirtschaft zu übernehmen, befeuern die Credit Suisse und die UBS den Klimawandel.

Das nennt man wohl Green-Talk!

 

Hinweis:

Der Begriff „extreme fossile Brennstoffe“ bezeichnet nicht-konventionelle Kohlenwasserstoffe, wie extremes Öl (Teersand, arktisches und Tiefsee-Öl), verflüssigtes Erdgas (LNG), Kohleabbau und Kohlekraftwerke. Diese Auswahl an fossilen Brennstoffen basiert auf den Berichten der Carbon Tracker Initiative, die Öl- und Gasprojekte mit dem höchsten finanziellen Risiko identifizierte, wenn es gelingen soll, die Klimaerwärmung deutlich unter 2-Grad zu halten. Auch der gesamte Kohlesektor wird wegen seiner Unvereinbarkeit mit der Klimastabilität und den gravierenden Auswirkungen auf Umwelt, Gesundheit und Menschenrechte einbezogen.

 

Weiterführende Links:

Medienmitteilung von Greenpeace Schweiz https://www.greenpeace.ch/medienmitteilungen/schweizer-grossbanken-finanzieren-treibhausgasemissionen-im-grossen-stil/

Das Factsheet «Schweizer Banken und die von ihnen finanzierten Emissionen» https://www.greenpeace.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Finanzierte_Emissionen_Greenpeace_FactSheet.pdf

Kategorien: Blogs

The Green New Deal Lives in the U.S.

Energiewende Blog - 7 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

There’s real momentum on the Democrats’ left to launch the green blueprint into America’s mainstream. It’s not a completely crazy idea, says Paul Hockenos.

The GND could create millions of jobs that would facilitate a just, rapid transition to 100% renewable energy (Public Domain)

Part one of three: read part one here.

It surprised no one more than the European authors of the original Green New Deal (GND) (see Part I) when U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and then his campaign manager, now U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, started pushing a sweeping, one-trillion-dollar Green New Deal investment plan over a ten-year period. The GND, they and environmental NGOs claimed, could create millions of good-paying jobs that would facilitate a just, rapid transition to 100% renewable energy – and in the timeline we need to avert the worst of climate change. And then, last year, in a matter of months, 45 U.S. congressmen and women, as well as hundreds of civil-society groups, signed onto the blueprint for environmental modernization.

“Suddenly ‘bang!’ it reappeared out of nowhere,” says Colin Hines, a British environmental activist and member of the Green New Deal Group, a small London-based NGO that helped draft the original GND in 2008 and has since campaigned for it, largely though without a lot of resonance. (“At the moment, it’s very hard to get any time at all to talk about anything other than Brexit,” Hines told me.)

Now, though, it’s on the front burner again – in the U.S. In December, at an event with Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez elaborated on the GND and said: “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation.” “The Green New Deal is one of the most interesting—and strategic—left-wing policy interventions from the Democratic Party in years,“ gushed The Atlantic magazine late last year.

The Americans’ eleven-page “Plan for a Green New Deal” is currently at the center of a campaign led by the Sunrise Movement, an activist group composed of young people concerned about the environment; the Democrat signatories in Congress; and groups like Bill McKibbens’s dynamic, climate-protection organization 350.org. The GND is, in its own words, a plan “to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the U.S. economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.“

The plan includes lots of the points and language of the British, UN, and EU Greens’ versions of a decade ago (AOC’s people met with the Hines’s UK GND group in early 2018), but it is no facsimile of those takes nor is it a finished product. Rather it’s a work in progress that dozens of grassroots groups and citizens will hammer into shape over the course of the year. The Plan for a Green New Deal currently entails:

  • dramatically expanding existing renewable power sources and deploying new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources;
  • building a national, energy-efficient, smart grid;
  • upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
  • eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country;
  • eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water;
  • funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases;
  • making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the U.S., with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

A wish list? The minimum necessary, say its authors, to keep temperatures rising beyond 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before 2100, the goal of the 2015 UN Paris treaty.

The Europeans with some experience under their belt said the U.S. plan looks good: “It covers all three main pillars,” says German Green Sven Giegold, one of the original manifesto’s authors. He argues that it does three things by addressing social concerns, namely job creation and government intervention for low-income people; environmental transformation, in the creation of a low-carbon economy; and the financial world as an enabler for business and industry to prosper. “Everyone has to win, to see something in it for them so that the program can gain acceptance across party and income lines,” says Giegold.

The GND’s first foray into the mainstream of the Democratic Party actually failed. In November 2018 and then on Jan. 17 this year more than 100 young people joined sit-ins at the offices of House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill. The group delivered thousands of petition signatures demanding that the Democrats support a Green New Deal. This did not happen but Nancy Pelosi promised to create a special new committee to examine climate change called Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The Sunrise Movement said that it saw the setback as unfortunate but at least a first step.

”We will make it clear to all politicians that if they want the votes of young people, they need to back the Green New Deal,” said Sunrise organizers. On February 5, hubs and homes across the country will host livestream watch parties to tune into a Sunrise livestream detailing the 2019 GND vision. Anyone can host a party to grow the movement and go forward with the 2019 GND strategy.

Of course, the GND has to catch on beyond college students and life-long liberals to make reality out of it. The idea – to get it on the Democratic platform in 2020 for the national campaigns – is a goal worth pursuing, a real chance. With a Democratic congress and Democratic president, yeah cross your fingers …. suddenly, bang, it becomes possible.

Kategorien: Blogs

The end of Buen Vivir? Ecuador plans oil extraction in Yasuní National Park

Energiewende Blog - 6 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorean Amazon, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, was a beacon of hope for conservationism and environmental governance. But it seems that the government is now planning to allow oil drilling in the Amazon, says Maximiliano Proaño.

Did the sustainable approach of the ecuadorian “buen vivir” fail to save the national biodiversity? (Public Domain)

Current president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, is doing a similar bait-and-switch move. Although he promised to protect the Amazon, a draft Presidential Decree was leaked in November 2018 that revealed government plans to allow oil drilling in the buffer zone of a protected area established for the Tagaeri-Taromenane which until now has been off limits to drilling.

Yasuní: leaving oil in the ground

Yasuní was once an example for global conservation. The Yasuní-ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) Initiative consisted of leaving the oil underground in a part of Yasuní National Park.

In 2007, former president Rafael Correa offered to leave the oil in the ground in return for $3.6bn compensation from the global community. This money was to be invested in renewable energy, protection of biodiversity, and conservation of 44 protected areas. With this project, which was linked to the National Plan for Living Well (Buen Vivir), Ecuador was moving toward a post-petroleum-based society and the pursuit of better living standards. However, in 2013 the plan was scrapped by Correa´s government on the grounds that the international community had not paid enough to compensate Ecuador.

Activists fight to preserve the park

A number of environmental groups emerged in response to the threat to Yasuní. One of them, Yasunidos invoked the right to a popular consultation. To do this, they had to collect signatures corresponding to 5% of the electorate. If the group was able to do so, this would have put the question of whether to leave oil beneath Yasuní National Park permanently in the ground before all Ecuadorian voters.

On April 12, 2014, the deadline for the collection ended. According to the members of Yasunidos, 780,000 signatures were delivered. Weeks later, the National Electoral Council – an institutional figure in charge of data verification – validated only 360,000, which were not enough to bring the cause to public consultation. Therefore, President Correa announced in August 2014 that the drilling would go forward.

But this was on the basis of a lie: in November 2018, a National Election Council investigation revealed that the Ecuadorian government fraudulently rejected hundreds of thousands of signatures gathered during the 2014 referendum. In other words, the decision to start drilling is based on a subvention of democracy.

The second phase of the controversial Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) project, started in 2016, has triggered fierce criticism from conservationists and civil society organizations.

At Tambococha-2, Petroamazonas planned to build four platforms and drill almost 100 wells. The company insists it will do so unobtrusively by concentrating drilling in a small area, burying pipes and putting in place precautions against spills. But environmental groups say it is impossible to guarantee zero impact on such a biologically sensitive area. New roads and workers are likely to accelerate deforestation, and it’s a threat for two isolated nomadic tribes of the area.

A muddled way forward

For a while, it seemed that the Amazon would stay safe: President Moreno promised the United Nations he would do more to protect the environment, and a successful 2018 referendum would have expanded the protected areas for nomadic tribes and reduce the amount of the Amazon accessible for drilling.

In addition, Ecuador’s Hydrocarbon Minister Carlos Pérez unexpectedly announced in November 2018 that an oil auction planned for the end of 2018 would be reduced from the original sixteen blocks to two.

However, it seems that the Amazon will yet again come under attack. The leaked draft of the Presidential Decree would allow oil drilling in a formerly protected zone. And, Pérez claimed that the two blocks which will be auctioned (86 and 87) do not have any indigenous people. But the two blocks, located along the Peruvian border, overlap with the titled territory of the Sapara, Shiwiar, and Kichwa nations, and Tagaeri-Taromenane sightings have been reported there.

The draft decree would expand the protected area where there is less evidence of isolated peoples and allow drilling in the buffer zone. According to U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, “The decision to proceed with oil extraction in Yasuní’s buffer zone could produce a grave and unpredictable impacts on peoples living in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the region.”

Amazon communities and Yasunidos have declared that the exploitation of oil block 87-south-east, would destroy what we have left of the Yasuni national park completing the “ring of death” and provoke the genocide of the isolated villages Tagaeri Taromenane.

Paradoxically, this conflict comes a decade after the Ecuadorian 2008 Constitution, which was seen as a new paradigm of indigenous rights and rights for nature. It was meant to protect sensitive ecosystems from “activities that could lead to species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems, or the permanent alteration of natural cycles.”  Perhaps Mr Pérez and Mr Moreno should have another look at Ecuador’s founding document.

 

Kategorien: Blogs

Bundesregierung zu „Negativen-Emissions-Technologien“: grundlegende Risiken und in ihrem Potential überschätzt

Klima der Gerechtigkeit - 5 Februar, 2019 - 14:39

Die Bundesregierung positioniert sich in ihrer Antwort auf die Kleine Anfrage der FDP zum Status Quo von CO2-Entnahmetechnologien (also: Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), eine Form von Geoengineering) erstaunlich kritisch in Bezug auf weitere Erforschung und den perspektivischen Einsatz von CDR-Technologien. So schreibt die Bundesregierung:

Vorliegende Studien zu einzelnen Ansätzen der CO2-Entnahme, die in der Regel auf Modellannahmen basieren, verweisen auf grundlegende, teils erhebliche Risiken sowie auf vielfach noch ungeprüfte Annahmen hinsichtlich ihrer Realisierbarkeit. (…) Auch Aspekte wie Akzeptanz und internationale Abstimmung (Governance) sowie ethische und rechtliche Fragen sind vielfach ungeklärt.

Die FDP hat sich jüngst vermehrt in die Debatte rund um Geoengineering eingemischt – siehe hier, hier und hier) – mit Positionen, die klar im Pro-Lager angesiedelt sind.

Die Bundesregierung stellt klar, in ihrer Klimapolitik nicht auf CDR-Technologien setzen zu wollen:

Aus Sicht der Bundesregierung besteht aktuell keine ausreichende Wissensgrundlage, um eine Bewertung hinsichtlich der Erprobung und Anwendung von CDR-Technologien, bzw. einer Rolle bei der Bewältigung des Klimawandels vorzunehmen.

Auch in den Klimaschutz-Szenarien der EU-Kommission, so die Bundesregierung, spielen CDR-Technologien eine sehr geringe Rolle.

In der Antwort wird außerdem darauf hingewiesen, dass die Angaben von technischen oder theoretischen Potentialen mit Vorsicht zu genießen seien: Sie würden die bestehenden regulatorischen, sozialen, ökonomischen und ökologischen Einschränkungen nicht immer ausreichend Rechnung tragen – damit sind bspw. Nutzungskonkurrenzen, Genehmigungsfähigkeit, die Verfügbarkeit von Energie und Rohstoffen und die öffentliche Akzeptanz.

Die Größenordnungen der sozioökonomisch und ökologisch vertretbaren Potenziale sollten jedoch nicht überschätzt werden.

Die Bundesregierung stellt außerdem klar, keine Projekte zur Erforschung oder Verwendung im Globalen Süden zu betreiben, auch nicht im Rahmen ihrer Entwicklungszusammenarbeit.

Soweit, so gut. Besonders positiv fällt jedoch die Vorabbemerkung der Bundesregierung gleich zu Beginn des Antwortschreibens auf, in dem sie eine Haltung einnimmt, die weit progressiver ausfällt als die Mainstream-Lesart des 1,5°C-Berichts des IPCC:

Der IPCC-Sonderbericht über 1,5 Grad globale Erwärmung stellt fest, dass negative Emissionen (Carbon Dioxide Removal, CDR) höchstwahrscheinlich notwendig sein werden, um die internationalen Klimaziele zu erreichen. Allerdings sind damit nicht zwingend technische Maßnahmen zur CO2 -Entnahme aus der Atmosphäre gemeint. Der IPCC-Sonderbericht umfasst auch modellierte Emissionspfade, die das 1,5 Grad-Ziel einhalten und dabei ohne BECCS und andere technische CDR-Maßnahmen auskommen. In diesen modellierten Pfaden können die jeweils notwendigen negativen Emissionen auch durch ökosystembasierte Ansätze erreicht werden.

Neben Emissionsreduktionen aus fossilen Quellen will die Bundesregierung vor allem auf ökosystembasierte Maßnahmen setzen. Dabei sollte sie sich unbedingt an den Empfehlungen des CLARA-Netzwerks („Missing Pathways to 1.5°C“) und von Greenpeace (Waldvision) orientieren, die auf biodiverse, komplexe Wald- und andere Ökosysteme setzen statt auf die Aufforstung von Monokulturen.

Aber auch hier ist klar: Mit einem industriefreundlichen, viel zu späten und viel zu trägen Kohleausstieg in 2038 wird uns auch die CO2-Bindung in Ökosystemen nicht retten – geschweige denn der Einsatz von Geoengineering-Technologien, die von der fossilen Industrie (und der FDP) favorisiert werden.

#RadicalRealism muss daher heißen: Nein zu Geoengineering, und Ja zum sofortigen Kohleausstieg!

Beitrag von Linda Schneider

Kategorien: Blogs

How can the Western Balkans and Ukraine transition to clean energy?

Energiewende Blog - 4 Februar, 2019 - 15:00

The success of the energy transition in the Western Balkans and Ukraine is a question of political will in those countries. But the EU can help set up the conditions for a successful modernization, writes Robert Sperfeld.

Supporting energy efficiency should remain a top priority of EU’s technical and financial support mechanisms (Public Domain)

Insights from a discussion in the European Parliament on 22 November 2018

Unbearable pollution from coal

In Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a forty-year-old thermal power plant is missing filters for desulphurization and other pollution control instruments. Ashes containing heavy metals are disposed openly and contaminate air, soil and water. The burden for health of the local population is huge, causing tens of millions in additional expenditure in the health system.

This painful example makes it clear that many years of various action plans and transposition of EU legislation on energy and environment did not make a difference on the ground. To be sure that rules are enforced, societies need to establish rule of law and functioning state institutions. Development depends on governance and democratic control of authorities and their independence from commercial interests of corporations. The efforts to win the green transition have to be related to this broader context.

A lack of political will

At the same time, however, the political will of leading decision makers is often lacking. According to Mirjana Jovanović of the NGO Belgrade Open School, coal remains a central pillar in the long-term vision for the Serbian energy supply; the Serbian government even convened in an open pit lignite mine as a PR stunt to support coal industry.

Significant subsidies for fossil industries are in place. In such a situation a Green energy transition cannot just be imposed from outside, as Aleksandar Macura of the Serbian think tank RES Foundation underlined. European policy instruments and institutions like the European Energy Community and its Secretariat in Vienna could not replace national development strategies. Transition efforts need public and political support in the respective countries, so education and information campaigns on climate change and economic opportunities of decarbonization need to remain a priority.

Looking to Germany, Poland or Greece it becomes clear that this is not an issue of Western Balkan or Eastern European countries alone. It requires also holistic approaches taking into account social consequences for regions and towns most affected by such changes in the structure of the economy.

What is the point of the European Energy Community?

It is worthwhile to recall the context in which the European Energy Community was set up back in 2005. After the terribly bloody disintegration of former Yugoslavia, its mission to facilitate energy security and social stability was very much seen as a tool to re-build mutual trust, solidarity and peace in the region.

Listening to the rhetoric of current nationalist political elites in the Western Balkans one might conclude that a lot remains to be done in this respect. The good news is that the transition towards a sustainable energy system has so much to offer for this purpose.

First, energy reforms are about human rights and livelihood. Introducing clean energy enable local communities to engage in energy supply on their own. In addition, investments into efficiency help fight widespread energy poverty. The energy transition can contribute to improving quality of life, social stability and economic perspectives for the region, reducing the welfare gap between the EU and its neighbours.

Second, regional cooperation in the electricity sector would bring economic benefits for the involved countries of around 270 million Euros annually, says Janez Kopač, head of the Energy Community Secretariat in Vienna. National markets alone are too small to balance demand peaks and fluctuations in generation from renewables and to maintain reserve capacities in a cost efficient way. Market integration within the region and with EU countries will create benefits and pave the way for further integration.

What can the EU do to support the transition?

The Energy Community Treaty is actually an extremely important tool and mechanism for partnership with the Balkans and Ukraine. Without the Energy Community and the work of its Secretariat most member countries’ energy sectors would be weaker and certainly no less carbon intensive.

As Iryna Holovko from the Ukrainian NGO Ecoaction confirmed in her presentation on progress of energy sector reforms, in case of Ukraine the Energy Community treaty in line with the EU association agreement were the most important drivers of energy sector reforms. Technical and legal support from the Secretariat is highly competent.

However, the role of the Energy Community is limited. On the one hand, it has little influence on the internal factors in the member countries with regard to rule of law issues and public support. On the other hand, it depends on the EU to set the right conditions for its work and on the commitment of the EU and its member countries to give the energy transition agenda the necessary political weight in the relations with the respective partner countries.

In contrast, the European Commission and the member states have a broader range of instruments to engage with governments and societies to foster good governance and to support activities conducive to the transition agenda on the level of communities, businesses, education, and civil society.

But also within the framework of the Energy Community Treaty, the European Commission as the key party to the Treaty needs to act more proactively. The Treaty requires new tools to ensure implementation of rules and compliance with the related acquis. Instruments of other branches of the Commission such as the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) should be more closely linked to progress in the implementation of the Energy Community agenda.

Furthermore, the European Commission should do more to close the legal gap between the EU countries and the Energy Community. Without making more parts of the acquis mandatory also for the Energy Community countries there are no effective incentives to phase out dirty and carbon intensive generation capacities.

The Commission should push for a full-scale inclusion of the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package into the Energy Community Treaty. As a first step, the Coal Regions in Transition Platform and its funding instruments can be opened for the partner countries in order to promote discussion about a just transition. This would send strong messages to those governments and investors that plan new fossil capacities.

Supporting energy efficiency should remain a top priority of EU’s technical and financial support mechanisms. Potential is huge: efficiency strengthens competitiveness, reduces fuel costs and negative externalities from generation.

While the EU offers significant support to interconnectivity of grids and markets, it must be careful that the infrastructure does not serve the export interests of particular fossil or nuclear companies thus impeding the transition towards more sustainable energies. This is the case for example with the planned transmission line from the Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant Khmelnytskyi to Poland.

In order to strengthen local development and to create higher acceptance for renewables, the EU should encourage citizen energy projects. In addition, the EU can pressure countries to establish more reliable framework conditions and set up financial instruments to encourage investments in renewable energy.

A rapid expansion of renewables is needed to replace old, polluting coal power plants with their devastating effects on health and environment. The EU holds the key to presenting viable alternatives quickly and helping the Balkans and Ukraine on their transition path.

Robert Sperfeld is Senior Program Officer for Eastern and Southeastern Europe at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.

Kategorien: Blogs

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