Aug 092017

The Africa LEDS Partnership (AfLP), in collaboration with the LEDS GP Energy Working Group (EWG), hosted the inaugural meeting for the new Africa Mini-grids Community of Practice (AMG-CoP) a day before the ninth Africa Carbon Forum commenced in Cotonou, Benin. The formation of the AMG-CoP is in response to the AfLP membership identifying mini-grid systems as a priority action area for the design of low-emissions development strategies.

Mini-grids present one of the most economical opportunities to achieving universal access to electricity. However, there are several multifaceted challenges to unlocking and catalysing investment into commercial and small scale mini-grids, most notably developing an enabling regulatory environment.

The AMG-CoP has been conceptualised as a country driven initiative, with the inaugural meeting serving as a starting point for countries to identify common challenges and barriers, agree on the priority areas for further development and share lessons and strategies for addressing mini-grid development and rural electrification. Key priorities identified at the meeting include governance and policy for an enabling regulatory environment, business models and unlocking finance for mini-grid development.

The EWG and AfLP are acting as “co-pilots” and have designed a conceptual framework that provides guidance and flexibility to a country-driven, peer-to-peer learning and collaboration platform. The inauguration workshop saw ten African countries convene to discuss the pertinence of mini-grids to their respective countries and national priorities, and formed a close-knit group of peers that will build on this relationship moving forward.

The AMG-CoP will convene for the second time at the AfLP Annual Event, and interested parties, including State and non-State actors, are encouraged to contact the AfLP Secretariat for further information on how to get involved.


Nov 242016

WW Color Logo_Green BlueWorldwatch’s Alexander Ochs met with Dr. Devon Gardner during the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Week 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Devon is Programme Manager for Energy and Head of the Energy Unit at the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). He is also a member of the preparatory team of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE). In this interview, Devon gives us an update on where the Caribbean region stands one year after the release of Worldwatch’s pivotal Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS) Baseline Report and Assessment.

Thank you for taking the time during busy days here in Berlin. You have an important job. What gets you out of bed each morning?

What gets me out of bed is that I want to see a better quality of life for Caribbean people. Every day, I work to bring us incrementally closer to improving the energy situation in the region so that it can build the basis for improved economic resilience and better opportunities for social advancement. Continue reading »

Jamaica’s Climate Change Fight Fuels Investments in Renewables

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Jan 292016

By Zadie Neufvillelogo-IPS

KINGSTON, Jan 18 2016 (IPS) – By year’s end, Jamaica will add 115 mega watts (MW) of renewable capacity to the power grid, in its quest to reduce energy costs and diversify the energy mix in electricity generation to 30 per cent by 2030. With 90 per cent of its electricity coming from fossil fuels, the government is committed to reducing the country’s carbon emissions by increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewables from 9 per cent now, to 15 per cent by 2020. (…)

WorldWatch Institute’s Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica 2013 stated that increasing the number of households using solar water heaters, could save an additional 75 to 100 GWh of electricity per year. It concluded that there was a need to create a “smooth transition” to a sustainable and economically viable energy system. (…)

Alexander Ochs, Worldwatch’s Director of Climate and Energy confirmed the report’s findings, noting that Jamaica’s “entire electricity demand could be met with renewable resources” from solar and wind energy. The public sector has already begun its own programme of retrofitting and energy reduction strategies that is said to be saving millions of dollar in expenditure at government agencies and institutions.

Worldwatch noted that investments of roughly 6 billion dollars could increase the contribution of renewables to Jamaica’s electricity production to 93 per cent by 2030, while significantly slashing energy costs. So armed with feasibility studies that points to the possibility for hydropower development along six rivers, Robinson is setting his sights on the road ahead, and another 26MW of power in the very near future.

Find full article here: Jamaica’s Climate Change Fight Fuels Investments in Renewables _ Inter Press Service

Tips for living green in 2016

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Jan 112016

January 10th 2016 NationalObserver_160111

In December global leaders met in Paris to hammer out an agreement to try and hold global warming to a 1.5 Celsius degree rise in temperature. But while we hold our elected officials responsible for greenhouse gas emission reductions, what can we and what do we do ourselves to contribute to that goal? National Observer asked a number of experts for tips on how you can reduce your personal carbon footprint. (…)

Alexander Ochs, senior director of climate and energy for Worldwatch Institute, questions the ideal of the typical North American, two-garage home with a large lawn. “Is it really worth the two hours commute you do every day to get to your workplace?” he rhetorically asks. Continue reading »


Dec 052015

Alexander Ochs, published as Worldwatch Institute blog

Many of us still remember the images from the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which was launched as “Hopenhagen” with great expectations and concluded in the “Flopenhagen” fiasco: the disappointment of freezing environmentalists lining up in front of the Bella Convention Center; the desperate faces of exhausted negotiators; the Danish sherpas trying to argue small successes in the summit’s failure.

But America’s political superstars would not succeed if they didn’t manage to emerge as winners, even in moments of defeat. U.S. president Barack Obama somehow thwarted the image of Europeans marked by the poor results of months of negotiations. Obama flew in to Copenhagen by helicopter, cut through the icy Scandinavian winds toward the conference venue, and assembled those around him whom he decided were the chosen few.

It is this other image that we conjure up when remembering Copenhagen: the U.S. president, with his sleeves rolled up, surrounded by the representatives of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. The message: “We saved what could be saved.” But to anyone familiar enough with the negotiations to look behind the façade, this image actually showed those who had sabotaged the ambitious plans of Europeans and their coalition of “more willing but less mighty.” The picture was deceptive: What was rescued was not the climate, the environment, or sustainable development, but a minimal consensus to continue talking. After that, the world became relatively silent on climate diplomacy. But the talking did continue, and it led to much more progress than could have been expected shortly after Copenhagen.

Continue reading »


Nov 302015

COP21.logoWorldwatch will contribute to the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) starting in Paris, France today by advising governmental delegations, participating in high-level consultations, and speaking at conferences for the general public. We invite you to follow these events as they unfold, either with us in Paris or through our blog and Twitter account.

“The Paris climate summit has all the ingredients to make history: an almost universal understanding of the urgency to act, an agreement on the final document within reach, and governments worldwide determined to act,” says Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy and Worldwatch’s head of delegation.

“A quarter century after the world embarked on protecting the atmosphere, we are closer than ever to making real change happen. Paris can alter the way we generate and consume energy; manufacture goods; produce our food and treat our forests and peatlands; run our transport systems; respond to the ecosystem changes already underway; and, maybe most importantly, work together across borders when confronted with problems of global scale,” says Ochs. “Let’s seize this opportunity!”

Worldwatch will be among the international civil society organizations at the COP21 that will lead in debates and discussions about solutions to climate change. Check out our event lineup below and keep an eye on this critical moment.

Continue reading »

Climate and population are linked — but maybe not the way you thought

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Jan 242015


gristBy  and , Grist, 24 January 2015

It’s not a topic that comes up in high-level international negotiations on climate change. Yet who would disagree that when individuals and couples use modern contraception to plan childbearing according to a schedule that suits them, they tend to have fewer children than they would otherwise? Could it be that this aspect of family planning, multiplied hundreds of millions of times, might lessen the severity of human-caused climate change and boost societies’ capacity to adapt to it?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after all, recently noted that population and economic growth “continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.” Not many analysts see “win-win” opportunities in reining in economic growth. Population growth, by contrast, might be slowed as a side effect of efforts that have multiple other benefits — such as education, empowerment of women, and the provision of reproductive health services including safe and effective contraception. And there’sreason to believe that slower population growth also makes societies more resilient to the impacts of climate change already upon us or on the way.

This line of reasoning raises concerns among some groups that are active in climate change advocacy, who argue that linking family planning to climate change amounts to blaming parents of large families in developing countries for a phenomenon caused more by smaller but high-consuming families in industrialized countries. A more pragmatic worry may be the less-than-generous pie of international funding available to address climate change. Should family planning have precedence over renewable energy and direct efforts to adapt to climate change, when the needs are so great and the financial resources to address them are already insufficient? Continue reading »

Renewable Energy: “Development as Freedom” in Haiti and Beyond

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Dec 012014

TriplePunditAndrew Burger, 1 December 2014

Rapid transition from centralized energy systems based on fossil fuels to those based on a mix of distributed, locally appropriate renewable energy resources is viewed by many as the most effective means of mitigating and adapting to climate change. That’s just the “thin edge of the wedge” with regard to the advantages and benefits societies can realize by spurring development and adoption of distributed energy resources and technologies, however. (…)

An energy-and-development policy paper from the Worldwatch Institute invokes Sen’s conceptualization of “Development as Freedom” as applied to Haiti, the most poverty-stricken nation in a region whose history is characterized largely by general poverty linked to political and economic repression and unsustainable extraction and exploitation of natural resources and ecosystems. In its “Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap,” Worldwatch highlights that “tremendous opportunities and actionable solutions exist to build an electricity system that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable using the tremendous renewable energy and energy efficiency potentials of the country.” (…)

“There is hardly a place on Earth where the advantages of a distributed electricity system powered by domestic renewable sources are as evident as in Haiti,” Worldwatch Institute Climate and Energy Director Alexander Ochs writes of the study.

See full article [here].

Beyond Coal: Obama Makes the Right Choice

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Jul 012013

Here at the Asia Clean Energy Forum in the Philippines, President Obama’s speech on climate change has been greeted with enthusiasm.  In particular, his decision to redirect U.S. financing of coal fired power plants to expanding the use of clean energy in developing countries is seen as a signal that the U.S. understands that coal is risky and expensive—at a time when the costs of biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind power are declining rapidly.

The positive reaction to Obama’s initiative is hardly surprising: many Asian countries share the U.S. President’s concern about climate change: recent fires, droughts, and typhoons have devastated large areas, stirred public concern, and spurred governments to act.

The growing Asian commitment to new energy technologies reflects the fact that renewable resources are indigenous, while for many countries, coal must be imported.  For most Asian countries, investment in renewable energy is an investment in their economic future, and will provide the energy needed to increase prosperity and eradicate poverty.

President Obama’s new approach to coal and clean energy is fully consistent both with his commitment to job creation and his “pivot to Asia” in foreign policy.  U.S. leadership on new energy technology is a signal that the country is committed to the future of energy rather than its past—and to providing energy for people rather than subsidies for fossil fuels.

On Climate and Human Change – What Hurricane Sandy Tells Us

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Nov 012012

Re|Volt, 1 November 2012

By now, the heartbreaking photos of neighborhoods swept to sea and a climbing death toll have reminded us all of the immeasurable pain and tragedy our environment can incur. We think of the millions of people who continue to be affected by the storm, the tens of thousands who have lost all that they own, and the hundreds who have lost their lives.

Widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen via CNET)

Sandy also tells us a lot about ourselves. From a pessimistic standpoint, it shows human failure: our failure to listen to those who understand far better than most of us do the impact of human behavior on the atmosphere, our climate system, and the ecosystems that surround us. While it is true that no singular weather event can be directly linked to human-caused global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – since its establishment in 1988 arguably the most thorough and meticulous scientific undertaking in human history – has reported with increasing confidence that weather extremes will become more frequent, more widespread, and more intense with rising greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC’s assessments, and those of many other leading scientific bodies, have led prominent commentators—among them Nobel laureates, prime ministers, presidents, secretary-generals, and even movie stars—to call out global warming as this century’s greatest threat. But Sandy demonstrates in dramatic fashion our inability to take more profound steps to tackle global challenges, despite our knowledge that we endanger ourselves if we don’t. Sandy reveals our refusal to take responsibility for our actions and our skepticism that real change (of natural systems as well as of our own behavior) is possible. Continue reading »

Moving Renewable Energy Forward in Nicaragua

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Sep 132012

Adam Dolezal and Alexander Ochs | ReVolt | 13 September 2012

Para una versión en español de este blog, por favor hacer click aquí.

Last week, the Worldwatch Institute’s Central America team – together with our partners from the INCAE Business School – convened a working group of nearly 40 renewable energy experts and decision-makers in Managua, Nicaragua. The emphasis: access to energy for marginalized communities through sustainable energy options. With presentations and participation from the government’s renewable energy office, Nicaragua’s renewable energy association, an array of rural energy initiatives, and the region’s largest wind power developer, the working group took our research and potential for impact to a new level.

Participants from the workshop The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Nicaragua at INCAE Business School Campus in Managua, Nicaragua.

Worldwatch Director of Climate & Energy, Alexander Ochs, incited the round table forum to recall that the overarching goal of our efforts is not to promote renewable energy technology for its own sake– as so often the discussion can remain caught in technical details – but for the environmental, social and economic outcomes that clean and locally-generated energy provides. Renewable energy is a means to reach overarching policy priorities: giving access to modern energy sources, mitigating local pollution and climate change, and addressing important gender, health, and education issues. In a region where countries ship 5 to 15 percent of their GDP overseas for the import of fossil fuels-the use of which produces high additional social, environmental and economic costs- harvesting domestic renewable energy sources is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth. Continue reading »

The World Needs a Renewable Development Index

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May 102012




CREDIT: Magharebia (CC).

The Modern Energy Context

Energy is at the very foundation of modern economies. Since the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, all countries have developed on the back of the production and burning of fossil fuels. There is no doubt that the comfortable lives many of us live today would not be possible without the fossil-fueled development of the past. But the merits of fossil fuels now seem less and less convincing.

First, take subsidies. Currently, we throw about 10–12 times more taxpayer money at fossil fuels than we put into renewables—and those are just direct subsidies. In addition, local air and water pollution and related health consequences cost trillions of dollars worldwide. The U.S. National Research Council estimates the “hidden” costs of fossil fuels in the United States (the real costs to society that are not reflected in the fuels’ market prices) at $120 billion annually. The Chinese government believes pollution and related healthcare costs amount to 10 percent of that country’s GDP.

Then there is the volatility of fossil fuel markets, which has arguably led to enormous economic instability in the recent past. Just to give an idea of what this volatility means to some nations: An increase in the world oil price of just $10 can mean a decrease in the GDP of some small nations of 2–3 percent.

Continue reading »

The End of the Atomic Dream: One Year After Fukushima, the Shortfalls of Nuclear Energy Are Clearer Than Ever

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Mar 162012

Alexander Ochs, Re|Volt, 16 March 2012

Last Sunday marked the first anniversary of an unprecedented catastrophe that struck northern Japan. On March 11, 2011, a tsunami—triggered by a major earthquake—swept into the area surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, disabling the cooling capabilities of three of the plant’s oldest reactors. In the days and weeks that followed, as workers struggled to cool and dismantle the plant, reactors 1, 2, and 3 went into meltdown. A series of explosions and fires led to the release of radioactive gas, and fears of contamination ultimately prompted the evacuation of approximately 100,000 people from the immediate area; some 30,000 may never be able to return to their homes.

The Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, 25 March 2011 (Source: econews)

The first anniversary of this horrific event—the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl accident in 1986—is a time to commemorate the more than 20,000 people who died in the initial earthquake and tsunami, as well as the courage of those who risked radioactive exposure to regain control of the plant and prevent further calamity. But it is also a time to look forward—to examine what we have learned from Fukushima and what it means for the future of energy in Japan and around the world.

A “moment of opportunity” for Japan

In the aftermath of the meltdown, the Japanese public turned decidedly against nuclear power, marking a pronounced change in a nation that was once one of the world’s most committed proponents and producers of civilian atomic energy. Japan has been using nuclear power since the 1960s, and in 2010 it generated 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants. In the past year, however, the vast majority of nuclear facilities in Japan have been shut down for routine maintenance or “stress tests” and have not yet been reopened. Today, all but two of Japan’s commercial reactors have been shut down, with the last one scheduled to go offline as early as April. The country has also abandoned any existing plans to build new reactors.

How has Japan managed to make up the sudden shortfall in electricity production? Mostly by implementing an aggressive campaign to reduce energy consumption and increase production from conventional power plants.  But that clearly won’t be enough to sustain the country’s energy needs in the long term. Many of Japan’s nuclear facilities are likely to be reopened at some point. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda favors restarting some of them as soon as possible to increase electricity production, particularly in the summer months when demand goes up. But Japan also intends to fundamentally reshape its energy strategy for the 21st century by gradually phasing out nuclear power in favor of renewable energy sources and increased conservation.

In an op-ed published this week in the Washington Post, Noda signaled his desire to use the Fukushima disaster as a moment of opportunity. He reminded readers that Japan rebuilt its economy from the ashes of World War II. Noda believes that: “today we face a challenge of similar proportions. Our goal is not simply to reconstruct the Japan that existed before March 11, 2011, but to build a new Japan.” Indeed, the country has already begun doing just that, initiating plans to construct new solar plants and a floating wind farm off the Fukushima coast.

Public opposition to nuclear power existed in Japan before the Fukushima fallout. But it was not as strong and visible as it is now, when demonstrators turn to the streets in the thousands to protest the use of nuclear energy. Worldwide, the horrifying events in Japan rejuvenated the anti-nuclear movement.

Nuclear power has never been safe—or cheap

The nuclear industry’s history is one of disaster: 63 major accidents occurred worldwide between 1947 and 2007. And a number of near-disasters in recent years have shown the validity of safety concerns. On July 25, 2006, a power outage at Sweden’s Forsmark Plant knocked out two of the facility’s four emergency backup generators and caused workers to lose control of the plant for 23 minutes, illustrating  the degree to which reactors are vulnerable to variability in electric supply.

If you believe severe accidents cannot happen in highly regulated countries, think again. The U.S. General Accountability Office reported more than 150 incidents from 2001 to 2006 alone of nuclear plants not performing within acceptable safety guidelines. Seventy-one percent of all recorded major nuclear accidents, including meltdowns, explosions, fires, and loss of coolants, occurred in the United States, and they happened during both normal operations as well as emergency situations such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes. The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979 lead to the evacuation of 140,000 people and caused $2.4 million in property damages.

Issues of safe radioactive waste disposal also remain unresolved, as is evident in the current debates over a leaking storage facility in Asse, Germany. In the United States, a country with its own history of nuclear accidents, including Three Mile Island, high-level radioactive waste is currently stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country.The country is without any long-term storage site, and the cancellation of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository leaves it without any in sight.

Nuclear proliferation is, of course, another major security issue. The current discussion about “bombing Iran” because of its ambitious nuclear program is a case in point. Iran continues to claim that its reactors would be used for peaceful purposes only—yet there is no way to verify whether this country, or any other in the world, is being honest in such claims or not. And after all, on what moral grounds can we prohibit them to develop nuclear weapons if so many other countries, including the United States, hold them? It seems clear that the political and economic costs of programs to monitor and control what exactly is done at nuclear reactors around the world at any given time are and always will be exorbitant.

Ultimately, though, the key argument against nuclear energy is an economic one. The construction of new reactors simply is not commercially feasible. Although existing facilities can be run profitably, the high cost associated with replacing them has become prohibitive for even the world’s richest countries. The simple reason that no new nuclear plants have been built in the United States since the 1970s is that utilities are not willing to carry the high economic costs and face the financial risks involved. Governmental loan-guarantee programs like the February 2010 $8.3 billion award to Southern Company’s Georgia Power to build two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, Georgia, seem to be the only way to get utilities interested in expanding nuclear.

But why, as many alternative energy solutions including clean, renewable technologies exist, should taxpayer money be used to support a highly risky, potentially devastating technology, which later benefits mainly the purses of private investors? The resistance to supporting such projects is mounting, including in Congress. And experiences with new installations elsewhere fuel these concerns. In Finland, cost overruns and delays during the ongoing construction of two new units at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant have become “an example of all that can go wrong in economic terms with new reactors.”

Improving energy access for all

Germany, which produced almost a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power in 2010, shut down six nuclear power plants shortly after Fukushima, despite warnings from industry that this might lead to blackouts or massive electricity price hikes. Neither of the two happened. The remaining nine plants will be shut down between now and 2022. At the same time, the country has ambitious plans to reduce its carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. But Germany already produces more than 20 percent of its power from renewable sources. Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with a vast majority of her compatriots, believes that, “As the first big industrialized nation, we can achieve such a transformation toward efficient and renewable energies, with all the opportunities that brings for exports, developing new technologies and jobs.”

Nuclear energy does not represent the best way to satisfy our energy needs in the 21st century. Our energy challenges are immense. Worldwide, 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity, and another 1 billion have unreliable access. Although our economic systems are still fundamentally built on fossil fuels, and estimates project a doubling of energy needs in less than two decades, a peak in greenhouse gas emissions is required before 2015 if we wish to prevent the most serious impacts of climate change.

Even before Fukushima, nuclear energy had become the only mainstream power source with negative growth trends. Meanwhile, renewable energy sources across all technologies are booming—experiencing average growth rates of 25–74 percent annually. (See Chart.) Energy efficiency, grid, and storage solutions all exist. What is needed now is rapid acceleration in the deployment of these technologies and a complete worldwide phaseout of both nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in the next 50 years.

“Sustainable energy roadmaps” at the municipal, provincial, national, and regional levels—such as those currently produced by our Climate and Energy team—can help decision makers design a transition to an energy system that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. From whatever perspective you look at it, a carbon- and nuclear-free world is feasible and in the long run superior to any alternative. We cannot let Fukushima—or Deepwater Horizon or Upper Big Branch—happen again.

While the opinions expressed in this blog are mine only, I would like to thank Katie Auth for her help in researching and writing this blog.

Renewable Energy Not a “Competing” Priority in Haiti

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Dec 302010
by Mark Konold and Alexander Ochs

Recently the Brookings Institution hosted a panel that examined Haiti’s political and humanitarian developments since the January 2010 earthquake. A theme that came up regularly was that of competing priorities such as turbulent elections, a cholera outbreak, a lack of dependable energy supply, and gender-based violence. As the Worldwatch Institute prepares to develop a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap for Haiti, some have questioned whether limited donor resources should be channeled into something more pressing than assessing and improving the country’s energy infrastructure. Is an energy roadmap really needed right now, or are other matters more important?

The cholera outbreak in Haiti is an urgent matter that deserves all the attention it is currently receiving. However, we must keep in mind that a lack of proper sanitation – due to a lack of electricity – helped cause the recent outbreak. Had the country’s energy infrastructure been more robust and sustainable, basic sanitation and electricity in hospitals might not have been lost and the current epidemic might have been avoided.

[Read the rest of this ReVolt blog]

China may cap-and-trade before US

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Sep 062010

While the US Senate has backed off on climate legislation, China is considering launching emissions-trading programmes within five years, write Alexander Ochs and Haibing Ma.

Just when leaders in the United States Senate admitted to abandoning their plan of issuing a federal climate bill by the end ofTianjin_port_cap-and-trade_thumbthis year, top Chinese officials were discussing how to launch carbon-trading programmes under their country’s next (12th) Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). Serving as China’s overarching social and economic guidance, Five-Year Plans consistently lay out the most crucial development strategies for this giant emerging economy. Once included in the plan, carbon trading will be viewed as part of China’s national goals and will be domestically binding. This occurred most recently with the country’s 2010 energy-intensity target, which called for a 20% reduction from 2005 levels and was disaggregated into provincial and local targets, with local officials held accountable for achieving them.

In short, China seems to be accelerating full-throttle toward a low-carbon economy. Chinese policymakers have been eyeing a domestic emission-trading scheme for a while. In August 2009, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) deputy director Xie Zhenhua announced that China would launch a pilot carbon-trading programme in selected regions and/or sectors — basically the same message now discussed for the Five-Year Plan. On one hand, this reiteration demonstrates that the Chinese government is seriously considering such a market-based mitigation mechanism; on the other hand, the fact that the programme’s status is still in discussion one year later shows that putting cap-and-trade into action might be not be so easy in China either.

[Read our full article on Chinadialogue]

Small Portugal Thinks Big – and Very Green!

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Aug 262010

By Camille Serre and Alexander Ochs

After having shed some light on French climate and energy legislation, let’s proceed with our review of European progress toward clean energy economies. Typically, the Scandinavian countries and Germany have set the example in the European renewables field. Yet lately, a Southern country—Portugal—has attracted media attention after delivering its National Renewable Energy Action Plan to the European Commission this June.

In 2009, Portugal ranked 3rd in Europe in wind power capacity per capita - Flickr Creative Commons / Mafalda Moreira Santos

In 2009, Portugal ranked 3rd in Europe in wind power capacity per capita - Flickr Creative Commons / Mafalda Moreira Santos

Portugal has made dramatic changes in its energy policy over the last five years under the government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates. The country’s installed renewable energy capacity more than tripled between 2004 and 2009, from 1,220 megawatts (MW) to 4,307 MW, and renewables now represent roughly 36 percent of electricity consumed. Thanks to this performance, Portugal currently ranks 4th in Europe in energy production from renewables. Socrates seems to know what he is doing, and it looks like his previous experience has paid off. Like Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, Socrates was Minister of the Environment before becoming head of his country’s government. The environment seems to be a springboard for European politicians’ careers.

Of course, Portugal benefits from favorable conditions for renewables as well: a strong wind resource, great hydropower, good tidal waves potential, and a high sunshine rate. After the country removed several dams in recent years, Socrates’ government has focused instead on wind power development, under most conditions the cheapest renewable energy source after hydropower. With spectacular growth in wind energy production of over 600 percent between 2004 and 2009, Portugal now ranks 6th in Europe in total installed capacity and 3rd in capacity per capita, behind only Denmark and Spain. Some even expect Portugal to overtake its neighbor Spain in per capita wind energy production as early as this year.

[Read both parts of this blog on the ReVolt website]

Green Deal or Great Disillusion? France Passes Climate-Friendly Legislation (Part 2 of 2)

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Aug 182010

by Camille Serre and Alexander Ochs

In Part 1 of this blog, we described the climate and energy measures that France plans to pursue as part of its new environmental law, Grenelle 2. This set of policies suggests that France may in fact be paving the way toward a low-carbon economy. Unfortunately, the picture is tarnished by an ongoing controversy about renewable energy development in the country. 

Grenelle 2 certainly contains some positive measures in the renewables sector. For instance, it sets a goal that 23 percent of France’s energy use must come from a mix of renewable energy sources by 2020—most likely from hydropower (the nation’s largest renewables source so far), wind power, and biomass. The law calls for regional climate and energy mapping to assess climate-related risks within the country as well as to determine domestic energy needs, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, adaptation strategies and monitoring instruments will be developed. In addition, local and regional authorities that are responsible for 50,000 inhabitants or more, as well as companies with over 500 employees, will be required to conduct emissions assessments.

[Read the rest of this ReVolt blog here]

Green Deal or Great Disillusion? France Passes Climate-Friendly Legislation (Part 1 of 2)

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Aug 172010

with Camille SerreGrenelle

While the United States is unlikely to pass a climate bill in the near future, there may be greater hope from one of the country’s closest allies: France. A few months ago, France passed a major bill that will deeply transform the country’s environmental law, including its approach to climate change. But while the outcomes of the measure are promising, a variety of criticisms remain.

After an exhausting legislative process, the “Grenelle de l’Environnement” ended with the adoption of the “Grenelle 2” bill this May. Enacted on July 13, three years after the process was launched by then-newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy, the new legislation covers environmental topics such as climate and energy, biodiversity protection, public health, sustainable agriculture, waste management, and the governance of sustainable development. In addition to being a comprehensive environmental bill, Grenelle 2 implicitly defines the French sustainable development strategy for years to come.

Grenelle de l’environnement was named after the so-called “negotiations of Grenelle” on wages that took place in 1968, when France was paralyzed by a general strike. Back then, the primary negotiators were the government, unions, and employers. The Grenelle de l’environnement, launched in 2007, extended the consultation to five main stakeholder groups—the State, employers, unions, environmental NGOs, and local governments—to bring it more in line with the participatory nature of sustainable development.

On the climate front, France is likely to meet its current emissions reduction goals. [Read the rest of this ReVolt Blog here]

Will China Steal the U.S. Thunder by Launching Cap-and-Trade in the Next Five Years?

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Aug 102010

By Haibing Ma and Alexander Ochs

Recently, a China Daily news report caught Uncle Sam’s attention, presumably at an inconvenient time: just when the U.S. Senate finally admitted to abandoning its plan of issuing a federal climate bill by the end of this year, top Chinese officials were discussing how to launch carbon trading programs under their country’s next Five-Year Plan (2011–15). Serving as China’s overarching social and economic guidance, Five-Year Plans consistently lay out the most crucial development strategies for this giant emerging economy. Once included in the plan, carbon trading will be viewed as part of China’s national goals and will be domestically binding. This occurred most recently with the country’s 2010 energy intensity target, which called for a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels and was disaggregated into provincial and local targets, with local officials held accountable for achieving them. In short, China seems to be accelerating full-throttle toward a low-carbon economy.

Chinese policymakers have been eyeing a domestic emission-trading scheme for a while. Last August, Xie Zhenhua, Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), announced that China will launch a pilot carbon trading program in selected regions and/or sectors—basically the same message conveyed in the recent China Daily story. On one hand, this reiteration demonstrates that the Chinese government is seriously considering such a market-based mitigation mechanism; on the other hand, the fact that the program’s status is still in discussion a year later shows that putting cap-and-trade into action might be not be that easy in China either. [Read more on Worldwatch’s ReVolt blog]

By how much should we expect renewable energy to replace fossil fuels over the next 20 years?

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Jul 132010

Contribution to Euronews CommentVisions

In 2007, renewable energy already provided 18% of the world’s total final energy supply, greatly exceeding earlier predictions. While global GDP increased by 156% between 1990 and 2007, energy demand “only” rose by 39%. A recent Worldwatch study has outlined a new, technologically and economically viable 2030 global low-carbon scenario. It demonstrates that energy demand can be reduced by another one third compared to the business-as-usual scenario produced by the International Energy Agency which is used by many as the “reference scenario”. In our scenario 50% – half! – of the remaining energy demand in 2030 can be provided by renewables decreasing energy-related CO2 emissions by 52%.

Natural gas will play a major role in covering the other 48%. Natural gas is widely available and produces less greenhouse gas emissions and less local air and water pollution than coal and gas. It also does not create the security, economic, and health burdens of nuclear energy. What is more, natural gas can serve as an important ally of renewables. Since gas power plants can be switched on and off relatively easily, we can make sure that the maximum amount of renewables are used despite their fluctuations on a given day. Environmentally such a major transition of the global energy system is a necessity if want to avoid catastrophic climate disruptions. Technologically and economically, our scenario is feasible. What is still lacking, is the political will to make it reality.