Environment Forum

Idea dearth at big money sustainability summit

Tom Rand, P.Eng., Ph.D., is Cleantech Lead Advisor at MaRS Disovery District and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit. Any views expressed are his own.

Curious about new financial innovations to accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy, I attended the recent United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) summit in Washington, D.C. This was a gathering of big money and those who shape its flows – pension funds, insurance companies, policy wonks and political negotiators.

Not surprisingly, I found nothing mind-blowing.

Our intentions are good, but we move – as always – incrementally. Catastrophic climate change still doesn’t fit our spreadsheets. Pension funds still rely on voluntary principles of risk avoidance.

But hats off to Paul Abberley, CEO of Aviva Investors out of London, England, for the best idea of the conference. Abberley wants to translate, directly, the good intentions of pension contributors into the fiduciary duty of investment managers.

Anyone on the carbon scene knows we’re at a standstill. There are bright spots like California’s brand new cap and trade regulations and Ontario’s Green Energy Act, and there are always some intrepid businesses that carve out a market for their piece of low-carbon infrastructure.

D.C. dawdles, California leads on climate

Becky Kelley directs the Climate and Clean Energy Agenda at the Washington Environmental Council. Any opinions expressed are her own.

We could smell the sweet winds of change all the way up in Washington State last week, when California adopted final rules to implement a cap and trade program to reduce climate pollution across its economy, beginning in 2013.

California got it right. Cap and trade is a policy at the scale of the problem: big, complex policy to deal with a big, complex problem.

As if 2007 never happened?

If four years is a lifetime in politics, it’s an eternity in climate change politics. Events in Washington this week might make climate policy watchers wonder if 2007 really happened.

At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short, has been promoted as a way to make electricity from domestic coal without unduly raising the level of carbon in the atmosphere. Instead of sending the carbon dioxide that results from burning coal up a smokestack and into the air, the plan was to bury it underground. But that costs money and requires regulatory guarantees, and neither are imminent in the United States. Legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions bogged down on Capitol Hill a year ago and has not been re-introduced.

How to make communities see green over REDD?

A villager collects rattan among rubber trees near a village in Central Kalimantan province on Indonesia's part of Borneo island. Rubber and rattan provide good incomes to villagers and represents a key way to support livelihoods for investors in a large forest preservation project nearby, who are working with local communities to make the project a success. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

A villager collects rattan among rubber trees near a village in Central Kalimantan province on Indonesia's part of Borneo island. Rubber and rattan provide good incomes to villagers and represents a key way to support livelihoods for investors in a large forest preservation project nearby, who are working with local communities to make the project a success. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

Forests are the lifeblood for millions of people around the world. Murniah, a 40-year-old mother of one in Mentaya Seberang village in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province, knows this only too well.

Large areas to the west of her village on the Mentaya river have been converted to palm oil. Good for a short-term boost in incomes but not so good for the environment.

Making REDD work for illegal loggers

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a project for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a problem for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.

And the reward for this effort? About 125,000 rupiah, or roughly $12 per tree measuring 30 cm or more in diameter. Hendri and the three other members of this local gang of illegal loggers make about $45 a day (not including expenses and bribes) cutting down between 4 and 5 trees and slicing them into planks with a chainsaw, using no protective gear. They work for about 10 days at a stretch.

Passage of little-known initiative may disrupt California climate plan

While California’s election results offered plenty for state environmentalists to cheer, the passage of a so-called “stealth” ballot initiative could undermine its proposed carbon market.

Last Tuesday, voters rejected Proposition 23, which sought to halt California’s landmark environmental law, AB 32, which mandates the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. They also elected climate hawk and AB 32 champion Jerry Brown governor.

But with little fanfare, voters also approved Proposition 26 by a margin of 52.8% to 47.2%. Proposition 26, officially called the “Stop the Hidden Taxes Initiative,” requires two-thirds of legislators to approve fee increases, as opposed to just a simple majority – a difficult political hurdle given the makeup of the state legislature.

from The Great Debate:

States see pushback against carbon trading

CHINA-POLLUTION/

-- John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own --

Efforts to implement cap-and-trade programs at state level are faltering, just as policymakers in Washington are struggling to generate enough support to put in place a comprehensive national system.

Recent setbacks in California and Arizona point to growing headwinds against the policy. As cap-and-trade loses momentum and becomes embroiled in bigger political disputes about the size and role of government, opponents are becoming emboldened to try to block the policy completely.

Carbon market supporters have repeatedly expressed the hope that state and regional initiatives can provide at least a temporary substitute as hopes for a national program have dimmed in the wake of last year's failed summit in Copenhagen and a string of election defeats that have thrown the progressive wing of the Democratic Party onto the defensive.

Gaze into clean technology’s crystal ball for 2010

Clean technology investors who have suffered through 2009 can find cheer in a new report by the Cleantech Group that gives its top ten predictions for 2010.

The number one prediction: Private capital growth will recover, the research group said.

The group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year. The group also is watching for major investments like Khosla Ventures’ raising $1 billion for renewable energy and clean technology funds, more capital in Asia and innovative fund strategies.

March of the beetles bodes ill for American forests

MEDICINE BOW NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming – From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.

But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.

“The gravity of the situation is very real,” said Rolf Skar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace.

“taking cars off the road”, or climate tokenism?

There’s no shortage of references these days in corporate and government reports to earnest, new steps to fight climate change. Often they promise to make carbon emissions cuts equivalent to taking millions of cars off the road…

For example, take Europe’s fourth biggest single source of carbon emissions, Britain’s Drax coal plant. It said in March that as a result of efficiency improvements it had cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking 195,000 cars off the road.  But of course that was a cut against a theoretical projection of rising emissions — not an absolute cut.

Take a similar announcement from Canada this week. The oil industry in Alberta is busy trying to extract oil from tar sands. That is a far more polluting, energy-intensive way than just sucking the stuff out of oil wells, because steam must first be injected into the sand to make the oil flow. Now Alberta is experimenting with a technology, called carbon capture and storage, with three test projects which by 2015 would “achieve annual carbon dioxide reductions equivalent to taking about a million vehicles off the road”, the province says.

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