Environment Forum

from MacroScope:

Will China make the world green?

Workers remove mine slag at an aluminium plant in Zibo, Shandong province December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany's foreign minister in the late '90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers -- the United States and China -- and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.

More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world's most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes -- and that that will be green.

Fischer, who was leader of  Germany's Green Party, reckons that due to its sheer size and needed GDP growth, China will have to pursue a green economy. Without that, he writes in his Project Syndicate post, China will quickly reach limits to growth with disastrous ecological and, as a result, political consequences.

This will have serious consequences on the the way the West lives.

Consider the transition from the traditional automobile to electric transport. Despite European illusions to the contrary, this will be decided in China, not in the West. All that will be decided by the West’s globally dominant automobile industry is whether it will adapt and have a chance to survive or go the way of other old Western industries: to the developing world.

This is not the usual view of China. Many greens have long feared the impact of a huge leap in Chinese growth on the global environment -- refrigerators in a billion homes, cars in a billion garages etc.

Greens party soars to new heights in Germany

Germany’s Greens party are already the world’s most successful environmental party – having spent seven GERMANY GREENS/years in government of one of the world’s largest economies as junior coalition partners to the centre-left Social Democrats. The Greens wrote Germany’s renewable energy law that helped the country become a major player in wind and solar energy technology between 1998 and 2005 — and the party is chiefly responsible for raising the share of renewable energy to 16 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption.

Although in opposition since 2005, the Greens’ popularity has nevertheless soared to record levels over 20 percent in recent months and the party – which only recently celebrated its 30th anniversary – is doing so well in opinion polls that they could possibly end up heading coalitions in two state elections next year ahead of the SPD in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the city-state of Berlin. 

Pollsters say the Greens are benefitting from an increasing awareness in environmental issues, such as climate change and the public’s opposition to government plans to extend nuclear power in Germany beyond 2021. The Greens are also profiting from voter frustration over broken promises by the ruling parties.

from Commodity Corner:

Getting down to business at U.N. climate talks a hard task

A U.N. concession to delegates at this week's climate talks in Bonn to take off jackets and ties due to recent high temperatures may be going to some participants' heads.

Breaking the back of negotiations for a new climate pact after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 is proving hard work even though the talks' chair hopes to have a new negotiating text on the table by the end of the week.

Developing nations are still blaming the rich for global warming and the issue of who will contribute most to climate financing is still a matter for debate.

Will Germany kill its energy golden goose?

Will Germany kill the goose laying the golden eggs?
  
GERMANY/Germany is understandably proud of its renewable energy sector — wind and solar power supply more than 15 percent of the country’s electricity. Its Renewable Energy Act (EEG) has fuelled its rapid growth over the past decade and been copied by more than 40 countries around the world.
  
But is the party over?
  
A new centre-right government announced plans to slash the EEG’s guaranteed feed-in tariffs (FIT) that utilities are required to pay the myriad of producers of solar energy, many of whom feed the modest amounts of solar power from their roofs into the local grid. The EEG already foresees a FIT decline of about 10 percent per year — a built-in incentive to keep overall costs falling.
  
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen wants an additional 15 percent cut in April on top of the 10 percent from Jan. GERMANY/1, 2010 and ahead of the next 10-percent cut on Jan. 1, 2011. In the past decade, the previous two environment ministers from the Greens party and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) worked closely with the solar industry before making changes.
  
Roettgen made it clear those days of compromise were over. He said he spoke to solar firms last week before proposing the cuts, but rejected their offer to a one-off mid-2010 cut of 5 percent. “This is not a compromise,” he told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday. “It’s a bullseye.”  He said the cuts would save consumers about 1 billion euros a year over the next decade. Consumer groups and some industry groups had wanted deeper cuts, Roettgen noted.
  
Solar companies in Germany, which have until now worked closely with the government on reducing the tariffs the utilities pay to producers of green electricity, criticised the cuts which amount to about 35 percent within 13 months. They fear they will cripple the sector and kill jobs. Roettgen said he wants solar power, which now generates about 1 percent of Germany’s electricity, to be providing 4 to 5 percent by 2020 even though the support is being slashed by one-third in the course of 13 months. He portrayed the cuts as if he were doing the industry a favour.
   
Several leading German companies — such as SolarWorld, Q-Cells and Solon — said there were dark days ahead for the solar industry. They pointed out that prices, and support, were already falling steadily and would reach grid parity by the middle of the decade. Why, they asked, ruin a good thing? Frank Asbeck, CEO of Germany’s biggest solar company by revenue SolarWorld, called the plans unacceptable. As my colleague Christoph Steitz reported here, the cuts would cause problems for solar companies around the world.
  
Carsten Koernig, managing director of the BSW solar industry lobby, said “a radical cut like that will rob German companies of the foundation for business”.
  
Claudia Kemfert, an energy policy expert at the independent DIW economic research institute, said: “This level of 15 percent is quite problematic. It means a 25 percent cut within a few months and I consider that to be too much. It’s going to hit the small and medium sized companies very hard. It’s going to bring a lot of uncertainty into the market.”
  
The German Renewable Energy Association also used strong language, saying: “The radical cuts endanger the expansion of renewable energy.”

Is it a done deal? It’s hard to say at this point. There could be a lot of resistance from key conservative-ruled states such as Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg. They have important solar power industries and in the past succeeded in watering down attempts to cut the FIT.

What will they say in 2100 about what (didn’t) happen in 2009?

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber can speak eloquently and at length in English, German, French or Spanish about the perils of climate change. But the cold language of science in any of those languages melts away when the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 59, mentions his 18-month-old son and the impact that global warming will have on  the toddler’s life. 

“I’ve got a young son,” Schellnhuber says, pictured at the right with the boy, his wife and Britain’s Prince Charles on a visit to Potsdam in April. “I hope this all turns out to be wrong. I would be delighted if it turns out that we haven’t understood the system as well as we think we do, and that we might get a 20- to 30-year ‘breathing period’ when global warming slows or is even halted,” Schellnhuber said in an interview.

“I hope my son can live in a world where there won’t be massive conflicts because the sea level rises by a metre in his life time. I hope he’ll be able to have a happy life. But I’m growing increasingly worried.” 

German ships navigate Northeast Passage – but is it a good thing?

Two German ships have successfully navigated their way through the fabled Northeast Passage on the first commercial journey by a western shipping company on the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic-facing northern shore — a new cost-cutting passageway from Asia to Europe made possible by climate change.  

 

The MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” (pictured above) arrived safely at Novvy Port/Yamburg in Russia at the delta of the river Ob on Monday after a 17-day trip through the icy cold but briefly ice-free Arctic Ocean after departing from Vladivostok on Aug. 21. The ships had earlier picked up their cargo in Ulsan, South Korea and after delivering it in Novvy Port will steam on to the Netherlands to complete the Pacific-to-Atlantic journey that explorers and merchants have been dreaming about for centuries. 

 

 

By taking advantage of the short two-month window of opportunity in August and September before the Arctic Ocean freezes over again, the journey from South Korean through the Northeast Passage (not to be confused with the Northwest Passage through Canada) to Europe cut about 3,300 nautical miles off the usual 11,000 nautical mile trip via the southern route through the Suez Canal. Instead of the usual 32-day journey on the southern route, the Northern Sea Route takes 23 days. The shorter distance cuts the cost of the journey considerably because less fuel was used — and thus less CO2 emitted. 

Climate change opens Arctic’s Northeast passage

Two German ships set off on Friday on the first commercial journey from Asia to western Europe via the Arctic through the fabled Northeast Passage – a trip made possible by climate change. Niels Stolberg, president and CEO of Bremen-based Beluga Shipping, said the Northern Sea Route will cut thousands of nautical miles off the ships’ journey from South Korea to the Netherlands, reducing fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gas. I had the chance to ask Stolberg a few questions about the Arctic expedition:

Question: What’s the status of the voyage?
Stolberg: MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” have just started to sail from Vladivostok (on Friday) with the destination Novyy Port at the river Ob.

Question: When did they leave Vladivostok and when will they arrive in Europe?
Stolberg: They’ve just left Vladivostok. They are scheduled to arrive in Novyy Port around September 6th. After discharging, they will proceed via Murmansk to Rotterdam. Estimated time of arrival is still to be confirmed and up to further voyage development.

Bike commuting = less CO2 + cost savings + good mood

I wish I could report that “environmental reasons” were behind my decision to start commuting by bike. But the real motivation was much simpler: I’m a cheapskate and biking saves money.

Yet three years and some 24,000 kilometres after switching from the train to the bike, I’ve discovered a number of useful fringe benefits beyond being frugal and reducing greenhouse gas: the daily exercise from the 40-km round trip each day puts me in a good mood, makes me healthier, liberates me from the hassles of semi-reliable train timetables and makes me a bit lighter as well.

No matter how lousy or stressful or full of irritations the work day might have been, by the time I’ve arrived home on the western fringe of Berlin from the city centre after an almost always enjoyable 50-minute bike ride, I feel transformed back into a happy human being. It’s magic.

A speed limit for Germany?

In Germany, where many consider their cars sacred and most politicians on both the left and right refuse to consider tampering with the unlimited speed on the Autobahn for fear of hurting the car industry, the leader of the Greens party said it is high time for the country to join the rest of the civilised world and put an upper limit on Autobahn speeds — if for no other reason than to cut CO2 emissions

“The speed limit on German motorways will happen because it has to happen,” Cem Oezdemir, co-chair of the environmental Greens, said in an interview (click here for full story). “There will be an Autobahn speed limit as soon as the Greens are in power. We simply can’t afford it any longer to ignore any chance to reduce CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about a speed limit is that it would have an immediate impact on emissions. It would also save money, save lives and reduce the number of horrible injuries resulting from high-speed accidents. When you think about, it all the arguments speak in favour of a speed limit.”

Oezdemir, 43, said that aside from the powerful car lobby — which opposes a speed limit for fears it would damage the marketing mystique of carmakers like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — there are precious few reasons for letting cars continue drive at speeds of up to 200 kph and more: “The only argument against it is the pre-modern masculine dream of racing their cars at high speed.”

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

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