The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Greenhouse gas emissions dropped in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession. Research now shows emissions rebounded quickly in 2010, setting a new all-time record.

In a press release, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the prospect of limiting the global increase in temperature to no more than 2 ºC is getting bleaker. Commenting on the new data, economist Nicholas Stern said emissions are “now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path.”

Nonetheless, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called for an even stricter goal in a speech at an emissions trading conference. “Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5 ºC,” she said.

Canada’s emissions likewise fell in 2009, as described in the government’s emissions report to the United Nations. However, they deliberately omitted details on tar sands operations’ emissions, which showed a 20 percent rise in pollution in 2009.

Despite record emissions, international carbon trading shrank for the first time since the program began in 2005, from $143.7 billion to $141.9 billion. The portion for the Clean Development Mechanism, aimed at helping developing countries put low-emission options in place, fell by nearly half, in large part because of uncertainties about the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Because of this drop, Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, told the Guardian, “The [carbon] market is failing us.”

Germany, Others Flee Nuclear

Germany had planned to expand its nuclear program, until Japan’s Fukushima disaster led to fresh debates over nuclear power. Now the government has announced it will close all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. The country had already shut down seven of its oldest nuclear plants in March, and those will remain off.

Germany’s largest utility, E.ON, is upset about the policy reversal and plans to sue the government for damages. E.ON and other big operators are facing big losses, not just because of the policy change but also because “customers are fleeing in droves” to companies that offer nuclear- and coal-free electricity.

Grid operators had already warned that Germany may suffer blackouts this summer if these nuclear plants were to remain off, and other European countries may likewise face blackouts due to a spring drought that has left river and reservoir levels low.

To make up for lost electricity from nuclear plants, Germany may turn to higher-emission sources like coal in the short run, boosting its carbon dioxide emissions by about 40 million metric tons, or around 5 percent. The move is a “shot in Russia’s arm,” said Steve LeVine of Foreign Policy, since it will make Germany even more reliant on natural gas from Russia, holder of the world’s largest proven reserves. Already Germany has become more reliant on heavily-nuclear France, becoming a net importer of electricity from them.

In the longer term, the government is raising its targets for renewable energy, aiming to double its share, from 17 percent today to 35 percent by 2020. In 1997, Germany set a target of achieving 14 percent renewables by 2010, but met the target early, in 2007. Integrating a large share of renewables is easier than thought before, according to a new analysis by the IEA.

Switzerland also decided to phase out nuclear power, albeit on a slower schedule—by 2034. Nuclear power supplies 40 percent of the country’s electricity, making it one of the world’s most nuclear-reliant countries.

Plea for Oil

Meanwhile, oil prices have remained high, with Brent crude remaining above $110 a barrel, leading the International Energy Agency in mid-May to make a rare formal plea to the world’s oil producers to raise their production, because continued high prices could hurt economic growth.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal agreed oil prices are too high, saying he would like them to be around $70 to $80 a barrel. “We don’t want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives,” Talal told CNN.

But more than a dozen experts surveyed by Reuters said members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are unlikely to raise production quotas at their upcoming meeting.

In part this is because there’s disarray over who will even attend the meeting. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sacked the country’s oil minister and announced he would take on the job himself, and planned to represent Iran at the OPEC meeting. But a few days later this was reversed, after the country’s Guardian Council said Ahmadinejad wasn’t allowed to take on the oil minister job.

Who might represent Libya has also been up in the air, after Shokri Ghanem, head of the national oil company, was reported to have defected from Muammar Gaddafi’s government. He showed up recently in Italy, announcing at a press conference that he had in fact defected, but is undecided about working with the rebels.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The Clean and Dirty of Obama’s Energy Plan

On April 7, 2011, in Uncategorized, by joshwilson

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Following Obama’s energy speech a week ago, which set out a goal to cut U.S. oil imports by one-third within a decade, the administration unveiled more projects to bolster energy production—both clean and dirty. This included $112 million for solar power, $26 million for advanced hydropower, and lease sales for new coal mines and deepwater oil exploration. Global private investment in clean energy is also on the rise. This is according to a new report from the Cleantech Group, which indicated it reached $2.5 billion for the first quarter of this year, a 50 percent jump compared with the quarter before.

However, efforts to foster renewable energy have a long way to go, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its new “Clean Energy Progress Report.” Annual government subsidies for renewables amount to $57 billion, compared with $312 for fossil fuels, according to the IEA’s tally. “More aggressive clean energy policies are required,” the report argued, “including the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and implementation of transparent, predictable and adaptive incentives for cleaner, more efficient energy options.”

Meanwhile, President Obama promised to veto a bill that would handcuff the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Several Republicans tried another tack, proposing amendments to another bill that would have the same effect—but all four amendments failed to pass the Senate.

Could we be Headed for a Double-dip Recession?

A new poll says Americans have become far more concerned about gasoline prices in the past several months than Iraq, Afghanistan, immigration, terrorism and taxes. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said there’s nothing they can do to keep oil below $120 a barrel, and gas prices will continue to rise, according to a Moody’s forecast, while Algeria’s former energy minister said at an oil summit that turmoil in Arab countries will have dramatic effects on energy markets for years to come.

If the turmoil in the region spreads to Saudi Arabia, the country’s oil minister warned, the price of oil could soar. “If something happens in Saudi Arabia it will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],” the minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, told Reuters. “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”

Today’s high oil prices are already hampering global economic growth, an IEA official said. In the U.S. as well, high gasoline prices are taking their toll on the U.S. economy, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argues the U.S. is heading for a double-dip recession.

Even without a double-dip, governments’ belt-tightening measures have already eaten into green energy subsidies in Washington, D.C., as well as in Spain and France.

Fish Turning Up Radioactive

The fight continued to control the nuclear reactors in Japan, which are still facing the possibility of meltdowns. Authorities intentionally released 11,500 tons of radioactive water into the ocean before some uncontrolled leaks were sealed with a mix of  sawdust, newspaper,  concrete, and liquid glass. Despite these ongoing troubles, nuclear remains safer than many other energy sources, especially coal, according to an analysis of Europe’s energy sector and its effect on health.

Since the accident, U.K. environmental writer George Monbiot has been widely cited for his argument that Fukushima should actually make us more confident in nuclear power. This week he has stuck to his guns while sparring with Helen Caldicott, a Nobel Prize-winning anti-nuclear activist. Others have had their trust shaken,, however, including the European Union’s energy commissioner, who told Der Spiegel, “Fukushima has made me start to doubt” nuclear power.

The Japanese government is screening its fish, and finding some are highly radioactive—and halfway around the world from Japan, one New York restaurant has taken radiation scanning into its own hands, buying scanners to test incoming fish. Such fears are misplaced, argues risk expert David Ropeik—and fear itself may take a bigger toll on people’s health than radiation from the leaking plants.

Stern Rebuke

The latest round of United Nations climate talks, held in Bangkok, Thailand, got off to a rocky start. As the talks opened, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, Todd Stern, was at an energy conference in New York, where he called for an agreement for developed and developing countries alike, without a “firewall” between them. But at the same time, he called a binding international agreement “unrealistic” and “not doable.” Rather than international agreements, Stern said, “it is the national plans of countries, written into law and regulations, that count and that bind.”

Developed and developing countries have set goals for cutting their emissions over the coming decades—but these don’t go far enough to avoid dangerous climate change, said Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres at the Bangkok meeting.

Didn’t See That Coming

After “Climategate” in late 2009, many climate skeptics launched studies independent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that took a closer look at the temperature record. Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is leading one such effort, which has received a large part of its funding from Koch Industries, known for fighting hard against emissions controls and accused by Greenpeace of funding a “climate denial machine.”

When Muller presented the initial results to a congressional hearing, “Republicans expected Muller to challenge the accepted wisdom,” according to Science. But he told the hearing, “we see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.