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California Upholds Auto Emissions Standards, Setting Up Face-Off With Trump

California’s clean-air agency voted on Friday to push ahead with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, setting up a potential legal battle with the Trump administration over the state’s plan to reduce planet-warming gases.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/business/energy-environment/california-upholds-emissions-standards-setting-up-face-off-with-trump.html?_r=0

The vote, by the California Air Resources Board, is the boldest indication yet of California’s plan to stand up to President Trump’s agenda. Leading politicians in the state, from the governor down to many mayors, have promised to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump’s policies.

Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. Automakers are aggressively pursuing those changes after years of supporting stricter standards.

But California can write its own standards because of a longstanding waiver granted under the Clean Air Act, giving the state — the country’s biggest auto market — major sway over the auto industry. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., follow California’s standards, a coalition that covers more than 130 million residents and more than a third of the vehicle market in the United States.

“All of the evidence — call it science, call it economics — shows that if anything, these standards should be even more aggressive,” said the board member Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert at the University of California, Davis.

The board’s chairwoman, Mary D. Nichols, an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, was even more pointed, admonishing automakers for milking Mr. Trump for favors.

“What were you thinking when you threw yourselves upon the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?” she asked. “Let’s take action today, and let’s move on.”

Long a forerunner in environmental regulation, California worked with the Obama administration on joint standards that became a crucial part of the country’s effort to combat climate change. Officials said the regulations would reduce the country’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and eliminate six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetime of the cars affected. That amounts to more than a year’s worth of America’s carbon emissions.

Adopted in 2012, the standards would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025, to 54.5 miles per gallon, forcing automakers to speed development of highly fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars. Mr. Trump intends to lower that target.

Friday’s unanimous vote by the 14-member board, which affirmed the higher standards through 2025, amounted to a public rejection of Mr. Trump’s plans.

Now, the question is how — or whether — the Trump administration will handle California’s dissent. The administration could choose to revoke California’s waiver, at which point experts expect the state would sue.

California sued the George W. Bush administration after it challenged California’s waiver in 2007. Mr. Obama reversed the federal challenge.

The White House and the E.P.A., which have not yet determined their plans for the California waiver, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several states that follow California’s rules raced to its defense. “We’ve come a long way together,” said Steven Flint, director of the air resources division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. “We’re with you, and we believe in what you’re doing.”

Environmentalists and public health experts have criticized the automakers’ resistance to emissions rules under the Trump administration as an about-face. All major automakers previously voiced support for the more stringent standards.

After the election of Mr. Trump, a group representing the nation’s biggest makers of cars and light trucks urged a reassessment of the emissions rules, which the group said posed a “substantial challenge” for the auto industry.

Automakers now complain about the steep technical challenge that the stringent standards pose. They have estimated that only about 3.5 percent of new vehicles are able to reach it, and that their industry would have to spend a “staggering” $200 billion by 2025 to comply.

A separate study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a think tank supporting emissions controls, has estimated that the cost of meeting those standards could be overstated by as much as 40 percent. And auto industry experts have warned that a slowdown in America’s shift toward efficient cars could leave its auto market a global laggard.

John Bozzella, chief executive of Global Automakers, an industry trade group, said before the California vote that companies agreed on the need to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy. But he urged California to fall into line with federal rules.

“There is a more effective way forward than regulatory systems that are different,” Mr. Bozzella said. He also suggested that demand for clean cars remained relatively tiny.

What was required, he said, were standards that “balance innovation, compliance and consumer needs and wants.”

Automakers have also been critical of a California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which requires automakers to sell a certain percentage of electric cars and trucks in California and nine other states. The board voted on Friday to continue that program.

Politicians in California, one of the country’s most Democratic states, have embraced acting as a bulwark against Mr. Trump’s policies, promising to defend the state’s laws on immigration, health care and the environment. Many cities in California have broad “sanctuary” policies aimed at protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants. State law also provides some protections for immigrants from being turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, declared that California would continue to work toward its legally required target of reducing carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And the state has retained Eric H. Holder Jr., the former United States attorney general, to advise on potential legal fights with the White House.

Even at the federal level, the president’s announcement alone will not be enough to immediately roll back emissions standards, a process expected to take more than a year of legal and regulatory reviews by the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department. The Trump administration would then need to propose its own replacement fuel-economy standards.

Still, the Trump administration’s move to ease emissions rules is the first part of an expected assault on Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy. In the coming weeks, Mr. Trump is also expected to announce that he will direct the E.P.A. to dismantle Obama-era regulations on pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not think carbon dioxide is a primary cause of global warming, a statement at odds with the scientific consensus on climate change.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association of California, one of many health and environmental groups that spoke at the board meeting, said moving away from strict emissions standards would hurt public health and the health of the planet. She urged the state to stay its course.

“The public is bearing a huge cost — billions of dollars in health expenses and damage from climate,” Ms. Holmes-Gen said. “I urge California to keep us on track.”

Correction: March 25, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated Steven Flint’s position. He is director of the air resources division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, not the director of the department.

 

The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia

Corporate capture of academic research by the fossil fuel industry is an elephant in the room and a threat to tackling climate change.

On February 16, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center hosted a film screening of the “Rational Middle Energy Series.” The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.”

Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard’s stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right?

Wrong.

The event’s sponsor was Shell Oil Company. The producer of the film series was Shell. The film’s director is Vice President of a family-owned oil and gas company, and has taken approximately $300,000 from Shell. The host, Harvard Kennedy School, has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. And the event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President.

The film “The Great Transition” says natural gas is “clean” (in terms of carbon emissions, it is not) and that low-carbon, renewable energy is a “very long time off” (which is a political judgment, not a fact). Amy Myers Jaffe, identified in the film as the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, says, “We need to be realistic that we’re gonna use fossil fuels now, because in the end, we are.” We are not told that she is a member of the US National Petroleum Council.

The film also features Richard Newell, who is identified as a Former Administrator at the US Energy Information Administration. “You can get 50% reductions in your emissions relative to coal through natural gas,” he says, ignoring the methane leaks that undermine such claims. The film neglects to mention that the Energy Initiative Newell founded and directed at Duke University was given $4 million by an Executive Vice President of a natural gas company.

Michelle Michot Foss, who offers skepticism about battery production for renewables, is identified as the Chief Energy Economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What’s not said is that the Energy Institute she founded at UT Austin is funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests including the Koch Foundation, or that she’s a partner in a natural gas company.

You may notice a pattern. The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying.

Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden.

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Down the street at MIT, the Institute’s Energy Initiative is almost entirely funded by fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.

MIT has taken $185 million from oil billionaire and climate denial financier David Koch, who is a Life Member of the university’s board.

The trend continues at Stanford, where one of us now works. The university’s Global Science and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. The Project’s founding and current directors are both petroleum engineers. Its current director also co-directs Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which is named after (and was co-founded by) the CEO of a natural gas company (now owned by Shell). Across the bay, UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute is the product of a $500 million deal with BP – one that gives the company power over which research projects get funded and which don’t.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.

For comparison, imagine if public health research were funded predominantly by the tobacco industry. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to understand the folly of making policy or science research financially dependent on the very industry it may regulate or negatively affect. Harvard’s school of public health no longer takes funding from the tobacco industry for that very reason. Yet such conflicts of interest are not only rife in energy and climate research, they are the norm.

This norm is no accident: it is the product of a public relations strategy to neutralize science and target those whom ExxonMobil dubbed “Informed Influentials,” and it comes straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. The myriad benefits of this strategy to the fossil fuel industry (and its effects on academic research) range from benign to insidious to unconscionable, but the big picture is simple: academia has a problem.

As scientists and policy experts rush to find solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our institutions are embroiled in a nationwide conflict of interest with the industry that has the most to lose.

Our message to universities is: stop ignoring it.

We are not saying that universities must cut all ties with all fossil fuel companies. Energy research is so awash with fossil fuel funding that such a proposal would imply major changes. What we are saying is that denial – “I don’t see a conflict,” MIT’s Chairman told the Boston Globe – is no longer acceptable.

Two parallel approaches can help. First, mandatory standards should be established in climate policy and energy research for disclosing financial and professional ties with fossil fuel interests, akin to those required in medical research. And second, conflicts of interest should be reduced by prioritizing less conflicted funding and personnel.

One way or another, the colonization of academia by the fossil fuel industry must be confronted. Because when our nation’s “independent” research to stop climate change is in fact dependent on an industry whose interests oppose that goal, neither the public nor the future is well served.

Dr. Benjamin Franta is a PhD student in the Department of History at Stanford University, an Associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a former Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He has a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University.

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a Post Doctoral Associate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Post Doctoral Fellow in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT.

China’s premier unveils smog-busting plan to ‘make skies blue again’

Li Keqiang promises to intensify battle against air pollution as he unveils series of measures at annual people’s congress

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has promised to step up his country’s battle against deadly smog, telling an annual political congress: “We will make our skies blue again.”

China’s cities have become synonymous with choking air pollution in recent years, which is blamed for up to 1 million premature deaths a year.

Speaking at the opening of the national people’s congress in Beijing on Sunday, Li admitted his country was facing a grave environmental crisis that had left Chinese citizens desperately hoping for relief.

Li unveiled a series of smog-busting measures including cutting coal use, upgrading coal-fired power plants, slashing vehicle emissions, encouraging the use of clean-energy cars and punishing government officials who ignore environmental crimes or air pollution. “Key sources” of industrial pollutants would be placed under 24-hour online monitoring in an effort to cut emissions.

The premier vowed that levels of PM2.5 would fall “markedly” over the coming year but did not cite a specific target.

“Tackling smog is down to every last one of us, and success depends on action and commitment. As long as the whole of our society keeps trying we will have more and more blue skies with each passing year,” he said.

PM2.5 is a tiny airborne particulate that has been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Despite his buoyant message, Li’s language was more cautious than three years ago when he used the same opening speech to “resolutely declare war on pollution” and warn that smog was “nature’s red light warning against inefficient and blind development”.

There has been public frustration – and protest – against Beijing’s failure to achieve results in its quest to clean up the environment. Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north last December as a result of the country’s latest pollution “red alert”.

Wei Song, a Chinese opera singer who attended Li’s speech, said it was inhuman to “achieve development goals by sacrificing the environment” and called for tougher measures against polluters.

“The government should increase the penalties in order to bankrupt the people and the companies responsible. Otherwise, if the punishment is just a little scratch, they will carry on polluting,” said Wei, one of China’s “three tenors”.

Zhang Bawu, a senior Communist party official from Ningxia province, defended China’s “much improved” record on the environment.

He claimed the number of smoggy days in Beijing was now falling thanks to government efforts and he said his province, which is building what could become the biggest solar farm on Earth, was also doing its bit.

Ningxia’s frontline role in a Chinese wind and solar revolution meant 40% of its energy now came from renewable sources, Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

Stellar Energy Defends Plasma Gasification Waste to Energy Plan for Bahamas

Steve Gill, Board Advisor the firm planning a plasma gasification waste to energy plant for the Bahamas, Stellar Energy, has responnded to recent criticism of the plans by the Waste Resources Development Group (WRDG).

https://waste-management-world.com/a/stellar-energy-defends-plasma-gasification-waste-to-energy-plan-for-bahamas

Stellar Energy remains committed to the provision of a world class waste management, remediation and clean energy production facility for the Bahamas. Stellar has worked tirelessly for over 6 years at its cost in advancing the project.

It is with disappointment that we are seen as an easy target by some local entities with a vested interest in the current practice, which has resulted in an unmanaged toxic waste dump that continues to have a significant, negative effect on this beautiful island; notably hazardous leachate that breaches the water table and noxious fires, both underground and open air.

The need to ameliorate this situation is plain to see, with the added benefit of a continuous supply of clean, renewable energy at less than half the current cost to Bahamian inhabitants. WRDG (which consists of consortia of small waste handlers and processors) is quick to point out their concerns over one of the proposed technologies-Gasplasma®.

When processing over 1000tpd of highly organic waste the only proven technology with long run time history is mass burn incineration, one can only imagine the furore that would have occurred if this solution had been proposed by Stellar for this project, as well as public outcry. Stellar looked for a new technology with significant risk mitigation, via the combination of two proven (at scale) technologies; gasification and DC Plasma Arc.

Our chosen technology provider, Advanced Plasma Power’s CEO Rolf Stein, supports rebuttal of these allegations made by the projects detractors. He said ‘The Gasplasma technology is based on two long proven technologies (fluidised bed gasification and plasma furnace) deployed in multiple locations around the world.

The Gasplasma technology brings benefits of efficiency and environmental improvement in the generation of power, the reduction in hazardous waste and lower water consumption compared to other waste to energy solutions. Confidence in the technology has been demonstrated by the recent investment by National Grid (UK) in a Gasplasma based project in the UK which is under construction.

Our work with Stellar and the EPC partner to date indicates that the proposed solution will not only deliver renewable power but provide a controlled and substantially more environmentally improved situation than the status quo’

To further mitigate any residual risk Stellar had ensured the whole project was underwritten with a comprehensive process guarantee by one of the world’s eminent and most experienced EPC contractors.

WRDG voice concerns about the proposed cost; again we feel the need to bring balance here. The $650mio figure was a first estimate that was subject to review following 3 separate FEL studies; waste characterisation, landfill study and resultant plant configuration.

Stellar undertook the first of these studies at its own cost, the results of which already bought the indicative capex down some $200 mio to $450mio. Stellar remains very confident that the last two studies would bring the cost down even further to meet its aim of sub $350mio. The irony here is that all costs of this project were to be borne by Stellar, not the Bahamas government or any allied body, public or private.

Again unfounded allegation of significant tipping fee increases are without foundation as Stellar’s business model is based on current pricing. The project bankability is underpinned by a PPA, like all energy projects of this kind in order to make the project fundable. The proposed PPA would have seen prices for clean, continual power brought down by more than 50%, so where we ask is the downside?

As a further commitment to the island and the legacy this project would bring is that Stellar had committed at its cost, to provide a “Centre of Excellence” whereby local labour would have been trained to world class standards and independently certified with NEBOSH/IOSH qualifications to allow maximum local labour content in the construction and operational phases.

To date we have seen no such offering in any shape of form from any of these detractors, in particular WRDG or their intent to work together for the common good.

Exclusive: Climate Science Denial Group Heartland Institute is “Reaching Out” to Fossil Fuel Industry for Funding

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/02/01/climate-science-denial-group-heartland-institute-fossil-fuel-industry-funding-fred-palmer

One of the world’s most notorious climate science denial groups is “reaching out to the fossil fuel community” to raise cash in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election.

Coal industry veteran and new Heartland Institute senior fellow Fred Palmer believes the election of Donald Trump will transform the energy industry in the United States by leaving the science of climate change behind.

And in a wide-ranging interview with DeSmog, Palmer claimed there was nothing wrong with fossil fuel companies secretly funding groups that push climate science denial.

“I am reaching out to the fossil fuel community right now and raising money for Heartland,” he said. “Of course that’s acceptable.”

Palmer spent more than 30 years as a lobbyist and public affairs professional for the coal industry, first with Western Fuels Association and then later for Peabody Energy.

Palmer has long rejected the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change. Instead, he says adding CO2 to the atmosphere will bring benefits. His position runs counter to credible scientists around the world and decades of peer-reviewed scientific literature, including the positions of every major scientific academy on the planet.

In 1990, Palmer was asked to help organize a coal-funded PR campaign to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”

Later Palmer established the Greening Earth Society to try to convince the public that the science linking dangerous climate change to fossil fuels was weak, but that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would help plant growth.

Palmer told DeSmog he believed coal and other fossil fuels were part of “a divine plan” because, he said, they were easy to access and improved people’s lives.

He said there was nothing wrong with fossil fuel companies funding climate science denial groups, even if that funding was not disclosed. People who opposed those secretive arrangements, he said, “don’t understand advocacy.”

In 2016 it emerged that Peabody had been funding a network of climate science denial groups.

The Heartland Institute announced in early January that Palmer would become a senior fellow on energy and climate change.

Heartland Institute runs regular conferences for climate science deniers and contrarians. Before one conference, the group launched a billboard campaign comparing people who “believed” in global warming to terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski. A parade of corporate funders pulled their support to the institute after the ill-judged billboard campaign.

President Trump’s key financial backer, billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, has donated almost $5 million to Heartland from his family foundation.

Palmer told DeSmog he thought the presidency of Trump, who has said climate change is a hoax, would be “transformational” for the fossil fuel industry.

“For the first time in 25 years, CO2 greenhouse gas emissions are not the driving consideration in energy development in the United States,” said Palmer.

“That’s a transformational development and it took a Donald Trump to become president of the United States to put that on the table. I say God bless him.”

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific seeks 80pc emissions reductions on some long flights with big switch to biofuels

Airline among world’s first to adopt fuels made largely from landfill rubbish

Cathay Pacific Airways has pledged an 80 per cent cut in the amount of climate-changing gases some of its longest flights pump into the Earth’s atmosphere, by betting big on biofuels.

The Hong Kong carrier will be one of the first airlines in the world to switch to cleaner jet fuels on an industrial scale.

The city is slowly strengthening its push to lessen its contribution to climate change, and the government aims to cut annual carbon emissions per person almost in half by 2030.

The aviation sector had avoided regulation until last year, when its governing body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, agreed a global deal to curb emissions growth by the end of the decade.

Cathay Pacific planes will use fuel made from landfill rubbish. Many of its flights from the United States, where the fuel is being produced, will be able to fly to Hong Kong using a half-half mix of biofuel and conventional fuel by 2019. It is on these trans-Pacific flights that the company expects the 80 per cent emissions reductions.

“Aviation biofuels will play a key role for Cathay and the aviation industry’s quest for lower emissions,” the airline’s biofuel manager, Jeff Ovens, said. “We are on the cusp of large-scale production of low-carbon jet fuel and are eager to use it.”

The high and notoriously unpredictable cost of fuel has forced the airline to control how much it uses. By – among other things – reducing aircraft weight, flying on more direct flight paths and only using one engine to taxi on runways, the company cut emissions and paved the way for the rethink of how it could further cut pollution.

“This is where biofuels come in,” Ovens said. “These fuels will have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels, and the pricing we have is competitive with traditional fuels.”

Aside from the carbon dioxide reduction, using the mixed fuel avoids emissions of other harmful gases, like methane, given off as rubbish – which will instead be used as fuel – naturally degrades in landfill.

Cathay Pacific passengers are unlikely to see a rise in fares, because the biofuel investments since 2014 have been absorbed into the company’s operating costs. But it is too early to tell whether the switch could lower ticket prices.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary at the Environment Bureau – which spearheaded the government’s 2030 climate action report – said: “I think the world as a whole has come to embrace dealing with climate change, and you are seeing major industry sectors coming forward to say they need to do more.”

But she said the lack of global rules on the production, infrastructure and supply of biofuels made long-term policymaking harder. “I think that is further down the road than we are able to make policies on,” she said.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, CEO of Green Sense, an environmental pressure group, said the airline’s climate effort was a “good start”.

He said: “As one of Asia’s biggest airlines, they can do much more.”

Airlines occasionally test biofuels, mainly with used cooking oil, but not landfill waste.

United Airlines has started running some domestic flights on biofuels regularly, but even then in small quantities.

The airline’s new batch of Airbus A350 planes – themselves 25 per cent more fuel efficient than their forerunners – flew from France to Hong Kong for delivery using a small amount of biofuel.

The airline’s partnership with a US-based renewable fuel producer is on track to help make its flights from the US to Hong Kong International Airport, starting from 2019, greener.

Fulcrum Bioenergy and Cathay Pacific signed an agreement in 2014, helping the airline meet its biofuel supply targets, with a purchase of 375 million gallons of biofuel over 10 years.

That fuel would be enough to supply Cathay Pacific’s 76 weekly US flights to Hong Kong for six months.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2066549/hong-kongs-cathay-pacific-seeks-80pc-emissions

How Politics and Pollution Could Push China Into the Climate Leader Role the US Is Giving up

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/01/30/how-politics-pollution-could-push-china-climate-leader-role-us-giving

Earlier this month China halted more than 100 coal-fired power projects. Scrapping these projects, with combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, may have more to do with China’s current overcapacity in coal production than its commitment to mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders are likely happy that the move is framing their nation as a green energy leader, according to experts in Chinese and environmental policy.

That’s because, they say, the Chinese government is now eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S. And, they say, China is poised to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector.

Pollution Fuels China’s New Energy Priorities

Saying that China is doing nothing on climate change has long been a right wing talking point used to stop U.S. regulations such as carbon taxes. While that may have been true a decade ago, it certainly isn’t true now.

Already, China is both the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies and its biggest consumer.

A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report showed that China invested $287.5 billion in clean energy in 2016, while the U.S. spent $58.6 billion. And in January it announced plans to invest an additional $120 billion a year in renewable power before 2020.

China’s five-year plan on energy and climate is ambitious, calling for an 18 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2015 levels. It aims to reduce coal to 55 percent of total power by 2020, down from 69 percent now.

But China’s most urgent need is not reducing greenhouse gases, or even cashing in on the burgeoning green tech market, but eliminating the smog choking its cities, which is caused by burning coal, oil, and biomass. Over the past decade, China’s degraded air quality has caused millions of premature deaths, hurt its economy, and has become a primary cause of social unrest.

John Chung-En Liu, a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told DeSmog that, despite positive stories about scrapping coal plants, these actions don’t mean an imminent end to China’s use of fossil fuels. And they don’t mean China is doing this for the world’s benefit either.

“The media have been talking about closing down 100 coal powered plants, but the real reason is that China has overbuilt from a massive expansion of coal over the past 20 years,” he said. “The Chinese government is committed to green tech but can’t make the move quickly because of the infrastructure.”

Nevertheless, China’s ambitious plans are bound to help reduce emissions that lead to global warming in the long run. And scholars say the country is planning to use its investment in green tech to its advantage, and at the expense of the United States.

China Poised to Benefit From Investment in Renewables

China’s dominance in wind, solar, and hydro energy is growing as the U.S. is falling behind, experts have said.

A paper released in December by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) made the case that, even before Donald Trump took office, the U.S. was forfeiting its chance to capitalize on the growing clean energy market.

“The United States is losing this race because Asian countries are out-investing the United States and dictating the terms of competition, often flooding the market with low-cost, unimaginative products,” the ITIF report concluded.

In 2016, China was by far the leader in producing solar energy. At the end of 2014, China made one out of every three wind turbines in the world and last year a Chinese wind energy company bested American companies in producing wind power. In fact the country is producing more wind power than it can use, at least until the central government finds a way to move energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed.

Last year China led the world in sales and manufacture of electric vehicles.

America, too, could benefit from similar growth in green tech if the current administration weren’t so committed to fossil fuels, according to Angel Hsu, a professor of environmental studies at the Yale School of Forestry.

“The U.S. economy stands to suffer with Trump’s denial of clean energy,” said Hsu. “If Trump wants to create jobs like he says he does, ignoring the potential of green jobs would be a huge oversight.”

China’s Climate Change Asset: A Lack of Kochs

Scholars of Chinese energy policy say the country benefits from having no climate denying lobby or equivalent to the Koch brothers.

“A critical difference is that there is no private oil and gas lobby in China,” Liu said, adding that climate skeptics are a fringe group within the Communist Party and largely ignored.

Energy interests are state-owned in China, and while they are not puppets of the state, they have much less relative power on the state’s official policies. Right now, the official state policy is to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.

“When the central government says, ‘Set up the policy,’ the companies must follow,” Liu said. “Yes, they will try to exert their influence within the government but not to the extent as oil and gas companies do in the U.S. In the U.S., industry will try to block any carbon regulation that hurts their opportunities, so they fight vehemently to slow down any regulation.”

Will U.S. Cede Climate Leadership to China?

Unlike President Obama, who urged the U.S. to show leadership in curbing climate change, the Trump administration has made clear that it plans to double down on dirty energy. While China has promised to expand its climate commitments, the new U.S. president has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement. That could allow Bejing to fill the leadership void left by Washington.

State-run newspapers are already boasting of China’s potential to exploit its leadership on global warming.

In a speech at the most recent World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a vigorous defense of multilateral cooperation, the kind of speech that U.S. presidents used to give, observers noted.

“Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others,” Xi declared.

China still has issues of huge inequality and provincial needs that are often at odds with the edicts of the central government. And for all its ambitious goals, the central government still doesn’t have a plan to address how it will meet them without economic pain for some coal-dependent provinces in the short term.

Liu points out that China is stuck with dirty industries, in addition to dirty means of powering them, and any tightening of regulations could come at the expense of much-needed jobs that may support an entire region.

Hsu told DeSmog that Chinese colleagues she spoke with at the Marrakech climate conference in November 2016 were optimistic about their country’s prospects in seizing not only economic opportunities in green tech, but the nation’s ability to claim the moral high ground on climate change.

“They said worldwide pressure would be put on the U.S. because they’re the second largest emitter of carbon and they’re not doing anything,” Hsu said. “So it deflects attention away from China and allows them to consider how to decarbonize to 2050 and put a long-term strategy in place. They don’t necessarily seek this role on climate change but they’re willing to take it in the absence of U.S. leadership.”

It’s been little more than a week under the new Trump administration, but all signs so far point to the U.S. government trumpeting discredited views on climate science and getting left behind in the burgeoning clean energy sector.

Towards a new European mindset on waste-to-energy?

The European Commission released on 26 January the Communication on the Role of Waste-to-Energy in a Circular Economy. Although non-binding, the communication analyses the current role of waste-to-energy and gives guidance on Member States on how to cope with the problems this generates.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2017/01/towards-a-new-european-mindset-on-waste-to-energy/

From Zero Waste Europe’s point of view, the Commission has positively changed its position from promoting incineration to acknowledging the problems related to overcapacities, distortive economic incentives and the risk that a very quick phasing out of landfills shifts waste from these to incinerators and not to prevention, reuse and recycling.

In this regard, the Commission advises those Member States heavily relying on landfills to focus on separate collection, on increasing recycling capacity and on diverting bio-waste from landfills. It insists that in case these Member States want to obtain energy from waste, they are recommended to recycle bio-waste through anaerobic digestion. In addition, they are called on taking into account the commitments and objectives for next 20-30 years (separate collection and recycling targets) and carefully assess the evolution expected for mixed waste when planning infrastructures, so as to avoid regrettable investments (i.e. redundant incinerators).

When it comes to those Member States heavily relying on incineration, the Commission calls on them to raise taxes on waste-to-energy, phase out public support schemes, decommission old facilities and establish a moratorium on new ones. The case on defunding waste-to-energy has been extended to all Member States, so as not to distort the waste hierarchy. In this sense, the Commission acknowledges that the waste operations delivering the highest reduction of GHG emissions are prevention, reuse and recycling and are the ones to be promoted, something Eunomia’s report for Zero Waste Europe of 2015 already showed.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes this call, but would have expected the Commission to show this ambition when last November proposed a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive that is the one opening the door for renewable energy subsidies for incineration. ZWE expects MEPs and national governments to take note of this communication when reviewing the Directive and bring coherence between EU legislation.

ZWE notes, however, that the text still considers that waste incineration has a role within a circular economy, which is a conceptual contradiction because if material loops are effectively closed there is nothing left to burn. A more accurate approach would be to say that the capacity of waste to energy incineration is to be used in the transition period to a circular economy but once proper material and value preservation policies are successfully implemented burning waste will be redundant.

Finally ZWE’s warns about the Commission current double standards with its approach to waste to energy (WtE) in Europe and its support to WtE in the rest of the world, particularly in the Global South where we have seen successful recycling programs having been dismantled to feed the European funded incineration plants.

Nevertheless, this communication seems a change in the mindset of the European Commission and a positive step to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies and move towards zero waste.

Theresa May must challenge Trump’s ‘contempt’ for climate change, say MPs

CTA says: Misogynist arrogant silver spooned Republican bully wants to make the USA the ‘Ultimate’ instead of ‘Great Satan’.

http://www.britishslang.co.uk/slang/trump

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/27/theresa-may-must-challenge-trumps-contempt-for-climate-change-say-mps

MPs from across the political spectrum say the UK prime minister must urge the US president to remain in the global Paris agreement

Prime minister Theresa May must challenge President Donald Trump’s “contempt” for environmental protection and urge him to remain in the global agreement to fight climate change, according to MPs from across the UK’s political parties.

May will meet Trump on Friday in Washington DC and has been warned by MPs that the US president’s approach to global warming could determine whether or not people around the world suffer the worst impacts of climate change, such as severe floods, storms and heatwaves.

In his first few days as president, Trump has already replaced the climate change page on the White House website with a fossil-fuel-based energy policy, resurrected two controversial oil pipelines and attempted to gag the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and the National Parks Service.

Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” and “bullshit”, has packed his administration with climate-change deniers and his pick for secretary of state is former ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson.

“We have grave concerns about the new president’s views on climate change and his reported plans to abandon the Paris agreement,” said the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs in a letter to May. “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of all time. The scientific evidence is unequivocal.”

The US is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and the MPs said Trump’s “approach to reducing emissions could determine whether we, in the UK and people around the world, experience or avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Mary Creagh MP, EAC chair, said: “The prime minister should start by telling him climate change is not ‘a hoax’. We’re urging her to impress upon President Trump the importance of global action to tackle this global problem and to continue the US commitment to the Paris agreement.”

Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP, said: “Donald Trump’s first few days as president have revealed his contempt for environmental protection. Failing to bring up climate change with him would be a dereliction of duty from Theresa May.”

Ed Miliband MP, a former leader of the Labour Party challenged May in the House of Commons on Wednesday: “As the first foreign leader to meet President Trump, the prime minister carries a huge responsibility on behalf of, not just of this country, but the whole international community in the tone that she sets. Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the president that he must abide by, and not withdraw from, the Paris climate change treaty?”

May replied: “The Obama administration signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, and we have now done so. I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure that that climate change agreement is put into practice.”

A government spokeswoman added: “The future direction of US climate policy is a matter for the US. But we face shared challenges on energy and have worked closely together on climate change issues. And we hope to see this continue under the new administration.”

May also told MPs she is “not afraid to speak frankly” to President Trump, thanks to the special relationship between the UK and America. But after the release of extracts from a speech May was giving in the US, she was accused of “grovelling” by former business secretary Vince Cable in order to win a trade deal.

One the eve of Trump’s inauguration, when 2016 was declared as the hottest year ever recorded, leading climate change figures urged the president to “make America great again” – and the world safer – by embracing the trillion-dollar green tech revolution. Over 100 UK climate experts also wrote to May earlier in January warning that Trump’s suggestion that he would cut US climate science would leave the world “flying blind” in tackling global warming.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said: “Trump’s war on our environment has already begun. Silence [from May] is not acceptable – it will simply legitimise the new president’s climate denial.”

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “The relationship is only special if the prime minister is prepared to say what Trump wants to ignore. And what May should make absolutely clear is that the UK won’t wind back the clock on progress but will keep striving for a more peaceful and prosperous future.”

On 11 January, before President Trump’s inauguration, Tillerson said the US should remain part of the global climate change agreement, signed in Paris in December 2015.

“It’s important that the US maintain its seat at the table,” he said. The danger of climate change is real and “requires a global response”, he said. “No one country is going to solve this on its own.”

But on Thursday, a draft executive order leaked to the media suggested the Trump administration is preparing to order sweeping cuts in funding to the UN and other international organisations, while potentially walking away from some treaties.

Brussels urges countries to stop funding incineration

The European Commission has urged member states to gradually phase out public funding for energy recovery from mixed waste in new non-binding guidelines on waste-to-energy.

Mixed waste used as feedstock in waste-to-energy processes is expected to fall due to higher recycling targets, currently being discussed by the EU institutions, as well as separate collection obligations, the document says. This type of waste accounts for just over half of all waste converted into energy in the EU.

The Commission notes that experience in some member states has indicated a real risk of stranded assets, particularly in incineration. Member states with little incineration capacity and high reliance on landfilling should prioritise new recycling capacity and develop anaerobic digestion to treat biodegradable waste, it says.

Countries with high incineration capacity should ban new facilities while decommissioning old, less efficient ones, the document states. They are also advised to introduce higher incineration taxes for inefficient processes and phase out support schemes.

Presenting the guidelines on Thursday, Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said that creating a market for incineration should be avoided “as much as possible”. “It’s unavoidable for a small part, but only at a stage where recycling is no longer possible – and certainly should not be done before that,” he argued.

The document stresses the importance of the priority order set in the waste hierarchy in ensuring that waste-to-energy capacity does not generate stranded assets.

The Commission seeks to clarify how the hierarchy applies to various waste-to-energy processes, noting that they rank differently in terms of their sustainability.

Anaerobic digestion counts as recycling in the waste hierarchy, which is half-way up the ranking just behind prevention and preparing for reuse, according to the guidelines. Just below, they place waste incineration and co-incineration operators with a high level of energy recovery under ‘other recovery’, together with reprocessed waste used as fuel.

Only waste incineration and co-incineration with limited energy recovery are classed as disposal, the bottom category of the hierarchy, along with gas from landfills. Incineration, co-incineration in kilns and anaerobic digestion provide around 1.5% of the EU’s total final energy consumption.

However, the guidance leaves member states the opportunity to depart from the priority order if they can justify why this achieves “the best environmental outcome”. Potential reasons outlined include technical feasibility, economic viability and environmental protection.

Green group Zero Waste Europe said the recommendations provide clarity on how to implement the waste hierarchy. But it regretted that the Commission had not included its call to phase out subsidies for waste-to-energy in its proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive from last November, calling on MEPs and member states to do so during the legislative process.

Additional reporting by José Rojo

susanna.ala-kurikka@haymarket.com