Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

Government

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.

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.

Hong Kong government aims to slash carbon emissions with 2030 action plan

While government hopes to reduce total emissions by 26-36 per cent, some critics say the plans lack conviction

Annual carbon emissions could be slashed from around six tonnes per person to between 3.3 and 3.8 tonnes by 2030, according to the government’s latest climate change action plan.

But a think tank and green group believe the plan lacks hard targets for renewables and the ambition to phase out coal in the fuel mix.

The target, which will translate to an absolute carbon emission reduction of 26 to 36 per cent and reduction of 65 to 70 per cent in carbon emissions per GDP from 2005, will use a cleaner, less coal-intensive fuel mix and more energy efficient buildings and transport.

Renewable energy would also be applied on a “wider and larger scale”, it said.

Measures to incentivise private investment in renewables could be introduced in the post-2018 regulatory framework with power companies, which is being negotiated, the plan says.

Government departments are looking at installing floating photovoltaic systems on reservoirs, with two expected to be completed at Shek Pik and Plover Cove this year, and on slopes, such as at the old Anderson Quarry.

The Environment Bureau however stressed that the city did not have favourable conditions for large-scale commercial use and as such, did not set any concrete targets for 2030.

Also missing were hard targets for reducing energy use in the private buildings sector. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said a consensus had been reached for the building sector to voluntarily reduce electricity consumption on an “ongoing” basis, with details still to be finalised.

“Overall we would like to make it a kind of pattern similar to the Paris agreement,” he said, referring to the land climate accord, which requires each individual country to work toward its own nationally-determined contributions to curb global warming and report back every five years.

Maura Wong, CEO of think tank Civic Exchange believed the plan lacked commitment. “We still don’t know by 2030 whether we will be coal-free and what the mix will be between natural gas and nuclear,” she said. “They need to be ambitious enough to set a clear date of when they will completely phase out coal.”

WWF-Hong Kong’s conservation director Gavin Edwards said: “We welcome the government’s openness to 3 to 4 per cent renewable energy, but believe that it should be a formal target and … more ambitious with at least 5 per cent renewables by 2030.
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2064045/hong-kong-government-aims-slash-carbon-emissions

How China has embraced renewable energy and Hong Kong hasn’t, and what’s behind city’s green power inertia

Summer 2016 saw record heat, and health problems from air pollution are rising, yet green energy projects have been shelved or denied funding; electricity firms lack incentives to go green, WWF says

Professor Johnny Chan Chun-leung is one of Hong Kong’s most eminent climate and energy scientists, and he is a very frustrated man. This month Beijing announced it would invest 2.5 trillion yuan (HK$2.8 trillion) in renewable energy technology by 2020 to establish the nation as world leader in sustainable and clean energy, and create 13 million jobs. Meanwhile, Chan and other respected scientists in Hong Kong are struggling to obtain financial support for their green energy projects.

Whereas China embraces wind, tide, solar and wave energy as essential tools to tackle climate change and its acute air pollution, attitudes in Hong Kong appear as fossilised as the fuel that provides 78 per cent of its energy needs.

Chan, chair professor of atmospheric science at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Energy and Environment, outlined details of an innovative tidal turbine project at a conference on renewable energy last week, organised by the city’s Business Environment Council. Chan’s team has developed a system that can generate electricity even in low tidal streams, typical of the seas around Hong Kong. Though it is early days, trials staged at the Gold Coast Marina in the city’s Tuen Mun district produced encouraging results.

He now needs funding to scale it up, with a view to offering the city a viable green energy alternative, but his application to the Environment and Conservation Fund for HK$2 million was rejected. “The ECF told me today that I ‘did not demonstrate the merits and contributions of the proposed study to environmental protection’,” he says. “How ridiculous.”

It is not an isolated incident. Others complain privately that Hong Kong funding bodies are “overly risk averse” and are rarely enthusiastic about funding green energy research and development.

“I believe more can be done to promote local funding for R&D for all renewable energy components,” says Dr Walid Daoud, a solar energy expert from City University and another speaker at the council’s conference. Many believe these difficulties are just one symptom of a wider malaise when it comes to supporting green energy in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong performs badly in overall carbon emissions and renewable energy,” says Cheung Chi-wah, senior head of climate and footprint programmes at environmental campaign group WWF-Hong Kong. He notes that the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have been rising steadily and are 23 per cent above their level in 2002. That was the same year the Hong Kong government published its first study of renewable energy, compiled by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The report estimated that 17 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs could be supplied by solar power alone.

It also made a key primary recommendation that the government should set targets for renewable energy’s contribution to demand of 1 per cent, 2 per cent and 3 per cent for 2012, 2017 and 2022, respectively. Nearly 15 years later, with electricity consumption rising about 5 per cent a year, the city recording record-breaking temperatures last summer, and health problems due to worsening air pollution growing, very little has been achieved. Instead of the proposed 2 per cent target for 2017, the latest data shows that the proportion of energy used in the city that is produced by renewable means is still less than 1 per cent – far from the 17 per cent potential – and the targets have not even been implemented.

Indeed, by 2012 only 2.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels, capable of meeting 0.01 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs, had been installed.

Hong Kong is also one of the few advanced cities in the world with no feed-in tariff scheme, or “net metering system”, in place. This means that, rather than small-scale green energy producers being paid for contributing any excess energy to the grid, they can only donate it.

Energy consultant Mike Thomas, of the Lantau Group, another speaker at the council’s event, thinks it is unhelpful to compare China and Hong Kong in terms of being “behind or ahead” because of the vast differences in the two economies’ scale, resources and political systems. He also believes Hong Kong is taking the right steps by implementing the government’s new fuel mix for energy supply by 2020, which consists of about 50 per cent natural gas, around 25 per cent nuclear power and more use of renewable energy sources. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, but 30 per cent to 50 per cent cleaner than coal in terms of emissions.

“It is true that there is very little renewable energy, strictly speaking, but given the rabid debate about the use of green space for housing, I’m not sure that converting the hillsides to solar panels would appeal either,” he says. The issue of “low energy density” (the relatively high land area needed to produce 1 kilowatt of renewable electricity) is often cited by opponents of renewable energy in Hong Kong, which, including its 263 islands, has a land area of just 1,104 sq km.

Douad calculates the city would need to cover 20 per cent of its surface area with 10 per cent efficient solar panels to meet its energy needs, yet he remains a firm advocate of solar power.

“The 20 per cent is for the actual lateral 2D land use. However, we could also consider the vertical 3D of the urban landscape, using building walls as well as rooftops, sun-exposed roads and highways, sound barriers and water reservoirs,” he says.

While delegates at the council’s conference earnestly discuss the possibilities of using renewable energy locally, most leading cities have already embraced renewables and the smart grid – the use of digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency – and have coherent policies in place to foster them.

Singapore is ramping up the use of solar panels through initiatives such as SolarNova, a government-led programme, and investing in green energy research via The Energy Research Institute. The city state is already seeing positive results. Figures for 2014 show that green energy sources contributed 3.7 per cent of total energy consumption (up from 2.4 per cent in 2005) and analysts expect that figure to top 5 per cent by 2020.

Hong Kong does have small-scale solar schemes designed for local consumption, and some government buildings generate solar power, but its approach to solar energy is piecemeal.

CLP Power, one of the city’s two electricity suppliers, commissioned its award-winning renewable energy power plant on Town Island in Sai Kung in January 2010, comprising wind turbines and solar panels, to supply the needs of the island’s drug rehabilitation centre, and says it has connected about 250 small-scale local schemes.

The other supplier, Hongkong Electric, says about 70 local use renewable systems have been connected to its grid over the past 10 years. It also operates a 1MW solar plant and the only wind turbine connected to Hong Kong’s power grid.

It might be imagined that geographical restrictions and a scarcity of available land would make harnessing offshore wind, wave and tidal power – as Chan proposes – more attractive, but there is little sign of progress on any of these. Detailed proposals from the electricity companies to build offshore wind farms were awarded environmental permits, but both schemes were shelved in 2013 and mysteriously disappeared from the local energy agenda.

“We are in the process of collecting wind, wave and other environmental data, along with a review of the engineering design, to complete the feasibility study,” a CLP spokesman says of its plan.

Hongkong Electric’s proposed wind farm in waters off Lamma Island was to supply 1.5 per cent of its total output. Asked about the proposal, a company spokesman says “field wind measurement has been going on since 2012”.

Cheung says no one in the industry understands why the company needs to collect five years of wind data. He suspects the real reason for offshore wind power being dropped is that the schemes of control both power companies have negotiated with the government, which regulate their profits on operations and investment, do not offer enough financial sweeteners for either company to proceed.

The current schemes of control are due to expire by end of 2018, and the government is negotiating terms with the companies to renew them. Cheung thinks it’s “a perfect time for the government to show its determination by introducing significant targets and incentives for energy consumption reduction and [renewable energy] development”.

One of the thorny issues that will need to be ironed out is tariffs. Hong Kong has some of the cheapest and most reliable power in the world (electricity costs about half what it does in New York). Although it is widely believed that greater use of green energy is essential, there is less agreement on who will pay for the higher prices or pick up the bill for integration of an intermittent power source to the grid.

While energy costs account for only 1.6 per cent of the average Hong Kong household’s budget, there is little commercial incentive for change and little political appetite for heaping extra costs on hard-pressed families.

There is more hope than expectation that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will use his final policy address to announce Hong Kong will follow Beijing’s lead and reveal a bold new policy for renewable energy with defined targets, a credible strategy to achieve them, and support for home-grown innovations such as Chan’s.
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2062467/how-china-has-embraced-renewable-energy-and-hong-kong-hasnt-and-whats

Obama puts Arctic Ocean off limits for drilling in last-ditch barrier to Trump

US Department of the Interior says ‘fragile and unique’ Arctic ecosystem at risk if drilling allowed, possibly by pro-fossil fuels Trump administration

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/obama-arctic-ocean-drilling-fossil-fuels-trump

Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out drilling for oil and gas in the pristine Arctic Ocean, throwing up a last-ditch barrier to the pro-fossil fuels agenda of incoming president Donald Trump.

The US Department of the Interior said that the “fragile and unique” Arctic ecosystem would face “significant risks” if drilling were allowed in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas, which lie off Alaska. It added that the high costs of exploration, combined with a low oil price, would probably deter fossil fuel companies anyway.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places – those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure – and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said the interior secretary, Sally Jewell.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

The move, announced as part of the federal government’s land and ocean leasing program that will run from 2017 to 2022, has been cheered by environmentalists who called for the Arctic to be put off limits for drilling to help slow climate change and avoid a catastrophic oil spill.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s senior vice-president for the United States.

“The decades-long push to drill in the Arctic has put this unique and diverse ecosystem at risk, cost tens of billions of dollars and created significant controversy without providing the promised benefits. We now have the opportunity to put the old arguments behind us and work together toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region.”

The removal of the Arctic Ocean from federal leasing runs contrary to Trump’s vow to “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks” to large fossil fuel projects and throw open vast areas of land and water to drilling. But even if Trump reverses the Arctic ban, the economics are still unfavorable for offshore drilling in the region.

Shell spent more than $7bn on its attempt to exploit oil and gas reserves in the Arctic after being allowed to do so by the US government despite a high predicted risk of an oil spill in the frigid ecosystem. The Anglo-Dutch company abandoned its drilling operation in September last year, having faced huge costs and fierce opposition from green groups.

Fossil fuel interests have eyed the Arctic as a huge new frontier for oil and gas riches, with rapidly melting sea ice making areas of the Arctic Ocean more accessible for drilling rigs. The Arctic holds about 90bn barrels of undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas.

However, the International Energy Agency has warned that the drilling in the Arctic is not yet commercially viable, while environmental groups have warned that opening up new fossil fuel development will push the planet over the precipice into catastrophic climate change.

The Arctic is at the forefront of global warming, with the region heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. This summer, Arctic sea ice shrank to its second smallest extent ever recorded, with the annual winter regrowth occurring at a “sluggish” rate, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. On current trends, ice is returning at a slower rate than the record low experienced in 2012.

The new federal leasing plan also makes the Atlantic off-limits to drilling, another success for environmentalists and coastal communities that fought initial plans to lease areas to fossil fuel firms. But the plan does include 10 new sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the epicenter of US offshore drilling.

The federal government, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, currently manages around 3,400 active oil and gas leases in federal waters, covering an area spanning 18m acres.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Arctic and demonstrates the growing strength of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But we also need to protect communities along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Marissa Knodel, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to return to the days of ‘drill baby drill’. That’s why President Obama must use his remaining days in office to permanently keep as much of our lands and waters from Trump and his oil cronies as possible.”

The Obama administration has pushed through a number of climate-related measures since the election of Trump, who denies climate change exists and has promised to withdraw the US from the international effort to tackle it. The president-elect also proposes cutting all funding for clean energy and to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the main policy designed to cut emissions.

This week, the department of the interior unveiled regulations to slash fugitive emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas operations. The US was also the first nation to submit to the United Nations a plan on how it will reduce emissions, with the Obama administration setting a goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

John Kerry, the secretary of state, said this week that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president” and that international progress on the issue was unstoppable, despite the threat of US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Businesses have also stated their support for the international climate effort, with more than 360 companies, including Levi’s, Kellogg’s and Nike, urging Trump to keep up American efforts to ward off dangerous global warming.

Paris changes everything

The Paris Agreement constitutes a global turning point away from fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/paris-changes-everything

For the first time in history all countries have agreed to take drastic action to protect the planet from climate change, to jointly pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C and eventually reduce emissions to zero. Following this historic outcome, the next step is to translate these Paris commitments into deep emission reductions in all countries. There is no doubt that implementing the Paris Agreement will require a complete overhaul of the EU’s current climate and energy policies.

Since the Paris Summit we have already witnessed the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy speeding up. It is in the EU’s own interest to be a frontrunner in the race towards the zero-emission economy.

Increasing action before 2020 is a prerequisite to achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. Cumulative emissions determine the level of global warming, so in order to be consistent with the long-term goal of 1.5°C adopted in Paris, it is paramount to consider the cumulative emissions budget – the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report provides numbers for different global carbon budgets allowing for different levels of warming. With current emissions of 38Gt of CO2 per year, the entire carbon budget that would allow a 66 per cent chance of staying below 1.5°C would be completely exhausted in five years. A budget allowing only a 50 per cent chance would be gone in nine years (figure 1).

Figure 1. How many years of current emissions would use up the IPCC’s carbon budgets for different levels of warming? Source:  Carbon countdown graph by Carbon Brief Data IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report table 2.2.

Figure 1. How many years of current emissions would use up the IPCC’s carbon budgets for different levels of warming? Source: Carbon countdown graph by Carbon Brief Data IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report table 2.2.

For any fair likelihood of keeping temperature rise to 1.5°C, global mitigation efforts need to be stepped up between now and 2020, and extended to all sectors, including international shipping and aviation.

Increasing mitigation action before 2020 is vital for achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, and will be one of the key issues if the UN climate conference COP22 in Marrakech in November 2016 is to succeed. Keeping in mind that the EU has already achieved its -20% by 2020 target several years in advance, and is progressing towards 30 per cent domestic reductions by 2020, the EU can make a significant contribution to this discussion by, among other things, cancelling the surplus of pollution permits under the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Effort Sharing Decision.

We urge the EU to seek solutions that can help drive global emissions to a deep decline as of 2017, both in the context of the Global Climate Action Agenda as well as strengthening the national pre-2020 commitments on mitigation and finance.

2025 and 2030 targets must be revised in 2018 at COP24. The post-2020 commitments (INDCs) put forward by countries are inadequate for keeping warming to 1.5°C (or even 2°C). Last May the UNFCCC Secretariat published a report assessing the aggregate effect of countries’ post-2020 targets. The report’s graph below concludes that while most of the carbon budget was already consumed by 2011, countries’ unrevised INDCs will entirely consume the remaining 50 per cent chance of achieving a 1.5°C compliant carbon budget by 2025.

All COP22 countries need to commit to prepare their respective assessments on how to raise the level of post-2020 targets to bridge the adequacy gap by COP24 in 2018. To facilitate this process we urge countries to put forward updated and improved post-2020 INDCs as soon as possible and latest by 2018, and to finalise their long-term strategies as soon as possible, and latest by 2018 (figure 2).

Figure 2. Cumulative CO2 emissions consistent with the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below 1.5°C, with >50% probability by 2100. INDCs = intended nationally determined contributions. Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report scenario database and own aggregation.

Figure 2. Cumulative CO2 emissions consistent with the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below 1.5°C, with >50% probability by 2100. INDCs = intended nationally determined contributions. Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report scenario database and own aggregation.

The EU’s ongoing legislative work on ETS and non-ETS emissions should be used to align the EU’s 2030 targets with science and the commitments made in Paris, and make them economy-wide, covering EU-related emissions from international aviation and shipping.

International shipping and aviation currently account for around 5 per cent of global CO2 emissions, and these emissions are anticipated to have vast growth rates (50–250% by 2050 for shipping, and 270% for aviation). As these sectors’ emissions are not counted under national inventories, the 2018 stocktake must ensure that these sectors too are in line with the Paris Agreement and the 1.5°C compatible carbon budget.

Long-term strategies for zero greenhouse gas and 100 per cent renewable energy. The Paris Agreement includes a long-term goal to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C requires a reassessment of the EU’s climate and energy policies, and an increase in action by all. The goal to reduce the EU’s domestic emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is not consistent with the Paris Agreement and has to change to be consistent with the long-term goals governments decided in Paris.

The Paris Agreement also contains a commitment to reduce net global emissions to zero during the second half of the century. Achieving this requires most sectors in the EU to achieve zero emissions earlier, within the next couple of decades. Most urgently, the EU should adopt timelines for fully phasing out the use of coal, gas and oil.

In order to facilitate the process of aligning all policies with the long-term targets of the Paris Agreement, all countries should swiftly proceed in the development of their respective 1.5°C compliant mid-century strategy. Having a long-term strategic vision will help to guide their short- and medium-term decisions and will have a positive impact on a long-term framework for innovation and business development. The updated EU 2050 roadmap should be finalised latest by 2018, and take fully into account the recent striking developments in renewable energy. A COP decision in Marrakech setting the deadline of finalised mid-century roadmaps by 2018 would ensure that all countries begin preparations swiftly.

Shifting of financial flows. The Paris Agreement also includes a requirement for making all financial flows consistent with low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development. In the first instance this requires the EU to tackle those financial flows that are obstructing emission reductions, and which hinder progress towards the EU’s broader economic and social objectives. They include fossil fuel subsidies, public finance for high-carbon infrastructure through European development banks, and policy frameworks that facilitate financial support of fossil fuels.

The climate finance roadmap to raise 100 billion US dollars by 2020 should be launched in advance of Marrakech COP22. The roadmap must not be an accounting exercise for already existing financial flows, but rather guarantee stronger transparency, as well as adequate and reliable support for tackling the causes and impacts of climate change. It should also explicitly spell out to what level the EU and other donor countries will increase annual adaptation finance by 2020.

The current review of the EU ETS provides a key opportunity to showcase the EU leadership on climate finance, committing to direct a portion of the revenues from auctioning directly to the Green Climate Fund. Setting up an EU ETS International Climate Action Reserve would give a clear signal to developing countries that the EU is committed to continue to provide additional finance for climate needs in predictable and transparent ways. The Financial Transaction Tax should be implemented as soon as possible.

Resilience, adaptation and loss and damage. Even with the existing and future measures to mitigate climate change, the adaptation needs of all countries will continue to grow, undermining the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in particular. The EU should lead efforts to strengthen human rights in all climate action, as mandated in the Paris Agreement.

Ratification of the Paris Agreement and its early entry into force. A rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement would demonstrate that there is a strong international support for ambitious climate action and would serve as a strong signal to the private sector. All COP22 countries should set 2018 as a deadline for full entry into force of the Paris Agreement, including finalising all the outstanding work on rules and modalities for countries to be able to implement the Agreement.

Ulriikka Aarnio
Climate Action Network Europe

Sludge facility contractor Veolia begins HK$2 billion legal proceedings against gov’t

Hong Kong’s Secretary for the Environment, Wong Kam-sing, spoke with pride at the official opening of the HK$5.5 billion state of the art Sludge Treatment Facilities (STF) last week. The facilities are to be renamed in less malodorous terms as the T Park with the T standing for transformation. “It signifies Hong Kong’s dedication to ‘transforming’ waste into energy, which is a key part in the waste management strategy for Hong Kong,” Wong said at the opening ceremony at which Chief Executive CY Leung officiated.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/05/24/sludge-facility-contractor-veolia-begins-hk2-billion-legal-proceedings-against-govt/

But one aspect of this world class project Wong did not elaborate on is that Veolia, the main contractor, that built the STF, has started legal proceedings against the Hong Kong government to recover HK$2 billion in cost overruns associated with the project. Mediation proceedings are expected to start soon.

The STF which is located at Tsang Tsui near Tuen Mun, was built by a joint venture in which Veolia had 60% and Leighton 40% under the auspices of a 15-year design build and operate contract. It has been quietly operating since April 2015, and is currently incinerating 1,200 tonnes of sludge per day that would otherwise be sent to landfills.

The sludge is delivered by trucks from Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works and ten other wastewater treatment facilities. This is a considerable improvement over the situation 25-30 years ago when most of Hong Kong’s raw sewage went straight into the sea. The STF has a maximum capacity of 2,000 tonnes making it the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Hong Kong’s efforts in this area are gaining international recognition. In April this year, the STF together with Stage 2A of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, won a Distinction award in the category of Wastewater Project of the Year at the 2016 Global Water Awards. In addition, the architectural design of the STF was acknowledged by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers with the presentation of the Grand Award in this year’s Structural Excellence Award.

The EPD is naturally pleased to have one of the key elements of its waste infrastructure in place. However, the joint venture that built the STF is believed to be less than happy at the way events have turned out.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

The project was more than a year late. According to people familiar with the STF, this was in large part due to delays by the EPD and other government departments in providing the permits and consents that were necessary to proceed with the project. As a result, the contractor incurred higher charges and significant costs in implementing work-around measures.

Immigration Department

One difficulty the contractor faced was that it had anticipated building a barging point at the site since both the nearby Pillar Point power plant and WENT landfill have permanent barging points. But its application to the Lands Department was not successful. This meant that, instead of delivering large sections of the incinerator to the site on barges, the incinerator had to be taken apart and delivered to the site in smaller pieces by trucks.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

This created additional welding work which could have been manageable but the contractor then suffered a further setback at the hands of the Immigration Department which refused to grant visas for foreign specialist welders. They were necessary as boilers operate under high pressure and therefore require very specific welding qualifications that are not available in Hong Kong. Even though this was pointed out to the Immigration Department, the visas were refused. The contractor therefore had to train local welders to overcome this issue. Even then very few passed the required test leading to significant delays in the installation of the boiler.

Fire Services Department

There were also problems with the Fire Services Department (FSD) in getting a Dangerous Goods License and Fire Services Certificate. The FSD was not familiar with the STF’s incinerator since there are no others like it in Hong Kong. Veolia therefore had to train FSD officers to enable them to better understand the plant and what the fire risks are. The contractor had to organise a trip to Europe to visit incineration plants with FSD officers and again a year later as the FSD officers had changed. This also generated significant delays.

Surplus power

One of the key features of the STF touted by the EPD is that it is a waste to energy plant. Indeed, waste-to-energy has become the central mantra of the EPD’s waste management strategy. However, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project that was completed in 2008 notes: “As the surplus power is anticipated to be minimal and it would be unlikely for CLP to purchase the surplus power, the surplus power would not be sold. Therefore, no power transmission line will be constructed outside the STF site.”

While it was always envisaged that the plant would generate its own electricity, the idea of exporting it appears to have been an afterthought and to have first surfaced in the tender documents. But it is clear that there is no economic incentive for this move given the small amount involved – a maximum of 2MW per day when the plant is operating at maximum capacity possibly in ten years’ time. It is a political initiative to try and broaden the appeal of the EPD’s environmental strategy.

The EPD appears to have left it to the contractor to discuss this issue with a reluctant CLP. This is why the need for an export transmission line only became evident relatively late in the day. As a result, people say it took a long time for CLP to produce the final requirements as to where the connections should be located resulting in long delays before the design of the electrical plant could be finalised.

The EPD’s response to the claim appears to have been to do literally nothing and to pretend it didn’t exist. Faced with this inaction the contractor initiated mediation proceedings as stipulated in its contract.

‘Standard ploys’

But Veolia is not alone in encountering delayed payments by the Hong Kong government which has a number of standard ploys for dealing with claims. One approach is to attempt to bully contractors by pointing out that aggressive pursuit of a claim might hinder consideration for future government contracts. Another tactic is to delay payment for as long as possible in the hope this will encourage the contractor to settle for a lower amount.

Filibustering?

The problem has become so pervasive that 14 international chambers of commerce in Hong Kong sent a letter to Jasper Tsang, the president of the Legislative Council, last February outlining their concerns. The letter pointed out that the delays in payment to contractors was jeopardising the health of consultants and contractors and the whole construction supply chain and could lead to financial problems, the need for layoffs and job losses.

The letter was sent to Tsang in the belief that it was the filibustering and political posturing in Legco that was delaying the approval of funds to be paid to contractors.This is certainly one reason. Another is the chronic culture of risk aversion and self-preservation that pervades the civil service which discourages people from taking big decisions.

The management of the STF project and the handling of its claim is a prime example. The default position of ministers is to avoid taking decisions, and thus responsibility, which could result in criticism, public humiliation and possibly harm their pensions. This aversion to risk is immediately picked up by their civil servants who know they cannot rely on support from their seniors. So for the same reasons they too will avoid involvement with ‘risky’ projects and taking responsibility for decisions.

Government departments can just about bring themselves to ask Legco for additional funds so long as they can justify it in terms of increasing costs of materials and labour. But this approach is unlikely to be successful with Veolia’s claim since it involves additional funding amounting to some 40% of the original price of the project. That will take some explaining. The EPD appears to have taken the view that if the mediation process is able to achieve a settlement, this will make it easier to approach Legco for funds.

The EPD is still smarting from the mauling it received at the hands of the Public Accounts Committee in December 2015 when it was accused of deliberately misleading Legco over the remaining life of Hong Kong’s landfills. It denied the accusation but the experience has increased the EPD’s reluctance to return to Legco since it is aware its reputation has been undermined and that it will be subjected to close scrutiny.

None of this bodes well for an early resolution of the STF claim or indeed other infrastructure related claims. Nor will it enhance Hong Kong’s reputation as place in which to invest and do business. The Hong Kong government has already acquired a reputation for being a slow payer. This will encourage contractors to further pad their tenders as they factor in government risk. This will ultimately increase the cost of Hong Kong’s infrastructure to the taxpayer.

It is unlikely this situation will improve in the near future since there is nothing to suggest that the political situation in Hong Kong will improve sufficiently to allow Legco to get on with its work in a less partisan manner. Further the civil service is unlikely to break out of the current culture which is paralysing government and exerting a dead hand over Hong Kong.

CTA Letter to Legco on Hong Kong Waste Management

Download (PDF, 632KB)

Energy, Climate Change & Environment

Download (PDF, 8.15MB)

Hong Kong must stop burning money on subsidising households’ electricity bills

What was supposed to be a one-off measure during times of embarrassing riches has now become a permanent fixture of city’s budget

The government’s electricity subsidy has always been understood to be a temporary “sweetener”. But, having lasted almost eight years, it’s looking like permanent recurrent expenditure to many people. That’s why finance officials recently told the Legislative Council that after four rounds of the subsidy scheme, it could not be extended for “an unreasonably long period”.

The current round is set to end in June next year. The government is preparing the public not to expect this scheme to continue beyond that date.

Some lawmakers have criticised the government for being miserly. But the government is right to end the subsidy. In fact, it should not have allowed the scheme, which costs a whopping
HK$22.3 billion, to continue for so long.

It is a wasteful subsidy in every sense of the word. Introduced in 2008 and continued thereafter, it was prompted by an embarrassment of riches from the government’s massive budget surpluses. But it is a short-sighted quick fix, a confession by our officials that they have no better ways of spending valuable public resources than to hand out money.

Another reason is that those in charge of public finance hate to commit to any substantial recurrent spending items, so they prefer one-off handouts or sweeteners, which may be extended for a period of time but called off whenever it suits them.

The scheme has benefited 2.5 million people, regardless of the economic status of their households. Why should well-off and rich families receive a subsidy for which they have absolutely no need? The subsidy would have been more justified if it had targeted lower-income groups.

The electricity subsidy scheme not only shows the government’s lack of imagination at social betterment; worse, it encourages people to use more electricity at a time when we should be conserving power and using more alternative and environmentally friendly energy sources.

Every year, we produce massive amounts of waste without an adequate or effective recycling regime. We waste millions of tonnes of food, and use immense amounts of water just to flush toilets. Instead of educating the public about the virtues of conservation, energy-saving and going green, the government, in effect, tells people to consume more electricity from coal-burning plants. This is not the message we want to send to the next generation. It’s time to end the subsidy.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1886227/hong-kong-must-stop-burning-money-subsidising-households