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Editorial: No viable future for coal anywhere

The UN climate conference in Paris last December decided to limit the temperature increase to well below 2°C/1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate Action Network Europe argues in a new report that “either of these targets would mean eliminating coal completely, and this is what the EU must commit to doing. The Paris Agreement sends a clear signal that there is no viable future for coal anywhere. Coal-fired generation is the quick win: 18% of Europe’s greenhouse gases came from the chimneys of just 280 coal power plants.”

The CAN-E report demands that a full coal phase-out should be one of the EU’s stated goals. This phase-out effort needs to be accompanied by dedicated support for mining regions affected by the transition from coal power and the development of clean energy with 100 per cent renewables.

In 2014, for the first time, renewables produced more electricity than coal in the EU. There are good examples from 2016 that goverments have started phasing out coal:

  • In March, Scotland witnessed the end to the coal age that fired its industrial revolution, with the closure of Longannet power station. In the UK nearly half of the coal fleet will close this year.
  • In May, the EU authorised Spain and Germany to subsidise the closure of significant parts of their coal sectors. Spain was given the green light to spend €2 billion closing 26 coal mines by 2019 and Germany to subsidise the closure of eight lignite-burning installations between 2016 and 2019, representing 13 per cent of Germany’s lignite-burning capacity.
  • In June 2016 the leaders of the G7 countries (UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) and the EU pledged to eliminate “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” (for coal, oil and gas) by 2025.And in June the Croatian government stopped building a new 400 MW coal power plant.
  • These are positive signs, but at the same time the coal industry is strongly promoting further coal use. The International Energy Agency is still running a clean coal centre, even though the IEA’s own policy conclusion is that no new coal plants should be built from 2016 if UN climate targets are to be reached. This summer, Green Budget

Europe criticised the UN Economic Commission Europe (UNECE) for still promoting clean coal policies. Euracoal, which has 34 coal industry members in 20 EU countries, is jointly campaigning with the World Coal Association (WCA) for “a ‘clean coal’ strategy to fight climate change”, relying on what it calls “high-efficiency, low-emissions coal combustion technologies”.

Coal is a climate killer whatever its efficiency is, argues WWF in a new report. The argument that high-efficiency coal-fired power plants are a viable solution for reducing CO2 emissions, the main cause of climate change, is completely discredited by research from Ecofys, among others. It shows that emissions from the global electricity sector need to rapidly reduce and reach close to zero globally by 2050 in order to stay well under 2°C. An even more rapid decline will be needed in order to achieve the commitment taken in Paris to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. As a result, it makes clear that in a post-Paris world, there is simply no role for coal anymore. Demand-side management and renewable energies are the solutions we need, says WWF. FOE Germany has proposed a legally binding phase-out plan for coal in Germany and in this issue of Acid News such a phase-out plan is proposed for the EU (page 12). The trend is clear. There is no more time for the EU to continue experiments with different environmental and economic measures to reduce emissions from fossil fuel plant emissions. The EU must now commit to a phase-out plan of all coal power plants, with complete closure before 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change and to achieve many co-benefits, including the reduction of ill health and mortality for thousands of Europeans from air pollution.

Reinhold Pape

While cities worldwide work together against global warming, Hong Kong stands aside

John Sayer says Hong Kong’s absence from international climate change initiatives destroys its own credibility as a centre for climate-smart investment funds and green bonds

It is now over six months since the landmark climate talks in Paris. City leaders and local governments have accepted the important role of city-level action in international efforts to reduce climate change.

More than 7,100 cities joined up last month to form the world’s largest city government alliance, known as the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. They are pledging greenhouse gas reduction goals, renewable energy targets and better exchange of information and ideas on green energy. The new covenant brings together the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors to form a worldwide grouping of cities, which are home to some 600 million people.

Michael Bloomberg is a co-chair of the initiative, and he believes this city-level action can be “a giant step forward in the work of achieving the goals that nations agreed to” on climate action.

On the Global Compact of Mayors website is a map showing thousands of cities in 119 countries which have signed up to the initiative. The map highlights participating cities in countries such as Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines as well as six cities in Taiwan. But regrettably there is a void on the south China coast.

Hong Kong is not represented.

The Chinese government played a positive role in ensuring that the Paris agreement was achieved. The agreement notes the importance of “sub-national” activity in slowing global warming. This has to be led by local and regional governments.

Yet more than six months after the signing of an agreement in which world leaders acknowledged that the timetable for change is very short, Hong Kong has neither prepared a more ambitious response, nor joined up to any significant international initiatives.

If Hong Kong joined other cities to set world-standard targets on renewable energy and carbon reduction, this could improve its credentials to become a hub for green finance. But Hong Kong’s conspicuous absence in this area diminishes its credibility as a centre to host climate-smart investment funds and green bonds. A city that displays little interest in renewables, zero-carbon buildings or green transport sends the message that we have not the motivation or capacity to be a leader of green finance.

Nations agreed in Paris that we must begin work immediately on a green transition. Among those cities recognising the challenge, Hong Kong ranks somewhere below 7,100th, behind many hundreds of cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

John Sayer is a director of Carbon Care Asia and was a member of the Hong Kong NGO delegation to the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015
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Methane emissions fall for 3rd consecutive year — EPA

EnergyWire: Wednesday, October 7, 2015,

Greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector are on the rise, but methane leakage continues to fall, according to new U.S. EPA data.

Petroleum and natural gas systems emitted 236 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere in 2014, up from 228 million metric tons CO2e in 2013, yesterday’s update to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) shows. Methane emissions ticked down from 77 million metric tons CO2e in 2013 to 73 million metric tons CO2e last year, marking the third consecutive year that measurement has declined.

“The EPA expects that the GHGRP will be an important tool for the Agency and the public to analyze emissions and understand emissions trends,” EPA wrote in its oil and gas emissions profile.

It could also serve as the basis for regulations like EPA’s proposed methane rule (Greenwire, Sept. 29). The agency’s latest numbers seem to undercut its own claims that emissions could rise more than 25 percent without new federal controls, said Steve Everley, spokesman for North Texans for Natural Gas.

“EPA has claimed that without new regulations, methane emissions will go up,” he said. “What’s that based on?”

Reductions in methane emissions appear to be the result of existing regulation, and further cuts will be made possible only by additional rulemakings, said Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and energy program.

A table toward the bottom of EPA’s energy industry profile indicates that the bulk of emissions reductions between 2011 and 2014 came from gas well completions and workovers, a regulated source, he said.

“This data shows that regulations work, and promises of voluntary action don’t,” Watson said in an emailed statement. “The largest methane reductions come from a practice that is subject to national standards, while the biggest increases come from sources that remain largely unregulated.”

EPA cautioned that its data are limited. By the Environmental Defense Fund’s estimation, the data set covers about half of U.S. wells.

Chance to lead on energy cuts

The government has unveiled a fresh energy-saving blueprint ahead of a UN conference on climate change in November aimed at a new global treaty on emission reductions. It goes some way towards greening Hong Kong’s image in international environmental protection forums. The target envisages a cut in what is known as energy intensity – the amount needed to produce one unit of gross domestic product – by 40 per cent of the 2005 level by 2025. This is more demanding than a target adopted at an Apec regional forum of 45 per cent by 2035. In terms of the actual amount of energy used, it could cut total electricity consumption by 6 per cent compared with 2012, equal to reducing carbon emissions by about 2,340 kilotonnes.

The initiative is welcome and will boost the government’s environmental credentials. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing described it as ambitious, although critics argue that the old target was not so demanding because it allowed for energy growth amid an expanding economy.

While welcoming the government’s new plan green groups have criticised the lack of both innovation and concrete incentives for the private sector. That said, the government has introduced a basket of support measures including extending product coverage under the mandatory energy-efficiency labelling scheme, further reducing energy consumption in government buildings, offering incentives to the private sector to build more green buildings and involving the Green Building Council in retrofitting existing buildings, which account for 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given growing public awareness of the climate-change issue, officials may be counting on a positive response to a new campaign to encourage people to save energy on a daily basis. The initiative is timely, as we enter the season when air-conditioners begin to contribute heavily to energy waste. The government must try to build on last year’s achievement of support from 130 shopping malls, 1,000 offices, 142 housing estates and 80 residential blocks for a campaign to keep indoor air-conditioning at optimal levels for both comfort and economy.

Demand for energy rises with economic growth, including housing programmes and infrastructure projects. This only makes conservation more important. It is a chance for Hong Kong to take the lead and confound the sceptics.

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