Climate News of the Week Roundup: Chinese Climate Cavalry Riding to the Rescue?

The plan is this: Each weekend, I will go through the past week’s activity on twitter and Facebook and do a little roundup here. We’ll see whether I’ll actually find the time to keep doing that… This weeks roundup features hopes of Chinese cavalry riding to the rescue, US cavalry keeping its horses stabled, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expecting global fossil fuel use to peak by 2030 even without stronger climate policy, a new study on “unburnable carbon” by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and LSE, reports on the violent human rights violations connected to coal mining in Colombia, and more.

The previous week did not only bring the EU’s backloading debacle, it also brought somewhat better news. Chinese minister Xie Zhenhua announced that his country was going to complete comprehensive climate legislation within 1-2 years (news articles here and here). Right in time to decorate it with a bow and put it on the table of the UN climate negotiations. The legislation will apparently include a mandatory emissions trading system and learn from existing systems in the EU, Australia and South Korea. For example, they are looking to include carbon price management. Glad to hear that somebody is learning lessons from the EU experience, even if it isn’t the EU itself.

The Guardian ran an interesting interview with Jeremy Grantham, “the man who made billions by predicting every recent financial crisis” and has been plowing a lot of it into climate research and advocacy. He has a lot of hope for

“The Chinese cavalry riding to the rescue. I have very high hopes for China because they have embedded high scientific capabilities in their leadership class. They know this is serious. And they are acting much faster now than we are. They have it within their capabilities to come back in 30 years with the guarantee of complete energy independence – all alternative and sustainable for ever. They have an embarrassment of capital. We have an embarrassment of debt. So they can set a stunning pace, which they are doing. And they could crank it up. To hell with their five-year plans, they should move up to 25-year plans. They would have such low-cost energy at the end of it they’d be the terror of the capitalist system. Low energy and low labour, that’s the ball game.”

CCAP’s Tomas Wyns has been touring and tweeting about China’s pilot emission trading systems, which are currently being set up.

Not really new news but to be watched keenly in this context: The Sydney Morning Herald and others reported in February that Chinese officials and prominent policy advisers think that new energy targets will lead Chinese coal use to peak by 2015, and only slightly above current levels at that. Which would spell trouble for Australia and other coal exporters.

China also featured heavily in the analysis presented by Bloomberg New Energy Finance at their annual conference, I did posts here and here. BNEF’s own press release is here. Notably, they see global fossil fuel use peaking by 2030 even without stronger climate policy.

Which brings me to the issue of “unburnable carbon“, a notion that has now been subscribed to by Lord Nicholas Stern, he of the 2006 review of the economics of climate change. He fronted a new study on unburnable carbon done by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and his own institute at the London School of Economics. One interesting result is that carbon capture and storage would not make much of a difference for meeting the 2°C target even with an optimistic CCS expansion scenario. Another result is that 1% of global GDP are being invested each year to open up new fossil fuel reserves. Which according to IPCC analysis is the same amount that would need to be invested to achieve the 2°C target. Not to mention that according to the IMF the world each year spends 2.7% of its GDP on energy subsidies, which mostly benefit fossil fuels.

Another interesting piece from BNEF: Guy Turner thinks the climate negotiation logjam could be resolved by adopting intensity instead of absolute targets. Indexing targets to GDP would in his view allow governments to focus on emission drivers they can actually control, rather than needing to be afraid of missing their targets due to unforeseen economic developments. This is along the lines of what I pondered here and here. To achieve 2°C, intensity targets would need to be considerably more ambitious than the GDP-4% considered by Turner, though. While in his calculation fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions would peak within this decade, they would flatline thereafter rather than going down. And I wonder why he apparently doesn’t use BNEF’s own figures for the BAU projection.

Interesting discussions on the failure of US gun legislation. Maureen Dowd and Joe Romm think it’s just another example of how bad Obama is at his job. He had 90% public support and still wasn’t able to pull off a legislative victory. In their view mostly because he doesn’t like to leave the rhetorical high road and actually get into the political fight and start twisting arms. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post has a different take. In his view the blame is squarely on the radicalised Republican Party and no amount of arm-twisting by Obama could have swayed enough Senators. All very interesting in and of itself and even more so when considering what it may mean for US climate policy.

Speaking of which, Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker wonders whether Obama has already given up on climate change, given that in his view the second “Big Bang” budget “represents a major dodge on climate change”. The Worldwatch Institute’s Alexander Ochs similarly opined on Twitter that hopes for US climate policy lie mostly outside the federall government. They lie on states, municipalities, businesses and people. So a little note to the EU: Waiting for the US to make meaningful climate commitments is Waiting for Godot.

The UK’s former chief climate diplomat John Ashton did an interesting Q&A with Responding to Climate Change. Here’s a nice quote for those who think the UNFCCC process is the problem:

“I understand why so many people agonise over the architecture of this process, and everybody has their own plans. But fundamentally, those are red herrings. They sidestep the real obstacle which is we have not done the domestic politics. We have not built a political consensus in the major economies that can drive a transition in a generation or so from a high carbon to a carbon neutral economy.”

100% my opinion. International politics do not happen in a vacuum. The positions countries take internationally are determined by their domestic political situations. International negotiations can therefore rarely take decisions that have not previously been prepared nationally. And the current situation is that in most key countries there is as yet no appetite to undergo the fundamental economic and ecologic transformation that is necessary. Energy provision and transport are dominated by strong incumbent industries whose business models rely on using fossil fuels, and combating climate change basically requires to end these business models.

Joe Romm posted a video that ought to go viral: An illustration of how drastically Arctic sea ice volume has been going down 1979-2012.

Another ClimateProgress piece: A summary of a new report that tries to quantify how much natural capital is being consumed, depleted or degraded without the responsible party paying the cost for that use. The result: US$7.9 trillion in 2009. Another summary by David Roberts: “None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use”.

SkepticalScience’s Dana Nuccitelli inaugurates his new blog with The Guardian with a nice debunking of the “global warming has stopped” myth.

German news on another example showing that climate change is far from the only problem we have with our current energy problem. Die Zeit ran a long article by Alexandra Endres detailing the violent human rights violations connected to coal mining in Colombia. A lot of this coal is being imported by Germany. urgewald and FIAN recently also had a detailed study on this issue.

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