Climate News of the Week Roundup: The Chinese Mitigation Mystery

This week’s roundup features confusion about news from China, further discussion on the value of communicating scientific consensus, the IEA dropping its criticism of Germany’s nuclear phaseout, other news on the German energy turnaround, a nice graph illustrating the rapid price drop of solar PV, John Ashton urging the world to resist the US push for a pledge and review climate agreement, and more.

This week the blogosphere was all a-twitter about news from China claiming that the country’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) had proposed to impose an absolute cap on emissions from 2016. Turns out it was all based on one local journalist having talked to an unnamed official. So just the usual newspaper hyperbole? Some like Tom Arup have a different theory. He thinks that the whole thing was instigated by a few among the powerful in order to increase pressure to unlock internal disagreements.

One thing that’s not in dispute is that China will soon have seven pilot emission trading systems up and running. Carbon Market Watch have sent their policy officer Diego Martinez Schütt to China for three months to take a look at what is going on. He has promised to blog regularly here.

Follow-up to last week’s roundup: John Cook, who headed the recent study demonstrating (once again) the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, and Dan Kahan, who questioned its added value, debate the science communication value of communicating “scientific consensus” here. Kahan asserts that the public has been flooded with information about the scientific consensus and adding more to the pile doesn’t make a bit of difference. In his view, the problem is not lack of information but that the way we process information is culturally biased. A strategy of “getting the word out” can in his view easily aggravate the antagonistic cultural meanings that generate polarisation unless the messaging is culturally adapted. Cook thinks the problems is both cultural bias and lack of information. He points out that agreement with climate science is well below 100% even among liberals, who would seem culturally predisposed to agreeing with it. One reason is that opponents of climate policy have made sowing doubt about climate science a centrepiece of their strategy. Science journalist Scott Johnson adds that he’s not sold on the hypothesis that all members of the public have received plenty of information about the scientific consensus. He also wonders what  public opinion would look like if the climate contrarians’ constant rejection of climate sciencse wasn’t being challenged just as constantly.

Seems that not only technologies but also organisations go through learning curves (thanks to Dennis Tänzler for this line). The International Energy Agency has long been a strong critic of Germany’s nuclear phaseout, alleging negative impacts on climate protection, security of supply and competitive electricity generation, as noted by Spiegel Online and Zeit Online (articles in German). But the IEA’s new country report on Germany explicitly commends the country “for its commitment to developing a low-carbon energy system over the long term – in particular its comprehensive energy strategy, ambitious renewable energy targets and plans to reduce energy consumption.” The IEA also sees no danger of “the lights going out”. However, the IEA also notes that further policy measures are necessary and that the costs have so far been distributed unequally, highlighting in particular exceptions for energy-intensive industries. IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoven also opined that the “rapid, uncontrolled deployment of PV has become a major policy concern and represents a significant cost for consumers.” She also urged Germany to take a leadership role in the reform of the EU emission trading system, noting that current low carbon prices were sending the wrong signal for new energy investment, a barely concealed swipe at the German economy ministry, where the report was launched. The German tageszeitung concludes that the report allows everyone to see their prejudices confirmed.

Jochen Flasbarth, the head of Germany’s environment agency, had a nicely written article on Germany’s energy turnaround in the New Scientist this week. Contrary to what critics of the nuclear phaseout warned about, there have been no blackouts and Germany is posting record net electricity exports instead of becoming a net importer. Contrary to van der Hoven, he also argues that the costs have been much overstated, with the average German paying a mere €5 per month to finance the feed-in tariff. And in the mid-term renewable electricity generation will be cheaper than fossil-based power. For 2030, renewable electricity is projected to cost on average 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour while electricity from gas or coal-fired power plants is projected to be 9 cents.

Craig Morris notes that Germany’s commercial sector is increasingly discovering own consumption. The feed-in tariff for solar PV is now around 15 cents while retail electricity rates are about 27 cents. Getting your own renewables to reduce consumption of expensive grid electricity is therefore a sound investment. “This trend will continue. Indeed, it is hard to see how it could be stopped.”

Speaking of rapid solar developments, CleanTechnica has a nice graph illustrating the drop of solar PV prices from $76.67/watt in 1977 to $0.74/watt in 2013.

Interesting interview with Joseph Göppel here, a conservative Member of Germany’s Parliament and one of the strongest proponents of the energy turnaround. He explains how the energy turnaround has been the result of “a powerful mass movement from below”. He also discusses the current backlash but augurs that, “next year there’s going to be a different coalition in office in Germany. And then politically there’s going to be a definitive breakthrough for the Energiewende”. So he doesn’t seem to have a high regard for his party’s current coalition partner.

The EU basically endorsed an “all of the above” energy strategy at this week’s summit. The conclusions highlight renewables and efficiency but also fracking and nuclear power and note competitive energy prices as a strong concern. Hans Nilsson from the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy blames “short-sighted business interests and political cowardice”. He argues that if people are concerned about energy costs, they should put a focus on efficiency, noting that the EU last year paid €420 billion for fossil fuel imports and that according to the IEA 80% of Europe’s energy savings potential remain untapped.

Speaking of fracking, Germany’s beer brewers have joined the anti-fracking coalition due to concern about fracking’s potential impact on the purity of their produce. I guess that means the issue if off the table now.

More great stuff from John Ashton, the UK’s former top climate diplomat (see previous post on other great stuff from him). In a lecture at SOAS, he urged world governments to resist the US push for a non-binding climate agreement. He thinks the US should acknowledge its domestic constraints, i.e. being unable to get a climate treaty ratified by the Senate, and appeal for a workaround. “If the US said that, I think a lot of people would be sympathetic and would use a lot of imagination to try and find a creative solution. In effect, to treat the US as if it was legally bound even if the Senate did not make it so.” He also opined that, “Anyone who tells you with certainty that the UNFCCC process is going nowhere, either wants it to go nowhere, or they don’t know what they are talking about”.

South Africa’s Eskom is joining the club, building its first large-scale renewables project, a 100 MW wind farm.

As a reminder that climate change is not the only problem we have with our current energy system, Gaurav Jagdish argues that coal pollution is leading to 100,000 premature deaths per year in India, mostly among the poor, while the generated electricity mostly benefits the well-off.

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