Climate News of the Week Roundup: Air Pollution Causes Millions of Deaths Each Year, World Health Organisation Says

This week’s roundup features the publication of new estimates of the impacts of air pollution by the World Health Organisation, a discussion of China’s renewable energy prospects, new figures on renewable energy deployment and costs in the US, UK, Italy and Germany, the German government being able to give a single example of a company leaving the country due to energy prices, and more.

7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. The World Health Organisation this week released new estimates according to which in 2012 around 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure – one in eight of total global deaths. According to the WHO this finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

How China’s renewables revolution has tipped the scales. John Mathews & Hao Tan did a detailed analysis of the evolution of China’s electricity system on RenewEconomy. The system is vast, it’s now bigger than that of the US, so turning it around will take time. But the leading edge, new capacity additions and in particular new investments, have a decidedly green colouring. And altruism has little do to with it. In their view, “the fundamental motivation for China’s shift towards renewables, as we see it, is that renewables represent a means of expanding energy supplies based on expansion of manufacturing activities and their supply chains – something that China is very good at – rather than on expanding extractive industries for fossil fuels around the world and securing them with military force. The renewables option builds on manufacturing and the increasing returns it generates; the fossil fuels option builds on extractive activities and their diminishing returns, with all the potential for military entanglements that they represent.”

China aims to launch pollution permit market within 3 years. Kathy Chen and Stian Reklev from Reuters report that the Chinese Ministry of Finance has announced that the country aims to launch a nationwide emission trading system within 3 years.

PG&E hits 22.5% renewable energy provision. PV-Tech reports that California’s utility, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), has announced to have for the first time sourced more than 20% of the electricity it provided from renewable sources. The company thus seems well on its way to meet California’s renewable portfolio standard of 33% by 2020.

Solar costs to halve as gas prices surge. Giles Parkinson from Renew Economy reports on new figures from leading solar manufacturer First Solar. First Solar expects its average manufacturing cost to nearly halve – from on average $US0.63/watt in 2013 to $US0.35/W in 2018, which would bring total installed cost of a module from around $1.59/W to below $1/W  by 2017 – meeting the US Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative goals three years early. Meanwhile, the era of cheap fracking gas seems to be coming to an early end.

Citigroup says the ‘Age of Renewables’ has begun. Giles Parkinson from Renew Economy also covers a new report from Citigroup that says that solar and wind energy are getting competitive with natural gas peaking and baseload plants in the US, despite the currently low gas prices in the US. And Citi is also one of those who think that the time of cheap gas will soon have run its course.

Solar Power Is Now Just As Cheap As Conventional Electricity In Italy And Germany. Jeff Spross from Climate Progress covers a new report by Eclareon according to which the price of commercial solar power has pulled even with retail electricity rates in Italy and Germany.

Renewable electricity growth in the UK. The UK government has published its energy statistics for 2013. According to the statistics the share of renewables in electricity grew from 11.3% in 2012 to 14.8% in 2013. The Scottish government also published its new statistics, according to which the share of renewables in 2013 was 46.5% – twice the figure of six years ago. Scotland accounted for 1/3 of UK renewable electricity generation in 2013.

German industrial firms flee the country – which ones? Craig Morris covers the latest twist in the German deindustrialisation debate wherein the German government heartily echoes the claims of industry that energy prices are making companies leave the country. Thing is, when the opposition asked the government to provide a list of firms that had left Germany, the government was only able to provide a single one. And the one example did not leave because of energy prices.

Climate and Competitiveness. In a thematically related article Thomas Fricke pleads for a more nuanced debate on the relationship between climate policy and competitiveness. He points out that German exports have skyrocketed despite relatively ambitious climate policies and high energy prices, so clearly energy prices far from the only factor of competitiveness. For most of German industry energy costs anyway account for only 1.6% of gross value added and even in energy-intensive industries many emission reduction options such as recycling also reduce costs.

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