Analysis

Dissecting Germany’s new climate action plan

  • 04 Dec 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope

Germany wind turbines | Shutterstock

Germany has implemented a series of ambitious polcies to decarbonise its economy. But despite significant investment in renewable energy, the country's emissions have been rising for the last three years. Yesterday, the government  announced new measures to get the country back on track.

We take a look at Germany's new climate action plan, and what it means for the country's long term decarbonisation prospects.

Closing the 'climate gap'

In 2010, Germany announced ambitious plans to decarbonise its energy sector and cut emissions. The plan has become known as the 'energy transition', or  Energiewende.

At the heart of the Energiewende is a goal to cut emissions 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The target is considerably more ambitious than the EU's goal to cut emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Germany also aims to cut emissions at least 80 per cent by 2050.

The problem is, Germany's emissions have been  increasing for the last three years. Germany's government acknowledged that if emissions continued to rise, the country would miss its 2020 target by five to eight per cent.

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Source:  Clean Energy Wire. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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A summary of climate and energy announcements in the Autumn statement 2014

  • 03 Dec 2014, 13:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Osborne statement | BBC

  • £2.3 billion for flood defences
  • £15 billion for road upgrades
  • Tidal lagoon energy project included in national infrastructure plan
  • £430 million in tax cuts for the North Sea oil and gas industry
  • Sovereign wealth fund for shale gas proceeds in the north of England

Chancellor George Osborne today announced new funding for flood defences, more roads, and support for a new tidal energy project.

The policies were part of the Autumn statement, effectively a mini-budget. This year's statement gave the government a chance to offer some financial sweeteners to marginal constituencies ahead of next year's election.

Unlike  last year's statement, which was chock-full of changes to climate and energy funding, today's announcement was a sparser affair. Here's a summary of the key climate and energy policy announcements.

Flood defences

The Treasury today unveiled its plan to allocate flood defence funding to vulnerable parts of the country, and assess funding needs for the next fifty years.

The planned £2.3 billion investment is expected to deliver better flood protection to 300,000 households across the Thames and Humber estuaries, Oxford, Lincolnshire and Somerset by 2021.

The government came under fire earlier this year for slashing flood defence grants to the Environment Agency by £138 million to help reduce the deficit. Many parts of the country experienced  severe flooding after prolonged heavy rain.

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Climate policy goes commercial: E.ON takes advantage of the new economics of a low carbon energy market

  • 02 Dec 2014, 17:15
  • Mat Hope

E.ON logos | Shutterstock

German energy company E.ON yesterday announced it was splitting the company in two,  "spinning off"  its fossil fuel assets. The reason for the move? The European energy market's trend towards low carbon energy sources and services, and the ever decreasing profitability of fossil fuels, it says.

The move is being hailed as a  "watershed moment" for Germany's  ambitious efforts to decarbonise its energy sector.

But why does E.ON think its new model is more profitable? And why aren't all energy companies doing the same?

Energy transformation

E.ON's decision to restructure has more to do with a need to do something about its bottom line than environmental concerns. E.ON's profits  fell by 20 per cent over the last 12 months, continuing a long term decline.

That was partly as a consequence of Germany's ambitious climate and energy policies, known as the  Energiewende. Germany aims to get 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Currently, it gets about 30 per cent, up from about 15 per cent when the Energiewende was announced in 2010.

Renewables' rapid expansion has made the wholesale cost of electricity plummet, and put many of Germany's big utility companies with large stakes in fossil fuels under  severe financial pressure.

The German government is also pressing ahead with a plan to phase out nuclear power by 2022. That's bad news for E.ON, which has a stake in 11 of the country's nuclear plants.

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Europe’s energy and climate policies get mixed review

  • 01 Dec 2014, 11:00
  • Simon Evans

Windfarm | Shutterstock

The European Union is a global leader on climate change, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. That's the conclusion of a new energy policy review from influential thinktank the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report summarises the big issues countries face when trying to decarbonise their energy sectors while keeping the lights on and preventing energy bill hikes.

It argues against schemes to pay power companies to ensure they're always ready to supply energy when required, such as the  capacity market currently being introduced in the UK. It also calls for a higher EU energy efficiency target, expanding  energy efficient policies, rapid  reform of EU carbon markets and caution when assessing  shale gas's potential contribution to the energy mix.  

IEA publications tend to be fairly weighty and this is no exception. We've picked out some of the most interesting findings and recommendations from its 312 pages.

Shale gas pessimism

Back in 2012 the IEA published a widely-referenced report setting out how hydraulic fracturing of shale rocks could deliver a new "golden age" of natural gas. It said Europe could expect to produce 77 billion cubic metres of shale gas per year by 2035, about the same as the UK's annual demand.

That outlook was pared back in 2013, when the IEA  said countries were failing to replicate the North American shale gas revolution. Its new review is even less optimistic. It says the EU has yet to evaluate the potential of shale gas and has only "limited" exploration experience.

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The five massive changes to how we use energy that could limit climate change

  • 27 Nov 2014, 12:40
  • Simon Evans and Rosamund Pearce

Earth from space | Shutterstock

What would the world's energy system need to look like in 2040 in order to limit climate change to two degrees? What would it take to get there?

One possible set of answers to those questions has been provided by the International Energy Agency, which published its latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) earlier this month.

The WEO is a set of projections looking at the future of the world's energy system out to 2040. It explores three different ways today's energy system might evolve, depending on the policy choices we make now.

It looks at a world where no new policies are enacted, leaving us on a path towards nearly six degrees of warming. It considers a world where we stick to climate pledges made by governments but not yet fulfilled. These would reduce warming below four degrees.

Finally it considers the policy and energy system changes that would be needed to limit climate change this century to two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels.

We've used the WEO's findings to produce a series of maps and charts illustrating the energy system we would need in 2040 to meet this goal. It's going to take some big changes, but it boils down to five massively ambitious steps.

2degreesscenario6nologo.png

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Is India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a climate leader?

  • 25 Nov 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Narendra Modi | Shutterstock

n May, Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister of India. Many hoped he would prove a  climate change champion. Six months later, those expectations have been tempered.

The next year is set to be crucial to the world's chances of agreeing a new global climate deal. The US and China recently signed  an historic deal to cut their country's emissions. But if the world is going to successfully manage the risks of climate change, it will need India to play its part too.

Given India's status as the world's third largest emitter, negotiators are eager for the country to play a productive role at climate talks. So do Modi's first six months give an indication of what stance India will take?

India's international climate policies

Modi was elected promising to revive India's economy. He sees the electrification of India as key to its economic development, and has made it a government priority to connect more than 300 million citizens to India's power grid.

As a consequence, India's electricity demand is likely to more than triple in the next thirty years, according to the International Energy Agency. That would mean India's energy-related emissions more than doubling by 2040, as this IEA projection shows:

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Source: Data from IEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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UN report says energy efficiency integral to bridging emissions gap

  • 19 Nov 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

Houses | Shutterstock

There's a disjoint between the emissions cuts countries say they're going to make and what needs to be done to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the latest annual update to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP)  Emissions Gap report.

To close the gap and limit climate change, the world is going to have to get a lot better at using energy smartly, it says.

Each year UNEP takes a different aspect of the world's energy economy to examine, in order to show how emissions could be curtailed. This year, it's the turn of energy efficiency. So what's the calculus on how using energy more intelligently could get us closer to two degrees?

Emissions gap

The impetus for this report is simple. Unless global emissions peak and decline in short order, the world will pass a point where global warming can be limited to two degrees.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent report calculated the  remaining amount of carbon dioxide humans can emit and still have a likely chance of limiting global warming to less than two degrees. It comes to about another 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

In 2012, global emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane were around 54 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. To meet that "carbon budget", UNEP calculates global emissions must be no higher than 44 gigatonnes in 2020, and 42 gigatonnes in 2030.

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Tackling climate while maximising oil extraction: UK-Canada meeting glosses the paradox

  • 19 Nov 2014, 14:25
  • Simon Evans

Alberta oil sands | Shutterstock

Ministers from the UK and Canada came together for a roundtable meeting on energy security on Tuesday to discuss issues including exports from the Canadian oil sands, oil sector regulation and carbon capture and storage.

The Canada Europe Energy Summit was held in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's opulent Locarno Suite. It was sponsored by energy firms including the UK's Centrica, owner of British Gas, and was attended by chief executives and chairmen of oil and gas players from Europe and North America, as well as Carbon Brief.

Attendees were met by banner-waving activists protesting against Canadian oil sands production. This prompted some delegates to reflect fondly on the annual event's more exotic 2011 protest, when a pair of underwear-clad protesters stood on the table and smeared each other with oil.

Themes at the meeting included frustration at "disinformation" spread by environmental groups and a push from Canada for its oil sands to be seen as a stable "baseload" source of oil, able to feed growing demand in a world of growing political instability.

Tackling climate change while maximising oil extraction

The importance of tackling climate change was noted by the UK's energy minister Matt Hancock and Canadian deputy minister for natural resources Bob Hamilton. Both also emphasised their intention to maximise the exploitation of domestic fossil fuel resources.

While it is economically rational for individual countries like the UK or Canada to try to maximise the economic benefits of their natural resources, about 80 per cent of known global fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we want a good chance of limiting warming to two degrees, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Fossil fuels are needed today and they will still be needed for some years to come, but sooner or later we will have to stop extracting them. If everyone takes the UK-Canada approach and attempts to maximise exploitation of fossil reserves, then presumably all the climate targets in the world aren't going to prevent dangerous warming.

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Germany debates programme to save 2020 climate target

  • 17 Nov 2014, 16:55
  • Mat Hope

Germany solar | Shutterstock

Germany plans to its cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. But three years of increasing emissions have raised questions about whether Germany can stick to its target.

The country's  environment minister is adamant that Germany will not relax decarbonisation targets. Today the energy and economics minister dismissed reports the target would be weakened.

The government is set to agree a new Climate Action Programme next month, designed to get the country's emissions back on track. But  a leaked draft shows a number of key issues are yet to be resolved.

The Energiewende's emissions gap

In 2010, Germany embarked on an ambitious programme to decarbonise its energy sector, known as  the Energiewende or 'energy transition'. The Energiewende set a  series of 2050 targets to guide Germany's climate and energy policy for the next 40 years.

To assess the Energiewende's progress, the government also set shorter-term targets. A goal to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels is just one of these.

But Germany's greenhouse gas emissions have been rising for the last three years, bringing this interim goal into question.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 16.36.51.png
Source:  Clean Energy Wir e

 

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Why the government adds green levies to household energy bills

  • 07 Nov 2014, 11:40
  • Mat Hope

Gas bill | Shutterstock

The government expects household energy bills to increase significantly over the next 15 years. But its energy and climate policies will help curb the rise, it argues, making households better-off than they otherwise would be.

It's become a familiar refrain from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The media  has something of an obsession with whether the government's efforts to decarbonise the UK's energy sector  add to people's bills. Perhaps because of this, DECC appears to have stepped up its efforts to persuade us that its policies are beneficial to consumers.

Yesterday, it  updated its estimates of how the government's policies impact household energy bills. We take a look at what DECC expects to happen, and the assumptions behind its projections.

Bills in 2020

DECC expects an average household energy bill in 2020 will be £50 lower than today in real terms.

But its projections go further than this. DECC also says it expects households will pay £92 less in 2020 than they would if the government doesn't implement any climate or energy policies, such as subsidising low carbon energy projects or installing smart meters.

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