Could rebranding environmentalism help tackle climate change?

  • 04 Jun 2014, 15:40
  • Mat Hope

Floyd Wilde

Politicians have been trying to address climate change for two decades now, with limited success. Given the scope and urgency of the problem, cirumstances suggests the environmental movement has failed. That means it's time for a new environmentalism.

Or so the argument goes. But does the environmental movement really need rebranding?

Defining failure

The starting point of any movement's next iteration is the old one's inadequacies. New environmentalism is no different.

A couple of years ago, BusinessGreen editor James Murray argued that "environmentalism is in crisis". What was needed, he argued, was "a different response to those that have been tried and proved wanting in the past". That response can be described as  "new environmentalism".

But the crisis message has caveats. Speaking at the New Environmentalism Summit held in Brussels yesterday, UN Environmental Programmes executive director Achim Steiner - who identifies himself as a new environmentalist - warned not to underplay the environmental achievements of the last 20 years. From establishing a global deal to curb global warming to two degrees, to renewable energy accounting for  19 per cent of the world's energy consumption, "while not having solved the problem, [environmentalists] have an extraordinary record of success to point to".

Yet for all the environmental movement's success, global emissions continue to rise. Countries have failed to agree a new global deal to replace the Kyoto protocol that was due to expire in 2012. And green groups widely condemned world leaders' last major effort to do so - the Copenhagen conference in 2009 - as a  failure.

So how might new environmentalism address past deficiencies?

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The IEA weighs in on stranded assets - not just a green conspiracy?

  • 04 Jun 2014, 15:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Bryan Burke

 Demand for fossil fuels would fall dramatically if the world gets serious on climate change, according to projections from the International Energy Agency.

That would leave major oil firms unable to recoup money invested in new supplies, the IEA says. Their fossil fuel assets could lose all value and become 'stranded'.

Smaller slice of the (energy) pie

Fossil fuels' share of the global energy mix will fall from the current 82 per cent to 76 per cent in a 4 degree world, the IEA says. That is a world the IEA calls its 'new policies scenario'. Fossil fuels' share of the global energy mix would fall still further to 65 per cent if we avoid dangerous climate change of 2 degrees - the IEA's 450 scenario.

Gas consumption would be higher than it is today in either case (purple line, below). But serious action to tackle climate change would see oil consumption peak before 2020 (red line). And coal use (brown line) would drop particularly sharply after peaking around 2015, the IEA scenario suggests.

IEA fossil fuel share

This means that in a 2 degree world - according to the IEA - around $300 billion of investment in fossil fuel assets could be "stranded". This figure could increase further if there is a lack of clear policy in the interim which leads to investment in exploration or generating capacity that is not needed.

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IEA: The marginal cost of two degrees

  • 03 Jun 2014, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Calma/IAEA

The world needs to spend $48 trillion between now and 2035 in order to keep the lights on and meet rising demand for energy, the International Energy Agency says in its World Energy Investment Outlook. The bad news is that if you spend all of that money, the IEA's best guess is you get a 4 degree world.

The good news is that if we can collectively muster another $5 trillion - then we can keep the lights on and avoid dangerous climate change, according to the IEA.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says:

"The difference is not big… The main issue is not to raise additional capital but to reallocate investments… The world that we would like to see depends on the right investment decisions."

How much does the world need to spend?

Whatever happens to the climate, the world's energy systems have huge investment needs over the next two decades.

The IEA thinks we will need to spend nearly $25 trillion on new coal, oil and gas supplies between now and 2035 (far left, below).

That's to meet its 'new policies scenario' where countries make some new efforts to tackle emissions but there is no global concerted action on climate.

Another $16 trillion will need to be spent on power stations and the transmission networks that distribute power to homes and businesses (blue columns, centre). And $8 trillion will be needed to make homes, cars and factories more efficient (below right).

IEA 1Source: IEA World Energy Investment Outlook


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Obama’s new coal rule: Bold climate leadership, a lawsuit waiting to happen, or both?

  • 30 May 2014, 13:30
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

Matt H. Wade

On Monday President Obama is  expected to announce draft plans that would aim to cut emissions from coal-fired US power plants by up to 20 per cent.

The plan will make use of executive powers under the Clean Air Act, avoiding the need to get approval from the US Congress. The Obama administration is in the process of using these powers to introduce rules limiting emissions from new power stations.

Now America's existing fleet of coal plants is in the firing line. To soften the blow, US states are expected to be given leeway to meet their share of a national coal emissions target through carbon trading, renewables or energy efficiency.

Here's what the media on both sides of the Atlantic had to say.


The  New York Times says the rule will be Obama's "most forceful effort" to make the US tackle climate change. News analysis website  Vox says the rule shows the president has the strength to act without Congress' approval. It's almost as if the Environmental Protection Agency is now Obama's personal legislative branch, complains  Fox News - which is no fan of either.

The plan is also being watched keenly from afar. The  New York Times says foreign governments are seeing it as a test of the US's seriousness about combating climate change. Former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer  tellsRTCC that the plan is a "critical moment" on the road to a global climate deal.

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How President Obama will tackle US coal emissions

  • 29 May 2014, 17:25
  • Simon Evans

The White House

Next Monday President Obama will unveil a new regulation that would aim to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations by up to 20 per cent, the New York Times reports.

It will be the boldest move yet in his efforts to force America to take climate change action, despite opposition from the US Congress.

In a speech this week, Obama denounced those that "deny" climate change. He said:

"American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else… cooperation must energize the global effort to combat climate change."

Next Monday's proposal stems from Obama's Climate Action Plan, published last summer. This aims to back up a pledge to take US emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to cut them 42 per cent by 2030.

Hard-won powers

At the President's request the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalised an emissions limit for new power stations last autumn, using hard-won powers to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act. The EPA is working towards a 1 June 2014 deadline for a similar rule tackling emissions from existing power stations.

The standard for new plants sets a limit of 500 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity for plants that burn coal, meaning that they would have to fit carbon capture and storage equipment capturing a portion of their emissions in order to operate.

The limit is similar to one that opposition MPs tried, but failed to introduce into the UK's Energy Bill last year. It is about half the emissions of a typical coal plant.

The EPA won't be able to introduce a similar rule for existing plants because it would force almost all of the country's 600 coal-fired generators to shut down. These plants provide around two-fifths of US electricity.

Instead, media reports suggest the rule would aim to reduce coal emissions by 20 per cent at the national level rather than applying directly to individual stations.

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Will the surge in support for UKIP and other eurosceptics damage EU climate policy?

  • 29 May 2014, 09:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 European Parliament

Eurosceptic parties like the UK Independence Party have made gains across Europe, election results show, winning the largest share in the UK, France and several other member states.

These parties are generally opposed to environmental rules and regulations, preferring a focus on jobs, growth and immigration.

So it's no surprise to see speculation that this will damage the EU's climate agenda. More unexpected is the idea that the rise of the eurosceptics will be good for climate policy. We take a look at the main arguments.

Analysts Thomson Reuters Point Carbon said climate and energy policy would be "significantly influenced" by the shift in the balance of power, and they don't mean in a good way.

In a press release Marcus Ferdinand, head of EU carbon analysis for the firm said:

"With the increased share of eurosceptic Parliamentarians, the majority in favour of tighter energy and climate policy - as well as a more ambitious EU emissions trading scheme - is likely to become more unstable."

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Lord Deben and the Committee on Climate Change agree on onshore wind's potential

  • 28 May 2014, 16:00
  • Mat Hope

CC: Oast House archive

Is the government's climate change advisor arguing internally over how many onshore wind turbines the UK needs?

The Times today reported that Lord Deben - who heads the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - thinks the UK already has enough onshore wind power in the pipeline to hit its targets. The paper claims Lord Deben's statement puts him at odds with the CCC. But the CCC and Lord Deben tell us that's not the case.

2020 targets

The Times's headline today declared that "Britain has enough wind turbines". It based the statement on an interview with Lord Deben.

The EU requires the UK to get  15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade. Referring to that commitment, Lord Deben told The Times "we have already got enough onshore wind to 2020 to meet that part of the portfolio."

That seems right. The government's  renewable energy roadmap suggests the UK will need around 13 gigawatts of onshore wind in 2020 to meet its commitment.

Its latest data suggests there's a total of 16.1 gigawatts of onshore wind in operation and in the pipeline.

The data  shows there's currently seven gigawatts of onshore wind online (the dark blue chunk), and 12.5 gigawatts under or awaiting construction and in the planning process (light blue). That's a total of 19.5 gigawatts. The government assumes around 3.4 gigawatts of that won't get built (the green chunk) as some projects will fail to secure financing or hit other complications.

Still, as Lord Deben suggests, 16 gigawatts would be more than enough to meet the government's 2020 target.

DECC renewables roadmap onshore windBeyond 2020

So where's the conflict?

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The EU energy security strategy is now ‘integral’ to EU climate plans

  • 28 May 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Daniele Colombo

ast week we took a sneak   peek at a leaked draft of the EU's energy security strategy. Today, the final version is  out. There have been some interesting changes of emphasis.

The draft was criticised for being too weak on boosting energy efficiency and on cutting demand for fossil fuel imports. The draft did talk about moving to a low carbon economy and referred to the need for consistency with the EU climate and energy   policy to 2030:

EESC draft

But that reference has been beefed up in the final version, with added emphasis on cutting fossil fuel demand. The energy security strategy has grown in stature and is now deemed to be an "integral part" of the 2030 plans:

EESC final

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UK shale oil - infographic

  • 23 May 2014, 14:15
  • Simon Evans

The British Geological Survey (BGS) says there is 4.4 billion barrels of oil trapped in shale rocks beneath southern England's Weald basin. Is that a lot or a little?

Weald final chart

Source: BGS, BBC, BP

The UK currently uses around half a billion barrels of oil per year (top bar). Over the past 40 years 45 billion barrels have been extracted from the North sea. That's 1.1 billion barrels per year (second bar).

There is an estimated 3.1 billion barrels of oil in UK proven reserves that can be extracted using today's technology and at today's prices (third bar).

The Weald basin shale oil resource is even higher, at 4.4 billion barrels (fourth bar). But as the BGS is quick to emphasise, not all of this will be  recoverable.

We take an optimistic 5 per cent estimate of the proportion of shale oil under the Weald that might be recoverable (bottom bar).

Some experts  think the figure will be even lower, more like 1 per cent. Only time will tell.

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Get on with carbon capture and storage, climate change committee MPs say

  • 21 May 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

The government is making a mess of developing carbon capture and storage in the UK, according to a committee of MPs.

In a new report, the House of Commons' energy and climate change committee says carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to be a "game changer in efforts to tackle climate change". It could - in theory -  allow some continued use of fossil fuels while staying within  carbon budgets.

But funding bungles and policy uncertainty have resulted in a "lost decade" for the CCS industry, the MPs say. The report implores policymakers to learn from past mistakes and "fast track" existing CCS projects.

A troubled history

The government launched its first CCS competition in 2007 with the expectation that any funded projects would be operational by 2014. Suffice to say they're not. The two awardees from that competition - E.On's Kingsnorth project and Scottish Power's Longannet scheme - terminated their plans in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

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