Distrust Could Hamper Green Deal

Public mistrust of the “big six” energy firms may undermine the UK government’s planned Green Deal, according to the International Energy Agency. The energy firms are supposed to deliver a mass programme of home insulation under the Deal. The IEA warns that customers could be deterred by high prices and instances of poor service and mis-selling. It says the government needs to tell people more about the benefits of insulating their homes.

This international attention on the Green Deal may prove uncomfortable for ministers who have already been facing complaints that The Green Deal does not do enough to help the 8.5 million people heading for fuel poverty, and has not been publicised enough. The Prime Minister recently discussed problems with the Green Deal after Cabinet Office officials took evidence from critics. Andrew Warren from the Association for Conservation of Energy told BBC News: “The IEA report echoes what we have been saying. Allowing the energy companies to lead on the Green Deal would be a mistake given the lack of public confidence. “It can only succeed with new policy incentives and potentially trusted firms doing the work.”

The IEA’s special report on UK energy is generally complimentary about the ambition of UK energy policy, though sceptical on some key details. It praises the government for setting long-term targets to combat climate change then imposing policies to achieve them.

The IEA points out that energy experts worldwide will be scrutinising the outcome of the UK’s Draft Energy Bill which attempts to rig the power market to ensure a balance of low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear. But it warns that the proposed reforms are complex and untested, and that policies supporting low-carbon energy may be in conflict with each other. If it goes wrong, the report says, the reform could lead to higher prices for consumers and greater inefficiency as firms try to wreak the biggest concessions from government and regulators instead of competing to drive down costs. It also raises an alert over consumer attitudes in the future: “Currently, it appears that there is support for the need to diversify generation sources so as to provide increased energy security and reduced emissions,” the report said. “Investors are likely to ask themselves how enduring the new policies will be if resistance to rising costs is to increase in the future.” The report also says support for government policies will wane unless there is more international commitment to cut carbon.

Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy, said: “We are working to make the UK a leading place to invest in low carbon energy infrastructure. It is welcome news that one of the world’s most authoritative expert bodies has applauded our long-term vision.” Mr Hendry added that the government was working with industry to make sure the benefits of the Green Deal are fully understood.

For all its admiration of UK ambition, the report notes that, so far, CO2 cuts have come at little expense. “Since 1990, CO2 emissions from the energy supply sector have decreased by 15% and business emissions by 41%. However, emissions from households have increased by 8% and from road transport by 4%. “Emissions reductions are primarily explained by switching from coal and oil to natural gas in power generation in the 1990s, reductions in energy-intensive industry output and improvements in energy efficiency.” It outlines other major challenges to the UK energy system – vehicles and heating – and commends the UK for being a leader in renewable heat. But the IEA warns that the 12% renewable heat target is a tough target, especially given the on-going struggle to improve insulation in UK homes.

On vehicles, the report urges the UK to press Europe for tougher standards on trucks and warns that the UK’s 10% target for renewable energy use in the transport sector represents a “major challenge”. It says that up to 2030 the government’s focus appears to be on biofuels, but it expresses concern that cheaper imported biofuels are dodging rules on sustainability. The report urges the UK to make new laws quickly outlining its future policy for the use of fuel from waste, advanced biofuels, hydrogen-fuelled and electric vehicles. The energy agency also recommends a greater role for DECC in promoting these policies.

From The BBC

Europe struggles for climate lead

Melting Polar Ice

UN climate talks open in Germany on Monday, with the EU struggling to keep its position of a global leader. Small developing countries that linked up with the EU in a new coalition last year say the bloc must commit to tougher emission cuts and more finance. Existing pledges on “climate aid” run out at the end of this year, and the EU has yet to clarify what happens then. Most EU nations want to increase carbon cuts but they have not worked out how to negotiate around Poland’s blocking. Attempts to toughen the EU’s target from 20% to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 have stumbled on Polish government fears about its economic impact on the major coal-producing and coal-burning nation.

Last December’s annual UN climate summit, in South Africa, saw the EU team up alongside at least 80 nations, primarily small island states and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), in a new “rainbow coalition” pressing for a new global deal that would eventually restrict all nations’ emissions. At a small informal meeting in Brussels last week, just over 30 nations from the coalition took stock of the situation, with members of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) urging the EU to adopt the 30% target as soon as possible. “There was agreement that it’s got to go up to 30%,” Tony de Brum, Minister in Assistance of the Marshall Islands, told BBC News. “We don’t want to be intrusive or over-reaching, but we said ‘we don’t think the disagreement in your group is so overwhelming – when 26 say yes and one says no, we think you could probably bring along the dissident, so please don’t come to us with this kind of excuse’.” However, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said moving to a 30% target this year would be “very, very challenging”. Some from Aosis and the LDCs are wondering why the EU cannot simply find a way of moving forward on climate change without one of its member states, given that it recently agreed a new fiscal compact that excludes two.

Meanwhile, the Ecofin group of EU finance ministers is also meeting this week to discuss financial contributions for developing countries. The EU has pledged – and according to its own analysis, largely committed – 7.2bn euros ($9.3bn) over the period 2010-12 as its share of the “fast-start finance” package agreed at the UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009. The expectation had been that the developed world, including the EU, would begin to ramp up contributions from public and private sources in order to meet the long-term target, also agreed at Copenhagen, of providing $100bn per year by 2020. However, a leaked draft of the Ecofin agreement seen by BBC News shows that EU ministers have not agreed what they will provide in the way of finance after 2012, nor how they will provide it. The draft talks in terms of developed nations “needing to identify” a pathway to the $100bn target. Some money could be raised through the recently introduced charge on aviation emissions, but this is not certain. “At a critical moment in the fight against climate change, Europe looks to be sitting back rather than stepping up,” said Lies Craeynest of Oxfam. “To build a partnership for climate action with poor countries, the EU must finally move to its promised 30% emissions reductions target, and outline new milestones for scaling up its climate finance.”

The coming two weeks of talks at UN climate convention (UNFCCC) headquarters in Bonn – an annual event – will see negotiators beginning work on the pathway towards agreeing a new global deal in 2015, known as the Durban Platform. Discussions will also focus on developed countries’ commitments to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, whose current targets expire at the end of this year.

In December, the EU promised to put its existing 20% target under the protocol – a key demand of developing countries that appreciate its legal nature. Among other developed countries, Japan and Russia have indicated they will not take the Kyoto path, while Canada said it would leave the protocol at the end of the year. The US left about a decade ago. That means that the EU and its coalition partners are keen to bring remaining developed countries into the fold.

Along with the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand have submitted plans to the UNFCCC detailing how they might turn their existing unilateral voluntary commitments into the legal form required by the Kyoto Protocol. But the language of the Australian and New Zealand submissions suggests they have not formally decided to take this step, with New Zealand especially linking its decision to progress on the Durban Platform. However, a number of major developing countries including China and India are lukewarm about the new process. And with China and the US seeking changes of leadership over the next 12 months, many observers are not expecting much progress to be made either in Bonn or at the annual end-of-year UN climate summit, to be hosted by Qatar.

From the BBC

Science Leaders Urge G8 to “Save The Planet”

Leaders of the global science community have issued joint statements to world leaders meeting at the G8 summit later this month in the US. National science academies from 15 countries have called on the leading industrialised economies to pay greater heed to science and technology. The academies include those from the US, China, India and the UK. The organisations agreed three statements on tackling Earth’s most pressing problems. According to Dr Michael Clegg of the US National Academy of Sciences: “In the long term, the pressing concerns are managing the environment in a way that assures that future generations have a quality of life that’s at least as equivalent to the quality of life we enjoy today.”

As the host G8 nation, the US national academy has taken the lead this year, working with counterparts to draw up a co-ordinated message for the summit. For the past seven years, science academies representing countries that are attending the summit have issued statements to inform delegates of vital science and technology matters. This year, they are targeting leaders attending not just the G8 summit but also the G20, the Rio+20 environmental summit, and other important events. In past G8 summits, the views of the collective academies have been influential. World leaders including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have previously met with representatives of the global science community and the text from their statements has ended up in the final summit communiques. “I think most governments pay attention to science,” says Dr Clegg. “The fact we have a consensus of a great diversity of countries is an indication of the importance of priorities that we as leaders of the global science community place on these issues”.

The three so-called “G-Science” statements say that priority should be given to finding ways of finding a coherent way of simultaneously meeting water and energy needs, building resilience to natural disasters and developing better ways of measuring greenhouse gas emissions in order to see if individual countries are meeting their international obligations to reduce emissions. The first G-Science statement called on leaders to consider water and energy as closely linked issues. Otherwise, it says, there will be shortages of both. The statement recommends that governments pursue policies that integrate the two, emphasise conservation and encourage regional and global cooperation.

The second statement says more can be done to minimise the impact of major international disasters, such as a tsunami or nuclear accident. In addition to regular risk surveillance, the G-Science statement recommends building “resilience” to catastrophic events by, for example, improving public health systems.

The third statement calls for more accurate and standardised methods to estimate human and natural sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. It recommends that all countries produce annual reports of their greenhouse gas emissions and sinks. The academies also call for greater international cooperation to share new technologies and scientific data.

The statements have been signed by the leaders of the national science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the US.

From the BBC