EDF Talks Global Climate

Australia’s carbon price system passes in historic vote in lower house, 2012 start now virtually guaranteed

Australia is likely to pass legislation next month that will give it the largest carbon price system in the world outside of Europe. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Urban Gazelle)

In a historic vote Wednesday Oct. 12, Australia’s lower house passed a legislative package to put a price on carbon starting mid-2012.  This will put the country – which is comparable to the United States as one of the developed world’s largest per-capita emitters – on the path to reducing its emissions and shifting energy to renewable, less-polluting sources.

The bill, passed by a predictably close margin, is now virtually guaranteed to pass in the Senate when it comes to a vote, likely in November.  That will give Australia, the third-most coal-dependent country in the world, the largest carbon-price system in the world outside of the European Union (at least until California’s program takes effect six months later).

What Australia’s “Clean Energy Future” legislation will do

The Clean Energy Future package consists of 18 bills that aim to cut Australia’s emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 (though the target can be strengthened based on international action), and 80% below 2000 levels by 2050.

The legislation reaches these targets through programs that will start shifting Australia’s energy to renewable sources by:

  1. Placing a price on carbon.
    • Starting July 2012, Australia’s largest industrial emitters, which cover roughly two-thirds of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution, will have to pay a fixed price for the carbon pollution they produce — $23 (Australian) per ton of carbon, rising by 2.5 per cent each year.
    • In 2015, the fixed price system will automatically transition to a market-based cap-and-trade system open to trading carbon credits in the international market.
  2. Designing the market-based system to link to international carbon markets, with plans to link with already operational cap-and-trade programs in New Zealand and Europe after 2015.
  3. Giving a big boost to renewable energy research and development and deployment through a new $10 billion financing vehicle, the “Clean Energy Finance Corporation.”  The money will be invested in jump-starting Australian commercial-scale renewable energy projects to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The Australian system has strong support from key international players in global carbon markets: the European Union and the United Kingdom have both praised the Australian approach, and a senior visiting Chinese official has observed that China is also looking to the Australian system as a potential model as China designs its six proposed regional cap-and-trade trials.

The link to international markets that’s built into the system also sets up Australia to become a key player in the international offset market – and will enhance Australia’s influence at the UN climate conference in Durban at the end of this year.

We look forward to Australia’s Senate vote in November, and to the critical momentum the country will bring to the development of international carbon markets when it becomes the newest member in the group of the world’s carbon market leaders.

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EDF submits comments to New Zealand’s emissions trading system review

New Zealand is currently conducting a review of its emissions trading system for greenhouse-gas pollutants, as required by the law that enacted the program.

EDF has submitted comments to New Zealand as it undergoes a review of its emissions trading system.  (Image: Yodod/Flickr)

EDF recently submitted comments for the review, because:

we believe that what happens in New Zealand can make a real difference to the global response to climate change. Historically, New Zealand has initiated important policy innovations that have been adopted around the world over time, from female enfranchisement to fisheries quota management systems. Again, the world is watching New Zealand…

Our comments focus on developments in carbon markets including California, Europe, and elsewhere, suggesting some enhancements that New Zealand policy-makers may wish to consider in the post-2012 environment.

In our submission, we also recommend the country pay particular attention to factors such as:

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Continued access to other carbon markets
  • Ongoing development of other carbon markets
  • Maintaining control and flexibility over the types of offsets which can be admitted into the New Zealand ETS
  • Environmental credibility of the market and its instruments

Read more about EDF’s Submission to New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) Review 2011.

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Fast-growing India confronts pollution, but optimism not clouded

Foul-smelling air, soot pouring out of smoke stacks, and a blinding fog of pollution.

Thick pollution clouds a street in Delhi (photo courtesy of Flickr user Daveybot)

That’s how EDF columnist Dominique Browning found Delhi when she visited and witnessed for herself the environmental challenges India, ranked the seventh most environmentally hazardous country in the world, is facing.

But with such vivid exposure to pollution in the country, she turned to EDF’s India Program Director, Richie Ahuja, for context.

Richie was born in Agra, home to the Taj Majal, whose pollution-yellowed white marble prompted the Indian Supreme Court in the late 1990s to order 200 nearby factories to stop using coal fuel.

When I told Ahuja that India’s pollution was overwhelming, he surprised me by his optimism. “I’m actually feeling very heartened these days,” he said. “People used to say, ‘Oh, the pollution, you get used to it.’ But now, there are many rumblings in the press, and in city streets, about how serious a problem it is. Even in tiny, isolated villages, people, especially women, are beginning to understand how pollution is connected to their children’s health.”

Read more from Browning about her visit to India, EDF’s work to address global warming there, and how her trip made tangible the benefits of the U.S. Clean Air Act at home in her post Fast-growing India Confronts Pollution.

You can also read more about EDF’s work with partners to help rural households switch from traditional, polluting wood-fired stoves, to cleaner, methane-burning cook stoves in Jennifer Haverkamp‘s post Picturing low-carbon development: Methane cook stoves in rural India.

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Picturing low-carbon development: Methane cook stoves in rural India

A picture is worth a thousand words – and in this case, what you don’t see is the key story: what isn’t in the picture is black soot coating every wall.

Cook stoves powered by methane generate far less soot than those fueled by wood.

That’s because this resident of rural India is cooking on a two-burner stove powered by methane rather than wood. The methane is produced by a small-scale “digester” located just outside her home. (In the digester, manure from the family’s livestock, stabled nearby, is broken down by bacteria and converted to methane.)

And because she is cooking with methane, not only are her walls cleaner – so are her lungs, and those of her children and husband.

At least as importantly, she no longer needs to spend three to four hours every day – seven days a week, 365 days a year – gathering wood.

That means that instead of her having to collect firewood, build a fire and get it hot enough to cook, she can make the family’s breakfast with the flick of a switch on the methane stove. This time savings in the morning allows her children to get to school as classes begin, rather than several hours into the school day.

Those “extra” hours in her day also allow her to earn outside income, through activities like sewing or making biofertilizers and biopesticides for sale to local farmers – or simply to rest and have a modicum of leisure time. In addition, the digester generates enough fuel that she can cook more than once daily, providing her family with a more varied and nutritious diet.

Improving Indians’ standard of living while not harming environment

The methane digester that powers the stove provides remarkable benefits compared to the traditional wood-fired stove; it:

  1. Digests manure that otherwise would have released methane directly into the atmosphere. Although burning converts methane into carbon dioxide (CO2), methane itself is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat than is CO2.
  2. Allows trees and shrubs to continue storing carbon, rather than being cut down and burned as cooking fuel. Those avoided emissions, once tallied and verified, can be sold as offset credits that pay for the digesters.
  3. Boosts families’ standard of living without any increase in carbon emissions.

Villagers show Steve Cochran and me their record books verifying each stoves' methane consumption. The villagers were extraordinarily hospitable, welcoming us with garlands of fresh flowers.

These photos were taken on a recent trip to India with my colleagues Richie Ahuja, Director of EDF’s India Program, and Steve Cochran, our Vice President for Climate and Air.

Richie spends a significant portion of his time in India, working closely with the five innovative nonprofits with whom we are partnering on projects in rural communities. (See Richie’s blog post from International Women’s Day about how EDF is using film to teach rural women about climate change.)  For Steve and me, though, this was the first time we’d seen any of the projects in action.

The methane digesters initiative is a project of the Agricultural Development and Training Service (ADATS), a comprehensive nonprofit rural development organization that since 1977 has worked on sustainable agriculture as well as adult literacy, children’s education, community health and related issues in southern India. Our other partner groups are working on a variety of additional rural technologies, including solar lanterns, more-efficient wood-burning stoves, and low-carbon farming.

EDF is exploring how carbon markets can help provide funding for these locally based initiatives that help significantly improve living standards for the rural poor.

With more than half of India’s nearly 1.2 billion residents having annual incomes under $500, economic development is essential. It’s starting to occur, and with astonishing speed – indeed, India is projected to be the globe’s third-biggest economy by 2035.

For too long, it’s been assumed that development will lead inexorably to massively greater carbon emissions. Our work in India seeks to help create an alternate path – one consistent with avoiding dangerous climate change even as the world’s most populous democracy continues its vital task of lifting its poorest citizens out of poverty.

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Small islands’ huge move toward renewable energy, global carbon market pioneering model for world

A historic agreement will help small island states in the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Island regions, which are particularly vulnerable to climate change, make a giant leap in clean energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and begin work on adaptation to the effects of climate change.

Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank and Tillman Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada sign the SIDS DOCK agreement, which will increase small island nations’ access to the financing, technology, technical assistance and participation in the global carbon market they need to transition to a low-carbon economy. (Photo: Michael Bascombe)

These small island developing states (SIDS) are extremely dependent on fossil fuels: the majority of the countries spend more than 30 percent of their foreign exchange earnings on fossil fuels.  But they’re also expected to suffer disproportionately from impacts of global warming, including:

  • rising sea levels
  • increase in weather-related disasters
  • shrinking supply of freshwater

Given this situation, Jennifer Haverkamp, managing director for EDF’s international climate policy and negotiations said small islands suffer a “double blow” of being simultaneously affected by climate change and “hamstrung by costly, inefficient sources of energy”.  This agreement, she said, thus:

has tremendous significance for these islands’ very survival, as it will help them with adapting to the effects of climate change, while also transitioning to a low-carbon economy.  And by themselves reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, they will set a powerful example for the rest of the world.

The agreement was signed on Dec. 8 by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the government of Denmark, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program during the U.N. climate negotiations in Cancún.

Known as “SIDS DOCK”, the agreement will help these small island developing nations:

  1. Access technology by assisting SIDS with developing a sustainable energy sector, increasing energy efficiency and developing renewable energy resources
  2. Receive technical assistance by providing a vehicle for mobilizing financial and technical resources to catalyze clean economic growth
  3. Participate in global carbon market by providing SIDS with a mechanism for connecting with the global carbon market and taking advantage of the resource transfer possibilities that will be afforded
  4. Access financing by serving as a mechanism to help SIDS generate the financial resources to invest in climate change adaptation

Small island nations like the Maldives (above) risk suffering disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, like sea-level rise. (Photo: Badruddeen/Flickr)

Grenada’s Prime Minister and current AOSIS Chair Tillman Thomas, noting the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, said these countries had been “warning the global community of the threat of climate change” for 20 years.  “Time is now running out” for the SIDS countries, Thomas said at the SIDS DOCK signing ceremony, and:

Global deployment of low carbon and carbon neutral technologies will be critical to the survival of SIDS and many other vulnerable countries.  SIDS therefore have no option but to once again take the lead in this critical aspect of climate change because our survival depends on it.

The agreement is designed to connect the island nations to the European Union and U.S. carbon markets, which have an estimated value of $100-400 billion annually in avoided greenhouse gas emissions trading.  Denmark’s pledge of $14.5 million – part of their Copenhagen pledge of “fast start” climate financing – will provide the initial administrative support for the trust fund established in the agreement.

Haverkamp said:

By allowing countries to dock into established trading systems and tap investment streams from developed world emitters working to make their own carbon reduction targets, this agreement really is a pioneering model for what the planet, as a whole, is going to have to do.

SIDS DOCK will help the island nations transition to a sustainable, low-emission energy technologies, with goals of:

  • increasing energy efficiency by 25 percent (from a 2005 baseline)
  • generating a minimum 50 percent of electric power from renewable sources
  • decreasing conventional transportation fuel use 20-30 percent by 2033

View EDF’s press release: Small islands’ huge move toward renewable energy, global carbon market “pioneering model” for world.

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Clean Energy Ministerial: a modest move in a good direction

Ministers, senior officials and business leaders representing the world’s biggest economies at the first ever Clean Energy Ministerial in Washington this week took an important step in addressing the nuts and bolts of technological innovation for clean energy and energy conservation.

It is encouraging to see that despite the long way we have to go on national and international climate policies, nations are beginning to share the expertise that is crucial to making real greenhouse gas reductions.

Policy will be toothless without the know how to move nations to clean energy economies.  At the same time, we will need greater levels of ambition and stronger policy signals if these technologies are ever to be deployed at the scale needed to make a difference.

EDF encourages the participants to expand future summits to include the Small Island Developing States and other coastal nations that are already suffering the impact of climate change and making public commitments to transforming to low energy economies.

See a letter that EDF and other NGOs sent last week to Secretary Chu, host of the Ministerial.

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