Tag: coal

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s outlook shows renewables will be cheaper almost everywhere in just a few years.

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.

The report also found that through 2040:

  • China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
  • The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
  • At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
  • Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66 percent by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30 percent in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47 percent by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.

That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.

Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.

Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.

In Europe, capacity will fall by 87 percent as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.

All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the report said.

The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.

By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12 percent now, and account for 34 percent of all the power generated, compared with 5 percent at the moment, BNEF concluded.

ENERGY MINISTER Andrew Wheatley has sought to quiet ongoing concerns over reports that the new Chinese owners of ALPART, Jiuguan Iron and Steel, are looking to set up a 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Jamaica to support their operations.

“Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at ALPART. What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old ALPART facility,” he told The Gleaner on the sidelines of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) in The Bahamas on Tuesday.

“The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel – HFO – to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans,” he added.

“I don’t want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal,” Wheatley said further.

At the same time, the minister suggested that this ministry would not readily entertain any such application.

“The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate against the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past,” he noted.

 

CLEAN TECHNOLOGY

 

“So there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal – at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts – without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders,” he said.

News of the 1,000-megawatt plant accompanied the sale of ALPART to Jiuguan last year. The construction of such a plant would exceed Jamaica’s current generating capacity of some 800 megawatts while threatening to undermine efforts to treat with climate change, which prompted outcry from among civil society actors.

The minister’s statements on what would need to happen regarding any coal project, meanwhile, are in line with what the Council of the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals called for last August.

“We look forward to seeing the holistic analysis on the full economic costs and benefits for the chosen source of energy, including the lifetime costs of energy production, the cost of treatment of pollutant emissions and effluent, the cost of any investment or operation costs for ensuring compliance with all relevant national environmental and working standards,” the entity said.

“This analysis should include critical factors such as the economic cost of health effects and medical treatment from exposure to plant emissions and effluent on workers and communities surrounding the plant,” the council added.

Ultimately, like a number of other civil society actors, it concluded: “It is our position that a coal-fired plant is counter-productive to Jamaica’s own Vision 2030 and our other commitments on energy, sustainable development, and climate change,” it said.

“We hasten to point out that there is a cost associated with sourcing and transportation of coal from overseas; the potential impact on human health, including long-term treatment; and the cost of ensuring that all relevant national standards are met,” they added.

Gleaner

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What will Donald Trump actually do?

It’s a question many Americans are asking themselves now that the U.S. has wrapped up one of its least policy-specific elections ever. The president-elect has offered only the loosest of legislative prescriptions, including whatever plans he may have for the energy industry.

The mystery hangs over turbine manufacturers like Vestas Wind Systems, which fell 12 percent since the election, and coal companies such as Peabody Energy Corp., which soared 73 percent. In his only major energy speech, Trump, 70, said he would rescind “job-destroying” environmental regulations within 100 days of taking office and revive U.S. coal. It’s terrible news for efforts to slow the pace of climate change, but the impact on the renewable energy revolution may be limited. Here’s what it could mean for America’s clean-energy darling, Tesla Motors Inc.:

1. Solar and wind subsidies are probably safe

Tesla is, first and foremost, an electric car company. But on Nov. 17 shareholders will vote on final approval of CEO Elon Musk’s $2.2 billion deal to buy SolarCity Corp. The acquisition would make Tesla the biggest U.S. rooftop solar installer and the first major manufacturer to integrate solar panels with battery backup to extend power into the night.

The swift spread of rooftop solar in the U.S. has been made possible by two government policies. First, most utilities are required to credit homeowners for the excess power they send back to the grid. Those requirements are state-level and shouldn’t be affected by Trump. Second is the 30 percent federal tax credit to offset the cost of installations. The credits were first signed into law under Republican President George W. Bush in 2005 and extended by a Republican Congress late last year. Given their broad support, the subsidies are unlikely to be repealed.

2. Even without incentives, renewables will get cheaper

Solar panel prices have dropped, on average, more than 15 percent a year since 2013. On a utility scale, solar power is already cheaper than coal-fired grid electricity across most of the U.S., after subsidies. Even if the incentives were suddenly removed next year—an improbable and economically destructive scenario—the industry would eventually recover as prices continue to fall.

Incentives are designed to make superior new technologies initially affordable, but once those technologies take off, economies of scale take over.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

A loss of the federal tax credit could slow the rollout of Tesla’s unusual new rooftop solar shingles. Traditional rooftop panels, however, are almost ready to stand on their own. The payback period currently ranges from about 5 to 10 years, after subsidies and state rebates. If Tesla can achieve the cost savings it hopes for with the merger, it won’t be long before that’s the payback timeline without subsidies.

3. Gasoline fuel-efficiency targets could be dismantled

One of President Barack Obama’s most significant climate achievements was to push through ambitious fuel-economy regulations for U.S. vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled next year to re-asses rules intended to double the average efficiency of cars and trucks to almost 55 miles per gallon by 2025. Those goals could be delayed or dismantled under Trump, accelerating America’s shift to trucks and SUVs. Stocks of Detroit carmakers have predictably surged, while Tesla shares fell 4.9 percent in the two days after the election.

This is obviously bad news for human health and the environment, but it’s impact on Tesla won’t be catastrophic. The price of batteries is dropping rapidly, and by the early 2020s electric cars should be cheaper and better performing than their gasoline-powered equivalents across the board. Lowering efficiency standards will make gasoline cars a bit cheaper to manufacture, but it will also make them more costly to drive over the life of the vehicle.

4. Electric vehicle incentives will expire on their own

The U.S. push for electric cars was set in motion by a $7,500 federal tax break. The Trump administration could eliminate the subsidy, but the impact would be short-lived for electric pioneers including Nissan Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Tesla. That’s because the electric-vehicle subsidies were already designed to phase out after each automaker reaches its 200,000th domestic EV sale. Tesla may be first to cross that finish line, probably in the first half of 2018.

The incentives were intended to overcome steep startup costs and slow initial demand for new electric vehicles. Removing the tax break now would effectively pull the ladder up behind Tesla and make it more expensive for other automakers to transition to battery power, a result that wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest.

5. States wield the power of their own incentives

Some of the biggest incentives in renewable energy are offered by states, not the federal government. Each state has authority over its own solar and wind rebates, credits for power sold back to the grid, renewable-mix requirements for utilities, and electric-car subsidies. These policies cross ideological borders into deeply Republican states. For example, Louisiana residents can get an additional tax credit of almost $10,000 for buying a long-range electric car. In Colorado, it’s an extra $5,000.

Under Trump, the role of cities and states in regulating pollution and expanding clean energy will increase. So will the disparity between states that prioritize the issue and those that don’t. But again, don’t expect the energy revolution to follow rigid red-state, blue-state definitions. The states producing the most wind power in the U.S. include Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. For solar, Arizona, North Carolina, and Nevada are among the top ten. Of those, Hillary Clinton won only Nevada.

6. Keystone’s resurrection won’t make gasoline cheaper

This election was great news for oil companies. Reviving the Keystone XL pipeline, which was rejected under Obama, is on Trump’s list of priorities for his first 100 days. He is also likely to support the beleaguered Dakota Access Pipeline. The company building it, Energy Transfer Partners LP, says business is “only going to get better” under Trump.

These pipelines are hugely symbolic for climate activists who say we can’t keep building infrastructure for oil we can’t afford to burn. But the impact of the pipelines themselves is open to debate. They increase profitability for oil companies, but as oil trades on a global market, the impact on U.S. gasoline prices and by extension demand for electric cars is negligible.

7. Trade barriers with Mexico would hurt Tesla’s rivals

Trump wants to scrap or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That could be a dicey proposition for the car industry. Since 2010, nine automakers, including Ford Motor Co., GM and Fiat Chrysler have announced more than $24 billion in Mexican investments. They rely on Mexican plants to produce millions of vehicles and a high volume of parts.

By contrast, Tesla’s manufacturing and assembly are done almost entirely in California and Nevada. Tesla also plans to begin solar-panel production next year at SolarCity’s massive plant in Buffalo, N.Y. Tariffs on solar panels made outside the U.S. would make Tesla’s American-made products more competitive.

In the end, the confluence of all of these forces, but especially the precipitous decline of coal and increasing affordability of renewable sources of energy, is probably too strong to be reversed by the incoming Republican administration. That’s good news for Tesla, and a lot of other companies working to clean up the energy supply.

Bloomberg

Representatives from nearly 200 member countries of the Montreal Protocol agreed on a deal to reduce emissions of powerful greenhouse gases at a summit Saturday in Kigali, Rwanda.

The landmark deal will reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the world’s fastest-growing greenhouse gases, the UN Environment Program said in a statement.
HFCs are potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning instead of other ozone-depleting substances.
“The amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer endorsed in Kigali today is the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year,” the UN agency said in a statement Saturday.
According to the agency, the agreed reduction in HFCs could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming by the end of this century. The deal was reached at a Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, which started Thursday. Several high-profile leaders attended the meeting, including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It is not often you get a chance to have a 0.5-degree centigrade reduction by taking one single step together as countries — each doing different things perhaps at different times, but getting the job done,” Kerry said in a speech Friday.
“If we continue to remember the high stakes for every country on Earth, the global transition to a clean-energy economy is going to accelerate.”
The European Union also welcomed the deal. Miguel Arias Cañete, EU commissioner for climate action and energy, described it as “huge win for the climate” and the first step toward delivering on promises made on climate change in Paris in December.
The agreement in Kigali comes only days after enough countries ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change — which calls for the world to become carbon neutral this century — to become international law.
“Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN Environment Program.
The White House
Today, nearly 200 countries took an historic step to for future generations by phasing down HFCs: http://go.wh.gov/qnkYar pic.twitter.com/f2wUyaLTt3
President Barack Obama also hailed the Kigali deal.
“Today’s agreement caps off a critical 10 days in our global efforts to combat climate change,” the US leader said. “In addition to today’s amendment, countries last week crossed the threshold for the Paris Agreement to enter into force and reached a deal to constrain international aviation emissions.
“Together, these steps show that, while diplomacy is never easy, we can work together to leave our children a planet that is safer, more prosperous, more secure and more free than the one that was left for us.”

Growing demand for cooling

The rapid increase in HFC emissions — put by the UN agency at 10% a year — is due in part to a growing demand for cooling, particularly in developing countries with hot climates and an expanding middle class, the agency said.
The agreement includes provisions for hot countries to reduce their use of HFCs at a slower rate. Developed countries will start to reduce the use of HFCs by 2019, while developing nations have been given a longer time frame in which to freeze their use of the damaging gases.
Funding for measures to reduce HFC use and research into alternatives is to be finalized next year, the UN agency said.
Kerry recalled how the world’s nations had worked together on climate change since first meeting in the 1980s in Montreal in a bid to protect the world’s fragile ozone layer from ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons.
“Thanks to the cooperation and the courage that we summoned at that critical time almost 30 years ago, the hole in the ozone layer — which had been growing at an alarming rate, and which was the reason that we came together — that hole is now shrinking, and it’s on its way to full repair,” he said.
“So we proved that we can make a difference. We proved that science has a value. We proved that if we come together in a forum like this, we can actually do things that affect the entire planet.”
Kerry also acknowledged that HFCs had turned out not to be the best solution for the problem of ozone depletion.
“We replaced the ozone depleting substances, but we came to understand the hard way that HFCs may be safe for the ozone layer, but they are disastrous for our climate, in many cases thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide,” he said.
Used in everyday household items such as refrigerators and air conditioners, he said, “in a single year, these substances emit as much CO2 equivalent as nearly 300 coal-fired power plants.”
The head of Rwanda’s climate change unit, Faustin Munyazikwiye, also welcomed the world’s commitment on HFCs after long hours of negotiations in Kigali.

Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Energy for All Rachel Kyte has said her organisation is ready to partner with Caribbean governments and institutions to secure a clean, affordable and reliable energy future.

She was delivering the William G. Demas Memorial Lecture at the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) 46th annual Board of Governors Meeting at the Iberostar Resort in Lilliput, St James, on Tuesday.

Sustainable Energy for All is the brainchild of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Its main objectives are ensuring universal access to modern energy services and doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the global energy mix.

Kyte said that energy demand is not only the dominant contributor to climate change, but is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today.

She noted that there are 1.1 billion people around the world who still have little or no access to energy, and three billion who rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating.

DESERVE ACCESS

“We the peoples of the UN want a planet and a future that’s not ravaged by climate change. We the peoples deserve access to affordable, clean and reliable energy and we the peoples know that the time for action is now,” she said.

Kyte noted that the impacts of climate change are being felt all around the world, particularly in the Caribbean. She added that rainfall patterns are changing, which have caused a number of islands to experience prolonged dry seasons and severely low reservoir levels.

“This severely impacts the ability of island nations to grow local crops,” she pointed out, citing loss of an estimated 2,190 hectares of crops valued at millions of dollars in Jamaica due to drought.

Kyte pointed out that the CDB has an essential role to play in providing financing for sustainable energy projects.

The Gleaner 

Amid improving market sentiment and a weakening dollar, the World Bank is raising its 2016 forecast for crude oil prices to $41 per barrel from $37 per barrel in its latest April 2016 Commodity Markets Outlook, as an oversupply in markets is expected to recede.

The crude oil market rebounded from a low of $25 per barrel in mid-January to $40 per barrel in April following production disruptions in Iraq and Nigeria and a decline in non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production, mainly US shale.

A proposed production freeze by major producers failed to materialise at a meeting in mid-April, the World Bank said in a release.

“We expect slightly higher prices for energy commodities over the course of the year as markets rebalance after a period of oversupply,” said John Baffes, senior economist and lead author of the April 2016 Commodity Markets Outlook.

“Still, energy prices could fall further if OPEC increases production significantly and non-OPEC production does not fall as fast as expected,” he added.

All main commodity indices tracked by the World Bank are expected to decline in 2016 from the year before due to persistently elevated supplies, and in the case of industrial commodities – which include energy, metals, and agricultural raw materials – weak growth prospects in emerging market and developing economies.

Energy prices, including oil, natural gas and coal, are due to fall 19.3 per cent in 2016 from the previous year, a more gradual drop than the 24.7 per cent slide forecast in January. Non-energy commodities, such as metals and minerals, agriculture and fertilisers, are due to decline 5.1 per cent this year, a downward revision from the 3.7 per cent drop forecast in January, the World Bank said.

COST PROBLEM

According to a March 2016 International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper titledCaribbean Energy: Macro-related Challenges, the single most important cost problem is the region’s heavy dependence on expensive, imported fossil fuels.

As in the United States, the cost of using petroleum to produce electricity is several times higher than alternative fuels, it said.

Excluding Haiti, biomass represents around 11 per cent of Caribbean energy supply, mostly concentrated in Jamaica, the paper said.

It noted that Jamaica is the second-largest electricity consumer, after Trinidad and Tobago, with aggregate consumption of three billion kilowatt hours in 2012. That represents 32 per cent of total regional electricity consumption, excluding Trinidad and Tobago.

The IMF estimated that the net benefit to Jamaica from a decline in oil prices as a per cent of gross domestic product was four per cent.

 

Gleaner

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PARIS, France (AFP) — Investment in renewable energy hit a record US$286 billion (256 billion euros) in 2015, more than half of which came from developing countries for the first time, according to a UN report released Thursday.

All told, new money put into solar, wind, biofuels and other cleaner energy technologies has exceeded US$2.3 trillion since 2004, when total investment was less than US$50 billion, it said.

“Renewables are becoming ever more central to our low-carbon lifestyles,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, which co-wrote the report.

“Importantly, for the first time in 2015, renewables investments were higher in developing countries than developed.”

That shift was led by China and India, both of which have invested heavily in clean energy even as their juggernaut economies continue to be mainly powered by carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

Renewables added more to global energy generation capacity in 2015 than all other technologies combined, including nuclear, coal, gas and mega-hydro projects of more than 50 megawatts.

Despite rock-bottom fossil fuel prices, new clean energy capacity — even excluding nuclear—- outstripped new coal and gas by more than 100 per cent, said the report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016.

The rapid transition to renewables, especially in developing and emerging economies, is “helped by sharply reduced costs, and by the benefits of local power production over reliance on imported commodities”, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which co-launched the report.

As in previous years, the growth in clean energy in 2015 was dominated by solar photovoltaics and wind, which together added 118 gigawatts in generating capacity, nearly a quarter more than the year before.

Wind contributed 62GW and photovoltaics 56 GW, with more modest inputs coming from biomass, geothermal, solar thermal and ‘waste-to-power’, in which waste products are recycled.

The fact that renewables far exceeded conventional energy for new capacity in 2015 shows that a “structural change is underway”, the report said.

But the ultimate goal of a “carbon neutral” global economy enshrined by the world’s nations at UN climate talks in Paris in December is still a distant prospect.

Excluding major hydro projects, renewables still only account for 16 per cent of the world’s total power capacity, even if that figure has consistently climbed by double digits in recent years.

Plummeting costs

Actual electricity generated is even less — barely 10 per cent.

“Despite the ambitious signals from COP21 and the growing capacity of new, installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go,” said Udo Steffens, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

The Paris Agreement inked at the 195-nation ‘COP21’ talks vowed to cap global warming at below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that scientists say will require a wholesale shift away from fossil fuels.

Much of the record-breaking investment in clean energy last year came from China, which spent nearly US$103 billion (92 billion euros), 17 per cent more than in 2014 and 36 per cent of the world total.

India was a distant second, spending US$10.2 billion, followed by South Africa (US$4.5 billion), Mexico (US$4 billion) and Chile (US$3.4 billion).

Morocco, Turkey and Uruguay filled out the list of nations, investing at least US$1 billion.

Overall, developing countries poured 17 times more money into clean energy last year than in 2004.

Jamaica Observer

power-lines
Getty Images

Solar’s threat to the utility industry is deeper than not having to purchase electricity

Now that solar power is reaching prime time, the fossil fuel industry is doing all that it can to stop its growth.

For many years solar was on the periphery, installed by early adopters and helped along by government subsidy. But over the last several years, solar has emphatically become mainstream. It is still growing from a low base, but it is now one of the most preferred sources of new electricity generation. The cost of residential solar have been cut in half since 2010, and utility-scale solar has achieved even greater cost declines.

In 2015, the U.S. saw 16 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity installed, which accounted for two-thirds of the total. Solar alone accounted for about one-third of new capacity last year. Natural gas only captured 25 percent of the newly installed capacity despite several years of incredibly low prices. The banner year for clean energy occurred while 11 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity came offline as old plants were retired amid rising costs and stricter environmental regulation. The clean energy transition is very much underway.

TIME

A coal miner works to secure the roof with bolts in an underground coal mine roughly 40-inches-high. Preliminary government figures released Friday show U.S. coal production has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years as cheaper sources of power and stricter environmental regulations reduce demand.

United States (US) coal production has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years as cheaper sources of power and stricter environmental regulations reduce demand, according to preliminary government figures.

A report released last Friday by the US Energy Information Administration estimates that 900 million short tons of coal were produced last year, a drop from about 1 billion short tons in 2014.

That’s the lowest volume since 1986.

The slump has led to bankruptcies and layoffs at mining companies, but the effects have rippled outward, stressing state budgets and forcing layoffs in other sector, such as railroads, which are transporting less coal.

Power plants are increasingly relying on cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas to provide electricity and comply with regulations aimed at reducing pollution that contributes to climate change.

A sweeping agreement adopted last month in Paris by nearly 200 countries determined to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions is likely to make coal an even less viable choice in the decades ahead.

The Gleaner

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Small island states lost out to their larger, more industrialised seniors at COP21.

 

The results of the climate change conference in Paris (COP21) give no reason for small island states to cheer. The agreement reflects many promises and little action.

The one item of concrete action is merely an undertaking to evaluate carbon emissions every five years — and even that has no teeth.

What is not in the agreement is a firm, legally binding commitment to limit average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Also, not in the agreement is a legally binding commitment to provide developing countries with the funds needed to adapt to, and mitigate against the effects of climate change.

There isn’t even a commitment to a fund, in the sum of US$100 billion a year, that was frequently touted before the conference began.

Once again, the industrialised nations of the world — the worst polluters — took advantage of the weakness of the smallest countries of the world, which are the least polluters and the biggest victims of climate change.

To their credit, though, through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), representatives of small states did put up a good showing in Paris. Armed with the latest statistics and bolstered by a structured expert report released by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, they argued for the containment of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, showing that, at 2 degrees, destruction would be widespread and irreversible. But, in the end, despite all the hoopla, applause and celebration, small states lost.

Representatives of AOSIS countries might have been flattered by a brief visit to them by US President Barack Obama, when he declared: “These nations are not the most populous nations, they don’t have big armies, they have a right to dignity and sense of place.” But, while President Obama was undoubtedly sincere in what he said, he also knew, even as he was saying it, that he could not deliver ratification by the US Congress of any agreement that limited carbon emissions or bound the US legally to warming no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So, the world has a so-called agreement, still to be ratified by the 196 participating countries, that only expresses an objective to limit global warming to “well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels”. The goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as described by Amber Rudd, the British minister for energy and climate change, is merely “aspirational”. In making her statement that the target of 1.5 degrees is aspirational, the minister was sending a clear signal to the British industrial world that driving down carbon emissions from fossil fuels is not an immediate objective and therefore will not affect their business.

In truth, the climate change action plans submitted by 188 countries would lead to a temperature rise as high as 2.7 degrees Celsius. And, if that is not bad enough, the signatories to the Paris agreement are under no legal obligation even to meet that objective; they are legally free to enlarge carbon emissions further. So, no cause for small island states to celebrate over that one, and profound reason for them to worry.

At three degrees, the size of islands will shrink, productive areas will be under water, people will have to move habitats inland and many will be forced to migrate, legally and illegally. We have to hope that all the scientists who predict this scenario are wrong.

On the money side, the developed countries declined to insert into the Paris agreement their often-made oral commitments to transfer funds to poorer countries in order to help them adapt. Yet, all the studies show that even the US$100 billion a year that was promised would not be enough to help developing countries build up a power system quickly or cheaply enough on renewable energy sources rather than coal or oil. Incidentally, even if the US$100 billion a year fund was achieved, access to it by small states in the Caribbean would be long and arduous, particularly if the criterion of “per capita” income continues to be applied as it is now by international financial institutions. The portion available to the Caribbean region would be a small fraction of the total sum.

Some may argue that there are two aspects of the Paris agreement that are beneficial to small states, therefore, attention should be paid to them. The participating countries recognised “the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including weather events and slow onset events”. But, liability is completely ignored because it was opposed by the polluting industrialised countries. Recognition of a problem is far removed from committing to action to cure it.

Then there is the single binding legal requirement in the agreement. Every country is now required to come back every five years with new targets for reducing their carbon emissions. But there is no sanction if they fail to meet their previous commitment, and no sanction if they simply carry on business as usual.

COP21 in Paris may have been a triumph for some nations, but no self-respecting small island State should claim any satisfaction.

That is why each small State, individually and within the many organisations in which they are members — including AOSIS, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Organization of American States and others — must now redouble their efforts to work on the developed country governments, but also to move beyond them to the conscience of the people of the industrialised world.

This is about survival and development — two defining challenges of this century for small states. It is the work of everyone; governments, businesses and civil society, all are involved and all could be consumed.

Jamaica Observer