Rhein on Energy and Climate

Whatever conclusions will be adopted by the international community in Copenhagen it is imperative to insist on practical follow-up and effective measures to be taken by each of the 200-odd governments to obtain medium-term reduction of global C02 emissions.

Too much time has been wasted on optimal targets for reducing green house gases, preparing for warmer climate, burden sharing, and transfer of technology and financial assistance to less developed countries.

Here are eight practical proposals for action that apply to every country.

First, phase out all subsidies for fossil energies say by 2015.

Their global volume is in the order of $ 300-400 billion annually, most of them granted by low-income or oil producing countries. They tend to encourage the use of fossil energy, which should be phased out, and to divert scarce budgetary resources from renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Developing countries that indulge in fossil energy subsidies should be barred from official development assistance.

Second, phase out the use of incandescent lamps.

Fluorescent lamps and light emitting diodes could halve the amount of electricity required for lighting. Assuming humanity to switch to energy-efficient lighting devices would have a significant impact on global C02 emissions (minus 450 million tons).

To achieve this, all countries should follow the example of Australia and the EU and ban the sale, import and production of incandescent lamps, say by 2015-20.

Third, generalise the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable electricity.

A few European countries like Denmark, Spain and Germany have successfully promoted the introduction of wind and solar power by obliging utilities to buy renewable electricity at attractive prices.

Such schemes provide powerful incentives to invest in wind and PV power and create economies of scale for making them competitive.

In a first stage, the IEA should recommend its member countries to introduce appropriate schemes. In a second stage, the UN climate “authorities” should follow suit. Ideally, all major countries should have introduced appropriate feed-in tariffs by 2015.

Properly handled, this measure should give a boost to renewable energy across the world, comparable to the developments in Europe and most recently in the USA. Countries like China, India, and Brazil possess vast untapped potentials for wind, solar and biomass power. Appropriate regulatory frameworks will accelerate their unfolding.

Fourth, ban the construction of new coal -fired power plants latest by 2020, unless equipped with carbon capture and storage technology.

This will be hard to swallow for major coal producing countries like China, India, Russia, USA or Australia. But such a ban, if decided as a follow-up to Copenhagen, would signal to utilities across the world that they have to no choice but to accelerate the transition to non-fossil power generation. The EU, USA and Australia will have to go ahead; without their setting an example neither China nor India can be expected to budge.

Fifth, equip all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage facilities or replace them by nuclear or renewable ones before 2030.

This measure is the corollary to the ban on new coal-fired power plants.

It will meet even fiercer opposition than the ban on new coal-fired plants.

Both measures combined will ensure that 20 years from now the global power supply will essentially come from non-fossil sources and eliminate the single biggest source of global C02 emissions, which is far from certain by using the complex detour via cap and trade systems or C02 taxes.

To overcome the resistance from China and India, developed countries would have to sit down with them and define the most appropriate strategies for financing the huge multi-billion dollar investments required for the overhaul of their fossil power sector. Spread over 20 years that should be doable, provided the political will exists and both countries are prepared to privatise large swathes of their power industry, and also allow foreign direct investment to step in.

Sixth, introduce strict thermal insulation standards for all new buildings.

Europe has pioneered energy efficiency in the building sector. But most countries, especially USA, Russia, Australia or Canada etc. lag far behind.

In developing countries such standards are practically non-existent.

This will not be an easy undertaking. But as up to 40 percent of C02 emissions are due to heating/cooling of buildings this area offers huge scope for tackling climate change and avoiding undue increase of power production.

The OECD countries have to lead! The USA should rapidly introduce federal regulation, setting US-wide energy consumption standards for new and progressively also existing, and buildings.

The most recent UK regulations, requiring new homes and commercial buildings to be “zero-carbon” after 2016/19, should serve as an example to all OECD countries. The EU and the IEA should pick up the issue.

China, India, Brazil and all emerging countries will undergo an unprecedented urbanisation process in the coming decades. It is therefore vital for the global climate that they build their new cities in such a way that buildings will do without requiring hardly any external energy for heating or cooling. This is a huge challenge for urban planners and architects. It would be irresponsible if they continued to build as the West has done during the last 150 years. They have to develop and apply the most advanced technology. Abu Dhabi`s future “solar city” is a model to be replicated everywhere on earth.

Seventh, impose strict emission standards on new cars and commercial vehicles.

The automobile sector constitutes one of the principal sources of C02 emissions. Automobiles can run on substantially less gasoline than they used to, provided more efficient engines and designs are put in place.

The EU has imposed stricter emission standards to be applicable for cars as of 2015. For commercial vehicles such standards still need to be adopted.

The USA is also in the process of introducing increasingly stricter fuel-efficiency standards.

All car producing countries should introduce similar standards to come in force in the next 10 years.

Such standards will accelerate the development of energy-efficient technologies, including electric engines replacing traditional combustion engines.

Eighth, impose progressively rising taxation on kerosene or, alternatively, subject air traffic to C02 emission caps and trading.

Air transport is a fast rising source of green house gas emissions.

It is therefore not possible to continue with business as usual. In the interest of fair competition among carriers regulation needs to be global.

But the EU seems resolved to go ahead and introduce a cap and trade emission system for all air traffic passing its airports as of 2012. This should be no more than a transitional solution.

These eight measures do not constitute a panacea to climate change. But they allow policy makers and climate specialists to focus on a few effective measures to be taken for reducing green house gas emissions.

It should be clear to everyone that even under the most optimistic assumptions Copenhagen will only be a start signal to what the international community and individual countries will have to do jointly or individually to spare our children and grandchildren a climate catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions.

Brussels, 03.09.09 Eberhard Rhein

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