Tag Archives: GHGs

China coal use falls for second year in a row: IEA boss

Here’s what Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, tweeted this morning:

The key two words here are “if continues.” During the Paris climate summit, researchers from the Tyndall Centre at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia and colleagues in the U.S., Australia and Norway approached 2014 and 2015 coal use and emissions data with cautious optimism. Is it a lasting trend, or an anomaly? It’s still too early to say.

Driven mostly by a need to get local air pollution under control, China has put a 2020 cap on coal emissions. Less economic emphasis is being put on energy-intensive industries such as steel manufacturing and big investment continues in renewables. That, combined with an economic slowdown, has contributed to a shifting to a “new normal,” said Glen Peters from Norway’s Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research. “It’s happening faster than we expected.”

Assuming the latest data from China is more than just an anomaly, what does that mean in the battle to rein in global GHG emissions? Answering that question means knowing what will happening in India, which was described by the researchers as the big wild card. India’s actions over the next 20 years could make or break attempts to keep average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C – let alone keeping such temperatures “well below” that threshold, a target specified in the Paris agreement.

There’s been a lot of hope that global GHG emissions and global GDP have permanently “decoupled”, meaning we can achieve economic growth without increasing emissions. Usually the two rise in lock-step, but the researchers, in a paper published last month in the journal Nature Climate Change, reported that global emissions were expected to fall last year during a period of decent economic growth. That’s unusual – and potentially great news – given that emissions growth between 2003 and 2014 averaged 2.4 per cent.

We’ll see. Some believe India won’t pull its weight in the climate fight, while others point to the country’s determination to embrace renewables, particularly solar. During the Paris summit one of the big announcements came from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spearheaded creation of a 120-country solar alliance to help realize the “dream of universal access to clean energy.”

On the other hand, one of the most sobering moments during the Paris conference was when I heard India’s energy-efficiency chief Ajay Mathur talk about one of the country’s biggest challenges: a fast-growing middle class that wants air conditioning. Studies forecast that India’s middle class could double to half a billion people before 2030, and these people will want more of the comforts that North Americans take for granted. India has had its share of heat waves and is expected to experience more as the climate changes, so who could blame them for wanting to keep cool – especially if they have the means?

Mathur’s wish list over the coming years: amazingly energy-efficient air conditioners, “using at least half if not a third as much energy as we use today, and affordable as well,” he said. “How do we make that happen?”

It’s the billion-dollar question for a country that, based on its current energy trajectory, is expected to become the world’s largest importer of coal by 2020.

This isn’t to downplay Birol’s comment today about China. That such changes are taking place in China is tremendous news that should be applauded and encouraged. But we need to see in India what is currently happening in China before intolerable levels of smog begins choking its urban populations. Fortunately, renewable energy technologies are much more mature and affordable compared to when China began its rapid growth phase. Also, India has the benefit of learning from China’s mistakes and it has the backing of developed countries that want to see it make the right choices. Finally, post-Paris, it has added pressure from the international community to get it right.


Ontario falling short in climate strategy goals

After reading it, it’s no surprise that Ontario’s environment ministry drew zero attention to its latest annual greenhouse-gas report, which was made available on the ministry’s website on Nov. 13.

To put is generously, the report is uninspiring. It says nothing new. It shows little progress over the past 12 to 24 months, which you can bet Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller will highlight when he releases his own assessment of the province’s climate strategy on Dec. 4.

The report does describe climate change as “the defining issue of our times,” and goes into great detail to show how rising average temperature, shorter winters, and increased frequency of extreme weather will negatively affect our health, water supply, agriculture, electricity system, infrastructure, personal property, and ecosystems.

It’s a message, by the way, being repeated around the world. Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent called climate change a “real and present” danger just this week. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said after Hurricane Sandy that the risks of climate change should “compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

A report this week from the World Bank said the anticipated impacts of climate change “will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity” and “must not be allowed to occur.” Surely, we’ll be hearing similar high-level warnings as we approach the start of the Doha Climate Change Conference in Qatar on Nov. 26.

Despite all this talk, not enough is being done to adequately address the problem. Not Kent. Not President Obama, the man who Bloomberg endorsed in the recent U.S. election. Not the World Bank, which continues to finance the construction of coal-fired power plants in the developing world.

Closer to home, the McGuinty government’s climate strategy continues to disappoint, and there are too few initiatives in the pipeline to meet stated targets.

The province’s commitment is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2014, and to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The report estimates – quite optimistically, many would say – that we’re likely to meet 91 per cent of our 2014 target and only 60 per cent of our 2020 target, and that’s based on the assumption that initiatives in place today will meet their mark.

Most of the heavy lifting so far has come from the electricity sector, explained by the transition from coal-fired power generation to natural gas, renewables and increased nuclear output. Since 1990, emissions here have dropped 21 per cent, with most of the reductions happening since 2007.

Industry, representing roughly a quarter of the province’s emissions – more than twice as much as the electricity sector – saw a 30 per cent drop in emissions as Ontario continued its transition from energy-intensive manufacturing to a service-based economy and absorbed the impact of an economic downturn.

Unfortunately, emissions from the transportation sector – representing a whopping 35 per cent of the provincial total – grew by 31 per cent since 1990, and there’s little evidence that planned transit projects are going to make the dent required. The strategy here seems to be hope, wait and see.

Emissions from buildings, including residential homes, commercial office towers, and institutional buildings, also grew by 11 per cent. It’s a clear sign the province has dropped the ball on energy conservation, and paid too little attention to the amount of emissions resulting from natural gas heating.

Natural gas, it should be noted, will also emerge as an issue in the electricity sector. Burning less coal and more natural gas makes sense right now, but after 2014 and as the province’s nuclear fleet goes through a cycle of refurbishments and decommissioning, rising dependence on (and emissions from) natural gas will be a reminder that the coal phase-out alone isn’t enough.

The government’s apparent lack of commitment to the feed-in tariff program is also concerning. It has been on hold for more than a year, without explanation – an embarrassing situation that is going to drive away foreign investment, threaten recently created and future jobs, and leave the promises of renewable energy unfulfilled.

To be fair, Ontario’s emissions have fallen substantially on a per-capita and GDP basis. An average Ontarian contributes 24 per cent fewer emissions today than in 1990. For every dollar of GDP, emissions have dropped by 38 per cent. Quebec is the only province with a lower emissions intensity.

But there’s so much more we can and should be doing, and in a way that will strengthen – not weaken – our economy.

I asked Gord Miller what he planned to say when releasing his own report on Dec. 4, but understandably the environmental commissioner didn’t want to scoop himself.

He did say, however, that he will continue to push for a price on carbon and that the time to reconsider it might be right. California, for example, just completed a cap-and-trade auction as part of its membership in the Western Climate Initiative.

“There is a tremendous global shift in attitude about pricing carbon that we must re-align with,” he said by e-mail. “A carbon tax seems to be the more workable and successful system, but I won’t object to a well-constructed cap-and-trade system. Anything would be nice.”

Cap-and-trade used to be in play in Ontario, but the political will to implement it has weakened.

Hopefully that will soon change, as a price on carbon could certainly fill many holes in the Liberal government’s current plan, assuming it believes actions must match up with words.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.