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Guest post by Angel Hsu Original post can be found in The Atlantic. Coming away from this past week of negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Tianjin, the sense is certainly that time is not on our side. While delegates from more than 150 countries were charged the task of whittling down options on the table to prepare for heads of state and ministers in Cancun, the talks concluded with dishearteningly little progress, a widening divide between developed and developing countries, and resurfacing tensions between the U.S. and China on climate change. From my observations in Copenhagen to most recently in Tianjin, the acrimony between the US and China appears to still rest on three of the most hotly-contested letters in the climate debate - M, R, and V, which refer to the measurement, reporting, and verification of mitigation actions and financial support. In Copenhagen, China agreed to international verification of actions receiving financing, technology transfer, or capacity building; while also consenting to "international consultation and analysis" (ICA) for its domestic actions, which include a pledge to reduce carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. At a press conference early in the week, I heard the head of the Chinese delegation Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua say that China was trying to increase transparency and did not have any major problems with MRV - as long as national sovereignty was respected. The differences in viewpoints between the US and China at the talks in Tianjin caused major rifts in the discussions and culminated with the Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei calling the US a "pig preening itself in a mirror." In the classical Chinese idiom where Su derived the comparison, Zhubajie zhao jinzi, li wai bu shi ren - meaning "pig in mirror, not human inside or outside" - the half-man, half-pig character Zhubajie is portrayed as lazy, gluttonous, and idiotic. [my note: anyone who is familiar with China's Journey to the West will know the Monkey King and Man-Pig characters] Needless to say, in Chinese culture, this less-than-desirable comparison is considered an undiplomatic slight. Su's comments in the corridors of the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center reflect his obvious frustration with what he feels is hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. in the climate negotiations. During a press conference, Su criticized the United States for failing to meet its UNFCCC commitments, particularly in terms of pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to provide financial assistance to developing countries. He said it was unfair for the United States to criticize China and make them the scapegoat in the climate debates when the United States itself "isn't doing anything," Su said. His remarks were counter to a speech Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the United States, gave at the University of Michigan Law School in which he said that China was "spurning" commitments made in Copenhagen, acting as if the agreement "never happened." And there's evidence that the Chinese are working to improve capacity as well as transparency of its measurement and reporting systems. Sun Cuihua, the Deputy General-Director of the Climate Change Coordination Office in China's National Development and Reform Commission announced at a side event that China is currently working on a centralized database of GHG emissions, which would include emissions data from Chinese municipalities and provinces and would eventually become open for the public. Although no specific timeline was given for completion, this is a major announcement, considering the most recent publicly-available data for GHG emission levels of Chinese provinces dates back to 1994. Despite these efforts, the US still pushed China on the MRV issue in Tianjin, which I think could have been a negotiating tactic on the part of the US to deflect attention away from the fact that the Washington still has been unable to pass national legislation on energy and climate change. What perhaps bothers the US most on the MRV issue is the fear that if China indeed backs away from the Copenhagen Accord in the negotiations, its promises of MRV and ICA go along with it. This fear was expressed by lead US negotiator and Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing. Discussion on measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG emissions even amongst non-government actors has also become particularly sensitive following the Tianjin talks, as I've heard from colleagues here in China that several US-China bilateral workshops planned to discuss MRV have been canceled. So without the two largest climate behemoths talking constructively - and not bickering - what does this mean moving forward to Cancun? First, geographical differences aside, Cancun is not going to be any Copenhagen. The expectations are already much lower -BBC news is contemplating only sending one correspondent to cover the talks, as opposed to around 30 last year. Hopes for a legally-binding deal have long been off the table - I could even sense the difference in Pershing's more relaxed demeanor in Tianjin compared to Copenhagen. Second, the inability of countries in Tianjin to make enough progress on the negotiation text means that some important issues identified in the Copenhagen Accord may not be discussed in Cancun. Bright points at Copenhagen, such discussion on credits from avoided deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), were barely even touched at the talks at Tianjin, which do not bode well for hopes of a decision in Cancun. There is an urgent feeling that Cancun is the last shot for all parties to come up with enough concrete action to maintain the credibility of the process moving forward into the next year. If countries are unsuccessful in agreeing upon enough concrete actions in Cancun, there are rumblings, particularly from the European Union, that some parties might jump ship and try bilateral talks or negotiations through the G-20 or Major Economies forum instead. Unfortunately, if multilateral negotiations do start to disperse centrifugally, the one bilateral relationship that stands to make the most difference on the global climate - the one between the US and China - could be damaged in the UNFCCC process.
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Posted by Angel Hsu (Original posting can be found at chinafaqs.org) Having the intercessional UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in China this week – the last stop before ministers and heads of state meet in Cancun for the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP-16) – provides a timely opportunity for participants to witness firsthand elements of China’s clean energy and climate policies in action. As China has become a world leader in developing and deploying key technologies needed to capture and sequester carbon, the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) and the Clean Air Task Force organized a site visit to GreenGen – China’s first commercial-scale Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant located in Tianjin, approximately an hour’s drive from the Meijiang Convention Center, where negotiations have been underway. GreenGen – a $1 billion project led by China Huaneng – represents a joint venture between seven other Chinese enterprises and has the support of the Chinese government, including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology. U.S.-based Peabody Energy also joined the project in 2007 as the only foreign investor. While the Chinese refer to GreenGen as a “research demonstration project,” visiting the site a mere year away from completion of the project’s first phase, left our group with little doubt that this project means business. The first phase of the IGCC plant will produce a full-sized plant’s 250 MW of power, heat, and synthetic gas (syngas). Li Liangshi, the Deputy Chief Engineer of China Huaneng in Tianjin, said construction of the plant began in 2009 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2011. GreenGen demonstrates multiple IGCC technologies that can hopefully be scaled to simultaneously address several environmental challenges – and not just climate change and energy security. To address criteria air pollutant abatement, GreenGen features pre-combustion technology that will strip pollutants such as SO2 and particulates from the coal syngas, according to Deborah Seligsohn, Principal Advisor to WRI’s Climate and Energy Program. GreenGen’s second phase will implement fuel cell power generation and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for nearly zero-emission power generation. The third phase of the project is planned for completion by 2016, when the plant would produce a total of 650 MW and 3,500 tons of syngas per day. The presentations by Chinese climate and energy experts here in Tianjin have emphasized the critical nature of technologies like IGCC and CCS for China to achieve its energy and carbon intensity reduction targets, particularly as China will continue to rely on coal for a large portion of energy production. In a presentation on Oct. 5, Professor Jiang Kejun of China’s Energy Research Institute emphasized how crucial CCS is for China to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The emission models for China Prof. Jiang and ERI have been working on assume wide-scale deployment of CCS post 2030. Returning to the context of the negotiations in Tianjin, a big piece of the discussion has surrounded technology transfer from industrialized countries to developing countries, to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, China shows the capacity to promote two-way exchange in areas like IGCC and CCS. Huaneng’s Mr. Li said that all of the technologies used for the first-phase GreenGen IGCC are manufactured domestically by Chinese companies, with the exception of the Siemens gas turbine . While China has growing capture experience, it is just beginning to try to actually inject CO2, with the first such injection likely to begin at a Shenhua Coal Liquefaction Company project in Inner Mongolia in the next few months. This latter project has received technical support from a number of US technical organizations, many of which are in the newly announced US-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). Against the smoggy skyline, I could not help but be impressed by the sheer scale and speed with which GreenGen has emerged within the past year. Seligsohn, who had first visited the site a year ago on a study tour of Chinese CCS sites for American experts, remarked that last year on their visit, the site was nothing more than foundation. Although Mr. Li admitted GreenGen’s price tag was not cheap, he said that if successful, Huaneng plans to roll out many more similar IGCC-CCS plants. And with China continuing to build about 30 power plants a year, according to Jiang, these technologies could have a significant impact on China’s air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. ChinaFAQs Expert Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on Chinese environmental performance measurement, governance, and policy.
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Guest post by Angel Hsu, doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I’m blogging live from the Tianjin intersessional meetings of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the last stop on the way to the big Conference of Parties (COP-16) meeting in Cancun, Mexico this November. The mere fact that China is hosting this meeting is significant for several reasons. This is the first time China is playing host to the UNFCCC climate negotiations, signaling its commitment to the UNFCCC process and the issue of climate change itself. As the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China continues to demonstrate recognition of its role in the global problem of climate change, hosting the intercessional meetings during its national day holiday – a fitting time for China to demonstrate its nationalism and rising leadership in the climate debates. For many, as NRDC’s Jake Schmidt argues, attending the talks in Tianjin will allow first-hand experience of China’s clean-energy revolution and actions on climate change. The main charge of delegates here in Tianjin is to narrow down the set of options available on the table. As Jennifer Morgan, who heads the Climate Change and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute, said in a recent press conference, a key aim of this task is for delegates to “[reconnect] what leaders did and said in Copenhagen and to formalise that in the UNFCCC into a set of decisions, combined with a clear pathway in the form of a legal document.” Parties will produce “draft decisions” on issues such as adaptation, financing, REDD plus, accounting and verification, mitigation pledges, and technology transfer so that when heads of state meet in Cancun, they’ll be able to quickly move to identify points of common ground on these issues to carry enough momentum into South Africa for COP-17. What can’t be ignored this week in Tianjin is the current state of China-US relations. Recent headlines such as the complaint filed by the US steelworkers union against Chinese clean-energy subsidies and a bill currently being discussed in Congress that would penalise China for keeping its currency artificially low are evidence of the current tenuousness of Sino-American relations. It remains to be seen this week whether such a political backdrop will cloud the climate discussions in Tianjin between the two countries, particularly on issues such as financing, technology transfer and the Measurable, Reportable, and Verifiable (MRV) aspects of actions from developing countries and of commitments and support from developed countries. As you’ll remember from the COP-15 discussions in Copenhagen the United States came in demanding international verification of China’s domestic climate actions, a move that riled and split the Chinese delegation, although China in the end agreed to “international consultation and analysis”. However, according to Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, this agreement to “international consultation and analysis” was only made reluctantly and caused considerable dissension within the Chinese delegation, as it went beyond what the Chinese representatives had in their talking points coming into Copenhagen. Lieberthal contends that the Chinese were unhappy in particular about bringing in the MRV piece into a formal COP-approved process; instead, the Chinese are looking only to bring in elements from Copenhagen that prove useful and basing negotiations in the two-track process of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan. I’ll be following the MRV issue closely over the next few days, as part of my dissertation research and the reason why I’m in Tianjin as an observer. To make matters worse, the United States also missed an opportunity to engage in high-level climate and energy discussions with the high-level Chinese officials, including NDRC Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua, who – as host of the negotiations – is undoubtedly present and available. While the US delegation is in the perfectly capable hands of Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change, the presence of his boss, Todd Stern, would have given tremendous mian zi (literally, “face;” or figuratively, “dignity or respect”) to the Chinese hosts. The talks would have been prime opportunity for the two climate behemoths to repair some of the ground lost over the last year. Despite the daunting challenges always on the plate at these UNFCCC meetings, I hope that delegates here heed the charge of executive secretary Cristiana Figueres during this morning’s welcome plenary session – “Now is the time to act”, else we threaten to forfeit the credibility of multilateralism in solving the global climate change challenge. More to come … follow me on Twitter at @ecoangelhsu for real-time updates from the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center.
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