Climate Change and Energy – review of the year 2005

Climate Change and Energy issues dominated the headlines in both the environmental and mainstream press during 2005, with positive moves such as the start of emissions trading in Europe, the formal ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and expansion of renewable capacity showing the ways towards mitigating the effects of climate change, while hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines highlighted the dangers of complacency.

The start of the year saw the formal start to the European emissions trading scheme with threats of legal action from the UK over its watered down national allocation plan and allegations that the World Bank was using its size to crowd out private sector players on emissions reduction projects in the developing world (see related story).

Legal action also continued against several EU countries for failing to transpose the emissions trading directive, with cases being brought against Italy, Finland, Greece and Belgium (see related story) while lobbying from the Spanish coal industry seemed to pay off as the government released its NAP with extra pollution rights for coal fired stations at the expense of gas fired ones (see related story).

On the international stage, there was jubilation all round as the Kyoto Protocol formally came into force (see related story) and marked the start of a global rather than just European carbon market, and heralded the start of the Protocol’s other flexible mechanisms – Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism.

The coming into force of the Protocol immediately sparked debate about what emissions targets would be set for the period after the first phase of the Kyoto era ends in 2012. The European Commission outlined its basic plans for this period which would see aviation and maritime transport in the trading sector (see related story) to predictable howls from the transport sector despite the transport sector being found to be the main source of air pollution (see related story).

In addition, both Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency and Gordon Brown the UK Chancellor said that energy efficiency measures would be the best way to cut emissions with very little investment needed in new technology, just a bit of common sense (see related story).

However, the UK Energy Efficiency Review had found that, so far, very few of these measures were being practiced.

With a general election in the air as well as the UK holding the European Presidency and the head of the G8, Prime Minister Tony Blair spent a large part of the year trying to convince the world he would hold all the answers to global warming and would make it his priority to get results.

Unfortunately, this proved to be largely just hot air.

During the general election itself, the environment was, for the most part, ignored by the three major parties (see related story) and ‘New’ Labour walked to a comfortable victory.

Shortly after this ‘victory’ the government admitted that it would not meet its own targets for reducing emissions, and its policies, or lack of them, for tackling climate change, were slated by the Royal Society (see related story).

Around the same time, the Sustainable Development Commission released a report saying that wind power should form a critically important part of the energy mix and should play a crucial role alongside energy efficiency in any climate change strategy (see related story).

Indeed, wind power saw a record year of growth in 2005 with over 500MW new capacity having been commissioned by the year end of which 445MW is already operating. A further 670MW of new projects, including 90MW of offshore are also already under construction for commissioning in 2006 (see related site).

Biomass and biofuels also saw a good year with a European Action Plan being adopted to boost their use across heating, electricity and transport (see related story) and grants being made available for biomass boilers in the UK (see related story).

Spain confirmed its status as the top spot for renewable energy investment (see related story) knocking the UK from its perch due to the slow pace of development here (see related story).

Solar power saw growth overall globally, but there were fears from some in the UK that a policy shift on home renewables would leave solar in the dark (see related story).

Many hoped a further boost to renewables use in the UK would be given when all energy suppliers were forced to disclose how much of their energy comes from which source (see related story). Many thought that the transparency would encourage consumers to switch supplier based on the published results, however, there is scant evidence that this has so far happened.

New investment was also provided through the Carbon Abatement Technology Strategy, which would see carbon emissions captured and stored, rather than actually trying to reduce the production of the emissions in the first place (see related story). The technology will be focused on coal burning plants, mostly in recognition of the fact that as oil and gas prices rise, coal has become a far cheaper alternative.

At the G8 summit, George W Bush played a convincing role as the global village’s prime idiot, quashing Blair’s hope of consensus on climate change (see related story) and leading many to pin hopes on the EU leadership (see related story).

Campaigns to make poverty history were also drowned out by a combination of rock star egos and political stalling, while Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute, pointed out that by adopting a system of contraction and convergence (C&C) both poverty and emissions reduction goals could be reached simultaneously (see related story).

As the year progressed, Mr Blair’s supposed leadership on climate change and renewables seemed ever more shaky as he seemed to become less convinced of the need for targets to cut emissions (see related story) and ever more convinced of the need for nuclear power to meet the needs of the future (see related story).

This was further compounded when his chief scientific advisor Sir David King gave his backing to a new generation of nuclear power stations saying they were now far less polluting and much cheaper to build (see related story).

After these hints, it came as little surprise that the main focus of the UK energy review, announced in late November, was whether or not to build new nuclear power stations (see related story). The results will be announced in July 2006.

The year ended with a relatively modest victory over the nay-sayers, with agreement reached at the Montreal summit on climate change (see related story) and all nations calling America’s bluff over its childish attempts to walk out of negotiations (see related story).

The victory is still modest, however, and still failed to come up with any post-Kyoto solution. Despite only being fully ratified in 2005, the agreement runs out in 2012 and no new system or targets have been agreed.

However, the talks do offer a glimmer of hope to the developing world through the start of the Clean Development Mechanism. This allows wealthy countries to invest in renewable energy projects in nations who are not Kyoto signatories and claim carbon credits back home.

The system has become tangled in red tape and ineffectual, but negotiators at Montreal have streamlined the CDM and given assurances that it will continue beyond 2012 when the first phase of Kyoto comes to a close.

Nations have been urged to dramatically increase their funding to improve the administration of the scheme which, if running smoothly, could be expected to invest US$100 billion in projects around the world from plans for hydro in Honduras and Chinese wind turbines to innovative biomass plants in Brazil and India making use of agricultural waste – sugar cane mash and rice husks.

Although not a total solution to any of the problems posed by climate change, the acknowledgement by a majority of the world’s governments that climate change exists, and that a framework also exists to help deal with this, means that 2006 could be the year that some definite, concerted action takes place around the world.

David Hopkins

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