While many participants had hoped for a rocking performance by negotiators, they left still straining to hear the sounds of success.

The most recent round of the United Nations climate change negotiations began early the morning of November 11. After a marathon final session that lasted more than 24 hours, talks concluded at nearly 9 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. This dramatic finish has become an almost yearly occurrence of governments rocking all Friday night and partying every (Satur)day. With so much activity late in the game, observers might reasonably have expected a lengthy set of agreements to step up the fight against climate change. Or, at the very least, confirmation that Saturday night’s alright for fighting when nations can’t agree.

Instead, based on the reactions from many participants, the final agreements said more about the state of negotiations by what they left out than what they included. To be fair, these negotiations were not intended to reach a final decision on major climate change issues. Warsaw was built as a step toward agreement on a new climate change treaty at negotiations in Paris in December 2015. A successful agreement in Paris depends on countries making commitments to reduce their carbon pollution. Putting their cards on the table as early as possible would help even more. It would leave more time to assess if the commitments will be enough to stop dangerous and potentially runaway levels of climate change. And to negotiate stronger commitments if not.

Rather, governments, particularly the wealthiest and most polluting, spent all of Warsaw showing each other their best poker faces, with no new commitments pledged. Governments did manage to agree to state their commitments “well in advance” of Paris. They did not, however, clarify when exactly that would be.

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adaptation, Adaptation Fund, climate finance, Climate Policy, Green Climate Fund, Lima, loss and damage, music videos, Paris, Peru, Poland, REDD, Secretary-General, Typhoon Haiyan, UNFCCC, Warsaw

On August 12th, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented his long-awaited energy reform proposal, which is now awaiting approval from Congress. There has been quite a bit of speculation and debate, both before and after the proposal was unveiled, about its reach and potential impacts, especially on the national oil company, PEMEX. Even though the proposal was divided into two sections, oil & gas, and electricity, the latter sector has been largely left out of the public discussion. Furthermore, the President’s proposal did not consider reforms for another important part of the energy sector: renewables.

State oil ownership in Mexico is a delicate issue, steeped in history and accompanied even by a national holiday, and with reason: oil is crucial to Mexico’s economy, accounting for one-third of federal income. However, Mexico’s oil production has been decreasing since 2004, as shallow reserves have started running low, and there is a lack of national technical capacity to explore unconventional sources. It is no mystery that allowing private investment in the oil industry could boost Mexico’s hydrocarbon production and with it, its economy, but privatizing national resources is not a political option. President Peña Nieto’s proposal seeks to attract investment without privatizing by reversing the constitution’s ban on private contracts in upstream oil and gas development (i.e. exploration and production) and offering a share in profits. Other oil and hydrocarbon sector reforms include restructuring PEMEX and increasing its transparency and accountability.

President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto

The proposal’s reform of the electricity market, which has largely missed the headlines, includes a simple yet powerful change: enabling private participation in power generation, while maintaining state control over transmission and distribution. Currently, the state-owned Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) holds a monopoly over electricity generation, distribution, and transmission. While amendments to the Public Electricity Service Act in 1992 partially opened electricity generation to the private sector, it did so only for self-supply, cogeneration, Independent Power Producers (IPP) exclusively selling to the CFE and planned under CFE’s strategy, small production (less than 30 MW), imports to satisfy self-supply needs, and exports to other countries. In addition, since the CFE controls transmission and distribution, it also chooses from which power generators to purchase electricity. This in turn limits competition in the electricity sector and has contributed to electricity prices that are on average 25 percent more expensive than in the United States. The reform would also establish an independent systems operator to boost competitiveness by determining power producer participation in the electricity market based on lowest generation costs. If properly implemented, Mexico’s electricity reforms will increase competition in power generation and help bring down prices.

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Last month, our friends at Germanwatch published a report that lays out near-term strategies for countries, international climate negotiators, and non-governmental institutions through 2020 that can keep the world on a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pathway to limit the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. The report, entitled “Short-Term Mitigation Ambition Pre-2020: Opportunities to Close the Emissions Gap,” enumerates a variety of measures – including the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, closing emission loopholes in the Kyoto Protocol, meeting national emission reduction targets beyond those pledged in the international climate negotiation processes, and strengthening multinational, multi-sector alliances – and quantifies the emission reduction potential of each action.

The new report is an important supplement to a 2010 study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which calculated the gap between the emissions limit required to stay below the global warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius and the current business-as-usual (BAU) emissions trajectory. UNEP projected that under BAU, annual global GHG emissions will rise to 56 Gt CO2e by 2020, 12 Gt more per year than the 44 Gt limit that would keep the 2 degree warming level achievable. Lending further support to calls for closing this emissions gap, in 2011 the International Energy Agency projected that without new policies to tackle climate change, the world is on track for an average warming of 6 degrees Celsius or more.

Greenhouse gas emission and global warming scenarios (source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

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Many energy investors are interested in Latin America due to its great renewable energy potential and its relatively untapped markets. Good governance in the energy sector – a government’s ability to ease the flow of investment, and its capacity to handle resources and finances of projects transparently – is a key factor in determining a country’s readiness for renewables. It is not only a matter of getting the money from international and national funds, but also of using funds wisely and directly for the benefit of the population. Many populations suffer from a lack of electricity, and these projects are a way to improve energy services, leading to jobs and better futures. Governance has been an obstacle for renewable investment in many LAC countries, which are well-known for corruption.

The question is, are these governance issues natural and somehow a part of Latin American culture that cannot change? This theory is somehow accepted by many Latin Americans due to their own everyday experiences, plus some well-known scandals involving former presidents and high level authorities of the region for being prosecuted for money laundering and illicit enrichment. The UNDP has found some factors that explain why governance issues, such as corruption, happen in the region: the lack of transparency in a country’s performance, the perceived weakness of a government to implement policies and enforce the law, high insecurity and criminal rates, and unequal distribution of wealth.

The majority of LAC countries score below the regional (40.08) and global average (43.26), showing that LAC countries have a higher level of perceived corruption compared to the rest of the world.

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One of the most underreported stories in the U.S. energy industry today is Connecticut’s ambitious electricity pilot project—one that could have a widespread ripple effect across the country. On July 24, state government officials announced plans for nine microgrid projects as part of a Microgrid Pilot Program aimed at ensuring electricity grid resilience and reliability during severe weather events.

“Microgrids” are essentially small-scale electricity generation and distribution systems that integrate various distributed energy resources and can be managed locally and, if necessary, independently from the main grid. Diesel-powered microgrids are common in the rural areas of many developing countries such as Haiti, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and some military bases, telecommunications bases, and Internet server farms have done the same, in order to ensure a steady flow of power even if a natural disaster or terrorist attack should take down the main grid.

A local microgrid in Sendai, Japan. Source: NTT Facilities, Tokyo.

More recently, and in response to security concerns and prolonged power outages, the concept of creating a microgrid within an existing electricity grid has gained traction. The goal is to increase the security of local power supplies in the face of natural disasters and cyber threats, while at the same time creating a robust market for solar energy and other small-scale generators. Several microgrids are already complete or under development in the United States. Among the first adopters are educational institutions like the University of California-San Diego, New York University, Utica College, and Cornell University. The U.S. Department of Defense is also blazing trails, having installed microgrid infrastructure at multiple army bases already. Now, Connecticut is the first state to develop an explicit policy on microgrids.

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“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader, a global leader in the fight against climate change.”

- President Barack Obama, 6/25/2013

President Obama presented his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University yesterday. (image source: whitehouse.gov)

President Obama presented his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University yesterday. (image source: whitehouse.gov)

Climate change policy is back on the political agenda.  In a powerful speech at Georgetown University yesterday, President Barack Obama found the right words for the scale and urgency of the climate problem. He announced a Climate Action Plan outlining a wide array of actions his administration will take to reduce harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, expand renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and strengthen America’s resilience to climate impacts. Throughout the speech, President Obama struck down critics’ claims, which have been bolstered by wealthy special interest groups, that climate protection poses a threat to the country’s economy. If implemented promptly, the plan can lead to much needed reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and re-engage the United States with other climate leaders in the international community.

However, the plan also reinforces the President’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, which is at odds with the necessity for swift and significant emission reductions to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. President Obama yesterday restated his pledge to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – an insufficient target given the urgency of the climate crisis and the scale of the U.S. contribution to global emissions on an absolute, historical, and per capita basis.

Perhaps the most important policy announcement in the President’s climate action plan is a memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards by 2015 to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first proposed carbon standards for new power plants over a year ago that would effectively halt the construction of new coal plants without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Although the shale gas boom has already made it unlikely that new coal plants would be built anyway, the proposed regulation would nevertheless be an important step toward passing carbon standards for existing power plants that could accelerate the phase-out of coal power.

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carbon standard, CCS, Climate Change, Climate Policy, coal, greenhouse gas emissions, Keystone XL, nuclear power, President Obama, renewable energy, shale gas

So, it seems like I owe the Polish government an apology.

Last month I wrote a first blog about Poland and its future role as host of the UN climate talks, insisting on its ambiguities towards the diplomatic process and pointing out, for instance, that it had made the rather unconventional decision to host the negotiations in a football stadium.

Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec (pictured) has made the Polish leadership's position on the climate negotiations clear, but Polish civil society and environmental groups are optimistic that COP19 will see some successes. (Source: www.um.warszawa.pl)

Well, after a “field trip” in Warsaw, I’ve learned that the National Stadium is one of the things that the country holds dearest, and that this venue choice is actually a sign that Poland is taking its role as President of the UNFCCC 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) quite seriously. So, please accept my deepest apologies, or as I should say, przepraszam.

This correction, sadly, does not apply to most of the other points I have made about Poland’s stance on climate and energy issues. Since my last blog, Environment Minister Martin Korolec, in recent comments to a news agency, bluntly closed the door on European climate policy-making before 2015 (the deadline year that countries have set for themselves to come up with a global, binding agreement for climate action within the UN framework). This is a notable difference with the pre-Copenhagen situation, when the European Union managed to put together the “20-20-20” package before the 2009 climate talks, as a way to lead by example and encourage other countries to step up their ambitions.

But Poland has its own ideas on how the EU should approach climate change leadership from now on. Not, of course, by interfering with sovereign domestic energy choices (ahem), but rather backing the production of electric cars, setting a target for reducing fossil fuel imports, and finally ending energy subsidies. Though these suggestions may seem like good common sense, it’s not too difficult to imagine the rationale behind them: insisting on reducing fossil fuel imports would effectively reduce the EU’s economic dependence on Russia, a country with which Poland has a long, often conflict-ridden past; while opposing clean-energy funding and carbon pricing helps protect Poland’s own coal industry development.

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Climate Change, COP19, Copenhagen, Europe, European Union, negotiations, Poland, UNFCCC

Sometimes it looks as if the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have bet large amounts of money against themselves on the success of climate negotiations.

"Are we done yet?” Poland has hardly been an enthusiastic actor in UNFCCC negotiations (Source: IISD.ca)

Countries are now engaged in an excruciatingly slow race to reach an agreement by 2015, which would for the first time commit both the developed and the developing world under “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” (ah, the beauty of UNFCCC language…), in order to meet the goal of 2 degrees warming by the end of the century, the “safe” limit that was agreed upon at the 2009 Copenhagen summit.

Given what’s at stake, and the inefficiencies inherent to the UN process, you’d think that the world’s nations would make sure that not a minute is lost in the talks. And yet, after a Qatari Presidency that left everyone with the vivid memory of conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah literally hammering out a last-minute deal, Poland has been designated to host the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP19) next October.

It may not be obvious, at first sight, why Poland hosting the climate talks seems like a step backwards. After all, the ambitions around COP19 are not to come up with a global agreement, but rather to make substantial advances on pressing issues in preparation of the Durban Platform deadline, fixed for 2015 (and a very likely French Presidency). But it helps to remember that the last COP on the road to the rather underachieving Copenhagen Conference in 2009 took place in Poznań, which could say something about the capacity of a Polish COP Presidency to pave the way for ambitious deal-making. These fears, of course, are not enough to dismiss Poland as a valuable host. What weighs heavier is that the country does have a history of blocking progress in climate negotiations, particularly at the European Union level.

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Climate Change, climate negotiations, COP19, Copenhagen, emissions reductions, Europe, European Union, low-carbon, negotiations, Poland, UNFCCC

The English version of this blog is available here.

Por Cinthya Alfaro Zúñiga

Al ser costarricense y becario de investigación para Worldwatch Institute/INCAE, me brindó mucha satisfacción asistir al 21 Foro Regional de la Alianza en Energía y Ambiente con Centroamérica(AEA) que tuvo lugar en Costa Rica a principios del mes de marzo. El objetivo principal de la AEA es brindar financiamiento para proyectos de energía renovable, sin embargo también busca desarrollar capacidades al explorar diversos temas como las diferentes tecnologías energéticas, las políticas requeridas para una implementación exitosa y los obstáculos y oportunidades regionales por medio de diálogo entre las partes involucradas.

Worldwatch e INCAE presentan la primera fase del proyecto “El Futuro de la Energía Renovable en Centroamérica” en Costa Rica en Marzo.

Worldwatch e INCAE presentan la primera fase del proyecto “El Futuro de la Energía Renovable en Centroamérica” en Costa Rica en Marzo.

Bajo el título de “Biogás y Eficiencia Energética en Centroamérica”, el más reciente Foro reunió a un grupo de 200 expertos, desarrolladores de proyectos, representantes gubernamentales, financistas y el público en general. Los ponentes se refirieron a temas como la contribución a la reducción de emisiones de carbono por parte de las políticas de eficiencia energética y de la energía renovable. Otros tópicos importantes incluyen el estado de la eficiencia energética y del biogás en Centroamérica, así como un recorrido por los proyectos de la AEA en ambos temas.

La actividad de tres días contó con ponentes de la Agencia de Cooperación Alemana (GIZ), el Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), el Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE), y el Worldwatch Institute, entre otros.

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Centroamérica, desarrollo, desarrollo sostenible, eficiencia energética, electricidad, emisiones reducidas, energía, energía renovable, política energética

By Wenna Wang and Haibing Ma

Source: EIA | Distribution of China's shale gas basins.

On June 27th, 5 shares of shale gas reached their daily limits at Shanghai Composite Index, the largest stock market in China, lifting the whole Oil & Gas sector above the otherwise decreasing Chinese stock market. This was stimulated by a signal from the nation’s Ministry of Land and Resources: the second round of shale gas exploration rights is expected to open for bidding in September, and this time it will be open to private investors.

Shale gas, which is natural gas found in hydrocarbon rich shale formations, is one of the most important unconventional sources of natural gas and represents a rapidly expanding trend in onshore gas exploration and production today. The deposits are mainly extracted through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Though it is not an ideal alternative to conventional energy sources, shale gas can be a key to energy independence and a lower carbon footprint, since it produces 43 percent and 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and oil per thermal unit produced, respectively. However, not everything about shale gas is an improvement, as its extraction process may contaminate ground water and release volatile compounds into the soil, while the use of shale gas will still lead to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main mining techniques used for extraction, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have been linked to various problems like water shortages, groundwater contamination, methane gas seeps, micro-earthquakes and coal fires. Sample surveys show that methane concentrations were 17-times higher on average (19.2 mg/L) in shallow wells located in active drilling and extraction areas than in wells located in non-active areas (1.1 mg/L on average). In addition, there are studies showing properties with shale gas wells were valued down due to the fracturing.

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12th Five-Year Plan, China, Climate Change, energy demand, green house gases, low-carbon, renewable energy, shale gas, sustainable development