Significant price differences between regional natural gas markets have driven many European countries to increase coal consumption while decreasing use of natural gas (Source: BP).

Coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012 as the growth of worldwide energy use continued to slow due to the economic downturn. The relative weight of these energy sources keeps shifting, although the change was ever so slight. Natural gas increased its share of global primary energy consumption from 23.8 to 23.9 percent during 2012, coal rose from 29.7 to 29.9 percent, and oil fell from 33.4 to 33.1 percent. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2017 coal will replace oil as the dominant primary energy source worldwide.

The shale revolution in the United States is reshaping global oil and gas markets. The United States produced oil at record levels in 2012 and is expected to overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas combined in 2013. Consequently, the country is importing decreasing amounts of these two fossil fuels, while using rising levels of its natural gas for power generation. This has led to price discrepancies between the American and European natural gas markets that in turn have prompted Europeans to increase their use of coal for power generation. Coal consumption, however, was dominated by China, which in 2012 for the first time accounted for more than half of the world’s coal use.

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China, coal, Europe, India, natural gas, oil, Russia, shale gas, United States

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

Germany has seen success with solar power, despite having about the equivalent solar resource of Alaska. The U.S. contains vast solar resources, but could use more federal policies to utilize this renewable resource. Trans-Atlantic collaboration could boost the transition to sustainable energy systems on both sides of the Pond. (Source: German-American Chambers of Commerce)

The U.S. and Germany are obligated, as two of the largest economies and historic emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, to lead the global transition to cleaner power systems. Their success or failure in transforming energy systems has immense global signaling effects. Closer cooperation in this innovative sector could revamp a faltering historic partnership.

Germany’s chosen path to a clean energy future is ambitious and unprecedented amongst industrialized countries. The government passed a series of measures in 2011 to simultaneously move away from fossil fuels and phase out nuclear power. Renewable energy is to become the backbone of the country’s energy system – at least 60 percent of the nation’s primary energy consumption and 80 percent of electricity are to come from renewables in 2050. Meanwhile, the last nuclear reactor is to be shut down in 2022. (See the table below for an overview of German energy policy goals).

The country is already a leader in renewable energies. Few countries have a greater installed per capita capacity of renewables, excluding hydropower, than does Germany. Moreover, the government also envisions energy efficiency to be a key component in enabling the clean energy transition. Germany aims to reduce primary energy consumption by 50 percent by 2050 and increase energy productivity, or the GDP produced per unit of energy, by 2.1 percent per year.

The U.S. trails German ambition and lacks a federal clean energy strategy, but is nonetheless one of the most important and dynamic renewable energy markets in the world. As of the end of 2011, the U.S. led the world in installed biomass and geothermal power capacity, ranked second in total installed renewable power as well as wind power capacity, third in hydropower, and fifth in solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity. While total emissions in the U.S. have historically been higher than most other countries, no other country has seen a larger drop in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions over the past five years. Shifts from coal to natural gas in the power sector, as well as fuel efficiency improvements in the transportation sector, are the main reason for this reduction, but growing investments in renewable energies also contributed to this positive trend.

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energy, Europe, Germany, renewable energy, transatlantic power series, transatlantic relations, United States

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
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman promoted international collaboration on shale gas, CCS, and nuclear. Image source: doe.gov

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman promoted international collaboration on shale gas, CCS, and nuclear. Image source: doe.gov

Last month, I attended two events on U.S. international collaboration on energy issues, both of which involved presentations and panel discussions featuring high-level representatives from government, business, academia, and non-governmental organizations. Despite some discussion of renewable energy and climate change, U.S. government and business representatives centered the discussion largely on shale gas, “clean” coal, and nuclear power.

The first event was the third U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit, co-convened by Yale University and The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) of India. Panelists discussed experiences and opportunities for collaboration on sustainable energy initiatives, from joint research and development of technologies to promoting policies and financial mechanisms that encourage clean energy investment. The Summit was chaired by Rajendra K. Pachauri, President of TERI North America and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A forum for sustainable energy collaboration between the United States and India is especially important in the context of stagnating international climate negotiations, where the two countries have often assumed adversarial roles. Although the Summit demonstrated the promise of mutual interests, I was disappointed by the focus of several of the high-level speakers on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

The nature of the energy partnership described by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman centers largely on “clean coal” technology and shale gas exploration, as well as tighter standards for nuclear energy in India. Dr. Charles Ebinger, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, reinforced this position by highlighting the central role that the coal industry plays in the Indian economy, including as a large employer. Dr. Ebinger also took a rather pessimistic view of India’s ability to expand the share of renewable energy, claiming that renewable energy could not account for more than 20 to 25 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030 or even 2040.

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CCS, Europe, India, nuclear power, shale gas, U.S. Department of Energy, United States

Last week I invited Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute (DIE), to Worldwatch for an informal dialogue with the staff.  In addition to his leadership of DIE, Dirk is a professor of political science at the University of Duisburg-Essen as well as Vice-Chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). As a leading expert in the fields of development policy, environmental policy, and global governance, he plays a vital role in addressing key policy and sustainability challenges, as well as advancing the discourse surrounding climate and energy policy.

Like Worldwatch, Dirk is currently struggling with the question of how to facilitate an effective transition to a green global economy, particularly under the impact of shifting demographics. While transatlantic institutions have traditionally led international cooperative efforts including on the environment, the rapid ascendance of emerging economies like China and India has fundamentally shifted both actual diplomacy and the intellectual dialogue about it (the New York Times just today published an article on the United States’ waning influence on the global economy).  Dirk outlined several key areas of inquiry regarding this shift including its implications for sustainability, poverty alleviation, security, and democracy. Several recent developments have contributed to this changing landscape of international development and sustainability efforts.

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Climate Change, developing countries, Europe, European Union, Germany, green economy, low-carbon

The Power Aware Cord: Visualizing Your Energy Usage

International climate and energy policies, including the EU’s 20-20-20 agenda, often contain three key elements: reducing carbon dioxide emissions, investing in renewable energy sources, and improving energy efficiency. But while some progress has been achieved in the first two categories, efforts to improve efficiency have fallen far short. Why?

In theory, energy efficiency is one of the few issues that politicians and policymakers from both sides of the spectrum can agree on: it creates jobs, it saves money, and it is common sense. The Huffington Post recently called efficiency the “gateway drug” of energy policy.

At a panel discussion hosted by Johns Hopkins University and co-sponsored by France, Germany, the U.K., and the EU delegation to the United States, participants agreed that energy efficiency has not been widely embraced as an effective tool to save energy and reduce emissions. This stands in contrast to the wide-ranging public support for renewable energy, especially in Europe. The lack of enthusiasm to improve efficiency may well be the single largest obstacle to reducing energy waste in the long term.

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building efficiency, emissions reductions, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy policy, Europe, GHG emissions, greenhouse gas pollution, renewable energy

Here is another installment in our series of blog posts on rail developments.  Like the earlier posts in the series, this is drawn from our project with the Apollo Alliance that resulted in two reports published last month.

As global ridership on intercity rail and transit continues to grow, many systems around the world are being expanded or newly constructed. This has led to rising orders for rail vehicles and buses. It has also created an opportunity for countries that lead in this sector to benefit greatly from the manufacturing dollars and job creation this will bring.

Currently, some 400 light rail systems with more than 44,000 rail vehicles are in operation worldwide, another 60 systems or so are under construction, and more than 200 are in the planning stage. Europe has the highest density, with 170 systems and more than 7,900 miles of lines in operation and nearly 100 more in various stages of construction or planning. North America has 30 systems in operation and 10 under construction. But Asia and the Pacific is the region with the fastest growth.

Much of the current excitement is directed toward the expansion of high-speed intercity rail (HSR) lines. In 2009, HSR lines totaling some 6,650 miles were operational, including close to 1,490 miles in Japan and about 1,180 miles in France—the two early pioneers. In 2008, European Union members had a combined high-speed network of close to 3,600 miles. The same year, the world’s HSR fleet consisted of some 2,200 trainsets—1,500 in Western Europe and 650 in Asia (mostly in Japan).

These statistics will change rapidly as more countries jump into the fray. By 2015, the number of trainsets in operation worldwide is expected to rise by 70 percent, to 3,725. The front runners, in order of their track-building ambitions between now and 2025, are China, Spain, France, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the United States, Sweden, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Iran, South Korea, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. (In the United States, Amtrak’s existing Acela service in the Northeast Corridor is nominally capable of high-speed service, but infrastructure limitations impose effective lower speeds.)

China is in the process of building the most extensive HSR system worldwide, with a total length of more than 15,000 miles. But the densest network is emerging in Spain, which has a goal of 6,200 miles by 2020. If China were to match Spain’s effort relative to land size, it would have to build 118,000 miles of lines; in proportion to population, it would have to build 180,000 miles.

Likewise, if the United States were to match Spain’s commitment, it would have to build 183,000 and 75,000 miles, respectively. This is many orders of magnitude larger than what is currently on the drawing boards. To get anywhere near the effort that countries like China and Spain are undertaking, the United States will need to make a sustained commitment and create a reliable and sustainable source of funding.

Asia, China, Europe, European Union, high-speed, infrastructure, investment, japan, light rail, North America, rail, Spain, transit, transportation, US, world

According to the consulting firm SCI Verkehr, worldwide operations and capital budgets for passenger and freight rail were a combined $590 billion in 2008. Another study by Roland Berger consultants finds that the global market for rail goods and related services (not including operations) was $169 billion in 2007, up from $129 billion in 2006. But how do these numbers break down regionally and nationally, and what does this portend for the future?

The United States—and more broadly, the Americas—retains a big market share in freight rail but lags far behind in passenger rail compared to many countries, especially in Europe and Asia. In 2002, North and South America together accounted for 31 percent of the world’s diesel locomotives and a third of the world’s freight wagons, but for only 1.5 percent of the world’s passenger rail cars and less than 1 percent of electric locomotives.

For transit rail cars, the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the global fleet and for a correspondingly small portion of global demand for new cars. Canada and Mexico add another 2 percent, bringing the North American total to 7 percent. By comparison, Japan is home to 11 percent of the global fleet, and Europe 35 percent. Annual U.S. orders for transit cars are erratic, swinging from a range of some 200–400 cars in most years to isolated peak years of about 1,200 in the early 1980s and early 2000s.

This is where change is critical: It is not enough to have one or two years with large orders for rail vehicles. What is needed is a sustained investment program in the United States. Only then will a rail manufacturing industry re-emerge.

The vast majority of the world rail market is infrastructure-related. Rail vehicles account for close to a third of the market volume. Western Europe currently dominates the market, followed by Asia and the Pacific, although other regions lead in specific industry segments, such as services. (See Table 1.) About two-thirds of the market volume is considered “accessible,” meaning that orders are open to bids from international suppliers.

China, Europe, infrastructure, investment, priorities, rail, transportation, US, world

The Empire State Building is undergoing a 20 mio. USD retrofit to reduce its energy usage by 40%. - Wikipedia Commons

It’s the beginning of November and the Worldwatch office building’s central A/C is still blowing full blast. I’m writing this blog in a wool sweater. Can there be any better inspiration for discussing the issue of energy efficiency? Let’s explore this time some of the strategies available for greening the building stock, taking examples from both sides of the Atlantic.

In the United States and Europe alike, many existing buildings are old, energy inefficient, and often poorly managed. Yet half of all the buildings around today will still be standing 30 years from now. Enhancing the energy efficiency of these structures and adapting them to a changing climate is therefore essential. So is educating citizens to increase their energy savings.

On October 27, at the invitation of Ulrich Braess, Director of the Goethe Institute in Washington D.C., guest speakers Monika Griefahn (former Green Party Member of the Federal German Parliament), Kurt Shickman (Director of Research for the Energy Future Coalition), and Brooks Rainwater (Director of Local Relations at the American Institute of Architects) discussed the challenges of retrofitting buildings in the United States and Germany.

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, three main sectors—energy utilities, manufacturing, and transportation—are the usual suspects. Yet residential and commercial buildings together account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions, more than either the transportation (34 percent) or industry (26 percent) sectors. The share is slightly lower in Europe, averaging 36 percent, but still represents more than one-third of regional emissions. In both the U.S. and Europe, buildings also account for some 40 percent of total primary energy use. Hence, they represent a key challenge for future energy and climate policies.

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buildings, energy efficiency, energy policy, Europe, feed-in tariffs, Germany, GHG emissions, Green Buildings, green jobs, USA