The European Union’s emission trading scheme (EU ETS) has hit a brick wall erected by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In an October 4 resolution, the ICAO denied a country (or in this case, a region) the right to unilaterally include another country’s airline in its ETS. Instead, the ICAO committed to agree, in 2016, to a global emissions trading mechanism that would take effect in 2020. There is no guarantee, however, that such a system will be introduced, and that it would be as environmentally beneficial as an all-inclusive EU ETS.

Source: Dave Keeshan

This is widely perceived as a political defeat of the EU, which had offered to exclude from its scheme any emissions released outside of EU airspace, but to include all emissions within it. In doing so, the EU had hoped to reach an international deal, particularly with the United States and China, which have opposed inclusion of their airlines in the EU ETS.

The EU has justified the inclusion of foreign airlines in its ETS on the basis of the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which allows for each country’s sovereignty of its own airspace. Although the consequences of the ICAO resolution are unclear, the decision is poised to make enforcement of the EU ETS in the aviation sector much more difficult.

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airline emissions, EU-ETS, European Commission, European Union, greenhouse gas emissions, United States

Once celebrated as the best policy instrument for curbing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, emissions trading seems to be attracting new critics every week. Europe’s cap-and-trade scheme, the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), has come under particular scrutiny. With carbon prices falling from around EUR 30 in 2008 to lows of under EUR 3 in April 2013, voices from within and outside of Europe are challenging not only the region’s choice of instrument, but also its willingness to take ambitious climate action.

Is all the criticism of Europe’s flagship policy justified? And are cap-and-trade schemes still the go-to climate policy that we should be promoting globally?

Critics are wrong to pronounce the demise of the EU ETS, but policymakers should go beyond small adjustment measures, such as the decision to temporarily hold back the sale of allowances, to fix its carbon price. Internationally, the importance of emissions trading is growing as new schemes emerge. Discussions of the benefits of emissions trading should make way for efforts to ensure the optimal design of new systems that can ultimately be interlinked.

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Critics should remember that the most important job of cap-and-trade schemes is to ensure the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The EU emissions target is enforced through a mandatory emissions cap, a tightly controlled monitoring system, and heavy fines for non-compliance. The cap is declining by 1.74 percent year by year for the sectors covered under the scheme. Other policy initiatives—such as feed-in tariffs, renewable quota obligation, and energy efficiency laws—also contribute to emission reductions, but only the EU ETS can guarantee that the actual environmental target is met. The scheme serves as the backbone policy instrument to ensure that the EU remains on a predefined path of decarbonization.When setting interim targets, emission reductions from additional measures should be factored into the cap.

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California, China, Climate Policy, EU 20/20/20 policy, EU-ETS, European Union, GHG emissions, transatlantic power series

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:

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

The European Union (EU) has undoubtedly been one of the global leaders in spurring the advanced development and deployment of renewable energies worldwide. The vision set forth by the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC – a directive setting continent-wide targets for all EU-27 member states to increase their share of renewable energy in the national energy mix – continues to stand out as the primary example of a coordinated effort to lead a large-scale energy transformation. While renewable energy targets now exist in 118 countries worldwide, few regional commitments to renewable energy deployment exist, though this trend is beginning to change.

In recent years, certain EU member states have gone beyond what is required under the Directive to set even more ambitious national goals. Denmark, for instance, is now targeting 100 percent renewable energy across their entire energy supply by 2050. These efforts should be applauded and their lessons replicated around the world. However, these successes should not obscure the very serious gap that is emerging between current policies and mechanisms and the significant challenges still facing the European renewable energy sector.

EU 2020 Energy Targets



Final Energy

20% RE share by 2020


10% biofuels by 2020

Energy Efficiency

20% improvement by 2020

A recent European Commission report has outlined the challenging road ahead for member states as they continue down the path towards their 2020 commitments. The Commission’s report sends a mixed message. On one hand, all but 2 countries – Latvia and Malta – met their first interim final energy targets defined under the Directive. In fact, 13 countries even outperformed the target by over 2 percent.

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emissions reductions, EU 20/20/20 policy, European Union, Germany, Greece, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, solar power, Spain, transatlantic power series, wind power

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:

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

With the continued advancements in the development of renewable energy technologies and their ever-increasing cost competitiveness, there is more and more money at stake for countries and companies alike. A number of countries have recently found themselves at odds with one another over the international impact of certain domestic financial support policies for promoting renewables. The United States, China, Japan, Canada, and the European Union, discussed here, along with many others, currently find themselves on varying sides of major international trade disputes on this topic. High-end manufacturing of renewable energy technology components, and the money and jobs this brings with it, is becoming an increasingly important component for policymakers and an increasingly contentious issue at the international level.

A worker assembling solar PV panels in a Suntech Power Holdings Co. factory in Jiangsu Province, China. (Source: Bloomberg)

The dispute between the United States and China over solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing is probably today’s most high-profile renewable energy trade dispute. The Chinese share of global solar PV manufacturing has grown at an incredibly fast pace since the country entered the market, as Chinese manufacturers have rapidly expanded from a 15 percent market share in 2006 to provide nearly half of the world’s total solar PV manufacturing output today. As of 2008 China produced 2,500 megawatts (MW) of solar cells, up from just 4 MW a decade earlier, as reported in the Worldwatch-REEEP report Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in China. With an existing installed capacity of 900 MW at the end of 2010, much of this production is being slated for export.

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China, energy policy, European Union, feed-in tariffs, green jobs, renewable energy, subsidies, United States

This coming weekend (January 14–15), Peace Boat and five other international non-governmental organizations will host the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohoma, Japan. The event was organized in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting disasters at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

An image of the Biblis nuclear power, one of the nuclear power plants permanently shutdown in Germany shortly after the events at Fukushima (Source: The Open University).

The overarching goal of the conference is to facilitate discussion of a nuclear power free world. Regional and international experts, activists, and people affected by radiation exposure from nuclear power plants will come together to generate a roadmap promoting the decommissioning of these facilities worldwide. Participants will discuss policies that support renewable energy over nuclear energy and create action plans for implementing these policies in Japan and other countries that depend heavily on nuclear.

The Worldwatch Institute recently published an article, “Global Nuclear Generation Capacity Falls, discussing the current status of the nuclear industry. Last year saw a decline in global nuclear generating capacity, stemming largely from the events at Fukushima and several countries’ reactions. Germany, for example, decommissioned more than 8 gigawatts of nuclear capacity immediately following Fukushima. China, a country that still plans ambitious nuclear capacity growth in the future, suspended its nuclear power plant permitting process pending further review. Japan, which has relied heavily on nuclear energy for decades, took many of its reactors offline, leaving only 10 of its 54 nuclear reactors connected to the grid following the earthquake.

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China, Climate Change, European Union, Germany, japan, nuclear power, renewable energy

The president of COP 17, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks at the final plenary session of the climate change meetings in Durban, South Africa (Source: Worldwatch).

As the new year begins, climate negotiators have begun to move on from their engagement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. After two weeks of intense negotiations on the future of the international regime to combat climate change, they bring home pieces of an ambiguous mandate—but also some critical steps forward. Below, we discuss some of the outcomes of those exhilarating talks in early December.

Symbolic survival of the Kyoto Protocol

Under European Union leadership, signatories of the Kyoto Protocol agreed to enter a second commitment period for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, extending the treaty terms through 2017 or 2020. This symbolically salvaged the agreement—the only existing climate treaty with internationally binding reduction targets. However, the 27 EU countries, together with Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, are the only countries to take on these targets, and they agreed to do so only under the condition that all major countries agree to a new, truly global and comprehensive climate treaty, if necessary outside the Kyoto structure.

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China, Climate Change, developing countries, emissions reductions, European Union, Green Climate Fund, India, negotiations, UNFCCC, United States

Yesterday, the Worldwatch Institute joined Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (or REN21), and a panel of energy experts to celebrate the launch of Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, an integrated analysis of the state of renewable energy around the world. First published in 2005, REN21’s annual report has since become the most heavily cited analysis of renewable energy business and policy.

According to Alexander Ochs, event moderator and Director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute, renewable energy today already accounts for about 25 percent of total global power capacity and 20 percent of actual electricity production, percentages that continue to grow quickly. Over the five-year period from the end of 2005 through 2010, total capacity of many technologies including wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and biomass  grew at rates averaging 15 – 50 percent per year. Total global capacity of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2010 was up as much as 72 percent from just the year before. Little noticed, approximately half of the estimated 194 gigawatts (GW) of new power capacity that was added globally in 2010 were renewables.

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China, Climate Change, developing countries, European Union, Germany, green economy, REN21, renewable 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