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

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

In 2007, the European Union (EU) adopted its integrated approach to climate and energy policy. By 2020, the region aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels, to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent. While the EU is on track to meet or exceed its goals in the first two categories, it is set to miss its energy efficiency target and is poised to reduce its energy consumption by only 9 percent.

Maybe they should try more double paned windows

Under current EU rules, energy efficiency is the only energy and climate target that is not legally binding. Despite the forecasted shortfall, two weeks ago Europe’s heads of state shied away from taking decisive action on energy efficiency and announced a review of the region’s energy savings plan in 2013 at the earliest. European leaders said they did not want to place additional constraints on their economic policy during a period of economic crisis.

What explains the difference in success rates among the EU targets? Critics contend that the lack of enforceability is to blame for the region’s shortcomings in energy efficiency. A closer look at the EU’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, reveals that binding targets alone may not be sufficient to reach energy-efficiency goals.

2020, carbon footprint, energy consumption, energy efficiency, European Union, Germany, GHG emissions, Kyoto Protocol, renewable energy, United Kingdom

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

India’s Ministry of Environments and Forests released its greenhouse gas inventory of 2007 emissions Tuesday, making it the first developing country to publish emissions data this year. The ministry also announced that it will now publish an updated inventory every two years.India emissions inventory

The Indian government most recently released emissions data in 2006 based on 1994 figures. Since then, India’s emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent, increasing from 1.25 billion tons in 1994 to 1.9 billion tons in 2007. The report analyzes emissions from electricity use, transportation, agriculture, and land use change, the last of which actually serves as a net carbon sink in India, in contrast to many developing countries where deforestation is a major source of emissions.

India is now the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, ranking behind China, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. When releasing the data, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh emphasized that India’s emissions are still one-quarter of those of the top emitters, the United States and China. He further highlighted that in the same period, from 1994-2007, India reduced the emissions intensity of its economy by 30 percent. India has announced plans to reduce emissions intensity by a further 20-25 percent between 2005 and 2020.

The Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), a network of scientists and research institutions established last October by Minister Ramesh, produced the report. In addition to the greenhouse gas inventory, INCCA has announced plans to assess climate change impacts in India and conduct long-term ecosystem monitoring. INCCA’s next report, a review of regional impacts from climate change on water resources, agriculture, forests, and human health, is scheduled for release in November.

Climate Change, emissions inventory, GHG emissions, India

Have the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) been miscalculating GHG emissions from livestock? An article in the latest edition of World Watch magazine outlines how livestock emissions have been severely underestimated. In “Livestock and Climate Change,” Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang deduce that livestock and their byproducts annually account for at least 51 percent of global GHG emissions (way above common estimates) and suggest decreasing meat consumption as a means of mitigating climate change.

The FAO’s widely cited 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow credits livestock for only about 18 percent of annual global emissions. According to Goodland and Anhang, this report (among many others) has overlooked and underestimated many sources of livestock emissions. For example, the FAO states that “livestock is not a net source of CO2” and that emissions from respiration “are part of a rapidly cycling biological system.” According to Goodland and Anhang, however, livestock (like automobiles) are a “human invention and convenience” and the large numbers (and subsequent emissions) only exist to satisfy consumer demands. Emissions from livestock respiration should therefore be given equal consideration as automobile emissions during international climate change negotiations.

Clouddragon pic

Should livestock emissions receive equal consideration as automobile emissions?

The global population is estimated to increase by about 35 percent from 2006 to 2050.  The FAO projects livestock numbers to double over the same time period; Goodland and Anhang reason that livestock emissions will double accordingly. They explain that growth in livestock markets will increase deforestation to produce grassland which will further accelerate climate change. Rainforests store about 200 tons of carbon per hectare; moderately degraded grassland (from grazing) stores only about 8 tons of carbon per hectare.

Worldwatch’s Vital Signs trend, “Meat Production Continues to Rise,” provides a synopsis of meat production and outlines some of the other environmental and health issues associated with factory-farmed livestock. Not only are the living conditions harmful to animal welfare, but they pose significant health risks to humans. Avian flu, Nipah virus and BSE (mad cow disease) are a few of the many health issues associated with livestock factories and their hazardous wastes. Reducing meat consumption would not only benefit human health and the environment, it would also help reduce malnutrition in developing countries.

“Replacing livestock with better alternatives,” Goodland and Anhang conclude, would consequently provide a rapid and effective strategy to reduce atmospheric concentrations of GHG emissions and lessen the effects of climate change. The FAO estimates that 37 percent of human-induced methane emissions, for example, is generated by livestock. Although methane has 20 times the effect on climate change than carbon dioxide, its half life is only about 8 years compared to carbon dioxide’s half life of at least 100 years.  Replacing livestock with vegetarian alternatives would consequently affect the atmospheric GHG concentration more quickly than current international mitigation efforts to promote energy efficiency and “clean” energy production.

Demand for animal protein generally increases as countries develop. Many regions still practice sustainable farming methods, but factory farms have been increasing to meet the demands of wealthy consumers.

There is no silver bullet that will address climate change. This new publication does make clear, however, that livestock play a larger role in global GHG emissions than previously thought. Unfortunately, meat consumption provides yet another illustration of the global inequalities and injustices associated with climate change, where consumption in industrialized countries directly degrades the quality of life in developing countries.

Please click on the following links to purchase a copy of World Watch magazine, Vital Signs or a more in-depth report on the livestock industry: Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry.

GHG emissions, livestock emissions, population, vegetarian