New research suggests that oil reserves off the coast of Cuba could be comparable to those of current oil-exporting countries such as Ecuador and Columbia. Several geologic studies, including those from the U.S. Geological Survey, estimate Cuba’s Gulf reserves could be as much as 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of crude. The Cuban government has designated 59 blocks in Gulf waters encompassing 43,200 square miles (112,000 square kilometers) for private energy companies to drill deep-water test wells.

Drilling off Cuba will likely take place 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Key West, home to North America’s only living coral barrier reef and the third largest such reef system in the world. The U.S. government opening communication and coordination with Cuba would be mutually beneficial, allowing the opportunity to create the least impact in the ecologically diverse oceans that the two countries share.

Drilling will likely take place 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Key West, home to North America’s only living coral barrier reef and the third largest such reef system in the world. It is part of a productive marine ecosystem of interconnected habitats including patch and bank reefs, seagrass meadows, soft bottom and hard bottom communities, and coastal mangroves. It is one of the most biologically diverse assemblages of marine life in North America. Due to its ecological significance, it has been classified as a Marine Sanctuary.

Although U.S. oil companies are eager to get involved in drilling efforts south of Florida, the 48-year old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba severely limits interaction with the communist-run country. Of the 59 blocks designated as deep-water test sites open for international investment, 22 blocks have been contracted out, all to state-controlled companies including Spain’s Repsol in partnership with Norway’s Statoil, Russia’s Gazprom, India’s ONGC-Videsh, Malaysia’s Petronas, and Venezuela’s PDVSA.

Read the rest of this entry

Cuba, developing countries, energy security, negotiations, United States, US

Spain committed to heavy rail investments beginning in the late 1980s.  The country now has the largest high-speed rail construction program in Europe, and its network recently surpassed France’s in length.  Its track length rose from just 470 kilometers in 2002 to about 2,000 kilometers at present.  Government plans call for 10,000 kilometers by 2020, which would allow 90 percent of Spaniards to live within 50 kilometers of a station, and make high-speed rail a meaningful alternative to automobile and air travel for much of the country’s population. (See Map.)

High-speed rail ridership is still small compared with France and Germany, but grew tenfold in 1992–2008 and now accounts for 23 percent of total rail travel in Spain.

Spain's Growing High-Speed Rail Network

In 2004, the Spanish government adopted a new strategic plan for transportation through 2020 called the PEIT (Strategic Plan for Infrastructures and Transport). The plan grew out of a recognition of the uneven quality of domestic rail infrastructure and service, low levels of traffic on some routes, difficulties harmonizing operations with other European railways, and conflicts between rail and urban development.

Remarkably, the plan calls for 44 percent of total transportation investment to be directed toward rail, primarily for expansion of the high-speed network. (See Table below, derived from Michael Renner and Gary Gardner, Global Competitiveness in the Rail and Transit Industry, a report available at Worldwatch’s Web site.)

The PEIT is a social, political, environmental, and development plan with transportation at its core. It seeks to integrate rail with other systems of transport; boost rail’s share of trips undertaken; ensure that traditionally underserved areas of Spain are integrated with the rest of the country; provide a high level of quality of service across the entire system; and adopt the latest railroad technology.

In 2010, with Spain deeply mired in the global recession, the government turned to infrastructure investments, especially in rail, as a way to stimulate the economy while accelerating the modernization for the country’s transportation system. Its two-year Extraordinary Infrastructure Plan, rolled out in April 2010, promised to invest some 17 billion Euros (about $24 billion) in transportation.

Unlike the prevailing priorities in the United States (where 80 percent of federal transportation funds go to highways and just 17 percent to public transportation), 70 percent of funds will go to rail and 30 percent to highways. High-speed rail tracks will see $8.3 billion in new investment in 2010 alone. This is about as much as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) makes available.  But on a per capita basis, it is almost seven times as much.

high-speed, infrastructure, investment, Policy, rail, Spain, transportation, US

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

As U.S. investment in rail and transit has shrunk over the decades, other countries have stepped in to fill the gap. Many countries in Europe and Asia—including, most recently, China—have embraced effective policies and invested significant funds in their rail and transit sectors. U.S. spending on rail and transit relative to GDP and population lags far behind that of these global competitors, especially for intercity passenger rail.

Relative to the size of its economy, China’s investments in rail infrastructure dwarf those of all other countries. (See Figure 1.) In 2008, the country spent an unparalleled $12.50 per $1,000 of GDP [German-language PDF]. Several European countries, including Switzerland, Austria, and the United Kingdom, are also making major commitments. In the United States, even combining rail and all other transit infrastructure, the figure is a comparatively tiny $0.78. If private rail infrastructure (mostly for freight purposes) is included, the number rises to a still modest $1.40.

National Rail Infrastructure Investments for Selected Countries

Similar disparities between the United States and other countries are also evident in comparing combined capital and operations spending. For intercity purposes, China spent $66 per capita in 2009, Germany $156, France $141, the United Kingdom $112, and Italy $87. By contrast, the United States spent only $9, although the stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) temporarily raised this figure to nearly $36.

For urban transit infrastructure, Germany has spent $52 per capita in recent years and France plans to spend $57 in the coming decade, compared with a 2010 figure of $40 for the United States. China spends $28 per capita on subway infrastructure alone. For transit vehicle purchases, Germany spends $36, or twice as much as the United States.

Unless the U.S. seriously steps up its commitment to rail and transit, it is likely to continue to fall even farther behind its global competitors. After the mid-term elections, the prospects have hardly improved, given a Republican-dominated House of Representatives, the defeat of Congressman  Jim Oberstar of Minnesota (who used to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), and the fact that the incoming governors of of Ohio and Wisconsin have said they do not want federal cash for high-speed rail.

As Yonah Freeman of the TransportPolitic blog puts it: “Two years of Democratic control over the White House and Congress led to little serious agreement about how to find federal funding for highways and transit; meanwhile, despite advances in the fields of livable neighborhoods and high-speed rail, those programs may be subjected to considerable rethinking or even elimination after the change in power in the U.S. House.”

China, elections, infrastructure, investment, rail, transportation, US

The German American Energy Forum met at the Newseum in DC - Flickr Creative Commons / afagen

Water trickled down the windows of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as the Capitol building, only a few hundred meters away, was veiled in grey mist. Inside the Newseum, bright minds gathered at the German American Energy Forum “Global Challenges, Shared Opportunities” to share their ideas and exchange recommendations on how to disperse the clouds hanging over U.S. climate policy.

German Ambassador Dr. Klaus Scharioth opened the conference by reiterating his conviction about the potential for a low-carbon economy, arguing that renewable energy and economic growth were part of the same equation. Just recently, at a meeting with Worldwatch Institute staff, Jochen Flasbarth, head of the German Federal Environment Agency, presented the agency’s newest report concluding that a 100-percent renewable electricity system is possible in Germany as early as 2050. Worldwatch has shown that 50 percent of global energy demand can be produced in a sustainable way if energy efficiency and renewables are implemented in concert.

Later in the day, Acting U.S. Under-secretary of Energy Cathy Zoi  spoke about the U.S. government’s climate and energy policy. She sought to convince the audience of the government’s intention to take significant action to combat climate change, but also acknowledged Congress’s dramatic failure this year to adopt a comprehensive climate and energy bill. The lesson she would like to learn from Germany: how to pass legislation!

Read the rest of this entry

Ammonia, energy efficiency, Germany, renewable energy, US, US Climate Bill

The United Steelworkers Union (USW) has long recognized that environmental health and economic wellbeing are inseparable. As long ago as 1990, the USW declared “the real choice is not jobs or the environment. It’s both or neither.” (USW President Leo Gerard speaks about his union’s environmental history in this YouTube video.) The union is a major sponsor of the U.S. Good Jobs Green Jobs conferences that began in 2008 and that attract well over 1,000 participants annually: labor and environmental groups, business representatives, and public officials. The USW has 1.2 million active and retired members, representing workers in such energy-intensive industries as steel, aluminum, iron ore mining, cement, glass, metals, paper, and rubber, but also those in other sectors, including wind turbine manufacturing.

The USW leadership has placed strong bets that green job growth will be a healthy antidote to the blue-collar blues afflicting the U.S. economy. A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that almost 44 million Americans are living in poverty. One of the report’s most shocking findings is that those falling below the poverty line are often full-time workers who simply do not earn enough. In 2009, the poverty rate for working-age people (18–64 years) grew to 12.9 percent, the highest rate in nearly 50 years.

It is against this backdrop that we must see the USW’s decision this month to file a 5,800-page petition with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, pressing the case that “a broad array of Chinese policies and practices threaten the future of America’s alternative and renewable energy sector.” The union is complaining about hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, performance requirements, preferential practices, and other activities that are illegal under World Trade Organization rules. The Obama Administration has 45 days from the date of filing to decide whether to act on the petition.

The petition represents another step in what shapes up to be a growing international battle over who dominates green industries like wind and solar energy. In a mere handful of years, China has transformed itself from marginal player to dominant force, to the point where this year it will likely produce more than half the world’s solar panels and close to half the world’s wind turbines.

This rapid development has been possible in part because China has used cheap labor, subsidized land, low-interest loans, as well as technology transfer requirements for foreign investors and domestic content rules to hatch and grow domestic companies. Its solar photovoltaics industry is almost entirely export-oriented: more than 95 percent of Chinese solar panels are exported to countries like the United States, Spain, and Germany. Former industry leaders in Japan and Germany are reeling.

As far as export subsidies are concerned, the USW is presenting a strong case. Eager to conquer global export markets, China has to date not taken any comparable steps to enlarge its domestic market for solar energy installations (though it has a much stronger record in the wind sector, accounting for one third of the world’s new installations in 2009). Given its sky-high coal use, expanding the use of solar power and other energy alternatives at home is a critical and urgent need.

USW President Leo Gerard (Flickr photo: aflcio Bernard Pollack)

Where I part ways with the USW is with regard to its critique of China’s domestic content rules and similar measures that stimulate the growth of the renewables sector, such as expedited approval of permits to build solar and wind factories. First, the United States itself is no stranger to domestic content requirements. In 1978, Congress imposed such rules with reference to government procurement of transportation equipment, in an attempt to revive the moribund U.S. rail manufacturing industry.

Second, it is high time to learn from China and to stop playing the blame game. China has made enormous strides in the renewables industry. In a climate-challenged world, we need more of these kinds of policies—in China, the United States, and elsewhere—not fewer. As Martin Khor, Executive Director of the Geneva-based South Centre, points out, China is being criticized in the West both for not doing enough to restrain its carbon emissions, and for providing overly generous support for its renewable energy industry.

Khor charges that Western countries have shaped and bent trade rules to their own benefit. Beyond an apparent double-standard in how such rules are applied lies an even larger question. Should we allow WTO rules, which elevate free trade priorities above all other considerations, to be the primary measuring stick of policies designed to avoid catastrophic climate change? Up to a point, domestic content requirements make enormous sense, since they create the space necessary for homegrown companies to compete and provide jobs, and they avoid domination of critical green industries by any single country—whether China, the United States, or any other nation.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor (Flickr photo: WTO Geneva Photos)

The United States needs less rhetoric, and more real action, in support of green industries—in the form of R&D programs, overall climate legislation, feed-in tariffs that set reliable prices for renewable energy, business incubators, preferential financing, worker training, and other measures. The experience of Massachusetts-based Evergreen Solar is a sad, but instructive case. Unable to raise funds in the United States, the company decided to move the final manufacturing phase for its solar panels to China, where state banks offered very attractive loan terms. Some 300 U.S. jobs will be lost.

This kind of development presents one kind of danger. Another lies in the rise of rivaling forms of green protectionism and green mercantilism that are oriented toward exclusively national goals. What the world needs instead is more cooperative efforts to develop and share sustainable technologies.

China, domestic content, economy, energy, export, green jobs, mercantilism, protectionism, renewables, Steelworkers, subsidies, trade, trade union, US, USW, workers, WTO

U.S. President Barack Obama and India PM Manmohan Singh

U.S. President Barack Obama and India PM Manmohan Singh

A U.S.-India “Green Partnership” was established this week following the first official visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington DC.

The agreement, which is the first of over six to have come out of the visit, will aim to enhance collaboration between the two nations on a wide range of areas relating to energy security, climate change and food security, and according to a White House statement, marks a “new phase in the global strategic partnership between India and the United States.”

The Green Partnership outlines an encouraging number of planned collaborations. These include joint research and deployment of clean energy technologies – which include solar, smart grid, sustainable transport, agriculture, and natural gas – joint weather forecasting and supporting the creation of a national Environmental Protection Authority in India for a “more effective system of environmental governance, regulation and enforcement.”

A joint statement issued by the two leaders also highlighted agreement on the need for “scaled-up finance, technology, and capacity-building support” for developing countries, and to “encourage the mobilization of public and private resources to support a fund or funds that would invest in clean energy projects.” However, no specific numbers were put on the table.

The India-U.S. climate and energy partnership comes in the wake of concerns that progress at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, due to commence in two weeks, will be stymied by the challenges of U.S. domestic politics. Indeed, at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore, Obama conceded that with a U.S. climate bill unlikely to be passed in time for the summit, it would be near impossible for the U.S. to commit to binding international targets.

Yet, there might be movement on that front as well. In a statement to the press following his meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Obama reiterated America’s resolve to take “significant national mitigation actions.”

Speaking to Worldwatch, Raman Mehta, senior policy manager for ActionAid India, described the partnership as a “milestone” that forms “part of a process in which both countries desire to have a closer long term strategic relationship.”

Mehta cautioned, however, that “there does not seem to be anything in this statement that suggests that either side has shifted its basic position regarding [the UN climate] negotiations.”  He went on to explain that a strong deal at Copenhagen is still “primarily held hostage to whether or not the U.S. will take on meaningful commitments that are comparable to other rich country commitments.”

This article is part of a series on India’s climate and energy policies around the Copenhagen climate conference and supported by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Washington D.C.

Barack Obama, Climate Change, Collaboration, Green Partnership, India, Manmohan Singh, US

The U.S. “cash-for-clunkers” program—formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) Program—has apparently been successful far beyond what Washington policy-makers expected.  The $1 billion set aside for the program ran out in a matter of days, leading Congress to vote an additional $2 billion for it. Government data indicate that the average rating for the new car purchases that were stimulated by the program was 25.4 miles per gallon, compared with an average of just 15.8 mpg for the surrendered clunkers.

For a nation that for many years defiantly purchased clunkers … err, SUVs, in the face of worrisome resource and environmental trends, that’s not a mean feat to accomplish.  Still, the 7 million tons of carbon emissions avoided over the next decade by trading in a quarter million gas guzzlers are equal to just 0.04 percent of total U.S. emissions of 16 billion tons from gasoline-powered vehicles over the same period of time.

False God? Image courtesy of billaday

The United States will have to keep working hard to reduce the environmental footprint of its transportation system, catching up to Europe, Japan, and even China in fuel economy.

France, which already has far more efficient vehicles than the United States, in December 2007 adopted an “ecological bonus-malus” program [PDF; in French] for new car purchases to further reduce the carbon footprint of cars. The program offers a bonus of €200–1,000 ($275–1,380) for vehicles emitting a maximum of 130 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometer, and €5,000 for those emitting no more than 60 grams. (More efficient cars emit less CO2).

But the program also brings in revenue, and provides an incentive not to purchase less efficient cars. Vehicles emitting more than 160 grams of CO2 are subject to a charge of €200–2,600 ($275–3,580). As a result, the share of newly registered vehicles that emit less than 130 grams per kilometer rose from 31 percent to 44 percent in a single year.

The French experience offers some good lessons for the United States.  Automobile manufacturers would have far greater incentive to meet and surpass corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards if car buyers could be persuaded to consistently seek out the most efficient models.  As under the French approach, buying a gas guzzler would attract a hefty fee, while purchasing a top-performing vehicle would be supported either with cash incentives or tax benefits.

Further, instead of only imposing average fuel economy requirements, the government should consider outlawing sales of any vehicle that does not meet a minimal mileage requirement. This floor could then be raised with each passing year.

There is no shortage of effective measures to reduce the climate footprint of vehicles.  Ultimately, however, it’s even more important to work on reducing the heavy reliance on cars and to promote public transit, rail, and walkable communities.

cars, France, fuel efficiency, government, transportation, US