Archive for December, 2012

Electric cars becoming a reality?

Shortly before Christmas a colleague of mine photographed a busy electric charging point in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Hooked up to the charging point are a Chevy Volt (Opel Ampera in the EU) and a Fisker Karma. Many such charging poles have appeared in London in recent years but I have yet to see anything approaching a “real car” actually using them. On the rare occasion that a charging pole is being used the vehicle is typically the “golf buggy” style electric car, such as the G-Wiz. But if this picture is any indication of a trend, something is certainly happening in the Netherlands.

I did find some data on electric car uptake in the Netherlands on another blog site. As of September, there were some 5000 registered vehicles. But the originator of that data now shows nearly 7000 vehicles by the end of November. This is a growth rate of about 10% per month!!

A major setback for CCS

Perhaps the best thirty minutes I spent at COP18 in Doha was listening to a presentation by Myles Allan, Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and Head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University’s Department of Physics. The presentation was given at the opening of the WBCSD Business Day on Monday 10th December and focused on the root issue that must ultimately be dealt with, the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Myles made the point, very clearly with the aid of props, that while the UNFCCC and others argue endlessly about the flow rate of CO2 into the atmosphere (i.e. the emissions at some point in time), that fossil carbon continues to add to the carbon stock in the biosphere and that this stock is linked directly with global temperature, ocean acidity and so on. A portion of his presentation is available on YouTube. In short, the CO2 issue is a stock problem, not a flow problem. Dealing with it in terms of flow will not resolve the stock issue, at best it may delay it by a few years. At the current rate of accumulation, the 2 deg.C stock equivalent is passed in about 2043.

Myles concluded with just one key observation: that the logical conclusion of the stock approach to climate change (rather than the flow approach) is that CCS is the game changing technology. This comes from the view that the global use of fossil fuels for energy will not go away (and possibly not even decline) and therefore, to prevent the stock of carbon continuing to accumulate in the biosphere, fossil carbon must be returned to its source, the geosphere. As such, the focus of efforts in policy circles should be in getting CCS going as fast as possible.

Against this background came the news of last Friday from the European Commission regarding the award of the 1st round of NER300 project funding for CCS and novel renewable energy projects.

Nearly all RES projects were confirmed. Most CCS projects were, however, not confirmed by the Member State concerned, and therefore could not be retained. Member States were unable to confirm the projects for various reasons: in some cases there were funding gaps, while other CCS projects were not sufficiently mature to allow for such confirmation under the first call for projects.

Only one CCS project was mentioned, but this had already been withdrawn, so no CCS projects made it through to receive funding through the 1st call for projects. There is at least the small consolation that the money earmarked for the withdrawn CCS project will roll through to the 2nd call for projects, but this guarantees nothing for CCS. By contrast, 23 renewable energy projects are listed in the Commission document.

But the NER300 is a mechanism that was initially proposed to support CCS and underpin the construction of some ten demonstration projects across the EU.

It was first suggested in early 2008 by various proponents of CCS both within and outside the EU Parliament and consisted of a pool of 500 million allowances which could be drawn on in exchange for future stored CO2. In very simple terms, it would “multiply the prevailing carbon price”, which was seen as a necessary early step to kick-start this key technology. Throughout the negotiations surrounding the Energy and Climate package, the mechanism morphed somewhat: it linked itself to the New Entrant Reserve (NER), adopted novel renewable technologies, fell to as low as 100 million allowances at one point but ended up at the 11th hour as the final gavel fell at 300 million allowances (hence the name – NER300). As I described back in June;

The mechanism, in combination with a robust underlying carbon price, meant that a viable demonstration programme could emerge. The 300 million allowances could conceivably generate €9 billion in funds, which meant up to €1.35 billion for some projects (i.e. the 15% limit). With potential Member State co-funding adding additional support, a 500 MW end-to-end CCS power station was even feasible and some of the projects originally submitted to the Commission for consideration were on this scale.

But the collapse of the CO2 price in the EU throws a huge question mark over the viability of the programme. So far the European Investment Bank (charged with monetizing the 300 million allowances) have sold over a 100 million allowances at a price of around €8.10 each. That’s a good effort in the current market, but it substantially changes the economics of a project. Now the maximum grant that any given project can collect is €360 million and it will be operating in a €6 CO2 market. Even with matching funds from the relevant member state, now much more challenging due to EU financial circumstances, a large scale project looks very unlikely. Large scale early CCS projects require a CO2 price in the range €60-100, not €20-25 (assuming €6 ETS price, maximum NER 300 financing and some member state co-financing).

The selection process for projects will proceed over the balance of this year with an announcement expected in December, but at least for the CCS part of the NER300 (innovative renewable energy projects are also supported) one wonders how this will pan out.

This had all the hallmarks of a train wreck waiting to happen, with the observers watching from the sidelines. Sadly, despite the efforts of groups such as ZEP, the trainwreck is now underway. The EU Commission has followed the NER300 rules to the letter (which arguably it has to), the market isn’t providing the necessary carbon price for CCS investment and Member State support is lacking given the EU financial situation.

The end result is the sad but unfortunately predictable absence of CCS projects from a funding mechanism specifically designed to support them. While CCS projects will still develop in the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA, no single country has the ambition of the original EU demonstration programme. The NER300 process will continue but CCS may fare no better in Round 2 if action isn’t taken. The Commission and Member States need to reflect on the outcome of the first round of the NER and learn the lessons, perhaps looking again at the conditionality of the funding to ensure that the second round awards result in an overall balance between renewables and CCS across the mechanism as a whole.  The EU Commission has a real challenge in front of it to rescue the situation, although with 200 million allowances now allocated in the first round (albeit with some money returning for the failed CCS project), there is limited resource remaining for a meaningful demonstration of CCS.

If CCS is the game-changing technology for the climate issue, then we may well be on our way to a very different but much more significant trainwreck.

Albert Einstein once said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So it was that I spent the last few days in Doha, perhaps anticipating that something might just be different this time around – after all there were things to be done and a whole new agreement to be crafted by 2015.

Finally late on Saturday, COP18 came to an end. Two weeks of discussion and negotiation had barely moved the needle, so the challenge to bring the conference to a useful conclusion and at least move the agenda forward somewhat fell on the Qatari President of the COP, H.E. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah – which is what he did, despite the objections of some parties. At the end of it all, UNFCCC Christiana Figueres tweeted;

“Read how COP18 has opened a gateway to greater ambition and action on climate change . . . .

Some may see this as a rather optimistic perspective on a COP that may well be remembered more for the excellent facilities provided by the Government of Qatar, rather than anything tangible that the countries were able to agree to actually reduce emissions. The outcome could be described at best as administrative. The three objectives I discussed at the beginning of the conference were delivered to some extent, although the Durban Platform did not progress as much as might have been expected, given the tight delivery timetable it has.

  1. The highlight was the agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which will now run through to 2020. Most commentators made much of the fact that the agreement only included Europe and Australia, but this is a rather unfair representation of the conclusion. True, the coverage is not what it was for the 2008-2012 period, but looking at it from the reverse perspective, only Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand have dropped out. All of the other former Soviet states have remained, as have Switzerland and Norway. Of course the developing countries have remained, but still without commitments other than to make use of the Clean Development Mechanism. The AAU issues were largely put to rest and at least for the time being the agreement leaves the world with the internal workings of a carbon market, but not much else.
  2. The LCA discussion proved to be the most fractious, perhaps because it is home to the financial flows that are now beginning to percolate through the UNFCCC. This shouldn’t be confused with the carbon market financial flows of the Kyoto Protocol and the future New Market Mechanism, but the much anticipated flow of public funds from developed to developing countries. The job of the COP was to bring the LCA to a close, which in turn would make way for a more focussed discussion on the 2015 Durban Platform agreement. But money got in the way. Many parties claimed that the work of the LCA was incomplete, largely because of the fact that the money is hardly flowing and the Green Climate Fund remains uncapitalised. The US argued that this is because the modalities of the fund have not been agreed and complained that where money had been made available, such as through the Fast Start Mechanism, no appreciation was shown on the part of the recipients. In the end, the LCA did close, but mainly through an administrative sleight of hand which relocated most of its activities to various technical groups under the Convention.
  3. Finally, there was the ADP (Durban Platform). The delegates spent two weeks discussing this under two work streams, one which is looking at increasing the level of ambition up to 2020 and a second which is looking more holistically at the structure of an overarching framework. At this late stage, increased ambition through to 2020 seems like a rather pointless discussion. The energy mix for the 2020s is rapidly being cast in stone all over the world, to the extent that only relatively minor changes could now be made. This isn’t to say that we should give up, but we should at least recognise that major initiatives starting today will only bear fruit in the 2020s and 2030s, but not before then. Even a modest energy efficiency initiative could still take a decade to fully play out, given the time for political agreement, national ratification and finally implementation. Gripped by the urgency of the issue, the parties managed to agree the meeting schedule for the period between now and 2015, but failed to take matters further. That amounts to a year lost since Durban, with almost nothing to show in terms of progress. Unfortunately, even the world’s glaciers would consider the pace to be slow.

Perhaps there was a gateway opened to ambition and action, but nobody has passed through it, or seem likely to in the near future. The level of ambition also remains far short of a 2 deg.C trajectory. By contrast, the side event programme was full of national delegates, some who had come from the negotiation meetings, talking about their national programmes. Not surprisingly, the Chinese “carbon market” presentations were packed.

Now comes the sting in the tail – “loss and damage”. I suspect that this is a subject that has had the lid kept on it for some time, but it is in the open now, probably because of the claimed dissatisfaction with the level of funding and financing flowing from developed countries. The final version of the text raises the worrying prospect of the development of a mechanism to address the impacts of climate change. The following two clauses are pretty clear on the issue:

8. Requests developed country Parties to provide developing country Parties with finance, technology and capacity-building, in accordance with decision 1/CP.16 and other relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties;

9. Decides to establish, at its nineteenth session, institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism, including functions and modalities, elaborated in accordance with the role of the Convention as defined in paragraph 5 above, to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change;

Subjects like this have the potential to stall the process for years, although some may argue that the current rate of progress is little better than stalled anyway. It will also get to the issue of apportioning blame, since this is the flip side of “loss of damage”. If there is blame to share, then the only pragmatic way to do it will be on the basis of cumulative emissions, since this is the root cause of the climate issue. Unfortunately nature doesn’t know anything about emissions per $ of GDP, it just sees accumulation. Given current development rates and the size of some national populations, the cumulative national emissions league table is rapidly changing. By 2020, many of the leading nations “to blame” for the state of the climate (at least on the basis of cumulative emissions) will be today’s “developing countries” (some further thoughts on this to follow in a future post).

The parties will convene in Warsaw next year, somewhere in Latin America the year after and possibly in France in 2015 – all that seemed to be agreed without too much fuss. There will be various inter-sessional meetings in the meantime, but if a deal is really going to be agreed by 2015, something remarkable is going to have to happen. We should reflect on the fact that the noisy and messy closure of the LCA was the sad end of a process that started in Bali and was supposed to deliver a global deal. It didn’t. Perhaps Einstein was right.

After a week of talks in Doha at COP18, it is difficult to draw a clear conclusion about how the conference might conclude. Certainly there is discussion along the lines I discussed last week, but progress is slow and many of the historical divisions have resurfaced, despite the apparent progress made in Durban last year with the agreement for dialogue on the basis of all nations making commitments to act. I suspect that like many of these conferences, the last moments of the second week will see a rapid push for concluding text. Time will tell.

A key agenda item for this COP is the real start of discussions within the ADP, where the bulk of the negotiations towards a 2015 agreement should take place. There really isn’t a great deal of time for this to transpire, with perhaps as few as 100 negotiating days available between now and the end of COP21 in 2015. One hundred days to change the world and the process remains in the earliest of stages of thinking about what it needs to think about. To this end a roundtable was convened on Saturday such that the ADP Chair could seek input from the NGO community. Some industry colleagues approached me and said that the business community had a dozen seats in a lunchtime session with the ADP and as Chair of IETA, I was offered one. Initially this sounded like quite an opportunity, until we got into the room and realized that this was a single two hour session with all of the NGO community, not just those from business (otherwise known as BINGOs). Seated in a huge square in an enormous room in the cavernous QNCC (Qatar National Convention Centre) were the YOUNGOs, BINGOs, TUNGOS, INGOs, RENGOs, ENGOs, CINGOs, WGNGOs, FANGOs and RINGOs (young people, businesses, indigenous people, religions, environmentalists, cities, women & gender, farmers and researchers). Still, everybody was succinct and to the point and the business representatives were able to make three key points;

  1. It’s about putting a robust price on carbon. Don’t expect voluntary action to be effective (in response to a presentation by Ecofys, see below). Many businesses support putting a price on carbon, just look at the recently released Carbon Price Communiqué.
  2. A carbon price can deliver scale – just look at the large impact from the relatively small CDM. One billion CERs, ~$10-15 billion in carbon finance, about $100 billion in project investment.
  3. The interaction of business with the ADP is critical to a successful outcome and needs to continue.

I delivered the first point – see below (thanks to ENB for the photo), between colleagues Jonathan Grant of PWC and Thierry Berthoud of WBCSD.

The session had started with a series of presentations from invited external presenters. Abyd Karmali of Bank of America / Merrill Lynch delivered a powerful presentation showing how tailored carbon price based financial mechanisms could deliver further project activity and therefore real reductions in the run-up to 2020. This was in stark contrast to a presentation prepared by Ecofys, which argued for a series of specific activities (wedges) to bridge the gap from where we might be in 2020 in terms of emissions to where we needed to be. This included activities such as company voluntary reductions, the voluntary “greening” of the assets of the 20 largest banks, the expanded use of voluntary offsets by companies and consumers and a global ban of incandescent lamps. These alone are supposed to deliver 5 GT of reductions by 2020.

While I won’t challenge the calculations themselves, the reality of implementing these measures is highly questionable, particularly the voluntary ones. This was the modus operandi of the late 1990s and it simply wasn’t a sustainable path forward. It certainly isn’t today. Even back then, company voluntary reductions were never meant to deliver a globally coherent pathway forward, rather they were to demonstrate to policy makers the types of actions that could be initiated given the right policy signals. In the case of Shell, we even established a modest internal carbon price through a small trading system to do this, again not to deliver major change but to demonstrate the possible. It concerned me that the ADP might take this proposal seriously, enough to overlook the real work that needs to be done to deliver the types of mechanisms discussed by Karmali. Such mechanisms are already being used, albeit on a modest scale, to drive real reductions using CCS in places like Alberta, the UK and the EU.

One of the features of a COP is the side event schedule. These are presentations put on by observer organizations which run in parallel with the main negotiations. They are attended by anyone interested in the subject, including national delegates, other observers and UNFCCC staff.  Today IETA, the Enel Foundation and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs) joined forces to put on an afternoon session to discuss “New Market Mechanisms”. So far the attendance at COP18 side events has been a bit desperate, but this one attracted a huge crowd. The room was completely full with attendees standing 5+ deep at the rear.

Rob Stavins from Harvard led off and gave a broad introduction to the work the Center was doing on international market mechanisms and made a number of observations about market design and linkage. This was further supported by a second Harvard presentation by his colleague. Two business presentations followed, one by me on a possible framework which would foster an eventual global carbon market (Establishing a Global Carbon Market) and similarly by a representative from the Italian energy company Enel. The Environment Minister from Costa Rica offered concluding remarks.

The content was solid and interesting, but the highlight was the crowd. Clearly there remains a real and vibrant interest in the use of carbon markets and carbon pricing to drive emission reductions.

So that is a bit about the week that was. The gigantic QNCC felt a bit on the empty side last week, but that is being corrected as Ministers, their support staff and more observers arrive today and tomorrow. We shouldn’t forget that this is still a complex multilateral negotiation, sometimes bedeviled by bureaucracy, mystery and intrigue. This was summed up for me when a colleague commented that he had been in one of the contact group meetings, where “they square-bracketed a semi-colon” (which means that the use of the semi-colon was still being negotiated)!!!

On to week two.