Thursday, May 21, 2009


China is drafting a long-term plan for climate change that will focus on raising energy efficiency, developing clean-coal technology and expanding carbon-absorbing forests, a top climate policy official said. Xie Zhenhua, a deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission who steers climate change policy, said the plan would strengthen China's "capacity to enforce international covenants". "The goal of the national plan is to strive for a double-win of both responding to climate change and also developing the economy," Xie said in the interview with Xinhua news agency, which was published in the official People's Daily on Wednesday.

A global U.N. conference in Copenhagen in December is aiming to agree on a new pact spelling out nations' responsibilities to contain the greenhouse gases from fuels, industry, farming and land clearance that scientists say are dangerously heating the atmosphere. As the world's biggest emitter of these gases, China faces pressure to begin cutting them soon. But Beijing says it and other developing countries should not be forced to accept mandatory emissions caps to solve a problem caused by wealthy countries over the centuries.

The long-term plan and other energy proposals could be part of Beijing's case to the world that it is serious about combating climate change -- without needing to take on mandatory caps as part of a new global pact. "China's steps against climate change will not slow because of the global financial crisis," Xie said. "China's determination to deal with climate change will not falter."

Xie did not disclose any proposed numbers for energy saving or greenhouse gas emissions goals. Nor did he say when the plan would be released or what years it would cover. China produces about 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power stations. The plan would extend government efforts to raise energy efficiency and curtail emissions, promote renewable energy and clean-coal power and "vigorously expand carbon capture through tree planting and afforestation", said Xie.

China released its first national plan for addressing global warming in 2007. Xie said that the country's next five-year development plan, due to start from 2012, would incorporate climate change policies.



This proposed legislation has descended into high farce. Its main effect will be to give many of America's industries to China -- where the "pollution" will go on as before. And for the major "polluters", it doesn't kick in until 2025 anyway! It won't affect the climate but it will fulfil the underlying Leftist aim of weakening and impoverishing America

Democrats debating climate-change legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected Republican attempt to delay a cap on U.S. pollution levels until China and India adopt similar standards. The committee also voted against an "emergency exit" amendment that would have lifted pollution caps if electricity rates rose more than 10 percent. The votes were part of a weeklong effort to craft legislation that would set limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to buy and sell pollution permits.

Republican Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri offered language to abandon a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if electricity rates increase. Missouri utility regulators have estimated that the proposed legislation would increase electricity rates by as much as 40 percent, Blunt said. "We must look at the real ramifications this bill will have on our already struggling economy," he said. The committee rejected the amendment on 32-23 vote that broke largely along party lines.

The provision focusing on China and India, offered by Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, would have allowed greenhouse-gas emission limits in the U.S. only if those two countries adopted standards that were "at least as stringent." The committee rejected the proposal on a 36-23 party-line vote.

Republican Representative Fred Upton of Michigan argued that the U.S. economy would lose jobs if Congress enacted a pollution cap-and-trade bill without similar environmental guidelines adhered to in China and India. "If we don't demand that they have the same kind of criteria that we do, we're going to see those jobs go," Upton said. "We can put a gun to China's head" to push them to adopt pollution limits, he said.

Democrats said the climate program would create jobs by spurring demand for clean energy technologies in the U.S. The American Clean Energy and Security Act would give free pollution permits to steel, aluminum, paper, chemical and other manufacturers whose prices are sensitive to foreign imports.

The free permits would last until at least 2025 to protect against energy cost increases that could benefit non-U.S. competitors, said Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat who opposed Rogers's amendment. After 2025, the cap- and-trade legislation would let the president impose a tariff on goods produced in countries without limits on greenhouse gas emissions. "I wouldn't vote for a bill if I believed this was going to cause us to lose jobs in the steel industry," Doyle said.

Rogers's amendment triggered a debate over the potential effect of the greenhouse-gas limits on domestic manufacturing, international trade and global climate change negotiations. "What bothers me about this amendment is we're going to let some other country decide our fate," said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation.

Earlier in the day, the committee voted 51-6 to create a federal loan program to finance "breakthrough" clean-energy technologies. The provision would create a Clean Energy Deployment Administration to promote investment in clean energy technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration.



Add Congressman Mike Ross' name to the list of Arkansas politicians in Washington who have a higher-than-usual profile. Counted among the 50 or so moderate to conservative House Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition, Arkansas' 4th District representative, who also chairs the group's health care working group, made an unsettling discovery late last week....

This was the second time that he and his allies had been excluded from one of the most significant policy discussions of the past 50 years. The first time, which occurred just a few weeks ago, was during the crafting of cap-and-trade legislation.

Ross explained that it became obvious to him that the Democratic leadership's strategy on cap-and-trade included blowing past the Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Moderates on the committee responded by slowing down what was, in their estimation, a very bad bill. "We were never brought in," he pointed out. "We put the brakes on and tried to make it a better bill."

But after nearly two weeks of work by the moderates on the committee, only modest changes were made. "This bill is to the left of Barack Obama," Ross said, adding that it could get worse during the final mark up. That said, he predicts the controversial legislation will clear the committee and pass the full House, although without his support. And then he believes the legislation will go to the U.S. Senate and die.



Sen. John McCain now appears to oppose climate-change legislation, an abrupt switch that could seriously threaten any movement on such a bill. "Nearly 1000 page Climate Change legislation -- appears to be a cap & tax bill that I won't support," McCain wrote in a Twitter message Monday, a reversal of the position he took on the Senate floor in March.

Two months ago, McCain and his close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, took the floor in strong support of climate-change legislation. This marked a return to form for McCain, who co-sponsored a 2002 climate-change bill with longtime friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), but had tamped down his rhetoric during the 2008 presidential campaign. "Let me just say to my colleagues, I'm proud of my record on climate change," McCain said in March. "I've been all over the world and I've seen climate change, and I know it's real, and I'll be glad to continue this debate with my colleagues and people who don't agree with that."

Though he stressed the need for investment in nuclear power and so-called 'clean coal' -- as well as bipartisanship rather than a budget-reconciliation process -- McCain lauded a prior cap-and-trade system dealing with acid rain, which is often cited as a model for climate-change law. "I believe that what we did in addressing acid rain, which was through a cap-and-trade kind of dynamic, that we were able to largely eliminate the problem of acid rain in America," McCain said. "So it has been done before and we can do it again."

Without McCain's help, however, a new climate-change bill seems unlikely to gain the necessary bipartisan support.



European Union moves to exempt industries such as steel, refining and cement from the cost of buying carbon permits risk handing them windfall profits and could blunt EU green investment, analysts say. Heavy industries in Europe and the United States are battling hard to avoid paying for permits to emit carbon dioxide, saying the added cost will harm their ability to compete with overseas rivals, for example in India and China.

EU leaders reached a deal in December to curb carbon dioxide emissions to a fifth below 1990 levels by 2020, but to clinch that agreement they were forced to promise some countries such as Italy and Germany opt-outs for sectors at risk from 2013.

That risk list of sectors is currently being fine-tuned in Brussels according to a complex formula that looks set to hand pollution permits from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) worth billions of euros to the most polluting sectors -- steel, cement, and refining. At stake is around 4.5 billion euros ($6.13 billion) a year for the steel industry, roughly 5 billion for cement and just under 4 billion for refining, says analyst Olivier Lejeune at New Carbon Finance in London. Help for the cement industry in particular hangs in the balance, hovering close to the threshold for support.

But by giving manufacturers ETS permits for free, the EU risks handing them windfall profits, as it did in previous years with the power sector, analysts say.



President Obama's move to toughen Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards is bipartisanship of sorts. CAFE standards were signed into law by Gerald Ford in 1975. George W. Bush, in a rare fit of environmentalism, raised them in 2007. Foreign policy realists and environmentalists alike support stricter standards. None of this alters the fact that CAFE is a deeply flawed policy. Fuel efficiency is a worthy goal. It helps fight global climate change and it promotes energy independence. From an economic point of view, who can be against more efficiency? But CAFE is about the worst possible way to pursue it.

CAFE standards are inefficient because they block normal market mechanisms. To impose the same average standard on each manufacturer's fleet of cars sold forces car companies to produce similar ranges of vehicles rather than specialise. Such command-style regulation can only hamper the effort to make the US car industry retrieve its long-lost commercial acumen.

Even when CAFE does differentiate by type of car it does so inefficiently. Until recently, one standard applied to passenger cars and a laxer one to light trucks, which includes, for instance, sports utility vehicles. The predictable result is that more people are buying light trucks, which now make up half of US car sales, compared with about 10 per cent 30 years ago. Rather than reducing fuel consumption, therefore, CAFE has encouraged the use of larger cars. Recent changes make this problem even worse.

Beyond these perverse incentives, CAFE pre-empts rational consumer choice about how to consume less fuel. Neither the climate nor energy dependence depend on whether people buy more efficient cars, drive less or cut back on other energy- intensive activities. Artificially encouraging only one narrows the opportunities for improvement.

Fuel efficiency did rise after CAFE was introduced: from under 20 miles per gallon in 1978, 2009 model cars average 28.2mpg. But most of the increase coincided with high oil prices: fuel efficiency peaked for model year 1987 at 26.2mpg and stayed below that until 2007, when oil again reached record highs.

CAFE amounts to a hidden, biased and inefficient tax. Mr Obama's reported plan to raise standards for cars to 39mpg would be warranted if there were no alternative. But there is: introducing a price on fossil fuel, through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade programme extended to vehicle fuel.



Sounds Orwellian

Naysayers aside, the world appears to have nudged its way towards the view that there is a scientific consensus that human activity has changed our climate. For many academics, the question is now about finding ways of dealing with the consequences of climate change. In that endeavour, natural scientists are increasingly being joined by other academics - most notably social scientists - in teams where many disciplines can interact.

But there is concern that a government desire to protect science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects by ringfencing funding could, in the long term, affect the ability of these teams to conduct research.

For Professor Paul Wellings, chairman-elect of the 1994 group of smaller research-intensive universities, it is a question of getting together what he calls a "dream team", comprising not just scientists, but researchers from the social sciences and humanities, to deal with the nightmare scenario recently conjured by the government's chief scientist, John Beddington, in which the world is gripped by a "perfect storm" of war, starvation and mass migration.

For Wellings, it is not enough simply to rely on science and technology to come up with the answers we need. Looking at individuals' behaviour and getting them to change that is, he argues, as important as new technology.



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