A roundup of the news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere. Click on the headline link to see the full article.
Syriza can show ‘another energy is possible’
Sean Sweeney, New Internationalist
New Government in Greece is committed to ‘ecological transformation’
… Syriza’s program and manifesto, and its early actions to halt the further privatization of power generation and gas, suggest that the EU’s neoliberal approach to energy transition and climate protection is being challenged in a way that could have implications beyond the EU itself. Nevertheless, Greece is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Therefore halting privatization should be seen as a crucial first step in what will be a longer journey towards a new energy system and ecological transformation.
The election of Syriza comes at a time when the EU’s neoliberal approach to energy is in serious trouble. This approach was based on electricity market liberalization – ostensibly to promote ‘choice’ and ‘efficiency’ that was pursued via the Internal Market in Energy directive passed down to member states in 1996. The 2009 EU climate Directive also mandates a 20% reduction of GHG emissions, a 20% share of renewable energy sources, and a 20% savings in energy consumption by the year 2020 (based on 2005 levels). These are the so-called “20-20-20” targets. The EU has therefore maintained that liberalization and the the scaling up of renewable energy go hand in hand. This is based on the groundless belief that only the private sector can drive renewable energy.
… Dealing with Fossil Fuel Dependence
The failure of EU policy makes it clear that a new course is needed, and Syriza can show ‘another energy is possible’ in the EU and beyond. But Greece faces some particularly difficult challenges. Greece relies on domestic lignite for 70% of its electrical power and imports large volumes of gas from Russia, Turkey and Algeria. However, the country enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine per year and has considerable wind power and geothermal potential. Syriza will therefore inherit a situation where what is public (domestic lignite, overseen by the PPC) is environmentally destructive and what is presently private – renewable energy – will be needed in large volumes in order for Syriza to reduce its import bill and also develop renewable energy in accordance with its political platform.
Some may conclude (including leaders and supporters of Syriza) that, when seen in the light of the many immediate challenges facing the new government, fossil fuel dependency is a problem that can be addressed over the longer term. Greece has cheap and abundant supplies of lignite coal, and this resource can not go unused–even though the ecological effects of lignite use are widely acknowledged. A typical power station using lignite emits 37 per cent more carbon dioxide per unit of power output than a power station using black coal. Lignite use has made a major contribution to Greece’s disproportionately large contribution to global warming and negatively impacts public health. Greece’s air pollution is higher than the OECD average, and the air pollution levels in Athens, exacerbated by the increase in the burning of wood, are today 15 times higher than the EU’s alert level.
Energy planning is the key to ecological transformation
Changing a country’s energy system may be a decades-long process, but there is no reason why the process can not begin immediately. The just released TUED Working Paper, Energy Democracy in Greece: Syriza’s Program and the Transition to Renewable Power identifies four broad and overlapping political goals that can serve as reference points for Syriza as it shapes its energy and climate policy. These are:
- Establish control over the country’s energy future (energy self determination)
- Secure a broad-based and inclusive process for developing and implementing a national energy transition plan
- Reduce fossil fuel dependency
- Scale up publicly-owned renewable energy
(28 Feb 2015)
Desertec: the renewable energy grab?
Hamza Hamouchene, New Internationalist
If you use social media, you may well have seen a graphic going around, showing a tiny square in the Sahara desert with the caption: ‘This much solar power in the Sahara would provide enough energy for the whole world!’
Can this really be true? It’s based on data from a research thesis written by Nadine May in 2005 for the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany.
According to May, an area of 3.49 million km² is potentially available for concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in the North African countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. She argues that an area of 254 kilometres x 254 kilometres (the biggest box on the image) would be enough to meet the total electricity demand of the world. The amount of electricity needed by the EU-25 states could be produced on an area of 110 kilometres x 110 kilometres (assuming solar collectors that could capture 100 per cent of the energy). A more realistic estimation by the Land Art Generator Initiative assumed a 20-per-cent capture rate and put forward an area approximately eight times bigger than the May study for meeting the world’s energy needs. Nevertheless, the map is a good illustration of the potential of solar power and how little space would be needed to power the entire planet.
…What is Desertec?
For the sake of clarity, it is worth differentiating between the Desertec Foundation and the Desertec Industrial Initiative. The non-profit Desertec Foundation was founded in January 2009 by a network of scientists, politicians and economists from around the Mediterranean. Its aim is to supply as many people and businesses as possible with renewable energy from the world’s deserts. This should, they hope, provide opportunities for prosperity and help protect the climate.
… Sustainable development or status quo?
There is nothing inherently wrong or dishonest in the Desertec idea. On the contrary, the goal of providing sustainable clean energy for the planet to fight global warming is to be lauded. But like any other idea, the questions of who uses it, how it is implemented, for what agenda and in which context it is being promoted, are of great importance.
Desertec was presented as a response to the issues of climate change, the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflicts in 2006 and 2009, fears of peak oil, and the global food crisis of 2009. However, if Desertec is really serious about addressing those crises, it needs to target their structural causes. Being an apolitical techno-fix, it promises to overcome these problems without fundamental change, basically maintaining the status quo and the contradictions of the global system that led to these crises in the first place. Moreover, by presenting the Euro-Med region as a unified community (we are all friends now and we need to fight against a common enemy!), it masks the real enemy of the MENA region, which is oppressive European hegemony and Western domination.
Big engineering-focused ‘solutions’ like Desertec tend to present climate change as a shared problem with no political or socio-economic context. This perspective hides the historical responsibilities of the industrialized West, the problems of the capitalist energy model, and the different vulnerabilities between countries of the North and the South. The MENA region is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change, despite producing less than 5 per cent of global carbon emissions, with water supplies in the area being particularly affected. The spread of solar energy initiatives that further plunder these increasingly-scarce water resources would be a great injustice. Desertec also provides PR cover to major energy businesses and oil and gas-fuelled regimes. Supporting big ‘clean energy’ projects lets them present themselves as environmental protectors rather than climate culprits.
(28 Feb 2015)
China Cut Its Coal Use 2.9 Percent Last Year, Will They Peak Even Before 2020?
Joe Romm, Climate Progress
China cut its coal consumption 2.9 percent in 2014, the first drop this century. Domestic coal production fell 2.5 percent.
As we reported last year, the Chinese government announced in November it would cap coal use by 2020. The new data raise the possibility the peak in coal consumption will come even sooner.
This reversal on coal utterly refutes the GOP claim that China’s recent climate pledge with the United States “requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.”…
U.S. Tells Canada Its Climate Goal May Affect Keystone Decision
Jim Snyder, Jonathan Allen, Bloomberg
U.S. climate negotiators have told their Canadian counterparts that Canada’s plan to cut carbon emissions could be one of the factors that President Barack Obama weighs as he considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a U.S.
official said. The U.S. hasn’t suggested it might approve the $8 billion proposed project in exchange for climate commitments, the official said. Canada is developing a proposal as part of United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at cutting carbon emissions that governments were encouraged to submit by next month.
The notion that there’s any linkage between Canada’s UN goals and the president’s decision on the pipeline is patently false, said another U.S official familiar with the issue. There is a longstanding process for determining these projects, and the State Department is currently conducting that review, the official added. ..