In the run-up to the Paris meeting of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in December, the United States and the European Union (EU) are pushing flawed plans to pressure other countries to sign up to an international agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Last August, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his Clean Power Plan, under which greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power stations will be cut by nearly a third within 15 years. The measures will place great emphasis on wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.
“I’m convinced no challenge provides a greater threat to the future of the planet,” Mr Obama said. “There is such a thing as being too late.”
However, there is no legislation to enforce the plan, and without legislation it will remain a statement of the President’s intentions only, enforceable only through his control of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has given the EPA power to control U.S. CO2 emissions, the power given to the EPA to set enforceable emissions targets without legislative approval is certain to be subject to challenge in the U.S. courts. Any attempt to legislate would have no chance of getting through Congress, as both houses are controlled by the Republicans, who oppose Mr Obama’s plans.
Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she will defend the plan if she is elected to replace Mr Obama. “It will need defending. Because Republican doubters and defeatists – including every Republican candidate for president – won’t offer any credible solution,” she said. “The truth is, they don’t want one.”
One Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, said the plan would be “catastrophic”, while another, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, said the plan was “irresponsible and over-reaching”.
Nonetheless, Mr Obama now has a plan to take to the Paris IPCC meeting.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the EU has committed to reducing its overall emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
The choice of start date (1990) gives a clue to this apparently ambitious target; 1990 was the last year of the old Soviet Union. At that time, central and eastern Europe used old, high-polluting power stations that have since been replaced. Nevertheless, the 40 per cent target for CO2 emission reductions is ambitious, and will depend on very substantial new investment in renewables (solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power).
However, a recent Bloomberg survey of the renewable energy industry shows that EU investment in renewables has declined rapidly since 2011.
Bloomberg is a business news and investment company, highly regarded for its business research. Bloomberg New Energy Finance produces an annual guide to investment in renewables in its Global Trends in Clean Energy Investment (October 2015). It is available online.
Subtitled, “Annual Clean Energy Investment Overview”, the guide contains several charts that show quarterly trends in clean energy investment and funds in circulation, as well as clean energy indices.
One revealing chart is headed, “New Investment in Clean Energy in Europe”. It covers the period from the beginning of 2004 to the third quarter of 2015 and shows that new investment in clean energy peaked at $US34.1 billion in the second quarter of 2011 and since then has fallen steadily and dramatically.
Clean energy investment in Europe in the latest quarter had fallen to $US5.8 billion, the lowest level since 2004. If current trends continue, it will continue to fall to levels not seen since the early years of the last decade.
Trends in the U.S. are also interesting. U.S. investment in clean energy peaked in the third quarter of 2011 and have since fallen 27 per cent.
The only reason investment in clean energy has remained roughly steady over the past four years is because of a dramatic increase in China, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines. Most of China’s production is exported.
While Western nations have committed to substantial emissions cuts by 2020, China has said it will continue to increase emissions until 2030. China is now the world’s largest CO2 emitter.
The area of manufacturing that has seen the most dramatic rise in recent years is power storage, effectively battery technology, for use in a range of devices from submarines, to cars to smartphones. The problem with this is that batteries simply store electricity for later use, energy that often comes from coal-fired power stations.