Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S.-China Clean Energy Announcements

Today the U.S. Department of Energy released the following announcement, which details several U.S.-China energy initiatives very much consistent with the recommendations of our recent Carnegie Council working group. The announcement is below.

Beijing, China - Today, President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao announced a far-reaching package of measures to strengthen cooperation between the United States and China on clean energy.

1. U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The two Presidents announced the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The Center will facilitate joint research and development of clean energy technologies by teams of scientists and engineers from the United States and China, as well as serve as a clearinghouse to help researchers in each country. The Center will be supported by public and private funding of at least $150 million over five years, split evenly between the two countries. Initial research priorities will be building energy efficiency, clean coal including carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles. The Protocol formally establishing the Center was signed in Beijing by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang, and Chinese National Energy Agency Acting Administrator Zhang Guobao.

2. U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative. The two Presidents announced the launch of the U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative. Building on the first-ever US-China Electric Vehicle Forum in September 2009, the initiative will include joint standards development, demonstration projects in more than a dozen cities, technical roadmapping and public education projects. The two leaders emphasized their countries’ strong shared interest in accelerating the deployment of electric vehicles in order to reduce oil dependence, cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote economic growth.

3. U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Action Plan. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Action Plan. Under the new plan, the two countries will work together to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, industrial facilities, and consumer appliances. U.S. and Chinese officials will work together and with the private sector to develop energy efficient building codes and rating systems, benchmark industrial energy efficiency, train building inspectors and energy efficiency auditors for industrial facilities, harmonize test procedures and performance metrics for energy efficient consumer products, exchange best practices in energy efficient labeling systems, and convene a new U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Forum to be held annually, rotating between the two countries.

4. U.S.-China Renewable Energy Partnership. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Renewable Energy Partnership. Under the Partnership, the two countries will develop roadmaps for wide-spread renewable energy deployment in both countries. The Partnership will also provide technical and analytical resources to states and regions in both countries to support renewable energy deployment and will facilitate state-to-state and region-to-region partnerships to share experience and best practices. A new Advanced Grid Working Group will bring together U.S. and Chinese policymakers, regulators, industry leaders, and civil society to develop strategies for grid modernization in both countries. A new U.S.-China Renewable Energy Forum will be held annually, rotating between the two countries.

5. 21st Century Coal. The two Presidents pledged to promote cooperation on cleaner uses of coal, including large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects. Through the new U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, the two countries are launching a program of technical cooperation to bring teams of U.S. and Chinese scientists and engineers together in developing clean coal and CCS technologies. The two governments are also actively engaging industry, academia, and civil society in advancing clean coal and CCS solutions. The Presidents welcomed: (i) a grant from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to the China Power Engineering and Consulting Group Corporation to support a feasibility study for an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant in China using American technology, (ii) an agreement by Missouri-based Peabody Energy to participate in GreenGen, a project of several major Chinese energy companies to develop a near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant, (iii) an agreement between GE and Shenhua Corporation to collaborate on the development and deployment of IGCC and other clean coal technologies; and (iv) an agreement between AES and Songzao Coal and Electric Company to use methane captured from a coal mine in Chongqing, China, to generate electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Shale Gas Initiative. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Shale Gas Resource Initiative. Under the Initiative, the U.S. and China will use experience gained in the United States to assess China’s shale gas potential, promote environmentally-sustainable development of shale gas resources, conduct joint technical studies to accelerate development of shale gas resources in China, and promote shale gas investment in China through the U.S.-China Oil and Gas Industry Forum, study tours, and workshops.
U.S.-China Fact Sheet on Shale Gas Initiative

7. U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program. The two Presidents announced the establishment of the U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program. The program will leverage private sector resources for project development work in China across a broad array of clean energy projects, to the benefit of both nations. More than 22 companies are founding members of the program. The ECP will include collaborative projects on renewable energy, smart grid, clean transportation, green building, clean coal, combined heat and power, and energy efficiency.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Copenhagen Poker Game, a Climate Ethic?

Last night I attended the Carnegie Council-sponsored Japan Society panel "Copenhagen & Beyond" on the upcoming climate change negotiations in December with experts Masayoshi Arai (METI), Elliot Diringer (Pew Center), Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhenmin Liu, and Takao Shibata (the former chairman of the Kyoto Protocol working group).

As moderator, Jim Efstanthiou of Bloomberg began by noting that no binding climate change deal is expected in Copenhagen this December since rich countries seem to be holding back their cards in a game of climate poker. The panelists basically agreed that the most we can expect in December is a political agreement or declaration since governments simply are not ready to make a deal. Diringer predicted the low end outcome would be a political declaration with "some money on the table." A higher achievement in Copenhagen would spell out the legal and institutional architecture to pave the way for a binding agreement. He said that would represent a success. Even in the Bali meeting, the Dec. 2009 deadline for Copenhagen was seen as "too soon" for agreement on legal commitments. Shibata hoped that the world would avoid the mistake made in Kyoto--producing an agreement that is "unratifiable" in the U.S. Congress. Liu strongly stressed the importance of finding some agreement in Copenhagen; otherwise it would be "a tragedy" for humanity--politicians who said there will be progress will look like liars.

A major theme of the discussion was the ethical principles of the climate change negotiations. Shibata remarked that the Hatoyama Administration's 25 percent greenhouse gas reduction target is contingent upon having a fair and effective global framework for negotiation in place. (By the way, showing how dramatic that goal is, Arai said, Japan's 25 percent target would represent the equivalent of eliminating the greenhouse gases emitted from the entire transport, electricity, or industrial sector in Japan. I have also heard that the Hatoyama goal was sprung on industry and the bureaucracy without consultations and companies are now waiting to see any action taken.)

Fortunately, a fair framework is in place: The overarching global goal is to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference. The intention in the Kyoto Protocol was to include commitments from developing countries but it proved impossible since the commitments from rich countries were incomplete.

In any case, toward achieving this goal, the basic principles from the Kyoto Protocol, which shouldn't be thrown away according to Liu include: 1. global cooperation; 2. common but differentiated responsibility; 3. all states have obligations. Liu advocated for specific quantitative commitments from Annex One (rich) countries while poorer countries should be simply required to "do more," including technology transfer, innovation, and government-to-government cooperation. In other words, Liu said that inter-governmental actions for mutual benefit need to be considered--not just market mechanisms. Efstathiou wondered if we were headed toward "carbon cap equivalents." This description below is from a Center for American Progress article:
With this carbon cap equivalents approach the better measure of what each country is doing is derived by adding up the full range of supplemental and complementary proposals to each country’s carbon cap and converting this into one comparable figure of what these emissions reductions would effectively amount to if they had been the result of a carbon cap alone. The modeling will be complex, but we should open up the language of the hoped-for Copenhagen treaty so that signatory nations can demonstrate their acceptance of the treaty goals through such equivalents—representing the full range of their policy profile to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—above and beyond their formal cap.

Diringer predicted that developing countries will be asked to describe their climate change policies consistent with their development goals but will not be asked to impose economy-wide caps. The framework for developing countries will be flexible but binding so that there will be a stronger collective impact through mutual commitments. As Liu said, it would be unfair to ask developing countries to forgo the benefits of industrialization. Coincidentally, a couple of people questioned the very meaning of the Annexes since economic growth is concentrated in emerging economies.

For rich countries like the United States, the risk is not in adopting climate change mitigation mechanisms or their impact on industrial competitiveness. The idea that climate change mitigation is inconsistent with industrial competitiveness is outdated. Instead, Diringer said, the risk is that the United States will fail to create the incentives to adopt future technologies, like China is trying to do.

The gorilla in the room was enforcement. Fortunately, the final question from the audience was direct: How will states' commitments be enforced? The panel agreed that enforcement mechanisms can't be punitive but rather should be facilitative. Commitments must be clear but not onerous. In that way, countries that fail to meet their commitments will be "named and shamed."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Climate Patriotism Will Only Cause More Problems

Robert Dujarric writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the Obama administration should appeal to patriotism to get Americans motivated to kick the oil addiction. Bush tried this approach back in 2006, but his weak solution was to fund more research (a form of delay) and to prioritize ethanol (which often equates to oil hidden in fertilizers and pesticides, and has unsavory consequences for world food prices).

Dujarric notes that historically in times of war the U.S. government has successfully played the patriot card for various goals: recruiting, war bonds, rationing, etc. Sociologically this argument is dead. America today is a post-sacrifice dreamland. In an economy driven by consumption, there are no costs, only opportunities.

[This is the fluff fed to the American people through marketing, from the bully pulpit (go to war and lower taxes), and by a media that sanitizes the true human experience of war or revolution. (The photos leaked from Abu Ghraib were an exception to this taboo, and the Neda Sultan video a stark intrusion of the Real.) Little wonder our fictional visual media constantly grow more casual, visceral, celebratory, and creative in their depiction of torture and murder. The problem is less that these media motivate violence and more that they are an expression of our repressed refusal to maturely engage the ongoing violence and evil of our world, whether banal or dramatic—poverty, rapes in Congo, strip mining.]

Practically speaking Obama has been reluctant to coax or force people into cutting oil consumption. During the campaign he rejected the idea of raising gasoline taxes, which would have satisfied Dujarric's desire to make life harder for authoritarian petrocrats. And now the administration is handcuffed by the need to stimulate the economy, while the underlying fundamental problem has not been solved: the economy equals pollution. Dujarric rightly notes that the global recession has been the only effective means of slowing emissions.

But the major fault line in his argument is its appeal to a very retrograde expression of patriotism, one based on fear, hate, enemies, and "the other." Gone are the days when we can blanket lump and demonize a "foreign" people to accomplish domestic or international goals. Destabilization of regimes and democracy promotion of this stripe is dead.

If Obama wants to appeal to American patriotism, he should elevate the debate. Americans pride themselves on being the type of people who don't run from their responsibilities. And when you look at current, cumulative, and per capita emissions, Americans bear a lot of responsibility for the current crisis.

Going forward, successful nations will be defined less by whom they confront, and more by what they can construct (and how they share it). This in the end is one symbolic lesson of the falling towers of 9/11: What have we built?

Given the urgency of global warming, the situation has moved past specific battles like saving polar bears to the idea of saving civilization. But this requires that we also be civilized. To achieve this, honesty is the change people have been waiting for, not jingoism.