China to start carbon trading in 2016
China has nearly finished drafting the rules for a nationwide carbon market that will kick off in 2016, according to a Chinese climate official. The market will build on seven regional pilot programs already in operation, and is part of a Chinese strategy to cut emissions per yuan of GNP nearly in half by 2020. Other climate policies under consideration would tax gasoline and use the proceeds to subsidize electric cars, and construct a $16 billion network of car-charging stations. Across the Pacific, electric vehicles won support from the California legislature, which passed a package of incentives aimed at low- and middle-income car-buyers.
Posturing precedes this month’s climate summit
President Obama is aiming for a climate pact that would rely on the previously ratified 1992 Convention on Climate Change, instead of negotiating a treaty that could win Senate ratification on its own, the New York Times reported last week. This approach would parallel President Gerald Ford’s tack when he inked the Helsinki Accords on human rights and territorial integrity during the Cold War, but the report nonetheless caused a dust-up over unilateral action by the White House. Expect more political posturing over climate action as the international climate summit approaches later this month, as previewed in The Hill and Vox. Even the U.N. got into the act with a video trailer of future weather forecasts.
Bad news in leaked IPCC synthesis report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s synthesis report forecasts irreversible impacts on the climate unless emission cuts are swift and deep, according to a leaked draft obtained by the press. The threats, such as the melting of the Greenland ice cap and a consequent 23-foot rise in sea level over the rest of the millennium, will be familiar to climate observers, but the tone is blunter and the warnings harsher. The draft—produced by scientists based on the component IPCC reports on climate science, impacts, and solutions—now goes out for review ahead of final publication in November.
Top banks see future in solar + storage & divestment from coal
A trio of financial reports last week touted the rise of clean-energy investing. Banking giant UBS foresees the electric sector’s transformation, with consumers generating their own power and storing it until needed, partly in the batteries of their electric cars. By 2020, the payback period could be as short as six to eight years. Citigroup came to similar conclusions, and noted that the current glut of shale gas—renewables’ fiercest competitor—is unlikely to last. Finally, Bloomberg found that it would be easy for institutional investors to dump coal from their portfolios; ditching the oil and gas sector would take a little more work.
Utilities looking at new ways to price electric service
With the conventional utility grid threatened by decentralized generation, and municipalities from California to Colorado agitating to cut loose from their local for-profit electric company, regulators and utilities are looking at new models for pricing electricity. Instead of simply charging by the kilowatt-hour, utilities would also bill for the peak power that a customer consumed, depending on the time of day when it was used, and even charge differently according to where on the utility grid the customer was located. One of the first such rate cases is underway in San Diego, with more likely on the horizon.
Commitment doesn’t mean forever
A new research paper says it’s more important to count the “carbon commitment” of new power plants over their lifetime, instead of the plants’ annual emissions. The authors, including Princeton energy scientist Robert Socolow, pitch the approach as a way to consider the ultimate significance of an investment in energy infrastructure, complete with 4-minute YouTube trailer. But the approach poses an investment as a fait accompli, and has generated a continuum of opinion, collected by Andrew Revkin in his DotEarth blog.
Climate becoming central to two crucial midterm races
Climate issues have come to the fore in two key midterm races this fall. Florida Gov. Rick Scott worked to undo the climate policies of his predecessor Charlie Crist, whom he unseated four years ago. But now climate impacts such as flooding and water shortages have made global warming an issue in their rematch. In Michigan, Democrat Gary Peters has challenged his GOP opponent to acknowledge the reality of climate science, and is running on the need for climate action. It’s a big gamble, because two and a half times as many Democrats as Republicans identify climate as a “major threat”.
E. coli engineered to turn sugar into propane
You’ve heard about cellulosic ethanol, with a large-scale plant set to open in Iowa this week converting corn stalks and cobs into ethanol for cars. Algae-based biodiesel has gotten so much ink that it takes a development like turning sewage into fuel to make the news. But this week, British scientists announced that they had genetically engineered a strain of E. coli to turn glucose into propane, the first time that fuel has been refined from anything but fossil deposits. They picked propane over hydrogen, they said, because it is easier to liquefy and transport, and can be used in an existing infrastructure.