The EU has completed a “hat-trick” of agreements this week which, if implemented, will transform Europe into a truly low-carbon and green continent.

A late-night deal was concluded on Wednesday to establish the governing rules to ensure energy across the bloc is secure, affordable and climate friendly.

The news follows a separate agreement made the previous day between the European Commission, Parliament and Council to increase energy efficiency to 32.5 percent by 2030.

Negotiators also brokered a target to source 32 percent of energy from renewable sources last week. Together these achievements, while still at the level of draft agreements, could signal a major shift towards a modern, sustainable and emissions-free society.

The deal on governance, which underpins the Energy Union project, stopped short of setting a date for reaching a zero-carbon economy, instead opting for “as early as possible” in the final wording. It requires each member state to submit national energy and climate plans on how they will meet the key components of the project: decarbonisation, energy security, and energy efficiency.

Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s climate commissioner, said on Twitter the “robust” rules would help the Union meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“For the first time we will have an Energy Union Governance, fixed in the European Union rule book, encompassing all sectors of the energy policy and integrating climate policy in line with the Paris Agreement,” he added in a statement.

Michele Rivasi, a French MEP for the Green Party said: “Strong governance rules are needed to respect the Paris agreement. We have therefore ensured that the national plans are compatible with the objective of keeping global warming well below 2°C, with the ambition of reaching 1.5°C”.

Quentin Genard at environmental group E3G, commented: “Negotiators have agreed on measures that should hold member states accountable for delivering their energy targets. But the regulation is only providing tools: the real test will be in the ambition of the national 2030 plans, the long-term 2050 plans and their respective update in five years’ time”.

Photo Credit: © European Union 2017 - Source : EP

Read more: EU aiming for zero-carbon economy “as early as...

President Emmanuel Macron has given the go ahead to six new offshore wind farms off France’s west coast.

The combined clean energy projects have a capacity of 3,000 megawatts, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

An agreement was reached this week with a group of major utility companies which will now take forward the projects: state-owned EDF, Spanish-based Iberdrola and Engie.

The wind farms, located off the coast of Normandy and Brittany, have met with public opposition which has delayed their final approval. Earlier this year, the French Government had threatened to cancel the projects; instead, it has cut the amount of public subsidy they will receive from 200 euros per megawatt hour to 150 euros.

“We will bring about renewable energy more quickly and less expensively: the projects are confirmed, their public subsidy is reduced by 40 percent”, said President Macron on Twitter.

France’s Environment Minister, Nicolas Hulot, also confirmed the lower tariffs, which are still significantly higher than other projects in Europe. Competitive auctions held in the UK last year saw offshore wind projects win contracts at an all-time low of £57.50 (65 euros).

The Netherlands also held its first subsidy-free offshore wind auction this year, although the government takes on more of the early development and risk.  

General Electric, one of the companies supplying wind turbines to the French projects, welcomed the news; a company statement said the wind farm’s confirmation is “paving the way for a buoyant offshore wind industry, which carries considerable potential for economic growth, job creation and high-tech innovation in France.”

Earlier this year, Macron’s administration also cleared the way for more onshore wind farms in the country. New proposals will accelerate the construction of projects with the aim of doubling capacity within five years. 

Read more: France approves six new offshore wind farms,...

Investment in clean energy must increase by up to 50 percent in some economies to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This is one of the findings from a new scientific study on the financial requirements of the Paris climate agreement.

Researchers from the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) used six different modelling techniques to calculate the costs and consequences of meeting the world’s climate goals.

They found that the overall level of energy investment only needs to modestly increase under their scenarios, but, crucially, financial flows have to radically shift away from fossil fuels and into clean technologies.

Investments in low-carbon and energy efficiency will have to quickly surpass those of fossil fuels by 2025. After this date, investment will need to climb exponentially, by $130 billion a year just to meet the existing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris deal. These national efforts, however, will still mean global temperatures will reach over 3 degrees before the end of the century.

To meet the 2 degrees scenario, investments will have to grow to $320 billion a year and $480 billion for 1.5 degrees. These figures are more than 25 percent of total energy investments, but increases to over half in major economies, such as China and India.

“We know that limiting global temperatures to well below 2 degrees demands that renewables and efficiency scale up rapidly, but few studies have calculated the energy investment needs for a fundamental system transformation, at least not with an eye toward 1.5 degrees and using multiple scientific modelling frameworks running side-by-side,” says IIASA researcher and lead author of the study David McCollum. 

“It’s important for professionals in the finance sector to be aware how much more investment in low carbon solutions is needed if the world is to meet the Paris targets. The NDC pledges are a step in the right direction, though much deeper changes in the energy investment portfolio are clearly necessary,” says Elmar Kriegler, a co-author and vice-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The paper was published in the Nature Energy journal this week.

Read more: Huge reallocation of investment needed to meet...

A new report has highlighted the continued dominance of renewable power to the detriment of other clean energy sectors, which seriously lag behind.

The non-profit REN21 has released data compiled from official government sources, international organisations, and hundreds of surveys to build a picture of the renewable energy sector over the past two years.

Their work shows that renewable power had another record-breaking year, adding 178 gigawatts of new capacity in 2017. But this astonishing growth is masking the lack of progress in heating and transport, which combined accounts for 80 percent of all energy consumption.

As of 2015, the latest available year, renewable heat provided 10 percent of global heating; in transport the figure is smaller, accounting for just 3.1 percent. However, progress is being made to electrify transport with 3 million electric vehicles now on the road.

The report highlights that the problem is partly on the policy level; while 146 countries have renewable energy targets for the electricity sector, only 48 have targets for heating and 42 for transport.

There is a pressing need to create the right policy frameworks and encourage the massive amount of investment needed to transform these sectors. The data comes at a time when global energy demand has increased by 2 percent and carbon emissions grew by 1.4 percent after three years of remaining stationary.

 “Equating electricity with energy is leading to complacency,” said Rana Adib, Executive Secretary of REN21. “We may be racing down the pathway towards a 100 percent renewable electricity future, but when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world. Sadly, we don’t.”

However, transforming heat and transport is eminently possible as the rapid growth in renewable electricity has shown; the sector attracted $279 billion of investment last year alone.

Arthouros Zervos, REN21 Chair, added: “To make the energy transition happen there needs to be political leadership by governments – for example by ending subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear, investing in the necessary infrastructure, and establishing hard targets and policy for heating, cooling and transport. Without this leadership, it will be difficult for the world to meet climate or sustainable development commitments.”

Read more: ‘Urgent action’ needed to boost renewable heat...

The world’s leading development banks are spending more than ever on climate mitigation and adaptation projects within emerging economies.

The latest annual report into financing from the six largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) showed climate financing hit $35.2 billion in 2017, a 28 percent rise on the previous year and the highest since recording began in 2011.

This figure climbs to $87 billion when combined with the $51.7 billion co-financing measures from public and private sources.

The data shows the growing awareness among financial institutions to commit funds to reduce emissions and prevent runaway climate change.

A combined 28 percent of the financing went into projects across Asia and the Pacific; 20 percent of the financing went into Latin America. 16 percent was invested in Sub-Saharan Africa.   

Renewable energy was the highest recipient of funds, totalling $9.2 billion over the past year, showing the technologies’ enduring popularity among the financial community. This was followed by transport on $8.1 billion and energy efficiency received $3.9 billion.

Data was compiled from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank Group and the World Bank Group.

$194 billion has been invested over the past seven years of reporting from these major institutions with the World Bank committing the largest amounts year-on-year.

Josué Tanaka, Managing Director at EBRD Managing Director said the bank recognised the importance of cooperation between development banks to ensure climate finance is scaled up: “2017 was also an exceptionally good year for the EBRD climate finance activity which reached 40 per cent of total investments, thus reaching the ambitious target set in the run-up to the Paris Agreement three years ahead.  This brings the total amount the EBRD has committed to climate finance to over 26 billion euros since 2006.”

Read more: Development banks pump record $35 billion into...

One of the world’s largest reinsurance companies has taken steps to exclude coal from its future investments.

German-based Hannover Re will divest from all companies which depend on coal power for more than 25 percent of its revenues. However, unlike some companies, such as AXA and Allianz, it will continue to provide insurance to coal plants for the time being.

The Unfriend Coal campaign was informed of its decision, and that it would continue to reinsure fossil fuels because it is “not our place, as a private company, to act contrary to the decisions of sovereign nations”. It would still “welcome a shift in the energy mix towards alternative energy sources” though.

According to Unfriend Coal, almost half of the global reinsurance market has now pledged to divest from coal, including major players, such as Generali, Lloyd’s of London, and Swiss Re. Divestment policies across the industry now cover assets worth more than $6 trillion and $30 billion has already been withdrawn from the coal sector, according to the group.

Peter Bosshard, coordinator of the Unfriend Coal campaign, said: “The world’s ultimate underwriters of risk clearly see no future for a fuel which is the biggest single source of carbon emissions. This sends a strong message to the governments, investors and financiers that decide on the future of the global energy sector.

Regine Richter, finance campaigner at German environmental NGO Urgewald, said Hannover’s divestment was “a welcome first step”, but that it was disappointing the group was not taking responsibility for “the climate impacts of its own underwriting decisions.”

“The company’s 25 percent threshold for defining coal companies is stricter than the definition of its peers, even though it misses out additional exclusion criteria such as the development of new coal projects,” she added.

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Read more: Hannover Re to exclude coal from future...

AT&T has added to its growing renewables portfolio with a deal to buy 300 megawatts of wind power.

The telecoms giant has inked a power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy to source clean electricity from two wind farms in Texas. This builds on an existing agreement signed between the two companies earlier this year; the new deal means AT&T now obtains 820 megawatts from NextEra’s wind farms, estimated to be one of the largest corporate renewable energy purchases in the US.

The combined wind farms have the capacity to provide electricity to 372,000 US homes each year, or reduce emissions equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road.

Kevin Gildea, NextEra Energy Resources’ vice president of development, said: “Wind energy is helping drive the clean energy economy, providing new and exciting job opportunities in rural communities as well as millions of dollars in additional revenue with which to help enhance schools, roads and other essential services.”

The company estimates that 1,000 construction jobs will be supported by the AT&T-supported projects, and generate $190 million in tax revenues for local communities.

“We’re going big on renewable energy. It’s a clean, abundant, renewable source of home-grown power,” said Joe Taylor, vice president of global technology at AT&T. “As one of the world’s largest companies, our investments can help scale this critical energy source for America’s transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The agreement is part of AT&T’s commitment to make carbon savings which are 10 times greater than its global footprint by 2025. Up to now, the conglomerate has made modest progress towards transforming its business to become more sustainable.

A recent report from the non-profit Green America harshly criticised the US telecommunications industry for failing to make the transition to clean energy. The charity gave AT&T a D- grade for its performance on emission reduction.

Read more: ‘Going big on renewable energy’: AT&T signs new...

Analysts are now predicting that wind and solar power will reach 50 percent of all electricity generation by 2050.

Steep cost reductions coupled with cheap batteries will make the drive towards renewable energy unstoppable.

65 researchers from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) pooled together data on the evolving cost of clean energy technologies across the world.

Their analysis shines a light on the vital role that falling costs in battery storage will have in the future. Lithium-ion batteries have already dropped in price by 80 percent since 2010, and this is anticipated to continue with the attending growth in electric vehicles.

BNEF sees battery capacity attracting $548 billion by 2050 with the majority taking place on the electricity grid level.

Seb Henbest, lead author of the study, said: “The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear.”

High levels of battery investment will be matched by an estimated $8.4 trillion for wind and solar by 2050. This will boost total renewable generation in major markets; 87 percent all electricity in Europe, 62 percent in China, and over 50 percent in the United States.

This astonishing growth will be to the detriment of coal-fired power, which could fall from 38 percent to 11 percent by mid-century.

Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, said: “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run. Beaten on cost by wind and PV for bulk electricity generation, and batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables – coal gets squeezed out.”

These high projections for the power sector are still insufficient to limit global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius. However, BNEF’s work assumes that no new government policies will be put in place.

Read more: Wind and solar will reach 50% of global...

The US Department of Energy has announced new funding to explore the viability of building offshore wind in the country.

New York State has been selected by the department to lead a consortium of experts to look into new areas to develop offshore wind on the East Coast.

$18.5 million will be used to research areas such as deep water turbines, the impact of hurricanes, seabed conditions and how to construct wind farms in challenging environments. This will have the overall aim of reducing offshore wind costs to bring forward more projects.

New York’s energy research body, NYSERDA, will lead the work and provide match funding over the four year project. It will engage the private sector to ensure the research continues after federal funding ends.

There is currently one operational wind farm in the country, a five turbine, 30 megawatt project located off Rhode Island. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced plans in January to expand this capacity to 2,400 megawatts by 2030.

"New York leads the nation in its commitment to renewable energy, and offshore wind is an affordable clean energy source that will power our future," Governor Cuomo said, in response to the new funding.

"This consortium cements our role as the national capital of the offshore wind industry and will drive innovation and development, support job creation and bolster our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a cleaner, greener New York for all," he added.

“There is enormous potential for offshore wind in the United States,” said Timothy Unruh, at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Through this consortium, DOE seeks to support fundamental research to accelerate the development of affordable offshore wind technologies.”

Despite the increased interest in renewable energy, the Department of Energy also revealed $64 million to fund new research into nuclear technologies. US President Donald Trump has been a vocal opponent of wind energy in the past, and actively supports coal power.

Photo: Block Island. The first offshore wind farm in the United States.

Read more: US Government to spend $18.5 million on offshore...

The Mayor of London has ordered a fleet of 68 new zero-emission buses to tackle air pollution in the UK capital.

The electric vehicles will join London’s existing fleet of 8,000 buses next summer. Local governing body Transport for London (TfL) aims to have 240 electric buses on the network by 2019, which will be the largest of its kind within Europe.

The news comes during a summit in which city leaders from around the country are discussing how to improve air quality. Earlier this week, the group, which represents over 20 million people, called on the government to bring forward its diesel and petrol ban to 2030.

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, said: “Leaders from across England and Wales have never met in such numbers to tackle our nation’s toxic air quality. It shows how serious our problem is and how committed we are to tackling it.”

“I’m delighted to be able to announce a Europe-leading new fleet of electric double-decker buses too. We’re doing all we can to improve our air quality and we need the government to match our ambition to solve this national health crisis,” he added.

Further to these commitments, two entire routes in London will now be served by electric buses; all single-deck buses in central London will be zero-emission, or hybrid, by 2020. The Mayor has a long-term goal to transform all buses to be free from toxic emissions by the 2030s.

Claire Mann at TfL said: “Buses are crucial to reduce Londoners’ reliance on cars...Electric buses are good for air quality and improve the customer experience, with less noise and fewer vibrations, all creating a more comfortable journey.”

Air pollution has become a major political issue in the UK, especially in the capital. Despite London having lower levels of toxic pollutants than other European cities, thousands of premature deaths are still caused by particulate matter and nitrogen oxide.

Read more: London’s iconic double-decker buses are going...

The C&A Foundation will fund five initiatives to advance the circular economy within the fashion industry.

The foundation, an offshoot of the famous C&A shopping brand, has awarded the funding as part of an open call to bridge the gap between circular business models and the global supply chain in clothing.

C&A has over 1,500 stores in Europe, but has a major presence in China, Brazil and Mexico.

The retailer sees recycling and reuse practices as essential to transforming the fashion world into one that “regenerates ecosystems”. This is opposed to the traditional, unsustainable way of taking, using and disposing of materials.

Circular practices are gaining in interest among many retailers and brands, such as Stella McCartney, but not enough is being done to redesigning business models to make it a reality. C&A is hoping its initial funding will help kick start a movement for change.

The five projects will separately research how to overcome barriers to implementing circular principles, working with small, medium and large retail brands covering Europe, Asia, and North America.

World Resources Initiative and sustainability charity WRAP will assess consumer demand and pilot new business models in 20 major apparels brands in the US, UK and India. This will identify the policies, regulations and incentives needed to advance the circular economy in specific jurisdictions.

The social enterprise Circle Economy will pilot new practices with six brands and retailers with the aim of creating tools for widespread use within the industry.

Douwe Jan Joustra, Head of Circular Transformation, at the C&A Foundation, commented: “We believe the circular fashion revolution will only happen when we implement circular business models.  We are pleased to be supporting these five new partners. The critical practise-based insights they develop and share will bring the industry a significant step towards these new models, moving the discourse on circular fashion from words to action.”

Read more: C&A to invest €1.29 million in circular economy...

New proposals from the UK Government will make it easier for workplace pension schemes to remove their holdings in projects which damage the environment.

Under the new regulations, trustees will have to provide an assessment of the sustainability of their decisions.

Collectively, the UK’s workplace pension schemes invest over £1.5 trillion on behalf of millions of people across the country. The rules, released this week from the Department for Work and Pensions, aim to tackle environmental threats, such as climate change, by giving members more say over where their money goes.

Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said: “These new regulations will empower savers all over Britain, ensuring that their voices are heard when their savings are invested.”

“As we see the younger generation who care more about where their money is going, they are also increasingly questioning that their pensions are invested in a way that aligns with their values. This money can now be used to build a more sustainable, fairer and equal society for future generations,” she added.

While the ruling is still open to consultation, the move was warmly received from those campaigning for more responsible investment. The charity ShareAction said it was “delighted” that the government is taking “robust action” on sustainability and ethical spending.

“For too long, many pension schemes have disclosed vague, high-level statements on their approach to ESG factors, and failed to report on what, if anything, they were doing to protect members from the rising investment risks of issues such as climate change”, said Bethan Livesey, the charity’s head of policy.

It is hoped that the new changes will prompt pension funds take notice of the need to take environmental concerns seriously. A recent survey from the Environmental Audit Committee found that some of the largest funds in the country were ‘worryingly complacent’ when it came to climate change.

Read more: UK pension funds given chance to fight climate...

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