Landmark project Switch "On" as Nations Ready to Spar at Doha

The World Meteorological Organization set the stage for the climate talks in Doha when it flagged last week the alarming rise in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Concentrations of the three main gases - carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - rose in the year 2011 to their highest levels ever recorded.

Carbon dioxide, which is responsible for about 80% of the global warming effect of the GHGs, increased to 390.9 parts per million molecules of air. The methane concentration went up to 1,813 parts per billion molecules of air, while the nitrous oxide concentration was 324.2 parts per billion, according to the latest data from the United Nations body. “These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud said.

The International Energy Agency had already warned that the rising concentrations of the three gases threaten to render impossible the UN goal of containing the temperature increases to two degrees Celsius. The United Nations Environment Programme echoed that view.

There was a sense of déjà vu meanwhile as countries reiterated their negotiating positions ahead of the beginning of talks on 26 November. China, India, South Africa and Brazil - the so-called Basic bloc - indicated that the distinction between developed and developing countries has to continue, when they ruled out a “new regime”.

At the last climate negotiations in Durban last year, it was decided to hammer out a new deal by 2015 that would enter into force in 2020. “The Durban platform is by no means a process to negotiate a new regime, nor to renegotiate, rewrite or reinterpret the convention, and its principles and provisions,” the countries said, potentially threatening confrontation with the US. The latter wants to eliminate the “firewall” between developed and developing countries, which assigns binding emission targets to the former while leaving large emitters like India and China out of the net.

Brazilian environment envoy Andre Correa do Lago reiterated on Monday that the so-called CBDR principle - common but differentiated responsibility - which recognises the difference in commitments of developed and developing countries - was “here to stay”. Last week, he said the original idea was that the developed nations would take the lead in cutting emissions, and provide resources to the developing nations. “This is not happening,” he lamented.

The developed countries committed to provide USD 30bn of fast-start finance to developing countries to help them reduce emissions. The European Union, US, Japan and other developed countries paid out USD 23.6bn during the three years through 2012, according to the International Institute for Environment and Development. “The process of fast-start finance was supposed to build trust, but it created more tension, and frustration that what was proposed was not delivered,” said Seyni Nafo, a Malian envoy who speaks for a bloc of African nations.

The corporate sector called for lawmakers worldwide to put a “clear” price on carbon emissions to contain global warning. “Effective carbon pricing offers the potential to mobilise carbon finance at a scale that can impact the climate challenge,” said a letter coordinated by Prince Charles’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. This has more than 100 companies as members, including Royal Dutch Shell, Electricite de France, Alstom, Acciona and Aviva.

While the big picture was evolving at Doha, there were encouraging reports from climate-friendly renewable energy projects in different parts of the world, including from developing countries. China said that electricity generated from clean energy rose 48% in October from a year ago. The world’s most populous country includes generation from nuclear and large hydro plants in its clean energy numbers. Power from wind farms surged 40% last month, compared with the same period last year. China currently has the largest wind generation capacity in the world.

Australia’s AGL Energy said it expects its USD 1bn Macarthur Wind Farm to be fully operational by February. The 420MW project in Victoria state is being built in partnership with Meridian Energy.

Czech utility CEZ completed its 600MW Fantanele-Cogealac wind project in Romania - the largest in Europe. The country’s generous green certificate system has attracted large foreign utilities, like CEZ, Iberdrola and Enel Green Power, as well as local developers and private equity investors.
A consortium led by Brightsource Energy and Alstom won a tender to develop a 121MW solar thermal plant in Israel. Areva signed an agreement with the Scottish government to build a factory there to manufacture wind turbines for offshore projects. The European Investment Bank said it would lend USD 1bn to the Aquitaine region of southwest France to increase the energy efficiency of schools and businesses.

In Mexico, Enel Green Power won a tender to build a 102MW wind farm. The company has the right to sell energy from the USD 130m project to the state utility under a 20-year contract. In the same country, local developer Maremotrices de Energias Renovables plans to start building 30MW of wave energy projects in February and sell power at a price which is 20% lower than that bought from the state utility.

In the UK, Good Energy group created some buzz last week when it announced plans to offer electricity price discounts to households near its wind farms.

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