Posts

Carbon Offsets Work – Will the Mainstream Media Ever Get It?

The carbon markets are an area of keen interest for me personally and professionally, so it is always frustrating that the mainstream media largely refuses to learn the details.

In general, layman and media who don’t understand the details of the carbon markets attack carbon offsets in two areas, first, questioning whether the credits are for a project that would have occurred anyway (a concept known in carbon as “additionality”), and second questioning whether there are checks and balances to ensure the environmental standards are adhered to and the abatement actually happens (in carbon known as the validation and verification processes). The frustrating part for anyone in the industry is that the entire of the carbon credit process set up under Kyoto is all about ensuring the answers to those two questions. Leading certification firms and carbon project developers have been dealing with the details behind those questions for years.

The biggest weakness of the carbon offset process to date has been that the high level of oversight and protection, while working, has led to higher costs and fewer projects getting done, rather than too many. Bottom line, the carbon markets ARE working, and are pouring billions of dollars into fighting global warming, just like the NOx and SOx trading markets helped reduce air pollution faster and cheaper than anyone expected. Now it’s time to figure out how to make them REALLY scale.

I caught up with a friend of mine, Marc Stuart, to give us a little teach in about the real story in carbon offsets, what matters, what does not, what works, and what still needs to be tweaked. Marc should know, he’s one of the founders of EcoSecurities plc (AIM:ECO.L), one of the first, and still the leader in generating and monetizing carbon credits. Marc, thanks for joining us, we appreciate the time and the teach in.

1. Even for those who don’t know much about carbon offsets, many people have heard about the concept of additionality, and almost everyone intuitively understands it at some level. But it is devilishly complicated in practice. I’ve always described it to people as “beyond business as usual”. Can you explain additionality and give us some insight into the details?

Additionality is the core concept of the project-based emissions market. In a nutshell, it means that a developer cannot receive credits for a project that represents “business as usual” (BAU) practices. A classic and often cited example is that industrial forest companies should not be able to get credits simply for replanting the trees that they harvest from their plantations each year, since that is already part of their business model. A utility changing out a 30 year old, fully depreciated turbine would not be able to claim the efficiency benefits, though a utility that swapped out something only five years old might be able to under certain circumstances.

Additionality is easy to definitively prove in cases where there is zero normal economic reason to make an investment, such as reducing HFC-23 from the refrigeration plants or N2O from fertilizer plants. Such projects easily pass a “financial additionality” test, since it’s clear that as a cost without a benefit, they wouldn’t have been economically feasible under a BAU scenario. It gets far more complex though, with assets that contribute to both normal economic outputs and the development of carbon credits, in particular in renewables and energy efficiency. Sometimes these projects are profitable without carbon finance, but there may be other barriers preventing their execution that make them additional.

The UN has developed a very structured and rigorous process that projects must undergo to prove additionality. It is essentially a regulatory process with multiple levels of oversight, in which a body called the Executive Board to the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (The CDM is the international system for creating carbon offsets called CERs) ultimately makes a binary decision about whether a project is eligible to participate or not. Anchored in the middle of that oversight is an audit process run by independent, licensed auditors, the largest of which is actually a multi-national nonprofit called Det Norske Veritas (DNV). However, many projects don’t even make it to that decision point before they are dropped in the process.

2. One of the benefits of carbon offsets often touted by those who support them is the idea that they provide compliance flexibility and liquidity in the early years of a compliance cap and trade system. What are your thoughts on how that works?

The simple reality is that many assets that emit carbon have a long lifetimes and that legitimate investment decisions have been taken in the past that rightfully did not take into account the negative impact of carbon emissions. For an easy example, think about somebody who is a couple of years into a six-year auto loan on a gas guzzler—can policy just force that person to immediately switch to a hybrid, especially since the used car market for his guzzler has now completely disappeared? Even if society says yes, how long would it take for the auto industry to ramp up its production of hybrids? Now look at infrastructure—for example, most power plants and heavy industry facilities have lifetimes of thirty years plus. Even if we were economically and politically able to affect a radical changeover, simply put, the physical capacity for building out new technology is limited, even in a highly accelerated scenario. So, like it or not, GHG emissions from the industrial world are going to take quite a while to stabilize and reduce.

The point of offsets is that, in fairly carbon efficient places like California or Japan, availability of low cost reductions within a cap-and-trade system is quite limited, meaning there is an incentive to look beyond the cap for other, credible, quantifiable, emissions reductions. Reductions in GHGs that are uncapped (either by sector, activity, or geography), such as are found in the CDM, are thus a logical way to achieve real GHG reductions and accelerate dissemination of low carbon technologies. In effect, the past helps subsidize changeover to the future as buyers of emission rights subsidize other, cheaper, GHG mitigation activities. As caps get more restrictive over time, capital changeover occurs. Offsets allow this to occur in an orderly and cost-effective manner.

3. There have been a number of studies questioning whether offsets are just “hot air” and whether carbon offset projects actually achieve real emission reductions. What is your response to these accusations?

As noted in the first question, the CDM in particular is a market that is completely regulated by an international body of experts supported by extensive bureaucracy to ensure that real emission reductions and sustainable development are occurring. The first and foremost requirement of that body is to rule on whether each individual project is additional. Each project is reviewed by qualified Operational Entity, the Executive Board Registration and Issuance Team, the UNFCCC CDM Secretariat and the CDM Executive Board itself. Plus, there are multiple occasions for external observers to make specific comments, which are given significant weight. So, while there is always the chance something could get through, there are a lot of checks and balances in the system to prevent that.

That said, determining an individual emission baseline for a project – the metric against which emission reductions are measured – is a challenging process. The system adjusts to those challenges by trying to be as conservative as possible. In other words, I would argue that in most CDM projects, there are fewer emission reductions being credited than are actually occurring. It is impossible for a hypothetical baseline to be absolutely exact, but it is eminently possible to be conservative. Is it inconceivable that the opposite occasionally occurs and that more emission reductions are credited to a project than are real? We’ve never seen it in the more than 117 projects we’ve registered with the CDM, but I suppose it’s possible.

4. What about the voluntary carbon market in the US, where there have been accusations that many projects would have happened anyway? How is this voluntary market different from what EcoSecurities does under the Clean Development Mechanism?

The voluntary market has had more of a “wild west” reputation compared to the compliance market. In some ways, that is deserved, but in some ways it is unfair. For a number of years, the voluntary market was the only outlet for project developers in places like the United States and in sectors like avoided deforestation that were not recognized by the CDM. However, because there were virtually no barriers to entry and no functional regulation other than what providers would voluntarily undertake, it was difficult for consumers and companies to differentiate between legitimate providers and charlatans. For EcoSecurities, while the voluntary market has been a very small part of our overall efforts, we always qualified projects according to vetted additionality standards such as the CDM and the California Climate Action Registry, and always used independent accredited auditors. With the emergence of stand-alone systems like the Voluntary Carbon Standard (Editors note: Marc Stuart sits on the board of the VCS), and the growing demand for offsets from the corporate sector, I believe the “wild west” frontier is drawing to a close. [Editors note: Other voluntary carbon standards we watch closely include Green-e Climate, put out by the people who certify most of the renewable energy credits (RECs) in the US]

It is also important to note that while the voluntary market has recorded very explosive growth, it is still a very small fraction of the regulatory market, comprising a few tens of millions of dollars of transactions, versus the potential tens of billions of dollars of value embedded in the highly regulated and supervised CDM. The fact that many observers still equate the occasional problems in the fringes of the voluntary market (which are increasingly history) with the real benefits being created in the Kyoto compliance market is a misperception we’d like to correct.

5. What about these projects we’ve heard about in China, where the sale of carbon credits generated from HFC-23 capture is far more valuable than production of the refrigerant gas that leads to its creation in the first place? How is this being addressed in the CDM and how can future systems ensure that there are not perverse incentives created like this?

HFC-23 projects are the epitome of what is often referred to as “low hanging fruit.” In this case, most of the fruit might have actually been sitting on the ground. While there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the market drove the mitigation of HFC-23 globally, the extreme disparity between the costs of reducing those gases and the market value those reductions commanded invariably led to questions whether there were more socially efficient ways to have reduced those emissions. In all likelihood, there were. But to catalyze an overall market like this, it is probably important to get some easy wins at the outset to create broader investment interest and this certainly accomplished that. Moreover, Kyoto created a mechanism for engaging these kinds of activities. It would have sent a much worse signal to the market to have changed the rules in the middle of the game. The CDM has subsequently adjusted the rules to make sure that no one can put new factories in place simply for the purposes of mitigating their emissions. I don’t see too many other situations like HFCs in the future, simply because there are no other gases where the disparity of mitigation costs and market value is so severe.

5. Given that the majority of CDM projects currently under development are located in China and India, how can we ensure that these countries eventually take on the binding targets we will need to reach the scientifically determined reductions in GHGs? Doesn’t the CDM simple create an incentive for these countries to avoid binding targets as long as possible?

It is clearly in the world’s interest to get as much of the global economy into a low carbon trajectory as quickly as possible. However, it is politically unrealistic to expect these countries—whose emissions per capita are between one fifth and one tenth the per capita of the United States—to make an equivalent commitment at this juncture, particularly considering that they are in the midst of an aggressive development trajectory. The CDM provides a way for ongoing engagement with these countries, developing the basic architecture of a lower carbon economy. And there is no doubt that China’s emissions in 2012, 2015 or 2020 will be measurably lower than they otherwise would have been, simply because of the current accomplishments of the CDM. Over time, the use of project based mechanisms will contribute to accelerating the development and dissemination of low carbon technologies, which will make those negotiations for binding caps from all major economies far more tenable.

6. It is widely believed that to address the climate crisis on the scale necessary to avert dangerous global warming, significant infrastructural and paradigm shifts must occur at an unprecedented scale. Some people are concerned that offsets provide a disincentive for making these shifts, since companies can just offset their emissions instead of making the changes themselves. Is this something you saw under the EU ETS at all, and if so, how can it be addressed in a US system?

Virtually all of the macroeconomic analysis that has been done of Phase I of the ETS shows that there were real emission reductions undertaken within the system, despite the fact that many companies were also actively seeking CDM CERs. Clearly the fact that both Kyoto and the EU ETS system place quantifiable limits on the use of CDM and Joint Implementation (JI) credits guarantees that emission reductions will also be made in-country as well, so pure “outsourcing” of emissions compliance is not possible. This also appears to be the model being pursued in most US legislation.

7. Many have complained that the CDM system is too administratively complex, unpredictable, and that the transaction costs of the system are so significant that they could almost negate any possible benefits. What lessons can be learned about structuring an offset system in a simpler, but still environmentally rigorous way? What steps is the CDM EB taking to address these issues?

The CDM treads a very fine line between ensuring environmental integrity of the offsets that it certifies and the need to have some kind of efficient process within an enormous global regulatory enterprise. To date, one has to think that they have gotten it about right, as business has complained about inefficiency and environmentalists have complained about environmental integrity. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the project by project approval approach is creating logistical challenges as the system graduates from managing dozens, to hundreds, to now, quite literally, thousands of projects in all corners of the world. Ironically, it is the success of the CDM in terms of its very broad uptake by carbon entrepreneurs that is causing problems for the current model.

We believe the benefits of the CDM can be maintained by moving many project types into a more standardized approach, whereby emission reduction coefficients are determined “top-down” by a regulatory body, as opposed to being undertaken individually for every project by project proponents. For example, there are dozens of highly similar wind energy projects in China that all have microscopically different emission baselines. A conservative top down baseline set by the regulator (in this case, the CDM Executive Board) would enable projects to get qualified by the system in an efficient manner with far less bureaucratic overhang. This is how California’s Climate Action Reserve deals with project based reductions and we think that it could work well for many sectors.

8. Is there any difference between a renewable energy certificate (REC) and a carbon offset? Does EcoSecurities support the concept of selling RECs to offset carbon emissions?

While renewable energy clearly helps lower the carbon intensity of the electrical grid, there are a great number of other incentives for development of renewables in the US, including significant Production Tax Credits, and in most states, RECs or Green Tags. For EcoSecurities, this makes it extremely problematic to claim that these assets are additional, despite their obvious benefits to the global environment and decarbonization of the economy. Acknowledging this, EcoSecurities—along with many other companies—has steered clear of developing REC projects for VERs in the voluntary market. There are other firms that have chosen other approaches, which again highlights the need for standardized approaches like the VCS. That said, we are very active in helping create carbon value for RE projects throughout the developing world via the CDM, where incentives such as RECs are almost universally non-existent.

9. There has been a lot of concern about “carbon market millionaires” profiting from selling offsets, and that the only “greening” going on is in the lining of peoples’ pockets. As a carbon market millionaire yourself, what do you think about this concern?

Capital markets exist to reward innovation and punish underperformance. EcoSecurities has existed for more than 11 years and the founders – of which I am one – have devoted more than 15 years to building up various aspects of the carbon market. For many of those years, as we watched friends and colleagues flourish in other markets like internet and biotech, our decision to stay in this seemed fairly quixotic. But we understood enough of the science of climate change to recognize that a fundamental policy response had to be forthcoming, or we would be heading to a global catastrophe. Now those policies have come into focus and the overriding recognition is that society will need to mobilize trillions of dollars of capital to decarbonize the global economy. As part of the proverbial “bleeding edge” for many years, we were ironically well positioned to take advantage when early movers in the capital markets recognized the capabilities and brand that we had built up over a decade. As for whether that is the only greening – well, I can tell you that given the very conservative and difficult aspects of qualifying projects for the CDM, I am 100% certain that our activities contribute solidly to that decarbonization trajectory and that real emission reductions have occurred all over the world because of our efforts.

10) What lessons have you learned personally about the market as a cofounder of the leading CDM project developer in the world? You must have some interesting lessons learned for the US as you are probably unique amongst your competitors in having been based here in the US for over 10 years.

Thanks for the compliment but actually, I’m not that unique. I started in the market in the early 1990’s when the US was the epicenter of a future carbon trading regime, and Europe and Japan looked at it with suspicion and distaste. Quite a number of us from that era did not give up, but instead spent a fair bit of time since then getting our US passports stamped regularly to search the world for projects. It’s nice to see that we may finally be getting back to where we thought we would be a decade ago—with the US as a driving force for innovation in decarbonizing the world’s economy (coincidentally in a recent report produced by the UNFCCC, the US along with Germany, the UK and France provided over 70% of the clean technology currently being utilized in CDM projects). The US is in a perfect position to learn from the both the successes and mistakes within the first Kyoto iteration and I am looking forward to being part of that next stage as well.

11) What do you say to popular press who don’t seem to believe that Kyoto works?

Honestly, you haven’t seen what I have seen. I’ve traveled all over the world and seen the results of Kyoto, where “carbon entrepreneurs” – ranging from divisions within multinationals to garage inventors on their own—are seeking ways to cost effectively reduce GHG emissions. That simply would not have happened without the market signal that Kyoto created. The fact that the CDM has registered more than 1000 projects and has a backlog of several times that – despite the incredible bureaucratic requirements – shows an uptake several magnitudes beyond what anybody predicted when Kyoto was negotiated. When the managing director of a West African oil refinery is proudly detailing to you the steps he’ll be ordering his engineers to take to help save some 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, that’s when you realize that you’ve tapped into something significant. And having had the same basic conversation in Mumbai, Jakarta, Sao Paulo and Beijing, you realize that people really want to do something, but that you need a little push from a market. That said, we are still in the first tentative moments of what is probably a century long issue and there are doubtless many improvements that can and will be made. But we have undoubtedly proven that the basic premise works.

Thanks Marc. A pleasure to chat as always. Keep up the good fight.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of Cleantech.org, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog. He is also the founder of Carbonflow, a provider of software solutions for the carbon markets.

Super Tuesday was Super for US Carbon Cap and Trade

One things for sure, post Super Tuesday with Governor Mike Huckabee far behind, Mitt Romney out, and McCain the all but crowned Republican nominee, the US is getting a cap and trade system for carbon. The question is which one. I thought I’d track a little of the candidates’ various positions.

The major differences that are left between the parties are on how to do it. In general the Republicans favor US based systems, the Democrats favor a Kyoto based approach, sort of. The Democrats favor 100% allowance, the Republicans favor a slower adjustment scheme (The Kyoto mechanisms today are actually closer the Republican stance).

Don’t forget, the real reason the US has not ratified Kyoto is less about whether to use the market based mechanisms (we were the ones who actually advocated putting carbon trading in), and more about the fact that under Kyoto, our major economic competitors in China and India have no commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, and under Kyoto effectively receive foreign aid from developed nations to build out their powerplants and infrastructure. And this concern has gotten worse, as China has now passed the US as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but has consistently refused to consider its own emissions reductions. So in reality, even if the Democrats win, we may still get a US focused cap and trade system if that is all that can get through the Senate.

But while any candidate election would likely make a US cap and trade a foregone conclusion, unlike McCain who has actually put forward US cap and trade legislation with a Kyoto “linkage”, Hillary and Barack both talk a new treaty and about a G-8 plus major emitters “extra Kyoto” approach that includes China. This sound surprisingly like the approach George W Bush took at the G-8 summit proposing to work within a group of the 15 largest emitters. Not surprisingly, it failed when the Bush Administration refused to sign up to commitments without China and India on the hook, and China still is not interested in signing commitments. Unlike McCain, I’m not sure Barack Obama and Hillary have figured out the details here. But we shall see.

First, the last naysayer.

Mitt Romney

In 2004 Mitt Romney told the Boston Globe he was not sure global warming is happening.

In 2007 on the global warming issue he continued to be anti Kyoto, at least. “As governor, I found that thoughtful environmentalism need not be anti-growth and anti-jobs. But Kyoto-style sweeping mandates, imposed unilaterally in the United States, would kill jobs, depress growth and shift manufacturing to the dirtiest developing nations.” Source

And the Republicans.

Mike Huckabee

Bottom line, likely no Kyoto and but maybe a cap and trade.

Huckabee has come out in support of “economy-wide” cap and trade, in a Bloomberg article on Huckabee’s support for the McCain sponsored bill.

Huckabee adopted the National Governors Association policy:

“not sign or ratify any agreement that mandates new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the US, unless such an agreement mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for developing countries within the same compliance period;”

Kyoto was a mistake, but “Earth in the Balance” is not. You do not have to hug a tree to appreciate one. It would have been a mistake to sign the Kyoto Treaty since it would have given foreign nations the power to impose standards on us. But Al Gore was not entirely wrong when he spoke of earth “in the balance.” Balance is exactly what we need more of in this discussion. All of us need to have a healthy respect for our resources, a responsible level of use of those resources, and a comprehensive plan for either preserving or renewing those resources. Source: From Hope to Higher Ground, by Mike Huckabee, p. 70 Jan 4, 2007 Source

John McCain

A keen proponent of market based environmental solutions, and anti tax to boot. He is heavily in favor of cap and trade, and as coathor of the McCain-Lieberman Senate bill backing a US cap and trade is the only candidate who has actually been doing anything about it. But he has not necessarily supported ratifying Kyoto without Chinese participation like Hillary Clinton (her husband was the one who signed it originally) used to advocate.

Among other things McCain-Lieberman calls for cap and trade, with the amount of allowances to be determined in the future, up to 15% of allowances permitted from other systems (like Kyoto’s CDM mechanism), and an enforcement penalty of 300% of the per ton market price for companies over their cap. A good summary has been done by the Pew Center, as well as a comparison with other climate change legislation.

In 2003 he did a good LA Times Op Ed piece defending cap and trade as a solution to global warming.

In a further interview he reaffirmed his belief that market based environmental solutions will work.

“Is your party where it needs to be on global warming yet?

Sen. McCain: It varies in my party, so I can’t say “my party.” But where I think our party needs to be is to be more involved in market-based economically beneficial green technologies which will then reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.In other words, Lieberman’s and my cap-and-trade proposal is market based. General Electric, the world’s largest corporation believes they’re going to make profits off of green technologies. I was just out at the port of Los Angeles with Schwarzenegger and BP is going to sequester carbon and take some offshoot materials and convert them into some kind of fuel, as I understand it. That’s going to be beneficial to BP to do that; in other words, it’s economically profitable to do these things.

Ponnuru: One of the stumbling blocks people sometimes have is that they look at these proposals to deal with the problem and they seem, not the ones you’re talking about but some of these other ones, incredibly draconian, like Kyoto, and then you look at the pay-off and it’ll solve 0.7 percent of the problem. Is the problem so enormous that these kinds of measures can’t really get you very far?

Sen. McCain: [They can] if they’re market-based. If business and industry sees a way to make money and get returns to their stock holders, then they’re going to move in that direction. And I really believe that again, this cap and trading thing, which is still being sorted out a bit in Europe, is a good market-based approach to it. And again, carbon sequestration is fine, all of these things are fine, but if you want an immediate impact on reduction of greenhouse gases then start building nuclear power plants. And I’m not saying that’s the only answer but I think it’s a significant part of the answer.”

McCain has adopted the Republican Main Street Partnership issue stance:

“The Republican Main Street Partnership supports the goal of immediate, near-term reductions in greenhouse gases, and would move toward this goal by providing strong incentives that have minimal adverse impact on the economy, and to continue to apply our best scientific minds to developing a better understanding of the long-term nature of climate change and the means to cope with it.

Two objectives should be accomplished:

create an “early action crediting system” to provide assurances to companies that actions taken now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will be recognized and credited in the eventual system of emissions reductions standards that will be developed; and

commit the necessary resources to national and international scientific efforts to better understand the cause and effect of global climate change.

With regard to global warming, the Republican Main Street Partnership recognizes that a longer debate over the proper U.S. role in implementing the Kyoto Protocol should and will occur. In so doing, we hope to bolster our scientific understanding of the problem and perhaps, in turn, provide immediate incentives for communities and corporations to act in their own and the nation’s best interests in reducing emissions. We are strongly committed to acting on the emerging consensus for progress and constructive change, and maintaining America’s ability to lead the world in the critical area of environmental protection. Source: Republican Main Street Partnership Issue Paper: Environment 98-RMSP2 on Sep 9, 1998″

Ron Paul

A strong environmentalist and free market libertarian, who opposes the Iraq war, Kyoto, and energy company subsidies for all the same reasons, for one, the constitution does not permit it, two, it is the job of the private sector, not government. Despite being the only non cap and trade Republican left in the mix, I always find it hard to disagree with Ron Paul. He and I are kindred spirits when it comes to small government.

Ron Paul on the environment:

“The federal government has proven itself untrustworthy with environmental policy by facilitating polluters, subsidizing logging in the National Forests, and instituting one-size-fits-all approaches that too often discriminate against those they are intended to help.

The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights. The strict enforcement of property rights corrects environmental wrongs while increasing the cost of polluting.

In a free market, no one is allowed to pollute his neighbor’s land, air, or water. If your property is being damaged, you have every right to sue the polluter, and government should protect that right. After paying damages, the polluter’s production and sale costs rise, making it unprofitable to continue doing business the same way. Currently, preemptive regulations and pay-to-pollute schemes favor those wealthy enough to perform the regulatory tap dance, while those who own the polluted land rarely receive a quick or just resolution to their problems.

In Congress, I have followed a constitutional approach to environmental action:

  • I consistently vote against using tax dollars to subsidize logging in National Forests.
  • I am a co-sponsor of legislation designed to encourage the development of alternative and sustainable energy. H.R. 550 extends the investment tax credit to solar energy property and qualified fuel cell property, and H.R. 1772 provides tax credits for the installation of wind energy property.
  • Taxpayers for Common Sense named me a “Treasury Guardian” for my work against environmentally-harmful government spending and corporate welfare.
  • I am a member of the Congressional Green Scissors Coalition, a bipartisan caucus devoted to ending taxpayer subsidies of projects that harm the environment for the benefit of special interests.

Individuals, businesses, localities, and states must be free to negotiate environmental standards. Those who depend on the land for their health and livelihood have the greatest incentive to be responsible stewards.”

From an interview with Grist:

“What, if anything, do you think the government should do about global warming?
They should enforce the principles of private property so that we don’t emit poisons and contribute to it. And, if other countries are doing it, we should do our best to try to talk them out of doing what might be harmful. We can’t use our army to go to China and dictate to China about the pollution that they may be contributing. You can only use persuasion.

You have voiced strong opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. Can you see supporting a different kind of international treaty to address global warming?

It would all depend. I think negotiation and talk and persuasion are worthwhile, but treaties that have law enforcement agencies that force certain countries to do things, I don’t think that would work.

You believe that ultimately private interests will solve global warming?
I think they’re more capable of it than politicians.

What’s your position on a carbon tax?
I don’t like that. That’s sort of legalizing pollution. If it’s wrong, you can buy these permits, so to speak. It’s wrong to do it, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Then the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has previously stated she would ratify Kyoto (though has discussed “fixing” it first), and has come out in favor of aggressive cap and trade systems. It is a little hard to understand how she will reconcile her stated desire for environmental protection as a key part of trade policy, and a Kyoto protocol that places no emissions reduction commitments on major US trading partners like China and India. The short answer may be she has backed off Kyoto, focused on cap and trade and a new treaty for Kyoto.

The Hillary Clinton global warming agenda from her website:

“Hillary’s plan to promote energy independence, address global warming, and transform our economy includes:

A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100 percent of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;

A requirement that all publicly traded companies report financial risks due to climate change in annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission”

Her previous statements were very strongly pro Kyoto. “As Senator, I will work for New York to get its fair share of federal mass transit funds and to increase the amount of money that goes to transit funds. And, I will vote to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to bring all nations together to address global warming and build a better future for us all. Source: www.hillary2000.org, “Environment” Sep 9, 2000″

But recently she has started hedging a bit, talking about the flaws of Kyoto. “I will start by reigniting our international involvement. We cannot sit here, in the United Sates and expect to deal with global warming if we do not cooperate with other countries. Getting back into process, you know when President Bush took us out of Kyoto, I regretted that but he had an opportunity to start his own process, he didn’t want to do Kyoto, do something else. Reach out to India and China they have to be part of this. One of the flaws of the Kyoto process was I don’t think people anticipated, even in the early 90s how quickly China and India would grow. China is now growing at 12 percent a year. They are the second highest user of energy but they are now the highest emitter of green house gases in the world. India is not far behind. We have got to get a new international process.” “Energy and Environment: Speech on the Green Building Fund,” Hillary Clinton’s official candidate website, July 24, 2007

And further here.

“The President’s failed unilateral energy policy is a part of our failed unilateral foreign policy. It’s deprived us of the credibility and the leverage we need to solve the climate crisis. I’ll change that by leading the process to develop a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012. One of the worst messages the President sent was when he took office and rejected completely Kyoto. He could have said we don’t like Kyoto but we’re immediately starting a new process. But that didn’t happen. Well, come January 2009, I’m sending a different message. I want to act quickly to help develop a new treaty. I will engage in high level meetings with leaders around the world every three months, if that’s what it takes to hammer out a new agreement. My goal will be to secure a deal by 2010. We can’t wait for two more years. I will establish an E8 that’s modeled on the G8 which is where the big industrial economies come together. We need the world’s major carbon-emitting nations to come together to tackle these challenges.”

Barack Obama

As aggressive a global warming activist as you will find in the election, he is actually more Republican on his global warming position that he looks. He like Hillary, favors cap and trade, technology investment, and a 100 percent auction for allowances. But with his extra-Kyoto Global Energy Forum and a noncommital “re-engage” Kyoto strategy, like Hillary he does not appear to have worked out the details.

The Obama statements:

“Restore U.S. Leadership on Climate Change

Create New Forum of Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters: Obama will create a Global Energy Forum — that includes all G-8 members plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa –the largest energy consuming nations from both the developed and developing world. The forum would focus exclusively on global energy and environmental issues.

Re-Engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: The UNFCCC process is the main international forum dedicated to addressing the climate problem and an Obama administration will work constructively within it. “

“Reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050

Cap and Trade: Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Obama’s cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100% auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies. Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition.

Confront Deforestation and Promote Carbon Sequestration: Obama will develop domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers, and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands, or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 24-27 Feb 2, 2008″ Source

“Q: What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is? What haven’t you made up your mind on yet? And why haven’t you?
A: The issue of climate change. I’ve put forward one of the most aggressive proposals out there, but the science seems to be coming in indicating it’s accelerating even more quickly with every passing day. And by the time I take office, I think we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about how drastic steps we need to take to address it.
Source: 2007 Democratic radio debate on NPR Dec 4, 2007″ Source

“As president, I will place a cap on carbon emissions and require companies who can’t meet the cap to buy credits from those who can, which will generate billions of dollars to invest in renewable sources of energy and create new jobs and even a new industry in the process. I’ll put in place a low carbon fuel standard that will take 50 million cars worth of pollution off the road. I’ll raise the fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks because we know we have the technology to do it and it’s the time to do it.”
Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

“I proposed a cap-and-trade system, because you can be very specific in terms of how to reduce the greenhouse gases by a particular level. What you have to do is you have to combine it with a 100% auction. Every little bit of pollution sent up into the atmosphere, that polluter is getting charged for it. Not only does that ensure that they don’t game the system, but you’re also generating billions of dollars that can be invested in solar & wind & biodiesel. On a carbon tax, the cost will be passed on to consumers. Under a cap-and-trade, plants are going to have to retrofit their equipment. That’s going to cost money, and they will pass it onto consumers. We have an obligation to use some of the money that we generate to shield low-income and fixed-income individuals from higher electricity prices. We’re also going to have to ask the American people to change how they use energy. Everybody is going to have to change their light bulbs and insulate their homes. It’s a sacrifice that we can meet.”
Source: 2008 Facebook/WMUR-NH Democratic primary debate Jan 6, 2006

So here comes the cap and trade. But the how is still up in the air. In the interests of full disclosure, this is an area I fully believe in, and I am not only involved with at least one business that would likely benefit from a US cap and trade, though also a few businesses that would likely suffer from a cap and trade.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.

Is Australia approaching ‘K’ day?

by Nick Bruse

Last night in Australia we had Prime Minster John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd go head to head in a televised debate. Key issues were the economy(interest rates and tax cuts), the war in iraq and climate change- you can check out a video summary here

Interestingly for Australia one might say that all three of these issues are highly integrated with foreign policy and have quite significant leverage points with the US. Namely our involvement in Iraq, and the governments position on climate change.

I think its worthwhile to provide some insight as to what is happening in Australian politics right now on The Cleantech Blog because the climate change policy of both contenders is quite different and may have significant bearing on world politics if Australia does sign the Kyoto agreement – ‘K’ day.

Essentially, if Kevin Rudd wins the next election and he is winning by around 10points in polls currently, he will has promised to sign up to Kyoto, and commit to the proposed Australian state government coalition recommendations on an emissions trading program.

The Howard government announced last night that it plans to start up a clean energy technology fund, though with little details on it currently. “He says its priorities would be to invest in clean energy technology and to support households who are most affected by the higher prices after a carbon price is set. He also said that if he wins the election he would try to push the United States to do more on climate change, including lobbying George Bush.”

In addition to the most notable action in the climate space by the Howard Government have been:

  • Establishment then removal of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 2% in early 2000s
  • A taskforce report on carbon emissions trading – but no commitment
  • No commitment to Kyoto protocol – but to a new Kyoto framework
  • A$100m to Asia pacific technology pact
  • A taskforce report on bring nuclear power to Australia
  • A$200m to reduce regional deforestation
  • Establishment of A$500m Low emissions technology development fund – of which $335 has been spent on coal projects
  • Achievement of our Kyoto targets, predominantly through our reduction in land clearing in 90s, not by curbing our emissions. (clive hamilton – scorcher)

Many criticise the current government for its years of inaction on climate change due to lobbying and strong personal links to the mining and energy industries – See the maniac times article for a critical view

So the real question is if we vote for Howard, has he really changed his tune – sceptic to realist, and is a vote for Kevin Rudd a vote for a greener cleaner future with his promise to sign Kyoto. For many the promise of becoming a kyoto signatory is a strong impetus.

What for one I would like to see is a strong commitment by both parties to a comprehensive acknowledgement that many different technologies, and solutions will play a part here. It seems that politicians struggle to implement bipartisan solutions from bodies specifically setup to take climate change like The Australian Greenhouse office. They also need to commit to the fact that we need to alter the playing field significantly to pro-actively support low emissions – through a tax or a trading scheme. More funds are all well and good – particularly to companies that require them – but it still means that someone is picking winners and that’s where the politics keeps weighing in. If the Howard government is throwing so much money at cleantech in Australia, why couldn’t Ausra get funds to build their plant here instead of the US?

Unfortunately with all the politicking going on at the moment prior to an election, its hard to see the real vision and leadership that’s required to actually make a difference on climate change. Perhaps we need an Australian version of Mr Gore? A change agent. Someone that can be both political and apolitical at the same time, singular minded and belligerent.



Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.