29 October 2009: Obama acts smart, Norwegians act Global

President Obama has unveiled a $3.4 billion programme to upgrade the US electricity grid, turning it into a ‘smart grid’. This will make it more efficient, so that less energy is lost during transmission and distribution, and it will be easier to harness renewables, including intermittent ones like wind and solar. “This is a great first step toward transforming our whole energy system,” says Mark Brownstein, an energy director at the Environmental Defense Fund, which, like many environmental groups, sees the smart grid as essential to both making the US more energy efficient and boosting the use of renewable power” (see Business Week: Obama’s Smart-Grid Game Plan).


The Norway Government Pension Fund, Global, has announced that it will invest over €400m in carbon capture and storage (CCS) as part of its commitment to ethical and environmental investments. Norway sees CCS as an essential way of reducing its own and the world’s carbon emissions.

However, the news has not all been good. Industrialised nations’ greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1% in 2007, confirming a continuing growth since 2000, according to the latest annual data released on Wednesday. Emissions increased by 3% between 2000 and 2007. Emissions in the 40 countries with reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were about 4% below 1990 levels. Emissions from countries with Kyoto targets were about 16% below the 1990 baseline (see INFCCC: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data from Industrialised Countries Show Increases in 2007, Underscore Need for Ambitious Copenhagen Deal).

EU finance ministers failed to agree last week on how much money to offer developing countries to reduce emissions and deal with the unavoidable effects of climate change. EU leaders are meeting today and tomorrow, and this issue is high on their agenda. However, nine eastern member states want the funds to be allocated on a voluntary basis, saying that they do not want to pay a “disproportionately” high amount. Poorer countries should obviously pay less than richer ones, but it is quite possible to agree this without making the allocations voluntary.

The Spanish government is proposing to double coal subsidies. This would  “distort the market and push up emissions in contradiction with Kyoto”, the International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, warned on Tuesday. The government, which has been forced to stockpile uncompetitive Spanish coal, says that defending domestic energy resources is an issue of “energy security” (see ENDS Europe: IEA slams Spain over coal subsidies for power sector).


Those of us who regard nuclear power as a less-bad option than coal without CCS are also very concerned that Iraq is said to be planning to go nuclear again (see guardian.uk: Iraq goes nuclear with plans for new reactor programme), and also about the continuing activities of the Iranian government. “Iran’s increasingly repressive and militaristic regime, dominated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has come to see the nulcear programme as a point of leverage against the US and the West, and as a source of prestige and political advantage at home”.

The only way in which nuclear power can be used as a bridge technology without leading to greater nuclear weapons proliferation is to create an effective internationally-controlled nuclear fuel cycle, as the Kissinger-Nunn initiative suggested, and Obama has supported – and for the nuclear weapons states to keep their side of the Non-Proliferation Treaty agreement, and give up their nuclear weapons.


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