The newsroom

19 February 2016

Obama targets clean energy in budget

US President Barack Obama put forward a series of clean energy finance proposals as part of his final budget request before leaving office. The proposed US$4.1 trillion fiscal budget includes a plan for a “21st century clean transportation system,” to be funded by a new fee levied on oil, as well as a bid to increase federal investment in clean energy research and development (R&D) from US$6.4 billion to US$12.8 billion by 2021.

The boost to R&D funds comes after the US and 19 other economies – making up 80 percent of global clean energy R&D budgets – committed to doubling their current investment in the sector during a UN climate meet held last December in Paris, France. In Paris, 28 major investors also backed “Mission Innovation,” as the initiative is known, pledging to invest patient capital in early-stage technology development from participating economies. The Obama Administration budget proposal makes the US the first Mission Innovation economy to outline plans to hit the clean energy R&D spending target.

APEC members slash tariffs on green goods

Members of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) alliance have released documents detailing the implementation of their joint pledge to cut most-favoured nation applied tariffs to five percent or less by 2015 on environmentally-friendly goods contained under 54 product categories.   

The products involved range from wind turbines and solar panels, to water filtering machinery and oceanographic, hydrological, or meteorological surveying equipment.

The “implementation lists” provide information on tariffs levied last year and for 2016, although some also do so for 2012, reflecting early implementation. For the most part, goods are identified at the six-digit level of World Customs Organization (WCO)’s Harmonised-System (HS) tariff category nomenclature; by a national tariff line (NTLs); and with an accompanying description, in order to provide clarity where APEC members agreed only to liberalise very specific items.

Ambitious plans to electrify Africa launched

The African Development Bank Group unveiled ambitious plans to power Africa during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meet in Davos, Switzerland in late January. The New Deal on Energy for Africa will unite the private sector and local governments on energy capacity building projects to achieve universal energy access in Africa by 2025.

“It is time to take decisive action (…) to light up and power Africa and accelerate the pace of economic transformation, unlock the potential of businesses, and drive much needed industrialisation to create jobs,” said the President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina at the launch. The New Deal has four major goals for electricity expansion by 2025: add 160 gigawatt of on-grid generation; create 130 million new on-grid connections – 160 percent more than today; increase off-grid generation to add 75 million connections – 20 times current levels; and increase access to clean cooking energy for around 130 million households.

US Supreme Court halts Obama clean power plan

In a setback to US President Barack Obama’s domestic climate action efforts, the nation’s Supreme Court agreed to halt the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan until various legal challenges have been resolved. The CPP is geared towards slashing emissions from the nation’s power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It allows states to define their own strategies for meeting the cuts, but 27 mostly Republican-led states have sought to block the federal rule, citing an alleged overreach of executive authority.

The court decision implies that states will not be required to file an implementation plan in September, as initially envisaged, but interested ones can still do so. A Washington, DC appeals court will hear oral arguments in June on whether the CPP is lawful, although some experts expect the case to stretch into next year, a process likely to be closely watched by the international community as an indication of the US’ future climate action ambitions. 

EU and Switzerland set to link carbon markets

After nearly five years of talks, the EU and Switzerland have announced the conclusion of a deal linking their respective emissions trading schemes, in a move that will allow covered entities in both systems to trade emissions permits with each other.

Set up in 2008, the Swiss scheme includes around 55 companies, and last year covered 5.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions. By comparison, the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) launched in 2005 is currently the world’s largest carbon market, regulating some 11,000 power stations and manufacturing plants representing around two billion tonnes of carbon emissions.

Most emissions trading schemes work by setting a cap on total emissions and requiring the surrender of emissions permits by participating factories, power plants, or other companies. These may then trade emissions allowances with each other as needed. Experts argue that linking schemes could help to address competitiveness and carbon leakage concerns related to different levels of climate action between various nations. Negotiations for the EU-Swiss carbon market deal were initially launched in 2011, but suffered a few setbacks along the way.

South Africa releases rhino poaching figures

A total of 1175 rhinos were poached last year in South Africa, representing a slight dip in 2014 figures, according to statistics released by the government.   

“Considering that this is despite escalating poaching pressure – and in the face of an increased and relentless rise of poaching activity into protected areas – this is very, very good news, and offers great cause for optimism,” Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister, told a press briefing.

Molewa highlighted a range of efforts undertaken by South African government officials, the private sector, and civil society to help tackle the rhino poaching, including a total of 317 poaching-related arrests, continued implementation of an “intensive protection zone” in the iconic Kruger National Park, and training programmes designed to catch smuggled horn at ports of entry and exit.

Rampant poaching in the country that is home to some 19,700 rhinos – around 80 percent of the world’s remaining wild population – has raised alarm in recent years. Last year’s kills nearly doubled the tally in 2012.

CITES committee deploys trade bans

An international committee charged with helping to regulate wildlife trade agreed during a meeting in January in Geneva, Switzerland to impose trade suspensions on a number of countries as a result of non-compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to experts, the meeting demonstrated parties’ willingness to make full use of the Convention’s available compliance measures in order to encourage legal, sustainable, and traceable wildlife trade.

The 19-member standing committee meeting, attended by nearly 500 participants from a cross-section of governments, civil society, and academia, also addressed a long list of wildlife trade agenda items ranging from sustainable livelihoods, captive breeding, the implementation of new shark listings, traceability, regulatory measures, better science, and other species-specific issues. The body agreed to send a number of draft decisions for consideration to the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties to CITES (COP17) due to be held at the end of September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

TransCanada announces plans for ISDS claim

TransCanada Corporation, the major North American energy company which had proposed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, announced in January that it has filed a notice of intent to initiate a multibillion-dollar investor-state claim against the US government under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).The move, the company said on 6 January, came in response to the Obama Administration’s decision in late 2015 to deny a Presidential Permit for the cross-border pipeline. TransCanada has also challenged the constitutionality of the decision in a US domestic court.

The news brings the controversial pipeline project back into the limelight, in an already difficult atmosphere in Washington given election-year politics; separate efforts by US President Barack Obama to push for the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; and the scepticism in some quarters over the merits and design of investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade deals. The Keystone saga dates back to September 2008. The 22-year old NAFTA pact between the US, Canada, and Mexico, includes an investment chapter outlining how dispute settlement procedures should work.

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