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Category Archives: ‘International’


Saudi Prince Has the Throne in His Sights. Now for the Hard Part

By Marc Champion
June 21, 2017 4:01:00 PM PDT

Mohammed bin Salman facing tough challenges at home and abroad
Whatever setbacks are in store, the buck now stops with ‘MBS’

Saudi Arabia's Shake-Up
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman just consolidated his position and power. Now he’ll need all the help he can get.
Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, King Salman announced that his 31-year-old son, widely known as MBS, was now heir to the throne. His older cousin, former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, had been pushed aside to make way.
The move, if not the timing, was expected. Yet bin Nayef also lost his post as interior minister, a powerful role in which he oversaw the nation’s domestic security forces and counter-terrorism efforts. Those areas will now be in the hands of a close MBS ally. The prince already has substantial control over defense, economic and foreign policy.
Power on that scale comes with a catch.

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Ignore the toxic myth about bike lanes and pollution – the facts utterly debunk it

Peter Walker

A series of articles in conservative media are pushing the bizarre argument that separated bike lanes worsen air quality. Here’s why it’s rubbish


‘Separated cycle lanes are vital for modern cities’ ... a cycle superhighway on London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Photograph: Alamy

Friday 16 June 2017 07.00 EDT

Juliet Samuel is a regular columnist for the Telegraph, who opines authoritatively about politics, society and business. And yet last month she wrote something which was very obviously incorrect.

Something needed to be done, Samuel said, about the “epidemic of bike lanes taking over otherwise useable roads all across London”. She continued:

I cycle and drive, but these lanes go far beyond the measures needed to improve safety and instead just make it almost unbearable to get in a car. It takes a minimum of one hour to get out of town, half of which is spent churning out extra exhaust as you sit on clogged roads and roundabouts that were flowing perfectly well until now.

Even if you ignore the idea that London’s roads used to flow “perfectly well” (perhaps all Samuel’s previous London driving and cycling took place at 5am on Sundays), there is a very obvious error here.

It’s the peculiarly tenacious, if easily disproved myth that building separated cycle lanes causes greater traffic congestion, and thus more pollution.


Can you guess the city from its bike lane maps?

Read more

In Samuel’s very minor defence, she is merely repeating what she has probably read elsewhere. The previous month, James Salmon, the Daily Mail’s transport correspondent, wrote a hugely odd story noting that Cambridge and London had among the slowest average traffic speeds in the country.

The paper put this down largely to cycle lanes, despite the fact other places in the list included Wolverhampton and Hereford, neither of which are known for their Dutch-style levels of cycling infrastructure. (As if in unconscious acknowledgment of the article’s essential absurdity, the story was illustrated with a photo of a bike lane in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Unbowed, the Mail used a story last month about the College of Paramedics raising concerns about separated bike lanes (a story that, it is worth noting, misquoted the college’s views) in an editorial column:

Segregated cycle lanes have increased congestion and worsened pollution ... Isn’t it time to abandon this cycle ‘superhighway’ experiment and admit that it was a stupid mistake?


London’s cycle superhighway along the Embankment. Just 3% of central London roads have any segregated cycle lanes. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

There are two elements to unpick this statement: firstly to debunk the myth; and then to try to understand why it is so persistent.

To use London as a good example, there is zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion. Quite the contrary. Transport for London statistics show that just two weeks after the capital’s two new cycle “superhighways” were open, both routes were carrying 5% per hour more people than previously, a figure set to rise as more cyclists use them. Having given 30% of the space to bikes, these now comprised 46% of people using the roads.

This makes sense when you realise that the standard traffic engineers’ rule of thumb is that a road that can carry 2,000 cars per hour on average can carry 14,000 bikes.

There is precisely zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion

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Diesel Was Supposed to Be the Future

Is the highly efficient fuel doomed?


On a smoggy day in Paris, police enforce an anti-pollution measure temporarily banning cars with even-numbered license plates.

Michael Euler / AP

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Once upon a time, diesel fuel was going to be the future. It was seen as more efficient, on a mileage-per-gallon basis, than other fossil fuels, and for that reason was also thought to be less polluting. About two decades ago, acting on those beliefs, policy makers in Europe—where high energy prices already made mileage a more-pressing issue than in the U.S.—made a number of rules that incentivized the growth of diesel over gasoline for use in passenger cars, moving past its traditional role in trucking and construction.

These policies were remarkably successful at meeting their goals, and diesel-powered cars soon accounted for half of the cars sold on the continent. Car companies poured resources into developing diesel-related technology. But the result of this success has been not greener, friendlier, cheaper motoring, but the creation of toxic clouds over major European cities. At the end of 2016, Paris was choked by its worst episode of smog in more than a decade, lasting longer than two weeks, according to the city’s pollution-watching agency Airparif, and prompting the city to enact emergency measures that included restricting car use. It was not the first time. During a March 2015 pollution event, Paris was briefly the most polluted city in the world, surpassing famously smoggy Beijing. London shared in the ignominy when it too beat out Beijing for the first time in January of this year.

Diesels have played the main role in this. Since the 1960s, advances in technology that treats and filters gasoline engines’ exhaust, like the widespread use of catalytic converters, have cut down on the amount of dirty, unhealthy, and smog-producing emissions these engines spew out into the surrounding environment. But while diesels get better mileage and so contribute less to global climate change, the local effects of diesel pollution are much worse than those of gasoline. Diesel is a less refined fuel, and so it contains more of the particulate matter that can have deadly health effects when spewed into the surrounding environment. And burning diesel produces, among other noxious gases, nitrogen dioxide, the main cause of smog.

In many cases the same regulatory bodies that were trying to get citizens into diesels only a few years ago are now working to get the engines off the road entirely, instituting additional, diesel-specific congestion-charging and other disincentives in cities, in recognition of the fact that their green-friendliness was mistaken. During particularly bad bouts of smog, several European cities have temporarily banned driving outright, or instituted restriction schemes where, for example, cars with odd and even number plates are allowed in on alternate days. The mayors of Athens, Mexico City, and Madrid have committed to ridding their cities of diesel cars altogether by 2025, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said “there will be no diesel vehicles in Paris in 2020.” Other cities around the continent and world are implementing smaller-scale efforts to discourage diesel too.

But lately, the biggest story when it comes to diesel remains Volkswagen’s ongoing “Dieselgate” scandal, in which the company installed “defeat devices” that allowed its diesel cars to put out dramatically higher levels of toxic emissions on the road than show up during regulators’ lab tests. A year and a half after the cheating was discovered, the full results of the scandal are still uncertain: The U.S. has levied more than $22 billion in fines against the company, the world’s largest automaker, and more may still be coming. Meanwhile, millions of the deceptive VWs are still on roads around the world, with consequential EU action on the matter minimal.

Much worse for diesel at large, rumors that the offending practice was not limited to Volkswagen Group, which have been floating around since the scandal first broke, seem to be turning out to be true. The Environmental Protection Agency recently moved against the trans-Atlantic auto giant Fiat Chrysler for using similar devices, and General Motors is being sued in a class action for cheating in its diesel pickup trucks, which outnumber the offending VWs on American roads by several hundred thousand. The EU also started legal action against Italy for failing to meet its obligations as a member state to enforce regulations on Fiat Chrysler.

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Natural gas boom helping to snarl traffic at Houston Ship Channel

Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg Published 4:00 am, Friday, June 9, 2017

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

Photo: James Nielsen, Staff


How many ships travel the Houston Ship Channel on a typical day?

The U.S. Coast Guard provided 2016 transit numbers for its Vessel Traffic Service Area that spans Houston, Galveston, Texas City and about 10

... more


A boom in natural gas exports from the U.S. Gulf Coast is raising the prospect of traffic jams at one of America’s busiest ports.

Weather delays from fog and storms are nothing new at the Houston Ship Channel, which links the prolific oil and gas fields of Texas and Louisiana to the rest of the world. But as more cargoes of liquefied natural gas and petrochemicals head across the globe from newly built plants, the tanker bottlenecks are poised to get worse, according to Poten & Partners.

Sixteen months after the first cargo of gas from U.S. shale fields headed overseas, the nation is on the path to becoming a net exporter of the fuel for the first time in decades. The supply surge has created the need for more and bigger roads, pipelines and waterways, prompting a $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate the massive tankers used to haul LNG. And with about 20 export terminals already approved or proposed for the Gulf Coast, even more ships are on the way.

FROM THE CHRONICLE: Companies skip Ship Channel for less crowded, lower-cost ports

“A lot of waterways in the Gulf aren’t ready for prime time,” Gordon Shearer, a senior adviser at Poten in New York, said by phone. “Everything is going into a very concentrated strip of coastline.”

Between 1900 and 2010, Texas’ Galveston County -- located at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel -- has been hit by eight hurricanes of Category 3 or stronger, and neighboring Chambers County has been pummeled by seven, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The area around Galveston, New Orleans and the southern tip of Florida gets hit by more tropical systems than anywhere else in the U.S.

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Oil giants need to invest heavily in renewables by 2035, says analysis

Slowing demand for oil and forecasts of rapid growth in green power pose risk to core business, says analyst


Wood Mackenzie predicts annual growth rates of 6% for wind power and 11% for solar, compared with 0.5% for oil. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Adam Vaughan

Monday 12 June 2017 08.14 EDT

First published on Monday 12 June 2017 07.53 EDT

More than a fifth of investment by the largest oil and gas companies could be in wind and solar power in just over a decade, according to analysis of how global changes in energy will reshape the sector.

Slowing demand for oil and forecasts of rapid growth in renewables posed both a threat and and opportunity BP, Shell and Total among others cannot ignore, said research group Wood Mackenzie.

“The momentum behind these [renewable] technologies is unstoppable now,” said Valentina Kretzschmar, director of research.

“They [the oil companies] are recognising it is a megatrend; it’s not a fad, it’s not going away. There is definitely a risk to their core business.”

The commodities analysts found the major energy companies would need to spend more than $350bn (£275bn) on wind and solar power by 2035 to take a market share similar to the 12% they have in oil and gas.

Renewables are forecast to fast outpace oil demand growth

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A Little-Known Climate Fund Is Suddenly In The Spotlight

June 9, 20179:10 AM ET



Wind turbines provide energy in Egypt's Sinai Desert. Helping developing countries harness energy from the wind is one of the Green Climate Fund's goals.

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

The Green Climate Fund has been thrust into the spotlight of late.

President Trump singled it out for scorn in his Rose Garden remarks last week announcing his decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Along with that move, Trump noted, he is ending further U.S. contributions to the "so-called Green Climate Fund — nice name."



Trump's Proposed Budget Would Cut $2.2 Billion From Global Health Spending

Advocates for the environment have countered with op-eds in defense of the fund. Even comedian John Oliver jumped into the fray. In his Sunday night HBO show, Oliver offered a point-by-point rebuttal of numerous incorrect statements that Trump made about the fund, including the erroneous claim that the GCF, which is funded through voluntary contributions, would "likely obligate the United States to commit potentially tens of billions of dollars."

Yet it seems a fair guess that most people remain hazy on what the Green Climate Fund actually is — not the least because the GCF is so green in the other sense of that word: It's only just getting off the ground.

So herewith we present seven facts you might not know about GCF and its mission:

1) The GCF was created to exclusively serve low- and middle-income countries.

Specifically, its mandate is to help developing countries reduce their emissions — so as to prevent further climate change — and adapt to the effects of climate change already occurring as a result of worldwide emissions. This includes supporting projects to build sea walls on the island nation of Tuvalu, create an early warning network to alert farmers in Malawi to floods and other disasters, launch energy companies that will provide rural people in East Africa with solar power, and encourage investment in renewal energy companies in Argentina.

2) The GCF is pretty new. But it's older than the Paris Agreement.

Five years older, to be precise. The GCF was formally created at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. That said, setting up an international organization of the GCF's scope and size takes time. So it wasn't until 2013 that the GCF was in a position to hold its first round of fundraising.

Forty-three countries pledged a total of $10.3 billion to get the ball rolling for the first several years — though no exact time period was specified for how long that money is supposed to last. So far, the GCF has committed $2.2 billion to 43 projects.

3) A lot of the money for the Green Climate Fund is supposed to come from rich countries ...

The GCF was created as a vehicle to carry out one of the major commitments made by developed countries at the 2010 Cancun meeting: By 2020, they promised to "mobilize" $100 billion every year for climate change efforts in developing countries.

4) ... but mostly this is about bringing in private funding.

"Mobilize — that's the key word here," says Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, a former deputy assistant secretary for energy and environment at the U.S. Treasury in the Obama administration. The term was specifically chosen to underscore the understanding that only a portion of the $100 billion per year would come directly from rich country governments. The plan is to motivate mostly private sources of capital — for example, for-profit corporations — to invest in efforts that help poor countries deal with climate change.

The GCF is designed to do this in a range of ways, says Martinez-Diaz, who is now global director of the Sustainable Finance Center at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank. For example, if a private company is leery of investing in climate projects because of political and financial risks, the GCF will offer it loans, loan guarantees, or other forms of insurance.

5) The GCF has what one green researcher calls a "special sauce" that similar organizations lack.

Martinez-Diaz notes that the GCF was never meant to be the only channel for "mobilizing" the $100 billion per year that rich countries promised would flow annually to poor countries by 2020. "Not even as an intermediary or pass-through," he says. "It was meant to be one of several financing mechanisms." Other examples include multilateral development banks like the World Bank.

But the GCF has a lot more flexibility in how it can spend its money, notes Jessica Brown of the Climate Policy Initiative, a research center that advises policymakers on green strategies. The World Bank, for example, mainly gives out loans, which, by definition, must be paid back by recipient countries. The bank can only give outright grants to a small subset of extremely poor nations. And it can't generally be a direct co-investor in a for-profit enterprise. The GCF faces no such constraints.

In contrast to development banks and rich country governments, the GCF also has a governing structure that gives developed countries a say over which projects get approved. The GCF was set up within the umbrella of the United Nations system expressly for this purpose. And its governing board is equally divided between representatives of developed and developing countries — winning valuable "buy-in" from the recipient countries, says Brown, a former international climate finance negotiator at the U.S. State Department.

These two features are "the special sauce that GCF can offer," says Brown.

6) Trump's decision to end further U.S. funding deals the organization a blow — but doesn't necessarily kneecap it.

Of the $10.3 billion that donor countries pledged to the GCF during that initial fundraising round back in 2013, the U.S. promised $3 billion. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has already handed over $1 billion in two installments of $500 million. The last one was disbursed in January, just before Obama left office. (The money is paid out of a general State Department fund over which the president has broad discretion).

Trump's decision not to provide the remaining $2 billion effectively cuts the GCF's total expected funding by about 20 percent — hardly peanuts. And various analysts say the loss of U.S. engagement in the day-to-day running of the fund could have less tangible but no less impactful downsides because the U.S. government has particular expertise when it comes to keeping multinational organizations accountable and effective.

But while Trump claimed in his speech that he had "terminated" the GCF, Melanie Nakagawa, a former deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the U.S. Department of State under Obama, notes that the $1 billion that the U.S. did provide "is already in the system. The check is in and it is already having an impact."

The GCF estimates that the 43 projects for which it has started to disburse funds will impact a total of 128 million people. And it still has more than $6 billion left to disburse. During the initial fundraising round in 2013, the GCF agreed not to start its next round until it had allocated 60 percent of the money it had raised in the first. Though no timeline was set, many people expected this would take four to five years.

Now that the GCF will have less money, that date will presumably come sooner — some say as soon as 2018, notes Brown, though she thinks it will be longer than that.

And Nakagawa says it's entirely possible that by the time the GCF is in need of its next cash infusion, it could find better favor from the U.S. "Four years from now, another administration could decide to put the money in," she says.

7) The world is still a long way from "mobilizing" $100 billion in annual spending on climate change challenges in developing countries.

Back when world leaders agreed to the $100 billion goal, it wasn't actually clear how much the developed world was currently spending. "The only really good data we have is starting in 2014," says Martinez-Diaz. That's from a 2015 analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Climate Policy Initiative. And it's not very promising: It finds that the public and private sectors combined spent about $62 billion.

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‘They said girls don’t ride bikes’: Iranian women defy the cycling fatwa

Religious leaders in Iran consider women on bicycles a threat to morality. But as traffic chokes the capital, Tehran, a counter-movement is growing

  1. What is Guardian Cities cycle week?


Women cycling at Mothers Paradise park, a female-only public recreation area in Tehran, Iran. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Cities is supported by

Guardian Cities staff

Monday 12 June 2017 07.14 EDT

Last modified on Monday 12 June 2017 09.16 EDT

It’s a hot spring day in Tehran, and Negin, a 32-year-old IT manager, is riding her mountain bike through a park. “I love my bike. I often go cycling in the countryside with a group,” she says. “I also cycle in the city, when I go to visit my mother, for example. I think the number of women cycling in Tehran is growing. I even have a friend who goes to work on her bike. I would love to do that, but it’s too far and we don’t have showers at work.”

What Negin is saying might not sound strange, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a woman, on a bike, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of the heat, Negin is conforming to the dress code – she wears long sleeves and leggings, a headscarf under her helmet and a skirt covering her hips – but religious leaders at the highest level in Iran are clear: women on bikes constitute a threat to morality.

The question has become a hotly debated point in Tehran in recent months, as the city grapples with two truly dire problems: air pollution and traffic congestion, both some of the world’s worst. With cars choking Iran’s cities, campaigns to encourage cycling are picking up speed.

When we heard the fatwa banning women from cycling, we immediately rented two bicycles

Woman who tweeted using #IranianWomenLoveCycling

In autumn of 2015, a young environmentalist in Arak, a city with pollution levels even more staggering than Tehran, started a “car-free Tuesday” campaign to encourage people to commute by bike. The campaign caught on, and other cities followed suit. Municipal authorities across the country began encouraging residents to ride bikes and leave their cars at home.

Women cyclists, naturally enough, saw an opportunity to support a good cause that everybody in Iran could agree on: clean air. After all, there is no law in Iran that officially forbids women to cycle.


Bikes are everywhere in Isfahan - but women are banned from using the city’s bike share scheme. Photograph: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

But when women in Marivan, a city in west Iran, took to their bikes, they were arrested by police – despite having explicitly followed the advice of the local authorities to cycle instead of drive.

They were released the same day, but only after signing pledges to not ride bicycles again. Marivan residents later protested in an open letter to local authorities.

Shortly afterwards, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, posted a photograph of women cycling on her official Twitter account. Under it, she quoted the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying: “Women’s cycling is permissible on the condition that religious customs are observed.”

Subsequently, in an article in the pro-government Tehran Times, a female journalist quoted a government official who supported female cyclists, and concluded: “As long as there is no violation of the dress code, women should be free to ride bicycles on the street.”

Hopes, however, were crushed when Khamenei issued a fatwa in September 2016, stating women were allowed to ride bikes – just not in public.

The fatwa sparked a reaction from female cyclists, who posted photographs on social media of themselves on their bikes, with the hashtag #IranianWomenLoveCycling.

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Gov. Brown Heads Back To California After China Visit

Thursday, June 8, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink


Governor Brown meets with Beijing Mayor Chen Jining.

California Governor Jerry Brown is back in California, after five whirlwind days in China. The trip ended much as it began.

Brown walked through a lush garden and tranquil pond at Beijing city hall to once again sit with a government official.

"Well, I’m very glad to be here," says Brown. "I was a mayor myself, the city of Oakland."

Brown and Beijing mayor Chen Jining pledged in generalities to work together.

Then it was off to Tsinghua University for a remarkably frank discussion with Chinese environment officials and scientists. It contained direct criticism of President Trump’s climate change stance, which more formal meetings have avoided.

Government researcher Dadi Zhou, communicated through a translator.

"Mr. Trump is just fueling such doubts and lack of trust in scientific evidence," said Zhou.

The visit also included talks of California and the university creating a new joint institute for climate studies.

"I’m counting on you and all the smart people at this university," said Brown. "I didn’t study science, I studied Latin and Greek, and that’s not going to help solve our climate change problem."

Over the course of the trip, the governor signed multiple non-binding agreements to collaborate with China on clean technology, including pursuit of joint investment funds and an incubator for cleantech businesses.

State Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols will be one of the officials responsible for hammering out details.

"My dream is that in a few years we’ll see big companies that are bi-national or multi-national," said Nichols.

She lists as a potential product, electric vehicles—

"That can be manufactured in both countries, sold in both countries and where the size of that market is going to be enough to bring down the cost," says Nichols.

Governor Brown says the trip had another overarching goal:

"What I wanted and which I accomplished is to further build the alliance for dealing with climate change."

The results are to be determined, but this week’s trip to China and the governor’s meeting with its president showed he has an international audience receptive to the effort.

  1. pastedGraphic_1.pdf

  1. California Businesses Join Brown's China Trip
    Thursday, June 8, 2017
    Governor Jerry Brown isn’t California’s only representative in China this week—a contingent of business leaders have a parallel group. Like Brown, they’re in Beijing for a global clean technology conference.

  1. pastedGraphic_2.pdf

  1. Coalition Of States, Regions Fighting Climate Change Meet In China
    Wednesday, June 7, 2017
    California Governor Jerry Brown’s mission to fight climate change has taken him to China this week, but he’s not committing to support more ambitious renewable energy goals back home.

  1. pastedGraphic_3.pdf

  1. Brown Meets With China's President Xi Jinping
    Tuesday, June 6, 2017
    Gov. Jerry Brown spent his first three days in a blizzard of meetings. He met with heads of some of China’s most populous regions, national ministers and even Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  1. pastedGraphic_4.pdf

  1. Brown Talks High-Speed Rail...While Riding High-Speed Rail
    Monday, June 5, 2017
    “I’m the foremost promoter of high-speed rail in America.” That’s how California Governor Jerry Brown described himself – while riding a high-speed train in China Monday.
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The U.S. Can’t Leave the Paris Climate Deal Just Yet



President Barack Obama signed a letter to the United Nations in 2016 accepting the Paris climate accord.


National Archives and Records Administration

Last week, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But it will take more than one speech to pull out: Under the rules of the deal, which the White House says it will follow, the earliest any country can leave is Nov. 4, 2020. That means the United States will remain a party to the accord for nearly all of Mr. Trump’s current term, and it could still try to influence the climate talks during that span.

So the next four years will be a busy time for climate policy. Mr. Trump’s aides plan to keep working to dismantle domestic climate programs like the Clean Power Plan. And the world’s nations will meet regularly to hash out details of the Paris agreement, even as the United States’ exit looms. Here is what comes next.

November 2017

Negotiators for 195 nations will meet in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to carry out the Paris agreement. Every country has already submitted an initial pledge for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But officials now have to write rules for monitoring and verifying those pledges.

Technically, the United States is still the co-chair of a key committee on transparency measures. In the past, American officials have taken a keen interest in this topic, pushing for robust oversight of emissions. By contrast, countries like China have argued for looser scrutiny for developing nations.

Mr. Trump has offered to “renegotiate” the Paris deal, because he says other countries are “laughing at us” while they renege on their pledges. While countries like France and Germany have ruled out a broad renegotiation of the agreement, the United States could nonetheless try to shape the rules from within.

“The question is whether the Trump administration still shows up for those discussions,” said Andrew Light, a senior climate change adviser at the State Department under President Barack Obama. “If they really are pushing to ‘renegotiate’ the deal, as they say, I don’t see why they wouldn’t go.”

Another thing to watch this fall: a growing coalition of states, cities and companies that are pledging to do as much as they can to meet the United States’ climate goals on their own. They will probably send a delegation to Bonn to reassure other countries that the United States is not completely out of the game.

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Digging the Graveyard of Oil’s Past

As the energy industry evolves, production platforms  in the North Sea, once a crucial source of crude
oil, are being dismantled and sold for scrap.


JUNE 8, 2017

Moored off the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Pioneering Spirit looms so large that it is difficult to recognize as a ship. The crew of 450 is dwarfed by the cranes and pipes that dominate the sprawling layers of decks.

For decades, Edward Heerema, head of Allseas, the Swiss-based energy services company, dreamed of building a giant vessel to install oil platforms offshore. But the Pioneering Spirit has found another purpose: dismantling oil fields in the British North Sea.



The Pioneering Spirit in the harbor in Rotterdam.

Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times



Pioneering Spirit crew members work in the shadow of equipment used for laying natural gas pipelines on the sea bed.

Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times



A crew member aboard the Pioneering Spirit. The 450 crew members are dwarfed by the cranes and pipes that dominate the sprawling layers of decks.

Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

With oil prices dropping sharply in the last two years, Mr. Heerema said he was now just focused on finding enough work to meet his payroll. “I can’t say how long it will take to pay for itself. Maybe 10 years, maybe 30 years,” he said of the ship.

The British North Sea was once a crucial source of oil for the world. At its peak in 1999, it produced about 2.9 million barrels of oil a day, more than Kuwait or Iraq at the time.

Since then, production has generally been in a long slide as oil fields discovered decades ago are exhausted and high costs discourage new exploration. Its diminishing fortunes have been cemented by the rise of renewables and the push for cleaner alternatives to oil.

“It is one of those signs that we may be at a tipping point,” said Anthony Hobley, chief executive of Carbon Tracker, a nonprofit group that studies the investment risks of the shifting energy landscape. “We may well be at that critical point in history where people will say that this is the point where the oil industry reached its peak and began to decline.”

This spring, the Pioneering Spirit headed to the Brent field in the North Sea, a major oil and gas trove named after the Brent goose. The field helped define the business, giving its name to Brent crude, the global price benchmark for oil.

After 40 years of production, the field is nearly pumped out. And a group of four platforms in the field — giant rigs that stand around 1,000 feet tall and weigh a combined million tons — are gradually being shut down.

This spring, the Pioneering Spirit transported one platform to its final resting place, a shipyard in Hartlepool in northeast England where it is being dismantled and sold for scrap. An industry in itself, this so-called decommissioning process creates jobs and profits along the journey.

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Electric Cars Hit 2 Million Across the Globe


A new IEA report says it was a record year for EV sales last year, but the overall market is still small.

by Katie Fehrenbacher

June 08, 2017

The number of electric cars sold worldwide hit a record level of 750,000 last year, bringing the total number of electric vehicles driving on roads around the globe to 2 million, according to a new report out from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report crunched information on electric cars from countries that have the biggest markets, including China, the U.S., Norway and the Netherlands. While 2 million is a notable milestone for the industry, the figure still only represents 0.2 percent of the total number of light duty passenger vehicles in operation. Needless to say, the electric car market is still in an early stage.

As the report notes: “electric vehicles still have a long way to go before reaching deployment scales capable of making a significant dent in the development of global oil demand and greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, IEA projects that there’s a good chance that the number of electric cars on the roads will grow to between 9 million and 20 million by 2020, and potentially 40 million and 70 million by 2025. The wide ranges are based on different scenarios using both current policies, and some more possible aggressive policies implemented by governments. The number of new electric vehicle models available will also play a role.


Source: IEA Global EV Outlook

The biggest market, by far, for electric cars last year was China. With 336,000 cars sold, the country accounted for more than 40 percent of global sales, the report found. Chinese automaker BYD, with its Tang, Qin and E6 models, shipped about a third of those cars to Chinese buyers last year, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that was released in March.

Thanks to very aggressive policies from Chinese federal and local governments, the country has gone from 100,000 electric cars on roads in 2014 to 650,000 just two years later. Chinese electric car buyers can be exempt from certain taxes, and can get waivers from license plate restrictions.

China’s electric car vehicles sales were more than double the number sold in the U.S., which totaled 160,000, and was the second largest market by country.

At the same time, European countries collectively sold 215,000 electric cars last year, with countries like Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and the U.K. leading the way.

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China is now looking to California – not Trump – to help lead the fight against climate change




June 6, 2017, 4:15 p.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday in a rare diplomatic coup that catapults California into quasi-national status as a negotiator with China following the decision last week by President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.

Their encounter underlined the extent to which Trump, as he pursues an “America first” foreign policy, is being sidelined on the world stage. Xi spent nearly an hour talking to Brown, one of the administration’s loudest, most powerful critics on the environment.

They discussed global warming and green technology in the Great Hall of the People, a granite-columned building on Tiananmen Square reserved for high-level dignitaries, political gatherings and ceremonial occasions.

“It’s highly significant that the governor of California can meet with the president of China and talk about the foremost issue of our time,” Brown said, sounding especially jovial on the third day of his weeklong China tour. “It’s very clear he welcomes an increased role on the part of California.”

Xi emphasized the state’s unique economic impact and encouraged California to promote ties on the local level in science, innovation and green development, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

Brown started his trip with visits to the southern Chinese cities of Chengdu and Nanjing, where he repeated his grim warnings about climate change and signed agreements on clean energy.

Xi “has definitely given the green light for more collaboration between China and California and, I would say, other states through this subnational-level arrangement,” Brown said.

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China Looks to Capitalize on Clean Energy as U.S. Retreats




A Sungrow worker wiring floating solar panels on a lake created by the collapse of abandoned coal mines in Liulong, China.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

LIULONG, China — China’s devastating pollution problems began here, in coal country, where legions of workers toiled and often died to exhume the rich deposits that fueled the country’s sooty rise to economic power.

Today, these muddy plains are home to a potent symbol of China’s new ambition: to bypass the United States and cement its dominant role in clean energy.

On a lake created by the collapse of abandoned coal mines, China has built the world’s largest floating solar project, enough to provide light and air conditioning to much of a nearby city. The provincial government wants to expand the effort to more than a dozen sites, which collectively would produce the same amount of power as a full-size commercial nuclear reactor.



Workers connecting waterproof solar panels to buoys on the shore of the lake.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

The project reflects China’s effort to reshape the world order in renewable energy as the United States retreats. Such technological expertise will form the infrastructure backbone needed for countries to meet their climate goals, making China the energy partner of choice for many nations.

The wave-proof solar panels are an affordable and viable option for power-hungry countries. Delegations from Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and elsewhere have come to study the project while the maker, Sungrow, prepares to license the technology for overseas sale.

China is capitalizing on the leadership vacuum left after President Trump said last week that he would pull the United States out of the Paris accord to limit climate change.


China has already started an expensive campaign at home and abroad to solidify its considerable hold on solar, wind and other energy-saving businesses. If successful, China would win the economic and diplomatic spoils that the United States and some European countries have long enjoyed from dominating businesses like software, computer chips and airplanes.

China’s sway will be on display in Beijing this week at the Clean Energy Ministerial, a gathering of top energy officials from two dozen countries and the European Union that represent producers of three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the United States will be there, its representatives reflect the country’s deep split. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, an enthusiastic supporter of fossil fuel industries, will attend, along with Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a vocal supporter of renewable energy.

China is an unlikely champion in fighting climate change. The country is the world’s largest polluter, and its problems could grow as people buy more cars and use more power. It remains deeply dependent on coal, an especially dirty source of power.

And the race in renewables hasn’t been won. The United States and European Union accuse Beijing of unfairly subsidizing its green industries and have raised trade barriers against Chinese-made goods. American companies and local governments are set to continue their clean-energy push despite Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord.

As with much in China, the clean-energy drive is much more about economic advantage, national security and political stability than an idealistic commitment to saving the earth.

The country’s “Made in China 2025” program, the heart of Beijing’s domestic industrial policy, calls for heavy spending on clean-energy research and development, as a way to bolster the economy. State-owned banks are pouring tens of billions of dollars each year into technologies like solar and wind along with energy conservation strategies like high-speed rail and subway lines.

Continue reading the main story



Workers at JA Solar in Hefei, China, making panels for Sungrow.


Adam Dean for The New York Times



Machines that are used to produce the JA Solar panels.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan — a $1 trillion global offensive by President Xi Jinping to nurture economic and diplomatic ties through infrastructure building — is poised to bankroll clean-energy projects across Asia, including the Mideast; East Africa; and Eastern Europe. The projects give China an edge, pushing countries to buy from Chinese companies.

China is already dominant in many low-carbon energy technologies. It produces two-thirds of the world’s solar panels and nearly half of the wind turbines. China is also rapidly expanding its fleet of nuclear reactors and leads the world by far in hydroelectric power.

“It’s different from traditional energy, which is dominated by Western countries,” said Li Tao, the technical director at JA Solar, the Chinese supplier of Sungrow’s panels. “China has an opportunity to surpass Western countries in new energy.”

Choking pollution problems and worries that rising ocean levels could devastate coastal cities forced Beijing a decade ago to begin a campaign to find green solutions. Local governments provided land for nearly free, and state-owned banks handed out enormous loans at very low interest rates. Sometimes government agencies helped companies repay their loans.

Coal is getting far less attention. While China is still building some coal-fired power plants, it has canceled plans for others. Many existing ones are running well below capacity.

“Coal is over,” said Li Junfeng, a longtime renewable-energy official at the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency. “Every year, it will be gradually reduced, city by city.”

China’s green campaign is still in the early stages.

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BRIEFLY Stuff that matters SOOT YOURSELF



South Korea turns its back on coal and nuclear power. To compensate, they want to build more natural gas-powered plants and dams. (Well, the first part sounded like a solid plan.)

According to Reuters, by 2030, the country’s current leadership wants coal and nuclear to contribute about 22 percent each to South Korea’s energy mix. Currently, coal and nuclear are responsible for 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the nation’s electricity.

The plan also calls for burning more natural gas — increasing its share from 18 percent to 27 percent of the electricity pie. But South Korea will also rely more on renewables, mainly hydro — upping it from 5 percent of the country’s power to 20 percent.

If they follow through, they’d be walking in America’s footprints. Here, fracking sank the fortunes of nuclear and coal — though President Trump’s entire environmental platform seems to be geared to out-of-work coal miners.

Ironically, South Korea is right now the fourth biggest coal importer and one of the top 3 importers of U.S. coal. So even if Trump breathes new life into that industry, there could be one fewer buyer for its wares.

Nathanael Johnson

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India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green



Solar panels on the roof of a shop in a settlement in Bangalore, India.


Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

MUMBAI, India — Just a few years ago, the world watched nervously as India went on a building spree of coal-fired power plants, more than doubling its capacity and claiming that more were needed. Coal output, officials said, would almost triple, to 1.5 billion tons, by 2020.

India’s plans were cited by American critics of the Paris climate accord as proof of the futility of advanced nations trying to limit their carbon output. But now, even as President Trump pulls the United States out of the pact, India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar power.

Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade, given that existing plants are running below 60 percent of capacity, but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.

Rather than building coal-fired plants, it is now canceling many in the early planning stages. And last month, the government lowered its annual production target for coal to 600 million tons from 660 million.

The sharp reversal, welcome news to world leaders trying to avert the potentially deadly effects of global warming, is a reflection both of the changing economics of renewable energy and a growing environmental consciousness in a country with some of the worst air pollution in the world.

What India does matters, because it is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. And its energy needs are staggering — nearly one-quarter of its population has no electricity and many others get it only intermittently.

With India’s power needs expected to grow substantially as its economy continues to expand, its energy use will heavily influence the world’s chances of containing the greenhouse gases that scientists believe are driving global warming.

Much attention at the time of the signing of the Paris agreement was focused on the role President Barack Obama played in pushing India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to sign. In doing so, Mr. Modi committed India to achieving 40 percent of its electricity capacity from nonfossil-fuel sources by 2030.

Less understood was Mr. Modi’s longstanding personal commitment to taking India in a greener direction. That has been strengthened in recent years by growing evidence that a greener path makes political and economic sense as well, says Harsh Pant, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based research organization.

“Modi’s constituency is the middle class, and the middle class in Indian cities is choking on pollution,” Mr. Pant said. “Modi knows climate change is good politics. Climate change makes sense to Modi because he believes it as it is good economics and politics.”

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