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Germany's Nuke Shutdown Forces Utility Giant E.ON to Cut 11,000 Jobs

The announcement by Germany's biggest utility is adding to concerns about the cost of closing all 17 of the country's nuclear reactors by 2022

By Tom Bawden, Guardian

Aug 10, 2011

The financial effects of the Fukushima nuclear power crisis continued on Wednesday as Germany's E.ON announced that plans by its government to shut the country's reactors in response to the Japanese disaster would result in up to 11,000 job losses.

As fears mounted that the nuclear shutdown would significantly increase Germany's industrial operating costs — weakening its competitiveness in an already fragile global economy — E.ON announced a swing into the red, a dividend cut, the redundancies and profits warnings for the next three years.

Germany's biggest utility, which on Friday announced an average 15 percent price rise for its five million domestic UK gas and electricity customers, took a €1.9 billion ($2.7 billion) charge relating to plant closures and a new tax on spent nuclear fuel rods, pushing the group to its first quarterly loss in 10 years — a second-quarter deficit of €1.49 billion ($2.1 billion)

E.ON was reporting a day after German rival RWE reported its own swing into deficit, reporting that €900 million ($1.28 billion) of decommissioning and tax costs dragged it to a €229 million loss ($323.3 million).

This week's utility results are adding to concerns about the cost of closing all 17 of Germany's nuclear reactors by 2022 and making up the shortfall by doubling renewable energy output.

Clinton Gives No Hint on Keystone XL Pipeline Decision

Clinton assured Canada's foreign minister the U.S. was on track to decide on the pipeline by year-end but gave no hint which way the decision would go

By Andrew Quinn, Reuters

Aug 5, 2011
Secretary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird speak with the media

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Canada's foreign minister on Thursday the United States was on track to decide on TransCanada Corp's bid for a $7 billion cross-border pipeline by the end of the year but gave no hint which way the decision would go.

Clinton met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who said he told her the Keystone project was "tremendously important to the future prosperity of the Canadian economy."

"We are leaving no stone unturned in this process and we expect to make a decision on the permit before the end of this year," Clinton told reporters in a joint appearance with Baird after their meeting.

Keystone XL, which would take petroleum from Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas, faces opposition from environmental groups and some U.S. politicians who say it would bolster more oil sands development, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and raise the risk of oil spills in the central U.S. states, site of a massive aquifer.

The State Department has said last week it will issue a final environmental assessment on the project in August and then government agencies will have 90 days to comment on it before a final decision is made.

Study Says Himalaya Glaciers Shrinking on Global Warming, Some May Disappear

Japanese scientists say that the shrinking of two glaciers has accelerated in the past 10 years and could disappear due to 'significant warming'

By Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters

Aug 2, 2011
retreating glaciers in Himalayas

Three Himalaya glaciers have been shrinking over the last 40 years due to global warming and two of them, located in humid regions and on lower altitudes in central and east Nepal, may disappear in time to come, researchers in Japan said on Tuesday.

Using global positioning system and simulation models, they found that the shrinkage of two of the glaciers — Yala in central and AX010 in eastern Nepal — had accelerated in the past 10 years compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

Yala's mass shrank by 0.8 (2.6 feet) and AX010 by 0.81 meters respectively per year in the 2000s, up from 0.68 and 0.72 meters per year between 1970 and 1990, said Koji Fujita at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies in Nagoya University in Japan.

"For Yala and AX, these regions showed significant warming ... that's why the rate of shrinking was accelerated," Fujita told Reuters by telephone.

"Yala and AX will disappear but we are not sure when. To know when, we have to calculate using another simulation [model] and take into account the glacial flow," Fujita said, but added that his team did not have the data to do so at the moment.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

Rising Seas Threaten Georgia's Economically Vital Salt Marshes

Experts say the marshes on Georgia's coast can't grow quickly enough to keep up with the current rate of sea level rise

By Bruce Dorminey, Climate Central

Jul 31, 2011

DARIEN, Georgia—Some 60 miles south of Savannah, Dorset Hurley strides into chest-high cordgrass on the mainland side of the Sapelo Island ferry dock. Standing in elevated muck on a recent steamy summer's afternoon, he gestures toward a tidal creek running along an isolated spit of road.

"At high tide here, we would be ankle deep in water," says Hurley, an estuarine ecologist at Georgia's Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. He snaps off the end of a dead cordgrass blossom and looks east long enough to notice that the tide has turned. In a few hours time, this tidal bank will again be inundated, but never for more than an hour or so each day. Once the tide rolls in, striped mullet feed on decaying cordgrass on the marsh’s soggy bottom. 

Like the tides on which these estuaries depend, Georgia's 100-mile coastline has waxed and waned for thousands of years, surviving by shifting miles in the process. And it's doing so once more; again driven by warming oceans and melting glaciers.

Mention "global warming" in this part of the world and most people's eyes will glaze over. Sea level rise, however, has tangibility that residents here experience with every high tide.

But that doesn't mean they've thought about how global sea level rise will impact them personally. In a recession-weary economy heavily dependent on tourism, real estate and the fishing industry, sea level rise hasn't exactly hit the top of the charts — yet.

Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to Two Years for Making False Drilling Bids

Environmental advocates and supporters immediately denounced the sentence as excessive

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jul 26, 2011
Tim DeChristopher

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial in March, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on his civil disobedience. The video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

An activist who became a hero to campaigners for disrupting a Bush administration auction for the oil and gas industry with $1.8 million in bogus bids was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday.

Tim DeChristopher was immediately ordered into custody, and fined $10,000. He had been facing a potential sentence of up to 10 years and a $750,000 fine.

Environmental campaigners and activists, from actress Daryl Hannah to film maker Michael Moore and writer Naomi Klein, immediately denounced the sentence as excessive.

At a vigil outside the Salt Lake City courtroom where sentencing took place, supporters of DeChristopher's Peaceful Uprising civil disobedience movement shouted: "Justice is not found here."

Growing Number of States Paying Utilities to Meet Energy Efficiency Goals

In Minnesota, new bonuses by the state helped Xcel Energy conserve more energy last year than in any other year, resulting in $40 million in new revenue

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Jul 26, 2011
Xcel Energy's High Bridge power plant in St. Paul, Minn.

Imagine pulling into a gas station and being offered a complimentary tune-up to improve your car's fuel efficiency. You'd probably wonder: what's the catch?

So how about when your electric utility gives you a free compact fluorescent light bulb? Or your gas company offers to help pay for new windows or a more efficient furnace?

Gas and electric utilities have unique relationships with their customers in that they spend money on programs to reduce demand for the products they sell.

Why is this? Most states require utilities to invest in conservation programs as part of the regulation they accept for being able to operate as regional monopolies. In other words, they're doing it because they have to.

A growing list of states, however, are experimenting with a new approach. Instead of mandating a minimum investment in energy-efficiency programs, policymakers are designing incentives that reward utilities with new revenue for meeting or exceeding conservation goals.

The hope is that giving utilities a path to earning a profit from encouraging efficiency will inspire more companies to proactively ramp up their conservation programs beyond what might have been achieved through mandates only.

U.S. State Department to Assess Keystone XL Pipeline Next Month

State Dept. said Friday it will issue its final environmental review in August on TransCanada's controversial oil sands pipeline

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Jul 22, 2011

The U.S. State Department will issue a final environmental report next month on TransCanada Corp's pipeline that would ship Canadian oil sands crude to Texas refineries, keeping the project on track for a final decision by the end of this year.

The $7 billion line has faced opposition from many lawmakers and environmentalists for greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil sands production, and because the line would run across the one of the world's largest freshwater resources, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Bloomberg, Sierra Club Make $50 Million Anti-Coal Move

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

By Reuters

Jul 21, 2011

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined with the Sierra Club on Thursday in a $50 million, four-year plan to campaign for replacing one-third of aging U.S. coal-fired power plants with clean energy.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal," Bloomberg, founder of the news service that bears his name, said in a statement.

"Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption," he said. The partnership with Sierra Club was announced outside a coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia.

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which is budgeted at $150 million for four years.

Climate Change Peacekeeping on Agenda of UN Security Council

A special meeting of the Security Council this week will consider adding a 'green helmets' force to intervene in climate change-related conflicts

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jul 20, 2011
A UN peacekeeper helps hurricane victims in 2008

A special meeting of the United Nations Security Council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the Security Council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force — green helmets — which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is expected to address the meeting on Wednesday.

But Germany, which called the meeting, has warned it is premature to expect the council to take the plunge into green peacemaking or even adopt climate change as one of its key areas of concern.

"It is too early to seriously think about council action on climate change. This is clearly not on the agenda," Germany's ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, wrote in the Huffington Post.

"A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security," he wrote.

World Body Approves First-Ever Measures to Cut CO2 from Ships

But environmental groups warn that the rules only apply to new ships replacing older ones — and that developing countries have a six-year waiver

By John Vidal, Guardian

Jul 18, 2011
Cargo ship

Countries have taken a first step towards reducing climate emissions from shipping with a global agreement to reduce energy use in new vessels from 2013 onwards.

The belated action on Friday by 55 of the world's biggest sea-faring nations meeting at the UN's international maritime organization in London will force all ships over 400 tons built after 2013 to improve their efficiency by 10 percent, rising to 20 percent between 2020 and 2024, and 30 percent for ships delivered after 2024.

The first ever regulation of emissions in shipping is expected to lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 45-50 million tons a year by 2020.

But China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have secured a six-and-a-half-year delay for new ships registered in developing countries, which could mean the first guaranteed effective date of the reform will be in 2019.

Shipping accounts for 3-4 percent of man-made CO2 emissions worldwide, and this figure is expected to rise to 6 percent by 2020, with emissions doubling by 2050 if no action is taken. Shipowners, who traditionally do not pay for the fuel that their ships use, have long resisted any regulation despite increasing pressure from environmental groups and reformers within the industry.

Environmental NGOs welcomed the tightening of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) standard but cautioned that because it only applies to new ships replacing older ones at the end of their long lives, the full effects of today's decision will take a long time to have any major impact. There is a significant danger, said some, that many shipowners will elect to have their new ships flagged in developing countries that provide a waiver.