Oct 042011

Three-year-old Henry Shales, visiting from New York, takes a close look at a solar panel on display at the DOE Solar Decathlon 2011. / Credit:Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

WASHINGTON, Oct 4, 2011 (IPS) – As a light drizzle fell Saturday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed to solar houses constructed by students on the National Mall park in Washington as evidence that the U.S can compete internationally in the renewable energy market to create jobs and win “the war against climate change”.


Alexander Ochs, director of the energy and climate programme at the WorldWatch Institute, said the solar industry was actually one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., with 5,000 companies employing more than 100,000 people. He said Solyndra failed because it made poor investment decisions and was buffeted by price fluctuations in the raw materials market – not because solar power industry is in trouble.  “Solyndra is now used as a scandal to set an example that solar is not working in the U.S. or that it cannot compete on the international market. It is basically used as an attempt to kill the industry as a whole,” Ochs told IPS.

In fact, Ochs said the solar industry grew at a rate of 69 percent in the last year alone, more than doubling in size, and at a rate much higher than the fossil fuel industry, which grows only in the low single digits, or nuclear, the only energy sector with a negative growth rate. Notwithstanding those facts, Ochs said criticisms of government support for renewable energy did not take into account the comparatively large cost of fossil fuel subsidies.

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Sep 262011

Global energy intensity rising

Power/Alternative Energy

Posted:26 Sep 2011

According to the Worldwatch Institute, global energy intensity has been growing faster than the global economy for the past two years. Worldwatch observed that worldwide energy intensity grew 1.35 per cent last year, surpassing global economic growth. Unless economies all over the world shift to sustainable development, global energy intensity will keep on increasing. Energy intensity is total energy consumption divided by gross world product. Between 1981 and 2010, it decreased by about 20.5 per cent or 0.8 per cent annually. “During this period of decline, most developed countries restructured their economies, and energy-intensive heavy industries accounted for a shrinking share of production,” stated Haibing Ma, manager of Worldwatch’s China programme. “New technologies applied to energy production and consumption significantly improved efficiency in almost every aspect of the economy,” particularly during the surge of ‘knowledge-based economy’ from 1991 to 2000. Global economic productivity increased without parallel increases in energy use.

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Aug 312011



Global production of bio-fuels increased 17% in 2010 to reach an all-time high of 105 billion liters, up from 90 billion liters in 2009. US and Brazil remain the world’s leading producers of ethanol US and Brazil remain the world’s leading producers of ethanol. High oil prices, a global economic rebound and new laws and mandates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China and the US, among other countries, are all factors behind the surge in production, according to research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute’s climate and energy program for the website Vital Signs Online.

The US and Brazil remain the two largest producers of ethanol. In 2010, the US generated 49 billion liters, or 57% of global output, and Brazil produced 28 billion liters, – 33% of the total. Corn is the primary feedstock for US ethanol, and sugarcane is the dominant source of ethanol in Brazil.

“In the US, the record production of bio-fuels is attributed in part to high oil prices, which encouraged several large fuel companies, including Sunoco, Valero, Flint Hills and Murphy Oil, to enter the ethanol industry” says Alexander Ochs, director of Worldwatch’s climate and energy program.

High oil prices were also a factor inBrazil, where every third car-owner drives a “flex-fuel” vehicle that can run on either fossil or bio-based fuels. Many Brazilian drivers have switched to sugarcane ethanol because it is cheaper than gasoline. “Although the US and Brazilare the world leaders in ethanol, the largest producer of bio-diesel is the European Union, which generated 53% of all bio-diesel in 2010,” says Ochs. “However, we may see some European countries switch from bio-diesel to ethanol because a recent report from the European Commission states that ethanol crops have a higher energy content than bio-diesel crops, making them more efficient sources of fuel.”

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Oct 202010

Over the past few years, China has emerged as a global leader in clean energy, topping the world in production of compact fluorescent light bulbs, solar water heaters, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, and wind turbines. The remarkable rise of China’s clean energy sector reflects a strong and growing commitment by the government to diversify its energy economy, reduce environmental problems, and stave off massive increases in energy imports. Around the world, governments and industries now find themselves struggling to keep pace with the new pacesetter in global clean energy development.


Chinese efforts to develop renewable energy technologies have accelerated in recent years as the government has recognized energy as a strategic sector. China has adopted a host of new policies and regulations aimed at encouraging energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy deployment. Taking lessons from its own experience as well as the experiences of countries around the world, China has built its clean energy sector in synergy with its unique economic system and institutions of governance. At a time when many countries still struggle with the aftermath of a devastating financial crisis, the Chinese government has used its strong financial position to direct tens of billions of dollars into clean energy— increasing the lead that Chinese companies have in many sectors.

Among other initiatives, the Chinese government has taken strong action to promote renewable energy, establish national energy conservation targets, and delegate energysaving responsibilities to regions. Key legislative actions include the national Renewable Energy Law, which entered into force in January 2006, the national Medium and Long-Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy, launched in September 2007, and the Medium and Long-Term Energy Conservation Plan, launched in November 2004.

Although per capita energy use in China remains below the international average, it is growing very rapidly, spurred recently by the infrastructure-intensive government stimulus program launched in late 2008. Even with efficiency advances, demand for energy is expected to continue to rise in the coming decades. Chinese energy consumption is currently dominated by coal, and the major energy-consuming sector is industry. Improving the efficiency of energy use and enhancing energy conservation will be critical to ease energy supply constraints, boost energy security, reduce environmental pollution, “green” the economy, and tackle the climate challenge.

[Please find more on this Worldwatch report 181 which I co-authored with a group of Chinese and US experts, here]

Oct 202010
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co2_climateIt all started so nicely. The hope for change that Barack Obama had raised among American voters was felt by citizens worldwide, including those yearning for a change in US environmental policy. After all, Obama had made global warming and energy policy important cornerstones of his campaign. Once in the White House, the newly elected President explained that “few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change” and that his “presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change.” Repeatedly he stressed that “the nation that wins this competition [for new energy technologies] will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

What’s left, as we approach mid-term elections in Obama’s first administration, is a very mixed bag.  There have been important successes, including over $60 billion that were earmarked for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the first tightening of Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards in three decades; and the federal Environmental Protection Agency ‘s “Endangerment Finding” that recognizes, as a follow-up of the Supreme Court ruling Massachusetts et al. vs. EPA, that the  agency  has the right to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. To the great disappointment of the environmentalists, however, comprehensive climate and energy legislation, including a market-based system with mandatory economy-wide emission targets as well as strong incentives for the employment of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies, has not been passed.

The situation that has unfolded over the last 1 ½  years is almost absurd. A White House and all involved secretaries and agencies support strong climate policy; a majority of the public wants effective climate action; a thorough climate and energy bill finally passed the House; and then there is also majority support for climate legislation in the Senate – albeit this majority is not filibuster-proof. The Senate’s leadership was unable to get 60+ votes. And here the story ends for now. A minority of 40+ Senators puts a hold on domestic legislation and shuts a historic window of opportunity.

[This article appered in Bridges vol. 27, October 2010. Read the rest of the article here: http://www.ostina.org/content/view/5229/1390/]

Sep 062010

While the US Senate has backed off on climate legislation, China is considering launching emissions-trading programmes within five years, write Alexander Ochs and Haibing Ma.

Just when leaders in the United States Senate admitted to abandoning their plan of issuing a federal climate bill by the end ofTianjin_port_cap-and-trade_thumbthis year, top Chinese officials were discussing how to launch carbon-trading programmes under their country’s next (12th) Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). Serving as China’s overarching social and economic guidance, Five-Year Plans consistently lay out the most crucial development strategies for this giant emerging economy. Once included in the plan, carbon trading will be viewed as part of China’s national goals and will be domestically binding. This occurred most recently with the country’s 2010 energy-intensity target, which called for a 20% reduction from 2005 levels and was disaggregated into provincial and local targets, with local officials held accountable for achieving them.

In short, China seems to be accelerating full-throttle toward a low-carbon economy. Chinese policymakers have been eyeing a domestic emission-trading scheme for a while. In August 2009, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) deputy director Xie Zhenhua announced that China would launch a pilot carbon-trading programme in selected regions and/or sectors — basically the same message now discussed for the Five-Year Plan. On one hand, this reiteration demonstrates that the Chinese government is seriously considering such a market-based mitigation mechanism; on the other hand, the fact that the programme’s status is still in discussion one year later shows that putting cap-and-trade into action might be not be so easy in China either.

[Read our full article on Chinadialogue]

Aug 102010

By Haibing Ma and Alexander Ochs

Recently, a China Daily news report caught Uncle Sam’s attention, presumably at an inconvenient time: just when the U.S. Senate finally admitted to abandoning its plan of issuing a federal climate bill by the end of this year, top Chinese officials were discussing how to launch carbon trading programs under their country’s next Five-Year Plan (2011–15). Serving as China’s overarching social and economic guidance, Five-Year Plans consistently lay out the most crucial development strategies for this giant emerging economy. Once included in the plan, carbon trading will be viewed as part of China’s national goals and will be domestically binding. This occurred most recently with the country’s 2010 energy intensity target, which called for a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels and was disaggregated into provincial and local targets, with local officials held accountable for achieving them. In short, China seems to be accelerating full-throttle toward a low-carbon economy.

Chinese policymakers have been eyeing a domestic emission-trading scheme for a while. Last August, Xie Zhenhua, Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), announced that China will launch a pilot carbon trading program in selected regions and/or sectors—basically the same message conveyed in the recent China Daily story. On one hand, this reiteration demonstrates that the Chinese government is seriously considering such a market-based mitigation mechanism; on the other hand, the fact that the program’s status is still in discussion a year later shows that putting cap-and-trade into action might be not be that easy in China either. [Read more on Worldwatch's ReVolt blog]

Dec 242009

The Copenhagen UN climate conference ended last Saturday with a weak agreement, not the groundbreaking treaty many had hoped for. With more than 100 heads of governments and many more parliamentarians and dignitaries, COP-15 became the largest assembly of world leaders in diplomatic history. The Copenhagen conference had been planned out for two years in many small informal and large official meetings, following the 2007 Bali Action Plan in which nations had agreed to finalize a binding agreement this December. The outcome falls far short of this original goal. Delegates only “noted” an accord (“the Copenhagen Accord”) struck by the United States, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa that has two key components: first, it sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times; second, it proposes $100 billion in annual aid for developing nations starting in 2020 to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

2 degrees Celsius is seen by mainstream science as a threshold for dangerous climatic changes including sea-level rise and accelerated glacier melt, as well as more intense floods, droughts, and storms. Many scientists also believe that a majority of worldwide ecosystems will struggle to adapt to a warming above that mark, and more recently have set the threshold even lower, at 1.5 degrees Celsius. The accord, however, lacks any information on how this goal of preventing “dangerous” climate change, which had already been set by the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention, would be achieved. It is generally assumed that in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees, worldwide emissions have to Continue reading »

Jun 262009

cop15_logo_imgHalf a year before the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, negotiators are far from agreeing on key components of a global climate deal. As envisioned in the 2007 Bali Climate Action Plan (or “Bali Roadmap”), the summit in December is supposed to deliver a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which expires at the end of 2012.

Ever since Bali, however, progress in the negotiations has been slow. Only recently have the delegations entered full negotiation mode—which is necessary right now, the most pivotal year since the 1992 UNFCCC. From June 1 to 12, more than 4,600 participants—including government delegates from 183 countries as well as business, industry, environmental organizations and research institutions—met in Bonn, Germany, to discuss key negotiating texts that will serve as the basis for an agreed Copenhagen outcome. The gathering in Germany was the second in a series of five major U.N. negotiating sessions this year leading up to the Copenhagen summit in December (…).

Please find the full article in Grist Magazine here.

Jun 222009

More than 80 participants followed the invitation of the NABU and the Heinrich Böll Foundation on 15 June 2009 in Berlin to discuss with American and German experts key contributions on both sides of the Atlantic to tackle the global climate crisis. Another key point of interest was an assessment of the current state of negotiations of a new global climate pact on which the international community wants to agree at the UN climate conference in the end of this year in Copenhagen.

In the discussion, I emphasized the central Importance of new U.S. energy and climate legislation, the so-called Waxman-Markey Bill, which has already passed important hurdles in the House of Representatives and will be discussed in the Senate later this year – hopefully to be be adopted. Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have risen by about 16 percent. For the US to reduce its emissions by 20 percent compared to 2005 in 2020, as W-M envisions, will be a very remarkable challenge and an effort compatible to the cuurent evrsion of the EU climate and energy package. Critics often suggest that the absolute reductions in WM amount to only 4% compared to 1990. I pointed out, however, that these 4% only include the emission reductions in the  sectors covered by a future emissions trading scheme. Some estimates believe that the entire reduction effort in the US (including non-ETS-covered sectors and offsets) could amount to about -17% in 2020 compared to 1990. Accordingly, the U.S. would reduce its emissions by more than one third compared to total emissions expected in a business as-usual-scenario. Europe aims at reducing emissions by 20% compared to 1990 and has offered a -30% target if other parties commit to a similar level of ambition.

I also pointed to the fact that the American climate debate much more than the one in Europe is fixated on China, because of competitiveness concerns for the U.S. economy. In many cases, these concerns are distorting important facts and are therefore exaggerated. Only recently it has been noted that China already has very ambitious policies inplace to increase energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energies despite no binding reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. I also discussed sectoral approaches as a way to provide additional incentives to abate emissions in energy-intensive industries. Panel guests: Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, Research Center for Comparative Environmental Policy, Free University Berlin; Alexander Ochs, director of international climate policy, Center for Clean Air Policy, Washington DC; Dr. Karsten Sach, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation, Federal Ministry of Environment; Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy, The Nature Conservancy; Carsten Wachholz, secretary for energy policy and climate protection, NABU.

You can find a German summary of the event here.

Jun 222009

Über 80 Teilnehmende folgten der Einladung des NABU und der Heinrich Böll Stiftung, um mit amerikanischen und deutschen Experten zentrale Beiträge dies- und jenseits des Atlantiks zur Bewältigung der globalen Klimakrise zu diskutieren. Im Mittelpunkt des Interesses standen dabei aktuelle Einschätzungen zum Stand der Verhandlungen über ein neues Weltklimaabkommen, über das sich die internationale Staatengemeinschaft bis Ende dieses Jahres in Kopenhagen verständigen will.

Alexander Ochs, Leiter der Abteilung für Internationale Klimapolitik beim amerikanischen Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington, betonte die zentrale Bedeutung der neuen Energie- und Klimagesetzgebung, der so genannten Waxman-Markey Bill, die zur Zeit im Kongress und im Herbst im Senat debattiert und hoffentlich auch so verabschiedet werde. Seit 1990 seien die Treibhausgas-Emissionen in den USA um etwa 16 Prozent angestiegen. Wenn diese nun im Zeitraum von nur 8 Jahren (2012-2020) um 20 Prozent reduziert werden sollen, sei das eine sehr bemerkenswerte Herausforderung und durchaus mit dem von der EU beschlossenen Klimapaket vergleichbar, auch wenn dabei die absolute Senkung des Ausstoßes gegenüber 1990 nur 4 Prozent betrage. Daneben sei die amerikanische Klimadebatte bisher (zu) sehr auf China fixiert, weil Nachteile für die US-Wirtschaft im internationalen Wettbewerb befürchtet werden. Hier müsse viel stärker anerkannt werden, dass China bereits ohne Verpflichtungen unter dem Kyoto-Protokoll eine sehr ehrgeizige Politik zur Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und dem Ausbau der Erneuerbaren Energien umsetzt. Sein Institut unterstütze darüber hinaus die Entwicklung von sektoralen Ansätzen, um zusätzliche Anreize zur Emissionsminderung in den energieintensiven Industrien zu geben.

Podiumsgäste waren:

  • Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs von der Forschungsstelle für vergleichende Umweltpolitik an der Freien Universität Berlin
  • Alexander Ochs, Leiter der Abteilung für Internationale Klimapolitik beim amerikanischen Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington
  • Dr. Karsten Sach, Unterabteilungsleiter für Internationale Zusammenarbeit im Bundesumweltministerium
  • Duncan Marsh, Direktor für Internationale Klimapolitik bei einer der weltgrößten Naturschutzorganisationen, der amerikanischen „The Nature Conservancy“
  • Carsten Wachholz, Referent für Energiepolitik und Klimaschutz beim NABU-Bundesverband

Eine deutsche Zusammenfassung findet sich hier und hier.

Jun 032009

US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern just spoke at the Center for American Progress on “China and the Global Climate Challenge”. The most important news first: Stern (with Holdren, Sandalow, and others from Treasury, EPA etc.) will leave for Beijing this Saturday in order to continue talks on forging a US-CHN climate and energy partnership. started by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this year. 

Here are my notes from the talk and a one-line comment.

Apr 022009

from CCAP Newsletter 

On March 18, 2009, Alexander Ochs, CCAP’s director of international policy, discussed “Views on Carbon Offsetting in the United States” at Point Carbon’s Carbon Market Insights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.“International offsets like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and domestic offsets will likely play an important role in any future U.S. cap and trade program,” Ochs told delegates from around the world. “However, it is important to understand that offsets are only one mechanism that U.S. lawmakers are currently considering in their effort to contain the cost of a federal carbon market. There is also a certain contradiction in the debate between lowering the cost of mitigating emissions on the one hand, and not wanting to send money oversees to make our competitors’ economies more efficient.”Ochs agreed with co-panelist Peter Zapfel from the European Commission that the CDM alone is not sufficient for reducing rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world. “Major emitters like the developing countries China and Mexico must contribute more to the solution than simply offsetting reduction commitments made elsewhere — and they are willing to do so,” Ochs said. “Sectoral commitments for energy-intense industries are the next important step on the staircase to a full integration of these countries into the global carbon market.”

You can find my presentation here: ochs-futureofoffsetsinus_carbonmarketinsights2009.pdf

Sep 012008


When the Olympic fire was set alight during the Games’ opening ceremony, there was a giant wave of smog hanging over Beijing. Like any other day of the year, the air pollution was several times above what the World Health Organization considers safe. Many competitors were so concerned about their personal wellbeing that they restricted their visit to the Ancient City to the days on which they compete, thus missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to inhale the legendary Olympic spirit for the duration of the games. Overpopulation was not amongst the problems the athlete village faced. And however clean, colorful, and crystal-clear the opening ceremonies were – when the cameras conveyed the first images of spectators with masks over their mouths, the hosts’ delight soured rather suddenly. Most of us, however, were not surprised. After all, this is the China we imagine. A political apparatus so keen to receive world recognition and a population so eager to catch up with the wealthy elsewhere have unleashed such a thriving economy that there is no room for environmental concerns, least of all protective regulation.

It is this dusky image of China that has to a large extent shaped our diplomatic attitude towards this rapidly industrializing giant. Nowhere more so than in the United States, the continuous finger-pointing at China has been used as an excuse for not taking more vigorous action on global environmental problems at home. READ THIS EXCLUSIVE OP-ED FOR WWW.ALEXANDEROCHS.COM

May 092008

Die wissenschaftliche Beweislage zum Klimawandel ist erdrückend. Erste Auswirkungen sind weltweit spürbar. Dass der Mensch die Hauptschuld an der Klimaveränderung trägt, steht dabei außer Frage. Die Verbrennung fossiler Energien, die Abholzung großer Waldgebiete sowie bestimmte landwirtschaftliche und industrielle Verfahren setzen Emissionen frei, die den natürlichen Treibhauseffekt der Erde immer weiter verstärken. Gelingt es nicht, die großen Volkswirtschaften zu reformieren – und dazu ist in den Worten des Bundesumweltministers nicht weniger nötig als eine „dritte industrielle Revolution“ – drohen im besten Fall unwirtlichere Lebensbedingungen, im schlimmsten eine Katastrophe kaum mehr kontrollierbaren Ausmaßes. Für die Problembekämpfung wird neben den Großemittenten des Nordens das Verhalten einiger zentraler Akteure der südlichen Erdhalbkugel maßgeblich sein: Bekommen China, Indien und Mexiko ihre explosionsartig steigenden Emissionen in den Griff? Wird der Waldschutz in Brasilien und Indonesien seinen notwendigen Beitrag zum globalen Klimaschutz leisten? Können Südafrika und Südkorea ihre fast vollständig auf fossilen Trägern basierende Energiegewinnung reformieren? Und wird die Blockademacht Australien künftig den ihr angemessenen Verantwortungsteil leisten? Die Bundesrepublik hat sich in den letzten Jahren als Lokomotive der internationalen Klimadiplomatie etabliert. Ein klimapolitischer Dialog Deutschlands mit wirtschaftlich und politisch aufstrebenden Staaten des Südens wäre einer Fortsetzung dieser Führungsrolle in einem immer wichtiger werdenden Politikfeld und damit der Profilbildung als Weltordnungspolitik mitgestaltende Mittelmacht äußerst dienlich. Im Erfolgsfall – wenn es also gelingt, neue Nord-Süd-Koalitionen im Klimabereich zu schmieden – könnte ein lang ersehnter Durchbruch in der globalen Klimagovernance gelingen.

BUCHKAPITEL in Günther Maihold/Stefan Mair (Hg.), Kooperation Deutschlands mit Führungsmächten des Südens, SWP/Nomos: September 2008


Feb 012008

The picture drawn by the media of the main protagonists at the UN conference on climate change in Bali was reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti western. In one corner of the stand-off, a tenacious and uppity Europe, convinced that she will succeed. Then there was America, with her presumptuous plan to either get her own say or obstruct everyone else’s. And finally, China. Recently declared the world’s number one greenhouse gas emitter, she insisted on her right to pollute even more in the future. It was a boring picture, one we have seen all too often in the past. Until the very last day, the Bali summit was only the newest episode in a showdown habitually played out at yearly climate conferences: The European Union tries to provide leadership but cannot do it on its own, while the United States and China remain stuck in their regular gridlock ritual, both unwilling to take responsibility for their share of the problem. This year’s climate conference, however, took a dramatic turn: the script was changed so that, at least this season, the perennial tragedy ended on a positive note. FACET Commentary No. 6