29 January, 2008

360 kg of CO2

Brussels, Tuesday morning.

I'm at an Inter Parliamentary Meeting on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency hosted by EUFORES, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting Renewable Energy Sources. I took the high-carbon route this time (offsetting via MyClimate.Org), as I was locked into our Parliamentary Party Meeting in the Royal Marine in Dún Laoghaire until 4 pm yesterday afternoon.

A delayed Aer Lingus flight got me into Brussels by 10pm, allowing us to catch a bit of grub thanks to Brian Crowley MEP at the Toucan. Eoin Ryan MEP and Liam Aylward MEP were there, along with a delegation of Deputies and Senators from the European Scrutiny Committee. Liam was voicing concerns about increased targets for biofuels, unless there are sufficient safeguards put in place, to make sure they don't increase fossil fuel use through fertiliser use. He was also lamenting the fact that someone nicked all the low energy lighbulbs from his house recently and replaced them with traditional bulbs. Well, I'd imagine that Joanna Tuffy is above suspicion.

The Conference concentrated on National Energy Efficiency Action Plans. I'm not sure if Ireland's has been formally published yet, but it's available on the Europa website here. Apparently only nine of the twenty seven member states had theirs published by the middle of last year.

Mechtild Rothe MEP opened up proceedings and pointed to problems arising from different regulatory environments in different countries. She stated that over €3Bn has been invested in renewables in Europe. She feels that 30% energy savings are possible without changes in living standards. She said it’s not about chunky pullovers, which went down well as we sweltered in an-over-heated conference hall.

Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg is a power-house of ideas and knowledge, but I would say that, wouldn't I? He talks about how six solar concentrated power plans are now being built in Spain with great interest in that sector, though not in Ireland, I'd imagine. He says grid software is improving, allowing for decentralized power grids. In the world of renewables, Californian venture capital is important, and he mentions the useful role of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's always helpful to apply political pressure to speed up the process. There's also good things happening in Japan, and in Dubai last week Arab countries initiated a €15 Bn renewable energy fund. Incredible!

Interestingly, Claude felt that the worsening of targets for new cars (up from 120g/km to 130g/km) will more or less cancel the 10% commitment to bio-fuels. He said efficiency is so much more important than renewables, but less sexy. Wind turbines always look good in the pix, but insulation?

He says there’s between 11-13 new energy packages coming out of Brussels, but suggests that the National Action Plans are very weak and that closer links between national and European plans are required.

Pirjo-Liisa Koskimaki, the impressive Head of Unit of the energy efficiency section (DG TREN D.4) of the European Commission says it quite simply, we have lots of plans, but now is the time to “Implement, Implement, Implement”. This theme is echoed by Mariangiola Fabbri of the World Wildlife Fund who says that the Commission is essential to initiate the process and ‘set the pace’ but the role of Member States is essential to achieve results. She argues that the EU is the most progressive political actor to combat climate change, and that implementation needs to be complemented by enforcement and compliance.

Before lunch Jan Geiss of Ecofys gave an overview of the Energy Efficiency Action Plans submitted to date. Thankfully the Irish Plan, along with that of UK, compare well to those of other Member States.

At lunch I met Philippe Dumas of the European Geothermal Energy Council, John Schonenberger of the European Copper Institute, and Bruno Carrel-Billiard of Glass for Europe. We agreed that copper roofed homes with lots of south-facing high-performance glazing and geo-thermal heat pumps would solve all our energy needs.

In the afternoon Hans van Steen the Deputy Head of Unit of the European Commission DG Transport and Energy presents the new Framework Directive on Renewable Energy Sources. In his presentation he says that biofuels will need to show a 35% saving in Greenhouse gases; that no raw material be used from undisturbed forests, biodiverse grassland, nature protected areas (unless taken harmlessly);and that there be no conversion of wetlands. Hopefully that will meet some of Liam's concerns.

In response Clause Turmes cautioned us against relying totally on market based responses, and expressed concern at the suggesting doing the rounds that European Trading Scheme would solve everything. Market support for renewables is essential he concluded.

Arthouros Zervos of the European Renewable Energy Council introduced a slightly divisive note by pointing out that the unlikely grouping of Belgium, Sweden Austria and Latvia had opposed the Directive. However the mood of the delegates was upbeat as we headed off to a reception at the 'Renewable Energy House' at the conclusion of the day's proceedings.

Was it worth dropping over a third of a tonne of CO2 for this, and a thousand miles of travel? Sure it was, but now the work begins to convince others in Leinster House and elsewhere, of the enormity and the urgency of the challenge.

19 January, 2008

Hot-housed in the Hilton

Saturday 19th January 2008, 5.05 pm.

About three hundred members of the Green Party have been crammed into an over-crowded room in a hotel beside the Grand Canal in the middle of Dublin for the afternoon.

It's hot, damn hot. We've been debating the Lisbon Treaty for almost three hours now, and the room is boiling. Tensions have also been rising as speakers use their three minute slot to debate the motions.

That's Mary White, Deputy Leader; Senator Deirdre de Burca and Patricia McKenna, former MEP, just before the debate began. I had my three minute of fame, spoke in favour of the Treaty, and they passed in a blur.

About thirty members of the Party got their chance to come to the podium and express their views. Motion A supports the Treaty, Motion B opposes it, and Motion C supports the actions of the Greens in Government.

And as the votes come through.... Mostly for, but it seems hard to call whether it's two thirds one third.

It's a card vote...
Motion A For 195 (62.5%) , Against 117 (37.5%)
Motion B Significantly less than 50% in favour, so no vote called.
Motion C Not put to the floor, over 2/3 voted not to put to the floor

04 January, 2008

Far away places

Now, if I was sitting on a beach in Phuket, I could think of better things to be doing than venting my spleen over the politics back home.

Observers, whoever you are, my advice is relax, let your hair down, and enjoy the rest of your holiday.

PS, I hope you've offset that carbon!

PPS, Now that I think about it, that couldn't be McDowell's handwriting, could it?