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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: UN Conference, Chevy Volt Fire Risk, Electric Bills to Rise

The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks off in Durban today, presenting the last chance for countries to come to an agreement on extending the Kyoto protocol, Reuters reports. The news service reports that there is a chance countries may agree a stop-gap measure to prolong the protocol, and that developed countries may pledge deeper cuts in carbon emissions. But it said the eurozone debt crisis makes it unlikely that Europe and the U.S. will take any steps that risk hurting their growth prospects.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament that emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil must agree to cut their emissions, reflecting an attitude by many rich nations, who are reluctant to cut their own CO2 output without commitments from big polluters in the developing world. These developing nations, in turn, want wealthy nations to make deeper cuts, Reuters said.

In the U.K., energy minister Greg Barker said President Obama hasn’t put enough “political capital” into the fight against climate change, Bloomberg reports. “Unless the U.S. joins with the rest of the world and shows real leadership on this green agenda, we are not going to get a global agreement,” Barker said.

A report by the World Development Movement accuses Western countries of bullying developing nations during previous climate summits in 2009 and 2010, the Guardian reports. The WDM published testimonies from insiders who complained of richer companies threatening to withhold climate change adaptation funds unless poorer countries signed up to a global accord.

The Chinese commerce ministry said on Friday that it had formally opened an investigation into American subsidies for the solar, wind and hydroelectric industries, an expansion on the country’s threat to investigate U.S. polysilicon makers, the New York Times reported. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it would act on a request by SolarWorld and six other solar companies, to investigate whether Chinese solar panel manufacturers gained an unfair advantage from their governments’ subsidies and whether the companies were dumping solar panels here for less than their total manufacturing and distribution cost.

Chevron faces further fines from the Brazilian government over the leak that started Nov. 7 in the Campos Basin, off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, FuelFix reports. The company will be fined for allegedly falsifying information provided to oil regulator ANP, and for failing to follow a spill-mitigation plan. ANP said it will set the fines after conducting a probe into the leak. Chevron has already been fined $28 million for the leak.

The biggest corporate users of electricity and gas in the U.K. may see their bills rise by up to 20 percent by 2020, the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has said, according to Bloomberg. DECC said that the government’s initiatives to price carbon and increase renewable power will raise annual charges by up to £20.9 million ($32.4 million) from £17.5 million pounds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is formally opening an investigation into fire risks posed by the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, Reuters reports. Earlier this month, a fire broke out in a Volt lithium-ion battery pack three weeks after being damaged in a crash test.

California regulators have proposed allowing customers of utility PG&E to opt out of having a smart meter, for an initial fee of $90 and a monthly charge of $15. Low-income customers would skip the initial fee and pay $5 a month. The policy could come to a vote as early as January, the Silicon Valley Mercury News reports.

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