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Climate science ‘is beyond argument’

March 17, 2014 in Arctic, Business, Carbon, Climate deniers, Deep Ocean, Economy, Fish, Food security, Global Ocean Commission, Ice Loss, Marine ecology, Ocean acidification, Ocean Warming, Polar ice, Pollution, Science

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Not as sunny as it seems: The ocean is under attack on many fronts, with climate change foremost among them Image: kein via Wikimedia Commons

Not as sunny as it seems: The ocean is under attack on many fronts, with climate change foremost among them
Image: kein via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The Global Ocean Commission says climate change is one of the key threats to the health of the world’s marine life, which it says faces multiple pressures in a warming world.

HONG KONG, 17 March - South Africa’s former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, has derided those who deny the scientific argument that climate change is an urgent problem caused largely by human activity.

He told journalists here: “The science is now incontrovertible. There are a few people in the world who deny it, but they are mainly in lunatic asylums.”

Mr Manuel is one of three co-chairs of the Global Ocean Commission, a panel of global leaders who have just ended a meeting here to finalise the proposals they will present to the United Nations in June.

The meeting agreed that another key threat to the world’s oceans is overfishing and the subsidies which help to make it possible. It says this, and the other factors causing ocean degradation, threaten the food security of as many as 500 million people.

It is deeply worried about pollution. With plastic remains now so pervasive that they are found even in deep seafloor sediments, Mr Manuel said, it sometimes seemed that “you might as well not bother to buy seafood at all – just buy the plastic bag it comes in and eat that.”

Shells corroded

The Commission says climate change threatens the oceans in three main ways: by raising the temperature of the water; by reducing its oxygen content; and by increasing its acidity. Antarctic pteropods, small sea snails also known as sea butterflies, are already being found with severely corroded shells because of acidification, and larger creatures, including bigger shellfish and corals, are likely to be seriously affected.

Another of the co-chairs, José María Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica, told the Climate News Network the Commission was concerned at the prospect of exploitation of the high seas in the Arctic as the region’s sea ice continues to melt.

He said: “Beyond Arctic countries’ EEZs (exclusive economic zones stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast), the melting will leave us with a doughnut-shaped hole in the Arctic high seas, which are not under international control.

“Some nations are now looking to explore there for fish, minerals, valuable biodiversity and other resources. I believe we should not go down that route.

We should listen to the science and follow the precautionary principle, keeping this pristine area off-limits for exploitation until we understand the consequences.

Coalition builders

“We’re already pushing the high seas to the limit. We don’t need to push them over the edge by a lack of proper precaution in the Arctic.”

He said: “The jury is still out on whether we have 20 or 30 years ahead as a window of opportunity to act. But why wait? Listen to the science, which is overwhelming, and to the economics, which are sound.”

Describing the Commission as “not just a bunch of treehuggers, but a group that’s grounded itself in good sound economics”, Mr Figueres said the recommendations it planned to present to the UN on 24 June would represent about 20% of its work. The other 80% would involve building coalitions around each recommendation: there are expected to be no more than 10 in total.

The Commission’s third co-chair is the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. He told the Network: “Answers that sit on a shelf are a waste of time, and people who are positively inclined to protect the oceans are held back by institutional inertia.

“But the interplay between climate change and ocean damage is rising, and it very much needs to. The science of most of the last half-century shows us how we’ve been playing tricks with nature.” – Climate News Network

India’s diesel fumes fuel glacier melt

March 6, 2014 in Black Carbon, Climate, Glaciers, Himalayas, Ice Loss, Mountains, Pollution

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Nanda Devi, one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas: Air pollution from the cities is affecting the mountain glaciers Image: Anirban c* via Wikimedia Commons

Nanda Devi, one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas: Air pollution from the cities is affecting the mountain glaciers
Image: Anirban c8 via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

As India’s economy expands, so does pollution, particularly in the country’s major cities. Kieran Cooke, one of our editors, has recently been in Kolkata, one of the country’s biggest and most polluted population centres: he says increasing pollution is not only harming Kolkata’s citizens – it’s also a likely contributor to climate change taking place in the Himalayan region.

KOLKATA, 6 March – Being a traffic policeman in Kolkata is a life-threatening business. Not only are you at risk of being run over on the traffic-clogged roads and streets of this chaotic city of 14 million – you’re also more than likely to suffer from serious health problems due to some of the worst air pollution not just in India, but in the world.

According to a 2012 report by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment on air quality in Kolkata, seven out of every ten people in the city suffer from some form of respiratory ailment: not surprisingly, traffic policemen and the city’s thousands of street dwellers are among the high risk groups.

Air pollution, particularly related to diesel-fuelled vehicles that jam Kolkata’s roads, is also linked to the city’s unusually high levels of lung cancer.

Meanwhile the government’s own Central Pollution Control Board gives Kolkata and New Delhi the unenviable status of being joint winners of India’s most polluted city prize.

All this is not just bad news for people living in Kolkata and India’s other major urban conglomerations. The increasing air pollution in India’s cities – particularly those in the northern parts of the country – also has an impact on the degree of melt taking place in glaciers in the Himalayas.

Soaking up the heat

Diesel fumes, along with smoke from coal burning, cooking fires and the burning of waste, are among the main sources of particulate matter called soot or black carbon. Recent studies suggest that funeral pyres and even the burning of incense at temples are also contributors to the accumulation of soot.

This black carbon rises into the atmosphere and is driven by winds on to the snow or ice in the Himalayas, darkening the surface and in the process reducing reflectivity and causing the surface to absorb more heat.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based In Kathmandu, Nepal, is the only transboundary organisation looking at climate developments across the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region.

According to ICIMOD estimates, black carbon is likely responsible for a large part – around 30% by some calculations – of glacial melt in the region. It says most of the black carbon deposited in the Himalayas and in the southern area of the Tibetan Plateau comes from the plains of India, while black carbon on the eastern and northern parts of the Plateau originates in central China.

Bigger harvests

ICIMOD says that while data is limited, studies suggest black carbon may not only be a factor in hastening the melt of mountain glaciers – it could also substantially alter rainfall patters and affect the behaviour of the monsoon.

While many well-organised environmental NGOs and other groups have formed in India in recent years, the environment – and climate change – does not come high on the political agenda.

A late 2013 study by the World Bank and the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) said that up to a million deaths could be avoided each year in the Himalayan region by cutting back on emissions of black carbon and methane. The study also said that regional yields of crops such as rice and wheat could be significantly improved by reducing black carbon.

“The health of people around the world will improve greatly if we reduce emissions of black carbon and methane”, says Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president.

“Limiting these emissions will also be an important contributor to the fight against climate change.” – Climate News Network

North Dakota promises to turn down the lights

February 8, 2014 in Energy, Pollution, Shale Gas, USA

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By Kieran Cooke

The US state of North Dakota is in the midst of a shale oil and gas boom.  Critics say the industry has been allowed to grow without proper regulation, but oil producers are now promising to be more mindful of the environment.

LONDON, 8 FEbruary – The light from thousands of gas flares in North Dakota is so intense that it can be seen from space. The flares come from oil production units in the Bakken oil fields in the northwest of the state – the site of one of the biggest concentrations of the hydraulic fracturing or fracking industry in the US.

A report last year by Ceres, a US organization which promotes more sustainable business practices, said that gas worth approximately $1bn literally went up in flames and smoke in 2012 from Bakken.

Bakken gas flare: North Dakota waits to see whether industry promises will be more than lip service Image: Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

Bakken gas flare: North Dakota waits to see whether industry promises will be more than lip service
Image: Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

The report, Flaring Up, said flaring in 2012 contributed 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of around a million cars.

The World Bank estimates that flaring around the world accounts for the release of 400 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year.

While the flaring of gas – a byproduct of oil production – has been cut back in many regions of the US, about half of the more than 10,000 oil wells in North Dakota are still burning off their gas.

But oil producers now say they hope to significantly decrease flaring in future and have pledged to aim to capture 90% of gas produced by the end of the decade.

Weak regulations

The North Dakota Petroleum Council says construction of gas pipelines and gas processing plants will be speeded up. It is lobbying the state to give financial incentives to encourage the establishment of industries using gas to fuel their activities.

Oil commands a significantly higher price than gas: those involved in North Dakota’s fracking industry have concentrated on oil production and have been been reluctant to invest in gas facilities.

State regulations on flaring are weak. Oil producers can flare gas for a year without paying any taxes or royalties on it: even after that period, producers are usually permitted to carry on flaring, with small or no financial penalties.

The Ceres organization says the announcement by North Dakota’s shale oil and gas producers represents a significant breakthrough: in 2012 Ceres lobbied investors managing $500 billion in assets to send a letter to the US’s largest shale oil producers to reduce flaring – or stop it completely.

“Reducing flaring will not only save energy and reduce climate-threatening carbon pollution”, says Andrew Logan, the director of Ceres’ oil and gas programme. “It will set an important precedent for shale energy production across the US.

Rush to develop

“We know that investors wield enormous power to positively affect the way industries and companies operate. We don’t have to choose between protecting our environment and growing our economy. The future of our economy depends on a healthy environment.”

Due to fracking, North Dakota has become the second biggest oil-producing state in the US after Texas, with production rising from 18,500 barrels per day (bpd) in 2007 to nearly one million bpd now.

While the fracking boom has resulted in the economy of North Dakota expanding faster than that of any other state in the US, the rapid expansion of the oil industry has put a big strain on roads, schools and medical services: there has also been a big rise in crime.

Concerns have also been raised about oil spills and accidents and the pollution of land by oil-related products.

Don Morrison, director of the Dakota Resource Council – a group that describes itself as the watchdog of North Dakota’s prairie lands – says the oil producers’ statement on flaring is ”nothing more than lip service.”

“They are still getting a free ride for flaring”, Morrison tells the Charlotte Observer newspaper. “Until the state stops giving away these tax breaks, flaring won’t stop.” – Climate News Network

OECD states cut emissions too slowly

January 14, 2014 in Economy, Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Mitigation, OECD, Pollution

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Gridlock in Dakar:  The growth in vehicle numbers has outweighed better engine efficiency Image: Ji-Elle via Wikimedia Commons

Gridlock in Dakar: The growth in vehicle numbers has outweighed better engine efficiency
Image: Ji-Elle via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

The club of the world’s richest countries admits that its members are failing to prevent dangerous climate change, despite their eforts to rein in pollution.

LONDON, 14 January – The world’s richest countries have made some progress since the 1990s in limiting environmental damage. But they have not done enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, according to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Scientists say that carbon dioxide emissions need to start going down in the next decade to prevent global temperatures reaching dangerous levels. But the OECD predicts that levels of carbon dioxide will continue to rise and by 2050 will be 50% higher than today.

The 34 OECD countries in the survey are mainly the older mature economies which in the 1970s produced well over half the world’s CO2 emissions from their factories and transport. Now the OECD share of total world emissions has dropped to 30%, but only because of the vast increase in the energy use of China and other high-growth countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and South Africa.  These now account for 40% of global emissions on their own.

More vehicles

There is some good news in the report. Some OECD countries have both increased production and reduced CO2 emissions by introducing renewables and energy efficiency.

The problem for those that fail to do so appears to be political, with countries like Australia and Canada, which have repudiated the Kyoto Protocol, apparently also abandoning most policies to combat climate change.

The report, Environment at a Glance 2013, says that on average there has been progress. Since 1990 there has been a drop of 25% in the amount of energy required to produce a unit of production in member countries, but this is well short of what is needed to safeguard the planet.

The report, which reviews OECD members’ efforts to combat climate change by reducing fossil fuel use, says that the overall energy mix has barely changed in 20 years. There is still an 80% reliance on fossil fuels, although there has been a lot of switching from coal to gas, which does reduce emissions.

Renewable energy is still only 9% of the total energy supply. Another problem is the increasing demand for transport. Smaller, more efficient engines are failing to offset a 17% increase in vehicle numbers.

Rejecting Kyoto

The major political driver for reducing emissions since 1997 has been the Kyoto Protocol. Countries which made pledges to reduce emissions, principally those in the expanded European Union, have made most progress.

This is partly due to the economic recession and exporting some dirty industries to China and other developing countries, but domestic efficiency measures and switching to renewables has helped.

Among the worst performing countries are those that made pledges under the Kyoto Protocol and subsequently abandoned them for political reasons – the United States, Canada and Australia.

The top four countries in the per capita emissions table (the amount of CO2 emitted for each person in a country) has Australia in the lead and Luxembourg second, followed by the United States and Canada.

Positive note

Luxembourg makes the list only because of its low taxes on fuel, which mean that motorists from neighbouring countries fill up their cars at its petrol pumps and then drive back over the border.

Australia relies heavily on coal burning to power its industry and also exports large quantities of coal to China. The new government turned its back on international efforts to combat climate change last year. Canada had previously done the same, deciding instead to exploit its tar sands for oil production, involving high-energy use.

The United States has high per capita carbon emissions because of the lavish lifestyles of its citizens and a powerful Republican lobby that supports the fossil fuel industry and blocks any attempt to combat climate change.

On what the OECD calls “a positive note”, its members have slashed emissions of sulphur oxides by 69% since 1990 and of nitrogen oxide by 36% in the same period.

Sulphur oxides, in various forms, are a chief cause of acid rain and a potent greenhouse gas. Nitrogen oxides are also a contributor to climate change and low level ozone, which damages plants and buildings and irritates human lungs.

These reductions have been possible because of political action, showing that it is not the lack of technology that prevents the world tackling climate change but the lack of will and legislation. – Climate News Network

Amazon forest loss threatens five states

December 29, 2013 in Amazonia, Deforestation, Development Issues, Drought, Food security, Forests, Pollution, Rainfall, South America, Water

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Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield
Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Water, food supplies and energy production are all in jeopardy as the Amazon forest is felled for profit, campaigners say – and the damage is spreading beyond Amazonia itself.

LONDON, 29 December – The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.

Five countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40% of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.

In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region rainfall will fall by 20% over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost a third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football pitches destroyed globally every minute since 2000.

The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme  and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.

There always seemed to be an endless supply of water, but the combination of industrial and agricultural pollution and droughts is creating a once unthinkable vulnerability for the five countries of Amazonia.

Profits syphoned off

The huge wealth being generated from the forests comes with large-scale environmental and social costs. Local people do not benefit, and the profits from minerals, mining and agriculture are syphoned out of the region.

The large-scale economic development of the region causes deforestation. That in turn is threatening not only the wellbeing of the local people but the economic stability of the industries themselves.

Climate change is adding to both the uncertainty and the instability. Increasing temperatures, as much as 3.5°C in the near future, changing rainfall patterns and more intense and frequent extreme weather events will have further impacts on the health and well-being of the population. Energy supply from hydro-electric dams will decline.

Big bill coming

Among those welcoming the report is Manuel Pulgar, Peru’s environment minister.  He will play a leading part when the country’s capital, Lima, hosts the 20th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2014. http://unfccc.int/2860.php

He said: “Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways. In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters…”

The report says the impacts of environmental degradation that have so far been felt in other parts of the world are now likely to be felt in Amazonia, threatening economic development and security.

Governments in the region, it says, need to recognize that development cannot continue without recognising the damage caused to the water supply and the climate both globally and locally.  Policy makers need scientists to monitor changes to conditions and the economic risks they pose.

Trillions of tons of water

These findings must be shared between academic institutions and governments so that they can decide how to remedy the problem. Annual reviews of dangerous hotspots are also needed, and cross-border groups of experts who could help both national and regional development plans to be worked out.

Carlos Klink, Brazil’s national secretary for climate change and environmental quality, endorsed these findings. “We are understanding more and more how interdependent water, food, energy and health security are across our continent.

“There is also interdependence between the countries that share the Amazon, which recycles trillions of tons of water that all our people and economies rely on.

“The challenge that we are just beginning to recognise and act upon is one of transitioning to a more sustainable economy – one that values the role of a healthy Amazonia in underpinning long-term security and prosperity.” – Climate News Network

Where on Earth will the waste go?

November 2, 2013 in Human response, Pollution, Population, Waste

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An alligator in Beijing Zoo - will we continue to be overrun by waste? Image: David Castor via Wikimedia Commons

An alligator in Beijing Zoo – how much longer will we continue to be overrun by waste?
Image: David Castor via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

As the world’s population continues to grow, so too the collective rubbish dump of human waste increases – and according to a recent report, it might not be until sometime next century that it begins to recede.

LONDON, 2 November – Human waste production has multiplied tenfold in the last century. Rubbish – plastic bags, pizza boxes, empty beer cans, tinfoil, bubble wrap, old mattresses, rusty machinery, broken bottles, spent batteries, stale sandwiches, wilting salads and abandoned newsprint – is being generated faster than any other environmental pollutants, including greenhouse gases. And the problem will go on getting bigger until some time in the next century.

Daniel Hoornweg of the University of Ontario and Chris Kennedy of the University of Toronto in Canada and Perinaz Bhada-Tata of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates argue in Nature that the combination of urban growth and material affluence is creating a throwaway problem that won’t go away. The average person in the US throws away his (or her) own body weight in rubbish every month. The detritus linked to modern living has not only grown tenfold in a century; by 2025 it will double again.

Solid waste disposal has become one of any modern city’s biggest costs. Landfill sites near Shanghai, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Mexico City typically receive 10,000 tonnes of waste a day.  The world now has more than 2,000 waste incinerators, some able to burn 5,000 tonnes a day, creating attendant problems of ash and air-polluting fumes.

Landfill waste is of course also a notorious source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – but the authors are primarily concerned with the simple problems posed by the increasing volume of affluent society’s rejected stuff.

It’s a city thing, they say. Country dwellers don’t buy so much packaged food, don’t have factories and don’t throw so much food away. City dwellers on average generate twice as much waste; the more affluent urbanites throw away four times as much.

The three researchers – an expert in energy systems, a civil engineer and an urban waste consultant – say that in 1900 there were 220 million people in the cities. That was 13% of the planet’s population, and these townsfolk produced 300,000 tonnes of discarded stuff every day.

By 2000, there were 2.9 billion people in cities – 49% of the world’s population – creating more than three million tonnes of solid waste per day. By 2025, it will be twice that = enough to fill a line of rubbish trucks 5,000 kilometres long every day.

International idiosyncrasies

Some countries are more profligate than others. Japan’s citizens produce about one third less, per person, than US citizens, even though the gross domestic product per capita is about the same. China’s solid waste generation is expected to go from 520,550 tonnes per day to 1.4 million by 2025.

“As a country becomes richer, the composition of its waste changes,” the authors say. “With more money comes more packaging, imports, electronic waste and broken toys and appliances. The wealth of a country can readily be measured, for example, by how many mobile phones it discards.”

Hoornweg and Bhada-Tata are the authors of a 2012 World Bank report in which they projected a world dustbin collection of 6 million tonnes a day by 2025. They calculate that under a business-as-usual scenario waste will grow with population and affluence as the century wears on, with increasing growth in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and by 2100 it will exceed 11 million tonnes a day and peak sometime in the next century. But this scenario is not inevitable.

“With lower populations, denser, more resource-efficient cities and less consumption (along with higher affluence) the peak could come forward to 2075 and reduce in intensity by more than 25%,” they say. This would save around 2.6 million tonnes per day. – Climate News Network

Energy change means peril for investors

October 31, 2013 in Adaptation, Climate, Energy, Human response, Pollution, Renewables, Resource shortages

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Close up of Messel Oil Shale - But for how much longer will we need to rely on fossil fuels? Image: Gretarsson via Wikimedia Commons

Oil shale: But for how much longer can we afford to rely on fossil fuels?
Image: Gretarsson via Wikimedia Commons

 By Kieran Cooke

Making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is essential for the future of our planet, but taking the first steps towards real change will make hugely challenging demands.

LONDON, 1 November – The global energy system is rather like an oil supertanker, sailing the oceans with its vast cargo. Everything is fine as long as the giant ship doesn’t have to alter course or stop suddenly.

The system, overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels, is highly complex but over time has been remarkably resilient, delivering considerable economic growth and political and societal stability in many regions.

The trouble, according to a new report, is that climate change and other factors mean the good ship energy is having to change course – but most investors in the sector are either asleep or looking the other way.

The report, compiled by Meteos, a UK-based not-for-profit think tank and strategy company, is the result of an ongoing dialogue between a number of heavy hitters in the investment community along with advisors from the fossil fuel industries and representatives from academia.

“The fact that energy contributes so much both to economic activity and political stability often leads analysts to conclude that the main characteristics of today’s fossil fuel-reliant system are immutable”, says the report.

Many of those contributing to this study do not agree. “The pace of change (in the sector) has been astonishing”, says the study. If investors and the industry itself don’t take notice of what’s going on, then they’ll end up shipwrecked.

Shale oil and gas have brought about an energy revolution in the US, with a dramatic drop in overall energy prices: all this is having a big impact on the finances of the energy companies. Meanwhile in Europe energy utilities are being hit by falling fossil fuel energy demand, particularly in Germany where renewables are taking an ever greater share of the market.

Beware stranded assets

The report says China might exploit its shale gas reserves, the world’s biggest. There’s also a push in the country towards cleaner energy and a decline in the take-up of some fossil fuels, particularly of coal.

“Efficiency improvements, slowing economic growth and aggressive pollution abatement measures are combining with competition from alternatives (particularly hydro and nuclear), leading some analysts to predict an absolute decline in Chinese coal consumption by 2016”, says the report.

And, overhanging the whole energy sector, is the question of climate change.

The study says the market continues to underestimate the potential for climate-related change to the energy system.

“…At some point the disruptive economic impacts of climate change will come to outweigh the benefits of business as usual, and that will eventually lead to a concerted effort to constrain how much carbon is put into the atmosphere.”

Energy investors, says the study, should be more concerned about so called “stranded assets” – fossil fuel reserves listed as corporate assets which will have to stay in the ground if any meaningful action is to be taken on global warming. They also need to keep pace with climate- and energy-related policy and regulatory changes in various countries.

Investors should also take note of significant changes in public opinion on climate-related issues, such as the concerns raised about smog in China which led to environmental issues being highlighted in the country’s 2011-15 Five Year Plan.

The other factor having a big impact on the global energy system is the move towards greater energy efficiency in many countries.

Thinking local

“Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (OECD) energy consumption has fallen while the economy has grown; for instance, in 2012 energy consumption fell 1.2% while the economy grew 1.4%.”

In Europe there is a big push for more energy efficiency, driven by both climate change and price factors. China has developed targets to reduce the energy intensity of its economy. Even the US, the world’s most profligate energy user, aims to double energy productivity by 2030.

The big energy companies are also threatened by a move towards localised, micro-generation power projects in many areas which could spark a phenomenon described as the “utility death spiral”.

“…As more customers leave, fewer utility customers are left to finance an expensive infrastructure. This in turn drives up utility prices, leading to more customers leaving the utility, and so on.”

Some groups say investors in the fossil fuel industry should divest quickly so as to avoid a fall in corporate share prices when the carbon bubble finally bursts.

Those involved in the Meteos report take a more measured approach, saying investors need to be far more proactive and to take a systematic approach to analysis of the energy system.

The considerable risks of investing in the sector need to be understood. Perhaps most important of all, fossil fuel companies need to be more transparent and willing to disclose their strategies for the future, including how they plan to tackle the risks to their operations posed by climate change. - Climate News Network

Universities urged to cut fossil fuel ties

October 20, 2013 in Climate, Greenhouse Gases, Policy, Pollution, Public Awareness, Renewables, Transparency, Warming

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT/0001 BST on Sunday, 20/Monday 21 October

Students at British universities are key players in the campaign to  disinvest in fossil fuels Image: Paul Chapman via Wikimedia Commons

Students in the UK have a key role to play in the campaign to stop universities investing in fossil fuels
Image: Paul Chapman via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

As international pressure mounts to stop investment in further fossil fuel exploitation, the UK’s higher education sector is being urged by campaign groups to aim for fossil-free universities

LONDON, 20 October – Campaign groups in the UK say the fossil fuel industry is too deeply entwined financially with British universities and urge them to disinvest within the next five years.

The groups have published a report, Knowledge and Power – Fossil Fuel Universities, in which they accuse the universities of allowing the industry to hide behind a coating of greenwash.

It warns: “Universities offer their credibility for cash when they sign deals sponsoring staff positions, buildings, conferences and lectures with fossil fuel companies. These deals play a key role in shoring up the fossil fuel industry’s public image.”

The report, which calls on universities to phase out fossil fuel research and refocus their work towards climate solutions, says universities have an estimated £5.2 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry – £2,083 for every student in the UK.

“A small proportion of the wealth of university endowment funds is invested directly in the shares of oil and gas companies,” the report says. “A far greater proportion supports the industry by investments held in pensions, unit trusts, and other financial products.”

Executives revered

The report is critical of the admiring relationship it says exists between academia and industry, claiming: “Fossil fuel executives are revered by universities, invited to speak at prestigious events, and given honorary degrees. Senior executives from BP and Shell have received 20 awards in the last decade alone. . .”

Of the 250 papers published by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, the report says, only three are on renewables. The Institute receives more than half of its grants from oil and gas companies, but might argue that this could hardly be otherwise, given the relative wealth of the hydrocarbon sector and its opponents.

The report, which was in part crowdsourced online from students and staff at universities across the country, is published on behalf of three campaign groups: Platform, which describes itself as “a London-based arts, human rights and environmental justice organisation”; People & Planet, a British student network seeking to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment; and 350.org, a global grassroots climate change campaign seeking to prevent C02 emissions increasing to more than 350 parts per million (most countries have agreed to aim for a 450 ppm threshold).

It is timed to coincide with the start of a divestment campaign in Europe, to be launched with a Fossil-Free Europe tour by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, and other prominent campaigners.

Efforts to persuade investors to divest from fossil fuel companies include a study released earlier this month by the Smith School of Enterprise  and the Environment at Oxford University, which concluded that fossil fuel divestment campaigning posed “the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies”.

Louise Hazan, climate campaigns and communications manager at People & Planet, told Climate News Network: “Universities are public institutions that are meant to serve the public interest.

Research undermined

“They lead the world in research on climate change, but that research is completely undermined when they are both funded by the fossil fuel industry and investing in it.

“We realise that we will depend on these fuels for years to come, but we believe that our universities have a responsibility to lead society away from them.

“Beyond their direct investments, which are relatively small in the scale of things, UK universities’ investment decisions and research priorities can play an important role in helping society to wean itself off fossil fuels and hasten its transition to a low-carbon future.”

Bill McKibben said: “Severing our ties with the companies digging up the carbon won’t bankrupt them – but it will start to politically bankrupt them, and make their job of dominating the planet’s politics that much harder.

“Universities have a central role to play in this regard, since they are one of the few places in our civilization where reason still stands a good chance of prevailing over power.” – Climate News Network

Europe’s easy ride on climate targets

October 12, 2013 in Aviation, Climate, Energy, Greenhouse Gases, Policy, Pollution, Warming

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Solar panels in Spain: Europe needs to double renewable energy use by 2020 to meet targets Image: FernandoTomás via Wikimedia Commons

Solar panels in Spain: Europe needs to double renewable energy use by 2020 to meet binding targets
Image: FernandoTomás via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

A rosy picture of emissions reduction commitments being achieved by European Union countries fails to impress critics who believe a huge opportunity has been missed to do much more to tackle climate change

LONDON, 12 October – Good news that the European Union will achieve its aim of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 has been tempered by criticism that, for most countries, the target has been too easy and that much more could and should have been done to help combat the threat of global warming.

A combination of the recession and vast quantities of cheap carbon credits available for countries to buy their way out of their obligations has meant that industry has been able to afford to pollute as much as it wants, and governments have made too little political effort to promote energy efficiency and to boost renewables.

The figures on carbon reductions are produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA) to keep track of what is happening in the European Union (EU) and to make sure countries are keeping to their international obligations and EU law.

The agency presents a generally rosy picture on reducing emissions. However, targets to produce 20% of energy from renewables and achieve 20% energy efficiency gains are not going to be reached so easily, if at all.

The EEA report confirms for the first time that the EU exceeded its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Total emissions in 2012 were 12.2 % below the 1990 levels – what the report calls an “overachievement of 5.5%”.

Cheap way out

This was due to the 2008 recession, a switch in electricity production from coal to gas, and an increase in renewables. However, for industries and countries that did not reduce emissions enough, there was an easy lifeline to grab: there were 1.8 billion surplus allowances from industry for carbon credits under the EU trading scheme, providing a cheap way for polluters to buy their way out of trouble.

As a result of the same trends continuing, the EEA report suggests that the whole of the expanded EU is going to meet and even exceed its 20% reduction target by 2020, with most countries not having to make any further effort.

Since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, the number of countries in the EU has expanded dramatically, while aviation has been included in overall emission targets. Partly as a result of these changes, carbon dioxide emissions have gone down even further, and so the report says that, for the larger EU in 2012, they were already 18% below 1990 levels. It concludes that, as a result, the 20% target is within reach eight years ahead of schedule.

The report also takes stock of the two other 2020 EU targets – a 20% increase in energy efficiency for every country in Europe, and a 20% production of energy through renewables. Here, the agency says the picture is more mixed.

Only four of the 28 EU member states – Bulgaria, Denmark, France and Germany – are making good progress in reducing energy consumption and primary energy intensity through “well-balanced policy packages across relevant sectors”. For most member states, the current policies are not sufficiently developed or implemented  – partly due to insufficient enforcement.

The worst offenders are Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, which do not yet have policies in place to reach the 20% target on energy efficiency by the end of the decade.

Legally binding

The picture on renewable energy is better. The EU has exceeded its target of 10% of gross final energy consumption from renewables in 2010 by 3%. However, Europe needs to double the use of renewable energy by 2020, compared to the 2005–2011 period, if  it is to reach the EU’s legally binding renewable energy target. Six countries are currently well below target – Belgium, France, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, and the UK.

In contrast, 14 member states had met or exceeded their 2011 targets and were continuing in the right direction. They are Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. Norway, outside the EU, is also doing so.

Non-governmental organisations that keep an eye on the EU and its attempts to combat climate change were not impressed by the EEA report. They say that that while it was good that targets were being reached, it showed that the EU was being unambitious and could have done far more.

“Science tells us that we need to reduce emissions by 95% in 2050 to keep global warming below 2 degrees,” said Eva Filzmoser, director of Carbon Market Watch. “It’s a travesty that countries spend billions on international offset credits instead of investing in energy efficiency measures and renewable energies on the home front.”

David Holyoake, a legal adviser with ClientEarth’s Climate & Energy Programme, said: “The report shows that member states will virtually not need to do anything between now and 2020 to reach some targets. This is a huge missed opportunity for further much-needed emissions reduction, especially in the buildings, agriculture and transport sectors.” – Climate News Network

Financial big guns aim at fossil fuels

October 11, 2013 in Business, Climate, Energy, Greenhouse Gases, Policy, Pollution, Warming

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High-grade anthracite stockpiled at a coal processing plant in Pennsylvania, USA Image: Fabartus via Wikimedia Commons

Burning issue: anthracite stockpiled at a coal processing plant in Pennsylvania, USA
Image: Fabartus via Wikimedia Commons

 

By Kieran Cooke

Heavyweights of world finance have fired warning shots at the fossil fuel industry by calling for cutbacks in its subsidies, and by stressing that sustainable energy and tackling the causes of climate change are their key priorities

London, 11 October – The multi-billion-dollar global fossil fuel industry might be getting just a little bit worried.

In recent days, some of the biggest guns in the world of finance have all had the industry in their sights, calling for a cut back on fossil fuel subsidies and the fast-tracking of carbon trading schemes, or for the wider application of taxes on carbon.

Jim Yong Kim, head of the World Bank, and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), held a joint news conference in which they stressed that climate change must be the main priority of both institutions.

“It is important that our two institutions always have climate change, environmental issues and price setting at the forefront of our agenda,” Lagarde said. “We have got to think about it every day.”

Establishing a proper price for carbon and removing energy subsidies were the IMF’s priorities, Lagarde said.  “If you do it the right way, you can put subsidies where they are needed.”

Jim Yong Kim said the priorities for the World Bank were to invest in sustainable energy for all, well-designed cities, and what he called smart agriculture. He said cutting fossil fuel subsidies was often “politically difficult”, but there were encouraging signs around the world from the implementation of carbon taxes.

Angel Gurria, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), joined in the chorus, saying governments must take immediate action aimed at pricing carbon and abolishing fossil fuel subsidies.

“According to the latest International Energy Agency [IEA] estimates, subsidies to fossil fuel consumers in developing and emerging economies totalled US$ 523bn in 2011,” Gurria said.

“In many countries, these subsidies are used as a substitute for poverty relief. That is understandable, since energy is one of the fundamental basic human necessities.

“But such subsidies are generally poorly targeted, and instead end up being captured overwhelmingly by better-off households who can afford larger cars and houses that consume more energy. These subsidies are bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and also bad in terms of social justice.”

Meanwhile, a report by a group of academics at Oxford University has warned the fossil fuel industry that it could not afford to ignore a growing high-profile campaign urging investors to withdraw their cash from companies involved with fossil fuels.

Others point out that if meaningful action is to be taken on climate change, the bulk of fossil fuel company assets have to stay in the ground. This means that industry conglomerates are grossly overvalued and a carbon bubble is likely to burst in the near future.

The World Bank and a number of other financial institutions announced earlier this year that they were scaling back or stopping altogether funding for new coal-fired power projects. The US administration also said it would stop investing in coal projects overseas.

But it’s unlikely that the fossil fuel industry will be heading for the bunkers any time soon.

The World Bank still provides multi-million-dollar funding for fossil fuel projects. The US might have stopped funding coal projects overseas, but its coal exports are booming like never before. And in Britain there were calls this week for the abolition of subsidies – not for fossil fuels but for the renewable energy industry. – Climate News Network