Archive for September 2011
E-cycles, bike highways and cutting government addiction to gas taxes
By Stephen Leahy
BERLIN, Jun 6, 2011 (IPS)
As global carbon emissions hit record-high levels last year, officials from leading Asian nations told the 2011 International Transport Forum in nearby Leipzig that their citizens want more cars.
At the same meeting, some Europeans urged a 21st century renaissance in bicycle transport, with electric and electric-assist bikes for personal health and the health of the climate.
“We in India need to provide more roads and rail,” said B.K. Chaturvedi, a member of India’s Planning Commission.
“Cycling is a miniscule thing. That’s not the future,” Chaturvedi told the nearly 800 attendees.
“The bike is better to get around in Beijing, but bicycle use is dropping fast due to poor air quality and the danger from car traffic,” said Pan Haixiao, a professor at Tongji University in China.
The number of cars and light trucks globally is projected to triple from the current 850 million to 2.5 billion by 2050, according to the International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Transport Outlook 2011. That growth is projected to be almost entirely in the developing world.
Richer countries are actually reducing the personal vehicle use in the last few years.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s ITF is an intergovernmental organisation for the transport sector involving 52 different nations.
Transport is the second leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, contributing about 7.5 gigatonnes to the 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt) emitted in total in 2010. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported last week that humanity cannot exceed annual emissions of 32.0 Gt or it will be impossible to achieve the internationally-agreed target of below two degrees C of global warming to avoid very dangerous levels of global warming. Read the rest of this entry »
Climate disruption shrinking areas where people can live.
Mexico faces $10 billion in storm/flood damage to roads, schools, clinics, etc every year
By Stephen Leahy
OSLO, Jun 9, 2011 (IPS)
Mass migration will inevitably be part of human adaptation to climate change, experts agree, since parts of the world will become uninhabitable in the coming decades.
Last year, 38 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters such as the flooding in Pakistan and China.
“Human displacement due to climate change is happening now. There is no need to debate it,” Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, told over 200 delegates attending the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century in Oslo Jun. 6-7.
Governments and the humanitarian community need to understand this fact – and that it will get much worse in the coming decades, Støre said.
Without major emissions reductions, climate change could get far worse than anyone is prepared to think about.
“It may be more realistic to consider four degrees C of warming rather than two degrees C,” suggested Harald Dovland, former head of the Norwegian Delegation to the United Nations climate change negotiations.
The world has already warmed 0.8C and will rise to least 1.6 C even if all emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases ended today, James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the conference.
A four-degree C warmer world is a very different planet and risks runaway climate change. Even two degrees C is not safe, Hansen said.
“The last time the planet was two degrees C warmer was during the Pliocene (five to 2.4 million years ago) and sea levels were 25 metres higher,” he said. “If we burn all the fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) we’re creating conditions that future generations will be unable to cope with.”
Even though a four-degree C warmer world “is choosing the suicidal path”, experts must avoid fuelling xenophobia with predictions of mass migrations and conflicts, says Francois Gemenne, research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris.
“This also feeds into a security agenda of panic and paranoia,” Gemenne said.
At least 20 percent of humanity will be at high risk of severe flooding due to sea level rise and extreme rainfall events in the coming decades.
“Too many people live in low-lying deltas and other parts of the world that are becoming too dangerous to live in,” said Gemenne. They will be forced to move and often this movement will be permanent.
Rather than building walls and barriers, countries and the international community need to encourage people to move to safer ground. “Lift the barriers so that people can use migration to adapt to climate change,” he urged delegates. Read the rest of this entry »
[This is a repost about the financial costs and risks of nuclear technology (written before the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant disaster). If a country is going to spend $10 billion to generate energy and reduce carbon emissions what technology truly offers the best return on a full cost-accounting basis? The latter calculation is not simple or uncontroversial. Two years ago Canada balked at the costs of new nuclear plants now it plans to build some without knowing the price tag. -- Stephen ]
By Stephen Leahy*
BERLIN, Jul 31, 2009 (IPS)
With costs of nuclear energy skyrocketing while the costs of renewables are falling quickly why is nuclear energy back on the table?
One reason is a powerful U.S. lobby where 14 energy companies spent 48 million dollars in 2007 alone to convince American politicians to give the industry huge loan guarantees because they cannot get financing anywhere else, says Ellen Vancko, a nuclear energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non governmental organisation (NGO).
This lavish lobbying effort by the energy and nuclear power sector has been ongoing since the mid-1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. NGO and now totals at least 953 million dollars.
Even more has been spent to convince the public that nuclear is one of the keys to energy security so that there is significant public support for new reactors, a Gallup Environment Poll reported this year.
“There are lots of senators and members of congress talking about nuclear as a clean, renewable energy resource,” Vancko says.
The other reason is the French.
France gets about 77 percent of its power from 58 reactors and is often cited as the model for other countries. “France is a special case. The entire industry is 85 percent owned by the government,” says Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy analyst.
The industry gets direct and indirect subsidies, government loans and loan guarantees “on practically anything they want”, Schneider told IPS.
And despite a well-polished reputation for efficiency and low-cost, the French nuclear industry has been plagued by cost-overruns, equipment failures, and relatively low levels of reliability. Even though French reactors are all of similar design, the cost to build a plant in 1998 was 3.5 times higher than the first plants built in 1974, says Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich in the U.K.
Unlike wind or solar energy or virtually any other technology, the costs of nuclear go up over time rather than down even in pro-nuclear France, he said. “I think that is rather telling about the technology,” Thomas told IPS.
The current Finnish nuclear experience echoes the industry’s long history.
Backed byFrench government loan guarantees, Areva, the French government-owned nuclear energy company began construction in 2005 on what is supposed to be the world’s largest and safest nuclear plant at Olkiluoto, Finland.
Plagued by thousands of construction and design problems it is currently 2 to 3 billion dollars over budget and three to four years behind schedule.
“It’s a total disaster for Areva,” Schneider says. Areva will have to sell another 12 reactors to cover the cost overruns thus far or else French taxpayers will, he said.
“The hype around a nuclear power revival or renaissance was based on nothing and is effectively dead.”
Last month Canada backed out of ordering two 1,200-megawatt reactors because cost estimates of 10,000 dollars/kW were three times higher than expected. [update Feb 2011 - Ontario now holding hearings to spend $33 billion to build two new reactors and upgrade others and bans offshore wind!]
However there is real danger that the nuclear industry will continue to promote itself as a ‘silver-bullet’ solution to climate change and give politicians the kind of mega-projects that gets them publicity, warns Schneider.
Equally important is that corporate shareholders of large utility companies can do very well financially on such projects when governments guarantee to cover any losses.
“The worst thing about new nuclear is that it steals billions of public dollars from other more effective things like energy efficiency,” he says.
(Second of two part series)
‘Oil companies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to Canadian federal energy policy’
By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Jun 13, 2011 IPS
Canada was roundly criticised by other nations at a major U.N. climate meeting last week after being caught underreporting carbon emissions from its tar sands oil production facilities, one of the countrys biggest and fastest growing sources of global warming gases.
But even the “full emissions” data that Canada finally released represents only about half of the actual emissions, according to a new report.
“Small oil sands companies are not required to report their emissions. And oil-refining emissions are not included in tar sands emissions,” said independent Canadian researcher Michelle Mech.
Canada likes to claim the city-sized tar sands project in the western province of Alberta represents only five percent of the country’s entire emissions, but the real number is closer to 10 percent, Mech told IPS.
Getting oil out of the tar sands requires extraordinary efforts, including enormous amounts of energy, and has been labeled ‘dirty oil’ as a result.
“Average emissions for oil sands production and upgrading (well-to- pump) are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as carbon intensive as conventional crude produced in North America,” concluded Mech’s report, “A Comprehensive Guide to the Alberta Oil Sands”.
“The tar sands are huge in terms of their impact on the environment but also on Canadian democracy. Oil is starting to run the country now,” she said.
By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Jun 17, 2011 (IPS)
Negotiations over a new international climate agreement are on the brink as new analyses show that carbon emission reduction promises by industrialised nations are actually lower than those made by China, India, Brazil and other developing nations.
Even with all the promises or pledges added together they are still far short of cuts needed to prevent global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius, experts reported here.
“It’s a very sad picture we see here,” said Marion Vieweg of Climate Analytics, a German NGO that analyses climate science and policy.
“The rich nations are doing nothing to improve their emissions pledges,” Vieweg told reporters during the final hours of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn. These meetings are intended to work out the details for a new international agreement for government ministers to consider at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November.
Europe Works to End Oil Addiction and Reap Financial, Social and Environment Advantages – Officials say
Developed World Must Agree to Greater Emission Reductions – 40 per cent cuts by 2020, experts say
BONN, Jun 20, 2011 (IPS)
If we’re lucky, by the time a tough but fair international treaty to meet the climate change challenge is finalised, it will be largely unnecessary. The snail’s pace of negotiations certainly gives countries plenty of time to understand the financial, social and environmental advantages of kicking their dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.
That may be a cynical optimist’s hope, but the European Union is already moving in that direction.
Climate change is now seen as an opportunity to deal with the economic downturn in Europe,” said Jürgen Lefevere, a European Commission negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session that ended late Friday in Bonn.
“It is no longer just an environmental issue for us,” Lefevere said at a final press conference.
China also understands the opportunity.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar now account for 11.4 percent of China’s electricity, and that figure will be 20 percent by 2020, says Liu Qiang, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development Reform Commission, China.
“China takes this very seriously,” Qiang said, noting that there are significant investments and research in smarter electrical grids and energy storage in China. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 2, 2011 (IPS)
With four times as many oil rigs pumping domestic oil today than eight years ago and declining domestic demand, the United States is awash in oil.
The country’s oil industry is primarily interested in who will pay the most on the global marketplace. They call that “energy security” when it suits, but in reality it is “oil company security” through maximising profits, say energy experts like Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International, an NGO that researches the links between oil, gas and coal companies and governments.
The only reason U.S. citizens may be forced to endure a risky, Canadian-owned oil pipeline called Keystone XL is so oil companies with billion-dollar profits can get the dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico to export to Europe, Latin America or Asia, according to a new report by Oil Change International released Wednesday.
“Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but rather transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets,” concludes the report, titled “Exporting Energy Security“.
Little of the 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil pumped through the 2,400-kilometre, seven-billion-dollar Keystone XL will end up in U.S. gas tanks because the refineries on the Gulf Coast are all about expanding export markets. One huge refinery operator called Valero has been touting the potential export revenues of tar sands oil to investors, the report found.
Because Keystone XL crosses national borders, President Barack Obama has to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the “national interest” in order to be approved.
“The only way Keystone XL could be considered in the national interest is if you equate that with profits for the oil industry,” said Kretzman, who wrote the report. Read the rest of this entry »
‘…unless river of money from Big Oil is diverted there is no way to deal with climate change’
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 31, 2011 (IPS)
The United States’ biggest environmental groups put aside their differences last week to make an urgent intervention on the country’s addiction to oil. The first step on the long road to recovery, they say, is to stop the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that will “mainline” the world’s dirtiest oil from northern Canada into the U.S. heartland.
“This (Keystone) is a terrible project,” they wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama, citing dangers to the climate, the risks of disastrous spills and leaks, and the economic damage that will come from continued dependence on fossil fuel.
Oil from the Keystone XL will dump an estimated 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually into the atmosphere – more than most countries. Scientists warn that approval of the project will further fuel the extreme weather that has already resulted in over one billion dollars in damages recorded this year in nine separate extreme weather events in the U.S.
And that doesn’t include the estimated 20 to 45 billion dollars in costs from Hurricane Irene last weekend, mainly due to extensive flooding.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels do not cause hurricanes, tornados or droughts, but they do trap additional heat and water vapour that fuels those events, climate scientists have proven time and time again.
Asked about the impacts of adding another 150 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, German climate scientist Malte Meinshausen, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told IPS that it will warm the planet for hundreds of years and lead to higher sea levels and “more pronounced droughts and floods”.
By Stephen Leahy *
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 23, 2011 (Tierramérica)
The promoters of Keystone XL, a huge new oil pipeline from northern Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, claim that it will reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports from unfriendly countries.
But based on falling U.S. oil demand, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline may simply allow tar sands oil currently landlocked in Alberta, Canada to be exported to Europe, say U.S. and Canadian environmental activists.
The proposed pipeline could also be used to pump water from the Ogallala aquifer in the U.S. Midwest, one of the world’s largest, to the badly parched states in the arid southwest such as Texas, currently suffering its worst drought in history.
Pipeline industry officials often say pipelines like Keystone can be easily used to transport water, said Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a large environmental NGO.
Therefore, “Keystone XL poses a double threat to the Ogallala through contamination from a pipeline leak or by pumping water that is already being overdrawn,” Barlow said in an interview with Tierramérica. Read the rest of this entry »
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 10, 2011 (IPS)
Canada and the United States are now the centre of Bizarro World. This is where leaders promise to reduce carbon emissions but ensure a new, supersized oil pipeline called Keystone XL is built, guaranteeing further expansion of the Alberta tar sands that produce the world’s most carbon-laden oil.
“It’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy – and that we leave the tar sands in the ground,” the U.S.’s leading climate scientists urged President Barack Obama in an open letter Aug. 3.
“As scientists… we can say categorically that it’s [the Keystone XL pipeline] not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.”
The letter was signed by 20 world-renowned scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center. Read the rest of this entry »