Archive for March, 2011

No Laughing Matter!

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

No Laughing Matter!

It is a serious business. We know only too well. But sometimes you have to step back. Reflect.  Not take yourself – and others – too seriously. With that thought in mind, it is refreshing to learn of the animated feature , Life Pscycle-ology, which takes a light-hearted, but nevertheless meaningful, look at sustainability. There might not be much more to chuckle about in the world, as Japan continues to count the cost of its earthquake/tsunami, along with its ongoing nuclear disaster. So we do mention – in passing – that there’s nothing clean and green about nuclear power, according to Benjamin K. Sovacool. Then Giles Parkinson tells us that a little known Japanese wind power company is moving head as the country and the world thinks renewable energy might be a better way to go.  Australia gets in the news with its ongoing carbon tax process and Ross Garnaut’s final review. We learn that adaptation is something we need to take seriously and there are a host of innovations and inventions to absorb.  World Water Day and Earth Day have passed but their impact will continue for some too we hope. Three big events for Singapore and South East Asia get rated, we learn that aircraft should stay on the ground longer to save fuel and there’s a fresh food portal coming out of  Chile to munch on. Generous people always deserve a slot, none more than the very outgoing and green Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao, Mr Low Carbon himself.   Recycling cash can be good for the economy too! – Ken Hickson

Profile: Chen Guangbiao or “Mr Low Carbon”

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Profile: Chen Guangbiao or “Mr Low Carbon”

Chen Guangbiao, the billionaire chairman of a Jiangsu-based recycling company, is a Chinese philanthropist who has a knack for getting his name in the news. Calling on the country’s wealthiest citizens to donate more of their wealth, he famously pledged to donate his entire fortune at his death. What’s more he is so green he has changed his name to reinforce the fact. Call him Chen Ditan or “Mr Low Carbon”.

Reported in the Straits Times 5 March 2011 and on

When Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao said he was going green, he meant what he said.

In an Online chat organised by People Online Mr Chen said that his entire family had changed their names to demonstrate their commitment to environmental conservation, the portal reported.

Chen Guangbiao, the billionaire chairman of a Jiangsu-based recycling company, is a philanthropist who has a knack for getting his name in the news. Calling on the country’s wealthiest citizens to donate more of their wealth, he famously pledged to donate his entire fortune at his death.

He will now be known as Chen Ditan (低碳, “low-carbon”), his wife is now Zhang Luse (绿色, “green”), and his daughters are Chen Huanbao (环保, “environmental protection”) and Chen Huanjing (环境, “environment”). Today he plans to distribute 500 reusable bags after biking to the opening of this year’s national legislative sessions, known as the lianghui.

Chen was born in Anhui, so Anhui’s Jianghuai Morning Post made him the focal point of is pre-lianghui reporting. Yesterday, the paper sent several reporters to follow him around. The highlight of the day’s activities was a banquet at which twelve of sixteen dishes were meatless. “‘Eating more vegetables is good for your body and is low-carbon and environmental,’ Chen Guangbiao said with a smile. ‘I studied medicine. I’m an expert on matters of nutrition’.”

Chen recently took a high-profile philanthropic tour of Taiwan during which he distributed cash to needy people as a show of gratitude for the assistance the island has shown to mainland China. Upon his return he called on other mainland tycoons to donate 5% of their wealth to construct a tunnel linking Taiwan to the mainland.

He told the paper that he intends to visit the United States later this year and distribute envelopes of cash to needy people on Wall Street.

Mr Chen made his fortune from recycling construction materials. “We need to bring social responsibility into our daily lives”, said the chairman of Jiang Huangpu Recycling Resources, who is one of China’s best known philanthropists. He has called on China’s wealthiest citizen’s to donate more of their wealth and he himself has famously pledged to donate his entire fortune upon his death.


Chen Guangbiao, the renowned Chinese philanthropist famous for his unorthodox, un-subtle approach to charity (he’s been known to make it rain on the less fortunate, hongbao style), has made headlines this week for taking his flashy show on the road to Japan. The only thing more overwhelming than the ostentatious nature of the visit (see flag-draped escort, flag-pinned suits, Mao-esque poses above) is how genuinely impressive it is.

From WSJ  RealTimeReport:

Chen Guangbiao, a 42-year-old billionaire and chief executive of recycling company Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources, headed to Japan Friday to personally donate rescue supplies and 13 million yen (US$158,820) to the country’s earthquake and tsunami victims, according to the Yangtze Evening News (in Chinese).

With four vans draped in Chinese national flags and wearing a suit decorated with Chinese flag stickers, Mr. Chen distributed food, water, sanitary goods, blankets and “good wishes from Chinese people” to shelters in the northeastern Japanese prefectures of Chiba, Ibaraki and Fukushima, the report said. He personally pulled three people from destroyed homes, the report said without elaborating further.

Reportedly, Chen purchased 30 tons of relief materials for the trip. He handed out a total of about 2 million yen, giving 1,000 yen and 100 yuan each to students gathering street-side with donation boxes. He stuffed his name card in as well for good measure.

Chen has inevitably faced some harsh criticism online, as anti-Japanese sentiments flare during the crisis (something dumb people are doing the world over) and many Chinese demand why he isn’t in Yunnan helping Yingjiang earthquake victims.

That may be why today Chen flew directly from Tokyo to Yunnan in order to assist with the earthquake recovery efforts, after being forced to leave Fukushima in the face of increasing radiation risks.

Here’s a guy who runs straight into the heart of disaster, whips out the fliff like mad for a few days, pulls some people from the rubble, has to evacuate due to radiation risk, then flies straight over to another disaster area. Say what you will about philanthropic showmanship, this guy’s got balls.


April Rabkin in the latest issue of FAST Company

It is a couple of weeks before Chinese New Year and Chen Guangbiao is sitting in the back of his SUV, barking orders out the window at his press secretary, a serious lady with a serious clipboard: “Beijing News, Beijing Evening News, Beijing Youth Daily …”Chen, a member of China’s new and fast-growing billionaire ranks, has just paid these newspapers to publish articles listing the charitable deeds he’s done over the course of the year.

“Make sure it’s all sourced to the People’s Daily,” Chen says, referring to the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece. Then he picks up his mobile phone and starts calling his friends. “Hey, did you see the papers today?” he says, chuckling. “Chen Guangbiao’s Report Card for the Year 2010!”

One highlight of his year: a September dinner with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They had come to Beijing to encourage its wealthiest citizens to consider joining their Giving Pledge by promising to donate at least half of their fortunes to charity. Chen was the first to accept the dinner invitation and the first Chinese to sign on — and he has been the quickest to position himself at the vanguard of China’s fledgling philanthropic movement. “China’s newly wealthy don’t understand this concept yet. They think, Whatever money I have in my hand, earned by my own sweat and tears, has nothing to do with society, so I don’t owe them anything,” says Chen, 43, a farmer’s kid turned recycling tycoon who proclaims himself China’s “philanthropist-in-chief.” “But philanthropy here is developing very fast — with me as a model.”

Chen’s model of giving is the philanthropic equivalent of nouveau-riche ostentation: He’s fond of publicity stunts, cash giveaways, and media scrums. Every natural disaster — earthquake, typhoon, drought — looks like an opportunity to Chen, who, fittingly, made his fortune turning trash to cash. When conditions are quieter, he likes to stage public distributions of money and goods; in January, he handed out 13,000 parkas to people in three regions of China, but only after alerting the media.

Chen says there’s a clear purpose to his spotlight-hogging ways. China now has more billionaires (in U.S.-dollar terms) than any other country except for the U.S., and the increasing income disparity between rich and poor has been a growing concern both in the corridors of Communist officialdom and at the grassroots level. China’s rich “need Chen Guangbiao to lead them, to awaken them,” he says, so that they know how to behave properly. But his story is also a modern Chinese version of that classic tale of the poor boy who grew up to be very, very rich and wants everybody to know it. “I want Chinese history to remember me as Carnegie is remembered. I want Chinese people to remember me as they remember Marx and Lenin. I want people for the next century to think of me when they hear the word philanthropist,” he says. “Everyone knows that Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. But the position of top philanthropist is vacant. My goal is to work diligently to become the top philanthropist in the world.”

In 2004, laws regulating charitable organizations were finally liberalized, allowing private foundations to be established in China for the first time in more than 50 years. But fundraising from the public is still generally prohibited, even though, Deng says, the increasingly bourgeois nation has more and more “white-collar people who say, ‘I want to donate, I want to volunteer, but I don’t know where I can.’ ” They can give to organizations like the Red Cross, but that’s tantamount to paying additional taxes. “The lion’s share of funding goes into the revenue accounts of government agencies,” says Pei Bin, director of China partnership development at BSR. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, there was an outpouring of billions of yuan in giving — which wound up mostly in the coffers of the same government agencies and officials responsible for the shoddy schools and buildings that collapsed on thousands of citizens.

Chen knows all about the lives of the poor in China because for most of his life, he was one of the have-nots. Born in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution, he grew up the son of a farmer in a Jiangsu Province county called Sihong, which has been famed since the 1730s for its fierce liquor. In the early 1970s, two of Chen’s siblings starved to death, and the young Chen expected to eat meat only once a year, during Chinese New Year. According to his father, Chen Lisheng, Chen started working for neighbors at an early age, herding cattle, cutting hay, and carrying water. As the younger Chen tells it, his giving began then too; he earned enough money during one summer of field labor to pay for not only his tuition but also those of a neighbor’s children. At age 15 or 16, the elder Chen recalls, his son “spent a summer selling popsicles. He wanted to use the money to pay for his dormitory fees, but when he ran into poor children who couldn’t afford popsicles, he would give them away for free.”

After finishing high school, Chen studied traditional Chinese medicine in Nanjing, Jiangsu’s capital, and in the 1990s, he invented a disease-detection device. Officially labeled a “low-radiation ear acupuncture point illness probing and curing apparatus,” the machine is basically a gutted computer monitor whose screen has been replaced by an anatomical diagram with an array of tiny lightbulbs. Two cords connect the machine to metal prongs, which the doctor places on the patient’s ears to detect interruptions in the body’s qi, the Chinese word for “life force” (and the salvation for many a Scrabble player with a q but no u). If any ailment is detected, the light on the diagram corresponding to that part of the body lights up and a siren shrieks.

In the late 1990s, Chen switched careers. He found, he says, “an invisible gold mine in the middle of the city”: construction sites. He realized that demolished buildings, with all that metal and concrete, could be valuable sources of salable materials. His company, Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources, has become one of China’s premier dismantling and rubble-recycling firms. It has won prestigious contracts to take down some of the World Expo facilities in Shanghai and to demolish the Television Cultural Center tower in Beijing, which was set ablaze by Chinese New Year fireworks in 2009. “The profit margin is not large, but the amount of material is tremendous,” Chen says. He declines to offer details about his company, which is privately held; its clients; its revenues; or its profits — each further question is answered with a dismissive “yes, yes!”

According to the Hurun Rich List — the best source for wealth statistics in China, although it is based, at least in part, on self-reported numbers — Chen has amassed enough of a fortune to be, as of late 2010, the 406th wealthiest person in China. The most recent Forbes list of China’s richest had him at No. 223, with an estimated net worth of $675 million (4.45 billion yuan). He has at least a dozen homes around China, including three in Nanjing, where his company is headquartered.

The Hurun Rich List also declared Chen the fourth-most-generous person in the nation. Last year, he pledged that upon his death, what remains of his wealth will go not to his two children, but to charity. He is, he says, the first of many Chinese “naked donors”: “We come into the world naked, and we leave the world naked. We don’t want to take money with us into the afterlife.” So far, Chen claims, he has recruited 100 Chinese millionaires and billionaires to join him on his list of naked donors.

The aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake still looms large in his mind. He had arrived a few days after the quake, along with bulldozers, earth-moving equipment, supplies, and demolition teams. “I carried more than 200 bodies,” he says. “I was covered in blood. When I couldn’t cradle them, I hauled them. When I couldn’t haul them, I lifted them. To this day, I still have a back problem from it.” He also has plenty of other mementos. On his desk, he keeps two figurines of himself midrescue, limp bodies in his arms. The walls of his company headquarters are lined with life-size photos of him in Sichuan, as if they were the stations of his own cross: There’s Chen wiping the tears from a girl’s face. There’s Chen carrying a corpse out of the rubble. There’s Chen directing bulldozers. There’s Chen shaking hands with President Hu Jintao.

Chen insists on beginning every interview with a visit to the sixth floor of his headquarters, which he has turned into something of a personal shrine to his own philanthropy, filled with photos of him shaking hands: Hu again, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, politburo members, Gates and Buffett. During my visit, a delegation of university administrators were there to pay their respects, so he sat us down in a conference room, turned down the lights, and put on his self-produced biopic.

After the viewing, Chen says to one of his guests, “You see all these awards. What do they mean?”

“He’s not a man,” says a visitor from Beijing. “He’s supernatural.”

“He’s a superman,” adds another.

Such grandiose pronouncements rankle other Chinese billionaires, who see them as immodest — though none would criticize Chen on the record. But the Chinese authorities tolerate and even abet his self-promotion. On September 29, 2010, a government directive was issued that said simply: “All newspapers are forbidden from reporting negative news about Chen Guangbiao.” He frequently appears in the official Chinese media, giving away red envelopes of cash and distributing aid in disaster zones. He likes to build “walls of money,” ostentatiously piling up banknotes, and then have himself photographed in front of them. In January, he had one constructed in Beijing from 15 million yuan, or $2.28 million; the money came from a larger pot of more than $19 million in cash and goods donated by Chen and 90 other entrepreneurs for distribution to poor families in three regions of China.

Chen admits he enjoys the attention. “When I was young, I liked to be acknowledged in class by little gestures such as a small red star for doing something good. Now that I’m older, I still want to be acknowledged for good work.” But he sees a broader purpose to the promotion: “When you do a good deed, if you broadcast it to 10,000 people, you encourage 10,000 people to do the same.”

This is an edited version of an article appearing in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company


Laggards on Emission Cuts; Leaders on Power Price Rises

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Laggards on Emission Cuts; Leaders on Power Price Rises

The impact of a carbon price on electricity bills will be relatively small compared with other factors which have forced up power costs since 2006, Australia’s climate change adviser Ross Garnaut says in his latest and final review. Meanwhile, as other parts of the world move ahead to cut emissions and invest in renewables, Australia stands out not only as the biggest emitter per capita in the world, it is regarded as a policy laggard.

Herald Sun & AAP (29 March 2011):

THE impact of a carbon price on electricity bills will be relatively small compared with other factors which have forced up power costs since 2006, Australia’s climate change adviser Ross Garnaut says in his latest and final review.

 What’s more, the increase could be offset by reducing the cost of distributing power from generators to homes.

In the final update to his landmark 2008 climate change review, Prof Garnaut argues electricity generators shouldn’t receive any compensation.

Instead, he wants the commonwealth to offer loan guarantees to secure supply.

Treasury modelling in 2008 suggested a $23 a tonne carbon price would increase household electricity bills by around 20 per cent.

Prof Garnaut is now flagging a starting price closer to $25, but he argues the percentage increase would actually be lower due to the inflation in prices over the past few years.

From 2007 to 2010 household electricity prices rose across the country by 32 per cent. It’s a similar story for business.

“That is bigger than the initial impact of the carbon price,” Prof Garnaut told reporters.

The “exceptional” price rises followed the introduction of a new regulatory regime governing electricity networks.

Prof Garnaut says it encourages overinvestment in the poles and wires that distribute electricity from power plants to homes as well as price gouging.

Investment over the current five-year regulatory period is estimated at $39 billion.

The update calls for an independent review. If it leads to a strengthening of regulation it “may yield large benefits in lower rates of increase in electricity prices”.

Other factors pushing up power bills include rising coal and gas prices and higher construction costs due to the resources boom.

“It’s quite likely that electricity prices would continue to rise in the period ahead with or without a carbon price,” Prof Garnaut said.

Labor’s doomed 2009 carbon pollution reduction scheme would have given generators $7.3 billion worth of assistance over 10 years.

But Prof Garnaut says they shouldn’t get anything.

He does, however, suggest two measures to ensure Australia’s power supplies aren’t threatened by the introduction of a carbon price.

First, he wants a new energy security council to oversee the sector, much like the banking regulator, APRA.

Second, he argues the commonwealth should guarantee loans to generators which could be at risk of failing.

Prof Garnaut said the council would act as a belt to keep the nation’s pants up as it transitions to a clean energy future.

The loan guarantee would be back-up braces “just in case the belt breaks”.

But he doubts the braces will be needed. That’s because if one brown coal-fired generator closes, it will increase electricity prices and improve cash flow for the others.

“That makes it less likely that there’ll be a second,” Prof Garnaut said.

Prof Garnaut suggests brown coal-fired generators could survive longer, but possibly operate only when demand and prices are high during summer.

His update, the last before a final report is delivered to the government in late May, also suggests a “five pillars” energy policy.

It would ensure the big players, including Origin, TRUenergy and AGL, couldn’t merge.

The economist further recommends at least two publicly owned entities, such as Snowy Hydro and Hydro Tasmania, be allowed to act as private companies.

Prof Garnaut wants to increase competition by creating a true national grid and boosting inter-connectivity between the five eastern states and the ACT.

With a carbon price in place driving abatement, current mitigation policies such as the renewable energy target and support for household solar schemes “should be phased out”.


National Times & The Age (29 March 2011):

GEOGRAPHY has always isolated Australia. Rarely, though, is the effect so obvious as it is in the debate on climate change. Globally, the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is widely accepted. Visitors to Australia are surprised to find that not only is the effect of emissions in dispute, but even scientific records of climate trends.

In the past week, The Age has examined at length the premises of the local debate. These reports have shone a light on fallacies about scientific opinion and uncertainty, economic impacts and global action on emissions.

A key problem in drawing on complex science is that scientists are versed in assessing degrees of uncertainty. The public is not; any unresolved issue is taken as suggesting serious doubt about even a broadly accepted scientific conclusion. And if laypeople are prepared to dismiss the weight of scientific opinion what is left of informed debate?

The existence of dissenting voices is a mark of democracy, but this does not mean that balance in reporting scientific and policy debates is achieved by giving opposing sides equal weight when that ”balance” does not remotely resemble the weight of scientific support for human-caused climate change.

A carbon tax was first imposed overseas almost two decades ago. Like Australia, Norway has a developed economy built on cheap fossil fuels. Today it has cut emissions per person to half those of Australia. As to the ”cost” of this, Norway’s economic worth per person is up with the best in the world. The European Union has run an emissions trading scheme for years. By 2009, Europe had managed to cut emissions by 16 per cent since 1990, while its economy grew by 40 per cent. Several major European nations have direct carbon taxes as well.

As a bloc, the European Union is the world’s largest economy, but produces only about 14 per cent of global emissions, compared with China’s 22 per cent and the United States’s 20 per cent. Even then it is not accurate to argue that a lack of action by China and the US makes anything Australia does irrelevant. In the past four years, China’s emissions have been cut to almost 20 per cent below business-as-usual projections. China is committed to a carbon market and an increase in energy from renewable sources from 8 per cent to 11.4 per cent by 2015 (Australia’s renewable input is barely 5 per cent). In the US, 10 states already participate in an emissions scheme, while California, which ranks in the world’s top 10 economies, is set to start pricing carbon next year.

Amid these developments, Australia stands out as the biggest emitter per person in the world. This country is regarded as a policy laggard. The impact of climate change depends largely on decisions taken by 20 or so leading nations, as countries outside this group and the European Union produce less than a fifth of global emissions. Of the 14 countries that emit more than Australia, very few are doing less to cut emissions. If a rich, developed nation with so much room for improvement does so little, the signal this sends to the world’s most populous developing nations hinders global action.

Many argue a case of pure self-interest: Australia’s contribution to global emissions is minor, so why lead the way? This assumes any damage to Australia is only to its reputation. Australia is missing out on a boom in the growth industries of the 21st century. Early adopters of new energy technology have prospered. Germany’s renewable energy sector rivals its famed vehicle industry. Globally, renewable energy has attracted more investment than fossil fuels three years in a row.

Climate change is, however, much more than an economic challenge. If only the debate in Australia reflected that.


The Good, Bad & Ugly Side of Nuclear Power

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

The Good, Bad & Ugly Side of Nuclear Power

THE unfolding situation with nuclear plants in Fukushima, Japan has underscored the grave safety concerns with the so-called clean energy source of power. But nuclear has never had a laudable environmental record. Even climate change – an issue the nuclear industry has been quick to rally around – does not bode favourably for new nuclear plants. Reprocessing and enriching uranium require a substantial amount of electricity, often generated by fossil fuel-fired power plants. Uranium milling, mining, leaching, plant construction and decommissioning all produce substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.

By Benjamin K. Sovacool in the Straits Times (17 March 2011):

THE unfolding situation with the Fukushima No. 1 and Fukushima No. 2 plants in Japan has underscored the grave safety concerns with nuclear power, which has never had a laudable environmental record.

South-east Asian planners, including those in Singapore, often forget the serious environmental impact associated with other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, especially those relating to uranium mining and climate change.

For example, the uranium needed to fuel all reactors, including those in Japan, is mined in three different ways: underground mining, open-pit mining and in-situ leaching. Each is hazardous, and bad for people and the environment.

Underground mining extracts uranium much like other minerals such as copper, gold and silver, and involves digging narrow shafts deep into the earth.

Open-pit mining, the most prevalent type, is similar to strip mining for coal, where upper layers of rock are removed so that machines can extract uranium.

Uranium miners perform in-situ leaching by pumping acid or alkaline liquid solutions into the areas surrounding uranium deposits.

In Australia, the third-largest producer of uranium, a detailed investigation of the environmental impact from the Rum Jungle mine found that it discharged acidic liquid wastes directly into creeks that flowed into the Finniss River.

The Roxby Downs mine has polluted the Arabunna people’s traditional land with 80 million tonnes of annual dumped tailings, in addition to the mine’s daily extraction of 30 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin. The Ranger mine has seen 120 documented leaks, spills and breaches of its tailings waste, which has seeped into waterways and contaminated the Kakuda wetlands. The Beverley mine has been fined for dumping liquid radioactive waste into groundwater.

In China, the country’s largest uranium mine, No. 792, is reputed to dump untreated radioactive water directly into the Bailong River, a tributary of the Yangtze.

In India, researchers from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai found that underground uranium mines at Bhatin, Narwapahar and Turamdih, along with the uranium enrichment plant at Jaduguda, discharged mine water and mill tailings contaminated with radionuclides such as radon and residual uranium, radium and other pollutants directly into local water supplies.

Such examples have not been chosen selectively, with scores of serious documented incidents also at uranium mines in Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, South Africa, Tajikistan, the United States, Uzbekistan and a slew of African states – virtually every major country where it is produced.

Even climate change, an issue the nuclear industry has been quick to rally around, does not bode favourably for new nuclear plants. Reprocessing and enriching uranium require a substantial amount of electricity, often generated by fossil fuel-fired power plants. Uranium milling, mining, leaching, plant construction and decommissioning all produce substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.

When one takes into account the carbon-equivalent emissions associated with the entire nuclear life cycle, nuclear plants contribute significantly to climate change – and will contribute even more as stockpiles of high-grade uranium are depleted.

An assessment of 103 life-cycle studies of greenhouse gas-equivalent emissions for nuclear power plants found that the average carbon dioxide emissions over the typical lifetime of a plant are about 66g for every kilowatt hour (kwh), or the equivalent of about 183 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005.

If the global nuclear industry were taxed at a rate of US$24 (S$31) per tonne for the carbon-equivalent emissions associated with its life cycle, the cost of nuclear power would increase by about US$4.4 billion per year.

A secondary impact is that by producing large amounts of heat, nuclear power plants contribute directly to global warming by increasing the temperature of water bodies and localised atmospheres around each facility.

The carbon-equivalent emissions of the nuclear life cycle will only get worse, not better, because, over time, reprocessed fuel is depleted, necessitating a shift to fresh ore, and reactors must utilise lower-quality ores as higher-quality ones are depleted.

The Oxford Research Group projects that because of this inevitable shift to lower-quality uranium ore, if the percentage of world nuclear capacity remains what it is today, by 2050, nuclear power would generate as much carbon dioxide per kwh as comparable natural gas-fired power stations.

These two factors – the environmental degradation with uranium mining, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power facilities – mean that regardless of whatever happens in Japan, nuclear power is in no way clean, green or carbon-free.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.


Get Rich Quick & Adapt to Changing Climate

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Get Rich Quick & Adapt to Changing Climate

The most damaging consequences of climate change will be in the Third World. But developing countries aren’t disproportionately vulnerable to climate change because they’re in more dangerous parts of the globe, but because they’re poor. Wealth and sturdy institutions are critical for handling natural disasters and climatic changes. This makes the real climate change question a question about economic development. How can the world’s poor get rich quick?

Chris Berg in Sydney Morning Herald (27 March 2011):

The answer to climate woes is to make countries rich and stable.

JULIA Gillard is half-right. The world is acting on climate change. But not acting to stop it – to adapt to it. In the 1920s, an average of 240 people out of every million died every year from extreme weather events: drought, flood, windstorm, landslide, earthquake, extreme temperatures and wildfire.

According to data from the International Disaster Database, last decade that figure dropped to just three per million.

Actually, the numbers are even better than they first look. The 20th century saw a 99.9 per cent reduction in the risk of death from drought. And the risk of death from floods came down almost as much: 89 per cent. Floods and drought – two of the most commonly mentioned consequences of climate change. We’re getting much better at managing and surviving them.

The causes of this remarkable decline in mortality are many. Better transport and communications help move food to where it’s needed, quicker. Globalised trade gives producers an incentive to do so. Hardy modern agriculture can survive not just long-term climatic shifts, but the more pressing problem of bad growing seasons.

Better flood control and prevention, weather forecasting and more responsive emergency services all help reduce the damage from floods. Never have we been better at protecting ourselves against nature.

If the past is any guide to the present, that’s how we’ll deal with further changes in climate (whether caused by human activity or not): through adaptation. Especially considering there’s next to no chance of serious international action to reduce carbon emissions. Sure, if Australia introduced a carbon price now, we would not be ”leading the world”. Other countries have introduced their own. But there’s action on climate, and then there’s ”action on climate”.

The only purpose of carbon pricing programs is to achieve deep emissions cuts. By that measure, they’ve been a dismal failure. Those jurisdictions that have introduced them have been slowly backing away from serious reductions. The coalition of 10 American states acting on climate that Gillard often cites will soon be nine: New Hampshire is planning to withdraw.

European climate policy is pushing bravely ahead. But if nuclear power is off the table after the Fukushima scare then cutting emissions there will be a dead end. As George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian last week, ”the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel”.

And China has been increasing its carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 12 per cent every year this century. By 2020, China will be emitting nearly 500 per cent above its 1990 levels, even after their highly publicised emissions reduction efforts.

The goal of public policy must always be to increase human welfare. One lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Richard Tol, has pointed out that many studies of the economic impact of climate change have excluded the possibility of adaptation entirely – as if potential sea level rises will be met by humanity with a stoic fatalism, rather than levies and insurance. (Tol, it’s worth pointing out, is no climate sceptic.)

Nor do enough studies consider the positive effects of temperature increases. In a warming world, marginal land can become productive for agriculture, just as often as productive land can become marginal.

Given how we’re getting better at coping with extreme weather events, there’s reason for optimism. Taking all peer-reviewed studies of the economic consequences of temperature rises into account, Tol estimates that climate change could cost just a few per cent of global GDP over the next 90 years. That’s about one year’s economic growth. The cost of climate change is the equivalent of a bad recession, spread over nearly a century.

With the economic cost of climate change so low, Tol suggests (at most) an optimal carbon price would be $2 per tonne – a lot less than the $26 to $40 per tonne suggested by the government and commentators. But at $2, the cost of collecting such a tax would seriously eat up its revenue; hardly worth doing at all, and a bit trivial to be ”major economic reform” on which Julia Gillard could build her legacy.

The most damaging consequences of IPCC-projected climate change will be in the Third World. But developing countries aren’t disproportionately vulnerable to climate change because they’re in more dangerous parts of the globe, but because they’re poor.

Wealth and sturdy institutions are critical for handling natural disasters and climatic changes – as we’ve seen in the difference between the 2010 Haitian earthquake and the 2011 Japanese earthquake. This makes the real climate change question a question about economic development. How can the world’s poor get rich quick?

If her government is serious about tackling the consequences of climate change, that should be the one question exercising Julia Gillard’s mind. Her carbon price is, at best, a distraction.

Chris Berg is a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs and Editor of the IPA Review. He is a regular columnist with the Sunday Age. His book, ‘The Growth of Australia’s Regulatory State: Ideology, accountability and the megaregulators’, was published in 2008.


Dishing Out Water Awards & Water Brickbats

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Dishing Out Water Awards & Water Brickbats

Dr James Barnard, internationally known for his innovations in sustainable, non-polluting water treatments, will accept the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize during Singapore International Water Week in July. And the experts say – on World Water Day -  that the world’s urban water problems can be solved within a decade, with good governance, with the knowledge, technology and investment resources that we now have. The fact that we will likely not do so is a damning indictment of the way utilities are run, the lack of political will to consider water as an important public policy issue and the apathy of the public, which has become used to third-grade service.

By Jenny Marusiak  in Eco business .com (17 March 2011):

Dr James Barnard, internationally known for his innovations in sustainable, non-polluting water treatments, will accept the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize during Singapore International Water Week in July.

Water treatment inventor Dr James Barnard today became the fourth winner of Singapore’s prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

He was recognised for his role in revolutionising the water treatment industry over the past 40 years through the application of natural, eco-friendly methods of treating wastewater.

Dr Barnard is currently a Global Practice and Technology Leader for Black & Veatch’s Global Water Business. Black & Veatch is a global engineering, consulting and construction company headquartered in the United States and is listed among the Fortune 500’s largest private companies.

His innovation, called Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR), is an environmentally-friendly technology that naturally removes nitrogen and phosphorous from waste water. The resulting water is safer for recycling and discharge into lakes and rivers. Left untreated, nitrogen and phosphorous promote uncontrolled algae growth and deteriorating water quality.

The technology replaced conventional chemical treatments which were costlier and more damaging to the environment. Treatment plants have saved significant amounts on operating costs by eliminating those chemicals. Dr Barnard previously estimated that a single plant in Washington D.C. could save more than $11.5 million annually in chemical costs by converting to BNR technology.

In addition to reduced chemical inputs in the water treatment process, there are significant benefits to BNR by-products.

According to a statement from Black & Veatch, harvesting the high concentrations of phosphorous that result from the BNR process could have a significant impact on the world’s fertiliser industry. The industry has seen phosphorous prices double in recent years due to dwindling supplies. The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan are all currently developing the technology necessary to recover the phosphorous from the water treatment process.

Bridging the gap: research to application

Dr Barnard’s accomplishments go beyond inventing new technology. He has spent his career, which started in his native South Africa in the 1970’s, adapting the technology to different regions and climates.

The result is widespread implementation of BNR-based processes around the world, including the US, Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, the technology has been adopted in developing countries such as China and Brazil.

Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee said, “His relentless pursuit of adaptable solutions to resolve the challenge of water reclamation has led to a highly sustainable technology that protects the quality of precious water resources and the environment.

“It delivers immense benefit to mankind. Bridging the gap between research and industrial application, his technology now forms the basis of all BNR processes in use today in both developed and developing countries.”

Known within the industry as the Father of Biological Nutrient Removal, few individuals have had such a singular impact on the sustainability of the world’s water supply.

President of the International Water Association Glen Daigger said, “Not only have his efforts been instrumental in the development of a technology (BNR) that has become essential to protecting global water resources, through his efforts, Dr Barnard serves as a role model for all water professionals through his generosity, development of people and commitment to continued advancements.”

Commenting on the award, Dr Barnard said he was honoured to be recognised for all the years he spent working in the field. “This is particularly meaningful coming from Singapore which has taken the reclamation of wastewater for potable use to new heights,” he added.

Singapore is internationally recognised for its innovative and extensive water recycling technology. In 2003, the city-state built its first NEWater treatment facility, which uses reverse osmosis to recycle wastewater. Its goal is to expand the NEWater programme to meet half of Singapore’s water needs by 2060, when its water supply agreement with Malaysia ends.

The island’s commitment to advanced sustainable water policies and technologies has led to the establishment of Singapore International Water Week, a global platform for water solutions attended by over 1,500 industry leaders and policy-makers.

In addition to showcasing new technologies and exploring best practises, Singapore International Water Week – to be held from 4 to 8 July this year – celebrates achievements in the water world. The highlight of this is the presentation of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, a high-profile international award to recognise outstanding contributions in solving global water issues.

Dr Barnard, who was chosen from among 72 nominees from 29 different countries, will receive his award from Singapore’s first Prime Minister and present Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew during the event.

The winner of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize receives a cash prize of S$300,000 provided by the Singapore Millennium Foundation, a philanthropic body supported by Temasek Holdings.


Running out of time to deal with water challenges?

Asit K. Biswas & Leong Ching in Jakarta Globe & Straits Times (22 arch 2011):

The theme of this year’s World Water Day is the current challenges facing urban water management.

We are often told the world is running out of clean water. One billion people lack access to safe drinking water. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water stress, and the situation will become worse by 2050. Even worse, less than 1 per cent of the world’s water is usable.

But these are red herrings.

First, the world, as an elementary physical fact, cannot run out of water. Water, unlike coal, wood or fossil fuels such as oil, is a renewable resource. With good management practices, water can be used, treated and reused, and this cycle can continue many, many times.

Second, while it is true that there are many who face hardship in getting water, the notion of water stress has no scientific basis. Some international institutions have decided arbitrarily that a region becomes water stressed when per capita water availability falls below 1,700 cubic meters (cu m) per year. Others use 1,000 cu m per year. The two figures differ by 70 per cent. Yet there are countries that have half this amount, and feel no water stress because of good management practices.

Third, which follows from the first two points, there has to be a fresh approach to water management that divorces itself completely from conventional thinking, voodoo science, universal panaceas and false paradigms. Instead, each situation should be analyzed with common sense and “can do” attitudes.

The Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority is a fine example of this fresh approach. The PPWSA is in the capital city of Cambodia, a relatively poor country that still relies on foreign aid for more than half of its government spending.

Yet because of the work of the water authority,  people can drink straight from the tap in Phnom Penh. Its water meets World Health Organization drinking water standards.

There is universal access and, more astonishingly, not more than six drops are lost out of every 100 through the pipes. In contrast, a private sector organization such as Thames Water in the UK loses up to 25 per cent of its water because of losses and leaks through pipes.

PPWSA has been able to do this because it has successfully tackled the three paradoxes dogging most urban water reforms.

The first paradox is: Do we price water as an economic good to provide the necessary incentives to use water well, as well as give water for free as a matter of equity to the poor? From the start, PPWSA decided it needed to price water to reflect its value and to control its use. So PPWSA bit the bullet and charged a volumetric price for water. The very poor were not exempt – they received a bill but if they could not pay, their supply was not cut off.

The second paradox, which applies especially to countries that rely on loans from outside agencies, is this: Do we put in place a system of rigid rules and regulations to ensure accountability or do we allow personal discretion? The PPWSA shows that the two are not always in conflict. Water collectors for PPWSA are paid much higher than others in the public sector. A large part of their pay is tied to collection rate bonuses, especially for 100 per cent collections. But it was nearly impossible for the collectors to get 100 per cent of the bills.

What the collectors did was to pay the last few bills themselves as the bonus they would get would be higher than the bills. PPWSA knew this, but it did not hold the water meter readers to a strict accounting, especially since the outstanding bills were often from the very poor.

The third paradox is this: Do we work with a strong charismatic leader, or do we have a system to turn out leaders of a certain sort? PPWSA has become almost synonymous with the name of  Ek Sonn Chan, 61, who has led the authority since 1993. He has been credited with eradicating corruption, improving governance and providing transparent and generous compensation.

But within the organization,  Ek has already found two or three people ready to succeed him. The lesson is not that of victory in the face of despair, nor overcoming of insurmountable odds – although both are true. The learning lies in the fresh-eyed and practical approach taken to solve an urgent problem. Phnom Penh is a pocket of success and good governance in a country like Cambodia, which in 2009 ranked No. 158 in the world corruption perception index of Transparency International.

The world’s urban water problems can be solved within a decade, with good governance, with the knowledge, technology and investment resources that we now have. The fact that we will likely not do so is a damning indictment of the way utilities are run, the lack of political will to consider water as an important public policy issue and the apathy of the public, which has become used to third-grade service.

If Phnom Penh, with its serious constraints, can supply all its residents, both rich and poor, with clean and drinkable water 24 hours a day, there is no reason other major urban centers in the developing world cannot do the same.

Asit K. Biswas is distinguished visiting professor and Leong Ching is a PhD candidate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.


Environment & Business; Energy Efficiency & Leadership

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Environment & Business; Energy Efficiency & Leadership

Three important events are coming up in Singapore and South East Asia  - the B4E – Business for the Environment  - conference in Jakarta 27-29 April, featuring, among others, Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore of “The Inconvenient Truth” fame; the National Energy Efficiency Conference, organised by the National Environment Agency in Singapore on 23-25 May; and the World Leadership Conference  in Singapore 11-15 July.

B4E Global Summit 2011

Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta, Indonesia

27 – 29 April 2011

B4E, Business for the Environment, is the world’s leading international conference for dialogue and business-driven action for the environment. Held in partnership with WWF and Global Initiatives, the Summit offers collaborative solutions to address the most urgent environmental and climate issues facing the world today.

Leaders from business, NGOs, international agencies and governments gather to discuss green investments, clean technologies and  sustainable growth strategies. At the B4E Summit, delegates share and explore transformative solutions to tackle climate change and to protect and restore biodiversity and ecosystems. Partnerships are formed and commitments are made to accelerate the shift towards a more sustainable, low-carbon future.

A keynote speaker is Al Gore, probably the world’s most influential voice on climate change, an advisor to leaders in Congress and heads of state throughout the world. He is also the Chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection.

Since his earliest days in the U.S. Congress 30 years ago, Al Gore has been the leading advocate for confronting the threat of global warming. His pioneering efforts were outlined in his best-selling book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (1992). His newest book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, gathers in one place all of the most effective solutions that are available now and that, together, will help solve the climate crisis.

Another speaker is Georg Kell, the Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative with more than 6,000 participants in over 130 countries. Spanning more than two decades, his career with the United Nations began in 1987 at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva. In 1997, Mr. Kell joined the Office of the UN Secretary-General in New York, where he spearheaded the development of new strategies to enhance private sector engagement with the work of the United Nations.

As one of the Global Compact’s key architects, he has led the initiative since its launch in 2000, building the most widely recognized global business platform on human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption. Prior to joining the UN System, Mr. Kell worked as a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and as a financial analyst evaluating multinational companies’ investment portfolios in Asia and Africa. A native of Germany, he holds advanced degrees in economics and engineering from the Technical University of Berlin.

Global Initiatives

Global Initiatives is an international media company promoting positive social change and sustainable global development through high-level conferences, television and the internet. Facilitating the sharing of knowledge, experience the best practices, we address some of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Highlighting global issues such as the environment, corporate citizenship, and the development of emerging markets, Global Initiatives encourages partnership, inspiration and creating a better future.


WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

For full details on the conference, speakers, registration etc, go to the website.


National Energy Efficiency Conference 24/25 May 2011

At time of going to press, more information on the conference programme was not available to release. Please go to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for more information and

World Leadership Conference, Singapore     11-15 July 2011

Ready for Rio? Our young leaders have begun.

Young leaders passionate about environmental issues and experts on climate change gather at this conference to take actions for a sustainable future.

The World Leadership Conference (WLC) 2011 serves to empower young leaders aged 16-­35 from the Asia-­Pacific region to think about what they can do to build a sustainable future for the environment. This July, these young leaders, together with leading experts on climate change and organizations dedicated to environmental sustainability, will engage in high-­level interactions ahead of the Rio+20 Summit.

WLC 2011 will be held in Singapore and serves as a build up to the decadal summit for the region. Luminaries such as Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Executive Secretary, Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, and Ted Turner, Founder of CNN and Philanthropist will be expected to grace the conference with their presence as distinguished speakers.

Supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the conference will function as a consultation for the region as official inputs towards the Rio + 20 Summit due in 2012, and revisit the ideology of sustainable development, what it truly means and provide direction forward for both the public and private sector in this area.

Speaking about this youth-­led initiative by the Environmental Challenge Orgnisation (Singapore), also known as ECO Singapore, who are the organisers of the conference, Wilson Ang, President, says the Rio+20 Summit may be geographically far for young people from the Asia-­Pacific to attend. So, the document being crafted at the WLC 2011 will speak for them at Rio, presenting their views to the rest of the world.

With eyes on the Rio+20 Summit, the WLC 2011 is the platform for international cooperation, learning, and action towards a sustainable future for emerging leaders.

For more information on the World Leadership Conference, go to the web site.


Delaying Tactic for Aircraft & Clearing Oceans of Plastic Waste

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Delaying Tactic for Aircraft & Clearing Oceans of Plastic Waste

Plastic in the ocean is persistent and pervasive. Investigations into what all this pollution means for wildlife and people are just getting started, but the early signs are not reassuring. “The ocean is not infinite. It doesn’t have room for our waste,” says a researcher in the New Scientist, which also has a new report on aviation emissions. All that’s needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relating to air travel is a little patience. That’s according to a study looking at how best to get aeroplanes through busy airports.

Hold planes at the gate to cut greenhouse gases

New Scientist (25 March 2011):

ALL that’s needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relating to air travel is a little patience.

That’s according to a study looking at how best to get aeroplanes through busy airports. “There is going to be a significant decrease in greenhouse gases from this,” says Hamsa Balakrishnan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the study.

The researchers found that by holding planes at their gates for an average of 4 minutes and 18 seconds, congestion on busy runways at Boston Logan International Airport diminished. This allowed planes to depart more efficiently: taxiing time dropped by 20 per cent – balancing out the extra time at the gate – and fuel use decreased by 75 litres per plane. The study has been published as an MIT Technical Report and was funded by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Balakrishnan now intends to submit it to a peer-reviewed journal.

Domestic flights in the US emit about 6 million tonnes of CO2 from taxiing per year, Balakrishnan says. Similar emissions occur in Europe, where planes spend an estimated 10 to 30 per cent of their journey time taxiing on runways.

A number of airports have already achieved comparable fuel savings by optimising flight paths for planes on arrival. Combining the two strategies could reduce emissions by millions of tonnes per year, Balakrishnan says.

By Ferris Jabr  in New Scientist

If you trawl a fine mesh net through any of the globe’s five subtropical gyres – giant ocean vortexes where currents converge and swirl unhurriedly – you will haul on deck a muddle of brown planktonic goop, the occasional fish, squid or Portuguese man-of-war – and, almost certainly, a generous sprinkling of colourful plastic particles, each no larger than your fingernail.

Every flake of plastic cup or shard of toothbrush handle is a sponge for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – potentially hazardous compounds that do not degrade easily and cling to any hard surface they find. The fate of all this plastic determines not only the health of marine life, but also our own; if fish are feasting on these toxic morsels, then we probably are too.

Last month researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute in Santa Monica, California, and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, California, sailed into Piriápolis, Uruguay. They had just completed the third leg of the first expedition ever to study plastic pollution in the South Atlantic subtropical gyre. In every single trawl, the team discovered plastic.

“This issue has only recently come to the public’s attention,” says Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres. “We’re trying to document the issue and get baseline information because there is such a scarcity of data.”

Plastic dust

There are still significant gaps in the data the crew can collect, however. The nets that they use cannot capture plastic particles that are smaller than one-third of a millimetre across. “After a certain size these particles just disappear,” says Cummins. “What is their ultimate state? They could very well break down to a size where they are ingested by fish.”

Cummins also explains that trawling gathers plastic particles from surface waters only. Different kinds of plastic may be suspended at different depths – a dreadful rainbow of rubbish spanning the ocean from top to bottom – but no one has done the research to find out.

What 5 Gyres researchers are currently investigating, however, is whether surface-feeding fish are ingesting plastic – and if so, what that does to them. Chelsea Rochman, who studies marine ecology and ecotoxicology at San Diego State University in California, joined the 5 Gyres team in November for a month-long trawl in the South Atlantic. In addition to sampling the water and plastic, Rochman used a special net to collect around 660 lanternfish – a ubiquitous family of small bioluminescent fish that make up around 65 per cent of all deep sea fish biomass. Lanternfish inhabit the dim depths during the day, but swim to the surface at night to feed, so if any fish would have plastic in their guts, it would be these guys.

Back at her lab, Rochman has started analysing the water and plastic samples for the presence of POPs. She has also started slicing open the lanternfish so she can determine if they are eating plastic and whether POPs are accumulating in their tissues. Rochman wants to see whether fish caught in highly polluted areas of the gyres have more plastic in their guts and higher levels of POPs than those taken from less polluted waters. Confirming that distinction would suggest that fish are indeed consuming toxic morsels.

In another lab experiment, Rochman fed one group of fish a diet infused with plastic, and another group a plastic-free diet. Preliminary results show that the fish which ate plastic endured significant weight loss and liver damage. “We are going to look for tumours, cell death and congestion in the organs that filter toxins,” she says.

Plastic, plastic, everywhere

Plastic in the ocean would not be so worrisome if only certain areas were polluted, but it appears to travel everywhere. Worse, it’s hard to pin down exactly where, say, the remains of a candy wrapper blown out to sea in China will eventually drift. One tool is providing some answers, however. For at least two decades oceanographers have deployed thousands of Lagrangian drifting buoys, which are designed to map surface ocean currents rather than wind patterns or waves.

“We realised that our buoys are in fact a kind of marine debris,” says Nikolai Maximenko of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, who collaborated with 5 Gyres researchers to identify which areas of the ocean should have especially high levels of plastic pollution. Wherever the buoys gather most densely, the reasoning goes, is also where plastic particles should cluster. And that is what the researchers have found so far: all our plastic waste meets and circulates in the gyrating wastes of the ocean.

More surprising is that despite the lure of the gyres, the buoys – and, therefore, probably plastic in general – really get around. “It’s amazing to see the global patterns,” says Maximenko. “I just found out that one surface drifter went very close to the North Pole in summer 2009, and another made two loops around Antarctica.”

What researchers have established so far is that the plastic in the oceans is persistent and pervasive. Investigations into what all this pollution means for wildlife and people are just getting started, but the early signs are not reassuring. “The ocean is not infinite. It doesn’t have room for our waste,” says Cummins.


Bullish on Renewables in Light of Japanese Nuclear Meltdown

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

Bullish on Renewables in Light of Japanese Nuclear Meltdown

Amid the carnage on the Japanese stock market caused by the combined impacts of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear crisis, one stock shone bright green in a sea of red. The share price of Japan Wind Development Co Ltd jumped sharply as the overall market slumped more than 15%. HSBC believes the EU will have to rethink its 2050 energy roadmap to include more renewables and gas, and less nuclear. But the key to unlocking the potential of renewables will likely come from massive investment in grid infrastructure. Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator.

Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator (21 March 2011):

Amid the carnage on the Japanese stock market caused by the combined impacts of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear crisis, one stock shone bright green in a sea of red.

The share price of Japan Wind Development Co Ltd – a small, loss making wind farm operator – jumped sharply from ¥31,500 on  March 11 to ¥47,000 three trading days later, as the overall market slumped more than 15 per cent.

The contribution of Japan’s wind sector (274MW) to the country’s electricity grid is paltry, but at least it emerged unscathed from the natural disasters, while 10GW of nuclear and 8GW of coal-fired power were disabled. And as we noted on Friday, global green stocks have been well supported by investors in the past week, mostly on the belief that governments will turn increasingly to renewables (and energy efficiency) as their clean energy option.

In reality, it is still too early to say how the crisis at Fukushima will play out, beyond the immediate reactions of government, but given the experience post Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and the indelible images of exploding reactors in Japan that will be left in the public and political mind, it seems fair to assume that the rollout of nuclear facilities will be stalled and downgraded, at least for the next decade, and there will be a renewed focus on renewables and energy efficiency.

To what extent – and how renewables and energy efficiency can fill the void – is the question being posed by markets, analysts and energy companies across the globe.

It is interesting to note that the rollout of nuclear, even with the dawn of its much-touted renaissance, was likely to be dwarfed by the investment in renewables in the coming decade. In a report released over the weekend, analysts at HSBC forecast the nuclear rollout – even before the Fuskushima incident – would be around 16GW a year over the next decade. That’s considerably more than has been installed over the past decade, but it pales in comparison with the 92GW of renewables that HSBC estimates will be installed each year over the same period.

HSBC says it is too early to change these forecasts, but the risk is clearly on the downside for nuclear, and on the upside for renewables. It also expects energy efficiency to get a renewed focus and energy sources such as gas to benefit, particularly in the short- to medium-term if, as expected, lifetime extensions for ageing reactors in Germany, the US and UK are restricted or declined; or, as is likely in Germany, older plants are shut down immediately.

As this site also noted last week, the most predictable impact of Fukushima will be on nuclear costs, as extra layers of safety are nevitably added to new and current reactors. HSBC says this could add a 25 per cent uplift on capital costs for nuclear, lifting its estimates for the levelised cost of energy for nuclear to more than €60 per MWh of electricity produced, not including decommissioning costs.

This compares, says HSBC, to an LCOE of €56-83/MHw for traditional fossil fuel technologies (an average of €68/MWh) and and €58-70/MHw for wind.  “We estimate nuclear decommissioning costs of around €45/MWh, giving a total LCOE for nuclear at €106/MWh, which is considerably more expensive than wind,” it says.

Nuclear, in some countries, will become less economic – or uneconomic – and renewables will be the obvious beneficiary from a rise in gas prices and nuclear capital costs. “It is not unreasonable to expect the focus to switch towards safe, proven, secure and low-carbon forms of energy generation – renewables and gas – as well as measures to reduce demand through building regulations and transport efficiency standards,” HSBC says.  “In the much longer term, given gas’ continuing emission profile, there may be very few other competing technologies for renewables.”

Even China, which is expected to account for nearly half the new nuclear capacity over the coming decade, has suspended the approval of new nuclear projects and plans to conduct ‘rigorous’ safety inspections in all nuclear power plants under construction. The review of safety standards could add costs, both in the construction of new reactors as well as in the operation of active ones, but given the country’s rising energy consumption, pollution issues, lower seismic risk and rigorous central planning focus, HSBC says this is likely to be only a short-term delay for nuclear.

Still, nothing is certain. As noted in the Financial Times late last week, “nuclear radiation” was the most searched phrase on the Chinese internet this past week, and blogs were full of sceptical comments about the technology’s safety. And supermarkets reportedly ran out of salt because many Chinese believed the iodine contained in them would help ward off the effects of any radiation poisoning.

HSBC believes the EU will have to rethink its 2050 energy roadmap, less than a month after it was released, to include more renewables and gas, and less nuclear. But the key to unlocking the potential of renewables will likely come from massive investment in grid infrastructure – so that the wind contribution from a country like Spain can be fully exploited, as could the hydro contribution from Scandinavia, and the solar contribution from southern Europe and north Africa.

Much of the impetus will come from Germany, which is highly likely to dump plans to defer the phase of its nuclear stock. Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear that she sees nuclear as a “transition fuel” at best, and while she is reluctant to close down Germany’s own nuclear plants simply to import nuclear from elsewhere, Germany is looking at numerous measures to bridge the gap, including increased investment and tariffs for offshore wind, energy efficiency measures, and a significant investment in its domestic and pan-European grid infrastructure.

This includes the Desertec proposal, backed by leading German companies Siemens, Deutche Bank and Munich Re, among others, which seeks to source solar energy from northern Africa – the first solar plant has already begun construction in Morocco – and accelerating plans for a European “super grid”, and to invest in its own grid infrastructure.

Matters of perception

The image problems besetting the nuclear industry should not be underestimated. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island set back the development of nuclear by several decades. As we noted last week, Nuclear is unique in its dependence on public trust and its ability to secure it.

The mixed signals coming out of the Japanese crisis – where experts insisted there was no danger beyond 20kms, the US suggested the exclusion zone by 80kms, and the government of nuclear dependent France – among others – recommended its citizens either leave the country or drive south from Tokyo, simply underline that point.

The nuclear industry insists that generation 2 and generation 3 reactors will not encounter the same problems at Japan, but that is exactly what they said a week ago about generation 1 reactors, before events spiralled beyond their control. The public will continue to wonder what mixture of natural catastrophe, bad planning, human failure and bad luck might cause future problems.

This concern is reflected in the HSBC report which said that the current new generation of nuclear reactors (eg Areva’s EPR technology) already have apparent safety concerns, which will only be magnified by Fukushima. “We note that the build-out of new nuclear facilities in most nuclear countries is contingent on some form of subsidy/loan guarantee/ financing from governments and as such are deeply political issues with an increasingly sceptical public,” it wrote. “Hence safety is likely to be the latest black mark to be put against the nuclear industry, on a list that includes water intensity (versus expected future water scarcity), slow build times, cost overruns, waste disposal and proliferation.”

But some pro-nuclear activists are insistent, even to the point of arguing that excessive amounts of radiation is actually good for you, as the prominent Fox News columnist Ann Coulter did late last week. “With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan, the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer,” she wrote.


See Results in the Dark: Turning Out the Lights for Good

Posted by admin on March 30, 2011
Posted under Express 140

See Results in the Dark: Turning Out the Lights for Good

 “The Beyond the Hour call to action has been unanimously answered by people worldwide,” said Andy Ridley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WWF’s Earth Hour. “From school children in Singapore, to Heads of State from the UK, to Australia, Pakistan and Colombia, people have shown that Earth Hour has evolved beyond lights-out.  We hear from the United Kingdom, Vietnam, the Pacific and the Americas.

Cameron backs ‘Earth Hour’ blackout (21 March 2011):

David Cameron has backed an hour-long blackout to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The UK Prime Minister recorded a YouTube message supporting Saturday’s Earth Hour, when millions of people are expected to switch off lights for 60 minutes.

He said: “Sharing responsibility holds the key to fighting climate change.”

Mr Cameron pledged to make the coalition Britain’s “greenest-ever government” in the fight against climate change.

But he added: “It will be the choices we make as individuals which will mean the difference between success and failure.

“That’s what Earth Hour is all about – millions of people all over the world coming together to switch off their lights, tackle climate change and protect our natural world.

“It is a huge symbol of global solidarity, an inspiring display of international commitment.”

Homes, businesses and landmarks in 130 countries are expected to switch off lights for an hour from 8.30pm in Saturday.

Environmental pressure group WWF’s head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, said: “It’s great to hear the Prime Minister reiterate an ambition to lead the UK’s greenest-ever government. There is substantial and serious work to do if this aspiration is to become a genuine reality.

“The millions of people taking part in Earth Hour are not only demonstrating their personal commitment, but also sending a strong message to government to call for urgent and sustainable action on climate change.”


Report from WWF Vietnam ( 29 March 2011):

VN saves 400,000 kWh of power during Earth Hour

Vietnam saved 400,000 kWh of electricity, equivalent to VND500 million (US$23,809), by switching off lights during the Earth Hour, from 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm on March 26, according to the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN).

The campaign took place in 30 provinces and cities nation wide.

In the central province of Thua Thien-Hue , the centre of Vietnam’s 2011 Earth Hour campaign, a 60-minute art performance was held in Nghinh Luong Dinh in Hue city under the light of candles.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Hoang Quoc Vuong, and Tran Minh Hien, Director of WWF Vietnam attended the event.

Thousands of local people and visitors at the central coastal city of Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa province, gathered at the April 2 square to participate Earth Hour 2011.

Politburo member and Minister, Chairman of the Government Office Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Khanh Hoa provincial Party Secretary Le Thanh Quang were among others to attend the event.

Addressing the function, Phuc called all people throughout the country to respond Earth Hour in particular and take actions to protect the environment in general, asking international environmental organizations to continue to support and help Vietnam in environmental related issues.

In Hanoi, during one-hour, lighting equipments in such places as Ngoc Son temple-The Huc bridge, the Opera House, Trang Tien Plaza, Vincom City Towers were turned off in response to Earth Hour.

The action also expressed the capital city’s strong commitment to joining common efforts to cope with climate change.

Lights in such localities as Vung Tau city, the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Ca Mau city of the southern province of Ca Mau, Ha Long city, Uong Bi and Mong Cai towns in the northern province of Quang Ninh, the northern city of Hai Phong and Thanh Hoa city of the northern Thanh Hoa province were switched off in response to the Earth Hour campaign.

The Earth Hour, launched by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), was first held in Sydney, Australia in 2007 with two million participated people turning off lights. In 2010, 128 countries joined the campaign.

Themed “Turning off the lights in 60 minutes, taking actions in 365 days for climate change,” WWF wanted to warn people that activities to protect the environment do not take place in only one hour but also in 365 days throughout the year in an attempt to bring positive changes to the environment.

The Vietnam Earth Hour, jointly held by the WWF in Vietnam and the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, was first organized in Hanoi in 2009.

Vietnam saved 140,000 kWh of power, equivalent to VND126 million in 2009 and 500,000 kWh of power in 2010 during the Earth Hour.


WWF Report:

As the lights come back on in the Cook Islands, the 134th country to celebrate Earth Hour 2011 – a record breaking year for the annual lights-out event – the global community has shown it is united in commitment to a sustainable future.

Around the world, Earth Hour was embraced by the global community, transcending race, culture, age and economics as individuals took leadership in their communities in the pursuit of a cleaner and safer planet. In 2011, Earth Hour asked the hundreds of millions of people taking part in the one hour switch-off to take the next step and go beyond the hour, using Earth Hour to commit to ongoing action for the planet.

“The Beyond the Hour call to action has been unanimously answered by people worldwide,” said Andy Ridley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Earth Hour. “From school children in Singapore, to Heads of State from the UK, to Australia, Pakistan and Colombia, people have shown that Earth Hour has evolved beyond lights-out.

“This year’s event has illustrated without question what can be achieved when people unite with a common purpose and rally to action.”

Earth Hour 2011 gathers steam crossing Atlantic

As Earth Hour progressed towards the conclusion of the 2011 lights off event across the planet the Americas celebrated the arrival of the global movement with a breadth of lights-off events across the region. Brazil continued the stronger showing for Earth Hour in emerging economies as the wildly successful call for action on the environment continued to roll around the globe.

Hundreds of millions in thousands of cities, towns and communities in a record 134 countries were expected to have participated by the time the lights out and pledge action beyond the hour completes its passage from New Zealand on one side of the International Date Line to former New Zealand dependency the Cook Islands on the other.

Brazil set its own record with 124 cities taking part this year compared to the still creditable 98 of 2010. This included around two-thirds of the state capitals and coverage across all five Brazilian regions. More cities and towns are likely to reveal Earth Hour activities in the coming days.