An Olympic effort is needed to deal with climate change. If the same amount of time and money spent on the London event – however sustainable it is – could be concentrated on genuine plans to switch our reliance from fossil fuels and pave the way for a clean energy future, the world would cheer. If you add the cost that each country has paid to get its sports facilities right, its athletes fighting fit and medal worthy, there’s quite a few more million, maybe billion. With a global campaign of Olympic proportion to change attitudes, to switch allegiances, to become sustainable – at home, in business and industry, everywhere – we could make genuine progress. Climate Change is not something to fear for the future – it is here and now. And the world must act now with determination, with commitment, with money and with energy – clean as it can be – to change what we can. There are no two ways about it – greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. Every company and every country knows what to do. Let’s get some medals organised for countries and companies that get their act together, set targets and commit resources to hit those targets. If the world can do it for sport, why not do it for life itself? We have plenty of good examples this issue – and a few warning signs of how not to do it. Every day we hear of extreme weather records being broken. Let’s get on track and let’s break some records ourselves for the sake of the planet and life on earth.- Ken Hickson
Archive for the ‘Express 172’ Category
Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund – which formally announced today its first close at US$65 million – anticipates making first deals in the solar and mini-hydro sectors of Southeast Asia’s emerging markets during the next months. Targeting a full fund size of US$150 million, the Armstrong fund, led by European development finance institutions (DFIs) GEEREF and DEG, and an Asian-based corporation, focuses on small-scale power generation and resource efficiency projects and aims to provide early-stage capital to infrastructure developers in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other emerging markets. Read More
Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund readies for first investments
Announcement: Singapore, 10 August 2012:
Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund (“Armstrong fund”) anticipates making first deals in the solar and mini-hydro sectors of Southeast Asia’s emerging markets during the next months. The fund today formally announced its first close at US$65 million led by European development finance institutions (DFIs) GEEREF and DEG, and an Asian-based corporation. Targeting a full fund size of US$150 million, the Armstrong fund focuses on small-scale power generation and resource efficiency projects and aims to provide early-stage capital to infrastructure developers in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other emerging markets.
“The participation of GEEREF and DEG is strong validation of the Armstrong fund investment strategy and attests to our team’s competence and potential to operate in this fast-growing sector within Southeast Asia,” said Andrew Affleck, managing partner, Armstrong Asset Management on the new investment team’s first fund. “To date the team has originated a strong pipeline of potential deals and detailed negotiations are underway. We are hopeful of completing one to two key deals soon. Small-scale solar and mini-hydro are two priority sub-sectors the team is currently focused on.” The fund’s second close is expected by year-end, with the third and final close due by July 2013.
Differentiated, Aggregation Model
The Armstrong fund intends to make a total of 10 to 15 investment deals, each ranging from US$5 million to US$12 million over its 10-year life. Preferred projects will generate under-10MW of renewable power from solar, wind and mini-hydro sources. A key feature of the Armstrong investment strategy is the aggregating or bundling together of multiple small-scale operational project assets in attractive portfolios and investments being realised upon trade-sales. A gross return of 20% is projected, alongside significant, quantifiable development impacts.
Mr Affleck commented, “The Armstrong strategy intentionally capitalizes on Southeast Asia’s regional diversity, in contrast to other investors who tend to shy away from smaller deal sizes. We are excited as we see the fund’s innovative and differentiated model to be extremely well-suited for the policy framework here and, more importantly, effective in addressing rapidly growing energy demands. From our own experience implementing this investing model in Europe, we envisage Southeast Asia to become a highly attractive market for small-scale renewable energy projects.”
Attractive Market for Small-scale Renewable Power Generation
Cyrille Arnould, head of GEEREF and Gunter Fischer, Principal said, “We’re glad to play a catalytic role for this first-time clean energy fund dedicated to Southeast Asia because it offers a clear and compelling strategy. It is managed by a professional investment team with the depth and breadth of experience of operating and navigating the region. It promotes sustainable energy development and can provide financing for small scale early stage projects that entrepreneur teams would otherwise not have access to. The Armstrong fund is a good example of GEEREF’s “People, Planet, Profit” investment strategy”
Markus Bracht, Vice President Equity/Mezzanine at DEG’s representative office in Singapore said, “The Armstrong fund is a unique investing opportunity that DEG is happy to partner in order to improve the energy security of emerging economies and to create better prospects in a high-growth region with strong fundamentals. It is our hope and expectation that by filling the infrastructure-spending gap, the Armstrong fund can help catalyse much needed investments in private-sector renewable energy projects.
Proactive ESG Commitment Integral to Sustainable Returns
For investment deals, top-line criteria include investee companies meeting environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) requirements at every stage of the investment process. The Armstrong fund draws on a bespoke Social and Environmental Management System designed to IFC Performance Standards and incorporating additional guidelines by the EIB and EU. Fund manager Armstrong Asset Management is signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) and has Asian ESG expert and member of the UN PRI advisory council Melissa Brown on its external Expert Panel to advise the Armstrong management team.
“We believe a proactive commitment to ESG is crucial to achieving sustainable returns,” reiterated Mr Affleck. “Towards the second close, we are in talks with more DFIs, companies, family offices and institutional investors seeking access to clean energy funds in this region. Typically, they would subscribe to a similar position on ESG benchmarks.”
Andrew Affleck has 22 years of asset management and investment banking experience in the Asian region, having focused on clean energy investments for the last 7 years. Prior to setting up Armstrong Asset Management, he was CEO of Low Carbon Investors Ltd, a dedicated global clean energy fund management group with over US$300 million under management. During his four year tenure, he co-led the firm’s transformation from a US$50 million single fund cleantech venture business to a multi-fund clean energy infrastructure asset manager. The infrastructure funds have led to operational experience gained through the development and acquisition of 28 small-scale (sub 10MW) solar and wind projects which in aggregate amount to 83MW.
About Armstrong Asset Management
Armstrong Asset Management is an independent asset manager, based in Singapore, focused on the clean energy sector in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets. Armstrong has announced its first fund will invest in small-scale infrastructure projects having achieved a first closing at US$65 million. The Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy fund (“Armstrong fund”) is set to be the only operational clean energy fund of its kind in the region. Armstrong’s multidisciplinary team consists of 7 investment professionals with deep sector knowledge and cultural experience from a collective 68 years of Southeast Asia operating experience. As a responsible investor, Armstrong believes integrating sustainable, environmentally friendly practices into day-to-day activities delivers tangible benefits, creates additional opportunities, benefits society and reduces risk. Such an ethical approach leads to follow on opportunities and improved financial returns especially when the true costs of increasingly scarce natural resources are considered.
GEEREF is an innovative Fund-of-Funds, providing global risk capital through private investment for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in developing countries and economies in transition, it aims to accelerate the transfer, development, use and enforcement of environmentally sound technologies for the world’s poorer regions, helping to bring secure, clean and affordable energy to local people. The fund was initiated by the Directorate General for Environment and Directorate General for Europe Aid Co-operation Office (AIDCO) of the European Commission. GEEREF is both a sustainable development tool and a strong support for global efforts to combat climate change. It is sponsored by the European Union, Germany and Norway and is advised by the European Investment Bank Group (European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund). www.geeref.com
DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, a subsidiary of KfW, has been financing the investments of private companies in developing and emerging market countries for 50 years. As one of the largest European development finance institutions, it promotes private business structures to contribute to sustainable economic growth and improved living conditions. DEG invests in profitable projects that contribute to sustainable development in all sectors of the economy.www.deginvest.de
Issued by H2PC Asia on behalf of Armstrong Asset Management
Armstrong Asset Management is supported with financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.
The future is now. And it is hot. James Hansen, who has headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981, is emphatic. We don’t need to wait to see the effects of human induced climate change. We are seeing it now with more extreme weather events than ever before around the world. For years he has been advocating action. Now he has a new plan which would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective. Read more
Climate change is here — and worse than we thought
By James E. Hansen, head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in Washington Post (4 August 2012):
When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988, I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.
But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.
My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.
These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.
Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.
But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.
But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.
Our new peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, makes clear that while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate (up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century), the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide.
When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe.
The change is so dramatic that one face of the die must now represent extreme weather to illustrate the greater frequency of extremely hot weather events.
Such events used to be exceedingly rare. Extremely hot temperatures covered about 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of the globe in the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. In the last three decades, while the average temperature has slowly risen, the extremes have soared and now cover about 10 percent of the globe.
This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it — the world that caused the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data show, will become even more frequent and more severe.
There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.
The future is now. And it is hot.
Common household waste will soon be converted into biofuel at a planned production facility in northern Nevada, bringing multiple benefits: coping with burgeoning waste, reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and developing a cleaner, more sustainable alternative energy source. Backed by a $105 million Federal loan guarantee announced by the Obama administration, the project taps readily available household waste, with agricultural land freed up to provide for food production. Read more
By Sandra Chereb in Huffington Post (6 August 2012):
Common household trash will be converted into ethanol for transportation fuel at a planned biofuel production facility in northern Nevada backed by a $105 million federal loan guarantee announced by the Obama administration Monday.
The Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels project will help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and advance efforts to develop a cleaner, more sustainable alternative energy source, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tells The Associated Press.
The company, a subsidiary of Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., plans to convert 147,000 tons of municipal solid waste into 10 million gallons of ethanol annually at the new plant.
It will be the first such biofuel facility in the region and will serve as a flagship for other plants around the country, said Fulcrum Vice President Rick Barraza.
“What’s exciting about this project, it’s our first commercial scale facility,” Barraza said. “This is really a watershed project.”
News of the project and its backing by the federal government coincides with an annual National Clean Energy Summit being held Tuesday in Las Vegas and hosted by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“Today’s announcement will mean hundreds of good paying jobs and a continued commitment by Nevada to help reduce our dependence on oil,” said Reid in a statement, calling the project “another important step in the right direction toward making Nevada and our country more energy independent.”
The plant will be built 20 miles east of Reno in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Storey County. Officials said the project will create 430 construction jobs and 53 permanent jobs after completion by 2015.
In an interview before Monday’s announcement, Vilsack said the technology used to create transportation fuel from garbage takes the biofuel industry to the next level.
“We’re basically trying to create opportunities in all parts of the country,” he said.
The federal loan guarantee is being issued under the USDA’s Rural Development Biorefinery Assistance Program that was part of the 2008 farm bill.
Barraza said the company has already obtained a bank loan for the project and the federal government’s guarantee provides added assurance to the lender of repayment.
“The USDA is only there if there’s a problem, and we certainly don’t anticipate any,” he said.
Vilsack said such guarantees “create enough confidence in the other funders to allow the project to go forward.”
He also said the agency has funded seven other biorefineries around the country that use an assortment of sources — from agriculture residue, woody biomass and algae.
But unlike other so-called feedstocks such as corn, which must be grown, trash is cheap and plentiful.
The trash-to-gas concept has been tried on a smaller scale in other places around the country, Vilsack said, and “has the potential to substantially reduce the pressure on landfills.”
“What makes our business model unique, unlike other biomass, we’re getting the garbage for no cost,” Barraza said. “That helps lower the cost of production and lowers the cost of ethanol.”
Fulcrum has 20-year contracts with Waste Management and Waste Connections Inc. to provide the garbage that will be sorted to remove other recyclables such as plastics, cans, bottles and paper. The plant will also use walnut shells from a processing facility in the same industrial park.
From there, the ethanol will be sold to Tenaska BioFuels LLC, which will market it to blenders in the Nevada and Northern California region as a gasoline additive.
Most fuel sold for passenger cars and pickups today is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline.
Barraza said the company is already looking down the road to expand its trash biofuel footprint around the country once the Nevada plant is up and running.
“We have access to garbage in 19 states already,” he said.
There’s something very smelly going on in the greenhouse gas business and it could have a detrimental impact on international carbon trading. Many companies in China and India are churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste by-product. “Consumers in Europe want to know that if they’re paying for carbon credits, they will have good environmental effects — and these don’t,” says Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action. Read More
By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew W. Lehren in New York Times (8 August 2012):
When the United Nations wanted to help slow climate change, it established what seemed a sensible system.
Greenhouse gases were rated based on their power to warm the atmosphere. The more dangerous the gas, the more that manufacturers in developing nations would be compensated as they reduced their emissions.
But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity.
They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.
That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high — a huge problem because the coolant itself contributes to global warming and depletes the ozone layer. That coolant gas is being phased out under a global treaty, but the effort has been a struggle.
So since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases. That means, critics say, that United Nations subsidies intended to improve the environment are instead creating their own damage.
The United Nations and the European Union, through new rules and an outright ban, are trying to undo this unintended bonanza. But the lucrative incentive has become so entrenched that efforts to roll it back are proving tricky, even risky.
China and India, where most of the 19 factories are, have been resisting mightily. The manufacturers have grown accustomed to an income stream that in some years accounted for half their profits. The windfall has enhanced their power and influence. As a result, many environmental experts fear that if manufacturers are not paid to destroy the waste gas, they will simply resume releasing it into the atmosphere.
A battle is brewing.
Disgusted with the payments, the European Union has announced that as of next year it will no longer accept the so-called waste gas credits from companies in its carbon trading system — by far the largest in the world — essentially declaring them counterfeit currency. That is expected to erode their value, but no one is sure by how much.
“Consumers in Europe want to know that if they’re paying for carbon credits, they will have good environmental effects — and these don’t,” Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, said in an interview.
Likewise, the United Nations is reducing the number of credits the coolant companies can collect in future contracts. But critics say the revised payment schedule is still excessive and will have little immediate effect, since the subsidy is governed by long-term contracts, many of which do not expire for years.
Even raising the possibility of trimming future payments “was politically hard,” said Martin Hession, the immediate past chairman of the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism’s executive board, which awards the credits. China and India both have representatives on the panel, and the new chairman, Maosheng Duan, is Chinese.
Carbon trading has become so essential to companies like Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited, which owns a coolant plant in this remote corner of Gujarat State in northwest India, that carbon credits are listed as a business on the company Web site. Each plant has probably earned, on average, $20 million to $40 million a year from simply destroying waste gas, says David Hanrahan, the technical director of IDEAcarbon, a leading carbon market consulting firm. He says the income is “largely pure profit.”
And each plant expects to be paid. Some Chinese producers have said that if the payments were to end, they would vent gas skyward. Such releases are illegal in most developed countries, but still permissible in China and India.
As the United Nations became involved in efforts to curb climate change in the last 20 years, it relied on a scientific formula: Carbon dioxide, the most prevalent warming gas, released by smokestacks and vehicles, is given a value of 1. Other industrial gases are assigned values relative to that, based on their warming effect and how long they linger. Methane is valued at 21, nitrous oxide at 310. HFC-23, the waste gas produced making the world’s most common coolant — which is known as HFC-22 — is near the top of the list, at 11,700.
The United Nations used the values to calibrate exchange rates when it began issuing carbon credits in 2005 under the Clean Development Mechanism. That system grants companies that reduce emissions in the developing world carbon credits, which they are then free to sell on global trading markets. Buyers of the credits include power plants that need to offset emissions that exceed European limits, countries buying offsets to comply with the Kyoto Protocol — an international environmental treaty — and some environmentally conscious companies that voluntarily offset their carbon footprint.
Since the United Nations program began, 46 percent of all credits have been awarded to the 19 coolant factories, in Argentina, China, India, Mexico and South Korea. Two Russian plants receive carbon credits for destroying HFC-23 under a related United Nations program.
“I was a climate negotiator, and no one had this in mind,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It turns out you get nearly 100 times more from credits than it costs to do it. It turned the economics of the business on its head.”
Destroying the waste gas is cheap and simple, but it is hard to know exactly how much any one company has earned from doing so, since the market price for carbon credits has varied considerably with demand — from about $9 to nearly $40 per credit — and they can be sold at a discount through futures contracts.
The production of coolants was so driven by the lure of carbon credits for waste gas that in the first few years more than half of the plants operated only until they had produced the maximum amount of gas eligible for the carbon credit subsidy, then shut down until the next year, United Nations reports said. The plants also used inefficient manufacturing processes to generate as much waste gas as possible, said Samuel LaBudde of the Environmental Investigation Agency, an organization based in Washington that has long spearheaded a campaign against what he called “an incredibly perverse subsidy.”
Michael Wara, a law professor at Stanford University, has calculated that in years when carbon credits were trading at high prices and coolant was dirt-cheap because of the oversupply, companies were earning nearly twice as much from the credits as from producing the coolant itself.
The United Nations, recognizing the temptation for companies to jump into the lucrative business, has refused since 2007 to award carbon credits to any new factories destroying the waste gas. And last November, it announced that in contract renewals, factories could claim credits for waste gas equivalent only to 1 percent of their coolant production, down from 3 percent. The United Nations believes that eliminates the incentive to overproduce, said Mr. Hession, the former Clean Development Mechanism board chairman.
Even with these adjustments, credits for destroying waste gas this year remain the most common type in the United Nations system, which rewards companies for reducing all types of warming emissions. Eighteen percent of credits in 2012 will go to the 19 coolant plants, compared with 12 percent to 2,372 wind power plants and 0.2 percent for 312 solar projects for the carbon dioxide emissions avoided by the clean energy they produce.
In India, coolant plants received about half of the United Nations carbon credits awarded to companies in that country, for destroying their waste gas, during the system’s first five years. They accrued the power and money to fight efforts to roll back the subsidy.
Compared with Indian representatives, Chinese diplomats have shown greater willingness at international meetings to consider altering the subsidy for waste gas credits, said Stephen O. Andersen, a former United States Environmental Protection Agency official who is now with the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington. That is because China has a more centrally controlled economy and because it is developing an industry based on newer coolants. “It’s easier for them to put the national interest before the interest of one manufacturing sector,” he said.
A bigger question is just how much the European Union’s decision to disallow, as of next year, the waste gas credits in its immense carbon trading system will decrease their value.
Banks and companies holding such credits have been rushing to cash them in or sell them. And the potential devaluation of the carbon credits has an impact in other industrialized nations, since the carbon credit projects involve foreign sponsors and investors, who sometimes received carbon credits in exchange for services or financing.
The Gujarat project was financed by Rabobank of the Netherlands and the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan.
A coolant factory in Monterrey, Mexico, that receives carbon credits is 49 percent owned by Honeywell. Goldman Sachs bought many of its carbon credits.
Such credits are likely to have some continued value, because they can be used in other environmental programs that allow their use, like voluntary ones through which companies offset the emissions generated by having a conference or travelers opt to pay a fee to offset the emissions from an airplane flight.
Mr. LaBudde, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, who has long campaigned against the subsidy, said he hoped that no one would buy these “toxic” credits that “have no place in carbon markets” and that they would quickly disappear. In its latest annual report, Gujarat Fluorochemicals acknowledged that its carbon credits “may not have a significant market” starting next year because European companies have previously been their primary buyers.
Mr. Hanrahan, of IDEAcarbon, said that the credits could, at the very least, be sold at a low price to traders who see the possibility for marginal profit in a way similar to the market for junk bonds. Even if all the proposals to make the carbon trade far less valuable succeeded, the 19 factories certified to generate carbon credits by destroying the waste gas could earn $1 billion from that business over the next eight years, according to projections by IDEAcarbon.
And even as the economics shift, one big environmental question remains: Without some form of inducement, will companies like Gujarat Fluorochemicals continue to destroy the waste gas HFC-23? Already, a small number of coolant factories in China that did not qualify for the United Nations carbon credits freely vent this dangerous chemical. And atmospheric levels are rapidly rising.
Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from Gujarat State, India, and Andrew W. Lehren from New York.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 9, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Carbon Credits Gone Awry Raise Output of Harmful Gas.
Continuing the abuse of the seas will have serious consequences for the planet, says Professor Tommy Koh, who was president of the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1981 and 1982. The fate of us land-dwellers is more intricately connected to that of the ocean than we would have imagined it to be. The ocean provides us with a food source, carbon sequestration and safe passageway and these functions are increasingly coming under the threat of unsustainable fishing, ocean acidification and piracy. Read more
The oceans, the law and the future of the world
Continuing the abuse of the seas will have serious consequences for the planet
By Tommy Koh in Straits Times (28 July 2012):
SINGAPORE is an island and we live in close proximity to the sea. Most of us, however, do not think about the sea, except when we go to the beach in the East Coast Park or Sentosa or when we are feasting on our chilli crab.
We should, however, think more about the seas and the oceans because they benefit us in so many ways.
There is also a symbiotic relationship between the land and the sea. Indeed, I would argue that if we continue to neglect and abuse the oceans, this will have very serious and harmful consequences for us and the future of our planet.
First, the oceans supply fish and other seafood which form a major source of protein for billions of people. They also provide the seaweed and marine plants that are used for making, say, food and chemicals.
We have been over-exploiting the fish stocks of the world. Between 1950 and 2005, the global fish catch increased by five times, from 19 million tonnes to 87 million tonnes. This trend is unsustainable and, if not checked, will lead to the extinction of many of the world’s fish stocks.
Subsidies for the fishing industry should be phased out because they have led to overcapacity.
Bottom trawlers, which essentially vacuum all living creatures in their path, should be forbidden.
Instead, we should try to help the subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fishermen gain access to the markets and make a decent living.
Second, the management of the world’s fish stocks is in the hands of the coastal states, if the fish stocks are within their exclusive economic zones, and, in the hands of the regional fisheries management organisations, if the stocks are outside such zones.
In some areas of the world, such as the South China Sea, no such commission exists. Where they do exist, they are often ineffective because of the obstructive behaviour of some irresponsible parties.
There is also the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Many countries take a short-term view regarding fishing. The attitude is to catch as much as they can and not worry about the future.
As a result, there is very little respect for the law and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ code of conduct for responsible fisheries. If this situation continues, the world will be faced with the certain prospect that more fish stocks will collapse and be unable to regenerate themselves.
Third, there is insufficient interest in and understanding of the importance of coral reefs. Coral reefs are the homes and nurseries of many species of fish and other biodiversity. Together with mangroves and coastal marshes, they also act as buffers against storms and tsunamis.
Millions of people who live in coastal communities depend on the coral reefs for their food and livelihood. Singapore is located in an area comprising Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, which has been called the Coral Triangle. This is one of the world’s most important coral reefs, containing more than 35 per cent of global reefs and more than 3,000 species of coral fish. According to a recent report, 85 per cent of the reefs in this triangle are under threat, from pollution, sedimentation, over-fishing and climate change.
The welfare of 150 million people will be affected if we allow the reefs to degenerate and die.
Fourth, the oceans are the blue lungs of the planet. They absorb about 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, because of the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the rising temperatures, the oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic.
Ocean acidification occurs when they absorb the rising quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When dissolved, the carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid. Combined with the increase of water temperature and the depletion of oxygen, this could have devastating effects on all organisms living in the ocean environment.
An early victim of rising temperature and acidification is the coral reef. Rising temperature has already led to the bleaching of coral reefs.
If carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles from its present level, Professor Callum Roberts, the noted oceanographer, has warned that ‘all of the world’s coral reefs will shift from construction to erosion. They will literally begin to crumble and dissolve’.
According to Prof Roberts, a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already died. In the Indian Ocean, more than 70 per cent have been lost.
Fifth, the oceans are the highways of the world. The world economy will collapse if there is no international trade. The bulk of that trade is carried by ships. The passage of ships in ocean space and the conditions of their entry into and exit from ports are governed by international law.
The law is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted 30 years ago.
The convention has created a new legal order and has kept the peace at sea.
The only serious threat to international shipping is posed by the Somali pirates. Somalia is a failed state. The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, based in Mogadishu, is trying to rebuild the collapsed institutions of state. Punt and Somaliland are effectively running their own shows.
In the absence of economic opportunities, many young Somalis have taken to piracy to earn a living.
They are being employed by masterminds who have become millionaires by hijacking ships for ransom.
The Somali pirates have expanded their theatre of operation, beyond the Gulf of Aden, into the Indian Ocean. They have also become bolder and more vicious. So far, the international community has responded by increasing the naval patrols in the area. The ocean is vast and the patrols rarely succeed in intercepting the pirates before they have hijacked the ships, which are mostly unarmed.
The UN Security Council has authorised states, cooperating with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, to enter Somalia’s territorial waters and use all necessary means to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery.
The situation is reminiscent of that in the late 18th and early 19th century when international shipping was frequently attacked by the Barbary pirates. President Thomas Jefferson of the United States decided to stop the practice of paying ransom to the pirates. Instead, the US led a multinational naval force to defeat them at source.
The time has come for the US to lead a similar mission to fight the Somali pirates at source. There is no other way to solve the problem.
The writer, who served as president of the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1981 and 1982, is the chairman of the Centre for International Law of the National University of Singapore.
Recent blackouts affecting about half of India’s population are symptomatic of the energy crisis the country is currently facing – demand outstripping supply, antiquated grid system, and non-universal access. Out of crisis comes opportunity: for renewable energy to come to the forefront in offering a solution by providing clean, reliable and affordable energy, as is already seen in some parts of the country on a smaller scale. Read more
Renewables Shine through India’s Blackout to a Clean Energy Future
By Silvio Marcacci in Clean Technica (7 August 2012):
India’s recent blackouts are a case study for what happens when power demand outstrips the capacity of an aging grid fed by centralized fossil fuel power plants without smart grid technology – rolling blackouts become a way of life. But they may also be just the opportunity renewable energy needed to power India’s future.
There are lessons to learn from India’s troubles, especially as climate change drives electrical demand up while changing traditional water access and weather patterns. India relies heavily on coal and hydropower to meet its electricity needs. But when rising coal prices and an exceptionally dry monsoon season limited the ability of power producers to ramp up supply, the grid couldn’t keep up.
And the problem is only going to get worse. An estimated 40 percent of India’s population isn’t connected to the grid, the country’s economy is growing between 8-10 percent per year, and it expects to add 88 gigawatts (GW) of new generation capacity by 2017. All that demand must be met one way or another, and for many Indian policymakers, that means more coal plants.
But what if instead of dirty coal, India’s yawning energy gap was filled with distributed renewables and microgrids? It’s not only possible, but is already happening.
Wind and solar keep the lights on
Wind energy was credited with ending the blackout in Western India’s Jodhpur state almost immediately, according to local reports. “The power generated through wind energy put an end to the outage within two hours, providing us with around 800-900 MW power,” one local energy official said. “We immediately switched to wind power and resumed power supply at hospitals, water pumps, railways, high court and administrative offices.”
An innovative off-grid solar project also managed to keep the lights on during the blackout. Meerwada, a remote central Indian village, had no access to electricity until SunEdison built a 14-kilowatt solar plant in the community for the same monthly price per resident for power from kerosene.
India’s power woes could make it possible
While these two examples are vastly different in scale, they illustrate how renewables could become a much larger part of India’s energy future. With so many remote communities, building new distributed generation makes more sense financially than building new centralized power plants and transmission lines.
Indian citizens have become accustomed to dealing with frequent blackouts through the use of microgrids and backup generators, and the jump to a system of community-based grids centered around renewables with backup generators already in place would likely work within the population’s existing energy mindset.
Shifting to a distributed generation system would also help the country’s wind energy industry, which has seen new capacity additions cut in half, due largely to difficulties interconnecting to the national grid and receiving revenue from state-owned utilities.
Massive potential for renewables
In this context, it’s reasonable to think that India could make a massive jump toward renewables, especially solar. A recent report predicted solar power will reach grid parity in India by 2017, and the off-grid solar market has been forecast to install more than 1 GW per year by 2017 at the same price of diesel power. India already has a goal of 20GW solar capacity by 2022, and one firm contracted to build solar in the country thinks it’ll actually install 40 GW within a decade.
But even these projections may not estimate the country’s true capacity for new renewables. Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, speaking days after the blackout, said half the country’s 2030 energy requirement of 400GW could be met by renewables. “Ideally, 215,000MW can be generated from renewable energy resources… 50,000MW of hydro power by creating regional waterways… 60,000MW solar energy from large-scale solar power plants… 50,000MW from nuclear power… and 65,000MW using wind energy.”
The world’s increasing appetite for palm oil has led to illegal practices by corporations in Indonesia. One company is now under investigation for clearing tens of thousands of acres of forest in Borneo without the proper license. This has hampered the pledge of the Indonesian government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by saving rainforests. Believe it or not, there was a time – admittedly 34-56 million years ago – which saw the currently frigid Antarctica covered in tropical rainforest. Read more
Will Indonesia Protect Rainforests from Deforestation?
By Adele Peters for RevModo (12 July 2012):
Deep in the forests of Borneo, a palm oil corporation is under investigation for illegal deforestation. It’s a critical test for the government of Indonesia, which has made major commitments to protect its endangered rainforests.
The palm oil company, PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (“PTSCP”), was given preliminary approval for a large palm plantation six years ago. That should have been the beginning of a long environmental licensing progress. But PTSCP didn’t follow those steps, and instead started clearing tens of thousands of acres of forest.
International companies like Cargill and Bunge, which source palm oil and have made commitments to purchase sustainability grown oil, began to investigate. So did conservation groups, and eventually, the Indonesian government.
The government has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by saving rainforests. The country has the world’s third-largest area of tropical rainforest. If successful in cutting emissions, Indonesia will receive $1 billion from Norway. But the government is also facing pressure as the world’s leading producer of palm oil, and plans to double output in the face of rising global demand.
The current case against PTSCP is investigating eight suspected environmental violations, and could result in jail time and fines for the company. If PTSCP is sanctioned, it will also be an important signal to other palm oil producers that Indonesia is taking environmental protection seriously.
Watch this space!
By Michael d’Estries in RevModo (02 August 2012):
Drilling of the seabed off Antarctica has revealed evidence of a rainforest that once flourished on the continent some 52 million years ago.
Scientists studying sediment cores discovered fossilized pollen that could only have come from a “near-tropical” forest covering the continent in the Eocene period, 34-56 million years ago. According to Australian scientist Kevin Walsh, analysis of “temperature-sensitive molecules” contained in the pollen showed the average temperature be near 68 degrees F.
There were forests existing on the land, there wouldn’t have been any ice, it would have been very warm,” Welsh told AFP of the study, published in the journal Nature. ”It’s quite surprising, because obviously our image of Antarctica is that it’s very cold and full of ice.”
Today, the average temperature of Antarctica is roughly -58 degrees F. Scientists say that during the Eocene period, even with polar darkness, the Antarctica region remained frost-free.
During this warm period, estimates are that carbon dioxide levels reached between 992 to a couple thousand parts per million in Antarctica. CO2 levels today are estimated to be at about 395 ppm on the continent.
“Our work carries a sobering message,” Dr James Bendle, one of the authors of the study, told The Independent. “Carbon dioxide levels are rising rapidly through human combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation.
“Atmospherically speaking we are heading rapidly back in time towards the Eocene.”
The authors concluded that, without drastic changes, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere last seen during the Eocene could be reached again in only a few hundred years.
“We haven’t reached Eocene levels yet but we are increasing at a rate faster than any time in Earth’s history,” said Bendle.
Revmodo is a new platform created by SEFE, Inc to engage the public on clean energy innovations and help foster new business relationships and ideas. By leveraging the power of social media and thought-provoking content, Revmodo.com will provide opportunities to raise awareness on sustainable energy – and the technology making it a reality.
SEFE was founded in 2008 with the notion that intellectual property can drive product solutions. Using this as a mantra, the SEFE team tackled the pervasive problem of clean energy delivery, employing a host of associates who are experts in fabrication and product development, FAA regulations, engineering and utility consultation, among others.
A new study shows that understanding a company’s business objectives and avoiding sustainability jargon is the secret to successful sustainability leadership. So maybe “Sustainability” is the word you shouldn’t use. Unless you possess motivational and communication skills which can help leaders align a social or environmental issue with the self-interests of a colleague or business. An ability to communicate it in such a manner that inspires action. Read More
By Tony Calandro in Guardian Sustainable Business (3 August 2012):
Sustainability leaders must communicate effectively to push forward their cause.
A recent survey of sustainability leaders conducted through a partnership between VOX Global, Weinreb Group Sustainability Recruiting and the Net Impact Chapter at the University of California, indicates that sustainability executives are at the forefront of developing smart business approaches for the future, while minimising risks and costs and capturing new market opportunities.
The report, Making the Pitch: Selling Sustainability from Inside Corporate America, identified three major strategies that help sustainability leaders achieve results:
1. The art of communication is key
Before taking their jobs, more than 75% of sustainability executives surveyed thought that sector expertise would be the most important factor in determining their success. However, after starting their jobs, all of them reported that interpersonal skills were in fact most critical.
To be successful, sustainability leaders rarely use the “S” word inside their companies. Rather, they discuss sustainability in the lingua franca of their business. Before focusing on specific initiatives, they need to first sell the concept of sustainability – and sell themselves inside their organisations.
Instead of telling the same sustainability story 100 times, sustainability leaders told – and sold – their story to colleagues in 100 different ways.
2. Sustainability leaders collaborate at all levels
The study revealed that collaboration with colleagues at all levels inside a company is vital to success. This finding is even more significant given that the respondents had little to no direct management oversight across the various business units inside their companies. Collaboration requires sustainability leaders to cultivate and hone a diverse set of people skills. To be successful, they need to be good listeners and identify the business reasons and personal motivations that prompt colleagues to take action.
3. Sustainability leaders connect the outside world to key business drivers
Conventional wisdom suggests that pressures from non-governmental organisations or positioning on sustainability ranking tables are important factors that direct attention to social and environmental issues inside a company. In reality, the leaders surveyed recognise that these influences – though often highly visible and persistent – do not necessarily drive corporate behaviour in isolation. The desire to meet customer expectations and to rise above competitors carried significantly more weight with survey respondents.
However, when third party influences start to impact customer preferences and provide competitive advantage, management starts to take notice. Simply put, the key business drivers of winning over the customer and beating the competition still come first.
The report highlights the fact that sustainability leaders must communicate and build support by working in three different ways:
1. As a catalyst
To drive and accelerate the pace of change, they must communicate the need for a shift of behaviour within a company’s corporate culture.
2. As a connector
To connect the impact of the company on the outside world, they need to translate the implications of social and environmental issues and link them to key business drivers in a way that senior management will understand.
3. As a collaborator
To collaborate successfully, sustainability leaders must possess motivational skills that can align a social or environmental issue with the self-interests of a colleague or business and an ability to communicate it in such a manner that inspires action.
Only when colleagues’ trust is earned and collaboration is underway can sustainability leaders expect to be successful in implementing programs that will deliver a return on investment – both reputational and financial – to their companies.
Tony Calandro is senior vice president and partner at public affairs and strategic communications firm VOX Global where he co-leads the sustainability practice group
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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be listed as a ‘World Heritage site in danger’ unless high-risk coastal developments and new ports in Queensland were shelved. Shopping malls in Hong Kong should do more to encourage tenants to turn down the air conditioning, a green group says, as a survey shows stores are often far chillier than the public areas of malls. Cut food waste during packaging and preparation and redistribute spare food, say experts on the Singapore Government’s announcement of a new committee to look into food waste and security. Read More
By Kellee Nolan for AAP (7 August 2012):
AN oil spill on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef would cost billions of dollars, both to clean up the mess and to deal with an anti-shipping backlash, the federal government says.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the impact of an oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef would run to “billions and billions of dollars”.
“Because if it happens, it’s not just the direct clean-up costs. It’s the cost of the campaign that says ‘we don’t want ships going through the reef’,” Mr Albanese told the National Shipping Industry Conference in Melbourne.
“And that campaign, were there to be an incident, would be very, very real indeed, which is why we need to bear all of that in mind.”
A UNESCO report released in June was highly critical of Australia’s management of the Great Barrier Reef.
It said the reef could be listed as a ‘World Heritage site in danger’ unless high-risk coastal developments including new ports in Queensland were shelved.
The national shipping conference opened on Tuesday with projections of continued shipping export growth over coming years.
Dry bulk shipping exports had grown from more than 400 million tonnes in 2000 to almost 800 million tonnes and were expected to top one billion tonnes by 2015.
Mr Albanese said it was critical that shipping met the highest environmental standards, to protect the iconic regions of the Great Barrier Reef, the Torres Strait and the Coral Sea.
The government was improving Australia’s oil spill response capability, starting with a $13.5 million rollout of new equipment in Sydney, Melbourne, Devonport, Adelaide, Perth, Dampier, Darwin, Townsville and Brisbane ports over coming weeks.
Mr Albanese said this would improve Australia’s ability to clean up oil spills more effectively and in more difficult conditions.
More must be done to get tenants to turn down the air conditioning, says green group Friends of the Earth
By Amy Nip in South China Morning Post (6 August 2012):
Shopping malls in Hong Kong should do more to encourage tenants to turn down the air conditioning, a green group says, as a survey shows stores are often far chillier than the public areas of malls.
While bosses at 100 malls have pledged to stick to government recommendations and keep temperatures at between 24 and 26 degrees Celsius, tenancy rules under which stores can keep the air conditioning turned up without paying more mean shop owners have little incentive to help, Friends of the Earth says.
“Shop managers are required to pay an air-con fee to property managers, and the sum varies according to the shops’ size but not their energy usage. Once they have paid the fixed fee, the shops would use as much air-conditioning as they can,” the group’s environmental affairs officer, Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, said.
Rules should be changed to help reduce carbon emissions, in line with the government’s energy-saving charter for malls, Chau said.
The charter, which took effect in June, encourages malls to keep a close eye on average indoor temperature. Managers of 100 malls signed up for the charter and a majority turned down their central air conditioning. But it did not cover individual shops. Clauses should be added to push estate managers to step up communication with tenants, Chau said. Her recommendations came as the group announced a survey on temperature levels. Conducted last month, it covered 74 malls, including 69 which have signed the government’s charter. Joint Publishing’s bookshop in Yuen Long Plaza was the chilliest place to shop, with temperatures of 19 degrees. The average temperature in the mall was 23.7 degrees.
The temperature for those in the queue for tickets at the UA cinema at Trend Plaza, Tuen Mun, was 20 degrees, while at the health products store GNC Live Well in Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza it was 20.5 degrees. In both cases, the public areas of malls were about two degrees warmer.
Some 78 per cent of all malls, and 80 per cent of the malls that signed the government pledge, managed to keep corridors and common areas within the recommended range. But some missed the target, including Mikiki in San Po Kong, Grand Waterfront Plaza in To Kwa Wan and Trend Plaza in Tuen Mun, which saw a temperature range of 22.3 to 22.5 degrees Celsius. Five of the eight malls run by Henderson Land Development (SEHK: 0012) that were included in the survey had temperatures below the suggested level.
But other malls improved. In a 2005 survey, the temperature in Tsim Sha Tsui’s Harbour City was 19.5 degrees. This summer it was 24.3.
IFC Mall in Central, APM in Kwun Tong, Times Square in Causeway Bay and Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing – malls which have been the subject of complaints about low temperatures over the past few years – all fulfilled the charter’s recommendation this year.
Joint Publishing could not be reached for comment. Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016), which runs Mikiki mall, did not reply to such a request.
By Grace Chua in The Straits Times (21 July 2012):
Cut food waste during packaging and preparation and redistribute spare food, say experts who have weighed in on the Government’s announcement of a new committee that will look into food waste and security.
Food is often wasted during packaging because customers want unblemished produce, said sustainability researcher Kua Harn-Wei.
To solve this, he pointed to initiatives like Britain’s Waste Resources and Action Programme, a non-government scheme that works with supermarkets to educate consumers and develop packaging to lengthen the shelf life of fresh vegetables. It also gets food and beverage outlets to offer smaller portion sizes.
The inter-ministry committee was announced last week by Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan, who said that with Singapore’s reliance on food imports, the Republic needs to look at how to secure its food supply.
He did not have more details.
There could be better food redistribution and recycling, Dr Kua said, such as through food banks and other community efforts.
Technology, too, could help nudge people into throwing away less: Last year, a South Korean pilot programme used radio-frequency identification chips to weigh bags of food waste and charge customers by how much they threw away. It cut food waste by 25 per cent.
Singapore generated 675,500 tons of food waste, or 10 per cent of its overall waste by weight, last year. The bulk of that was incinerated rather than recycled for biogas or fertiliser. Contamination is one reason. Nanyang Technological University’s business school associate professor Josephine Lang, who has written on food waste management here, pointed out that in food courts, there is a need to separate food waste from other materials such as styrofoam plates and plastic utensils before it can be recycled.
In 2010, the National Environment Agency studied the costs and benefits of food waste recycling, and found that waste collection and processing at a centralised food-waste facility were not cost-effective.
But, a spokesman said: ‘These costs could decrease with economies of scale, better technologies, more efficient operation and improved waste segregation.’ On-site food-waste composting machines are one way to get around high collection and processing costs, and are used at some premises like hotels.
While cutting food waste is one means of improving food security, another means is diversifying food sources. Agricultural research is one route Singapore is taking. Last year, the National Research Foundation said it would invest up to $10 million over five years into disease-resistant rice, while the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Food Fund gives projects up to $2 million apiece over three years.
Another way is to preserve the traditional low-meat, high-vegetable diet of Asia, suggested Mr Zhang Hongzhou, a senior analyst at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in a paper earlier this year. Meat production is grain-intensive – a kilo of beef takes 7kg of grain to produce, while 1kg of pork requires 4kg of grain.