Thursday 24 July 2014

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Sustainable Dev.

 

A plea for a pragmatic approach to global climate policy

Posted by on 14/07/14

During the last 50 years global energy demand has risen at an unprecedented pace and is expected to continue rising further in the wake of growing world population and prosperity.

These trends are not sustainable. The energy resources (coal, oil, gas, uranium) are finite and burning them is bound to accelerate climate change to a point of no return destroying the basis of human livelihood.

Climate scientists and almost all governments on earth share this basic assessment. But while scientists urge for action to be taken politicians are wavering in the face of powerful fossil energy lobbies and industry pressing for low energy prices.

Fortunately, tenuous signs for a change are appearing in the two most polluting countries, China and USA, on which the success of any international action hinges.

China has placed the fight against energy waste, air pollution and climate change among the top priorities of its Five Year Plan 2011-15. It is determined to increase its overall energy efficiency; and it envisages stepping up research and pilot projects for carbon capture and storage which is vital for continuing to burn coal with which it is amply endowed. But though the government is to be congratulated for finally acknowledging the seriousness of climate change its actions continue to fall far short of what is needed. Chinese green house gas emissions will therefore keep rising for at least 20 more years.

USA, the second biggest emitter of GHG has made great strides under the Obama Administration, thanks to circumventing a hostile Congress by executive action in the form of technical standards. CO2 emissions have begun to fall from exorbitant levels of 17 tons/per capita, due to increasing switch from coal to gas as the major fuel in power generation and stringent fuel consumption standards for passenger cars.

Driven by concerns about their security of supply, both countries will press for higher energy efficiency, in particular in buildings, and more power generation through renewables – wind, sun, hydro and biomass. But neither is ambitious enough and postulate largely C02 free energy by the middle of the century.

Only the EU, the third biggest energy consumer and CO2 emitter, can so far boast of an established record against climate change. Until 2020 its CO2 emissions will be down by 20 per cent over 1990; and it is set to reduce them by 80-95 per cent until the middle of the century. No other country has so far announced similar ambitions. But with a share of only some 12 per cent of global emissions it does not carry enough weight for preserving the climate.

Both USA and EU owe their relative success to the setting of medium and long-term targets and taking concrete measures. That distinguishes their approach from the UN-directed efforts which continue to lack precision of the targets and fail to prescribe concrete measures. Moreover, there is no political drive without which policies cannot be conceived and implemented. This is normal for assemblies grouping some 200 states with totally different levels of energy consumption and representing fundamentally different views on the future.

In order to achieve a positive outcome from the decisive Paris Climate Conference in November 2015 participant countries need to change the modus operandi of their future negotiations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon might have made a beginning by calling a restricted high-level meeting of heads of government from the main polluter countries at the margin of the September 2014 General Assembly.

To ensure a successful result in Paris the leaders of the countries responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions must agree on a cooperative strategy to keep global temperatures within a two degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial levels.

A group of climate and energy research institutes from 15 major emitter countries has translated the “two centigrade target” into the necessary reductions of green house gas emissions. The result will come as a shock for policy makers: average per capita green house gas emissions must not exceed 1.6 ton by the middle of the century. Only the poor, mostly African, countries can still indulge in rising emissions. Most other countries including EU, Japan, China and Russia will need to reduce them by around three quarters and some 20 countries like United Arab Emirates Canada, Australia, USA with very high per capita emissions by even 90 per cent until 2050.

This will be a huge challenge for every country and Humanity. It is therefore crucial to provide for an equitable burden sharing among Humanity, which per capita green house emissions, reflect better than any other yardstick.

At the Paris conference, the parties should focus on two conclusions:

  • All countries will reduce their green house gas emissions by 2050 to 1.6 tons per capita by 2050.
  • Countries emitting already more than seven tons per capita will present their strategy for implementation to the UN Secretary General for approval before 2020. Countries with per capita emissions of less than one ton can wait with presenting their climate strategy until 2030 or until exceeding a level of emissions of more than one ton.

The UN Secretary General will appoint a special representative for the preparations.

This procedure will replace the annual climate conferences, from which the necessary policy changes cannot emerge, due to increasing level of bureaucratisation, too many participants and lack of political commitment.

Future climate policy will be more differentiated by countries, and the UN should be empowered to fix policy guidelines and monitor implementation.

The following guidelines might inspire national and global policy makers:

  • All countries subsidising fossil fuels must phase these out by 2020. That process has started under the pressure from IEA and others.
  • All countries will have to invest heavily in much higher energy efficiency:
    • Thanks to perfect thermal insulation buildings must become autonomous from fossil energy.
    • The internal combustion engine must be replaced by battery-propelled electric engines, fed from renewable sources.
  • All countries must step up their recycling efforts, following the lead the by European Union
  • To slow down population growth and global energy demand developing countries must take appropriate measures and thereby contribute to the fight against climate change.
  • Countries with large forest areas must preserve these, which is vital for stabilising global environment and climate.
  • Countries in the solar belt must fully exploit their solar potential for electricity generation.
  • Countries like China, Russia, Australia and Canada that want to continue exploiting their huge coal or gas reserves must invest in carbon capture and storage.
  • Countries situated along the Seas must exploit their wind power potential and develop technologies for “harvesting” wave energies.

The World Bank, in conjunction with regional Development Banks must become the global financing and technical assistance agent for implementing the challenging structural changes towards a non-fossil society. To that end it should be in charge of managing the $ 100 billion annual International Climate Fund that the developed countries have pledged to establish by 2020.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/7/2014

UNEP: Corrupt, conflicted and woefully incompetent

Posted by on 12/06/14
When disgraced former EEA head, Jacqueline McGlade was appointed the chief scientist to UNEP, the Risk-Monger could only find one answer to this corrupt, conflicted and incompetent organisation: Shut it down.

Damned if they do: EU and US politicians grapple with commitments on climate

Posted by on 02/06/14

By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office

Today the Obama administration will come out with a draft rule on power plants that represents its latest attempt to make headway reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite the failure of Congress to take action (indeed, despite the histrionic antipathy towards action among many of them).

Inevitably, it will get blasted by those forces married to fossil fuels who enjoy the sound of their own rhetoric on economics and liberty, which is best enjoyed with the oceans rising up around your ankles. But with midterm elections coming up and climate not top of US politicians’ priority list, political support isn’t guaranteed even among many Democrats.

In other words, Obama is walking into a minefield. Which raises the question, if politicians are risk-averse and sensitive to election outcomes, why would he be doing this? Is it possible there’s some meat on this bone?

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard would’ve liked to have had the same benefit of the doubt when announcing the EU’s 2030 plan in January. Environmentalists jumped on its inadequacy. In reply, Hedegaard said that it was easy to be an observer but hard to be a politician, and invited the NGOs to go soak our heads. She claimed that the 40% target was a position requiring serious political effort, and that a more ambitious proposal would have no chance of overcoming political opposition.

Be that as it may, the differences between the US and EU situation are informative. In the US case, climate action has been hard to come by, with the last president spending eight years basically working in the opposite direction entirely. Meanwhile, the current president gets little credit for any reductions in emissions, with most people ascribing that entirely to the rush for shale gas.

In fact, according to the US government’s 2014 climate action report, the effect of current policy and trends, including increased use of natural gas, would be to see US emissions drop 5.3% compared to 2005 levels in 2020[1]. However, they have a commitment of reducing by 17%. Bearing in mind the US GDP is rising and its population grows by more than a million people per year, new policy will have to make significant efforts to close the gap, of which the power plant rule is the most important element.

In Europe, meanwhile, GHG emissions were basically stable from 1990-2004, aside from the post-1990 implosion in Eastern countries. A shift from coal to gas played an important a role initially in keeping emissions low, but, as the US is also now finding, that shift only gets you so far before much more is needed. It is no coincidence that the year the Kyoto Protocol went into force, 2005, is when EU emissions clearly took a permanent downward path – concern about the failure to dent emissions in the previous years led to serious efforts at new policy lest we completely miss our Kyoto targets.

But Europe overcompensated – we let countries and companies buy overseas offset credit to temper costs of compliance. Together with the economic downturn the result is that the EU can now either significantly increase emissions to 2020, or hold excess credits over to the following period thereby reducing real effort to 2030. The combination of policy already in place and excess credits carried over could mean that the additional effort from 2020 to 2030 resulting from the current EU debates is negligible.

Solutions to the EU’s problem include adding an approach being pursued, ironically, in both the US and Canada – an emissions performance standard for power plants, which focuses minds on the problem at hand (emissions) and not on the theoretical solution (movement of overabundant paper credits, often of dubious provenance). An EPS will play an important role in the post-2020 target Obama has promised to deliver before the UN deadline in March 2015 (cue jeering from the domestic better-dead-than-green coalition).

So, the historic bad guys are trying to make up for lost time while the historic good guys are resting on their laurels. In both cases politicians trying to get something done are lightning rods for criticism from all sides – old-fashioned industry (and their friends in government) emboldened by the death of peak oil and smelling blood around climate action, and everyone else, who worry that the outcome of the political process is generally to pitch beach umbrellas in the face of a tsunami.

But neither should we expect government to build solid fortifications on shifting sand. Whatever the deficiencies, arguably we’re finally starting to see what looks like a the foundation of real climate action – China, the EU and the US are lining up behind new efforts, along with dozens of other significant economies, right in the run-up to a new big global agreement. If politicians make the calculation that they can’t push as far as we want, then that’s an indication we’ve got more work to do on all fronts.


Why Transparency is not a Virtue

Posted by on 27/05/14
We keep talking about transparency as a social good and a basis for trust. The Risk-Monger finds this to be contradictory - the demand for transparency is indicative of a lack of trust and a social malnourishment.

MEP Ulrike Lunacek on saving the planet and embracing European solidarity

Posted by on 22/05/14

— This is the second and final part of my exclusive interview with Greens/EFA Vice President and MEP Ulrike Lunacek.  —

Lunacek, aside from being the Vice President of the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament, was the lead candidate of the Austrian Green Party for the 2009 EP election and the current frontrunner for this year’s EP election.

She is from Krems, Lower Austria and attended high school in Vienna and Boone, IA. She studied interpreting (English and Spanish) at the University of Innsbruck and became engaged in social work and other freelancing professions in interpreting and journalism.

She was a member of the Austrian parliament from 1999 to 2009 and was the Greens’ spokeswoman on foreign and development policy as well as equality for LGBT persons. She was the vice-chair of the Green Parliamentary Club in Austria in 2008 and in 2009 she was nominated frontrunner for that year’s EP election.

Below is the continuation of a lengthened exclusive interview with her. Click here to read the first part.

 

Tell us about the party’s vision of the 2030 Climate Protection Plan, since one of the things that makes the Greens a unique party is their genuine determination to protect Earth.

It’s an imperative that the EU should be the leading power in saving the planet, but what would it take for the EU to adopt a common European energy and environmental policy?

What feasible and affordable solutions are there to combat environmental challenges such as climate change?

“To stop climate change an energy transition is necessary: away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources. Europe does not only need ambitious climate targets, but a Green Investment Pact for Sustainable Development. The focus of such a pact must be on the energy policy, resource efficiency and a green economy. This pact is the largest employment opportunity that Europe has. And “Out of oil and gas” does not only make sense in an ecologically context, but also as far as human rights and foreign policy are concerned – see Crimean crisis!

Regarding the energy sector the continuation of subsidies for nuclear energy is another big issue. Instead of investing in sustainable forms of energy, nuclear power might celebrate a comeback and governments try to make it socially acceptable. The same is true for coal and shale gas. Due to the devastating effects that these forms of energy have on our environment, we Greens reject all investments in this area.

We need three binding climate targets. That is the only way we can protect the environment and strengthen the European economy. The target for renewable energy in 2020 has resulted in a positive development in the renewables industry in the EU. We must hold on to this successful strategy. However, the 30% target for 2030 is not enough. A mandatory 45 % target would be ambitious and achievable. In addition, we also need a binding target for energy saving of 40%.

Concerning the emission reductions the 40 % reduction target, which is required both by the EU Commission as well as by the majority of Parliament cannot solve our problems. We need to be much more ambitious if we want to achieve the two-degree climate target.”

What is your message to the populist parties that are currently gaining popularity?

More specifically, what is your message to Eurosceptics in and out of the Europe who claim that the European project is disintegrating due to the Union’s crisis handling?

Do you believe that we are still undergoing a continental recession or are we slowly recovering from its aftermath?

“I would tell them that the European Parliament has more competences and is hence more powerful i.e. important than ever. Apart from foreign affairs and tax issues, where it can make political statements that shape public opinion and decisions (e.g. Financial Transaction Tax, mandate for US-EU Free Trade Agreement), it is a full-fledged party in the decision-making process and therefore on a level playing field with the Council. Unlike the Council, the Commission or any other EU institution the Parliament possesses democratic legitimacy and its constitution can be influenced directly by EU citizens. Since a huge part of national law is affected by or directly comes from Brussels, waiving the right to vote in the European Parliament elections therefore means giving away one’s voice in national politics as well.

And: every vote counts! Sometimes there is only one vote difference regarding certain decisions in the EP. This consequence has to be made clear. In addition people have to know that using EP elections as protest votes has negative effects for their home country. In general MEPs from extremely nationalist parties have difficulties founding groups in the EP and therefore they have no or only little political influence and cannot make a difference for EU citizens. As far as Austria is concerned 5 out of 19 MEPs are non-attached members, which reduces their influence.

As far as the crisis is concerned, not the European Union, but the member states are the problem. They are not willing to give away power and therefore try to solve the EU’s problems at short notice convened summits. They are using “sticking plasters” and try to solve the most urgent issues but do not have a master plan.

Furthermore they are not willing to spend more money fighting youth unemployment etc. We have to show people that being on one’s own cannot be the solution in a globalised world, where crisis or climate changes do not respect borders. And we have to remind them of all the advantages of the EU we take for granted, like studying or working abroad, open boarders or a strong, Europe-wide currency.”

 

#ReclaimEurope and #VoteGreen this #EP2014! ;-)

 

Legitimizing EU Democracy and Advocating for a Federal Europe

Posted by on 21/05/14

— This is the first of two parts of my exclusive interview with Greens/EFA Vice President and MEP Ulrike Lunacek. —

This year’s European parliamentary election will commence in less than 24 hours with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among the first nations out of 28 to vote first. Most of the member states will be voting at the weekend. This election is the 8th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979 and the first election after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

Below is a lengthy exclusive interview with MEP Ulrike Lunacek, the Spitzenkandidatin for the Austrian Greens and the Vice President of the Greens/EFA group.

The whole interview goes in-depth into one of the Greens’ advocacies for Europe, such as on legitimizing EU democracy, further continental integration resulting to a federal EU, reforming Europe’s institutional structure, combating climate change and saving the planet, surviving economic crises and debunking Eurosceptics.

 

It’s a fact that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit; the lack of transparency, the massive bureaucracy and corruption within the institutions undermine the EU’s credibility as a true leader of the world.

So what measures would the party undertake in legitimizing democracy within the EU?

Would it be abolishing some of the institutions or establishing a European constitution or something else?

“The “massive bureaucracy” is not a fact but a common stereotype. The EU, a Union of more than 500 million people, has around 45.000 officials working in the different institutions. In comparison the Austrian federal state employs 133.000 people.

Notwithstanding the above, you are right stating that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit: The EP does not have full legislative rights and the Council is still executive at national level and legislative at EU level. I support a federal Europe – the United States of Europe, which have to have a different, more democratic structure but also different policies, aiming at social justice and ecological sustainability, among other things. Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.

As far as the institutions are concerned, the establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level is needed, under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.”

Conservatives often argue that having a strict control on immigration is what’s needed right now. They argue that having liberal immigration and asylum policies and keeping the door open have been proven to be an irresponsible approach and that it is contrary to the citizens’ interests. What’s your response to this?

Why is further EU expansion vital and what’s the true vision of the Greens regarding a genuinely integrated Europe?

“The asylum policy of the European Union as a whole is in need of reform. First and foremost the Dublin-II-Regulation has to be repealed and asylum seekers must be fairly distributed among all EU Member States. Furthermore a Europe-wide regulation should give asylum seekers the opportunity for self-preservation with legal work. The result would be a win-win-situation: potentials and capabilities would be used and asylum seekers would be self-sufficient.

Apart from the question of asylum I am strongly in favor of further EU expansion. In late 2013 the Commission featured EU enlargement reports, which show that despite the rampant enlargement fatigue we constantly achieve concrete progress especially as far as the countries of the Western Balkans are concerned. For me, the EU enlargement is not a one-way street, but stability in the Western Balkans is in the mutual interest of the European Union and the candidate countries. Without the involvement of the entire Western Balkans, the European peace project is not completed. At the same time, EU governments are in need of strong arguments towards their citizens regarding further enlargement. Any progress in the accession process depends on the fulfillment of the criteria by the candidate countries. In this context the decisive factors are of course the implementation of the rule of law, judicial reform and the fight against corruption.”

As a staunch advocate of further European integration, your party’s vision of a “United States of Europe” is admirable, but the question remains: how achievable is a federal Europe in 10-15 years and how can the EU make it doable?

And what would a federal EU look like and what would it accomplish compared to the EU we have now?

“The United States of Europe might be a remote vision, but you have to have a concrete goal to take the first step. It is not that important whether we achieve this goal within the next 10 or 15 years, but it is important that we go in this direction. The principles that underpin my vision of Europe are to oppose the current tendency of increasingly resorting to intergovernmentalism in European decision making which amounts to nothing more than bargaining between narrowly defined national interests. I strongly believe that the only real way forward is by making decisions based on the common interests of the European Union and its citizens. The steps that have to be taken in order to make this vision come true, are:

  • Establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.
  • Introduction of the full right of initiative for the European Parliament to enable it to propose legislation.
  • Introduction of European electoral lists for elections to a proportion of the seats in the European Parliament, with the leading candidates on the list running concurrently for election to the top positions within in the European Commission, thus campaigning for European voters’ support.
  • Election to the Commission through the European Parliament: The Commission should be elected directly by the European Parliament. The practice of governments nominating national politicians or granting them politically-motivated ‘promotions’ to the Commission must cease.
  • Shoring up of direct democracy through accessible European Citizens’ Initiatives, and introduction of Europe-wide referenda on European issues. European citizens should be able to determine their future in a united Europe themselves. However, this should not be achieved via national referenda where domestic party-politics and power games reign, but rather through Europe-wide ones: far-reaching steps towards integration should be determined via a double-majority mechanism, with proposals requiring a majority of both EU citizens and EU Member States to be in favour.
  • A Green New Deal and social rights that really deserve that name. I am convinced that the European Union must take a decisive step towards a federal structure, starting with a community method in social justice and in economic governance, with common fiscal policies and a larger budget that makes the desperately needed investment in education, in an ecological paradigm change towards an ecologically sustainable economy with renewables and energy efficiency possible.

Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.”

#ReclaimEurope and #VoteGreen this #EP2014! ;-)

 

Is nuclear fusion an alternative to renewable energy?

Posted by on 20/05/14

At the risk of destroying the basis of human civilisation Humanity must find ways and means for phasing out the use of fossil fuels before the end of the century. The EU aims at reaching that objective already for 2050.

Renewable energies – wind, sun, waves and tides – can do the job provided Humanity imposes substantial cuts on its energy consumption, which should be possible through a substantial increase of energy efficiency.

Renewable energies have benefited from rapid technological progress lowering production costs and making them almost competitive with fossil energies. But they continue to suffer from their inherent handicap of intermittence which can only be neutralised by big investments in energy storage.

The focus on energy efficiency and renewable energies has overshadowed the parallel effort to develop thermonuclear fusion for the generation of electricity which has been going on for more than 70 years

Copying the sun has made it possible to produce the hydrogen bomb. Why should it not alsobe possible to tame thermonuclear energy for the generation of electricity!

What appears simple in scientific terms poses huge engineering challenges. How to imitate the sun that contains the plasma by temperatures of 15 million degrees and very powerful gravitational pressures?

The basic answer lies in compressing deuterium and tritium hydrogen isotopes into helium through electromagnetism and much higher temperatures than in the sun,

For decades scientists have attempted to generate electricity this way.

In 1997 physicists at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy have succeeded to generate 16 MW, but with an a input of 24 MW.

It is only in February 2014 that US scientists have, for the first time, been able to obtain a slightly positive yield.

The most ambitious international scientific programme for peaceful nuclear fusion ever launched, the “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor” (ITER) grouping USA, EU, Japan, Korea, India, China and Russia aims at generating fusion energy by 2028. It is extremely complex, due to diverging interests among the participants. In the fall of 2013 it was on the verge of breaking up when the US Senate refused to attribute additional financing after delays and cost- overruns, though the costs of €15 billion are only 10 times the cost of building one 500 MW off-shore wind park kin the North Sea.

Nobody is certain that by 2028 the gigantic machine will effectively generate more electricity than it consumes. But physicists will, in any case, be able to draw fertile lessons from their 15-year long cooperation.

And one day before the end of the century, they will most probably succeed.

When they do thermonuclear energy might become a crucial component of the future energy mix and contribute to the fight against climate change. The ultimate test will, however, not be the technical feasibility of a fusion reactor but the cost of generating thermonuclear electricity compared to much simpler and safer technologies.

Whatever the outcome of that research, thermonuclear fusion is unlikely to ever replace cost-effective technologies like wind, sun and waves.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 16/5/2014

How values dictate our use of the ‘precaution’ principle

Posted by on 17/05/14
The Risk-Monger shows that if the implementation of the precautionary principle were rational, then coffee would need to be banned. Fortunately, in this case, normative reflux steps in - our values and love of the benefits blinds us to the real risks and allows us to enjoy coffee despite the evidence.

New rules on organic labelling on the way

Posted by on 14/05/14

The organic sector must engage now with the institutions of the European Union if it is to secure the right outcome for new legislation on organic food.

With all the hype around the upcoming European Parliamentary election (even though many around Europe have not noticed) one might be forgiven to have missed the release at the end of March of a new proposed regulation on organic food production and the labelling of organic food products by the Commission.

This proposal is one born of the success of the industry over the last decade or so: despite an on-going economic crisis, the organic sector in the EU has grown fourfold, whilst the amount of land devoted to organic food production has doubled. So, the Commission has decided new regulation is needed to ensure the sustainable development of the industry. And while the average citizen will probably be unaware of this legislative development, the organic sector has certainly taken good notice and is gearing up to make its voice heard during the negotiations which will take place over the next few months.

I won’t go into too much detail on the proposals themselves – such detail tends not to make for an especially exciting column – but some of the suggested changes appear to be a welcome effort to clarify and harmonise rules. On the issue of organic production, for example, the Commission is looking to strengthen and harmonise the rules removing various exemptions and derogations that are currently allowed.

Similarly, in the field of official controls the Commission wants to reinforce the risk based approach, removing the requirement for a mandatory annual physical verification of compliance of all operators and increase transparency with regard to fees that may be collected for the controls.

Alongside the proposal, the Commission has published an action plan to support the growth of the organic farming sector, setting out the steps that will be taken over the next few years. These include the publication of a document presenting the rules applicable to organic production, processors and trade; the development of a system of electronic certification for import; and the development and implementation of an organic fraud prevention policy, among other measures.

Clarity and commitment to cut down on the sort of food fraud which can imperil the organic sector’s reputation is all welcome. But, some in the EU are uneasy that new rules may be far too burdensome and there are ominous rumblings from the two big EU powers, France and Germany, that they are particularly dissatisfied.

As ever with the EU though, don’t expect too much to happen too quickly – it is unlikely that the regulation will become law before the end of 2015. After being published, the proposal has been assigned for scrutiny to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) which will not start working on it until next July at the very earliest.  After this scrutiny process the Council, which is made up of representatives from the 28 Member States, will then have its say.

The debate will start soon, so now is the time for the organic sector to start looking at this proposed law, its advantages and its disadvantages – and how they can influence its development, maximising opportunities and identifying threats.

Despite the criticisms which have already been leveraged against the proposal, this draft regulation and action plan can be seen as a vote of confidence from the European Commission in the EU’s organic sector – and given the millions of consumers who choose to buy organic products every day in Europe, why not?

Chris Whitehouse is Chairman of leading public affairs Consultancy www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk whose Food Regulation Team advise many organisations and businesses in the specialist food product sector. He is also Director of Strategy of consumer organisation Consumers for Health Choice www.consumersforhealthchoice.com and of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance www.essna.com.

 

Political leadership in a new era

Posted by on 13/05/14
By Kaj Embren

IPCC. Drought. Storms. CO2 levels of 400 ppm. In 2014, climate change and sustainability moved from being distinct environmental concerns to becoming systematic welfare issues. Our traditional way of looking at the world as a collection of national economies can not continue. Policy decisions at the national level must be based on a different worldview – one that sees our world as a network of cities with climate change and sustainable community development at their heart. It is time to start 'Governing for Sustainability'.

Das Fracking in Deutschland. Vorbild für Europa?

Posted by on 12/05/14

Fracking – nein, danke! Öffentlichkeitswirksam haben sich die Umweltminister der Länder heute gegen die umstrittene Methode zur Gasförderung ausgesprochen. Allerdings zu sagen haben die Minister bei dem Thema wenig. Denn Fracking fällt unter das Bergrecht und damit in die Zuständigkeit der Wirtschaftsminister. Und derzeit bereiten die Wirtschaftsminister einiger Länder – allen voran Niedersachsen und Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – durch die Hintertür einen Einstieg in das Fracking in Deutschland vor.

Hintergrund sind ganz handfeste wirtschaftliche Gründe. Ganze 600 Millionen Euro bekommt zum Beispiel Niedersachsen Jahr für Jahr von der Erdgas-Industrie für den geförderten Rohstoff. Zum Vergleich: Das ist dreimal so viel wie der Anteil des Landes an VW wert ist. Pech ist nur, dass die Erdgasförderung in Deutschland seit Jahren sinkt und damit Industriestätten gefährdet sind. Das Fracking soll es jetzt herausreißen.

Dabei unterscheidet die Branche aber zwischen “gutem” und “schlechtem” Fracking. Das “gute” Fracking ist schon seit 1961 mehrfach in Niedersachsen durchgeführt worden und soll jetzt nach jahrelangem Moratorium in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern zum Einsatz kommen. Dabei geht es darum, dass Gas aus tiefen Sandsteinschichten herauszuspülen. Dieses Verfahren ist nicht so umweltschädlich wie das sogenannte “schlechte” Fracking in tiefem Schiefergestein, weil nicht so viele umweltschädliche Stoffe eingesetzt werden. Deshalb erwarten Niedersachsen und auch Mecklenburg-Vorpommern bei ihrem Vorstoß auch längst nicht den Gegenwind wie beim Schiefer-Fracking, gegen das sich die Umweltminister heute ausgesprochen haben.

Die Erdgas Lobbyisten bedienen sich auch der Ukraine-Krise, um ihre Anträge auf Fracking durchzusetzen. Doch das ist ein Argument, das nicht zieht. Die in Norddeutschland zu fördernden Gasmengen sind so gering, dass sie ganz sicher keine Alternative zum Import russischen Gases darstellen. In Deutschland wird Fracking deshalb immer eine Randerscheinung bleiben. In den USA und Kanada hingegen hat es in den vergangenen fünf Jahren einen solchen Boom gegeben, dass das prognostizierte weltweite Aus für Öl und Gas noch 20 bis 30 Jahre nach hinten verlagert wurde.

Trotzdem ist das Manöver durchsichtig: Industrie und Politik wollen den Fuß in der Tür behalten, um die Erdgasförderung in Deutschland zu legitimieren. Und die Umweltminister haben heute zwar Reformen beschlossen; jetzt muss sich allerdings zeigen, ob die Umweltinteressen die Wirtschaftsinteressen schlagen können. Für die sehr umtriebigen Bürgerinitiativen in Norddeutschland bedeutet das: Die Fracking-Gefahr ist noch längst nicht gebannt, auch wenn es völlig unrealistisch ist, dass in den kommenden Jahren in Norddeutschland mit dem Schiefer-Fracking begonnen wird. “Fracking – nein, danke” – das heutige Motto der Umweltminister wird Norddeutschland auch noch die kommenden Jahre bewegen.

How not to beat your wife: Precaution and the Pesticides Directive

Posted by on 05/05/14
The more the pesticides industry denies safety accusations, the more guilty they look. The erosion of trust is built into the precautionary blacklist game - a game the industry will never win.

Will humanity take effective action against climate change?

Posted by on 14/04/14

In the fall of 2015 the international community is set to adopt a comprehensive action plan to combat climate change. Paris having been chosen as the meeting place the French government is showing more interest in climate issues and trying to mobilise the EU on a rapid agreement of its 2030 climate objectives.

The UN preparatory machinery keeps running full steam to obtain a successful outcome.

This goes above all for the scientific aspects.

In the last seven years, Humanity has accumulated a huge amount of scientific data on the climate change that has taken place during the 20th century and is likely to occur during the 21st century. Never have human beings known so much about the climate. It is therefore no longer possible for anyone to deny climate change taking place and being mostly man-made.

There is also a consensus on its main causes: C02 and methane emissions from burning fossil energies for heating, cooling, transport, industrial processes and massive deforestation are the principal villains.

If Humanity were able to contain these major causal factors within the next five decades it would still have a chance of mitigating climate change.

Theoretically this is possible.

Humanity can do without burning as much fossil energy as it does. This goes in particular for the wealthy West and China.

Wind, solar, biomass and waves can substitute fossil energy, provided storage facilities and long-distance grid interconnections are in place.

As long as they are still more expensive than coal and gas temporary subsidy regimes should offer incentives.

But why should the 2015 “big bang” in Paris be any different from the 20 preceding “Conferences of the Parties” and lay out a convincing path for Humanity to throw off the burden of climate change that will weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the coming generations?

The 195 countries that will attend the COP 21 remain deeply divided on the nature of the commitments and the burden sharing they will have to accept for a successful outcome. So far they are likely to agree only on the necessity to contain global warming within the critical margin of two centigrade; but that would be nothing new and rather meaningless without firm and verifiable commitments as to the actions to be taken.

But the international community is less than ever concerned about climate change. According to the last assessments the impact of climate change on the global economy is likely to be much lower than projected only six years ago by the Stern Report. And how many politicians care already about the impacts on biodiversity, natural catastrophes or even a steep increase in the numbers of “climate refugees”!

It is therefore not surprising to see the emphasis shifting from mitigation to adaptation. Humanity seems to prefer the costs for adaptation rather than invest in mitigation efforts, even if that will be risky because of the irreversible effects of climate change.

It is fully in line with this trend that:

  • big polluter countries like Japan, Australia, Canada or Russia are anything but keen combating climate change;
  • all major fossil energy producing countries refuse phasing out their massive oil and gas subsidies;
  • EU climate policy suffers from the global indifference. The EU rightly underlines that its efforts matter less and less as its share of global emissions is approaching 10 per cent. Contrary to the wishes of the UN Secretary General, it is not likely to play the role of a powerful locomotive in Paris, however regrettable this may be.

China and USA, the two emission giants, accounting for about half of global emissions, might be a glimpse of light in the gloomy picture.

But China will take another 20 years or so before its emissions might start falling; and the US objective of reducing its emissions by 17 per cent until 2017 compared to 2005 will not be a glorious achievement, considering its extremely high per capita emissions of 14 tons and the EU scheduled reductions and by at least 40 per cent until 2030 over 1990.

In conclusion, it looks presently unlikely that the COP 21 in Paris will turn out to be a thrilling success.

It would be a great progress if:

  • the 20 major emitter countries responsible for about 75 per cent of global emissions committed themselves to formulate 20-year strategies within a UN framework and to submit annual performance reports;
  • all rich countries, including the oil/gas exporters, offered the World Bank the financial means – say $ 100 billion per year – to help finance a big programmes for wind, hydro and solar energy;
  • the tropical forest countries were to curb illegal wood cutting and receive appropriate compensation for these efforts.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 11/4/2014

Combating climate change will be a long difficult haul

Posted by on 07/04/14

While the international community is due to finally take serious action against climate change it is worthwhile having a look at Denmark, Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland and Norway that have succeeded to generate two thirds of their electricity from renewable sources, mostly from wind and water.

But despite intensive efforts and favourable conditions – zero population growth, large forest areas, a very big hydro power potential and ideal wind conditions – they are still miles away from a fossil-free energy supply which Denmark aspires by 2050.

Still, the international community might learn a few lessons from their experience:

  • build a strong political and popular support.

Without such a support technical efforts will go nowhere. This support is there in each of the countries.

  • set long term objectives, buffered by short-time targets on which to focus concrete action.

    Thus by 2020 Denmark aims to cover one third and until 2050 its entire energy needs from renewable sources.

Similarly the EU operates with 2020/30 targets within a 2050 horizon.

  • put in place a strong institutional framework: a climate and energy ministry and energy agency.

    Denmark has led the way.

  • introduce cost-effective support schemes for accelerating the shift from fossil to renewable energy.

    Denmark has tried a panoply of measures, strongly focused on wind power, its principal renewable source, investment grants to enterprises shifting their energy supply from fossil to renewable sources and recently also premiums for solar power.

    Unlike Germany which has wasted huge amounts of subsidies for photovoltaic installations, not ideal in a country lacking sun during much of the year, the Scandinavian countries have concentrated their efforts on wind energy of which they have plenty. Such a focus on the most effective source of renewable energy is crucial for obtaining cost-effectiveness.

  • offer subsidies only for a limited period (10 years) and adapt them to falling production costs.

    Here too Denmark is a better example than Germany that has offered premiums unchanged for 20 years.

  • invest from the start in energy storage and interconnections for periods without wind or sunshine.

    Here Germany has also failed for a long time.

  • begin with renewable electricity even if heating and transport are more important energy consumers.
  • do not forget pushing for more effective thermal insulation of the building stock, where the Nordic countries have also been outstanding.

  • do not renounce mandatory action, for example energy efficiency standards if you can monitor their implementation.

  • last not least, phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil energy.

In conclusion, if Humanity is serious with reducing green house gas emissions every major energy consuming country must without delay put in place the institutional and legal bases for reducing its fossil energy consumption.

To be effective it must draw up an appropriate strategy containing a long term vision and short term operational measures.

It is up to the UN to invite its most appropriate institution to help countries in that exercise and make sure that those countries implementing effective climate strategies will benefit from the financial assistance that has been promised by the international community.

But even with the most devoted efforts the Nordic countries` experience shows that it will take decades before such policies will produce strong results. Homework should therefore start without any further delay.

 

Only a minor detail?

Posted by on 28/03/14

It seems to be only a little very unimportant detail from an overall perspective: Paper machinery imports in China break down. It is caused by declining demand for paper products and overcapacity in the industry. This is not a new story. Everywhere internet is pushing away paper. Less printed products, less demand in paper. But it is the second part of the story that is very interesting. It is about environmental measures. In fact, paper manufacturing requires large amounts of water and wood – natural resources the Peoples Republic of China has decreasing access. That’s the reason why critics ask whether the current pursued growth in paper production is for the good of the country and really useful. This sounds like a really important mental change. It started in Europe the same way. Twenty years later we are having renewable energies and car-sharing.

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