Monday, 24 August 2009

Native Americans to join London climate camp protest over tar sands

Canadian First Nations seek to highlight UK's 'criminal' role in CO2-heavy oil schemes
Terry Macalister, Sunday 23 August 2009 16.14 BST
Native Americans are to join the Climate Camp protests in the City of London this week in an attempt to draw attention to corporate Britain's "criminal" involvement in the tar sands of Canada.
Five representatives from the Cree First Nations are coming to co-ordinate their campaign against key players in the carbon-heavy energy sector with British environmentalists.
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan, a centre of Alberta's tar sands schemes, said: "British companies such as BP and Royal Bank of Scotland in partnership with dozens of other companies are driving this project, which is having such devastating effects on our environment and communities.
"It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life," she said.
It showed British companies were complicit in "the biggest environmental crime on the planet" and yet very few people in Britain even knew it was happening, said Deranger. She was speaking ahead of an annual Climate Camp that will be held for one week somewhere in Greater London from this Thursday.
The exact site of the camp has not been revealed as green organisers are worried that the police might move to thwart their plans if they are notified in advance.
BP and Shell are two of the major oil companies extracting oil from the tar sands. The thick and sticky oil can only be removed from the sands by using a lot of water and power as well as producing far heavier CO2 emissions.
RBS, now partly owned by the British government after its financial rescue, is also a target of environmentalists and aboriginals because it is seen as a major funder of such schemes.
The Climate Camp concept started with a protest outside the Drax coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire and was followed up by similar protests at Heathrow – against the proposed third runway – and Kingsnorth in Kent, where E.ON wants to construct a new coal-fired power station.
There was also a Climate Camp in April at Bishopsgate inside the City of London, which became linked with bad policing after a bystander died following a clash with a constable.
The tar sands are seen by many as a particularly dangerous project providing enough carbon to be released in total to tip the world into unstoppable climate change. Shell was the first major European oil company to invest in the Canadian-based operations but BP followed under its chief executive, Tony Hayward.
The oil companies both dispute the amount of pollution caused by tar sands and insist they must be exploited if the world is not going to run out of oil.
But George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, said the so-called heavy oil schemes were violating treaty rights and putting the lives of locals at risk. He said: "We are seeing a terrifyingly high rate of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, where I live. We are convinced these cancers are linked to the tar sands development on our doorstep."

Biggest gathering of green activists - but where will it be?

Paul Lewis, Sunday 23 August 2009 19.58 BST
A patch of land at an undisclosed site near London will host a green gathering this week as thousands of climate change activists receive text message alerts about the location of what is likely to be this year's largest environmental demonstration.
The Climate Camp starts at noon on Wednesday, when activists leave 10 gathering points around the capital and head for the site, whose location has so far been kept secret from the police.
The Met is expected to send officers to each of the meeting points to pursue the protesters, who have promised "twists, turns, sneaking and outreaching" across the city.
The camp itself, which could be anywhere, from one of the capital's parks to the grounds of what activists believe is a carbon-polluting company, is principally seen as a chance to prepare for direct action against coal-based energy in October.
According to one report yesterday, activists have a list of more than 20 establishments that could become a target this week. They include the Treasury, the government's business and enterprise department, E.ON, the Bank of England, the stock exchange, BP, and Heathrow and London City airports.
Senior officers have held five meetings with protesters to prepare for the event, which has been promoted on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, saying they intend to use "community-style" policing to avoid a repetition of their controversial handling of protests during the G20 summit. The Met has activated its own Twitter account, CO11MetPolice, to spread information on its operation.
There is a growing feeling within the Climate Camp network that the controversy over the policing of protests has detracted from the central issue of trying to avert climate change.

Unilever wants ice cream to ease global warming

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor
Warm ice cream is the holy grail for scientists at Unilever, owner of the Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s brands, which is developing a “low-carbon” product to be sold at room temperature and frozen at home.
Unilever hopes that a product sold at room temperature will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ice cream is one of the company’s more energy-intensive products because of the need to keep it frozen during transport and storage.
The company, the world’s largest producer of ice cream, sells €5 billion (£4.3 billion) a year worldwide of brands that also include Wall’s, Cornetto, Feast, Viennetta and Solero. The UK ice cream market is worth £789 million a year, it says.
A spokesman for Unilever said that warm, or so-called ambient, ice cream was a “very interesting idea” but one that posed tough challenges that its scientists were trying to solve. “The key question which has yet to be fully answered is: how do you ensure that, when the ambient ice cream is frozen at home it will have the right microstructure to produce a fantastic consumer experience?”
The research programme is being undertaken in Unilever’s own laboratories with help from academics at Cambridge University.
Gavin Neath, Unilever’s senior vice-president for sustainability, said: “We have to look at a really radical solution.” He said that the ice cream programme was part of a review that Unilever was undertaking to minimise the environmental impact of its products.
Unilever is trying to reduce the emissions from its ice cream operation by improving the energy efficiency of factories in Gloucester, Heppenheim in Germany, Caivano in Italy and Saint-Dizier in France. It is also upgrading two million refrigerated cabinets that it supplies to retailers in 40 countries. Mr Neath said that 400,000 of these refrigerators had been replaced with a propane-powered cabinet that was 15 per cent more energy efficient.
He said, however, that while Unilever’s global operations, including its factories, offices, research laboratories, lorries and staff travel, probably emitted nearly four million tonnes of carbon per year, those from the full life cycle of its products, including energy to run dishwashers and washing machines, or to refrigerate and cook food, were about 400 million tonnes.

The green list: from bikes to patio heaters, what's best – and worst – for the planet

Campaigners and politicians nominate their loves and hates
James Meikle
The Guardian, Monday 24 August 2009
They may be a simple way to keep you warm on an autumn evening in the back garden or offer the shortest travel time to a well-earned holiday, but patio heaters and short-haul flights are among the least ethical goods and services of the past 20 years, according to a survey of leading politicians and green campaigners.
A list of perceived environmental evils that also includes the standby on your television set and the complex international framework for carbon offsetting has been garnered from those at the forefront of the environmental movement by Ethical Consumer magazine.
But the "most hated" innovations, which apparently threaten a green future and therefore should be banned, are balanced by suggestions for the most ethical products of the last 20 decades. The rise of cycling, the Fairtrade movement and the Eurostar links between London, Brussels and Paris all win plaudits.
The vision of the best and worst emerges as part of the magazine's 20th birthday celebrations, for which it invited nominations from environment secretary Hilary Benn, political opponents, climate camp activists and a number of campaign groups.
For Benn, success in a British campaign to get the bluefin tuna added to the international list of endangered species would stop the fishing industry wiping it out, while he, like others of those questioned, endorses the Fairtrade movement – "a brilliantly simple idea that builds a relationship between the farmer and the person buying the product".
Greg Barker, his Conservative opposite number, backs the already planned EU ban on incandescent light bulbs, while hoping that the generation of mercury-based low-energy bulbs will soon be superseded by LED products, and commends smart electric meters, which "have the power to revolutionise people's relationship with the energy they use".
Lib Dem Simon Hughes says that locally grown food will help Britain significantly reduce food miles, and he says getting rid of the standby facility on TVs and other electrical appliances could save almost 1m tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
London mayor Boris Johnson refuses to suggest a product or service that should be banned, believing "in carrots rather than sticks", and promotes instead his plans for a cycle hire scheme in the capital and incentives for recycling waste. But his nomination for best ethical product is the development of electric cars, adding: "I am completely blown away by the rapid development of the technology behind them."
The choices from Climate Camp activists make up a single entry in each category – but there is therefore a triple suggestion for best product, "ideas and time; something I made myself; the bicycle". And there are two suggestions for bans, carbon offsets ("Nature doesn't do bailouts") and flights powered by agrofuels, "a blatant example of greenwash".
Other candidates for a ban range from private health insurance, "a creeping threat to the integrity of public health systems around the world" according to John Hilary, of War on Want, and battery-farmed animal products, nominated by Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association.
Other hated technologies nominated include patio heaters – "It's just so pointless heating the open air," said Andy Atkins, of Friends of the Earth – and coal-fired power stations, for their "devastating role" in climate change, according to Jason Torrance, of the transport charity Sustrans.
The wind-up torch is the most ethical product, according to Helen Starr-Keddie of Action for Sustainable Living. "Real nappies" save a lot of money and waste going to landfill, said Caroline Fernandez of the Women's Environmental Network.
Eurostar's nomination comes from Greenpeace's Ben Stewart, for challenging "Britain's addiction to flying".

Fury at plan to power EU homes from Congo dam

World Bank supports controversial $80bn project
Nick Mathiason
The Observer, Sunday 23 August 2009
Plans to link Europe to what would be the world's biggest hydroelectric dam project in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo have sparked fierce controversy.
The Grand Inga dam, which has received initial support from the World Bank, would cost $80bn (£48bn). At 40,000MW, it has more than twice the generation capacity of the giant Three Gorges dam in China and would be equivalent to the entire generation capacity of South Africa.
Grand Inga will involve transmission cables linking South Africa and countries in west Africa including Nigeria. A cable would also run through the Sahara to Egypt.
But controversially, it is understood that part of the feasibility study for the Grand Inga project would see the scheme extended to supply power to southern Europe, at a time when less than 30% of Africans have access to electricity - a figure that can fall to less than 10% in many countries.
Extending the scheme to Europe is part of a recent trend that includes the ambitious €400bn (£345bn) Desertec plan to take solar power from the Sahara to southern Europe. And last month Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, with the backing of the European Union, signed a $12bn agreement to transport Nigerian gas through a pipeline to Europe.
"Under the guise of bringing power to poor Africans, development banks are looking to put tens of billions of public money into a flight of fantasy that would only benefit huge Western multinationals and quite possibly feed African energy into European households," said Anders Lustgarten of the Bretton Woods Project, which scrutinises the World Bank and IMF.
The scheme on the Congo river won support from World Bank president Robert Zoellick on a tour of the facility two weeks ago. Its progress is being keenly watched by a host of international power companies and infrastructure banks.
World Bank officials concede there is concern that a project that has the potential to bring electricity to 500 million African homes might have some of its power diverted to Europe. But the Grand Inga project may hinge on the capacity to export energy to richer markets to ensure it receives financing from banks. "We need creditworthy anchor customers to subscribe so investment can go ahead," said Vijay Iyer, sector manager of the Africa energy group at the World Bank.
Grand Inga would be the final part of a three-phase project, the first of which is under way. That involves refurbishing a hydroelectric plant dating to 1972 that has fallen into disrepair due to the instability caused by Congo's civil war. The first phase will involve restoring power supply to South Africa and a host of neighbouring countries.
The second 4,300MW phase is to power the Katanga mining region of the DRC, with a substantial amount of electricity distributed via cable to other African nations. FTSE 100 mining giant BHP Billiton is in negotiations about funding a feasibility study with the DRC government.
The more ambitious Grand Inga phase requires a new dam and a reservoir. The African Development Bank and the World Bank are working up plans for the scheme along with the World Energy Council. Plans will take five years to finalise, with construction taking another 10 years at least after that.

China Boosts Pollution Oversight

By J.R. WU
BEIJING -- China said it will strengthen the ways it assesses the environmental impact of new projects, adding a continuing review to ensure they are on track or get revised if needed to comply with rules on limiting pollution.
The State Council regulations, issued on the Web site of the central government over the weekend, gave information on changes that effect Oct. 1. From that date, environmental evaluations are required to be carried out before and after a project gets approved.
In 2002, China put out rules governing environmental evaluations, but those weren't clear enough or strong enough, the state-run Xinhua news agency said over the weekend, citing an unnamed official in the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council.
The new rules require environmental impact assessments after a project is first approved. They also stipulate that if a major negative impact on the environment occurs while a project is being carried out, measures to deal with it must be immediately reported to authorities and, if need be, the project has to be revised.
Before a project is approved, the new rules ask for more details and analysis in the evaluation process, including a project's short- and long-term impact on the economy, society and the environment. They also include requirements on taking measures to prevent or mitigate any negative impact on the environment.
The rules say that environmental evaluation of city-level projects will be conducted by local environmental authorities, while provincial projects must by evaluated by environmental authorities under the State Council.
Write to J.R. Wu at

China powers ahead as it seizes the green energy crown from Europe

China is running away with the green technology prize. It has conquered a third of the world market for solar cells and is on a breakneck course to build 100 gigawatts of wind turbines by 2020, doubling again the global capacity for wind power across vast stretches of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

By Ambrose Evans-PritchardPublished: 9:04PM BST 23 Aug 2009
Suntech Power in Wuxi has just broken the world record for capturing photovoltaic solar energy, achieving a 15.6pc conversion rate with a commercial-grade module.
Trina Solar is neck-and-neck with America's First Solar, the low-cost star that has already broken the cost barrier of $1 (61p) per watt with thin film based on cadmium telluride.
The Chinese trio of Suntech, Trina and Yingling all expect to be below 70 cents per watt by 2012, bringing the magical goal of "grid parity" with fossil fuels into grasp.
The concept of grid parity is subject to fierce debate, mostly revolving around which form of fuel – nuclear, oil, coal, or renewables – enjoys the biggest implicit subsidy, and what the future price of crude is likely to be. Parity has already been achieved in hot spots. First Solar's 10-megawatt plant in Nevada can produce electricity without subsidies for 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 9 cents for fossil-based power.
Jeremy Leggett, founder of Britain's Solar Century, says that even this cloudy island can achieve grid parity for households by 2013, seven years sooner than expected. South-facing roofs and facades could one day provide a third of UK electricity needs.
The credit crunch has been brutal for solar start-ups in the West, but not for Chinese firms with access to almost free finance from the state banking system. They have taken advantage of the moment to flood the world with solar panels, driving down the retail price from $4.20 per watt last year to nearer $2 in what some say is a cut-throat drive for market share.
German pioneers Solarworld and Conergy allege foul play and have called for EU sanctions, accusing Chinese rivals of practices that "border on dumping". China's finance ministry says it intends to cover half the investment cost of solar projects. It is a life-and-death moment for the German solar industry, pioneers who provide 75,000 jobs and once led the world. "A large number of German solar cell and solar module producers will not survive," said UBS's Patrick Hummel.
Q-Cells is cutting four production lines and 500 jobs at its base in Thalheim, switching assembly to Asia. Goldman Sachs has added the company to its "conviction sell" list.
Roughly speaking, Chinese firms can undercut the Germans by 30pc. At root, it is a currency problem. China has stolen a march against Europe over the last five years by linking an already undervalued yuan to a weak dollar. While Beijing sheds crocodile tears about the falling greenback, it is deliberately riding dollar devaluation to protect its own export share. What is happening to German solar firms is a revealing case study of the slow-burn damage caused by currency misalignment.
The solar glut will not last. China is orchestrating a big switch into solar power for its own households with a feed-in tariff that lets people sell electricity to the grid. But that may come too late to save German firms.
China has tripled its goal for wind power to 100 gigawatts by 2020. While the West bails out banks, China is spending a big chunk of its $600bn stimulus on "clean tech" projects and a smarter grid. Yes, you still have to wear a face mask to breathe in the soot-blackened industrial hubs of the interior. By the same token, the solar-and-wind hub of Baoding has become the first carbon-positive city in the world.
Whether China is pushing the green agenda because it believes in global warming is almost irrelevant. The country fears being caught short as the global scramble for diminishing resources starts in earnest.
China's coal reserves are not as deep as often assumed. Coal imports surged 130pc in the first half of this year. Australia's Newcastle University expects the world to reach "Peak Coal" in 2026, much earlier than expected.
Unfortunately, feckless Britain will be caught short by the energy crunch. Labour dithered for a decade as North Sea oil began to decline – failing to bite the bullet on nuclear, clean coal, or renewables until far too late. This Government simply failed to understand the impact of Asia's industrial revolutions.
While it makes much noise about CO2 emissions, Labour has been deaf to warnings of a power crunch. We may soon be moving into a phase of history when ill-prepared countries cannot be sure of obtaining energy – whatever the price.
Ah yes, the Danish wind company Vestas has just closed its turbine plant on the Isle of Wight and shed 425 jobs, citing Britain's Nimby culture and the red tape of the planning bureaucracy.
Vestas is switching to the US and China. Makes you weep.