1.1. Council plans for coal-fired power station angers green campaigners
3 January 2007, Terry Macalister, Guardian Unlimited
The first coal-fired power station in Britain for more than 30 years has been approved by a local government authority, triggering delight from industry but anger from green campaigners who said the government must halt a plan which would increase carbon emissions and undermine the fight against climate change.
Medway council in Kent gave the green light to the £1bn Kingsnorth plant proposed by German-owned gas and electricity provider, Eon, which argued that it was a much cleaner version of the power station it would replace, could be constructed quickly and was necessary to meet a potential shortfall in generating capacity.
The final decision on whether the Kingsnorth plant will be built rests with the business secretary John Hutton. There are rising expectations he will approve it along with a new generation of nuclear plants, also opposed by most leading environmental groups.
"We’re facing a real energy crunch," said Eon chief executive Paul Golby, who argued that Britain needed a wide range of power sources if it was to meet future demand at a time of falling North Sea oil and gas production.
The design of the coal station would cut C02 emissions by 2m tonnes annually and it could be used for carbon capture and sequestration if such a technology was proved commercially viable and politically acceptable.
"We’re investing in cleaner coal," argued Golby, whose company is also building the London Array, potentially the world’s largest offshore wind farm, off the Kent coast.
Eon received the backing of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, which said Medway council had made a "common sense" decision that would keep the lights on in south east England and offer a major cut in carbon emissions through the use of carbon sequestration.
But Greenpeace and others condemned the move saying it would effectively pave the way for half a dozen other similar projects . "What we have here quite simply is a proposal to generate electricity by the single most climate-wrecking method in usage anywhere in the world today," said Ben Stewart from Greenpeace.
The organisation said the prime minister was facing a defining moment which would show whether he was serious about his claims to be leading the battle against climate change.
The Green Alliance, a charity that pushes for sustainability to be at the heart of government decision-making, said the business secretary should hold a public inquiry.
"If John Hutton allows construction of this power station to go ahead without doing so, he will chronically undermine the government’s ambitions outlined in the climate bill that is passing through parliament. When passed, this will set legally binding targets for the reduction in CO2 emissions to 2020 and 2050.
"Set against the background of rising UK emissions the building of Kingsnorth as planned will set a very damaging precedent for future energy generation that will make these targets challenging or impossible," the charity said in a statement.
1.2. UK seen giving green light to new nuclear plants
2 January 2008, Reuters UK
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is expected to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear power stations next week, sparking a frenzy of deal-making by nuclear firms as well as a fresh challenge from environmental campaigners.
"I don’t think the government has any other option," said analyst David Cunningham at Arbuthnot Securities. "It’s a necessary evil."
Nuclear operators say they could have new plants running by 2017, helping Britain to meet its 2020 goals for combating climate change.
The government green light, expected on Tuesday, is likely to be accompanied by publication of an Energy Bill to be fast-tracked through parliament alongside the Climate Change Bill and the Planning Bill. The trio of bills form the backbone of the government’s new energy and climate policy for the next decades.
The decision is also being closely watched by other governments, many of which increasingly view nuclear power as an essential part of the energy mix to keep the lights on and combat global warming from burning fossil fuels.
But they face varying degrees of public opposition. While the United States is well on the way towards a new generation of nuclear plants, other countries like Germany are phasing out nuclear power because of safety concerns.
The public is divided on the issue, with 44 percent saying companies should have the option of investing in new nuclear and 37 percent disagreeing.
In February a high court judge overturned the government’s initial go-ahead, saying it failed to consult the public properly.
Greenpeace says a decision in favour of nuclear next week would still be unlawful, largely because people were given flawed information in the second consultation and because there is still no plan for radioactive waste.
However, the judicial decision in February was on the basis of procedure rather than content, so a fresh legal challenge might have to follow a different tack.
BALANCE OF RISKS
But many think the government would prefer a legal challenge from environmentalists to risking missing its CO2 targets due to the unreliability of renewable energy from sources such as wind and waves and to public reluctance to cut energy use.
Main nuclear power firm British Energy is in talks with more than 10 companies to form partnerships for constructing plants, most likely in southern England.
The company is upgrading links from the UK electricity grid to its four southern sites — Sizewell on the east coast, Hinkley in the southwest and Dungeness and Bradwell in the southeast.
If given the green light, it will form joint-venture companies with international partners, each one linked to a specific site, sources say.
"Each of those four British Energy sites has been judged to be viable, but they’re not necessarily the only sites," said Tony Ward of Ernst & Young’s utilities team.
He warned that with just over 30 nuclear plants under construction globally, and many more planned, utilities would have to move quickly to get themselves ahead of expected bottlenecks in the supply chain.
Business Secretary John Hutton has stressed the importance of a wide range of energy sources in recent speeches, which many interpret as a vote for new nuclear.
"He seems to be laying the groundwork for a decision," said a Greenpeace spokesman. "But he’s sailing very close to the wind, as the government can’t yet say it’s made up its mind."
2.1. Japan puts climate change at top of G8 agenda
1 January 2008, ABC News
Japan wants the fight against global warming as a main topic of discussion at a Group of Eight (G8) nations summit this year.
The Japanese Government took over the chairmanship of the G8 group of industrialised nations today.
It also wants to discuss development in Africa, high oil prices and preventing nuclear proliferation at the summit.
Talks on how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions once the Kyoto Protocol expires look set to dominate events.
The G8 summit is a rare opportunity for the leaders of some of the world’s richest countries to come together, face to face, to thrash out issues that affect them all.
Japanese officials say the small gathering offers a chance for frank talking.
Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Masaharu Kohno, says leaders need to reach a consensus on how to move the process forward when they meet.
"Without any common understanding among G8 leaders, we have to be very pessimistic about the outcome of the United Nations process," he said.
"Certainly major carbon emitters like China, India and others – those participating – is also very important."
2.2. Natural catastrophes will grow with climate change: re-insurer
27 December 2007, AFP
Natural catastrophes in 2007 were more frequent and costlier than a year earlier and climate change will make them more expensive still, the world’s second-biggest re-insurer, Munich Re, said Thursday.
There were 950 natural catastrophes in 2007 compared with 850 in 2006, the highest number since the group started compiling its closely watched annual report in 1974.
The total cost of disasters in 2007 was 75 billion dollars (51.5 billion euros), while the bill for 2006 was 50 billion dollars.
The 2007 figure was however far below the record figure of 220 billion dollars in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina and a earthquake in Pakistan caused devastation.
The most damaging event of 2007 was an earthquake in Japan in July which caused 12.5 billion dollars of damage, while insurers took the biggest hit from the Kyrill storm which ripped through Europe in January, costing 5.8 billion dollars.
Catastrophes in developing and emerging countries caused most of the 20,000 deaths in 2007, with 3,300 people losing their lives in Cyclone Sidr alone, which struck Bangladesh in November.
Floods in Britain were the second costliest event to insurers and Munich Re said the high incidence of floods and storms in 2007 was a sign of things to come if global warming continued unchecked.
"These events cannot, of course, be attributed solely to climate change, but they are in line with the pattern that we can expect in the long term: severe storms, more heavy rainfall and a greater tendency towards flooding," said Peter Hoeppe, head of the company’s Re’s Geo Risks Research Department.
2.3. Facing the Facts about Climate Change
27 December 2007, John Horvath, Telepolis, Germany
Either we bury capitalism or capitalism will bury us
Despite the spin about a last minute compromise, the UN Climate Conference in Bali last week was a dismal failure. Although the negotiations revolved around technical, arcane matters, the success of the negotiations hinged on the ability of delegates to set scientifically-based emission targets. Sadly, modern day politics always has to show some form of success, so a ‘watered down’ Bali agreement, also known as the Bali roadmap, was presented as such.
Those who take the issue of climate change seriously, however, were able to see through the hype. The most obvious shortcoming was that the agreement didn’t contain specific numbers or targets. Still, many opted for the stoic position that a flimsy agreement is better than no agreement.
Nonetheless, the finger pointing soon began of who was to blame for the hollow success at Bali. Canada, the U.S., Japan, and Australia all opposed targets proposed by a coalition of European countries to reduce emissions by 25 to 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, a target they said they could never meet. There were also lengthy discussions about China, India and other developing nations that are producing an increasing amount of emissions.
The United States initially did not agree to proposals which strongly required that rich nations help poorer countries access green technology to limit their emissions. The U.S. stance caused delegates to boo the American delegation at the conference. Ultimately the U.S. agreed to go forward with the Bali roadmap.
The rich western countries hope to cash in on a booming market for green technologies
Within Europe, it has become too easy to blame the U.S. and others for failing to address the realities of climate change. In fact, European countries appear to take on a hypocritical and condescending role when it comes to environmental issues. Germany is a prime example. On the one hand, its environmental record is impressive: it is home to the first Green Party to ever govern in a national coalition of a G8 nation and it has also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions significantly in recent years. Germany also heavily sponsors renewable energy production and has invested in the refurbishment of ageing factories.
Yet even for Germany there are limits. For instance, recent measures proposed by the European Commission to reduce the C02 output of vehicles have come under criticism by the powerful German automobile lobby. As with the U.S. and other western countries, there are fears that the German economy could fail under stiff targets.
One way in which some European countries, such as Germany, are able to gloss over their tainted image is by politically pretending to be environmentally conscious. Lately, this has been done by publicly acclaiming that advanced industrial nations must play a role and lead the way in reducing greenhouse gases so as to set an example to emerging economies. The catch is that rich western countries hope to cash in on a booming market for green technologies. As the head of the Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Competitiveness unit at the Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General of the European Commission recently [extern] noted, "what we need to do is boost innovation in green technology which will soon be in very high demand."
Thus, while traditional manufacturing and industrial processes move east to India and China where labour is cheap and exploitable, the west is busy setting standards and cornering the market for green technologies. These technologies are then used, in turn, to partly redress a growing trade deficit with Asia. In some ways, this can be viewed as the green side of globalization.
As a result of this situation, efforts to tackle the problem of climate change are often misplaced and, in some cases, do more harm than good. Recent legislation in Europe and Canada to mandate the use of compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) is a case in point. Compact fluorescent lighting is one of the fastest and simplest ways to boost energy efficiency and cut CO2 emissions in the home, but even this technology uses only 15 % of its power for light (standard incandescent or filament light bulbs achieve only 5 %). Not only this, CFLs are not entirely environmentally friendly: they contain mercury, the disposal of which is a growing environmental concern. Moreover, CFL bulbs are only efficient when used for an extended period of time; they actually use more energy than standard bulbs if they are quickly switched on and off. Hence, CFL bulbs encourage people to leave their lights on needlessly, thereby reinforcing an attitude of wasteful consumption.
Combating climate change, therefore, is not simply about applying green technologies, such as changing from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Robert Weissman, editor of the Washington, D.C.-based [extern] Multinational Monitor and director of [extern] Essential Action, points out that what is needed is a broad public understanding of how the present system of making, transporting, selling, buying, using and disposing of things is trashing the planet. "If we’re going to save ourselves from global warming, we’re going to have to do things differently," writes Weissman.
Perhaps the best example of misplaced efforts to tackle climate change is the use of bio-fuels. Despite recent questions over the feasibility of bio-fuels, leaders in Europe are of the opinion that research into future bio-fuel technologies must go ahead. Hence, EU Heads of State and Government earlier this year endorsed an ambitious EU Commission plan which set the goals of increasing bio-fuel use in the EU to 5.75% by 2010 and 10% by 2020.
Europe’s bio-fuel plan is yet another example in where environmental issues are used as a cover to promote economic policy. In this case it’s being used to boost Europe’s lagging biotechnology sector which has suffered the past few years due to the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thanks to climate change, however, the focus of GMO research has now shifted from Franken foods towards bio-fuels, a less contentious issue.
Already, it’s quite clear that cultivating energy crops in Europe on set-aside and non-cultivated land won’t be enough to meet the EU’s bio-fuel targets. The solution, therefore, is seen in increasing output per hectare and boosting crop quality through plant science. Hence, as pundits argue, the EU must turn to biotechnology in order to combat climate change. This, in turn, will help to reinvigorate the European biotechnology sector and make it more competitive with the U.S. and Japan, a hitherto major concern for EU leaders.
The trouble with this is that rather than trying to solve a problem, it’s creating more instead. A recent United Nations report warned that bio-fuels could cause serious damage to the environment and have an adverse impact on the lives of millions. One problem is that the crops needed to produce the fuel are competing with food crops for land and could therefore jeopardize the food supply. Indeed, throughout the EU this past year member states experienced a sharp rise in food prices as a result. In addition to this, bio-fuels could lead to land and water scarcity, as well as accentuate the loss of biodiversity and soil erosion. Growing bio-fuels crops has already led to large-scale deforestation in some areas of the world.
At present it takes 2 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bio-fuel, and the crops are often treated with insecticides and fertilizers which are known to damage the ozone layer. Thus, for those who try to ease their guilty conscience by using bio-fuels made of maize, sugar cane, or rapeseed instead of oil, more harm is potentially being done to the environment than good.
The likelihood that European leaders will see the fallacies in their environmental policies is slim. While environmentalists generally argue that the only real solution to the problem of climate change is to reduce emissions by reducing consumption, the European Commission regards such an idea as unthinkable. [extern] According to one official, "reducing emissions by simply reducing our economic activity, as advocated by some radicals, is not a realistic scenario."
This is because the prevailing ideology within the political and business elites of the world is that we need to improve energy efficiency so that we will be able to create the same products and services as we do now – only using less energy. The challenge, therefore, is to implement energy savings that would not lower our living standards and economic activity.
The capitalists of today have much in common with the Marxists of yesterday
All this sounds fine, but the problem with such an idea is that it’s not sustainable in the long run. In other words, do we keep improving energy efficiency until we reach the point where we create the same products and services using no energy at all? Or is this another problem for the future to solve, as we will all be dead and buried by then?
This wouldn’t be such a problem if economic conditions were constant. Sadly, in this modern era of global capitalism, it’s not. Modern-day capitalism requires constant growth, and lately this pace of growth has been accelerated. If growth stagnates or a contraction sets in, the consequences would be catastrophic. This why many experts fear the popping of the China economic bubble; it’s not a question of if but when.
It may be a little ironic but the capitalists of today have much in common with the Marxists of yesterday. Both look upon the future as an endless period of inevitable growth. Likewise, both see the environment as an exploitable resource, and have an unwavering faith in the virtue of technological progress. Consequently, both are of the belief that nothing must stand in the way of this inevitable progress – including the environment.
History has since demonstrated the shortcomings of such an unwavering belief in inevitable progress, growth, and technology. Communism’s environmental legacy is well known, and toward the end of the cold war when the environment was a key issue in most People’s Democracies, lip service was paid to the need for environmental protection. Meanwhile, capitalism’s attitude toward the environment has been more or less the same. If history is to teach us anything, it’s now that communism is dead we must seriously consider burying capitalism.
This is because one of the underlying attributes of modern day capitalism is the unequal distribution of global wealth. In the time of Adam Smith, the proportion of differences in wealth between the large areas of civilisation on the planet ranged from 1 to less than 2. In 2000, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it reached a proportion of 1 to 74. Inequalities have thus escalated out of proportion.
In conjunction with this, so too has the exploitation of resources. The western world consumes by far more than its share of the world’s resources. It’s this exploitation coupled with a belief in inevitable growth and progress which has put the world on the road to ruin.
Many feel that this may be going a little too far. Without a doubt, there are a lot of problems with capitalism, but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not only this, the problems associated with climate change are myriad, especially considering the fact that C02 emissions can come from the most unexpected of places. For example, a cow is as almost damaging to the climate as a small family car. Both emit CO2, while the burping and flagellant cow also emits methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times as destructive as carbon dioxide. What is more, the world’s growing demand for dairy products and beef has led to more and more rainforests being cleared in order to create additional grazing space. Thus, with about a billion and a half cattle worldwide, cows at present make up more than 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Rather than learning from our mistakes we are intent on repeating them
Along these lines, it appears that the only way to reduce emissions is to reduce consumption. This is no doubt the case for the short term, but the problem of too many cows or cars also underscores an enigma which was pointed out decades ago and which seems to have been relegated to the background since: that of unchecked population growth.
In the 1970s and 1980s the idea of 6 billion people on the planet was then already considered as unsustainable; we are now well past that mark and looking toward a world with almost 10 billion people in the near future. The irony is that the western, industrial world is now complaining of a population shortage because it is starting to feel the economic burden of maintaining a society geared toward constant growth but without the population to sustain it. In other words, western industrial society is slowly but surely becoming aware of its limits.
The problem of climate change is not simply a question of economics and social models, however. At the heart of the matter is the need for a change in social attitudes prevalent in the western, industrial world, one based on insularity and greed. An excellent reflection of this is "The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard" ([extern] StoryofStuff.Org), a short film which can be viewed on the Internet (about 20 minutes) that explains the "materials economy" and how it works. Produced by Free Range Studios, the Story of Stuff revolves around the themes of why the world is running up against resource limits, how corporate globalization is premised on externalizing costs (i.e., making someone other than the companies that make things pay for the environmental and human costs of production), how the corporate economy rests on the artificial creation of need ("the golden arrow of consumption") and, perhaps most importantly, that things can be different and must be made to be different.
Indubitably, western industrial civilisation is destroying itself because it’s determined to disregard all limits in all areas. It has broken all the aesthetic rules in art, given birth to absolute totalitarianisms, and declared that there are no longer any physical or ethical limits. Likewise, there are no longer any limits on consumption or the exploitation of nature. Our obsession is that we must always have more. Modern society is, as it were, set on holding the position of the "almighty creator".
This attitude goes hand in hand with the Judeo-Christian view of the world which puts human beings in a privileged position above all else in the world. Indeed, extremists even go so far as to claim that it’s our God-given right to exploit the earth for our own selfish purposes. As the far-right American pundit Ann Coulter once [extern] stated during a TV debate over environmentalism: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the seas […]. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’" Apparently, the punch line was that "raping the Earth" is preferable to "living like the Indians."
Ironically, the Judeo-Christian view of the world, which is prominent in all western, industrial nations, also contains a warning in the story pertaining to "the tree of knowledge". Contrary to the view of many who use this as an excuse to rationalise that ignorance is bliss, the problem with taking a bite of the forbidden fruit is not the acquisition of knowledge itself but its application. In other words, we are too immature to handle certain types of information.
This doesn’t mean we need to adopt a Luddite view of the world. Rather, it should be used as a guide for adopting the precautionary principle more often. Unfortunately, we seem to be relying too much on technological progress as a panacea for our ills.
Technology is often regarded as cure with no side effects. Yet the 20th century is full of examples of how the double-sword of technology has led to more problems than solutions: radioactivity, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), DDT, asbestos, hydrocarbons, nuclear power, and the list goes on. As the Swiss philosopher Dominique Bourg [extern] points out, "all this goes to show that the technologies we use have provided an element of control but are limited in scope and have a time bomb potential that could result in catastrophic damage. The more powerful these technologies become, the greater the potential damage they can cause."
Despite this, rather than learning from our mistakes we are intent on repeating them. Nuclear power, for instance, is regarded by some as clean energy and the optimal solution to reducing CO2 emissions while still producing large amounts of much needed energy. But even if the safety of nuclear power plants can somehow be guaranteed, the disposal of nuclear waste remains a nagging enigma.
Urgent need to invent new methods of economic and political regulation
The dilemma for many is that our reliance on technology is such that we have become increasingly isolated from reality and the outside world. This can be clearly seen through the advent of the so-called "information society". Computer-mediated communications has become simply another technology in which the promises of a greener, brighter future have turned out to be superfluous. The Internet especially was supposed to deliver a "new economy". Moreover, the "paperless" medium of the Internet would help save trees while the tele-working would cut down on traffic congestion and emissions. It has since turned out to be the opposite: the economy is the same as it ever was, more paper is being used than ever before, and with so many people online computers now cause more emissions than civil aviation worldwide. It’s not just about household computers: the Internet requires huge server and data storage facilities, and as the flow of data doubles every four months, electricity consumption grows with it.
Our reliance on technology to fix problems related to our egocentric view of the world is such that halting the irreversible effects of climate change when they become intolerable or catastrophic is regarded by some as a possible alternative. Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize winner (1995) and renowned atmospheric chemistry expert at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, has [extern] suggested releasing aerosols into the upper atmosphere to chemically neutralise carbon dioxide. Although Crutzen believes that this solution should only be considered as a last resort if the climate machine were to spin out of control, it nevertheless betrays what Bourg views as "another head-long technological rush with potentially nasty surprises – all of which would be on a planetary scale." Accordingly, the danger of such an idea is that it provides a justification for inaction today on account of the fact that tomorrow action can be taken on a global scale.
In the end, regardless of the technology at our disposal, it’s quite clear that the only way to combat climate change is a thorough and radical change in the way we live and consume resources. However, given the close relationship between our lifestyles and our personal values, such a fundamental change is only possible if we make alterations to basic ethics. For instance, we rarely take into account future generations or distant populations when making important decisions. Moreover, western societies are structured so as to enable each person to maximise their own interests. As a result, it’s only to be expected that the ultimate objective of western, industrial society is to produce and consume more and more.
Environmental degradation and climate change has shown that this is clearly no longer sustainable. The free organisation of society is showing itself to be at odds with the management of shared environmental assets. There is now an urgent need to invent new methods of economic and political regulation. This includes branding certain aspects of our lifestyles as criminal.
Subsequently, we can no longer leave everything up to "the market". The practice of market-based emissions trading demonstrates both the misplaced attempts of EU environment policy and the erroneous notion that somehow we can always buy ourselves out of trouble. The role of the markets is to stimulate the economy, but pricing can’t be used as the basis for new ethical values required by a global society. Hence, certain activities not only mustn?t be regulated by the market, they must be forbidden and severely punished by law.
Europe provides a perfect example of how difficult such a change can be for the individual. Europeans are acutely aware of climate change and do care about the environment, but the vast majority are still unwilling to make radical and perhaps even painful changes to their own habits and lifestyles. Hearing the truth strikes fear into the hearts of most; hence, western industrial society prefers to take refuge in a head-long technological rush for a solution.
Unless the fundamental economic, ethical, and even religious foundations upon which western industrial society are built are re-evaluated and revamped, then the changes proposed or enacted to combat climate change will be too little too late. Along these lines, roadmaps like the one worked out in Bali don’t chart a way forward, but simply lead to a dead end.
3.1. Romania to contest EU carbon emission cuts: report
6 Jan 2008, Reuters
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania has asked for an annulment of a 2007 European Commission decision to cut its carbon emission quota, a government official said.
The European Commission decided in October to cut the new EU member’s emission quota for 2008-2018 by 20.7 percent and lower its 2007 ceiling by 10 percent.
The centrist minority government filed the annulment request with the European Court of Justice on December 21, said Adrian Ciocanea, head of the cabinet’s European Affairs Department.
Several other member states have criticized the emission cuts, saying they were too restrictive.
"The government is now waiting for the court’s stance … during this time, the Commission’s decision remains valid," Ciocanea was quoted as saying in the online edition of daily Cotidianul on Saturday.
The Commission is under pressure to take a hard line in the second phase of its emissions trading scheme after lax targets in the first phase, from 2005-07, saw heavy industry receive too many permits, causing a market surplus and subsequent price collapse.
The trading scheme is the EU’s key instrument to fight global warming. It sets limits on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that industry may emit. http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSL0654320720080106
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