Saturday, November 3, 2007

The West "exporting emissions" to China

UK 'exporting emissions' to China

Miner pushing coal wagon.  Image: AFP/Getty
China's rising coal consumption is partly to make western goods
The UK's increasing dependence on Chinese goods is contributing to a rise in carbon emissions, a report suggests.

The New Economic Foundation (Nef) says such reliance is adding to CO2 levels because China's factories produce more CO2 per item than British ones.

The report also says many similar goods are both imported and exported, adding needlessly to CO2 output in transport.

Over the last year, UK imports from China rose by 10% nearing 6.5 million tonnes, Nef reports.

This is the second year that the London-based think-tank has produced an "Interdependence Day" report on the extent to which Britain's economy is tied up with imports from, and impacts on, the developing world.

Every time we hear a government minister talking about climate change, they seem to be scapegoating China and its rising emissions
Andrew Simms
Last year Nef found that global consumption levels pushed the world into "ecological debt" on 9 October; this year, it says, we are in debt three days earlier.

Ecological debt means that our demands exceed the Earth's ability to supply resources and absorb the demands placed upon it.

Polluter pays?

The organisation calculates that Chinese factories produce about one-third more carbon than European ones for making the same product; and more CO2 will be produced in transporting the goods.

"Every time we hear a government minister talking about climate change, they seem to be drawn towards scapegoating China and its rising emissions," said Nef's policy director Andrew Simms.

Air pollution from a factory in north-eastern China

"But a big factor in that rise is that China has become the major factory for the western world, so their greenhouse gas emissions are largely driven by higher levels of consumption in the west."

Two years ago, US researchers calculated that 14% of China's carbon dioxide emissions were accounted for by exports to the US.

Nef believes that international negotiations on climate change should move towards a system where emissions are attributed to the end user rather than the country producing the goods.

It points out that rising production of consumer goods in China and other developing countries also contributes to local pollution, depletion of water supplies, and deforestation.

'Wasteful trade'

Nef also said the international trade pattern prompted higher greenhouse gas emissions from transport but had little discernible benefit for the consumer.

During 2006, the UK exported 15,845 tonnes of chocolate-covered waffles and wafers, but imported 14,137 tonnes.

During the same period, 20 tonnes of mineral water were exported by the UK to Australia, while the UK imported 21 tonnes. And thirty-four tonnes of vacuum cleaners went from the UK to Canada, with 47 tonnes travelling the other way.

"Why would that wasteful trade be more the rule than the exception?" asked Andrew Simms.

He suggested that a pricing system that reflected carbon produced in transport would be an effective way of curbing this two-way trading, by making local goods cheaper.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mexican floods leave 300,000 stranded

aroon Siddique and agencies
Friday November 2, 2007
Guardian Unlimited, UK

Rescuers were today using boats and helicopters to try to evacuate 300,000 people trapped by the worst floods to hit the Mexican state of Tabasco in 50 years, amid fears of further rainfall.

A week of heavy rains, which caused rivers to overflow, has left at least 70% of Tabasco and 80% of the state capital, Villahermosa, under water.

The floods, which have affected more than 1 million people according to state officials, showed no signs of abating despite a break in the rainfall yesterday. The Tabasco governor, Andrés Granier, warned the situation could get even worse, as forecasters said a new cold front could bring more rain over the region.

The homes of an estimated 700,000 people were flooded and potable water supplies in Villahermosa were exhausted, he said. At least one death was reported.

Rescue workers in boats and helicopters have been plucking desperate residents from their rooftops and have led thousands to shelters, but many remained trapped.

Mr Granier said police, soldiers and military workers were still trying to reach people.

The rain stopped yesterday, but weather forecasters predicted more in the coming days.

"The situation is extraordinarily grave. This is one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country," said the president, Felipe Calderón, in a televised address last night.

The Grijalva river, one of two large waterways ringing Villahermosa, has risen two metres above its "critical" level, causing it to gush into the city centre. Authorities said some of the rivers were continuing to rise.

Dozens of survivors anxious about relatives and friends gathered outside government offices in Villahermosa seeking assistance.

Others waded through waist-deep water or wandered along highways leading out of the capital.

"We lost everything," said Manuel González, whose house was swallowed by the floodwaters early yesterday. "I left without one peso in my pocket and I can't find my siblings."

The flooding was not related to tropical storm Noel, which triggered heavy rains, flooding and mudslides in the Caribbean and left at least 115 people dead.

The state of Chiapas, which borders Tabasco to the south, also reported serious flooding, with an estimated 100,000 people affected, according to officials.

Mr Calderón called on Mexicans to contribute bottled water, canned goods, nappies and other vital supplies to donation centres around the country.

"Nobody can stand around with his arms crossed," said Mr Calderón. "We can't and won't abandon our brothers and sisters in Tabasco."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Plea for Plan B in Southern drought saga

  • Washington(CNN) -- Governors of three drought-ridden Southern states met with federal officials to address water usage issues for two river basins Thursday, as the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to present a plan meant to relieve regions dangerously low on water.

Boat docks are idle last week at this marina on Lake Martin in Alexander City, Alabama.

Earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a water supply emergency in north Georgia, and asked a court to require the Corps of Engineers to restrict water flows from Lake Lanier and other reservoirs.

Asked whether the litigation would continue in light of the revised Corps plan, Perdue said a determination has not yet been made, but added he would rather solve the issue through negotiations than through the courts.

"The current Corps of Engineers operating plan, with regard to the drought, is inadequate," said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who attended the meeting to examine the dispute involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

A revised plan, Kempthorne said, will be turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by midnight Thursday. Fish and Wildlife can take up to 135 days to review the plan but has pledged to get it done in 14 days, he said.

The plan adds flexibility to the existing Corps of Engineers operating procedure, said Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, Corps commander. "We will be looking at all needs, all users, and we want to create a balance," he said.

The recommendations call for gradually reducing the amount of water released from the Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee, Florida -- which would keep more water in Georgia -- while studying the effects at each step, Van Antwerp said. Also, they offer options for when rain does fall, including where to store water until reservoirs return to the proper level, he said.

"We want to be able to test the systems," he said. "We will go down through different stages so we can assess what's going on at each stage."

Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been wrangling over water usage from the two river basins -- the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint -- for years. Meanwhile, the population of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, has doubled to more than 4 million since 1980.

Water from the Chattahoochee watershed in Georgia cools major power plants in Florida and Alabama, and helps keep alive freshwater mussels and sturgeon protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The recommendations to be turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service include a biological assessment, Van Antwerp said.

Earlier this month, Perdue blasted what he called "silly rules," noting that even if the South gets much-needed rain, Georgia cannot by law conserve it, but must release 3.2 billion gallons a day downstream.

"You can't have a plan of contingency for running out of water for 4 million people," he said Thursday. "Those plans don't exist. ... You cannot wait until you get to the last drop in the barrel to begin a contingency plan."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said, "No one in Alabama wants to deprive the state of Georgia or Atlanta of their drinking water."

But, he added, "we have to make sure all of the reservoirs are treated equally."

Kempthorne said, "We're fortunate that we have these three governors with their professionalism, their dedication, their skills and their camaraderie to sit down and to really tackle this. If it were easy, it would have been done 18 years ago. It won't be solved in 18 days."

The governors have committed to a permanent agreement by mid-February, he said, and plan to meet again in December. The Corps of Engineers will use the governors' agreement to craft an addendum to their operating procedure.

Perdue, Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist were optimistic that an agreement would be reached.

"Failure is not an option," Riley said. "We are in the middle of the most severe drought we've ever had, and it's going to be incumbent on each one of us to put aside the geographic boundaries and do what's best for the region."

Rainfall in north Georgia, which includes the Atlanta metropolitan area, is 16 inches below normal for this time of year. That follows a series of drier-than-normal years. Georgia has already imposed a mandatory ban on outdoor water use by homeowners in the region.
"I'm going to go back to Georgia and pray harder for rain," Perdue said. "The frank answer is, if we don't get rain, we're still looking at more measures in the future

Global warming opens Arctic seabed to the search for oil and gas

By Patricia Brett
International Herald Tribune, France

PARIS: As the ice retreats, nations try to advance their undersea borders and resource claims

The Arctic is rich in natural resources, including hydrocarbons, and rapid thawing due to global warming could make exploiting those mineral resources feasible relatively soon.

Large, discovered oil and natural gas reserves totaling 233 billion barrels of oil or its equivalent can be found in the Arctic Basin, according to a recent study by two British consulting firms, Wood McKenzie and Fugro Robertson, "with potential additional resources estimated at 166 billion barrels of oil equivalent."

The study, "The Future of the Arctic," found that natural gas accounted for 80 percent of all available reserves, and that 69 percent of it belonged to Russia.

The study focused on areas within defined jurisdictions, primarily on the continental shelf, said David Parkinson, an upstream consultant at Wood Mackenzie.

Most of what the study found is exploitable. "The technology is there" he said. There is also speculation that additional reserves may exist farther out at sea.

"The Arctic is not an homogenous zone," and research in the area is difficult because of the extreme conditions there, Parkinson said. Ice floes impede navigation while the extreme cold causes machinery to freeze and instruments to malfunction.

Viewed in this light, the planting of a titanium Russian Federation flag on the floor of the Arctic Sea this summer was something of a technical feat - a fact that got lost in the political fallout as some of Russia's Arctic neighbors reacted to what they saw as an attempted land grab.

Russia has denied that it was staking out rights, saying that it was simply trying to prove that its continental shelf "stretches up to the North Pole."

But if Russia's continental shelf were to stretch to the North Pole, that would reinforce its claim of jurisdiction over the area. In 2001, Russia made a submission to the Continental Shelf Commission of the Law of the Sea Treaty, stating that the Lomonosov Ridge - an underwater oceanic ridge stretching 1,800 kilometers, or 1,100 miles, under the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole - was actually an extension of the Eurasian Continent.

Under the treaty's provisions a coastal state's jurisdiction includes its continental shelf. Countries submit data to prove how far the shelf extends. The data are then approved, or not, by the commission. The commission, however, does not determine who has jurisdiction over the shelf. That is a political decision made through negotiations between countries with overlapping claims.

Last year, Norway made a submission that would extend its continental shelf by 250,000 square kilometers, or 96,500 square miles, including an area under the Norwegian Sea known as the Banana Hole. If the commission agrees that a continuous continental shelf extends in the area, three countries, Norway, Iceland and Denmark, would have overlapping claims to sort out.

The three countries cooperated over Norway's submission because it would be in their mutual interest to determine the extent of the shelf. "After that it would be up to us to sit down and set the boundaries," said Rolf Einar Fife, the director general of the legal department at Norway's Foreign Ministry.

In this case the three countries have already agreed on how to set the boundaries. Negotiations, meanwhile, between Norway and Russia over rights in the Barents Sea, including an area called the Loop Hole, are ongoing.

The flag-planting episode, characterized as grandstanding by some and ill-considered by others, created the impression that a fight for the North Pole was in full swing. That is because some countries are running out of time to demonstrate the extent of their continental shelves, Fife said.

Countries have a 10-year deadline, after ratifying the treaty, to make that demonstration. Russia and Norway joined the treaty 10 years ago, in 1997, while Canada and Denmark ratified in 2003 and 2004 respectively, giving them more time to document their claims.

It is easier to clarify the outer limits of the continental shelf, and negotiate seabed boundaries on the basis of prospective resources, before knowledge of confirmed reserves gets in the way of compromise, Fife said, even if "such assessments may ultimately also prove to be inaccurate or misleading."

As an example, he cited the case of the North Sea, where boundaries were set without jurisdictional disputes at a time when potential oil and natural gas fields were vastly underestimated and were commercially and technically impossible to exploit under then-existing conditions.

Exploration of the deep Arctic is unprofitable under present conditions but global warming could change that. Not only is the planet warming but it is warming faster in the Arctic region, which is a vast container of carbon and greenhouse gases. These are being released into the atmosphere as the ice and snow melt, speeding up the warming process.
Permafrost in particular contains more organic carbon than is currently in the atmosphere and is especially rich in methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Polar ice cover shrank to a record summertime low this year of 4.13 million square kilometers, compared with an average ice cover of 6.74 million square kilometers between 1979 and 2000, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, in Boulder, Colorado. The difference between the area that remained covered this summer and the previous record low in 2005 was equivalent to five times the area of the United Kingdom, the center said.

Not only could shrinking ice cover cut the cost of energy exploration, but the receding ice pack could also reduce transport costs significantly by opening up currently frozen maritime routes.

"Export makes up a significant percentage of the overall costs of developing Arctic resources, in many instances greater than 50 percent," Parkinson said. For shipping in general, cutting across polar waters through the Northern Passage could shave 5,000 miles off a voyage between northern Europe and East Asia.

But climate change is also having a negative impact on some existing energy sources. Hydrocarbon shipments from northern oil and natural gas fields often pass through on-shore infrastructures that depend for a solid foundation on the permafrost's deep, permanently frozen layers. The permafrost active layer, however, the part that thaws in the summer and freezes in the winter, is expanding downward and, in some areas, no longer re-freezes in winter.

Structures constructed to polar norms are unfit for the marsh lands that are swiftly replacing them. According to a study, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, released in 2005 by the intergovernmental Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee, global warming is already a threat to pipelines, pile foundations, bridges, dikes, erosion protection structures and to the stability of open pit mines in polar and sub-polar regions.

In Siberia, the study found, nearly 50 percent of all buildings were considered to be in poor condition, and one major oil-producing district, the Khanty-Mansi autonomous region of western Siberia, had recorded 1,720 pipeline accidents with spills in a single year, contaminating 640 square kilometers of land.

In Alaska, the number of days during which temperatures were cold enough to allow the use of ice roads on the fragile tundra had fallen to 100 from 200 per year since 1970, the study said. Platforms in the Beaufort Sea would require more stringent norms to withstand the increased force of waves, it warned.

Melting ice and snow are causing sea levels to rise, while less sea ice has resulted in increased wave action, said Joan Eamer, the manager of the polar program of the global resource information database established by the United Nations Environmental Program. That, together with more frequent and more violent storms is accelerating coastal erosion, particularly in areas where tidal waves due to storm activity are now more common. "There will be a rise in the frequency and the strength of storms at sea," she said.

The rise in sea level is now occurring at a pace of 3.1 millimeters, or 0.1 inch, a year, compared with a 20th-century average of 1.7 millimeters a year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that in the course of this century, sea level could rise by 80 centimeters, but recent data indicate that this could be a conservative estimate, Eamer warned. Melting ice and snow account for a third of the rise, with the rest resulting from increased surface run-off of rainwater caused by erosion, construction and other factors.

Climate change models have not taken into account the rapid rate of deterioration of the ice and snow. "We've realized that things don't move in a linear fashion," Eamer said. "The melting leads to chunks of ice falling off and these melt faster than if they'd not fallen, and the acceleration phenomenon is increased.

"There's a quantum leap forward each time we reach a certain point."

While the breakup of the ice pack may open shipping lanes, it could increase the iceberg hazard for tankers and rigs in northern waters. There is evidence that icebergs are becoming more unpredictable, calving out of season and following erratic travel patterns that are harder to track, just as shipping numbers in polar waters are increasing.

Tensions over the control of northern navigation routes have flared in the past and are likely to get worse as access to the Arctic becomes easier.

No real alternative to oil: Rise in demand seems unavoidable

By Matthew Saltmarsh

International Herald Tribune, France

During the early 1930s, when oil prospecting in the Gulf was in its infancy, George Lees, chief geologist for the Anglo Persian Oil Company, proclaimed that he would drink all the commercial oil that might be discovered in Bahrain.

In recent years, Bahrain has produced around 185,000 barrels a day - modest by regional standards, but not easy to drink.

The story resonates with those who are optimistic about the prospects for future oil supply.

Energy demand is surging as robust growth in developing economies offsets slower demand in the West. At the same time the scientific warnings are becoming ever starker over the global warming caused by more carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Interest in alternative, sustainable energy sources has never been stronger.

Yet, despite accelerating investment, the output capacity of these energy forms remains barely more than embryonic. Fossil fuels, reliable and accessible, will continue to provide more than 90 percent of global commercial energy needs to 2030, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Leo Drollas, an executive director at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London, shares the assessment. "Oil will be the world's most important energy source for some time," he said. "Many times we hear that it's the end of oil, it's the end of the world. It's never happened."

Oil provides about 40 percent of the world's primary energy, according to both OPEC, the exporter's cartel, and the International Energy Agency, in Paris, which advises consumer governments.

Another 20 percent comes from natural gas, with the remainder coming mainly from coal, with relatively minor inputs from nuclear, biomass, hydro-power and other renewable sources.

By 2030, oil's share in the energy mix will barely have declined, to 36.5 percent, according to OPEC. Similar forecasts have been made by Washington.

"Hydrocarbon Man," wrote Daniel Yergin in "The Prize," a history of oil published in the early 1990s, relies on oil for transport, power, textiles, industrial products and even fertilizers used to grow food.

In July, the International Energy Agency forecast that global oil demand would rise by an average 2.2 percent a year to 2012. Production slowdowns, it said, could lead to a supply crunch as OPEC's spare capacity dwindled.

Looking farther ahead, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its international energy outlook published this year, predicted a 58 percent rise in oil consumption from 2004 to 2030, to 118 million barrels per day. To feed consumption, it projected that production would increase by 34 million barrels per day over the period.

Demand is being led by transportation, factories in developing countries and U.S. consumers. Energy consumption in less-advanced economies should grow 2.6 percent a year through 2030, the energy administration forecast. In the developed world, where consumption growth fell last year for the first time since the early 1980s, energy use is projected to grow 0.8 percent a year.

There is a caveat to such projections: China, which has leapfrogged Japan to become the second largest user behind the United Sates, heavily subsidizes oil - as does India. Demand could moderate if those governments should decide that their consumers must pay more.

With that in mind, gauging the remaining viable life span of the world's oil reservoirs is one of the most vexing questions in energy policy.

"You can arrive at any number of estimates," Drollas said. "What counts is not estimates but what's extracted. And here, factors like investment, economics, recovery rates and technology come in."

"Reserves" are usually classed as oil in a reservoir that can be extracted at a specific assumed cost.

Estimates of global proven reserves are constantly revised; for example 157 billion barrels at the end of 1954 became 1.317 trillion barrels as of January, according to Oil & Gas Journal. At current rates of extraction, those would last 42 years, Drollas said.

According to the journal, 56 percent of proven reserves are in the Middle East. Since 2000, the largest net increase has been in Canada, with the addition of 174 billion barrels from oil sands. Iran and Kazakhstan have also had upward revisions.

"It's not that the oil's not there," said Paul Stevens, professor at the University of Dundee in Scotland. "It's whether there's the investment to get it out. The issues are geopolitical and economic."

The largest reservoirs, or "super giants," are the cheapest to develop, in terms of cost per barrel. But the last true super giants were discovered in 1967 and 1968, according to a paper by Robert Hirsch, Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling that has become seminal to "peak oil" theorists, who argue that reserves will soon peak at a maximum production rate, and decline thereafter.

The 2005 paper, "Peaking of World Oil Production" collated estimated dates for the peak, ranging from last year to beyond 2025. It concluded that government intervention to slow demand was required, "because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic."

Peak oil theory is controversial. A study released last November by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a U.S. consultancy, estimated the remaining oil base at 3.74 trillion barrels, well above peak theorists' estimates.

There have been significant recent discoveries, in Kashagan and Tengiz in Kazakhstan, Angola, Brazil, Rajasthan and the Gulf of Guinea.

But, as the easiest oil reservoirs have been found, the major oil companies have had to invest in increasingly inaccessible sites, like the Arctic Ocean, or in expensive forms, like shale.

The scarcity of rigs, other equipment and engineers, alongside the nationalism in producer countries like Venezuela and Russia, and the scramble for deals by the state oil importers in China and India, have all combined to create a sense of an industry on the edge.

Still, "this is the fifth time that the world is said to be running out of oil," said Yergin, the chairman of Cambridge Energy. Each time, "technology and the opening of new frontier areas has banished the specter of decline. There's no reason to think that technology is finished this time."

Although the drawdown on reserves should make for a more expensive barrel, and oil's climb toward $100 per barrel has appeared to add weight to the argument, prices tend not to follow consensus for long. Fundamentals of supply lead prices for a while, then economics or geopolitics takes over.

Many current oil bulls may forget that prices were below $10 a barrel as recently as 1999, when the Asian financial crisis crimped demand. The world was awash in oil, reports said at the time, and several hundred million barrels of oil were said to be "hiding," waiting for prices to rise.

"The truth is, no one really knows where prices are going," said John Hall, of John Hall Associates, a British energy consultancy. "People who predict $100 are talking the market up."

Stevens, of the University of Dundee, said the most likely scenario in the next five to 15 years was for oil to stay above a floor of $60 a barrel. Ultimately, that will trigger a demand response, as the price trims consumption in China and India and as biofuels win market share. At that point, the floor might be tested.

In April, a UBS economist, Jan Stuart, estimated a long-term price of $50, below which oil would fail to yield returns that would encourage investment in production capacity growth.

HSBC has a similar long-term forecast. Its analysts, Paul Spedding and David Phillips, have just raised their 2010 forecast to $55 from $47, which "should preserve oil's competitive position in the energy stakes, slowing competition from natural gas and coal." "It should also be sufficient to meet the financial needs of most OPEC countries," they said.

Within the exporter group, there are differences on pricing strategy. Those with large reserves, especially Saudi Arabia, want crude to remain competitive. But the majority are keen for prices to stay above $50 as their own consumption - mostly heavily subsidized - expands and they become increasingly reliant on oil and gas revenue to feed budgets swollen by development and demographic pressures.

UBS estimates the "breakeven" price for major producers in a range from $23 for Kuwait to between $50 and $55 in Venezuela, where production costs are high, and Iran, which has a big population relative to production and reserves.

Whatever the price, the role of OPEC is in flux, altered by unconventional resources and the emergence of Russia and Mexico as major global suppliers. According to the Energy Information Administration in Washington, the OPEC producers' share of world oil supply fell to 41 percent by 2004, from 52 percent in 1973.

According to the Oil & Gas Journal, Canadian oil sands now represent 50 percent to 70 percent of reserves that are not off-limits to international oil companies because of government restrictions on operators. Canada is a welcoming and stable host - but production is expensive and twice as energy-intensive as normal oil extraction because of the energy needed to separate the bitumen from the surrounding sand.

Will other fuels to step in to meet demand?

According to estimates by Goldman Sachs, nonconventional fuels like oil sands and shale, ethanol and biomass liquids, coal and natural gas will meet 3.5 percent of demand by 2015, up from 2.8 percent in 2006, and the share could rise to 10.6 percent by 2030. That is a considerable change, but not enough to plug the oil wells.

In recent decades, more processes have emerged to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons from natural gas and coal. There is no shortage of supply - 65 years of proven gas reserves and 150 years for coal, compared with 40 years for oil, according to BP - but it means using one high-emission fossil fuel to create another.

After oil, coal is the No. 2 source of energy. Growth is driven mainly by developing countries; every week to 10 days, a coal-fired power plant opens in China. But coal combustion needs rail, water and power lines, and it also produces more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than oil from conventional sources.

Projects that convert natural gas to petroleum products, like Shell's Pearl project in Qatar, have proved more complex and expensive than planned. The same is true of so-called coal-to-liquids, although analysts suggest that this may be a feasible option for China, given that country's vast coal reserves, modest capital cost assumptions and soaring demand for oil.

In terms of renewable sources, there have been bold steps by governments, including an EU plan to generate 20 percent of all EU energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The largest nonfossil energy source is biomass. Liquid fuels from biomass - mainly ethanol - have grown but still contribute only about 1 percent of the energy provided by oil. Wind and solar energy produce about 1 percent of the world's energy, a share that U.S. government forecasters predict will rise modestly.

Hydro power, which supplies about 2 percent of world energy, is not likely to grow significantly, outside of China and other developing Asia-Pacific areas. Nuclear power contributes about 6 percent of energy, and could expand its share if concerns over safety, security and waste disposal can be overcome.

In all of these areas, there will be advances. But squaring the needs of global economic growth with the imperative of curbing global warming will also depend on major long-term changes in consumption behavior.

Meanwhile, oil's pride of place looks assured. Prices will rise and fall, reserves will run dry and be discovered. But the thirst will continue, and will continue to be quenched.

Energy: a Special Report
A two-part series looks at the prospects for oil, and its alternatives . For more, read Energy, Part Two, Wednesday, October 31 at

Storm warning in Florida as Noel edges northward

MIAMI (Reuters) - Southeast Florida came under a storm warning on Thursday as Tropical Storm Noel edged northward off the peninsula's Atlantic coast after dumping days of torrential rain in the Caribbean and killing at least 91 people.

The storm had grown in size and some of its outer winds could reach coastal areas of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, U.S. forecasters said, but the worst of its fury was expected to rumble over the northwestern Bahamas as strong westerly winds carried Noel eventually to the northeast.

The storm's winds were "close enough to the Florida coast that any deviation to the left of the forecast track would bring them on to the Florida coast," hurricane expert Jack Beven at the U.S. National Hurricane Center wrote in a report.

"Thus a tropical storm warning is being issued at this time for the immediate coastal area of Miami-Dade and Broward counties."

A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions with top sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour can be expected within 24 hours.

Noel's top winds were holding steady at 60 mph by 8 a.m. EDT, and it was projected to reach a peak intensity over the Bahamas just short of the 74 mph wind speed level at which tropical storms become hurricanes.


The storm left a trail of waterlogged destruction and death in the Caribbean after slamming the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba with unrelenting downpours.

At least 56 people died in the Dominican Republic, many of them swept away in muddy floodwaters after two rivers burst their banks and tore through the village of Villa Altagracia outside Santo Domingo.

At least 27 more were listed as missing and more than 50,000 people had been driven from their homes by chest-high floods, emergency operations officials said.

Dozens of communities were cut off by mudslides and downed bridges and the Dominican government appealed to other countries to send helicopters so that people could be rescued in isolated communities. President Leonel Fernandez declared a state of emergency.

Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and is even more vulnerable to flash floods and mudslides because most of its trees have been cut down to make charcoal, reported at least 24 deaths. In Jamaica, one person died when a house collapsed because of heavy rain.

In Cuba, thousands were evacuated from vulnerable areas and reservoirs overflowed, but no deaths were reported.

U.S. forecasters projected the 14th named storm of the 2007 Atlantic storm season would veer northeast over the Bahamas on Thursday, well clear of U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.

A hurricane watch was issued for the northwestern Bahamas in case Noel strengthened into a minimal Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

The storm was located about 110 miles southwest of Nassau in the Bahamas, and 175 miles southeast of Miami at 8 a.m., the hurricane center said, and it was drifting slowly northward.

Fishes in Europe threatened

From: Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than a third of freshwater fish species in Europe face extinction due to overfishing, pollution and dams which have caused rivers to dry up, a scientific study said on Thursday.

The continent's 522 freshwater fish species are under a much higher level of threat than birds or mammals, according to the study "Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes," published in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

"With 200 fish species in Europe facing a high risk of going extinct, we must act now to avoid a tragedy," said William Darwall, senior program officer at IUCN's species program.

Twelve species are already extinct following a century of development which has had a devastating impact, the study said.

The European eel, which reproduces only once on average at around 20 years, is critically endangered, it said. The number of juvenile eels reaching European coasts has dropped dramatically in the past three decades.

The jarabugo, found in southwestern Spain and Portugal, is also endangered as its population has declined by more than 50 percent in the past 10 years.

"Large dams built for irrigation, flood control and power generation have had major impacts upon species in large rivers and have led to local extinction of numerous migratory species," the Swiss-based IUCN said.

This has led to some rivers drying up in the summer months, a phenomenon which was "becoming more acute with the impacts of climatic changes," it said.

Areas subject to the highest levels of threat include the lower reaches of the rivers Danube, Dniestr, Dniepr, Volga and Ural, the Balkan peninsula and southwestern Spain, it added.

Man charged with killing neighbour for watering his lawn

Barbara McMahon in Sydney
Guardian Unlimited, UK

Drop of water from a hosepipe
Water has been a frequent cause of disputes in Australia, which is in its sixth year of severe drought. Photograph: PA
A man has been killed in a fight over watering his lawn in drought-stricken Australia in an apparent case of water rage.

Retired lorry driver Ken Proctor, 66, was using a hose on the front lawn of his house in Sylvania, Sydney, when a man walked past and challenged him about wasting water. The two men began to argue and Mr Proctor turned the hose on the man, soaking him.

A fight broke out and the pensioner was knocked to the ground and punched and kicked before other passers-by, including an off-duty police officer, intervened.

As his distraught wife looked on, Mr Proctor was treated at the scene by ambulance officers but died of cardiac arrest after being taken to hospital.

Police later charged 36-year-old Todd Munter, who lives nearby, with the pensioner's murder.

Australia is in its sixth year of severe drought and most towns and cities have restrictions on water use. Garden sprinklers are banned, it is illegal to wash cars with hosepipes and gardens may only be watered on set days. People caught breaching the regulations are fined.

There are special telephone lines to report transgressors and there have been violent incidents in the past because of so-called "water vigilantes" informing on their neighbours. However, this is the first time an argument over water has led to a fatality.

A spokesman for Sydney Water revealed that Mr Proctor had not in fact been in breach of water restrictions because he was watering his lawn on his allocated day, had been using a hand-held hose and was carrying out the task within approved hours.

As Mr Proctor's shocked family gathered at his house today, neighbour Bruce Buscombe described the dead man as "a very likeable sort of fellow, a real knockabout sort of bloke."

"I can't believe it. It could've been me hosing my lawn. I would have said the same thing if somebody told me off," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mr Proctor, who drove a truck for his local council's civil works and parks department and who retired five years ago, had recently become a grandfather when his daughter gave birth to a girl last month.

Appearing in court today, Mr Munter looked upset and close to tears as members of his family, including his elderly parents, looked on from the public gallery.

His lawyer Danny Saad told the court that his client had been on medication for a chronic back problem for several years and may need an operation soon. He did not apply for bail on his client's behalf and Mr Munter was remanded in custody until November 15.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

La Nina seen persisting into 2008

From: Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) - A "La Nina" cooling of sea temperatures is under way in the Pacific Ocean and the phenomenon is likely to persist into next year, the United Nations weather agency said on Wednesday.

La Nina, or 'Little Girl' in Spanish, is an unusual cooling pattern that usually brings rain to eastern and northern Australia and to Southeast Asia, a major producing region of coffee, cocoa, rubber, sugar, palm oil and rice.

In its latest update, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the sea surface was about 1.5 degrees Celsius colder than normal across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.

"We expect that these conditions will continue until the first quarter of 2008," WMO scientific officer Leslie Malone told a news conference in Geneva.

The current event has strayed from normal trends, and has not brought rainfall to the region, Malone said, attributing this to cool sea temperatures across the north of Australia to the Indian Ocean, which had altered expected weather patterns.

"As long as this situation continues, it is expected to lead to unusual climate patterns in surrounding continental regions, ones that are atypical of La Nina," WMO said in its update.

"Rains have been unusually heavy in parts of eastern Africa, while dry conditions have persisted in many parts of Australia."

Australia is gripped by its worst drought in 100 years, resulting in crop failures that have propelled wheat prices to record highs. The country last experienced wetter-than-usual weather in 1999 through 2000 as a result of La Nina, which is normally characterized by incessant rainfall, storms and floods.

The La Nina weather pattern occurs about every three to five years and often follows El Nino, a warming of Pacific waters, which can also wreak havoc on weather around the world.

Caribbean deaths mount in wake of Tropical Storm Noel

From: Anthony Boadle, Preview

HAVANA (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Noel strengthened as it began to head toward Florida and the Bahamas on Wednesday after drenching Cuba and killing at least 61 people with surging floodwaters and mudslides in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The death toll from days of downpours in the Dominican Republic, in particular, begun to climb as emergency workers fanned out to bring aid to towns and villages cut off by raging rivers and inundated by chest-high floods.

Forty-one people were confirmed dead and another 33 were missing while at least 25,540 people were homeless and 6,300 homes had been destroyed, said Luis Luna Paulino, head of the Dominican Republic's emergency operations center.

Luna Paulino appealed to boat owners to offer their services and their vessels to rescue teams so they could reach people trapped in cut-off villages.

Thousands of people were evacuated from vulnerable areas but no casualties were reported in Cuba, which boasts one of the most effective civil protection operations in the region.

The storm dumped six inches (150 mm) of rain in just six hours over Baracoa in Cuba, causing floods and cutting off roads at the already water-logged eastern tip of the island.

"We are getting a constant downpour and strong gusts of wind. The sea is very rough," said Hector Rodriguez, a hotel worker in Cayo Coco, an island resort on the north coast of central Cuba.

The 14th named storm of the 2007 Atlantic storm season was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane over water, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters projected the storm would veer northeast over the Bahamas on Thursday, away from Florida and well clear of U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.


But the death toll in the Dominican Republic was expected to climb further, officials said. Several bridges had collapsed and mudslides blocked roads and at least 39 communities were cut off by floods, Luna Paulino said.

Emigdio Sosa, director of the presidential office's social assistance plan, said that so far 145,000 families had been given emergency aid in the form of food, blankets, mattresses and mosquito nets. The government expected to also distribute construction materials such as zinc and wood.

"We project that we will be helping more than 300,000 families," Sosa said in a statement.

In Haiti, the most vulnerable of Caribbean countries to flashfloods and mudslides because most of its trees have been chopped down to make charcoal, at least 20 people died.

Eighteen bodies were counted by the national Civil Protection Office, said its director Alta Jean-Baptiste.

Another two people died in the small town of Terre Neuve. One was a 10-year-old boy swept away by floods and the other a 36-year-old woman crushed by a tree, according to regional civil protection official Faustin Joseph.

About 3,400 people were staying in emergency shelters and around 400 houses had been destroyed.

In Jamaica, one person died when a house collapsed in the heavy rain, the disaster preparedness agency said.

The storms' center was located just off the north coast of Cuba around 190 miles south-southwest of Nassau in the Bahamas by 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), the hurricane center said.

Noel had been drifting to the west before coming to an apparent stop. "A turn to the north is expected later today," the hurricane center said.

Its top sustained winds reached 50 miles per hour (85 km per hour), some way short of the 74 mph (119 kph) at which tropical storms become hurricanes.

The storm began drenching the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, over the weekend. Swathes of the two countries were awash after days of rain.

Torrential rain was also falling over parts of the Bahamas.

Strong winds sent waves crashing onto southeast Florida's Atlantic beaches and rain whipping down the streets of Miami.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince and German Marte in Santo Domingo)

Wildfires emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases

(10-31) 17:00 PDT San Diego - --

The fires that roared through Southern California last week spewed the same amount of greenhouse gases as what is produced in about one week from the state's burning of fossil fuels, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research report.

The preliminary data by NCAR and the University of Colorado at Boulder show that the fires emitted 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between October 19 and 26. That's equivalent to 25 percent of the monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California, according to the report.

The study used satellite observations and a computer model to determine emissions based on amount of vegetation that burned.

Large fires in western and southeastern states can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a few weeks as a state's entire motor vehicle traffic in a year, according to the paper, which will be published online Thursday in the journal "Carbon Balance and Management."

The study estimates that fires in the contiguous United States and Alaska release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation's total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.

A copy of the article will be posted Thursday at

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

Monday, October 29, 2007

More than dozen dead as storm drenches Hispaniola

From: German Marte, Reuters

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - More than a dozen people died in the Dominican Republic on Monday after Tropical Storm Noel dumped torrential rain on the Caribbean country, sending thigh-high water surging through streets and cutting power to thousands.

Hundreds of families were left homeless after the 14th named storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season poured 10 to 30 inches of rain on the Dominican Republic and over the treeless hillsides of Haiti, its neighbor on the island of Hispaniola.

The head of the Dominican National Emergency Committee, retired Gen. Luis Luna Paulino, said 13 deaths had been confirmed.

He said there was a report of a family buried when their house collapsed on them and another of a family in a car killed by a falling wall. "If those two accidents are confirmed then the deaths climb to 18," he said.

Juliana Pierossi of international humanitarian agency World Vision said roads were flooded and impassable throughout the Dominican Republic and power cuts were widespread.

"We're getting a lot more action with Tropical Storm Noel than we did with Hurricane Dean," said Pierossi, who was also in the Dominican Republican when Hurricane Dean passed to the south of the country in August.

Flights to and from the International Airport of the Americas near Santo Domingo were suspended.

By 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), the storm was about 50 miles north of the eastern tip of Cuba and moving northwest at 15 miles per hour (85 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Its top sustained winds had increased to 50 mph (85 kph) but it was not projected to grow into a hurricane.

Noel's track was expected to spare U.S. oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico but Florida could be affected if the system failed to turn as sharply to the northeast and head out over the Bahamas as computer models predict.


The storm swept past the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, but the heaviest rains appeared to have fallen over the Dominican Republic to the east.

Haitian Civil Protection Director Alta Jean-Baptiste said a few houses were destroyed in northeast Haiti but there had been no reports of deaths or injuries.

David Wimhurst, a spokesman for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, said U.N. forces in the provinces had received no reports of emergencies.

"It looks like we're OK," he said.

The poorest country in the Americas, Haiti is particularly vulnerable to deadly floods because 90 percent of its forests have been chopped down, mainly to make charcoal. The Dominican Republic has far more tree cover.

In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne passed north of Haiti and buried the port city of Gonaives in mud, killing 3,000. In spring that same year, flooding in the south killed 2,000 more.

In the first two weeks of October this year torrential rains killed 45 people, and made 1,000 people homeless.

In addition to Haiti, storm alerts were posted for the central Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos islands and Cuba.

The six-month hurricane season runs until the end of November. While the 14 storms so far this year are more than normal, it has been a far cry from the record-busting 2005 season, when 28 storms formed and several fierce hurricanes, including Katrina, slammed into the United States.

© Reuters2007All rights reserved

Malaria moves in behind the loggers

Deforestation and climate change are returning the mosquito-borne disease to parts of Peru after 40 years

Andrés Schipani in Mazán and John Vidal
The Guardian, UK

The afternoon is hot and sticky on the banks of the Napo river, an arm of the Amazon, but Claudio, a logger, is shivering in his creaky wooden bed.

"I feel bad, very bad, pain all over my body, fever, high fever, shudders," he says. "I have malaria; this is the 17th time so far. I don't know what to do any more."

The mosquito-borne illness has returned to the many villages only accessible by boat in the Peruvian Amazon, inflicting on the inhabitants days of fever, permanent anaemia and - in the worst cases - death.

In Peru, malaria was almost eradicated 40 years ago, but this year 64,000 cases have been registered in the country, half in the Amazon region. It is thought there are many more unregistered cases deep within the massive and humid rainforest, where health authorities find it almost impossible to gain access.

"Malaria is present. There have been 32,000 cases this year in this area alone - that says malaria is very much present," said Hugo Rodríguez, a doctor at the Andean Health Organisation, which is fighting malaria in border areas of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

His organisation distributes mosquito nets to some villagers, spreading the message through the area that the illness is dangerous and - where they can identify the cases - helping in post-infection treatment.

"Now we are not talking about eradicating malaria any more, as that is impossible and unsustainable; we are doing our best to try and control it," he added.

Climate change and deforestation are behind the return of malaria in the Peruvian Amazon.

Off-season rain is altering the pattern of mosquito development, leaving puddles containing the lethal larvae in areas where malaria had been nonexistent.

"The actual malaria problem of the Peruvian Amazon is caused by constant climate changes," said biologist Carlos Pacheco, head of the mosquito control unit in Iquitos, the regional capital south of Mazán.

And deforestation is having a similar effect, forcing the mosquito to move to new areas and spreading the disease to places where people are not aware of the disease, where villagers lack the means to get hold of mosquito nets and preventive medicines, and where health authorities have no presence.

"Every time we fight the mosquito, we feel we are fighting against a much more evolved and adaptable one, one that can easily migrate to areas that were clean of malaria before and that are very hard to access," said Mr Pacheco.

Two scientific reports last year linked malaria with deforestation. Peruvian researchers found that frontier areas cleared of trees for logging, settlements, roads, farming or mining were far more likely to harbour malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In one Peruvian study, researchers said the biting rate of mosquitoes in deforested areas was nearly 300 times greater than in virgin forests. Increases in human population density had no impact on biting rates.

The insects lay their eggs and thrive in open, sunlit pools of water. Roadbuilders dig channels and culverts which become blocked, silt washes off farmland blocking streams, and opencast mines and new settlements create ideal breeding grounds.

Anyone who catches malaria in the Amazon region has few opportunities for treatment. Even in the most densely populated areas, there are few health centres.

Loggers are the mosquitoes' main victim.

"The districts with the higher logging activity are the critical ones, making the disease there to be almost impossible to control," said Dr Rodríguez.

"It is very hard to access the areas where the clearing of the rainforest occurs and these people are not conscious of the risks and once infected - and sometimes because of the illegality of this activity - loggers are very reluctant to get treated by health authorities."

Alongside the Amazon river and its many tributaries, poverty-stricken loggers like Claudio move deep into the rainforest, in areas where malaria is prevalent, without taking any precautions and for meagre wages.

Pointing at his neighbour's one-year-old son who is recovering from the disease, Arquímedes of the village of Manacamiri near Iquitos said: "Here most people suffer from this disease, from malaria.

"There are no other diseases like this, no other problems like this here ... We have now become the malaria zone."

Behind him, the bank of the low Nanay river seems nothing more than a mud puddle with mosquitoes buzzing around.

"Children, elderly, how many deaths we already had," said Arquímedes.

"At the beginning we had no idea what it was, and it was malaria ... there is not a single day without a malaria patient."


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