Saturday, May 31, 2008

Brazilian Tribes Say Dam Threatens Way of Life

Julie McCarthy, NPR

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A member of one of Brazil's indigenous tribes protests against a proposed hydroelectric dam on the n
Andre Penner

A member of one of Brazil's indigenous tribes speaks out against the proposed Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River. Opponents of the project gathered recently at a five-day protest in Altamira, Brazil. AP

The proposed dam has stoked debate over how to balance Brazil's energy needs with the environment.
Sue Cunningham

The proposed dam on the idyllic Xingu has raised debate over how to balance Brazil's energy needs with environmental concerns and the traditional way of life for the country's indigenous tribes. Indigenous People's Cultural Support Trust

The 1,200-mile-long Xingu River is home to indigenous tribes, small farmers and fishermen.
Julie McCarthy/NPR

The 1,200-mile-long Xingu River is home to indigenous tribes, small farmers and fishermen.

Brazilian Indians in traditional garb and wielding machetes protest the $6 billion dam.
Andre Penner

Brazilian Indians in traditional garb and wielding machetes protest the $6 billion dam. AP

A boat ride down the Xingu reveals little of man's imprint in this Amazon region.
Julie McCarthy/NPR

A boat ride down the Xingu reveals little of man's imprint in this Amazon region.

Paulo Fernando Rezende is a representative of Eletrobras, Brazil's state power company.
Sue Cunningham

Paulo Fernando Rezende, a representative of Eletrobras, tends to his wounds after being attacked by people opposed to the Belo Monte dam Electrobas is proposing to build on the Xingu River. Indigenous People's Cultural Support Trust

Bishop of Xingu Dom Erwin
Sue Cunningham

Bishop of Xingu Dom Erwin says he believes the indigenous people ultimately will prevail in the battle over the dam project. Indigenous People's Cultural Support Trust

Weekend Edition Saturday, May 31, 2008 · The waters of the Amazon rainforest are fast becoming ground zero in the battle between development and the environment.

The Brazilian government wants to harness the hydroelectric power potential of the rainforest's mighty rivers to generate energy for South America's biggest economy.

But the ancestral inhabitants of the Amazon argue that the ebb and flow of their lives depends on the natural resources from those waterways. They fiercely oppose plans to build what would be the world's third-largest dam on the Xingu River in the Amazonian state of Para, Brazil.

Political Storm Gathers

Traveling down the remote, pristine Xingu River is a bit like scouting Eden. Lush green forests that stretch heavenward cradle the banks. Water birds lead the morning chorus. Hawks draw lazy circles in the sky. Man's imprint is difficult to see while you watch the pink-blue horizon bleed into gray as the Amazon marshals a storm.

A political storm is also gathering over the planned construction of a hydroelectric dam near the mouth of the 1,200-mile long Xingu, which spills into the Amazon River.

Analysts say the government views the Amazon as Brazil's energy salvation. With major rivers farther south already dammed, the government says the $6 billion hydroelectric plant — known as the Belo Monte project — is indispensable to propelling energy-hungry Brazil to its next level of development.

Tribes Lodge Protest

But some 1,000 Indians from diverse tribes converged recently on the small port of Altamira to protest against the damming of the river in a five-day event called "Xingu Encounter 2008."

The Indians and their allies say the proposed 11,000-megawatt dam would flood more than 100,000 acres of land and destroy a way of life for thousands of indigenous families, farmers and fishermen.

Two decades earlier, they mobilized in the same spot to defeat a series of proposed dams. Anthropologist Terence Turner, emeritus professor at Cornell University, has spent 45 years studying the ancient tribes of the Xingu River and their recurring drama.

"It's like a Dracula movie. Every 20 years or so, it surges up out of the coffin. You have to drive the stake back through the thing and make it go away again. But it never really goes away. It keeps coming back," he says.

Glenn Switkes, of the environmental group International Rivers, says the Belo Monte project is "the apple of the government's eye."

"It's where all the money is going to be made. It's going to be the biggest infrastructure project in Brazil for the next 25 years," he says.

But Switkes also says the Belo Monte dam would not be viable because the Xingu River has seasonal low water levels that would interrupt the power plant.

For three to four months of the year, he says, "the turbines at Belo Monte would virtually grind to a halt. So then the question arises: Is this going to be the only large dam on the Xingu?"

Sue Cunningham is intimately familiar with the attitude that the people of the Xingu River Basin have toward the dam. A trustee of the U.K.-based Indigenous People's Cultural Support Trust and a photographer, Cunningham recently journeyed the length of the Xingu River.

"I had a number of experiences in the 48 villages of women coming up to me with tears streaming down their face — totally naked, painted black, aggressive and nasty, saying, 'Who are you? Please, whatever you are doing here — tell those people not to construct the dams. Where will I run with my children? Where will I find food? What boats will take me where?'" Cunningham says.

Anger Boils Over into Violence

Streaked black, Kayapo tribe leader Tuira could have been one of those women. At the mass gathering opposing the dam, she wields a machete and a sharp tongue.

"You've come here to make this dam, and you think you can just push us aside. But I am not afraid!" she cries. "I am not a child or an orphan. And together we are strong and we can fight back."

Her warning foreshadows the reception for the representative from the state's electric power enterprise, Eletrobras, which is planning the dam. Invited to speak, Paulo Fernando Rezende confidently strolls before the cavernous gymnasium — short-sleeves in a sea of painted chests. His Power Point presentation flashing, he extols the virtues of the Belo Monte dam.

Attempting to reassure his skeptical audience, Rezende tells them: "The National Indian Foundation will fully participate in the studies affecting the indigenous lands."

But the foundation formed to safeguard the Indians' rights is mired in allegations of corruption, including accusations this week that some of its officials had taken bribes in another case. The distrustful crowd roars back its ridicule. Undeterred, the Eletrobras representative implores: "If we stop this hydroelectric plant, we stop Brazil. Who has the courage to say these dams are bad?"

A leader of the Movement of Dam Affected People, for one.

Roquivan Alves Silva takes the microphone and declares: "If necessary, I will make war to protect the Xingu and the people of the entire region."

Moments later, the Indians rise in unison. A mix of warriors and women moves menacingly across the room toward Rezende. Then suddenly they're on him.

Machetes and sticks flailing, they push Rezende to the floor, poking him with their weapons. The warriors rip his shirt to shreds and carve a deep gash in his right arm. Blood pooling on the floor, Dom Erwin, the Catholic Bishop of Xingu, steps in. The gymnasium hangs suspended between fear and euphoria.

Chief Tabata, whose tribe lives in the Xingu National Park in the state of Mato Grosso, says he feels the Eletrobras representative lied.

He says the Paranatinga II dam on the upper Xingu has already changed the flow of water and damaged the spawning ground for fish. The Indians attacked, he says, because their very survival is under attack.

"We have to hurt them. They weren't respecting the Indians. ... That's our fight. I want the people, the white people to understand why the Indians are so angry," he says.

The injured engineer from Eletrobras says he doesn't plan to press charges. The company declined repeated requests for an interview.

Who Is the Amazon's Protector?

Xingu Bishop Dom Erwin is a tireless advocate of indigenous rights. He has not lost his belief that ultimately the Indians will prevail.

"In Brazil we have an expression: Hope is the last to die," he says.

Hope aside, Chief Pirakuma Yawalapiti says a world increasingly preoccupied with the environment ought to consider something else.

"We are the ones preserving nature," he says, "We are the ones safeguarding the water, the fish and the land. We are defending the Amazon."

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Climate change may trim corn yields


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warmer temperatures brought on by climate change could trim output of some U.S. crops like corn in coming decades, but increase yields from other crops like soybeans, government scientists said on Tuesday.

U.S. corn output dips and rises from year-to-year but has risen overall as farmers use new seeds and fertilizers to maximize growth.

But output of the corn crops grown today could fall as much as much as 5 percent in coming decades as expected higher temperatures brought on by greenhouse gas emissions cause droughts and weaken plants, scientists said in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released on Tuesday.

The report synthesized peer-reviewed studies on how climate change would affect agriculture, most of which assumed U.S. temperatures would rise about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 30 to 50 years, as indicated by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last year.

"We're running into a situation in which we have the greater likelihood of occurrences of extreme temperature events during during critical growth stages of that crop," Jerry Hatfield, the lead author of the agriculture section of the report, said about corn in a teleconference.

Corn is the top U.S. crop and is the main feedstock for the country's ethanol industry. Soybeans are second place, with soyoil used to make biodiesel.

Hatfield said many crops like corn are already grown near the highest temperatures they can stand, which makes them vulnerable to warmer weather. Other crops, like soybeans, can withstand higher temperatures, which means higher temperatures may increase their yield, he said.

The report did not project how yields would change should growers change to corn varieties that could be more drought or temperature resistant.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, editing by Marguerita Choy)

Study Supports U.S. Wind Expansion

From: , Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate


Wind energy can supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2030 at a "modest" cost difference, a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report says. The analysis predicts that the 20 percent wind scenario would cost about 2 percent more than sticking with the current energy mix, which relies more heavily on traditional fossil fuels.

"The 20 percent wind scenario entails higher initial capital costs (to install wind capacity and associated transmission infrastructure) in many areas, yet offers lower ongoing energy costs than conventional power plants for operations, maintenance, and fuel," said the report, which was written in conjunction with industry and environmental analysts. Under the scenario, 500,000 new jobs would be created.

To reach their goal by 2030, the department said wind energy installation would need to triple from the current rate of 5.2 gigawatts (GW) added in 2007 to more than 16 GW per year by 2018, with that pace continuing through 2030. The total wind energy growth, 290 GW, would displace the projected use of coal for power generation by 18 percent and the use of natural gas by about 50 percent.

Such a dramatic increase in wind capacity would require large-scale expansion of the U.S. electrical transmission grid to access the best wind resources and relieve grid congestion. Power companies would also have to add gas turbine generators to provide back-up electricity when the wind isn't blowing, which ranges from 60 to 75 percent of the day in some areas, according to Thomas Key, renewable energy technology leader for the Electric Power Research Institute.

One of the most consistent criticisms of wind is that, due to its intermittent nature, improved electricity storage is necessary. "We don't have many options for electrical energy storage right now," Key said. "We really need some technological advances to find economic advances on this scale."

The study, however, finds that electricity storage is not needed to reach the 20 percent goal. Andy Karsner, the DOE's assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, said claims of wind power unreliability are false. "Wind is in fact one of our least volatile resources," he said at a press briefing.

Wind energy provides just 1 percent of U.S. electricity today, compared with about 7 percent in Germany where the government has provided steady support for the industry since the early 1990s. State laws that require utilities to purchase wind power have recently revived the U.S. industry, and the country has led the world in wind power installations over the past two years.

The U.S. industry remains dependent on a short-term federal tax credit that will expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it. "We need to fix the production tax credit uncertainty... as part of a plan to get [20 percent by 2030]," said Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.

The new study estimates that the increase in wind generation would avoid 7.6 billion cumulative tons of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from being emitted - the equivalent of protecting about 48 million acres (19.4 million hectares) of forest from deforestation. This would nearly eliminate the projected increase in emissions from U.S. power plants between now and 2030.

"To dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance our energy security, clean power generation at the gigawatt-scale will be necessary, and will require us to take a comprehensive approach," Karsner said in a prepared statement.

The added wind power would also avoid 4 trillion gallons of water from being consumed for electricity generation, the report estimates. Less coal-fired power results in fewer emissions of mercury and the pollutants that cause acid rain, as well.

As the price of fossil fuels continue to climb, Kammen said wind energy may end up costing less than the additional 2 percent that the report predicts. "It doesn't include the ramp up of fossil fuel prices [which rose significantly since the study's completion]...and we haven't even started talking about what the price of carbon will be," he said. "This looks like the bargain of the century."

"Although the 20 percent wind scenario sounds ambitious, the industry has actually grown faster over the past year than assumed in the study's scenario, says Worldwatch Institute president Christopher Flavin. "Wind power is going to be a huge part of the country's energy future." Worldwatch senior researcher Janet Sawin was a member of the study's steering committee and helped author a policy chapter that was later removed from the report.

Staff writer Ben Blocks reports everything environmental for the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at

Climate change threat to US crops and water

The US south-west, a region that is experiencing one of the fastest rates of population growth, faces dramatic challenges in the next 50 years from drought, wild fires and changing ecosystems caused by global warming, a report from the Bush administration warns.

The paper, commissioned by the US department of agriculture, looks at the likely impact of rising temperatures caused by higher emissions of CO2 during the next 25 to 50 years on America's agriculture, land and water resources and biodiversity. It warns that the country will be affected in strikingly different ways, with most of the negative impacts falling on the south-western and western US.

Climate change, it says, has already led to visible shifts. Much of the east and south of the country now receives more rainfall than a century ago, while the south-west has less. That process, and the changes in plant and animal life that follow, are likely to increase as temperatures rise by 1-4C, the report says. Among the most alarming threats will be an increase in wildfires and a spread of invasive grasses and other weeds that will be difficult to control with current pesticides.

The report is based on a survey of existing scientific research and forms part of a series of investigations into climate change ordered by President George Bush in 2003.

Its message is particularly worrisome for a region that happens to have some of the highest population growth rates in the US. Some 50 million people live in the south-west and towns such as Las Vegas and Phoenix are expanding rapidly with an influx of retiring baby-boomers attracted by the relatively cheap cost of land and the warm winters.

Water levels are already falling in some parts through rising demand, and according to the report, that pressure can only increase, as it predicts that by 2060 rainfall will be down by a fifth. As temperatures rise, growing seasons will extend, but the $200bn farming sector will have to contend with more severe summer droughts, widening arid areas, and the spread of weeds. Diseases that strike both crops and farm animals will extend their reach.

The scientists who produced the report warn: "Many plants and animals in arid ecosystems are near their physiological limits for tolerating temperature and water stress, and even slight changes in stress will have significant consequences."

Arctic declaration denounced as territorial 'carve up'

· Denmark, Canada, Russia, Norway and US in talks
· Environmentalists seek anti-drilling treaty

Arctic nations were yesterday accused of paving the way for a polar "carve up" when they signed a deal aimed at resolving territorial disputes.

The agreement was signed in Greenland by ministers from Russia, the US, Norway, Denmark and Canada, and sought to cool down an increasingly heated scramble for the Arctic, driven by the prospect of oil and gas reserves made newly accessible by the melting of the polar icecap.

"The five nations have now declared that they will follow the rules. We have hopefully quelled all myths about a race for the North Pole once and for all," said the Danish foreign minister, Per Stig Møller, who co-hosted the meeting.

Last year, Russia sent a submarine under the icecap to plant a national flag on the seabed to underline its territorial claims. Denmark has planted a flag on Hans island, a territory Canada also has claims on and has announced plans to set up a military training base and a deep sea port in the disputed region.

Yesterday's declaration said that all five nations would abide by the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, which determines territorial claims according to coastlines and undersea continental shelves. A UN panel is due to decide on control of the Arctic by 2020.

Thomas Winkler, head of international law in the Danish foreign ministry, told the Guardian last night: "The main point is that the five coastal states have sent a very clear political signal to everybody that we will manage the Arctic responsibly, that we have the international rules necessary and we will all abide by those rules."

But environmentalists said the closed-door meeting cleared the path for a land grab by states with claims to the continental shelf at the pole; Iceland, Finland and Sweden, part of the Arctic Council group of nations, but without similar territorial claims, were excluded, as were environmental groups and the native Inuit.

"It's clear what's going on. They are going to use the law of the sea to carve up the raw materials, but they are ignoring the law of common sense - these are the same fossil fuels driving climate change in the first place," said a Greenpeace International spokesman, Mike Townsley. "The closed door nature of this is doubly troubling. It's clear they know what they're trying to do is unacceptable," he claimed

Environmentalists would like the Arctic have the same sort of treaty applied to the Antarctic, which prevents drilling or military activity. However, Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, argued that further international regulatory agreements were unnecessary.

"Those that say there is a legal vacuum in the Arctic are wrong because the UN law of the sea convention prevails in the Arctic as it does in other oceans," he said.

The law of the sea is unlikely to resolve all the territorial disputes in play as the Arctic melts. Both Denmark and Russia claim the Lomonosov ridge under the pole is part of their territory. The Danes seek to prove it is a geological extension of Greenland, a self-governing Danish territory.

Critics also questioned the inclusion of the US, which has not ratified the law of the sea. Rob Huebert, of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies in Calgary, argued: "The move by the Danes to invite the Americans to the meeting about the northern continental shelf raises the possibility that the Americans may gain the benefits of the convention without having to shoulder any of the responsibilities. Although this may not be the Danes' intent, one needs to ask why they want to hold a meeting to discuss the Arctic continental shelf with a country that refuses to become a party to the treaty."

Representing the US, the deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, said he believed it was in his country's interests for Congress to ratify the treaty, "not least because of the impact it would have on our Arctic policy, where it's very important. I'm not certain we have enough time before the end of the year to get it ratified, but we will work as hard as we can."

Yesterday's declaration also included an agreement to cooperate in the event of marine accidents, caused by an expected increase in shipping through the sea lanes opened up by the melting icecap, and a rise in the number of icebergs breaking off from the Pole.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Earlier spring in Arctic could hit caribou diet

The early arrival of spring in the Arctic threatens to drive down populations of migrating animals such as caribou, climate scientists warned yesterday.

Researchers working in western Greenland found that rising temperatures disrupted spring plant growth enough to cause a fall in the number of caribou born. The finding has alarmed some scientists who expected that migrating animals would find it easier to adapt to the shifting seasons and the impact it has on plants that form the staples of their diet.

Scientists led by Eric Post at Penn State University set up an experiment to investigate the impact of future warming on plants in Greenland. They fenced off six plots in the Kangerlussuaq settlement, and in three of them built glazed enclosures that gradually warmed up more than their surroundings. Over the next seven years, the team recorded when plants unfurled their leaves in each plot, and which species grew where.

The researchers showed that increasing spring temperatures not only caused plants to emerge sooner, but also reduced the range of land they grew over. Both effects are expected to cause a fall in caribou populations because females produce fewer calves if less food is available.

Post said the effect of climate change on the distribution of plants has largely been overlooked by climate scientists.

Earlier this month, a study of great tits living in Wytham Woods near Oxford showed the birds are capable of adapting to climate change better than many scientists expected. Over the past half century, the birds have brought forward the date that they lay their eggs by two weeks, so that young are born when plant-eating grubs are most plentiful.

Lack of action on climate change is criminal

The hardship and disruption being caused by rising oil prices demonstrates just how much simpler a transition to a zero-carbon economy would be if we planned for it with foresight and determination, rather than having it thrust upon us (Producers say $200 oil is possible, May 23). How much easier would it be for the government to resist calls to abandon fuel tax rises, for example, had it used a windfall tax on oil companies to invest in a massive expansion of affordable public transport measures?

When the government's own figures show that we could save 30% of the energy we currently use through cost-efficient energy-saving measures alone, it is approaching criminal negligence for ministers not to have invested in such measures as a priority.

Peak oil experts warn us that global demand for oil is outstripping its supply, and rising oil prices are here to stay. Climate scientists warn that unless we urgently reduce global carbon emissions to well below their current levels, climate chaos will be unavoidable. The wake up calls could hardly be louder.

Gordon Brown has promised he's in listening mode, yet his failure to demonstrate any political leadership on this issue risks compounding an environmental disaster with a social justice disaster.
Caroline Lucas MEP
Principal speaker, Green party

The rising price of aircraft fuel has forced American Airlines to cut planes and jobs (Report, May 22). No surprise there. Is the government still telling us that we need bigger airports because passenger traffic will double by 2030?
Peter Rolls
Camberley, Surrey

The war to end all wars

The climate change threat needs drastic action. Only a cross-party approach can deliver it

How do you define a war? There is the disastrous one that Britain is waging in Iraq, involving tanks and guns and the lives of our young men and women. There is the kind the government claims it is waging variously against poverty, terror, and obesity. But the greatest threat to us all, global warming - a threat far greater than any airborne disease or foreign dictator - has yet to be elevated to war status. Day by day, before our eyes, the planet is deteriorating: ice caps are melting, weather systems shifting, and the poorest are finding themselves facing life-threatening water shortages. Our wildlife is suffering, species are being lost before our children even have a chance to witness them in all their beauty.

Britain, with 174 other countries, signed up to the Kyoto protocol, but while the government has made great political play of the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased over the past decade, actual CO2 emissions have gone up. The only cuts that have been made have come from small, one-off technical fixes of things like landfill gas methane emissions. Labour might have great plans for cutting climate-changing gases, but most of its policies, from motorway widening to new runways, point in the opposite direction, and are actually worsening the situation.

As a group, some concerned mothers - myself among them- are coming together with their children this week because we want to leave our planet in much the same way as it was when we were born: rich, varied and able to support and feed us all. All across Britain, families are recycling waste, cutting back car use and giving up using plastic bags. But we know we are long past the time for small-time individual action - we need to direct a transition to a low-carbon economy. The government still seems to be terrified of motorists, frequent flyers and second home-owners, and is far too timid to take any measures that begin to address the scale of the problem. The targets in the climate-change bill are a good start, but there is no policy framework to actually achieve them - it is no good politicians saying each year, "Sorry, we failed", as the world fries. The climate crisis must be our pre-eminent policy priority.

As the environmentalist Mark Lynas says: "We must peak global emissions by 2015 if we are to keep temperatures from rising beyond two degrees - after which point total climate catastrophe beckons, and that means international policy must be finalised by Copenhagen in 2009. The British government will have no political capital to demand cuts in countries like China when it is overseeing more coal-fired power stations and rising CO2 emissions at home."

Last week MPs tabled a motion calling for immediate cross-party action on climate change. Their move comes as we launch a new campaign aimed at forcing the government to take the lead on tackling global warming. For many of those involved, it will be the first time they have taken political action. We call ourselves We Can (Can standing for Climate Action Now), and tonight we'll be holding a candle-lit protest outside the House of Commons. During the evening, the children will deliver a letter to No 10 for Gordon Brown: it's their future at stake here, not ours.

Climate change is too vital an issue to sacrifice to political infighting and cowardice. Clearly, it would be political suicide for any one party to introduce the changes needed, which is why a cross-party coalition should be formed (as during the second world war) to guide and direct both government planning and industry direction.

If his budget speech to the Commons is to be believed, Alistair Darling has made up his mind: climate change is the greatest challenge facing us all, and "there will be catastrophic economic and social consequences if we fail to act". In response to this, with great determination and steely efficiency, the chancellor has utterly failed to act.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US threw its might behind the war machine, transforming its industries overnight. The bounties of my entire life as a postwar baby have come as a direct result of that giant political will bending towards the common good. Now my daughter's generation demands the same drastic intervention if they are to enjoy the same kind of future.

It can be done and we know the enemy. But where, on our increasingly fragile earth, is the leadership?

· Rosie Boycott is a writer and broadcaster

Senate set to take up climate change debate

From: Reuters


By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The international fight to control climate change heads to a new arena in June when the Senate is to debate a bill that could cut total U.S. global warming emissions by 66 percent by 2050.

Environmentalists are supportive but want more in the legislation, the business community questions the economic impact, and the politicians who have shepherded it seem gratified that it has managed to get this far -- even though it is unlikely to become law this year.

"I look upon this piece of legislation as a great big train in the station and we're trying to get it out," Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said after an updated version of the measure was released. Senate debate is set for June 2. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, is the bill's other chief sponsor.

The Bush administration, now in its last months, has consistently opposed an across-the-board cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas emitted by fossil-fueled vehicles and coal-fired industries, as well as by natural sources including human breath.

The United States is the only major industrialized nation outside the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.

But the three major U.S. presidential candidates -- Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, all senators -- favor curbing carbon emissions, giving proponents of cap-and-trade hope for legislative action in 2009.

Under the measure set for Senate debate, known as the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would drop by about 2 percent per year between 2012 and 2050, based on 2005 emission levels.

The bill would cap carbon emissions from 86 percent of U.S. facilities, and emissions from those would be 19 percent below current levels by 2020 and 71 percent below current levels by 2050, according to a summary of the bill's details released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Total U.S. emissions could be reduced by up to 66 percent, the summary said.


Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who heads the environment committee, said this version of the bill offers tools to soften the impact of high prices during the transition to a lower-carbon economy. These include a utilities rebate program and tax relief.

A coalition of 20 environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the effort but said carbon cuts should be tougher.

"The best chance for progress this year on federal global warming pollution limits is for the Senate to strengthen and pass the Climate Security Act," the groups said in a statement. "The bill needs to be strengthened to ensure that it will meet the reductions that science dictates are needed to prevent dangerous global warming."

The pro-business American Enterprise Institute cited a U.S. government analysis of the bill's economic impact that projects U.S. gross domestic product could drop by 2.7 percent by 2050. In an online article entitled "How Green Hysteria Will Hit Home," the institute called the 2050 targets for emissions reduction "absurd and irresponsible."

The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council countered by saying the cost of doing nothing would be far higher: more than 3.6 percent of GDP, or $3.8 trillion annually (in 2008 dollars).

Citing a study commissioned study performed by Tufts University, the council said costs and damages for four categories related to climate change would carry huge price tags: $422 billion for hurricanes, $360 billion for real estate losses, $141 billion in increased energy costs and $950 billion in water costs.

The money is key, according to John Larsen, a specialist on climate and energy at the World Resources Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan environmental think tank.

Because cap-and-trade programs put a value on carbon emissions where none existed before, "They are essentially creating money ... that is distributed around the U.S. economy," Larsen said by telephone. "Any time the Congress considers policies that distribute wealth ... you can expect interesting politics."

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Ocean Acidification And Its Impact On Ecosystems

From: CNRS


Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) through human activities have a well known impact on the Earth's climate. What is not so well known is that the absorption of this CO2 by the oceans is causing inexorable acidification of sea water. But what impact is this phenomenon having on marine organisms and ecosystems? This is a question to which researchers have few answers as yet.

That is why the European Union has recently given its support to EPOCA, the European Project on Ocean Acidification, which will be launched in Nice (France) on 10 June 2008.

EPOCA's goal is to document ocean acidification, investigate its impact on biological processes, predict its consequences over the next 100 years, and advise policy-makers on potential thresholds or tipping points that should not be exceeded. The project is coordinated by Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a CNRS researcher at the Oceanography Laboratory at Villefranche-sur-mer (LOV(1)), and brings together a consortium of 27 partners, including CNRS and the French Atomic Energy Agency (CEA), from 9 countries. Many of the leading oceanographic institutions across Europe and more than 100 permanent scientists are involved. The budget is €16.5 million over 4 years, including €6.5 million from the European Commission.

Over 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by the oceans, which are home to an incredibly diverse flora and fauna. They play a key role in regulating the climate and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main greenhouse gases. Over the last 200 years (since the beginning of the industrial revolution), the oceans have absorbed about one third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities, a total of 120 billion tons. Without this absorption, the amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere and its effects on the climate would undoubtedly be far greater.

In fact, over 25 million tons of CO2 dissolve in seawater every day. However, the oceans do not escape unscathed. When CO2 dissolves in sea water, it causes the formation of carbonic acid, which leads to a fall in pH (the pH scale is used to measure acidity(2)). This change is called “ocean acidification” and is happening at a rate that has not been experienced probably for the last 20 million years.

The effects of this huge input of CO2 into the oceans only began to be studied in the late 1990s(3) and are still poorly understood. One of the most likely consequences will be slower growth of organisms with calcareous skeletons, such as corals, mollusks, algae, etc. Obtaining more information about ocean acidification is a major environmental priority because of the threat it poses to certain species and ecosystems.

EPOCA should help us to understand the effects of the acidification of sea water as well as its impact on marine organisms and ecosystems. More specifically, the project has four goals:

  1. Document the changes in ocean chemistry and biogeography across space and time. Paleo-reconstruction methods will be used on several natural/biological archives, including foraminifera and deep-sea corals, to determine past variability in ocean chemistry and to tie these to present-day chemical and biological observations.
  2. Determine the sensitivity of marine organisms, communities and ecosystems to ocean acidification. Molecular to biochemical, physiological and ecological approaches will be combined with laboratory and field-based perturbation experiments to quantify biological responses to ocean acidification, assess the potential for adaptation, and determine the consequences for biogeochemical cycling. Laboratory experiments will focus on key organisms selected on the basis of their ecological, biogeochemical or socio-economic importance. Field studies will be carried out in systems (areas/regions) deemed most sensitive to ocean acidification.
  3. Integrate results on the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems in biogeochemical, sediment, and coupled ocean-climate models to better understand and predict the responses of the Earth system to ocean acidification. Special attention will be paid to the potential feedbacks of the physiological changes in the carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and iron cycles.
  4. Assess uncertainties, risks and thresholds ("tipping points") related to ocean acidification at scales ranging from sub-cellular to ecosystem and local to global. It will also assess the decrease in CO2 emissions required to avoid these thresholds and describe the change and the subsequent risk to the marine environment and Earth system, should these emissions be exceeded.

Wind power could make Norway "Europe's battery"

From: Reuters
Published May 26, 2008 12:45 PM


By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway could become "Europe's battery" by developing huge sea-based wind parks costing up to $44 billion by 2025, Norway's Oil and Energy Minister said on Monday.

Norway's Energy Council, comprising business leaders and officials, said green exports could help the European Union reach a goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro or wave power.

"Norway could be Europe's battery," Oil and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga told Reuters after she was handed the report, which will be considered by the centre-left government in coming months.

"The thinking is that Norway is blessed, is lucky, to have big energy resources. There is undoubtedly a large potential for wind power," she said. Norway says it has the longest coastline in Europe, from the North Sea to the Arctic Barents Sea.

The 30-page report, mapping out a big shift for the world's number 5 oil exporter, said: "Norway ought to have access to up to 40 terrawatt hours of renewable energy in 2020-2025, of which about half would come from offshore wind power."

Sufficient wind parks -- totaling 5,000 to 8,000 megawatts installed capacity -- would cost between 100 billion Norwegian and 220 billion Norwegian crowns ($43.89 billion) assuming prices of 20-28 million crowns per installed megawatt.

The energy would be equivalent to up to about eight nuclear power plants. Norway pumps about 2.2 million barrels of oil per day -- $44 billion represents the value of about half a year's output.


Haga said offshore wind parks -- which would stop on calm days -- could be supplemented by hydro-power reservoirs which can be turned on and off to turn them into a battery storing power. Norway has about half Europe's reservoir capacity.

"We can deliver a product whether the wind is blowing or not," she said. Haga will meet EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in Brussels on Thursday, partly to discuss the report.

It said Norway still needed new laws, competitive subsidies and more infrastructure. Norway sometimes has problems supplying even its own electricity needs with its existing hydro-power.

And it said that Denmark, Germany and Britain had done much more to develop wind power, both on land and in shallow waters. Norway's advantage was wide experience from deeper offshore oil and gas installations.

StatoilHydro said last week that it will invest $80 million to build the world's first full-scale floating wind turbine to start up in 2009. Power from such installations is likely to be more costly than on land.

The report said that Norway would have to agree long-term wind supply contracts with EU countries, including access to EU subsidies. But Haga also said: "I don't expect Europe to subsidize Norwegian wind power production."

"It's not a first choice to import power," said Steinar Bysveen, who led the report. He said EU nations such as Germany might need imports because of a lack of space to build wind parks at home and plans to phase out nuclear power.

The Energy Council report said that 40 terrawatt hours of electricity from wind could cut 20 million tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for stoking global warming. Norway's 2007 emissions were 55 million tonnes.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

(Editing by William Hardy,

Turkey hints at “significant”moves on climate change

From: WWF


Turkey today dropped its strongest hint yet that it will sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on combating climate change, and will join in international efforts aimed at cutting greenhouse gasses.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said he supports the UN plan for the two year negotiation process agreed in Bali last year, and added “Turkey is now preparing to undertake its responsibilities. Very significant work is currently under way so as to enable us to take important steps in the period ahead.”

Speaking at the opening session of this year's WWF Annual Conference in Bodrum, President Gül said climate change affects all of us. “Today, the effects of global climate change are felt in every corner of the world'” he said. “While people are fighting with drought and water shortage in some regions, other regions are witnessing pain and destruction brought about by the effects of tornadoes and floods causing large scale disasters. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its priority first step, the Kyoto Protocol, are considered to be the most effective tools for sustainable development.”

But President Gül warned that Turkey's economic and social development must not be put at risk, and that industrialised countries must also do their bit. “International cooperation in this field is not a one way street, but one that is two way. Industrialized countries should take into account the concerns and expectations of developing countries. Also, developing countries should draw lessons from the mistakes that were made during industrialization and progress on the path of sustainable development with the awareness of their responsibilities to future generations.”

The President's words were echoed by Turkey's Environment Minister Veysel EroÄŸlu who told the audience of more than 200 delegates: “Climate change is one of the most important agenda items in the world, and Turkey will be one of the countries most impacted by climate change. We are committed to our development but at the same time we are committed to fighting the the negative impacts of climate change”.

WWF Director General James Leape welcomed the Turkish President's hints that Turkey could soon ratify the Kyoto Protocol. “The UN climate negotiations represent our best hope of mitigating the worst effects of climate change,” said Mr. Leape. “WWF is honoured that President Gül has chosen to address this critical issue here at our annual conference, and I am delighted that Turkey appears to want to play its full part in reaching a global agreement to combat global warming. It is crucially important that Turkey now act on that commitment, sign on to the Kyoto protocol and become a full participant in the international effort to solve this problem.”

Monday, May 26, 2008

Billions wasted on UN climate programme

Energy firms routinely abusing carbon offset fund, US studies claim

Billions of pounds are being wasted in paying industries in developing countries to reduce climate change emissions, according to two analyses of the UN's carbon offsetting programme.

Leading academics and watchdog groups allege that the UN's main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

The criticism centres on the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations.

Credits from the project are being bought by European companies and governments who are unable to meet their carbon reduction targets.

The market for CDM credits is growing fast. At present it is worth nearly $20bn a year, but this is expected to grow to over $100bn within four years. More than 1,000 projects have so far been approved, and 2,000 more are making their way through the process.

A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN's CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. "They would be built anyway," says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts."

Governments consider that CDM is vital to reducing global emissions under the terms of the Kyoto treaty. To earn credits under the mechanism, emission reductions must be in addition to those that would have taken place without the project. But critics argue this "additionality" is impossible to prove and open to abuse. The Stanford paper, by Victor and his colleague Michael Wara, found that nearly every new hydro, wind and natural gas-fired plant expected to be built in China in the next four years is applying for CDM credits, even though it is Chinese policy to encourage these industries.

"Traders are finding ways of gaining credits that they would never have had before. You will never know accurately, but rich countries are clearly overpaying by a massive amount," said Victor.

A separate study published this week by US watchdog group International Rivers argues that nearly three quarters of all registered CDM projects were complete at the time of approval, suggesting that CDM money was not needed to finance them.

"It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built," said Patrick McCully, director of the thinktank in California. "Judging additionality has turned out to be unknowable and unworkable. It can never be proved definitively that if a developer or factory owner did not get offset income they would not build their project."

Yesterday a spokesman for the CDM in Bonn said the fund was significantly cutting emissions and providing incentives for companies to employ clean technologies: "There is a responsible level of scrutiny. The process is in continual reform. All the projects are vetted independently and are then certified by third parties. There are many checks and balances and we can show how all projects are vetted."

The UK government last night defended the CDM. "We completely reject any assertions that [it] is fundamentally flawed," a spokeswoman said. "We've worked consistently for and seen improvement in CDM processes over the past few years of its operation. We believe the CDM is essentially transparent and robust, though we will continue to press for the environmental integrity of projects."


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