44 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for August 10th: Floods and mudslides on three continents, as drought hits Africa; Solazyme raised $52M to scale up algae fuels; Portugal gives itself clean-energy makeover
Met Office: “The extremes of rainfall are getting heavier and are entirely consistent with climate change predictions.”
Regions across the world have been buffeted by extremes of weather, drought and floods. Sometimes an area is hit by one extreme, followed soon after by another, Niger being a case in point. In the case of floods in Pakistan, the Met Office says high pressure over Russia has forced the jet stream much further south than usual this year and this pattern has remained almost stationary over recent weeks. Therefore low pressure has been sitting over Pakistan longer than normal, intensifying the monsoon rains. “The extremes of rainfall are getting heavier and are entirely consistent with climate change predictions,” said Helen Chivers, a spokeswoman with the Met Office.
Solazyme Inc. said today it has raised another $52 million from investors to scale up production of transportation fuels, chemicals and other products from algae.
The San Francisco-based startup, which has developed an industrial-scale fermentation process to produce oil from algae, inked a research and development deal with Chevron Corp. in 2008. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Energy granted Solazyme more than $21.7 million to build an integrated biofuels refinery in Riverside, Pa., the company’s first.
Earlier this summer, Solazyme delivered 1,500 gallons of 100 percent algae-based jet fuel to the U.S. Navy for testing and certification, per a 2009 contract. The company claims that the renewable biofuel produces 85 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels.
Braemar Energy Ventures and Morgan Stanley led Solazyme’s Series D financing round. Other investors included Lightspeed Venture Partners, the Roda Group, Harris & Harris Group Inc., VantagePoint Venture Partners and Zygote Ventures.
Pakistan’s deadliest floods that affected 13.8 million people may sweep through southern areas, increasing damage to crops and infrastructure. Extreme heat and smoke from wildfires forced people to flee Moscow.
In China, the death toll from a landslide that buried villages in the country’s west rose to at least 337, with a further 1,148 missing. Temperatures in the central U.S. are forecast to climb back to the 100-degree Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) mark this week, and in many areas it will feel much hotter than that, according to the National Weather Service.
Floods in Pakistan have affected more people than those displaced in the 2005 Asian Tsunami and the deadly earthquakes in South Asia and Haiti combined, the United Nations said. The number of homes destroyed or seriously damaged is 290,000, it said. The U.N. will issue an appeal for several hundred million dollars of aid for Pakistan.
“The flood and the devastation caused a very huge human catastrophe,” Safder Hussain Mehkri, a vice chairman of the Rice Exporters’ Association of Pakistan, said by phone today. “We need to rebuild the lives of these people.”
The flooding is “Pakistan’s worst national disaster,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech yesterday. On a tour of Sindh and Punjab, the country’s most populous provinces and its biggest agricultural zone, Gilani told reporters that the destruction of roads, bridges and towns has set Pakistan’s economic development back by years.
Earlier this summer, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China promised to use an “iron hand” to improve his country’s energy efficiency, and a growing number of businesses are now discovering that it feels like a fist.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology quietly published a list late Sunday of 2,087 steel mills, cement works and other energy-intensive factories required to close by Sept. 30.
Energy analysts described it as a significant step toward the country’s energy-efficiency goals, but not enough by itself to achieve them. Over the years, provincial and municipal officials have sometimes tried to block Beijing’s attempts to close aging factories in their jurisdictions.
These officials have particularly sought to protect older steel mills and other heavy industrial operations that frequently have thousands of employees and have sometimes provided workers with housing, athletic facilities and other benefits since the 1950s or 1960s.
They haven’t gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve, but the floods that have struck much of Asia over the past couple of weeks may be the biggest humanitarian disaster in recent memory””bigger even than the earthquake that hit Haiti in January and the 2004 Asian tsunami. Both of those catastrophes killed far more, but the floods have affected 13 million people in Pakistan alone, and parts of India, China and North Korea have also suffered from the rains. The floods will destroy homes and business, wreck agriculture and destroy infrastructure, leave disease and disability in their wake. Flooding in China has already killed more than 1,100 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars of damage. In shaky Pakistan, where the public has been enraged by the government’s typically fumbling response to the flood, it could even increase support for hard-line Islamic groups.
As governments and charities grapple with the extent of the floods, the question arises, as it does every time there is a major weather event like this one: was this disaster truly natural, or is it connected in some way to climate change? Now it’s important to remember that major floods have been happening in this part of the world since well before humans began worrying about the impacts of global warming. And the massive number of people affected by these floods””or for that matter, the sky-high death tolls of the Haiti quake and the Asian tsunami””have as much to do with the growing number of people living in high-risk areas like the coast, earthquake zones and flood plains as it does with the strength of a storm or a temblor. The Haiti quake killed as many as 300,000 people, but at a magnitude of 7.0, it was slightly weaker than the 1989 Bay Area temblor that killed 62 people””the difference was Haiti’s population density, poverty and complete lack of earthquake building codes.
Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects “” primarily harnessing the country’s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves.
Today, Lisbon’s trendy bars, Porto’s factories and the Algarve’s glamorous resorts are powered substantially by clean energy. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.
Land-based wind power “” this year deemed “potentially competitive” with fossil fuels by the International Energy Agency in Paris “” has expanded sevenfold in that time. And Portugal expects in 2011 to become the first country to inaugurate a national network of charging stations for electric cars.
“I’ve seen all the smiles “” you know: It’s a good dream. It can’t compete. It’s too expensive,” said Prime Minister Jos© S³crates, recalling the way Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, mockingly offered to build him an electric Ferrari. Mr. S³crates added, “The experience of Portugal shows that it is possible to make these changes in a very short time.”
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said Monday that he doubted that member states would reach a new global climate change agreement in December at a conference in Mexico.
Mr. Ban, who was the head cheerleader for reaching a deal during the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, suggested that a better approach might consist of small steps in separate fields that built toward wider consensus rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.
“Climate change, I think, has been making progress, even though we have not reached such a point where we will have a globally agreed, comprehensive deal,” Mr. Ban said at a news conference.
Preliminary negotiations toward some manner of document, involving all 192 member states, ended last week stuck on familiar problems “” the working document doubling in size to 34 pages amid protracted wrangling over issues like commitments to cut emissions. There is one more round of talks, in China in October, before the December conference in Cancºn.
Mr. Ban said he thought there was progress on a limited number of issues, including deforestation, sharing of technology and financial payments to poorer nations from the developed world to help them overcome the effects of climate change.
With 3-1/2 months left before a United Nations climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, the spade work ahead of the meeting seems to be turning up more boulders than a New England plow.
Last week, negotiators from 194 countries met in Bonn, Germany, and made little progress in any of six broad areas covered by a join-if-you-like plan that emerged from last December’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen.
Instead, it appears that the most significant progress on some issues will take place outside the UN process, where key countries are working to set up a “quick-start” adaptation fund for developing countries and approaches to increase efforts to combat deforestation.
Ironically, some specialists say, UN negotiations are becoming the venue for smaller sets of countries to work on these outside efforts.
If the size of the current UN negotiating text is any indication, the process to have been thrown into reverse – at least for now.
“The frustrating thing about the past week in Bonn is that the text doubled in size again,” says Andrew Deutz, senior policy advisor for UN affairs at the Nature Conservancy. “If you want to get an agreement on the text by Cancun, we should be narrowing, rather than expanding.”