"Energy and Global Warming News for November 8th: Gen 1 biofuels are more harmful to climate than fossil fuels; Dead corals found near BP spill site; Shell presses for drilling in Arctic"
BRUSSELS, Nov 8 (Reuters) – European plans to promote biofuels will drive farmers to convert 69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change, a report warned on Monday.
The impact equates to an area the size of the Republic of Ireland.
As a result, the extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will generate between 81 and 167 percent more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, says the report.
Nine environmental groups reached the conclusion after analyzing official data on the European Union’s goal of getting 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020.
But the European Commission’s energy team, which originally formulated the goal, countered that the bulk of the land needed would be found by recultivating abandoned farmland in Europe and Asia, minimizing the impact.
… 23 of the EU’s 27 member states have now published their national strategies for renewable energy, revealing that fully 9.5 percent of transport fuel will be biofuel in 2020, 90 percent of which will come from food crops, the report says….
The debate centres on a new concept known as “indirect land-use change.”
In essence, that means that if you take a field of grain and switch the crop to biofuel, somebody, somewhere, will go hungry unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere.
The crops to make up the shortfall could come from anywhere, and economics often dictate that will be in tropical zones, encouraging farmers to hack out new land from fertile forests.
Burning forests to clear that land can pump vast quantities of climate-warming emissions into the atmosphere, enough to cancel out any of the benefits the biofuels were meant to bring.
The indirect effects of the EU’s biofuel strategy will generate an extra 27 to 56 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, says the report. In the worst case, that would be the equivalent of putting another 26 million cars on Europe’s roads, it added….
The European Commission’s energy team says shortfalls in grain can be avoided in several ways, including by improving farming yields and cultivating abandoned land.
“The EU has a sufficient amount of land previously used for crop production and now no longer in arable use to cover the land needed,” said a statement from the Commission’s energy department. “It makes sense to bring this land into use.”
For background on the indirect land use issue, see “About those two studies dissing biofuels.”
SCIENTISTS on a research cruise have found a community of dead and dying deep-sea corals not far from the site of BP’s blown-out oil well.
”Within minutes of our arrival … it was evident to the biologists on board that this site was unlike any others that we have seen over the course of hundreds of hours of studying the deep corals in the Gulf of Mexico over the last decade,” Pennsylvania State University biology professor Charles Fisher said.
A colony of hard coral at a depth of more than 1.2 kilometers was sloughing off tissue and producing mucous, and soft corals had extensive bare areas. A type of starfish associated with the coral was also in bad shape.
Using a robotic vessel, government and academic researchers were surveying coral communities they had studied for several years. Most showed no changes from previous visits.
But when the crew focused underwater cameras on colonies about 11kilometres south-west of the BP leak, images of corals covered with a brown substance appeared on the screen.
Researchers will analyze samples for evidence of the chemical dispersants that were used to break up the oil.
BEIJING “” Climate change could trigger a 10 percent drop in China’s grain harvest over the next 20 years, threatening the country’s food security, a leading agriculture expert warned in comments published Friday.
Tang Huajun, deputy dean of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, warned crop production could fall by five to 10 percent by 2030 if climate change continues unchecked, in an interview with the official China Daily.
“The output of the country’s three main foods — rice, wheat and corn — may suffer a 37 percent decline in the latter part of this century if the government fails to take effective measures to address the impact of climate change,” Tang was quoted as saying.
China, which produced 530.8 million tonnes of grain in 2009, plans to increase output to 550 million tons by 2020 to ensure food security for the world’s most populous country of more than 1.3 billion, the paper said.
“You’re not sovereign unless you’re controlling your energy future.”
When Dillon Toya started his senior year at Jemez Pueblo’s Walatowa Charter High School in northern New Mexico last fall, he wanted his senior project to combine the teachings of his ancestors with cutting-edge building design.
Six months later, the 18-year-old high school graduate and aspiring architect had designed a new energy efficient high school building that he hopes will one day replace the portable trailers where he and his 66 classmates studied. The proposed building, designed to resemble traditional Pueblo dwellings of adobe and wood, includes solar panels to generate electricity, a solar-powered heating system and water recycling.
Toya’s project reflects one of many ways that impoverished Jemez Pueblo is building strong connections between its education system and its fledgling green energy industry. And it’s not alone. Jemez Pueblo is an example of a larger movement among native groups to promote a green sector that they hope will chip away at a problem that has plagued their communities for years: high unemployment. The jobless rate in native communities is often several times the national average.
While there is no single tally of the amount of money going directly to tribes for renewable energy, energy efficiency and green job training, the federal government is funding a range of energy-related programs that count tribes among their recipients. Tribal leaders and native entrepreneurs are trying for a share of billions of dollars available in economic stimulus funds administered through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Small Business Administration, among other agencies.
An 80-nation conference on food security is urging U.N. climate negotiators to consider agriculture when drawing up strategies to fight climate change.
The five-day meeting has ended with a call to invest in new farming practices that will curb greenhouse gas emissions and better use currently available land to feed a global population of 9 billion by 2050.
About 30 percent of carbon emissions come from farming, livestock and forest destruction.
Dutch Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker says agriculture must be integrated into climate negotiations and should receive some of the funds earmarked for poor countries to help them reduce emissions and adapt to changing climate conditions.
The conference, attended by 60 government ministers, ended Friday.
HOUSTON “” Eager to win approval for its stalled plan to drill for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, on Monday. As part of the effort, the giant oil company is promising to make unprecedented preparations to prevent the kind of disaster that polluted the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.
Shell’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years. The company has already invested $3.5 billion in the projects, and it was close to overcoming the final regulatory hurdles to begin drilling when BP’s Macondo well blew out April 20, killing 11 rig workers and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.
In response to the gulf accident, the Obama administration suspended most new offshore drilling, including in the environmentally sensitive waters of the Arctic.
But now that the moratorium on gulf drilling has been lifted, Shell is pressing the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic projects by the end of this year so that the company has enough time to move the necessary equipment to drill next summer, when the waters offshore are free of ice.
Just over a week ago, Denmark became the first European country to make available to drivers second generation biofuel, fuel made of agricultural residues that do not compete with food crops. The fuel, called Bio95, is now on offer at 100 filling stations across the country on a 95% gas, 5% biofuel blend.
Bio95 is made from wheat straw collected after harvest in Denmark and is produced by a company called DONG Inbicon with enzyme technology by Novozymes.
“Long a grand vision of the future, next-generation biofuel is now coming to market to fulfil its promises. The industry has delivered and we’re now sending a strong signal to policy-makers that their support for this exciting technology is required if all our citizens are to benefit from it,” said Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes.
A recent study released by Bloomberg said second-generation biofuel could generate up to one million jobs in the European Union over the next decade, mainly in rural areas and replace up to 62% of imported gasoline. The report also claims that second generation biofuels could cut down road transport emissions by 50% until 2020. But a set of policies need to be put in place in order for that to happen, the report added, such as the creation of an ambitious mandate for second-generation bio fuel, incentives for the collection of farming residues and tax breaks for investments.
Government steps up plans to become global renewable energy hub
Taiwan is preparing to reduce wholesale prices for electricity generated by solar panels by as much as 20 per cent as part of moves designed to bolster the competitiveness of the territory’s fast-expanding renewable energy sector.
According to reports in the Chinese-language Commercial Times, the price cut is intended to drive demand for solar energy and provide a boost to domestic solar panel manufacturers.
Taiwan has set a target for renewables to meet 10 per cent of its electricity needs by the end of this year, up from 5.8 per cent in 2009.
Wind power is expected to meet 80 per cent of the total and 78MW of wind power has been installed since a feed-in tariff was introduced in 2009.
Although, speaking at the 2010 International Conference on Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in Taiwan last month, premier Wu Den-yih said he wants to encourage growth in other areas such as solar too.
Orders for offshore wind turbines in Britain will slump next year, threatening to halt the industry’s recent growth and the expected creation of up to 10,000 “green economy” jobs.
Analysts are forecasting a 93% drop in the installation of new offshore windfarms in 2013 compared with the previous year. As orders for cables, foundations and other equipment are typically made two to three years ahead of the project being completed, the slowdown will start to bite among UK suppliers next year.
Windfarm developers are worried that the hiatus in the industry will last several years, which could result in large-scale job losses if other related work cannot be found. One said this gap would cause “huge problems” for the supply chain and it would be hard for manufacturers to invest in new facilities in Britain without a steady stream of work.
Britain recently overtook Denmark to become the world’s largest offshore windfarm player, implying the tripling of capacity in the next two years. But new projects will dry up in 2013. Only 90 megawatts (MW) of newly installed capacity, which is enough to supply 30,000 homes when the wind blows, is being forecast by energy experts at Douglas-Westwood, compared with 1,368Mw the year before.
In a radio interview last week, outgoing New York Governor David Paterson announced his plans to eliminate the state’s participation in the federal Superfund cleanup program. The proposal is one of several cuts designed to reduce the state’s budget deficit and accommodate the proposed layoffs of an additional 898 state employees by the year’s end, including 150 in the Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”).
The immediate impact of Paterson’s announcement on ongoing and future site cleanups is unclear, and DEC said that “no final decision has been made” on the issue. The state and federal governments currently operate their own Superfund programs, created through separate statutes, and it appears that cleanup will continue as planned for sites listed exclusively under the state program.
According to the Albany Times Union, however, there are 114 federal Superfund sites in New York, with the state and federal governments often cooperating on remedial efforts. For instance, DEC is listed as a support agency in the ongoing, federally-led Hudson River Superfund cleanup, with state officials assisting in the development and oversight of General Electric’s cleanup work. Under Paterson’s plan, “the state will not be involved” at federally listed sites moving forward.
WASHINGTON””Environmental organizations fearful of being blamed for Tuesday’s devastating Democratic losses trotted out a poll they say shows support for cap-and-trade legislation did not contribute significantly to the defeat of House incumbents.
Those findings come from a survey of 1,000 voters who actually cast ballots in 83 battleground House districts nationwide. Washington, D.C.-based Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted the poll Nov. 1 and 2.
When voters who chose the Republican candidate were asked to name their biggest concern about the Democrat, only 1 percent cited an answer related to energy or cap and trade. When offered a list of six arguments that Republicans made against Democrats, 7 percent selected what the GOP mislabeled a “cap and tax.”
“There was no mandate on turning back the clock on environmental protection,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “Polls galore show continued and strong public support for making continued progress to protect our health and boost our economy.”