Tag Archives: Energy

Investor heavyweights call for clear action on climate

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network

Waste could fertilise food cost cuts

Scientists are developing a way to squeeze the last vestiges of value from renewable energy processes by combining their waste products to produce eco-friendly fertilisers that could help slow food price rises. LONDON, 30 August 2014 − Researchers in the UK think they may have found a way to produce fertilisers that should cut farmers’ costs and at the same time boost some types of renewable energy. Their scheme, which involves using waste material from anaerobic digesters and ash from burnt biomass, would also cut fossil fuel use and save natural resources. The team, based at the Environment Centre at the University of Lancaster, says their fertiliser would help to slow the rise in food prices. And they believe it would work worldwide. The three-year project has received more than £850,000 (US$1.4 m) in funding from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. Research, due to start this year, will take place in labs at the university and in field trials. The project, which includes several partners working with the university, aims to produce a sustainable, environmentally-friendlier source of soil conditioner and crop fertiliser.

Potential

It builds on research originally conducted by one of the partners, Stopford Energy and Environment Ltd consultancy, which investigated using a mixture of digestates − the waste left over after material has been through an anaerobic digester − and ash, from burnt biomass, as an alternative to existing fertilisers. Most fertilisers now in use, such as phosphorous-based and nitrate-based products, are made using energy-intensive methods that involve the consumption of oil and gas. Phosphate-based fertiliser relies as well on the mining of phosphate, a finite and unsustainable resource, and on a production process using various toxic chemicals. There are already projects in several countries − including the UK − that use waste from digesters to make fertiliser. But Professor Kirk Semple, of the Lancaster Environment Centre, who leads the project, said: “It is the mixing of anaerobic digestate with biomass ash that is important. . . This would reduce pressure on natural resources and develop a new market for problematic by-products of the bio-energy industry. “Although the project is based here in the UK, we believe there is exciting potential to produce a sustainable alternative to existing fertiliser use across the globe.”

Nutrients

A successful digestate-ash fertiliser would reduce costs and provide additional income to biomass and anaerobic digestion operators. The Lancaster team says this could make these forms of renewable energy − which could meet more than 15% of UK energy demand by 2020 − more appealing to investors, as at the moment ash has to be expensively dumped in landfills. They say it could help to improve food security and reduce costs to farmers as production of the new fertiliser would not be linked to the global price of oil and gas. Previous studies by Stopford show that biomass ash and digestate can be useful nutrient sources for crops in conditions which lack them. Professor Semple told the Climate News Network that he and his colleagues were working to ensure that the new fertiliser was entirely safe. He said: “Part of the grant will be used to chemically analyse the materials, individually and together, for metals and potentially other chemicals.” He says commercial-scale production of a successful digestate-ash fertiliser “is some way off”. But he adds: “This project offers the first detailed interrogation of this type of soil amendment. If successful, we would then look to develop this for the commercial sector.” − Climate News Network

Scientists are developing a way to squeeze the last vestiges of value from renewable energy processes by combining their waste products to produce eco-friendly fertilisers that could help slow food price rises. LONDON, 30 August 2014 − Researchers in the UK think they may have found a way to produce fertilisers that should cut farmers’ costs and at the same time boost some types of renewable energy. Their scheme, which involves using waste material from anaerobic digesters and ash from burnt biomass, would also cut fossil fuel use and save natural resources. The team, based at the Environment Centre at the University of Lancaster, says their fertiliser would help to slow the rise in food prices. And they believe it would work worldwide. The three-year project has received more than £850,000 (US$1.4 m) in funding from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. Research, due to start this year, will take place in labs at the university and in field trials. The project, which includes several partners working with the university, aims to produce a sustainable, environmentally-friendlier source of soil conditioner and crop fertiliser.

Potential

It builds on research originally conducted by one of the partners, Stopford Energy and Environment Ltd consultancy, which investigated using a mixture of digestates − the waste left over after material has been through an anaerobic digester − and ash, from burnt biomass, as an alternative to existing fertilisers. Most fertilisers now in use, such as phosphorous-based and nitrate-based products, are made using energy-intensive methods that involve the consumption of oil and gas. Phosphate-based fertiliser relies as well on the mining of phosphate, a finite and unsustainable resource, and on a production process using various toxic chemicals. There are already projects in several countries − including the UK − that use waste from digesters to make fertiliser. But Professor Kirk Semple, of the Lancaster Environment Centre, who leads the project, said: “It is the mixing of anaerobic digestate with biomass ash that is important. . . This would reduce pressure on natural resources and develop a new market for problematic by-products of the bio-energy industry. “Although the project is based here in the UK, we believe there is exciting potential to produce a sustainable alternative to existing fertiliser use across the globe.”

Nutrients

A successful digestate-ash fertiliser would reduce costs and provide additional income to biomass and anaerobic digestion operators. The Lancaster team says this could make these forms of renewable energy − which could meet more than 15% of UK energy demand by 2020 − more appealing to investors, as at the moment ash has to be expensively dumped in landfills. They say it could help to improve food security and reduce costs to farmers as production of the new fertiliser would not be linked to the global price of oil and gas. Previous studies by Stopford show that biomass ash and digestate can be useful nutrient sources for crops in conditions which lack them. Professor Semple told the Climate News Network that he and his colleagues were working to ensure that the new fertiliser was entirely safe. He said: “Part of the grant will be used to chemically analyse the materials, individually and together, for metals and potentially other chemicals.” He says commercial-scale production of a successful digestate-ash fertiliser “is some way off”. But he adds: “This project offers the first detailed interrogation of this type of soil amendment. If successful, we would then look to develop this for the commercial sector.” − Climate News Network

Nepal wins hearts and minds with biogas boom

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house. “At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls. But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste. “It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.” Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds. With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects. However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projects all over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power. Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households. “At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours”

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.” Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down. Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood. The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says. There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

 

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/omastharai

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house. “At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls. But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste. “It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.” Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds. With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects. However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projects all over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power. Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households. “At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours”

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.” Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down. Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood. The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says. There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

 

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/omastharai

India's dam building bonanza

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans.

Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow.

Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.

It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.

Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.

Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure.

Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.

“The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.”

The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.

But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.

There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats.

Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.

Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans.

Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow.

Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.

It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.

Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.

Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure.

Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.

“The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.”

The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.

But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.

There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats.

Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.

Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

India’s dam building bonanza

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans. Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme. The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow. Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region. The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal. It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers. Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini. Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure. Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO. “The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.” The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting. But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments. There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats. Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters. Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE India is in the midst of a massive hydro electric dam building programme, necessary, it says, to fuel the energy needs of its fast growing economy. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in India and reports on the country’s energy plans. Assam, northeastern India, March 16 – This region, east of Bangladesh and bordering China to the north, is an area described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme. The ambition of planners in New Delhi is not in doubt. So far plans for more than 160 dams – both big and small – have been announced in the northeast, the majority of them to be built in the remote, mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh and harnessing the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. It’s planned that in total more than 60,000 MW of electricity will be generated from the planned dams. More projects are likely to follow. Not to be outdone, China, which borders Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Controversy

The dam building programme is highly controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region. The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal. It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon season, causing widespread flooding, erosion  and misery for many thousands of mostly subsistence farmers. Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.

Erosion fears

“Each year the river has eaten away more and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini. Ashwini has given up farming and is now being forced to move with his family and livestock – to where he’s not entirely sure. Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO. “The dam building programme has many question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Climate change impacts

“Then there is the whole question of climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners. Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels – at least in the short term – are likely to increase.” The Indian government defends its dam building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting. But many in the northeast, who have long felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government, are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments. There are accusations that the mostly privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not used to build up local industries.

Tribal concerns

The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife habitats. Opponents of the dam building say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters. Protests about the dams has been growing, with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date – the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up. – Climate News Network

Nuclear waste gets expensive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE When countries embrace nuclear power to combat climate change the problem of disposing of the radioactive waste seems far away, but the costs will be enormous. LONDON, 13 February – Nothing divides environmental campaigners as much as nuclear power. Some have always believed renewables offer cleaner power while avoiding the dangers of radioactivity and nuclear waste disposal. Others, including new converts who now support the industry, believe the threat of climate change is so terrifying that the drawbacks to nuclear power are far outweighed by its potential for producing large quantities of low-carbon electricity. All governments who have nuclear power stations have to deal with practicalities and have a problem that so far is unresolved: how to get rid of all the radioactive waste their existing nuclear plants have produced. It is a contentious issue even in countries that are phasing out nuclear power, like Germany, because no communities want to be blighted by being a nation’s nuclear waste dump. But it is worse for countries that share this unresolved nuclear waste problem yet want to add to it by building a new generation of power stations. An example is Britain, where the Government stated four years ago it was unacceptable to build a new generation of atomic power stations while having no depository to get rid of the existing waste. It was confident its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would solve the problem of old power stations and increasing quantities of badly stored radioactive waste. The NDA has failed to do so. The stumbling block has been that, so far, no community in the United Kingdom has been prepared to accept a waste depository.

With 20 nuclear reactors already closed down because they are no longer economic or have safety problems the issue is becoming urgent, but there is still no solution in sight.

A century’s work

Despite these problems, ministers have decided the issue of climate change is so pressing that Britain must carry on building nuclear power stations, even though its plans to bury the waste have been postponed for at least half a century.

But while Britain is one of the few old industrialised countries that want to build new nuclear stations, many developing countries including India, China and Vietnam are keen to meet increasing energy demand with this technology. They might do well to look at the issues they will face. Across Europe and North America the problem of decommissioning existing stations is huge, and the cost astronomical. As a result a new decommissioning industry is growing very rapidly. The attraction for the industry is the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that will have to be found to deal with the problem. Already the British Government is spending £3 billion (about US $5 bn) a year across 19 sites just to begin a process that is expected to cost £100 billion. That is the Government’s own estimated cost of dismantling the old power plants, with the added cost of disposing of the waste. Across Europe there are 144 reactors in operation, of which one third will have started their decommissioning process by 2025. There is enough work to keep thousands of people employed for more than a century. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that the total value of the decommissioning and waste management market is £250 bn ($416 bn) – a figure that is bound to rise.

Suitable venue

In May 200 of the world’s senior nuclear experts and waste management executives will meet to discuss progress in this difficult area. The meeting, in Manchester in England, is being held close to Sellafield, which has one of the most intractable nuclear waste problems on the planet. It has dozens of disused nuclear facilities dating back to the 1950s, heavily contaminated with plutonium and other dangerous nuclear substances. Meanwhile it continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for European and Japanese utilities with no clear plan about what to do with the associated high-level waste. Whatever happens, the site will take more than a century to make safe. Although the industry gathering in Manchester will see the nuclear cleanup as a business opportunity, some British politicians are angered at the apparent incompetence, delays and rising costs of the companies involved. Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the House of Commons’ powerful Public Accounts Committee, said the costs of cleaning up Sellafield were rising to “astonishing levels.” She accused the private company hired to clean up the site, Nuclear Management Partners, of missed targets, delays and cost over-runs, and her committee has demanded that the company should be stripped of its contract if its performance does not improve. Tom Zarges, the chairman of Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of nuclear cleanup groups, denies the accusations. He said: “The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement.

Ethical questions

“Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customers’ mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, the Government and the UK taxpayer.” It appears that when countries embark on a nuclear power programme the problem of the waste it will produce seems far away. But eventually the issue comes back to haunt them. Pete Wilkinson, former member of the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and newly appointed director of the Nuclear Information Service, said the current state of affairs regarding the UK’s nuclear waste was intolerable. It was wrong to go ahead with a new nuclear power programme when the problem of dealing with waste was unsolved. He said: “For government to single-mindedly and wilfully push ahead with its new nuclear build programme when a repository remains a mere aspiration and when even the waste it produces cannot be guaranteed to be disposable is nothing short of irresponsible and is a measure of the desperation of a country and a government in crisis over energy policy.” He said the Government’s waste management organisation had failed to resolve hundreds of technical and scientific issues, never mind ethical problems, to do with new build nuclear waste depositories. “It may be that disposal is not, after all, technically feasible or ethically acceptable. Meanwhile new nuclear build is threatening to give us and generations yet to come a future nuclear waste problem of disastrous proportions”, he said. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE When countries embrace nuclear power to combat climate change the problem of disposing of the radioactive waste seems far away, but the costs will be enormous. LONDON, 13 February – Nothing divides environmental campaigners as much as nuclear power. Some have always believed renewables offer cleaner power while avoiding the dangers of radioactivity and nuclear waste disposal. Others, including new converts who now support the industry, believe the threat of climate change is so terrifying that the drawbacks to nuclear power are far outweighed by its potential for producing large quantities of low-carbon electricity. All governments who have nuclear power stations have to deal with practicalities and have a problem that so far is unresolved: how to get rid of all the radioactive waste their existing nuclear plants have produced. It is a contentious issue even in countries that are phasing out nuclear power, like Germany, because no communities want to be blighted by being a nation’s nuclear waste dump. But it is worse for countries that share this unresolved nuclear waste problem yet want to add to it by building a new generation of power stations. An example is Britain, where the Government stated four years ago it was unacceptable to build a new generation of atomic power stations while having no depository to get rid of the existing waste. It was confident its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would solve the problem of old power stations and increasing quantities of badly stored radioactive waste. The NDA has failed to do so. The stumbling block has been that, so far, no community in the United Kingdom has been prepared to accept a waste depository.

With 20 nuclear reactors already closed down because they are no longer economic or have safety problems the issue is becoming urgent, but there is still no solution in sight.

A century’s work

Despite these problems, ministers have decided the issue of climate change is so pressing that Britain must carry on building nuclear power stations, even though its plans to bury the waste have been postponed for at least half a century.

But while Britain is one of the few old industrialised countries that want to build new nuclear stations, many developing countries including India, China and Vietnam are keen to meet increasing energy demand with this technology. They might do well to look at the issues they will face. Across Europe and North America the problem of decommissioning existing stations is huge, and the cost astronomical. As a result a new decommissioning industry is growing very rapidly. The attraction for the industry is the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that will have to be found to deal with the problem. Already the British Government is spending £3 billion (about US $5 bn) a year across 19 sites just to begin a process that is expected to cost £100 billion. That is the Government’s own estimated cost of dismantling the old power plants, with the added cost of disposing of the waste. Across Europe there are 144 reactors in operation, of which one third will have started their decommissioning process by 2025. There is enough work to keep thousands of people employed for more than a century. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that the total value of the decommissioning and waste management market is £250 bn ($416 bn) – a figure that is bound to rise.

Suitable venue

In May 200 of the world’s senior nuclear experts and waste management executives will meet to discuss progress in this difficult area. The meeting, in Manchester in England, is being held close to Sellafield, which has one of the most intractable nuclear waste problems on the planet. It has dozens of disused nuclear facilities dating back to the 1950s, heavily contaminated with plutonium and other dangerous nuclear substances. Meanwhile it continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for European and Japanese utilities with no clear plan about what to do with the associated high-level waste. Whatever happens, the site will take more than a century to make safe. Although the industry gathering in Manchester will see the nuclear cleanup as a business opportunity, some British politicians are angered at the apparent incompetence, delays and rising costs of the companies involved. Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the House of Commons’ powerful Public Accounts Committee, said the costs of cleaning up Sellafield were rising to “astonishing levels.” She accused the private company hired to clean up the site, Nuclear Management Partners, of missed targets, delays and cost over-runs, and her committee has demanded that the company should be stripped of its contract if its performance does not improve. Tom Zarges, the chairman of Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of nuclear cleanup groups, denies the accusations. He said: “The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement.

Ethical questions

“Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customers’ mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, the Government and the UK taxpayer.” It appears that when countries embark on a nuclear power programme the problem of the waste it will produce seems far away. But eventually the issue comes back to haunt them. Pete Wilkinson, former member of the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and newly appointed director of the Nuclear Information Service, said the current state of affairs regarding the UK’s nuclear waste was intolerable. It was wrong to go ahead with a new nuclear power programme when the problem of dealing with waste was unsolved. He said: “For government to single-mindedly and wilfully push ahead with its new nuclear build programme when a repository remains a mere aspiration and when even the waste it produces cannot be guaranteed to be disposable is nothing short of irresponsible and is a measure of the desperation of a country and a government in crisis over energy policy.” He said the Government’s waste management organisation had failed to resolve hundreds of technical and scientific issues, never mind ethical problems, to do with new build nuclear waste depositories. “It may be that disposal is not, after all, technically feasible or ethically acceptable. Meanwhile new nuclear build is threatening to give us and generations yet to come a future nuclear waste problem of disastrous proportions”, he said. – Climate News Network

Energy change means peril for investors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is essential for the future of our planet, but taking the first steps towards real change will make hugely challenging demands. LONDON, 1 November – The global energy system is rather like an oil supertanker, sailing the oceans with its vast cargo. Everything is fine as long as the giant ship doesn’t have to alter course or stop suddenly. The system, overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels, is highly complex but over time has been remarkably resilient, delivering considerable economic growth and political and societal stability in many regions. The trouble, according to a new report, is that climate change and other factors mean the good ship energy is having to change course – but most investors in the sector are either asleep or looking the other way. The report, compiled by Meteos, a UK-based not-for-profit think tank and strategy company, is the result of an ongoing dialogue between a number of heavy hitters in the investment community along with advisors from the fossil fuel industries and representatives from academia. “The fact that energy contributes so much both to economic activity and political stability often leads analysts to conclude that the main characteristics of today’s fossil fuel-reliant system are immutable”, says the report. Many of those contributing to this study do not agree. “The pace of change (in the sector) has been astonishing”, says the study. If investors and the industry itself don’t take notice of what’s going on, then they’ll end up shipwrecked. Shale oil and gas have brought about an energy revolution in the US, with a dramatic drop in overall energy prices: all this is having a big impact on the finances of the energy companies. Meanwhile in Europe energy utilities are being hit by falling fossil fuel energy demand, particularly in Germany where renewables are taking an ever greater share of the market.

Beware stranded assets

The report says China might exploit its shale gas reserves, the world’s biggest. There’s also a push in the country towards cleaner energy and a decline in the take-up of some fossil fuels, particularly of coal. “Efficiency improvements, slowing economic growth and aggressive pollution abatement measures are combining with competition from alternatives (particularly hydro and nuclear), leading some analysts to predict an absolute decline in Chinese coal consumption by 2016”, says the report. And, overhanging the whole energy sector, is the question of climate change. The study says the market continues to underestimate the potential for climate-related change to the energy system. “…At some point the disruptive economic impacts of climate change will come to outweigh the benefits of business as usual, and that will eventually lead to a concerted effort to constrain how much carbon is put into the atmosphere.” Energy investors, says the study, should be more concerned about so called “stranded assets” – fossil fuel reserves listed as corporate assets which will have to stay in the ground if any meaningful action is to be taken on global warming. They also need to keep pace with climate- and energy-related policy and regulatory changes in various countries. Investors should also take note of significant changes in public opinion on climate-related issues, such as the concerns raised about smog in China which led to environmental issues being highlighted in the country’s 2011-15 Five Year Plan. The other factor having a big impact on the global energy system is the move towards greater energy efficiency in many countries.

Thinking local

“Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (OECD) energy consumption has fallen while the economy has grown; for instance, in 2012 energy consumption fell 1.2% while the economy grew 1.4%.” In Europe there is a big push for more energy efficiency, driven by both climate change and price factors. China has developed targets to reduce the energy intensity of its economy. Even the US, the world’s most profligate energy user, aims to double energy productivity by 2030. The big energy companies are also threatened by a move towards localised, micro-generation power projects in many areas which could spark a phenomenon described as the “utility death spiral”. “…As more customers leave, fewer utility customers are left to finance an expensive infrastructure. This in turn drives up utility prices, leading to more customers leaving the utility, and so on.” Some groups say investors in the fossil fuel industry should divest quickly so as to avoid a fall in corporate share prices when the carbon bubble finally bursts. Those involved in the Meteos report take a more measured approach, saying investors need to be far more proactive and to take a systematic approach to analysis of the energy system. The considerable risks of investing in the sector need to be understood. Perhaps most important of all, fossil fuel companies need to be more transparent and willing to disclose their strategies for the future, including how they plan to tackle the risks to their operations posed by climate change. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is essential for the future of our planet, but taking the first steps towards real change will make hugely challenging demands. LONDON, 1 November – The global energy system is rather like an oil supertanker, sailing the oceans with its vast cargo. Everything is fine as long as the giant ship doesn’t have to alter course or stop suddenly. The system, overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels, is highly complex but over time has been remarkably resilient, delivering considerable economic growth and political and societal stability in many regions. The trouble, according to a new report, is that climate change and other factors mean the good ship energy is having to change course – but most investors in the sector are either asleep or looking the other way. The report, compiled by Meteos, a UK-based not-for-profit think tank and strategy company, is the result of an ongoing dialogue between a number of heavy hitters in the investment community along with advisors from the fossil fuel industries and representatives from academia. “The fact that energy contributes so much both to economic activity and political stability often leads analysts to conclude that the main characteristics of today’s fossil fuel-reliant system are immutable”, says the report. Many of those contributing to this study do not agree. “The pace of change (in the sector) has been astonishing”, says the study. If investors and the industry itself don’t take notice of what’s going on, then they’ll end up shipwrecked. Shale oil and gas have brought about an energy revolution in the US, with a dramatic drop in overall energy prices: all this is having a big impact on the finances of the energy companies. Meanwhile in Europe energy utilities are being hit by falling fossil fuel energy demand, particularly in Germany where renewables are taking an ever greater share of the market.

Beware stranded assets

The report says China might exploit its shale gas reserves, the world’s biggest. There’s also a push in the country towards cleaner energy and a decline in the take-up of some fossil fuels, particularly of coal. “Efficiency improvements, slowing economic growth and aggressive pollution abatement measures are combining with competition from alternatives (particularly hydro and nuclear), leading some analysts to predict an absolute decline in Chinese coal consumption by 2016”, says the report. And, overhanging the whole energy sector, is the question of climate change. The study says the market continues to underestimate the potential for climate-related change to the energy system. “…At some point the disruptive economic impacts of climate change will come to outweigh the benefits of business as usual, and that will eventually lead to a concerted effort to constrain how much carbon is put into the atmosphere.” Energy investors, says the study, should be more concerned about so called “stranded assets” – fossil fuel reserves listed as corporate assets which will have to stay in the ground if any meaningful action is to be taken on global warming. They also need to keep pace with climate- and energy-related policy and regulatory changes in various countries. Investors should also take note of significant changes in public opinion on climate-related issues, such as the concerns raised about smog in China which led to environmental issues being highlighted in the country’s 2011-15 Five Year Plan. The other factor having a big impact on the global energy system is the move towards greater energy efficiency in many countries.

Thinking local

“Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (OECD) energy consumption has fallen while the economy has grown; for instance, in 2012 energy consumption fell 1.2% while the economy grew 1.4%.” In Europe there is a big push for more energy efficiency, driven by both climate change and price factors. China has developed targets to reduce the energy intensity of its economy. Even the US, the world’s most profligate energy user, aims to double energy productivity by 2030. The big energy companies are also threatened by a move towards localised, micro-generation power projects in many areas which could spark a phenomenon described as the “utility death spiral”. “…As more customers leave, fewer utility customers are left to finance an expensive infrastructure. This in turn drives up utility prices, leading to more customers leaving the utility, and so on.” Some groups say investors in the fossil fuel industry should divest quickly so as to avoid a fall in corporate share prices when the carbon bubble finally bursts. Those involved in the Meteos report take a more measured approach, saying investors need to be far more proactive and to take a systematic approach to analysis of the energy system. The considerable risks of investing in the sector need to be understood. Perhaps most important of all, fossil fuel companies need to be more transparent and willing to disclose their strategies for the future, including how they plan to tackle the risks to their operations posed by climate change. – Climate News Network

Catastrophic oil spill threat to Canadian river basin

Embargoed until 0600 GMT Monday 10 June A vast area of Canada, from southern forests to the Arctic Sea is administered by a weak government, but is threatened by warming and a rush to exploit precious minerals. LONDON, June 10 – The Mackenzie River Basin, a vast globally important area in Canada, is at great risk from climate change and a catastrophic oil spill from the tailing ponds of tar sands mining, according to a panel of nine Canadian, American and British scientists. The warning came just days after the Canadian Oil Producers Association says it expects oil production from tar sands in the region to double by 2030. A report produced after a series of hearings last year says effective governance is vital for the river basin, which is five times the size of France. Water pours into the Arctic Ocean from the 1,800 kilometre long Mackenzie River at the rate of four Olympic sized swimming pools a second. The watershed’s biodiversity and its important role in hemispheric bird migrations, stabilizing climate, and the health of the Arctic Ocean means it needs protection urgently.  Methane release fear Already the temperatures in the region have increased more than 2C as a result of climate change and permafrost areas are melting causing damage to roads, bridges and homes. It is also deforming the ground and changing water flows. The report says that large quantities of methane trapped in the soil by permafrost are in danger of being released threatening to rapidly increase the rate of climate change. Glacier cover has declined 25 % in the last 25 years and in spring snow cover on the Canadian Rockies disappears about a month earlier. The vast area contains 45,000 productive lakes, which also need protection. The panel, convened by the US-based Rosenburg International Forum on Water Policy, identified the exploitation of the region’s mineral and fossil fuels as a major threat to its biodiversity, the Arctic and a threat to the way of life of the indigenous peoples. Cutting the forests and the danger to river life from hydro-electric dams needs to be tightly controlled, the scientists say. The biggest single current threat is the existing tailing ponds on the lower Athabasca River. If a breach occurred in the winter it would be “virtually impossible to clean up because it would disappear underneath the ice and run down through the whole waterway” through Lake Athabasca, the Slave River and Delta, the Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and Delta and as far as the Beaufort Sea. This would have an unprecedented effect on human societies in the North West territories. Weak management The report – concerned about the financial resources required to deal with a spill -includes a strong recommendation that “extractive industries be required to post a significant performance bond before site development and operations commence. “This ensures that clean up costs and mitigation following closure of the site will be fully paid by the industry itself. “Failure to require a significant performance bond or some similar incentive almost surely means that the legacy of despoiled environments, toxic wastes and other waste will continue unabated, and that taxpayers will be left to bear costs that are properly those of the mining industry,” the report says. Another of the panel’s main findings was that the ecology, hydrology and climate of the region were all at risk and already changing as a result of planetary warming. Careful investigation was needed to try and reduce the effects and dangers. “This is essential to protect the welfare of people locally and to some extent globally,” the report said. The basin is so large it is administered by three different Canadian states and although there was a Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement of 1997 the Board that was set up to manage it is weak. The Federal Government of Canada should take overall responsibility for the basin and the Board must be strengthened. “A reinvigorated Board will need significantly more financial support and will benefit from the advice and counsel of an independent International Science Advisory Committee,” the report says. The extractive industries and the impact of hydroelectricity schemes must be carefully controlled. – Climate News Network  

Embargoed until 0600 GMT Monday 10 June A vast area of Canada, from southern forests to the Arctic Sea is administered by a weak government, but is threatened by warming and a rush to exploit precious minerals. LONDON, June 10 – The Mackenzie River Basin, a vast globally important area in Canada, is at great risk from climate change and a catastrophic oil spill from the tailing ponds of tar sands mining, according to a panel of nine Canadian, American and British scientists. The warning came just days after the Canadian Oil Producers Association says it expects oil production from tar sands in the region to double by 2030. A report produced after a series of hearings last year says effective governance is vital for the river basin, which is five times the size of France. Water pours into the Arctic Ocean from the 1,800 kilometre long Mackenzie River at the rate of four Olympic sized swimming pools a second. The watershed’s biodiversity and its important role in hemispheric bird migrations, stabilizing climate, and the health of the Arctic Ocean means it needs protection urgently.  Methane release fear Already the temperatures in the region have increased more than 2C as a result of climate change and permafrost areas are melting causing damage to roads, bridges and homes. It is also deforming the ground and changing water flows. The report says that large quantities of methane trapped in the soil by permafrost are in danger of being released threatening to rapidly increase the rate of climate change. Glacier cover has declined 25 % in the last 25 years and in spring snow cover on the Canadian Rockies disappears about a month earlier. The vast area contains 45,000 productive lakes, which also need protection. The panel, convened by the US-based Rosenburg International Forum on Water Policy, identified the exploitation of the region’s mineral and fossil fuels as a major threat to its biodiversity, the Arctic and a threat to the way of life of the indigenous peoples. Cutting the forests and the danger to river life from hydro-electric dams needs to be tightly controlled, the scientists say. The biggest single current threat is the existing tailing ponds on the lower Athabasca River. If a breach occurred in the winter it would be “virtually impossible to clean up because it would disappear underneath the ice and run down through the whole waterway” through Lake Athabasca, the Slave River and Delta, the Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and Delta and as far as the Beaufort Sea. This would have an unprecedented effect on human societies in the North West territories. Weak management The report – concerned about the financial resources required to deal with a spill -includes a strong recommendation that “extractive industries be required to post a significant performance bond before site development and operations commence. “This ensures that clean up costs and mitigation following closure of the site will be fully paid by the industry itself. “Failure to require a significant performance bond or some similar incentive almost surely means that the legacy of despoiled environments, toxic wastes and other waste will continue unabated, and that taxpayers will be left to bear costs that are properly those of the mining industry,” the report says. Another of the panel’s main findings was that the ecology, hydrology and climate of the region were all at risk and already changing as a result of planetary warming. Careful investigation was needed to try and reduce the effects and dangers. “This is essential to protect the welfare of people locally and to some extent globally,” the report said. The basin is so large it is administered by three different Canadian states and although there was a Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement of 1997 the Board that was set up to manage it is weak. The Federal Government of Canada should take overall responsibility for the basin and the Board must be strengthened. “A reinvigorated Board will need significantly more financial support and will benefit from the advice and counsel of an independent International Science Advisory Committee,” the report says. The extractive industries and the impact of hydroelectricity schemes must be carefully controlled. – Climate News Network