Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Water in Europe

People fail to understand that water isn't unlimited resource and they continue to waste it. I can understand that-you look at the oceans and the seas and you think-there's so much of it, how can it be a scarcity? Well it can and it is.
Here you are two articles that are emphasizing on different problems regarding water.
I just want to add that the preservation of water is our common problem and duty. It's not so hard and improving efficiency and decreasing water waste, we can effectively decrease the prices and spare some troubles at time of drought. An important part of this is also keeping the water sources clean, which in countries like mine can be a problem.

Interview: Water 'must be integrated into all policies'

10 September 2008

"Everything has to rethought in terms of the water problem," Austrian centre-right MEP Richard Seeber told EurActiv in an interview, commenting on the unanimous adoption of his report on water scarcity and drought by Parliament's environment committee yesterday (9 September).

"Businesses and citizens have to take into account that we shall face water scarcity in large parts of Europe that will hinder successful economic development," stressed the MEP, insisting that "water should be one of the main issues on the political agenda and integrated into all policies".

Growing strains on Europe's water supply, fuelled by extensive use as well as climate change, prompted the Commission to propose, last July, the introduction of pricing policies to persuade users – including farmers, industries and households – to waste less of the earth’s precious resources (see EurActiv 18/07/07; Links Dossier).

Although the MEP rejects suggestions that global water supply will one day be unable to satisfy demand, creating a 'peak water' situation as theorised for oil (see EurActiv 27/05/08; Links Dossier), Seeber nevertheless stresses that "supplying more water will not resolve the scarcity problem in general."

"Water is renewable," he explains, adding: "You can recycle water as often as you want, so if you have proper installations, there will never be peak water." However, he warns that this does not change the fact that "water is a scare commodity". He therefore calls on member states to rethink the way they consume water and insists that they implement pricing systems to reflect this.

How this could work in practice should nevertheless be left to individual states to decide, Seeber believes. "

Indeed, ensuring that water policy remains primarily a national issue is a central theme of Seeber's report. "Committee members fully backed my position that water resources will remain, without doubt, in the sole possession of each EU member state," he said.

Nevertheless, his report also stresses the "international dimension" of water scarcity and drought problems and calls on EU states "to work together" to combat increasing risks of drought in some regions, as well as the "irresponsible waste of water resources in some economic sectors and countries".

Estimating the total economic impact of drought at EU level over the past thirty years at €100 billion, the report claims that a fifth of the bloc's population lives in regions experiencing water stress. 40% of the water used in the EU could be saved and 20% of the bloc's supplies are wasted due to inefficiency, it asserts, prompting Seeber to declare that "trends in water use are unsustainable".

The MEP's report further calls for the EU's energy efficiency labelling system to be extended to include a reference to water consumption, and asks the bloc to launch a public awareness-raising campaign to encourage people to save water.

The seriousness of the water scarcity issue became apparent last summer, when serious droughts afflicted much of the bloc (EurActiv 18/07/07).

To read the interview with Richard Seeber in full, please click here. source

Raising water productivity

1 September 2008
Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute

Water shortages are negatively impacting upon growth in food production, thus "the world needs an effort to raise water productivity," writes Lester R. Brown in an August 27 commentary for the Earth Policy Institute.

First and foremost, "a new mindset and a new way of thinking about water use" are needed, says Brown. To this end, he calls for improved irrigation efficiency, which is crucial to improving water productivity.

This can be done by introducing new irrigation systems that consume less water and manage water more efficiently. In many countries, including India, Mexico, Pakistan, Malaysia and Israel, Brown explains that "water efficiency is affected not only by the type and condition of irrigation systems but also by soil type, temperature and humidity".

Hot arid regions are particularly at risk as "the evaporation of irrigation water is far higher than in cooler humid regions," says the author.

For this reason, resolving to move from the current, less efficient flooding technique to other systems like overhead sprinklers or drip irrigation would significantly raise irrigation water efficiency. Drip irrigation systems are said to be "well-suited to countries with a surplus of labour and a shortage of water" as they are "labour intensive and water-efficient," says the paper.

Only a few countries - Jordan, Cyprus and Israel - have opted to use this system. Water policy analyst Sandra Postel believes drip technologies would irrigate 10 million hectares of India's land if the system were to be applied on several scales.

As for water management, the author believes institutional change is necessary, calling for the management of irrigation systems to be left to local water users associations rather than government bodies. "Farmers tend to do a better job than distant government agencies," he says.

Water should be priced "accordingly" as it is becoming a scarce resource, argues the paper. China exemplifies this case, as its leaders have increased water prices to dissuade people from wasting it. source

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Science in Europe in September, 08

In today's edition:
  1. EU hails leadership in exploring universe's origins
  2. Parliament demands ban on animal cloning for food
  3. Commission seeks to boost oceanic research
  4. Commission to revamp EU ICT research strategy in 2009
Bigger than big news :)

EU hails leadership in exploring universe's origins

11 September 2008

The most complicated and ambitious scientific project ever built successfully completed its first major experiment yesterday at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN). At the forefront of a revolution in particle physics, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is expected to shed light on conditions a few moments after the Big Bang.

The successful switch-on of the LHCexternal , a particle acceleratorexternal used to study "the fundamental building blocks of all things," was hailed by the French EU Presidency as "a huge success for Europe which demonstrates its world leadership in the main fields of science".

The first test beam to successfully complete a complete circuit of the accelerator's 27-kilometre tunnel on the French-Swiss border on 10 September was accompanied by doomsday scaremongering that it might create black holes with enough gravitational pull to swallow up the Earth. But a safety reportexternal published on 5 September had proven that safety fears about the accelerator were unfounded.

The collider is "perfectly safe", said CERN's chief scientific officer Jos Engelen, adding that "nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists".

The experiment is expected to help scientists to understand the origins of the universe as well as find out what 96% of the universe is made of: so-called 'dark matter'. Current knowledge is limited to just 4%, represented by the ordinary particles that make everything we see "from an ant to a galaxy".

The findings are also said to be essential for various direct applications in areas such as intensive computing and medicine. CERN is already collaborating with thousands of scientists around the world to operate a distributed computing and data storage infrastructure called the LHC Computing Gridexternal (LCG). It has also been the driving force behind the European multi-science grid Enabling Grids for E-SciencE (EGEEexternal ).

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik described the experiment as an illustration of the scientific excellence Europe can achieve through increased collaborative research between EU countries as well as the bloc and the rest of the world. The Commission has observer status in CERN, while 18 EU member states are full members.

The EU executive contributed some €40 million to the multi-billion euro LHC through its Framework Programmes for Research and Development (FP). The official launch of the LHC, the concept of which was first approved in 1994, will take place in Geneva on 21 October. The first high-energy collisions are scheduled to take place after this date. source

My comment: Well, I simply couldn't cut this article. The propaganda tone is too good to delete. In any case, the first experiment hasn't been done, the collider is still in test-mode. But the achievement of building this machine and to run it and to unite all those specialists from so many countries, is really worthy of hailing and even drinking for it. For more, read To The Future With Love.

Parliament demands ban on animal cloning for food

4 September 2008

The European Parliament yesterday (3 September) called on the Commission to submit proposals prohibiting the use of cloned animals in food products following the publication of a highly cautious report by the EU's food safety authority on the issue.

The parliamentary resolution was adopted by 622 MEPs in favour with just 32 against amid 25 abstentions.

It calls for an EU-wide ban on food from cloning animals; on farming cloned animals or their offspring for food supply purposes; on placing meat or dairy products derived from cloned animals or their offspring on the market, and; on importing cloned animals, their offspring, semen or embryos as well as meat or dairy products derived from cloned animals or their offspring.

The move follows the publication of a highly cautious scientific opinionexternal by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and the environment (EurActiv 25/07/08).

While EFSA had found that "food safety concerns are considered unlikely," it warned that the lack of available data on the subject meant the risk assessment was plagued by uncertainty and should be reconsidered at a later date. The EFSA report had also highlighted the "significant animal health and welfare issues" faced by cloned animals compared to conventionally bread ones.

MEPs are therefore highlighting the risk that whole herds could be decimated by disease and point to an EU Directiveexternal on the protection of farm animals, which bans any natural or artificial breeding procedures likely to cause suffering or injury, as a basis for a ban.

Currently no products derived from cloned animals are sold in Europe or the rest of the world, but experts believe that such products could reach the market by 2010, notably in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration concludedexternal in January that meat and milk from clones of cattle, pigs and goats and their offspring "are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals".

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Androula Vassiliou said the Commission was closely following scientific developments in this area and "is aware that even though the efficiency of animal cloning has improved over recent years, adverse health effects on animal health and welfare still occur today".

She added that the EU executive "is now evaluating the necessary steps to be taken" and would take fully into account an opinion of the European Group of Ethics, which concluded that "at the moment there are no convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring" (EurActiv 18/01/08). source

My comment: Hm,nice! I have commented this before and I do agree with the position both Parliament and The Commissioner took. Hopefully, the Commission won't differ from it. We really should put a leash on the ambitions of USA. It's not likely it's a role-model for healthy food.

Commission seeks to boost oceanic research

4 September 2008

The EU executive wants to promote more coordinated research on sea and ocean resources in a bid to "reconcile" the competitiveness of Europe's maritime industries and the protection of marine ecosystems.

The new strategy, presented on 3 September, aims to overcome fragmentation of the European marine and maritime research landscape by:

  • Building capacity to develop new infrastructures such as pan-European ocean observatories or specialised research vessels.
  • Enhancing integration of research on maritime activities (such as shipping, oil platforms, fishing, etc.) and marine ecosystems through the promotion of inter-disciplinary study of cross-cutting issues. This includes evaluating the impact of human activity on coastal and marine ecosystems. Such projects could then receive support from a combination of EU funding schemes.
  • Promoting synergies between national, regional and Community-level research, without neglecting as international cooperation as oceans are a global issue.

A key aim of the strategy is to "reconcile" economic growth in sea-based activities and environmental preservation, while at the same time developing innovative solutions to better manage and exploit sea and ocean resources.

Indeed, maritime activities such as shipbuilding, tourism, coastal development, fisheries and aquaculture account for up to 5% of the EU economy, while seas account for roughly 90% of the bloc's external trade and 40% of its internal trade. But these activities can be a threat to the marine environment.

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik welcomed the strategy, describing it as "one of the pioneering actions for the implementation of the European Research Area, which promotes scientific excellence and the development of cutting-edge innovation in Europe through better integration of existing research efforts and development of new capacities".

The strategy must now be approved by national governments and MEPs. The Commission is expected to hand in its first report on its implementation in 2012. source

My comment: Oh, well, I didn't see numbers in that strategy. And without numbers and strict regulations, it really doesn't matter. And I hope that they count also the seas in it, not only the oceans.

Commission to revamp EU ICT research strategy in 2009

5 September 2008

The EU executive has launched a public consultation on ICT research and innovation, asking industry, experts and policymakers to help it overhaul the bloc's agenda in this field.

Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding described the consultationexternal as "the first step towards an integrated strategy for research and innovation in the ICT sector".

The consultation, launched on 4 September, aims to gather stakeholders' views on the main challenges ahead for ICT research and innovation in the EU over the next decade.

The strategy, set for publication in April 2009, is expected to set out key priorities and identify new areas on which the bloc should concentrate its efforts to become strategic leaders. Energy, health and ageing are among possible new areas of focus, as Reding said these challenges "can only be tackled if we deploy ICT solutions". Europe is already considered the world industrial and technological leader in telecommunications and embedded systems.

The new strategy will also define the role of public policy in helping to make Europe the world leader in ICT innovation, addressing such issues as the creation of a consolidated EU market for ICT innovation. The role of complementary policy fields such as standardisation, licensing and intellectual property regimes will also be considered in view of adapting them to support the early commercialisation of research results.

The consultation follows an expert panel reportPdf external on the effectiveness of EU-funded ICT research published earlier in the summer (EurActiv 26/06/2008). The report, put together by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho concluded that the effectiveness of Europe's high-tech research is too often stifled by red tape, a lack of venture capital and a risk-averse mentality in both national and European administrations.

The consultation will remain open until 7 November 2008. source

My comment: Not a bad idea, but still, let's hope there would be a balance between industry and populist needs and scientific and technology progress. It's way too easy to get lost in good public relations.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Europe and ecology, september, 2008

In today's edition:
  • Biofuel sustainability deal in sight
  • Offshore wind to take EU by storm?
  • Green building code set for overhaul
  • MEPs call for hydrogen filling stations across Europe
  • MEPs slam member states' inaction on sea safety

Biofuel sustainability deal in sight

1 September 2008

The French EU Presidency will this week attempt to clinch a deal on sustainability criteria for biofuels in order to ensure that the Union's goal of increasing their share to 10% of transport fuels by 2020 does not provoke major negative environmental side-effects.

Highlighting the "strong convergences" that were achieved among national experts from the EU's 27 countries at a technical meeting on 25 July, Paris hopes to garner an agreement on biofuel sustainability criteria during a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday (3 September).

In accordance with earlier EurActiv reports, the deal would centre on a two-phased approach, under which only biofuels delivering life-cycle CO2 savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels would count towards the 10% target. This figure would then be scaled up to 50% as of 2017 – subject to an in-depth policy review in 2014.

According to diplomatic sources, national experts also agree on the need to monitor the indirect effects of changes of land use, including deforestation (indirectly increasing CO2 output) and food price hikes caused as land traditionally used for food production is shifted to biofuel production.

On the other hand, producers cultivating biofuel crops on 'degraded land' could be entitled to pollute more, receiving CO2 'bonuses' of up to 29 grammes – although no consensus has been reached on this figure as yet.

Sources say the agreement would also require biofuel production to respect binding environmental criteria as regards the protection of biodiversity and areas with high carbon stocks, such as wetland or forest areas.

Other environmental and social criteria, such as water, soil and air protection, as well as the non-use of child labour and respect for human rights, would not be binding but would be taken into account by making it compulsory for biofuel producers to provide information on these points. In the longer term, this would be officialised under a biofuel certification scheme.

The Commission would report every two years on the indirect effects of biofuels in terms of land use and food prices, and would be entitled to take corrective action.

However, in the meantime MEPs could attempt to water down the EU's ambitious 10% biofuels target. A reportPdf external , prepared by Green MEP Claude Turmes, highlights "overwhelming evidence to drop the mandatory 10% target for fuels from renewables".

What's more, a compromise supporting a target of just 4% by 2015, "out of which at least 20% is met by the use of electricity or hydrogen from renewable sources, biogas or transport fuels from ligno-cellulosic biomass and algae," was backed by Parliament's Environment Committee in July, to the anger of the European Commission, which appears intent on its 10% goal.

Nevertheless, according to experts close to the debate, Parliament's Industry and Energy Committee, which is due to vote on 11 September and is in the lead on the dossier, appears to be leaning in favour of the 10% goal, but with strict sustainability criteria. source

My comment: I think that 10% goal with sustainability criteria is really the better option. Anyway, biofuels are out of fame right now, so probably they should be simply dropped for the moment. There's no use of making the situation worst by paying to people to destroy even more forests.

Offshore wind to take EU by storm?

4 September 2008

With an offshore wind plan due from the European Commission in the autumn, environmental campaigners at Greenpeace have presented a study showing that the construction of 10,000 offshore wind turbines in the North Sea could be feasible if supported by a mega electricity grid.

An interconnected grid of North Sea wind farms with an output of 68,400 megawatts could serve up to 70 million households by 2030, Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace Belgium told journalists at a briefing in Brussels on 3 September.

Constructing such a grid, as outlined in a new reportPdf external commissioned by Greenpeace, would cost around €15-20 billion. Lucrative cross border electricity trading would allow investors to quickly recuperate the construction costs, according to the NGO.

"Building a North Sea grid is not just a pipe dream; it's common sense both environmentally and financially. Greenpeace calls on the Commission to deliver a strong EU Action Plan for offshore wind and to push for a coordinated approach to make this scenario a reality," said Greenpeace campaigner Frauke Thies in a statement.

The Commission is due to present an action plan on offshore wind this autumn, as part of a wider EU Strategic Energy Review. The plan will include recommendations on how to coordinate member states' efforts to realise such large-scale offshore wind projects, according to Commission official Hans van Steen, who attended the briefing.

Van Steen, who is head of unit for renewables regulatory policy in the Commission's energy directorate (DG TREN), welcomed the report, describing it as "very good" and "convincing".

"We do need a relatively large contribution" from offshore wind to realise the EU's 20% target for renewable energy use by 2020, he said. And although the target of nearly 70,000 MW is "ambitious", it is nonetheless "realistic", he added.

Wind turbines cannot guarantee a constant level of electricity production at all times and must be integrated with other electricity sources, including power storage facilities, that can be called upon when the wind is not blowing.

"Due to their must-run status, nuclear power plants cannot complement deviations between supply and demand" caused by fluctuations in wind power generation, according to the report. Other measures are preferred, including stored electricity in the form of reservoir hydro power, home or district-based power generation and gas-fired power stations that can respond quickly to increases in electricity demand, it says.

But the Commission "is not entirely sure" whether such a grid could be complemented by nuclear or even coal-fired power stations, Van Steen said. Brussels has come out firmly in support of nuclear as a key part of the EU's future energy mix, and the EU is pushing for the continued use of coal under the condition that coal-fired power plants can be made 'clean' through carbon capture and other technologies.source

My comment: I think it's hight time that Greenpeace abandon their hatred for nuclear plants and the EC abandon their love for coal. I mean, get real. Wind power can be very useful, but if someone thinks it will solve all the problem in no time-it simply won't happen. It's all about the balance between our options. Though coal isn't really an option.

Green building code set for overhaul

5 September 2008

LEED, the internationally-recognised voluntary 'green' building rating system, is due to be revamped to take better account of the energy use and environmental performance of buildings.

The revised Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) mechanism will be launched in January 2009, according to a statement by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which introduced the system in 2000.

The original LEED rates buildings according to a points system based on five criteria: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The EU has its own programme for rating the environmental performance of buildings, the 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which provides member states with an "integrated method" for calculating energy efficiency based on a variety of factors, such as the building's position, heating, cooling and lighting installations.

Based on this method, member states are to create their own minimum standards for energy efficiency.

But unlike LEED, which has become recognised and popular at international level, the EPBD remains obscure, and member states are behind in implementing the directive.

In addition to slow progress in improving building efficiency, EU countries face criticism for failing to improve the energy efficiency of their economies, considered a crucial part of the EU's objective to slash CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 (EurActiv 07/12/07 and 07/07/08). source
My comment: Never heard of both LEED and EPBD, but both looks way to cloudy to me. Let's hope one day, people will understand that clarity is a major point in favour of any new program, project or technology they are trying to promote.

MEPs call for hydrogen filling stations across Europe

4 September 2008

Parliament yesterday (3 September) backed Commission proposals to boost the development of hydrogen vehicles, but warned that the strategy would fail without concrete measures to support the establishment of a Europe-wide filling station network for hydrogen powered vehicles.

"Hydrogen powered vehicles are unlikely to be successful on the market unless adequate filling station infrastructure is available in Europe. The Commission should therefore look into suitable measures to support the establishment of a Europe-wide filling station network for hydrogen powered vehicles," states the report, which calls on the EU to boost its hydrogen research activities under the Seventh Framework Research Programme.

The report backs Commission proposals to introduce harmonised type-approval criteria for hydrogen cars, saying this will help boost the market for such vehicles, while also averting the safety and environmental risks that could occur if each member state starts drawing up its own approval system. According to a Commission study, simplified procedures could help vehicle manufacturers save up to €124 million in approval costs for the period 2017-2025.

MEPs noted that the Commission should establish similar criteria for motorcycles before the end of 2009 as these smaller vehicles could become "early adopters of hydrogen as a fuel" thanks to the lower levels of investment required and the lesser technical challenge they represent.

Alongside biofuels and electric power, hydrogen is one of the EU's main hopes for replacing oil in the transport industry in future, reducing air pollution and cutting transport-related CO2 emissions.

Some critics have also questioned whether hydrogen is safe enough to be used on the roads, but McCarthy said a mandatory labelling scheme, introduced by the Parliament, would increase safety by helping rescue teams identify the car's hydrogen source.

"Hydrogen powered cars are just as safe as those running on petrol, but in the event of an accident emergency crews need to know what they are dealing with. That's why this law takes a precautionary stance and ensures that vehicles will be readily identifiable by the emergency services," she said.

Parliament's report also says that, in the future, hydrogen powered vehicles should be run on pure hydrogen produced from renewable energies. "Use of mixtures of hydrogen and natural gas/biomethane to propel vehicles must be no more than a transitional technology," they insist.. source

My comment: Not a bad proposition, but since hydrogen isn't naturally encountered, I don't think it will be more green than propan-butan. Maybe a mix of hydrogen and electricity isn't a bad idea, but again, it needs technological development. For me, the best solution are the purely electrical cars.

MEPs slam member states' inaction on sea safety

5 September 2008

The European Parliament is heading for a clash with member states after it pushed through new rules on flag-state compliance and the civil liability of shipowners, despite opposition from governments.

MEPs in the Transport Committee yesterday (4 September) near-unanimously adopted five of the seven legislative reports contained in the so-called 'Erika III package', designed to improve safety at sea and avert similar disasters to those caused by the sinking of the Erika and Prestige oil tankers (EurActiv 17/01/08).

They could not vote on the other two proposals relating to flag state obligations – i.e. the duty of countries to ensure that ships flying their flag meet certain safety standards – and ship operator liability because the two dossiers are being blocked by a group of member states.

"Over a year after Parliament's April 2007 first-reading vote on seven proposals to protect Europe against maritime accidents and pollution, transport ministers are still blocking two - on flag state obligations and civil liability - and have not taken up most of Parliament's recommendations on the other five," MEPs lamented in a Parliament press release issued yesterday.

But the committee does not intend to back down on this issue and is attempting to push through some of the main features of the flag state and civil liability proposals by including them in the five other reports.

What's more, MEPs dashed national governments' hopes of watering down the other proposals by reinserting all the key amendments from their first reading (EurActiv 29/03/08), which the Transport Council had subsequently ignored (EurActiv 08/06/08).

MEPs' main demands include making strict International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules on flag-state obligations compulsory for all member states, as well as making shipowners fully liable for damage to third parties in the event of accidents, so that victims are properly compensated.

They are also insisting on tougher ship inspection regimes in ports, as well as the creation of independent authorities in each country that would have sole responsibility for reacting to accidents at sea, with the capacity to impose independent decisions about where ships should be taken in for salvage and repair operations (so-called 'places of refuge').

Member states are particularly opposed to this last measure as they fear it would expose their coastlines and ports to unwelcome financial and environmental risk. They want to retain the capacity to refuse to assist vessels that lack sufficient financial guarantees.

As regards ship inspection regimes, at least ten member states are arguing that the Commission and MEPs' tough proposals would impose too many additional costs for their administrations. They want flag state obligations to continue to be dealt with at IMO level, leaving them a much larger degree of discretion. They also oppose plans to make them inspect 100% of all individual ships, saying this would be too costly and hard to police, insisting they should be allowed to miss up to 10% of inspections (see EurActiv 12/12/06).

The full plenary will vote on the reports on 24 September in Brussels. " source

My comment: I so hope MEP stay firm on that. It is important and it is good. Yeah, it will lead to additional costs and responsibilities to member states, but you can't only use and when a problem or a spill occur to say, I'm not guilty. You are guilty, because your ships aren't following the safety regulations and you didn't check them. You're risking human lives and economical and environmental damages to a third country! Is this fair? I doubt! I so so hope the Parliament stays firm on that.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

International relations, september, 2008

In this particularly interesting edition:
  1. China as an international investor: in a class of its own
  2. TNK-BP settlement welcomed in Brussels
  3. EU nervous as Russia eyes new energy markets
  4. Interview: Europe and US 'misguided' on Russia
Read on to find out where the money will flow in the next years and why. For once, my comments are probably longer than the articles :)

China as an international investor: in a class of its own

1 September 2008
Markus Jaeger, Deutsche Bank Research

China is in a "class of its own" among the BRIC group of fast-growing economic powers and will "replace the United States as the world's largest economy by 2040," says Markus Jaeger of Deutsche Bank Research in an August paper. BRIC also comprises Brazil, Russia and India.

The author underlines existing divergences between these countries' economic strategies.

These divergences are significant because the BRIC countries are to emerge as major international investors, while "China stands out in terms of size of external asset holdings and asset accumulation," Jaeger explains.

While China has adopted a strategy based on domestic savings, high investment, a competitive exchange rate and a manufacturing sector reliant on exports, Brazil, Russia and India are following different patterns, he explains.

Russia's approach is oriented towards commodity exports, while India and Brazil are both "closed economies" based on the growth of their domestic markets, says Jaeger. The difference between the two is that Brazil goes for a diversified growth strategy, whereas India pursues a strategy based on services.

The paper emphasizes the BRIC countries' strategy of introducing sovereign wealth funds to invest part of their holdings in higher-return assets. This, combined with an increase in external asset holdings, will make them "important international financial players".

China will emerge as a "net capital exporter" in the next ten years due to its large domestic savings and its export development approach," says the paper. Jaeger thus concludes that in net international investment and "many other respects," "China is already in a class of its own". source

My comment: No comment, really. You can't comment facts. I'm only sorry I don't see European countries in the lest. True, the EU countries are not precisely poor, especially the old members, but still, there is no progress in them and that's a sign of stagnation.

TNK-BP settlement welcomed in Brussels

5 September 2008

An agreement between BP and TNK over the governance of their joint Russian undertaking was welcomed in Brussels, where the European Commission is following the situation closely after Shell, the Anglo-Dutch energy giant, was forced to pull out of a lucrative gas project in Siberia.

The agreement came after months of wrangling between BP and Alfa Access-Renova, the owners of TNK, over the joint venture's management structure. Under the agreement, BP will keep its 50 percent stake in the joint company, on an equal footing with TNK.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two sides on Thursday (4 September) aims to re-structure the TNK-BP board "through the appointment of three new directors independent of either side".

Bob Dudley, the current CEO, "will step down before the end of the year," BP said, and will be replaced by "a Russian-speaking candidate with extensive Russian business experience". Details of the agreement still have to be finalised over the coming months, but BP stressed that the company "will continue to operate under English law".

In Brussels, the European Commission welcomed the agreement, saying it "marks the resolution of the conflict inside the Euro-Russian oil consortium".

The power struggle at TNK-BP is being followed closely in Brussels after Shell was forced out of the Sakhalin-2 natural gas project, in a move which Europeans believe was politically motivated.

Shell ceded control of the project to Gazprom in December 2006 after months of regulatory investigations by the Russian state, which included concerns over the conservation of whale breeding grounds.

This might not spell the end of trouble for BP however. The company is currently still subject to investigations by the Russian state over allegations that it tried to circumvent labour laws. source

My comment: It's certainly funny to read how Russia cares of whale's breading ground, but oh, well. Not so funny for those companies. I'm glad the reached some kind of peace, even though, British Petrolium isn't exactly my favorite company, ever. A fight between giants, really.

EU nervous as Russia eyes new energy markets

1 September 2008

As EU leaders prepare to meet in Brussels today (1 September) for an extraordinary summit on Russia, the country's former president Vladimir Putin has indicated that Moscow wants to "diversify" oil and gas export markets.

Russia has "no intention" of limiting oil and gas exports to the EU and the country "will abide strictly" by its contractual obligations, former Russian president Vladimir Putin told the Interfax news agency on Sunday (31 August).

"But we are going to enlarge and diversify our export possibilities for these products which are so essential to the global economy," said Putin, who on the same day reportedly called for the speedier completion of a new pipeline that will carry gas from Siberia to Asian markets.

The comments are fuelling speculation that Moscow will increasingly leverage Europe's dependence on Russia's vast oil and gas reserves for geopolitical purposes, particularly if EU leaders today decide to impose sanctions on Russia for its actions in Georgia.

Russia is trying to downplay these fears. "We have worked for many years to gain not just the image, but the status of a reliable energy supplier to Europe and we would never let it suffer, even in this political situation," Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said on 29 August.

Despite these assurances, recent cutbacks in supplies to the Czech Republic (EurActiv 31/07/08) as well as cuts in deliveries to Ukraine and Belarus, which left several European countries without supply (EurActiv 11/01/07), remain fresh in EU leaders minds, making them nervous about the bloc's dependence on Russian oil and gas. source

My comment: Continuing the issue of fun. FUUUUN! I mean, seriously. Europe wants to diversify its resources of oil and gas and Russia turns back by saying it wants to diversify its markets! Come on, isn't that irony? Or more likely-with your rocks over your head (it's a Bulgarian sentence). And now, the following interview really fits:

Interview: Europe and US 'misguided' on Russia

3 September 2008

While Georgia and Russia are the first to blame for the conflict, the United States and Europe must also bear some responsibility, according to Thomas Gomart of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), who spoke to EurActiv in an interview.

According to IFRI's Russia and Caucasus expert, America's military support to Georgia led President Saakashvili to believe he had "a kind of freehand" over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

When Saakashvili used military force to try and regain control of the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, Russia replied with overwhelming power, pushing deep into Georgian territory and dealing the Americans a blow - albeit indirectly.

"Here we are touching the limits of NATO's expansion strategy and notably the 'do it strategy' promoted by numerous American and European experts, according to whom NATO could be enlarged without Russia reacting," Gomart says. He also singles out a "general attitude" in the US believing "that one can modify or transform whole regions" by supporting local leaders.

"I believe that here we probably have a significant amount of ideological responsibility from the United States."

According to Gomart, Europeans also need to realise that their strategy of promoting the rule of law in Russia and the Caucasus is insufficient without military power to back it up. "If the EU believes it can get away with only promoting the rule of law, it is misguided," he said. "As long as the EU is not taken seriously on security, it will have lots of difficulties making itself heard in Moscow over norms and values."

As a result, he says a possible "paradoxical effect" of the Georgian conflict could be that it hastens the realisation that Europeans need to take care of their own security without the United States. But he doesn't think this will happen overnight, as only Great Britain and France currently have the necessary military capabilities.

Gomart also believes the EU could have communicated better over its declared intention to diversify energy supplies away from Russia. "In terms of political communication, they have had a tendency - voluntarily or involuntarily - to present this diversification as a will to isolate Russia," Gomart says. "In any case, that's how Moscow interpreted it."

In terms of energy supplies and pipeline routes - one of the driving factors of the war according to some analysts - Gomart says the Kremlin's message is clear: "Nothing will be done in the Caucasus without us". He believes the message is "addressed even more directly to Azerbaijan" which is tempted to follow Georgia in seeking to build closer ties with Europe and the US by forging gas supply deals and building military capability.

Referring to the Karabagh region, a disputed area between Armenia and Azerbaijan, "the message [delivered by Moscow] is extremely explicit," Gomart warns. "The military option should not be discarded."

That said, Gomart believes that the EU's diversification strategy on energy does not necessarily have to irritate Moscow. "Regarding the Nabucco [gas pipeline] project, it could only work to the full with Iranian or Russian gas," Gomart points out. "This is not incompatible with an intensification of [the EU's] energy relations with Russia."

Please click here to read the full interview transcript (in French only). source

My comment:Didn't cut it since this post is quite short by my standards. But the interview shows that not all people are ideology-blinded towards Russia. The only thing that do bothers me, probably because there is a lot of truth in it is that without an army, Russia isn't taking the EU seriously. That migth be true, but I sincerely hope there is a way around it. I mean, ok, let's have an army, a decent one, but let's not repeat US mistakes. We don't need to by military giant to live in peace. We had a very good way of dealing with problems trough money. Why not continuing to do so? I don't understand that desire of people to conquer. I mean, the world has changed, you don't need to conquer London to live there and spend there and earn there. Then why bother killing all those people? It's an absolute nonsense. Let's hope European populists stay out of that field.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

September economics news,2008

In today's edition:
  1. Pension crisis looms as over-65s to double by 2060
  2. SMEs hit out at cost of EU food labelling proposals
  3. IEA urges EU to fully liberalise energy markets
  4. Bulgaria starts work on second nuclear plant
  5. Study: New EU members work above European average

Pension crisis looms as over-65s to double by 2060

27 August 2008

From 2015 onwards, deaths would outnumber births in the EU so that, by 2060, one in three Europeans will be aged over 65, putting a huge burden on the economy and public finances, the Commission warned yesterday (26 August).

With people living longer and "persistently low" fertility rates across Europe, natural population growth would simply stop as of 2015 and, as of 2035, net migration flows would be insufficient to counterbalance the negative natural change, a report by the EU's statistical office Eurostat predicts.

Based on current trends, today's ratio of four working-age people per pensioner would be reduced to just two within the next fifty years, creating a real pensions 'timebomb' on the continent, the report underlines.

The situation would be worst in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia, where emigration means there could be as few as 1.5 working age people per pensioner.

The blow would be softened slightly in countries like Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, where population growth is likely to be stronger, notably thanks to higher levels of immigration, which have bolstered workforces and fertility rates.

According to the forecasts, the UK would become the bloc's largest member in terms of population, with 77 million inhabitants, compared to 61 million nowadays. Germany, which is currently the most populated EU nation, would see its population decline from 82 to 79 million by as early as 2035 and sink to just 70.7 million by 2060.

While expressing caution over the accuracy of these projections, the European Commission expressed concern regarding the burden that the ageing process will place on the economy and the budget.

Immigration could also provide solutions, as seen in the UK, but many European countries are sceptical about opening the doors to foreign workers. source

My comment: Since this news isn't really news and there are demographic crisis in most European countries I have a suggestion. If the EU start serious funding of birthing mothers and mothers of children under say 12 that go to school, I'm sure the problem will be solved in no time. I don't mind sacrificing for the cause of young and flourishing EU. Just show me the money, and I'm on for at least 2 children. Yeah, the money and the health care. And also please develop work from home for working women like me. Let's make a campaign "More Europeans for Europe" (which is reference to the campaign of radio Vitosha "More Bulgarians for Bulgaria").

SMEs hit out at cost of EU food labelling proposals

29 August 2008

A public hearing in the European Parliament on 28 August 2008 saw food industry stakeholders hit out against Commission proposals on nutrition labelling, which they say are overly complex and will push up costs for small businesses.

The hearing, carried out under the auspices of German Conservative MEP and rapporteur on the 'Food Information to Consumers' dossier Dr. Renate Sommer, was lively, incorporating a wide range of stakeholders.

The main issues discussed were:

  • The coexistence of national and EU food labelling systems as outlined in the Commission proposal;
  • compulsory vs. optional information on food packets;
  • legibility of information, including font size (Commission proposed a 3mm minimum) and contrast;
  • country of origin labelling, simplification of nutritional information, and;
  • the so-called 'traffic-light systemexternal ' of colour-coded guideline daily amounts.

Nina-Alexandra von Radowitz of EuroCommerce was particularly critical of the proposal, claiming that "it does not simplify the labelling information on food packets". She disagreed with the 3mm minimum font size, saying it would pose problems on multilingual labels.

Angelika Mrohs of the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA) said food labelling would not substitute education because "it is about information, not judgement". She doubts that the Commission's proposal will achieve its stated goal of simplification. The CIAA, she said, favoured the deletion of national schemes and is in favour of full harmonisation at EU level. The CIAA further believes the "proposals are too detailed to be practical".

French EU Presidency spokesperson Roseline Lecourt confirmed her country's support for the initiative and said there would be a clearer indication of what the Council's position is by the time of the Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 15/16 December 2008. She does not consider the tasks of Parliament and Council to be very easy regarding this issue. source

My comment: I also prefer a common EU scheme for labelling, but I'm definitely pro-labelling. I hate how SMEs try to avoid not only cost but also responsibility, because if they don't have to write out anything in their products, no one will hold them responsible for the ingredients that aren't supposed to be there or that are simply not there. Think on that!

IEA urges EU to fully liberalise energy markets

5 September 2008

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) has published its first review of EU energy policy, endorsing controversial Commission plans to break up European energy giants and calling for greater cross-border trade in renewable energy among other recommendations.

In a visit to Brussels yesterday (4 September), IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka praised the EU's climate and energy package, proposed by the Commission on 23 January, but warned that "EU policy is less consistent" in the field of energy market liberalisation.

Tanaka expressed concern about some EU member states' "resistance" to full ownership unbundling, meaning the separation of large energy firms' production and supply infrastructures. Brussels initially proposed far-reaching plans on electricity and gas market liberalisation in September 2007, but watered down the proposal under pressure from a group of member states led by France and Germany.

Any alternative to full unbundling is a "second-best solution", Tanaka said in a thinly veiled reference to the compromise deal brokered by energy ministers in June (EurActiv 09/06/08).

The IEA representative also criticised restrictions on trade in renewable energy certificates between EU member states, as this "will unnecessarily increase the cost of achieving the target for renewable energy," he said. The trading push is likely to be abandoned in favour of 'flexible' mechanisms, such as joint renewable energy projects between member states.

On the issue of energy security, Tanaka called for greater "dialogue" with supplier countries and urged the EU to "provide attractive conditions for internal investment in energy infrastructure". External energy relations are "perhaps the weakest" aspect of the EU's energy policy, he said, reflecting a long-standing criticism that EU member states pursue their own national interests with respect to supplier countries rather than speaking with 'one voice' on behalf of Europe.

While Tanaka did not specifically mention Russia, Europe's relations with its most important oil and gas supplier have been strained recently following the 'August war' in Georgia. There are concerns that the Georgia crisis, as well as proposals to insert a 'Gazprom clause' for reciprocal rules in energy market investments between the EU and Russia, will impact negatively on the bloc's energy security.

The need for more investment in 'clean' technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) was also highlighted by Tanaka, who called on EU member states and the private sector to cough up the necessary funds. source

My comment: Yeah, very good review of what have to be done. In case any one of us didn't know it already. I put it here because it really is a good review.

Bulgaria starts work on second nuclear plant

3 September 2008

Today's first step in the construction of the country's second nuclear power plant in Belene could help Bulgaria to regain a strategic position as an electricity exporter to Southeastern Europe, writes EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria Dnevnik.

Bulgaria has been heavily reliant on nuclear energy since the 1980s, when the Soviet-built Kozloduy nuclear power plant became operational. But, under pressure from the EU during accession negotiations, the country agreed to close down four units of the plant – a commitment which still has to be finalised and for which Bulgaria is still seeking EU compensation (EurActiv 22/04/08). Before units four and five were shut down, Kozloduy produced 44% of the country's electricity, 20% of which was exported. This gave Bulgaria a strategic position in the region, which it has now lost. In this context, the Belene project has become a priority.

After years of setbacks, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev turned the first sod of the 2,000 megawatt Belene plant on 3 September.

The new plant, which is only Bulgaria's second and comes 20 years after the construction of the first in Kozloduy, is expected to become operational in 2013-2014, at an estimated cost of €4 billion. But the plant is expected to bring electricity prices down, because the cost of producing 1kw of electricity at the Belene NPP is as low as 3.7 eurocents.

The project has long received the support of the European Commission, which strongly endorses nuclear as a key technology in efforts to build a low-carbon EU energy system (EurActiv 15/10/07).

The new Bulgarian plant will comprise two third-generation VVER-1000/V-446B reactors of Russian design. The main contractor (with 51%) is Russia's Atomstroyexport in conjunction with France's Areva SA and Germany's Siemens as subcontractors.

For the remaining 49%, Bulgaria's state-owned National Electric Company (NEC) is seeking a European partner. Among those shortlisted are German giant RWE AG and Belgian utility company Electrabel, which may also obtain the deal in a consortium. NEC has also selected French bank BNP Paribas to as lead fundraiser and manager of the project.

While Minister Dimitrov recently said his government would prefer European banks to fund the project, he added that he would not rule out the option of taking advantage of Russia's proposal to provide a loan for Belene from its state budget.

Critics of the project say it will increase the country's energy dependency on Russia. But the Bulgarian government says global energy pressures make the project necessary. Bulgaria also hopes to once again become a leading energy exporter in the Balkan region, which has experienced serious power shortages since the phasing out of units four and five of the Kozloduy NPP on 31 December 2006.

Responding to criticism from environmentalists who claim that Belene is dangerously located in a seismic area, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences recently stated that the location of the plant and the 30km zone around it are among the seismically safest areas in the country. source

My comment: Yep, finally, they started Belene. All I can say is that this project really is important. Bulgaria has pretty cold winters and pretty hot summers, so no electricity really isn't an option. And since we provide electricity to other Balkan countries, including Greece, no electricity is even worst option for them. Let's hope work gets done this time.

Study: New EU members work above European average

5 September 2008

According to a recent report, a striking gap in working time continues to exist between countries that joined the EU after 2004 and the other 15 members. Among those working longer hours, Bulgaria, Romania and the UK are well ahead of their European neighbours.

The average agreed weekly working time currently stands at 38.6 hours for the whole of the EU, according to Eurofound's European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO).

But if one considers the EU 15 alone, rates have fallen to just 37.9 hours – two hours less than the 39.6 hour week put in by workers in the EU's 12 new members.

As for full-time workers, Bulgarians and Romanians emerge as the hardest working, clocking up 41.7 hours per week.

The UK comes a close third, with its citizens working an average of 41.4 hours. This could be a result of the country's opt-out from the EU's 'Working Time Directive' that caps the working week at 48 hours.

Indeed, the opt-out enables British citizens to work for up to 65 hours per week, althouh the Socialist Group in Parliament has vowed to contest this, arguing that it breaks "health and safety law".

Full-time workers in France, Italy and Denmark are those putting in the least hours. Indeed, the French spend just 37.7 hours at work, leaving them the equivalent of a whole afternoon off each week.

France is in fact a record breaker as far as working time reductions are concerned. It has cut weekly working time by four hours over the past nine years, far ahead of Luxembourg (1 hour), the UK (1.1 hours), Portugal (1.2 hours) and Sweden (2.5 hours).

This tendency to work less would appear to contradict EU recommendations to speed up labour market reforms and get people to work longer so as to face up to the pressures of globalisation and deal with the demographic challenges facing the continent.

Nevertheless, even in France - seen as one of the EU's most rigid models and where trade unions have been actively opposing reforms - change does appear to be taking place.

Indeed, in July, the French Senate approved a law to extend the compulsory cap of 35 working hours per week to boost the country's economic competitiveness. source

My comment: Yeah, we work more time but we work less effectively! Is it that hard to understand that without motivation, people can stay at work even 20 hours per day and don't do a thing? Get real, people! The short work-week is a very good idea, don't spoil it. It gives motivation to people to give the best of themselves and it increases effectiveness. And it's no use of working your ass off if you don't have the time to enjoy th money you earned or your familly.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Energy in August, 2008

In today's edition:
  1. Nabucco: 'Pie in the sky' after Georgia crisis?
  2. Germany eyes new scheme to keep old nuclear
  3. Pressure mounts for greater focus on energy efficiency
  4. New venture to manage cross-border electricity flows in Northern Europe

Nabucco: 'Pie in the sky' after Georgia crisis?

25 August 2008

The EU's flagship Nabucco pipeline project, which aims to bring gas to Europe from countries other than Russia, notably via Georgian territory, appears to be up in the air due to the crisis currently pitting Moscow against Tbilisi.

EU dependency on Russian gas imports is currently at 40% and is expected to rise considerably in the coming decades unless supply sources are diversified and/or greater emphasis is placed on locally generated renewable sources of energy.

The Georgia crisis prompted many analysts to look at the situation on the ground "with their energy spectacles on". While most commentators stop short of saying that the main thrust of the Russian advance in Georgia was pipeline politics, all seem to agree that doubt has been cast as to the reliability of Georgia as a major transit country to bring oil and gas supplies to Europe. In particular, the Nabucco gas pipeline is seen as a direct victim of the developments.

Georgian officials have been complaining for a long time that their country has become a victim of pipeline politics. President Mikheil Saakashvili reportedly claimed that the very fact that Georgia is already home to an oil line, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, designed with the precise aim of circumventing Russia in mind, was a major reason for the Russian assault.

One branch of the BTC, which runs from Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea through Georgia and then on to Turkey's Mediterranean coast for shipment, ends at the Georgian port of Supsa, which was blockaded by the Russian navy during the current crisis.

"Russia is showing it controls this corridor," says Giorgi Vashakmadze, an energy executive in Georgia.

"After the military conflict with Russia, Georgia cannot be marked on oil and gas maps as a safe transit route, and no amount of support from NATO can change this alteration," says Pavel K. Baev, research professor at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, quoted by the Moscow Times.

Regarding the Nabucco project, Ed Chow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is quoted by the Washington Post as saying Russia has raised serious doubts in the minds of Western lenders and investors that such a pipeline through Georgia would be safe from attack or beyond control of the Kremlin. He adds that this pipeline "has always looked more like a diplomats' pipe dream than a viable economic project".

"Its promoters had not only failed to secure supply and transit agreements but also had yet to identify an oil company eager to champion the project and finance the pipeline," states Chow.

The press agency Forbes also notes that while Russian troops are still in Georgia, the Russian state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom has offered to buy all of Azerbaijan's gas exports. If Azerbaijan agrees, it could spell disaster for Western plans to decrease reliance on Russian supplies of natural gas.

Positions:

Steve Mufson of the Washington Post writes that one European oil company executive told him that the Nabucco project was simply "not a doable project because there is not enough gas to justify the investment," at least without Iranian gas coming into it. "The only thing that can make it viable is by using Iranian gas," the oil executive further elaborated, adding that otherwise it is a "pie in the sky." American policymakers, he said, "want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to keep Europe from using Russian gas and they want to keep Iran in a corner too".

Peter Charles Choharis from the American Security Project writes for the Wall Street Journal that as a response to the Georgia crisis, the US needs to use its diplomatic and financial clout to put forward alternative energy routes. "Washington must make financing and constructing the Nabucco gas pipeline a top priority," Choharis writes. source

My comment: I wanna know one thing. Whose project Nabucco is? European or US? Because from the positions, it gets very clear it's US. Then I don't really see the change for Europe, especially since experts call it undoable and that it needs Iranian oil. Maybe Russia just did us a favour stopping us from ivesting in it. Oh, well, Putin may quote me next time :) I wrote already on that in After the Pink Goat, so there's no use of repeating. Let's just say I'm disappointed from Russia's actions and Europe's reactions.

Germany eyes new scheme to keep old nuclear

27 August 2008

German energy giants RWE, E.ON and Vattenfall are trying to persuade politicians in Berlin to scrap a planned 15-year phase-out of the country's existing nuclear power stations, according to press reports.

The companies are proposing a scheme whereby profits from the sale of nuclear energy would be funnelled into clean energy research or used to ease rising energy costs for German households, the Financial Times reported on 25 August.

Since most of Germany's nuclear plants have already been depreciated, or paid off, the production of electricity in nuclear power facilities is relatively cheap, particularly in a context of high oil prices. If the lifespan of existing plants were to be extended by 25 years, profits could translate into 3,000 euros for every German citizen, RWE said in a 30 June press statement.

Energy companies hope the promise of low cost energy will lead to a more favourable attitude by German politicians and the general public towards nuclear, which has received renewed attention as a potentially beneficial 'low carbon' energy technology.

Last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned the German government that discontinuing nuclear would limit the country's potential to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (EurActiv 29/07/07). The Commission has also endorsed nuclear in its efforts to build a low carbon EU energy system (EurActiv 15/10/07).

But the country's current ruling coalition is unlikely to touch the phase out, says Thomas Breuer, a nuclear expert at Greenpeace Germany.

Germany's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed the phase-out agreement in 2005 as part of the governing contract with their Social Democratic coalition partners in the SPD. Any change to the phase-out could only happen if a new 'pro' nuclear government comes to power after general elections in September 2009, says Breuer. source

My comment: I don't understand one thing. So Bulgaria has to leave our reactors, because they are old, but if E.ON says it's safe to keep the German ones working, it's ok. This is simply not FAIR. I know fairness is not a political term, but it's horrible to see Greenpeace attacking Bulgarian on nuclear plants, but doing nothing on german ones, or French ones for that matter, since they again had a problem.

Pressure mounts for greater focus on energy efficiency

28 August 2008

A group of eight trade associations representing sectors as diverse as building insulation, light-bulb manufacturers and household appliances is calling for greater recognition of efficiency measures in the EU's energy technology plan.

In a joint letterexternal , the group urges greater recognition of energy-efficiency technologies like building insulation in the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which was presented by the European Commission in November last year.

Citing a Parliament resolution on the plan adopted earlier in July (EurActiv 11/07/08), the group "insists that energy efficiency should figure more prominently in the SET-Plan, since it is the area with the most potential for cost effective emission reductions in the medium term".

The SET-Plan came as part of a wider "package" of proposals on energy and climate change and aims to "identify those technologies for which it is essential that the European Union as a whole finds a more powerful way of mobilising resources". It proposed launching industrial initiatives in areas such as wind energy, solar, bio-energy and nuclear fission, but did not address the issue of how to finance them.

The Commission is expected to present financing proposals in December, which should be discussed by EU heads of state during a European energy technology summit next year.

But according to the group, energy efficiency was largely ignored in the current plan.

The group also believes progress in enforcing existing regulations on energy efficiency is too slow. EU member states submitted national energy efficiency action plans in 2007, but it claims they show "little sense of urgency".

In the letter, the group calls on the Commission to:

  • Set a mandatory target for improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020;
  • increase incentives for energy efficiency investment, and;
  • show greater commitment to enforcing existing legislation on energy efficiency.

The signatory associations in the joint letter include CECED (household appliances), COGEN Europe (simultaneous production of heat and electricity), the European Copper Institute, EFIEES (intelligent energy efficiency services), ELC (lamp manufacturers), Eurima (mineral wool manufacturers), EuroAce (alliance for energy efficiency in buildings) and Glass for Europe. source

My comment: Oh, well, I can't but agree on that. The energy efficiency really should be the first priority, not the last since it's the easiest to do and offers the best financial returns.

New venture to manage cross-border electricity flows in Northern Europe

26 August 2008

A joint venture involving transmission system operators from Germany, Denmark and Norway has been given the green light by the Commission, opening up the North European electricity market.

The venture, called the European Market Coupling Company (EMCC), aims to 'couple' the electricity market between Germany and the Nordic countries. It will seek to offer congestion management services for cross-border electricity transmission as well as provide for secondary trading of transmission rights.

EMCC encompasses three transmission system operators (TSO): Germany's E.ON and Vattenfall Europe Transmission GmbH and Denmark's Energinet. It also involves two energy exchanges: Norway's Nord Pool Spot AS and Germany's European Energy Exchange.

The Commission has long pushed for the liberalisation of the EU electricity market, but at present Europe's grids remain largely centralised. An impact assessmentPdf external carried out by the EU executive in 2007 highlighted the lack of investment in cross-border power transmission and coordination between national TSOs. This merger aims to go some way towards alleviating the problem.

The joint venture is due to be finalised by 29 September. source

My comment: Well, that's cool if you ask me. Every merge of the markets in Europe that is not harmful to some of its participants is good and should be supported. I wonder whether Nordic countries have problems with producing of electricity.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mind the forests

In today's edition:
  1. Modest progress at Africa climate meeting
  2. UN climate talks to seek speed amid discord
My comment, is that I didn't suspect the inclusion of forests in the deal can have bad effects (explained in the second article). I mean, one would expect that protecting the forests will be good, but obviously, it's just another tool for evading limitations. Is it so hard to make a plan that involve the lungs of the planet in a positive way? Like every country to gain certain amount of emission credits based on the actual amount of forest it posses. This will surely prevents cutting the trees and give developing countries a possibility to industrialize without problems. Think guys, think.

Modest progress at Africa climate meeting

28 August 2008

160-nation talks on climate change wrapped up in Ghana on Wednesday (27 August) with the United Nations proclaiming that the slow pace of negotiations is "picking up". Delegates want forest protection to be part of a greenhouse gas reduction deal but said sectoral industry agreements should remain voluntary.

"Countries have made it very clear that issue of forests needs to be part of a Copenhagen deal," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a 27 August press statement.

Delegates did not agree to any specific framework on forest protection, nor were any new funds committed to tackling the destruction of rainforests and other key ecosystems credited with storing CO2, the gas most commonly associated with global warming.

Nonetheless, and despite environmental groups' concerns (see EurActiv 22/08/08), there was a "general sense" that any future climate change deal would need to take deforestation into account, according to one UN official close to the talks.

In contrast, separate emissions reductions agreements between heavily-polluting industry sectors like steel and cement could be kept out of such a deal, the official said. Japan, backed by the US and Canada, is in favour of including legally-binding international sectoral agreements within the scope of a global climate change regime.

But talks nearly collapsed when Tokyo pushed its case during an April meeting of the UNFCCC in Bangkok. Developing states are concerned that such deals will simply serve as a 'backdoor' for developed states to avoid binding emissions targets and that the deals could be used as an excuse for imposing additional levies on products from more polluting developing economies.

These fears appear to have been allayed, however, after a working group session on the issue "provided more clarity", with views converging that "such approaches should not lead to binding commitments for developing countries and that it is up to a country to decide if it wants to put sectoral policies in place or not," the UNFCCC press release said.

It remains unclear, however, as to whether sectoral deals will remain entirely off the agenda of future UNFCCC talks given their potential for considerable emissions reductions and transferring clean technologies to developing states, according to the official. A number of developed-state parties to the UNFCCC are also in favour of moving towards sectoral approaches within the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allowes rich states to finance clean development projects in poor countries in exchange for emission reduction credits, the official said. source

My comment: Yeah, we all know what sectoral deal means. Smoking ban for non-smokers. I wonder with what money those idiots meet each other just to waste time?

More on that: (it's actually the article from the beginning of the talks, now you can see the difference)

UN climate talks to seek speed amid discord

22 August 2008

The latest round of UN climate talks began yesterday (21 August) in Accra, Ghana, in a bid to overcome disagreements over the tools that countries can use to cut greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate progress towards a new climate treaty by the end of 2009.

Little progress so far

The meeting is the third UN climate change conference since nations committed, in Bali, to adopting a global climate pact by no later than December 2009.

But progress was slow at the last two meetings, in Bangkok and Bonn. Moreover, onlookers believe disagreements between developed and developing nations - as well as uncertainties about the direction of US climate policy after President Bush leaves office, the economic slowdown and the recent collapse of global trade talks at the WTO - will mean delegates at the Accra talks will be uneager to make any firm commitments.

Tough talks on tools

In Accra, experts are to attempt to "reach agreement on the rules and tools" that developed nations can use to reach their emission reduction targets, de Boer explained.

Among the means being considered are Japanese-led proposals for "sectoral targets" – a 'bottom-up' approach whereby different emissions reduction targets would be set for individual industry sectors, such as steel or power generation, according to their specific characteristics and circumstances.

But developing countries are wary of such approaches. They fear that developed nations could use sectoral benchmarks, such as the amount of energy required to produce a tonne of cement, as a means of effectively blocking goods from developing countries' less efficient industries. "We feel extremely uncomfortable with the kind of sectoral approaches that are being discussed," Reuters quotes Indian delegate Ajay Mathur as saying.

Rewards for curbing deforestation

Delegates will also explore new mechanisms that could be set up in an attempt to win over developing nations, such as including forests in carbon markets, by offering carbon credits for halting deforestation. Because trees store carbon as they grow and release it when burnt, curbing tropical deforestation could reduce man-made greenhouse gases by up to 20%. But environmentalists are warning that such proposals could backfire.

The 'land grab threat'

Green NGO Friends of the Earth International warns that including forests in carbon markets is simply another ploy for developed countries to avoid real carbon emissions reductions at home. Indeed, such a scheme would enable them to buy up large tracts of forest to gain carbon credits that can count towards their own emission reduction targets.

"The inclusion of forests in carbon markets enables developed countries to avoid real carbon emissions reductions at home," the group said in a statement issued ahead of the Accra meeting.

FoE further warns that increasing the value of forests in this way could "trigger a rapid increase in land rights' abuses due to a rapid expansion of state and/or corporate control over forests without regard for the customary or territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities".

The NGO says negotiations should instead focus on the root causes of deforestation, such as increased consumption of biofuels, meat and timber products.

The next major climate meeting is scheduled for December 2008 in Poznań, Poland and the UN hopes to get negotiations over tools over with so that delegates can begin to discuss actual emission reduction targets.

But speaking to the Times of India, Yvo de Boer conceded that clinching a deal on mid-term targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions in Poland would be difficult. "It would be difficult to discuss national targets before the next US administration is in place," he said. source

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ecology in August , 2008

In today's edition:
  • World Water Week demands halt to food wastage
  • Green groups take EU to court over 'dangerous' pesticide limits
  • WWF slams EU countries for poor care of Baltic Sea
  • China overtakes UK on renewables
  • Study: Carmakers still way off EU climate targets

World Water Week demands halt to food wastage

25 August 2008

Scientists and experts from around the world have warned that global food wastage must be halved by 2025 to meet the challenges of feeding the rapidly-growing population and preserving global water supplies.

Continued high rates of food overproduction and waste will not only cause food but also water shortages, according to a report by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

The study, entitled 'Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain', was presented during World Water Week, which wrapped up on 22 August in Stockholm.

It warns that "tremendous quantities of food are discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and people's kitchens," adding: "This wasted food is also wasted water." In the US, up to 30% of food, worth some $48.3 billion, is thrown away each year, it notes, pointing to similar levels of waste in Europe.

"That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage can - enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people," the report laments.

Global food needs are expected to roughly double by 2050. At the same time, dwindling oil reserves and increasing concerns about climate change are leading countries to invest heavily in biomass – meaning land for food production is also getting scarcer. What's more, as countries like China and India get richer, demand for more water-intensive agricultural products, such as beef and bioenergy, is increasing.

Food prices have already begun to soar in recent months, causing riots in a number of poor countries, including Haïti, Mexico, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal (EurActiv 04/07/08). Furthermore, an estimated 1.2 billion people already live in areas where there is not enough water to meet demand, causing death, illness and disease related to bad sanitation.

"Weak policy, poor management, increasing waste and exploding water demands are pushing the planet towards the tipping point of global water crisis," warned the report, calling on governments to place an effective water-saving strategy, requiring that food wastage be minimised, firmly on the political agenda. source

My comment: I didn't edit this because it says it all. This situation really cannot go on. I hope reading this, everybody will consider his/her own food and water waste and reduce it. Please, the situation is REALLY serious.

Green groups take EU to court over 'dangerous' pesticide limits

29 August 2008

New maximum legal limits for the pesticide content of food products sold within the EU, set to come into force on Monday (1 September), "violate food safety" by exposing consumers to unacceptable levels of contamination, environmental groups claimed yesterday (28 August), announcing their intention to challenge the law in court.

The EU institutions first reached agreement on a new law setting Europe-wide limits on pesticide content in food sold within the bloc in February 2005. The regulationexternal is intended to address growing public concern over the health and environmental impact of the so-called plant protection products.

But a new studyPdf external , published yesterday by Greenpeace Germany and Austrian NGOs Global 2000 and Friends of the Earth Austria, found that under the new regulation "almost 700 of the maximum amounts of pesticide in fruit and vegetables allowed throughout the EU are too high".

The findings have led environmental groups Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe and Dutch NGO Natuur en Milieu to lodge an appeal at the Court of First Instance in an attempt to force the Commission to review its position and to encourage it to take their views more seriously at an earlier stage of the policy process in future.

The EU executive has "failed to deliver on its obligation to set legal limits at the lowest achievable level," claimed Hans Muilerman of Natuur en Milieu. "There is also no consideration of the cumulative effects that pesticides have on human health. Legal action is now necessary to force the Commission to think again."

Meanwhile, PAN Europe coordinator Elliott Cannell questioned the mechanism by which the new limits were devised. "For each pesticide, the Commission identified the country with the worst safety limit and then sought to adopt this level as the new EU-wide standard," he said.

The study estimates that over half of all food sold in the EU is contaminated by some form of pesticide.

But pesticides manufacturers say their products are all the more necessary to keep down the cost of food in the current climate of rising prices.

The Commission dismissed the findings of the Greenpeace study as "based on crude, outdated and imprecise information". It said it "examines every study brought to its attention" and "will ask [European Food Safety Agency] EFSA for an opinion" if new scientific evidence emerges "showing that any of the maximum residue limits might not be safe".

PAN Europe expects the court to issue an opinion on the case in early 2009. Meanwhile, earlier this year, EU farm ministers reached a political agreement over Commission plans to ban the marketing and use of toxic pesticides within the bloc (EurActiv 24/06/08). source

My comment: I can easily believe Greenpeace this time. I think everyone who travels in Europe can tell the differences in the food quality in different countries. This cannot continue. Let's how the Court will agree.

WWF slams EU countries for poor care of Baltic Sea

28 August 2008

The Baltic Sea ecosystem could collapse unless states bordering it find common ground on ways to decrease maritime pollution, according to a new report from WWF, which accuses governments of failing to take responsibility for working to improve the situation.

Vast algal blooms, such as those that threatened to disrupt watersports during the Beijing Olympics, cover large parts of the Baltic Sea, killing off large swathes of the seabed as oxygen fails to spread throughout the water - a process known as eutrophication.

The build-up of plant growth is caused by an increase in the volume of nutrients in the water as a result of sewage, shipping pollution or agricultural run-off.

Seven of the world's ten largest "dead zones" are found in the Baltic Sea, making it the world's most damaged, according to WWF.

But despite the situation, all nine Baltic Sea states (Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Poland) have failed to take the necessary measures.

All nine states received an "extremely disappointing" F grade (ranging from 25% for Poland to 46% for Germany) - a key failing being cooperation on integrated and concerted actions.

"The Baltic Sea is influenced by a multitude of human activities, regulated by a patchwork of international and national regulations and authorities", said WWF Sweden Chairman Lasse Gustavsson. Despite acknowledging the challenge this poses to finding common ground among the nine states, it should not be viewed as an excuse, argues the report.

"What the Baltic Sea needs now is political leadership that can look beyond national or sectoral interests," added Gustavsson.

The report showcases Finland as the only country in the region to have a cross-sectoral marine policy that addresses all these issues as a whole. The WWF hopes this will have a knock-on effect among other countries and believes the EU's new Maritime Policy should then add the necessary impetus to seek a common solution to the problem. source

My comment:I wrote already about the eutrophication in TTFWL and this problem is for real. It's based to the excessive use of nitrogen-based chemicals and their free disposal in the water. It leads to killing of the organismes in certain area. That issues should be addressed, because you can not obviously fish if there is no fishes in the water!

China overtakes UK on renewables

20 August 2008

The Chinese government's energy policy has led to a large rise in investment in renewables, helping it to dislodge the UK in a ranking of the top five most attractive countries for investment in renewable energy, according to a study published on 19 August.

China has risen from sixth to joint fourth place with Spain – behind the US, Germany and India – in the quarterly Ernst & Young Country Attractiveness Indices. The UK, on the other hand, has dropped from fourth to sixth place – which the consultancy largely puts down to long delays in pushing through its new Energy Bill.

According to Jonathan Johns, head of renewable energy at Ernst & Young, the Chinese success story has been driven by the government's commitment to generate 15% of the country's energy from non-carbon sources by 2020. China's rapidly-growing manufacturing base also means the country is likely to largely exceed its renewables goal, becoming a major player on a market where the EU has been hoping to obtain a competitive advantage thanks to its own ambitious renewable energy targets.

In the UK on the other hand, the decision to delay the Energy Bill means "there is now a two-year period of consultation and review before any of the proposals are implemented. This will leave just ten years for the UK to establish a renewables infrastructure strong enough to meet its 2020 target," the report notes.

The report nevertheless indicates that other European countries are performing better and underlines that the UK situation comes in "strong contrast to the speed at which Germany has addressed the challenges placed by the EU Renewables Directive".

It further notes how Germany's feed-in tariff mechanism – which guarantees renewable energy producers a buy-back price that is higher than the market price for electricity – has enabled it to deliver higher levels of renewable power at lower cost than in the UK, where renewable energy obligations are fulfilled via a system whereby companies can trade 'green certificates'. While the European Commission has been looking to duplicate the UK model at EU level, the move has encountered much resistance (EurActiv 29/04/08 and 16/01/08).. source

My comment: Ok, allow me to question the China's reported actions. I think it's more propaganda than else, but it's true that China do have cheap access to all the components for renewable energies which give them an edge on the technology. As for UK, I don't particularly care, I care that the EU finally got it that we really should explore renewable sources as solar and wind to the maximum.

Study: Carmakers still way off EU climate targets

26 August 2008

Car manufacturers only reduced their CO2 emissions by 1.7% over the past year – a far cry from the average 17% cut they will have to achieve within the next four years to comply with planned European legislation, according to data published today by Transport & Environment, a green NGO.

German carmaker BMW made the largest step forward, recording a 7.3% cut in its fleet's emissions last year alone, while Japanese manufacturer Honda's average CO2 emissions actually increased by 1.1%.

Overall, French and Italian manufacturers remain in the best position to meet the 130 grammes of CO2 per kilometre target by 2012, which was proposed by the European Commission last December. But, with average cuts of less than 2% last year, they are being caught up by Japanese, US and German brands.

According to T&E, the progress made by BMW is testimony that carmakers are capable of making the necessary emissions cuts when threatened with regulations and fines.

The green NGO Dings is angry that the EU appears to be watering down a fourteen-year-old target to cut CO2 emissions from cars to 120g/km on average and that governments are backing down to pressure from industry.

In June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU Presidency, shook hands over a backdoor deal that would allow a "substantial" phasing-in period car manufacturers, as well as more leniency on fines for deviations of up to eight grammes (EurActiv 10/06/08).

"German carmakers want CO2 targets to only apply to the cleanest cars in the early years. It's the equivalent of demanding that a smoking ban should only apply to non-smokers," laments Dings.

He hopes the European Parliament will toughen up the draft regulation when its Environment Committee votes on the proposals on 8-9 September. But a draft report by Guido Sacconi, the MEP in charge of steering the text through Parliament, would back the Commission's so-called 'integrated approach', whereby manufacturers only have to reduce their fleet's average emissions to 130g/km and further cuts are to be achieved by complementary measures, such as biofuels or fuel-efficient tyres. It would, however, also lay down a 95g/km target by 2020. source

My comment: Yeah, been there, discussed this. I'm however proud of BMW, because they really did something to reduce the emission. Then, it is possible, right? Then DO IT!


 

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