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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.

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