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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Europe's ecology in August

In today's edition:
  1. Road transport remains Europe’s single largest air polluter
  2. Tourists offered website to spot polluted beaches
  3. Wind 'can produce over 25% of EU electricity by 2030'
  4. Report warns of Canadian oil sands climate risks

Road transport remains Europe’s single largest air polluter

29 July 2008

Despite marked improvements since 1990, emissions from cars and trucks continue to be the main source of health-damaging air pollutants, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, published on Monday (28 July), shows that road transport remains the single most important source of sulphur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) in the EU-27.

It is also the second-most important source, behind the construction and residential sector, of fine particulate emissions (PM10 and PM2.5), which can cause respiratory diseases in humans.

Other main sources of air pollution were manufacturing industries and construction, the residential sector (particulate matters) and agriculture (mainly ammonia), according to the report, which compiles data submitted by the 27 EU member states between 1990 and 2006.

Overall, emissions of air pollutants have tended to decrease across the EU since 1990 the report says, noting that "reported emissions of nitrogen oxides in 2006 have decreased by more than 35 %, and sulphur dioxide by almost 70 %".

The largest reductions in emissions were achieved for the acidifying pollutant SOx, the report further notes, with emissions in 2006 almost 70 % lower than in 1990. In this sector, it is public electricity and heat production in the energy sector which are responsible for the bulk of the pollution, with 58.4% of reported emissions.

Emissions of the three air pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of harmful ground-level ozone also fell during that period, the report notes: CO emissions fell by 53%, NMVOCs by 44 % and NOX by 35%.

The EEA report was published as part of the EU's commitments under the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, which is managed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

According to the European Commission, Europeans live on average eight months less as a result of fine particle matter emitted into the air. "In more polluted areas of the EU, the figure goes up to 36 months," said Barbara Helfferich, spokesperson for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Earlier in April, the EU Council of Ministers approved a new air quality directivePdf external which sets binding EU-wide limits for fine particle emissions (EurActiv 15/04/08). source

My comment: Well, the good news is that cars do get less pollutant. But industries don't and that's the bad one. Let's hope that at certain point we will have a working directive about air pollution and that the air will eventually get cleaner. And that the population in poorer EU countries will get rich enough to buy new cars and not used ones, since the old cars generally pollute much more.

Tourists offered website to spot polluted beaches

29 July 2008

'Water Watch - Eye on the Earth', an internet site developed by the European Environment Agency, will allow holidaymakers to freely verify whether the beaches they plan to bathe at are clean or polluted.

The website, launched today (30 July), provides up-to-date information on the quality of bathing water of thousands of beaches in Europe, with an easy 'traffic-light' system displaying a red light for polluted waters, a green light for clean ones and a yellow light for areas not sufficiently monitored.

The service, available on www.eyeonearth.euexternal , also allows users to leave their comments about the quality of bathing waters of the resorts they visited, thanks to an interactive Web 2.0 application.

The mapping technology was offered freely by Microsoft in a charm offensive towards the European Union institutions where its reputation is tainted by ongoing competition cases (EurActiv 28/02/08).

However, it could also be supplied by competitors in the future provided that it does not involve extra costs for the agency, a spokesperson from the EEA told EurActiv. The service has a potential to attract several users and could raise the interest of Google Earth or other providers of satellite imagery and digital maps.

Water Watch is in fact the first step of a five-year project that will also provide easy-to-access information to the general public about the quality of soil, air and ozone. The EEA hopes the new tools will prompt citizens to change their personal behaviour and trigger actions from their administrations.

However, the full reliability of the information cannot be guaranteed as it relies exclusively on data provided by national authorities. In its 2007 report on bathing water quality, the European Commission said it suspects member states of taking some bathing sites off the EU monitoring list in order to cover up pollution problems (EurActiv 1/06/07). source

My comment: Yeah, I can imagine how Bulgarian authorities will call our beaches clean. Well, they are clean, if you're not in a city, but still, I know what will happen here and I'm sure it will happen to other places too. For me, there should be a monitoring group that will make sure the information is correct and up to date. But it's not a bad initiative, however.

Wind 'can produce over 25% of EU electricity by 2030'

29 July 2008

Wind energy could easily provide for more than one fourth of the EU's electricity by 2030 provided that wind farms are better connected to existing electricity grids and that a new grid to exploit the offshore wind industry is built, according to a stakeholder action plan detailing research and political priorities for the sector.

"In 2030, wind energy will be a major modern energy source; reliable and cost-competitive in terms of cost per kWh," predicts the European Wind Energy Technology Platform (TPWindexternal ) in its long term strategic research agenda and market deployment strategyPdf external published on 25 July.

The objective of this action plan is to make wind provide up to 28% of EU electricity consumption by 2030, corresponding to a total of 300 GW, explained the Secretary general of TPWind, Nicolas Fichaux. Currently, 57 GW are installed and connected to electricity grids, corresponding to some 3% of the total EU consumption.

Fichaux said that the yearly growth in EU's wind energy capacity is some 19-20%, corresponding to the rapid growth rates witnessed in the internet, mobile telephony and other high-technology sectors. In the future, even more rapid market development will, according to the platform, be driven namely by increasing concerns over:

  • sustainability and the impacts of climate change;
  • oil and gas depletion;
  • high costs and the unpredictable availability of fuel (security of supply), and;
  • CO2 allowance prices under the EU's emissions trading scheme.

The main problem for reaching the 300 GW objective by 2030 is the availability of electricity grids and connecting wind farms to them, said Fichaux, arguing that "more transparency" regarding connectivity was needed in Europe.

Other problems identified by the platform include the lack of a grid to exploit offshore wind industry as well as the lack of international markets due to poor availability of connection lines between the different countries.

TPWind is therefore urging the European Commission and member states to provide funding to it for the implementation of its action plan through concrete research projects. It also sees the review of the EU's research framework programme FP7, taking place in 2009, as a major opportunity to promote renewable energies.

In this regard, the platform's strategic research agenda defines both short, medium and long term researchPdf external priorities in four areas: wind conditions, wind turbine technology, wind energy integration and offshore deployment and operation. It also defines policy priorities for the sector and examines ways to remove market barriersPdf external to large-scale wind energy deployment. source

My comment: Actually those problems are not trivial, especially the transmission one, but wind really is the energy of the future and I hope we get a better coverage on this.

Report warns of Canadian oil sands climate risks

1 August 2008

The rush to exploit Canada's heavy tar-sand oil, which necessitates more energy to recover than conventional oils, could significantly increase global risks of dangerous climate change, warns a new report by the WWF and the Co-Operative Financial Services (CFS), a UK financial group.

The exploitation of unconventional oil reserves in Canada and North America could increase global atmospheric CO2 levels by up to 15%, says the report, 'Unconventional Oil: Scraping the bottom of the barrel?Pdf external ', published on 29 July.

The continuous rise in oil prices, worsened by increasing difficulties in accessing "easy oil" in supply countries such as Russia, mean the costly exploitation of Canada’s tar-sands and Colorado’s oil-shales have gone from economic nonsense to profitable business.

According to the authors, Shell, ExxonMobil and BP have together announced over $CAN 125 billion (€78 billion) worth of development in Canada’s oil sands by 2015. Total and StatoilHydro also have plans to exploit unconventional oils, in Venezuela and Canada respectively.

With reserves estimated at 174 billion barrels of oil, Canada is already promoting itself as an energy superpower, says the report, placing it second only to Saudi Arabia.

But the extraction and processing of these heavy, bitumen-like oils, involves huge amounts of energy and water, adding to concerns about climate change. "Oil sands extraction produces three times the carbon emissions of conventional oil production, whilst oil shale extraction produces up to eight times as much," says the report.

As a result, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have shot up by 26% since 1990, according the report, way above its Kyoto commitment of a 6% reduction.

In addition, the report points out that the open mining method used to extract the oil sands is creating other problems, with toxic pollution discharges in rivers and intensive water use chief among them.

But the oil companies say they are only exploiting previously unrecoverable resources and have announced sophisticated progammes to lower their environmental impact.

The authors of the report however say these efforts are a false answer to the problem, and warn investors of the potential risks of the business, ranging from the high capital costs to looming regulatory restrictions and the likelihood of litigation.

"The extraordinary lengths some oil and gas companies go to in attempting to make the climate-hostile fuels somewhat less so should be re-directed to bringing forward low-carbon energy," said Ian Jones, head of Responsible Investment at Co-Operative Investments, part of the CFS group. source

My comment: I can't decide whether this is a part of the energy war or it is a genuinely environmental opinion, but it doesn't really matter. Without a good and cheap alternative people will continue to use oil no matter the carbon or whatever footprint. The important step we can make to stop them is to get more efficient and to chose alternative sources of energy for ourselves and also greener products. If the consumers don't show their will, it's unlikely that the government will act to protect their unstated well-being.

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