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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Environment in Europe, june, 2009 - hesitation is all around

Today:
  1. EU, US criticised for low profile in Bonn climate talks
  2. France lines up carbon tax
  3. Commission pressed to table biowaste directive
  4. Ministers chide 'unrealistic' green housing plans
  5. Nanotech claims 'dropped' for fear of consumer recoil

But first, read here how the French Constitutional Council showed the finger to the Sarkozy's pet-project to stop Internet piracy. The Council said that only a court can stop the Internet access of the illegal downloaders. FUN! Although I must say I like the idea of decriminalising piracy-which essentially this law does-it will enforce only administrative actions. But still, I think that stopping the Internet access to anybody should be against human rights! (or limiting this access, actually, but that's another story). So people, enjoy!

Quote of the day: And if you ask me, it's dead simple-put an emission target and charge anything produced outside your country with the same amount that your producers pay to produce it home. I know it's against WTO, but who care about WTO! WTO is supposed to help, not to obstruct us....

EU, US criticised for low profile in Bonn climate talks

16 June 2009

The EU and the US took a backseat at the negotiating table during the second round of global climate talks in Bonn, while Japan shocked developing countries by announcing a "shameful" emissions reduction target.

As the two-week talks drew to a close on Friday (12 June), the negotiating text had swelled to hundreds of pages as all parties raced to add their amendments. There was, however, no movement towards agreement on financing for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries, recognised as a prerequisite for any agreement in Copenhagen next December.

The European Union was criticised for sending the wrong signals, as EU finance ministers at their meeting on 9 June did not put forward any concrete figures but merely agreed on criteria for how developed nations should share the burden of future funding (EurActiv 09/06/09). The US was equally criticised for a lack of leadership.

It is far from certain whether the US will be able to get its climate bill through Congress by the end of the year, which would cement the government's mandate to sign up to emission reduction targets. Concerns are now being raised that the anticipated US leadership on ambitious commitments to reduce emissions will not materialise in the face of domestic realities.

Indeed, rich nations did not come any closer to agreeing a collective emissions reduction goal. They came under heavy criticism on the final day of the Bonn conference, when 40 developing countries of the G-77 specifically called for a 40% below 1990-level emissions reduction target for industrialised nations.

Neither the EU's 30% offer in case other developed nations sign up to comparable efforts, nor the target of returning to 1990 levels in the draft US draft climate bill come anywhere close to this. Moreover, Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belarus and Ukraine refused even to define an initial target.

The eagerly awaited unveiling of Japan's midterm target for emissions reductions turned into one of the greatest disappointments of the talks. Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso announced that his country would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. However, this only translates into an 8% cut from 1990 levels.

"It was essentially a slap in the face of developing countries that called for a 40% target," Gore said.

Aso, however, asserted that the target was ambitious and pointed out that Japan was already the most energy-efficient economy in the world.

But observers were quick to note that the target was only marginally above the 6% commitment that Japan had made under the Kyoto Protocol.

But observers noted that discussions on funding mechanisms had seen some progress, as consensus was building around a Mexican proposal for a climate fund. The idea of the fund - to which all parties, including developing and developed nations, contribute according to their GDP, population and level of emissions - is proving popular due to its universality.

The contribution of the aviation and shipping industries to climate funding was raised, as a group of developing countries proposed a levy on international flight tickets and shipping fuel. This could be used to help them deal with the consequences of climate change, they said.

World leaders should step up to the plate at the G8 meeting in July in Italy and start fighting for an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen, green groups said. source

My comment: Yup, check here to see how the EU postponed with couple of months any decision on the climate. Oh well...And since G8 meeting is in progress, check here what the big guys are doing. More or less nothing. I don't get one thing. It's obvious that those emission targets will have to be accepted sooner or later, someone will lose, someone will win, why don't they simply find out who's going to win and find a way to use that profit to gain popularity. I'm sure I'm not smarter than the guys opposing the climate targets, but I don't get it why they prefer to procrastinate. They got their money in the form of CCS funds, most industries are already protected, but it's not going to happen without some commitment. And without someone to make the decision first. And if you ask me, it's dead simple-put an emission target and charge anything produced outside your country with the same amount that your producers pay to produce it home. I know it's against WTO, but who care about WTO! WTO is supposed to help, not to obstruct us....

France lines up carbon tax

12 June 2009

The French government has set the ball rolling to introduce a carbon tax in 2011, anticipating support for Sweden's plans to make implementing such a scheme at EU level the priority of its upcoming six-month turn at the bloc's helm.

French Environment and Finance Ministers Jean-Louis Borloo and Christine Lagarde opened the debate on the tax by presenting a white paper for public consultation on 10 June.

However, the government did not give details of what products the future tax should cover, nor did it specify how it should be implemented. Instead, it asked a panel of experts to work out the nitty-gritty at a meeting on 2-3 July.

The purpose of the tax is to nudge both businesses and consumers towards greener energy consumption to help France meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The government insists that the tax would not add to the financial burden on industry and households, because it would be accompanied by other tax reductions.

The new tax was initially intended to come into being in 2010. But former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, whom President Nicolas Sarkozy put in the charge of the dossier, said it would not become a reality before 2011 at the earliest.

Sweden has made clear that it aims to push for a Europe-wide tax on CO2 during its presidency, which starts in July (EurActiv 12/05/09). The Swedish government considers its own tax scheme on fuel and diesel to have been a success, and hopes to relay this to its European partners.

Europe's emissions trading scheme, the EU's flagship climate instrument, already sets a price on carbon for industrial emissions. But Sweden argues that this still leaves 60% of emissions untouched, and is advocating a tax as the best way to bring them down. source

My comment: I don't get it, who this tax won't add to the financial burden on consumers, for real. This is nonsense. I'm not some crazy tax-hater, I think taxes are something useful and necessary. But still, I don't see why we have to add new taxes when we already have enough and we can always raise them if we need money. And what's even more, I don't see what exactly would this new tax do. If it will charge me for breathing and emitting heat, I'm sorry, I don't agree with that. If it's applied as an added value to every product based on the actual eco-cost of the production, I agree. But I very much doubt it would be like this, because it's too hard to evaluate such things. More likely it will be a universal tax. Then, I ask, how would it stimulate green production, if the money go to the government which of course will spend them in random ways? This is simply a nonsense and I urge people to think carefully on the issue and to ask their MPs what they think they're doing.

Commission pressed to table biowaste directive

11 June 2009

The European Commission is currently under heavy pressure from Belgium, Spain and industry to propose a stand-alone directive for biowaste management, in order to plug the regulatory holes left by existing EU waste legislation.

"After two decades of intensive legislating, what more do we need? What are the barriers? Why is biowaste recycling not happening?," asked Jos Delbeke, deputy director-general of the Commission's environment department, at a biowaste conference on 9 June.

"We already have the tools," he said, listing six existing EU legal instruments regulating the treatment of biowaste: the recently-revised Waste Framework Directive, directives on landfill, integrated pollution prevention and control, incineration and renewable energy, and the regulation on animal by-products.

Delbeke also noted that initial signs from member states indicate that a majority is against a new directive, instead favouring implementation of existing laws.

Biowaste management "can considerably contribute to member states' climate goals," argued Astrid Klug, parliamentary state secretary at the German Federal Environment Ministry.

She called for mandatory separate collection of biowaste and underlined the environmental benefits of recycling: quality compost to improve soil quality and increased capacity for soil to absorb CO2.

Meanwhile, concerns were raised over the cost of mandatory separate collection, particularly in scarcely-populated regions.

The fact that the EU's recent Renewables Directive considers biowaste as a renewable energy when incinerated was considered problematic by several stakeholders at the conference.

Luc Vanacker from the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) said it was about choosing between producing energy through incineration of biowaste or contributing indirectly to the EU's climate change goals through recycling it into compost to improve soil quality, fight erosion and increase carbon sequestration.

Diplomatic sources told EurActiv that the topic is "genuinely controversial", as the local and regional differences are so great that it will be very difficult to legislate on the matter at EU level. Meanwhile, the Commission will most probably propose a "loose" directive next year to at least reach agreement on the quality of compost, in view of fostering an internal market for compost, the diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Mayor of London Boris Johnson launched on 10 June a major initiative to convert London's food waste into eco-fuel to cut landfill rates and carbon emissions. Some two thirds of the city's annual total of three million tonnes of organic waste is currently burnt in incinerators or buried in landfill. source

My comment: I completely second this proposal. Enrichment of soils is a better use of bio-waste than energy production for many reasons. I think people don't have an idea how fragile soils on Earth are. They do get damaged by too aggressive use and chemical add-ons. They need time to regenerate. That time can be up to 20 or 50 years. We don't need that. And compost is unbelievable cure for the soil. I grow tomatoes, I can tell you how weak they are without the compost, as well as any gardener can tell you. The chemistry is an alternative, but with it the soil degenerate and become less fertile and less well healthy. We don't even talk about human health here. So, yes, I think this is a wonderful idea. We have to use any means available to ease our emission target and also to become more energy-efficient and more sustainable. I mean, why throw away something when you can use it?

Ministers chide 'unrealistic' green housing plans

15 June 2009
EU energy ministers received an update on progress made regarding the bloc's energy efficency legislation at their meeting on Friday (12 June), as the EU seeks safeguard its energy future in a sustainable manner.

The Czech EU Presidency and the European Commission presented a progress report on energy-saving legislation on buildings, tyres and energy labelling, which are to contribute to the EU's target of using 20% less energy by 2020.

According to a progress report from the Czech Presidency, many member states are concerned that the directive on the energy performance of buildings could come with too high an administrative burden.

Although generally supportive of the legislation, they think the European Parliament's first-reading position that all new buildings should produce on-site at least as much renewable energy as they consume by 2019 is "overly ambitious and unrealistic" (EurActiv 24/04/09).

On energy labels for consumer goods, member states seem to be divided between the Commission's proposals to change the current A-G classification by adding categories to the highest 'A' class, and the Parliament's first-reading position of retaining the closed scheme and upgrading classification thresholds instead (EurActiv 06/05/09).

After the Parliament's rejection of the new label format for televisions (EurActiv 07/05/09), the legislation on labelling is at an impasse, which the Commission is trying to unblock by conducting a consumer survey.

The directive on tyre labelling, on the other hand, has proven less controversial, although some member states wanted to add provisions for a tyre type used in Nordic winter conditions. The Commission will now propose an amended version in the form of a directive to speed up implementation.source

My comment: No comment, this is just for your information, most things have been already discussed here.

Nanotech claims 'dropped' for fear of consumer recoil

15 June 2009

Finding reliable information about products on the European market which currently contain nanomaterials is becoming increasingly difficult, according to high-level experts addressing a meeting of consumer groups from the EU and US.

Some products containing nanoparticles do not mention this on their labels, while other firms are falsely claiming to have enhanced their products by using nanotechnology, the Brussels conference heard last week (10 June).

Dr Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the 'Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' at the Woodrow Wilson Center, has collated an inventory of products currently on the market which manufacturers claim contain nanotechnology.

He said around 800 products have been identified online, with the bulk of these found in the health and fitness sector, but that few of these pose a potential health risk.

However, he is concerned that controversy surrounding nanotechnology – some of which, he says, is not grounded in scientific fact – has led manufacturers to remove any mention of nanomaterials from their products.

Harald Throne, researcher at the National Institute for Consumer Research in Norway, echoed concerns that companies may be becoming less inclined to highlight nanomaterials.

He searched a website run by a major international cosmetics company, using keywords like 'nanotechnology' and 'nano', to estimate how many products contain nanotechnology. Throne's search turned up 29 products in 2007, but when he repeated the same exercise recently, there were zero hits.

This, he said, suggests that companies may now view 'nano' as a negative label rather than an added value.

Sue Davis, chief policy officer at UK consumer advocacy group Which?, said data was limited, and expressed concern that companies are reluctant to engage with consumers on the issue.

"We have to distinguish between marketing hype and real uses of nanotechnology," she said, adding that her organisation had found it difficult to extract reliable information from industry.

She said Which? conducted a survey of 67 cosmetic companies but received information from just eight. All eight respondents reported using nanotechnology in sunscreen.

"However, if you go online you can find products advertising carbon fullerenes in anti-ageing creams and nanosilver in toothpastes, despite the potential toxicity associated with these substances," she said.

Davis called for mandatory reporting to combat the lack of information in this area, as voluntary codes do not work.

However, Steffi Freidrichs, director of the Nanotechnology Industries Association, said the industry has been upfront about its use of promising new technologies and that companies go to great lengths to ensure products are safe.

She pointed to confusion about the definition of nanotechnology, with some NGOs defining 'nano' as materials smaller than 300 nanometres, while the industry uses the definition of less than 100 nanometres. source

My comment: Safety my ass. Ok, I'm sure they make their best to prove that their shower gel won't kill anyone immediately, but there are effects that are harder to track. Like cumulative effects that happen after you have used the thing many times or when you have combined it with other similar products. And there are many indications that some nanoparticles may be quite dangerous. So, I also think that companies have to explicitely declare whether they use nanotechnology. It's not about creating panic or fearing the new. It's about being reasonable. Nanoparticles won't kill you, but some of them may cause you discomfort or even diseases. So, let's be realistic and require that information, so that investigative organs would be able to trace problems to their source if the need arise.

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