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Monday, April 5, 2010

Environment in EU - free markets or free choice?, 04, 2010

Today:
  1. NGOs take Commission to court over biofuels reports
  2. EU to table nuclear waste treatment law
  3. Steel, cement to cash free emission permit billions
  4. EU report favours trading for air pollutants
"Quote of the day:It's as simple as this. It's not the markets that should be free, but the consumers. And if a product violates their choice, that product should be regulated. How this applies to biofuels?..."

Happy Easter, everyone!

NGOs take Commission to court over biofuels reports

10 March 2010
Four environmental groups have sued the European Union's executive for withholding documents they say will add to a growing dossier of evidence that biofuels harm the environment and push up food prices.

The lawsuit, lodged with the EU's General Court, the bloc's second highest court, alleges several violations of European laws on transparency and democracy.

The suit was filed on 8 March by ClientEarth, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife International.

"That the Commission should choose to deny our rights on such a critical issue as the science underpinning our climate policies is astounding," said Tim Grabiel, staff attorney at ClientEarth.

At stake is the EU's commitment to its goal of getting a tenth of its road fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020 - a target that has spawned an EU industry worth around five billion euros ($6.8 billion) a year and a big market for imports from Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The four groups first sought access to the documents on 15 October 2009, and said the European Commission missed a legal deadline to release them under freedom of information laws on 9 February. Some reports have been released, but not all.

A similar request by Reuters has led to the release of 118 reports and e-mails, which reveal worries within the Commission that the EU set its 10% goal before fully assessing the impact of biofuel targets.

Some of the documents raise the prospect of higher EU farm incomes, but cite concerns that plant-based biofuels could create food shortages for the world's poorest.

Others suggest biofuels can drive up demand for land, encouraging farmers in tropical areas to expand cropland into sensitive areas such as wetlands and rainforests - which would have a detrimental environmental impact.

Burning forests can release so much CO2 as to cancel out any benefits sought from the biofuels.

One leaked email says that taking account of biofuels' full carbon footprint could "kill" their role in the EU.

"Current EU biofuels policy guarantees that Europe will use lots of biofuels, but it doesn't guarantee reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - in fact it seems likely it will make things worse," said Nusa Urbancic of transport campaign group T&E.

"The first step to fixing this broken policy must be full transparency about what the true impacts are," she said.

The Commission was not immediately available to comment, but has previously said it is working very seriously to understand the indirect impacts of biofuels. source

My comment: Of course they won't release the documents, they are not (that) crazy. The biofuel's bomb exploded before anyone could react and now they are still thinking how to manage the situation. Because when they set up the biofuel's goal, they thought that will be the panacea of the emission's curbing, which was premature, but sounded good to everyone - it satisfied poor countries, because they could grow and sell the plants easily, it satisfied rich countries, which would reduce their emissions without changing their lifestyle, it satisfied environmentalists, because the process of growing plants is as green as it can get. The bad news came later, when people figured out that it's not the "greenness" that counts, but the actual emissions, the land use, the over-all impact on the global economy and ecology - complicated stuff that nobody seemed to care at the time. But now it's too late to say "No", because big agriculture countries already smelled the money and are desperate to get them. So desperate, they are likely to put pressure wherever the EU is likely to give up. Anyway, for me the question is even deeper - it's about how much we're willing to sacrifice for the economy. Because the purpose of WTO is to protect economy in its purest form - free markets, free trade, free people (whatever that might mean). But in reality, that freedom cannot be absolute. It's the old argument about drugs - should drug's safety be regulated, or we should leave that to companies who would prefer to have safe and happy customers and otherwise would be sued. Well, I think drugs' safety should be regulated. The times are way different, many drugs may not have immediate negative effect or toxicity, sometimes that can be seen years later or generation later. Such negative effects can be assessed only with mice or other test animals that have short enough life. And this is not something that every citizen can do. Neither s/he should do it! The same line of thought can be followed to any product. WTO wants markets free of regulation, but if something is dangerous or have unwanted effects, that product have to be regulated in a way that people would have optimal choice. The same goes for GMO - the problem is not the technology, the problem is that once you start growing them, it's very hard to stop and they may and likely will contaminate the soil of the whole region. Thus you violate the consumers rights! It's as simple as this. It's not the markets that should be free, but the consumers. And if a product violates their choice, that product should be regulated. How this applies to biofuels? Well, the reason why EU set those goals for the biofuels was to achieve emissions reduction. If that reduction is not realistic or untrue, then that goal should be changed, because it doesn't correspond to the "consumers" desires. If EU citizens want the EU to curb emissions, then the means should correspond to that goal. The moment they stop corresponding, those means should change. And no WTO should be able to prevent the EU from achieving that goal. So in short, we have to review our principles. What do we consider fundamental - free markets or free will. Because if it's free will (choice), then the free markets will follow and obey that free will. Meaning if a product violates the free choice, that product cannot and should not be enforced to consumers and the producers should find a way to produce something the the consumers actually want. And as much as I like Brazil, I think they should obey the free choice of Europeans - after all, if I don't want a car they produce, I won't buy it and nobody can convince me to do it, because of the free markets. It should be the same with the EU as a whole.


EU to table nuclear waste treatment law

11 March 2010
The European Commission will table legislative proposals on the treatment of nuclear waste by the year's end, its president José Manuel Barroso announced yesterday (8 March) during a major OECD-hosted conference on civil nuclear power in Paris.

Speaking at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Barroso said the treatment of radioactive waste was a major issue of public concern which must be dealt with.

The new law would set standards for waste management that all member states would have to follow.

Moreover, the Commission president said he would start pressing for European safety standards for nuclear plants to become binding worldwide.

Barroso stressed that last June the EU became the first major regional actor to give legal force to the main international nuclear safety standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Others must now follow suit," he said.

The IAEA's standards, called Fundamental Safety Principles, include the safe construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear reactors, management of nuclear waste and level of preparedness for radiation incidents.

The French president said he wants to allow nuclear developers to get carbon credits under a post-Kyoto Protocol regime from 2013. The UN's Clean Development Mechanism in its current form does not allow developed countries to gain certified emission reductions (CERs) by funding nuclear projects in the developing world.

Critics said Sarkozy's initiative was aimed at clearing the way for French technology to be sold to other countries. France has one of the world's leading nuclear industries, and generates around 80% of its electricity needs from its 58 reactors. source

My comment:"Moreover, the Commission president said he would start pressing for European safety standards for nuclear plants to become binding worldwide." ROFL. Ok, why should they follow? Not that I disagree with the standards, it's just the logic of the statement. As for nuclear energy I'm entirely pro-. The only thing is that I hope the standards are done in a way that won't exclude other major producers just for the fun of it. For example, in Bulgaria there was a major drama over the construction of our next nuclear plant by Russian technology. The question is where's the problem - the actual technology (whose safety only a specialist can assess) or the country it's coming from. What I want to say - the standards shouldn't depend on nationality, only on technology. If something is safe, it should be safe not because it's French, but because it's safe.

Steel, cement to cash free emission permit billions

09 March 2010
The ten companies holding the largest number of surplus emission allowances under the EU's cap-and-trade system stand to make a profit of 3.2 billion euros in the 2008-2012 trading period, according to a new analysis of EU data.

The research, published on 3 March by climate NGO Sandbag, compared the emissions allowances that different companies had received under the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) with their actual emissions. It found that the overly generous free allocation of permits, compounded by a drop in production following the global downturn, had added significant assets to many companies' books.

According to the report, steel giant ArcelorMittal alone could cash over €1 billion from unused EU allowances by 2020. Taken together, the top ten companies, dominated by steel and cement firms, shared 35 million surplus permits in 2008, worth around €500 million at current carbon prices.

Sandbag warned that the large profits made by a few companies "raise questions as to whether EU companies are operating within a level playing field". It pointed out that the surplus permits held by steel and cement companies were counterbalanced by the power sector, which is required to deliver the majority of emissions reductions under the trading scheme.

RWE and E.ON, the two utilities most short of permits, had to make more emissions reductions or pay for more allowances than the required net reductions of the entire scheme in 2008.

The recession meant that the carbon cuts required under the EU ETS were achieved, but the scheme failed to fulfil its original purpose of providing incentives to develop low-carbon technologies, Sandbag warned.

ArcelorMittal spokesperson Jean Lasar said the company had set a target to reduce its carbon emissions by 8% by 2020 and was working on developing new technology that is capable of reducing emissions considerably.

But Sandbag's Pearson warned that the problem of surplus credits is part of a bigger debate about where the EU's climate policy should go. She said the findings justify increasing the EU's 20% emissions reduction target to 30% by 2020 to ensure a higher cap under the EU ETS.

In addition, the NGO called for access to international offset credits to be limited and permits held by member states in their new entrants' reserves to be cancelled. source

My comment: First, I think it's crazy to give free permits to emissions-intensive sectors. Especially if you give to some, but not to all. And the next question is "can such unfair distribution be considered for subsidizing some industries"? If you ask me - yes. If you ask the EC, I'm sure they are very sorry about the stupidity they did satisfying those "requests". I hope they consider what they've done before taking any new actions. And yeah, it's completely unfair to reset the emissions that new memeber-states accumulated. Why? Because those are the rules the EC set. They are obviously bad - credits should be assigned by level of energy intensive production and GDP and capability of those sectors to reduce their emissions (countries with lower GDP should have the same strain to reduce emissions as those with big - obviously a factory in France can more easily reduce their emissions than the same in Latvia). And of course, there should be a maximum of emissions that will ensure that even the countries with such credits won't pollute too much. It's not simple and I don't claim I thought of everything but it's doable and the EC should come up with better rules of the game, not to try to screw those that profited from the rules. And the best way to do that will be to make all the emissions credits paid. You want to emit, then pay. If you don't want to emit, then don't pay.

EU report favours trading for air pollutants

15 March 2010
After having embraced carbon trading to fight climate change, the European Commission is now eyeing an EU-wide trading scheme for sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to improve air quality.

A draft study assessing the environmental and economic impacts of such a system was recently made public.

SO2 and NOx are atmospheric pollutants that cause acid rain, smog and related respiratory health problems. They are typically byproducts of fossil fuel combustion in the chemical and power sectors.

But EU employers' association BusinessEurope has warned that an an EU-wide trading scheme "cannot be the way forward" as these pollutants are already dealt with under existing EU directives.

"An EU-wide trading scheme would bring double regulation and unnecessary costs," the association warned in a letter to the European Commission.

The report, compiled over the past 12 months by Entec UK Limited, an environmental and engineering consultancy, concludes that "most trading scenarios" would be less costly than a planned industrial emissions directive (IED), which was used as the reference scenario for the study.

"This is because under trading, there is access to a wider range of cost-effective abatement options across member states and installations within the trading zone," the study notes.

Such a system would also be cheaper than the current Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive, the Commission observes.

SO2 and NOx emission trading schemes could potentially replace the proposed IED for the pollutants concerned in certain sectors, according to the Commission. The scheme could also replace the individual permitting system based on Best Available Techniques (BATs) laid down in the 1996 IPPC Directive, which is currently under review. source

My comment: I think that BAT + trading scheme would be quite good actually. What's even better NOx gases also play a role in the warming of atmosphere so it makes sense to regulate them even if it wasn't for air quality. For SO2 they claim that blocks sunlight so its reduction might actually increase warming, but after all, it's not all about the temperature. It's about having better air to breath. So, I support the idea.

More:

EU confirms support for bluefin tuna trade ban "European Union ambassadors agreed to propose protecting bluefin tuna as an endangered species on Wednesday (10 March), a move that would effectively ban international trade in the species."-
World nations reject ban on bluefin tuna - "Governments(Japan, Canada and several Arab League) attending the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have rejected an EU-backed proposal to ban trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna to give the species time to reproduce." - Well, we say how they regulated it so far, right? It obviously didn't work well, otherwise the bluefin tuna won't face extinction. In which case, the EU should protect the bluefin tuna.

West worries about Russia turning to coal
"European efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions could be undermined by Russian plans to dramatically increase energy production from coal, Western experts said in Brussels yesterday (9 March).
To be able to honour its gas export contracts, Russia has to turn to coal, said Kevin Rosner, senior fellow at the US Institute for the Analysis of Global Security." -
EU plans centralised CO2 auctioning from 2011 "The European Commission is considering auctioning emissions permits over centralised platforms from 2011 and might cancel auctions if carbon prices are "abnormally low," according to two leaked documents." -
EU CO2 tax proposal due in April "The EU's new taxation commissioner, Algirdas Šemeta, will revive debate on harmonised minimum CO2 tax rates on fuels at EU level, and plans to table fresh proposals as early as next month, it has emerged." -

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