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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Environmental news from EU - biofuels wars in action

Today:
  1. Commission sued over biofuels as suspicions mount
  2. Finance sector says ready to invest in CCS
  3. REACH register to ensure traceability of nanomaterials
  4. MEPs re-allocate crisis funds to energy efficiency
  5. EU tweaks CO2 emissions cap for 2013 

Quote of the day: And it's hard to imagine why some officials will consider this important enough to keep it a secret. And as Wikileaks showed, even the best guarded secrets get revealed eventually. So for me, this attitude of the Commission is very strange and should be properly addressed in court.

Commission sued over biofuels as suspicions mount

21 September 2010
Europe's biofuels policy could cause unwanted side-effects equal to as much as 1.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases - roughly the annual emissions of Russia or India, official reports warn. That means biofuels could produce more carbon emissions than gasoline over a 20-year time frame.
The impact assessment emerged as climate campaigners sued the European Commission on Monday for withholding a different tranche of data on the negative consequences of fuels from crops such as maize, wheat and palm oil.
The Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) said somewhere between 201 million tonnes and 1.092 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases would be released into the atmosphere due to the complex impact of "indirect land use change" from biofuels.Those estimates were based on a scenario in which Europe's traffic burns no more than 7% of biofuels in diesel and gasoline by 2020.
But new strategy reports from the majority of the European Union's member states show they are actually intending to burn somewhere between 9 and 11% biofuels, implying that the real side-effects could be as high as 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
A Commission spokeswoman said seven of the 27 national plans were still missing, so an accurate assessment remains impossible. EU targets have been set for renewable energy in transport, but not specifically for biofuels, she added.
EU sources said Commission energy officials had fought to withhold the new work by the JRC for weeks, but relented on Friday.
The Commission research centre (...) has found that over 20 years the European biofuels policy might actually lead to an increase in emissions - by 21% compared to gasoline, based on data from the executive's own agro-economic experts.Another scenario paints a vision of 36% emissions savings on average compared to gasoline over 20 years, this time using figures generated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington.
 source 
My comment: Do you notice the 50% difference between the Commission research center experts and those of Washington experts. I don't think this number is random. It's well known that USA is one of the biggest maize producers, and since this is one of the main biofuels cultures, it makes sense that they will want to present it as the most efficient option. What I can't understand, however, is why the Commission tried to keep that data away from the public. It's not like anyone has doubts how difficult is to find the balance with biofuels. A lot of researches already argued that biofuels are not as good as we first thought and that in fact, they will hurt a lot more than they will help. At least in this form. So this is not something new. And it's hard to imagine why some officials will consider this important enough to keep it a secret. And as Wikileaks showed, even the best guarded secrets get revealed eventually. So for me, this attitude of the Commission is very strange and should be properly addressed in court.
But I also agree that in the current plan, the EC is speaking of "renewable mix" and not directly of biofuels. So there is place for maneuvering when it comes to biofuels. The biggest problem is not internal, but external. On the last meeting when the EU tried to impose some sustainability requirements on biofuels, Brazil made a great show (or threw a tantrum to be precise) and this is the biggest stumbling block in front of any sensible policy in that area. The fact that biggest producers don't want someone to impose them sustainability criteria. They claim they can and should impose them internally, but nobody actually trust them to do so. That's why I think that the public awareness should be directed at total denial of biofuels in their current form. For me, the most logical way is not to rely on biofuels at all, instead to produce biofuels only from garbage and left-over materials and the rest of the mix to come from renewables and nuclear energy. This is perfectly doable and if done properly it could avoid the diplomatic crisis with Brazil. That is, if they put biofuels not produced from left-overs outside of renewables frame as a whole. But they probably won't, because then, they'll have to deal with USA as well. And that will be tough.

Finance sector says ready to invest in CCS

22 September 2010
Private sector banks are ready to put money into carbon capture and storage projects (CCS) if they are viable without public funding, according to a new report released on Monday (20 September). 
Two research organisations, the Climate Group and the Ecofin Research Foundation, have gauged the views of 30 private sector capital providers on CCS.
They found that there is money available for CCS projects if they can compete with other forms of energy generation without public funding. Moreover, the project must have sponsors with an established track record in managing complicated construction projects and a performance guarantee across the whole capture and generation chain, they said.
Specialist equity is unlikely to be involved in financing CCS projects due to low expected returns or risks linked to high technology, according to the report. Bond or equity holders from big pension funds and insurance companies, on the other hand, said they were comfortable with corporates using their balance sheets to finance CCS if the scale is limited to a small percentage of the group's assets.
"We were surprised at the level of engagement from senior decision-makers in financial institutions and their readiness to consider funding CCS," said Chris Rowland, director at the Ecofin Research Foundation.
The findings of the report indicated, however, that private funding will only be sufficient for two CCS demonstration projects. This would leave Europe far behind its goal of a comprehensive network of projects that can test the whole range of CCS technologies in a variety of geological environments.  source
My comment: As you very well know, I'm very much against CCS. I find it very irresponsible instead of trying to limit our emissions, to bury them. So I sincerely don't wish well on those projects. I mean, every investment in non-military technology is good, but there's no need of so many demonstration plants just to invest in the technology. For me, this is misuse of public money. So sure I prefer private investors, as long as they are not pension funds. Also, note the following news:
Netherlands stops Shell's CO2 storage project. - The Dutch government said Thursday it will not allow oil giant Shell to store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in a depleted gas reservoir under a small town, upholding the fears of townspeople.
Under the scheme, set to have started in 2012, the CO2 was to be carried by a pipeline, compressed, and injected into a depleted gas reservoir 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) under ground.
Shell has said the CO2 will dissolve or form minerals over time.
The ministry (...) insisted it was "safe".
- I can't agree with this more. I mean, how do they know that the CO2 will dissolve or form minerals over time? How much such processes they have seen and/or controlled, to be sure how much strain the underground reservoir can hold until it starts giving defects? Soon a project for geothermal energy was stopped because it produced earthquakes, storing stuff underground is not a piece of cake. We don't know that well Earth soil and its structure. This is precisely why I do believe the Dutch government did well. And that is one of the reasons why I think CCS is inviable. We just have to find another way.
Also on the subject: 
Commission adopts €4bn plan for renewables, CCS - The European Commission adopted a proposal on Wednesday (3 November) to give four billion euros of funding to cutting-edge climate technologies such as renewable energies and carbon capture and storage (CCS).- boys and girls, those are OUR money they are spending. And they spend them very unwell. We can only hope that by the time the projects get approved, the CCS will be proven as a bad idea. 

REACH register to ensure traceability of nanomaterials

15 September 2010
Ahead of a regulatory review next year, the Belgian EU Presidency is proposing to create a specific register for nanomaterials under the bloc's REACH chemicals regulation and wants to make it mandatory to label their presence in consumer products.
The Belgian minister said there was "no need to be alarmed" about the increased use of nanomaterials in consumer products that are sold in European markets without any assessment of the risks beforehand.But he stressed that "it is our duty to apply due minimum of care and caution" and manage risks to health and the environment.
He also argued that "the current development approach for nanomaterials without prior notification of their presence or labelling of their characteristics or potential toxicity is not acceptable".
Magnette sought to strike a balance between calls for a moratorium on nanomaterials based on the precautionary principle and arguments from industry groups, which say their potential risks to human health are have not been proven.
The only realistic way to make nanomaterials acceptable to the wider public is to reduce uncertainty about their effects, he said. After a first review in June 2008, the Commission will conduct its second regulatory review of nanomaterials by the end of next year (EurActiv 19/06/08EurActiv 13/10/09).
Maila Puolamaa, chemicals policy officer at the European Commission's department for enterprise and industry, said that the review will focus on the inclusion of nanomaterials under the REACH regulation on chemicals.
Issues to be addressed include simplified registration for nanomaterials produced in quantities of less than one tonne per year and notification of all nanomaterials placed on the market on their own, in preparation or in articles, she said.
All aspects related to existing environmental legislation on water, waste and air - as well as worker safety - will also be addressed, Puolamaa added.
The results of the assessment will be included in the 2012 REACH review.
source 
My comment: It was about time to act on this. Though 2012 for me is kind of far. Nanomaterials are already in wide use, especially in cosmetics. That makes them potentially very dangerous, because they come in contact with human skin and can enter the human body without any problem. So, the EC once again is sleeping and that's not good. I mean why wait a whole year, make the industry at least label nanomaterials so that consumers know what they buy and what they use. But, of course, that will meet a heavy resistance from Germany and France, so forget about safety, we're the perfect lab rats. As for REACH, check out this:
'Unaware' French firms set to miss REACH deadline - The EU's REACH regulation requires companies to register all their dangerous chemical products and those they use in large quantities by 30 November. Yet in France, some manufacturers run the risk of missing the deadline as they are unaware that the law applies to them. - Unaware?! Hello! So, let's sum it up: companies from other parts of Europe know what to do and bother to submit documents, but those in France are unaware?! Is it just me, or they are fooling with us? Rule are for everyone!

MEPs re-allocate crisis funds to energy efficiency

06 September 2010
MEPs voted last week (2 September) to use €115 million of unspent recovery plan money from the EU's recovery plan on projects to improve energy efficiency in the regions.
The European Parliament's industry, research and energy committee gave its unanimous blessing to European Commission proposals to use unspent money from the European Energy Recovery Programme (EERP). The initiative will create a dedicated financial instrument to support regional and local projects in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Since the programme started in 2009 with a budget of €3.98 billion, money has been allocated to energy interconnections, offshore wind and carbon capture and storage (CCS; see EurActiv LinksDossier) demonstration plants as a priority.
But the Commission now estimates that €115 million will go unspent until the end-of-year deadline, which can be freed for energy efficiency and renewables projects.
MEPs argued that the instrument will create new jobs in regions, which will make them more attractive places to live and aid social integration.
Under the plan, eligible projects will need to have a rapid and significant impact on economic recovery, boost energy security and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Such projects could involve combined heat and power (CHP; see EurActiv LinksDossier) and district heating networks, grid-connected decentralised renewable production amd clean public transport and electric vehicles, as well as electricity storage solutions, smart metering and smart grids, MEPs said.
The new rules will go some way towards correcting the bias towards fossil-fuels that MEPs had detected in the programme. Along with CCS, they had insisted on including energy efficiency and smart cities.
The fund will be managed by public financial intermediaries in order to maximise short-term impact.
The Parliament as a whole will vote on the rule changes in October.source
My comment: WOW, now that is a good news. I think that efficiency should have been on their priority list from the beginning, but this might correct their error a little. I can only hope this gets properly voted, accepted and we'll be able to soon use those money for energy efficiency (Update: It was voted, see: EU cuts deal on using crisis funds for energy efficiency). I think it's unbelievable how much money and power we can save only trough efficiency, so I can't even start to comprehend why the EC left efficiency outside of their plans. It's very easy to spot the conspiracy in this, I mean if we stop consuming, they cannot charge us for our consumption, right? What they fail to understand is that we're talking about a complete change in our philosophy in life and in the philosophy of production. Until now, products have average life-span of 2 years (cars excluded). The idea is simple - the more you buy, the more you stimulate the industry and everyone is happy. However, this cannot continue, not any longer. So maybe finally we'll get back to the strong and nice products, meant to work longer and to consume less. As I said it countless times, we don't need to be miserable in order to be "green". Only the products philosophy should change. 
More on the subject:
Electricity: The looming power struggle for water - Competition between electricity and water demand is climbing up Europe's agenda as climate change is set to further deplete freshwater supplies. Concerns are now being raised that EU renewable energy policies and electric cars could further exacerbate the problem. -  Why I paste this here is not because I believe that we should go back to fossil fuels to save water, that's not serious. But you can read in that article how much resources go into electricity production. For me, the only way to avoid problem is to minimize the use of those resources. And that's perfectly doable, it just requires a change in our mind frame. If you think about how little your laptop consumes as compared to a desktop, or your air-conditioning compared to the older types of heating, you'll know what I mean. 


EU tweaks CO2 emissions cap for 2013

25 October 2010
The European Commission has revised the EU's greenhouse gas emissions cap under its emissions trading scheme for 2013 in order to accommodate new sectors such as aluminium and petrochemicals.
The new cap announced on Friday (22 October) was set at 2.039 billion tonnes. It exceeds the 1.927 billion allowances set last July as it takes into account the extension of the scheme's scope post-2012.
The emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), the EU's flagship climate protection instrument, was extended to include new sectors like aluminium, ammonia and petrochemicals as well as new greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide (N2O) and perfluorocarbons from 2013.
Factories carrying out activities in these areas will therefore join around 11,000 industrial installations and power plants that are already required to purchase emission permits for each tonne of carbon they emit.
The cap will be lowered annually by 1.74% of the average annual total allowances in the second trading phase between 2008 and 2012. In absolute terms, this now translates into a reduction of 37,435,387 per year, the Commission said.The cap still excludes aviation, to be included into the scheme from 2012, for which a separate cap will be set.
source 
My comment: Well, nice to hear more industries were included, but not so nice that once again the limits are being extended, expanded and so on "fine-tuned". You cannot achieve progress if you don't introduce obstacles. Obviously, the EU wants to change things, but not so quickly and not so dramatically. And in the end, the change will come from technology requirements, not so much from political ones. Oh well. 

More:

Farm waste: Worth its weight in gold? - Collecting agricultural residues could prove a lucrative business for Europe's farming sector if EU policy were to offer the right incentives for using biomass to produce biofuels.
Harvesting agricultural residues that are normally left to rot in fields and turning them into next-generation biofuels could generate up to €31bn for the EU economy per year by 2020, according to a new study released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last week (14 September).
Moreover, it could revitalise the ailing farming sector by generating up to a million man-years of employment across the 27 member states over the next decade, most of them in rural areas, it said.
EU moves to protect wildlife from wind turbines - The European Commission has issued guidelines on how to design wind farms so that they do not disturb birds and bats living in the EU's 'Natura 2000' network of protected sites.
But the Commission adds that there is a need for a case-by-case assessment of projects. This is because the impacts of erecting wind turbines in a specific natural environment depend greatly on the native wildlife as well as the design of the wind farm.
Rising tide of drugs, medicines polluting EU waters - Europe's freshwaters are increasingly filled with pharmaceutical residues and other micro-pollutants, which are potentially harmful to human health and the environment, according to Friedrich Barth from the European Water Partnership (EWP), an industry-backed group.
The chemicals can range from pesticides to flame retardants, steroids and hormones from birth-control pills.
They also include residues of antibiotics, anti-depressants, tranquilisers and cancer treatments, which find their way into the water cycle via different pathways.
Some of these pollutants might be carcinogenic or have environmental effects.
EU to propose burying nuclear waste as safest option - The European Commission will promote underground storage as the safest option for storing nuclear waste, according to a leaked proposal which has already irked environmentalists.

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