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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

China and Europe, 2011

Today's entry is dedicated to the not-so-sleeping dragon, China. I often talk about it, but somehow, people prefer to keep their eyes closed. So when nobody hears you, you shout louder :)
I'm not going to comment every particular article. The idea is simple, China is rich on very rare and expensive resources, it is attractive with the cheap labor, and funny regulations, so companies naturally try to relocate there. With all the consequences for European workforce and economy.
The problem for Europe is not so much that China is big and rich. Our problem is that we're poor on ideas. That there is no working strategy on holding our businesses on our own continent.
True, Europe is still the biggest market for green-products. But China is the biggest energy consumer. Second biggest economy. Third biggest in scientific production (or is it second already). Along with few other "biggest" things. We have to be prepared to face the new reality. We are not. At least I don't see any significant changes occurring in key industries, nor on political level. There is a lot of talking, but very little actual doing.
What European countries are very busy doing is protecting their own industries by giving way too more help and rights to them than they deserve or than it's socially and economically justified. Maybe the idea is that if they are happy here, they won't go there. Maybe this is a form of strategy against carbon leak. Who knows...But for me, it's simply not enough. If Europe wants to be the leader, in any area, it ought to create new policies that will induce change at the pace we would like. If we wait for others to lead, then we'll never be on the top of the wave. We'll always have to react.
And new policies are by default brave and crazy and expensive. Europe is not ready to pay for really big projects. Like the creation of pan-European electricity grid - something crucial for the development of renewable energies. Essential project that will drive an economical boom, yet nobody is willing to pay for it. What's worst is that we want to profit from cheap energy, but by keeping the old profitable ways along the way. By nursing some very big companies, which don't need any nursing at all. Well, that's simply wrong. And it is a bad favor even for those companies - because it makes them calm, so calm that they don't invest in research so much and that will make them less competitive and in the end, it will doom them.
You cannot induce change like this. And if you don't induce change, others will. Others like Brazil, India and ... China. China is already investing so much into green energies and science. They have everything needed to be the next world super-power. And Europe, Europe is acting like bee-hive. A lot of buzz, some stinging, absolutely nothing new. We are going under because of our own greed and fear of changes.
And the worst is that what I see in the population a desperate desire to go back to normal, to easy life, no matter how much it costs. There is support for new things, as long as nothing changes and there are no new challenges. Well, that's not possible. Somehow, Europeans, which were renown for the protests against wars, against monopolies, against big companies robbing the little guy and with their love of technology, somehow those brave, intelligent and educated people turned into exhausted, poor and unhappy people, ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of their well-being. Something like USA 50 years ago. But the times has changed. Now it's so much harder to hide the truth, when it's screaming at your face from all over. The world is too globalized to be able to hide unpleasant truths behind propaganda. So what do people do? They go radical, because that's the only way to ignore what's going on. And that's sad. Because on the other side of the world, life goes on and it improves. And the crisis is not the reason behind our misery, it's the consequence of our lack of public responsibility, of our denial, of us turning back to progress.
So what has this to do with China? Well, I see China as one of our biggest failures as a Union. Because we had to respond, we had to put the frames in which the new world should develop. Yet, we missed all kind of deadlines. And on everything - on safety, on climate, on economics, on everything. Instead, we actually led the most ridiculous and shameful war - against Libia. To hide from our own problems. To save the world, when we're completely unable to save ourselves. There are so many problems in Europe, so many things to be done, so many new regulations that are key for both our life and health and for our financial safety. Who works on them? When? How? Nobody knows. Why? Because we're too busy listening to war-news, to anti-immigrant news or generally anti-neighbors news. Nice. But not working. Not effective.
People, Europeans, WAKE UP!
Today:
  1. EU eyes climate 'paradigm shift' on tax, growth and China
  2. Deepwater drilling safety doubts multiply
  3. EU to ban China, India carbon credits trade
  4. Special Report: European solar wobble spurs China deals
  5. Google Says Hackers in China Stole Gmail Passwords
  6. China plans restructure of rare earths industry
  7. 13 exotic elements we can't live without

EU eyes climate 'paradigm shift' on tax, growth and China

14 January 2011
EU climate leaders have been setting out their environmental agendas for tax, resource efficiency and competition from China in the year ahead, one month after the Cancún climate change summit.
Speaking at a Lisbon Council Eco-Innovation Summit on 13 January, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard called for a European "paradigm shift" around taxation, so that "we tax more what we burn and less what we earn".

China's role in global green energy raceOne underlying issue facing the Commission is the entry of China into the global green energy race. The country is expected to announce its own five-year energy plan at the Chinese National People's Congress, also in March.
Initiatives such as moves toward an Emissions Trading Scheme and a pricing mechanism for energy are expected. Until now, the EU has been ahead of the field in the global carbon market, but now "our leadership is being challenged," Hedegaard warned.
In December, a UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, will attempt to hammer out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. source

Deepwater drilling safety doubts multiply

10 January 2011
Doubts about the current safety and liability procedures for deepwater drilling are growing after criticism by statutory agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.
A British parliamentary energy and climate change committee report published last week (6 January) found serious shortcomings in safety and liability arrangements for dealing with potential disasters in planned deepwater wells in the North Sea, off the western Shetland Islands.
Oil companies are already drilling in four Shetlands fields and hundreds of new wells are expected to open up in the years ahead.
Although the British parliamentary report ruled against a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the North Sea, Europe's largest offshore oil field, it voiced "serious doubts" about current safety procedures.
It also recommended extending the 'polluter pays' principle to ensure that taxpayers do not end up paying for any future disasters.
Marlene Holzner, a spokesperson for EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, said the EU was currently considering the very same issues in a period of consultation that is expected to culminate in new EU legislative proposals.

In a communiqué issued last October, the energy commissioner recommended granting licences for new drilling only where oil companies could demonstrate a contingency plan and the financial means to pay for potential environmental damage.
It also called for oil platforms controlled by national authorities to be evaluated by independent experts, and for oil companies to be made liable for repairing environmental damage within a 200 nautical mile zone from the coast after any accident. source

 

EU to ban China, India carbon credits trade

January 21, 2011 
Europe is to ban a highly lucrative trade in polluting rights obtained by European-based companies under a UN scheme to favour environmentally-friendly industrial investment in the likes of China or India.
The ban requires the European Parliament's assent over the next three months.
The ban will affect credits granted for destroying HFC-23 (a by-product of HFC-22) and N2O (nitrous oxide) gases, powerful which contribute to .
The commission partly wants to divert such investments to the world's least developed countries.
The EU executive said that "just 23 such industrial gas projects account for two-thirds of all the credits generated" through the CDM programme, leading to consistent accusations of major systemic abuse by powerful energy and industrial companies.
The vote comes a day after the theft of two million tonnes worth of polluting rights by hackers forced Brussels to close national carbon credits trading registries for at least seven days pending online security reinforcement. source

Special Report: European solar wobble spurs China deals

23 May 2011

A slowdown in subsidies for solar power across European countries has encouraged companies to look oversees for greener pastures, threatening Europe's lead in this promising high-tech sector.
Europe's wobbling solar energy market has again been jolted by news that a world market leader, First Solar, has agreed a strategic cooperation deal with China's state-owned solar firm China Power International (CPINE).
Last year, the European market accounted for 80% of all solar panel demand, but uncertainty about the future of the feed-in tariff programmes run by several EU governments has knocked business confidence.Feed-in tariffs are policy mechanisms designed to provide a level playing field for renewable energy sources, which receive ten times less government subsidies than fossil fuels, according to studies.
But in Germany, France, Italy and Spain tariff cuts are pending. In Bulgaria the industry could be chopped off at the knee, while the UK is considering ending tariffs altogether for installations generating more than 50kW of capacity."It was a moratorium. Everything stopped, the market stopped," said Eleni Despotou of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), commenting about France's decision to cut its feed-in tariff.
"We are seeing a migration of factories from Europe to Asia already. "
With subsidies falling, some countries - like Britain and Germany - want to concentrate tariffs on small households who mount solar panels on their rooftops.But Mitchener argued that where solar power was concerned, a "small is beautiful" strategy was counter-productive.
Some in the solar energy industry welcome phased tariff reductions in principle as a sign of the technology's maturity.But this sentiment mingles uneasily with a growing concern that the cuts are happening too quickly, unpredictably and, often, retroactively.
source

Google Says Hackers in China Stole Gmail Passwords

By JOHN MARKOFF and DAVID BARBOZA, June 1, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Wednesday that hundreds of users of Gmail, its e-mail service, had been the targets of clandestine attacks apparently originating in China that were aimed at stealing their passwords and monitoring their e-mail.
In a blog post, the company said the victims included senior government officials in the United States, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries, military personnel and journalists.
It is the second time Google has pointed to an area of China as the source of an Internet intrusion. Its latest announcement is likely to further ratchet up the tension between the company and Chinese authorities.
Last year, Google said it had traced a sophisticated invasion of its computer systems to people based in China. The accusation led to a rupture of the company’s relationship with China and a decision by Google not to cooperate with China’s censorship demands. As a result, Google decided to base its Chinese search engine in Hong Kong.
Google said the attacks apparently originated in Jinan, a provincial capital in eastern China. The city is a regional command center for the Chinese military, one of seven in the country.
Chinese government media officials were not immediately available to comment on Google’s latest announcement. 
source


China plans restructure of rare earths industry

Wed Jun 8, 12:43 am ET
SHANGHAI – China is giving its biggest, state-owned rare earths miner and producer a monopoly for the northern part of the country in reforms aimed at bringing the strategically important sector that's crucial to advanced manufacturing under tighter control.
The Ministry for Industry and Information Technology said in a statement seen Wednesday on its website that Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth (Group) Hi-Tech Co.,Ltd, will be the only rare earths producer in the region — China's biggest production base for the exotic metals.
It said 35 other companies would be restructured or closed down by the end of June and that Baotou Steel Rare Earth will handle all mining, processing and trading in Inner Mongolia.
The company was the only company able to satisfy capacity and production requirements of various government ministries, the state-run newspaper Global Times cited Liu Jingchun, a researcher at Inner Mongolia's Economic and Information Technology Commission as saying.
China has abundant reserves and produces 97 percent of the global supply of the 17 rare earth minerals, which have exotic names like dysprosium and terbium and are used in computer disk drives, hybrid car components, weapons and other high-tech products.
To cope with growing demand at home and to reduce environmental damage, China has been reducing export quotas of rare earths over the past several years.
Such moves have raised alarm in importing nations, especially after some in the industry accused China of holding back rare earth shipments to Japan due to a flare up in tensions last year. source

13 exotic elements we can't live without

All that means we are heading for a crunch. In its Critical Materials Strategy, published in December last year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) assessed 14 elements of specific importance to clean-energy technologies. It identified six at "critical" risk of supply disruption within the next five years: indium, and five "rare earth" elements, europium, neodymium, terbium, yttrium and dysprosium. It rates a further three - cerium, lanthanum and tellurium - as "near-critical".
Traditionally, these elements just haven't been worth that much to us. Such supplies are often isolated as by-products during the mining of materials already used in vast quantities, such as aluminium, zinc and copper. Copper mining, for example, has given us more than enough tellurium, a key component of next-generation solar cells, to cover our present needs - and made it artificially cheap.
The problem, as the report makes clear, is that the economics changes radically when demand for these materials outstrips what we can supply just by the by. "Then suddenly you have to think about mining these elements directly, as primary ores," says Jaffe. That raises the cost dramatically - presuming we even know where to dig.
An element's price isn't the only problem. The rare earth group of elements, to which many of the most technologically critical belong, are generally found together in ores that also contain small amounts of radioactive elements such as thorium and uranium. In 1998, chemical processing of these ores was suspended at the only US mine for rare earth elements in Mountain Pass, California, due to environmental concerns associated with these radioactive contaminants. The mine is expected to reopen with improved safeguards later this year, but until then the world is dependent on China for nearly all its rare-earth supplies. Since 2005, China has been placing increasingly stringent limits on exports, citing demand from its own burgeoning manufacturing industries.
No longer throwing these materials away is one obvious way of propping up supplies. "Tellurium ought to be regarded as more precious than gold - it is; it is rarer," says Jaffe. Yet in many cases less than 1 per cent of these technologically critical materials ends up being recycled.Even if we were to dramatically improve this record, some basic geological research to find new sources of these elements is crucial - and needed fast. Technological concerns and necessary environmental and social safeguards mean it can take 15 years from the initial discovery of an ore deposit in the developed world to its commercial exploitation, says Hitzman.
In the end, we should thank China for its decision to restrict exports of rare earths, says Jaffe, as it has brought the issue of technologically critical elements to our attention a decade earlier than would otherwise have happened. source

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