Archive for October, 2013

Albertan Energy Minister strikes deal with China but Korea might move on by Felix von Geyer

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Alberta signed a legally non-binding Moratorium of Understanding with Beijing on Friday, Albertan Energy Minister Ken Hughes told reporters via a telephone press conference, although the relationship with Korea looks more uncertain.

The MOU provides Alberta with “highly unusual access” at Chinese policy level including sharing knowledge on best practice, other technology knowledge-sharing including on carbon capture and storage, said Hughes who signed the MOU in the presence of China’s President Xi Xinping and Canada’s Governor-General David Johnston.

Hughes who had toured both South Korea and China during this visit told New Orator that China was particularly interested in Canada’s natural resources, particularly its natural gas that provided a cleaner energy option than the coal which helped create poor air quality over many areas in China through the resulting smog. Despite the new MOU, Hughes stated that it was “Too early days” to suggest any forthcoming synergy between China and Canada in combatting climate change through any shared action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the question of Korea’s position on using Canada as an energy provider, Hughes admitted that Korea had indicated it had “many other choices and will move on” if it cannot see Canada putting its relevant infrastructure in place. In Wednesday’s Throne Speech, federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that Ottawa was keen to work with provinces such as Ontario and BC and other willing jurisdictions to establish co-operation, especially around natural resources.

In his Throne Speech, Harper stressed that Canada’s energy reserves are “vast… but we must be able to sell them,” he said, stressing the country’s infrastructure shortages at a time when there was “unprecedented demand” for its energy resources.

Hughes stated that he had been on tour with the Deputy Premier of British Columbia, Rick Coleman, and that both provinces were “completely aligned” in their need to get their products to market. British Columbia is keen to sell its LNG to South-East Asia while Alberta’s oil sands is facing a continuing struggle to have both its Keystone XL pipeline to the US sanctioned by the US government as well as a pipeline such as the Northern Gateway stretching over to the West Coast.

Addressing the fact that a combination of the US shale oil and gas boom had reduced demand for Canadian energy as much as there is doubt as to any imminent green light for the Keystone pipeline, Hughes said: “We need to get our products to somewhere other than the United States of America.”

Food security – a distribution, growth or technological problem? by Felix von Geyer

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Increasing population growth of 80 million people per year while increased affluence is moving three billion people further up the food chain is placing increased pressure on food security, said Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Only the previous week at the Food Security conference hosted annually by Montreal’s McGill University, two divided camps were clearly in evidence between those in favour of increased technological uptake in global food production being marginalized by many who called for a return to ecosystem restoral to feed the world. Back in the 1980’s Amartya Sen advocated that food availability was less of a problem than its distribution, with acquirement undermined by people’s lack of ‘entitlement’ or income to buy food.

However, with population growth and overdrafting of water from finite or fossil aquifers, hundreds of millions of people in China, India and the US are currently being sustained through crops that are rapidly depleting non-renewable water sources such as overpumping in the North China Plains’ aquifer that Brown stated is reducing at the rate of ten feet per year. Eighty per cent of India’s grain land is similarly irrigated from groundwater from its 26 million irrigation wells, many of which are starting to run dry. The World Bank predicted 190 million Indians are being fed through overpumping of non-renewable water, said Brown who stated that the world has reached Peak Water, where water consumption is outstripping the renewable supply of water.

Brown also pointed to climate change and the fact that 40 per cent of the world’s grain is now produced in countries facing photosynthesis issues and limits in addition to other nutrient and moisture constraints through being exposed to too many hot days. Photosynthesis typically breaks down at temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.

Furthermore, increased urbanization, for example 80 per cent of Americans live in cities, is threatening the nutrient cycle said Brown, who pointed to the example that human waste now ends up in a river or the ocean rather than back on the land.

Improved water productivity and meshing population growth with water and land policy are essential to addressing the food security issues ahead of us, according to Brown who added that improved education was also key to reducing population growth. Water productivity would be best improved if there was a price on it, suggested Brown.

However, Brown was ambivalent about the future role of technology. “Scientists have used traditional technology to improve yields before biotechnology came along. Biotech has no single advance that has raised yields that traditional plant breeding has not achieved,” said Brown.

Yet Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture told a McGill University public lecture that providing food security requires an end to conventional approaches; that farmers want genetics and plant breeding technology, soil fertility solutions, crop protection and irrigation and mechanization, all of which come under the general umbrella of technology. Combined with technological solutions, farmers also need services such as organization, property rights, financial services, connectivity and insurance as well as access to markets, transportation and storage. As many of the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers are also subsistence farmers tilling an average of 2 hectares, the need to scale-up agriculture is something they also want and need to transcend their existence from being subsistence farmers.

Annette Desmarais from the University of Manitoba in the heart of Canada’s prairies whose own grain production is predominantly owned by Cargill and Glencore, pointed to September’s report from the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development entitled ‘Wake Up Before It’s Too Late’.

The UNCTAD report called for developing and developed countries to make a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a ‘green revolution’ to a ‘truly ecological intensification’ approach requiring a rapid shift from conventional, monoculture-based industrial production that was highly dependent on external inputs and instead adopt ‘mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems’ that could considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers. “We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management,” said the report where farmers are not only producers of agricultural goods, but managers of “an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services” that would include water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation.

However, as 3 billion people moving through the food chain start to eat increasingly more meat, growing the feedstock for this will also place further stress on agricultural and water productivity in addition to an extra 80 million more mouths to feed per year. It may only be a matter of time before the issue of availability supercedes arguments over distribution but an intelligent and transparent debate over the role, implementation and implications of technology is long overdue.

Aviation breakthrough in combatting climate change

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Governments unanimously approve market-based mechanism for aviation to combat climate change by Felix von Geyer in Montreal
A major breakthrough in an agreement to tackle greenhouse gas emissions was made in Montreal on Friday as the member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization unanimously agreed a Decision to Develop a market-based mechanism (MBM) to regulate and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from aviation at ICAO’s 38th General Assembly.
The proposals will be put to ICAO by 2016 when a Decision to Implement for 2020 will be agreed.
“The devil as always will be in the detail” said ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin who, acknowledging the unheralded unanimity among members on the issue of climate change, declared to much laughter: “The devil  has taken a vacation.”
Indeed, the agreement represents a major step in agreeing a global framework to addressing climate and is the first time that all governments have embraced a decision to develop a market-based mechanism and is also the first time that a sectoral approach to addressing climate change has been taken on a global scale.
ICAO has to report its proposed action to address the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change this year under a decision agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban in 2011.
Going into the Assembly that started last Tuesday, the options for regulating emissions were to introduce carbon offset; offsets with revenues or a full-out market-based mechanism such as a cap and trade similar to the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme that looked to include all aviaiton emissions into its EU ETS for phase III starting in 2013.
Aviation emissions account for approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions but the specifics of aviation emissions means that their emissions actually contribute an estimated 5% of climate forcing. Until recently, it was thought that aviation could only reduce its emissions through better navigation and more direct flights. However, in the past five years the advent of biofuels have shown they can provide a safe alternative to traditional kerosene-based jetfuel while other technologies such as Gas-to-Liquids as developed by Shell in Qatar are available and possible microalgae developments that could arguably provide a carbon-neutral jetfuel are possible.
How ICAO will develop the various proposals is the “Devil in the detail” that Benjamin mentioned. Consensus is that ICAO will need to cap the carbon content of fuel against the energy content of fuel as it comes to market, which in the case of civil aviation the market would be an ICAO bunker near the airports. This in effect would look to increase the energy density of fuel against the carbon emissions and would require an assessment of what the biofuel and alternative fuel possibilities are and whether these could be made globally available while also needing to address infrastructure issues such as pipelines and so forth.
The importance of Friday’s agreement cannot however be undermined when climate polictics have divided nations, as witnessed at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 that was meant to usher in a comprehensive global agreement that is now deferred to 2015 as again agreed in Durban.
A total of seventy-two reservations were raised by countries, many reservations revolving around familiar dividing lines such as Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). Saudi Arabia, traditionally the world’s largest oil producer and highest producer of greenhouse gas emissions stating that they did not want to be burdened by costs at the expense of their society and economy. India, traditionally an obstacle in the path of climate consensus due to its need to alleviate poverty and its dependence on fossil fuels, also expressed its concerns over CBDR, mutual consent and how market-based mechanisms need to pass through the test of feasibility.
Canada expressed its reservation on the inclusion of CBDR as it was incompatible with international aviation activities.
Last week’s release by the International Panel on Climate Change indicated the rate and pace of climate change has surpassed scientists’ original expectations. What the IPCC Working Group 1 report did not say, however is: “You know you can commodify carbon emissions; but you can never commodify time.”