Pipelines not the only energy transportation system under environmentalist scrutiny

Canadians hear much about the proposed Northern Gateway and Keystone XL oil pipeline controversies but who in Canada has heard about the Tongue River Railroad? The TRR is a rail line proposed to haul coal from a proposed mine in Montana to ports on the West coast from which it will be shipped to China and elsewhere in Asia.

The rail line is being opposed by a number of environmental groups, loosely collected under the auspices of the Northern Plains Resource Council, not so much, in GallonDaily’s opinion, because they have environmental or social grounds for opposing the rail line, though there are some such grounds, but because they do not want to see the coal mine opened up, because they believe that the existence of the rail line will encourage more coal mines to open, and because they want to put roadblocks in the way of expanded use of coal. GallonDaily sees the opposition to the rail line, which is currently taking place before   the federal Surface Transportation Board, as a legitimate way of expressing this opposition. Coal interests and others who support the mine are apparently trying to challenge the legitimacy of the Northern Plains Resource Council, claiming it does not represent Montana people, as it claims, but that it is well funded and supported by the foundation funds of “some of the wealthiest people in the nation” who, by implication, live in the eastern US and elsewhere.

Coal and oil are in competition with each other as well as with renewable sources of energy and natural gas. While industry may be frustrated by the increasingly litigious nature of transportation issues, the fact is that reductions in public environmental assessment processes will only lead to such disputes becoming more frequent, more time consuming, and more costly for industry and the taxpayer. No amount of new pro-development legislation that fails to consider the environmental consequences of energy development is likely to stop these environmentalist efforts.

For information about the Tongue River Railroad dispute, visit the Northern Plains Resource Council website at http://www.northernplains.org/ and click on the stories under Latest News. To see what some others say about NPRC, visit a website created by the Center for Consumer Freedom at http://activistcash.com/organization_overview.cfm/o/272-northern-plains-resource-council

Hydrogen fuel not such a big opportunity?

A new report from Lux Research, an independent US-based research and advisory firm in the renewable, energy, water and emerging technology sectors, suggests that hydrogen will not be the amazing new fuel that some have predicted, though niche applications are likely to continue to grow.

The report states that hydrogen fuel cells can be expected to grow to a $3 billion market of about 5.9 GW by 2030. By comparison, GallonDaily notes that the installed capacity of the US electricity sector today is over 1000 GW. The Lux Research press release states that “High capital costs and the low costs of incumbents provide a nearly insurmountable barrier to adoption, except in niche applications”. Among the findings of the report:

  • Hydrogen generation accounts for less than 33% of the cost at the pump.
  • Proton exchange membrane cells will have a $1 billion stationary market.
  • Mobile applications will be worth $2 billion.
  • Hydrogen demand from fuel cells will total 140 million kg in 2030.

A press release containing more information and a link to the report (subscription or purchase required) is available at http://www2.luxresearchinc.com/news-and-events/press-releases/143.html

Mercury to be addressed by new international treaty

On the eve of a meeting next week under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme to finalize an international convention on mercury, UNEP has published an updated assessment of mercury risks.

Many of the risks are in developing countries, associated with small scale extraction of gold, or associated with burning of coal.  However, some uses of mercury, and the associated proposals for control mechanisms, are relevant to developed countries and manufacturers. The report identifies the following:

  • phase out of compact fluorescent lightbulbs and a push towards alternatives.
  • eventual elimination of mercury in manufacture of PVC plastic.
  • control of mercury emissions from the burning of coal, metals production, and the production of cement.
  • reducing the use of mercury in products and processes, ensuring the sound management of mercury-containing waste, and the clean-up of mercury-contaminated sites.
  • decreasing use of mercury-containing products, decreasing use of processes utilizing mercury, sound waste management, and a structural
  • approach to reducing the use of mercury in artisanal small scale gold mining.

A summary and a link to the full report is available at http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2702&ArticleID=9366&l=en

Likely more food waste than previously reported

A new report from the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers finds that global wastage of food may be as much as 50% of production. The report projects that the needs of the growing population can be met largely, if not totally, through elimination of this waste.

In developing countries, food waste occurs primarily at the producer end of the supply chain due to inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure, resulting in produce that is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm site conditions. In developed countries produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour. Perfectly edible produce is often rejected because it does not meet standards for size or appearance. Consumers are encouraged through promotions and packaging to purchase more than they can use.

Waste of food also means less than optimum land usage and significant waste of water and energy associated with food production.  The IME recommends:

1. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) works with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programmes that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how, and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post-harvest stages of food production.

2. Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimisation thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.

3. Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.

A synopsis and the full report are available at http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/themes/environment/global-food?WT.mc_id=HP_130007

Gallon Letter’s feature on food waste in the June 2011 issue can be found at http://www.cialgroup.com/hrglv16n03.htm

Antibiotic resistance, and many others, fingered as big future risks to humans

The World Economic Forum has published the 2013 edition of its annual Global Risks report. Reading the document quickly leads one to the conclusion that, if the experts are right, the future is most unlikely to be a continuation of the present. Based on a survey of over 1000 experts worldwide, the report groups risks into the categories of economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological.

One of the highlighted risks, under the heading of The Dangers of Hubris on Human Health, is that of antibiotic resistance. The report quotes Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization, as saying “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

Environmental risks which are shown in the report to be trending to increased likelihood to occur in the next ten years and increasing impact if the risk were to occur include:

  • Rising greenhouse gas emissions
  • Failure of climate change adaptation
  • Persistent extreme weather
  • Irremediable pollution
  • Land and waterway use mismanagement
  • Mismanaged urbanization
  • Species overexploitation

In other categories of risk, top risks with increasing likelihood to occur and increasing impact if they do occur include:

  • Severe income disparity
  • Diffusion of weapons of mass destruction
  • Water supply crises
  • Cyber attacks

and quite a number more.

This fascinating and complex report, which will undoubtedly be a significant topic of conversation not only at the Davos Annual Meeting of the WEF but amongst opinion leaders everywhere, is available by scrolling down to Global Risks 2013 – Eighth Edition on the page  http://www.weforum.org/reports 

USDA to help industry promote increased use of paper

The US Department of Agriculture has posted a proposal to assist industry to research and promote the use of paper in many of its forms. The program is designed to help overcome declines in paper markets in the US which have been experienced since 2000. The proposed activity will be funded by a levy on paper and is authorized by legislation giving USDA the power to become involved in agricultural and forestry research and promotion activities.

According to the supporting documentation,  about 68.5 million tons of U.S. paper and paper-based packaging to be covered under the program were produced in 2011. Of the 68.5 million short tons, 50.1 percent was containerboard (the raw material for corrugated cardboard), 29.1 percent was printing, writing and related paper, 18.3 percent was paperboard (sometimes known as cardboard or boxboard), and 2.5 percent was kraft packaging paper. Exports totaled about 11.5 million, or 17 percent of domestic production, and about 16% of this went to Canada. Imports totaled 7.5 million tons, of which about 58.6 percent was from Canada.

The USDA proposal provides much information about US paper markets. Assuming the industry agrees to a mandatory levy of 35 cents per ton of paper manufactured or imported, the project is likely to lead to activities promoting the use of paper which will have an impact not only in the US but also in Canada.

The proposal for the Paper and Paper-Based Packaging Promotion, Research and Information Order, and a link to post comments or view the comments of others, can be seen at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=AMS-FV-11-0069-0001 .  To be considered by USDA, comments must be posted by March 4.

UN Environment Programme may play more important role

The General Assembly of the United Nations has agreed to ‘strengthen and upgrade’ the UN Environment Programme and to provide for universal membership of its governing body. Previously UNEP membership had been extended to only 58 member states. The General Assembly motion is seen as a step forward in helping UNEP to meet the objectives established for it during the Rio+20 meeting last June. The resolution concerning UNEP sets the following objectives:

(a) Establish universal membership in the Governing Council of UNEP, as well as other measures to strengthen its governance as well its responsiveness and accountability to Member States;

(b) Have secure, stable, adequate and increased financial resources from the regular budget of the UN and voluntary contributions to fulfill its mandate;

(c) Enhance UNEP’s voice and ability to fulfill its coordination mandate within the UN system by strengthening UNEP engagement in key UN coordination bodies and empowering UNEP to lead efforts to formulate UN system-wide strategies on the environment;

(d) Promote a strong science-policy interface, building on existing international instruments, assessments, panels and information networks, including the Global Environmental Outlook, as one of the processes aimed at bringing together information and assessment to support informed decision-making;

(e) Disseminate and share evidence-based environmental information and raise public awareness on critical as well as emerging environmental issues;

(f) Provide capacity building to countries as well as support and facilitate access to technology;

(g) Progressively consolidate headquarters functions in Nairobi, as well as strengthen its regional presence, in order to assist countries, upon request, in the implementation of their national environmental policies, collaborating closely with other relevant entities of the UN system;

(h) Ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders drawing on best practices and models from relevant multilateral institutions and exploring new mechanisms to promote transparency and the effective engagement of civil society.

A review conducted last year indicated that UNEP had only made progress on four of the 90 environmental goals agreed by the international community. A meeting of the new Governing Board, scheduled for mid-February, is likely to begin the process of setting priorities for the expanded organization. Among likely areas of UNEP activity in the years ahead are:

  • Climate Change
  • Stratospheric Ozone
  • Lead in Gasoline
  • Outdoor Air Pollution
  • Indoor Air Pollution
  • Extinction Risk of Species
  • Natural Habitats
  • Invasive Alien Species
  • Traditional Knowledge
  • Access & Benefit Sharing
  • Protected Areas
  • Sustainably Managed Production Areas
  • Species Harvested for Food and Medicine
  • Fish Stocks
  • Sound Chemicals Management
  • Heavy Metals
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • Sound Waste Management
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Access to Food
  • Desertification & Drought
  • Deforestation
  • Wetlands
  • Ecosystem Services
  • Drinking Water
  • Sanitation
  • Groundwater Depletion
  • Water Use Efficiency
  • Freshwater Pollution
  • Marine Pollution
  • Corals
  • Extreme Events
  • Environmental Policies
  • Sustainable Development in Country Policies/Programmes

From a business perspective the strengthening of UNEP will likely increase the need for engagement between business organizations and UNEP and a greater opportunity, or need, for engagement at the international environmental policy level. UNEP plans to consolidate more of its activities at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

The announcement of the expansion of UNEP can be found at http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2700&ArticleID=9363&l=en

The UNEP Global Environment Outlook report, an annual assessment last released in draft form in July 2012 and recently updated to a final version, is at http://www.unep.org/geo/geo5.asp

Research indicates renewables can meet power needs 99.9% of the time by 2030

A paper recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Power Sources by a team led by researcher Cory Budischak of the University of Delaware Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering predicts that current wind and photovoltaic power will be able to economically meet a grid’s power requirements 99.9% of the time by 2030 using existing technologies.

The team built a computer model of one fifth of the US power grid and analyzed 28 billion combinations of on-shore wind, off-shore wind, and photovoltaic power with electrochemical storage batteries using four years of actual load and weather data. They found that the least cost renewable infrastructures would seemingly yield excessive generation capacity—at times, almost three times the electricity needed to meet electrical load. One of the main reasons that renewables work in this way is that by diversifying generation locations there will be generation in one area even when generation in another is at a low ebb. 99.9% of hours of load can be met by renewables with only 9 to 72 hours of battery storage capacity. The researchers predict that, at 2030 technology costs, 90% of load hours can be met with power costing less than it does today. They suggest that excess power can be used to displace natural gas consumption.

An abstract and the full paper can be found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775312014759#

UN General Assembly to promote ecotourism

Last month the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution in support of ecotourism. The resolution, introduced as part of a consideration of poverty and other development issues,  stated, in part, that the General Assembly:

2. Recognizes that the development of ecotourism, within the framework of sustainable tourism, can have a positive impact on income generation, job creation and education, and thus on the fight against poverty and hunger, and can contribute directly to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals;

3. Also recognizes the potential of ecotourism to reduce poverty by improving individual livelihoods in local communities and to generate resources for community development projects;

4. Emphasizes the need to optimize the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits stemming from ecotourism activities in all countries, particularly developing countries, including African countries, the least developed countries and small island developing States;

5. Also emphasizes that ecotourism can contribute to sustainable development, in particular environment protection, and improve the well-being of local and indigenous communities;

6. Recognizes that ecotourism creates significant opportunities for the conservation, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and of natural areas by encouraging local and indigenous communities in host countries and tourists alike to preserve and respect the natural and cultural heritage;

7. Underlines, in this regard, the importance of establishing, at the national level, where necessary, appropriate policies, guidelines and regulations, in accordance with national priorities and legislation, for promoting and supporting ecotourism, within the framework of sustainable tourism, and minimizing its potential negative impact;

8. Invites Governments, international organizations, other relevant institutions and other stakeholders, as appropriate, to highlight and support best practices in relation to the implementation of relevant policies, guidelines and regulations in the ecotourism sector and to implement and disseminate existing guidelines;

9. Encourages Governments at all levels to use ecotourism, within the framework of sustainable tourism, as a tool to support poverty alleviation, environmental protection and/or biodiversity conservation, and to base the tourism components on clear evidence of market demand and a sound economic base;

10. Encourages Member States to promote investment in ecotourism, in accordance with their national legislation, which may include creating small- and medium-sized enterprises, promoting cooperatives and facilitating access to finance through inclusive financial services, including microcredit initiatives for the poor, local and indigenous communities in areas with high ecotourism potential, including rural areas;

11. Underlines the importance of conducting an environmental impact assessment, in accordance with national legislation, for the development of ecotourism opportunities;

12. Stresses that indigenous cultures, traditions and knowledge, in all their aspects, are to be fully considered, respected and promoted in ecotourism policy development, within the framework of sustainable tourism, and underlines the importance of promoting the full and early participation and involvement of local and indigenous communities in decisions that affect them and of integrating indigenous and local knowledge, heritage and values in any such ecotourism initiatives, as appropriate;

13. Emphasizes the need for effective measures in the context of ecotourism initiatives to ensure the full empowerment of women, including equal participation of women and men at all levels and in decision-making processes in all areas;

14. Calls upon the United Nations system, in the context of the global campaign for the Millennium Development Goals, to promote ecotourism, within the framework of sustainable tourism, as an instrument that can contribute to achieving those Goals, in particular the Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and of ensuring environmental sustainability, and to support the efforts and policies of developing countries in this field;

15. Encourages the regional and international financial institutions to provide adequate support to programmes and projects related to ecotourism, taking into account the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits of such activities;

16. Invites relevant specialized agencies, in particular the World Tourism Organization, United Nations bodies and other organizations, to provide technical assistance to Governments, upon request, to assist, as appropriate, in strengthening legislative or policy frameworks for ecotourism and their implementation in the context of sustainable tourism, including those for environmental protection and the conservation of natural and cultural heritage;

17. Invites all stakeholders to cooperate in supporting, as appropriate, local and indigenous community participation in ecotourism activities;

18. Invites the public and private sectors and relevant stakeholders to provide, upon request, assistance for capacity-building, developing specific guidelines and awareness-raising materials and training for people involved in the ecotourism sector, such as language training and training in specific skills in tourism services, as well as to develop or strengthen partnerships, especially in protected areas, within the framework of sustainable tourism;

19. Recognizes the role of North-South cooperation in promoting ecotourism as a means to achieve economic growth, to reduce inequalities and to improve living standards in developing countries, and also recognizes that South-South and triangular cooperation, as complements to North-South cooperation, have potential for promoting ecotourism;

20. Requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly at its sixty-ninth session, in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization and other relevant United Nations agencies and programmes, a report on the implementation of the present resolution, including recommendations on ways and means to promote ecotourism as a tool for fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development, taking into account relevant reports prepared by the World Tourism Organization in this field.

Gallon Environment Letter has long been an advocate for environmentally responsible tourism as a mechanism for environmental advancement and promotion of greater international harmony.

The full General Assembly resolution, which was adopted on 21st December 2012, as far as we know without amendment and by consensus, can be found in the UN Committee Report at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/644/81/PDF/N1264481.pdf?OpenElement

Innovations can make food production much more climate friendly

Courtesy of a new report from Worldwatch Institute, GallonDaily can begin a new year with a significantly more optimistic outlook regarding food production and climate change. The just published report, entitled Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production, concludes that:

By tapping into the multitude of climate-friendly farming practices that already exist, agriculture can continue to supply food for the human population, as well as income for the world’s 1.3 billion farmers. Climate-friendly agriculture also can play a critical role in the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of climate change.

In 38 pages, authors Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds summarize the state of the world’s food system, the environmental impacts, and the innovations that can improve supply with much less environmental harm. Some of the key environmental impacts include:

  • Land use
  • Water use
  • Deforestation
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Chemical use, and
  • Methane

Some of the sustainable agricultural practices described in the report include:

  • Building Soil Fertility
  • Agroforestry
  • Grass Farming
  • Urban Farming
  • Green Manure/Cover Cropping
  • Improving Water Conservation and Recycling
  • Preserving Biodiversity and Indigenous Breeds

For each the report describes the technique, the results, and the environmental and social benefits. For example, for those interested in the question of whether or not meat can be part of a more sustainable diet, the report presents a strong argument in favour of maintaining livestock as part of a food system that is economically viable as well as environmentally and socially responsible. Even so, the report does propose that “Policymakers need to find ways to encourage production of meat and other animal products in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.”

A summary of the report and a free full text download, as well as an order form for the print version, are available at http://www.worldwatch.org/bookstore/publication/worldwatch-report-188-innovations-sustainable-agriculture-supporting-climate-f