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March 01 2013


Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.

February 28 2013


European Climate Official Urges Keystone XL Veto

Killing a 1,700-mile pipeline intensely opposed by the environmentally minded would send "a very, very interesting global signal,” Connie Hedegaard says.
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May 09 2012


European Elections and Sustainable Development in America

European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.


All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

March 12 2012


Enviro News Wrap: Fracking Causes Earthquakes in Ohio; Exxon Plans on High Oil Prices; American Enterprise Institute’s Trouble with Math

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

February 06 2012


January 30 2012


January 05 2012


On Our Radar: Chinese Airlines Defy Europe's Emissions Rules

Under regulations that took effect on Jan. 1, airlines that fail to pay emissions allowances in flying into European Union countries can be fined per ton of carbon dioxide. Persistent offenders could be banned.

December 13 2011


Last Minute Save at COP17: Durban Delegates Set Path to 2020 Emissions Reduction Treaty, Green Climate Fund

The last minute climate change action agreements that came out of the UNFCCC’S COP 17 in Durban this weekend appear to have something for everyone to object to; a sign, as they say, of a healthy compromise. China and India don’t really like the fact that as two of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, they’ll be bound by definitive, legally binding emissions reductions targets. Japan, Russia and China withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the second phase of which is nonetheless now on track to begin in 2013. Climate scientists and environmental groups were quick to criticize negotiators’ inability to agree on adopting stronger emissions reductions targets, and to agree on making them legally binding sooner rather than later.

Yet the international movement to address climate change and global warming, which began in Rio in 1992, held together and moved forward in the end. It took a a herculean effort, however, with the European Union delegation, led by Connie Hedegaard, and host South Africa, represented by Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the central players. A final agreement, dubbed the “Durban Platform,” was reached at 3 a.m. Sunday, when “US envoy Todd Stern helped broker a deal” that hinged on three critical words that had Hedegaard and Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan battling back and forth since midnight, according to an Energy & Environment report.

Three-day negotiating marathon

In a non-stop, three-day negotiating marathon, UNFCCC delegations did manage to set aside their differences, at least for the time being, and established a framework for negotiating a legally binding treaty on emissions reductions that’s slated to begin in 2015 and go into effect in 2020, the year the Kyoto Protocol expires. They also managed to reach agreement on the two other headline goals of the conference: committing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase,and setting up the foundations of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, through which $100 billion a year from developed countries will flow to developing countries in order for them carry out climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Missing from the text of the Durban Platform is the phrase that India’s environment minister fought so hard to preserve: “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” E&E’s Lisa Friedman and Jean Chemnick reported. The conceptual basis for establishing the mandatory emissions reductions targets for developed nations and voluntary ones for developing nations regardless of the size of their economies or emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, it exempted the latter from definite reductions targets based on the fact that developed nations have been primarily responsible for man-made CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions until recently.

China and India agreeing to accept hard emissions reductions targets removed the key obstacle to reaching accord. “We’re pleased with that. Fundamentally, we got the kind of symmetry we have been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration,” the E&E reporters quoted Stern as saying.

“This agreement moves us away from an unhelpful paradigm,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “It sets up a transparent process that forces China and the major emerging economies to keep their word on climate change. Now all major greenhouse gas emitting countries will be on-record contributors to a solution.”

Environmental and social justice organizations decried the omission of the phrase and the stance taken by the US and other developed nations. Climate Justice Now deemed it “climate apartheid…whereby the richest 1 percent of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99 percent,” E&E reported.

Establishing the foundation for funding, managing and administering the Green Climate Fund was a significant achievement. The final text includes establishment of an adaptation committee and a process that will lead to the creation of a climate technology center. It also specifies measures to assure transparency that will require countries to report progress on their emissions reduction efforts.

Though its future seemed in doubt earlier in the week, COP 17 delegations also managed to agree on efforts related to the “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD+) program, which is seen as the potential driving force in efforts to protect and conserve forests worldwide. Delegates sorted out disagreements that arose earlier in the week regarding how to finance REDD+, as well as whether or not market-based mechanisms and carbon trading system offsets should be tapped as possible sources of funding.

December 12 2011


Auditor Faults Overcapacity of European Fleets

European spending on modernizing fleets has actually increased fishing capacity at a time when official policy demanded a reduction, a report says.

December 09 2011


On Our Radar: A European Warning to Big Emitters

A proposal supported by the European Union at climate talks would give participating countries five months to convert pledges made last year into a legally binding target to be formally adopted in 2012.

November 02 2011


September 14 2011


September 07 2011


U.S. and Europeans Unite Against Illegal Fishing

The Obama administration puts the global cost of illegal fishing to legal fishermen and coastal communities at up to $23 billion of seafood and seafood products annually.

June 22 2011


Corruption Undermines Environmental Protection

Global corruption imdedes resources management and an effective fight against global warmingCorruption is a major global problem that has a direct impact on efforts to manage the world’s resources and combat climate change. Countries in South Asia, northern Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are among the most corrupt places in the world. Other countries are by no means exempt as corruption is pervasive around the world.

The most recent Transparency International report pointed out that corruption risks exist in political decision-making and climate financing and through the mismanagement of public funds. As stated in the report, “”Where huge amounts of money flow through new and untested financial markets and mechanisms, there is always a risk of corruption.” The report further indicates that total global climate change investments will reach almost $700 billion by 2020.

The countries that are most vulnerable to climate change tend to be the most corrupt. The TI report on global corruption and climate change ranks nations according to their corruption risk, where zero is extremely corrupt and 10 is “very clean.” Not even one of the 20 countries most affected by climate change scored higher than 3.5.

A lack of government transparency is correlated with a country’s failure to provide clean water. Half of the 20 nations with the worst record in TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index are located in sub-Saharan Africa, where 63 percent of the population lacks basic sanitation facilities, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (pdf).

In an article by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Lisa Elges from Transparency International cites an example of corruption in North African solar panels:

“We’ve studied the installation of solar panels in North Africa and found that weak governments, bureaucracy and corruption could inflate investment costs by 20 percent. The project was supposed to cost 400 billion dollars up to its completion in 2050. However, with the 20 percent inflation every year, it will cost 1600 billions dollars by 2025!”

The same article also quotes Dutch climate envoy Hugo von Meijenfeldt, who confirms the existence of corruption:

“I work closely with corruption fighting experts and embassies, and I require full reports from them. Yes, we’ve had to reclaim our funds in some instances where they went into the pockets of dignitaries rather than in the irrigation project”.


As indicated by the TI report, carbon markets have been fraught with fraudulent activity. The European Union’s $134 billion emissions trading scheme has seen the re-sale of used carbon offsets, hacking, theft and continuing value-added tax fraud.

The U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been criticized because of its lack of transparency and its inability to deliver additional emissions cuts. The project developers responsible for helping poorer nations reduce their emissions under the CDM have also been subject to criticisms for exploiting the system.

“Creative accounting can lead to the double counting of emissions by companies of their own reported mitigation efforts, (…), thus nullifying the environmental integrity of the emissions reductions,” the TI report said. “It is imperative that these lessons be considered in establishing new markets, and used to improve and reform the existing mechanisms.”


The TI report also singled out the forestry sector as particularly vulnerable to corruption due to high international demand for timber, weak land ownership rights and marginalized indigenous communities.

According to World Bank estimates, each year, between $10 billion and $23 billion worth of timber is harvested illegally or comes from suspicious origins. The TI report indicated that this will have to be dealt with before the U.N. forest preservation scheme known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) gets the $28 billion a year funding it is expecting as of 2013.


Corruption is undermining efforts to bring water to billions of people around the world suffering from scarce water resources. Corruption from petty bribes to corporate manipulation of public water services has slowed progress in solving the world’s water problems. As reported in ENN, Gerard Payen, director of the Aquafed industry group said:

“Corruption increases costs and reduces efficiency and this is a reason why private operators are strongly motivated to overcome corruption.”

The same article cites a World Bank estimate that suggests 20-40 percent of water sector finances were lost to corruption. “That would mean a projected loss of about $20 billion from needed investments in sub-Saharan Africa over the coming decade.”

According to the 2008 Global Corruption Report from TI, when added up, corruption raises the price for water services between 10 and 30 percent worldwide each year. Based on the worst-case scenario, corruption could raise the cost of improving water supply by $48 billion.

A prime example of widely publicized corruption involves Africa’s multi-billion dollar water transfer effort, known as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The plan was to supply water to the industrial heartland of South Africa and to generate energy for impoverished Lesotho. The project also presented water officials with opportunities to increase their personal wealth. In 2002, Lesotho courts sentenced the project’s chief executive to prison for accepting bribes from 18 multinational companies that were vying for construction contracts.

Corruption compounds the problems associated with water scarcity. Andrew Hudson, the principal technical adviser to the United Nations Development Programme, said in the WorldWatch Institute:

“Corruption in water can lead to skewed and inequitable water resources allocation, to uncontrolled and illegal pollution, to groundwater over-extraction, and to degraded ecosystems. In many cases, these impacts in turn result in reduced resilience and adaptability to the impacts of climate change.”


In China, water is also a serious problem and so is corruption. In 2006, ENN reported that Zhou Shengxian, director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, blamed corruption for frustrating environmental protection efforts and worsening the country’s already severely polluted air and waterways, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zhou said in a report to China’s legislature that some local government leaders directly interfere in environmental law enforcement by threatening to remove, demote and retaliate against environmental officials, Xinhua said. “The failure to abide by the law, lax law enforcement, and allowing lawbreakers to go free are still serious problems in many places,” Zhou was quoted as saying.


As reported in ENN, the U.S. also has its own environmental corruption. In one well documented example from 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity led litigation to protect six endangered species from Montana to Alabama. These lawsuits charged high level Bush administration officials with political interference after they stripped protections for 55 endangered species and 8.7 million acres of land.

Before Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald was forced to resign in 2007, she ignored the recommendations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and slashed critical habitat proposals.

These events prompted Michael Senatore, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity to say, “The depth of corruption within the Department of the Interior goes way beyond Julie MacDonald and eight decisions. It impacts hundreds of endangered species and millions of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat.”


Corruption adds dramatically to the costs of protecting the environment, and increased costs slow the adoption rate of low carbon technologies. It is abundantly apparent that we will need more transparency, oversight and governance. At a time when governments are stretched beyond their fiscal limits, we cannot allow graft to undermine environmental protection.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

June 13 2011


Canada Hiding Its Carbon Emissions Growth Amidst Rapid Tar Sands Boom

Each year, in advance of United Nations (U.N.) climate discussions, governments around the world submit an inventory of their carbon emissions. This year, Canada is taking a unique approach to lower its reported emissions in preparing the annual carbon inventory – it has purposefully excluded information in order to give the false impression that when it comes to climate-altering tar sands pollution, “everything is fine.”

In reality, Canada’s carbon emissions have tripled since 1990, and Canada is making only minor progress to lower its carbon production 17% by 2020, according to Environment Canada’s own figures.

Last week, however, it was revealed that in the 567-page report detailing the country’s emissions, the Canadian government decided not to include 2009 data. Why? Perhaps because it documents a 20% increase in pollution from Alberta’s tar sands industry. The elusive data was only gradually released through emails in response to an investigation by Postmedia News. <!--break-->
Canada’s effort to hide tar sands pollution is frightening, greenwashing aside, for several reasons:

•    Tar sands makes up about 6.5% of the country’s total emissions, and is arguably the most important contributor to the country’s overall emissions (up 11% in 2009);
•    Canada is the world's sixth largest oil producer and tar sands production is expected to increase to 3.5 billion barrels of oil per day by 2015, to 4.2 billion barrels by 2020 and  rising to 4.7 billion barrels by 2025 – an increase of 68% by 2025;
•    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that carbon emissions from tar sands oil is approximately 82% higher than average oil.

The government’s most recent data reveals that the rules in place to control tar sands pollution are not effective, since the industry has failed to lower emissions intensity per barrel of oil, as required. Mark Johnson, spokesman for Environment Canada said the newly released 2009 figures showed that there is “very little change in the total emissions intensity in oilsands.” In fact, industry claims that emissions per barrel had improved 39% since 1990, have been revised to around 29%.

Previously, the tar sands industry responded to challenges on its environmental practices by cultivating an image that the tar sands represent “ethical oil” as compared to importing oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Nigeria. Oil producers even commissioned Cambridge Energy Research Associates to prepare a report [pdf] suggesting that emissions from tar sands oil is merely 5-15% higher than traditional oil.

Now the dirty oil industry is not even trying to defend spiraling emissions growth. According to Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry believes it can still clean its operations through “incremental improvements” over the next five years.

Unfortunately, incremental steps will do little to help Canada achieve progress towards its lagging pollution-reduction goals, which are not aggressive enough to match the scientific evidence of anticipated climate change impacts.

In January, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy called [pdf] on Canada to stop waiting for the U.S. to take action on climate change. More recently, the Conference Board of Canada predicts continued failure on climate action in a highly critical report describing the lack of coordinated efforts between the Canadian federal and provincial governments.

At this month’s ongoing U.N. climate discussions in Bonn, Germany, Canada is being challenged by officials from Australia, China, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the Philippines who are questioning government fossil fuel subsidies, tar sands emissions disclosure, the lack of low-carbon investments and the basis for the country’s weak emissions reduction target.

Peter Betts, the lead European Union negotiator and a director at the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change, says he was “struck that the colleague from Canada didn't refer to the tarsands issue, or at least only once in passing…"

Canadian negotiators seem unfazed by the criticism, content to remain laggards on climate action. They not only admit but boast that the Harper-led government will not meet the emissions reduction commitments Canada agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Judith Gelbman, a member of Canada's delegation, sums up Canada’s politically-motivated position:

"Now that we've finished our election we can say now that Canada will not be taking a target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol."

May 03 2011


When 'Fresh' Fish is Really Frozen

Much of the tilapia farmed in China for export is frozen and then treated with carbon monoxide, a gas that prevents meat and seafood from discoloring as it ages; when it is thawed, it looks like new.

April 20 2011


Mediterranean Fish Species Threatened With Extinction

More than 40 species of fish are threatened or face extinction from overfishing, pollution or degradation of their habitat, according to a report from a global conservation group.

March 08 2011


February 22 2011

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