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 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:23 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Storing wild seeds will save harvests—and lives

The Economist

FARMING is more efficient than ever. But the search for high yields has also made it more concentrated. From the wheat in steaming noodles to the maize of fresh tortillas, just 30 crops now sate almost all of humanity’s nutritional needs.

But monoculture carries great risks. A single disease or pest can wipe out swathes of the world’s food production, an alarming prospect given that its growing and wealthier population will eat 70% more by 2050 (see article). The risks are magnified by the changing climate. As the planet warms and monsoon rains intensify, farmlands in Asia will flood. North America will suffer more intense droughts, and crop diseases will spread to new latitudes. Pests are on the move, too. Since the 1960s, unwanted beasties, spared harsh winter frosts, have moved polewards at an average of around 3km (2 miles) a year.   

The solutions to some of these problems lie in the genes of wild relatives of food crops. Botanists can screen them for valuable traits, and use the genes to breed new domestic varieties. Asian paddy fields were saved from the brown planthopper 40 years ago thanks to one wild Indian rice species. This is often cheaper and less controversial than genetic modification. But success depends on having thousands of varieties to test.

The burden of preserving biodiversity must fall on governments. Biotech firms focus on just a few commercial crops, and control the distribution of their seeds. Developing and maintaining seed banks, which currently hold 7.4m samples of the Earth’s bounty in their vaults, is essential. But most seed banks were built in the 1970s and 1980s and have seen little investment since. Some have disappeared altogether owing to war, as in Afghanistan, and fire, as in the Philippines. And keeping samples healthy requires regular propagation, not just dehydration and freezing. That means hiring and training plenty of botanists—who can also search for new species.

The world’s seed banks co-ordinate their work through the International Seed Treaty, which came into effect in 2004 and has been signed by 135 countries and the European Union. It identifies 35 food crops as so essential to global food security that their genetic diversity should be shared widely.

But some countries’ regulations on “biopiracy”—the uncompensated commercialisation of plants and seeds—stop the treaty from being properly implemented. In the 19th century rubber barons enriched themselves by sneaking seeds out of the Amazon. One explorer, Sir Henry Wickham, got 70,000 of them through customs; many were used to establish rubber plantations in Asia, breaking Brazil’s monopoly. India, among others, now offends too far the other way. Scientists working there struggle to get permission to export samples, even when they cite the treaty’s provisions, for fear of piracy. And the list of 35 essential crops fails to include some important ones, such as soyabeans and peanuts. It needs to be expanded.

Money well spent

Much harm has been done. In the past century about three-quarters of global crop genetic diversity is thought to have been lost, and with it many potentially beneficial traits. Preserving what remains is an insurance policy against the effects of climate change: Britain’s Millennium Seed Bank, the world’s largest, cost £73m ($112m) to complete in 2010. The damage from the brown planthopper came to $1 billion in today’s money. Governments should share species and fund seed banks. Their work is a vital safeguard against hunger.

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:20 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The Economist explains

Why India has had such a poor monsoon

Oct 6th 2015, 23:50 by J.P.

INDIA’S monsoon is one of the world’s most important weather events. About half of the country's population—that is, 600m people—depend directly on the rain it bears. The monsoon sweeps northward across the subcontinent, bringing moist air from the south and south-west Indian Ocean. As it hits the land, and especially as it rises towards the Himalayas, it dumps its cargo of water, producing about three quarters of India’s total rainfall between June and September. Two-thirds of Indian agriculture is still fed by this rain, rather than by irrigation, which means India’s harvest depends on it. When the monsoon fails, as it has done this year, millions suffer. Crops wilt or fail altogether, farm land dries up, reservoirs, already too-small, run low, and winter crops (which are mostly irrigated) are imperilled. In some places this year, a lack of rain has led to shortages of drinking water.

Like all weather patterns, the monsoon is erratic. Four years in ten count as abnormal. But this year—in which total rainfall is 14% below the 50-year-average between June and September—is exceptional. Droughts of this sort happens about once every 18 years. There is also extreme variation within the variation. Some parts of the country, the western state of Gujarat for example, have seen higher-than-normal rainfall. Others, especially in the north and the eastern coast, have had precipitation that is 40% below average.

Climate change seems to be making the variations more extreme. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of scientists who advise governments on global warming, has warned that because of climate change monsoon rainfall extremes are likely to increase. But exactly why this should so be is up for debate. No one yet fully understands the link between the monsoon and El Niño, a warming of the waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. Over the past century, most climate scientists have argued that a strong El Niño is associated with a weak monsoon because, as the Pacific warms, the air rises and comes down again over the subcontinent, driven by prevailing wind patterns. This descending warmer air is associated with higher pressure, less moisture and a weaker monsoon. The current El Niño is the strongest since 1997 and 1998, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, and will be at its most powerful at the end of the year.

During the 1980s and 1990s, however, this link seemed to be broken. The year 1997 saw one of the strongest El Niños on record, but a normal monsoon. Balaji Rajagopalan of the University of Colorado, Boulder, argues that the puzzle can be explained by looking at which part of the Pacific warms up during an El Niño. If the eastern waters warm, the air comes down again over Indonesia and South East Asia, which tend to be drier than normal. But this may not affect India. If the central Pacific warms, the high pressure tends to form over India and the monsoon fails. If Professor Rajagopalan is right, this year’s El Niño is getting stronger in the central Pacific than in the east. The Indian Meteorological Department is hoping to incorporate this information into its monsoon forecasting system.

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Nato chief doubts Russia's violations of Turkish airspace were accidental

Jens Stoltenberg also says US-led Nato alliance has received reports of Russian military buildup, including ground troops and ships, in Syria

Staff and agencies
Tuesday 6 October 2015 11.43 BST

Russian incursions into Turkish airspace over the weekend “don’t look like an accident”, the Nato secretary general has said.

Following Russia’s move to launch airstrikes in Syria last week, Jens Stoltenberg also said that Nato had received reports of a substantial Russian military buildup in the country, including ground troops and ships in the eastern Mediterranean.

Stoltenberg said he doubted Russia’s explanation that its airspace violations were a mistake because they happened twice and both lasted longer than just a few seconds.

Stoltenberg said the US-led Nato alliance, of which Turkey is a member, had not received any real explanation of what happened. He had not had any direct contact with Moscow, he said, but Nato has discussed the possibility of using its military lines of communication with Russia.

The Russian defence ministry said on Monday that an SU-30 fighter aircraft had entered Turkish airspace along the border with Syria “for a few seconds” on Saturday, a mistake caused by bad weather. Nato says a plane also entered Turkish airspace on Sunday, an assertion Russia says it is looking into.

A US official told Reuters the incursions lasted more than a few seconds and described Moscow’s assertion that they were an accident as “far-fetched”.

Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara on two occasions over the incursions. The Russian envoy was warned that similar incidents should not happen again otherwise “Russia would be held responsible”, an official told AFP.

Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said on Monday that Ankara would activate military “rules of engagement” irrespective of who violates its airspace.

Nato condemns Russia over violations of Turkey's airspace..Read more:

“Even if it is a flying bird it will be intercepted,” Davutoğlu said in an interview with Turkish television.

Syrian state TV reported that Russian warplanes bombed Isis targets in and around the city of Palmyra on Tuesday. If confirmed, these were Moscow’s first strikes against an Isis-controlled area.

Russian warplanes have been flying over Syrian territory since Wednesday, conducting airstrikes on what Moscow says are targets belonging to Islamic State jihadis and other “terrorist” groups in the country’s northern and central provinces.

The west has accused Moscow of using the raids as cover to strike moderate opponents of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey opposes Russian intervention in Syria. The government of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has insisted on Assad’s departure as a prelude to resolving the crisis, and has backed a range of rebel groups fighting to overthrow him.

Last week, Turkey issued a joint statement with its allies involved in the US-backed campaign against Isis that asked Moscow to cease attacks on the Syrian opposition and to focus on fighting Isis.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

How our view of Mars has changed

Over centuries of gazing at Mars, research has changed our vision of the planet multiple times.

By Laura Geggel, October 5, 2015    

The dusty-red sphere now called Mars has fascinated stargazers since the dawn of humanity, but Earthlings' view of the planet has changed drastically over the years. Once thought of as a lush alien world teeming with life, it was later dismissed as an arid, desolate orb. But now, scientists have announced the Red Planet has long, fingerlike strips of seeping, salty, liquid water that just might aid in the search for extraterrestrial life.

The finding, revealed Monday (Sept. 28) by NASA scientists, once again changes the way people view the bright-red planet, Mars experts told Live Science.

The ancient Greeks and Romans named Mars — a planet barely more than half Earth's size — after the god of war. But they likely didn't realize it was another world, with two moons to boot, said Bruce Jakosky, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In the 1600s and 1700s, astronomers tinkered with nascent telescopes and discovered that Mars, like Earth, was a planet and had a roughly 24-hour day-and-night cycle. At this time, people assumed intelligent beings were scampering over the Martian surface, Jakosky said.

Early astronomers had other fanciful, and often mistaken, views of Mars. In 1784, the British astronomer Sir William Herschel wrote that the dark areas on Mars were oceans, and the light areas land. He also speculated the planet was home to aliens, who "probably enjoy a situation similar to our own," according to NASA. (He also apparently thought intelligent life was living under the sun's surface in a cool spot, NASA reported.)

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing grooves or channels on Mars with his telescope. Schiaparelli called these features "canali," which can mean "natural channels" in Italian. The word was mistakenly translated into "canals" in English, a phrasing that suggested handiwork by living beings. American businessman and astronomer Percival Lowell popularized the idea, and wrote three books about aliens that likely created the canals to survive on a drying planet.

"The canals were an attempt, [Lowell] thought, by intelligent beings to carry water from the poles, where there was water, to the rest of the planet," said Richard Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

It wasn't until NASA's Mariner space missions in the 1960s and 1970s that researchers could confidently prove there were no alien-made canals, Zurek said.

"We almost went to the other extreme, because we saw a hilly, cratered landscape on the first flybys of the planet," Zurek told Live Science, referring to the Mariner 4 mission. "That suggested it was more like the moon than it was like the Earth."

Until then, scientists had speculated that Mars had a thick atmosphere that could trap heat and help the planet support life at its distant location from the sun. Mars orbits at about 142 million miles (229 million kilometers) from the sun, compared with Earth's 93-million-mile (150 million km) leap from the sun. But this wasn't the case; Mars' atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than the gas layer surrounding Earth, partially explaining why the Red Planet is such a cold, barren place, Jakosky said.

"All the way up through [NASA's] Mariner 6 and 7 in 1969, you could think of the potential for life on Mars as declining," Jakosky said. "In 1971, we orbited the Mariner 9 spacecraft, and that changed things. It took global pictures of Mars, and we saw things that looked very Earth-like, including streambeds, river channels and volcanoes. People thought, 'Well, maybe there's the potential for liquid water and potential for life after all.'"

In the 1970s, the NASA Viking missions landed on Mars and took samples of the soil to look for signs of microbial life. But they recorded none, Jakosky said. In fact, the Viking mission scientists called Mars "self-sterilizing," describing how the combination of the sun's UV rays and the chemical properties of the soil prevented life from forming in those soils, according to NASA.

Spacecraft in the 1990s renewed the search for water. The Mars Global Surveyor orbited the planet and took high-resolution images of the surface, finding evidence of ancient gullies. Additional watery evidence came from Martian meteorites that have smashed into Earth, carrying telltale signs of liquid flowing through them, Jakosky said.

Since then, robotic missions have scoured the Red Planet for signs of liquid water. Frozen water is locked up in Mars' roughly mile-thick (1.6 kilometers) ice caps, and enough water vapor resides in the atmosphere to form clouds. Even so, liquid water is more elusive, Zurek said.

Perhaps Mars had water millions or billions of years ago, but that water has since frozen on the surface or been lost to space, Zurek said. (The NASA spacecraft Maven is already examining the Martian atmosphere and helping scientists decipher how Mars lost its water, if that did happen, he said.)

The new finding gives researchers a good spot to look for life on Mars, Zurek said. But the newfound salty streaks aren't like rivers that flow on Earth, he cautioned. [5 Mars Myths and Misconceptions]

"If I pour pure liquid water out on the [Martian] surface today, it's either going to boil way into the atmosphere or it's going to freeze there on the surface," he said.

Any water on Mars is likely laden with salts called perchlorates, which lower water's freezing point to about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), Zurek said.

Moreover, the liquid water — if indeed it is that — only appears during the warm seasons, he said.

"These features grow in a slow, seasonal kind of way, not in a rapid outburst of a flow or a stream," Zurek said. "But nevertheless, here's a source of water that could be staying liquid for a time on the planet."

Extremely salty water isn't necessarily good for life, but perhaps extremophiles can live in those environments, he said.

"We don't know what the evolution of life might have been on the planet, if it ever originated," Zurek said. "But at least this tells us some places where we could go look for evidence of this. It is briny, and there may not be much of it, but it is a place that we could go look."

In a way, the discovery isn't so different from what astronomers were looking for years ago, he said.

"It's not that ancient canal network delivering massive amounts of water out to the desert, but it's curious the way that those early themes over 100 years ago are still playing today," Zurek said.

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Renewables could supply nearly a quarter of Africa's energy by 2030: report

International Renewable Energy Agency report says the continent has the potential to quadruple the proportion of its energy supplied by renewables, reports BusinessGreen

Jocelyn Timperley for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Tuesday 6 October 2015 10.52 BST

Almost a quarter of Africa’s energy needs could feasibly be supplied by renewables within the next 15 years, according to a new report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) yesterday.

The report, which provides a roadmap for renewable energy deployment on the continent, found that a variety of modern renewable technology options could more than quadruple the contribution of renewables to Africa’s energy mix compared to the five per cent used in 2013, taking renewables share to 22 per cent of the mix.

The report identifies four modern renewable energy technologies that could play a major role in the continent’s energy mis: hydropower, wind, solar power, and modern biomass systems for cooking.

The report also highlights how solar and wind projects across Africa are now producing record-low electricity prices.

With 50 per cent of all energy use in Africa today coming from traditional biomass, around half of the projected increase in renewable energy capacity would come from modern biomass-based heat applications, the predicts, highlighting the potential for efficient biomass stoves that reduce indoor pollution and improve efficiency.

The report estimates the rioll out of such systems would reduce the use of traditional cooking stoves by more than 60 per cent, saving $20-30bn a year by 2030 through reduced health impacts from poor indoor air quality.

In order to increase the uptake of renewables on the continent, the report urges countries to provide enabling policy and regulatory frameworks, primarily through the adoption of national energy plans and renewables targets. The report also recommends the active promotion of investment by increasing the availability of local financing and the use of public financing to reduce perceived risks to investors.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, said a steep drop in the price of renewables technology, combined with the fact that Africa holds some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, had resulted in a “massive opportunity” to expand energy systems while providing a pathway for low-carbon growth.

“Tapping into renewable energy resources is the only way African nations can fuel economic growth, maximise socio-economic development and enhance energy security with limited environmental impact,” he said in a statement. “The technologies are available, reliable and increasingly cost-competitive. The onus is now on Africa’s governments to create conditions to accelerate deployment, paving the way for Africa’s unfettered, sustainable development.”

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The Republican Party stands alone in climate denial

Amid internal calls for climate action, a study finds that Republicans are the only climate-denying conservative party in the world

Dana Nuccitelli
Monday 5 October 2015 11.00 BST

A paper published in the journal Politics and Policy by Sondre Båtstrand at the University of Bergen in Norway compared the climate positions of conservative political parties around the world. Båtstrand examined the platforms or manifestos of the conservative parties from the USA, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany. He found that the US Republican Party stands alone in its rejection of the need to tackle climate change and efforts to become the party of climate supervillains.

Republicans would be fringe in any other country

As Jonathan Chait wrote of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s proposals to eliminate all significant American national climate policies,

    In any other democracy in the world, a Jeb Bush would be an isolated loon, operating outside the major parties, perhaps carrying on at conferences with fellow cranks, but having no prospects of seeing his vision carried out in government. But the United States is different. Here in America, ideas like Bush’s fit comfortably within one of the two major political parties. Indeed, the greatest barrier to Bush claiming his party’s nomination is the quite possibly justified sense that he is too sober and moderate to suit the GOP.

So, what’s different about the United States? One factor is the immensely profitable and politically influential fossil fuel industry. However, Canada and Australia serve as useful analogues. With Australian coal reserves and Canadian tar sands, fossil fuels account for a larger share of both countries’ economies. Nevertheless, Båtstrand noted,

    The [Republican] party seems to treat climate change as a non-issue ... this appears to be consistent with the U.S. national context as a country with large reserves of coal.

Båtstrand also found that the emphasis on free market ideology is relatively strong in the Republican Party platform. However, the appropriate free market approach to climate change involves putting a price on the external costs of climate pollution. In fact, that’s why the President George H. W. Bush administration invented cap and trade as a free market alternative to government regulation of pollutants. So, free market ideology can’t explain the abnormal behavior of the Republican Party on climate change.
Fossil fuel funds + political polarization = climate denial

The answer may lie in a combination of fossil fuel industry influence, and increasing, record levels of political polarization. As shown by the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham, the conservative ideology score of House Republicans is the highest it’s been in over 50 years.

Republican House members’ level of conservative ideology based on dw-nominate score created by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal. Source: Washington Post..below

And as Nate Silver recently noted,

    The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now

The Republican Party is no longer the party of Reagan, who listened to scientists and signed an international agreement to curb pollution that was causing the hole in the ozone layer.

Silver has also shown that when voting against Democrats, today’s Republican legislators are more united than at any time in the past century. And it’s clear from the language the Republican Party leaders use that they view climate change not as a scientific or critical risk management issue, but rather as a Democrat issue. Thus, Republican leaders simply can’t accept the need to address climate change, because that would put the on the same side of an issue as Democrats.

A split in the Republican Party

However, it’s also becoming clear that during this rightward shift, Republican Party leaders are growing increasingly out of step with their own voters. President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Colin Powell recently criticized the party leaders, saying,

    It should be obvious to party leaders that they cannot keep saying and doing the things that they were doing and hope to be successful in national-level election in the future, not just in 2016.

A recent survey found that conservative Republicans support accelerating the growth of clean energy, and 54% accept that humans are contributing to climate change and support putting a price on carbon pollution.

Results of an August 2015 poll conducted by Echelon Insights, North Star Opinion Research, and Public Opinion Strategies, on behalf of ClearPath.
Results of an August 2015 poll question on American support of a carbon pollution tax, conducted by Echelon Insights, North Star Opinion Research, and Public Opinion Strategies, on behalf of ClearPath.

These poll results are consistent with previous surveys finding that while Republican voters generally don’t see climate change as a top priority, a majority of Republican voters support regulating carbon as a pollutant, and a plurality even support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Eleven House Republicans have recognized this problem, and have submitted a Resolution calling for action on climate change. So there are encouraging signs that some Republican thought leaders and policymakers are recognizing that their party leaders’ ideologically-driven rejection of the need to mitigate climate change risks is unsustainable.

Every other conservative political party in the world recognizes it. Canada’s conservative party at least pays lip service to climate change despite an addiction to tar sands oil. Australia just replaced its climate-dubious prime minister Tony Abbott with climate realist Malcolm Turnbull, and even Abbott’s government had a climate ‘Direct Action Plan’, albeit an impotent plan.

With the entire rest of the world in agreement about the need to tackle the threats posed by human-caused climate change, and with a rift forming in the Republican Party over the extreme stance of its leaders on this and other issues, it’s only a matter of time before we see an inevitable shift back towards moderation, realism, and real conservatism in the Republican Party position on climate change.

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 05:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Nearly a third of world's cacti face extinction, says IUCN

Illegal trade is causing shocking decline in plants that are vital to desert ecosystems, most comprehensive global assessment yet reveals

Arthur Neslen
Monday 5 October 2015 16.00 BST

Nearly a third of the world’s cacti are facing the threat of extinction, according to a shocking global assessment of the effects that illegal trade and other human activities are having on the species.

Cacti are a critical provider of food and water to desert wildlife ranging from coyotes and deer to lizards, tortoises, bats and hummingbirds, and these fauna spread the plants’ seeds in return.

But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)‘s first worldwide health check of the plants, published today in the journal Nature Plants, says that they are coming under unprecedented pressure from human activities such as land use conversions, commercial and residential developments and shrimp farming.

But the paper said the main driver of cacti species extinction was the: “unscrupulous collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private ornamental collections, smallholder livestock ranching and smallholder annual agriculture.”

The findings were described as “disturbing” by Inger Andersen, the IUCN’s director-general. “They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade – including the trade in plants – is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention.”

The conservation group now judges cacti the fifth most threatened species on its red list of endangered flora and fauna, and is calling for an urgent ramping up of international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. Three of the IUCN’s five most threatened species to date are plants.

Cacti are almost always succulents but unlike most others, they store water in their stems alone, enabling them to survive extreme droughts. The plants can be as small as one centimetre in diameter and grow above 19 metres in height. Well over half of the species are used by humans for display ornamentation, food or medicine.

Almost 1,500 types of cactus were surveyed by the IUCN specialists over a five-year period, mostly in the Americas, where the plant is endemic.

Some, like the once-ubiquitous Echinopsis pampana, have seen population drops of at least 50% in Peru, due to plunder for the ornamental plant trade. The species is now listed as endangered.

“The results of this assessment came as a shock to us,” said Barbara Goettsch, the study’s lead author. “We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline.”

Cacti are often dug up and exported off the books to Europe and Asia where rare species such as Ariocarpus can sell at prices of up to $1,000 (£660) a plant, Goettsch said.

Tackling the smugglers is a daunting task as the prickly cargo can be smuggled in suitcases or even socks. While countries such as Peru have made progress in blocking the illicit trade, the IUCN is calling for stricter implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in the ‘hotspots’ of Uruguay, Brazil and Chile. Mexico has made advances but still has work to do, according to Goettsch.

Despite their charismatic flowers, and iconic status in popular culture, cacti are often overlooked in conservation planning. The report calls for a broadening of arid land protection to deal with human activities such as construction, quarrying and aquaculture.

Exeter University’s Professor Kevin Gaston, who co-led the assessment, said that the results showed how important funding for further scientific assessments is. “Only by so doing will we gain the overall picture of what is happening to them at a time when, as evidenced by the cacti, they may be under immense human pressures.”

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 05:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
China is working to reach its emissions peak before 2030 deadline, analyst says

Qi Ye, director of public policy centre in Beijing, says China is showing ‘global leadership’ on climate change and it will look to clean energy technologies

Oliver Milman
Tuesday 6 October 2015 06.34 BST

China may aim for an earlier greenhouse gas emissions peak before its 2030 deadline, putting a greater onus on Australia to work with its key trading partner on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, says a leading Chinese analyst.

Qi Ye, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, said that Chinese policymakers were striving to ensure emissions peaked ahead of a schedule agreed in a joint climate deal with the US earlier this year.

“China hopes to peak as early as possible because it understands it’s in the national interest and to the benefit of the people in terms of health considerations,” Qi told Guardian Australia. Urban smogs contributed to an estimated 670,000 deaths in 2012.

“A 2030 peak is very ambitious, it’s very challenging,” said Qi. “I think most people underestimate how challenging that is. Everyone wants China to have an earlier peak but no one wants it more than China itself.”

China will introduce a national emissions trading scheme in 2017 and will try to ensure its emissions peak even as 82 million of its people live on less than $1 a day.

Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, has compared Australia’s emissions reduction target favourably with China’s. He said last week that China was “a country with up to a 150% increase in emissions” between 2005 and 2030.

But Qi said China was showing “global leadership” on climate change and that Australia would have to forge a new export relationship with China as the economic giant’s coal imports, which have slumped this year, begin to slow.

“There will probably still be a high level of coal consumption but we will not see any significant increase in demand for coal in the Chinese economy,” Qi said.

“There’s huge potential in clean energy research, development and deployment between China and Australia. A quarter of all new renewable investment in the world is coming from China, we are talking about a $1.8tn investment. China would be very happy to have the abundant clean energy resources Australia has.

“In the past we thought it was a cost to address climate change. Then we realised not addressing it will cost us more. By developing clean energy technologies, we bring more economic opportunities. Every country should look at this with fresh eyes and seize the opportunity rather than just talk about the cost of it.”

Meanwhile, the number of large businesses joining a call for a global carbon pricing market has reached 4,000 – most notably oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, the World Bank says.

“Carbon pricing is an efficient, necessary way of reducing emissions,” said Vikram Widge, head of climate and carbon finance at the World Bank’s climate change group.

“The momentum behind it is huge. It’s a critical way to reach our goals but it isn’t sufficient. We have to build upon it.”

Widge said Australia, which scrapped its carbon price last year, would need to find an alternative system to meet its goal of a 26% to 28% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

“Australia has made a commitment and it will need to find a way to meet that target. If it chooses to do it without a carbon pricing it will have to find another way.”

The Coalition’s Direct Action climate policy has set aside $2.55bn to fund emissions reduction from businesses that wish to do so, although much of the reduction will depend on how the government treats firms that do not apply for the grants and maintain, or increase, their emissions.

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 05:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Burundi's solar plans forge ahead despite political unrest

As violence erupts in the capital, plans for the country’s first major solar plant bring hope to thousands whose lives will be transformed by electricity

David Smith, Mubuga, Burundi
Tuesday 6 October 2015 09.56 BST

When entrepreneurs and government ministers signed a deal for the first major solar power plant in Burundi, the future of this energy-crippled nation seemed full of promise. A day later, gunfire filled the streets and buildings were set ablaze as a renegade army general attempted a coup.

Such are the peculiar challenges of harnessing renewable energy in one of the more unstable corners of Africa. “We were so excited,” recalled Lazare Sebitereko, programme manager in Burundi for the solar and social development company Gigawatt Global. “It was upsetting because we wanted to get on with our programme. We didn’t stop completely but it’s slow compared to what we expected.”

Nevertheless, Sebitereko hopes that work will begin by the end of the year on a 7.5 megawatt (MW) solar farm that will change lives in a small, landlocked country where just one in 25 people has residential access to electricity. It will be spread over 17 hectares of land in Mubuga village, Gitega province, 65 miles from the fraught capital, Bujumbura.

Gigawatt Global is drawing on lessons learned in neighbouring Rwanda, where last year it opened east Africa’s biggest solar field at 8.5 MW. But despite their similarities in climate, topography and culture, Burundi is currently a more unpredictable and risky proposition.

Sebitereko and Jean Jacques Nyenimigabo, an adviser to Burundi’s president, paid a visit to the remote site in September, taking a journey of breathtaking beauty among verdant hills and valleys, where men on bicycles cling to the backs of trucks to ease their passage on the winding roads. The delegation was greeted by performers wearing white, red and green robes, beating drums patterned with the national flag, and dancing inside a circle of local villagers including four boys who had climbed a tree. A police officer filmed the scene for posterity with an iPad.

Mubuga has never had electricity and is 11km away from the power grid. Its residents have depended on candles, lanterns, firewood and charcoal since time immemorial. Construction materials will spend days making the 900-mile road journey here from the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

As the villagers listened intently, Nyenimigabo, in his home constituency, reassured them that they would feel the impact of the $22m (£14m) solar plant. “It would not be good to see the cables coming from Mubuga and passing to other places and not benefiting us,” he noted. “But trust us, we’ll have power that goes to Mubuga. Wherever it goes, we are also the first beneficiaries of this electricity.”

The plant will also create 300 jobs in maintenance, construction and support, Nyenimigabo promised, and at least 40% will go to women. “When men work they waste the money on drink. With women we know the money’s going back to the family.”

The availability of power will allow people to open small businesses that would create further spin-offs to tackle youth unemployment, he predicted. “With electricity, they can create jobs for themselves.”

Few people in the village have heard of solar power before but they seem excited by its potential. Janine Nsengiyumva, 18, a student, said: “It will help us to get light so we can study at night. We can’t do our studies at night now. We have to use torches or lanterns and candles.”

Josephine Ntawundorera, 36, whose 18-month-old son, Kevin, was tied to her back, said: “I feel very happy with this project because we’re going to get jobs and it’s giving priority to women. Normally they are excluded from projects when they come.”

One of the new jobs has gone to Prosper Ndayishimiye, 45, who started work as site manager about a month ago as a fence went up around the land, which he says is leased from a man who inherited it from his grandfather but now lives in Canada. “People here don’t know what solar is,” he said. “They will be surprised.

“We have a shortage of electricity but we have sun. We don’t know winter. It can shine all year and can be used to generate the power needed. There are no problems at all that can hinder this project except security. But what happens in Bujumbura doesn’t happen here.”

Gigawatt Global will also distribute 100 solar panels to local chiefs. One chief, Placide Manirambona, said: “This is a very welcome project because we live in darkness and just go to sleep at night. We feel good because we see it with development programmes coming alongside.”

The 34-year-old added: “We hope solar power will reduce the trees that we use for firewood and charcoal as people use electricity to cook. The project will help our performance in education. Those who were not studying at night will now study. The strain of the eyes caused by improper light will be reduced.

“If this project goes well, other communities can take the example and use it, because many countries lack electricity. If we can take electricity from the sun, this is going to be a fantastic thing.”
(To illustrate lack of infrastuctures) Kayanza, Burundi. 23rd Sep, 2013. People go along a street in a village near Kayanza, Burundi, 23 September 2013.

Burundi is certainly in need of more power from somewhere. The country has a total of only 52 MW of installed capacity, including 15.5 MW generated by diesel. Blackouts are a way of life with downtime in electrical access an average of two days a week, severely constraining industries such as mining.

Sebitereko said of Bujumbura: “In the offices you can’t work. They have two scanners in the hospital but because of power shortages they can’t use them. You have to travel more than 200km for a scan.”

Part of the solution, he believes, lies on this unremarkable hillside of wild grass and vegetation that will host the array of Chinese-made solar photovoltaic panels, increasing Burundi’s generating capacity by 15% and producing electricity for 60,000 households. Casting his glance around, he said: “You see all the sun that’s not being exploited.”

Sebitereko argues that the project, supported by grants from the US, UK, Finland and Austria, will also give the community a sense of ownership and have long-term benefits in training and employment. “The relationship between the project and education is crucial. Tomorrow we need technicians; we don’t want to rely on the outside. Tomorrow we can do it ourselves, we can be part of the system.”

This includes collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Gitega for the site installation and collection of meteorological data. Sebitereko continued: “In Africa projects are usually done by experts in the west and 80% goes on their salaries. After implementation, the experts go and, if maintenance is not done by people on the ground, the project will fail. Local people are not given the same opportunities and privileges so they work without motivation.

“But this project is bringing in the people on the ground. They feel this is part of them. The children who grow with this, some of them will work on these sites, not only as labourers but as technicians.”

Yet this grand vision was put in jeopardy by the turmoil in Bujumbura this year. Street demonstrations erupted from April against president Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, widely condemned as unconstitutional. Police were accused of a brutal crackdown, shooting unarmed protesters as they fled. At least 100 people are thought to have died in the unrest while 200,000 fled to neighbouring countries. The capital remains a tinderbox.

In May, general Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, declared that Nkurunziza had been ousted while he was outside the country. But public celebrations proved premature as independent broadcasters were hit by rockets and grenades and the president reasserted control. The failed coup came a day after the solar plant contract was signed in the presence of the Dutch ambassador.

Sebitereko admitted: “The situation has been temporarily slowed down but we are still very optimistic to carry out the project, and for its success. You find businesses in Bujumbura are sometimes shut because of the problems, but everything has an end. This crisis is there today but we hope there will be a political breakthrough, especially if negotiations resume.”

A violent coup attempt was the last thing that Gigawatt Global needed to hear. Michael Fichtenberg, its managing director in Burundi, described the timing as “unsettling” but added: “We are looking to the international community to bring in funding and get us over the finish line.”

The American-owned Dutch company says it has a “hybrid model” that uses renewable energy projects as a catalyst for social development. Yosef Abramowitz, president of Gigawatt Global, said: “We are deeply concerned about the poverty of the Burundian people. We just hope we’re able to bring the project to life to help the community.”

Gigawatt Global plans to build 1,000 MW of solar in Africa by 2020, providing electricity to millions of households and institutions. Abramowitz added: “I believe solar power is the engine of transformation in Africa. It can deploy so quickly that you can drive poverty alleviation and economic growth like no other technology. It’s going to take off so fast now.

“Once you’ve shown the economic model, the ability to scale up quickly is there. We’re going to see gigawatts of solar in the next five years. A lot of the economic growth is going to come from Africa.”

 on: Oct 06, 2015, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
John West accused of breaking tuna pledge to end 'destructive' fishing methods

Company is still using fish aggregation devices in its fishing fleet despite a promise in 2011 that 100% of its tuna would be sustainable by 2016

Press Association
Tuesday 6 October 2015 10.38 BST

John West has been accused of breaking a promise to consumers by continuing to use “destructive” fishing methods to catch tuna.

The latest league table for tuna sold by supermarkets and companies produced by Greenpeace ranks the firm last because 98% of its tuna is caught using “fish aggregation devices” which kill other marine wildlife including sharks and endangered turtles.

John West is using the fish aggregation devices in its fishing fleet despite a promise in 2011 that 100% of its tuna would be sustainable by 2016.

The rankings put Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s in the top three spots, while Tesco made great progress to jump up the table to fourth place, Greenpeace said.

In response to the rankings John West insisted it was “fully committed” to the protection of the marine environment and sustainable sourcing and it remained committed to its 2011 pledge.

It said it defined sustainably sourced fish as not being endangered or threatened, caught by well-managed fisheries with scientifically based quotas, via responsible fishing methods and traceable from catch to consumer.

“We believe our commitments are best achieved by employing a number of practices and innovations all of which will work together to minimise bycatch, protect stock levels, preserve oceans, improve working conditions and ensure safe and legal practices throughout every aspect of our operations,” the company said in a statement.

But Ariana Densham, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, accused the company of only catching a “pathetic” 2% of its tuna in a way that minimises harm to other marine life.

“It’s a great achievement that all major supermarkets in the UK now only use fully sustainable tuna in their own brand products, caught using the pole and line method or in nets without fish aggregation devices, which minimises harm to other animals.

“But John West continues to plumb the depths of irresponsibility - flooding our shelves with cheap tuna which comes at a huge cost: the indiscriminate killing of marine life. It’s also undermining the world-leading standard set by UK supermarkets.

“The tide is turning on companies which sell unsustainable tuna and unless John West keeps its promise to UK consumers to stop using destructive fishing methods, it will find itself cast adrift.”

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