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Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Ed Miliband urges UK to enshrine zero carbon emissions target in law

Ed Miliband has called on the UK to become the first country in the world to enshrine in law a target of reducing carbon emissions to zero.

The former Labour leader and energy secretary said Britain should show leadership and send a clear signal to businesses by building on its existing target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 under the Climate Change Act.

The intervention, in a comment article for the Guardian, comes a week before world leaders including David Cameron and Barack Obama meet for a landmark climate change summit in Paris. Nearly 200 countries are due to attend the negotiations to thrash out a deal for emissions cuts beyond 2020 and financing for poorer countries to cope with global warming.

“When we did the Climate Change Act [in 2008] it did send a message around the world, and then people did follow. It was Britain saying we’re going to do these big reductions and put it in law. I think there is the prospect of that happening again,” Miliband said.

The Labour MP said he did not want to put a date on when the zero emissions target should be achieved, because that decision should be taken by the government’s statutory advisers. To avoid dangerous global warming, the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change has said emissions must be cut to near zero by the end of the century.

Nicholas Stern, the economist commissioned by the then chancellor Gordon Brown to assess the costs of inaction on climate change, said he supported a target of reducing emissions to zero but would not go so far as to say it should be written into law.

Sir David King, the foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change, said Miliband’s call was important and timely. “It stresses the importance of maintaining all-party political agreement on the commitments of the UK to act on climate change. This has already created the certainty on investments in the new low carbon sector that means this is now the fastest growing sector in the British economy, now employing over 450,000 people in Britain.”

Miliband said the UK’s emissions cuts needed to go from 80% to 100% because it would be required eventually, and would send an important signal to businesses. “We now know we will get to the point where the carbon budget is exhausted. It just makes logical sense for the backstop to be zero, not simply 80%. The 80% target is fine but in the end we are going to have to get to zero, and we might as well start to look at the questions of when and how.”

This summer the government’s statutory climate advisers warned that the UK’s existing carbon budgets could be missed. The group’s chairman John Gummer took the unusual step of singling out Conservative policy changes such as scrapping a target for all new homes to be zero carbon.

But Miliband said he was not interested in political point-scoring in his call for a zero emissions target, which he said was backed by Tory, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Green party MPs.

“I’m not in the business of trying to have a go at the government. Paris is too important. I genuinely hope they will look upon this as a sensible cross-party initiative which they can support,” he said.

French authorities have said the Paris summit will still go ahead despite the recent terror attacks, although authorities have forbidden a planned march that was expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people. Miliband, who attended the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, said he was hopeful of a “decent” deal at Paris.

“The stakes are high … it’s very, very important that Paris is a success. By a success, I mean serious commitments from the major emitters, which we have. But crucially with this so-called ratchet mechanism for the ambition to be greater.”

Countries representing nearly 90% of emissions have put forward their climate pledges before the summit, but a UN analysis found they would still lead to temperature rises of 2.7-3C – more than the 2C limit to which leaders have agreed. The EU, China and the US, among others, have called for a five-yearly review mechanism to ratchet up those pledges to meet 2C. “It’s very important we embed that in the agreement,” Miliband said.

He admitted that while the Copenhagen summit had been a setback in some senses, it had also laid some of the groundwork – such as a promise of $100bn a year in climate aid for poorer countries – for any deal agreed in Paris. The Paris conference opens on 30 November and runs until 11 December.

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Carbon emissions from aircraft endanger human health, says US EPA

Finding is first step to regulating emissions from industry, allowing US to implement global carbon dioxide emissions standard

The US Environmental Protection Agency has said greenhouse gases from aircraft endanger human health, taking the first step toward regulating emissions from the domestic aviation industry.

The EPA’s finding kicks off a process to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry, the latest sector to be regulated under the Clean Air Act after cars, trucks and large stationary sources like power plants.

The finding allows the EPA to implement domestically a global carbon dioxide emissions standard being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The UN agency is due to release its CO2 standard for comment in February 2016 and adopt it later that year.

US move to curb airplane emissions ‘may amount to greenwashing’

The EPA had been under pressure from environmental groups who first petitioned it to regulate aircraft emissions under the Clean Air Act in 2007 and sued it in 2010. A federal court ruled in favor of those green groups in 2012.

Aviation accounted for 11% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector in 2010 in the United States, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The airline industry has favoured a global standard over individual national standards since airlines operate all over the world and want to avoid a patchwork of rules and measures, such as taxes, charges and emissions trading programs.

“If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare,” said Paul Steele, the senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, the main global airline industry group.

EU freezes airlines carbon emissions law

But some environmental groups are concerned that the standard being discussed at ICAO will do little to change the status quo since it would only apply to new and newly designed aircraft that will not be in operation for several years.

“The stringency being discussed at ICAO is such that existing aircraft are already meeting the standard they are weighing,” said Sarah Burt, an attorney at Earthjustice, one of several groups that sued the EPA to regulate aircraft.

Cities’ air quality efforts ranked

AcidNews June 2015

Zurich topped a new ranking list of European cities based on efforts to improve air quality. It was followed by Copenhagen, Vienna and Stockholm. At the bottom of the list came Luxembourg and Lisbon.

The Swiss city of Zurich emerged as the winner of the second ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking list that graded the efforts to improve air quality of 23 major European cities.

In 2011, the last time the ranking was published by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), the winner was Berlin (see AN3/2011). It slipped to fifth place this year.

The ranking concentrated on measures put in place in cities over the past five years and looked at air quality plans for the next five years to take into account changes that were already in the pipeline.

The list of categories evaluated included:

• Air pollution reductions;
• How comprehensive low emission zones & bans for heavy polluters are;
• How clean public procurement for transport is;
• How comprehensive the strategy for non-road mobile machinery is;
• What type of economic incentives are used;
• How successful the city is at managing road traffic and other transport modes;
• How comprehensive the city has been at promoting public transport;
• How successful the city is at promoting walking and cycling;
• Whether it provides attractive and comprehensive information to citizens about air quality.

In Zurich and Copenhagen the number of cars has been substantially reduced and there are restrictions on highly polluting vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machinery. At the same time, cleaner forms of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking have been greatly expanded.

Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND, commented: “Our ranking shows that cities across Europe have been actively fighting air pollution because of the EU’s air quality standards.

Although 90 per cent of Europeans living in cities today are still breathing unhealthy July, a proposal to revise the NEC Direcair, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna or Berlin have either met, or are due to meet, the EU limit values within the next two years. Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms.”

None of the 23 cities reached grade A, which is awarded for cities that score at least 90 per cent of the maximum number of points. A total of six cities failed with an F grade, namely: Dublin, Glasgow, Madrid, Rome, Lisbon and Luxembourg.

It was pointed out that cities’ efforts to fight air pollution are hampered by inadequate action at EU level to fight air pollution, and that effective EU rules that reflect the emissions of road vehicles under real driving conditions are urgently needed.

The EU should also strengthen emission standards for construction machinery (so-called non-road mobile machinery), and tighten the overall air pollution emission limits in 2020, 2025 and 2030 under the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive. The latter would cut the amount of pollution each member state is allowed to emit and reduce long-distance pollution, which cities are helpless to deal with.

Member states’ environment ministers will discuss the NEC Directive in June. Initive will be voted on in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, followed by a plenary vote scheduled for September.

Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer for Air Pollution at the EEB, said: “Cities can do a lot to improve air quality, but they are left exposed to some pollution they can’t control. This includes pollution coming from outside the city, like emissions from agriculture or industry. The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent deadly smog episodes.”

According to the European Commission, air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for more than ten times the toll of road traffic accidents. In 2010 air pollution caused over 400,000 premature deaths as well as substantial avoidable sickness and suffering, including respiratory conditions and exacerbated cardiovascular problems. The annual external costs of these health impacts were estimated to range between €330 and 940 billion.

Source: EEB/BUND press release, 31 March 2015

For the full ranking, explanation of the methodology and the results for each city, visit:

Artificial Photosynthesis Holds Promise Of Cleaner, Greener Environment

A hybrid system mimics the natural photosynthesis of plants to create a ‘green’ chemical factory that could produce beneficial products, researchers say. The system could help the environment by using CO2 that would otherwise add to atmospheric warming, they say.
(Photo : Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

A system of artificial photosynthesis can collect carbon dioxide before it escapes into our atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and convert it to useful products including drugs and alternative fuels, researchers say.

The breakthrough technology is a hybrid of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria that can take in carbon dioxide and use solar energy to convert it into pharmaceutical drugs, biodegradable plastics or liquid fuels.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, developed the system.

The hybrid system mimics natural photosynthesis, the process used by plants to take energy from sunlight and synthesize carbohydrates out of water and carbon dioxide.

In the hybrid system, however, the CO2 and water are used to synthesis acetate, a basic building block for biosynthesis, the researchers explain.

“We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis,” says study leader Peidong Yang, a chemist at the Berkeley Lab. “Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep below the ground.”

In the system, an “artificial forest” of silicon and titanium oxide nanowires in light-capturing arrays are seeded with bacterial populations, creating a solar-powered environmental-friendly chemistry factory that can use sequestered CO2 as its fuel source, the researchers report in the journal Nano Letters.

The bacteria is Sporomusa ovate, chosen for its excellent catalyst capabilities, they said.

“S. ovata is a great carbon dioxide catalyst as it makes acetate, a versatile chemical intermediate that can be used to manufacture a diverse array of useful chemicals,” says chemist and biosynthesis expert Michelle Chang, who holds appointments at both the Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley.

Technologies are being developed to capture and store carbon dioxide before it adds to the growing problem of the warming atmosphere, but that storage presents its own environmental problems, the Berkeley scientists note.

Their artificial photosynthesis system would be one way to put that stored CO2 to work, using it to synthesize a number of “targeted, value-added chemical products,” says Christopher Chang, an expert in catalysts used in carbon-neutral energy conversions.

Any system for artificial photosynthesis must meet a dual challenge of light-capture efficiency levels and sufficient catalytic activity, the researchers point out.

Their nanowire array/bacteria hybrid system is capable of converting solar energy at an efficiency of around 0.38 percent under simulated sunlight, around the same level as that of a natural leaf, they say, while showing an impressive ability to generate the desired chemical molecules.

“We are currently working on our second-generation system which has a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency of 3 percent,” Yang says. “Once we can reach a conversion efficiency of 10 percent in a cost-effective manner, the technology should be commercially viable.”

No global warming for last 18 years

SCMP Letters to the Editor

We are advised that in order to better meet a 2007 agreement in combating “global warming”, our government is to implement further measures to reduce energy consumption.

I am all for reducing the waste in the use of energy – a laudable if futile aim, particularly if it is being done in order to reduce global warming – and reduction in pollution. However, please refrain from telling us that the essential trace gas carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

It is amazing that our government maintains, strengthens even, its agenda in relation to global warming when there has been no global warming at all for the last 18 years and counting. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that.

G. Bailey, Ta Kwu Ling