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October 28th, 2008:

Environmental Salvation May Be A Case Of Smoke And Mirrors

Alister Doyle – SCMP | Updated on Oct 28, 2008

Backers of extreme technologies to curb global warming advocate dumping iron dust into the seas or placing smoke and mirrors in the sky to dim the sun.

But, even though they are seen by some as cheap fixes for climate change when many nations are worried about economic recession, such “geo-engineering” proposals have to overcome wide criticism that they are fanciful and could have unforeseen side effects.

“We are at the boundaries, treading in areas that we are not normally dealing with,” said Rene Coenen, head of the Office for the London Convention, an international organisation that regulates dumping at sea.

The London Convention, part of the International Maritime Organisation, will review ocean fertilisation at a meeting this week.

Among those hoping for approval for tests is Margaret Leinin, chief science officer of California-based Climos, a company that is looking at ways to use the oceans to soak up greenhouse gases. “The world has not been able to get carbon emissions under control” Dr Leinin said. “We should look at other options.”

Climos is seeking to raise money to test adding iron dust to the southern ocean to spur growth of algae that grow by absorbing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air. When algae die, they fall to the seabed and so remove carbon.

Other short-cut ideas include spraying a smoke of tiny particles of pollutants into the sky to dim sunlight, or even deploying a vast thin metallic barrier in space, with 100 space shuttle flights, to deflect the sun’s rays.

The UN Climate Panel has said world greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, mainly burning fossil fuels, rose 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004.

But it said that fertilising the oceans or dimming the sun “remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects”.

“More evidence has been coming in since then, but it’s far from making a reliable case for geo-engineering,” said Terry Barker, head of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research and one of the leading authors of the UN panel report.

The seas are already suffering enough from a “chemical soup” of pollution from humans, he said. “There’s no need to add to the mess.”

With fears of recession amid the deepest financial crisis since the 1930s, some governments may find cheap geo-engineering attractive compared with reducing carbon emissions. “It would be shortsighted,” Dr Barker said.

Last year, the London Convention said that “knowledge about the effectiveness and potential environmental impacts of ocean iron fertilisation was currently insufficient to justify large-scale operations.”

Those doubts were “still valid”, the convention’s Mr Coenen said.

Firms such as Australia’s Ocean Nourishment, Atmocean in New Mexico and Climos are working on varying sea-based projects. Another firm, Planktos, indefinitely suspended operations in February after failing to raise cash.

Some like Climos hope that sucking carbon into the ocean, if it works, could qualify for credits as carbon trading.

“It is possible to design experiments to avoid harm to the oceans,” said Dr Leinin. Climos wants to test iron fertilisation in the Southern Ocean, at the earliest in January 2010, in a trial that could cost US$15 million to US$20 million, she said. If it works, Dr Leinin said, it could be one of the cheapest ways to combat global warming.

Among objections are that carbon makes water more acidic and could undermine the ability of shellfish, crabs or lobsters to build shells. That, in turn, could disrupt the marine food chain.

Backers of geo-engineering say the risks are slight compared to far bigger disruptions from climate change, stoked by human emissions of greenhouse gases, which could lead to heatwaves, floods, droughts, more disease or rising seas.

“We are already bludgeoning nature,” said Victor Smetacek, a professor at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, who is planning an iron sulphate fertilisation experiment off Antarctica early next year.

His institute will co-operate with India to disperse 20 tonnes of iron sulphate near South Georgia over 300 sq km.

“Iron has a very positive effect. Added to the ocean, it’s like water in the desert,” he said. “We don’t have space to store the carbon we are producing on land,” he said of proposals including planting more forests.

They will study how far algae grow and absorb carbon. The extra algae, as food, might help a recovery of stocks of shrimp-like krill, a species on which penguins and whales depend.

Among other schemes, Nobel chemistry prize winner Paul Crutzen has floated the idea of blitzing the upper atmosphere with sulphur particles to reflect some sunlight back into space.

“The price is not a factor … it’s peanuts,” he said in Nicosia earlier this month. “The cost has been estimated at some US$10 million to US$20 million a year.”

Similar smoke is released by volcanic eruptions, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 or Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. The Indonesia eruption led to a “year without a summer” in many parts of the world, according to reports at the time.

Other proposals reviewed by the UN Climate Panel include installing a metallic screen covering a 106 sq km patch of space 1.5 million km away from Earth in the direction of the Sun.

The 3,000-tonne structure could be put in place over 100 years by 100 space shuttle flights. “The cost has yet to be determined”, the panel said.

Another idea is to spew more sea spray into the air – a natural process caused by waves. This could make low-level clouds slightly whiter and bounce solar rays back into space.

Advantages are that the only ingredient is sea water, and the system could be turned off. But the UN panel said “the meteorological ramifications need further study”.


Go Green To Beat Recession Blues

Timothy Chui – The Standard | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Businesses that manage to survive the global economic crisis will face even bigger challenges from climate change unless they retool their operations now, according to the world’s foremost climate- change economist.

“The risk consequences of ignoring climate change will be very much bigger than ignoring risks in the financial system,” former British Treasury economist Lord Nicholas Stern said.

Describing the current financial crisis as the worst since World War II, Stern is forecasting recession for 80 percent of the developed world.

He said governments, while spending to bolster the financial system, should also take the opportunity to reshape the economy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Markets will change. If you get locked into high carbon technology and the price of carbon goes up, which it will, then you’ve got a real profit risk. Those who innovate first will get the biggest returns,” he said.

Stern told an assembly of leading businesses at the Climate Group’s 2008 Conference at the JW Marriott yesterday that Hong Kong, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is among the top 10 most vulnerable cities to climate change from sea level rise and air pollution.

Fresh from last week’s Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, where mainland authorities signaled their commitment to the global climate change effort to be outlined in Copenhagen next year, Stern said the likely target of 50 percent carbon dioxide reductions by 2050 would require developed nations to cut their emissions by 80 percent.

The former economist also called for more public money to be poured into carbon neutral research and development, including carbon neutral road transport and power generation.

The author of 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change said regulations such as banning combustion cars from cities by 2020 may revolutionize automobiles the way regulations that abolished leaded fuel did.

Head of HSBC Corporate Sustainability Teresa Au Pui-yi pegged the impact of rising sea levels at trillions of dollars.

Chief executive officer of Climate Group Steve Howard said delaying some key technology such as carbon capture and storage by one year would mean the concentration of CO2 mid-century going up one part per million.

“We probably only have leeway of a few tenths of parts per million,” Howard said.

Low-carbon Path Offers Way Out Of Downturn, Says HSBC Adviser

Kandy Wong, SCMP – Updated on Oct 28, 2008

The current economic crisis should not be an excuse to delay implementing low-carbon-emissions policies, according to Lord Nicholas Stern.

Rather, he said, it was the time to lay the foundations for tackling global warming.

“The transition to a low-carbon growth path will lead to numerous new opportunities across a wide range of businesses and industries,” said Lord Stern, a former chief economist for the World Bank and now a special adviser for HSBC’s economic development and climate change group.

That was why, he said at a press briefing yesterday in Hong Kong, he was confident countries and companies would launch carbon-reduction programmes even amid the current global crisis.

Big retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Tesco of Britain were concerned about the energy used throughout their supply chain, he said. Eventually, Tesco would label products with the amount of emissions in their making.

“This is the way the market is going,” Lord Stern said.

According to figures from the United States Energy Information Administration, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations climbed 2.2 parts per million last year to 383 ppm.

The agency also found that since 2000 carbon dioxide levels had risen 2 ppm annually, compared with 1.5 ppm during the 1990s and 1.6 ppm in the 1980s.

Lord Stern said the “transformation to a global low-carbon economy is one way through the economic downturn … on to a more sustainable growth path for the future”.

It is estimated that the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions will reach 31.1 billion tonnes by 2010, up from 28.1 billion tonnes in 2005.

“There was a three-day extended discussion last week in Beijing about carbon emissions and low-carbon growth,” Lord Stern said. “The European leaders will get on with lowering emissions” while the US and China will also take action in the next months, he said.

Leaders from Asia and Europe agreed there should be new regulations for carbon reduction, new market prices for carbon and higher prices for high-carbon emission products.

In 2006, Lord Stern’s publication, the Stern Review, estimated that the overall cost of climate change will range from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of gross domestic product if actions are not taken to reduce carbon emissions.

On the other hand, he indicated that taking strong action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would cost about 1 per cent of GDP annually.

“I believe the challenges of the financial crisis for Britain and the United States may last for one to two years more. But, regardless, governments in different countries are taking actions to boost the [sustainable] economy,” Lord Stern said yesterday.

World leaders have agreed to cut overall carbon emissions by 50 per cent globally by 2050.