This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


North Pole Meets South Pole: Earth Is Melting at Both Ends - Melting Ice Caps Could Spell Disaster for Coastal Cities

North Pole Meets South Pole: Earth Is Melting at Both Ends
Melting Ice Caps Could Spell Disaster for Coastal Cities

Aurora / Getty Images

Antarctica's ice sheets are losing far more than the snow is adding. The melting is happening faster than scientists expected.

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(March 2) - For the first time, scientists have confirmed Earth is melting at both ends, which could have disastrous effects for coastal cities and villages.

Antarctica has been called "a slumbering giant" by a climate scientist who predicts that if all the ice melted, sea levels would rise by 200 feet. Other scientists believe that such a thing won't happen, but new studies show that the slumbering giant has started to stir.

Melting at Both Ends

Recent studies have confirmed that the North Pole and the South Pole have started melting.

Experts have long predicted that global warming would start to melt Greenland's two-mile-thick ice sheet, but they also thought the more massive ice sheet covering Antarctica would increase in the 21st century.

It seems they were wrong.

Two new studies find that despite the increasing snowfall that comes with global warming as a result of the increased moisture in the air, Antarctica's ice sheets are losing far more than the snow is adding.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century, with accelerated warming during the last two decades. Most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities through the buildup of greenhouse gases — primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Although the heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed, uncertainties exist about exactly how Earth's climate responds to them.

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See a global warming photo gallery

"The warming ocean comes underneath the ice shelves and melts them from the bottom, and warmer air from the top melts them from the top," said NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally. "So they're thinning and eventually they get to a point where they go poof!"

Zwally explains that the ice shelves, which the Antarctic ice cap pushes out into the ocean, are responding more than they expected to Earth's warming air and water. If the melting speeds up to a rapid runaway process called a "collapse," coastal cities and villages could be in danger.

James Hansen, director of NASA's Earth Science Research, said that disaster could probably be avoided, but that it would require dramatically cutting emission outputs. If the proper actions aren't taken, Hansen said, the sea level could rise as much as 80 feet by the time today's children reach middle age.

"We now must choose between a serious problem that we can probably handle and, if we don't act soon, unmitigated disaster down the road," Hansen said.

Scientists looking at ice cores can now read Earth's temperatures from past millennia and match them to sea levels from those eras.

"Based on the history of the Earth, if we can keep the warming less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, I think we can avoid disastrous ice sheet collapse," Hansen said.

Hansen and other scientists point out that a rise of at least 1 degree Fahrenheit — and another few feet of sea level — seem virtually certain to happen because of the carbon that mankind has already put in the atmosphere.

Copyright 2006

Would global warming have been dealt with more decisively if man had been a temperate creature rather than a tropical one?

Cold comfort
Mar 2nd 2006
From The Economist print edition

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AVOIDING climate change is like avoiding getting fat. That one extra biscuit won't make much difference, but once the kilos are on it is hard to get them off. Both “The Weather Makers” and “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” make an analogous point—that global warming is a process that is hard to reverse. Climate change is more visible at the poles than elsewhere, for example, because ice is one of the best reflectors of sunlight, and water is one of the worst. Melt the ice and the balance between heat sent packing straight back into space and heat retained to warm the planet shifts very fast.

In his book, Tim Flannery, a zoologist, delves into the science of climate change. He is at his angriest when writing about the extinction of species and habitats that rapid global warming is likely to bring about. Elizabeth Kolbert, who writes for the New Yorker, by no means eschews the science, but her emphasis is on her discussions with people who work in the field, and much of her writing is anecdotal.

Both books trumpet the same central message: act now. Every year's delay in doing something about climate change will take far more than a year to put right. Once the ice is gone, it will not come back. Once the permafrost melts and the methane it contains is released, it cannot be recalled—and methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In addition, Mr Flannery comes from Australia, Ms Kolbert from America; the only industrialised countries that have failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Although the protocol is certainly a flawed document, both authors regard agreeing to it as a sign of a government's good faith in the matter of greenhouse-gas emissions, and both excoriate what they regard as the weasel words of their respective administrations about acting on the issue independently of Kyoto.

In this respect, Ms Kolbert wins out over Mr Flannery. Her report of her interview with Paula Dobriansky, who has the job of explaining the American administration's position on global warming, is a masterpiece of verbal juggling. When it comes to prescriptions, though, Mr Flannery's analysis has the edge. He mercilessly dissects the alternatives—particularly the idea of replacing hydrocarbon fuels with hydrogen, which he regards as expensive and probably technically unfeasible. And he dismisses the hydrogen-economists' idea of “sequestering” the carbon dioxide generated underground or in the oceans as both impractical and environmentally catastrophic.

The answer, according to Mr Flannery, lies in revamping the way electricity is generated. That means abandoning coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel around, and employing sunlight, wind, geothermal power (which he believes is an under-appreciated resource) and also nuclear power. Having done that, the problem of dealing with petroleum-consuming transport becomes one of storing electrical energy in a sufficiently dense form that vehicles can use it. Here, he thinks, hybrid petrol/electric cars point the way forward.

Mr Flannery's most intriguing thought, though, is almost a throwaway point. But it is one that only an evolutionary biologist would have come up with. He suggests that if humanity were facing the threat of cold, rather than heat, the talking would have been over long ago and a strong plan of action would be in place. His point is that Homo sapiens is a tropical species which, having only recently spread to temperate and frigid climes, still thinks like a tropical species. It really fears the cold, but rather likes the heat. The word “warming”, therefore, has positive overtones. So perhaps the underlying problem is not so much, as in the case of staying slim, that you have to trade a real sacrifice now for a potential benefit in the future, but that a lot of people who are perfectly willing to believe that global warming is happening don't really see it is a problem at all.

The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth.
By Tim Flannery.
Atlantic Monthly Press; 384 pages; $24. Penguin/Allen Lane; £20

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.
By Elizabeth Kolbert.
Bloomsbury; 210 pages; $22.95. To be published in Britain by Bloomsbury in June

Recycling in San Francisco takes a dirty step forward: The city is planning to turn the waste of its 120,000 dogs into usable energy.

Dung into methane

The year of the dog

Mar 2nd 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
From The Economist print edition

Recycling in San Francisco takes a dirty step forward


Natural gas pipeline

CHINA'S year of the dog and George Bush's push for alternative fuel sources have proudly come together in San Francisco. The city is planning to turn the waste of its 120,000 dogs into usable energy.

Known for its environmental consciousness, San Francisco already uses a dozen recycling programmes to divert 63% of its household garbage away from landfills. Ten years ago, it started a scheme to collect 300 tons (272 metric tonnes) of food scraps a day from houses and restaurants, convert these into fertiliser and sell the result to Napa Valley vineyards and to organic farms.

To help it to achieve its goal of no new landfill waste by 2020, the city commissioned a study of where its garbage was coming from and going to. Something surprising emerged: nearly 4% of the refuse collected from homes came from pet waste (almost as much as from disposable nappies). The traditional means of collection results in doggie dung mummified in plastic in landfills, rather than eventually breaking down.

Some Bay Area residents are already using biodegradable bags to collect Fido's droppings but the city decided to take the process a long step further. According to Robert Reed, spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems, the company that collects and recycles the city's trash, “We came back with the idea of mixing it with food scraps and sending the combined degradables to a converter.”

Norcal Waste is planning to try out special collection carts and biodegradable bags at Duboce Park, a popular dog-walking place. Along with food leftovers, the dog waste will go into a methane digester, where bacteria will feed on the combination and emit methane to be used as natural gas. Norcal Waste is still deciding which bags to buy, but eventually San Francisco should be able to add another accomplishment to its illustrious history: being the first city to make methane out of dog shit.

San Franciscan dog owners are keen. As a “dedicated recycler”, Hayley Goodson, who lives near Duboce Park, is determined to take part in the experiment. Debbie Lum, proud owner of Furball, lives too far away but claims that “if we could dump the poop in a park near us, we would definitely carry the load there.” Now Norcal hopes to extend the dung-to-methane project to other pets and to collecting from private homes. Says Mr Reed, “We don't want Muffin the Cat to be left out.”

Tobacco, asbestos and now paint: A ruling in Rhode Island over lead paint opens up a new area of toxic torts

Environmental risks

Tobacco, asbestos and now paint

Mar 2nd 2006 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

A ruling in Rhode Island over lead paint opens up a new area of toxic torts

THE chances of making a fortune from a dull old business like paint appeared pretty grim until February 22nd, when a Rhode Island jury decided that three companies were guilty of creating a continuing public nuisance because of lead pigment in the paints they produced before 1978. From that date, the offending products were banned under federal law because of the poisonous consequences that paint dust and chips can have for children.

For the companies involved, the verdicts were devastating. The stockmarket value of Sherwin-Williams, the largest, shrank by more than $1 billion, or 30%. It recovered a little after a judge ruled on February 28th that the three firms involved will not be liable for punitive damages, but the companies will still be liable for clean-up costs that could run to billions of dollars. And that is just in little Rhode Island, and just for paint companies.

Plaintiff lawyers can smell blood. The lead plaintiff, a South Carolina law firm called Motley Rice, is eligible to receive 17% of any settlement, and it may be able to replicate its success elsewhere. Granted, similar litigation has been tried without success in half a dozen states; but plaintiffs recorded several misses before scoring big hits on tobacco, with Motley Rice playing a key role. And, as with asbestos, the list of possible candidates for litigation is only just being drawn up.

DuPont, a chemicals company which also produces paint, managed to extricate itself from the Rhode Island case after a deal involving the payment of millions of dollars to charities approved by the state's attorney-general. Both sides say the deal was not a “settlement”, thus relieving DuPont of legal concerns for the moment. The deal seems clever; but other states may reason that DuPont will pay to avoid a trial.

Makers of pigments and paints may be only the start. Lead paint was used in millions of buildings throughout America. Since health hazards typically emerge only in buildings that are badly maintained, landlords with poor maintenance records are an obvious next target. So might be distributors, painters and any other links in the chain between the production of paint and its deterioration into dust and flakes. And behind each of these links is an insurance company. Collectively, insurers are the largest possible source of settlement funds. “The question is, does it snowball like asbestos?” says Jeff Berg, an analyst at Moody's, a credit-rating agency. “There is no way to know this up front.”

An answer to Mr Berg's question will come in several stages. First, there is the science. The individual connection between exposure to asbestos and lung disease was pretty clear-cut. By contrast, the main sin that lead is accused of is reducing children's intelligence by damaging the developing brain. That is the sort of effect which shows up at a population level; but it is near impossible to pin the stupidity of a particular child on exposure to lead.

Second is the question of whether the Rhode Island verdict will survive an appeal. Third, plaintiff lawyers will have to surmount several obstacles before they can bring a case. Foremost among these is the awkward fact that no paint was purchased after the ban. Layer upon layer was applied for decades before it, and no one is claiming that the paintmakers did anything illegal. Fourth, if plaintiffs are to win damages courts will have to apportion the bill to existing producers on the basis of their current market shares, because no one knows whose paint was used in which building. A case in Philadelphia was dismissed because the court rejected just this methodology.

Finally, the Rhode Island verdict may not be easy to replicate elsewhere. Its roots go back to 1998, when Ron Motley, a South Carolina lawyer and veteran of the tobacco settlements, met state attorneys-general and identified lead-based paint as a promising area for public litigation. Of the many that attended, only Rhode Island's followed through.

The state was unusual, both because it had lots of old deteriorating houses and because its definition of public nuisance was particularly broad, says Don Gifford, an academic and adviser to the industry. Typically, a public nuisance is just that: polluted air or water, say, or traffic. Merely showing that lots of individuals suffer private harm does not mean the nuisance is public. In Rhode Island, however, almost any harm can qualify.

Curiously, Rhode Island is also one of the few states where the attorney-general has not endorsed moves by the paint industry to minimise the chance of lead poisoning by publishing warnings and providing training on how to deal with surfaces that may have been coated with lead-based paint. Lead paint is a problem. Sorting out who will pay for it could be another of America's great tort battles.


Photo Essay: Dirty Oil [It takes roughly two metric tons of "oil sands" to produce one barrel of crude oil]

Thanks to Norbert for sending this one along...

Photo Essay: Dirty Oil
Oil companies are, to the chagrin of environmentalists, mining a rich source of bitumen in Canada. By Katherine Bourzac,296,p1.html

December 2005

Photo Essay: Dirty Oil

Oil companies are, to the chagrin of environmentalists, mining a rich source of bitumen in Canada.

By Katherine Bourzac

As oil has become scarcer and more expensive, oil companies have begun seriously pursuing a politically charged method of oil extraction in Canada.

The ­world's second-­largest oil reserve lies under Alberta in the form of oil sand, which must be processed extensively to yield bitumen, a hydrocarbon mixture related to asphalt that can be turned into crude oil. It is estimated that 174 billion barrels of oil of varying quality could be recovered from the sands. Development is speeding ahead: so far, 34 billion Canadian dollars have been spent developing the oil sands, and another 45 billion in development projects will be completed by 2010 by companies including Petro-Canada, Syncrude, and Suncor.

Oil companies use large machinery and pipelines to transport the sand and rely on welling technologies to extend their reach to the bitumen buried far below the surface. With production at about one million barrels of oil per day in 2005 and expected to double by 2010, environmental groups worry that oil-sands development is speeding ahead too quickly. The following photos illustrate the process--and impact--of getting oil from sand.

1. A grain of oil sand consists of a mostly quartz particle enveloped in a film of water, which is surrounded by bitumen, a thick, heavy oil. It takes roughly two metric tons of this sticky sand to produce one barrel of crude oil. [Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

2. Where the oil sands lie close to the surface, mostly near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, they can be mined. In the effort to get at these sands, areas have been drained of wetlands and stripped of boreal forests, which play an important role in climate regulation and carbon storage. Their destruction contributes to the greenhouse effect. [Click here to view image.]
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Copyright Technology Review 2005

3. About 80 percent of Alberta's oil sand is too far below the surface to dig up. The most common method for getting the bitumen out is through two parallel horizontal wells lined with perforated pipe. Heat from high-temperature steam injected down one of the wells softens surrounding bitumen--which in oil sand form normally flows about as easily as Crisco--causing it to separate from the sand and flow down into the second well, from which it is pumped to the surface. [Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

4. Equipment used by oil-sand miners includes tractors with top-mounted radiators and cooling fans to protect their engines from oil particles and sludge, thousand-metric-ton shovels, and the Caterpillar 797. This colossal dump truck weighs more than 500 metric tons when empty. When its tires wear out after about a year, they are reused as cattle feeders.

Producing crude oil from the Alberta sands is an energy-­intensive process. Giant digging and transportation machines use commensurately large amounts of fuel. Refining and welling technologies consume roughly 30* cubic meters of natural gas per barrel of recovered oil. Environmental watchdogs estimate that, as a result, producing a barrel of oil from the Alberta sands releases two to three times the volume of greenhouse gases that traditional oil production would. By 2015, production from the oil sands is projected to release 94 megatons of greenhouse gases.

Oil sand retrieved from surface mining is crushed and then moved to a processing plant via "hydrotransport." As the sand, mixed with water, tumbles through transport pipes, the clumps of bitumen, sand, and water begin to loosen. [Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

The sand-and-water slurry is dumped into tanks with hot water, where it separates into three layers: sand, bitumen froth (impure bitumen), and a middle layer that is further treated to extract bitumen. Bitumen froth is also treated to remove impurities. [
Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

6. Oil companies create ponds in which to dump millions of cubic meters of the sandy, toxic by-product of oil-sand processing. These "tailings ponds" are characterized by salt and acids. Here, a worker installs a scarecrow to keep birds away. [Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

7. Bitumen is a viscous mixture of long hydrocarbon chains--strings of as many as thousands of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. These molecules must be "upgraded" to shorter molecules before they can be refined into petroleum products.

Purified bitumen is heated to break its long hydrocarbon chains into lighter molecules, such as naphtha, that can be refined. This process is called coking and takes place in large towers. The high-carbon by-product of the process, called coke, in turn fuels the coking furnaces. Distillation and a hydrogenation process are the final steps. [Click here to view image.]
Description text
Copyright Technology Review 2005

8. The extensive processing of oil sand generates "sweet" crude oil, so called because of its low levels of sulfur and other impurities. Crude oil can be refined into gasoline of different grades and chemicals for making plastics. [Click here to view image.]
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Copyright Technology Review 2005

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Lara Solt/Dallas Morning News/Corbis; photo 2: Greg Smith/Corbis; inset: courtesy of Suncor Energy, Inc.; photo 3: Courtesy of Petro-Canada; photo 4: Courtesy of Suncor Energy, Inc.; photo 5: Hans-Juergen Burkard/Bilderberg; inset: courtesy of Suncrude Canada Ltd.; photo 6: Hans-Juergen Burkard/Bilderberg; photo 7: Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.; photo 8: Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.


Japanese construction industry - Shaken to the foundations: Another major scandal in Japan’s construction industry illustrates its poor safety standards

Japanese construction industry - Shaken to the foundations

Another major scandal in Japan’s construction industry illustrates its poor safety standards
Living in Japan, you get used to feeling the strange exhilaration and fear that comes with experiencing an earth tremor. Recently, the ground around Tokyo has been shaking for a different reason.

Small-time architect Hidetsugu Aneha has admitted that he produced fraudulent safety standards reports for hundreds of high profile buildings he designed. It is his recent testimony to the national parliament, transmitted on live television, that has opened a can of worms for the construction industry.

Citing concerns for his career and financial future, Aneha claimed he was compelled to fake the safety measurements by profit-hungry developers, eager to cut corners at every turn.

“You played a role in building murderous apartments and hotels,” accused one parliamentarian during the interrogation. Many Japanese have some cause to agree.

An industry problem

Aneha has claimed he carried out the falsifications so badly that certified inspectors, who are required to examine all new buildings, could not fail to see the faults.

Aneha believes it is the industry that should be called to account, not just him, a building safety designer. “It’s not entirely my fault,” he pleaded.

Others are, indeed, being sucked into the mess.

A number of private inspection companies have been implicated, as have at least three smallish construction firms: Kimura, Heisei and Huser. Bigger ones may yet feel the effects of the scandal.

The Japanese construction industry has long been associated with allegations of graft and corruption. Cosy relationships between government and industry have led to tender bids being regularly rigged, or for planning concessions to be given out in a manner contrary to existing regulations.

Those systemic peculiarities have clearly led many astray. Now, steel reinforcements required for Japan’s earthquake-prone buildings have become a new area where cost cutting measures have been widely applied.

There is an element of “face” here too. Construction inspectors have been unwilling to reveal errors or problems in buildings up for safety certification for fear of costing the developers, architects or builders a loss of reputation or money.

A major part of the problem stems from the deregulation of the building inspection sector in 1999 that resulted from pressure mainly from western investors to free up the building industry.

Around 60% of all Japan’s building inspections are now carried out by one of around 120 private inspectors. According to one expert, these private operators have inspected around two million buildings in the last six years.

Many, including Aneha himself, claim a client-consultant relationship has been established between developers (clients) and building inspectors (consultants), particularly since developers can choose which inspector they want to use. It has led to many inspectors certifying buildings quickly, and without bother, as a means to garner more work from that developer.

Falling down

The Japanese government has reacted quickly to the situation, offering free accommodation and mortgage assistance to residents affected by the scandal. It has vowed to re-inspect as many buildings as required, and to clean up the problem.

But, the decision to privatise the inspection process has left many questioning the government’s motives (although the reforms were brought in before the current prime minister was elected) and wondering whether cutting the red tape has been worth it.

The crisis is a huge political headache for prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and his cabinet and is set to keep shaking the foundations of the country’s massive real estate sector well into 2006.

It puts an interesting light on the upcoming privatisation of the country’s postal service, an issue on which Koizumi won a snap election in 2005. The Japanese may turn against the postal sale and against deregulation in general, fearing the different, though no less frightening, risks the process may throw up.

Out of all this there may be some saving grace. As with the asbestos-use scandal that Ethical Corporation reported on in November, it is encouraging at least that such issues are coming to light in hitherto hide-bound Japan.

That probably does not mean much, however, to the many Japanese residents fearful for the safety of their homes.

Useful links:

Melting glaciers pose growing global threats, scientists warn

Melting glaciers pose growing global threats, scientists warn

Greenwire, 21 February 2006 - From Patagonia to Tibet to the Antarctic, the world's glaciers are in crisis, according to experts who gathered last weekend here at one of the world's largest scientific meetings.

Days after the publication of new research showing the rate at which Greenland's glaciers are shedding ice has doubled over the last five years, glaciologists at the annual meeting of the American Advancement of Science said that nearly all the world's ice sheets are showing similar worrying declines.

The growing flow of freshwater into the oceans could result in potentially catastrophic rises in sea level and changes in currents that drive world weather patterns, they said.

"This is what I'm worried about: Freshwater storage on Earth is out of balance for the first time in history" because of glaciers' increasingly rapid melting, said Mark Dyurgerov, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, who noted that 77 percent of the Earth's freshwater is bound in ice. "And mankind is very sensitive to changes in sea level."

"There is no question that sea levels will rise," said Gabriel Filipelli, a geologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Current estimates are about 40 centimeters, or 16 inches, by 2100, he said, adding: "That's pretty rapid." And while coastal communities are at risk, some island nations could disappear completely. "In some cases," Filipelli said, "we're talking about whole cultures and communities."

Greenland findings surprise scientists

Though scientists have tracked the world's glaciers for several decades, the pace of melting in the last five years has been a major surprise, many said. "Fifteen years ago, we thought Greenland [glaciers] were not doing anything," said Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now, ice sheets below an elevation of 2 kilometers show "major melting," he said. "We're going over the edge."

Rignot is co-author of the new study, published last week in the journal Science, that documented the quickening pace of Greenland's glaciers slide toward the Atlantic Ocean. "I don't think any of us in the scientific community expected such drastic changes in Greenland," Rignot said. But the problem is not limited to Greenland, or even the Northern Hemisphere. South America, for one, is home to nearly 30,000 square kilometers of glacial ice. Over centuries, its slow and steady melt has provided water for drinking, irrigation, and recently, hydropower, to many of the continents' inhabitants.

"People are living really close to the glaciers," said Gino Casassa, a climatologist at the Centro de Estudios Científicos in Valdivia, Chile. But that way of life is being threatened as air temperatures rise and the pace of melting increases, he said. In Bolivia, the cities of La Paz and Alta depend on the water shed by the Chacaltaya Glacier -- an ice sheet that scientists predict could be gone in less than a decade.

As ice melts throughout South America's mountain regions, it could also increase the frequency of natural disasters, including floods and avalanches. In 1985, a volcanic eruption in Venezuela melted 16 percent of the ice contained in one glacier, causing an avalanche -- or "lahar" -- that killed more than 25,000 people near the city of Armaro. And while that disaster was not the result of global warming, it offers a taste of what increased glacial melt could bring to the region, Casassa said. The bottom line, he added: "Small glaciers [like those in South America] are particularly vulnerable to warming. Several of them have already disappeared completely."

A global threat

Similar problems are seen around the globe, in the mountains of Central Asia. The region is second only to the Arctic and Antarctica in its amount of glacial ice, which provides water for about 2.5 billion people. "Mountain glaciers are the water tower for the 21st century," Dyurgerov said. "And they're disappearing." "Mount Kilimanjaro has had an ice cap for thousands and thousands of years," said Filipelli. "In about 10 years, it'll be gone completely."

Still, the situation may be worst in Antarctica, which contains enough glacial ice to raise sea levels by 60 meters. Temperatures along the continent's peninsula are rising six times faster than the global average, and thinning is evident in most coastal areas. Melting is particularly severe in areas where glaciers are grounded below sea level. "Clearly, the ocean is representing the biggest threat for these glaciers," Rignot said.

He cited as a bellwether event the collapse of Antarctica's Larsen B ice sheet in 2002 and urged action to curb greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. "After 10,000 years of relatively stable existence, Larsen B disappeared in three weeks in 2002," he said. "It's clear, nature is having a little experiment on us."

EU: Eco-innovation and biodiversity environmental priorities for 2006

Eco-innovation and biodiversity environmental priorities for 2006, 17 February 2006 - Commissioner Dimas has presented an optimistic annual environment policy review for 2005 and set out priorities for the coming twelve months. The real figures on environmental deterioration in the same report paint a less rosy picture.

According to the latest annual Environment Policy Review (EPR), the year 2005 was a good year for EU environment policy. The report, which provides the environmental input for the March Spring European Council, claims progress on several fronts:

  • in the fight against climate change, the Kyoto protocol entered into force and the EU's emissions trading scheme made good progress;
  • new thematic strategies on waste, air pollution, marine environment, urban environment, and the use of resources laid the "foundations of the next generation of environment policy";
  • the review of the EU's sustainable development strategy "provided a new framework for addressing long-term economic, social and environmental trends and their synergies"
The annual review also indicates what will be the main priorities for environmental policy in the year 2006. Eco-innovation, biodiversity and continued efforts to deal with climate change will be high on the Commission's agenda in the next twelve months.

The EU's positive environment report, on the other hand, is contradicted by some of the "new evidence" on environmental deterioration mentioned in the same document. Europe's "ecological footprint" (a measure for the environmental pressure) is 4.9 global hectares per person, but the "limit on Earth's resources means that only 1.8 hectares are available for each person," says the Commission's own report.

Stefan Scheuer of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) evaluates 2005 as a difficult year for EU environment policy. "It was more a year of damage prevention", Mr Scheuer told EurActiv. According to the EEB speaker, Commissioner Dimas was able to rescue the thematic strategies and "avoid a major U-turn" of EU environment policy.


EU official documents

EU Actors positions

Utility CEO sees U.S. emission caps by 2020

Utility CEO sees U.S. emission caps by 2020

Greenwire, 22 February 2006 - American Electric Power Co. Chief Executive Officer Michael Morris said today he sees the United States coming to a conclusive policy on mandatory greenhouse gas emissions caps sometime before 2020.

However, Morris, speaking to reporters at a morning forum sponsored by The Energy Daily, has many reservations about establishing caps in the short term, out of concern that they could raise power prices for many of his company's manufacturing customers that are having a difficult time competing with overseas companies from China and India, whose governments are not going to adopt emissions caps anytime soon.

Morris said he agrees "somewhat" with emissions proponent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that emissions should be reduced, "but only if you get the rest of the world to agree in a Reagan-like, verifiable commitment."And, he added, "I don't think you'll ever see China get to mandatory caps."

Indeed, Morris contends that the utility sector is doing fine in meeting the goals of the Bush administration's voluntary GHG emissions reduction program. But a 2020 time frame, Morris said, would allow for newer technologies such as integrated gasification combined cycle plants to establish themselves and for the retirement of the older coal-generating plants that likely would have to shut down under a short-term reduction plan.

  • Click here to see E&ETV's Event Coverage of Morris' speech before the National Coal Council in Washington, D.C., as he explains the progress AEP has made with the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) facility it wants to build in Ohio. He also talks about the factors driving AEP's decision, including new interest in the utility sector from General Electric Co., plus the belief that the federal government will someday limit carbon di

Shareholders push more US utilities to disclose carbon

Shareholders push more US utilities to disclose carbon

Environmental Finance, 23 February 2006 - Four US utilities have bowed to shareholder pressure and agreed to disclose their carbon dioxide emissions, as well as their potential liability to future regulation.

Great Plains Energy in Missouri, and three utilities based in Wisconsin - Alliant Energy, WPS Resources and MGE Energy – faced shareholder resolutions filed in late 2005.

Those resolutions were withdrawn when the companies agreed to open the books on their carbon risk, according to Ceres, a coalition of investment funds and public interest groups that promotes environmental responsibility as part of good management. Ceres helped coordinate the shareholder resolution filings.

The four utilities are especially susceptible to regulatory risk because they have all proposed building new coal-fired power plants, Ceres notes.

Shareholder resolutions are still pending with Virginia-based Dominion Resources and Peabody Energy, a Missouri-based coal company that is looking to develop coal-fired power plants.

Altogether, shareholders have targeted two dozen US businesses with climate change resolutions during the 2006 proxy season, Ceres says. Those include General Motors, ExxonMobil, financial firms Wachovia and Wells Fargo, insurers Chubb and Marsh & McLennan, five real estate firms and three retailers.

In addition to the resolutions, shareholders have also sent letters to 30 US insurance companies and to 43 electric utilities, requesting that the companies provide climate reports during 2006, including plans for reducing exposure to regulatory changes. Ceres helped coordinate those investor letters as well.

Over the past two years, shareholder resolutions have pressured more than a dozen companies to publish or agree to publish climate risk reports, Ceres notes. The coalition is also pressing mutual funds to back shareholder resolutions on climate change.