Friday, August 29, 2014

‘Mangrove Man’ inspired by world travel

He’s traveled half a million miles over the years – enough to go around the world 12 times, or to the moon and halfway back – so it’s little wonder that writer, photographer, conservationist and educator Martin Keeley continues to find inspiration for his work.

Keeley’s latest trips are with the Marvelous Mangrove education curriculum, a program that teaches schoolchildren about the importance of mangroves and the eco-systems which they support worldwide, as well as training teachers to teach both students and other teachers.

The program was developed by Cayman Brac-based Keeley in 1999 and initially was incorporated into Cayman’s primary school curriculum. It is part of the Mangrove Action Project, a conservation group comprised of more than 300 scientists and academics spanning more than 60 nations.

The Marvelous Mangrove program is now in 11 countries, with the expansion this year to South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and Queensland, Australia.

“For me, the mangrove trips continue to stimulate the creative process,” said the writer.

“They often inspire my poetry, and I reckon that in another six months or so I’ll have enough to publish another anthology. My photography also continues to benefit from my travels and exposure to other cultures and their environments.”

In addition, he says, he gets an in-depth perspective on the countries and the cultures where he works.

“I experience and observe firsthand their societies and the common problems they face – the huge and ever growing disparity between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor who are barely making it,” Keeley added.

“The contrasts I observed this summer between nations like Indonesia and Australia stimulate not only sympathy and anger between the haves and have-nots, but empathy with those whose daily struggle is that of survival, while others have little or no idea how lucky they are take for granted their secure and protective social environment.”

At the Indonesian trip, 30 teachers and educators spent three days in an intense workshop that, in the words of Keeley, “introduced them to the wonderful world of mangroves through hands-on science.”

A particular highlight was the surprise introduction of 15 school kids who came in and assisted for the afternoon, Keeley said.

“The setting is perfect, with elevated cabins connected by elevated walkways and the “hall” for the workshop itself in a Roman-style amphitheater that is open to the elements – roofed, but with shutters, not glass windows,” he said.

“The accommodation, theater and restaurant operate independent of the grid on solar power with water from local wells and storage systems which is treated through solar osmosis, although it sometimes has to be topped up by water trucks during the dry season. The food is all grown locally, and mostly seafood that is caught locally on a daily basis.”

The Australian leg of the trip, he said, was slightly different.

“Australia saw the launch of ‘Mangrovia,’ a huge inflatable red mangrove that students go inside to explore and hear storytelling,” Keeley said.

“In addition, Mangrovia’s creator, international festival artist Evelyn Roth, also designed and made 28 costumes of mangrove critters that are used in conjunction with the inflatable.

“Many Cayman students [and adults] have had similar experiences with my huge inflatable shark and the 30 mangrove critter costumes which go with it during the past 15 years! It’s an exciting way to learn.”

The issue of mangrove conservation has become more and more important in recent years, Keeley says, largely because of their environmental qualities.

“It has been known for many years, and the 2004 Asian Tsunami proved it beyond doubt, that mangroves are the first line of defense against major tropical storms, be they hurricanes or typhoons,” Mr. Keeley continued.

“Recent studies during the past six or seven years have also shown that, given the opportunity, mangroves will keep pace with sea level rise thereby extending that level of protection. In addition, recent research has shown that mangroves capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in leaves, roots, trunks and soil.

“No maximum storage capacity has been determined as the trees continuously store carbon in the soil for centuries or millennia. Obviously ripping out mangroves releases this stored CO2 and thereby adds to the acceleration of global warming.

“National governments from Vietnam and China to Belize and Guatemala have come to understand what local communities and scientists have been telling them for many years. Mangroves are the major source of more than 75 percent of reef species of fish and invertebrates – they are the spawning and nursery grounds for these species. Thousands of communities round the world rely on these aquatic species for their livelihoods and to feed their families.”

Next up for stamps on the increasingly-packed passport pages will be trips to Bangladesh and Kenya, scheduled for summer 2015. Keeley has already visited both briefly to get the ball rolling and he told Weekender that – funding permitting – translations of the materials and teacher training workshops will be introduced.

There seems no sign of slowing down there, either, for the Brac-based whirlwind.

“World-wide at least a dozen other countries are interested in the Marvellous Mangroves curriculum,” he concluded.

“As usual, it’s just a matter of time and, of course, money, to make it happen.” More

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Island Wisdom Is Crucial to Help the World Adapt and Prepare for the Im

For decades, small island countries have been warning the world about the consequences of climate change. While many countries have been debating whether climate change is even happening or who is to blame, small islands have just had to deal with its impact, from extreme weather to rising sea levels and increasing environmental vulnerability.

Major storms have always been a fact of life for small islands. But in recent years they have intensified in their destructive capabilities. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the Caribbean island of Grenada, causing widespread destruction. The financial cost of the disaster was estimated at more than $900 million - more than twice the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Only 10 months later, the country was hit again, this time by Hurricane Emily, which caused another $50 million in damage.

In the Caribbean, changes in hurricane intensity and frequency could eventually result in additional annual losses of $450 million, largely due to disruption of a key source of revenue and jobs: tourism. Limited diversification and small market size means that small island economies are not resilient to disaster loss. This is true not just in the Caribbean, but the world over.

According to global risk models developed by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), six of the top 10 countries with the greatest proportion of resources at risk during hurricanes or cyclones are small islands. These losses will only increase due to sea-level rise, water scarcity, drought, and other factors.

The 38 small island developing states, which spread across the Caribbean, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, are not sitting and waiting for the next storm to hit. They have been taking measures to adapt to and manage the risks posed by climate change.

Several Caribbean islands came together seven years ago to create an insurance pool of easy-to-access disaster funding. Spreading the risk across countries reduces premiums and provides contributors with a safety net which can fund vital services when disaster strikes. Since 2007, more than $30 million has been paid out by the 16 participating countries. A similar initiative is under way in the Pacific region where the memories of the massive human toll and devastation due to Typhoon Haiyan that claimed more than 6,000 lives in the Philippines last November are still all too vivid.

Ideas and actions for reducing the risk from disasters will be at the forefront of the United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States, to be held in Samoa from 1-4 September. The Conference will be a showcase for those living on the frontlines of climate change and could have a lasting and positive influence on the post-2015 development agenda.

The Conference is an acknowledgement by all the countries of the world of the unique circumstances that small island developing countries face. Their size, combined with their remoteness, and economies of scale, have made it that much more difficult for small islands to implement measures to become resilient. This is compounded by the impacts of climate change, a problem that is hardly of their own making as they collectively contribute less than 1 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, many are striving to become carbon neutral by using renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Next week’s conference in Samoa is the first of two critical global gatherings. Just a few weeks later, on 23 September in New York, UN Secretary-General will host heads of State, CEOs and civil society leaders at the Climate Summit. The Summit aims to spur accelerated and ambitious actions to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change worldwide, from the largest countries to the smallest island States. It’s about turning promises into performance.

With international attention on small islands, climate change and the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, there has never been a better chance to turn the tide. Now is the time to listen, support and partner with those who have seen first-hand what climate change can do to your economy and your community. It would be one of the greatest tragedies of our time to continue to ignore the warnings from small islands; their issues will soon become our own. More

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Han Seung-soo is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Disaster Risk Reduction and Water and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea

 

Owning a Tesla in Norway

Whenever one sees a Tesla, we feel a streak of envy and think, "Wow, cool car...but really expensive." However in Bergen, my guide surprised me by explaining that in Norway, a Tesla is not expensive at all. This video clip explains.

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Greenland ice loss doubles from late 2000s

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice year.

The team has produced elevation models for the ice sheets

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

“To us, that’s an incredible number,” she told BBC News.

In its report to The Cryosphere journal, the AWI team does not actually calculate a sea-level rise equivalent number, but if this volume is considered to be all ice (a small part will be snow) then the contribution is likely to be on the order of just over a millimetre per year.

This is the latest study to use the precision altimetry data being gathered by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat platform.

The satellite was launched in 2010 with a sophisticated radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the polar ice sheets.

The AWI group, led by senior researcher Veit Helm, has taken just over two years’ worth of data centred on 2012/2013 to build what are called digital elevation models (DEMs) of Greenland and Antarctica, and to asses their evolution.

These models incorporate a total of 14 million individual height measurements for Greenland and another 200 million for Antarctica.

When compared with similar data-sets assembled by the US space agency’s IceSat mission between 2003 and 2009, the scientists are able then to calculate changes in ice volume beyond just the CryoSat snapshot.

Negative shifts are the result of surface melting and ice discharge; positive trends are the consequence of precipitation - snowfall.

Greenland is experiencing the biggest reductions in elevation currently, losing about 375 cu km a year (plus or minus 24 cu km per year), with most of the action occurring at the west and south-east coast of the continent.

Significant thinning is seen also in the North East Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS).

“This has three outlet glaciers and one of these, the Zachariae Isstrom, has retreated quite a bit and some volume loss has already been reported. But we see now that this volume loss is really propagating to upper areas, much further into the interior of the ice sheet than has been recorded before,” explained Prof Humbert.

In Antarctica, the annual volume loss is about 128 cu km per year (plus or minus 83 cu km per year).

As other studies have found, this is concentrated in the continent’s western sector, in the area of the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

Big glaciers here, such as Thwaites and Pine Island, are thinning and retreating at a rapid rate.

Some thickening is seen also, such as in Dronning Maud Land, where colossal snowfalls have been reported. But this accumulation does not offset the losses occurring in West Antarctica.

A British-led group recently reported its own Antarctica DEM, using a different algorithm to process the numbers in the CryoSat data.

The AWI outcomes look very similar, and the German team has transferred the exact same approach to Greenland so it can have confidence in comparing the two continents.

The losses also look consistent with the analysis coming out of the American Grace mission, which uses a different type of satellite to monitor gravity changes in the polar regions - to, in essence, weigh the amount of ice being dumped into the sea.

Prof Andy Shepherd, who was part of the British group that reported its findings in May, commented: “This is yet another exciting result from CryoSat, thanks to the team at AWI, charting yet more new ground by providing the first complete survey of ice volume changes in Greenland.

“However, the increased ice losses that have been detected are a worrying reminder that the polar ice sheets are still experiencing dramatic changes, and will inevitably raise concerns about future global sea-level rise.” More

 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Groundbreaking Technology Transforms Greenhouse Gases Into Furniture, Phone Cases, and Plastic Bags

If there’s a symbol of the environmental destructiveness of our consumer culture, it’s plastic, made from carbon-spewing petroleum products. But what if bags, bottles, and other plastics could help save the environment, not destroy it? What if your laptop computer, smartphone case, and office furniture, rather than emitting planet-warming greenhouse gases, stored them instead?

An AirCarbon chair. (Photo credit: NewLight Technologies)

They will soon.

A Southern California company called Newlight Technologies has developed a way to make plastic from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It’s called AirCarbon, and this fall, Dell Latitude laptops manufactured near El Paso, Tex., will be shipped in a Newlight AirCarbon plastic bag made from greenhouse gases that would otherwise be heating the planet. Virgin Mobile, meanwhile, has struck a deal to sell AirCarbon phone cases through Sprint, and furniture maker KI will start using AirCarbon plastic in its products.

"This has the potential not to just change our industry but the world at large," says Dick Resch, chief executive of Green Bay, Wis.–based KI. "We’re taking pollutants out of the air and turning them into plastics that can be recycled. It’s pretty amazing on several fronts."

Oliver Campbell, Dell’s head of worldwide procurement for packaging, said that testing by independent laboratories not only verified that AirCarbon plastic is carbon negative but that it is significantly cheaper than petroleum-based plastic.

"This is a big paradigm shift," says Campbell. "With technology like AirCarbon, we’re starting to leave the planet in better shape than we found it."

AirCarbon also helps solve a climate change conundrum: how to contain greenhouse gas emissions while promoting economic growth, particularly in poor, fossil fuel–dependent developing countries.

The creators of this fantastic plastic are a pair of Orange County high school buddies named Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel.

As Herrema prepared to graduate from Princeton University 11 years ago, he had a revelation that could have come straight out of a 21st-century version of the famous scene in The Graduate. (An executive corners a newly graduated Dustin Hoffman at a Los Angeles cocktail party in 1967 and offers a bit of advice: "I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.")

In this case, Herrema was reading a Los Angeles Times story about efforts to contain emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from dairy cows. A lightbulb went off. Plastics.

"I thought, Why are we just emitting all the carbon in the air or taxing it or putting it in the ground when most of the materials we are making today are made from carbon," Herrema, Newlight’s chief executive, recalls at the company’s Costa Mesa, Calif., headquarters, which are next to an auto repair shop. "Why not use this as a resource to make plastic?"

It was not a new idea. But past efforts foundered on a fundamental problem: cost. It took one pound of a pricey catalyst to create one pound of really expensive plastic. Herrema and Kimmel, Newlight’s chief technology officer, ran into the same roadblock.

"I spent my entire 20s in this building trying to make this work," says Herrema, 32, a self-described "science nerd" who looks more like the Southern California surfer that he is. "Eventually we had a breakthrough, and the breakthrough was a new kind of catalyst that wouldn’t turn itself off at this one-to-one ratio."

That was in 2010. Newlight’s new catalyst initially produced plastic at a three-to-one ratio. But the plastic wasn’t exactly ready for prime time. Herrema and Kimmel made their first chair for KI’s Resch, an early investor in Newlight. The executive picked up the chair and snapped it in half with his hand. Today Newlight is producing 10 pounds of plastic for every pound of catalyst, and all the chairs in the company’s offices were made by KI from AirCarbon.

At the company’s research lab, methane gas—yes, from cows like those Herrema read about in the newspaper—is mixed with air in a steel tank. Newlight’s patented biocatalyst then strips out the carbon from the methane and chains the molecules together to form different grades of plastic resin. At the end of the production line, the resin is chopped into pellets. Newlight sells the pellets to manufacturers to be molded into products. The company operates a plant in California and is building another one in the Midwest that will produce 50 million pounds of plastic annually. The company will obtain greenhouse gases from landfills or farms.

In one corner of the lab, scientists are experimenting with creating an AirCarbon replacement for plastic water bottles and foam packaging, those other ubiquitous scourges of modern life. More

 

 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Goodbye gasoline... first green LEAF arrives in the Cayman Islands

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- The NCB group in the Cayman Islands has purchased the very first new all-electric Nissan LEAF in the Caribbean, reinforcing its commitment to environmental sustainability.

“NCB Group is proud to be a part of the innovative movement towards electric cars in the Cayman Islands,” said Matthew Wight, managing director.

Considered the premier residential developer in the Cayman Islands, the NCB group is seeking to further reduce its ecological footprint in an effort to protect the Caribbean and the planet from harmful greenhouse gasses.

Wight said that he drives electric vehicles because he knows that he is helping the environment.

“As a company, we strive to employ sustainable and green technologies when we build our residential and commercial projects and we wanted to carry this mission through to the vehicles we drive,” he explained.

Driving a Nissan LEAF – a 100% electric car -- has been extremely rewarding “in the sense that the LEAF does not use a single drop of gas. It has no tailpipe, no fumes and produces zero emissions,” he said.

“As we build with Cayman’s future in mind we are also looking to alternative energy sources in everything we do with the goal to be as eco-conscious as possible,” Wight added.

For nearly a decade John Felder, president and CEO of Cayman Automotive Leasing, has been at the forefront of the burgeoning electric vehicle industry in the Caribbean.

His hope is to see electric vehicles being driven in every country in the Caribbean and eventually the world in years to come.

“I applaud Mr Matthew Wight and NCB for investing in the future for a cleaner and healthier environment. The energy generated to power the Nissan LEAF and the energy to move the car is 97% cleaner in terms of noxious pollutants,” Felder said.

The Nissan LEAF boasts one of the quietest and smoothest rides ever experienced. The vehicle does not have a gas tank and drivers will never have to pay at the pumps again. The motor is powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery, which is half the weight and twice the power of the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrids, and can easily be charged at home, or at any solar panel charging station in Grand Cayman.

Felder is certain that electric cars are the cleanest, most efficient, and most cost effective form of transportation around.

“Electric cars are high performance vehicles that will continue to meet new challenges in the future," he said. More

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2028: The End of the World As We Know It?

“There is nothing radical in what we’re discussing,” journalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben said before a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the University of California Los Angeles last night. “The radicals work for the oil companies.”

Bill McKibben

Taken on its own, a statement like that would likely sound hyperbolic to most Americans—fodder for a sound bite on Fox News. Anyone who saw McKibben’s lecture in full, however, would know he was not exaggerating.

McKibben was in Los Angeles as part of his nationwide “Do the Math” tour. Based on a recent article of his in Rolling Stone, (“The one with Justin Bieber on the cover,” McKibben joked) the event is essentially a lecture circuit based on a single premise: climate change is simple math—and the numbers do not look good. If immediate action isn’t taken by global leaders: “It’s game-over for the planet.”

The math, McKibben explained, works like this. Global leaders recently came to an international agreement based on the scientific understanding that a global temperature raise of 2°C would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of humanity. In order to raise global temperatures to this catastrophic threshold, the world would have to release 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s the problem: Fossil fuel companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves—and their business model depends on that fuel being sold and burned. At current rates of consumption, the world will have blown through its 565-gigaton threshold in 16 years.

To prevent the end of the world as we know it, it will require no less than the death of the most profitable industry in the history of humankind.

“As of tonight,” McKibben said, “we’re going after the fossil fuel industry.”

Obviously no easy task. The oil industry commands annual profits of $137 billion and the political power to match. As McKibben noted, “Oil companies follow the laws because they get to write them.”

However, there are some numbers on McKibben’s side. Recent polling data shows 74 percent of Americans now believe in climate change, and 68 percent view it as dangerous. The problem environmental activists are facing is in converting those favorable polling numbers into grassroots action.

Enter “Do the Math.”

Using McKibben’s popularity as an author, organizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

It’s a smart strategy, and an essential one—because the problem of climate change is almost exclusively a political in nature. Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The same can happen here in America—provided we have the will to make it happen. McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.

To start, he’s calling for an immediate global divestment from fossil fuel companies. “We’re asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change to stop profiting from it. Just like with divestment movement in South Africa over apartheid, we need to eliminate the oil companies veneer of respectability.”

In conjunction with the divestment regimen, continued protests against unsustainable energy projects will also be crucial. McKibben will be in Washington, D.C. on November 18 to lead a mass rally against climate change and the Keystone Pipeline. “We can no longer just assume that President Obama is going to do everything he promised during his campaign. We need to push him.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to win. But I do know we’re going to fight.” More

 

Friday, August 15, 2014

For the Caribbean, a United Front Is Key to Weathering Climate Change

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten, Jul 2 2014 (IPS) - As the costs of climate change continue to mount, officials with the Commonwealth grouping say it is vital that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) stick together on issues such as per capita income classification.

Seawall in Dominica

Deputy Commonwealth Secretary General (Economic and Social Development) Deodat Maharaj told IPS the classification affects the ability of countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others to access financing from the international financial institutions.

“To my mind, the international system has to take special consideration of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others,” he said.

“The example I like to use is the example of Grenada. You would recall Hurricane Ivan about 10 years ago. It damaged about 70 percent of the housing stock in Grenada. It cost a billion U.S. dollars in damages, equivalent to two years GDP.

“So the countries in the Caribbean can move from high income or middle income to almost zero income with an economic shock or natural disaster,” Maharaj added.

Maharaj, whose appointment took effect earlier this year, said the Commonwealth is preparing “an analytical framework based on research, a case, so that countries such as Grenada when there is a natural disaster their international debt obligation for a particular period of time will be suspended so that they don’t have to continue to pay their debt when it is that they have suffered a natural disaster.”

On the issue of collaboration, one of only three female prime ministers in the Caribbean has reaffirmed her country’s commitment to dealing with climate change and all the issues associated with the global phenomena.

“I would like to reaffirm my strong belief in collaboration with other nations,” Sarah Wescot-Williams, the prime minister of St. Maarten, told IPS.

“Economic issues have forced us to look at ways and means of getting together and we are working collaboratively with other Caribbean nations to mitigate the effects of climate change as well as social issues of unemployment, crime and health.”

Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot-Williams (left)

St. Maarten recently developed and approved its National Energy Policy “and as such we have very specific goals and objectives to reach by 2020 in terms of reduction and promoting alternative, new green ideas, new green products,” Wescot-Williams explained.

She reiterated a point made while addressing regional leaders recently. “I told them we should not only look out for the bigger impacts of climate change or look at those developments as something that is far from us, far from our homes, but look at small things like beach erosion, something that St. Maarten is seeing.

“A report has been issued not very long ago indicating that unless specific measures are taken, a great part of what is now land will no longer be as far as the smaller islands, including St. Maarten, are concerned.”

How they are ranked by financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank is a major issue for Caribbean countries.

Camillo Gonsalves, a former ambassador to the United Nations, says it affects these countries’ ability to secure the required funding to effectively deal with climate change.

He noted that most Caribbean countries are ranked as middle-income countries, and using that metric alone makes his country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with its one-billion-dollar Gross Domestic Product (GDP), “richer than China”.

“If that is the metric by which we determine economic health and access to concessionary financing, and our ability to borrow ourselves out of a crisis or to spend ourselves out of a crisis, it is clearly a flawed measure,” he said.

He noted that within three hours last Christmas Eve, a trough system left damage and loss in St. Vincent equal to 17 percent of GDP, while the country also suffered natural disasters in 2010, and 2011 – the loss and damage from each of which was in double digits.

This, however, is the measure by which the World Bank, the IMF determine the economic strength of Caribbean countries, Gonsalves said, adding that these international institutions do not consider the region’s vulnerabilities.

“The Caribbean small island developing states are among the most heavily indebted states in the world,” Gonsalves said, noting that the debt-to-GDP ratio in the region ranges from 20 percent in Haiti – which received significant debt forgiveness after the 2010 earthquake – to 139 percent in Jamaica, with St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada at 105 and 115 per cent, respectively, even as the European Union has set itself a debt-to-GDP ratio of 65 per cent.

“If your debt-to-GDP ratio is 139 percent and you are struck by a natural disaster… how do you borrow yourself out of that crisis? Where do you find money immediately to build your roads, your houses, your bridges, your hospitals that have been damaged? How can you set money aside in preparation for the next climate event if you have a debt to GDP ratio of over 100 per cent or approaching 100 per cent, and your debt servicing charges are that high?” Gonsalves said.

Agreeing with Wescot-Williams and Maharaj that there is strength in unity, Gonsalves, who serves as foreign affairs minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said the upcoming Third United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa is an ideal opportunity for regional countries to do more than just talk about collaboration.

“The issue of how we are ranked and classified has to be rectified – not addressed, not flagged, not considered. It has to be rectified in Samoa. That has to be one of our prime objectives going into this conference,” he said.

The Samoa conference will be held from Sep. 1-4 under the theme “The Sustainable Development of Small Island States Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships”.

It will seek to assess progress and remaining gaps; renew political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Maharaj said “one big challenge” for his organisation is the advancement of the interest of small states.

“When I think about the Caribbean and I think about development…we need to think about development not only in terms of five years, 10 years or 15 years,” he said.

“I would like to think about and imagine what will the Caribbean be in the year 2050 at the time when our grand- and great-grandchildren will be around and many of us won’t be here,” Maharaj added. More

 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peak Energy: Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record

Peak Energy: Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record



WorldWatch has a report on the global solar power market - Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record.
The year 2013 saw record-breaking growth for solar electricity generation as the photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) markets continued to grow. With over 39 gigawatts installed worldwide, the PV solar market represented one third of all newly-added renewable energy capacity, write Worldwatch’s Max Lander and Climate and Energy Intern Xiangyu Wu in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (www.worldwatch.org).
Solar PV installations nearly matched those of hydropower and, for the first time, outpaced wind additions. Even though photovoltaics continue to dwarf CSP capacity, the CSP market also had another year of impressive growth. By the end of 2013, a total of 19 countries had CSP plants installed or under construction.
Consumption of power from PV and CSP plants increased by 30 percent globally in 2013 to reach 124.8 terawatt-hours. Europe accounted for the majority of global solar power consumption (67 percent), followed by Asia (23.9 percent) and North America (8.1 percent). Worldwide, solar consumption equaled 0.5 percent of electricity generation from all sources. ... In July 2014, global PV module spot prices reached an all-time low of $0.63 per watt. For the first time, Asia overtook Europe as the largest regional market.
While global PV module production increased by only 3 percent over 2012, module shipments jumped by 24 percent, signaling an easing of oversupply problems.
Prospects are bright for solar development as prices continue to fall and approach grid parity in an increasing number of contexts. Rooftop solar is already less expensive per megawatt-hour than retail electricity in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and Germany. Estimates now also show that PV has become price-competitive without subsidies in 15 countries. For2014, solar installations are estimated to reach 40–51 gigawatts.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Chevening scholarship opens to future leaders

Chevening scholarship opens to future leaders

Professionals and public servants from the Cayman Islands looking to further their education are being urged to apply for the United Kingdom’s prestigious Chevening Scholarship.

The award is a product of the UK’s flagship scholarship programme funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It recognises exceptional and budding leaders, offering them financial support for a Master’s level degree beginning September 2015 at one of the UK’s leading universities.

To be eligible for a Chevening Scholarship, applicants must be a citizen of a Chevening-eligible country and intend to return there after their studies; hold a degree that is equivalent to at least an upper second-class honours degree in the UK; have completed at least two years’ work or equivalent experience before applying for a Chevening Scholarship; be able to meet the Chevening minimum English language requirement; and be able to obtain the correct visa, and receive an unconditional offer from a UK university.

The programme’s team is particularly interested to hear from applicants in the Cayman Islands who wish to study good governance, financial management, public administration and law, commercial / economic development and environment.

Applicants have until 15 November 2014 to submit their application.

A Chevening scholarship is usually offered for a one-year Master’s degree, in any subject at any of the UK’s leading universities. It includes a monthly stipend, travel to and from the recipients country, a thesis or dissertation grant and tuition fees. Applicants should read the online guidance and be able to demonstrate how they meet the Chevening selection criteria before submitting an application. Further details of closing dates and priority subject areas are available at www.chevening.org/apply.

 

 

Has the era of the ‘climate change refugee’ begun?

A far-flung scattering of islands in a turquoise sea, Tuvalu is one of the planets' smallest and most remote nations, just west of the International Date Line, just south of the equator.

Funafuti, Tuvalu

Tuvalu's coastline consists of white and sandy beaches, green palm trees and mangroves. It is hard to imagine that anybody would want to leave this small island nation, located between Australia and Hawaii, voluntarily. But Tuvalu has become the epicenter of a landmark refugee ruling that could mark the beginning of a wave of similar cases: On June 4, a family was granted residency by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal in New Zealand after claiming to be threatened by climate change in its home country, Tuvalu. The news was first reported by the New Zealand Herald on Sunday.

The small Pacific island nation sits just two meters above sea level. If the current sea level rise continues, experts believe the island might disappear in approximately 30 to 50 years. Tuvalu shares this existential threat with many other island nations and coastal regions, which have struggled for years to raise international awareness about their tragic plight. Predictions for climate change-induced displacement range widely from 150 to 300 million people by 2050, with low-income countries having the far largest burden of disaster-induced migration, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

Those threatened by sea-level rise, droughts or other natural catastrophes face an epochal problem: Victims of climate change are not recognized as refugees by the International Refugee Convention. In the Tuvalu case, Sigeo Alesana and his family reportedly left the island nation in 2007 and moved to New Zealand, where they lost their legal status in 2009. The family was not able to obtain work visas and had to apply for refugee and protected persons status in 2012. Although the claims were dismissed in March 2013 and an appeal was turned down, the family's case was finally approved. The case was closely followed by immigration and environmental lawyers all over the world.

Sigeo Alesana and his wife claimed before the tribunal that climate change had made life in Tuvalu more difficult due to much more frequently occurring inundations, that caused coastal erosion and made it difficult to grow crops. The tribunal explicitly mentioned climate change in its assessment saying that Alesana's children were particularly "vulnerable to natural disasters and the adverse impact of climate change."

"I don't see it as delivering any kind of 'verdict' on climate change as such," says Vernon Rive, a Senior Lecturer in Law at AUT Law School in Auckland. The New Zealand decision is very specific because the family based its application for residency on three arguments, Rive says. First, the family members claimed to be refugees; second, they argued to be "protected people", and third, the family said its case fell under "exceptional humanitarian grounds." Each of these arguments is based on an existing convention regarding refugees, but the family only succeeded because it claimed "exceptional humanitarian grounds," which is a wording recognized in New Zealand's immigration legislation but not by many other governments.

In its judgment the New Zealand tribunal surprisingly acknowledged the humanitarian consequences of climate change among other factors, such as the presence of an elderly mother who required care. In its conclusion, however, the tribunal refrained from singling out climate change and stated that other factors would already have been sufficient to grant residency to the family. In other words: The tribunal avoided a clear decision on whether climate change can or cannot be reason enough for refugees to be granted residency. The mere fact that the tribunal mentioned the impacts of global warming as a contributing factor to the ruling is nevertheless remarkable. "What this decision will not do is open the gates to all people from places such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Bangladesh who may suffer hardship because of the impacts of climate change," Rive says.

While the tribunal's decision may not have the same impact everywhere, it could send a strong signal to a number of nations, such as Sweden and Finland, that often grant asylum to people affected by natural disasters. According to French climate change migration expert Fran├žois Gemenne, governments need to get to grips with the reality of climate change refugees, irrespective of legal conventions. "I believe that bilateral or regional arrangements are going to become necessary," says Gemenne, suggesting a raft of agreements will need to be put into place, between nations and among geopolitical blocs, that will ensure the protection of those displaced by rising waters.

But will there eventually be open doors for the victims of climate change? Some of the countries endangered by climate change fear that their citizens could effectively become "second class" citizens abroad. As a consequence, the island nation Kiribati – itself at risk from climate change – has set up a "Migration with Dignity" program which involves training its citizens as highly-skilled workers who are needed and welcomed in other countries if and when the residents of Kiribati are forced to move.

The recent New Zealand ruling could give smaller nations stronger leverage on the international stage. But do the world's leading statesmen, beset by a host of other crises, care? Michael Gerrard, Director for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, puts current progress in perspective: "The world community has not even begun to grapple with what is to come," he tells WorldViews in an e-mail. More

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

UN Releases Six Briefs for SIDS Conference Partnership Dialogues

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has released a series of six briefing papers on priority themes for discussion during the Third International Conference on Small Island Development States (SIDS), set to take place in Apia, Samoa, from 1-4 September 2014.

August 2014: The SIDS conference will include six multi-stakeholder 'Partnership Dialogues' intended to strengthen existing partnerships and promote new ones. The UN briefing papers correspond to the partnership dialogue themes of: sustainable economic development; climate change and disaster risk management; social development in SIDS, health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), youth and women; sustainable energy; oceans, seas and biodiversity; water and sanitation, food security and waste management. The papers suggest a wide range of opportunities that could be addressed through new or existing partnerships, especially public-private collaborations.

On sustainable economic development, the authors propose conducting investment impact monitoring, and establishing regional SIDS programmes to promote investment through public-private partnerships.

On climate change and disaster risk management, the authors suggest the adoption of risk financing instruments, such as contingency funds and insurance, as part of spatial and development planning initiatives.

On social development, they note that obesity and diabetes rates are "staggering" in the Pacific, and they aim to prevent premature morbidity and mortality from NCDs, including measures to protect SIDS from the negative impacts of bilateral and global trade agreements. They also aim to make education more relevant, and to improve labor market access and secure quality jobs for young people.

On sustainable energy, the authors recommend supporting an enabling environment for sustainable energy markets; facilitating access to modern, affordable and reliable energy services for rural households; decreasing reliance on fossil fuel imports; and improving women's access to renewable and cost-effective energy.

On oceans, they recommend addressing the impacts of ocean acidification and climate change, promoting inclusive and sustainable development of local economies using the oceans, preventing marine and land-based pollution, and reversing the decline in fish stocks.

On water and sanitation, they propose strengthening regional mechanisms for managing hazardous wastes and ship-generated wastes; promoting resource efficiency as a means to reduce the generation of waste and wastewater, and incorporating climate information into practices and policies for supporting agriculture and food security. [Partnership Dialogue Briefs] [SIDS Conference Website] [SIDS Partnerships Platform]

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why Morgan Stanley Is Betting That Tesla Will Kill Your Power Company

There’s a reason that power companies are attacking rooftop solar across the nation: They see those silicon panels as nothing short of an existential threat.

As the cost of solar continues to fall, and more people opt for the distributed power offered by solar, there will be less demand for big power plants and the utilities that operate them. And one major investment giant has now released three separate reports arguing that Tesla Motors is going to help kill power companies off altogether.

Earlier this year, Morgan Stanley stirred up controversy when it released a report that suggested that the increasing viability of consumer solar, paired with better battery technology—that allows people to generate, and store, their own electricity—could send the decades-old utility industry into a death spiral. Then, the firm released another one, further emphasizing the points made in the first. Now, it’s tripling down on the idea with yet another report that spells out how Tesla and home solar will “disrupt” utilities.

“There may be a ‘tipping point’ that causes customers to seek an off-grid approach,” the March report argued. ”The more customers move to solar, the [more the] remaining utility customers’ bills will rise, creating even further ‘headroom’ for Tesla’s off-grid approach.”

Yes, Tesla Motors, everyone’s favorite electric car company. And that’s where the controversy comes in. Morgan Stanley breathlessly pegged Tesla as “the most important auto company in the world” in part because its electric car business was pushing it to develop better energy storage technology, and then mass manufacture said batteries. That’s exactly what Tesla CEO Elon Musk and company will be doing at its forthcoming Gigafactory, which it is building in the Southwest with Panasonic.

With the new manufacturing facility, Morgan Stanley reasons, Tesla stands to double its business (adding another $2 billion in revenue) by selling the lithium ion batteries it typically ships under the hood of a Model S to homeowners with solar panels, too. If consumers can store energy the panels generate during the day for use at night, it would ostensibly render the need for utilities to pipe in faraway power—and their electric bills—obsolete.

Energy storage, when combined with solar power, could disrupt utilities in the US and Europe to the extent customers move to an off-grid approach

Musk is also the chairman of Solar City, a company that leases rooftop solar setups to homeowners, and one that would benefit from the battery tech. Now, the shadiness here is that Morgan Stanley released the report trumpeting Tesla’s crossover energy storage potential—causing Tesla’s stock to rise—right before it underwrote a fundraising round for… Tesla.

So the whole thing is very incestuous, and it does render some of the projections a little suspect, but the bottom line here is that private solar and battery companies are viable enough that they’ve attracted the backing of one of the world’s biggest financial services companies—over the multi-trillion dollar utility industry.

“Energy storage, when combined with solar power, could disrupt utilities in the US and Europe to the extent customers move to an off-grid approach,” Morgan Stanley writes in its third report this year emphasizing the prospect. ”We believe Tesla’s energy storage product will be economically viable in parts of the US and Europe, and at a fraction of the cost of current storage alternatives.”

In other words, Morgan Stanley has Tesla’s back, big time. It’s betting that Musk is going to make the best solar energy batteries money can buy.

Ironically enough, however, even staunch clean energy advocates are wary about Morgan Stanley’s finding that utilities are going the way of the buffalo. “Barring extraordinary circumstances, the economic case for grid defection is still very weak for US consumers,” Stephen Lacey, the senior editor of Greentech Media, wrote of the Morgan Stanley report. ”The electricity system offers valuable backup in case a customer over- or under-invests in an on-site system.”

It’s more likely, then, that people will still buy home solar—by the tens of millions, Greentech suggests—but not unplug from the grid entirely. Utilities will be diminished, but not broken. This process is underway in Europe already, where countries like Germany have powerful incentives for consumers to switch to solar.

Last year, the Economist called the sharp decline of European utilities “startling,” noting that together, they lost half their value—$600 billion—in just five years. Here in the states, utilities and conservative politicians are fighting solar tax credits to prevent the same thing from happening. For the most part, the utilities are losing.

All of this is, ideally, what needs to happen. Climate change is accelerating, and we need to transition away from those massive, fossil fuel-slurping power plants. Distributed solar is an increasingly powerful force behind that weaning process.

And even if some of Morgan Stanley’s calculations are shaky, the trends that Tesla is helping to amplify are anything but—clean, personalized (or community-wide) power will play a major role in shaping our energy future.

The fact that a greed-driven titan of finance like Morgan Stanley recognizes as much, and is willing to triple down on its bets on battery storage and distributed power, is a promising sign that the energy revolution is underway. More

 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Energy Efficiency Simply Makes Sense

What simple tool offers the entire world an extended energy supply, increased energy security, lower carbon emissions, cleaner air and extra time to mitigate climate change? Energy efficiency. What’s more, higher efficiency can avoid infrastructure investment, cut energy bills, improve health, increase competitiveness and enhance consumer welfare — all while more than paying for itself.

Maria van der Hoeven - IEA

The challenge is getting governments, industry and citizens to take the first steps towards making these savings in energy and money.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has long spearheaded a global move toward improved energy efficiency policy and technology in buildings, appliances, transport and industry, as well as end-use applications such as lighting. That’s because the core of our mandate is energy security — the uninterrupted availability of energy at an affordable price. Greater efficiency is a principal way to strengthen that security: it reduces reliance on energy supply, especially imports, for economic growth; mitigates threats to energy security from climate change; and lessens the global economy’s exposure to disruptions in fossil fuel supply.

In short, energy efficiency makes sense.

In 2006, the IEA presented to the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations its 25 energy efficiency recommendations, which identify best practice and policy approaches to realize the full potential of energy efficiency for our member countries. Every two years, the Agency reports on the gains made by member countries, and today we are working with a growing number of international organizations, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank and the German sustainable development cooperation services provider GIZ.

The opportunities of this “invisible fuel” are many and rich. More than half of the potential savings in industry and a whopping 80 percent of opportunities in the buildings sector worldwide remain untouched. The 25 recommendations, if adopted fully by all 28 IEA members, would save $1 trillion in annual energy costs as well as deliver incalculable security benefits in terms of energy supply and environmental protection.

Achieving even a small fraction of those gains does not require new technological breakthroughs or ruinous capital outlays: the know-how exists, and the investments generate positive returns in fuel savings and increased economic growth. What is required is foresight, patience, changed habits and the removal of the barriers to implementation of measures that are economically viable. For instance, as the World Energy Outlook 2012 demonstrates, investing less than $12 trillion in more energy-efficient technologies would not only quickly pay for itself through reduced energy costs, it would also increase cumulative economic output to 2035 by $18 trillion worldwide.

While current efforts come nowhere close to realizing the full benefits that efficiency offers, some countries are taking big steps forward. Members of the European Union have pledged to cut energy demand by 20 percent by 2020, while Japan plans to trim its electricity consumption 10 percent by 2030. China is committed to reducing the amount of energy needed for each unit of gross domestic product by 16 percent in the next two years. The United States has leaped to the forefront in transportation efficiency standards with new fuel economy rules that could more than double vehicle fuel consumption.

Such transitions entail challenges for policy, and experience shows that government and the private sector must work together to achieve the sustainability goals that societies demand, learning what works and what does not, and following the right path to optimal deployment of technology. Looking forward, energy efficiency will play a vital role in the transition to the secure and sustainable energy future that we all seek. The most secure energy is the barrel or megawatt we never have to use.

Maria van der Hoeven is the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, an autonomous organization which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. This commentary appeared first this month in IEA Energy, the Agency’s journal.