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    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

EU 2008 budget cuts farm subsidies, boosts competitiveness, energy and rural development

The European Parliament today approved the EU's budget for 2008 and, for the first time ever, the largest share will go on measures to boost economic growth and greater cohesion in the EU-27 and no longer on farm subsidies. This in itself is a break with tradition, even though agriculture will continue to receive over 40% of all EU cash. Transport and (renewable) energy, rural development, the environment and the knowledge based economy (R&D and education) are big winners.
With the largest share going to competitiveness, the 2008 budget is a concrete result of the Union's determination to put long-term economic development at the heart of the EU spending. This determination was echoed in the constructive way Parliament, Council and Commission reached an agreement. As EU leaders sign the new Treaty in Lisbon today, we can be satisfied that next year's budget will go where Europe's biggest challenges lie. - Dalia Grybauskaitė, Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget
The adopted budget amounts to €129.1 billion in commitment appropriations (legal commitments), a moderate but steady increase of 2.2% compared to 2007. It corresponds to 1.03% of the EU Gross National Income (GNI). The payment appropriations (actual payments) will amount to €120.3 billion, or an increase of 5.7% in nominal terms. This represents a level of only 0.96% of EU-27 GNI.

Spending on economic development will grow almost three times more than the budget itself in 2008. The shift in spending on economic progress in 2008 will see over €11 billion for competitiveness. There will be record investment in research which is set to receive €6.1 billion - a 11.0% rise on 2007. Also, investment in energy and transport networks will increase by around 93% with almost €2 billion to co-finance energy and transport projects in the EU (schematic, click to enlarge; and overview of the entire budget, here).

Farm subsidies
Despite the decrease (3.4% less than 2007) in money for 'market related expenditure' and 'direct payments' (that is: all kinds of subsidies), spending on agriculture will remain stable in 2008, absorbing the bulk of the EU's budget: €40.9 billion. There is however a gradual shift within this policy area with funds being directed towards tackling environmental challenges and fostering development in rural areas. Both of these areas will see a rise in spending of 12% and 4.5% respectively, notably through the LIFE+ environmental protection programme which will increase by 11%. Life+ includes many bioenergy and climate change related projects.

The cut in direct subsidies is in line with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (previous post for more on the policy as it relates to bioenergy). Biopact readers know that the ideal of a 'bioenergy pact' with the poorer countries of the South hinges on reduced farm subsidies in the EU. Besides trade reform, CAP reform is an absolute sine qua non for the establishment of such a 'win-win' relationship with developing country farmers.

Rural development

The reduction of direct farm subsidies is however partly compensated by the budget shift towards rural development. Rural development policy remains the second biggest post of the entire budget, receiving €12.9 billion (4.5% more than in 2007). Let's have a closer look at this policy as it relates to the bioenergy sector:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

With over 60 % of the population in the 27 member states of the European Union living in rural areas, which cover 90 % of the territory, rural development is a vitally important policy area. Farming and forestry remain crucial for land use and the management of natural resources in the EU's rural areas, and as a platform for economic diversification in rural communities. The strengthening of EU rural development policy has, therefore, become an overall EU priority.

Agriculture and forestry represent 77 % of land use in the EU. The combined agricultural sector forms an important part of the EU economy, accounting for 15 million jobs (8,3 % of total employment) and 4,4 % of GDP. The EU is the world’s largest producer of food and beverages, with combined production estimated at €675 billion. However, the sector remains highly polarised and fragmented in terms of size, with significant opportunities and threats for firms. Forestry and related industries employ around 3,4 million people with a turnover of €350 billion, but only 60% of annual forest growth is currently exploited.

The EU's Rural Development Policy is aimed at boosting competitiveness, job creation and innovation in rural areas and improved governance in the delivery of programmes. It focuses on forward-looking investments in people, know-how and capital in the farm and forestry sectors, on new ways of delivering win-win environmental services and on creating more and better jobs through diversification, particularly for women and young people.

The EU Strategic Guidelines for Rural Development (2007-2013), show that policy is built around four axes, namely, (1) improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector; (2) improving the environment and the countryside; (3) improving the quality of life in rural areas and enhancing the diversification of the rural economy; and (4) stimulating governance through locally based, bottom-up approaches to rural development.

The promotion of bioenergy and biofuels is taken up under all four axes:

1. The Community Strategic guideline on improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector focuses on the priorities of knowledge transfer, modernisation, innovation and quality, and on priority sectors for investment in physical and human capital. One key action under this axis consists of:
Developing new outlets for agricultural and forestry products. New outlets can offer higher value added, in particular for quality products. Support for investment and training in the field of non-food production under rural development can complement measures taken under the first pillar by creating innovative new outlets for production or helping the development of renewable energy materials, biofuels and processing capacity.
The guideline also aims to facilitate innovation and access to research and development (R & D). Innovation is increasingly important for Europe’s farming, agrifood, bioenergy and forestry sectors. The introduction of new products and processes could significantly contribute to the performance of smaller processors and farm businesses. In particular, new forms of cooperation could facilitate access to R & D, innovation and actions undertaken under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Recently, the EU made available €1.75 billion for new research under FP7, with bioenergy and biofuels taking a major share (previous post).

2. The guideline on improving the environment and the countryside is aimed at contributing to three EU-level priority areas: biodiversity and the preservation and development of high nature value farming and forestry systems and traditional agricultural landscapes; water; and climate change. The key action regarding bioenergy falls under the heating 'combating climate change':
Agriculture and forestry are at the forefront of the development of renewable energy and material sources for bioenergy installations. Appropriate agricultural and forestry practices can contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and preservation of the carbon sink effect and organic matter in soil composition, and can also help in adapting to the impacts of climate change.
3. The Community Strategic Guideline on improving the quality of life in rural areas and encouraging diversification of the rural economy should promote capacity building, skills acquisition and organisation for local strategy development and also help ensure that rural areas remain attractive for future generations. The key actions for bioenergy are described as follows:
Developing the provision and innovative use of renewable energy sources, which can contribute to creating new outlets for agricultural and forestry products, the provision of local services and the diversification of the rural economy.
4. Finally, building local capacity for employment and diversification is the subject of another guideline that should contribute to the priorities outlined in the previous three axes, but also plays an important role in the horizontal priority of improving governance and mobilising the endogenous development potential of rural areas. Key actions relating to bioenergy include:
Building local partnership capacity, animation and promoting skills acquisition, which can help mobilise local potential; promoting private-public partnerships; promoting cooperation and innovation, and improving local governance. These actions will foster innovative approaches to linking agriculture, forestry and the local economy, thereby helping to diversify the economic base and strengthen the socioeconomic fabric of rural areas.
Biopact welcomes the shift away from farm subsidies and towards rural development. CAP reform and the reduction in handouts to Europe's already well protected farmers is crucial for those who strive towards helping developing country farmers participate in the global market. By stimulating rural development policy in the EU - and the R&D, innovation and diversification this entails - the European farming and forestry sector will have a chance to help develop bioenergy technologies and concepts that could end up later in the South as part of tech transfers.

This is a much better development than simply continuing the policy of handing out billions to Europe's farmers and distorting the market. It will take years before the EU's CAP reform will be felt by farmers in the South, but taking away money from the subsidy schemes is a first good step.

Two other noteworthy and controversial budget posts are the financing of Galileo (the European satellite navigation system, which will be independent of the American, Russian and Chinese systems) and the European Institute of Technology (EIT): both projects will be funded entirely by the European Community, without jeopardising the necessary financial means of the Lisbon Agenda multiannual programmes such as Lifelong Learning and Trans-European Networks. Globally, €3.7bn are foreseen for Galileo and EIT within the multi-annual financial framework until 2013.

Europa: EU budget 2008: biggest share to go on boosting economic growth - December 13, 2007.

European Parliament: Final EU 2008 Budget: €120.3bn, 5.7 % increase in 2007, go ahead for Galileo and the European Institute of Technology - December 13, 2007.

European Council: Council Decision of 20 February 2006 on Community strategic guidelines for rural development (programming period 2007 to 2013), Official Journal L 055 , 25/02/2006 P. 0020 - 0029.

European Commission, DG Financial Programming and Budget: EU Budget 2008 in figures, brochure [*.pdf].

European Commission, DG Environment: LIFE+.

Biopact: EU makes available €1.75 billion for new research under 7th Framework Programme - emphasis on bioenergy and biofuels - November 30, 2007

Biopact: European Commission initiates 'health check' of Common Agricultural Policy - implications for bioenergy - November 20, 2007

Article continues

EU leaders sign historic Lisbon Treaty: ready for the 21st century

At the long-awaited signing of the new EU treaty, leaders from each of the 27 member countries put pen to treaty paper in a clear show of their willingness to take a strong Europe into the 21st century. The Lisbon Treaty opens a new chapter for the Union, making it a single legal entity, strengthening its negotiating power and making it more effective on the world stage. The text creates an EU president and a more powerful foreign policy chief. The document also scraps member states' veto powers in many policy areas allowing for a single EU voice. The Treaty will now have to be ratified by the nations of the Union's member states.

Fittingly, the ceremony took place in the ornate Jeronimo monastery in Lisbon, the pre-eminent symbol commemorating European exploration. It is from here that European navigators and sailers set out to 'discover' Africa, India and later the Americas.

In a constantly changing, ever more interconnected world, Europe is grappling with new issues: globalisation, demographic shifts, climate change, the need for sustainable energy sources and new security threats. These are the challenges facing Europe in the 21st century. To realise its full potential and to tackle these challenges, the EU needs to modernise and reform. The new legal framework has been designed to do just that.

The Lisbon Treaty will open a new chapter for Europe, working towards:
  • more democracy and openness – if a million Europeans from several countries group together, they can call on the commission to make new policy proposals (‘citizens’ initiative’). And EU intervention will be monitored to ensure it only occurs where it will attain better results than national action alone.
  • more efficiency – decision making will be based on a double majority system from 2014 (meaning that a vote can only be carried by 55% of member countries, who must represent at least 65% of the EU’s population). The EU will be able to act more swiftly in matters of law and order, rooting out cross-border criminal activities.
  • more rights – the recently signed charter of fundamental rights, which now has the same legal status as the EU treaties themselves, will safeguard our basic human rights.
  • more international clout – the EU will have a single legal personality, strengthening its negotiating power and making it more effective on the world stage. And a new post for foreign affairs and security policy will increase the impact and coherence of EU action abroad.
Europe’s leaders have reached agreement. Now the national authorities must decide how the treaty will be ratified – whether it will be voted on by the people or by their representatives. Either way, the hope is that the new treaty will be in force by the next European elections in June 2009:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Treaty of Lisbon amends the current EU and EC treaties, without replacing them. It will provide the Union with the legal framework and tools necessary to meet future challenges and to respond to citizens' demands.

A more democratic and transparent Europe
The treaty strengthens the role for the European Parliament and national parliaments, more opportunities for citizens to have their voices heard and a clearer sense of who does what at European and national level.
  • A strengthened role for the European Parliament: the European Parliament, directly elected by EU citizens, will see important new powers emerge over the EU legislation, the EU budget and international agreements. In particular, the increase of co-decision procedure in policy-making will ensure the European Parliament is placed on an equal footing with the Council, representing Member States, for the vast bulk of EU legislation.
  • A greater involvement of national parliaments: national parliaments will have greater opportunities to be involved in the work of the EU, in particular thanks to a new mechanism to monitor that the Union only acts where results can be better attained at EU level (subsidiarity). Together with the strengthened role for the European Parliament, it will enhance democracy and increase legitimacy in the functioning of the Union.
  • A stronger voice for citizens: thanks to the Citizens' Initiative, one million citizens from a number of Member States will have the possibility to call on the Commission to bring forward new policy proposals.
  • Who does what: the relationship between the Member States and the European Union will become clearer with the categorisation of competences.
  • Withdrawal from the Union: the Treaty of Lisbon explicitly recognises for the first time the possibility for a Member State to withdraw from the Union.
A more efficient Europe
The treaty simplifies working methods and voting rules, streamlined and modern institutions for a EU of 27 members and an improved ability to act in areas of major priority for today's Union.
  • Effective and efficient decision-making: qualified majority voting in the Council will be extended to new policy areas to make decision-making faster and more efficient. From 2014 on, the calculation of qualified majority will be based on the double majority of Member States and people, thus representing the dual legitimacy of the Union.A double majority will be achieved when a decision is taken by 55% of the Member States representing at least 65% of the Union’s population.
  • A more stable and streamlined institutional framework: the Treaty of Lisbon creates the function of President of the European Council elected for two and a half years, introduces a direct link between the election of the Commission President and the results of the European elections, provides for new arrangements for the future composition of the European Parliament and for a smaller Commission, and includes clearer rules on enhanced cooperation and financial provisions.
  • Improving the life of Europeans: the Treaty of Lisbon improves the EU's ability to act in several policy areas of major priority for today's Union and its citizens. This is the case in particular for the policy areas of freedom, security and justice, such as combating terrorism or tackling crime. It also concerns to some extent other areas including energy policy, public health, civil protection, climate change, services of general interest, research, space, territorial cohesion, commercial policy, humanitarian aid, sport, tourism and administrative cooperation.
A Europe of rights and values, freedom, solidarity and security
Promoting the Union's values, introducing the Charter of Fundamental Rights into European primary law, providing for new solidarity mechanisms and ensuring better protection of European citizens are goals the new Europe wants to achieve.
  • Democratic values: the Treaty of Lisbon details and reinforces the values and objectives on which the Union is built. These values aim to serve as a reference point for European citizens and to demonstrate what Europe has to offer its partners worldwide.
  • Citizens' rights and Charter of Fundamental Rights: the Treaty of Lisbon preserves existing rights while introducing new ones. In particular, it guarantees the freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and gives its provisions a binding legal force. It concerns civil, political, economic and social rights.
  • Freedom of European citizens: the Treaty of Lisbon preserves and reinforces the "four freedoms" and the political, economic and social freedom of European citizens.
  • Solidarity between Member States: the Treaty of Lisbon provides that the Union and its Member States act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the subject of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. Solidarity in the area of energy is also emphasised.
  • Increased security for all: the Union will get an extended capacity to act on freedom, security and justice, which will bring direct benefits in terms of the Union's ability to fight crime and terrorism. New provisions on civil protection, humanitarian aid and public health also aim at boosting the Union's ability to respond to threats to the security of European citizens.
Europe as an actor on the global stage
This will be achieved by bringing together Europe's external policy tools, both when developing and deciding new policies. The Treaty of Lisbon will give Europe a clear voice in relations with its partners worldwide. It will harness Europe's economic, humanitarian, political and diplomatic strengths to promote European interests and values worldwide, while respecting the particular interests of the Member States in Foreign Affairs.
  • A new High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also Vice-President of the Commission, will increase the impact, the coherence and the visibility of the EU's external action.
  • A new European External Action Service will provide back up and support to the High Representative.
  • A single legal personality for the Union will strengthen the Union's negotiating power, making it more effective on the world stage and a more visible partner for third countries and international organisations.
  • Progress in European Security and Defence Policy will preserve special decision-making arrangements but also pave the way towards reinforced cooperation amongst a smaller group of Member States.

European Council: The Treaty of Lisbon.

European Commission: Lisbon treaty takes Europe into 21st century - December 13, 2007.

Europa: Commission welcomes signature of the Treaty of Lisbon and calls for its swift ratification - December 13, 2007.

Europa: The Treaty at a glance.

Europa: multiligual website for the Treaty of Lisbon.

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Scientists: environmental crises do not lead to conflict - neomalthusian theory challenged

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) announce they have made a surprising discovery that is set to spark controversy: there is no connection between resource scarcity, environmental crises and armed conflict. They conclude that working for a better environment does not necessarily lead to peace. The empirical findings even show the contrary: lands where resources are heavily exploited show a clear connection to a lack of deadly armed conflict. The study challenges the neomalthusian model often used in popular explanations of the factors responsible for modern conflicts in the developing world. The findings are reported in the journal Population and Environment.

The counter-intuitive results come at a time when climate advocate Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on global warming, while Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai received the same prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement.

Helga Malmin Binningsbø, Indra de Soysa and Nils Petter Gleditsch - from NTNU’s Department of Sociology and Political Science, from the Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW), and from the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) - doubt whether the Nobel Committee’s explanation for the award makes sense. The Committee said:
Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.
The Nobel Committee interprets 'working for peace' as including saving the Earth’s environment. Researchers, advocacy groups, politicians and the media have all highlighted local resource crises as the reason for a host of armed conflicts around the globe. The premise underlying the Nobel Committee’s expanded definition of peace is that there is a causal connection between natural resource shortages and violent conflict.

But is that true? The new empirical study shows it's not. What is more: the contrary is true.

A series of case studies in recent years from areas stricken by conflict has helped develop a theoretical basis for the claim that natural resource scarcity leads to armed conflict. Darfur, Sudan, is a recent example of this presumed causal connection, with Rwanda, Haiti and Somalia as other examples.

The NTNU scientists looked at the environmental pressures in 150 countries in the period from 1961 to 1999. By using an internationally recognized technique for measuring a country’s environmental sustainability – 'The Ecological Footprint' – the researchers were able to compare these numbers with statistics on armed conflict during the same period.

Their conclusion may seem paradoxical: lands where resources are heavily exploited show a clear connection to a lack of armed conflict. Or alternatively, nations troubled by war during the research period had lower exploitation rates of their natural resources. The findings give researchers solid empirical support for stating that environmental scarcity is not the reason behind violent conflict:
  • a higher Ecological Footprint is negatively correlated with conflict onset, controlling for income effects and other factors
  • of course people fight over resources, that is not the argument. "We believe, rather, that we have a strong scientific case against the Neomalthusian model", the scientists write
Neomalthusianism wrong
In their article, the NTNU researchers challenge the increasingly popular school of socio-economic thought known as the Neomalthusian school. They see climate change and the over consumption of natural resources as a modern day illustration of Thomas Malthus’ theory:
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Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) developed the well-known theory that a country’s food production cannot keep up with its population growth over the long run. Starvation, war and early death would regulate the balance between food availability and population numbers. That means that the bulk of the population would live a minimalist existence. But Malthus, who lived at the end of the 1700s, couldn’t predict later technological breakthroughs, such as the Green Revolution, which have altered his bleak global caloric intake equation.

Techniques developed by the Global Footprint Network, an international research network, form the underpinnings for the NTNU group’s research numbers and methods:

The Environmental Footprint describes a country’s resource consumption compared to its ecological capacity, explain Binningsbø and de Soysa. The Ecological Footprint measures humankind’s exploitation of natural resources. In other words, how much do you have, and how much do you use?

The method is widely used as a measurement technique, but has also been criticised. Researchers have argued that the method can only be applied on a global basis, in as much as countries trade with each other, and therefore aren’t necessarily solely dependent on their own natural resources.

So far there have been few systematic quantitative or comparative studies, and the few that exist have focused on particular forms of environmental degradation or on a small subset of resources, particularly mineral wealth.

The scientists tested a more general argument about the effects of resource scarcity by examining the most widely-used measure of environmental sustainability: the ecological footprint. Contrary to neomalthusian thinking, they find that countries with a heavier footprint have a substantially greater chance of peace.

Biocapacity and the ecological reserve also predict to peace, but these results are more fragile.

Finally, separate tests for smaller conflicts, for the post-Cold War period, and with additional control variables do not yield stronger support for the scarcity thesis either.

The findings are highly important for the fields of development economics, for policies dealing with natural resource exploitation and for the debate about the socio-economic effects of climate change and its mitigation.

The International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) based in Oslo was founded in 1959 and became a fully independent institute in 1966. It was one of the first centres of peace research in the world. Its founding and early influence were instrumental in projecting the idea of peace research. Today, PRIO is one of the most widely recognized centers for the analysis of the driving forces behind violent conflict and on ways in which peace can be built, maintained and spread.

In addition to theoretical and empirical research, PRIO also conducts policy-oriented activities and engages in the search for solutions in cases of actual or potential violent conflict. This combination of scholarship and practice has brought PRIO closer to meeting the normative ambitions of peace research: to apply high-quality academic standards to the study of peace and conflict, and to help diminish violent conflict in practice.

Image: soldier in Darfur. Scientists find natural resource exploitation and environmental crises are not connected to armed conflict. On the contrary, the lower a country's environmental footprint, the higher its chance for such conflicts. Credit: Reuters.

Helga Malmin Binningsbø, Indra de Soysa, Nils Petter Gleditsch, "Green giant or straw man? Environmental pressure and civil conflict, 1961–99", Population and Environment, Volume 28, Number 6 / July, 2007, DOI: 10.1007/s11111-007-0053-6

AlphaGalileo: Does working for a better environment really lead to peace? - December 12, 2007.

The Global Footprint Network.

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Nepal can cut carbon emissions by 6 million tonnes through rural biogas systems

Nepal can avoid the release of over six million tonnes of carbon emissions in the next five years through the large-scale use of biogas, according to climate change experts. Use of the low tech biofuel allows poor developing countries like Nepal to do their part in the battle against global warming. Furthermore, a switch to biogas in rural areas allows countries to trade carbon credits. Nepal's experience proves the credits come at highly competitive prices.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting biomass. Most often organic waste matter like animal manure, household waste and municipal solid waste is used, even though increasingly dedicated energy crops are fed to anaerobic digesters as single subtrate or are co-digested with other feedstocks.

In Nepal, biogas systems are low tech, simple devices: circular pits filled with cow dung. Constructed near to people's homes, the gas they produce is piped to where the cooking is done.

Nearly 85% of Nepal's 27 million people live in rural areas and around 95% of the rural population burn traditional and unsustainably harvested fuels such as wood and agro-waste. These fuels cause severe indoor smoke pollution - a 'killer in the kitchen' claiming the lives of an estimated 1.2 million women and children each year (earlier post). Moreover, the fuels are inefficiently used: only 5 to 10 percent of the energy contained in them is captured.

Biogas systems are both cleaner and more efficient. They were first introduced in Nepal in the late 1950s and thousands of families now use them. The carbon emissions thus saved in Nepal may be small in comparison to global emissions, but this is an example of how poor countries like Nepal can help combat global warming.

Sandeep Chamling Rai, climate change adviser to the Nepal chapter of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), says Nepal's biogas use has received recognition on a global scale and hopefully the country's contribution will be given more prominence.

Rai explained that every biogas system in Nepal avoids nearly 7.5 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Poor Nepalese farmers and low-income rural families use the systems most.

Biogas partnership

Over 173,000 Nepali households now have biogas systems thanks to the Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP), the government's Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and financial and technical assistance from the Dutch aid agency SNV (previous post):
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These agencies pay over half of the US$ 500 cost of building a biogas system and buying a gas cooker. Today, Nepal has the world's highest number of biogas systems per capita, outnumbering China and India, according to BSP.

Biogas has turned into an indispensable part of Nepal's efforts to mitigate global warming, according to WWF-Nepal.

Saroj Rai, executive director of BSP, says biogas has already replaced the use of wood in tens of thousands of households and this allows researchers to easily see how much it has helped reduce carbon emissions.

Carbon trading benefits
In January 2007 Nepal started trading carbon emissions with the World Bank at the rate of just US$7 per tonne, and recently the AEPC signed a deal with the Bank to sell carbon emissions at $10.25 per tonne, according to WWF-Nepal. European carbon prices currently stand at around $33.12 (€22.70) per tonne.

Nepal is already earning over $ 600,000 per year through its voluntary emissions reduction (VER), which unlike the Compulsory Emission Reduction (CER) of the Kyoto Protocol is not bound by any UN convention, according to the BSP.

The government has already done its job of preparing a project design document and by 2012, Nepal will have traded a huge amount of carbon, said Batu Krishna Upreti, under-secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Picture: low tech biogas pit in Nepal, using household waste as a substrate. Credit: IRIN.

IRIN News: Nepal: Biogas technology beginning to make its mark - December 6, 2007.

Biopact: World Bank to provide $5 million for biogas plants in rural Nepal - October 05, 2007

Biopact: Small CDM projects bring cash to Nepal: biogas for rural households - May 06, 2007

Biopact: WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world - May 01, 2007

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Colusa Biomass signs agreement with BBI Biofuels to design and develop 12.5m gallon biorefinery

Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation, a biomass-to-energy company focusing on biofuels for transportation, announced today that an agreement has been reached with BBI Biofuels International of Denver, Colorado which designates the latter as the designer and developer of a proprietary state-of-the-art biorefinery. The facility will produce biofuels from cellulosic biomass.

Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation is located in the heart of the Sacramento Valley's rice producing area, where it finds its initial feedstock. The company will produce ethanol, silica/sodium oxide and lignin from waste rice straw, waste rice hulls and other cellulosics. The biorefinery will consume approximately 130,000 tons of waste biomass annually, producing 12.5 million gallons (47.3 million liters) of ethanol and 16,800 tons of silica/sodium oxide, commercial carbon dioxide, and a high energy lignin fuel that will be used internally in the plant to reduce the cost of natural gas.
This proprietary design will incorporate the most current developments in systems for the refining of ethanol from agricultural harvest residues such as straw and agricultural wastes. By using harvest waste, nothing is taken from the food supply. When this production model is implemented in the United States, agricultural residues and wastes will be available for refining ethanol to meet the needs of worldwide transportation. - Tom Bowers, Colusa Biomass CEO
BBI International is a company committed to providing the most thorough feasibility studies in the business. Its team of engineers and market specialists has an intimate understanding of bioenergy and agricultural processing research and analysis, through decades of hands on experience. Ethanol and biodiesel projects are at the core of its workload and expertise. BBI International clients include future producers, existing producers, state and federal agencies, and independent research groups:
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The company has a US patent on a bioconversion technique that can use cellulose to produce ethanol; the starting materials for its process are rice straw and rice hulls, and in the future corn stover and cobs, wheat straw and husks, wood chips from forest slashing, and sawdust from saw mills.

Using 2003 farm data from the US Department of Agriculture and taking into consideration the availability of these cellulose based materials, it has been conservatively estimated that over 1.0 trillion gallons of ethanol could be produced per year from U.S. biomass. This would reduce the importation of the country's oil by an estimated 75%.

Colusa's membrane technology differs from traditional spiral wound membrane systems. A spiral wound membrane, both RO and UF, increases the surface area of the membrane winding a membrane/separator system into the shape of a star. Due to the membrane/separator proximities spiral wound membranes are 'plugged' by particulate matter in the feed liquid.

The Colusa system instead places the membrane directly in contact with the feed liquid and pumping this feed liquid at a high flow rate. This flow rate acts to 'sweep' the membrane and prevents 'plugging'. The niche that Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation's system can fill is its ability to filter thixotropic (viscous) Newtonian and non-Newtonian liquids. For example, its ulrafiltration system can take tomato juice (Newtonian liquid) and by removing the water, produce tomato paste (non-Newtonian liquid.)

The ultrafiltration can be cast to do a total rejection of 5,000 to 20,000 molecular weight molecules. Large molecules like lignin, enzymes, bacteria, lactose, colloidal matter, fine suspended particulate matter, and proteins will not pass through the membrane.

BBI International is a renewable energy service firm that offers engineering, project development and project feasibility studies to clients worldwide. BBI also publishes Ethanol Producer Magazine, Biodiesel Magazine, and Biomass Magazine, as well as renewable energy publications in Canada and Australia. Each year, a BBI event planning team organizes some of the larger biofuels and biomass conferences:

TradingMarkets: Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation Signs Agreement to Begin Design and Development of State-of-the-Art Biorefinery - December 12, 2007.

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