Archive for February, 2015

World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions

February 26th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions” was written by Rebecca Smithers, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th February 2015 00.01 UTC

Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority in order to save as much as £194bn annually by 2030, according to a report.

Cutting food waste leads to greater efficiency, more productivity and higher economic growth, it said, but achieving such an aspiration would involve consumers cutting their own food and drink waste by as much as half.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, with food wasted by consumers globally valued at more than £259bn per year.

But that cost could soar to £388bn as the global middle class expands over the course of the next fifteen years, according to new figures from the UK government’s waste advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Their new report, ’Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste’, also identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted at various stages in the supply chain – in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption.

It highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. Approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.

In the UK, the most recent data from Wrap showed that households threw away seven million tonnes of food waste in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley Stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, the report said. It found waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, 3.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year.

Wrap estimates that emissions from food waste could cut by at least 0.2bn tonnes CO2e and possibly as much as 1 billion tonnes CO2e per year – more than the annual emissions of Germany.

Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP said: “Food waste is a global issue and tackling it is a priority. This report emphasises the benefits that can be obtained for businesses, consumers and the environment. The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings.”

Consumers had a vital role to play, he added: “In the UK, where we are based, the majority of food waste occurs in the home.”

Helen Mountford, global programme director for the New Climate Economy, a programme of the commission, said: “Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day.

“Reducing food waste is also a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wakeup call to policymakers around the world.”

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World’s biggest offshore windfarm approved for Yorkshire coast

February 18th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “World’s biggest offshore windfarm approved for Yorkshire coast” was written by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, for The Guardian on Tuesday 17th February 2015 18.37 UTC

Plans for the world’s biggest offshore windfarm have been given the green light by the energy secretary, with planning permission for an array of up to 400 turbines 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast on the Dogger Bank.

The project, more than twice the size of the UK’s current biggest offshore windfarm, is expected to cost £6bn to £8bn and could fulfil 2.5% of the UK’s electricity needs.

Covering about 430 sq miles, the Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project will – if fully constructed – generate enough electricity to power nearly 2m homes, and could support an estimated 900 jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside, according to the government.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, said: “Making the most of Britain’s home-grown energy is creating jobs and businesses in the UK, getting the best deal for consumers and reducing our reliance on foreign imports. Wind power is vital to this plan, with £14.5bn invested since 2010 into an industry which supports 35,400 jobs.”

Although the UK does not manufacture large wind turbines, the Department of Energy and Climate Change says half of the costs associated with building and operating a windfarm are spent buying services and products from UK businesses.

Dogger has long been mooted as a possible location for offshore windfarms, because the shallow seabed, only about 30 metres deep, should make it easier to lay foundations and construct large turbines there, but no company has yet ventured into the area.

If built, the Creyke Beck turbines would be the furthest offshore that have ever been attempted. They would be the first stage of a project that could eventually be three times the size, if further tranches are also constructed.

Nick Medic, director of offshore renewables at RenewableUK, the wind industry association, said: “This is an awesome project and will surely be considered as one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the wind industry. Dogger Bank demonstrates the sheer potential of offshore technology to turn our vast ocean and wind resources into green energy.

“It is a project that pushes the offshore engineering envelope, demonstrating how far this technology has evolved in the 10 short years since the first major offshore windfarm was installed in North Hoyle just five miles from shore.”

Construction of the first turbines could still be years away, however. The Forewind consortium which is behind the 2400MW capacity project has yet to make a final investment decision. The consortium comprises Scottish and Southern Energy, Germany’s RWE, and Norway’s Statoil and Statkraft, the former the country’s majority state-owned oil business and the latter its state-owned electricity company.

Though the granting of planning permission may encourage a positive decision, the falling oil price and uncertainty over what may happen to wind energy subsidies after the general election make long-term investments in the sector more fraught.

About £60m has been spent by the companies so far on surveys alone.

“Achieving consent for what is currently the world’s largest offshore wind project in development is a major achievement and will help confirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the industry,” said Tarald Gjerde, general manager for Forewind.

The consortium said the Creyke Beck project could create up to 4,750 new direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs and generate more than £1.5bn for the UK economy, especially in Yorkshire and Humberside owing to their “historic strengths, existing skills in large-scale production activities and a marine support legacy”.

The UK’s last biggest offshore wind site, the London Array, ran into difficulties soon after gaining the government’s green light in a long drawn-out process from 2005 to 2007. Costs spiralled, investors withdrew backing and the future of the project for long periods hung in the balance. However, the windfarm, with 175 turbines, was inaugurated in 2013.

The UK currently has about 1,200 offshore wind turbines, with a total generating capacity of about 4GW.

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Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report

February 17th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report” was written by Arthur Neslen in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th February 2015 10.26 UTC

Creating biofuels from waste produced by industry, farms, and households could generate 36,000 jobs in the UK and save around 37m tonnes of oil use annually by 2030, according to a new report.

Across Europe, hundreds of thousands of new jobs could be created by using these ‘advanced biofuels’, which could replace 16% of the continent’s road transport fuel by the same year, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) study said. But the gains will not come without ambitious policy to promote advanced biofuels, it warned.

“Alternative fuels from wastes and residues offer real and substantial carbon savings, even when taking account of possible indirect emissions,” said Chris Malins who led the analysis for ICCT . “The resource is available, and the technology exists – the challenge now is for Europe to put a policy framework in place that allows rapid investment.”

However, a key vote in the European Parliament’s environment committee next week could stop this potential being realised, as a centre-right grouping of MEPs has signalled that it will oppose a biofuels reform package considered crucial to the fledgling industry.

The committee will vote next Tuesday on a compromise biofuels reform bill that would mandate a goal of advanced biofuels providing 1.25% of Europe’s transport fuel by 2020.

This advanced fuel could come from woody crops, agricultural residues, algae or household and industrial waste. It is seen as less environmentally damaging than first generation biofuels produced by growing crops such as rapeseed, which have been criticised for displacing food crops and raising commodity prices.

Malins said that a mandatory advanced biofuels goal was “absolutely crucial” to realising the sector’s potential, as it would bring market certainty and long-term signals for investors.

But sources at the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) told the Guardian that they were unlikely to back such a package. “We think it is unrealistically ambitious,” a source said. “We are not going to support the compromise proposal.”

The bill would also introduce criteria for assessing biofuels’ sustainability and set a 6% cap for the amount that first generation biofuel could contribute to the EU’s 2020 target of providing 10% of road transport fuel from low carbon sources.

Marko Janhunen, the vice-president of UPM Biorefining in Finland, said that parliamentary manoeuvring could risk the advanced sector’s potential for hi-tech job creation in rural areas.

“This is a critical moment for the advanced biofuels sector and this discussion is very frustrating,” he told the Guardian. “We want to see incentives and reasons to invest. We want to get rid of the regulatory uncertainty that has been surrounding the discussion.”

UPM recently opened a €175m renewable waste biorefinery that transforms residues from pulp into renewable diesel that can be used by cars – or potentially, one day, by planes. British Airways is one of several members of a Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels group that Janhunen also chairs.

“The EU has spent hundreds of millions in projects supporting the uptake of these technologies,” Janhunen added. “Now they are here, it is very important to set policies in place that enable them to be brought into the market.”

The current proposal has faced a tortuous journey and campaigners fear that even a narrow victory now will embolden east European states to finally bury it in the European Council.

“If the EPP votes against the compromise, there is a massive risk that the whole package could fall into a conciliation process, or even no conclusion at all,” said Nusa Urbancic, a clean energy programme manager at the Transport and Environment group. “This will mean continued negative impacts on deforestation and food prices, as well as leading the EU away from our climate objectives.”

The European ethanol industry association (ePURE) has thrown its weight behind the biofuels bill. Its secretary-general, Robert Wright, told the Guardian that “only a binding target will send a clear signal to investors that there will be a future market for advanced biofuels.”

But other industry figures were sceptical about the likelihood of meaningful regulation at the EU level, and about the ICCT’s analysis more generally.

“Studies like this have rosy assumptions that feed into rosy conclusions,” said Eric Sievers, the CEO of Ethanol Europe Renewables. “You don’t make a large capital investment in a regulatory regime that expires in 2020, so the potential and reality are at odds. Nothing prevents this stuff from being imported from the US or Brazil so the whole jobs argument goes down the tubes.”

In the absence of EU renewable targets for 2030, however, Malins said that the cleaner fuel process in Europe could still be continued with carbon intensity fuel standards similar to those in California, an extension of the bloc’s Fuel Quality Directive, or fiscal measures by European states.

Urbancic said that the US already had advanced biofuels targets which would likely deter its small industry from importing to the EU, while Brazil was likely to focus its industry on aviation.

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Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green

February 16th, 2015

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green” was written by Simon Birch, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th February 2015 07.15 UTC

Tourism manager Dominique Geissberger is looking out from her office in the small Swiss alpine ski resort of Villars at forests dusted with fresh snow and spectacular mountains dazzling in the winter sunshine. “This pristine landscape is what we all depend on,” says Geissberger. “It’s what tourists expect to find when they come here.”

In an effort to protect the environment upon which the village’s tourist trade relies, Villars has embarked on a comprehensive programme of sustainability initiatives ranging from introducing a fleet of hybrid buses that ferry skiers about, to low-energy snow-making systems.

In recognition of its pioneering environmental work, Villars has become the first ski resort in Switzerland and one of three resorts in the Alps to be awarded the Flocon Vert – the green snowflake – a sustainable certifying label run by Mountain Riders, a French group that campaigns for a more sustainable winter sports industry.

Exploring the use of labels as a way of encouraging and implementing sustainable development in mountain regions is a key goal for the Sustainable Mountain Tourism Alliance (SMTA), a global network of groups and organisations working for sustainability in alpine tourism that has recently been launched in Switzerland.

“Climate change is the number one environmental concern now facing mountain communities,” says Dr Tobias Luthe, professor of sustainability science from the SMTA, speaking at its launch conference which was attended by representatives from the mountain-based tourism industry.

“Last year was the warmest on record and already this winter many alpine ski resorts have had an unusual lack of snow, leading to major economic losses. We urgently need new sustainable business models and labelling systems have an important role to play in promoting sustainable development in these mountain communities,” says Luthe. “By quantifying different criteria such as energy use, transport and waste, labels can be used to communicate sustainability to a range of different markets and, crucially, encourage best practice in the sector.”

The economic case for ensuring sustainable development in the Alps is compelling: about 80 million tourists visit the Alps every year, generating close to €50bn Euros, providing an estimated 10% of all jobs in the region.

There are more than 50 different labels available for mountain-based resorts and hotels across Europe and they vary enormously in what they measure and the scale and scope of qualifying businesses. For example, with 42 different environmental and social criteria, the Flocon Vert is one of the most rigorous labelling schemes and applies to the whole operation of a ski resort, from its transport infrastructure to its use of renewable energy.

The Swiss-based Ibex Fairstay scheme meanwhile only certifies individual hotels and is a more entry-level scheme requiring relatively few environmental initiatives for businesses to qualify.

So what are the benefits of these labels? “The key benefit is that many labels require businesses to reduce their energy and water use which in turn can save them money,” says Herbert Hamele, who chairs Ecotrans, the European network for sustainable tourism development. “The other key benefit is that businesses which have been awarded a label also have a marketing edge over their competition.”

Anne Dorte Carlson, who manages the Sustainable Destination Norway label, agrees with Hamele: “We’ve surveyed tour operators and 62% say that they would more likely be interested in a destination if it carries a sustainable or environmental label,” says Carlson. “We believe that in the future this will give us a competitive advantage.”

The commercial benefits of an environmental label have been confirmed by Trip Advisor, a colossus in the global tourist industry which is now rolling out its Green Leaders programme in Europe, having launched the scheme in North America in 2013.

“The Green Leaders programme is designed to help travellers book a greener trip by recognising hotels and B&Bs that engage in environmentally friendly practices ranging from recycling to energy use,” says Trip Advisor’s Tom Breckwoldt, speaking at the SMTA’s launch conference. “Qualifying properties are then marked with a badge on their Trip Advisor home page.”

Significantly, Breckwoldt revealed that Trip Advisor’s own research has found that Green Leader businesses are 20% more likely to be booked compared with those that haven’t signed up to the free scheme.

With more than 300 million people using Trip Advisor every month, many believe that this new initiative has the potential to be a game-changer in the push for more sustainable development in mountain regions. “Small groups such as Mountain Riders are doing great work but they don’t reach the majority of people,” says Luthe.

“Trip Advisor is a very powerful way of reaching a massive audience and if they implemented a combination of tools recommended by the SMTA then this could be really exciting.”

Back in Villars, Geissberger is in no doubt about the importance of ensuring that the village heads in a more sustainable direction. “The environment is our future, it’s how we earn our living,” says Geissberger. “If we lose it, we’ll lose our tourism and then we’ll lose everything.”

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