Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BP: Beyond Petroleum

With approximately 1 million litres of oil spilling into the ecologically sensitive waters of the Gulf Coast, BP has a responsibility to re-think its traditional model in order to move Beyond Petroleum. Even the ultra-conservative Terence Corcoran believes that BP should be paying the full cost of the clean-up.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in the EU, he will be meeting with EU leaders who will no doubt chastize him for Canada's inaction on climate change. Canada is sourly missing an opportunity to formulate a "Made in Canada" climate change plan that reflects our northern reality and vast landscape. This wat-and-see-what-the-Americans-will-do position is sure to hamper our competitiveness in the medium to long term. As the Globe and Mail reported, even China and the United States are aggressively moving to lower their emissions.
Governor Schwerzenegger recently took bold steps in not supporting offshore drilling as he does not want to put the environment at risk. This reflects the state of California's electorate who, as the fifth largest economy in the world, tend to be more forward-looking than their neighbours.
Isn't there a message for Canada in all of this?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peruvian "Green Gold"

An interesting article to share: From Reuters Environmental News Service, April 2010

Call it green gold. A Peruvian engineer says he has come up with an environmentally sound way to isolate gold from clumps of sand without using toxic mercury that wildcat miners in the Amazon basin rely on to extract the precious metal, then dump into rivers.

The small, cylindrical machine blends mineralized dirt with jets of pressurized air, water and biodegradable chemicals in a centrifugal motion that produces a cocktail of thousands of bubbles that rise to the surface attached to specks of gold.

"This is ethical gold, because it's not using mercury. Small scale mining is a big employer, and the machine's cost of operation is cheap," Carlos Villachica, an engineer who developed the device, told Reuters inside his small lab in Peru's capital, Lima.

While large, professionalized gold mines rely mainly on cyanide in sealed pools, mercury is used by millions of wildcat miners around the world. They buy hundreds of tonnes of it each year to extract gold from mud. Environmentalists say much of it will eventually make its way into the food chain, causing health problems.

About 20 percent of gold in Peru is produced by wildcatters -- people who mine, usually without formal permits, using picks and dredges.

The high concentration of gold produced by the device allows for direct melting of the precious metal, according to Villachica, who says it also conserves water, recycling up to 90 percent and as much as 70 percent of all chemicals used during the process.

Peru's government has long struggled with curbing some 300,000 wildcat miners and with reducing pollution in the Amazon basin.

Villachica said he is close to introducing the machine in the Madre de Dios region, where 70 percent of Peru's wildcatters operate.

The machine would produce up to 95 percent of the gold obtained by using mercury by wildcat miners, who often put their own health at risk by exposing themselves to the toxic metal.

Villachica runs Smallvill, a Peruvian firm that focuses on green technology and that built a plant to clean waste water of the mining company Volcan.

But his latest device is still unknown and it remains to be seen whether it can transform Peru's mining industry.

Patrick Taylor and Corby Anderson, two colleagues at the Colorado School of Mines, said it remains to be seen what the invention is capable of doing.

"He might be reaping some gold, but we would need to see the results. He's not going to produce pure gold, just a concentrate," Anderson said.

But, Taylor said, there is room for testing new technologies.

"Even though I am unaware of this specific technology, how it works, and it's utility for small gold miners, advances in technology are made often and this may be very useful. I am interested in learning more about it."


Peru is the world's No. 6 producer of the precious metal and shipments of gold and other metals make up 60 percent of its exports.

President Alan Garcia has passed laws to curb pollution by wildcatters, but they have protested against the new rules. A deadly clash with police this month forced the government to say it would revise the laws in Congress.

Villachica's invention could be a way to finding a solution to conflicts over wildcatting in Peru.

He said people have contacted him from as far as Australia and Tanzania asking him how to produce gold in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Among the most interested is a local group of farmers and miners in the region of Cusco, the old Inca capital, who want to reopen a 16th century gold mine.

"It's an environmental project that would benefit the community," Samuel Solis, a community leader said. "They want to find gold like their ancestors using the green technology."

(Editing by Carole Vaporean)

Reuters© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Monday, January 25, 2010

Climate Change Adaptation

The impact of climate change is being felt in disparate regions across the globe. As the City of Montreal today experiences 9 degrees Celsius and rain in January, the high price of gold draws thousands of miners to a region of south-east Peru where deforestation and the high levels of mercury used in mining has led to fears of an imminent ecological disaster, as Dan Collyns reports. How are poor communities to adapt to climate change, especially in countries where basic needs are not met?

Communities and industry need to start examining more closely adaptation strategies in order to respond to climate change challenges, especially in northern Canada, low-lying countries and regions subject to storms and hurricanes (severe weather). In Canada, the thawing of ice roads disrupts mining activities and adds additional costs to fly-in material and resources. On the social side, communities are being displaced due to changing habitat and biodiversity.

How should governments respond? And industry? Should adpatation to climate change be seen as the next emerging issue? Or shall we wait until disaster has struck? NRCan has a program underway but perhaps the government would be better to tackle the issue head-on instead. Makes sense?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Quebec's Northern Plan -- Plan Nord au Québec

Happy New Year to all readers! Let's hope 2010, the Year of the Tiger, will seize opportunities and stronger leadership in the environment.

The Quebec government, under the leadership of Jean Charest, is moving ahead with the ambitious Plan Nord. The objective is to open northern Quebec to exploration and tap into the wealth of abundant natural resources. The four focus areas are:
  • clean energy and renewable energy
  • mining sector
  • sustainable development, and
  • forestry sector
Quebec's First Nations have already expressed concern calling the Plan Nord the Plan Mort (Dead Plan). The business opportunities, including the need to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and relations with First Nations/ communities, represent important opportunities for both the public and private sector as regards sustainable development.

The province of Quebec is moving rapidly ahead in order to position and differentiate itself from the other provinces as “leader of the pack” as regards the environment. There are a number of reasons why the province has taken this position, including plans to exploit its northern territory for mining and increasing hydro-electricity production, and therefore it wants to ensure support from both citizens and industry. The government is also encouraging industry to develop its own SDIs and sustainability reporting in general in order to be well-positioned to demonstrate its’ “greener” environmental footprint --especially from a life-cycle perspective.

All views appreciated, advice also available.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cap-and-Trade Model Appears Liable to Fraud

The cap-and-trade model has become under increasing pressure as it has surfaced, once again, that the model is open to fraud. It appears that the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme has been defrauded billions of dollars.

The fraud issue appears to be related to monies actually within the scheme, but to VAT payable on the transactions. Companies / traders were buying / selling across the various EU borders to avoid VAT, particularly in Denmark where VAT stands at 25% (compared to the EU average of 21%). The trades were occurring for the sole purpose of reclaiming VAT which invariably boosted ETS activity. It is known as carousel fraud and has happened in lots of different industries over the years across the EU. The ETS is the latest.

The carbon tax option is starting to look better and better...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Embarrassment for Canada: Hoax at Copenhagen

The Yes Men have once again struck a hoax and this time their victim was the Canadian Government. At yesterday's Copenhagen summit, a number of fake press releases were circulated which stated that Canada will make drastic GHG emissions cut.

Greenpeace accuses Canada for derailing the negotiations, playing-off richer and poorer countries, and hiring lobbyists in Washington to support the tar sands.

Canadians do not have a cultural attachment to the tar sands as compared to forestry and the seal hunt. We have tremendous natural resources and yet our government continues to derail international negotiations.

Mikhail Gorbachev and former Canadian PM Kim Campbell, along with other prominent individuals, to urge the Canadian government to take the lead on climate change.

Canada's position is being exposed and this will make the Canadian government more vulnerable. Over 74 percent of Canadians want action on climate change. There will be a political cost if Canada does not act now.

In the meantime, uncertainty continues to prevail for many industrial and manufacturing sectors in Canada as clear targets have not yet been established.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Story of Cap and Trade

Two years ago, Annie Leonard released The Story of Stuff, an educational on-line video about rampant consumerism. Now she has done it again. Her latest release, The Story of Cap and Trade, will surely raise some questions as it criticizes how cap and trade functions.

She begins with a refreshing demonstration of enthusiasm for the upcoming conference in Copenhagen, expressing that the fact that world leaders are getting together to talk about climate solutions is a huge triumph and potentially an important step in right direction. But she harshly warns that cap and trade should not be the only solution considered. Cap and trade has been strongly promoted by many well-intention people, but its designers comprise a surprising amount of Enron and Goldman Sachs representatives who have essentially created a carbon stock market. While this may sound disconcerting, it can also be argued that because cap and trade is supported by those who actually have wealth and power, it stands a better chance of being pushed through.

Ideally, this market will be capped such that each country gets a certain number of pollution permits. Each year such permits will become fewer and so more expensive. Those who do not need them will sell to those who do and therefore total emissions will remain under the cap. According to Leonard, “the devil is in the details.”

Detail number one is that initial permits will be free in what is more accurately a “cap and giveaway” system. The more an individual company has historically polluted, the more permits they will receive. Europe has tried this, and according to Leonard it resulted in unstable permit prices, higher gas prices, increased emissions, and the polluters made money. This can be disputed from all angles but for more information on the EU ETS, check out their site.

Rather than creating a system in which polluters profit, Leonard advocates that funds instead be used to promote a clean energy economy, provide dividends for citizens to afford energy while transitioning to new fuel sources, and to compensate for ecological debt, which mainly occurs as first world countries benefit at the expense of environmental degradation in the third world. While these solutions certainly sound good, they are a bit too vague to provide a clear view of realistic alternatives to investing in cap and trade.

The second “devilish” detail is in the concept of offsetting. It is very difficult to guarantee that offsets are truly serving their vital function. For example, Indonesian indigenous forests have been cut down and replaced with palm oil trees, and somehow this destruction has been valued as a false offset. Additionally, some companies can receive credit for offsetting simply by not expanding as much as they claimed they had planned to. Expanding less certainly does not actually offset any carbon emissions.

Thirdly, Leonard portrays cap and trade as a dangerous distraction. She argues that people are eager to accept whatever is proposed and so are neglecting alternative solutions that exist. Leonard claims that it weakens our ability to effectively utilize strong laws like the Clean Air Act, which already lists carbon dioxide a pollutant that can be regulated by the EPA. Cap and trade does more to protect business as usual than it does to demand solid caps, strong laws, citizen action, or carbon fees – all of which offer truer solutions to climate change. Basically, its creators want to sacrifice nothing, get rich, and save the planet if possible. Leonard admits that cap and trade may serve as an important first step and it is certainly better than nothing, but she insists that we cannot solve the climate change problem with the same mindset that got us into this mess. She has indeed raised some valid concerns about cap and trade; however, Leonard fails to provide adequate arguments in favour of other solutions. She does not explain with any degree of detail how a carbon tax would work. Carbon taxing, like cap and trade, has several benefits but also its own set of faults and imperfections.

Please see the Western Climate Initiative's (WCI) section on cap and trade which can provide you with a introductory background on how cap and trade works.

Adapted from Strategic Sustainability Consulting -

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Berlusconi Gets Smacked

I know this has nothing (directly) to do with the environment, but seeing Berlusconi's bloodied face made me smile today. His latest political gaffes, including doodling women's underwear at the recent climate change talks, continues to embarrass Italians (including myself). One starts to wonder whether, given his track record, whether it was fabricated. One starts to also start to feel thankful for having a leader such as Harper...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Climategate and the Precautionary Principle

Thomas L. Friedman wrote a thought-provoking op-ed piece in The New York Times about the recent climategate shenanigans and smartly applied it to the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle, as used in the environmental sphere, should be considered alongside risk management, i.e.: if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensure, the burden of proof falls on those who advocate taking the action. The precautionary principle has been invoked many times and continues to be applied, for example, in the European Union's ban on GMOs and hormones (from meat products).

The climategate "scandal" has fuelled climate deniers and has cast a shameful image on those climate scientists who have manipulated data. But this still is no reason to stop any action on climate change. As Friedman points out in his article, what would be the choices?

If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.

But if we don’t prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Climate Change Host Denmark Proposes Ambitious Targets

Reuters reported today that Denmark, the host country for the upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen, is proposing that global greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A draft of the text states that to meet the 2050 target, industrialized nations will have to slash emissions by 80 percent over the next 40 years.

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen stated that he hopes the 192 nations attended the climate summit will approve a five-to-eight page "politically binding" agreement that spells out emissions reduction commitments for each nations.

US President Obama will have the opportunity to speak at the conference where he will announce his country's climate change commitments: reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050. Developing countries have criticized these targets as too low, particularly since the baseline is 2005, rather than 1990.

China has stated it will reduce its "carbon intensity" --emissions per unit of GDP --by 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. But even with these cuts, China's overall emissions are projected to double by 2030 given its accelerating growth.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Are Quebec's Climate Change Targets Ambitious? Est-ce que les cibles Québécois sur les changements climatiques ambitieux?

Now that the dust has settled after Jean Charest's fiery speech at CORIM (see blogpost dated 23 November) where he announced that Quebec will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% between now and 2020, many are asking whether this target was the easy way out. After all, Quebec is "blessed" with abundant hydroelectric power and therefore a target of -20% reduction is not such a big effort. As well, the Kyoto targets which calls for a 6% GHG emissions reduction between 2008 and 2012 (1990 baseline) has not been achieved in Quebec (except as projected for 2012). Some achievement.

The problem is that many people living in urban centres, where the majority of the population resides, do not visually see or feel the impact that climate change is having on their daily lives. But the reality is that record floods, record fires, loss of evergreen forests in Western United States, people living in low-lying countries/regions, such as in Bangladesh who are already moving more inland, and pine beetle impacts due to the warmer climate in Western Canada which is devastating forest cover, are real examples which demonstrate that a threat to the future of civilization is already occurring. How can the population at large be forced to change their behaviour which is to reduce their consumption of fossil fuel? Do cities and municipalities have a large-scale plan to tap into geothermal energy and build smart grids which would truly drive sustainability? It is important to change the light bulbs but what is much more important is to change the laws and policies which, compared to other Western industrialized countries have gone way further than where Quebec stands at this point (Sweden -40%; Norway -30%; United Kingdom -34%; Japan -25%; Germany -25%). The key players at the summit have also agreed to arrive with targets and timetables.

Over the last few years, several countries have witnessed the emergence of innovative new business groupings to offer support for a progressive public policy agenda on climate change. These include the Corporate Leaders Group in the UK and EU, the US Climate Action Partnership (US CAP) and Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) in the US, Empresas pelo Clima (EPC) in Brazil and Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF) in Hong Kong. The debate that will undoubtedly emerge in the next few weeks is what the public policy priorities should be, post-Copenhagen, to speed delivery of the low-carbon economy. In Quebec, the it appears that the business community, led by the CPEQ, was misquoted in Le Devoir (see 23 November blogpost) as they do not endorse any targets for Quebec. The Quebec Minister of the Environment, Line Beauchamp, endorsed Quebec's position in Poznan last year, as supporting a global target based on scientific consensus which demands that the international community control a temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius and therefore supports a global target of -25% (IPCC). So it begs the question: how did Quebec come up with its -20% target? Based on what? What would happen if the target were -40%? Is the CPEQ showing sufficient leadership? Any leads to solving these mystery questions is requested!

From an investment perspective, climate change may also present opportunities. Investors are starting to look more closely at companies in order to ensure that they have clear strategies for responding to climate change and reporting on risk assessment processes. Investors are also playing a much more proactive role in public policy debates on adaptation to the effects of climate change, highlighting a need to develop long-term policies which enable companies to plan and invest appropriately.

It is expected that many world leaders will be attending the Copenhagen summit to negotiate a new deal. So what needs to happen for success? Expectations have been scaled down, not surprising, due to the challenging situation, feet-dragging and inertia. A likely scenario is that near-term reductions and simultaneous instructions to country negotiators to complete a new deal will be handed out in Copenhagen for final completion at the next meeting which will take place in Germany in March 2010.

News has it that Obama will attend the summit and that he will further put a reduction number on the table. And both India and China have recently accepted to commit to binding targets.

Back on the farm, Canada continues to not take this issue seriously and, as a result, it affects our country enormously. The Canadian government has been so focused on the economy that it has practically shunned the environment debate. It doesn't hurt to remind our federal leaders that Kyoto is an international law that is binding on all signatory countries, including Canada. But the federal government continues to believe that efforts to reduce GHG emissions will destroy the economy. It is many years since Sweden has implemented its carbon tax and their economy is thriving. And they stand at 8% below 1990 levels!

Under international and US pressure, Prime Minister Harper has agreed last week to attend the Summit. PM Harper needs to provide moral leadership. This is what distinguishes Canada from a host of other countries. What is at stake is not just our global reputation (let alone our national symbol, the red maple leaf) but also our economic prosperity (France has indicated that it will penalize Canadian products due to carbon dumping). We have brought the Montreal Protocol and UN Peacekeeping to the international fora. The trade-off between short term profits (i.e.: the tar sands) and the risk factors to a dire crisis is not a suitable trade-off. In Al Gore's new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, he noted that gas derived from tar sands gives the Toyota Prius the environmental footprint of a Hummer. And the risks to Canada's North has already begun (see Globe and Mail, 28 Nov 2009, A10).

We need to deal with this problem now as the consequences, as predicted by all the top scientists, will be dire. If we fail, the problem will be handed over to the next generation to solve.

Let's start by tackling the root case: our excessive use of fossil fuel. We have the opportunity to embark on a truly sustainable path and personally, I believe in human ingenuity and resilience. How will you act?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Radio Interview on Sustainability Issues

I was interviewed today by Chris "Zeke" Hand on CKUT 90.3 FM radio in Montreal on a couple of sustainability issues. To hear the broadcast, click on the player below or download one of the links.

Download: MP3 / FLAC / Ogg Vorbis or Stream


Monday, November 23, 2009

Quebec and Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction target/ Québec et la réduction des émissions de Gaz à effet de serre

On Saturday 21 November, Louis-Gilles Francoeur published in Le Devoir an article where he stated that the CPEQ (Quebec Environment Chamber of Commerce) and the NGO Equitere propose a GHG emissions reduction target of 25% compared to 1990 levels. This proposal took the form of a joint letter signed by the CPEQ and Equiterre and, according to the journalist, further endorsed by Quebec's Environment Minister Line Beauchamp. This position is forward-looking and ambitious.

As I am writing this blogpost, Quebec's Premier Jean Charest, is speaking at a luncheon at CORIM where he will officially announce Quebec's GHG emissions reduction targets. You can bet that the Harper Conservatives are watching closely!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Climate Change and Canadian Mining: Opportunities for Adaptation

Tristan Pearce from the University of Guelph provided the EIA Concordia students a formidable opportunity to discuss how climate change is impacting Canada's north: impacts on communities (food shortages), impacts landscape (i.e.: loss of ice roads), and impacts on mining activities (i.e.: increased storm activities) through the report published for the David Suzuki Foundation.

The report highlighted many important issues but I was struck by the fact the perception gap that exists within many Canadian mining companies: only 25% of senior executives and management viewed climate change as a problem in contrast, 100% of day-to-day workers in those same companies perceived climate change as a threat. If you are obviously sitting in a Toronto corporate office and have very little contact with operating facilities (apart from the occasional site visit), then you do not readily "see" the changes which are occurring.

Should the Canadian mining industry ramp-up its efforts to better adapt to climate change? If so, what should some of those methods be? (i.e.: alternative routes?).

Thanks once again to Tristan Pearce, Maude Beaumier and James Ford for this great presentation and stunning visuals!