October 24, 2012

Cap-and-Trade Pilot Programs Launched in China

China has proposed plans for its seventh carbon cap-and-trade program.  This month, Guangdong province joined six other cities and provinces in forming pilot programs to reduce carbon emissions in energy intensive industries.  Guangdong’s participation is significant because the large southern province is a national industrial powerhouse for China and includes the economic miracle city, Shezhen. 

The pilot program is voluntary, but four cement companies have already formally signed on.  TaPai Group, HaiLuo Cement, ZhongCai Cement, and HuaRun Cement have joined together in a 1,300,000 ton carbon dioxide cap. The companies all intend to add new production lines and establish carbon emissions targets.  A representative from ZhongCai Cement pointed out that, although there will be increased production expenses for meeting emissions targets, the company will benefit from raising the bar for the whole industry’s energy efficiency.  A permanent emissions trading program would create a barrier to entry for new or smaller cement companies. 

Coming towards the second half of its 12th five year plan (2011-2015), China’s pilot carbon emissions trading programs focus on bringing communications, transportation, and construction industries under cap-and-trade limits.  One of the hurdles for any new carbon exchange program is a lack of historical data. The Guangdong’s pilot program includes mostly factories that are not accustomed to monitoring emissions and so do not have years of data to base a market price for carbon credits on.  Currently, 90% of the companies participate in the program for free, while 10% pay according to an international market price.  Other questions remain as to what penalties will be in place for companies that fail to meet their carbon quota and what role will the government play in the carbon trading system. In any case Guangdong faces the huge challenge of attempting emissions reductions while encouraging increases in industrial and economic growth.  China intends to have a national carbon exchange program in place by 2016.  How the relatively wealthy Guangdong province decides to carry out its carbon exchange program will mean a lot to other provinces making similar decisions.

Interested in more? Feel free to visit posts by beyondbrics & Between the Poles.

Written for SIEL by:
Althea Mickiewicz, 1L

October 18, 2012

A Sea of Trouble, Falling on Deaf Ears

Think about a typical person’s day. The sound of the alarm clock drags them from bed. They listen to the radio as they drive to work, maybe use their horn to signal to another driver that is about to cut them off. They listen to their friends discuss current issues when they are at work. They go home and listen to the news until the timer on the oven lets them know their dinner is ready. And then they go to sleep in their quiet bedroom. Think about how many times in a typical day you rely on sound.

Now, think about a bar. Think about a really popular bar with a local band playing. If you want to talk to your friends, you’re going to have to raise your voice. Even with your voice raised, you might have to repeat yourself once or twice. Now, imagine that every hour, of every day, is as noisy as that popular bar with a local band playing.

Thanks to a massive increase in private boaters, large tankers, seismic testing, underwater construction, and naval sonar, the ocean is an ecosystem full of sound and creatures relying on those sounds; the ocean is becoming a deafening place for species to live in and animals are finding it difficult to communicate. In the bioacoustic world, this is referred to as masking and numerous studies have demonstrated that it is happening. Whales and dolphins are calling out and repeating themselves more often. Their echolocation clicks aren’t being heard, making it difficult for them to find food. Many kinds of species have even started to become habituated to this noise, making it less likely they will flee if they hear a large ship approaching. Additionally, the blasts of low and mid frequency active sonar are possibly causing acoustic trauma for marine mammals and leading to mass strandings around the world.

In recent years this problem has started getting more and more attention. The International Ocean Noise Coalition (IOCN), a coalition of about 150 NGO’s from all over the world, was formed to advocate for UN action regarding this issue, with some success. In recent years there have been resolutions from the UN regarding Oceans and the Law of the Sea that have mentioned and encouraged further study regarding increases in anthropogenic noise. Despite these early steps, there is more that needs to happen before real results are possible. For starters, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships, more commonly known as MARPOL, needs to officially adopt a seventh annex addressing ways for current ships to reduce noise pollution and advocate for quieter ships to be more developed. However and most importantly, these issues need to be given serious consideration by the nations of the world, and not simply fall on deaf ears.

Written for SIEL by:
Juan Bacigalupi, 2L

October 10, 2012

The European Union & Shark Finning

The last few decades have seen a dramatic increase in shark finning, the practice of cutting off a shark's fins and dumping the carcass at sea. Although shark meat has historically embodied a small portion of global fisheries, the rising popularity of shark fin soup has resulted in devastating declines of shark populations around the world. Despite a law prohibiting shark finning in the European Union (EU), member countries make a significant contribution of shark fins in the global market and finning continues to be a problem in EU waters.

In 2003, the European Union passed a law intended to prohibit shark finning by European fishermen. After years of inadequate application and enforcement of the law, it has become clear that loopholes allowing a country to issue special permits for finning make the law ineffective. The 2003 law contains an exception to the general ban on finning that “the removal of fins from dead sharks on board may be allowed if the removal aims at a more efficient use of all shark parts by the separate processing on board of fins and of the remaining parts of the sharks.” Council Regulation (EC) No 1185/2003(June 26, 2003). This exception is allowed if the fishing vessels justify why separate processing must occur on board and obtain a special permit from their flag country. As a result of the exception, management authorities have difficulty knowing when finning has occurred because the special permits allow fishermen to remove shark fins while on board and land the fins and carcasses in separate ports.

The EU Fisheries Committee voted to delete the exceptions in September 2012 and Parliament as a whole will vote on the matter in 2013. If the vote passes Parliament as well, EU fishermen will be required to land sharks and unload them in port with their fins naturally attached. Conservationists hope the revamped law will have a positive effect on enforcement, fisheries data, and encourage other countries to adopt similar legislation protecting sharks from finning and over-fishing. 

Written for SIEL by:
Don Gourlie, 2L