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Archive for the ‘Global Environment’ Category

It would be nice to be able to report that negotiations are moving forward apace but, unfortunately, they’re not.

This morning, we sat through another lengthy discussion about the proposals put forward by the North America countries and Micronesia to phase out HFCs. While supportive delegations such as the EU agreed with the US that a phase-out is a moral imperative and argued that it would help drive technical innovation, China and India spent the entire session playing semantic ping-pong.

This is what a 'side event' can look like (c) EIA

Arguments of varying degrees of sophistication were trotted out to demonstrate that the Montreal Protocol is not the forum to deal with an HFC phase-out, because there is no legal footing for it to do so (a claim heavily contested by many Parties here); because it would undermine the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (!), or because not enough scientific research has been carried out into alternatives to HFCs (it’s worth noting that both China and India blocked subsequent attempts to remedy this).

What it all boils down to is protection of vested interests – both China and India are defending the commercial interests of their domestic F-gas industries (which, lest it be forgotten, have already earned hundreds of millions of euros for HFC-23 offsets under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism – and, to a certain extent, political grandstanding and positioning for the global climate talks. It’s very frustrating to sit here and listen to the debate go around and around in circles when an HFC phase-out is clearly the most immediate and cost-effective prospect for combating climate change in the short-term.

Mealtimes here are very perfunctory – in fact, we haven’t sat down to a hot meal since Sunday – all the more so as food and drink are strictly forbidden in the meeting rooms (a rule enforced by zealous security guards on every corner). So, after a five-minute refuelling stop, we headed to a ‘side event’ (UN jargon for a short workshop) on the European Union’s F-gas Regulation. This was organised by the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), the rather misleading name of the European Heating Cooling and Refrigeration Industry’s trade association, based in Brussels.

At the event, EPEE representatives and the refrigerant manufacturer Daikin sang the praises of the F-Gas Regulation, which essentially relies on weak controls to prevent leakage during installation, operation and disposal of equipment. Quite apart from the consideration that taking a containment and recovery approach to HFCs (rather than mandating a phase out) is simply storing up trouble for the future, it’s pretty obvious that the F-Gas Regulation in its current form is simply unworkable. The fact is that, by the industry’s own admission, the Regulation is not being taken seriously.

We expect the F-gas industry to fight tooth and nail to prevent any ambitious changes to the Regulation, which is currently under discussion. As far as we’re concerned, supporting a global phase-down of HFCs in the Montreal Protocol – which the EU is doing very forcefully here – goes hand-in-hand with a convincing domestic policy on HFCs – which the EU does not yet have.

Natasha Hurley

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The meeting resumed today with the US, Canada, Mexico and Micronesia responding to a number of questions on scientific, legal, financial and technological issues raised by Parties concerning their proposals to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs.

After much debate, it was decided to resume the discussion in plenary session tomorrow and consider the establishment of an informal contact group at a later point. The proponents of the phase-out proposals expressed strong disappointment about the informal nature of the contact group – the proposal has been on the table for three years now but has been kicked into the long grass as many times. The informal nature of the contact group means its discussions will not be formally reported in the proceedings of the meeting, just one of the stalling tactics being employed by India, China and others who are opposing any HFC measures under the Montreal Protocol.

The OEWG in session on Monday (c) EIADuring lunch, Greenpeace held a side-event to present a new paper on the benefits of basing policies on a 20-year global warming potential (GWP) measure, rather than the current standard of 100-year GWP. GWP measures the potency of a greenhouse gas over a specific period of time, relative to CO2, which has a GWP of one. So, for example, the GWP of HFC-134a (the most commonly used HFC) is 1,430 – so it is 1,430 times more potent than CO2. The GWP measure is independent of atmospheric concentration – so we’re not saying that HFC-134a is currently causing 1,430 times more global warming than CO2, but it would if it was present in the atmosphere at the same concentration.

The timescale, however, is important because while CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of several centuries, most HFCs remain in the atmosphere for just 10-20 years. The average lifetime of the HFCs in use today is 21.7 years. This means that the 100-year GWP does not fairly reflect their potency, since it is spread out over 100 years, while in actuality all the damage is done while it is present in the atmosphere, which in the case of HFC-134a is 14 years. The 20-year GWP of HFC-134a is 3,380 – more than double its 100-year GWP.

Why is this important in the context of climate change? In 2009, NASA’s eminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, warned that the “climate is nearing dangerous tipping points… ”. Tipping points are abrupt, non-linear, unpredictable changes – the point of no return where there will be little we can do to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climate change. We don’t know when this will happen but it could be reached within a few decades, so efforts to prevent short-term climate forcing are really important.

The best available prospect for mitigating climate change in the short-term is undoubtedly a phase-out of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Using 20-year GWPs shows clearly the massive climate impact of HFCs, and is also highly relevant in the context of the increasing use of so-called ‘moderate’ GWP HFCs, such as HFC-32. Daikin and Panasonic are describing their new HFC-32 air conditioning technology as ‘climate-friendly’, as the GWP of HFC-32 is 675, significantly less than the most commonly used HFC. But over a 20-year period, HFC-32 has a GWP of 2,330 – how can this be climate-friendly?Clare Perry

Clare Perry

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Day 1 – 1st August 2011: Probably the first thing that you might notice if you have looked at our recent reports to the Montreal Protocol (which was set up to repair the ozone hole) is that we seem to talk a lot more about climate change than ozone depletion.

This is not because the ozone hole has been fixed – quite the reverse – 2011 saw the largest ever ozone hole in the Arctic and unfortunately while the Montreal Protocol has been successful in phasing out 98% of the consumption ozone depleting substances, and atmospheric levels of key ozone depleting substances are going down, it will take until the middle of the century for the ozone layer to return to pre-1980 levels.

But CFCs and HCFCs (the main ozone depleting chemicals) are also super greenhouse gases. We say ‘super’ because they are literally thousands of times more potent global warming gases than carbon dioxide. Because of this, the Montreal Protocol has already had a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has been described as the best climate treaty to date (of course it doesn’t have much competition….).

CFCs and HCFCs are man-made chemicals used predominantly in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and as foam blowing agents, fire suppressants and aerosols. Countries converting from these chemicals have traditionally chosen hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that do not harm the ozone layer but that are super greenhouse gases with global warming potentials (GWP) hundreds to thousand of times greater than CO2.  Developed countries that have already phased out ozone depleting substances have switched to high-GWP alternatives in around 75% of cases.

Fortunately there are substitutes available – so called natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons – which are both climate and ozone friendly. So for the last few years our focus at the Montreal Protocol has been to urge Parties to phase out existing HFCs, and ensure that the ongoing developing country phase-out of HCFCs does not result in a massive phase-in of HFCs.

Today’s meeting opened with Mr Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, setting out some of the highlights of the work carried out so far and the challenges ahead. There was then a presentation from the TEAP (Technical and Economic Assessment Panel) of a report which assessed the need for financing over the next three years to allow the continued phase-out of HCFCs in developing countries. A large number of questions were raised regarding the information in the TEAP report and a contact group was set up to further look at the information needed from the TEAP before the Meeting of the Parties in November when a decision on funding will have to be taken.

The second substantive item on the agenda was proposals to phase down HFCs – one by the North American countries (US, Canada and Mexico) and another by Micronesia. Slightly different versions of the proposals have been submitted previously, for the first time in 2009. John Thompson from the US introduced the North American proposal describing the growth in HFCs as “…an impending crisis”, and noted that the longer we wait to address it, the more difficult and expensive this problem will be for all countries to take on. There followed a two and half hour discussion with many countries supporting the amendment proposals and the need for a contact group to discuss the proposals further. However several countries, most strongly India, China and Brazil, maintained that discussion of HFCs should remain under the UNFCCC as HFCs are not ozone depleting substances.

India repeatedly stated that they had questions about the proposals that had not been answered – and yet they would not support the idea of going into a contact group (a discussion group outside the main plenary part of the meeting), which is the usual process of the Montreal Protocol.

The European Commission reminded Parties that the BASIC countries (Brazil, S. Africa, India and China) had concluded at a meeting in February this year that the issue of the phase down high-GWP HFCs required an in-depth examination – he hoped that could start this week.

Georgia was brief but eloquent, stating that the possibility of HFCs being regulated under the climate regime is “zero” and that the only proposed way to prevent unconstrained growth of HFCs is the Montreal Protocol.

The meeting was adjourned without closing the agenda item – its clear there will be no resolution of this at this meeting, but at least some discussion is taking place.

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System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

Read EIA's report. System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

Spend 3 minutes ensuring your MP signs the EDM on electronic waste.

What’s the issue? You can read more about the UK’s problem on e-waste or you can watch BBC’s Panorama Track my TrashThe Panorama programme features EIA and is based on our findings.

The illegal smuggling of toxic electronic waste is a massive problem, damaging the environment and ruining lives. If you live in the UK, please write to your MP and ask them to sign Early Day Motion 1992 on e-waste (and EDM is a kind of MPs petition). It really helps when MPs get emails or letters – they do respond!

Step 1: Find your local MP by entering your postcode on this site. And then click on your MP.

Step 2:  Draft your own email or use the template below

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I would like to draw your attention to the Early Day Motion number 1992 on ‘Electronic Waste Recycling’, from primary sponsor Clive Efford MP:

“That this House is concerned by the findings of the Environmental Investigation Agency’s report System Failure revealing that hazardous waste electrical and electronic equipment is routinely being illegally exported from the UK; notes the need for greater auditing and accountability of electronic waste streams at all stages of collection, handling and treatment; urges stricter regulation and monitoring of Producer Compliance Schemes to ensure illegal practices are stamped out; and urges support for the Environment Agency to enable it to tackle illegal trade in e-waste.”

This is an issue of great concern to me and one which I believe could be effectively addressed by proper regulation and enforcement in the UK to prevent our toxic technological scrap contributing to a serious human health and environmental crisis in the Developing World .

If you have not done so already, I respectfully ask that you give your support to this Early Day Motion at the soonest opportunity.

Yours  Sincerely,

****************************************

Step 3: Let us know of any feedback you receive from your local MP, share your experiences with us.

Step 4: Tell all your friends to follow in your footsteps.

Thank you for taking action,

From the EIA e-waste team.

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As regular visitors to this blog will be aware, as part of our Global Environment Campaign, EIA has been fighting an ongoing battle against the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances for many years now.

An unfortunate – yet avoidable – consequence of the global phase out of first CFCs, and now HCFCs, black market trade in ODS has the potential to wreak havoc on the ozone layer. It is the Achilles heel of the Montreal Protocol – the most successful environmental treaty to date – and as such, requires urgent and decisive action.

Our illegal trade investigations have taken us to many far-flung destinations over the years. Few, however as far-flung as Mongolia, a name, which for me at least, had always been endowed with a certain mystique.

Mongolian gers. Credit EIA

Mongolian gers. Credit EIA

However, when it comes to tackling ozone depletion, no country is too remote, which is how, a couple of weeks ago, EIA came to co-host the Summit with the Private Sector on Trade in Ozone Depleting Substances with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Ulaanbaatar.

It seemed fitting that an ozone summit should take place in Mongolia, Land of the Blue Sky, where rather than being an abstraction, the “environment” is central to the country’s national identity. Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia has been subject to a range of foreign influences (as the euphemism goes) over the years – and indeed conquered vast tracts of Central Asia and Europe itself back in the heyday of Genghis Khan.

The gobi desert from the Trans-Siberian railway that connects Moscow with Beijing.

The gobi desert from the Trans-Siberian railway that connects Moscow with Beijing.

Now an independent and fully fledged democracy, Mongolia has been behind some novel initiatives in recent years, including the convening of a Cabinet Meeting on Climate Change, which was held in the Gobi Desert in December 2010. Although a sparsely populated country, deforestation, overgrazing and the depletion of water resources are leading to the expansion of the Gobi at a rapid rate of knots, imperilling the livelihoods of the herders, who still make up around a third of the population. Air pollution is also a huge problem in cities, where coal and wood-burning stoves are used by a majority of the population for heating and cooking. In addition to this, plentiful supplies of raw materials including coal, copper, tungsten, phosphates, nickel, zinc, fluorspar, gold and silver make it an Eldorado for mining companies.

Mongolian customs official checking ODS canister for purity. Credit EIA.

Mongolian customs official checking ODS canister for purity. Credit EIA.

While Mongolia has no domestic production of ozone depleting substances to speak of, its customs officials are well versed in the challenges posed by illegal trade in ODS – as were the many other national officials present at the Summit, hailing from as far afield as Thailand, Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Along with representatives from multinational chemical manufacturers, and international organisations including UNIDO and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), they spent three days discussing how to avert a massive spike in illegal ODS trade as developed and developing countries implement their HCFC phase out – whose differential nature (developed countries are on schedule for a total phase-out by 2020, developing countries have until 2030) only increases the risks of part of the market going underground. The resulting “UB 2.0 Declaration” lists concrete actions to help stamp out illegal trade and will be available online shortly. EIA and UNEP will also be bringing out a Risk Assessment of Illegal Trade in HCFCs within the next few weeks – watch this space for details on both of those.

As mentioned above, illegal trade has been a problem for as long as initiatives to rid the planet of ozone depleting chemicals have existed. At one point, a staggering 20% of trade in CFCs was estimated to be illegal. That’s a sobering figure, but what’s even more sobering is the realisation that with the HCFC phase-out, the problem could turn out to be considerably worse. This is mainly because of the comparatively more rapid pre-baseline increase in developing countries’ consumption of HCFCs, which is currently growing at 15% per annum.

In the past few years, we’ve seen increasing incidences of HCFC smuggling related to the developed country phase out, including high-profile seizures in Florida and evidence of criminal activity in Southern Europe, where it is estimated that up to 10 small ships a day are ferrying small consignments of HCFCs between ports bordering the EU where trade controls are not in place, and ports within the EU where import of virgin HCFC is banned.

Professor Adyasuren Tsokhio, Director of Mongolia’s National Ozone Authority and Mr. Batsuuri Nantsag, State Secretary of Nature, Environment and Tourism listen to Mr. Atul Bagai Senior Regional Coordinator United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Credit EIA

Professor Adyasuren Tsokhio, Director of Mongolia’s National Ozone Authority and Mr. Batsuuri Nantsag, State Secretary of Nature, Environment and Tourism listen to Mr. Atul Bagai Senior Regional Coordinator United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Credit EIA

Not to paint too bleak a picture, there are some great initiatives out there to help stem the flood of illegal ODS trade. One of these – the eccentrically-named “Project Sky Hole Patching II” – deserves a special mention. Originally an initiative of a group of Asia Pacific countries, it led to a total of 26 seizures, amounting to 640 tonnes of ODS and over 600 pieces of equipment containing ODS, over a 6-month period in 2010. Improved cooperation between customs authorities, notably through the “informal prior and informed consent” – or iPIC – system has also proved its worth over the years. However, even ground-breaking initiatives such as these look paltry in the face of a potential tidal wave of illegal ODS trade as the HCFC phase out begins to take hold. It’s time to face up to the fact that illegal trade exists and that we need to do something about it. Fast.

Natasha Hurley

Global Environment Campaigner

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Did you get to see last night’s Panorama, Track my Trash? What did you think? We would love to hear your feedback.

If you missed it you can catch up on BBC iplayer here.

System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste

It’s times like this that make this job really worthwhile. I’ve been amazed by the reactions of the public and industry to EIA’s report “System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste” and last night’s Panorama. I think the programme did a great job of explaining this huge problem and our responsibility as consumers to ensure that our old junk doesn’t end up poisoning children in developing countries. EIA was involved with the programme from its inception and I think it’s been a good example of successful collaboration.

But our work doesn’t stop here, now that our findings have been published we will follow up the investigation in order to push for real change in how the UK handles its electronic waste. We plan to engage with industry to encourage them to clean up their act, to work on improving the enforcement of existing regulations and to look into fixing the systematic failings that have led to the colossal environmental problem. We also waiting to see what the Environment Agency’s reaction to our work will be.

Read EWC’s response to our investigation, similarly South London Waste Partnership have also made a statement.

If you’re concerned about the fate of your e-waste here are a few tips and questions you ask:

  •  The biggest way to reduce the harmful impacts of e-waste is to reduce the amount of electronic goods we throw out. Before updating your laptop or mobile phone, please think about whether you really do need a new one, often we tend to get rid of perfectly functional electronic items just to keep up with the latest trends.
  • If you do have an old item that you want to get rid of try internet recycling networks like Freecycle.
  •  If you do have e-waste that you want to dispose of try to find out whether the company disposing of the goods or your local council recycling site audits the trail of all electronic goods left in their care.
  •  Some councils will contract reuse companies to repair and reuse items left at their recycling sites. EIA totally supports the reuse of electronic goods but our investigations showed that some reuse companies don’t test and repair broken TVs before exporting them. If your local council uses a reuse company the company should supply details of how many electronic goods they were able to repair and export and how many they had to send for recycling and the final destinations of all those electronic goods.
As consumers we have the biggest say of all, but we need to start speaking out.

This investigation took 18 months from start to finish and it’s expensive to get the quality of evidence EIA is renowned for.

If you want to help us to continue to tackle e-waste text EIAA11 £3 to 70070.

Fionnuala Walravens
Fin Walravens
Team Leader of the Global Environment Campaign
We’ve recieved lots of feedback following last night’s programme, here are just a few of your comments:
  • @Sarafino1: I work in the Recycling Industry but not electricals, so have to say shocked!
  • @NAbeyie_x:  I was rather surprised, I didn’t think something like that went on.. Its good to know
  • @EmilyvonR: I thought it was a depressing insight into what is going on but I wonder if people will now be put off from recycling…
  • @amiemiddleton: It was difficult to watch as some companies try to do the right thing and are held up at every stage by gov bodies!
  • @Crook3rs: Very good programme last night raising awareness of the illegal dumping of e-waste. Should be heightened as not something most people would be aware of ordinarily. Also very moving programme, highlighting the damage to the environment and health of people in the regions involved.
  • @ITSAmanda: I do so hope your report helps to make a positive difference. Will watch panorama 2nite on iplayer
  • @Hayleybowcock: Govt must do more to stop illegal eWaste exports
  • @Wonder_Woman16: Panorama was amazing very shocking!!! Can’t believe Croydon was mentioned.
  • Jackie: Good programme, I am sure most people will be shocked by this trade
  • Ralph: I have several items of electronic gear stored in the attic. What should I do with them?
  • Tom: I read about this in the Observer yesterday, and I have now also seen the Panorama programme. I live in Croydon so this report is of local relevance and I hope to take this to my local green party for further action.
  • Jeff: I would like to congratulate you on the recent investigation into the illegal export of e-waste.
  • Simon: Good work, EIA.

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This week sees the launch of EIA’s third supermarket survey. Over the past three years I’ve been amazed by the level of progress some retailers have made towards adopting HFC-free refrigeration. You’ll see from the results that 2010 was definitely the year HFC-free supermarket refrigeration went mainstream. Today a whopping 246 stores across Great Britain have HFC-free refrigeration systems in then, up from 46 last year, whilst hundreds of engineers have been trained to deal with climate-friendly refrigerants.

Chilling Facts 2011, where did your local supermarket come? Credit istock

The UK is now paving the way for climate-friendly refrigeration and is a global centre for innovation, we are quickly catching up with our Northern European neighbours and are miles ahead of many other European countries.

As an environmental campaigner I find I’m often exposed to bad news and uphill struggles, I suppose it’s the nature of the game. So it’s great to be working on a campaign that has made tangible changes. Many retailers have told us that our survey has raised the issue of refrigeration up to board level, helping to ensure that resources are given to tackle the environmental impacts of using HFCs.

We decided to started the survey in 2008 when, after reading through retailer’s corporate social responsibility reports, it became apparent that leaking HFCs can account for about one third of a supermarket’s carbon footprint! A shocking statistic and frustrating given that HFC-free alternatives exist.

This year’s results were very close, with the top four retailers- Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer all coming near to one another. However some supermarkets are still avoiding their responsibilities. The biggest disappointment was Asda, despite participating for the past two years this year Asda pulled out of our survey. Our research suggests that Asda has done little to move away from HFCs over the past year so it seems that their refusal was a strategic decision to avoid being ousted by our survey. Clearly this isn’t the way we’d expect a retailer who apparently prides themselves on sustainability to act.

Read the full report.

Asda. Credit istockResponse to Asda

In an effort to enter into a dialogue with Asda, I attempted to post a response to the latest Asda Aisle Spy blog by Julian dated 28th March. However, after repeatedly trying it has not been published. Perhaps your comments might have more success.

Here is my response:

As one of the authors of EIA’s report I thought I should highlight our disappointment at the comments you have made here regarding our so called ‘one dimensional approach’. Readers of the report (http://www.eia-international.org/files/reports195-1.pdf) will see that EIA scores retailers based on ten categories and gives credit for efforts made to reduce energy use and leakage of refrigerant gases, which is precisely what we did for Asda last year. But from a long term sustainability point of view using potent greenhouse gases in refrigeration just isn’t viable. Unfortunately Asda is one of the only retailers who has reneged on a 2007 commitment to move away from climate wrecking HFC based refrigeration. Whilst Sainsbury’s has managed to roll out over 70 HFC-free systems in stores in just one year it looks like Asda has done little towards the commitment it made. You mention your CO2 store in Bootle which opened in 2009. Have you opened any other HFC-free stores since?  Sadly it seems that Asda just isn’t ready to start taking a longer term approach still favouring the use of outdated climate wrecking technologies whilst its competitors move ahead with sustainable agendas. We are keen to find out more about the work Asda is doing to reduce the impacts of refrigeration and feel that your participation in the survey is an opportunity to demonstrate the work Asda is doing, as you will see despite your refusal to participate this EIA has highlighted efforts to reduce energy use trials of fridge doors.

Fionnuala Walravens

Fionnuala Walravens

Senior Campaigner

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