Sunday, March 26, 2006

Start-up of the largest installation in the world to capture CO2 in the flue gases of a coal-fired power station - European Castor Project, Denmark

On 15 March, the CO2-capture industrial pilot unit of the Castor project, coordinated by IFP and financed by the European Commission (FP6), was inaugurated at the Esbjerg power plant (Denmark), operated by Elsam. It is the largest installation in the world that captures CO2 in the flue gases of a coal-fired power station.

The most promising approach to reducing the volume of CO2 emitted by large industrial facilities (cement works, power stations, refineries, etc.), which account for more than 60% of world emissions, is "capture and geological storage", which consists of recovering the gas generated in large quantities and injecting it into the subsoil.

From an economic point of view, there is a high priority need for significant advances in capture technologies. This step, which accounts for approximately 70% of the total cost of the capture/storage approach, requires a significant input of energy, resulting in high costs and secondary emissions of CO2.

The Castor project pilot is expected to improve considerably the effectiveness and economic performance of the process of extracting dilute CO2 from industrial flue gases. To separate the CO2 - at a low concentration in the flue gases - from the other gases (oxygen, water vapor, and nitrogen) at atmospheric pressure, several solvents belonging to the amines family are being tested and optimized. The pilot also includes a solvent regeneration system that uses a limited amount of energy. As a result of this, substantial cost savings can be expected. Estimated costs of conventional processes for CO2 capture in the flue gases of large industrial facilities range from 50 to 60 Euros per tonne of CO2. The Elsam industrial pilot is expected to have the cost per tonne of CO2 avoided, to between 20 and 30 Euros.

The implementation of the Castor pilot is a big step towards demonstrating the feasibility of the new CO2 capture/storage technologies. The process, which enables one tonne of CO2 to be captured per hour, is being tested on a large enough scale to ensure reliable industrial extrapolation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Encouraging the use of environmentally friendly forms of transport

The Commission today adopted an ambitious mobility plan for the period 2006-2009 covering all journeys by its staff, whether between home and work or between Commission offices. With this plan the Commission integrates the working conditions of its staff, including their mode of transport, into its sustainable development policy, especially the social, environmental and energy aspects. It also confirms its commitment to the harmonious development of its sites in Brussels and is in line with the urban and mobility policies implemented by the Brussels Capital Region, which require the implementation of a transport plan by all bodies with more than 200 people. As an employer of over 22 000 staff, the Commission has since 1997 worked on a voluntary basis to promote the use of alternative and sustainable transport means, increasing and diversifying the facilities available to its staff.

38% of staff use public transport
Vice-President Siim Kallas welcomed the adoption of the mobility plan as a strong message from the Commission and its staff on environmental protection. "The mobility plan should encourage the positive changes that have occurred in our staff's attitudes and transport habits in recent years:2 38% of staff now use public transport to travel to and from work, against 44% who use cars. The plan aims to bring the percentage of staff regularly using private cars down from 44% to 35% by 2009. In parallel, use of public transport should increase from 38% to 45%, bicycle use and walking to 19%, and car-pooling to rise by 50%."

The priority measures will aim to encourage even greater use of:
- Public transport: the provision of facilities to staff in recent years will continue, with staff having free access to the No 12 link with Zaventem airport and to the Eurobus lines (21 and 22) between the main Commission buildings and other European institutions. And from 2007, the Commission will make a 50% contribution to the train/tram/bus season ticket of any staff member giving up their Commission car park access card.
- Bicycles: measures to fit out car parks and changing rooms and create cycle paths will continue, and the number of service bicycles, which have proved popular with staff for work-related trips, is set to rise.

In accordance with its White Paper on European transport policy and the proposal for a Directive on the promotion of clean vehicles, the Commission will continue to promote the use of low-polluting, low-fuel-consumption cars, 'clean cars', also by its staff. Its fleet of service cars will gradually be replaced with diesel cars equipped with a particle filter, asthey become available on the market.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fuelling our future: the European Commission sets out its vision for an Energy Strategy for Europe

The basis for a European Energy Policy has been set out by the European Commission in a major new Green Paper, which invites comments on six specific priority areas, containing over 20 concrete suggestions for possible new action.

"The energy challenges of the 21st century require a common EU response. The EU is an essential element in delivering sustainable, competitive and secure energy for European citizens. A common approach, articulated with a common voice, will enable Europe to lead the search for energy solutions", underlined European Commission President Barroso.

"The completion of the internal market, the fight against climate change, and security of supply, are common energy challenges that call for common solutions. It is time for a new European energy policy", said Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

-On this basis; the Green Paper outlines how a European Energy Policy could meet the three core objectives of energy policy: sustainable development, competitiveness, and security of supply.
Developing a European energy policy will be a long term challenge. As a foundation for this process the Commission proposes that a Strategic EU Energy Review be presented to the Council and Parliament on a regular basis, covering all energy policy issues. This would constitute a regular stocktaking and action plan for the European Council and Parliament, monitoring progress and identifying new challenges and responses on all aspects of energy policy.

Six priority areas have been identified:

In order to complete the internal energy market the Green paper considers new measures such as: a European energy grid code, a priority European interconnection plan, a European Energy Regulator and new initiatives to ensure a level playing field, particularly regarding the unbundling of networks from competitive activities. Concrete proposals will be tabled by the end of the year.

The second priority area concerns security of supply in the internal energy market, ensuring solidarity among Member States. Among the possible measures proposed is the establishment of a European Energy Supply Observatory and a revision of the existing Community legislation on oil and gas stocks to ensure they can deal with potential supply disruptions.

A more sustainable, efficient and diverse energy mix is identified as the third priority area. The choice of a Member States energy mix is and will remain a question of subsidiarity; however, choices made by one Member State inevitably have an impact on the energy security of its neighbours and of the Community as a whole. This could be achieved through the Strategic EU Energy Review, covering all aspects of energy policy, analysing all the advantages and drawbacks of different sources of energy, from renewable to coal and nuclear. This in turn may eventually lead to objectives being established at Community level regarding the EU's overall energy mix to ensure security of supply, whilst respecting the right of Member States to make their own energy choices.

In its fourth Action area, the Commission suggests a series of measures to address the challenges of global warming. In particular, it puts forward possible contents for an Action Plan on energy efficiency to be adopted by the Commission later this year. This Action Plan will identify the measures necessary for the EU to save 20% of the energy that it would otherwise consume by 2020. In addition, it proposes that the EU prepares a new Road Map for renewable energy sources in the EU, with possible targets to 2020 and beyond in order to provide a stable investment climate to generate more competitive renewable energy in Europe.

Energy efficient and low carbon technologies constitute a rapidly growing international market that will be worth billions of Euros in the coming years. A strategic energy technology plan, as proposed in the fifth Action Area of the Green Paper, will ensure that European industries are world leaders in this new generation of technologies and processes.

Finally, the Green Paper stresses the need for a common external energy policy. In order to react to the challenges of growing demand, high and volatile energy prices, increasing import dependency and climate change, Europe needs to speak with a single voice in the international arena. To this end the Commission proposes that its Strategic Energy Policy Review should: identify infrastructure priorities for the EU's security of supply (including pipelines and LNG terminals) and agree concrete action to ensure that they are realised; provide a road-map for the creation of a pan-European Energy Community with a common regulatory space; identify a renewed approach with regard to Europe's partners, including Russia, the EU's most important energy supplier, reflecting our inter-dependence and finally propose a new Community mechanism to enable rapid and coordinated reactions to emergency external energy supply situations.

These are a selection of the suggestions outlined in the Green paper. On the basis of replies and comments to what will be a very widespread public consultation, as well as the conclusions of the European Council and Parliament, the Commission will propose a series of concrete measures.

Green Paper:


Context of EU energy policy development

Key EU energy challenges:

-There is an urgent need for investment. In Europe alone, to meet expected energy demand and to replace ageing infrastructure, investments of around one trillion euros will be needed over the next 20 years.
Our import dependency is rising. Unless we can make domestic energy more competitive, in the next 20 to 30 years around 70 % of the Union's energy requirements, compared to 50% today, will be met by imported products – some from regions threatened by insecurity.
Reserves are concentrated in a few countries. Today, roughly half of the EU's gas consumption comes from only three countries (Russia, Norway, and Algeria). On current trends, gas imports would increase to 80 % over the next 25 years.
Global demand for energy is increasing. World energy demand - and CO2 emissions – is expected to rise by some 60% by 2030. Global oil consumption has increased by 20% since 1994, and global oil demand is projected to grow by 1.6% per year.
Oil and gas prices are rising. They have nearly doubled in the EU over the past two years, with electricity prices following. With increasing global demand for fossil fuels, stretched supply chains and increasing dependence on imports, high prices for oil and gas are probably here to stay. This is difficult for consumers in the short term but may, however, trigger greater energy efficiency and innovation.
Our climate is getting warmer. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas emissions have already made the world 0.6 degrees warmer. If no action is taken there will be an increase of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees by the end of the century. All regions in the world – including the EU - will face serious consequences for their economies and ecosystems.
Europehas not yet developed fully competitive internal energy markets. Only when such markets exist will EU citizens and businesses enjoy all the benefits of security of supply and lower prices. To achieve this aim, interconnections should be developed, effective legislative and regulatory frameworks must be in place and be fully applied in practice, and Community competition rules need to be rigorously enforced. Furthermore, the consolidation of the energy sector should be market driven if Europe is to respond successfully to the many challenges it faces and to invest properly for the future.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Banks failing environment and social standards

full report here
executive summary here

A new study released by BankTrack and WWF today has found that there is a growing commitment to sustainable banking within the international banking sector. However, the report also highlighted the need for the sector to adopt more transparent financing policies, advancing sustainability while helping to reduce their exposure to risk.

The report, Shaping the Future of Sustainable Finance: Moving the Banking Sector from Promises to Performance, ranked the financing policies of 39 international banks across 13 issue areas, from climate change to human rights. The study also benchmarked the banks’ policies against international norms, and found that banks are failing to uphold environmental and social standards developed by UN agencies and other international bodies.

One of the foundations of sustainability is transparency and the report found a near total lack of publicly available information. The world has moved on from “trust me” to “show me” and without transparency even the more progressive banks leave themselves vulnerable to charges of “greenwash”.

Robert Napier, WWF-UK Chief Executive, said: “This report shows that whilst there has been some good work done by a few of the banks to develop policies the whole sector still has a long way to go. The lack of transparent policies can not only result in over-exploitation of environmental goods such as fisheries and forests but also in increased financial risk to the banks, resulting in transactions being jeopardised.”

“The first step on the way to sustainable banking is to increase the transparency of the banks’ policies,” said Jules Peck, WWF Global Policy Officer. “This report clearly sets out international standards for 13 issue areas and acts as a challenge to the banks to improve their performance. Generally banks in this report have vaguely worded policies, which include limited commitments, and fail to meet international standards, even those leading the rankings.”

Of the 39 banks surveyed, the report only found two cases where bank policies meet all or most of the relevant international standards or best practices, Rabobank’s adoption of the UN Draft Norms on Human Rights and HSBC’s adoption of the World Commission on Dams standards. The study also found that no bank has standards for fisheries and agriculture; only one bank has a policy specifically for dams (HSBC), extractive industries (ABN AMRO) and chemicals (HSBC); and that the vast majority of banks have no human rights guidelines.

“This study shows that the banks have some real blind spots when it comes to sustainability. Only eight banks – or 20 per cent of those surveyed – have a human rights policy, which is a huge gap given the importance of this issue,” said Johan Frijns, coordinator of BankTrack, an international network of advocacy NGOs monitoring the finance sector. “Before the banking sector congratulates itself too much for its successes it should take a hard look at this report and tackle those problem areas where progress is urgently needed.”

The study also serves as a reality check for the banks which have adopted the Equator Principles, a set of project finance policies based on the International Finance Corporation standards.

“This report shows the Equator Principles clearly cannot be considered best practice,” said Michelle Chan-Fishel of Friends of the Earth – US, who noted that banks adopting only the Equator Principles earned lower-than-average rankings. “First, the Equator Principles have always been weak in some areas, such as human rights. Second, this report identifies several examples where individual banks’ environmental and social policies go far beyond the Equator Principles in substance and scope.”

Finally, because public information was limited, the report only benchmarks the quality of the financing standards themselves, but does not attempt to evaluate their implementation or their effect.

“Good environmental and social standards on paper mean nothing if they ultimately do not make a positive difference in people’s lives,” said Andreas Missbach of Berne Declaration. “It is worrying that ABN AMRO, as one of the highest ranked banks, is involved in Shell’s highly destructive Sakhalin II oil and gas project along with lower-scoring ones like Credit Suisse.”

- ends -
Supporting Statements

Niall O'Shea, Responsible Shareholding Analyst, Co-operative Insurance Society, UK (investor in about half of the Equator Principles banks): “CIS endorses the view expressed in the WWF-UK report that while a few banks are taking a leadership role, the majority have yet to demonstrate that they are living up to their Equator Principles commitments. This is because of a lack of joined up disclosure and of adequate accountability mechanisms. The current revision of the Principles is an opportunity for the banks to convince stakeholders they intend to be judged by their actions in a way that is transparent and comparable.”

Paul Q. Watchman. Partner at international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and recognised expert on banking: “The report marks a new maturity and objectivity in the work of the NGO community. This is an important report and WWF and BankTrack are to be congratulated for methodically peeling away the rhetoric and collective epiphany of the banking community and focusing on the reality of what is being done by the banks to discharge their new found social and environmental responsibilities. For some banks it makes surprising, and I suspect for Chairmen and CEOs of a number of leading banks, unpalatable reading.

For some banks the lack of progress made since becoming an Equator Bank in terms of policy development or transparency must in some cases be galling and in others deeply disappointing. It will come as no surprise for those that know the project finance market that ABN AMRO and HSBC were leaders of the pack. However, there is little room for smugness on their part as what is truly surprising is how little effort they had to make to come top of the class, both were D+, the fourth lowest grade. Equally disappointing was the finding that over 50 per cent of the banks reviewed scored the lowest category, E. If this was the European Song Contest the singers would be put out of their misery by pulling the plug from the socket.

Not unnaturally after almost 3 years of the Equator Banks talking a good game, like Jerry Maguire’s client the NGO community has begun to lose patience with talk and want the banks to “show them the money.”

The banks should not see this as a threat but rise to the challenge set out in this outstanding report. Looking at the highly rated policies of the leading banks in the key social and environmental areas is a reasonable place to start. However, more fundamentally it is worth asking the question why 35 of the banks reviewed do not have a policy on the extractive industries or 31 of them do not have a policy on human rights. If WWF and BankTrack achieve nothing else they will have caused a lot of very important financial institutions to re-consider their position. Time, as they say in the movies, to see which of them will be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. My bet is that a number of Equator Bank Chairmen, such as Charles Prince at Citi and Sir John Bond at HSBC, will be kitting out their teams with running shoes.”

Editor's notes
• The report can also be found
• An overview of relevant bank policies can be found in our public archives, under resources
• The banks surveyed were: ABN AMRO, Banco Bradesco, Banco do Brasil, Banco Itaú, Barclays, BBVA, BNDES, BNP Paribas, Bank of America, Calyon, CIBC, Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group, Deutsche Bank, Dexia, Dresdner Bank, HBOS, HSBC Group, HVB Group, ING Group, JP Morgan Chase, KBC, Korean Development Bank, Manulife, MCC, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Mizuho Financial Group, Rabobank Group, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Scotia Bank, Société Général, Standard Chartered Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, UBS, Unibanco, Wells Fargo, West LB, and Westpac

Monday, March 06, 2006

New report considers co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and seeds

New report considers co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and seeds
The European Commission's Joint Research Centre is publishing case studies to identify how farmers can reduce the "adventitious" – unintended and unavoidable – presence of GM material in non-GM harvests. The objective of the report is to provide a science-based reference to support any future design and implementation of coexistence measures within the EU. The case studies covered crop and seed production of maize, sugar-beet and cotton. The report also examined the feasibility of producing conventional seeds in Europe under different thresholds for the presence of GM seeds. The study examines the issue at a regional scale through simulations using data on European agricultural landscapes, weather conditions and agricultural practices, rather than just the field-to-field analyses that have been done so far. It concludes that crop production at the 0.9 % threshold set by the EU is feasible, with few or no changes in agricultural practices, if adventitious GM presence in seeds does not exceed 0.5 %. The production of seed up to 0.5% GM seed would be possible with little or no change in current seed production practices.

The research carried out by a consortium[1] led by the Commission's in-house scientific service, DG Joint Research Centre, examined the issue of adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM crops. The term adventitious refers to an unintended and unavoidable presence under current farming practices. The EU legal framework for traceability and labelling of GMOs and GMO-derived products defines a threshold of 0.9 % for the adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM food and feed and provides a baseline for coexistence measures in agriculture. Based on simulations and expert opinions, the report finds that coexistence in crop production at the 0.9% threshold is feasible with few or no changes in agricultural practices. For maize, additional measures are needed for some fields particularly affected by cross-pollination due to their shape, size and relative position with respect to winds and neighbouring GM fields. The report looks in detail into the effectiveness and feasibility of such measures, for examp
le the introduction of isolation distances between GM and non-GM fields; sowing a non-GM maize buffer strip around GM fields; and using GM varieties with different flowering dates compared to non-GM varieties.

The report concludes that conventional (non-GM) seed production in Europe with adventitious GM presence not exceeding 0.5%[2] is feasible with few (maize) or no changes (sugar-beet and cotton) of current seed production practices. For maize seed production, such changes would build on existing practices (namely the implementation of larger isolation distances than those currently used to separate maize seed and maize crop production fields). In addition, lowering the seed threshold to 0.3 % would require additional measures (for example arranging GM and non-GM seed plots in the farm in a way that takes into account dominant winds). Finally, guaranteeing that maize seeds will contain no more than 0.1 % adventitious GM presence is not possible if co-existence measures are limited to action on individual farms or coordination between neighbouring farms.

While previous studies looking at the coexistence of GM and non-GM harvests were based on field-to-field analysis of cross-pollination, this new report moves the study of coexistence to a regional level. This has been made possible by running novel models, designed to address the spread of genes from GM crops to non-GM crops, with digitalised versions of actual European agricultural landscapes, regional meteorological conditions and agricultural practices. This has allowed the estimation of levels of adventitious GM presence in non-GM harvest resulting from cross-pollination from multiple fields and other sources, and over extended time periods.

In July 2003, the Commission published guidelines to help Member States develop strategies to ensure the effective co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic crops. A number of Member States have since notified legislation on co-existence.

The Commission will shortly publish a report on the measures taken across the EU, which will be fed into a conference to discuss the issue, co-hosted with the Austrian presidency, to be held in Vienna on 5-6 April. Following the conference, the Commission will decide if any further action needs to be taken at EU level.

The full report is available at the following website:


[1] Consortium formed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC)-Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS); Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, France); University of Applied Sciences of Weihenstephan (Germany); Desarrollo Agrario y Pesquero (DAP; Spain)

[2] Thresholds for the adventitious presence of GM seeds in conventional seed lots may be defined in accordance with Directive 2001/18/EC as well as with the crop specific Directives on the marketing of seeds. However, such thresholds have not yet been set and are still under discussion. This implies that currently all seed lots containing detectable traces of GM seeds have to be labelled as GM.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Green Living 101: Smart Eco-nomics

by Danielle Masterson

Lying somewhere between adolescence and becoming a "real" adult, we well-intentioned college students and recent grads struggle with integrating our big ideas and meager earnings into a compassionate life.

Yet, despite our limited incomes, our demographic is in a unique position. Believe it or not, our consumer habits and big ideas have the potential to change the way companies do business. By demanding sustainably produced products, those that are eco-friendly and human-rights sensitive, we can shift the chain of supply and demand toward greener technology and innovation.

Companies aren't the only ones interested in what we think. In the fall of 2005, a delegation of students from Ithaca College, Cornell, MIT, Harvard and Princeton was invited to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This is just one reminder that people need and desire to hear from us. We can have an impact as the next generation to inherit the Earth.

Being eco-nomically savvy doesn't require installing solar panels on your dorm roof or a windmill adjacent to the college football field, and luckily, leading an eco-friendly life is about more than the amount of money in your pocket. It's all about innovation, information and baby steps. You can start with something as simple as choosing an organic cotton t-shirt over conventional cotton, which requires more water, dangerous pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers than organic, and you would probably pay the same amount of money for either choice. While some green products can cost more than traditional consumer goods, don't turn away in sticker shock. Do a little price comparison and seek out green goods that are comparably priced with conventional items. For instance, Birkenstocks, which are made with recycled cork, natural latex and other renewable materials, will cost about the same as a good pair of synthetic-material shoes.

An independent spirit is an admirable trait, but we could all do with a little help now and then. So before you try to save the Earth by composting cafeteria food in the back of your car, take a moment to absorb the musings of someone who's been in your situation before. (And will doubtlessly stumble again!)

Spare Change

You've spent a fortune on textbooks, tuition and gasoline. If your pockets weren't threadbare before, they're gaping holes by now! Yet somehow, after selling your biology notes on eBay and skimping on laundry for a month, you've managed to scrape together enough change to make a shopping trip worthwhile. By now you've mastered the art of shopping for sales, discount outlets and sifting through thrift store racks for the best deals. Applying these same careful shopping techniques will make buying green just as affordable as buying conventional.

So where to begin? If you're headed to the mall, take a minute to browse Sweatshop Watch ( for a little background on sweatshops. You'd be surprised to find out just how many companies use unfair labor practices. Follow up by checking Trans Fair USA ( for a list of fair-trade retailers.

Avoid the price-friendly allure of discount clothing stores, as they make up for low costs to the consumers by buying them at a low price from sweatshops. Instead, seek out clothing made in the United States. Purchasing clothing made in the U.S. and other first-world countries doesn't guarantee sweat-free products, but since these countries have more stringent labor laws and more effective enforcement, there is less of a chance of garment workers being exploited.

Feeling inspired? Do a little research and find out where the apparel sold in your school's bookstore is produced, and start a Sweat-Free campaign on your campus. Many students have been successful in convincing campus bookstores to stock sweat-free, organic cotton collegiate apparel in support of fair trade and the organic cotton industry. See "Sweat-Free College Sweatshirts" at

What To Look For

Lucky for you, since green is the new black, it's getting easier to put your money where your ideals are without compromising them for a little name-brand hoopla. While browsing the clothes racks at your favorite haunt, be sure to check out the clothing tags. They do more than irritate the back of your neck. They provide info on where the clothes were manufactured and what they're made of. Look for clothes made with organic cotton, or at least fibers that require fewer or no pesticides like linen, wool and hemp. Avoid polyester and other petroleum-based synthetic fabrics such as rayon and nylon unless the label states that it's recycled.

Don't sweat the expense of organic clothing, which many have done before you. There are thrifty options! Check out American Apparel's "Sustainable Edition" organic cotton t-shirts, only $15 ( For cold winters, try Patagonia's sweatshirts and jackets made from Synchilla, the company's trademark fleece that utilizes post consumer recycled polyester (starting at $65;

Make a statement with your shoes by avoiding styles made from PVC vinyl, a plastic hazardous to our health and environment. There are shoes available in an array of styles, materials and prices to fit any foot.