Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Manomet report

A report by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, commissioned by the Massachusetts state government, was released finding that biomass emissions for energy have real climate impacts. The report contains lots of good insights and shows quite definitively that biomass emissions must be included in our estimates of the climate impact of products, industries or activities. It is an important report and an important advance in the discussion.

That said, the report makes two assumptions that tend to underestimate the impact of biomass emissions and thus under-sell the need for policy changes to take the real impacts of biomass emissions fully into account.

The first is the idea of 'replacement' as the goal of policy. The second is the idea that the comparison of biomass should be limited to fossil fuel emissions. Now, Manomet may have been working strictly under the terms of reference given to them by the Massachusetts state government. But the deficiencies should be pointed out nonetheless.

Replacement. The idea that the use of biomass starts to yield benefits once the forest or ecosystem 'replaces' the carbon once released is the wrong baseline. The forest in question, if left unharvested and not used as biomass, would not be static. It would grow and absorb additional carbon in most cases. Thus, in the period of 'replacement, the forest might go from 50 tons of carbon per unit area (let's say) to more: 60, 75, or some other amount. So, the real impact is greater than the measurement against 'replacement.' Replacement may be a useful measurement tool, like measuring a half-life of radioactivity, but it is not the full impact. If we leave more forests intact without harvest for longer periods, we will tend to have that much carbon and more. That last option is the best option for the climate and is where we should drive policy. (Aside: this policy can also be beneficial to land-owners, since we might enact policies that encourage them to keep their forests intact for longer, such as tax breaks for those doing so, something like the Conservation Reserve Program that is so successful.)

Comparisons of impact. The report compares emissions from biomass to emissions from fossil fuels. It's a useful exercise. But it's not our only option. And we need to make those options very clear so we can decide collectively how to get at the problem in the best way. Our choices are not limited to biomass or fossil fuels. Conservation of energy measures and investing in wind, water and solar options are also on the table, though under-invested in.

Here is what the report presents:

Fossil Fuel Technology Carbon Debt Payoff (yr)
Oil (£6), Thermal/CHP 5
Coal, Electric 21
Gas, Thermal 24
Gas, Electric >90

But a more robust analysis of options might look something more like this:

Alternative Carbon Debt Payoff (yr)
Oil (#6), Thermal/CHP 5
Coal, Electric 21
Gas, Thermal 24
Gas, Electric >90
Wind, Water, Solar ?, >150, >200 ?
Source Reduction 180, >240 ? ">?, >180, >240 ?

As I wrote earlier, these are already underestimates, but leaving out the fact that our best policy alternatives are not referenced is a weakness in the report.

Sincere congratulations to Manomet for advancing the debate, but let's not forget what our best options are: keeping more forests storing more carbon across the landscape for longer periods and swapping out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible for conservation, wind, water and solar.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Are APP and APRIL Undermining Indonesia's Agreement with Norway?

An investigation by Eyes on the Forest has found that two of the world’s largest paper companies, Shanghai-based Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Singapore-based APRIL, are undermining the recent agreement between Indonesia and Norway “to contribute to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and peatland conversion.”

The two companies together pulped five percent of the remaining natural forest in Sumatra’s Riau Province, twice the size of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, an analysis of 2009’s annual cutting licenses (RKT) shows that these licenses were issued for the extraction of high timber volumes per hectare. Most of the clearance of these high quality forests occurred on peat soil more than three meters deep in violation of existing law. Draining of peat soil and clearing of natural forests has been the main source of Indonesia’s huge greenhouse gas emissions.

“APP and APRIL are undermining our President’s commitment to reduce the country’s emissions by up to 41 percent. We call on APP and APRIL to immediately stop using any timber associated with the conversion of tropical rainforest and draining of peatlands,” said Ian Kosasih of WWF Indonesia.

Both companies have advertised for years that they would no longer use natural forest fiber for their pulp production by 2009. But Eyes on the Forest estimates that the 2009 permits they acquired to clear natural forest in Riau alone may represent up to 40% and 84% of the raw material needs of APP’s and APRIL’s Riau pulp mills, respectively.

In his agreement with Norway, the President committed to institute a two year moratorium on all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forest from January 2011. Yet immediately following the commitment, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry issued new permits to drain deep peat and clear natural forest in Riau. The new licenses may represent up to 29% and 50% of APP’s and APRIL’s Riau mill’s raw material needs. APP and APRIL seem to be in a great hurry to clear Riau’s remaining forests before the moratorium starts, putting the President into a very embarrassing position. To Eyes on the Forest, it appears the announcement of the moratorium has been a signal to clear even more forests, even faster.

The report from Eyes on the Forest finds that APP has been draining peat and clearing natural forests in Riau’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve while advertising globally its full support for the reserve. APP has been clearing crucial habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger increasing the often deadly conflicts between people and tigers, while widely advertising its contribution to tiger conservation in the same area in this “Year of the Tiger”. APP has been clearing High Conservation Value Forests that it had publicly committed to protect, while promoting its commitment to protect high conservation value forests in its PR campaigns.

The report also finds that APRIL has been clearing High Conservation Value Forests in deep peat areas, which WWF had delineated and the company had agreed to protect. By doing so APRIL broke the agreement with its international auditor, Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood Program, who suspended the company’s FSC Controlled Wood certificate.

Learn more.....

Friday, July 02, 2010

Groups Sue to Stop GE Trees Release in Southern United States

An alliance of conservation organizations today sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its approval of open-air field tests of a genetically engineered (GE) hybrid of eucalyptus tree across the southern United States. The permit, issued to a company called ArborGen, which is a joint initiative of International Paper, MeadWestvaco and Rubicon, was approved May 12 with minimal environmental review. It authorizes the experimental planting and flowering of a new, genetically engineered hybrid on 28 secret sites across seven southern states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

“In refusing to prepare a detailed environmental review, the Department of Agriculture ignored serious risks before permitting this action,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal agencies can’t be allowed to neglect their duty to the public trust. Once this genie is out of the bottle and escapes to neighboring lands, it’s irreversible.”

ArborGen hopes its GE “cold-tolerant” Eucalyptus will become widely planted for pulp and biomass. But eucalyptus trees are not native to the United States and are known to become invasive, displacing native wildlife and plants in various areas around the country and increasing wildfire risk. “Releasing GE cold-tolerant Eucalyptus trees into the wild in multiple states greatly increases the risk they will spread uncontrollably throughout the region,” said Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club.

In approving the GE eucalyptus permits, the Department of Agriculture ignored the concerns of numerous agencies and scientists, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, which formally criticized the proposed open field tests of these genetically engineered trees.

In addition to approving these test sites, Agriculture is also considering a “deregulation” petition submitted by ArborGen that would allow widespread commercial planting of GE Eucalyptus without any limits or regulation. According to the U.S. Forest Service, GE Eucalyptusplantations in the southern United States would use more than twice the water of pine plantations in a region already suffering from a depleted water supply.

The Government Accountability Office and USDA inspector general have both issued sharply critical reports on the USDA’s management of genetically engineered organism (GMO) field tests. In 2006, a GE rice field test contaminated southern U.S. long-grain rice fields, causing billions in losses to farmers; in 2007, a federal court found that a GE bentgrass field test had contaminated a protected national grassland in Oregon. “The Department of Agriculture continues to tell the public that no further restrictions are needed on these novel organisms,” said George Kimbrell, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “In light of history, their empty promises here ring hollow.”

To read comments submitted by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, click here.

To read comments submitted by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, click here.

The organizations that filed suit today are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance, International Center for Technology Assessment, Center for Food Safety and Global Justice Ecology Project.