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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 11th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

[Comment] Transport – go green or go under.
RUPERT WOLFE MURRAY, from Romania – an Olinion on EUobserver, September 10, 2008.

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT – Are there any political leaders in the EU who say we must (urgently) move towards renewable-energy-transport and that road-building can no longer be our top transport priority?

The issue is getting urgent and we must prepare for the risk of oil depletion and global warming, which could result in a six-metre rise in sea levels.

(Rupert Wolfe Murray is an independent consultant based in Romania.)

Even a small risk of oil running out should be enough to make us urgently review our transport sector. The economic arguments are powerful: There is big money to be made by “electrifying” Europe’s transport fleets and the car industry is indeed quietly moving towards the electric car. But the political will is missing.

The “Peak Oil Theory” of global oil supplies “peaking” in 2012 was not taken seriously by the mainstream until recently. That attitude is starting to change. Shell Oil recently sponsored an advert in Time Magazine that quoted a former US energy secretary as saying: “We can’t continue to make supply meet demand for much longer. It’s no longer the case that we have a few voices crying in the wilderness. The battle is over. The peakists have won.”

If oil did peak, the consequences for our transport system, food supply and economic system would be devastating. Although there is growing interest in renewable energy, it is still considered somewhat marginal, uncompetitive and untested. There is no sign of a “rush to renewables” that could be compared to the “dash to gas” that took place in the UK during the 1980s. We are still tinkering at the margins.

The EU’s new transport policy must be based upon renewable energy. The first challenge is a conceptual one: People need to understand that a transport system can function on electricity just as efficiently as it now does on oil. The case for a renewable transport system needs to be communicated to the public and a massive investment plan worked out.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a combination of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power could provide us with a carbon-free power supply. The most exciting developments seem to be taking place in the solar energy industry, where prices are falling rapidly.

***


European electrical grid to northern Africa:

A German utility recently commissioned a study into extending the European electrical grid to northern Africa – a potential major supplier of solar energy. Apparently Morocco could provide all of Europe with electricity if three percent of the country was covered with solar panels. Cost is a major barrier here, but if we consider that global companies will spend $3.4 trillion on IT this year according to Gartner, a consultancy, it is clear that the cash is available.

Another barrier to the development of electricity as a replacement fuel is the challenge of storing electricity. The electric car could provide a solution to this problem. The concept is simple: electric cars would charge up at night, when electricity is cheap, and during the day the grid could draw off some electric power from individual cars, when extra power is needed.

According to the Zero Carbon Britain group, if Britain’s car fleet became electric, it would provide the grid with more than enough reserve energy to meet any surges in demand.

Electric cars, bicycles and improved public transport could take care of almost all transport requirements at the urban level. But what about long distance transport? There is talk of biofuel and hydrogen fuelled planes, but the future for these fuels does not look promising.

***

The train from Naples to New York:

A strong transport policy would confront the energy and transport lobbies and phase out aviation altogether, replacing it with high-speed trains and wind-powered ships. A French train recently broke the 500-km-an-hour speed record.

If the Russians and Americans took the plunge, they could build an “Intercontinental Peace Bridge” across the Bering Straits and it might be possible to one day get a train from Naples to New York.

What about freight? Our economic system has become so dependent on big trucks that it is hard to think what could replace them. Europe’s freight-train infrastructure has become so neglected – with the exception of Germany – that upgrading it would cost trillions of Euros.

But there is another alternative: the airship. Interest in airships is currently growing and scientists say that future “freight airships” could pick up containers directly from a factory yard, fly across the world and deliver inside another factory yard. We need to urgently develop these future forms of transport before it is too late.

Rupert Wolfe Murray is an independent consultant based in Romania and author of the blog: www.productive.ro/blog

———–

Melting ice cap pushes Arctic up EU agenda.
New transit routes across the Arctic present great commercial opportunities and enormous environmental risks.

LEIGH PHILLIPS, EUobserver, September 10, 2008.

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The rapid melting of the polar ice cap in the Arctic offers Europe a “first-time opportunity” to access new trade routes and massive oil and gas deposits, the European Commission has said – developments that are pushing the EU’s polar strategy up the policy agenda.

Speaking in Ilulissat, Greenland, on Tuesday (9 September) to a conference of the Nordic Council of Ministers dedicated to Arctic issues, the EU’s fisheries and maritime affairs commissioner Joe Borg said: “As the ice recedes, we are presented with a first-time opportunity to use transport routes such as the Northern Sea Route.

“This would translate into shorter transportation routes and greater trading possibilities, and will provide a better opportunity to draw upon the wealth of untapped natural resources in the Arctic,” Mr Borg told the council, an intergovernmental forum for co-operation between the Nordic countries established after the Second World War.

The Nordic Council brings together EU member states Denmark, Finland and Sweden alongside Norway and Iceland – both outside the bloc – as well as the autonomous territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Aland Islands.

:

In his speech, Mr Borg also highlighted a document published earlier this year by the commission jointly with the EU’s chief diplomat, Javier Solana, that mapped out the latest thinking from Brussels on the security implications of climate change.

The seven-page paper authored by Mr Solana and commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, distributed to EU government leaders in March, argued that the European Union should boost its civil and military capacities to respond to “serious security risks” resulting from catastrophic climate change.

The paper, Climate Change and International Security, underlined the risks and opportunities presented by the melting Arctic, alongside concerns about increased numbers of migrants, territorial disputes, water shortages in Israel and decreases in crop yields in the broader Middle East. Political radicalisation as a result of climate insecurity, sea-level rises and extreme weather events also present security challenges, according to the report.

Commissioner Borg emphasised the centrality of the Arctic in EU security thinking: “This document highlights the growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic region … [with the] opening up [of] new waterways and international trade routes, and the increased accessibility to the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region.

“This accessibility, in conjunction with territorial claims, is changing the geo-strategic dynamics of the region with potential consequences for international stability and for European security, trade and resource interests,” he added.

Regional governance:

Later this year, the commission is to present a communication dedicated to the Arctic region that will tackle issues related to climate change as well as regional governance.

The communication is to propose three main actions. Firstly, the commission is to propose measures supporting scientific research and monitoring with the aim of safeguarding the Arctic environment.

The commission is also interested in the exploitation of Arctic resources such as hydrocarbons and other commodities. The commissioner underscored that this must be done in a sustainable manner, but he also said that the communication hopes to outline how all regions that border the Arctic could gain equal access to such bounty.

“We should seek to apply the principles of a level playing field and reciprocal market access in the Arctic,” he said.

The commissioner also said the EU should seek to ensure equal access to any new fishing opportunities via new regulation and work towards an international fisheries conservation and management scheme for the Arctic – something which has never been implemented.

The third element of the commission’s new thinking on the Arctic is developing the governance of the region.

Noting that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and work performed by the Nordic Council, the Arctic Council and other bodies have already played something of a function in this area, the commissioner said: “Nevertheless, we should be open to develop this system further,” he said, adding that international environmental treaties that apply to the Arctic should be revisited.

In June, the Nordic Council published an extensive study of EU-Arctic policies, and called on the bloc to establish a self-standing Arctic-dedicated unit within the European Commission. The document also suggested the EU needed to “establish, intensify and possibly formalise international co-operation with Arctic regional bodies”.

‘Crazy situation’

Environmentalists agree with the commission that the melting ice cap is a brute fact and that in the absence of appropriate governance, there could be a ‘scramble for the Arctic’ without movement by the EU in this direction.

“There is no environmental management framework for the Arctic,” Neil Hamilton, the director of the WWF’s Arctic programme.

“There is overlapping legislation in various countries, but nothing Arctic-specific, with a result that everyone is looking to Arctic exploitation instead of sustainable development.

“We have a crazy situation where every one is rushing to get into fishing, shipping and oil and gas, but no one’s looking at the manner in which it will occur.”

“It’s not that there should be no exploitation at all,” qualified Mr Hamilton. “Instead, there should be effective management, which we take to mean collaborative management between the different countries.

“Done right, it could be a model for oil and gas extraction for the world.”

But green groups are clear that the emphasis should be on sustainable development, rather than the rush for resources.

“On the other hand, if you open up shipping routes, it could have significant global implications.

“The worst-case scenario would be oil spills in the Arctic, which are impossible to clean up, given the conditions there. And a spill in the Arctic would be catastrophic.”

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