Tag Archive | "European Union"

Agricultural engineer says tobacco could be used to produce biofuels

Good news this week for tobacco growers, especially in emerging nations, worried that the health risks from smoking might one day affect their business following the revelation that their plants could help power the next generation of motor cars.

Research from the Public University of Navarre in Spain has reportedly shown that genetically modified tobacco plants are viable as raw material for producing biofuels.

Ruth Sanz-Barrio, an agricultural engineer at the university and a researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology, revealed this month that specific tobacco proteins – known as thioredoxins – as biotechnological tools in plants, which can be used to produce biofuels.

Specifically, she has managed to increase the amount of starch produced in the tobacco leaves by 700% and fermentable sugars by 500%.

“We believe these genetically modified plants could be a good alternative for producing biofuels,”Sanz-Barrio told European journalists .

“With these sugars, according to the theoretical calculation provided by the National Centre for Renewable Energies, one could obtain up to 40 litres of bioethanol per tonnes of fresh leaves.”

China is the world’s largest tobacco grower producing four times more than the second biggest India with Brazil and the USA in third and fourth place.

Thirteen countries in Europe grow tobacco including Spain, home to the university, the largest producer Italy and neighboring France, which has produced its unique dark tobacco cigarettes for more than a century. Tobacco production in the EU has fallen dramatically in the past two decades as farming subsidies were withdrawn and fewer people took up smoking and now accounts for just 4% of world production.


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Bumpy skies ahead

In perhaps one of the most ambitious attempts to curtail carbon emissions, the European Union has unilaterally sought to widen the scope of its Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) to cover the Aviation industry. The scheme consists of a cap-and-trade policy, whereby all airlines would have their annual emissions capped at a stated limit, which if exceeded would obligate the purchase of carbon credits from other organisations whose emissions have been below the capped amount, creating an economic incentive to reduce emissions.
The furor this measure has engendered among developing and developed countries has signaled something of a watershed moment for climate change policy-making. It is clearly obvious that the EU ETS would punish pollutants in one of the worst CO2 emitting industries on our planet today, whilst encouraging greater focus on cutting emissions and being environmentally friendly. Global politics and the new realities emerging from the ongoing economic crisis has helped to shape the context of this debate, there are never any black and white arguments in international trade agreements, only shades of grey.
A recent analysis of the potential impact of the EU ETS carried out by Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, found that airlines would be forced to pay around 500m Euros for the carbon emissions they cause. This figure might seem steep but when put in the context that according to the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, 9.7 million flights are expected to fly in European airspace in 2012 it does beg for a more pragmatic analysis of the slight disparity between the Public Relations campaign being forcefully engaged in by the airline industry and reality. Understandably, unilateral decision making doesn’t make you many friends, and this is no different with the EU’s attempt to be on the fore-front of the climate change issue. Engaging with stakeholders, creating a consensus and moving forward in a group, something which world leaders have tried and failed to do at almost every single climate change summit in recent history, is a more favorable option.
The EU, known to be more left-leaning and welfare conscious, appears motivated by this lack of concerted action in dealing with the continued increase in pollution. Whilst environmentalists look with horror at the associated and expected increases in emissions from economic development in the developing world, the developing world can perceive an unjust hypocrisy in these same environmental measures – as stalling the economic growth they may see as a key to lifting their people out of poverty and into prosperity.
With key states such as the United States, Russia, China and India banning their airlines from taking part in the EU ETS, it is clear that this unilateral approach which the EU has adopted may have an utterly negative affect on consensus building for environmental and climate change policy globally.
Potential scenarios in the event of non-adherence have been said to include the impounding of aircraft, withdrawal from Open Skies agreements and other measures that may degenerate into an unprecedented 21st Century ‘trade war’, where ironically the biggest loss will be felt in areas supposedly championed by the most vocal supporters on either side – international trade and the environment.

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Eyes skyward

As part of the EU Directive 2008/10/101/EC, the aviation carbon tax has been effective for all air travel to or from the EU as of 1 January 2012. Following closely in its wake is the possibility of the EU issuing a similar maritime carbon tax, which could cause a second wave of outrage across the world. BGreen Editor Praseeda Nair examines the Middle East’s stance in this global debate.

It’s been a long time coming. The controversial aviation carbon tax imposed by the European Union on all flights entering or leaving the zone has been in the pipeline for more than 4 years. Still, four months since its imposition, countries around the world dependent on the aviation and logistics sector have been voicing their protest vehemently.
Launched in 2005 to combat climate change, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) expects large emitters of carbon dioxide within their region to monitor and report their yearly CO2 emissions, returning an amount of allowance equal to their emissions to the government. By monetising emissions, in theory, the EU-ETS serves as a pivotal model encouraging heavy polluting industries to behave responsibly, making them accountable for their role in climate change. While this regional model may have a strong case for mitigating climate change, many international air carriers believe that imposing the same unwavering demands on interdependent developing economies may not be fair.
The rationale
By 2020, it is estimated that a total of 183 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved per year on the flights covered, a 46% reduction compared with business as usual levels. The environmental impact of including aviation in the EU-ETS is based on the need to curb the industry’s exponential emissions to remain below its 2004 to 2006 level. Under the scheme, airlines are encouraged to make reductions through their emission-controlling innovations, and are given the option of buying additional allowances on the market or investing in emission-saving projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s mechanisms. Following this line of reasoning, the European Commission forecasts that the aviation industry will be the second largest sector in terms of emissions, after electricity generation.
According to the EC, direct emissions from aviation account for about 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “For example, someone flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year. Emissions are forecast to continue growing for the foreseeable future,” the EC quotes. The large majority of these emissions comes from international flights. As this figure does not include indirect warming effects, such as those from NOx emissions, contrails and cirrus cloud effects, the actual impact of the aviation industry is estimated to be about 2 to 4 times higher than the effect of its past emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The EU Council of Economic and Finance Ministers asserts that “the carbon pricing of global aviation and maritime transportation would generate the necessary price signal to efficiently achieve more emission reductions from these sectors and that carbon pricing of global aviation and maritime transportation have as well the potential to generate large financial flows.”
The Council invites “the (European) Commission to prepare a reflection paper by June (2012) on carbon pricing of global aviation and maritime transportation taking into account the developments in IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and previous work by AGF (UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Climate Change Financing) and by the World Bank and other international organisations for the G20.”

Negative reactions
Objections centre on the unilateral and mandatory nature of the scheme, as well as the belief that since the current situation regarding climate change is the result of the accumulated GHG emissions of developed countries over the past two centuries, it is not justifiable to impose the same rules on developing countries through the payment of carbon taxes.
The argument against the scheme suggests that in addition to championing environmental change, the EU could use this programme to expand its export capacity in global low-carbon technologies and up-and-coming green aviation strategies. Opposition to the scheme also purports that it aims to tackle the region’s internal debt crises.
On 1 March, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Hong Lei, expressed China’s opposition to the EU’s imperative. “The issues of international aviation and maritime transport emission have to be dealt with in the multilateral framework,(and) cannot break away from the basic legal framework of UNFCCC and KP (Kyoto Protocol), and cannot violate the principles of CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities) and equity,” she stated on the Ministry’s website.

International discontent
A multinational discussion on the scheme was held in late September last year at New Delhi, India. The countries present from the Middle East included Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The consensus at the meeting seemed to be that the EU-ETS was violating the Chicago Convention, as outlined by the World Trade Organisation on international aviation.
A Joint Delhi Declaration was adopted after the discussion, on the basis of collaboration and mutual agreement to address aviation emissions. It called upon ICAO to continue to undertake efforts to reduce aviation emissions contribution to climate change, while strongly opposing the EU’s plan to include all flights by non-EU carriers to and from their territories in its emissions trading system.
More recently, in February this year, a second meeting took place in Moscow with participation from 29 countries. The subsequent declaration stated that the inclusion of international civil aviation in the EU-ETS leads to serious market misrepresentation and unfair competition. Among a series of actions suggested in the declaration was the possible imposition of additional levies or charges on EU carriers as a form of countermeasure.

The Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO)
Representing the interests of commercial airlines in the Arab world, The Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO), has opposed the EU-ETS as well, on the grounds that it violates international conventions and would lead to trade wars.
At a meeting held in Doha, the AACO passed a declaration calling on the EU to work with the ICAO on a global rather than Europe-wide solution, according to a statement issued by member carrier, Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker called the ETS as a flat-out unnecessary tax on aviation, which will undoubtedly affect the Middle East the most. “ETS is going to be the most important thing in the future, especially for Middle Eastern carriers, because we are…emitting more C02 compared to our peers in Europe and other places because we are introducing more aircraft,” he stated at the recently held Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.
Citing efficient engines issued by GE, Pratt and Rolls Royce, Al Baker called out the scheme for being an environmental front. “This is just unfortunately a cover up for the inefficiencies of the European Union and management of their finances,” he said. “This I think is only an indirect way of collecting more taxes – but I don’t know what they will do with all this money – and to cover up the mismanagement they have been having in their finances for the last couple of decades.”
About a quarter of Emirates’ global operations are in Europe, and as a result, the airlines has valued its expenses at almost US$52 million this year for additional emission allowances, while Etihad has projected US$394 million for the next nine years of its European legs.
A spokesperson from Etihad Airways voiced the company’s position in a statement: “Etihad Airways remains opposed to this scheme. We consider it to be more an anti-competitive tax on non-European airlines than an attempt to promote environmentally sustainable practice by the aviation industry.”
Georges Hannouche, CEO of Bayanat Airports Engineering and Supplies, warned the direct effect the ETS could have on our region, considering the fact that the number of commercial aircrafts will increase from the present 950 to 2440 by the year 2029. The Middle East will record a 7.1% increase in passenger transport numbers annually until the year 2029, while it will be 6.8% annual growth for the freight segment. “The aviation industry is doing a great deal to limit its environmental impact, although it is not the major contributor to the problem. There are not many industries like the aviation which is operating 20% more efficiently now than 10 years ago with ambitious plans to improve further by the year 2020. Implementing green technologies, developing new initiatives in the bio-fuel field, using modern and fuel efficient fleet will certainly have a big impact on limiting the greenhouse gas emissions,” he said, confident of the UAE’s move towards green aviation.

Passing the buck
Both UAE-based airlines, Emirates and Etihad, warn of potential ticket price hikes in the future. According to Hannouche, Etihad Airways will increase the fuel surcharge by US$3 (AED11) per passenger and $0.03 per kg for cargo shipments. “Additional costs per passenger are estimated at €1.50 – €3.50. Whether this can be passed on to the customers depends upon the competitive position of the airlines,” he said.
The European Commission’s stance on this is clear: including aviation in the EU ETS is not meant to directly affect or regulate air transport tickets. They speculate that “the impact on ticket prices will probably be minor. Assuming airlines fully pass on these extra costs to customers, by 2020 the ticket price for a return flight within the EU could rise by between €1.8 and €9.” Still, the body justifies this as being no different to the extra costs airlines have passed on to consumers due to rising world oil prices in recent years.

Global aviation trade body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates the ruling will cost airlines $1.17 billion this year, inflating to $3.5 billion by 2020.
According to IATA, aviation has made global commitments to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% annually to 2020, to cap net emissions from 2020 and to cut net emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.
Hypothetically, this could mean more foot traffic in strategically located airports in the Middle East, which could break up long haul flights as carbon tax is calculated on the shorter leg of flights. In light of all these loopholes, the effectives of the carbon trading scheme may be seriously undercut.

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