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Cezary P / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Chloe Farand

The Polish government has implemented a terrorism alert in the province where the annual UN climate talks are about to start.

Climate campaigners are warning of a tense atmosphere in and around the city of Katowice in southern Poland, where the global climate negotiations, known as COP24, are due to kick off on Monday.

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Amidst a carpet of green lichen, flowers blossom on a fallen tree trunk in the Bialowieza forest. Konrad Skotnicki / Greenpeace

By Janice Pereira, Unearthed

Despite repeated warnings from the European Union, the Polish government continues to defy orders to stop logging operations in the ancient Bialowieza forest.

It started more than a year ago as a formal request by the European Commission, asking Poland to stop logging activity that violates the bloc's wildlife protection laws. Now the battle between the European Commission and the Polish government is being fought in the highest court of the European Union.

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Poland—home to some of the most bike-friendly cities in the world—unveiled a gorgeous, glowing bike path near Lidzbark Warminski in the Mazury region last week to help nighttime cyclists get from A to B.

Poland debuts its first bicycle path that lights up at night.Gazeta Wyborcza screen grab

The 100-meter track, created by construction company TPA Instytut Badan Technicznych in Pruszkow, is still in test phase.

Next Nature Network reported that the bike path illuminates at night thanks to blue luminophores, a synthetic material that emits light after being charged by the sun. The color blue was chosen for the path because the engineers thought it would best suit the scenic Mazury landscape.

TPA president Ruttmar told Polish publication Gazeta Wyborcza that the material used for their track can emit light for more than 10 hours, meaning it can radiate throughout the whole night and re-charge the next day as it absorbs the sun's rays.

The engineers drew inspiration from a similar solar-powered bike path in the Netherlands known as the "Starry Night" bike lane that was unveiled by Studio Roosegaarde about two years ago.

The two paths, however, are different in a notable way. While the Dutch path lights up via solar-powered LEDs, the Polish path requires no additional power supply, Waldemar Królikowski, director of the Board of Regional Roads in Olsztyn, said.

According to Inhabitat, TPA designed the path with sustainability in mind. The company is also researching ways to optimize production costs since this illuminated bike path indeed costs more than conventional ones.

Check out the bike lane in the video (in Polish) below.

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Activists from across the world came together this past Saturday to be part of a global movement calling for an end to the age of coal and standing together for a clean energy future.

In Istanbul, youth activists attending Global Power Shift joined local groups to march the streets calling for an end to the age of coal. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace International.

From the U.S. to the Philippines, Australia to Turkey and South Africa to Italy; Local, national and international organizations came together with individuals in the streets to stand against the world’s dirtiest form of energy, which has dominated the energy sector for too long.

In Turkey, youth activists from across the globe attending Global Power Shift, joined with local groups in Istanbul, carrying a banner which read "Mandela, You Inspire Us" in tribute to the former South African president, they marched through the city’s streets.

Meanwhile in South Africa, more than 100 activists met in Johannesburg’s Gandhi Square with a symbolic anti-coal installation calling on the government to unplug coal power.

Protestors in South Africa call on the government to unplug from coal. Photo Courtesy of Greenpeace South Africa.

In Italy, Greenpeace activists displayed a huge floating banner reading “No Carbone—Quit Coal” in the sea alongside the Enel coal power station in Civitapvecchia, close to Rome, while an installation on dry land aimed to highlight the human impacts of the coal industry.

And in India, the day of action brought groups together from across the Vidharbha region affected by coal mining to share their frustrations, and come up with ideas on how to help each other to end the age of coal in their communities.

Burning coal remains the biggest contributor to climate change, which is already causing devastation and human suffering around the globe as intense storms, droughts and water shortages hit.

This year, the world passed a historic milestone, as concentrations of greenhouse gases passed the 400 parts per million threshold—reaching levels not seen for 3 million years.

Meanwhile, organizations from the World Bank to the International Energy Agency have warned against the impact that continued investments in fossil fuels would have on the planet, and health professionals continue to warn about the health impacts of coal—what they have named, “the silent epidemic.”

In Italy local groups highlighted the health risks of coal in their protests. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Italy.

Despite such warnings, 1,200 new coal plants and mega coal mines are planned in countries across the world including China, India, Australia, Indonesia, the U.S., Poland and Germany. If allowed to go ahead, these could push the planet beyond the point of no return.

This weekend, activists showed they would not longer stand by allow the advancement of coal to threaten their futures. Standing together, they called for an end to the use of the dirty fuel and to put pressure on governments to switch to clean, sustainable, renewable energy.

The day of action was supported by a coalition of more than 50 national and international organizations that span the globe, including Greenpeace, 350.orgAvaazCoalSwarm.orgEnvironmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and TradeFriends of the Earth International and Sierra Club's International Climate Program.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and RENEWABLES pages for more related news on this topic.

Earth Policy Institute

By J. Matthew Roney

Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people.

Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This was a marked slowdown from the previous two years, when new installations averaged 18,000 megawatts annually. Reasons for the drop-off include concerns about project quality and inadequate electricity transmission and grid infrastructure, which prompted the government to approve fewer projects and to restrict lending. Still, all told, China leads the world with 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity: more than a quarter of the world total.

In a country more readily associated with coal-fired electricity and nuclear power ambitions, wind reached some impressive milestones in China’s energy mix in 2012. Wind-generated electricity increased more than coal-fired electricity did for the first time. Even more remarkable, the electricity produced by wind farms over the course of the year exceeded that produced by nuclear power plants. And this is just the beginning: with massive wind projects under development across its northern and eastern provinces, and 19 ultra-high-voltage transmission projects connecting windy rural areas to population centers (all to be completed by 2014), more milestones lie ahead in China. Consulting firms GTM Research and Azure International project that China will reach 140,000 megawatts of wind by 2015 and nearly 250,000 megawatts by 2020.

The U.S. wind industry made headlines too. More new wind electricity generating capacity was added in 2012 than any other generation technology, including natural gas—a record 13,100 megawatts. An incredible 5,200 megawatts, spread among 59 wind farms, came online in December alone as developers raced to qualify for the federal production tax credit before it was set to expire at the end of the year. The U.S. remains second only to China, with 60,000 total megawatts of wind capacity—enough to power more than 14 million U.S. homes.

Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list. In Texas, a further 21,000 megawatts of wind projects are under consideration, much of which could be accommodated by the “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” high-voltage transmission projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. These new lines will connect wind-rich West Texas and the panhandle with high-demand markets to the east. (See data).

Wind farms generated at least 10 percent of the electricity produced in nine states in 2012, up from five states the year before. Iowa and South Dakota got nearly a quarter of their electricity from wind. Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, commissioned in 2012, is North America’s largest. But in Carbon County, Wyoming, a project of up to 3,000 megawatts is under development.

To the north, Canada’s 6,500 megawatts of wind power are sufficient to meet the electricity needs of nearly 2 million households. As Ontario, the country’s most populous province, works to phase out coal-fired power by 2014, its wind generation is growing—in fact, Ontario’s wires carried more electricity from wind than from coal for the first time in 2012.

The European Union (EU) added more megawatts of wind in 2012 than it did natural gas, coal, or nuclear, even as fiscal austerity measures cut renewable energy incentives. Several EU member states lead the world in the share of electricity they get from wind farms. Spain and Portugal typically have a 16 percent wind share. In Germany, whose 30,000 megawatts of wind capacity are the third highest in the world, the national wind share is 11 percent. Four of Germany’s northern states now get roughly half of their electricity from wind.

But it is Denmark that sets the bar for wind’s role in electricity production. The Danish Wind Industry Association reports that wind farms generated 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity in 2012, up from 28 percent in 2011. The government pledged in late 2011 to boost this share to 50 percent by 2020.

Looking eastward, Romania and Poland each added roughly 900 megawatts of wind in 2012, reaching 2,500 and 1,900 megawatts, respectively. Turkey’s goal is to reach 20,000 megawatts of wind in the next 10 years, nearly 10 times its current capacity.

Aside from China, India is the other big Asian wind market. With more than 18,000 megawatts installed, India ranks fifth worldwide in wind capacity. The government plans to spend roughly $8 billion on grid and transmission upgrades by 2017 through its “green energy corridors” plan. This is sorely needed in a country where nearly 300 million people do not have access to electricity.

Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania have enormous wind potential but little actual development thus far. Activity in each of these regions, however, indicates seriousness about harnessing the wind. In Latin America, Mexico more than doubled its wind capacity to almost 1,400 megawatts in 2012. Brazil, where wind installations grew 75 percent in 2012, could add another 1,500 megawatts in 2013 to reach 4,000 megawatts total.

Just 100 megawatts of wind were installed in all of Africa in 2012, split between Ethiopia and Tunisia. Kenya’s long-awaited 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind farm, which could generate more than 10 percent of national electricity, has suffered multiple setbacks but may begin construction in 2013. No new wind projects came online in the Middle East. Jordan is looking to grow its currently negligible wind power to 1,200 megawatts by 2020, however, and plans are also under way in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In Australia, the goal is to get 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Half of the country’s current 2,600 megawatts of wind is in the state of South Australia, where wind farms generated 24 percent of all electricity in 2012. The January 2013 commissioning of the 420-megawatt Macarthur wind farm in the state of Victoria gets the country halfway to its expected 30 percent wind growth for the year.

Most of the world’s installed wind capacity is land-based; just 2 percent—roughly 5,400 megawatts—has been built offshore. Recently, however, offshore development has accelerated, more than tripling over the last five years. Ten of the 12 countries with offshore wind farms are European. The United Kingdom hosts more than half of the world’s offshore capacity and aims for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020; its offshore wind resources are actually estimated to be 16 times larger than its electricity consumption. In Denmark, some 15 percent of electricity is expected to come from offshore wind farms by 2014.

China and Japan are the only offshore wind producers outside of Europe, hosting 390 megawatts and 25 megawatts, respectively. With 130 megawatts installed in 2012 alone, China has quickly amassed the world’s third largest offshore capacity figure; the country’s near-term offshore targets are 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and 30,000 by 2020. In the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan is looking to harness more of its offshore wind, a resource plentiful enough to meet national electricity needs nearly three times over. And in South Korea, numerous offshore projects are under way, as the country’s wind industry aims to reach 23,000 megawatts of wind power by 2030.

According to Navigant Research, new wind installations worldwide will fall to some 40,000 megawatts in 2013. This would be the first instance in at least 17 years when annual additions did not increase year-to-year. Much of this deceleration will likely be the result of a slowdown in U.S. development. Still, the annual market is expected to rebound in 2014 as costs continue to fall, as major players recover, and as newcomers in Africa, the Middle East and the Baltic region begin to realize their wind ambitions. GWEC and Greenpeace International project at least 425,000 megawatts of wind capacity worldwide by 2015—enough to generate electricity for all of Central and South America. The world is starting to realize that wind’s potential is almost without limit.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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International Union for Conservation of Nature TRAFFIC

Photo courtesy of Anti-poaching Unit, Zimbabwe

Escalating levels of poaching and illegal trade in rhino horns are seriously undermining rhino conservation efforts, putting the survival of these species at risk—according to a report by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and TRAFFIC.
 
The report examines the conservation status and trade in African and Asian rhino species.
 
“The findings of the report are alarming,” says Tom Milliken, a rhino expert from TRAFFIC. “Today, rhino poaching and illegal horn trade are at their highest levels in over 20 years, threatening to reverse years of conservation effort, particularly in Africa. There is no doubt that rhino species are facing a serious crisis.”
 
According to the report, by the beginning of 2011 there were 20,165 White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and 4,880 Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Africa. However, at least 1,997 rhinos were poached between 2006 and September 2012 and over 4,000 rhino horns have been illegally exported from Africa since 2009, with an estimated 92 percent of these coming from rhinos specifically killed to obtain their horn.
 
South Africa, home to 83 percent of Africa’s rhinos and 73 percent of all wild rhinos worldwide, is the principal source of rhino horns in illegal trade. A record 668 rhinos were poached there in 2012, according to official government figures released in January 2013.

Photo Courtesy of Simon Milledge/TRAFFIC

Illegal trade in rhino horns involves highly organized, mobile and well-financed criminal groups, mainly composed of Asian nationals based in Africa. These networks have recruited pseudo-hunters including Vietnamese citizens, Thai prostitutes and proxy hunters from the Czech Republic and Poland to obtain rhino horns in South Africa on the pretense of trophy hunts for illegal commercial trade. Pseudo-hunting has significantly reduced as a result of a decision to prevent nationals of Vietnam from obtaining hunting licenses and changes to South African law in April 2012. However, there remains a continued need to ensure that only bona fide hunters are granted permits, according to the report.
 
“Rhinos are killed for their horns, which are seen as highly desirable status symbols in parts of Asia, notably Vietnam, but also increasingly in China,” says Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “Horns are also increasingly used for non-traditional purposes such as hangover cure and body detoxifier, especially in Viet Nam.”

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum). Photo courtesy of Jean-Christophe Vié

In Asia, although conservation action in Nepal and India has resulted in increased numbers of the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), the situation in Indonesia and Malaysia remains serious for the world’s two rarest rhino species—the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus). The Javan Rhinoceros, with only around 35 to 45 surviving individuals, is confined to a single park in Indonesia after the last animal of its Indochinese subspecies, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, was found dead, its horn removed, in Vietnam in 2010. The report calls for enhanced protection and biological management of the remaining Sumatran and Javan Rhinoceros to prevent their extinction.
 
Thefts of rhino horns from museums and zoos have increased worldwide, creating the need for improved law enforcement, monitoring and enhanced information management with regards to rhino numbers, sales and translocations, the report finds.
 
“Trade in rhino horns is a global problem that needs to be addressed by the international community by putting pressure on those countries that are driving illegal trade in rhino horn and those with inadequate wildlife legislation, such as Mozambique,” says Richard Emslie, from IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group. “At the same time, increased poaching is negatively affecting rhino conservation incentives and budgets, threatening future rhino population growth.”
 
The report was compiled by the IUCN SSC African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. It was mandated by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and aims to inform the rhino horn debate at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, taking place in March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

 

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Food & Water Watch Europe

Today, a wide range of Polish and international non-governmental organizations and academics gathered in Warsaw, Poland, to critically assess the ambition of the Polish government to develop its potential shale gas resources on a large scale.

After a long string of corporate conferences on the topic, the Boell Foundation in Warsaw and Food & Water Europe offered a platform to concerned citizens and groups to air the legitimate concerns about the environmental and economic impacts of fracking. The title of the conference was Blessing or curse? Understanding the risks and impacts of fracking in Poland.

A common theme throughout the presentations was the lack of a balanced debate in Poland about the risks and negative impacts involved in the large-scale extraction of shale gas. The Polish government and the domestic and foreign shale gas companies have painted a rosy picture about shale gas in the U.S., exaggerating its benefits while downplaying the costs, especially for local communities.

“Food & Water Europe strongly believes that citizens should be able to engage in an open debate about a whole range of issues, including and especially in discussions on energy policy,” said Geert De Cock, policy officer for Food & Water Europe. “Decisions on a country’s energy mix have all too often been taken behind closed doors and only after consulting a limited number of actors, such as utility and fossil fuel companies. Decisions on energy policy and shale gas in particular will have long-lasting effects for Poland. A thorough debate is needed and that can only happen if all voices are heard.”

“Shale gas has been promoted as the one and only option to help Poland transition to a low-carbon energy mix,” added Monika Walencka, energy program coordinator at the Boell Foundation. “The Heinrich Boell Foundation, Warsaw was keen to explore the role of shale gas with experts in the field of climate and energy. Exploring alternative options for Poland, which exclude a large-scale development of another fossil fuel source like shale gas, are essential to avoid a carbon lock-in Poland’s energy mix and high emissions for decades to come.”

This conference helped to clarify that key concerns about how the environmental and health impacts of large-scale shale gas activities remain unaddressed. Without a transparent and wide-ranging political debate on this issue, Poland might end up in a situation like in the U.S., where regulators are forever engaged in a catching up with a booming shale gas industry.

Other countries in Europe have adopted a wide range of positions on shale gas, ranging from a ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing to a moratorium to commissioning a number of studies on how to best deal with the risks and impacts of fracking. Poland would greatly benefit from more thoroughly engaging with such work, which is being done elsewhere in Europe and in Brussels in particular. The wait-and-see approach of Polish officials will become increasingly untenable, as fracking for shale gas will provoke resistance of local communities, having to live with the reality of hundreds of shale gas wells in their area.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

 

Food & Water Europe

Recent media reports from Poland show that heavy-handed tactics such as spying and undercover operations are being used against groups and individuals who question shale gas development. Shale gas companies have sent spies to anti-fracking meetings and reported their findings to the highest levels of the Polish government and internal security services, according to reports in a Polish daily newspaper.

Food & Water Europe today urged Polish Members of the European Parliament who are active in the policy debates on shale gas in Brussels to distance themselves from such tactics and to acknowledge that the work of environmentalists and local groups are based on legitimate environmental and economic concerns about the impacts of fracking.

“Food & Water Europe strongly believes that citizens should be able to engage in an open debate about a whole range of issues, including and especially in discussions on energy policy,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Decisions on a country’s energy mix have all too often been taken behind closed doors and only after consulting a limited number of actors, such as utility and fossil fuel companies. Decisions on energy policy and shale gas in particular will have long-lasting effects for Poland and the EU. A thorough debate is needed and that can only happen if all voices are heard.”

On Oct. 4, the daily newspaper Gazeta Prawna reported that one of the shale gas investors had sent spies into local communities that have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of fracking. Gazeta Prawna was able to access a government document, which stated the following: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received from one of the energy companies, engaged in exploration of shale gas, a copy of the record of a discussion among anti-shale associations (...) the content of the enclosed information indicates a significant radicalization of positions of NGOs in relation to shale gas.” The press office of the Ministry confirmed that the public safety authorities received such as document due to the alleged intention of anti-fracking groups “to breach public security and order.”

So far, energy companies as well as the Polish government have offered their own positive ‘spin’ on the supposed benefits of large-scale unconventional gas and have consistently downplayed the risks involved. “In view of this manifest bias in the Polish ‘debate’, local communities increasingly find that their concerns about the environmental and health impacts of shale gas activities are not taken seriously,” said Hauter. “This lack of an independent, science-based assessment of risks involved in shale gas in Poland is the reason why numerous local associations there are not welcoming this industry with open arms.”

In addition, Polish citizens now also have to fear violations of their fundamental right “to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority,” as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Food & Water Europe is concerned that the Polish government perceives critical questions from civil society about shale gas as an attempt “to breach public security and order.”

This belief in the benefits of an open debate has led Food & Water Europe—in cooperation with the Polish Boell Foundation—to organize a conference to discuss with the Polish public and media the negative impacts and the risks involved in developing shale gas resources on a large scale. The conference is entitled Naiveté or rationality? Understanding the risks and impacts of fracking in Poland and will take place in the afternoon of Oct.22.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

 

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