November 7, 2014

Does coal power really help tackle poverty?

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott talks about coal as being the foundation of his country’s economy for the foreseeable future, and insists it is the only way to increase the prosperity of the poor in developing countries. “It’s good for humanity,” he was recently quoted as saying. Not so, says The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank. In a new report, the institute points out that Peabody Energy, one of the world’s largest coal producers, has no initiatives to alleviate energy poverty. And where companies in the coal industry do have initiatives, none of them are based on the use of coal. Instead, those coal companies are funding solar, hydroelectric and natural gas projects. “Despite extensive searches and contact with companies and mining lobby groups, we could not find a single example of where coal companies have supported coal-powered energy poverty alleviation projects,” the report states. It points out that organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, and many non-governmental organizations are doing much more to alleviate energy poverty through programs relating to electrification, lighting and access to cooking facilities. “None of the main energy poverty initiatives promotes the use of coal,” according to the report, which also disputes the claim that coal use has been a driver of economic growth.


New business tool weighs water risk

You only need to look at California to see how climate change is impacting water resources, but water scarcity is a problem throughout the world and has huge impacts for business, as reported this week by Corporate Knights associate editor Ashley Renders. This is particularly true for companies that have a disproportionately high dependence on water, such as those in the food and beverage and agricultural sectors. Trucost, the natural capital research firm, and water technology provider Ecolab released this week a new tool called the Water Risk Monetizer. It’s free, and it’s being touted as the “industry’s first financial modeling tool that enables businesses to factor water into decisions that support business growth and help ensure the availability of this limited natural resource for future generations.” The tool, according to the companies, helps bridge the gap between market price and risk by calculating a risk-adjusted price. It essentially takes forecasted future water costs and layers a risk-based premium on top, giving companies a better sense of future costs.


Water projects get scrutinized for climate bonds

On a related note, more projects certified under the Climate Bond Standard could soon flow to water. The Climate Bonds Initiative, in collaboration with Ceres, the World Resources Institute, CDP and a number of other governmental and non-governmental organizations, has formed a new working group to explore the kinds of water projects that could qualify for funding through the issuance of green bonds. The aim is to identify what investments will boost the resiliency of water assets in a changing climate. As the most recent IPCC report makes clear, climate adaptation projects will need to ensure there are sustainable levels of clean water for a growing global population. “The potential for green bonds in the water sector is enormous,” said Sean Kidney, chief executive of the Climate Bonds Initiative. “While it may be tempting to define every water project as ‘green’, water investments that don’t take into account climate change, with, for example, its increased volatility of rainfall – dumps and droughts – will come to be seen as both higher risk and not consistent with green.” Kidney said some water projects risk perpetuating high water consumption or poor water management with high-energy usage. “This makes the need for guidelines even more urgent – investors will want to be sure that investments don’t make matters worse,” he said.


No evidence of wind turbine syndrome: Health Canada

Health Canada announced in July 2012 that it would conduct a comprehensive, independent study into the alleged health impacts of wind turbine noise. Wind opponents hailed the planned study as a major victory, while the wind industry expressed worry that it was an effort to undermine the growth of wind energy in Canada as a way to appease rural voters. Preliminary findings from that two-year study were released on Thursday, and the conclusion is consistent with research efforts from other countries: there is no evidence to suggest wind turbine noise makes people sick. As Corporate Knights editor-in-chief Tyler Hamilton wrote, the study didn’t cut corners. Government officials surveyed more than 1,200 households located near wind farms in Ontario and PEI. They collected hair samples and blood pressure data of residents so that stress levels could be analyzed. They also spent more than 4,000 hours measuring noise levels directly. While the research found some individuals annoyed by the turbines, which increased their level of stress, a connection with health outcomes was lacking. Strangely, as Hamilton points out, people in Ontario were much more annoyed by wind farms than those in PEI.


Quebec stands as roadblock to Energy East pipeline project

It has been known for a while now that Quebec wasn’t going to give TransCanada an easy ride on its proposed Energy East oil pipeline project. The province’s energy minister made that clear last month, and since then a number of smaller communities have expressed major concerns. Yesterday, Quebec’s national assembly unanimously voted on a resolution to exercise the province’s environmental jurisdiction over the project. Eric Flanagan, an analyst at the Calgary-based think tank The Pembina Institute, said the resolution amounts to a “vote of non-confidence” in the National Energy Board’s review process for the pipeline. It criticizes the regulator for not considering upstream climate impacts as part of its review, and the fact that the federal government has still not adopted carbon emissions regulations for the oil and gas sector. “Quebec’s elected representatives are adding their voices to a chorus of concern about this pipeline proposal and the environmental impacts of rapid oil sands expansion,” said Flanagan.

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