December 12, 2014

A hotel made of recycled shipping containers?

Sioux Lookout, a small town of 5,000 people in northwestern Ontario known for its fishing camps, now has another claim to fame: the continent’s largest hotel made from old shipping containers. In all, 120 steel containers – older, surplus containers lying around in shipping yards – were used to create this 60-room, two-storey hotel. The containers lay on a steel grill foundation, which is supported by steel piles secured to bedrock. “It took three containers to make two rooms for usage of 90 containers,” reports The Packet & Times, the local news site in Orillia. “The other 30 were used to construct the corridor, storage rooms and laundry room.” Not only is the hotel more sustainable because it’s built largely from recycled material, it also took less than half the time to build it compared to conventional approaches.


U.K. attempts crackdown on corporate tax dodgers

Governments worldwide have been growing more concerned by how some multinational companies avoid taxes by locating their legal headquarters in low-tax jurisdictions, even though a significant amount of their sales are done in countries with higher corporate taxes. Google, for example, has been identified as a major user of this tactic, funnelling profits really earned in the U.K. to its lower-taxed Irish subsidiary. The U.K. is having none of it. As one Forbes article put it, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Proposed legislation, the details of which were just published, creates a new “Diverted Profits Tax” that will charge a 25 per cent tax rate on profits declared or discovered as diverted. The rate is 5 percentage points higher than the U.K. domestic corporate tax rate expected in 2015. “Whilst there may be a popular consensus that the arrangements targeted are unacceptable, the change will cause great uncertainty across many businesses as to whether legitimate arrangements are caught,” according to a legal brief from law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, which calls the proposed legislation “game changing.” Court challenges are expected, but it won’t just be controversial for big business. The OECD had hoped to coordinate its own international response to so-called multinational tax planning. By acting unilaterally, the U.K. is stealing the OECD’s thunder.


EU plan to drop recycling, clean air rules stirs controversy

It would be one of the most progressive waste regulations in the world, but the EU Commission is now looking to scrap a “circular economy package” that would direct EU members to recycle at least 70 per cent of their waste (and 80 per cent of product packaging) by 2030. It would also phase out landfill dumping and mandate a 90 per cent paper-recycling rate by 2025. Savings resulting from the proposed regulations have been estimated at $860 billion, while it has the potential to create 280,000 jobs, according to a report in BusinessGreen. Why is the EU Commission balking? It seems some members considered recycling laggards are expected to resist. In response to the EU Commission’s proposal to drop the rules, a coalition of seven trade bodies, environmental organizations, and professional associations expressed “dismay” in a letter to Liz Truss, the U.K.’s environment secretary. “There is a very broad consensus amongst industry groups and associations, major companies, NGOs and municipalities that the circular economy package offers huge potential for green job creation, resource security, environmental protection and economic growth,” reads the letter, which urges the U.K. government to persuade EU leadership to reconsider.


Has the U.S. reached a turning point on oil?

Taylor Swift’s popular “Shake It Off” tune would seem an appropriate theme song for a compelling interactive infographic released by Bloomberg, and it’s something that should concern Canada’s oil industry. The infographic, titled “America Is Shaking Off Its Addition to Oil,” is a series of 15 graphs explaining what’s going on. In a nutshell, the graphs show how U.S. domestic oil production is at its highest level in three decades and oil use per dollar of GDP is lower than it’s been in more than 40 years. One of the most interesting charts shows how GDP and oil consumption, which have historically moved in tandem, are beginning to diverge. Since 2006, U.S. GDP has been growing while oil consumption has been falling – and the gap is getting bigger. Other graphs explain the causes: more efficient cars, retiring boomers driving less, young people moving to cities, and more young people riding public transit. Overall energy efficiency and the move to alternative energy sources are also big contributors. This is an infographic that everyone interested in energy trends should look at. Kudos to Bloomberg for putting it together.


Time to price carbon, remove subsidies: IEA chief

On the topic of changing dynamics in the oil market, a timely Huffington Post commentary by Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, urges countries to price carbon and remove oil industry subsidies while the price of crude is so low. Remember, this is an agency that has been historically conservative on environmental issues and was founded on the backs of fossil fuel interests. “With the drop in oil prices delivering a shot of economic stimulus to consumers around the word, policymakers have leeway to take actions that even a year ago would have been unthinkable,” she writes. For one, opposition to removing fossil fuel subsidies – amounting to more than half a trillion dollars in 2013 – “may well be muted” in the current climate of low oil prices. Secondly, “policy makers in major energy consuming countries should take advantage of the oil market’s collapse to introduce carbon pricing, taxes or low-carbon mandates, or to strengthen existing schemes.” Complacency would be a mistake, van der Hoeven concludes. Policymakers “have a once-in-a-generation chance to get us back on track. Let’s hope they seize this moment.”


Catholic leaders, meanwhile, weigh into climate debate

We know the Pope’s position on the need to act on climate change, but his words were given even more force this week when Catholic bishops from around the world – representing 1.2 billion people on every continent – urged an end to fossil fuel use. As Matt McGrath of the BBC reported, “this is first time that such a global collection of senior priests have made such a call.” The bishops, in a statement, cited their obligation to challenge the misuse of nature and protect those people, mostly the poor, who will feel the worst impacts of climate change. “We felt this joint statement had to come now because Lima is the milestone on the way to Paris, and Paris has to deliver a binding agreement.” The statement adds yet another influential voice to the growing chorus of global stakeholders urging concrete action on climate change.

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