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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Call for action on food crisis reaches a crescendo

The meteoric  rise in food prices could push hundreds of millions  in poor countries, especially children, deeper into hunger and malnutrition.

The President of the World Bank Mr. Zoellick has called for a "new deal" to tackle what has become a global food crisis.  There have been food riots recently in a number of countries, including Haiti, the Philippines and Egypt. "We have to put out money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths," Mr Zoellick said. "It's as stark as that". Dominique Strauss-Kahn,  the head of the IMF,  has also warned of mass starvation and other dire consequences if food prices continue to rise sharply.  Gordon Brown has urged the G8 to prepare what he called an international package on food scarcity.

Food prices have risen sharply in recent months, driven primarily by increased demand, an increase in the use of land to grow crops for transport fuels and  bad weather in some countries that has destroyed crops. 

The price of grains such as wheat, rice and corn have risen steeply, leading to an increase in overall food prices of more than 80% over the last three years.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has warned that food shortages sometimes end in war. Strauss-Khan further warned that the food crisis could lead to trade imbalances that may adversely affect developed nations.

Mr. Zoellick has appealed for for more aid to provide basic nutrition and for planting crops, and more lending to develop agriculture in the long-term. He also called on wealthy donor countries to quickly fill the World Food Programme's $500m (£250m) funding shortfall.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poor go hungry while rich fill their tanks

Rocketing global food prices are causing acute problems of hunger and malnutrition in poor countries and have put back the fight against poverty by seven years, the World Bank said yesterday.

Robert Zoellick, the Bank's president, called on rich countries to commit an extra $500m (£250m) immediately to the World Food Programme, and sign up to what he called a "New Deal for global food policy".

Zoellick said: "In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it's getting more and more difficult every day."

He said the price of wheat had risen by 120% in the past year, more than doubling the cost of a loaf of bread. Rice prices were up by 75% in just two months. On average, the Bank calculates that food prices have risen by 83% in the past three years.

"In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years."

The Bank's analysis chimes with research from the International Monetary Fund which shows that Africa will be the hardest hit continent from rising food prices. More than 20 African countries will see their trade balance worsen by more than 1% of GDP through having to pay more for food.

Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has written to his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, who is chairman of the G8 industrialised countries, calling for a "fully-co-ordinated response" to the food crisis.

Zoellick welcomed Brown's initiative, and said this weekend's meetings of the World Bank and the IMF had to do more than simply identify the scale of the crisis.

"This is about recognising a growing emergency, acting and seizing opportunity too. The world can do this. We can do this," he said. "We cannot be satisfied with studies, and papers, and talk." As well as the $500m contribution to the World Food Programme, there should be an expansion in safety-net programmes for poor communities. Zoellick also called for a boost to long-term financial support to aid production. "We must make agriculture a priority."

The Bank plans to double its loans to agriculture projects in developing countries in 2008, to $800m.

Riots have broken out in several countries, including Mexico and India, as a response to the rapid rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs over the past 12 months. A number of governments have imposed export bans on commodities, to try to bring prices under control. Zoellick warned against such protectionist responses.

He was also critical of the dash to grow crops for biofuels. The US and EU have encouraged wider use of such fuels to try to tackle climate change and provide an alternative to oil, but the policy has sometimes diverted agricultural land away from food and exacerbated price rises.

Zoellick criticised the subsidies and import tariffs used to promote wider use of the fuels.

Liz Stuart, spokeswoman for Oxfam, said: "Europe and the US must stop adding fuel to fire by increasing crop production for biofuels. These have dubious environment benefits, and by driving up prices, are crippling the lives of the poor."

50 nations not meeting goals on birth deaths

By Sarah Boseley
This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday April 11 2008 on p17 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:17 on April 11 2008.

Fifty countries are not making enough progress in cutting the numbers of deaths of children and women in childbirth to meet the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, according to a new analysis.

Among 68 countries considered a priority because of their high death rates, only 16 are on track to reach the MDG 4 on reducing child deaths in spite of increased funding from donor countries and an international effort to help. Fewer still may be significantly reducing women's deaths in childbirth (MDG 5), but progress is hard to monitor, according to experts writing in a special edition of the Lancet this week.

Some countries have made significant progress - China is now on target for MDG 4. But many more, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, have made no progress or are doing worse, says the report by Countdown to 2015 for Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival, which includes UN organisations.

"Only three countries have moved from not on-track to on-track since the last Countdown report [in 2005]," said Jennifer Bryce, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Boston, US, and one of the authors.

Peru, Brazil and Indonesia have made the most progress on reducing deaths in children under-five, the new report shows. Bottom of the league are 10 African countries where child mortality has risen: Chad, Cameroon, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Botswana. HIV and conflict have in many cases been a significant factor in the worsening death rate.

The highest maternal mortality rate is in Sierra Leone, where 2,100 women die in every 100,000 live births. For comparison, the rate in the UK is eight to 100,000.

The Countdown group has identified a range of interventions which can make a difference - including immunisation, insecticide-treated bednets, exclusive breastfeeding, vitamin A supplements, and the employment of more midwives

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gordon Brown Urges G8 action on food scarcity

He wants the issue to be on the agenda of the G8 summit in Japan in July, and said he had concerns about the way in which the rush towards environmentally questionable biofuels might displace much-needed food production.

He is also likely to discuss the issue with US leaders when he meets them in Washington and New York next week. He wants the IMF and World Bank to engage on the issue this year. The US has taken a more enthusiastic approach to biofuels as a way of tackling climate change.

In a letter to the Japanese prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, setting out a plan to address the food crisis, Brown wrote: "There is a growing consensus that we need urgently to examine the impact on food prices of different kinds and production methods of biofuels, and ensure that their use is responsible and sustainable."

Britain is introducing subsidies for biofuels, but acknowledged the concerns of environmentalists when the transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, commissioned a review into their impact in February.

At the EU level, Brown has opposed an increase in biofuel targets, expressing his concern at their impact on deforestation, precious habitats and on food security. The letter from Brown, released today, follows a warning on Tuesday by the UN's top humanitarian official, Sir John Holmes, that food prices could spark worldwide unrest and threaten political stability.

Brown's concern in part stems from advice given by his chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, that the effects of the food crisis would bite more quickly than climate change. Food prices have risen 57% in a year, according to the UN's food and agriculure organisation. The price of rice has doubled, prompting countries to slow exports. Price rises have been attributed to the speed of growth in countries such as China.

A World Bank report yesterday claimed that biofuel consumption had helped push global food prices up by 83% in the past three years, and would drive inflation and strain developing economies into the next decade.

In his letter Brown said: "Rising food prices threaten to roll back progress we have made in recent years on development. For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing." He called for a redoubling of "our efforts for a WTO trade deal that provides greater poor country access to developed country markets". "Market incentives" would close the gap between world cereal supply and demand in the longer term.

Proposing "social safety nets for the poorest", he said: "We may need to increase ... the scale of our support for humanitarian programmes."

A Multitude of Vaccine Benefits, Yet Controversy Persists

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr; From The New York Times


  • Vaccinations are among the most important health advances in history
  • Death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations were at all-time lows in the United States in 2007
  • Rumors persist that some immunizations, or the vaccine preservative thimerosal, cause autism

Public health experts generally agree that after clean water and flush toilets, the most important health advances in history have been vaccinations.

Shots against measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, flu, hepatitis and some causes of childhood meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhea have saved more lives than all the “miracle drugs” of the latter half of the 20th century — antibiotics like penicillin, antivirals like drugs to fight AIDS and flu, and so on. In addition, vaccination is one of the leading reasons that many families in the West now feel comfortable having only two or three children: they can be reasonably certain that the children will survive childhood.

According to a large historical study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in November 2007, death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations were at all-time lows in the United States. The study looked at hospital and death records going back to 1900 and estimated death rates before various vaccines were invented. In nine of the diseases, rates of hospitalization or death had declined more than 90 percent. For three — smallpox, diphtheria and polio — death rates had dropped by 100 percent.

In the 1930s, the United States had about 30,000 diphtheria cases a year, and 3,000 of those succumbed to the disease as gray membranes formed in their airways and eventually choked them to death. Diphtheria is now virtually unknown in the West, but in the chaos following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, vaccinations broke down, and the Red Cross estimated there were 100,000 cases and 5,000 deaths from the disease.

Smallpox vaccine is no longer given to children because the disease has been eliminated from the world, except for stocks frozen in laboratories in the United States and Russia. The smallpox vaccine also carried some risks.

Since the 1990s, vaccines have become somewhat controversial, even in the United States. As diseases have disappeared, generations have grown up without ever seeing the sickness and death they caused. At the same time, new parents are often upset as their babies receive between 20 and 30 injections before age 2 and suffer the pain and mild fever that can accompany them as routine side effects.

In addition, rumors continue to spread that some vaccines, or a mercury antifungal vaccine preservative called thimerosal that was added to vaccines, cause autism. Numerous studies have shown no link between autism and either vaccines or the preservative. An active anti-vaccine lobby, however, keeps the issue alive. The lobby is a broad tent. A few members question even whether bacteria and viruses cause disease; most seek more research into safety and greater rights to refuse vaccination.

State and city health departments, recognizing that the risk of epidemics soars when children gather daily in school, generally require parents to prove that children have been immunized before they enroll. There are some exceptions. All states allow medical exemptions for children who are immunocompromised or allergic to vaccine components. Most allow religious objections. A few allow “personal or philosophical” ones; how hard it is to get one varies by state.

Health insurers pay for most vaccines, and public clinics offer them free to the uninsured, the cost paid by the federal government under the Vaccines for Children Program of 1994. Before that time, incomplete vaccination was most common among the poor. Now it is more common for children from wealthy or middle-class families to lack some or all shots, presumably because their parents objected.

More vaccines are being developed all the time. Some are aimed at teenagers because they thwart diseases spread by sex or common in student dorms and military barracks. These include vaccines for human papillomaviruses, which cause cervical cancer; herpes; and meningococcal infections, the cause of sometimes deadly meningitis. Others, like those against flu, shingles and some bacterial toxins, are particularly aimed at older people, who have weaker immune systems and are more likely to be in hospitals or nursing homes.

Newer vaccines tend to be much more expensive than older ones, which were developed before the era of clinical trials costing hundreds of millions of dollars and before medical liability lawsuits were so common. But the cost of not vaccinating at all, as history has taught, can be very high.

A Shift in the Debate Over Global Warming

The charged and complex debate over how to slow down global warming has become a lot more complicated.

Most of the focus in the last few years has centered on imposing caps on greenhouse gas emissions to prod energy users to conserve or switch to nonpolluting technologies.

Leaders of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change — the scientists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year with former Vice President Al Gore — have emphasized that market-based approach. All three presidential candidates are behind it. And it has framed international talks over a new climate treaty and debate within the United States over climate legislation.

But now, with recent data showing an unexpected rise in global emissions and a decline in energy efficiency, a growing chorus of economists, scientists and students of energy policy are saying that whatever benefits the cap approach yields, it will be too little and come too late.

The economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, stated the case bluntly in a recent article in Scientific American: “Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. If we try to restrain emissions without a fundamentally new set of technologies, we will end up stifling economic growth, including the development prospects for billions of people.”

What is needed, Mr. Sachs and others say, is the development of radically advanced low-carbon technologies, which they say will only come about with greatly increased spending by determined governments on what has so far been an anemic commitment to research and development. A Manhattan-like Project, so to speak.

And time is critical, they say, as China, India and other developing nations march headlong into the modern world of cars and electric consumption on their way to becoming the dominant producer of greenhouse gases for decades to come. Indeed, China is building, on average, one large coal-burning power plant a week.

In an article in the journal Nature last week, researchers concerned with the economics, politics, and science of climate also argued that technology policy, not emissions policy, must dominate.

“There is no question about whether technological innovation is necessary — it is,” said the authors, Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado; Tom Wigley, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Christopher Green, an economist at McGill University. “The question is, to what degree should policy focus directly on motivating such innovation?”

Proponents of treaties and legislation that would cap emissions don’t disagree with this call to arms for new, low-carbon technologies. But they say the cap approach should not be ignored, either.

One of them is Joseph Romm, a blogger on climate and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit group pushing for federal legislation to restrict greenhouse gases.

“Of course we need aggressive investments in R. and D. — I for one have been arguing that for two decades,” Mr. Romm wrote in a post to his blog, “But if we don’t start aggressively deploying the technologies we have now for the next quarter century, then all the new technologies in the world won’t avert catastrophe.”

Another expert who has emphasized the importance of capping emissions, Adil Najam of Boston University, said he hoped this emerging debate would not distract from doing whatever is possible now to curb emissions.

“You can do a tremendous lot with available technology,” said Professor Najam, one of the authors of the intergovernmental panel’s report on policy options. “It is true that this will not be enough to lick the problem, but it will be a very significant and probably necessary difference.”

But Professor Pielke and his co-authors say that a recent rise in emissions — particularly in fast-growing emerging powers — points to the need for government to push aggressively for technological advances instead of waiting for the market to force reductions in emissions.

Mr. Sachs pointed to several promising technologies — capturing and burying carbon dioxide, plug-in hybrid cars and solar-thermal electric plants. “Each will require a combination of factors to succeed: more applied scientific research, important regulatory changes, appropriate infrastructure, public acceptance and early high-cost investments,” he said. “A failure on one or more of these points could kill the technologies.”

In short, what is needed, he said, is a “major overhaul of energy technology” financed by “large-scale public funding of research, development and demonstration projects.”

At the same time, China and India continue to insist that economic growth is both their priority and right. They argue that the established economic powers should be responsible for spearheading the research to reduce carbon emissions. After all, the United States and Europe spent more than a century growing wealthy by burning fossil fuels.

Developing countries repeatedly made that point last week in Bangkok in the latest round of United Nations talks over the shape of a new climate agreement. But the United States rejected a proposal from China that 0.5 percent of the gross domestic product of industrialized countries be used to disseminate nonpolluting energy technologies.

As if to underscore the energy and emissions trajectories in Asia’s emerging powerhouses —and the priority placed on growth there and among important international institutions — the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank is planning to vote on Monday on helping to finance a four-billion-watt complex of coal-burning power plants, the “Ultra Mega” complex, in Gujarat State in India.

World Bank President Proposes “New Deal” for Food Aid

Ben Block – April 4, 2008 – 6:00am

World Bank President Robert ZoellickPhoto Courtesy of the World Bank

World Bank President Robert Zoellick and Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall discuss foreign aid challenges." class="caption" align="" height="167" width="250" style="border-style: initial; border-color: initial; border-top-width: 1px; border-right-width: 1px; border-bottom-width: 1px; border-left-width: 1px; border-top-style: solid; border-right-style: solid; border-bottom-style: solid; border-left-style: solid; border-top-color: black; border-right-color: black; border-bottom-color: black; border-left-color: black; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; ">

Photo Courtesy of the World Bank

World Bank President Robert Zoellick and Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall discuss foreign aid challenges.
President Robert Zoellick said he supports greater reliance on cash or vouchers instead of commodity aid as part of a "New Deal" for global food policy. He made the comments during a speech he delivered Wednesday at the Hilton hotel in Washington, D.C.

Speaking a week before the International Monetary Fund and World Bankspring meetings in Washington, Zoellick also urged the United States, European Union, Japan, and other industrialized nations to supply the $500 million in additional food supplies that the United Nations World Food Programme has desperately requested. In urban areas across the developing world, rapidly growing food prices and demand are creating "a perfect storm" of hunger and desperation, according to the agency.

"The World Bank Group estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices," Zoellick said. "The realities of demography, changing diets, energy prices and biofuels, and climate changes suggest that high-and volatile-food prices will be with us for years to come."

Staple food costs have risen by as much as 80 percent since 2005. Rice last month hit a 19-year high, and the real price of wheat was at a 28-year high, Zoellick said. Riots are already breaking out in EgyptCôte d'Ivoire, and elsewhere.

Internationally, the punishing food prices are a result of the growing demand for meat and dairy in China and India, and the preference for wheat rather than rice or maize among the emerging urban middle classes of many developing countries. Rising oil prices are encouraging biofuel production on valuable farmlands. Climate change has triggered local and regional drought, especially on Australia's wheat fields, as well as extreme floods. The depreciating dollar is also hurting efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to deliver food and other aid.

Many economists agree that one solution lies in granting poorer nations income support in the form of cash or vouchers to help purchase local commodities, rather than flooding developing world food markets with international food. In his speech, Zoellick noted that, "a shift from traditional food aid to a broader concept of food and nutrition assistance must be part of this New Deal." He advocated customizing financial support based on local needs, and perhaps supporting national feeding programs or public works development in exchange for food.

"I applaud hearing his ambitions. They are very respectable," said Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, which sponsored Zoellick's talk. "Linking the bank to hungry people, that's what the World Bank should be doing... But it all depends on whether it all adds up."

Nora Lustig, the Shapiro Visiting Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, cautioned that local feeding programs in the developing world may not be able to handle Zoellick's expectations. "Can they be put in place quickly enough? In either case, do countries have the fiscal resources to fund these programs whose costs have risen as a result of higher food prices?" she said.

Zoellick also said that the World Bank would nearly double its agricultural lending to sub-Saharan Africa. And with the World Trade Organization's contentious Doha debates possibly nearing an agreement that could reduce agricultural tariffs and subsidies, Zoellick urged immediate action. "There is a good deal on the table," he said. "It's now or never."

The Doha Round's agricultural talks have been on hold since the United States and European Union pulled out over concerns that reducing existing trade barriers on agricultural commodities would hurt domestic producers. According to Lustig, the proposed trade agreement would likely help poorer nations that are net sellers of these goods, but damage poorer nations that are net purchasers.

Ben Block is a staff writer at the Worldwatch Institute who covers everything environmental for Eye on Earth. He can be reached at

Wind Power Continues Rapid Rise

by Janet L. Sawin

Global wind power capacity reached 94,100 megawatts by the end of 2007, up 27 percent from the previous year, and then topped 100,000 megawatts by April 2008.1 (See Figure 1.) The roughly 20,000 megawatts installed in 2007 was 31 percent above the 2006 record for capacity additions.2 (See Figure 2.) New wind installa tions were second only to natural gas in the United States as an additional source of power capacity and were the leading source of new capacity in the European Union (EU).3

The United States led the world in new installations for the third year in a row with a record-shattering 5,244 megawatts of wind capacity added, increasing cumulative installed capacity by 45 percent.4 (See Figure 3.) Wind power represented 30 percent of new U.S. capacity additions last year, compared with 1 percent of the total just five years earlier.5 The nation's wind capacity now totals 16,818 mega watts, second only to Germany, and is enough to power 4.5 million U.S. homes.6 The surge in 2007 was driven by the federal production tax credit and by renewable energy mandates in 25 states and the District of Columbia.7 The federal credit is due to expire at the end of 2008, though an extension is widely expected. Texas is the nation's top wind power generator, with 30 percent of total U.S. wind production last year, but six states now each have more than 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity.8

Wind capacity in the European Union rose 18 percent in 2007, with new records in several countries.9 Wind power accounted for about 40 percent of new power installations across Europe.10 Additions of 8,554 mega watts-an increase of 12 percent over 2006 installations-brought the EU's total to 56,535 megawatts.11 Total wind capacity installed in Europe by the end of 2007 was enough to meet nearly 4 percent of the region's electricity demand in an average wind year and will avoid about 90 million tons of carbon dioxide emis sions annually.12 For the first time in several years, Europe's wind market dropped below half of the global total as the EU accounted for only 43 percent of new additions worldwide; but Europe still has 60 percent of total global capacity.13

Germany remains the world leader in wind power capacity, with a total of 22,247 mega watts, almost 24 percent of the global total.14 However, Germany's wind market experienced a signifi cant slowdown in 2007. Rising turbine prices in conjunction with falling payments to wind-generated electricity have temporarily made the German market less attractive to developers than the U.S. and British markets are; Germany has also experienced an increasing scarcity of good onshore sites.15 Only 1,667 megawatts of new capacity were installed in 2007, 25 percent less than added during the previous year.16 Despite this, the share of electricity that Ger many obtained from renewable sources-half of which comes from wind power-continues its rapid rise.17 Wind power generated the equivalent of 7.2 percent of Germany's electricity consump tion in 2007.18 Windy northern Schleswig-Holstein now aims for the wind to generate all of that state's power by 2020, up from 30 percent today.19

Spain led Europe in new installations in 2007, now ranking third worldwide in total wind capacity. An estimated 3,522 megawatts were added last year, bringing the nation's total to 15,145 megawatts, enough to meet 10 percent of Spain's electricity needs.20

Other countries in Europe that experienced significant growth in 2007 include France (888 megawatts added), Italy (603), Portugal (434), and the United Kingdom (427), and each of these countries now has total capacity of well over 2,000 megawatts.21 The United Kingdom and Portugal, however, both experienced slower growth than in 2006.22

Although Europe (mostly Germany and Spain) and the United States now account for 78 per cent of the world's installed wind power capacity, more than 70 nations-from Australia to Zimbabwe-now tap the wind to produce electricity.23

The biggest surprise is China, which was barely in the wind business three years ago but which in 2007 trailed only the United States and Spain in wind installations and was fifth in total installed capacity.24 An estimated 3,449 mega watts of wind turbines were added in 2007, bringing China's provisional total to 6,050 megawatts and already exceeding the govern ment's target for 2010.25 (An estimated one fourth of this capacity is still not connected to the grid, however, due to planning problems.)26 Another 4,000 megawatts are expected to be added in 2008 and, based on current growth rates, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association predicts that China's wind capacity could reach 50,000 megawatts by 2015.27

Elsewhere in Asia, India added 1,730 megawatts of new capacity and continues to rank fourth overall for total installations, with an estimated 8,000 megawatts.28 Other regions and countries experiencing significant growth include Canada (added 386 megawatts), New Zealand (151), Latin America, where Brazil added 161 mega watts and Chile installed about 18 megawatts, and northern Africa, where Egypt added 80 mega watts.29

These dramatic increases in capacity took place against a backdrop of serious turbine shortages. Wind turbines require some 8,000 components, and suppliers of many of these parts need years to ramp up production.30 Parts shortages have affected the United States in particular, where numerous projects have been put on hold.31 As a result, several Euro pean companies that had the funds and fore sight to lock in orders of new machines have taken this opportunity to buy up smaller companies and utilities to gain a foothold in the United States, where wide open spaces promise an enormous future market.32

Manufacturers are now positioning them selves to increase production of gearboxes, rotors, and other components, and it is expected that this will eliminate the turbine shortage by sometime in 2009.33 For the short term, how ever, the turbine shortage could dictate how quickly the industry will grow.34

These growing pains have affected the economics of wind power. Over the past 15 years, the costs of wind-generated electricity have dropped by 50 percent, while efficiency, reliability, and power rating have all experi enced significant improvements.35 But costs have increased in recent years due to the tur bine shortage, rising material costs, and increased manufacturing profitability.36 (In the United States, costs have also risen thanks to the falling value of the dollar relative to the euro.) Despite the higher costs, wind power remains competitive with new natural gas plants, and all conventional plants have seen similar construction cost increases.37 Wind power will become increas ingly competitive with coal as more countries put a price on carbon.

The global wind market was estimated to be worth about $36 billion in 2007, accounting for nearly half of all investments in new renewable power and heating capacity last year.38 As many as 200,000 people around the world are currently employed by the wind industry.39 These numbers will only rise in coming years.

The EU is now committed to generating 20 percent of its primary energy with renewables by 2020, which means that these sources will need to provide about 35 percent of the region's electricity in 12 years, up from 15 percent in 2007.40Wind power is expected to account for most of that increase.41 And the potential for the United States, China, and many other countries is enormous.

The wind industry has consistently blown by past projections-BTM Consult ApS, for example, forecast in 2002 that global capacity would reach 83,000 megawatts by the end of 2007, far short of the 94,100 megawatts that it actually did achieve-and it could continue to do so for years to come.42

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World Wind Energy Generating Capacity, 1980-2007
Annual Additions to World Energy Generating Capacity, 1980-2007
Annual Wind Energy Additions in China, Germany, Spain, and the United States, 1980-2007

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gore Unveils $ 300m climate ads

Al Gore, elevated to almost prophetic status for his campaign against global warming, on Sunday night unveiled a new $300m advertising blitz intended to force a debate on climate change during the presidential elections.

The Nobel laureate, who appeared with his wife, Tipper, on the CBS programme 60 Minutes to roll out the effort, is to donate a share of his personal fortune to the campaign.

The couple told 60 Minutes that they would donate his Nobel prize money as well as a matching sum in addition to their profits from the book and the movie of An Inconvenient Truth. The movie brought the issue of global warming home to millions of Americans, as well as winning Gore an Oscar.

In this latest campaign, Gore said he hopes to persuade Americans that protecting the planet transcends the usual political divisions.

"We all share the exact same interest in doing the right thing on this," he told CBS. "Are we destined to destroy this place that we call home, planet earth? I can't believe that that's our destiny. It is not our destiny. But we have to awaken to the moral duty that we have to do the right thing and get out of this silly political game-playing about it. This is about survival."

The first television advertisements, which are to begin airing on broadcast networks as well as cable starting on Wednesday, will pair up the most unlikely partners in the movement to address global warming.

A clip aired on CBS showed the Reverend Al Sharpton sharing a sofa with the conservative preacher Pat Robertson. The two men acknowledge they agree on almost nothing - barring the need to deal with global warming.

Other spots will feature the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, alongside New Gingrich, the conservative Republican who once held the same post.

The support from such conservative figures as Gingrich and Robertson marks a victory for Gore in his efforts to make global warming a cause for all Americans: evangelical Christians and fiscal conservatives as well as those on the left.

The recognition for his work in the Nobel prize and the Oscar had helped overcoe scepticism about whether climate change is man-made.

By this point, Gore argued, the doubters - which include the vice-president, Dick Cheney - had been isolated as a fringe group.

"I think that those people are in such a tiny, tiny minority now with their point of view," he told CBS. "They're almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the earth is flat. That demeans them a little bit, but it's not that far off."

The 60 Minutes segment marked a rare appearance from Gore in the presidential race. After the crushing experience of losing the White House to George Bush despite winning the popular vote in the 2000 elections, Gore has become a cult hero for his passionate advocacy on the environment.

A swathe of Democrats continue to hope that Gore will return to politics - despite his protestations - or that he will weigh in to bring an end to the bruising contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Gore, despite his eight years as Bill Clinton's vice-president, has so far remained neutral in the race.

He also made it clear he has no intention of intervening to bring the contest to a close. "I'm not applying for the job of broker," he told CBS.

The advertising campaign is being created by an advertising agency whose work is familiar to American television viewers. The same agency produced advertisements for Geico car insurance using talking lizards and spoof of Planet of the Apes.

Gore acknowledged that so far Clinton and Obama have devoted relatively little time to discussing their platforms on climate change. But, as he told CBS: "I'm not finished yet."

Striking a balance on climate warnings

Story by Leo Hickman
Are doom and gloom assessments on climate change helpful or harmful?

April 7, 2008 12:21 PM

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, here comes along James Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's most respected climate scientists (except in the White House), with an even more depressing assessment of how climate change will unravel over the coming decades - if, that is, we don't act fast to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to abandon our emissions target of 550 parts per million of C02, he says, and aim to achieve 350ppm instead. Yeah, because we were already doing so well agreeing to meet the original target, weren't we?

Rather chillingly, he argues the new target is now a necessity if "humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed". You can't really argue with the goal when it's put like that, can you?

But what on earth does he expect us all to take away from his new doom-laden forecast? Do we jump up out of our armchairs and resolve to work even harder to implement the changes required? Or do we slump back further into our armchairs and put our head in our hands in despair?

It doesn't take a student of psychology to tell us that if you keep moving the goal posts and offer little in the way of hope, then most people will simply give up trying. Worse, they might even start to resent and distrust the messenger.

Clearly, this has been happening for sometime now with larges swathes of the population still refusing to accept what the vast majority of climate scientists have been telling them about the impact our species is having on the climate.

There are many reasons for this collective state of denial, but one of the major ones, I feel, is that the journey we are being warned we need to make is simply too much for people to comprehend within the framework of their current day-to-day lives.

Fair enough, you might say: we like our western lifestyles, thank you very much, and will cling to them with all our might. In addition to this, many feel the solutions on the table today are but a mere token when compared to the levels of emissions reductions Hansen and others are warning us we need to make.

The only realistic solutions - all of which seemingly involve stripping out virtually all the fossil fuels from our economies - are just too unpalatable for us, or our political representatives, to even consider, let alone act on.

Scientists are charged with only collating data and telling us how they interpret their findings. It is up to "us" to work out what we do with the news. But senior, globally respected scientists such as Hansen clearly realise how their assessments will play with the wider public. Therefore, they face a bind: their obligation as scientists is to keep telling it like it is, but they also know that they are in danger of being viewed as the ones crying wolf.

As I argued recently, when James Lovelock presented a similarly depressing forecast (in summary: we're screwed, so we might as well enjoy it while we can), I believe we obviously shouldn't be shielded from what the scientists are telling us, but that we do need to move quickly towards also having a much louder and determined dialogue about the solutions otherwise there will be a collective "switch off" on this issue and the only thing that will then stir us from our slumber, as Lovelock predicts, will be a climate change-induced disaster that gravely affects the western world

Brazil builds £10m condom factory to help save rainforest

Story by 

Making love might not seem like the most obvious way to save the world's largest tropical rainforest - and combat the threat of Aids.

But according to the Brazilian government, which this week opened a £10m condom factory deep in the Amazon jungle, it could be an effective weapon in the battle to silence the chainsaws of Amazonia.

On Monday government ministers gathered in the remote town of Xapuri to open a condom factory that will use latex manually extracted from the area's forests to make around 100 million condoms a year.

The factory, in the Amazon state of Acre, would allow local rubber tappers to profit from the rainforest without destroying it, officials said. Marina Silva, Brazil's environment minister, said the Natex condom would help create "a new pattern of production and a new process of inclusion that would value the forest being left standing".

As well as protecting the rainforest government officials hope the factory will help to reduce Brazil's dependence on condoms imported from Asia. Last year Brazil distributed around 120 million free condoms as part of a massive anti-Aids drive that has helped to slash infection rates in South America's largest country.

In a statement the health ministry said more than 500 local families would also benefit from what has been dubbed the "made in Amazonia" condom, together earning R$2.2m (£657,000) each year.

Hugo Paz de Souza, 43, a rubber tapper, said the factory would allow him to double his income to around £200 a month.

"Because of this I've managed to buy a few cows and give my family a better life," he told local newspaper Pagina 20. Raimundo Barros, vice president of the local agricultural association, said: "This product will allow people to make love with security and to better plan their futures."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Throwing light on African soils

The future is infrared (From New Agriculturalist)

In the last four decades, more than half of the land on the plains of Lake Victoria in western Kenya has been abandoned as a result of soil degradation. Millions of tonnes of fertile soil are lost by soil erosion at an astonishingly fast rate. According to Dr Keith Shepherd at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) "Over twenty years, land degradation can mean the difference between productive land, and land that becomes like stone." If vegetation is removed, the process speeds up, and the physical structure of the soil starts to degrade and collapse, depleting vital nutrients. Reversing the process of desertification is difficult and expensive. The key, says Shepherd, "is to identify the problem early enough to prevent switches that occur from a very healthy ecosystem to a degraded state."

Throwing light on the problem

In desertified regions, one of the main priorities is to identify areas that are not yet extensively degraded but the first step is to determine the exact level of degradation. Until recently, analysing soil samples in the laboratory cost more than US$ 50 per sample - rendering it unavailable to farmers. Representing a major advance in field diagnostics however, new infra-red technology (IR) offers a low cost and accurate method of quality diagnosis. The process, known as infra-red spectroscopy, works by shining light on a soil sample. The reflections from a range of wavelengths are collected to create a 'digital scan', which is used to determine soil composition and type.

The technology, extensively used in the pharmaceutical industry to ensure quality control in medicines, offers rapid and non-destructive soil analysis. It is able to predict potential shifting points in the soil, allowing restoration before the soil structure is entirely degraded. For example, soils susceptible to physical degradation start to degrade once a critical amount of vegetation cover has been removed. Soil erosion then sets in and finer particles such as silt, clay and organic matter are washed away and the physical structure of the soil starts to breakdown. The system therefore reaches a point where the soil structure suddenly collapses and soil nutrients are depleted.

With IR technolody, ecologist Alex Awiti states that the method can be used as part of overall soil diagnosis. For instance, low nutrients levels can be redressed by using specific fertilisers. The analysis can also predict soil and plant performance, enabling advice and recommendations about how to boost crop productivity. The Western Kenya Integrated Ecosystem Management Project combined the IR technology with Geographical Information Systems (GIS), providing the potential to develop detailed soil health maps throughout Africa.

Other technologies

The scanner powered by electricity costs US$75,000 but can cost-effectively analyse samples at less than a dollar per sample. Awiti reports that farmers have responded to the technology trials with "enormous excitement". However, infra-red spectroscopy is only one of many interventions introduced by ICRAF to prevent land degradation. Tree planting and sustainable agriculture are also promoted. One tree in particular - 'the tree of life' has proved considerable success. A popular leguminous tree, Gliricidia sepium, produces leaves containing 3-4 per cent nitrogen. By capturing nitrogen from the air, the plant is capable of producing nitrogen-rich bio-mass that can double or even triple maize yields. (See Agroforestry comes of age in Orlando -

ICRAF also advises on reintroducing high value trees such as baobab or sheanut, and other fruit trees which provide an important source of nutrition. These trees are particularly valued in areas such as the parkland systems of West Africa, where trees have been cut down, or died as a result of drought, and land is left open to erosion. However, planting trees is not always the way forward. For Shepherd, there are no single answers: "I would like to see a broad approach to recommending land use. There is no silver bullet. It is a question of recognising the types of problems and then targeting them with the right kind of interventions."

Prevention is better than cure

The IR technology is currently being used as part of the UN Millennium Villages Project, and a World Bank initiative to halt desertification. But as Awiti explains, a major consideration will be capacity building, and how to "help extension workers come on board with these technologies." The best way, he says, is to plan ahead and involve communities. Reversing desertification is a difficult and expensive process, and prevention will be much more effective, not to mention cheaper, than cure. The process will need to be sustainable in the long term, as well as effective in the short term. Soil mapping for Africa is an exciting prospect and IR technology promises to revolutionise soil diagnosis and analysis. In summary Shepherd says, "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

For further information see World Agroforestry Centre -


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