Monday, September 1, 2014

UN News - SAMOA: From weeds to electricity, UN partnership aims to connect families to electric grid

By UN News Centre

A toxic weed in Samoa is being turned into electricity, raising hopes that families on the southern coast of the Pacific island can be connected to the national grid as a result of a partnership between the Government and the United Nations.

“This is the first time ever in Samoa that you produce electricity from biogas,” said Mina Weydalh,

Energy Analyst and acting head of the energy unit at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) office in the country. “It's not a new technology. They do it in Europe, and they do it in China. But it's new in Samoa.”

To showcase the bio-fuel partnership, delegates at the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference set to begin on Monday in the Samoan capital, Apia, will be riding around in 15 six-seater electric carts partially fueled by organic waste. The project is run by UNDP, along with Samoa's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

“The system we have here is not big enough to power all those golf carts completely but we are going to give them a little top up,” Ms. Weydalh told the UN News Centre standing next to a cart that was being charged from a biogas digester.

Reminiscent of a large white propane tank, the biogas digester breaks down organic waste through a fermentation process that does not use air. The methane is then fed into a generator to produce electricity.

In the southern coast village of Piu, plans are underway to use this same technology to build a much larger bio-digester that can provide power for six families. Additional energy can be sold back to the national grid, generating income for the community.

The project is part of the regional Pacific Island Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Programme (PIGGAREP). Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project is now supporting Piu to build and manage a power station fuelled entirely by local organic waste. The Danish Government, added another $3 million to be used by Samoa and eight other countries in the region.

“This project is quite interesting because we are going to use a vine, it's called the Merremia vine. That is an invasive vine to Samoa and, if you go out to the outer areas of Samoa, you'll see it covers everything,” Ms. Weydalh noted, describing a type of 'Morning Glory'. The vine is blamed for killing more than 60 per cent of Samoa's forests. But as biomass, it could be fuel for bioenergy.

“The goal is to demonstrate the viability of biogas solutions on the island, while at the same time stopping the spread of the invasive vine,” UNDP has said.

Samoa, like many other Pacific island states, is very heavily dependent on generators that run on either diesel or petrol, and which have to be shipped to the island. The country imports up to 100 million litres of petrol per year, of which nearly half are used for transport, according to official figures.

Seventy per cent of the power consumption in Samoa comes from fossil fuel, according to the UN agency. Most of the remaining 30 per cent is hydro power.

“Samoa is lucky because they have a little bit of mountains,” said Ms.Weydalh, “but many of the island states are flat. They're atoll, so they don't have any hydro because you need a little height difference to do hydro.”

Biogas, then, offers potential for development in small island developing states, particularly at the community level.

Whereas wind or hydropower systems can be large generating thousands of megawatts, bio-fuel systems such as the one being demonstrated the UN conference is “something that a smaller village or a smaller household in the community can invest in,” the energy expert noted.

She added that the price of one kilowatt hour in Samoa is roughly an “extremely expensive” 45 cents, as compared with the rest of the world.

As the UN conference on small island developing states officially kicks on Monday, the carts run on bio-fuel are meant to be reminders of successful partnerships and how to expand them.

“This can produce electricity,” Ms. Weydalh said. “That's what we're demonstrating here, to get people talking.”

UN News - SAMOA: From weeds to electricity, UN partnership aims to connect families to electric grid

Sunday, August 31, 2014

California Bans Plastic Bags » EcoWatch

By Stefanie Spear, EcoWatch

The California Senate voted 22-15 late last night to pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The bill, SB 270, will phase out single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning July 2015, and in convenience stores one year later, and create a mandatory minimum ten-cent fee for recycled paper, reusable plastic and compostable bags.

The bill, which passed both houses of the California State Legislature now heads to the Governor’s desk. If signed, California will become the first state in the U.S. to ban what advocates call “the most ubiquitous consumer item on the planet.”

Senators Alex Padilla, Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara authored the measure that will implement a ban while promoting recycling and California manufacturing, and provides financial incentives to maintain and retrain California employees in affected industries.

“In crafting this compromise, it was imperative to me that we achieve the goals of doing away with single-use plastic bags, help change consumer behavior, and importantly, support and expand California jobs,” said Senate President pro Tempore-elect Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

Senate Bill 270 will:
  • Increase the use of recycled content for reusable plastic bags to promote recycling and California manufacturing. In 2016, bags will be required to have 20 percent recycled content and in 2020 be made of 40 percentrecycled content.
  • Support recycling of agriculture plastic film which is currently sent to landfills.
  • Require large grocery store chains to take back used bags for continued recycling.
  • Require third party certification of reusable plastic bags to ensure compliance with bag standards which support California manufacturing.
  • Grandfathers existing local ordinances related to grocery bags.
More than 120 California local governments have already banned single-use plastic bags with more than 1 in 3 Californians already living somewhere with a plastic bag ban in place, in an effort to drive consumers towards sustainable behavior change.

The Clean Seas Coalition, a growing group of environmentalists, scientists, California lawmakers, students and community leaders has worked since 2008 to reduce sources of plastic pollution, and help pass this legislation.

“Data from the over 121 local plastic bag bans, like Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, San Jose and San Mateo has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry’s claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities,” said Leslie Tamminen, director Seventh Generation Advisors and facilitator for the Clean Seas Coalition. “A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers huge amounts of money spent on litter cleanup, and protects the environment.”

Plastic bags create a direct threat to wildlife, like the Pacific leatherback sea turtles, that mistake the bags for food. A study of more than 370 leatherback sea turtle autopsies found that one in three had plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag. Plastic bags are also one of the most common items littered on California’s beaches according to Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach cleanup data, according to Ocean Conservancy.

“This important step forward shows that we can achieve lasting victories for ocean and environmental health,” said Nathan Weaver, oceans advocate with Environment California. “Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our ocean for hundreds of years. I congratulate Senators Padilla, de León, and Lara for their victory today, and I thank them for their leadership to protect our environment.”

“The experience of over 120 cities shows that this policy works,” concluded Weaver. “I urge Governor Brown to sign SB 270 into law.”

California Bans Plastic Bags » EcoWatch

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rationale for Recycling Lead-Acid Batteries


Lead-acid storage batteries (LABs) are widely used on a mass-scale in all parts of the world. They act as power sources in a wide-range of equipment and appliances used by households, commerce and industry. LABs finds application in all modes of modern transport including cars, trucks, buses, boats, trains, rapid mass-transit systems, recreational vehicles etc.

During power-cuts, lead-acid batteries provide emergency power for critical operations such as air-traffic control towers, hospitals, railroad crossings, military installations, submarines, and weapons systems. Every telephone company in the world, including mobile telephone service providers, uses lead-acid batteries as backup power to the telecommunications systems.

There are two types of battery: primary cells which cannot be recharged and secondary cells which can be recharged. Batteries are normally split into three categories, depending on their use: consumer or portable, automotive and industrial. All automotive batteries and 95 percent of industrial batteries are lead-acid secondary cells whilst over 95 percent of all consumer batteries are primary cells.

Harmful Effects

Lead-acid batteries contain sulphuric acid and large amounts of lead. The acid is extremely corrosive and is also a good carrier for soluble lead and lead particulate. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects particularly in young children. Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause damage to brain and kidney, impair hearing; and lead to numerous other associated problems. On average, each automobile manufactured contains approximately 12 kilograms of lead. Around 96% lead is used in the common lead-acid battery, while the remaining 4% in other applications including wheel balance weights, protective coatings and vibration dampers.

Lead is highly toxic metal and once the battery becomes inoperative, it is necessary to ensure its proper collection and eco-friendly recycling. A single lead-acid battery disposed of incorrectly into a municipal solid waste collection system, and not removed prior to entering a resource recovery facility for mixed MSW, could contaminate 25 tonnes of MSW and prevent the recovery of the organic resources within this waste because of high lead level.

Collection Strategies

The most common and most efficient method for the collection of used lead-acid batteries (ULABs) is through the battery retailer where a discount is given against the purchase price of a new battery provided the customer returns the used battery. In some countries a deposit has to be paid when a new battery is purchased and is only returned to the customer when the battery is returned to the retailer for recycling.

In several parts of the world, reconditioned lead-acid batteries are offered for sale. In the Caribbean islands there is a thriving second-hand auto trade and thousands of used Japanese cars are imported into the region every year to be broken up for spares. Many of these vehicles have a used lead acid battery, which is removed from the vehicle and shipped to Venezuela for recycling. Another collection mechanism is through rag-pickers who scavenge for discarded materials that can be reused or recycled. Rag-pickers scour waste dumps, strip abandoned vehicles and wrecks and even collect batteries that have been used for standby power in domestic houses.

Advantages of Battery Recycling

The lead-acid battery recycling sector has a well-established infrastructure in many parts of the world, especially North America and Europe. Recycling of lead-acid batteries, provided it is done in an environmentally sound manner, is important because it keeps the batteries out of the waste stream destined for final disposal. Lead from ULABs placed in unlined landfills can even contaminate the groundwater.

Recycling prevents the emission of lead into the environment and also avoids the energy usage associated with manufacturing lead from virgin resources. Obtaining secondary lead from used lead-acid batteries can be economically attractive, depending upon the market price of lead. Recovery of lead from batteries is easier and requires significantly less energy than producing primary lead from ore.

Recycling also reduces dispersal of lead in the environment and conserves mineral resources for the future when undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It needs to be mentioned that recycling of used lead acid batteries is not a simple process that can be undertaken in small scale enterprises. Certain control measures should to be taken to prevent adverse impacts to people and the environment.

Rationale for Recycling Lead-Acid Batteries

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Millennium Development Goals Snapshot 2014

Source: UNStats

18 August 2014 marks the 500-day countdown toward the target date to
achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of 2015. This
video provides a snapshot of what has been achieved so far and what
needs to be done to reach the MDGs by the end of 2015.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

City requests declaration of the Cape Town Bioregion

The City of Cape Town is hoping to be declared as a bioregion.

The City’s Council has recognised the City’s efforts to create a balance between urban development and environmental protection by recommending that the MEC for Environmental Affairs be requested to declare Cape Town as a bioregion.

This would be one of the first of such regions for a South African metro. It is testament to this administration’s commitment to become a sustainable city for future generations through its increased efforts to protect and restore Cape Town’s unique biodiversity.

City has exceptional biodiversity richness and uniqueness

If the City of Cape Town’s request for the declaration of Cape Town as a bioregion is granted, the MEC will publish the Cape Town Bioregional Plan, as prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (NEMBA).

The bioregion covers the city’s metropolitan area of 2 460 km².

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan is a spatial plan that shows terrestrial and aquatic features that are critical for conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecological functioning. These are referred to as Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas.

Cape Town has an exceptional biodiversity richness and uniqueness. However, given the developmental pressures on the land, minimum national ecosystem targets can no longer be achieved for eight out of the 19 major national ecosystems found in the bioregion.

Plan to protect remaining national ecosystems

‘This means that as a City we have to protect the remaining extent of these national ecosystem types found within the city. The Cape Town Bioregional Plan will make members of the public aware, in advance, of what the biodiversity constraints for a site are likely to be. This provides a level of predictability for residents, planners, developers and decision-makers. As a well-run city that has made the commitment to embark on the route of sustainability, this plan is key to the fulfilment of the promise of this future,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning, Councillor Johan van der Merwe.

The bioregional plan is the primary biodiversity informant as it indicates the presence and location of Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas, including rivers and wetlands. The plan, like the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework, does not grant or take away rights. It is, however, expected to propel issues of biodiversity and ecological management to a higher level of importance when developmental applications are considered.

To lead by example in protection and enhancement of biodiversity

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan has been developed in accordance with the vision of the City’s Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan which was adopted by Council on 27 May 2009. The resolution taken by Council emphasises, amongst others, the need for the City to lead by example in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and to be a City that actively protects its biological wealth and prioritises long-term responsibility over short-term gains.

‘The City has the highest rate of urbanisation in the country and development pressures are pronounced. As natural habitat is being lost continuously to formal and informal development,agriculture and mining, securing the Biodiversity Network is an urgent priority. We can only achieve the sustainability of this network and associated ecosystems through the coordinated contribution of all stakeholders,’ said Councillor Van der Merwe.

The plan comprises a biodiversity profile, a map of biodiversity priorities with accompanying land-use planning and decision-making guidelines, and additional management measures.

It indicates localities of Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas that are required to meet national ecosystem targets for terrestrial and wetland ecosystems (National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment of 2004).

Cape Town Bioregional Plan as statutory reference

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan will serve as the statutory reference for biodiversity priority areas in the city and is aligned with the National Biodiversity Framework, the Provincial Spatial Development Framework and the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework.

Policy 25 of the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework commits the City to increase efforts to protect and restore the Biodiversity Network, thereby implementing a plan in accordance with NEMBA.

The Biodiversity Network has been integrated into the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework in its entirety as the primary biodiversity informant for the City. Both of these municipal planning tools embody the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

It is important to note that a bioregional plan is not itself a multi-sector plan (like the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework) with inputs from many sectors, but ‘rather the biodiversity sector’s inputs into various multi-sectoral planning and authorisation processes’.

From the wording in the NEMBA, a published bioregional plan must be taken into account, amongst other relevant considerations, when considering the merits of a development application.

City requests declaration of the Cape Town Bioregion

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals? | Jonathan Glennie

By Jonathan Glennie, The Guardian

Despite promises to leave no one behind, the UN drafting committee has little to say about halting threats to their survival

The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world.

So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise.

Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them. In the draft of the SDGs released last month by the open working group, they get only two quick mentions: in goals on hunger and education, between commas in one of those lists that the UN so loves – they appear alongside youth, disabled people, women, family farmers and pastoralists.

But indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population, and anything from 10% (according to the World Bank) to 30% (says the UN) of the world’s poorest people. By most accounts, they have been the group least well served by the MDGs – despite plenty of progress on achieving the goals, the most excluded sectors of society have not generally reaped their rewards.

The failure, so far, of indigenous representatives to gain recognition in the SDGs demonstrates their lack of political clout.

Indigenous people are, by definition, outsiders, both politically and geographically. They are often remotely located, so are easily forgotten by the centres of power, and their lands are considered a source of income generation rather than as heritage to be cherished.

In February last year, at an MDG review conference in Colombia, I saw indigenous leaders hand the head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, their manifesto for inclusion in the development agenda. Its overwhelming focus was on land and territorial rights. Their concern was not so much ending poverty, a noble aim of course, but protecting their ways of life.

A glance at the website of the campaigning group Survival International reveals the continuing threats to countless tribal peoples. In a campaign timed to coincide with the World Cup in Brazil, the organisation highlighted the rapid extinction of tribe after tribe as “development” continues apace in the world’s seventh-largest economy.

“Development” is as often considered a threat as an opportunity by people who have been promised much in the past, but who have seldom seen the fruits of economic growth, enjoyed by others at their expense. The long battle for what is known in the jargon as “free, prior, informed consent” over development projects in their vicinity is now little more than a bad joke, as competition for resources becomes ever fiercer.

If ever a statement of intent could play a meaningful and powerful role in achieving change, the SDGs are it. But the draft has nothing to say on this.

Despite talk of this set of goals “leaving no one behind”, we have the usual development focus on money and social outcomes. But only the most bone-headed economist would judge progress for indigenous people in terms of minor increases in their income per capita. If that is what they wanted they could just come to the city and work in a factory.

The silence isn’t surprising. The last thing governments want is their hands tied by an international agreement that commits them to respecting indigenous rights, which could be detrimental to their short-term economic plans.

In a prepared statement to the 13th session of the open working group in June, the group of indigenous people expressed concern “that if we are not explicitly and meaningfully referred to in the operative text of the SDGs, we will encounter immense constraint and exclusion from the implementation and monitoring processes. Our experience with and invisibility within MDGs supports this concern.”

Their statement ends: “You don’t have to turn your back on us. You can still take our hand and include us in the journey of the next 15 years. We can make valuable contributions. Don’t leave us behind.”

Ironically, though, and typically, the statement was not delivered in the plenary session due to time constraints.

The slow erosion of indigenous people is one of the world’s greatest ongoing tragedies, and for all the shifting paradigms evident in the new set of goals, the clash between so-called development and dignity for indigenous people appears to be very much here to stay.

After centuries spent on the underside of history, indigenous people deserve a duty of care from the international community, and recognition of what they offer.

Next month’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is a perfect opportunity to right this wrong and to put them at the centre of international development efforts, rather than as an afterthought.

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?