To cut carbon emissions, tackle traffic snarls

04:45 AM Dec 11, 2012

by Dennis Posadas

If we look at a lot of Asian cities like Manila and Bangkok, we find an extraordinary amount of gridlock especially during the peak hours going to and from work in the business districts.

Despite the preponderance of mass transit systems in many countries, there are still a large number of cars and trucks that enter and leave our cities every day to do their activities.

All of these vehicles of course burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases, but we rarely stop and think of traffic avoidance as a carbon mitigation scheme. Most of our attention is focused on clean energy vis-a-vis coal plants and other fossil fuel energy sources.

While it is important to avoid building more coal plants (or at least slow it down), one cheap and smart way to do carbon mitigation is to simply work on the traffic problem, coupled with fuel efficiency efforts.

A programme to encourage engine tune-ups and maintenance; banning certain cars from the road depending on their plate number (for that day); encouraging car pools; and other easily implementable solutions can reap good carbon reduction rewards, especially if you consider that one hour spent in traffic can easily burn one litre of fuel. This solution, of course, should be coupled with mass transit solutions and other modern urban planning tools.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates carbon dioxide output from a standard coal plant for every hour it is run at roughly 2,249 lbs per one million watts of electricity generated (or one megawatt). This translates to just over one metric ton of CO2 per hour.

If we compare this with the CO2 output from vehicles – assuming an average of 2.5kg per litre of fuel – we find that burning roughly 400 litres of fuel is equivalent to each megawatt that a coal plant that runs for an hour generates.

Now consider this: An entire city paralysed in traffic gridlock may exceed 40,000 litres of petrol burned every hour.

The CO2 generated is the equivalent of what a 100-megawatt coal plant running for an hour produces.

So the next time someone talks about cutting carbon, one might suggest that they also look at traffic avoidance in our cities as a good carbon mitigation strategy.

Dennis Posadas is an Asia-based fellow of the Climate Institute Center for Environmental Leadership Training and a technical consultant on clean energy matters. He is the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable. His new business fable on clean energy will be published in 2013.


Copyright 2012 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Singapore’s chance, in an era of business as unusual, by Malcolm Preston (04:45 AM Dec 11, 2012)

Solar Panels on South-east Asia’s first Zero Energy Building in Singapore,
which produces enough energy to run itself. By 2015, the clean energy
industry could contribute S$1.7 billion to the country’s GDP.


The current economic conditions have been described by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) UK economic analysts as the “new normal”. It’s a period of high uncertainty, subdued growth and volatile commodity prices. Put climate change in the mix and it is business as unusual.

If the findings of this year’s Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) Global 500 report are anything to go by, we had better get used to it. Even if we took a positive outlook on economic growth, the implications of this year’s report are that while growth might be good news for the economic environment, it is less encouraging for the physical one.

Fewer than half of responding companies in this year’s report show a decline in their emissions solely attributable to emission reductions activities. The economic slowdown led to staff reductions, closure of plants, offices and shops, reductions in output, manufacturing and business travel, not to mention corporate and consumer spending.

So, while the recession has been good for carbon emissions, it is the right result for the wrong reasons.

Companies are making short-term operational or efficiency investments to reduce emissions but are holding back on longer-term capital investments. Underlying technology, investment or strategy issues have yet to be addressed wholesale.

Any economic recovery will be matched by a bounce-back in emissions as well and with it we are seeing the goal of limiting climate change to 2°C slipping further out of reach.

In fact, as discussed in our Low Carbon Economy Index, we believe governments and business should start building 4°C and even 6°C scenarios into their forward planning.


In fairness to business, companies are responding as best they can in the current legislative and regulatory environment.

In their responses to CDP, 49 per cent of companies state that regulation is an important driver of corporate action. And regulatory uncertainty is a barrier to action. CEOs are rational people. They need investment-grade policies, at a national level, to get backing for the kind of game-changing low-carbon investments needed.

This is where Singapore can play an important role in the global sustainability and climate change agenda.

With the right policies and incentives, the upheaval thrown up by the current uncertain economic climate and regulatory environment might allow Singapore to fast-track its development of clean and renewable technologies in the areas of energy, food and water, by attracting even cleaner tech firms to set up their operations here.

The Singapore Government has projected that by 2015, the clean energy industry could contribute S$1.7 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product and create 7,000 jobs across a broad range of areas, including solar power, fuel cells, wind power, energy efficiency and carbon services.

They have done a remarkable job of initiating a programme for attracting renewable energy and clean tech companies to base their operations here. But to achieve their ambition, they will need to continue this programme with an integrated mix of public and private initiatives including R&D support; policies to allow development and testing of more new technologies in Singapore; and financial incentives, to name a few.

With the global population expected to hit eight billion by 2030, I expect the demand for expertise in clean tech and energy efficiency, particularly as climate and energy security issues escalate, to rise exponentially as nations struggle to provide their citizens with the basic needs of energy, water, sanitation and food. The issues extend well beyond clean and renewable energy.

Singapore, compared to many other nations, has already set out its stall to be a leader in these sustainability issues. The opportunity that lies ahead for Singapore is to attract and nurture industries that will deliver high-value and specialised jobs across the range of clean-tech industries well into the foreseeable future. And in so doing, enable our global society to transform to a world of business as unusual.

Malcolm Preston is the Global Head and UK leader of sustainability and climate change at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He was in Singapore as one of the speakers at the recent Bloomberg Businessweek Global Green Summit.


Copyright 2012 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Wise up, it’s a simple human equation by Devadas Krishnadas

04:45 AM Dec 05, 2012
The polar ice packs are shrinking at rates which exceed scientific projections made only a decade ago. Temperatures across the globe are increasing. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that its best-case projection is for a 1.1 °C rise by the end of the century.

Total global carbon emissions can only increase as the planetary population grows and a greater share of this mass of people become urbanised.

The United Nations Population Division projects that global urbanisation, at 50 per cent today, will reach 70 per cent by mid-century.

(Picture: The Maldives may be uninhabitable by mid-century due to rising sea levels.)

So there are a few immutable facts to this story.

One, climate change is real. Two, climate change is accelerating. Three, one of the key contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions, will increase with population growth and urbanisation rates. Four, climate change is a planetary-system-wide phenomenon. And five, we do not have a planetary-system-wide response. Consequently, we, as a planet, are on a collision course with a very bad scenario.


Why are we continuing on this path if its outcome is self-evident? It seems to be that there are five major conceptual roadblocks to progress.

First is the false and futile debate over the veracity of climate change. The evidence that the climate is changing is irrefutable.

Thus the debate centres on whether climate change is man-induced or natural. This is somewhat akin to deciding if the train rushing towards one has a malicious driver at the helm or is a runaway engine. Either way, one is going to get run over.

Even those who believe that climate change is natural acknowledge that Man’s activities do contribute partly to the phenomenon.

Thus, the logic should be that since climate change is a threat and we cannot do anything to mitigate the natural part of it, we should focus on what we can do something about – Man’s activities.

Second, climate change is systemic on a planetary scale. It can be difficult for most people to grasp change on such a scale when it is challenging enough to cope with change on a human scale. Nonetheless, if there is one thing all peoples should be able to agree upon, it should be the thing that represents an existential threat to us all. If only it were so easy.

Third, even while climate change is accelerating when measured in geographic time, it is still happening slowly in human time. In other words, most people do not feel the effects of climate change within their lifetime viscerally enough to take action.

Of course there are those that do – in Greenland, for instance, the agricultural season has extended by three weeks over the past half century, while the Maldives will potentially be uninhabitable by mid-century due to rising sea levels.


Fourth, the mental model held by political leaders and policymakers is that economic growth and climate sensitivity are at worst mutually exclusive and at best sequential.

Particularly in the case of developing economies, where the remnants of the world’s forested areas, unspoiled continental rivers and ground based minerals are located, there is tragedy of present extraction for local economic growth prioritised over the future consequences on global climate health.

Fifth, the model of consumption-driven economic behaviour that has prevailed since the Industrial Revolution has meant that economic progress is negatively correlated with climate health. This is due to the extraction of natural resources, the negative externalities of industrial production and power generation and wastefulness of urban societies all in service of the limitless consumerism of the aspiring urbanite.


What can be done? Conceptual roadblocks must be undone with conceptual levers, scale of challenge matched with scale of response.

First, the need for climate sensitivity should be acknowledged at the planetary level. The United Nations should prioritise the issue, seek the commitment of states and coordinate the actions of international agencies to bring into focus both global attention and resources.

As it has done with human rights, peacemaking and disaster relief, the UN needs to put climate sensitivity on the agenda for global action.

Second, with the future global population increasingly concentrated in cities, there is a need to ensure that urbanisation is climate sensitive.

C40 – an organisation currently chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and championed by former US President Bill Clinton, which brings together Mayors of major cities – is doing outstanding work in this direction. In 2012, Singapore signed on as an observer city.

We can do more.

We have set managing better with urban intensification as one of our National Innovation goals. We can build on this commitment to look at climate-sensitive measures for dense urbanities such as ours. In the same way that we have become leaders in water conservation, we can and should – as the most advanced city in our region – be leaders in urban climate sensitivity.


Third, there must be a concerted effort by the private sector, policymakers and thought leaders to find practical ways to make economic growth and climate sensitivity mutually inclusive and concurrent.

This is not an impossible goal, merely hitherto a neglected one. The human mind, particularly when motivated by sufficient passion, can accomplish anything it sets to – that much our history has proven. Emergent economy leaders should not fold their hands and wait for solutions but actively join the process of discovery of this new path of development.

Fourth, rather than try to rely exclusively on bottom-up measures and moral suasion, much wider and entrenched progress can be made if existing frameworks of discipline on state behaviour can factor in performance on climate sensitivity.

Mr Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Office together with Ms Susan Burns of the Global Footprint Network, have argued for sovereign risk ratings to take into consideration state performance on climate sensitivity.

This would be a powerful way to normalise the need to be climate-sensitive as nothing concentrates the minds of the political leader, policymaker and private market actor as much as cost of capital and reputational risk.


Fifth, President of Uruguay Jose Mujira has passionately and eloquently argued for a rethink of the consumption-driven model of economic progress. Many have riposted that he is being idealistic and not practical.

In fact, when we consider the certainty of climate change motored by the externalities of such an economic model, we should treat him as the ultimate pragmatist for looking facts in the face and calling its name loudly.

Climate change is a collective phenomenon. It must be met by an acknowledgement of collective responsibility. No one and no place will be excluded from the experience of climate change. Equally then, dealing with it is an obligation from which no one and no place should be excluded.

Our future depends on the fulfilment of this human equation so absurdly simple and self-evident, which will call upon each of us to find the moral mettle to force ourselves, our governments and our private corporations to prioritise future benefits over present gains.

Devadas Krishnadas is Director of Future-Moves, a foresight consultancy based in Singapore. He is a Fulbright Scholar.

CO2 emissions hit record high last year

NEW YORK – Global emissions of carbon dioxide were at a record high last year and are likely to take a similar jump in this year, scientists have reported, in the latest indication that efforts to limit such emissions are failing.

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 2°C, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Dr Josep Canadell, a scientist in Australia who leads that tracking programme, said that salvaging the goal, if it can be done at all, “requires an immediate, large and sustained global mitigation effort”.

Yet nations around the world, despite a formal treaty pledging to limit warming, have shown little appetite for the kinds of controls required to accomplish those stated aims.

Delegates from nearly 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for the latest round of talks under the treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

However, little progress is expected, especially on a protocol that is supposed to be concluded in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Ms Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the climate convention, said that while the global negotiations were necessary, they were not sufficient to tackle the problem “until enough domestic legislation and action are in place”.

Global emissions jumped 3 per cent last year and are expected to jump another 2.6 per cent this year, researchers reported in two papers released by scientific journals last Sunday.

The level of carbon dioxide has increased about 41 per cent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Scientists say further increases in carbon dioxide are likely to have a profound effect on the climate, leading to higher sea levels and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters and an extreme acidification of the ocean. The earliest effects are already being seen, experts believe, but they are projected to worsen.

The New York Times

If the world gets hotter by 4°C …

04:45 AM Nov 20, 2012

WASHINGTON – All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but it is the world’s poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank said in a report on climate change.
Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.
The report, called Turn Down the Heat, highlights the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4°C by the end of the century, a likely scenario under current policies.
Climate change is already having an effect: Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum in September, and extreme heat waves and drought in the last decade have hit places like the United States and Russia more often than would be expected.
Such extreme weather is likely to become the “new normal” if the temperature rises by 4°C, according to the report.
This is likely to happen if not all countries comply with pledges they have made to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
In this hotter climate, the level of the sea would rise by up to 0.9m, flooding cities in places like Vietnam and Bangladesh. Water scarcity and falling crop yields would exacerbate hunger and poverty.
Extreme heat waves would devastate broad swathes of the earth’s land, from the Middle East to the US, the report warned. Reuters
Copyright 2012 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Japan Embraces Geothermal Power by YURIKO NAGANO (November 3, 2012)

YUZAWA CITY, Japan — Tarobee Ito, 69, is the guardian of a family legacy that has survived for more than 12 generations: He manages Tarobee Ryokan, a traditional Japanese onsen ryokan, or hot spring inn, one of about a dozen inns at the Oyasu thermal gorge near Yuzawa City in Akita Prefecture, northern Japan.
But the white steam from the thermal springs has attracted developers with plans for a geothermal power plant in the mountainous area behind his inn that is a national monument.“The developers have promised to stop the process if they see a change in hot spring flow at any point,” Mr. Ito said.
In the wake of last year’s nuclear disaster, Japan is seeking alternative energy sources like geothermal power from hot springs. The Daifunto thermal area near Yuzawa City in the north.Pressures to develop the region’s thermal energy potential are strong. Japan has been struggling to find alternative energy resources since March of last year, when a tsunami created by an earthquake destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The country’s 54 nuclear reactors were shut down, and only two have resumed operations.
Nuclear plants supplied 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, and the shutdown led to a national energy shortage.
According to the International Geothermal Association, Japan comes third, after Indonesia and the United States, in geothermal energy reserves, but is just eighth in output. The Japanese government said it would aim to triple renewable energy sources, including geothermal energy, by 2030.This year, the government has set aside 9 billion yen, or $115 million, to pay for geothermal energy development surveys, and it has submitted a request for 7.5 billion yen to continue the survey next year. It has also earmarked 6 billion yen this year for a program to aid geothermal power developers and is requesting 9 billion yen to extend this program.

Japan’s first geothermal power plant started operating in Iwate Prefecture, next to Akita Prefecture, in 1966. There are now 17 geothermal plants nationwide. In 1974, environmental concerns led to a ban on further development.
The plants produce 535 megawatts of geothermal energy, about 0.2 percent of the country’s total energy output. Yet, the potential is enormous: more than 20 gigawatts of geothermal energy could be developed in Japan, according to a government report.
“Unlike solar or wind energy that can vary in output due to weather conditions, geothermal energy is pretty consistent and stable in output,” said Keiichi Sakaguchi, head of the geothermal research group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
But close to 80 percent of Japan’s geothermal reserves are in areas designated as national parks and monuments.
The government in March lifted its ban to allow geothermal projects in five new potential sites in national parks and monuments.
“Many city residents, including myself, support geothermal power development because it sets us apart from surrounding municipalities,” said Shoji Sato, 77, chairman of Yuzawa City Geothermal Development Facilitation Council, a local activist group.
But he acknowledged the inn operators at Oyasu were worried, “because they’re a bit nervous of the idea of a power plant drawing tons of thermal water close to where they source their water.”
The Japanese oil company Idemitsu Kosan is a developer for the Akita geothermal project. Representatives have met with community leaders and explained their plans to residents.Idemitsu is preparing to drill an exploration well to a depth of more than 1,500 meters to test the volume and temperature of thermal water and steam reservoirs.
Another large geothermal project is planned in Fukushima Prefecture. There, local onsen groups are still assessing the situation, and a survey has not yet started.
Mr. Sakaguchi said geothermal power developments outside Japan have caused two hot springs to dry up, but “the technology to pick up underground movements and simulation technology has really improved in the last two decades, so the risk is much lower.”
It typically can take 20 years to develop a geothermal plant, if only because it takes time to earn the trust and cooperation of local people, Mr. Sakaguchi said.
Mr. Ito, of Tarobee Ryokan, is worried. “It does sound like there is some risk involved.”


The Perils of Plastic, by Bryan Walsh

On the first Earth Day, celebrated 40 years ago this month, the U.S. was a poisoned nation. Dense air pollution blanketed cities like Los Angeles, where smog alerts were a fact of life. Dangerous pesticides like DDT were still in use, and water pollution was rampant — symbolized by raging fires on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, captured in a famous 1969 story for TIME. But the green movement that was energized by Earth Day — and the landmark federal actions that followed it — changed much of that. Today air pollution is down significantly in most urban areas, the water is cleaner, and even the Cuyahoga is home to fish again. Though climate change looms as a long-term threat, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day will see a much cleaner country.

But if the land is healing, Americans may be sickening. Since World War II, production of industrial chemicals has risen rapidly, and the U.S. generates or imports some 42 billion lb. (19 billion kg) of them per day, leaving Americans awash in a sea of synthetics. These aren’t the sorts of chemicals that come to mind when we picture pollution — huge plants spilling contaminated wastewater into rivers. Rather, they’re the molecules that make good on the old “better living through chemistry” promise, appearing in items like unbreakable baby bottles and big-screen TVs. Those chemicals have a habit of finding their way out of everyday products and into the environment — and ultimately into living organisms. A recent biomonitoring survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found traces of 212 environmental chemicals in Americans — including toxic metals like arsenic and cadmium, pesticides, flame retardants and even perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel. “It’s not the environment that’s contaminated so much,” says Dr. Bruce Lanphear, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Center. “It’s us.” (See pictures of the world’s most polluted places.)

As scientists get better at detecting the chemicals in our bodies, they’re discovering that even tiny quantities of toxins can have a potentially serious impact on our health — and our children’s future. Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates — key ingredients in modern plastics — may disrupt the delicate endocrine system, leading to developmental problems. A host of modern ills that have been rising unchecked for a generation — obesity, diabetes, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — could have chemical connections. “We don’t give environmental exposure the attention it deserves,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. “But there’s an emerging understanding that kids are uniquely susceptible to environmental hazards.” (See the top 10 household toxins.)

If scientists were slow to arrive at that conclusion, Washington has been even slower. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 34-year-old vehicle for federal chemical regulation, has generally been a failure. The burden of proving chemicals dangerous falls almost entirely on the government, while industry confidentiality privileges built into the TSCA deny citizens and federal regulators critical information about how substances are made and what their effects are. In the years since the TSCA became law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been able to issue restrictions on only a handful of chemicals and has lacked the power to ban even a dangerous carcinogen like asbestos.

But change is coming. The Obama Administration is taking a closer look at chemicals, with the EPA late last month launching a new investigation into BPA. More important, Congress may finally be ready to act. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg is expected to draft legislation soon that would give the TSCA the teeth it needs. “It’s obvious that the system doesn’t work,” says Lautenberg. “We can’t permit this assault on our children’s health — and our own health — to continue.” (See pictures of the effects of global warming.)

The Low-Dose Threat
His name was Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known to his contemporaries as Paracelsus and to students of science as the “father of toxicology.” The 16th century Swiss physician pioneered the use of chemicals in medicine. His dictum “The dose makes the poison” — that even toxic substances can be safe as long as the amount remains below a certain threshold — is still a bedrock principle for modern toxicologists.

That helps explain why industrial chemicals never received the stricter regulatory oversight that drugs and pesticides did. Even if the chemicals used to help make a plastic bottle could infiltrate the human body, the thinking went, surely the dose would be too low to do any harm. But as biomonitoring improved — we can now detect human exposure levels as small as one part per trillion, or about one-twentieth of a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool — scientists realized that people were carrying far more chemicals than we’d thought. At the same time, scientists learned that some toxins could harm at extremely low levels; the limit considered safe for lead, which can directly reduce IQ, has been lowered from 60 micrograms per deciliter of blood in 1970 to 10 micrograms today. Some chemicals like BPA may have strange effects even at very low doses. Invented in 1891, BPA has been used since the 1940s to harden polycarbonate plastics and make epoxy resin, used in the lining of food and beverage containers, among other products. Polycarbonates can be identified by the recycling number 7 on the bottom of some plastics containing it. Other plastic ingredients — including potentially dangerous ones — are also indicated by the recycling number, known as the resin identification code.

BPA does its job well, and today some 6 billion lb. (2.7 billion kg) of the chemical are produced globally each year. The problem is, BPA is also a synthetic estrogen, and plastics with BPA can break down, especially when they’re washed, heated or stressed, allowing the chemical to leach into food and water and then enter the human body. That happens to nearly all of us; the CDC has found BPA in the urine of 93% of surveyed Americans over the age of 6. If you don’t have BPA in your body, you’re not living in the modern world. (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.)

The levels observed are considered well below the federal safety threshold of 50 micrograms per kg of body weight per day. But that recommendation was made 22 years ago, and in the time since, scientists have learned more about the effects of even a bit of BPA. In 1998, Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University, found that female mice dosed with BPA had serious reproductive problems, including defective eggs. More recently, she published a study showing that the offspring of mice exposed to BPA while pregnant can end up with corrupted eggs, a situation that leads to trouble for their offspring. “That’s a powerful effect,” says Hunt. “You disrupt three generations with one exposure.”

As a synthetic estrogen, BPA can mimic hormones, those powerful chemicals, like testosterone and adrenaline, that run the body. Tiny amounts of hormones produce immense biological and behavioral changes, so it stands to reason that a chemical that mirrors a hormone might do the same, especially if a human being were exposed to it during critical periods of development, like the first trimester of gestation. (Children are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposure, not just because their smaller bodies are developing rapidly but also because they eat and drink more relative to their body weight than adults.) That’s exactly what dozens of scientists have found in animal studies, linking fetal BPA exposure in rodents to everything from mammary cancer to male genital defects and even neurobehavioral problems. (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2008.)

Nor is BPA the only industrial chemical in common use that may mess with the endocrine system. Phthalates — a class of chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride plastics, found in products ranging from shower curtains to cosmetics to intravenous-fluid bags — have been shown to disrupt hormones in animals and have been linked to reduced sperm counts and other marks of feminization in male rodents. Ditto for a class of long-lived chemical fire retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used in electronics, polyurethane foam and other plastics, though they’re being phased out. (PBDEs can remain in the body for years. BPA and phthalates are excreted within a day or so, but their ubiquity means we’re exposing ourselves anew almost daily.)

While there are fewer studies of endocrine disrupters in humans than in animals, the ones that have been conducted have begun to show worrying associations. Higher levels of phthalates and other endocrine disrupters have been linked to earlier breast development in girls — a possible risk factor for breast cancer — and endocrine disrupters are a suspect in the rise in hypospadias, a correctable deformity of the urethra in boys. A 2008 study by Shanna Swan, director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester, found that boys born to women with high phthalate exposure during pregnancy were more likely to have genital abnormalities like undescended testicles and smaller penises than those born to women who had lower exposure. “I worry what will happen to these children as adults, whether they’ll have reproductive problems,” says Swan. “We’re trying to piece that question together.”

The science around endocrine disrupters is far from settled. Studies like Swan’s show a correlation between phthalate exposure and developmental defects, but that doesn’t mean the chemicals are causing the problems. Industry defenders point out that human exposure to BPA and phthalates is still well below safety levels set by the government and that health agencies around the world say the chemicals are safe for humans. And some peer-reviewed studies fail to show a positive connection between endocrine disrupters like BPA and health defects. “I think the research [on BPA] has been overhyped,” says Richard Sharpe, an investigator at the Centre for Reproductive Biology at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh. “If you restrict the question to its estrogenic effects, I just don’t see them.”

The scientific consensus, however, has been moving away from the idea that BPA is completely safe. When researchers began raising alarms about BPA in the late 1990s, they were in the minority. Under the Bush Administration, the FDA reviewed the chemical and ruled it safe. But that report was criticized by the agency’s own science-review board for relying almost exclusively on industry-funded studies. In 2008 Canada deemed infant exposure to BPA potentially unsafe and banned the sale of baby bottles that use the chemical — a step later taken by a number of American states and major retailers, including Walmart. Though European regulators declared BPA safe in a 2008 assessment, last month Denmark enacted a ban on BPA in baby bottles.

In 2009 the International Endocrine Society released a statement declaring that endocrine disrupters were a significant concern for public health and called for regulation to reduce human exposure. And even the FDA has changed its tune somewhat: in January the agency expressed “some concern” over BPA as the Obama Administration launched a $30 million study of the chemical. “Especially given that children in the early stages of development are exposed to BPA, the data and the research deserve a closer look,” Dr. Josh Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, told reporters at the time. (See TIME’s special report on the environment.)

The woman in charge of that closer look is Linda Birnbaum, head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program. A scientist who has spent decades in government service, Birnbaum isn’t quite ready to give up on Paracelsus’ axiom, but she knows that toxicology has to catch up with the real world. Scientists must realize that the body doesn’t encounter a single chemical in isolation — though that’s how tests are done — but a number of chemicals in combination, which might interact in unpredictable ways. The dose may still make the poison, but we’ll never know unless we test the chemical soup we actually experience in the world — unless, that is, we find the environmentally relevant dose. “There’s been a tendency to ask the old questions in the old way,” says Birnbaum. “But if it’s dark and you only look for your keys under the lamppost and they’re not right there, you’ll never find them.”

Good science means widening that search, asking not only which chemicals may play a role in illnesses — essentially, where else the keys might be — but also how those chemicals do their damage. Certain substances — including BPA and some phthalates — seem to be able to switch in vitro cells from becoming connective tissue to becoming fat cells, and a 2009 study from Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) before birth were fatter than those who had lower exposure. Even autism, which remains a mystery, may have environmental triggers. (Vaccines have been repeatedly exonerated in autism debates, a conclusion that’s accepted even by scientists who see the possibility of other environmental risk factors in the condition.) And a recent study by Swan found that women who had higher levels of phthalate exposure during pregnancy were more likely to have children with behavioral problems. None of this is proof, but all of it is worrisome. “We need to know where these chemicals are and what they’re doing to us,” says New York Representative Louise Slaughter, author of legislation that would establish a new research program focused on endocrine disrupters. “We shouldn’t be in the dark.” (See the top 10 green ideas of 2009.)

Failure to Protect
If you want to market a new drug, you need to convince the FDA — in multiple tests, over the course of years — that it won’t cause serious harm. If you want to sell a new pesticide, you need to prove the same thing. The burden of proof is on manufacturers to make the grade, and government regulators are the final judge.

But if you want to market a new chemical for use in a product — even one that will come into contact with children or pregnant women — it’s up to the EPA to prove that it’s unsafe, using whatever data are provided by the chemical company, with little power to ask for more. And if it’s one of the 62,000 chemicals that were already in use when the TSCA went into effect in 1976 — a category that includes BPA — chances are it was never really tested by the government at all. “Chemicals are deemed safe until the EPA can prove that they are dangerous,” says Richard Wiles, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. “It’s completely backward.”

The result is a catch-22 for regulators and an information vacuum for consumers. Chemical companies don’t have to develop toxicity data or submit it to the EPA for an existing product unless the agency finds that it will pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment — which is difficult to do if the agency doesn’t have much data in the first place. The EPA can issue rules requiring testing, but that can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — which helps explain why the agency has required testing for only about 200 of the 83,000 chemicals in the TSCA inventory and has issued restrictions on just five. (Companies have voluntarily agreed to provide the EPA with some data about the most common chemicals, but there’s no guarantee that the data will be timely or complete.) The TSCA also gives the industry wide latitude to claim confidentiality on products, so nearly 17,000 of those chemicals are virtual trade secrets. It’s no surprise that the Government Accountability Office has reported that the TSCA is in desperate need of reform. “The only fix is to change this law or modernize it,” says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. (See the top 50 space moments since Sputnik.)

The good news is that more than 30 years after the TSCA was signed, the pieces may finally be in place for much needed retooling. Jackson has made chemical-safety reform one of the top priorities of her energetic administration, and on Capitol Hill, the tenacious, 86-year-old Lautenberg and Illinois Representative Bobby Rush are pushing to craft an update to the TSCA and may have legislation ready to introduce after the Easter break. Even the chemical industry has admitted a need to reform the TSCA and is ready to negotiate. “Science has advanced a long way since the TSCA was adopted, and we recognize that more can be done to create a system that people have comfort and confidence in,” says Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.

But agreeing on the need for reform is a long way from agreeing on how to reform. One model might be the safety laws recently put into place by the European Union, called REACH, which shift the burden of proof to industry, requiring chemical companies to prove that their products don’t harm human health or the environment and to obtain special authorization for any chemicals of very high concern. The American chemical industry has reservations about a REACH-style program in the U.S., citing the cost of additional regulations, but such a change could represent a long-overdue safety step. “It would make a major difference if we could do for chemicals what we do now for pesticides and drugs,” says Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. (See the top 10 green ideas of 2008.)

Reform alone, though, won’t defuse the basic debate over how much of an impact chemicals really are having on human health — and when protective measures may go too far. Nearly everything we buy, sell and use depends on chemicals, and the industry employs 803,000 Americans. Replacing the keystone ingredients of modern life would be challenging, not to mention costly. And smarter regulation won’t change the fact that the science on chemicals and health — especially for complex endocrine disrupters — will never be clear-cut, no matter how many studies each side carries out. “You can ban BPA all you want, but if there are no better materials, you’ll just move to the next case,” says Joel Tickner, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts’ School of Health and Environment. “We need solutions that will be win-win.”

One such solution may lie in the new field of green chemistry, in which chemicals are designed in a way that minimizes hazardous risk from the start. Less a practice than a philosophy, green chemistry seeks to sidestep the debate altogether by engineering products not only to be nontoxic but also to leave no dangerous residue and to use less energy. The EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards recognize achievements in sustainable design like a new biocatalytic process for cosmetics that uses no toxic solvents, and at last month’s annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, more than 1,600 of 12,000 presentations were dedicated to sustainability. “There’ll be a day in the future when all chemistry is going to be green,” says John Warner, director of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. “In that world we’d never need regulation again.”

But even Warner admits that such a day is far off. Meanwhile, we’ll need to decide just how cautious we want to be as a society. “Science isn’t just about data,” says the NIEHS’s Birnbaum. “It’s about the interpretation of data.” That interpretation, ultimately, won’t be up to scientists. It will be up to us. The lesson of Earth Day, 40 years on, is that smart policy — fired by popular will — can make a difference that we can see. The question is whether we’ll bring the same passion to environmental threats that are invisible but could be just as dangerous.

Global warming makes its mark on 2012 US elections, by Richard Branson

“This November, vote for a president who will lead on climate change.” It was great to read Michael Bloomberg’s tweet yesterday,  endorsing   Barack Obama’s election campaign for all the right reasons. As the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy have shown this past week, climate change is a very real threat to our way of life. With the Mayor of New York highlighting the importance of a strategy to combat it at the very top of US politics, it has given me hope for the future.

For a long time we have campaigned on the issues surrounding climate change, I’ve never understood how readily some people are willing to push the issue to one side. Business Week’s front cover couldn’t have put it any better, it would be stupid to ignore what is staring us in the face.

The Carbon War Room has been making some real progress as of late, as we look to help strengthen global infrastructure and better prepare cities for natural disasters such as Sandy. We recently managed to convince Cargill Inc, a worldwide commodity carrier company, to stop using their most fuel-inefficient shipping vessels. This will massively reduce to reduce their carbon emissions, it is these sort of steps that will benefit everyone in the future.

As Mayor Bloomberg has pointed out, Barack Obama is the best man to tackle to job of climate change. If he were to be given a second term in office I hope that he would step up investments in clean technology,  while looking to bring an end fossil fuel subsidies.

In the short term it’s important that those small businesses and entrepreneurs who have been badly hit by Sandy are supported, aid needs to be quickly given to those in need.

Looking further ahead, it’s crucial that our cities are better prepared for these types of extreme weather conditions. Occurrences like this will only become more frequent as time passes, something which I’m sure President Obama and leaders around the world are currently giving a great deal of thought to.

By Richard Branson. Founder of Virgin Group


Burma comes in from the cold, gold and all


Victoria Bruce 
Published: August 11, 2012 – 3:00AM

AS POST-SANCTION Burma opens for business, Australian companies are eyeing investment opportunities in the country’s unexploited mineral reserves.

The sector is receiving a gold rush of interest from Australian miners wanting to unlock the country’s rich mineral wealth.

While the impoverished south-east Asian nation of Burma, also known as Myanmar, has a long history of gemstone mining, its rich reserves of precious and base metals have remained virtually untouched, due to the lack of capital, data, technology and essential infrastructure required to transform these virgin mineral resources into functional operations.

Enter Australia’s junior exploration companies.

”Australian entrepreneurial junior companies are often the first movers going into remote areas,” said Stephen Everett, chairman of Global Resources Corporation, one of many Australian miners that recently attended the Myanmar Mining Summit, held in the economic capital of Rangoon.

Decades of economic mismanagement and restrictive international sanctions during its years of military rule have crippled Burma’s economy.

But since its transition to a quasi-civilian government and the easing of various sanctions, the country has been seeing a flood of interest from Western investors. Nicholas Powrie, general manager (legal regulatory) of Mineral Commodities, a project of mining entrepreneur Mark Caruso, former chairman of Allied Gold, which recently merged with St Barbara to create the largest mid-tier gold producer in Australia, said his company was ready to take the plunge.

”We’ve looked at the geology of the region and we’re very excited about it,” he said. ”We think it’s the right time to come here, and the sooner the better.”

Mining veteran Owen Hegarty, of former Rio Tinto and Oxiana stock, said his company, Tigers Realm Group, was already looking at potential copper and gold deposits.

”Tigers is taking a preliminary look at opportunities in Myanmar,” he said. ”We know the region well, we’ve had a look at some properties and prospects previously and we think the prospectivity for copper and gold is attractive.”

The current lack of large multinational mining companies also makes it an ideal playground for small mining companies to flourish.

Gold is just what many juniors are looking for in Burma. One Canadian company is hoping to lead the way once it is granted an exploration permit.

”There have been no big gold discoveries in this country, ever,” said Jon North, chief executive and president of Canadian mining exploration company Northquest.

He pointed out that the country lacked any form of geophysical data, and the last geological surveys were completed about 50 years ago.

But while Burma at first glance may seem like the land of golden opportunities, new investors will have to negotiate a restrictive regulatory framework, an untested judicial system and layers of bureaucratic red tape.

”Many investors are surprised by how difficult it is to do business in Myanmar, and limited infrastructure and restrictive legal and economic conditions are the main hindrances to international investment,” said Jared Bissinger, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University studying Burma’s economy.

He said that despite rapid reforms, Transparency International ranked the country as one of the world’s most corrupt.

The biggest barrier to investment in the mining industry was an inhibitive production sharing contract, with a 30-70 per cent profit-sharing ratio between the mining company and the Burma government, investors said. The government did not act as an equity partner, but took a hefty percentage of the total resource extracted, on top of royalties and tax.

”That means you risk all the money, you risk all the development, then you give the government a share of the production free of charge, on top of royalty,” Mr Everett said. ”People will not invest on that basis – not large-scale, anyway.”

Burma also has an export ban on raw ores, and certain commodities such as gold and coal, and the country’s lucrative gemstone sector, famous for its ruby, sapphire and jade production, is closed to foreign investment.

These barriers, combined with a lack of legal and physical infrastructure, means many interested companies will be adopting a wait-and-see approach.

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Asia private equity funds line up dollars for Myanmar

Fri, May 25 2012

* Easing of sanctions opens gates to investments

* Attractive opportunities in real estate, infrastructure, financials

* But Myanmar still lacks legal framework to protect investors

By Charmian Kok and Stephen Aldred

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG, May 25 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Cube Capital and Marc Faber-backed Leopard Capital are among Asian private equity firms lining up nearly $500 million aimed at Myanmar, hoping to tap into its rich natural resources and fill its infrastructure void, as sanctions on the former pariah state are lifted.

After 50 years of military rule, Myanmar is one of Asia’s poorest countries, but with abundant resources like oil and gemstones, it’s one of the last untapped frontier markets. Dramatic political reforms have opened the path to foreign financial investments, though putting money to work there is expected to take time.

Leopard Capital, whose chairman is emerging markets investing guru Faber, plans to raise a $100 million fund dedicated to Myanmar, founder Douglas Clayton told Reuters.

“Myanmar’s been on our list for a long time, but it wasn’t the right time until recently,” said Clayton, who has been visiting the country for the last 20 years.

Others drawing up plans include Cube, which could invest around a third of its up to $200 million fund invest in Myanmar, and the Indochina Opportunities Fund, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Dragon Capital and private equity firm Frontier Investment & Development Partners, which has dedicated a portion of a $250 million fund to Myanmar.

Hong Kong-based Bagan Capital is raising $50 million for the country, and Link Road Capital Management, co-founded by Patricia Higase, a Japanese investor with Myanmarese r o ots, also plans to raise a fund.

Northstar, an affiliate of global private equity giant TPG Capital, is already scouting targets in Myanmar, after years of focusing its deals within Indonesia. The firm’s latest $820 million fund is Indonesia’s largest, but 15-20 percent of that money could be invested outside the country, one source told Reuters.

In response to the recent political reforms in Myanmar, the United States moved to suspend sanctions on the country last week, after similar moves from the European Union, Japan and Australia.

After years of isolation, the country has development needs in almost all its industries and the easing of restrictions are set to allow a flood of investments into the country.

Leopard Capital this week took 35 investors into Yangon to meet companies there, said Clayton.

Promising annual returns of around 30 percent, the firm will partner with Asian multinational companies to focus on investment opportunities in Myanmar’s real estate, financial services, infrastructure and utilities sectors, he said.

The country’s hotel industry is another area Leopard is eyeing, with tight supply causing Myanmar rooms to cost 4-5 times more than those in Cambodia, he said.



Myanmar plans to set up a securities exchange by 2015 with the help of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities Group.

Still, the private equity opportunities, while open season, come with heavy risks.

The country so far lacks a clear legal framework to protect private and foreign investors, and allow capital repatriation, said Suvir Varma, Asia head of private equity at Bain & Company.

One challenge is a paucity of privately owned companies, with many of the major groups still tied to the government.

“It will be a hotbed of private equity investing in a few years time, but right now it’s still too early,” said Raj Rajkumar, Partner at Symphony Asia Holdings.

Malaysia-based Navis Capital, which has been investing in Southeast Asia for over two decades and manages $3 billion in funds, is not planning to do direct investments in Myanmar, said its managing partner Nicholas Bloy.

Instead, Navis seeks exposure to the country by investing in companies with regional operations and the potential to expand into Myanmar.

For example, Navis owns Singapore container storage firm Eng Kong Holdings, which could expand its port services to Myanmar when trade between the country and its Southeast Asian neighbours starts to thrive, Bloy said.

Comparing Myanmar to Indonesia a decade ago, he estimates that Myanmar may need another 10-12 years before it’s ready for mainstream institutional private equity to invest in.

“The risk of being embarrassed in Myanmar is greater than the opportunity right now, if you’re an institutional investor or a fiduciary,” Bloy said.