Was air pollution a factor when Portugal beat Poland?

poland-vs-portugal-live-streaming

A research team at the IZA Economic Institute in Bonn (Germany) found that air pollution significantly impacts the performance of football players, even when measured pollution is below what the EU considers “safe level” thresholds. Above those concentrations, the measured decline in performance reached as much as 16%!

The World Health Organization reported that outdoor air pollution in cities for fine particles (called PM2.5 being smaller then 2.5 microns including dust, exhausts and coal combustion) was almost three times higher in Poland than in Portugal (28.7 vs. 10.8 ug/m3). Health effects include asthma and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer – children, the elderly and those with lung or heart disease are most at risk.

Outdoor air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths around the world according to Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for public health, environmental and social determinants of health.

In December 2015, the European Commission referred Poland to the EU Court of Justice for persistently high and dangerous levels of air pollution – mostly coming from household heating and road traffic. The Commission deemed that measures taken by the authorities were inadequate.

While we cannot attribute the victory of Portugal to pollution, it is clear that poor air quality affects more then just the quality of football games. Urgent action is needed!

Happy Canada day to all!

Flag_of_Canada149 years ago on this day, the people of Upper Canada and Lower Canada came together to create one great nation, Canada.

“From the outset, Canada was formed not in spite of differences, but because of them. Thanks to the hard work and understanding between many cultural and religious communities, Canada is the diverse, inclusive, and compassionate country that we are fortunate to call home today”, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning.

Those words were echoed this morning by Canadian Ambassador to Switzerland Jennifer MacIntyre in her talk to the members of the Canadian-Swiss Chamber of Commerce when she said that “Canada is strong precisely because of the diversity of its people. This is not only a source of pride but the reason of our prosperity and success as a nation.”

I can certainly relate to this message. My family escaped the tyranny of the communist regime in Poland in the early 1970’s and we received a wonderful welcome in Montreal (Quebec). That is where I grew up and where my parents and brother still live and celebrate the “vivre ensemble” (Living together).

Four decades later, Canada still is a beacon of hope for refugees escaping the atrocities of the middle-east crisis. The Trudeau administration committed to take in 25,000 Syrians only to increase this number by tens of thousands soon after.

So many Canadians are willing to sponsor them that the government can’t bring them quickly enough. “Where are the refugees that you promised us? When will they arrive? We are waiting for them! is what I hear from the constituents in my Toronto riding” said Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland during the Forum of the Americas in Montreal two weeks ago.

And this constructive and solutions-oriented approach extends well beyond the refugee crisis. When the Canadian delegation arrived at the Paris Climate Conference in December, the assembly was chanting: Welcome back Canada! Welcome back Canada! and that was even before the climate minister Catherine McKenna voiced Canada’s commitment to maintaining climate change well-below 2 degrees.

At a time when the dark forces are shaking the world by promoting hate, fear and isolationism, there is a new wind blowing from Canada. One that is supported and celebrated by all Canadians. It is a message of peace and tolerance, a celebration of multiculturalism and diversity and a reason for the whole world to celebrate!

Happy birthday Canada!

Related Links: 

The promise of diversity

COP21 – Paris Climate Conference

For a Carbon Tax by Stephane Dion

Reinventing Energy Services with Scott Foster

What would we do without energy? from smartphones to transportation our way of life runs on energy. But faced with the realities of climate change and 1.3 billion who lack access to modern energy, Scott Foster from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) argues that we have got the energy equation seriously wrong and need to change the way we think about energy.

Energy as a Service

We can meet the challenges of sustainable development and climate change if we think of energy as a service instead of a commodity. Scott argues that we want hot showers and cold beers not barrels of oil or kilowatt-hours of electricity. Fostering this revolution to think in terms of services and obtaining this value most efficiently will radically reduce waste, improve efficiency and help address climate change and energy poverty.     hot shower cold beer

Transforming Energy Utilities

There is a compelling business case for transforming energy utilities into service providers because they have the financial capacity, the expertise and the business partners to make it happen. Most importantly, we know it works! The successful experience of California where it was  implemented after the oil crisis in 1978 for gas and 1982 for electricity shows has been replicated in 15 other American states for electricity and 23 for gas, with legislation pending for 12 other states.

blog-decoupling-map

Incentives for the market to work

The winning formula is to share part of the savings between the end users and the utility so that the energy provider works for its customers to lower energy consumption and reduce energy bills. Sharing savings turns out to be more profitable then selling more energy which aligns the interests of all parties in a win-win relationship. A far cry from the traditional model of selling ever more energy that has fostered massive investment in efficiency, renewables and innovation while creating jobs, growing the economy with the added benefits of lower carbon and environmental and footprints. It is high time we put this experience to test in Europe other parts of the world…

 

Powering Forward, by Bill Ritter, JR.

PoweringForwardAs “Powering Forward: What Every American Should Know about the Energy Revolution” becomes available for sale today, I am grateful to Bill Ritter, his team at the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) at Colorado State University and to Fulcrum Books for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Bill Ritter Jr. knows a thing or two about the energy revolution and the sun that is setting on the fossil fuel industry. As Governor of Colorado, he turned the State into a leader in clean energy and then launched the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) to help other states accelerate their transition to a clean-energy future.

Having hosted Gov. Ritter at the Geneva “Green and Inclusive Economy” Conference ahead of the Paris climate summit, I was familiar with his work as governor and at the CNEE including the need to address climate change, the cost of clean versus fossil energy and green jobs. All are well covered, as one would expect in such a book. But “Powering Forward” is different in that it goes much further to address the role of science and education, the need for well informed citizens for a functioning democracy and how biased and misleading media coverage has helped the climate denial industry. But his most important contribution is to shed some light on the government intervention versus the free-market myth and his attempt to turn a divisive energy debate into a consensual and bi-partisan quest for a better future.

The Myth of the Invisible Hand

For many, government intervention amounts to “corporate welfare” and invariably drives up costs for consumers. It may therefore come as a surprise that fossil fuels have been subsidized since 1916 and that American energy utilities have been run as quasi monopolies with no competition. While most will agree that governments should not pick winners or losers, thinking that energy markets are “free” is a misinformed illusion. The reality is that government still largely favours fossil fuels with obsolete policies from the carbon age that are slowing down innovation, artificially restricting consumer choice and undermining American energy security.

The Tea Party Turns Green in Georgia

A good example comes from Georgia where the Sierra Club and the local Tea Party took on the monopolistic energy structure. It did not sit well with them that people could not choose where they get their electricity from and they forced a change in law to allow customers the ability to generate their own electricity and sell it back to the grid.

Consensual and Bi-Partisan

Business as usual is no longer an option. We are at the crossroad and must now decide if we will become the victims of our future or its architects. By working together and reconciling our differences we can turn scarcity into abundance and crisis into opportunity. This is the key contribution of Powering Forward.

Powering Forward Energy Facts: 

– Scientists understood the link between CO2 and the greenhouse effect in the late 1800s

– Lyndon Johnson is the first US president to raise the climate alert in 1965

– In 2006, Colorado College warned there would be no more skiing in the state by 2050

– On windy days 60% of the electricity in Colorado comes from wind

– At $25 per megawatt hour, wind power is over 20% cheaper then natural gas

Centralized power wastes up to 2/3 of the primary energy put into the system

Americans prefer energy conservation to energy production

– 87% of Americans think the US government should act about climate change

– The US Department of Defense sees climate change as a threat multiplier

– The IMF estimates fossil fuel subsidies at nearly $2 trillion including external costs. Most of the income is received by the wealthiest according to the IEA

US fossil subsidies amount to $2,180 for each man, woman and child annually

– The true cost of coal-fired power amounts to some $0.27/kWh

6 of the top 10 solar manufacturers are Chinese

9 of the top 10 wind manufacturers are non-US

Warren Buffet is buying solar power for $0.038/kWh (the avg. price paid by US households is close to $0.12/kWh)

– Arizona’s energy utility installs free solar panels and pays its customers $30/ month for 20 years to feed power into the grid

Renewables in the Post-COP21 Agenda

Transformation of the global energy system forms the backbone of climate action. Without significant movement towards decarbonisation, the chances of keeping global temperature rise below two degrees celsius are low if not impossible. For Energy Day at the UN climate change talks in Paris, IRENA brought together scientists, policy-makers, business leaders and civil society to explore the future of renewable energy.

Arthouros Zervos, Chair of REN21, confirms the upscale in renewable energy deployment around the world and most importantly in developing countries. This is not surprising given the rapid drop in the cost of solar and wind power. According to the latest study by Lazard, a leading financial advisory firm, the cost of solar and wind power have dropped by 82% and 61% in 6 years:

Fossil Fuel Subsidies

One obstacle remains the massive fossil fuel subsidies of some $500 billion (IEA). These figures increase to $5.3 trillion or 6.5% of global GDP if externalities like pollution are included (IMF WP/15/105). In some countries, energy prices are kept artificially low by policies that can cost up to 40% of total government spending. This is why Kuwaitis get to pay $0.22 per liter of gasoline (Feb. 29 2016) and that electricity costs as little as 1 cent per kilowatt-hour in Saudi Arabia.

Private sector and civil society leadership 

ikea-solar-panelFor Peter Agnefjäll, CEO of IKEA, it has become clear that we must grow within the limits of the planet. This positive impact on planet and people is behind IKEA’s decision to invest in renewables with the objective of becoming totally energy independent globally by 2020.

Civil society can help propel this transformation with initiatives for entire sectors of the economy. For Jules Kortenhorst from the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War Room,  is working on scaling up to reduce costs and accelerate the uptake of renewables  like sustainable jet fuels for the aviation industry, improving the efficiency of maritime shipping and also in buildings, thanks to IT solutions and big data.

Tapping onto geothermal  

Iceland provides a powerful business case for geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings in cities. For President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, such solutions have proven profitable without subsidies and provide a cost-effective path towards lower emissions. In 2010, 24 countries generated electricity thanks to geothermal power while some 70 use it for heating.

COP21 a turning point

AdnanZ-AminAdnan Z Amin, Director-General of IRENA, recognises that ParisClimat2015 represents a decisive moment for renewables. From now on, the connection between clean energy, the de-carbonization agenda and the safe climate imperative are inseparable.

Cooperation between civil society, the private sector and policy makers is key to accelerate this transition.

Other resources: UNECE Sustainable Energy

Happy 85th Birthday Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev!

The book "Gorbachev in Life" is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The book “Gorbachev in Life” is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

A few days ago in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev launched his latest book, “Gorbachev in Life”, a 700-page collection of memories and documents from him and others about his life experiences and the way his glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) policies have transformed the world hoping that the book would help Russians better understand their current history.

The Gorbachev File

As he celebrates his 85th birthday, the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org) has just released this morning a series of previously classified British and American documents with Western assessments of Gorbachev starting before he took office and until end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Manifesto for the Earth

5195AFR1PJL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_But one book that sheds light on Gorbachev’s commitment to the environment and social justice is his “Manifesto for the Earth”. Few would know that when he became Secretary-General of the Soviet Union in 1985, he got access to information about the scale of pollution coming from chemical plants and factories that were poisoning the environment and sickening people. One of the consequences of the glasnost reforms was access to previously classified information. As a result, the soviet people demanded action and over 1,300 of the most polluting plants were closed.

This is how President Gorbachev understood the power of civic engagement and the need to change the relationship and reconcile humanity and nature. Well before the fall of the Berlin Wall he called for the creation of a “Red Cross” for the environment. This idea was then raised during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Given the mounting crises of climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality, civil society leaders called for the creation of a Green Cross and for Gorbachev to lead this effort.

Green Cross International

This is how Green Cross International was launched in 1993. Today, Gorbachev is still at the helm of the organization as its chairman and Green Cross continues to work on addressing the challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation. With offices in some 30 countries, activities around the world and initiatives like the Earth Charter International and the Earth Dialogues, Gorbachev’s Green Cross story is still in the making.

Through his Manifesto for the Earth, Gorbachev describes how the story began and his quest for peace, social justice and a sustainable future for all.

Happy Birthday President Gorbachev!

Photo by Pavel Palaychenkoi

Photo: Pavel Palazchenko, Earth Dialogues in Geneva (2013)

Solutions COP21: Business and climate change

Of the largest 150 economic entities in the world 59% are not countries but corporations.  And when it comes to climate change, the private sector is largely responsible for the problem but also suffers its consequences – most importantly, business can play a central role in addressing the climate crisis by rapidly scaling up solutions for both mitigation and adaptation.

Solutions COP21

COP21_GrandPalais_NuitInnovation_4Dec15Over the last 18 months, “Solutions COP21”, led by the Comité 21, the Club France Développement Durable, Hopscotch Groupe and Alliantis communications, developed a platform to showcase business solutions to the public with existing products, services, processes and innovations (and more on the way) to fight climate change and its impacts.

During the COP, the Grand Palais in Paris became the showroom for leading corporations, entrepreneurs and local authorities to put on display their solutions. It also became a center for discussion and exchange on the role of private enterprise can play and how collaboration with other sectors can be improved.

Climate policy and enterprise risk management

IMG_20151204_155056That global warming is real and having serious impacts is no longer debated. Increasingly,  responding to this reality is becoming part public policy according to Anne Ged, Director General of the Agence Parisienne du Climat, adding that Paris has been working on its adaptation strategy since 2012. It is also increasingly part of the risk management processes at all levels. The French ministry of sustainable development assessed that a one-meter sea level rise would flood over 15,000 km of local roads across the Republic. Similarly in the private sector, Stefano Bonelli, senior consultant at the Environmental Resources Management consultancy (ERM), says that climate related risk management for corporations is one of their fastest growing business segments.

The urgent realities of climate change

For SNCF’s Director of sustainable Development, Christian Dubost, climate change  is already impacting its activities with extreme temperatures during heat waves deforming rails and igniting bushfires that result in delays and extra costs. He warns that by 2050, the  2003 heatwave will be the norm – a reality the SNCF is already preparing for now. Facing this future requires a better understanding of the challenges and improved cooperation between sectors. This is part of EPE’s (Entreprise pour L’Environnement) mandate, explains its Delegate General, Claire Tutenuit. We need platforms to share knowledge, experience and foster cross-sector cooperation, she adds. Such partnerships have allowed Veolia to recycle up to 98% of the water for industries in Durban, South Africa, benefiting industry and the environment explained Hélène Lebedeff, Director of Sustainable Development.

Partnering with nature

Leveraging ecosystem services by working collaboratively with nature can provide important co-benefits according to Philippe Thiévent, Director of CDC Biodiversité, explaining that we are only beginning to discover the value of wetlands as hotspots of biodiversity and their benefits in terms of water filtration, aquifer recharge and exceptional flood mitigation capacity. Harnessing such co-benefits can play an important role in mitigation and adaptation strategies and be very interesting from a social, environmental  but also from a business perspective.

Clearly an important consideration for business to become a force for good when it comes to climate action.

This article is based on the conference “Comment les entreprises s’adaptent aux dérèglements climatiques” organized on December 4, 2015, as part of SolutionsCOP21 at Le Grand Palais, Paris – Espace de conférence, by EPE (Entreprise pour L’Environnement). http://www.epe-asso.org

Participants: Agence Parisienne du Climat, Anne Ged, directrice générale, CDC Biodiversité, Philippe Thiévent, Directeur de CDC Biodiversité, ERM, Stefano Bonelli, consultant senior, Green Cross International, Adam Koniuszewski, Executive Director, SNCF, Christian Dubost, Directeur de l’environnement et du développement durable, Veolia, Hélène Lebedeff, Directrice adjointe du développement durable. The event was moderated by Claire Tutenuit, Entreprise pour l’Environnement.