Canada may not sign Kyoto

Published February 1, 2002

Minister for Industry Brian Tobin cast doubt on Canada ratifying the Kyoto Agreement on climate change: “There is a very strong consensus around the Cabinet table and in caucus that Canada must do nothing in competitive terms that would handcuff our capacity to compete around the world and with the United States,” the Industry Ministry told mining industry executives. His comments are the first from a senior Canadian official to raise strong concerns about Kyoto.

The legal text for Kyoto was drafted in Morocco, starting the process of each country ratifying the agreement that aims to reduce carbon emissions that are the source of greenhouse gases, which are believed responsible for global warming.

Ottawa has promised consultations with Canadians before ratifying the international treaty. Ratification is expected by the middle of 2002.

A broad business coalition has urged Ottawa to produce a detailed analysis of how the Kyoto treaty will impact Canada. Industry fears it will face additional costs and regulatory burdens in meeting the Kyoto carbon reductions, making Canadian businesses uncompetitive with the U.S. As well, they believe the Kyoto deal will cause investment to shift to the U.S. and to Mexico, which is also not part of the Kyoto deal.

Tobin’s remarks drew a strong round of applause from the mining executives. He assured them that Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, has the wisdom and experience to make the right choices for Canada.

A carbon-free energy future?

Notes from an oral presentation at AGU meeting in San Francisco, December 12, 2001 by Henry R. Linden, Illinois Institute of Technology, and S. Fred Singer, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences University of Virginia

It is generally agreed that hydrogen is an ideal energy source, both for transportation and for the generation of electric power. Through the use of fuel cells, hydrogen becomes a high-efficiency carbon-free power source for electromotive transport; with the help of regenerative braking, cars should be able to reach triple the current mileage.

Many have visualized a distributed electric supply network with decentralized generation based on fuel cells. Fuel cells can provide high generation efficiencies by overcoming the fundamental thermodynamic limitation imposed by the Carnot cycle. Further, by using the heat energy of the high-temperature fuel cell in co-generation, one can achieve total thermal efficiencies approaching 100 percent, as compared to present-day average power-plant efficiencies of around 35 percent.

In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, distributed generation based on fuel cells also eliminates the tremendous release of waste heat into the environment, the need for cooling water, and related limitations on siting.

Manufacture of hydrogen remains a key problem, but there are many technical solutions that come into play whenever the cost equations permit. One can visualize both central and local hydrogen production.

Initially, reforming of abundant natural gas into mixtures of 80 percent H2 and 20 percent CO2 provides a relatively low-emission source of hydrogen. Conventional fossil-fuel plants and nuclear plants can become hydrogen factories using both high-temperature topping cycles and electrolysis of water. Hydroelectric plants can manufacture hydrogen by electrolysis.

Later, photovoltaic and wind farms could be set up at favorable locations around the world as hydrogen factories. If perfected, photovoltaic hydrogen production through catalysis would use solar photons most efficiently. For both wind and PV, hydrogen production solves some crucial problems: intermittency of wind and of solar radiation, storage of energy, and use of locations that are not desirable for other economic uses.

A hydrogen-based energy future is inevitable as low-cost sources of petroleum and natural gas become depleted with time. However, such fundamental changes in energy systems will take time to accomplish. Coal may survive for a longer time but may not be able to compete as the century draws to a close.

EPA issues chloroform risk finding . . .

What’s happening at EPA? Is it changing?

EPA has released a precedent-setting risk value for chloroform that for the first time finds that a non-pesticide carcinogenic compound can have a safe level of exposure. The chloroform risk file was released on the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) following an agency-wide consensus process.

The chloroform characterization is the first time under the IRIS program the agency concluded a compound has a nonlinear dose response curve. However, according to Inside EPA, some EPA and health officials have raised concerns about how the risks to children are presented in the chloroform risk file.

According to the IRIS file, “there is no suggestion from available studies of chloroform to indicate that children or fetuses would be qualitatively more sensitive to its effects than adults.” The children’s section has implications for future chemical evaluations under the agency’s draft 1999 cancer risk assessment guidelines because it is the first time such issues have been specifically addressed under a new provision in the 1999 version of the guide.

. . . and reauthorizes biotech corn

EPA announced October 16 that it had reauthorized commercial planting of genetically modified corn varieties transformed with genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt corn, as it’s known, makes proteins lethal to caterpillars of the European corn borer and other damaging insects.

The seed companies can now market the products for another seven years, depending on compliance with requirements set forth in the re-registration document. The agency provisionally approved Bt cotton in late September.

Pink Floyd releases “carbon-neutral” album

The latest album from the rock band Pink Floyd is going to result in the creation of four new long-term indigenous forests, with the number of copies being sold reflected in the number of trees planted.

The band’s new album, Echoes, a dual-CD retrospective with 26 greatest hits, will become carbon-neutral, so that the carbon emissions resulting from its production and distribution will be offset by the planting of indigenous forests in Dryhope Burn, Scotland; Bangalore, India; Chiapas, Mexico; and Tensas River National Wildlife Park, Louisiana.

The project is being carried out in conjunction with the carbon-neutral consultancy company, Future Forests. “Our climate is changing. We can all do something to stop the problem escalating–and no action is too small,” said Future Forests co-founder Dan Morrell. “Alongside reducing emissions at source, forestry has a real role to play, soaking up some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We are proud to be working with Pink Floyd and their fans, to help make a difference.”

According to Future Forests, the music industry was among the first supporters of the company’s scheme, beginning four years ago around a camp fire at Glastonbury Festival, when Neneh Cherry was so excited by the scheme that she helped the company talk to other music industry stars, including Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.

S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, shares his thoughts on environment and climate news stories of the month. Singer’s The Week That Was columns can be found at