VW seeks comprehensive deal on emissions with US regulators

Volkswagen aims to agree a deal with US authorities that resolves as many issues related to its emissions cheating scandal as possible at once, a senior manager at the German carmaker told Reuters. “It must be our goal to negotiate a comprehensive solution, which could also include the lion’s share of expected penalties,” the person, who asked not to be named because talks with US authorities were confidential, said on Thursday.

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Almost six months after it admitted to installing test-rigging software, Europe’s largest carmaker has still to reach an agreement with US regulators on how to fix almost 600 000 affected cars. VW also faces mounting legal action – the US Justice Department sued the company in January for up to $46-billion for violating environmental laws and this week sent VW a civil subpoena under a bank fraud law. A federal judge has set a March 24 deadline for VW to say whether it has found a fix acceptable to the authorities.

The VW manager said it was unlikely that a compromise would be reached by then. He said negotiations were focused on fixes for affected cars as well as compensation for excessive nitrogen oxide emissions. German magazine Wirtschaftswoche had reported earlier that VW could buy emissions rights for nitrogen oxide. VW declined to comment on details of a possible deal, saying only that it was in constructive talks with US regulators. The VW manager also said that talks included a contribution to electric mobility in the US, for instance by investing in a network of charging stations for electric cars. The idea that VW could set up a factory for electric cars in the US is meanwhile off the table, he said. VW aims to fix as many of the affected cars as possible and buy back vehicles where a fix is not possible.

Chief Executive Matthias Mueller has said in January that he believed a new catalytic converter system could be fitted to most affected US vehicles in a solution he believed might satisfy regulators. “I think we can now offer a package that will come very close to what the EPA is expecting from us,” he said at the time.

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Source: engineeringnews

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The link between vulnerabilities in energy, food, and water systems

Because of the interconnectedness of energy, food, and water systems, a vulnerability in one can hold serious implications for the others.

Recently, the Sustainability Institute and School of Public Leadership in Stellenbosch, South Africa published a report, “Mitigating Risks and Vulnerabilities in the Energy-Food-Water Nexus in Developing Countries.” The report was compiled for the United Kingdom Department of International Development, and it outlines the dynamic interactions between energy, food, and water systems to identify vulnerabilities and propose policy solutions. The linkages described in the report include energy and water inputs in the food system; crops and water which are used to produce energy in the form of biofuels, fossil fuels, and hydroelectricity; and energy and agricultural production which adversely impact water quality.

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According to the authors, “this escalating tension between increasing demand and limits on resources and environmental sinks threatens to create energy and food price shocks that ripple across integrated global markets and result in local shortages of key resources. This, in turn, threatens to undermine energy, food, and water security, and thereby reduce human welfare and possibly lead to social tensions and geopolitical conflict.” If these systems are addressed independently of one another, rather than holistically, it could result in policies and measures which are ineffective or even harmful to other parts of the nexus.

While resource availability and environmental space might not be an immediate obstacle to global economic growth, resource constraints and climate change have been identified as crucial challenges in the twenty-first century which have the potential to impact political security and stability. According to the World Bank, some 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity while 1.2 billion people have unreliable access and over 780 million people lack reliable access to clean and safe water. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at least 800 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. Demand for these resources is projected to increase significantly in the next half century, driven by increased population, global economy expansion, rising living standards, and a continuing process of urbanization. Most of the increased demand is expected to happen in developing countries, and the lack of available resources will increasingly limit the ability to meet demand.

This study is composed of a literature review of documents on the energy-food-water nexus, a qualitative analysis of vulnerability indicators, and a policy analysis to produce recommendations for mitigating those vulnerabilities. In addition to global analysis, specific case studies in Malawi, South Africa, and Cuba were conducted to understand the systems of different types of regimes. Malawi is a primarily agrarian system which depends on low productivity, rain-fed agriculture, and biomass energy and has low access to electricity, improved water sources, and adequate nutrition. South Africa is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to power high energy industry and agriculture, and complex water supply infrastructures which are threatened by fossil-fuel-intensive energy and food systems. Cuba incorporates extensive agroecological farming and a growing use of renewables, but it is weak regarding reliance on imported grains and fuels.

The identified risks and vulnerabilities faced by developing countries include extreme events such as droughts or floods, oil price shocks, food price shocks, geopolitical tensions, and financial speculation in commodity markets. The result of food, energy, and water insecurity is the potential for heightened social instability in countries and throughout regions. Concerning policy strategies moving forward, it was noted that any mitigation strategy has to begin with the creation of well-functioning institutions, efficient government systems, and integrated policy frameworks to design and implement effective policies. In rural areas, the critical issue is to optimize land use to provide necessary services, and in urban areas, the emphasis should be on creating resource efficient low carbon cities. For primarily agrarian regimes, the recommendation is to expand access to water, food, and energy while limiting the adverse environmental impacts, and in industrial countries, the greatest challenges are to minimize the vulnerability to international energy prices, reduce resource and energy intensity, and reduce the negative impacts of fossil fuels.

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Source: csmonitor

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Earthy energy-smart home maintains a minimal eco-footprint in the South African bush

Living in harmony with nature calls for a small environmental footprint, and a great example of this philosophy can be found in the House Mouton, an earthy family home that makes sustainable design a major focus. Designed by Pretoria-based Earthworld Architects, House Mouton is a low-profile structure that minimizes both its visual and environmental impact on the rural landscape. Mostly natural materials were used to construct the home, which also features a green roof, highly efficient insulation, and intensive water harvesting systems.

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Located just outside Pretoria, the 705-square-meter House Mouton is set on a 1-hectare bushveld plot near the ecologically sensitive Roodeplaat Nature Reserve. To minimize its appearance on the landscape, the dwelling is split into four separate but linked single-story pavilions—for living, sleeping, services, and guests—carefully set between existing acacia thorn trees. The areas in between thepavilions have been turned into outdoor courtyards.

The shed-like pavilions are built from steel and supported by masonry walls. Large infill timber windows frame views of the landscape. The interior is minimally finished and features an earthy color palette that features natural materials. To keep energy costs to a minimum, the architects installed effectively shaded energy-efficient glazing, solar hot water heating systems, green roofs, and water harvesting systems that feed collected water into the irrigation system and emerging water supply system.

“The house consists of three conceptual elements: the roof and ceiling emulates the horizontal plane of the acacia thorn trees providing shade for its inhabitants; the two ‘anthill like’ fireplaces are beacons in the landscape; and thirdly, the jagged edge stonewall elements emulates the klip kopje of the landscapes,” write the architects. “Finally, the building design in essence attempts to be sensitive to the pristine bushveld landscape, and at the same to create a warm home for it its dwellers without opulence.”

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Source: inhabitat

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Global Platform for Sustainable Cities launched in Singapore

SINGAPORE, March 9 (Xinhua) — Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC), funded by part of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) initiative, was launched on Wednesday when city leaders around the world met in Singapore.

The initiative by GEF is expected to mobilize up to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars over the next five years for urban sustainability programs in 11 developing countries, including Brazil, Cote D’Ivoire, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Vietnam, according to a joint release by World Bank and GEF.

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Coordinated by World Bank and supported by multilateral development banks, UN organizations, think tanks and various city networks, GPSC is a knowledge sharing program that will provide access to cutting-edge tools and promote an integrated approach to sustainable urban planning and financing.

GPSC will work with a core group of 23 cities, but it will reach many more by sharing of data, experiences, ideas, and solutions to urban challenges, and by linking the knowledge to finance that will influence investment flows toward building cities’ long-term urban sustainability.

The program is designed to help mayors and other municipal leaders take more informed decisions in the day-to-day management of their cities, including improving access to clean water, energy, and transport, as well as efforts to mitigate climate change. It also supports cities in pursuing evidence-based approaches to urban planning, including geospatial data, and establishing urban sustainability indicators.

“Linking knowledge to finance is critical to directing investment flows to quality and sustainability. We see this platform as a great opportunity to connect cities not only to cutting-edge knowledge, but also to development banks and financial institutions,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice.

GPSC launch event was held during Singapore Urban Week, which lasts from Monday to Friday. The program is the foundation of “Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot”, a wider GEF sustainable cities initiative which is expected to create a strong network of cities that will act as global ambassadors for urban sustainability planning, with tangible benefits at both the local and global levels.

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Source: shanghaidaily

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Japanese firm offers expertise to Zimbabwe

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) will offer more of its technologies and experiences to Zimbabwe, in a move aimed at attracting investment from Japanese mining companies.

Jogmec works as an advisor for Japanese mining companies, with a view to secure their safe and stable activities in mining sectors outside Japan.

Speaking at meeting on sustainable development of mineral resources for the mining sector in Zimbabwe held yesterday in Harare, Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Yoshi Hiraishi said the technical support would contribute to sustainable exploitation of minerals in Zimbabwe.

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“I firmly believe that the Japanese accumulated experiences and vast technical know-how in mining can greatly contribute to the sustainable and environmentally friendly exploitation of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“The active involvement of Jogmec in mining sector will hopefully, attract Japanese companies’ attention, which may lead to investment in Zimbabwe’s mining sector by Japanese mining companies in the future.”

Japan depends on foreign sources for many minerals essential to its modern industry like iron ore, coke, copper and bauxite.
Jogmec currently has five projects running in the country under its technical corporation programme that involves a transfer of researching technologies to government on sustainable exploitation of minerals.

This was made possible by a memorandum of understanding agreement signed in September 2015. The agreement allowed the transfer of the geographic information systems (satellite image analysis) techniques and remote sensing know-how to Zimbabwean geologists.

A director in the Mines and Mining Development ministry, John Makandwa, said Zimbabwe was yet to use modern technology.
“Zimbabwe is under explored and yet to experience application of modern exploration technologies. Also, considering its highly prospective geology, the country has huge investment opportunities in the exploration and mine development,” he said.
“Government is reviving exploration through the Mining Promotion Corporation to augment private sector efforts.”

For any Japanese mining company wishing to invest in Zimbabwe, Jogmec will get 25% tax rates and royalties on gold worth 5%, diamonds 15%, base metals 2% and coal 1%.

The country’s low exploration is due to the negative perception of investing in Zimbabwe, due to government policies, which scare investors.

The mining sector is capital intensive and local banks are not offering long term capital, leaving offshore funding as the only available option. The situation has been compounded by the low commodity prices on the world market threatening the viability of resources-driven economies.

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Source: newsday

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Partnership inspired by sustainability

WILDLANDS, a leading Hilton environmental NPO, is dedicated to conserving South Africa’s biodiversity and, with the Msunduzi Municipality, launched the “Kerbside Programme” in 2013.

The kerbside-orange bag programme is aimed at providing residents with a convenient and hassle-free recycling collection service.

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“Wildlands is proud to say it assisted the Msunduzi Municipality with the establishment of the orange bag recycling model. However, after almost three years of recycling collections Wildlands has decided to hand over this service and the rolling out of this programme to the new and upcoming network of SMMEs. We are shifting our focus to more catalytic interventions that have defined socioeconomic benefits,” said Wildlands CEO, Dr Andrew Venter.

Wildlands will now focus its efforts on its wastepreneurs, community members who collect and barter their waste for livelihood support and school networks. These are both strong networks that have a significant impact on waste management in the two municipalities, Msunduzi and uMngeni.

“Since establishing this model it has been exciting to watch the industry expand at a rapid rate. There are a group of emerging SMMEs the Msunduzi Municipality has committed to supporting this year and will ensure the kerbside programme continues to run smoothly and effectively for residents.

“As Wildlands we convey our sincere and heartfelt appreciation to the Msunduzi Municipality for their amazing contribution and continued support in ensuring the kerbside programme success, and as a result will continue collecting from the seven recycling villages which we have across the two municipalities, because these provide an important community service,” said Venter.

The recycling villages can be found at Hayfields Mall, Quarry Shopping Centre in Hilton, Greensdale, WESSA in Howick and Curry’s Post in Nottingham Road.

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Source: news24

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Greening Begins at Home

When structural engineer Jignesh Goyani started developing his affordable housing project, Kesar City, at Moriaya village in Sanand – the satellite town on the outskirts of Ahmedabad – three years ago, he decided to go all green. While the apartments are small – at 33 sq metres – with the cheapest costing as little as Rs 5.4 lakh, the project is equipped with the whole ‘sustainable’ shebang: lighting controls, form construction, sun-dried fly ash bricks, sewage treatment plant, optimal daylight use and solar for street and common lighting, low-flow faucets and fixtures, biogas from sewage and daily green waste, and green landscapes irrigated by porous pipes. Kesar is as kosher as any high-end green building.

Developed in collaboration with Ahmedabad-based firms Aroma Realty and Kesar Buildcon – all working in the affordable housing niche using low-cost green technologies – the first lot of 1,200 homes is now being handed over to their owners. And who are they? Popcorn sellers, tea vendors, restaurant waiters and money transfer kiosk operators, among others, most of whom earn between Rs 330 and Rs 1,000 a day. “Almost all our customers are from the unorganised market,” says Goyani.

Housing for this segment does not find it easy to get bank finance; hence the project developers had no option but to keep costs to the minimum – even for sustainable technologies. That meant doing without green building certification by the Indian Green Building Council’s (IGBC) rating standard, which would have ratcheted up the project cost by another Rs 25 lakh. “Anything that adds to the cost of these homes, including certification, is not for us,” says Goyani. He is certain that, had he applied, the project would have easily made the cut for IGBC’s silver certification, if not gold. “About 80 per cent of our design and technology solutions beat the parameters prescribed by any green rating standard,” he says.

Instead, Goyani is working with Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) software, a low-cost green building certification system developed for 100 emerging economies by the International Finance Corporation. Based on a mind-boggling database of local utility costs and climate in different cities, this free software suggests customised resource-efficient solutions right at the design stage to reduce operational expenses and environmental impact. In order to qualify for the EDGE certification, a building must achieve at least 20 per cent saving in energy, water and construction resources over conventional practices. Kesar City is also on the shortlist of pilot projects the National Housing Bank is assessing for technical assistance under the UK government’s Department of International Development (DFID) funding for innovative pilot projects.

Goyani’s project underscores how the once-elitist market for green buildings – those which make efficient use of energy, water and construction material – is percolating down to the very lowest. A green building movement is under way in the country. Until recently, it mostly meant designing high-end commercial and corporate office spaces, or building energy-efficient hospitals and hotels, in tier II towns at best. There were also the bespoke residences of select affluent and niche clientele.

Green Rush 

Driven by cost savings for home owners, and responding to the incentives offered by state governments, an increasing number of developers are greening their residential portfolio. Features like rainwater harvesting, outdoor window shades, energy-efficient electrical fixtures and waste treatment plants are helping economise resource consumption. Even existing home owners are opting for retrofits as a smart investment option. “It is not enough to ascertain how structurally sound a building is; it is also important to see how well it will perform,” says Aalok Deshmukh, energy efficiency expert, Schneider Electric India.

Low-cost green housing projects need to be rolled out quickly in high volumes with minimal design typologies to be feasible. Residential developers such as Tata Housing Development Co and Value Budget Housing Corporation, whose raison d’être is large-scale housing, are thus developing a green template for all their standard offerings, which can be scaled up in little time. Other developers like Lotus Green and Biodiversity Conservation India Ltd (BCIL) – also known as the ZED Group for its zero-energy driven solutions – have got into realty to focus primarily on green development.

Importantly, with the real estate sector facing recessionary pressure and unsold inventories piling up in recent months, the business case for developing differentiated projects by building green is stronger than ever before. Developers have realised that green certification helps attract more customers and investors. Godrej Properties, Raheja Developers, the Hiranandani group, Ansal Properties, MARG group, SARE Homes, Emaar MGF and Gaursons India are only some of the prominent players building certified green homes in recent years.

“Over the last year or so, realtors have grown to understand the importance of sustainable development,” says Brotin Banerjee, Managing Director and CEO of Tata Housing Development Co. The company has 6.5 million square metres of housing in different stages of execution in all consumer segments, from value to luxury, all of which will be certified green. All the company’s housing projects have no less than IGBC’s gold certification. Value and Budget Housing Corporation (VBHC) is developing over 3,000 EDGE-certified homes across Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Bhiwadi. Almost all its houses are in the affordable segment, predominantly comprising apartments priced between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 30 lakh. SARE Homes is developing six projects adding up to 5,000 homes across Amritsar, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Chennai.

“The green building movement is well entrenched and people are set to demand energy efficient buildings the same way they demand star-rated air-conditioners,” says P. Sahel, Vice Chairman, Lotus Greens. The company is developing four projects in Gurgaon and Noida over the next three years, all of which will have a Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) certification (an alternative to IGBC). BCIL, an early green builder with a presence in Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai – all of whose projects since 2003 have platinum certification – is currently building 2,000 green certified apartments and villas. Around 40 per cent of BCIL’s homes are priced under Rs 15 lakh and another 50 per cent in the Rs 30 lakh- 50 lakh segment. Only the remaining 10 per cent is priced between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 80 lakh.

All of Gaursons India’s residential projects over the last three years have been in the certified green category. The company is aiming for IGBC’s gold certification for three of its upcoming projects on Delhi’s outskirts – Gaurcity I, Gaurcity II and Gaur Yamuna City. Managing Director Manoj Gaur heads the Delhi-NCR chapter of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI). “More than half the 200-plus members of the Delhi-NCR chapter are now developing green projects,” he says.

Green Ramp-up

India had only around 1,850 sq metres of certified commercial green floor space in 2001, which rose to 22 million sq metres by 2008. The first residential green rating standard was launched in May that year. Seven years later, India has around 325 million sq metres of registered green floor space, both pre-certified and certified, across all categories – commercial, residential, hospitals, hotels and factories. Real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle said in a report in July that projects registered with the IGBC have grown incrementally at a compound annual growth rate of over 50 per cent in the past 10 years – the highest year-on-year growth anywhere in the world. In July, the US Green Building Council ranked India third on its annual ranking of the Top 10 countries outside the US that are making significant strides in sustainable building design, construction and transformation – next only to Canada and China.

Deshmukh of Schneider India goes on to say, “The single largest certified green floor space outside the US would be in India.” Chandrashekar Hariharan, Chairman, BCIL, and co-author of IGBC’s residential green guidelines, agrees. “In a decade’s time, we are set to outstrip the US, currently the world’s largest green market,” he adds.

The potential is indeed enormous. Green floor space accounts for only 3-5 per cent of all construction in India so far. In developed markets like the UK, where green building began almost two decades ago, around 40 per cent of all buildings would fall in that category. “In the US, it would be around 30 per cent,” says Prashant Kapoor, IFC Green Buildings’ specialist and founder of EDGE. By 2030, green building penetration in India is expected to reach 10 per cent or around 1.5 billion sq metres.

Mandatory Compliance Awaited

Green building construction and certification is growing at a scorching pace, despite the fact that it has not yet been fully mandated by legislation. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency, an arm of the Ministry of Power, announced the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) in May 2007. The Code mandates certain minimum energy performance standards for buildings and recommends many more. (For example, it prescribes that 20 per cent of all hot water requirement is to be met by solar energy.) But, it is still largely voluntary and applies only to commercial buildings, not residential ones.

The responsibility for enforcing it rests with state governments and local urban bodies, which do not have the wherewithal for implementation. “State governments also have the flexibility to modify the code to suit local or regional needs and notify it,” says Sanjay Seth, energy economist at the BEE. Once the notification for the mandatory adoption of the code is in place, the provisions have to be integrated into the municipal by-laws to enable enforcement.

Seven states and one union territory – Pondicherry – have notified the ECBC so far: Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. Another 23 states and union territories are at various stages of implementing it, which will take mandatory compliance almost countrywide. “Most states are expected to come up with the statutory regulation by end-2015,” says Seth. The national implementation of ECBC is expected to transform the market through enforced demand.

But, in the meantime, some of the other states and urban development bodies have begun offering myriad incentives. Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra and parts of Uttar Pradesh (the development authorities of Noida, Greater Noida and the Yamuna Expressway), allow an additional 5 per cent floor area ratio (FAR – a measure of the built-up area of a plot) for buildings certified green. The development authorities of Ghaziabad and Delhi have proposed the same. Kerala and Bhubaneswar city also allow some extra FAR in green buildings. West Bengal has even announced raising the FAR to 10 per cent. Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are considering providing a similar carrot.

Among other incentives are fast-tracked construction permits for green buildings being offered by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Maharashtra also has an energy efficiency financing programme, providing credit guarantee for half the green project cost. Buildings using solar or wind power are allowed to be built higher than their conventional counterparts in Pune. Punjab has mandated that every roof measuring more than 465 square metres should be used for solar energy generation. Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, too, are considering some stimulus for residential solar. The Department of Renewable Energy in Haryana bears 50 per cent of energy audit costs.

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra offers a rebate of up to 15 per cent on property tax for green buildings, and up to 50 per cent on premium for builders who get their projects GRIHA-certified. The urban local bodies of Nashik and Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, and Noida in UP, have proposed property tax discounts based on the level of green certification achieved. Hyderabad has suggested monetary incentives for architects designing GRIHA-rated green buildings. Punjab is developing a draft adaptation of ECBC even for large residential buildings.

Buildings guzzle more than a third of the country’s energy resources at present. Savings on green buildings can be a staggering 25-30 per cent from day one. As Schneider India’s Deshmukh says, “When done right, or when incorporated at the design stage, there is no additional cost of building green.” In fact, a green building pays for itself through the savings accruing from energy efficiency, and premium developers can charge on such construction. Given that floor space will triple by 2030, the case for driving resource efficiency couldn’t be more compelling. According to one estimate, mandatory ECBC implementation across the country could lead to an annual energy saving of about 1.7 billion kWh. At the very least, this means an annual saving of Rs 600 crore in energy cost. A McKinsey India report has projected that by 2030, India could save an estimated Rs 90,000 crore ($14 billion) per year by investing in energy efficiency.

Building activity is relatively low in developed markets where most of the infrastructure is already in place. India has seen only one-third of its built space come up yet. According to global think tank Global Buildings Performance Network, the energy demand from building in India will grow by 70 per cent by 2050, for which an estimated 900 new power stations fired by fossil fuels will be required. Going green couldn’t have been a bigger and more pressing opportunity.


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Wetlands under the microscope

More than a billion people make a living from wetlands.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is conducting research aimed at protecting, enhancing and rehabilitating wetlands in South Africa.

Coinciding with World Wetlands Day celebrated yesterday, the CSIR said local wetlands were of concern and were important in the environmental, planning and the water sectors.

Thus, the CSIR is committed to conducting science that is crucial in properly understanding the link between wetlands and these sectors to ensure sustainability, as these sectors may have far reaching impacts on wetland ecosystems.

This year’s World Wetlands Day theme aims to help spread awareness about the importance of wetlands and to demonstrate the vital role they play in securing a future for humanity.

“A sound and defensible scientific base is needed to evaluate the significance of threats on wetlands and how to potentially limit or mitigate these threats,” said Leanie de Klerk, CSIR researcher specialising in aquatic ecotoxicology and limnology (inland waters).

“Sustainable development, utilisation and the management of wetlands is non-negotiable for improving the quality of life and human health in South Africa.”

According to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, more than a billion people make a living from wetlands.

Livelihoods from fishing, rice farming, travel, tourism, and water provision all depend on wetlands.

Wetlands, however, are currently under threat of over utilisation for short term benefits, thereby compromising their ability to sustain the provision of benefits for human beings and the environment in the future.

Unfortunately, wetlands are often viewed as a wasteland.

In South Africa, a considerable threat to the sustainability of wetlands is contamination through pollution.

The CSIR is working hard in ensuring the sustainability of wetlands in South Africa.

Along with the Water Research Commission, Coaltech and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), the CSIR recently pooled together their resources and skills to rehabilitate a portion of the Zaalklapspruit Wetland in the Mpumalanga Province.

Source: citizen

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Does anyone know anything about the new BRICS bank?

Despite expectations that it would begin operating in early 2016, the New Development Bank (NDB, or BRICS bank), a new lending institution set up by member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, remains something of a mystery.

Founded with the aim of developing infrastructure, the bank has no official website or even a contact email address and no one seems to knows which projects the bank will allocate funding to.

Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that there is no clue as to whether the bank will establish environmental, social, labour, or human rights safeguards to protect against the impacts of the projects that its loans support.

Announced with great pomp at the 6th BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, in July 2014, the NDB currently only has one office in Shanghai, where representatives from each country are located. Yet the bank’s initial US$50 billion of subscribed capital should make it a major new player in development finance.

There are great expectations from member countries that this new source of financing can help develop sectors crucial for their growth, such as energy, telecommunications, and logistics.

However, trying to get definitive answers from representatives of the NDB is a fruitless exercise. Even the private sector, represented through the BRICS Business Council, does not seem to have a clear idea of how the bank will be governed.

Wishing to remain anonymous, an important Brazilian business figure made it clear to Diálogo Chino that negotiations on how the bank will be run are taking place on a government-to-government basis, with little transparency or participation by civil society. “It is very tightly closed. Nobody knows anything,” said the high-ranking source.

Nothing concrete

In November of last year, the Brazilian NGO Conectas held an event in São Paulo which was intended to discuss the NDB and associated human rights and sustainability issues arising from the granting of loans.

The NGO’s lawyer, Caio Borges, who has met several times with representatives from the Brazilian Ministry of Finance to discuss such matters, says that despite the openness of government technicians in welcoming him to participate in meetings, there is still nothing concrete with respect to environmental policy.

Borges adds his voice to that of Diálogo Chino’s source in suggesting that, unlike the World Bank, the NDB does not have a proper set of rules and guidelines and he expects it to examine social and environmental risks on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. “The tendency is for each project to come to the bank with the environmental and social issues contained within the project itself,” he says.

The private sector representative to the BRICS Business Council says that there is a big discrepancy between founding countries’ attitudes to environmental impacts in infrastructure projects. “Brazil has environmental and social legislation that is globally unsurpassed.

The Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) has very advanced practices in this regard and is one of the largest development banks in the world,” the source said, adding; “Russia and China, however, want nothing to do with it. They are not interested in having complex environmental criteria.”

Part of the problem lies in creating a coordinated environmental policy framework that accounts for different regulations in each country. For example, a hydroelectric project in China may not follow the same rules as a similar venture carried out in Brazil, and either could be financed by the BRICS bank.

Projects co-financed by Brazil and Russia could breakdown because Brazilian companies would not back down on environmental problems caused by ventures in Latin American or sub-Saharan African countries where environmental standards are less stringent.

Paulina Garzón, director of the China-Latin America Sustainable Investment Initiative also met with representatives of the Brazilian Ministry of Finance. She said that technicians admit that there is great concern about the costs of preparing projects. It is possible that the bank could include a special fund for project planning, which would factor in socio-environmental risks.

According to these officials, Garzón said, the costs that the World Bank imposes on loan recipients to calculate these risks are presently too high. Garzón also said that Brazil pressured the NDB to use Brazilian environmental standards, which have been highly praised around the world despite problems with local communitiesand environmental infractions committed by big infrastructure projects.

Former director general of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Rajat Nag, said recently that the NDB will establish environmental criteria for the projects it finances. “As far as I know, the NDB is working on social and environmental safeguards, and some people from the ADB are helping,” he said.

“I would be very surprised if they ran contrary to some fundamental social and environmental principles. I think they will be much more pragmatic. How they will do this, I don’t know, but it is exactly this that we have to monitor,” Nag added.

Source: eco-business

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Plan B needed to save rhinos

IN THE first four months of this year the rate at which rhinos were poached in the Kruger National Park escalated by 20% compared to last year. Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa says 749 have been killed so far this year, 544 in the park.

Roughly three rhino a day are slaughtered by well-armed poachers who enter the park illegally, many from Mozambique, in small groups.

Horns are hacked off immobilised rhinos, living and dead, and are then, in the words of Gen Johan Jooste, exchanged for “Checkers bags full of money” in the chain of organised crime that leads to lucrative markets for horn in China, Vietnam and Laos via middlemen in Mozambique and SA.

Jooste is in charge of antipoaching operations in the Kruger National Park. His rangers are taking on a well-organised army of rhino poachers, which he estimates to be 6,000 strong, in a low-intensity war aimed at conserving an iconic but endangered species.

Rhinos are one of the “Big Five” which attract eco-tourism to SA. Tourism accounts for the livelihood of one in seven South Africans. The rangers, on average, engage in two fire fights a week and managed to “neutralise” (Jooste’s term) 386 poachers in the past year.

Since 2008, there have been 220 poachers killed in the war to save the rhino from extinction. Jooste sees lack of proper crime intelligence as the weakest point in the operations he leads. He might well add that his rangers are under-resourced, over-stretched and outnumbered. The investigation and prosecution services of the criminal justice administration in SA are thwarted by a lack of forensic follow-through and laws that are overly generous when it comes to granting bail, but somewhat parsimonious when sentences are imposed on convicted poachers.

There is no extradition agreement in place with Mozambique, no political will to mount hot pursuit operations and very little global co-ordination of law enforcement efforts. Middlemen live with impunity on the border of the Kruger National Park in Mozambique; warrants of arrest for them issued in SA cannot be served.

SPEAKING at the Wildlife in Crisis conference in Cape Town in May, experienced independent environmental consultant John Hanks proposed a legal trade in rhino horn as a possible option for the long-term security of rhinos in Africa. He considers that dehorning rhino and feeding the harvested horn into a regulated market internationally are realistic and sustainable ways of saving rhinos from extinction.

Hanks contends that community beneficiation of the currently alienated folk who live adjacent to protected areas in dire poverty is the key to the survival of rhinos. He does, however, concede that the legalisation of trade will not end poaching.

It is the escalation in poaching that is the problem. The black market value per kilogramme of rhino horn is greater than that of gold and platinum combined, so it is undeniable that a legal trade in horn would introduce a great deal of money into the economy by diverting some of the flow of funds from organised criminal syndicates.

Will Travers, of the Born Free Foundation, disagrees with Hanks. He points to the limitations of CITES, the 181-member international body to protect wildlife — two-thirds of which must be persuaded of the efficacy and appropriateness of legalising trade for the purpose of benefiting the endangered species, not the traders in products derived from it.

The thinking in CITES is very much against the legalisation of trade. This stance can be gleaned from the outcomes of the London and Kasane conferences recently held by the most active CITES members.

As the regulation of trade requires multi-lateral agreements to ensure that trade is legal and sustainable, and that produce traded is traceable, it is unrealistic to think that legalisation can be achieved without CITES buy-in any time soon.

Even if CITES were to change its stance, it would still take years to put in place the regulatory framework, the accountability mechanisms and enforcement resources to create a legalised trade.

Lamentably, the rhinos do not have the luxury of long lead-in times, given the escalating rate of poaching. China, the major market, has outlawed trade in rhino horn and is unlikely to change its domestic legislation any time soon. The attitude of CITES is, at least in part, informed by the answer to a simple question: “Does rhino horn work?” Is it the magical cure-all and general panacea for ailments and conditions — ranging from impotence to cancer — which Eastern buyers attribute so faithfully to it? The answer is manifestly “No”.

IN THESE circumstances it is arguably inappropriate, if not unethical, to sanction the trade in rhino horn because its sale into the Eastern medicine market is essentially a scam. The necessary imprimatur of CITES and regulatory bodies ought therefore not to be engaged in putting in place regulations, accountability mechanisms, traceability procedures and valuable resources, both human and logistical. Doing so would assist in perpetrating a fraud on buyers of scarce horn whose belief in its efficacy is so obviously misplaced, the placebo effect notwithstanding.

The Bill of Rights enshrines environmental rights.

Biodiversity must be conserved and promoted “while promoting justifiable economic and social development” according to section 24(b)(ii) and (iii) of the Constitution.

Selling rhino horn to gullible buyers in the East can hardly be described as justifiable economic development. Enabling such sales is not the function of CITES, and without CITES the idea of legalising trade in rhino horn will surely be stillborn.

Quite apart from the pragmatic and ethical aspects, there is an aesthetic dimension to the debate.

It is surely unimaginable that our ancient and iconic rhino species will enjoy the same cachet with discerning eco-tourists if they suddenly become as hornless as nanny goats. Without their magnificently adorned proboscises our rhinos look forlorn, mutilated and somewhat less than photogenic.

Many Africans (and others) regard the rich wildlife heritage of our continent as sacred. Sawing off the horns of drugged farmed rhinos violates this sacredness. Legalising trade simply will not end the devastating poaching that is threatening the survival of the species.

The way forward involves formulating a “Plan B” which advocates, among other things, properly resourced, intelligence driven, dedicated law enforcement by operatives who are sufficiently battle-hardened to take on the informal army of 6,000 poachers effectively. An extradition treaty with Mozambique is needed. Education on the evils of poaching is needed.

STIFFER punishment of offenders must be encouraged, whether by leading evidence in aggravation of sentence or via remedial legislation. Poaching must be made a schedule five offence to make it more onerous on suspects to obtain bail after they are apprehended. Too often arrested poachers simply jump bail and go back to their nefarious business. The chaos and fraud in the hunting permit system must be cleaned up and rationalised.

Corruption, endemic in the Kruger National Park, needs to be effectively combated by the creation of a new Chapter Nine institution, the Integrity Commission, to replace the Hawks.

In Kenya the introduction of life sentences for poachers cut the slaughter of elephants and rhino. A poster reading “The price of rhino horn is life imprisonment” could serve to deter those considering the easy pickings available to poachers.

SA is being violently robbed of its national treasure by an army of organised criminals. Decisive action is needed to address the cause of the slaughter of rhino, not its symptoms. Poaching needs to be made riskier and less attractive as a career option. The pro-and anti-legalisation lobbies need to put aside their differences and co-operate in an agreed Plan B.

Source: bdlive

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