This is part of a trial series.


View of the Jericoá Rapids at the Big Bend of the Xingu River. Photo: Monti Aguirre.

Brazilian mega-dam causes outcry

The $11-17 billion project in the heart of the Amazon, on the Xingu River in the northern state of Para, aiming to meet Brazil's soaring demand for electricity, will be the second largest damn in the world. There has been outcry over the environmentally destructive impacts of the dam and displacement of indigenous people. The government minister in control of the project, Carlos Minc said - according to Reuters - 250 square kilometers (96.5 sq miles) of land would be flooded by the Belo Monte dam and that this had been reduced from 5,000 in the original plans for ecological reasons. AFP reported that 500 sq km would be flooded. Among the utilities wanting to build and operate the dam are Brazil's state-run Eletrobras.

The winning bidder would have to pay 1.5 billion reais ($803 million) to create national parks, help monitor forests, and benefit communities affected by the dam. Sting has traveled to raise awareness and protest the controversial project. Environmentalists warn the dam will cause droughts along the 100 km of the Xingu River, displace thousands of indigenous people, accelerating destruction of the rainforest. Bidding over the project will take place in April. "This project only benefits companies... it will generate methane gas that will change the climate and displace 30,000 people," Xingu Vivo Movement's Antonia Melo told AFP. (Also see a piece in the Irish Times). The Times Online has quoted Greenpeace saying Brazil should focus on wind energy and energy from sugar cane waste. “Mega-projects with great environmental impact are no longer an acceptable way to go,” says Marcelo Furtado. “Brazil does not need Belo Monte.”

Wave energy in the UK

The UK will grant $35 million to six marine energy projects to speed up deployment of full-scale prototypes. The independent company set up by the government to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy hopes the funding will help make marine energy technologies ready for mass deployment by 2020 and keep Britain's lead in the fledgling industry. "Generating electricity from the UK's powerful wave and tidal resource not only plays a crucial role in meeting our climate change targets but also presents a significant economic opportunity for the UK," Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said. Greenpeace UK's John Sauven was quoted saying "the UK is in pole position to lead the innovation and commercialisation of this secure energy source, which will keep our economy competitive."

Fossil Fuels lobbying record for 2009

Following up from the news yesterday that two of the largest global fossil fuel companies - ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell - had seen profits slump in 2009, the New York Times has reported that oil and gas companies set a record in 2009 for lobbying expenditure. At least $154 million was spent trying to influence climate and energy policy, an increase of 16 percent from the $132 million spent in 2008, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Electric utilities also spent $134.7 million on lobbying. Combined, fossil fuels and utilities spent 10 times as much as alternative energy companies whose lobbying tab was only $29 million. Environmental organizations, the report said, spent less at $21.3 million.

Cloud of ambiguity over Copenhagen accord

The "Copenhagen Accord" has won only half-hearted support from major emerging nations led by China and India, leaving question marks over a pact they agreed with the United States, Reuters reports. Indian officials said the BASIC group - China, India, South Africa and Brazil - feared that ringing endorsement of the accord could detract from the 1992 UN Climate Convention, which says rich nations must lead action to slow global warming. 'There seems a deliberate ambiguity,' a Danish official source said. The UN called the 55-country submission an "important step" but still 137 nations were yet to make any promises. Leo Johnson of PricewaterhouseCoopers on Sustainability and Climate Change said "the Copenhagen Accord pledges are relatively unchanged from those made prior to the Copenhagen Summit. At 9.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, the pledges total just under half the 20 gigatons C02 equivalent reduction required from business as usual to stay on the low carbon pathway. There is still a big gap between the pledges and the 2 degree pathway." Greenpeace was quoted (The Guardian) agreeing: "together [these cuts] amount only to an 11-19% reduction in their overall emissions. Staying well below the warming threshold requires industrialised nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and provide substantial funding to developing countries which need to reduce their projected growth in emissions by 15-30%."

Struggling for consensus

AFP reported, the IPCC Chairman, Rajendra Pachauri has refued to apologise in an interview with the Guardian for the UN's mistaken claim that Himalayan glaciers could be gone by 2035. 'I think this (glacier) mistake has certainly cost us dear, there's no question about it,' Mr Pachauri told the newspaper. 'Everybody thought that what the IPCC brought out was the gold standard and nothing could go wrong.' He said the IPCC had issued a statement expressing regret and he was not personally responsible for that part of the report. 'You can't expect me to be personally responsible for every word of a 3,000 page report,' he said, dismissing the idea of an apology as a 'populist' move. (Also see The Guardian piece on this).

The Indonesia government has said it remains "in the dark" over how to apply for climate change funds that were promised by rich nations at Copenhagen. No clear mechanism to establish how such funds will be disbursed has been established following the completion of the summit in December 2009. Then non-binding Copenhagen accord stipulates that rich nations will provide US$30 billion between 2010 and 2012 to developing nations to mitigate climate change. “We have sent a letter to the UN asking for an explanation on the mechanisms to apply for the climate change funding,” the Indonesian delegate to the climate talks, Wandojo Siswanto said.

Debate over climate policy in the Australian parliament continues, with bickering over numbers. Climate skeptic Tony Abbott insists that polluters who adopt a "business as usual" approach will not face penalties under his climate change scheme. Only businesses who increase emissions will be sanctioned. New coal-fired power stations and new businesses will not face penalties for polluting.

World Wetlands Day

Despite the difficulties exposed by Copenhagen over inter-governmental cooperation for the environment, treaties can still work. World Wetlands Day yesterday celebrated the 2 February 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation over the conservation of wetlands.The convention's 159 contracting parties are obliged to report on the state of wetlands for which they are responsible. Today, 1,886 wetlands have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance, a protecting a total area of over 185 million hectares.

China, India in GE crop debates; Toxic salads in Germany

In Chinese news, GP and Third World Network released a report called "Who are the real masters of genetically modified rice?" claiming that the eight GE rice varieties involve at least one of 28 foregin owned patents belonging to Monsanto, Dupont and Bayer. Professor Zhang Hongliang at a university in China has said the country's agricultural sector will be controlled by Western companies if the varieties are cultivated.

GP India are protesting BT-brinjal (eggplant / aubergine) by making a giant Baingan ka bharta - a dish using the vegetable. The idea, Greenpeace says, is to give Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh something to think about as he decides whether “he’ll allow corporations with American interests to genetically engineer India’s king of vegetables – the brinjal”. The dish will use 20,000 brinjals. Media reports say the decision was made without any real testing done; that the long-term health and environmental effects are unknown.


Greenpeace staff in the laboratory investigating salad from German supermarkets.

Photo: Dorine Hagenguth / Greenpeace

Greenpeace in Germany reported yesterday on a study ranking lettuces from supermarkets, finding many of them to contain several pesticides, of which 3 cases exceeded legal limites."On some salad leaves there are up to 15 different pesticides," they said. This was picked up across online German news sources.

(Photos: Brazilian dam by Monti Aguirre, toxic salad by Dorine Hagenguth / Greenpeace