Posts Tagged ‘environmental’

Taiwan defends use of coal fired power plant

March 17, 2018

MARGIN CALL: The nation’s electricity reserve margin would fall further from this year’s 7.1 percent if new-generation capacity is not brought online, the economy ministry said

By Kuo Chia-erh  /  Staff reporter


The government would not be able to reach the power reserve margin target it set for 2025 if fails to commence operations at the coal-fired Shenao Power Plant (深澳電廠) as scheduled, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said yesterday.

The nation is likely to see a power shortfall by 2025, as the reserve margin is expected to decline 1.4 percent if the plant does not come online in July that year, the ministry said in a statement.

The government aims to improve the margin to 15 percent after next year from 7.1 percent this year by accelerating construction of several power plant projects, including upgrading the Shenao plant in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳).

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and water

 Taiwan Power Co’s coal-fired Shenao Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District

Upgrading the plant would ensure a stable power supply and improve energy efficiency, the ministry said, adding that the facility’s lower heating value — its efficiency taking into account the energy lost as water evaporates during combustion — is forecast to grow to 45 percent from 38 percent after the upgrades are completed.

Upgrades at the coal-fired Linkou Power Plant (林口發電廠) in New Taipei City are finished, the ministry said, adding that it would strike a balance between efficiency and environmental protection when upgrading the Shenao plant.

With more advanced equipment, the facility would be capable of reducing sulfur oxide and nitric oxide emissions, it added.

The ministry’s remarks came after the plant on Wednesday passed an environmental impact assessment, triggering renewed criticism over worsening air quality in northern Taiwan.

Environmental groups consider the Shenao plant upgrades to constitute a new construction project, as the facility has been mothballed since 2007, local Chinese-language media reported.

The government should invest more resources in the development of renewable energy resources, instead of generating coal-based energy, environmental groups have said.

The ministry said it assessed the possibility of replacing coal with natural gas at the Shenao plant, but the site does not have the space required to store the fuel.

Despite the government’s goal of generating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025, the ministry said it is still necessary to partly rely on coal-generated energy to ensure a stable energy supply.

Taiwan, an energy-dependent nation that imports nearly 98 percent of its fuel, is susceptible to fluctuations in global energy prices, the ministry said.

Coal-generated energy is seen as a more stable energy resource compared with renewable sources, as coal can be stored for 30 days, it added.


EU food agency says three pesticides harm bees as ban calls grow

February 28, 2018


© AFP/File | Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world’s major crops

The European food safety watchdog said Wednesday that three pesticides currently partly banned in the EU pose a risk to wild bees and honey bees, in a long-awaited report.

The report said “most uses” of the three neonicotinoid pesticides, which are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests, posed a risk to bees.

Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed on mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or a combination of these factors.

Wednesday’s report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) triggered immediate calls from environmental campaigners for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoids, if not an outright ban.

“Overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” Jose Tarazona, Head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, said.

The EU restricted the use of three types of neonicotinoid — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in 2013 as part of efforts to protect bees and commissioned a deeper report into their effects, gathering all available studies on the issue.

Two chemical giants whose products are affected by the restrictions — Switzerland’s Syngenta and Bayer of Germany — are challenging them in the EU courts.

In a statement, Bayer said it “fundamentally disagrees” with EFSA’s updated guidance on clothianidin and imidacloprid, which it manufactures.

“EFSA’s findings place it outside the current mainstream science on bee health, as represented by recent similar assessments” by US and Canadian agencies, the company said.

The European Crop Protection Association — the trade body for pesticide producers — said that with the right measures, the risks posed by the pesticides could be managed.

– Bees getting lost –

Unlike contact pesticides — which remain on the surface of foliage — neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant from the seed phase and transported to leaves, flowers, roots and stems.

They have been widely used over the last 20 years, and were designed to control sap-feeding insects such as aphids and root-feeding grubs.

Past studies have found neonicotinoids can cause bees to become disorientated such that they cannot find their way back to the hive, and lower their resistance to disease.

The European Commission, which has begun sounding out member states about tightening the restrictions on the pesticides, said Wednesday that protecting bees was a “priority”.

It said the new report “strengthens the scientific basis for the commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids”.

Greenpeace welcomed the report, saying it showed a total ban was needed.

“National governments must stop dithering and back the proposed EU neonicotinoid ban as the first step to prevent the catastrophic collapse of bee populations,” the environmental campaign group’s Franziska Achterberg said.

Poland guilty of breaching air quality norms, top EU court finds — financial penalties if Poland does not comply swiftly

February 22, 2018

The European Commission took Poland to court in 2015, saying the country had failed to rein in air pollution. The court also noted that Poland’s plans to meet EU air quality standards were not effective enough.

Warsaw's Mermaid of Warsaw wearing a pollution mask

The European Court of Justice on Thursday found Poland guilty of violating air quality norms and warned of financial penalties if Poland did not comply swiftly.

The case was brought against Poland in December 2015 by the European Commission, which found that the daily limit for harmful air pollutants had been regularly breached in most parts of the country between 2007 and 2015.

The European Commission has also warned of legal action against nine other EU members, including Germany, if they did not come up with concrete plans to rein in air pollution.

Read moreGermany’s air pollution: Clean up or pay up

Under a 2008 EU rule, member states are obliged to limit air pollution to protect human health. More than 400,000 people die prematurely across the bloc every year due to poor air quality, according to recent estimates.

Ineffective plan

The court also found Poland’s plans to curb air pollution ineffective, saying the existing plans would not bring air quality in line with EU standards between 2020 and 2024.

Read moreCan free public transport really reduce pollution?

Poland argues that its economic and financial situation makes an earlier implementation of EU law difficult.

“[Poland’s argument] cannot, in itself, justify such long deadlines for putting an end to those excesses,” the court said.

ap/ng (dpa, AFP)

Thai junta under pressure to tackle pollution ‘crisis’

February 22, 2018


© DAILYNEWS/AFP | Around a dozen activists delivered the large hourglass to a representative of Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha
BANGKOK (AFP) – Environmental activists presented the Thai junta with an hourglass filled with dust on Thursday as part of a plea to tackle the hazardous levels of air pollution that have hung over the capital in recent weeks.Bangkok, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, has been shrouded in smog for nearly a month, with authorities reporting unhealthy concentrations of harmful microscopic particles known as PM2.5.

Around a dozen Greenpeace activists wearing facemasks and carrying placards delivered the large hourglass to a representative of the Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha in Bangkok.

 Image result for Bangkok,, air pollution, photos

The gift “symbolises calls on the government to urgently tackle the air pollution crisis”, Greenpeace said in a statement.

The group’s Thailand director, Tara Buakamsri, called on the junta chief to improve the kingdom’s pollution monitoring and warning systems.

“Bangkok cannot continue choking on hazardous air,” he said.

Image result for Bangkok,, air pollution, photos

“It endangers the lives of people, affects economic productivity and negatively impacts the prestige of one of the most popular cities on earth,” he added.

According to the watchdog, on 42 of the past 50 days Thailand’s PM2.5 concentration has exceeded the safety limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

On Thursday Bangkok’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was measured at 119 by the monitor AQICN, a level described as “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.

Thai officials say they expect rain to help clear the air but have warned the young, sick and elderly to stay indoors.

Troops have also been deployed to spray water into the air and wash down streets to help clear the dust, while Bangkok’s governor said open burning would be restricted.


Torture, Suicide In Iran’s Prisons — “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

February 22, 2018

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

Above:  President Hassan Rouhani


The New York Times
FEB. 22, 2018

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in “The House of the Dead,” his semi-autobiographical novel about inmates in a Siberian prison camp. Iran continues to fail the Dostoyevsky test.

The Evin Prison in Tehran, where a long list of leaders, intellectuals and journalists have been detained over the years, added to its infamy this month with the so-called suicide of Kavous Seyed Emami, a leading environmentalist and academic.

Dr. Seyed Emami, 63, who came from an old clerical family, was a dual Iranian and Canadian citizen. He had received his doctorate from the University of Oregon and returned to Iran in the early 1990s to teach sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran, where Iran’s future elite is educated.

He helped found the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most important environmental organization, with the encouragement of the United Nations and the Islamic Republic, especially Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

On Jan. 24, Dr. Seyed Emami, Mr. Madani and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American businessman, were arrested. Dr. Seyed Emami was accused of spying for the United States and Mossad. Two weeks after his arrest, prison authorities informed his family about his death. “This person was one of the accused, and given he knew there is a torrent of confessions against him and he confessed himself, unfortunately he committed suicide in prison,” Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, a prosecutor in Tehran, told an Iranian news agency.

Dr. Seyed Emami’s relatives raised doubts about the claim that he committed suicide, but the regime forced them to bury him without an independent autopsy.

Dr. Seyed Emami became a victim of the political struggle between President Hassan Rouhani and moderate reformers who have become increasingly concerned about environmental issues, especially dams, and die-hard conservatives among the Revolutionary Guards who are reluctant to slow down such rural projects.

When Hassan Firuzabadi, a former chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces and a military adviser to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was asked by the Iranian press about the arrests of the environmentalists, he spoke about Western spies using lizards and chameleons that could “attract atomic waves” to spy on Iran’s nuclear program.

The increasingly common “suicides” by prisoners stem from Iran’s inordinate reliance on “confessions” in convicting defendants.

Iranian judges treat “confessions” as the “proof of proofs,” the “mother of proofs” and the “best evidence of guilt.” The use of forced confessions began in the last years of the shah’s rule, in the 1970s, but drastically increased after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini regarded them as the highest proof of guilt.

I analyzed numerous legal cases and around 300 prison memoirs for a book about forced confessions. To obtain such “confessions,” interrogators in Iran rely heavily on psychological and physical pressures. They — like fellow interrogators elsewhere — scrupulously avoid the word torture (“shekanjeh” in Persian). In fact, the Iranian Constitution explicitly outlaws shekanjeh. Instead, interrogators describe what they do as “ta’zir” (punishment). Innumerable prison memoirs detail this process. It can be described as Iran’s version of “enhanced interrogation.”

Prisoners are asked a question, and if their answer is unsatisfactory, they are sentenced to a specific number of lashings on the ground that they had lied. These whippings can continue until the desired answer is given — and committed to paper. According to a letter circulated by some 40 members of Parliament, hallucinatory drugs now supplement these traditional methods.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, detainees were routinely shown on television reading their confessions, but the broadcasts were mostly stopped after most Iranians concluded that they were staged. The confessions continue to be used in court, however.

Detainees have a limited number of options in the face of interrogation. They can submit, even before the instruments of enhanced interrogation are displayed. They can undergo prolonged agony, which may lead to death, if inadvertently — interrogators want a confession, not a badly damaged corpse, which can cause political embarrassment. The detainees can accept a plea bargain and “admit” to a lesser transgression in return for release or a lighter sentence.

After the disputed presidential elections in 2009 in which the right-wing populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevailed over reformist opponents, many — including visitors from abroad — gave “exclusive” interviews to the regime press confessing to sundry transgressions, especially helping foreign powers conspiring to bring about “regime change.”

Detainees have also agreed to public confessions and tried to insert phrases that undermined the whole ritual. A prisoner — later executed — declared in 1983 that he had been recruited into the K.G.B., the Soviet intelligence agency upon his arrival in Russia in 1951. He would have been aware that anyone versed in the topic would know the K.G.B. was created three years later, in 1954.

A former Khomeini follower said in his public confession in 1987 that he had resorted to black magic and the occult to spread cancerous cells among clerical leaders he opposed.

In 1984, leaders of the Communist Tudeh Party who had been arrested after criticizing Iran’s war with Iraq, vociferously thanked their “benevolent guards” for “opening their eyes,” providing them with books that debunked their previous ideology, and transforming prisons into “universities” and “educational institutions.” One stressed that the prison wardens had given them “shalaqha-e haqayeq,” or lashes of truth.

They confessed to “high treason” for adopting alien ideologies and failing to study properly the history of their country. They also held themselves “personally responsible” for “treasonable mistakes” made by the left in the distant past, such as during the constitutional revolution of 1906, which took place long before they were born.

Earlier reformers, led by President Mohammad Khatami, tried between 1997 and 2005 to pass legislation to prevent the use of torture in prison. But such attempts were swept away with the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005. President Rouhani, now embarrassed by the arrest of his environmentalist allies, is eager to channel the concerns of reformers about the use of torture. He has supported the 40 deputies who have protested prison “suicides” and has set up a committee to investigate the death of Dr. Seyed Emami. Time will show whether this committee has any teeth.

Irrespective of the findings of Mr. Rouhani’s committee, what Iran needs is a radical reform of its legal procedures to ensure that its courts will stop the use of “confessions” and instead rely on verifiable independent and collaborative evidence.

Ervand Abrahamian, an emeritus professor of history at City University of New York, is the author of “Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section


Image may contain: text

Four Indonesian provinces, including Riau, declare disaster alerts for forest fires

February 21, 2018

 Image may contain: cloud, sky, nature and outdoor

Smoke rises from a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau on Feb 1, 2018. It is one of 73 detected hot spots causing haze on the island of Sumatra. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA – Four Indonesian provinces – including one that sits at Singapore’s doorstep – are officially on disaster alert after a rising number of hot spots were detected within their boundaries.

Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan provinces have declared disaster alert status, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for the country’s disaster management agency (BNPB), in a press statement on Wednesday (Feb 21). All four provinces are located around the equator, with Riau being closest to Singapore.

The disaster alert status means that the national government in Jakarta will be able to step in more easily and with less red tape to deal with raging fires, deploy troops and provide logistics and funds, Dr Sutopo said.

“The number of hot spots has continued to increase. In the past week, the most number of hot spots was found in West Kalimantan province. Pontianak is blanketed by haze,” Dr Sutopo said.

In the past 24 hours through 7am on Wednesday, there was a total of 78 hot spots across Indonesia, according to the Terra and Aqua satellites, based on a confidence level of between 30 per cent and 79 per cent.

West Kalimantan province recorded the highest number at 23 hot spots, followed by West Java at 14, Central Kalimantan with 12, Riau at nine, Riau Islands and Papua each with four, Central Java three, West Papua, East Java and Maluku each with two, and Banka-Belitung Islands, North Maluku and South Sumatra each with one.

 Image result for Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan , Central Kalimantan, indonesia, map

Indonesian provinces located near the equator are now in their first phase of the dry season, which usually runs from early in the year to some time in March. The rainy season then sets in at these provinces in March and lasts till May before another, more intense dry season from June to September.

“Forest and plantation fires usually pick up in the second (June-September) dry season there,” Dr Sutopo said.

The authorities are stepping up their efforts to manage forest and plantation fires. There will be more land and air operations, regular patrols and tighter law enforcement, Dr Sutopo said. Public campaigns against slash-and-burn tactics and on public health are also being ramped up, he added.

Indonesia is deploying joint forces from BNPB’s provincial branches, the armed forces, forestry agency fire fighters, city fire fighters, and civil security officers, among others, Dr Sutopo added.

BNPB has also kept aircraft ready for cloud seeding and helicopters for water bombing.


Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


Image may contain: one or more people

An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo


China’s polar ambitions cause anxiety

February 20, 2018

It’s set to expand presence in Antarctica and the Arctic in positioning itself as a polar power

Chinese tourists going abroad must be used to it by now – the lists of dos and don’ts to prevent them from tarnishing their country’s image.

“Do not spit phlegm or gum” and “don’t take a long time using public toilets” are just two of the exhortations in a 2013 pamphlet from the National Tourism Administration.

But the latest set of regulations is different, with rules against collecting soil, rocks and animals, carrying toxic objects and leaving behind solid waste. They are meant to protect Antarctica’s environment and promote sustainable development of China’s activities in the region, said the China Arctic and Antarctic Administration.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, night and outdoor

The rules – released by the State Oceanic Administration earlier this month – include a ban on violators from the area for three years.

They come at a time when the number of Chinese tourists to Antarctica and the Arctic has spiked. Antarctica attracted 5,289 Chinese visitors last year – making up 12 per cent of visitors – overtaking Australians as the second-largest group of travellers there.

Up in the Arctic, Chinese tourists going to the Russian Arctic National Park and the Finnish Lapland have risen as well.

 No automatic alt text available.

The regulations also come amid closer scrutiny of China’s expanding polar activities.



China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.

PROFESSOR ANNE-MARIE BRADY, of Canterbury University in New Zealand, on China’s ambitions in the Antarctic.


Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging.

DR LIU NENGYE, of Adelaide University in Australia, on how China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Tourists are the most visible signs of the growing Chinese presence in the polar regions, which now feature mainly scientific research activities, but will increasingly include economic activities.

This is occurring as global warming causes ice melt in the polar regions, leading to possibilities in shipping and the exploitation of natural resources there.

This increasing Chinese presence in the poles has drawn mixed responses from other parties, whether those with direct stakes like the Arctic states and claimant states to Antarctica, or those with no direct claims but which want a piece of the action.

China is set to expand its activities as it positions itself as a polar power, in line with its foreign policy to be a global presence. As early as 2014, then director of the State Oceanic Administration Liu Cigui wrote: “Today, we are already standing at the starting point of a brand-new historical era, of striding towards becoming a polar-region power.”

Its 13th five-year development plan of 2016-2020 includes a major programme to explore the polar regions. China’s polar ambitions are a function of its rise, said Dr Liu Nengye of Adelaide University.

“China is now able to reach remote parts of the world, be it the Arctic, Antarctica, deep seabed or outer space,” he said in an e-mail interview. He added that economic interests are key, but there are geopolitical reasons as well.

The rest of the world, particularly nations that have been driving polar policies, “may be worried that they will no longer play leading roles in the international decision-making process or at least (are) not as comfortable as they used to be”, he added.


A key foreign relations moment for China this year was the publication of its first White Paper on its Arctic policy last month. Dr Liu said it was well crafted, adding: “It clearly explains China’s objectives in the Arctic and reaffirms China’s full support of the existing Arctic international legal regime.”

The sovereignty of the Arctic states – those that ring the Arctic Circle like Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – is also respected, he noted.

China positions itself as an important stakeholder as a “near-Arctic state” whose climate and environment are affected by changes there.

While scientific and environmental research is talked about in the policy paper, economic activities also figure strongly. China wants to take part in the development of Arctic shipping routes.

It wants to develop a Polar Silk Road to link with its Belt and Road Initiative  to build infrastructure along land and sea routes that link China to Africa and Europe.

Beijing is keen on the Polar Silk Road because it not only cuts by about a third the travel time from China to Europe, compared with the route via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean now, but also runs through an area free of pirates.

It also wants to take part in the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mineral resources, utilise fisheries and other living resources and develop tourism in the Arctic.

In addition, it wants to take part in shaping its governance.

Response to the White Paper has been mixed among Arctic states.

Canadian analysts worry about its ambiguity on Canadian jurisdiction over the North-west Passage that runs through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. While the White Paper acknowledges the sovereignty of Arctic states, it also says international law needs to be observed.

“We don’t know how China places the hierarchy between Arctic states and international law,” Universite Laval professor Frederic Lasserre told CBC News.

He found the ambiguity over what China wants to do in the Arctic “a bit troubling”.

But the Russians have welcomed China’s engagement in the Arctic. China National Petroleum Corporation has a 20 per cent stake in the Yamal liquefied natural gas project in Siberia, and the two nations are looking to cooperate on developing rail and port facilities at Arkhangelsk city near the Arctic Circle.

China has also cooperated with Nordic state, including Iceland, on scientific research. What worries the West is that China and Russia appear to be stepping up military cooperation, having held naval drills in the Baltic Sea last year.

Chinese naval vessels have also at times operated close to the Arctic waters, noted Dr Marc Lanteigne of Massey University in New Zealand.

However, he added: “There is little sign that Beijing has any interest in sending military vessels to the Arctic on a regular basis, especially since doing so would likely prompt a strong reaction from both Russia and the United States.”


In Antarctica, China’s activities are also coming under greater scrutiny.

China runs four research stations there and is building a fifth that is expected to be completed in 2022.

Antarctica is not governed by any one country but by the Antarctica Treaty signed in 1959. China is one of 29 consultative nations of the treaty that govern the territory.

One of the treaty’s objectives is to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear-free, and ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only.

China published a White Paper on its Antarctic activities last May that focused heavily on its scientific concerns and interest in cooperating with other states on projects related to the environment and climate, noted Dr Lanteigne.

However, a report published last August by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said China “has conducted undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building a territorial claim, and is engaging in military exploration there”.

It also said China is looking for resources, including minerals, hydrocarbons and fish.

All territorial claims have been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, while the Madrid Protocol forbids any activity related to mineral resources other than for scientific research. This protocol is up for review in 2048.

The report said that for the Chinese, the protocol simply postpones what they believe is the inevitable opening up of Antarctic resources. It suggests that China should be encouraged to issue an official Antarctic strategy.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University in New Zealand, who wrote the report, said in an e-mail: “China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.”

As a consultative nation, China is entitled to help shape the evolution of Antarctic governance, she added.

As a non-Arctic state and non-claimant to Antarctica, China is seeking to walk a fine line between avoiding being seen as a “gatecrasher” and not being marginalised, said Dr Lanteigne.

Dr Liu thinks that China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Thus “Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging”, he added.


Pesticide traces in three-quarters of French fruit

February 20, 2018


© AFP/File | Eighty-nine percent of French grapes contain traces of pesticide, a new report has found
PARIS (AFP) – Almost three- quarters of fruit and more than two-fifths of non-organic vegetables contain traces of pesticide in France, with grapes and celery the most affected, a report said Tuesday.Samples of 19 fruits and 33 vegetables were studied in the report by Generations Futures, a French environmental group that campaigns against pesticide and GMOs, using 2012-2016 data from consumer protection agency DGCCRF.

“For fruit we found that on average pesticide residue was present in 72.6 percent of the samples analysed,” the group said in a statement, with 2.7 percent of those cases exceeding the authorised limit.

Eighty-nine percent of the grapes sampled contained traces of pesticide, the report found, followed by 88.4 percent of clementines and mandarins, and 87.7 percent for cherries.

Cherries had on average the most cases above the authorised limit with 6.6 percent, while mangoes and papayas had 4.8 percent.

For vegetables, 41.1 percent of the samples were found to have traces of pesticides, with 3.5 percent above the official limit.

Celery had the most pesticide traces of any vegetable with 84.6 percent affected, ahead of fresh herbs at 74.5 percent and endives at 72.7 percent.

Of the fresh herbs sampled — which did not include parsley, basil or chives — 29.4 percent were above the limit, with celery at 16 percent.

The DGCCRF data only included residue that could be quantified, which means some pesticide traces went unreported. “The results actually ignore some of the residues present,” Generations Futures said.

France is Europe’s biggest food producer and the government has announced plans to reduce the use of all pesticides.

Fruit and vegetable growers have pushed for a label for “zero pesticide residue”, distinct from organic, for produce that contains no more than 0.01 mg of pesticide per kilogramme.

Generations Futures said this solution was not enough because although “these offers guarantee an absence of pesticide use” they but do not “eliminate environmental pollution”.

Sale of $5bn lithium stake to test electric car hype

February 17, 2018

PotashCorp plans to sell a big stake in Chile’s SQM, a key supplier of the metal

Image may contain: car

Henry Sanderson

Financial Times (FT)
February 16, 2018

When Canadian fertiliser company PotashCorp acquired shares in Chile’s SQM almost 20 years ago, the latter’s lithium business appeared an afterthought.

Controlled by Julio Ponce, the well-connected son-in-law of Chile’s former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, SQM was known as a fertiliser company. However, the then obscure lithium business is why the 32 per cent stake is now valued at $4.7bn.

Lithium has hitched a stunning ride on the wave of interest in electric cars, making it one of the world’s hottest commodities. SQM’s lithium business generates about 60 per cent of the profits for the company, which is in talks with Elon Musk’s Tesla over a deal to supply lithium, a key ingredient in electric car batteries.

It is against this backdrop that Potash is being forced by regulators to sell the stake as a condition of its merger with rival Canadian fertiliser producer Agrium. While only a handful of companies are likely to compete for the stake, the eventual price will be an important measure of how seriously the hype around electric cars is being taken.

“It’s a good barometer of where lithium is today,” Simon Moores, founder of London-based consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, says. “Anyone investing $5bn has to invest for the long term, on a 10- to 20-year horizon, and so there’s no doubt you have to be extremely bullish on lithium.”

The appeal of owning the stake is clear. It offers the buyer significant exposure to one of the lowest-cost producers of lithium in a country with the largest reserves of the metal in the world. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) accounts for more than 20 per cent of the world’s lithium supply, making it one of five companies that dominate the global market alongside China’s Ganfeng, Tianqi Lithium, FMC and Albemarle.

What is more, last month SQM and the Chilean regulator reached a deal that allowed it to more than quadruple its output by 2025, breaking with a previous practice in which SQM had to pour lithium-rich brine back into the desert to avoid exceeding its quota.

Those with a potential interest include Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto, according to people familiar with the matter. China’s Tianqi Lithium, which snapped up a 2 per cent stake in SQM for $38 a share in 2016, has also shown interest, they said. Chilean pension funds could also buy some of the shares, according to analysts.

However, analysts say the challenge for a buyer is twofold. Parting with several billion dollars requires taking as clear as possible a view on the future of electric cars, where hyperbole is common and forecasts vary wildly between optimism and caution.

The price for lithium carbonate from South America has more than doubled over the past two years to hit $14,500 a tonne, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. If electric vehicles reach 5 per cent of car and light truck sales globally by 2025 from their current level of 2 per cent, then lithium prices will fall to $6,900 a tonne by 2025, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

However, if that share, including plug-in hybrids, climbs to 12 per cent by 2025 lithium prices will remain at current levels and then move towards a long-term price of $13,600 a tonne, the consultancy forecasts.

Unlike commodities such as oil or copper, lithium is not traded on any exchange. Instead, pricing is set through long-term contracts with buyers or on the spot market in China, the world’s largest electric car market.

Wherever bidders end up sitting on the spectrum of forecasts, they will also be competing against a backdrop in which rising lithium prices have unleashed a surge in supply. Companies are hunting for the metal around the globe, including in Cornwall, Nevada, Mali and Australia, where there has been a rapid build-up of production. As a result, some analysts who follow the industry forecast a surplus for the next few years.

“Why would you buy a $5bn stake in a resource that is geologically abundant?” says one investor.

Shares in SQM, whose investors include Iridian Asset Management and New York-based Renaissance Technologies, according to filings, rose more than fourfold in the past two years, but have fallen 12 per cent since the middle of January to $56 a share.

Ben Isaacson, an analyst at Scotiabank in Toronto, says SQM’s share price reflects lithium prices well above the marginal costs of production “which isn’t realistic”. The lithium price will fall to a long-term average of between $8,000 and $10,000 a tonne, he forecasts.

“There’s a clock ticking on this deal,” he says. “This should be bought at a discount — this should not be bought at a premium.”

In December Mr Ponce signed a deal with Chile’s regulator Corfo to give up his control of SQM, which was exercised via a joint voting pact with Japan’s Kowa Group. He still maintains a 30 per cent stake in SQM through holding companies known as the cascadas, or “waterfalls”, for their complicated structure.

That opens the tantalising prospect for any buyer of the possibility of full control of SQM if Mr Ponce is willing to sell his shares.

“For someone investing in that stake they need to do it for a good return on investment or potentially as a stepping stone to take over the whole company,” says Howard Klein, a New York-based partner at RK Equity, which advises companies in the sector.

“Lithium is experiencing a far bigger demand shock,” he adds.

The sale of the SQM stake will reveal just how valuable the world thinks that shock is.


Indonesia eyes lax palm oil rules in EU trade deal — Wants to continue to harm the environment by crop burning — Jakarta’s goal leaked out in papers marked “not for publication”

February 16, 2018



© AFP/File / by Harry PEARL | Palm oil producers in Indonesia stand accused of burning areas of rainforest to make way for plantations, in fires that often spread and devastate the local environment

JAKARTA (AFP) – Palm oil giant Indonesia is pressing the European Union to abandon plans to apply strict environmental standards to the sector and silence “negative” criticism about the commodity, documents obtained by AFP have revealed.The papers, marked “not for publication” and for distribution only on a “need to know” basis, reflect Jakarta’s wish list for a critical industry as the two sides hammer out new rules for a trading relationship worth $35 billion a year.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil — used in everything from food to cosmetics — and vast swathes of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for plantations that are the backbone of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

This annual slash-and-burn clearing threatens endangered species and fuels annual forest fires that plague the region.

Indonesia and the EU kick off a fourth and possibly final round of negotiations — covering a wide range of trade, investment and intellectual property rules — from Monday in the archipelago nation.

The documents outline a call for the EU to apply Jakarta’s own government sustainability standard — despite serious concerns about its credibility — rather than a tougher European certification scheme that was proposed in April last year.

Only a minority of Indonesian palm oil plantations currently even meet Jakarta’s relatively lax standards.

Separately, Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia — another major palm oil producer — have slammed the European Parliament’s move to ban the use of the commodity in biofuels from 2021.

They say that the ban would devastate rural communities where many small-scale farmers survive by cultivating the crop.

Indonesia’s trade ministry declined to comment on the leaked text, which is dated June 2017.

The last round of talks were in September last year, and it is not clear if the documents reflect Jakarta’s latest position in negotiations, which began in mid-2016.

European Commission officials said they would not comment on an alleged leak. However, they said any final deal would not come at the expense of acceptable environmental or labour standards.

One passage calls for the EU to legislate against “negative” messaging and campaigns with “misleading nutrition, health and/or environmental claims”, in an apparent bid to head off criticism about palm oil’s impact.

The industry frequently accuses rival foreign vegetable oil firms of working with NGOs to launch “black campaigns” against the sector.

However, there is “no question of limiting the possibilities of any entity in the EU to inform consumers about products available in the market”, a Commission spokesman told AFP.

Jakarta also wants the EU to agree that one party must compensate the other for any economic losses “due to the pursuit of sustainability”.

Environmentalists said Jakarta’s call to apply its own sustainability programme demonstrates Indonesia isn’t serious enough about addressing the ecological impact of its palm oil sector.

“The (government standard) is not sufficient enough to ensure sustainability as it allows conversion of natural forest” to plantations, environmental group WWF’s Indonesia office said in a statement after reviewing documents supplied by AFP.

“So, in our mind, (it) does not fulfil (the) EU market requirement of sustainability compliance.”

by Harry PEARL


Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images


Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


Image may contain: one or more people

An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo