Monday, April 26, 2010

Indonesia aims to tap volcano power

Indonesia has launched an ambitious plan to tap the vast power of its volcanoes and become a world leader in geothermal energy, while trimming greenhouse gas emissions.

The sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands stretching from the Indian to the Pacific Oceans contains hundreds of volcanoes, estimated to hold around 40 percent of the world's geothermal energy potential.

But so far only a tiny fraction of that potential has been unlocked, so the government is seeking help from private investors, the World Bank and partners like Japan and the United States to exploit the power hidden deep underground.

"The government's aim to add 4,000 megawatts of geothermal capacity from the existing 1,189 megawatts by 2014 is truly challenging," Indonesian Geothermal Association chief Surya Darma said.

One of the biggest obstacles is the cost. Indonesia currently relies on dirty coal-fired power plants using locally produced coal. A geothermal plant costs about twice as much, and can take many more years in research and development to get online.

But once established, geothermal plants like the one built in Kamojang, Java, in 1982 can convert the endless free supplies of volcanic heat into electricity with much lower overheads -- and less pollution -- than coal.

This is the pay-off the government is hoping to sell at the fourth World Geothermal Congress opening Sunday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. The six-day event will attract some 2,000 people from more than 80 countries.

"An investment of 12 billion dollars is needed to add 4,000 MW capacity," energy analyst Herman Darnel Ibrahim said, putting into context the recent announcement of 400 million dollars in financing from lenders including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"Field exploration can take from three to five years, suitability studies for funding takes a year, while building the plant itself takes three years," he added.

If there is any country in the world where geothermal makes sense it is Indonesia. Yet despite its natural advantages, it lags behind the United States and the Philippines in geothermal energy production.

Southeast Asia's largest economy and the world's third biggest greenhouse gas emitter exploits only seven geothermal fields out of more than 250 it could be developing.

The case for geothermal has become stronger with the rapid growth of Indonesia's economy and the corresponding strain on its creaking power infrastructure.

The archipelago of 234 million people is one of the fastest growing economies in the Group of 20 but currently only 65 percent of Indonesians have access to electricity.

The goal is to reach 90 percent of the population by the end of the decade, through a two-stage plan to "fast-track" the provision of an extra 10,000 MW by 2012, mostly through coal, and another 10,000 MW from clean sources like volcanoes by 2014.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent against 2005 levels by 2020 has also spurred the push to geothermal.

Many of the best geothermal sources lie in protected forests, so the government aims to allow the drilling of wells inside conservation areas while insisting that the power plants themselves be outside.

Geothermal fans welcomed the recent completion of negotiations between a consortium of US, Japanese and Indonesian companies and the state electricity company, Perusahaan Listrik Negara, over a 340 MW project on Sumatra island.

The Sarulla project will be Indonesia's second biggest geothermal plant, after the Wayang Windu facility in West Java.

"The Sarulla project is a perfect example of how Indonesia can realise its clean energy and energy security goals by partnering with international firms," US Ambassador Cameron Hume wrote in a local newspaper.

Several firms such as Tata and Chevron have submitted bids to build another geothermal plant in North Sumatra, with potential for 200 MW.

China urges Tibetan monks to leave quake zone

by Staff Writers

Beijing (AFP) April 23, 2010

China said Friday that Tibetan monks who rushed to its earthquake disaster zone to aid rescue efforts had been urged to return home to avoid hindering relief operations in the often restive region.

"The duties of rescue workers in the quake zone are basically over, and the focus has moved to disease prevention and reconstruction, which need specialised people," the State Council, or Cabinet, said in a statement.

"While fully recognising the positive contributions of the monks that came from other areas, we suggested to them that they return to their monasteries to ensure the high effectiveness and order of quake relief work," it said.

The statement confirms the accounts of activists who had said earlier the government ordered Tibetan Buddhist monks who had travelled to remote quake-hit areas in the northwestern province of Qinghai to return home.

However, in a possible sign of crossed signals in government ranks on how to handle the sensitive issue, state-run Xinhua news agency later issued a report saying no such orders were given.

"We did not give or receive any orders of such kind. Actually, we are very grateful for the role Tibetan monks played in the relief effort," it quoted Wang Yuhu, governor of quake-hit Yushu prefecture, as saying.

Monks came from monasteries around the region to help with relief efforts after the 6.9-magnitude quake struck in the traditional Tibetan heartland, killing at least 2,187 people and leaving another 80 missing.

Tibetan Buddhist monks played a key early role in the response to the April 14 earthquake -- searching for survivors, distributing food and cremating hundreds of dead.

These efforts have been largely passed over in state media reports that have focused on the government response, which Tibet activists attributed to Beijing's unease over the strong influence of the area's lamas and monks.

But the State Council said it recognised the contributions made by monks.

"After the quake, monks in Yushu rapidly took part in rescue efforts along with other people, religious groups continuously donated money and aid, continued to organise religious activities such as prayers, and played a positive role," the statement said.

The region's lamas and monks remain a point of concern for Beijing following bloody anti-Chinese unrest across the region in 2008 that stemmed from initial peaceful protests by monks in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Monks in the quake zone openly expressed to AFP journalists their loyalty to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader blamed by China for instigating the 2008 unrest. He denies the charge.

"The government's attitude is that the lamas are an unstable element, this is especially so following the unrest," Woeser, a leading Tibetan blogger and activist, told AFP on Thursday.

She said monks had been told to leave as "they had already done too much and that if they stayed it could become troublesome."

Authorities had repeatedly advised well-meaning civilians not to flood into the area which lies at an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,200 feet), saying it could hinder relief efforts.

On Thursday, the activist group Free Tibet accused the government of "air-brushing" monks out of the official portrayal of the disaster for political reasons.

The Voice of Tibet (VOT) radio service also said Thursday that Chinese authorities were jamming condolence messages it was transmitting from exiled Tibetans over the deadly earthquake.

earlier related report

Tibetan monks' heroism absent in China quake portrayal

Beijing (AFP) April 22, 2010 - Tibetan monks played a key role in the response to China's earthquake, but their efforts were "airbrushed" by a government that views them as a political threat, activists said Thursday.

Buddhist monks in the quake zone and from neighbouring communities began rescuing survivors and distributing food donations to victims -- nearly all of them ethnic Tibetans -- shortly after the April 14 quake.

They even handled the grisly task of cremating hundreds of dead as the official response to the 6.9 magnitude quake in remote Qinghai province which has killed nearly 2,200 people was still lurching into life.

But their efforts have been passed over by a government still smarting from bloody anti-Chinese unrest in Tibetan regions in 2008 and fearful over the high profile and influence of the Buddhist elite, said Tibetan activist Woeser.

"The government's attitude is that the Lamas are an unstable element, this is especially so following the unrest in March 2008," Woeser, a Tibetan poet, blogger and leading rights activist, told AFP.

Since last Wednesday's quake, state media have lavished attention on a government disaster response that officials have admitted was slow-starting due to the region's remoteness, bad weather and altitude sickness hitting rescuers.

But while foreign journalists have been allowed unfettered access to the hardest-hit areas, official coverage of the contributions by monks who were unaffected by the 4,000-metre (13,000 feet) heights has been virtually nil.

The task of cremating hundreds of dead, a key step to reduce disease risks that monks and lamas performed in a Buddhist ceremony, was barely mentioned.

If shown at all on state television, monks were mostly seen applauding the efforts of the Communist government as state media lavished attention on visits to the region by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

The region's allegiance to the exiled Dalai Lama -- the Tibetan spiritual leader who China insists is bent on independence for his homeland -- is likely the main reason state media has largely ignored the monk's heroism, Woeser said.

The Dalai Lama called Saturday for permission to visit earthquake victims in Qinghai, where he was born nearly 75 years ago, stirred hopes among Tibetans and added to Beijing's concerns, she added. China has not responded.

The Dalai Lama has not set foot in China since 1959, when he fled after a failed anti-Chinese uprising. He denies China's accusations against him.

The London-based group Free Tibet said the Chinese government's portrayal of the disaster exploited the tragedy for political aims.

"China's determination to colonise even Tibet's tragedy is depressingly all too unsurprising," it said in a statement that added the government was "air-brushing" the Tibetan response from the picture.

It called for the world community to ensure reconstruction meets the "humanitarian needs of the Tibetan people, rather than the political ends of the Chinese Communist Party."

A government official denied Thursday the monks' contributions were ignored.

"I believe many people have seen this from media reports and I believe it is a good thing as it demonstrates the national unity of different ethnic groups and shows that Tibetans and Han Chinese are of one family," Pang Chenmin, vice head of rescue operations at the Civil Affairs Ministry, told journalists.

However, Woeser said Tibetan contacts told her monks and nuns who came to help were ordered from the quake region, scene of some of the 2008 anti-China rioting.

"I was told on April 20 that religious personnel were told to leave. The authorities said that they had already done too much and that if they stayed it could become troublesome," Woeser said.

Pang said he had no knowledge of any such order. However, since the earthquake, authorities have repeatedly advised well-meaning civilians not to flood into the disaster area, saying it could hinder official efforts

With 300,000 Dead Haiti Lures Back Students With Free Meal

Port-Au-Prince (AFP) April 21, 2010

The meal doesn't look like much, rice, a few vegetables and a little bit of meat, but for the Haitian school children who receive it for free, it is reason enough to come to class.

By 10:30 am on a Wednesday, the smell of chicken stock wafts through the Rosalie Javoukey school, located in a neighborhood of Haiti's devastated capital Port-au-Prince.

In the shade of a three-story building scheduled for demolition, women bustle about, doling food onto metal and plastic plates on huge tables set up in between white Unicef tents.

The playground has been eliminated "because it is covered in tents," said Sister Marie-Bernardette, the school's headmistress, and now it serves as a staging area for the daily free school meal.

The children, aged five to 12, wait their turn to retrieve their meal. They return to their desks, say grace and then begin eating, "in silence," their headmistress reminds them.

Schools across Haiti's capital, devastated by a January 12 quake that killed at least 220,000 people, including some 1,350 teachers and 38,000 students, officially reopened on April 6.

But 100 days after the devastating 7.0-magnitude quake, the country continues to struggle and many children are still missing from classrooms in the capital.

Some have left for the countryside, others were killed in the quake, and some are being kept home by their parents.

"It's difficult to convince parents to send their children to school. They are scared that there will be another earthquake and the school will be destroyed," said Alejandro Chicheri, a spokesman for the World Food Programme.

Students at the school also attend classes in fear of what might happen.

"I don't feel at ease at school," said Valencia Demostene, 12. "I know that we will still have natural disasters, like earthquakes..." Her voice trails off.

At the moment, Rosalie Javoukey school has some 400 students, 200 fewer than before the earthquake.

To encourage attendance, the World Food Program has launched a major food distribution program in schools in Haiti, a country where some 500,000 children do not get an education, roughly one quarter of all the country's youth.

Some 550,000 students already receive a meal each day, but the figure is expected to rise to 800,000 in coming weeks.

"We're trying to get as many children as possible back to school, which will allow them to return to reality and to save their school year. And it also helps parents who are trying to find work so they can bring some money home," said Chicheri.

For the students in this underprivileged neighborhood, the meal is a blessing.

"There are some parents who don't have anything to give their children to eat. You can see it on the faces of the children, they are preoccupied because they are hungry," said Mother Louis, a teacher at the school.

The meals provide the children with some comfort in the short-term at least, but many remain deeply scarred by the experience of the January quake.

Mother Louis asks a class of students how many of them were trapped beneath the rubble of buildings that were strewn across Port-au-Prince by the quake.

About half raise their hands.

"I was under the rubble for two days. My father was the one who pulled me out," said Francesca Jeune, a nine-year-old who dreams of becoming a doctor.

She describes her experience with a giant grin on her face, but teachers say their students remain traumatized and they try to provide the children with therapy.

"We play, we move around. Anything to try to get the earthquake off their minds," Mother Louis says.

earlier related report

Up to 300,000 people killed in Haiti quake: UN

Port-Au-Prince (AFP) April 22, 2010 - Haiti's devastating January 12 earthquake killed between 250,000 and 300,000 people, the head of the United Nations mission in the country said Thursday.

Until now, the Haitian government death toll was more than 220,000.

April 21 "marked the 100th day since the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, leaving between 250,000 and 300,000 people dead," said Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN mission in Haiti.

Mulet also said that 300,000 people were wounded in the disaster, and more than one million people were left homeless.

The 7.0-magnitude quake left much of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince in ruins, destroying infrastructure and the seat of government and causing a humanitarian catastrophe in a country already considered the poorest in the Americas.

Mulet, speaking at a press conference, said that he wants the UN Security Council to send an extra 800 police officers to provide safety in the refugee camps.

"In the history of humanity one has never seen a natural disaster of this dimension," said Mulet, adding that the Haiti quake death toll was twice the toll of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

Mulet said that the next 12 to 18 months will be "critical," noting that peacekeepers in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) will focus on five areas: helping support the government organize quick elections, coordinate "post-disaster" humanitarian aid, provide general security, support the Haitian government in carrying out its reconstruction plan, and "help Haiti rebuild its human capital."

Concerning security, Mulet said MINUSTAH forces will help the Haitian National Police have "a more visible presence" to help the tens of thousands of people living in 1,200 refugee camps.

Mulet, a native of Guatemala, took over the UN mission on March 31, replacing Tunisian Hedi Annabi, who was killed in the quake.

If the Security Council accepts Mulet's recommendations, the overall number of UN police in Haiti will rise to 4,391.

When the MINUSTAH peacekeeping soldiers are also counted -- though Mulet has not asked for an increase in this force -- the total UN force would reach 13,300 supported by more than 2,000 civilians.

Separately, Mulet said the Haitian government on Thursday ordered a three-week moratorium on the forced evacuation of refugees camping out on private land, schools or markets.

For nearly two weeks, the authorities and private property owners have urged people squatting on their property to leave.

More than 7,000 people who took refuge at the Port-au-Prince stadium were moved out 10 days ago, and last week some 10,000 Haitians living in a school were ordered out.

"There are students that want to return to their schools to continue their studies, and there are refugees living in the schools. So in order to avoid clashes, a moratorium was established," Mulet said.

UN officials have opened two refugee camps on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in order to accept some 10,000 refugees currently in danger of being affected by flooding as the Caribbean rainy season is set to begin.

Mulet also said that Haiti "is going on the right path" towards reconstruction, and that he was showing "prudent optimism." He also urged people to "not underestimate the size of the task and the challenges that Haiti faces."

Russia Concerned By Impact Of Climate Change On Arctic Peoples

by Staff Writers

Moscow, Russia (RIA Novosti) Apr 26, 2010

Arctic peoples and their cultural inheritance are vulnerable to rising global temperatures, the Russian president's adviser on climate change said at the Fifth Arctic Leaders' Summit in Moscow on Wednesday.

"Climate change has a global character but the Arctic is one of the most vulnerable regions," said Alexander Bedritsky, who also chairs the World Meteorological Organization.

"The Arctic habitat, people and their cultural inheritance are vulnerable to the changing climate," he said, adding that around 40 groups of indigenous peoples live in the Arctic.

The Moscow meeting focuses on the industrial development of the Arctic under new climatic conditions and the prospects for the indigenous peoples. Leaders of organizations that unite indigenous Arctic peoples from different countries took part in the event.

Bedritsky said there are hundreds of Russian enterprises working in the Arctic region.

"In the Russian Arctic area there is a strong industrial infrastructure that includes oil and gas complexes, electric power plants, airfields, railroads and mines."

He said the decisions taken by countries on the industrial development of the region "should undoubtedly take into consideration the needs and concerns of the indigenous peoples."

Russia meteorologists are currently developing a unique satellite system, Arctica, to monitor the weather and ecology of the Earth's poles

Study challenges IPCC's Bangladesh climate predictions

by Staff Writers

Dhaka (AFP) April 22, 2010

Scientists in Bangladesh posed a fresh challenge to the UN's top climate change panel Thursday, saying its doomsday forecasts for the country in the body's landmark 2007 report were overblown.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), already under fire for errors in the 2007 report, had said a one-metre (three-foot) rise in sea levels would flood 17 percent of Bangladesh and create 20 million refugees by 2050.

The warning helped create a widespread consensus that the low-lying country was on the "front line" of climate change, but a new study argues the IPCC ignored the role sediment plays in countering sea level rises.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri defended his organisation's Bangladesh predictions Thursday, warning that "on the basis of one study one cannot jump to conclusions".

"The IPCC looks at a range of publications before we take a balanced view on what's likely to happen," he told AFP by telephone.

But the IPCC's prediction did not take into account the one billion tonnes of sediment carried by Himalayan rivers into Bangladesh every year, the study funded by the Asian Development Bank said.

"Sediments have been shaping Bangladesh's coast for thousands of years," said Maminul Haque Sarker, director of the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), who led research for the study.

Previous "studies on the effects of climate change in Bangladesh, including those quoted by the IPCC, did not consider the role of sediment in the growth and adjustment process of the country's coast and rivers," he told AFP.

Even if sea levels rise a maximum one metre in line with the IPCC's 2007 predictions, the new study indicates most of Bangladesh's coastline will remain intact, said Sarker.

"Based on the findings of the study, it appears that most of Bangladesh's coastline, notably the Meghna estuary, which is one of the largest in the world, would rise at the same pace as the sea level growth," he said.

"The study shows that the inundation and flooding pattern of Bangladesh will change due to the sea level rise, but it will be less than what has been predicted," by the IPCC and others, he said.

"The biggest challenge will be to find how we can best manage these sediment deposits, and utilise them to help Bangladesh fight the effects of climate change."

CEGIS's past predictions of the number of people likely to be made homeless every year by the two main Himalayan rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, have proved to be 70 percent accurate, according to their own assessments.

The IPCC is made up of several thousand scientists tasked with vetting scientific knowledge on climate change and its impacts.

But its reputation was damaged by a warning in its seminal 2007 report that global warming could melt Himalayan glaciers by 2035, an assessment that has been widely discredited and fuelled scepticism about climate change.

According to Pachauri, the glacier mistakes should not be allowed to detract from the fact that the IPCC's conclusions overall are "robust and they are reliable".

"One single error doesn't take anything away from the major findings of the report. The fact is that the glaciers are melting," he said.

"The science is evolving. In a number of parts of the world there isn't enough research, so we welcome this study."

Atiq Rahman, a Dhaka-based member of the panel, admitted to AFP that the panel's research on Bangladesh had "not taken into account the role the sediment plays in shaping Bangladesh's coast and estuaries."

"The next IPCC assessment will take it into account," he said, adding that climate change could still cause a lot of damage in Bangladesh if the "rate of sea-level rise is faster than the level of sedimentation".

IPCC head defends panel against new critical study

New Delhi (AFP) April 22, 2010 - The head of the UN's climate change panel defended his organisation Thursday against a new claim that its landmark 2007 report on global warming might have overblown the danger posed to Bangladesh. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), already under fire for errors in its key 2007 report, said a one-metre (three-foot) rise in sea levels would flood 17 percent of Bangladesh and create 20 million refugees by 2050.

But the prediction ignored the role that at least one billion tonnes of sediment, carried by rivers into Bangladesh every year, will play in countering sea level rises, a study by the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) said. "On the basis of one study one cannot jump to conclusions," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told AFP by telephone when asked to comment on the new findings. "The IPCC looks at a range of publications before we take a balanced view on what's likely to happen." The IPCC is made up of several thousand scientists tasked with vetting scientific knowledge on climate change and its impacts.

But its reputation was damaged by a warning in its seminal 2007 report that global warming could melt Himalayan glaciers by 2035, a claim that has been widely discredited and fuelled scepticism about climate change. Pachauri said the new research in Bangladesh would be taken into account in the next study. "The science is evolving. In a number of parts of the world there isn't enough research, so we welcome this study," he added. On the glacier mistakes, he added: "The conclusions we came up with are robust and they are reliable. "One single error doesn't take anything away from the major findings of the report. The fact is that the glaciers are melting."