From wood pellets to green taxes, UN highlights tools to fight global warming

1 October 2007
Wood residue stockpile

A United Nations-backed pilot project in Costa Rica to convert large stockpiles of sawdust and other polluting residues from wood industries into a profitable “green” energy source offers new prospects for the industries in developing countries to combat global warming, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

The project, converting the residue into wood pellets that can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels, is just one scheme being highlighted this week following last month’s summit at UN Headquarters in New York on climate change.

“Costa Rica’s pioneer project will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to sustainable development,” FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry Jan Heino said. The FAO is working with the Government to provide technical assistance.

In many countries, surplus wood residues from sawmills occupy large amounts of space and often pollute local rivers. Their decay leads to emissions of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Moreover, the residues can ignite spontaneously and thus present a fire risk. Thus the project has a two-fold benefit: avoiding methane emissions and substituting fossil fuels with renewable wood pellets.

On the other side of the world, in Cambodia, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) is holding a seminar to help the country to adopt development policies which protect the environment without limiting economic growth.

The five-day workshop in Sihanoukville is studying tools and approaches for the Government to introduce a green tax and budget reforms which take into account environmental costs, develop sustainable infrastructure such as public transport, promote cleaner production and more sustainable consumption patterns and develop eco-efficiency indicators.

The seminar is the second in a series of five aimed at helping Asia-Pacific countries which have requested aid in designing and implementing Green Growth policies. The first took place in Kazakhstan. These countries have acknowledged that the current focus on measuring development in terms of gross domestic product growth is not enough, and there is a critical need to change the mindset and embrace measures which take quality of life and well-being into consideration.

In a related development the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that New Zealand, one of the first countries to pledge a carbon-neutral future, will be the main host of World Environment Day 2008. Carbon emissions are a main source of global warming.

The focus of the global 2008 celebrations will be on solutions and opportunities for countries, companies and communities to “Kick the habit” and de-carbonize their economies and life-styles. Measures range from greater energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, including light bulbs, to a switch to cleaner and renewable forms of electricity generation and transport systems.

The focus will also be put on the role of forests in countering rises in greenhouse gases. An estimated 20 per cent of emissions contributing to climate change globally are a result of deforestation.

“New Zealand is among a pioneer group of countries committed to accelerating a transition to a low carbon and carbon-neutral economy,” UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner said. “What we need is action to slow, stop and then to reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions. A transition to a low carbon economy is essential to achieving this.”

Finally in Davos, Switzerland, the global challenge of climate change and action by the tourism sector in both adaptation of destinations and mitigation of its own impacts are the focus of a four-day meeting organized UNEP, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and their partners.

The increasingly important travel and tourism sector, totalling 846 million international arrivals and some 4 billion domestic trips in 2006, is both a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a new UN report to be released later this year.

According to the report, carbon dioxide emissions from the sector’s transport, accommodation and other activities are estimated to account for between 4 and 6 per cent of total emissions and, without mitigation measures, could grow by 150 per cent in the next 30 years.

“Climate change is real, its effects are proven and the tourism sector has to play its part in contributing to the solution of the challenges it poses,” UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said.

 

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