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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

Arctic race against time

I have had an interesting and informative couple of days here in Trondheim, including a visit to the SINTEF laboratories, opened in 2005 on the water-front in Trondheim, so that they have direct access to sea water for their experiments.


This is the view of the fjord from inside the lab. It was a very wild weather day when we went there yesterday. There is a fine view of the water from the lab, and yesterday was unusually windy, so some of the scientists were even taking photos of the waves crashing over the breakwater – photos through the window, though. It was too stormy to open a window.

It was high tide and the wind was blowing strongly right in to shore. I actually like windy weather and have enjoyed watching waves crash on the shore in a lot of places. Apparently this is rare here, because Trondheim is comparatively sheltered in the fjord.
This is a lab dedicated to finding out all about oil and how it works in the environment. There is an “oil library”, with samples of different oil types from all over the world, so that the scientists can figure out how different types of oil behave in contact with sea water and test methods of dealing with oil spills.

Oil exploration and drilling are a “given” to this organisation. Their business is not to question the wisdom of, for example, moving north, but to find out about possible environmental impacts and develop technology for oil spill response.

This laboratory received a lot of funding from Statoil, so there is a clear interest in making oil exploration possible.
I have learnt a lot about the problems of oil spill response and the different technologies available over the past few days.

(test basin where oil is added to seawater)

There were quite a few experts from the USA at the meeting, the Canadian coastguard was represented, and of course plenty of Norwegian oil experts. People said they’d like to see more Russian involvement next time as they are a key player in the Arctic.
Summing up the presentations and sentiments I experienced here I’d say in spite of the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe a year ago, oil exploration in Arctic regions will still go ahead. There is a strong awareness of the challenges posed and the danger of an oil spill either from oil exploration or increased shipping in remote, icy waters. Oil in ice is a big research topic. Of course the DWH accident has drawn public and political attention to the risks attached especially to deep-sea drilling.
I have the strong sense – and quite a few of the experts I talked to agreed – that this is a race against time. Oil and gas exploration are already moving northwards. “Accidents will happen” is a phrase used by a few speakers. Can the technology to prevent and respond to a spill keep pace? The other fact I saw confirmed was that there is a lack of “baseline data” for Arctic areas, from charting to ecosystems. And climate change is changing the Arctic at a very fast pace, making it more difficult still to predict how increased shipping, oil and gas exploration will affect the environment.

Date

April 9, 2011 | 8:14 am

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Oil in icy waters

„Spill response for the future“ – that’s the title of a conference that has brought me to Trondheim in northern Norway.
There\’s still a pile of snow on the runway – but it\’s hardly recognizable as such as the winter gradually fades even up here.

At the Arctic Frontiers meeting in January, several people said to me in interviews it was just a matter of when and not a matter of if we would see another oil accident of one sort or other in northern waters. Just shortly afterwards, an Icelandic ship ran aground at the mouth of the Oslo Fjord, spilling fuel into the Ytre Hvaler marine park, Norway’s only natural marine reserve.
Weather conditions, ice and the cold temperature of the water make oil accidents harder to deal with up here. As climate change is opening up Arctic areas to shipping, oil and gas exploration, the chances of an oil spill in remote and extreme conditions will rise. There are still clumps of oil in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.
SINTEF is a Scandinavian independent research organisation, with its headquarters here in Trondheim. Over the next couple of days, experts here will be discussing the challenges of extending oil and gas development northwards and presenting technologies to respond to oil spills. On Friday I’ll be paying a visit to the laboratories. I’ll keep you posted.
A year after the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, it will also be interesting to hear from experts involved in trying to clean up and limit the damage.

Date

April 6, 2011 | 5:57 pm

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Fukushima and the climate

The first round of UN climate talks is taking place in Bangkok this week. You might not have noticed, as there are so many other things on the news agenda they have not been featuring prominently. More than 1,500 experts are trying to hammer out more partial agreements to pave the way for the big conference in Durban at the end of the year.
Unsurprisingly, the ongoing Fukushima reactor catastrophe has thrown its shadow over the UN talks. The question is: what do the events in Japan mean for the climate negotiations? There are many who see nuclear energy as acceptable as a “last resort” or “bridge technology” to reduce emissions and put the brakes on climate change. Some of them are now changing their minds, with a further nuclear disaster right around the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl showing the risks.
But there are also plenty of viable proposals around for renewable energies.At the EJC conference I attended in Budapest I talked to Stephan Singer, Global Energy Director of WWF International. Even before Japan, he told me, WWF is convinced that Europe can cover its energy needs 100% using renewable energy. He also stressed the duty of wealthy industrialised countries to help the developing world to do the same.
I also talked to Artur Runge-Metzger in Budapest, from the EU’s climate policy directorate, as you might have read here on the blog. He was explaining the EU’s “roadmap” to a low-carbon economy by 2050. He is now amongst the negotiators in Bangkok and has indicated the developments in Japan will probably lead to a re-working of the document this autumn. He and WWF’s Stephan Singer said it was quite possible that some previously pro-nuclear countries might change their minds.
The question then is what do they replace it with? If it\’s coal, for instance, emissions will rise again.

Date

April 5, 2011 | 10:55 am

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On the banks of the blue Danube

It has been a busy few days in Budapest.I have posted some more about my stay here on the Global Ideas Blog, which is all about smart ideas for tackling climate change.
Forgive me if I direct you straight there for now. This trip is all about saving resources and sharing, so some thoughts on the Blue Danube are there.
More soon.

Date

March 26, 2011 | 1:40 pm

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Climate networking in Budapest

I am in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which currently holds the EU Presidency. An attractive city, these give a brief impression, taken during my coffee break.

The European Journalism Centre on behalf of the European Commission is holding a conference for journalists here. Today we were focusing on energy and climate and in particular the EU’s new road map for “moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050″, which was released last week.
It’s really interesting to meet and network here with so many journalists from eastern and central European countries and to hear their different perspectives on climate change and communicating it. Both informally on the sidelines and during the sessions, the huge differences in living standards and finances between some countries become available. One colleague said it was impossible to persuade poor farmers or other rural residents in Roumania to invest in insulating their houses to make them more “climate friendly“ when they didn’t even have the money to buy fuel to heat their homes in the first place.
So when it comes to the EU’s proposed road map for reducing fuel consumption, clearly the views in different regions are going to be very different. So are the media and attitudes towards environmental issues in general.
Artur Runge-Metzger is the Director of the DG Climate Action for the European Commission. He presented the new plan, which he stresses is in no way binding, but designed to provoke debate.

It sets out ways key economic sectors could achieve an overall 80% reduction in the EU’s emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990). The member states will be discussing and evaluating it between now and June.It will also be interesting to see how different industries and businesses react. The positive thing is, I find, it stresses that it is possible to be competitive while still reducing emissions (admittedly using some technologies not everybody would accept as safe and clean, more later)
WWF’s Director of Global Energy Stephan Singer is also here. He welcomed the road map as a good start but (as you might expect) said it was “too timid”. He sees it as positive that the EU has come out with a document like this at all and that it focuses on domestic measures to reduce emissions.
The EU’s figures of course include nuclear and were published just before the Japanese reactor accidents. I had to ask the question of how the disaster is affecting the EU’s approach. At fist Mr Runge-Metzger was reluctant to answer, saying the Commission respects the member states’ individual policies on this. But later he told me of course the accident was putting a new spotlight on nuclear and might well influence some countries to change their minds. It clearly changes the situation.
In a talk with my colleague Pavel Antonov, a Bulgarian journalist now researching into climate change and the media, he drew my attention to a comment in the Guardian by George Monbiot. I was flabbergasted when I read it. He has changed tack and says he is now for nuclear because the side-effects of the disaster have not been too bad, considering. I find that unbelievable and I think it is too early to come out with that. Or are you just trying to provoke us George? The latest press release I just received from Greenpeace expresses deep concern about the radioactive contamination of Tokyo’s drinking water and the official information policy surrounding the accident. These are very difficult times all round. More tomorrow. Tonight we have a discussion on covering climate change in the media and differences in different media, different countries, etc.

Date

March 23, 2011 | 5:10 pm

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