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Analysis-China Turns to Households in Fight to Slash Carbon Emissions

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Monday, November 27, 2023

By David Stanway and David KirtonSHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - At a gleaming new metro station on the edge of Shenzhen, the local government is promoting "carbon coins" to commuters to earn and trade for shopping vouchers and travel cards in a push to get households to join China's fight against climate change.The southeastern city's "Carbon Road for Everyone" scheme, which rewards people for logging their use of public transport, is one of dozens around China encouraging citizens to ditch cars, plant trees and cut energy use.The so-called "carbon inclusion" programmes are part of the ruling Communist Party's campaign to mobilise the whole of society, not just industry, to transform the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter into a carbon-neutral country by 2060.China's efforts to tackle climate change will come under intense scrutiny as negotiators from around the world gather for the COP28 meetings in Dubai next week.While the country's emissions reduction task is massive, potential cuts by individuals could be huge. A 2021 study by the China Academy of Sciences said households contribute more than half of China's total emissions of over 10 billion metric tons per year."Carbon inclusion is a huge platform and an effective way to mobilise the public to practice low-carbon, zero-carbon and negative-carbon activities," said Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate envoy, during the launch of a government carbon inclusion committee in August.Eventually, China wants the schemes to be integrated into national emissions trading and generate credits that can offset emissions by industrial polluters, government plans show.China's carbon inclusion ambitions have been in gestation since 2015, when the southeastern province of Guangdong published rules on how to convert low-carbon activity into credits.Since then, dozens of schemes have emerged across the country, accessing personal data like step counts, the use of transport, and the purchase of efficient or environmentally friendly products to generate carbon coins.Banks have also been testing "personal carbon account" systems. The People's Bank of China set up a pilot "carbon to gold loan" scheme in the city of Quzhou, allowing customers to earn carbon points that could improve credit ratings.Other countries have toyed with the idea of personal carbon trading, with pilot schemes set up in Finland and Australia's Norfolk Island. The British environment ministry also commissioned a study into the possibility in 2006 but concluded it was not yet politically or economically feasible.Singapore is currently running a scheme that rewards efficient electricity users with "leaf" tokens that can be exchanged for shopping vouchers."Various actors have tried voluntary schemes that do things like visualisations or the sharing of energy or emissions data at a smaller scale," said Benjamin Sovacool, a professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University."But they lack the scale and sheer scope of what the Chinese are conceiving, and they were not integrated into carbon coins, which is a clever idea."QUANTIFICATION, TRADING HURDLESA major challenge is how to commodify carbon dioxide emissions reductions from a wide range of human behaviour - including the way people go to work, heat their household or put out the trash."It's all about verification," said Yifei Li, professor of Environmental Studies at New York University's Shanghai campus. "When it comes to the level of variability, how people conduct their lives is so wildly different. That is a big problem."Zhang Xin, vice-chairman of the environment ministry's carbon inclusion committee, said better standards were needed to quantify low-carbon behaviour, warning in comments published this year that the proliferation of schemes "has resulted in confusion and inconsistency."Scholars also say it is unclear whether the schemes generate new cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or merely record those that happen anyway.Shanghai said in regulations that came into effect this month its schemes would eventually be "fully connected" to the local carbon market, with enterprises allowed to apply to use household carbon cuts to meet targets.Guangdong also allows enterprises to meet 10% of carbon reduction obligations through carbon inclusion credits.China is still a long way from fulfilling such emissions trading ambitions. Most users remain passive participants: one Beijing-based scheme claims more than 30 million users, but only 1.4% are active, according to research published this year.And there are worries the carbon inclusion schemes could let industrial polluters off the hook by shifting the burden of emission cuts to households."The direction they're going in at the moment is indeed to transfer climate responsibilities from these big firms and more towards individuals," said Li."That is extremely dangerous," he added, as it can "alienate individuals from climate action."While tens of millions of people have already signed up to schemes around the country, some experts fear it will give the state more powers to interfere with people's lives and punish those who fail to make the right low-carbon choices."While the scheme currently is voluntary, the lack of transparency, the unaccountable nature of the Chinese government and the government's track record of using big data for social control are all reasons for concern," said Yaqiu Wang, research director for China at the Freedom House think tank.Critics point to China's handling of environmental problems with controversial measures such as shutting thousands of businesses to cut pollution, relocating homes to make way for national parks and banning poor households from using coal for heating.China climate official Su Wei told local media the green transformation of China would "inevitably involve profound changes in people's daily habits and consumption patterns", but he said carbon inclusion schemes would remain voluntary.The carbon coin promotion at the Shenzhen station drew little interest among commuters on a busy working day in October. However, the local government was upbeat about the project, saying last month it had registered 14.6 million users since its launch in August 2022, cutting emissions by 720,000 metric tons.(Reporting by David Stanway in Singapore; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Sonali Paul)Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

By David Stanway and David KirtonSHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - At a gleaming new metro station on the edge of Shenzhen, the local government is...

By David Stanway and David Kirton

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - At a gleaming new metro station on the edge of Shenzhen, the local government is promoting "carbon coins" to commuters to earn and trade for shopping vouchers and travel cards in a push to get households to join China's fight against climate change.

The southeastern city's "Carbon Road for Everyone" scheme, which rewards people for logging their use of public transport, is one of dozens around China encouraging citizens to ditch cars, plant trees and cut energy use.

The so-called "carbon inclusion" programmes are part of the ruling Communist Party's campaign to mobilise the whole of society, not just industry, to transform the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter into a carbon-neutral country by 2060.

China's efforts to tackle climate change will come under intense scrutiny as negotiators from around the world gather for the COP28 meetings in Dubai next week.

While the country's emissions reduction task is massive, potential cuts by individuals could be huge. A 2021 study by the China Academy of Sciences said households contribute more than half of China's total emissions of over 10 billion metric tons per year.

"Carbon inclusion is a huge platform and an effective way to mobilise the public to practice low-carbon, zero-carbon and negative-carbon activities," said Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate envoy, during the launch of a government carbon inclusion committee in August.

Eventually, China wants the schemes to be integrated into national emissions trading and generate credits that can offset emissions by industrial polluters, government plans show.

China's carbon inclusion ambitions have been in gestation since 2015, when the southeastern province of Guangdong published rules on how to convert low-carbon activity into credits.

Since then, dozens of schemes have emerged across the country, accessing personal data like step counts, the use of transport, and the purchase of efficient or environmentally friendly products to generate carbon coins.

Banks have also been testing "personal carbon account" systems. The People's Bank of China set up a pilot "carbon to gold loan" scheme in the city of Quzhou, allowing customers to earn carbon points that could improve credit ratings.

Other countries have toyed with the idea of personal carbon trading, with pilot schemes set up in Finland and Australia's Norfolk Island. The British environment ministry also commissioned a study into the possibility in 2006 but concluded it was not yet politically or economically feasible.

Singapore is currently running a scheme that rewards efficient electricity users with "leaf" tokens that can be exchanged for shopping vouchers.

"Various actors have tried voluntary schemes that do things like visualisations or the sharing of energy or emissions data at a smaller scale," said Benjamin Sovacool, a professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University.

"But they lack the scale and sheer scope of what the Chinese are conceiving, and they were not integrated into carbon coins, which is a clever idea."

QUANTIFICATION, TRADING HURDLES

A major challenge is how to commodify carbon dioxide emissions reductions from a wide range of human behaviour - including the way people go to work, heat their household or put out the trash.

"It's all about verification," said Yifei Li, professor of Environmental Studies at New York University's Shanghai campus. "When it comes to the level of variability, how people conduct their lives is so wildly different. That is a big problem."

Zhang Xin, vice-chairman of the environment ministry's carbon inclusion committee, said better standards were needed to quantify low-carbon behaviour, warning in comments published this year that the proliferation of schemes "has resulted in confusion and inconsistency."

Scholars also say it is unclear whether the schemes generate new cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or merely record those that happen anyway.

Shanghai said in regulations that came into effect this month its schemes would eventually be "fully connected" to the local carbon market, with enterprises allowed to apply to use household carbon cuts to meet targets.

Guangdong also allows enterprises to meet 10% of carbon reduction obligations through carbon inclusion credits.

China is still a long way from fulfilling such emissions trading ambitions. Most users remain passive participants: one Beijing-based scheme claims more than 30 million users, but only 1.4% are active, according to research published this year.

And there are worries the carbon inclusion schemes could let industrial polluters off the hook by shifting the burden of emission cuts to households.

"The direction they're going in at the moment is indeed to transfer climate responsibilities from these big firms and more towards individuals," said Li.

"That is extremely dangerous," he added, as it can "alienate individuals from climate action."

While tens of millions of people have already signed up to schemes around the country, some experts fear it will give the state more powers to interfere with people's lives and punish those who fail to make the right low-carbon choices.

"While the scheme currently is voluntary, the lack of transparency, the unaccountable nature of the Chinese government and the government's track record of using big data for social control are all reasons for concern," said Yaqiu Wang, research director for China at the Freedom House think tank.

Critics point to China's handling of environmental problems with controversial measures such as shutting thousands of businesses to cut pollution, relocating homes to make way for national parks and banning poor households from using coal for heating.

China climate official Su Wei told local media the green transformation of China would "inevitably involve profound changes in people's daily habits and consumption patterns", but he said carbon inclusion schemes would remain voluntary.

The carbon coin promotion at the Shenzhen station drew little interest among commuters on a busy working day in October. However, the local government was upbeat about the project, saying last month it had registered 14.6 million users since its launch in August 2022, cutting emissions by 720,000 metric tons.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Singapore; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Sonali Paul)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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Australian Authorities Say More Sydney Schools Tainted With Asbestos

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An asbestos contamination in Sydney widened on Sunday, with authorities saying the toxic material had been detected in more...

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An asbestos contamination in Sydney widened on Sunday, with authorities saying the toxic material had been detected in more schools, as a weeks-long effort continued to remove it from mulch used in public places.The contamination was discovered in January when asbestos was found in a playground in the New South Wales capital, and a subsequent probe found it in recycled mulch near the park, built above an underground road interchange.In an update on the contamination on Sunday, the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said 34 city sites had now returned positive for bonded asbestos.New sites where asbestos had been confirmed were two schools in the city's west, the EPA said, lifting the number of schools confirmed as tainted to four."There is ongoing testing at a further four schools," EPA head Tony Chappel said, adding that testing was also underway at a hospital and in part of the city's vast Royal National Park.The agency on Saturday said a public school, park, and two part-built housing estates were tainted, while transport projects, a warehouse and a hospital have also been confirmed as impacted.In response, the state government has set up an asbestos task force to give more resources and support to the EPA, in the agency's largest probe since it was established in 1991.Asbestos became popular in late 19th century as a way to reinforce cement and for fire-proofing, but research later found that the inhalation of asbestos fibres could cause lung inflammation and cancer. It is now banned in much of the world.(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

Australia Authorities Say More Sydney Sites Tainted With Asbestos

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities on Saturday said asbestos had been discovered in more places in Sydney including housing estates as the...

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities on Saturday said asbestos had been discovered in more places in Sydney including housing estates as the New South Wales government continues a weeks-long scramble to remove the toxic material from mulch used in public spaces.The contamination was discovered in January when asbestos was found in a playground in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, and subsequent investigations spotted it in recycled mulch near the park, built above an underground road interchange.Since then, in what is the biggest investigation by the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in decades, 32 city sites have returned positive results for bonded asbestos, the agency said in a statement on Saturday.The EPA said new sites where asbestos had been detected were a public school and park in the city's north, and two residential estates under construction in Sydney's south-west.The University of Sydney had also been identified as potentially tainted and would be tested this weekend, it said."Since 10 January, the EPA has taken almost 300 samples. The rate of positive results is around 10 percent," the EPA said.Authorities this week cordoned off areas in several contaminated Sydney parks, forcing the cancellation of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day event scheduled for Sunday, which usually draws tens of thousands of revellers, after traces of asbestos were found around the venue.Transport projects, a primary school, a warehouse and a hospital have also been confirmed as contaminated.In response, the New South Wales government has set up a dedicated asbestos task force to give more resources and support to the EPA as it investigates the widening contamination.Asbestos became popular in late 19th century as a way to reinforce cement and for fire-proofing, but research later found that the inhalation of asbestos fibres could cause lung inflammation and cancer. It is now banned in much of the world.(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Lewis)Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

Seven Sydney schools tested as asbestos mulch found at hospital, supermarket and new park

EPA confirms bonded asbestos found at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Kellyville Woolworths and Transport for NSW park in Wiley ParkMap and full list of locations where asbestos has been foundGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastAsbestos has been found in mulch at a hospital, a supermarket and another park in Sydney, and seven schools will be tested as a priority as the state’s environmental watchdog continues its largest ever investigation.The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority confirmed on Friday that bonded asbestos had been found in mulch at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Woolworths in Kellyville and a Transport for NSW park in Wiley Park.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...

Asbestos has been found in mulch at a hospital, a supermarket and another park in Sydney, and seven schools will be tested as a priority as the state’s environmental watchdog continues its largest ever investigation.The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority confirmed on Friday that bonded asbestos had been found in mulch at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Woolworths in Kellyville and a Transport for NSW park in Wiley Park.The EPA named the new sites the day after the government announced a surge workforce of public servants and firefighters, as well as a new asbestos taskforce, would assist the agency with its criminal investigation.Seven schools have been chosen to undertake precautionary testing based on how much mulch they have on site. The EPA said it identified these particular schools because they received mulch from Greenlife Resource Recovery.Greenlife denies they are responsible for the contamination.Greenlife supplied the mulch that has been found to contain both bonded and friable asbestos at sites, including parks, hospitals and several government infrastructure projects across Sydney and in regional NSW.Testing will take place at Allambie Heights Public School, International Grammar School, Mt Annan Christian College, North Sydney Public School, Penrith Christian School, Westmead Christian Grammar and St Luke’s Catholic College.St Luke’s Catholic College, in Marsden Park, will be closed on Friday, with students to learn from home.“There is currently no evidence of asbestos contamination at any of the schools identified,” an EPA spokesperson said.“The EPA is providing this advice ahead of testing to keep the school community across developments so they can advise parents and keep school communities safe.”skip past newsletter promotionSign up to Afternoon UpdateOur Australian afternoon update breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it mattersPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionAsbestos had been found at 10% of the sites tested by the agency since it began its investigation after the discovery of contamination at the Rozelle parklands in January.Bonded asbestos had been found at 23 sites and the more dangerous friable asbestos at one site – Harmony Park in Surry Hills.The City of Sydney said it would test another 33 parks and garden beds in 38 sites where the council believes asbestos contaminated mulch may have been used.On Thursday, the EPA chief executive, Tony Chappel, said it was a “complex, large supply chain” and while multiple suppliers were being looked at as part of the probe, so far only mulch from Greenlife had been found to contain asbestos.Greenlife has insisted it is not responsible for the contamination and that multiple rounds of testing by independent laboratories showed their mulch was free from asbestos before it was distributed to customers.But the EPA has raised concerns about mulch manufactured and sold between March and December last year, which it said was not available for them to inspect when they visited Greelife’s facility in January.The landscaping products manufacturer has launched a legal challenge in the NSW land and environment court against the EPA as it fights a ban on it selling mulch while the investigation is under way.

Endangered Right Whale Floating Dead off Georgia Is Rare Species' Second Fatality Since January

Government scientists say a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has been found dead off the coast of Georgia, marking the rare species' second fatality in the past month

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The carcass of a North Atlantic right whale found floating off the coast of Georgia marks the second known death in the past month for the critically endangered whale species.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the dead whale off Tybee Island east of Savannah had been identified as a female born last year. The carcass was heavily scavenged by sharks before the Georgia Department of Natural Resources towed it to shore Thursday, agency spokesman Tyler Jones said. Scientists still hoped a necropsy could provide clues to how it died. “It’s going to be challenge to determine the cause of death because it’s been so heavily predated and decayed,” Jones saidThe discovery came after another young female right whale was reported dead Jan. 28 off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. A necropsy found rope embedded in its tail. NOAA said it was consistent with a type of rope used in commercial fishing gear.Female right whales head to the warmer Atlantic Ocean waters off the southeastern U.S. during the winters to give birth. Because they swim close to the surface, the rare whales are vulnerable to collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear.Scientists estimate the North Atlantic right whale population has dwindled to fewer than 360. NOAA says a period of elevated fatalities and injuries in right whales has been ongoing since 2017. The two deaths recorded since January bring the period's total to 38 fatalities. “The death of two juvenile North Atlantic whales within three weeks of each other is heartbreaking and preventable," Kathleen Collins, senior marine campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in statement Thursday. “The right whale graveyard off our eastern seaboard continues to grow and inaction from the administration is digging the graves.”A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday in an effort to force the U.S. government to finalize rules that would expand zones off the East Coast where ships are required to slow down to protect right whales. The new rules would also require compliance by a wider range of vessels.Some industries have pushed back against tighter laws. Last year, a federal appeals court sided with commercial fishermen who harvest lobsters and crabs and say proposed restrictions aimed at saving whales could put them out of business.Right whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but they were decimated during the commercial fishing era and have been slow to recover. They have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for decades.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

EDF and Google partner to map global methane emissions from space

By this time next year, a new satellite will be detecting how much methane is leaking from oil and gas wells, pumps, pipelines and storage tanks around the world — and companies, governments and nonprofit groups will be able to access all of its data via Google Maps. That’s one way to describe the partnership…

By this time next year, a new satellite will be detecting how much methane is leaking from oil and gas wells, pumps, pipelines and storage tanks around the world — and companies, governments and nonprofit groups will be able to access all of its data via Google Maps. That’s one way to describe the partnership announced Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund and Google. The two have pledged to combine forces on EDF’s MethaneSat initiative, one of the most ambitious efforts yet to discover and measure emissions of a gas with 80 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. MethaneSat’s first satellite is scheduled to be launched into orbit next month, Steve Hamburg, EDF chief scientist and MethaneSat project lead, explained in a Monday media briefing. Once in orbit, it will circle the globe 15 times a day, providing the ​“first truly detailed global picture of methane emissions,” he said. ​“By the end of 2025, we should have a very clear picture on a global scale from all major oil and gas basins around the world.” That’s vital data for governments and industry players seeking to reduce human-caused methane emissions that are responsible for roughly a quarter of global warming today. The United Nations has called for a 45 percent cut in methane emissions by 2030, which would reduce climate warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2045. EDF research has found that roughly half of the world’s human-caused methane emissions can be eliminated by 2030, and that half of that reduction could be accomplished at no net cost. Emissions from agriculture, livestock and landfills are expected to be more difficult to mitigate than those from the oil and gas industries, which either vent or flare fossil gas — which is primarily methane — as an unwanted byproduct of oil production, or lose it through leaks. That makes targeting oil and gas industry methane emissions ​“the fastest way that we can slow global warming right now,” Hamburg said. While cutting carbon dioxide emissions remains a pressing challenge, ​“methane dominates what’s happening in the near term.” Action on methane leakage is being promised by industry and governments. At the COP28 U.N. climate talks in December, 50 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies pledged to ​“virtually eliminate” their methane emissions by 2030, Hamburg noted. The European Union in November passed a law that will place ​“maximum methane intensity values” on fossil gas imports starting in 2030, putting pressure on global suppliers to reduce leaks if they want to continue selling their products in Europe. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to impose fines on methane emitters in the oil and gas industry, in keeping with a provision of 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act that penalizes emissions above a certain threshold. And in December, the EPA issued final rules on limiting methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations, including a role for third-party monitors like MethaneSat to report methane ​“super-emitters” — sources of massive methane leaks — and spur regulatory action. Accurate and comprehensive measurements are necessary to attain these targets and mandates, Hamburg said. ​“Achieving real results means that government, civil society and industry need to know how much methane is coming from where, who is responsible for those emissions and how those emissions are changing over time,” he said. ​“We need the data on a global scale.” Turning satellite data into regulatory action That’s where Google will step in, said Yael Maguire, head of the search giant’s Geo Sustainability team. Over the past two years, Google has been working with EDF and MethaneSat to develop a ​“dynamic methane map that we will make available to the public later this year,” he said during Monday’s briefing. EDF and Google researchers will use Google’s cloud-computing resources to analyze MethaneSat data to identify leaks and measure their intensity, Maguire said. Google is also adapting its machine-learning and artificial-intelligence capabilities developed for identifying buildings, trees and other landmarks from space to ​“build a comprehensive map of oil and gas infrastructure around the world based on visible satellite imagery,” he said — a valuable source of information on an industry that can be resistant to providing asset data to regulators. “Once those maps are lined up, we expect people will be able to have a far better understanding of the types of machinery that contribute most to methane leaks,” Maguire said. These maps and underlying data will be available later this year on MethaneSat’s website and from Google Earth Engine, the company’s environmental-monitoring platform used by researchers to ​“detect trends and understand correlations between human activity and its environmental impact.” The work between Google and EDF on MethaneSat is part of a broader set of methane-emissions monitoring efforts by researchers, governments, nonprofits and companies. At the COP28 climate summit, Bloomberg Philanthropies pledged $40 million to support what Hamburg described as an ​“independent watchdog effort” to track the progress of emissions-reduction pledges that companies in the oil and gas industry made at the event. MethaneSat will bring new technology to the table, he said. Its sensors can detect methane at concentrations of 2 to 3 parts per billion, down to resolutions of about 100 meters by 400 meters. That’s a much tighter resolution than the methane detection provided by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite, which nonetheless has been able to detect gigantic methane plumes in oil and gas basins in Central Asia and North Africa in the past three years, he said. At the same time, MethaneSat can scan 200-kilometer-wide swaths of Earth as it passes overhead, he said. That combination of detail and scope will allow it to ​“see widespread emissions — those that are across large areas and that other satellites can see — as well as spot problems where other satellites aren’t looking.”

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