FDA to Begin Restricting Use of Antibiotics in Animal Feed

By Eleanor Fausold

On March 22nd, a federal magistrate judge ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inform drug makers that it may soon ban the use of penicillin and tetracycline, two popular antibiotics, for promotion of growth in animals.

Animals can be raised healthily without dependence on antibiotics. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The order comes as a result of concerns about antibiotics’ effect on public health. According to many microbiologists and other medical researchers, the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes to selection for bacteria that are resistant to common treatments. Outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity in recent years, and according to Dr. David Wallinga, an expert on antibiotics at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, antibiotic-resistant infections now cause 100,000 deaths in hospitals annually.

Vast amounts of antibiotics are used in factory farms in the United States. Two years ago, the FDA collected data from drug companies about the amount of antibiotics used on conventional food animals. The FDA discovered that this total came to 29 million pounds, or 80 percent of all the antibiotics used in the United States annually. Seventy-four percent of these 29 million pounds of drugs are used in animal feed, not to treat animals that are actually sick. This number dwarfs the 7 million pounds of antibiotics used on humans in the United States annually and is especially concerning given that 60 percent of the drugs used on animals are the same or very similar to those used on humans.

The effect this ruling will have on public health remains to be seen because the order only applies to drugs that are being used to promote growth in animals, but it’s a step in the right direction to help prevent antibiotic resistance among animals and humans alike.

To read the official court ruling, click here.

What do you think about this latest announcement? Tell us below!

For more information on livestock production and antibiotic use, check out Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animals: Looking to Africa for Answers, FDA Bans Off-Label Use of Antibiotics in Farm Animals, Changing the Way We Eat: Raising Pigs & Problems, and Rising Number of Farm Animals Poses Environmental and Public Health Risks.

Eleanor Fausold is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

Guangdong Leads the Way in China’s Low-Carbon Development

By Haibing Ma

Guangdong is releasing a series of policies to ensure a green future. ©nfdaily.cn

According to media reports, Guangdong province has taken the lead in becoming the pioneer of low-carbon practices in China. Guangdong is one of 13 pilot regions—including five provinces and eight municipalities—that the Chinese government has selected to explore low-carbon development. So far, it is the only pilot region that has issued a comprehensive plan for this development and had it approved by the central government.

In January 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) reviewed and then “approved with positive comments” Guandong’s “Implementation Plan for Low-Carbon Pilot Programs.” Although this plan has not been made public, it reportedly lays out eight “key actions”:

  • Promote low-carbon development across all sectors;
  • Optimize the structure of energy production and consumption;
  • Continue actions to save energy and improve efficiency;
  • Develop low-carbon transportation methods;
  • Explore low-carbon building measures;
  • “Green” the province;
  • Explore new mechanisms and/or institutions for low-carbon development; and
  • Establish a full-fledged support system for these low-carbon activities.

Although the details remain vague, these actions appear to be headed in the right direction. Meanwhile, the goals of Guangdong’s low-carbon plan are very much in line with the central government’s plan: to reduce “carbon intensity” (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product) 19.5 percent by 2015, relative to the 2010 level; and to reduce carbon intensity more than 45 percent by 2020, relative to 2005 levels.

It’s worth noting that Guangdong’s 2015 carbon intensity goal is by far the most ambitious regional or municipal goal across China, surpassing the national average by 2.5 percentage points. The province’s 2020 goal also reflects the higher end of the national target, which is set to achieve a 40 to 45 percent decrease in carbon intensity between 2005 and 2020.

Yet while these goals may look impressive on paper, what really matters are concrete actions. Can the province deliver what it has promised? After all, recent records show that the national government has failed to meet its most high-profile targets: in early 2011, the government admitted that China achieved only a 19.1 percent reduction in energy intensity during the 11th Five-Year Period (2006–10), falling short of its 20 percent goal. And in March 2012, NDRC Chairman Zhang Ping, announced that energy intensity dropped only about 2.01 percent in 2011, failing to meet the 3.5 percent annual target. The national reduction in carbon intensity was even worse, according to Zhang.

On the one hand, these shortcomings indicate that China may face unprecedented challenges in pursuing low-carbon growth. On the other hand, they highlight the need for bolder, more ambitious measures, which is exactly what Guangdong province is attempting to do.

While the national goal for climate change mitigation remains locked on reducing carbon intensity, Guangdong is proposing an absolute cap on carbon dioxide emissions. Provincial officials have indicated that Guangdong may limit its 2015 CO2 emissions to around 630 million metric tons, which would allow only 120 million tons of incremental gain relative to the province’s 2010 base of 510 million tons. For a province with China’s fastest growing economy, this is indeed a bold move.

The provincial government has recognized that these emissions cuts will not be easy. A large share of the reductions will have to come from sectoral adjustments to the economy. The province hopes to maintain high economic growth and simultaneously reduce emissions by enhancing its service sector.  Guangdong has set a goal to increase the service sector’s share of regional economic output from 45.2 percent currently to more than 48 percent by 2015.

Perhaps the most bold and interesting action, however, is Guangdong’s decision to initiate a province-wide carbon emission trading system by as early as 2013. Guangdong is one of only seven regions—two provinces and five municipalities—that the Chinese government has selected to experiment with an emissions trading scheme. While the other pilot jurisdictions are still struggling to grasp the concept and functions of emissions trading, Guangdong has, quite impressively, set a high bar for itself.

Systematic and innovative thoughts are much needed for the success of Guangdong's emission trading experiment. ©nfdaily.cn

Guangdong’s emissions trading scheme is still in the revision and review stages, and details remain unclear. But according to the Vice Chairman of the Provincial Development and Reform Commission, the province has laid out a three-step roadmap to nurture the trading system, with each step taking about one year:

  • Step 1: Launch a voluntary trading platform and use the voluntary practice as a base to nurture institutions needed for a full-fledged cap and trade scheme.
  • Step 2: Build on the voluntary trading platform to explore the mechanisms of and solutions to the more detailed system design, such as the distribution allowance and sectors to be covered. Meanwhile, begin to explore the institutional designs needed for inter-provincial carbon emissions trading.
  • Step 3: Finish the allowance distribution plan and start testing inter-provincial trading.

Again, questions remain about implementation and actualization, but Guangdong’s plan indicates that the province is at least serious about making emissions trading work. Moreover, the plan does well to include inter-provincial trading, which is essential if China hopes to scale-up these regionally based trading schemes to a national level.

In the future, let’s hope that Guangdong provides greater tranparency about its low-carbon development strategy, and especially about its plans to address some of the major challenges facing Chinese efforts at emissions trading. For example, a science-based emissions monitoring and statistical system that is “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” to outsiders is indispensable if China is to develop a credible trading system. Based on our previous observation, such a reliable MRV system has yet to be seen, and it may cause serious problems if China rushes into emissions trading without one. Our fingers are crossed that Guangdong will successfully address this issue.

Haibing Ma is the China Program Manager at the Worldwatch Institute.

Go to Source

Rising Number of Farm Animals Poses Environmental and Public Health Risks

The global population of farm animals increased 23 percent between 1980 and 2010, from 3.5 billion to 4.3 billion, according to research by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online publication. These figures continue a trend of rising farm animal populations, with harmful effects on the environment, public health, and global development.

The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Both production and consumption of animal products are increasingly concentrated in developing countries. In contrast, due in part to a growing awareness of the health consequences of high meat consumption, the appetite for animal products is stagnating or declining in many industrial countries.

The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate in recent decades, according to the report. Although industrialized countries still consume the most animal products, urbanization and rising incomes in developing countries are spurring shifts to more meat-heavy diets.

Farm-animal production provides a safety net for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, but given the industry’s rapid and often poorly regulated growth, the biggest challenge in the coming decades will be to produce meat and other animal products in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, are the most rapidly growing system of farm animal production. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 80 percent of growth in the livestock sector now comes from these industrial production systems. CAFOs now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide.

But CAFOs produce high levels of waste, use huge amounts of water and land for feed production, contribute to the spread of human and animal diseases, and play a role in biodiversity loss. Farm animal production also contributes to climate change: the industry accounts for an estimated 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of the  carbon dioxide, nearly 40 percent of the methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide), and 65 percent of the nitrous oxide (300 times more potent as carbon dioxide).

The environment is not all that is at stake with this rapidly shifting means of food production; factory farms pose a serious threat to public health as well. Diets high in animal fat and meat—particularly red meat and processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage—have been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.

Although CAFOs originated in Europe and North America, they are becoming increasingly prevalent in developing regions like East and Southeast Asia, where environmental, animal-welfare, public health, and labor standards are often not as well-established as in industrialized regions. The report stresses that to prevent serious human and environmental costs, policymakers will need to strengthen production regulations around the world.

Further highlights from the report:

  • Between 1980 and 2005, per capita milk consumption in developing countries almost doubled, meat consumption more than tripled, and egg consumption increased fivefold.
  • Approximately 75 percent of the new diseases that affected humans from 1999 to 2009 originated in animals or animal products.
  • Because CAFOs rely on a narrow range of commercial breeds selected for their high productivity and low input needs, less-popular indigenous livestock breeds are rapidly falling out of use: in 2010, the FAO reported that at least 21 percent of the world’s livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.
  • Livestock production is a major driver of deforestation: cattle enterprises have been responsible for 65–80 percent of the deforestation of the Amazon, and countries in South America are clearing large swaths of forest and other land to grow animal feed crops like maize and soybean.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

Italian Power Company Partners with World Food Programme to Combat Hunger and Climate Change

By Dana Drugmand

The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) and Italian energy company Enel are teaming up in an effort to address food security and climate change by providing green cook stoves and solar panels to communities. The new partnership between WFP and Enel was announced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban. Enel has pledged up to €8 million (US$10.7 million) in the agreement, which includes commitments by two Enel companies and the Enel Group’s nonprofit organization to support WFP humanitarian and environmental protection programs.

Through its SAFE Initiative, the World Food Programme is providing fuel-efficient cooking stoves to poor households, schools and community centers. (Photo credit: WFP)

Enel Trade has committed to support WFP’s Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings (SAFE) Initiative, which provides high-efficiency cooking stoves to schools, community centers and poor households for use in cooking WFP food rations. WFP has already distributed over 140,000 stoves to 927,000 people in Sudan, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and Haiti. The SAFE Initiative also aims to protect women against violence during firewood collection and to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions by making stoves more fuel-efficient. Enel Trade will work with WFP to develop a business model for generating carbon emission reduction credits by analyzing the use of these high-efficiency cook stoves.

Another Enel company, Enel Green Power, will help WFP decrease its carbon footprint by installing solar panels on UN Humanitarian Response Depots, sites managed by WFP where emergency supplies are handled and stored. Enel will pilot the solar initiative at sites in Italy, Panama, United Arab Emirates and Ghana.

Additionally, funds from Enel will go towards supporting WFP activities in Latin America. Enel Cuore, the independent, nonprofit organization within the Enel Group, has committed to support WFP initiatives in Latin America where the Enel Group is present.

To read more about solar cooking stoves and other solar technology, see: Reality show demonstrates how developing countries can make sustainability a realityInnovation of the Week: Harnessing the Sun’s Power to Make the Water Flow, and What Works: Putting Cooked Food on the Table

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

State of the World 2012 Launches in Washington, D.C.

The Worldwatch Institute’s 16th Annual State of the World Symposium will take place on April 11 and will be hosted at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. Worldwatch President Robert Engelman and senior researchers Michael Renner and Erik Assadourian will speak at the event, where they will officially release State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity.

The Worldwatch Institute’s 16th Annual State of the World Symposium takes place on April 11 in Washington, D.C.

Over the past 40 years, the world’s middle and upper classes have doubled their consumption levels, and in the coming years, an additional 1 to 2 billion people will aspire to join the consumer class. The report concludes that our planet cannot maintain these increases in resource demand, and therefore we must act quickly to redefine our understanding of the “good life” and redouble our efforts to make that life sustainable.

State of the World 2012 includes sustainability discussions that range from agriculture to biodiversity, green jobs to economic degrowth, communications technologies to sustainable buildings, and local politics to global governance. This wide array of topics will aid Rio+20 participants, as well as global leaders and concerned citizens, to reconsider how we fundamentally change our unsustainable economic system and consumer culture and collectively re-prioritize sustainable living.

After the initial overview presentations, the symposium will feature two panel discussions with other contributing authors of the report, including Joseph Foti of the World Resources Institute, Mia MacDonald of Brighter Green, Michael Replogle and Colin Hughes of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Diana Lind of Next American City, and Bo Normander of Worldwatch Europe.

Click here for more information and here if you would like to register for the event. The launch will also be streamed live, with more details on how you can tune in to follow.

You can also pre-order a copy of the report by clicking here.

Go to Source

What Does a One-planet City Look Like?

Aquabus in front of False Creek North in Vancouver–strong efforts to increase density and orient around the pedestrian (photo courtesy of Jennie Moore)

It isn’t easy being green. The City of Vancouver is learning what Kermit the Frog has known for a long time. In a bid to become the world’s Greenest City, Vancouver recently launched its Greenest City Action Plan that includes a goal to reduce its ecological footprint 33% by 2015, en route to a longer term goal to become a “one-planet” city. Ten action areas spanning food, transportation, buildings, economy, climate change, waste management, etc., outline a path towards the lighter footprint objective.

The problem is that the sum total of the initiatives identified to date in the Greenest City Action Plan will only contribute to an 11.5% reduction in the City’s ecological footprint. Additional stretch measures in the eleventh action area, called “Achieve a Lighter Footprint” could bring the total reduction to 23%, which is still short of the 33% target and nowhere near the level of reduction that would be needed to achieve one-planet living.

One-planet living is a concept that uses the ecological footprint as a metric. If the world’s total biocapacity were equitably distributed among the global population, with a minimum of 12% set aside for natural habitat preservation, the resulting allowance would be 1.8 hectares of land with global average ecosystem productivity per person. Contrast this with the 9 hectares required to support an average US citizen or the 7 hectares required to support a Canadian. For people in these countries, getting to one-planet living requires a factor-five (80%) reduction in current levels of energy and materials consumption and waste production!

To understand the implications of this shift, consider the following numbers, based on my comprehensive assessment of Vancouver’s ecological footprint:

  1. Half of Vancouver’s footprint is attributable to food (production, distribution, retailing, etc.)  And half of the food footprint itself is attributable to meat, fish and eggs (with the majority attributable to red meat).
  2. Transportation accounts for 20% of Vancouver’s footprint, and half of that is due to single-occupant vehicle travel. If you add the embodied energy of the motor vehicles as well as impacts from air travel, then together these account for almost 90% of Vancouver’s total transportation footprint.
  3. Buildings account for 16% of Vancouver’s footprint, and of this amount 80% is attributable to the energy required to operate residential, commercial and institutional buildings.
  4. Consumables, meaning goods that we purchase, account for 12% of Vancouver’s footprint. The big ticket item here is paper which accounts for half the consumables footprint, followed by plastics, organic wastes, metals, glass, household hygiene (including diapers), etc.

Vancouver's Ecological Footprint Based on Consumption Activity (Calculated by Jennie Moore)

So, if we want to get to one-planet living, there doesn’t appear to be much wiggle room for avoiding some of the largest contributors: red meat, car travel (air travel too), home energy use, and personal consumption. No surprises so far, right? But here is the kicker: to actually get to one-planet living, we’re not just talking about a little less meat consumption or a more thoughtful approach to the commute to work. We are talking about massive changes to life as we know it. Virtual elimination of animal proteins in the diet (think vegan) and abandonment of personal automobile ownership are critical considerations. In other words, highly efficient use of energy in the home and an emphasis on recycling or even consuming less just won’t cut it. If one-planet living is the goal, then radical transformation of our lifestyles has to be on the table. And since we know that individuals embedded in a system won’t be able to make dramatic personal changes if the system doesn’t support them (how many vegans living without cars do you know?), this means the government is going to have to play a central role in supporting more sustainable individual consumption choices.

These statements may seem to be political non-starters, but the sheer scale of the problem forces us to reconcile with some tough decisions. Perhaps Kermit’s insect-eating, lily-pad lifestyle is on the right track? Or if it isn’t, at least it’s clear that our cow-eating, iPad lifestyle is not.

A high-end luxury condominium complex under development in Vancouver. Note the starting price is $5 million, but ownership comes with access to the "communal" Ferrari–and what could be more sustainable than a shared car? (Photo courtesy of Jennie Moore)

Jennie Moore is Director of Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. She is currently completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Emeritus William E. Rees, researching what it will take to make Vancouver a One-Planet City.

Changing the Way We Eat: Raising Pigs & Problems

On January 21st, TEDxManhattan featured a series of speakers with backgrounds in food and farming who shared their knowledge and expertise with thousands of audience members watching in-person and virtually from around the world.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a TEDxManhattan talk by Dr. David Wallinga, who discusses the problems with antibiotic use in animals.

In his talk, “Raising Pigs & Problems: Saying No to Antibiotics in Animal Feed,” Dr. Wallinga explains that producers in the large-scale meat production industry often incorporate antibiotics into their animal feed in an attempt to ward off disease, which can spread rapidly among animals kept confined in close quarters. But widespread use of antibiotics can actually create antibiotic resistance, making it harder to fight illness among animals and humans alike. Antibiotics that are present in animal waste leach into the environment and contaminate water and food crops, posing a serious threat to public health.

Click here to watch Dr. Wallinga’s talk and those by other TEDxManhattan 2012 speakers.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

Fighting Striga

By Paul Van Mele

Paul Van Mele is the Director of Agro-Insight, a Belgian enterprise that merges expertise from science, communication, and arts to support sustainable agriculture and equitable trade.

‘Fighting Striga’ may not be a Hollywood – or even Nollywood – blockbuster but it is set to grab the attention of farmers throughout Africa.

A listing of the available programs offered. (Image credit: Agro-Insight)

Scientists have invested heavily over the past 40 years to fight one of the world’s most troublesome weeds, Striga. This parasitic weed seriously damages maize, sorghum, millet, rice, and fonio. While developing Striga-resistant varieties is a key area of research, insights into how soil fertility management and other options can help to reduce Striga infestation proved hard to communicate effectively with farmers.

In 2006, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) embarked on farmer field schools and came up with practical integrated Striga and soil fertility management practices for pearl millet and sorghum. A scarcity of skilled trainers, however, made it hard to maintain quality while scaling up.

Inspired by the experiences of AfricaRice with farmer-to-farmer videos, ICRISAT approached Agro-Insight, a communication agency specializing in agriculture, to have their staff and the staff of their partners in Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, and Mali trained. One year later, in 2011, a comprehensive series of 10 farmer-to-farmer videos was ready for wide-scale dissemination under the name “Fighting Striga”.

The “Fighting Striga” videos have been shown in farmer exchange visits and discussed at open-air evening screenings. They are effective because they are made according to the zooming-in, zooming-out (ZIZO) method, which relies on strong interactions with farmers. The ZIZO method results in regionally relevant and locally appropriate farmer-to-farmer training videos and can be applied to many topics.

After watching the videos in French, all asked: “Can we get a copy?” and “Can you translate them into our local language?” As a response, the “Fighting Striga” videos were translated into 20 West African languages.

Participants learn during a two-week workshop how to make a quality farmer-to-farmer training video. (Photo credit: Marcella Vrolijks)

The distribution of 40,000 DVDs is scheduled to start in April through national farmers’ organization platforms, Chambers of Agriculture, rural radio networks, national agricultural research and extension agencies, and major development organizations and projects.

The international NGO Access Agriculture established a web-platform to enhance access, facilitate local language translations, and promote the distribution and use of agricultural training videos. By using the most advanced technologies in video-streaming, any development organization can watch and download video and audio files that are of interest to them, free of charge, even with low internet connectivity.

If you would like to explore other local language translations of any of the videos listed on the Access Agriculture website, please send a message to info@accessagriculture.org.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

Researchers Detail Humanity’s Water Footprint

Researchers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have published a study estimating the scale and patterns of humanity’s water consumption, or its water footprint. The study is the most detailed estimate to date.

Large-scale livestock production is a large consumer of our water resources. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Many everyday items contain surprisingly high water footprints—it takes 2,700 liters (713 gallons) to make a cotton t-shirt and 2,400 liters (634 gallons) to make a hamburger—so it is useful to understand issues like water use and scarcity when making consumer decisions.

Check out this National Geographic article, written by Worldwatch senior fellow and  Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, Sandra Postel, that discusses the study’s results.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source

Renewable Energy Trade Disputes

Evan Musolino is a Research Associate for the Climate and Energy Program at the Worldwatch Institute

With the continued advancements in the development of renewable energy technologies and their ever-increasing cost competitiveness, there is more and more money at stake for countries and companies alike.  A number of countries have recently found themselves at odds with one another over the international impact of certain domestic financial support policies for promoting renewables.  The United States, China, Japan, Canada, and the European Union, discussed here, along with many others, currently find themselves on varying sides of major international trade disputes on this topic.  High-end manufacturing of renewable energy technology components, and the money and jobs this brings with it, is becoming an increasingly important component for policy makers and an increasingly contentious issue at the international level.

A worker assembling solar PV panels in a Suntech Power Holdings Co. factory in Jiangsu Province, China. (Source: Bloomberg)

The dispute between the United States and China over solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing is probably today’s most high profile renewable energy trade dispute.  The Chinese share of global solar PV manufacturing has grown at an incredibly fast pace since the country entered the market, as Chinese manufacturers have rapidly expanded from a 15 percent market share in 2006 to provide nearly half of the world’s total solar PV manufacturing output today.  As of 2008 China produced 2,500 megawatts (MW) of solar cells, up from just 4 MW a decade earlier, as reported in the Worldwatch-REEEP Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in China report.  With an existing installed capacity of 900 MW at the end of 2010, much of this production is being slated for export.

The so called “China price” of solar PV panels and cells manufactured in China is at the heart of the U.S.’ concern over this rapid growth.  The U.S. government and American domestic manufacturers contend that their Chinese counterparts unfairly subsidize large portions of the manufacturing and export business, allowing Chinese companies to produce and sell products at artificially low prices and dump them on the U.S. market.  U.S. manufacturers argue that the dumping margin on these imports is over 100 percent, meaning they are being sold in U.S. markets at roughly half, or less, of their true cost.  The Chinese government provided $30 billion to solar manufacturers last year, roughly 20 times more than the financial support provided by the U.S. government.  This is, of course, a challenge to U.S. manufacturers, as it is very difficult to keep their production cost-competitive with cheap Chinese imports.

In the meantime, the U.S. government is taking what it considers to be its own preventative action.  A long awaited U.S. Department of Commerce initial ruling on the issue was handed down this Tuesday.  In a move called for by U.S. manufacturers, the department decided in favor of imposing tariffs on Chinese solar PV imports, setting rates between 2.9 and 4.73 percent, and mitigating what they ruled to be unfair subsidies.  While the coalition of manufacturers that brought the claim will no doubt be excited by the ruling, it will also be less than thrilled by the tariff rate.  The new tariff is significantly lower than the rates called for by American manufacturers, which ran as high as 100 percent, as well as the general consensus prior to the announcement which put the expected tariff in the 20 to 30 percent range.  An additional Commerce Department ruling on anti-dumping rates is expected to be issued in May this year.  U.S. measures to protect domestic manufacturers also include the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit, which was introduced by President Obama during this year’s State of the Union address.

The U.S. cited Chinese imports as one main cause of the high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, and other companies like it, last year.  Of course, China is not alone in providing support for its domestic renewable energy industry as this is one of the key measures that governments use to expand renewable energy deployment across the globe, with some type of government directed fiscal incentive for renewable energy found in 80 countries through early 2011.  American manufacturers feel, however, that they are unable to compete with what they see as artificially low prices on components coming from Chinese factories in particular.  A recent NREL study determined that Chinese manufacturers actually face a 5 percent true cost disadvantage, when trans-oceanic shipping costs are taken into account, compared to U.S. manufacturers, and it is “massive government subsidies” that have driven their export strength.  India has expressed concerns about Chinese manufacturing similar to those coming from the U.S. and some foresee a formal complaint coming from them on this matter as well.

It is undeniable that the decrease in manufacturing prices for renewable technologies, such as solar PV, has contributed to their recent incredible growth levels.  Last year alone the cost of solar PV panels decreased by 30 percent.  These cost reductions are being matched with increased deployment; for example, 16.6 gigawatts (GW) of new solar power capacity were installed between 2009 and 2010, bringing the global capacity to 40 GW by the end of 2010.  The U.S. installed 2.5 GW of new solar PV capacity during that period.  While decreased production costs may prove difficult for American manufacturers to compete with, a host of other jobs are reliant on the growing use of the technology.  A 100 percent tariff on solar imports from China, as had been called for by some manufacturers, has been estimated by some to be enough to decrease the U.S. workforce by 50,000 net jobs over the next three years, although this outcome is disputed by others.  Alternative analysis has predicted long-term net job gains resulting from the tariff, however, the impact of raising costs would appear to be at the very least a temporary setback for the U.S. solar sector as a whole, and especially painful for installers who rely on growing solar PV demand driven by decreasing prices.

Similar to the United States and China, Japan and Canada have found themselves entangled in a trade dispute centered around renewable energy support policies as well.  Japan has challenged the legality of the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program covering multi-technology renewable development in the Canadian province of Ontario since first bringing it to the attention of the WTO in 2010.  Japan was joined by the EU at the beginning of 2012 to challenge the domestic content provision promoted in the Ontario law.  The “made-in-Ontario” provision features a stipulation requiring a “minimum required domestic content level” to qualify for the financial support offered by the FIT.  This level varies depending on the technology being used and the scale being promoted, but ranges from a minimum of 25 percent to a maximum of 60 percent domestic content required to be eligible for FIT support.

The legality of FITs themselves is not being challenged by Japan or the EU; in fact, Japan, 21 EU member-states, as well as 65 other countries, states and provinces worldwide, had their own FIT laws as of early 2011.  Japan and the EU contend that this specific provision of the Ontario law unfairly promotes domestic manufacturing, and does not comply with certain rules set out under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT).  The Ontario FIT is nearing the end of its scheduled review phase, with recommendations expected at the end of March, though the provincial government is steadfast in its assertion that the local content provision will not be changed.  Interestingly, while the Canadian federal government is beholden to WTO rulings, individual provinces are not, meaning any potential ruling against Ontario would most likely be unenforceable as the Canadian federal government does not have authority over the Ontario FIT law.

Government support programs for renewable energy will not be going away anytime soon, although the outcome of these international disputes could significantly impact the tools governments have at their disposal for promoting their own domestic renewable sectors.  In fact, some European countries are distancing themselves from the EU challenge as they have similar FIT programs in place. As renewables continue to grow, there will be increasingly more money at stake for these countries and companies competing within the international market and it would not be surprising to see more cases like these continue to arise.

Go to Source