Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Bonn Climate Change Summit Has Its Own Storm Clouds

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Disagreement emerged early during the latest round of international climate change talks in Bonn, with the European Union (EU) and developing countries clashing over the future of the Kyoto protocol.  Under the terms of last year’s Durban Platform, the EU had agreed to sign an extension of the Kyoto protocol before it lapses at the end of this year in return for an agreement from all nations that a new binding treaty will be completed by 2015 and enacted by 2020.

Climate negotiators want to build on the progress achieved in Durban last year, like the agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty which limits the emissions of most developed countries but which expires at the end of this year.  The length of the second commitment period is one of the issues under discussion in Bonn.  Unfortunately, Kyoto plays an progressively more marginal role in the climate-change issue because it doesn’t include the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.  The United States exited Kyoto, claiming it was unfair because it didn’t impose any emissions reductions on fast-growing developing nations such as China and India.  Canada also said it would withdraw from the treaty last year.

Last year’s United Nations (U.N.) climate talks in Durban supported a package of measures which would ultimately force the world’s polluters to take legally binding action to slow the pace of global warming.  Delegates agreed on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” – a process that would apply to all parties under the U.N.’s climate convention.  A clear timetable and targets have not yet been set.  “Parties need to think between now and Doha how they want to organize their work between now and 2015 and how they will move towards that legal agreement,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, said.  “My hope is they will establish milestones along the way so they are able to measure their progress.”

Figueres cited new research that predicts that the Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels on current pledges.  “We still have a gap remaining between intent and effort,” Figueres said.

Additional issues discussed in Bonn and at a larger climate change conference in Qatar later this year include implementing an extension to the Kyoto Protocol; how long that will last; how to raise ambition on emissions cut pledges, as well as raising long-term financing to help vulnerable countries adapt to the harmful effects of climate change.

The treaty currently being negotiated would require all nations to curb warming.  Identifying those requirements is the primary challenge, which is why negotiators are focusing on solving incremental, less contentious issues before moving on.  “First and foremost we have to ensure that there is no backtracking on what was agreed in Durban,” said Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen, a Danish official representing the European Union.  Climate activists warned that potentially disastrous consequences of global warming, including floods and droughts and rising sea levels, will be impossible to prevent unless the pace of negotiations accelerates.  “If you look at the science, we’re spending time we don’t have,” said Tove Ryding, Greenpeace’s climate policy coordinator.

We have all the means at our disposal to close the gap, and the long-term objectives of governments remain attainable,” Figueres said.  “But this depends on stronger emissions reduction efforts, led by industrialized countries.  A sufficient level of ambition to support developing country action, concrete and transparent implementation, today, tomorrow and into the foreseeable future, is the answer.  Progress here in Bonn can give countries the confidence they need to push ahead with national climate policies.  In turn, many countries are beginning to adopt ambitious climate change legislation, which is sending good signals to the international negotiations.  All of this can give society and businesses confidence to act faster themselves.”

Great Recession Had Little Impact on CO2 Emissions

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Worldwide CO2, emissions have risen by nearly 50 percent in the past several decades, with 2010 now holding the record as the year with the most greenhouse gas emissions on record.  Burning fossil fuels released more than 36 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2010, due primarily to growth in China, India, and the United States.  Deforestation is another core cause.

Going back half a century, nothing seems to have set back emissions for many years and that includes the Great Recession that started in late 2008, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Other studies indicate that mankind has burned approximately 50 percent of available fossil fuels if we don’t want the climate to warm by more than two degrees Celsius.  More to the point, we’ll need zero or negative emissions and emissions to peak sometime this decade to avoid any further warming.

Emissions rose approximately 510 million metric tons of carbon to reach 9.14 billion tons in 2010, the most in records dating to 1959, according to the Global Carbon Project.  That represents a 5.9 percent increase, the largest since 2003, when they jumped six percent.  The 2010 global emissions were 33.5 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide.

“We’re going exactly in the wrong direction for limiting global warming,” said Corinne Le Quere, co-author of the Global Carbon Project’s report and a director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, England.  “Governments need to develop ways to boost the economy using renewable energy,” she said.

“Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100,” Le Quere said.  “Yet governments have pledged to keep warming below two degrees to avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change, such as widespread water stress and sea level rise, and increases in extreme climatic events.”

There’s growing evidence that 2011 will almost certainly be the 10th warmest on record, and the hottest featuring the La Nina phenomenon that brings cooler waters to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  “There’s clearly a warming trend.  That’s supported by other indicators such as disappearing Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers and rising sea levels,” Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the U.K. Met Office, whose own temperature estimates feed into the WMO data, said.

“The global financial crisis was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high-emissions trajectory.  Our results provide no indication of this happening,” according to the study’s authors.  The study was issued at a planet-warming gases panelat U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Writing on Times’ Ecocentric blog, Bryan Walsh notes that “The study underscores just how little we’ve done to slow the increase in carbon emissions. Since 1990 –the base year for the Kyoto Protocol –carbon emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 49 percent, making a mockery of that global treaty’s ambition to cut emissions by at least five percent.  And it’s getting worse –on average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 percent a year between 2000 and 2010, three times the rate of increase seen during the 1990s, even as global warming has become a global concern.

According to a Nature blog, “What’s new in this analysis is that it puts the recovery in context with previous global crises.  It also updates a novel type of carbon dioxide accounting pioneered by lead author Glen Peters, who is at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.  Usually, and under the Kyoto Protocol, carbon dioxide emissions are identified with the nation that produces them.  Yet rich countries have largely achieved cuts in CO2 emissions since 1990 by importing goods made elsewhere.  Around one-fifth of China’s emissions, for example, come from making goods demanded by consumers in other nations.  If you count the CO2 emissions embodied in final consumer demand, the study shows, Kyoto’s ‘developed’ countries are consuming more carbon dioxide now than they did in 1990 — although they report cuts in domestic production.  Even so, 2009 marked the first time that developing countries consumed more carbon dioxide than developed countries.  The crisis may not have fully passed, and it’s too early to tell whether the green stimulus packages introduced in recent years will have a positive impact, the study says.  For the moment it’s sobering to think that the pain caused by the financial crisis made but a small dent in global CO2 emissions.”

United States in Third Place in Developing Clean Energy Sources

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The United States has fallen to third place – behind China and Germany – in the development of clean energy sources, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Investment in global clean energy expanded significantly in 2010 to $243 billion, a 30 percent increase over 2009.  China, Germany, Italy and India were among the nations that were most successful at attracting private investments.  China solidified its position as the world’s clean energy leader.  Its 2010 investment record of $54.4 billion in 2010 represents a 39 percent increase over 2009.  Germany ranked second in the

G-20, up from third last year, after experiencing a 100 percent increase in investment to $41.2 billion.  The United States’ 2010 investment totaled just $34 billion, a 51 percent increase over the previous year.

“The United States’ position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program.  She said that the U.S. could lag behind even more as competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for investing in solar, wind and other forms of clean energy.  “We are at risk of losing even more financing to countries like China, Germany and India, which have adopted strong policies such as renewable energy standards, carbon reduction targets and/or incentives for investment and production,” Cuttino said.

“The United States remains the global leader in clean energy innovation, receiving 75 percent of all venture capital investment in the sector, a total of $6 billion in 2010, but the U.S. has not been creating demand for deployment of clean energy.  As a result it is losing out on opportunities to attract investment, create manufacturing capabilities and spur job growth.  For example, worldwide, China is now the leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels,” says Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China’s goal is to install 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020; the European Union intends to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources over the same timeframe.  In the United States, 30 states have policies requiring utilities to buy more electricity from renewable sources.  Although the federal government has incentives in place to cut project costs, there’s no nationwide mandate for clean energy.

The website 247wallstreet.com believes it doesn’t really matter who leads the world in alternative energy creation – as long as global effort continue.  According to Douglas McIntyre, “Most of the data does not matter much.  The fact that China invests such a large amount in clean energy does not mean it will not sell products based on that technology to U.S. firms.  China will export manufactured wind and solar infrastructure just as it does everything else.  Green technology is hardly a strategic asset.  The Chinese are as anxious to make money from their investment as U.S. companies.  If any proof is needed, many Chinese and US alternative energy firms are listed on stock exchanges.  Green is a business as much as it is a movement.”

Unfortunately, McIntyre says, solar and wind energy are not as powerful a source as many believe.  Solar energy doesn’t work at night unless the user has a storage device such as a battery; cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable.  Solar technologies are also quite costly and need significant land to collect the sun’s energy at useful rates.  Wind energy is intermittent in most areas.  Additionally, wind turbines typically are not connected to the American power grid, making the energy it produces difficult to deliver effectively to places where it could replace coal-powered electricity.

McIntyre notes that “America has a nearly inexhaustible supply of coal.  Nuclear energy projects may be delayed by the effects of the Japan earthquake, but its growth in the U.S. is inevitable because the country needs to produce more energy within its borders.  Investment in solar and wind energy may be up, particularly in China.  That does not matter much if the two sources do not work as well as others that are currently available.”

Click here to read a discussion about nuclear power by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

How Canada Avoided a Housing Bust

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Canada avoided the collapse in housing prices that devastated American homeowners and the U.S. economy, thanks to tighter financial regulations, the lack of subprime lending and securitized mortgages. Foreclosures are rare.  As a result, Canadian real estate steadily appreciated while property values in Florida, Arizona and other hard-hit American markets tanked.

According to James MacGee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, The United States’ and Canada’s “Monetary policy was very similar in both countries from 2000 to 2008, but housing prices rose much faster in the U.S. than in Canada. This suggests that some other factor both drove the more rapid appreciation in U.S. prices and set the stage for the housing bust.

And what is that other factor?  Canadians are a bit plodding: Perhaps the simplest story is that Canada was ‘lucky’ to be a late adopter of U.S. innovations rather than an innovator in mortgage finance.  In addition, bank capital regulation in Canada treats off-balance sheet vehicles more strictly than the U.S., and the stricter treatment reduces the incentive for Canadian banks to move mortgage loans to off-balance sheet vehicles.”

Relaxed lending standards in the United States, highlighted by the rise in subprime lending, played a vital role in creating the housing bubble. This weakening of standards led to an increase in housing demand.  Mortgages were frequently given to people who were likely to have trouble making payments.  Extending credit to risky borrowers helped fuel the housing boom and set the stage for the resulting surge in defaults and foreclosures, which were a big factor in the housing bust.  Additionally, according to the Case-Shiller Index, house prices in the United States from 2000 through 2006 appreciated at a rate nearly double that of Canadian residential real estate.  In contrast with the United States, Canadian house prices continued to appreciate until late 2008, and are now nearly 80 percent higher in value than in 2000.

MacGee said “The potential risks of increased household mortgage debt depend critically upon its distribution across borrowers. To see how the distribution of mortgage debt has changed, we examined the distribution of the ratio of the outstanding loan to house value (the LTV) of borrowers.  A high LTV implies that a small decline in the house price would leave the owner with negative equity.  Negative equity is problematic as it removes the option for a homeowner who is unable to meet their mortgage payments to sell their home to repay the mortgage.”

Canadian home prices are leveling off in 2011, though, with an overall decline of 0.9 percent anticipated for the year.  A home worth $100,000 will likely decline by $900 in 2011.  In some areas, home prices might actually increase while other areas might see prices fall two or three times as much. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) expects a 7.3 percent decline in home sales in 2011.

“Canadians are debt-averse,” said Kevin Fritz, a Canadian who recently purchased a home and made a 40 percent downpayment. This is an attitude that is partly cultural and partly shaped by banking practices and regulations designed to keep people out of homes unless they can clearly afford them.  “People here don’t leverage.”

“It is a regulatory structure in Canada that created the Canadian mortgage system, and it was a regulatory and political structure in the U.S. that created the U.S. mortgage system,” said Ed Clark, chief executive of TD Bank.  “The irony is…that one of the primal causes of the crisis was the U.S. mortgage system.”

In an interesting aside, more Canadians are finding housing bargains in Florida, and today account for eight percent of residential sales in the state.  Doug Flood, who relocated to the Sunshine State from Toronto in 2008, now runs a business that helps his fellow Canadians find the home they want.  “There’s clearly a perfect storm.  If you’re Canadian, you’ve got very low interest rates at home if you want to borrow against your house.  You’ve got a foreign exchange par, dollar-for-dollar.  And prices down here that are 40 to 50 percent lower than what they were five years ago.”

To listen to our interview with the Brookings Institution about financial regulations, click here.

Despite Great Recession, the Rich Grew Richer

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Even with the recession, the world’s millionaires grew to 10 million and their wealth 19 percent to $39 trillion.  It’s ironic that — even in the depths of the Great Recession — the number of millionaires around the world grew by 17 percent to 10 million.  Their collective wealth surged 19 percent to $39 trillion, according to the latest world wealth report from Merrill Lynch-Capgemini.We are already seeing distinct signs of recovery and, in some areas, a complete return to 2007 levels of wealth and growth,” said Bank of America Corporation wealth management chief Sallie Krawcheck.

India, China and Brazil are home to the majority of the world’s newest millionaires, despite the fact that they were some of the hardest hit markets in 2008.  Asia now has three million millionaires – meaning it has caught up with Europe – thanks to a 4.5 percent economic expansion rate.  Their combined wealth soared 31 percent to $9.7 trillion, outstripping Europe’s $9.5 trillion.

North America’s wealth grew by 18 percent, while the number of individuals considered rich climbed 17 percent; their wealth totals $10.7 trillion.  Last year, the United States boasted the most millionaires – 2.87 million.  Japan was next with 1.65 million; Germany had 861,000; and China 477,000.  Switzerland boasts the highest concentration of millionaires, with approximately 35 for every 1,000 adults.

According to Lyle LaMothe, Merrill Lynch’s U.S. wealth management chief, “The wealthy allocated, as opposed to concentrated, their investments.”  In other words, they put their money into fixed-income investments that provided predictable cash flow.  The trick now is to convince the wealthy to return to higher risk investments that have a higher income potential.  “There is still a hesitancy,” LaMothe notes.  “Liquidity is incredibly important and people need cash flow to preserve their lifestyle – but they want to replace that cash flow in a way that does not increase their risk profile.  Investors are open to areas they hadn’t thought about before as they try to preserve their ability to be philanthropic, to preserve their lifestyle.  To me, the report underscored that clients are involved and they’re not inclined to stay in one percent savings accounts.”

Where Do You Look for Innovation? Not the U.S. Anymore

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Where do you find innovation?  Try the developing world.  Breakthrough ideas that change industries are increasingly coming from the developing world rather than the United States or Western Europe.  Part of this is due to the fact that the West is outsourcing more research and development to emerging markets.  Currently, Fortune 500 firms have 98 research-and-development facilities in China and an additional 63 in India.  IBM’s staff in emerging nations is larger than its U.S.-based workforce.

According to The Economist, “But it is also because emerging-market firms and consumers are both moving upmarket.  Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, applied for more international patents than any other firm did in 2008.  Chinese 20-somethings spend even more time on the internet than do their American peers.  Even more striking is the emerging world’s growing ability to make established products for dramatically lower costs:  no-frills $3,000 cars and $300 laptops may not seem as exciting as a new iPad but they promise to change far more people’s lives.”

Dubbed “frugal innovation”, this trend redesigns products and processes to eliminate unnecessary costs.  For example, Indian telecom provider Bharti Airtel has dramatically cut the cost of providing mobile phone services by creating unique partnerships with its competitors and suppliers.  The firm shares radio towers with competing firms and outsources network construction, operations and support to companies such as Ericsson and IBM.

Investors Are Choosing London

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

London beats Washington, D.C., as preferred destination for commercial real estate investment.London has overtaken Washington, D.C., as the preferred city for commercial real estate investment,  primarily because investors believe that prices have bottomed out and the time to get into that market is now. The British capital has overtaken the previous favorites of Washington, D.C., and New York, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate (AFIRE).

“London currently offers investors the advantage of a ‘re-priced’ market,” says James Fetgatter, AFIRE’s CEO.  “The re-pricing began sooner than it did in other cities.”  London’s score is 31 points higher than the perennial favorite Washington, D.C., and 40 points ahead of New York City.  A year ago, London occupied second place, ranking four points behind Washington.  The survey of the association’s approximately 200 members was taken in the fourth quarter of 2009 and represents ownership of more than $842 billion of commercial real estate.  Of that, $304 billion is invested in the United States.

London, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, has rebounded with investment rising 56 percent from the first to the second half of 2009.  Property values rose 2.4 percent in November, the largest monthly increase in 15 years.  Savills, the real estate advisory firm, is predicting London will eclipse New York as the fastest growing global financial center.

Despite London’s success, the United States is still preferred as the “most stable and secure real estate investment environment,” according to 44 percent of survey respondents.  This is the first time the United States ranked below 50 percent in the survey.  It ranked 53 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in 2007.  Germany occupies second place with 21 percent.  In terms of price appreciation, the United States ranks first, followed by the United Kingdom and China.

The preferred property for investment is multifamily residential, followed by office, industrial, retail and hotel.

India Still Lags in Innovation

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Much has been made in the world’s press about India’s economy buoyed by its IT sector. And a lot of it is justified.  The nation’s IT sector managed to grow some 20 percent in 2008, according to India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies, and IT firms have already extended 100,000 job offers for 2009.

india-outsourceBut all is not rosy for India.  While the country has surged in the basic and mid-level areas of coding and development, it has struggled in the area of R&D and top-end innovation.  India produces about 300,000 computer science graduates a year.  Yet it produces only about 100 computer science PhDs, a small fraction of the 1,500 – 2,000 that get awarded in the United States or China every year according to a recent article from Reuters.

“Students here are not exposed to research from an early age, faculties are not exposed to research and there’s no career path for innovation because there’s a lot of pressure to get a ‘real’ job,” said Vidya Natampally, head of strategy at the Microsoft India Research Centre.  Rival China has already pulled ahead with more than 1,100 R&D centers compared to less than 800 in India, despite lingering concerns about rule of law and intellectual property rights (IPR).  India is also losing out in the patent stakes. In 2006 – 2007, just 7,000 patents were granted in this country of 1.1 billion people, compared to nearly 160,000 in the United States.

India is cheaper than China for R&D.  But salaries in India have been rising by about 15 percent every year and may soon reach parity with China. R&D centre costs in Shanghai are currently just 10-15 percent higher than in India.

But this could be changing:  Microsoft, for example, has just opened a new facility in Bangalore staffed with about 60 full-time researchers, many of them Indians with PhDs from top universities in the United States.  The center “is at the cutting edge of Microsoft’s R&D, covering seven areas of research including mobility and cryptography.  Cisco, IBM, Intel, Nokia are among the other companies going beyond low-end coding to bring R&D to India.

Jacob Cherian is AlterNow’s India Contributor. He is a freelance business writer based in Kerala, India.  He has written about business outsourcing for Offshore Advisor.

Chinese Companies Face Branding Dilemma

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Over the last 30 years, China has become the world’s factory floor, offering a massive and highly mobile workforce, fast turnarounds and low production costs.  The “Made in China” label can be found on virtually any product sold across the globe, from shoes and clothing to power plant components and process control systems.  Even products labeled “Made in USA” — such as medication — are frequently born of Chinese-made components.

Most Americans are now well-acquainted with Chinese-made products, for better or for worse.  Yet how many Americans can name a single Chinese brand?  Lenovo might come to mind, or perhaps Tsingtao, one of China’s favorite libations.  But any list of the top global brands is invariably devoid of Chinese names.  How is it that a country of 1.3 billion people with the world’s third-largest economy has not produced any true international brands?

Newsweek offers up a few possible explanations. Their recent article on China’s branding dilemma focuses on Huawei, one of the world’s largest electronics and telecommunications firms and “the best company you’ve never heard of”.  Huawei,20090202_made_in_china_label_18 founded in 1988, is so substantial that they are “poised to overtake Nokia Siemens as the world’s second-largest maker of telecom hardware, after Ericsson.”  In fact, “one out of six people on the planet use Huawei hardware”, but most consumers outside of China can barely pronounce the name, let alone recognize the company’s products.  Huawei’s problem?  According to Newsweek, the firm sells few products directly to consumers, does not engage the public, and spends little effort or capital on marketing.

Meanwhile, the branding challenge appears to be systemic in China.  Newsweek names four key forces that are preventing Chinese brands from emerging on the world stage:  “cutthroat domestic competition”; tough cost pressures from foreign brands; “weak protection for intellectual-property rights”; and, of course, a bad reputation for quality after the perpetual product recalls and safety violations.  After all, it was Chinese-made products that helped familiarize the average consumer with melamine in the wake of the massive Chinese milk scandal.

Branding remains an unfamiliar concept in China, so Chinese firms attempting to sell to the international consumer face an uphill battle.  Chinese firms expend quite a bit of energy copying foreign brands rather than investing in innovation.  Many of China’s major companies grew using technology or branding “borrowed” from established foreign multinationals.  Of more consequence, the Newsweek article fails to point out Huawei itself allegedly stole quite a bit of Cisco Systems’ source code.  Cisco filed suit against Huawei  in 2003 for IP infringement, a case that was settled when Huawei agreed to alter its product line.

Already, there is a major push in China towards value-added industry and innovation.  After all, China can’t rely on cheap exports forever, especially when faced with the decrease in consumer spending in traditional export markets.  As such, the branding dilemma is likely to play a major role in debates about the future of the Chinese economy.  China’s success or failure at creating international brands will have huge repercussions for the global economy.

Richard Gould is AlterNow’s China correspondent.  He is manager in the Guangzhou office of CBI Consulting, Ltd.,
Investigations, and Brand Protection in Greater China. which also has offices in Shanghai and Taipei, Taiwan.  CBI is a leading provider of Business & Competitive Intelligence,

Distressed CRE Hits $108 Billion

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

More than $108 billion of commercial properties in the United States are now in default, foreclosure or bankruptcy.   That preliminary statistic is nearly double the amount reported at the start of 2009, according to New York-based Real Capital Analytics, Inc.19and20

At the end of June, 5,315 buildings were reported to be in financial distress.  Hotels and retail properties are the most “problematic” assets after bankruptcy filings by mall owner General Growth Properties, Inc., and Extended Stay America, Inc.  The lack of credit is spurring property defaults throughout the country and among every type of investor.

“Perhaps more alarming than the rapid growth in the distress totals is the very modest rate at which troubled situations are being resolved,” according to Real Capital Analytics.  The good news is that approximately $4.1 billion of commercial properties have emerged from distress.  “In far more situations, modifications and short-term extensions are being granted, but these can hardly be considered resolved, only delayed,” the report notes.