Climate Change, Environment, Europe, Headlines

ICELAND: Smokescreens Over Figuring Emissions

Lowana Veal

REYKJAVIK, Jul 4 2008 (IPS) - Emission of greenhouse gases increased from 3.7 million tonnes in 2005 to 4.2 million tonnes in 2006, representing an increase of 14.2 percent, according to Iceland’s Environment Agency.

The increase is primarily due to the expansion of the Century aluminium smelter at Grundartangi, and in particular to the release of perfluorocarbons (PFCs) from the plant, which increased from 18,000 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005 to 319,000 tonnes in 2006.

However, Century disputed the figures, saying that their methodology shows that the increase from Grundartangi was a maximum of 126,000 tonnes for the period rather than the 319,000 tonnes that result from the Environment Agency calculations.

Both sides used established, recognised methods devised by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for producing the figures, but the Environment Agency used the TIER 2 method while Century used the updated TIER 3b method.

TIER 2 uses data based on a group of the same type of aluminium smelters whereas TIER 3b uses data from individual smelters. The aluminium industry considers the latter method to be more accurate than TIER 2.

“In general, the understanding is that the higher the tier, the more reliable are the estimates,” a spokesperson from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change told IPS. “But at the end of the day, one should also keep in mind that reliability of the estimates will also depend largely on the quality of inputs such as emission factors and activity data that one feeds in.


“Assuming that they use similar activity data, the only source of discrepancy could be the emission coefficients used,” he said.

Birna Hallsdottir from Iceland’s Environment Agency explains why they used the TIER 2 method. “There is a method [TIER 3b] for calculating emissions from particular aluminium smelters which is based on measurements of emission coefficients in the smelter under consideration. To use this method, there must be an extensive range of measurements available that extend over a long period so that full consideration can be taken to changes in operation. Century’s statement seems to refer to the results of measurements that stood over one week in 2003. It is the Environment Agency’s opinion that this data does not fulfil the aforementioned criteria.”

Emission coefficients relate the activity data to the amount of chemical compound which is the source of later emissions.

The Fjardaal aluminium plant in East Iceland began operation in April 2007, although most of the start-up happened between November 2007 and April 2008. Will there be increased PFC emissions from that plant too?

Fjardaal press representative Erna Indridadottir told IPS: “There is always an assumption that the levels of PFCs will be higher during start-up. But from November 2008 they should be down to the level specified in our operating licence.”

So, does it really matter which method is used? Might the same differences apply to countries other than Iceland when emission levels are disclosed?

“Without question, the Environment Agency made correct measurements of the level of PFCs,” says Arni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Agency. “We can only hope that Alcoa will stick to the very low levels of PFC during the first two years, as it is committed to according to their operation licence. If not, Iceland is likely to exceed its commitment of keeping emissions of greenhouse gases below an additional 10 percent compared to 1990.”

Nevertheless, the Environment Ministry say that emissions of PFCs in Iceland are now amongst the lowest known per tonne of manufactured aluminium. And Agust Hafberg, business development and administration manager for the Grundartangi plant, says: “Emissions of PFC for 2007 from Grundartangi are expected to be 50 percent lower than those for 2006.”

But it is not only aluminium emissions that are responsible for the increase. Transport also played a significant part, with emissions rising by about 17 percent between 2005 and 2006. Road transport was the main reason for this.

The level of car ownership in Iceland is extremely high: at the end of 2006 there were 641 cars per 1000 inhabitants, according to Statistics Iceland.

“Whereas the government has made lofty statements about promoting alternative fuels for cars over the last 10 years or so, there is no commitment, no policy as yet, as to how to limit, let alone decrease, emissions from road transport in Iceland,” says Finnsson.

“Despite getting the most generous emission target of all countries in Kyoto, Iceland is now at risk of exceeding that target because of emissions from new aluminium smelters as well as a hefty increase in emissions from road transport,” he said.

Only three out of the 1,100 government cars run on alternative fuels. The target was 10 percent by the end of 2008. Iceland has a population of around 300,000.

One obstacle is lack of refuelling stations. Minister for Industry, Energy and Tourism Ossur Skarphedinsson says that he intends to push for cooperation between companies and municipalities to set up filling stations around the country where motorists will be able to recharge electric cars or fill up on domestically produced methane, ethanol, methanol or hydrogen.

Skarphedinsson has just confirmed a proposal to fund 14 innovative projects from the Energy Fund that focus on the utilisation of domestic fuel sources and greater efficiency of energy use.

 
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