Friday, April 19, 2013
The following news item , as reported by Reuters, speaks to the trading efficiency that we had discussed recently. Unfortunately, it also makes it clear that the EU plan for Cap and Trade is in shambles.
The crisis facing the European carbon market will not deter China from plans to establish its own emissions trading platform or its other climate pledges, the senior official responsible for climate change said on Thursday.
Xie Zhenhua, vice-director of the National Development and Reform Commission in charge of climate policies, said efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions were a "domestic requirement". They were, he said, designed to address longstanding inefficiency and environmental problems, and did not depend on other nations, or on the state of the economy.
"China has pledged these targets to the international community to deal with climate change and they will not change," he said at an event in Beijing. "Even if other countries say they will do nothing, we will keep to our strategy. No matter what happens to our economy, we cannot make any change."
The global financial crisis has saddled Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) with a crushing oversupply of carbon credits and record low prices, but the EU parliament this week rejected proposals to bail the market out.
The ETS allows enterprises to meet their carbon reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits from the market, enabling them to keep emitting greenhouse gases. Many credits have been generated by low-carbon projects in China as part of a United Nations scheme known as the Clean Development Mechanism.
China is planning a similar domestic scheme in which carbon-intensive enterprises and industries can meet their own targets by acquiring the emission quotas allocated to other firms.
Xie said China ultimately sought to link its carbon trading platforms with those elsewhere, but was focused now on domestic needs.
"In the future we will establish a link, but in the next few years we first need to establish a carbon market according to Chinese conditions and the conditions of developing countries," he said.
LEARNING FROM EUROPE
He said China would learn from mistakes made in Europe, especially when it comes to prices, with Shanghai set to include a mechanism by which carbon credits can be taken off the market when supplies are too high and prices too low.
Carbon prices on Europe's ETS were trading at an all-time low of 2.46 euros ($3.21) per tonne on Tuesday, down from 18 euros just two years ago. Xie said the problem was that the mandatory emission cuts in Europe had been set too low.
"Why have the prices gone from such a high to such a low? Because of the rate of emissions cuts," he said. "If it was higher, and if there were more pressures, the market would be much more active. It is probably related to the initial design of the exchange and the way emissions targets were allocated."
China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on an aggregate basis, but levels are low in per capita terms.
Xie said China's pilot carbon market scheme was on track, with trading to begin in the southeastern city of Shenzhen in June and later in the business hub of Shanghai before year-end.
But he said China would find it increasingly difficult to meet its 2020 climate change pledges. Problems, he said, would "get harder and harder and the costs will be higher and higher".
China has pledged to reduce 2011 levels of carbon intensity -- the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide produced per unit of GDP growth -- by 40-45 percent by 2020.
It has also vowed to increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 15 percent of its total energy mix by the same period and close vast swathes of inefficient industrial capacity.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
By Sharon BegleyNEW YORK (Reuters) - Soon after learning that his son had autism, Hollywood producer Jon Shestack ("Air Force One") tried to get researchers investigating the genetic causes of the disorder to pool their DNA samples, the better to identify genes most likely to cause that disorder. But his approach to scientists at universities across the country in the late 1990s hit a brick wall: They refused to join forces, much less share the DNA.
"Each thought they needed to hold on to it to publish and patent," Shestack said in an interview. "This seemed criminal to us."
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents on at least 4,000 human genes to companies, universities and others that have discovered and decoded them. Patents now cover some 40 percent of the human genome, according to a scientific study led by Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College. But if foes of gene patents have their way, that percentage could be rolled back to zero.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that calls into question whether human DNA can be claimed as intellectual property, and remain off limits to everyone without the permission of the patent holder.
The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, challenges seven patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc on two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed in the Supreme Court.
The legal issues center on whether the genes that Myriad patented, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, are natural phenomena. The ACLU says human DNA is a product of nature, and as such not patentable under the Patent Act. Myriad argues that its patents are for genes that have been "isolated," which makes them products of human ingenuity and, therefore, patentable.
As scholars debate the legal questions, two parallel issues have emerged: whether patenting genes thwarts scientific research, and whether it harms patients.
A coalition of researchers, genetic counselors, cancer survivors, breast cancer support groups, and scientific associations representing 150,000 geneticists, pathologists and laboratory professionals argue that gene patents can be problematic on both counts. The American Medical Association, the American Society of Human Genetics, the March of Dimes and even James Watson (co-discoverer, in 1953, of the double helix), among others, have filed briefs asking the court to invalidate Myriad's patents on genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
On the other side are Myriad and industry groups such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Animal Health Institute, which say that if gene patenting is ruled invalid, companies - with no guarantee they could profit from their discoveries - would stop investing in genetics research, to the detriment not only of patients but the economy.
Gene patent opponents say studies and surveys show that such patents tie the hands of scientists and thwart research.
A 2010 investigation by an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that patent holders had barred physicians and laboratories from offering genetic testing for hearing loss, leukemia, Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, a heart condition called Long QT syndrome and other disorders affected by patented genes.
In a 2003 survey, 53 percent of the directors of genetics labs said they had given up some research due to gene-patent concerns. And in 2001, 49 percent of members of the American Society of Human Genetics said their research had to be limited due to gene patents.
"The overabundance of gene patents is a large and looming threat to personalized medicine," Cornell's Mason said. "How is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement? Individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys."
Mark Capone, president of Myriad's laboratory division, counters that gene patents, by rewarding research, help patients. He said scientific research has not been hindered by the biotechnology company's patents, citing 18,000 scientists who have published 10,000 papers on BRCA."These are among the most studied genes in the world," Capone said.
"We've been able to save thousands of patients' lives" by telling patients they have cancer-causing BRCA mutations, he added.
The BIO industry group supports Myriad, saying patents are crucial to "the development of therapeutic, diagnostic, environmental, renewable energy, and agricultural products," and without patent protection such scientific discoveries would not be made.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for most inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They can be used to detect risk, and aid in treatment options.
Myriad has sole access to its proprietary database of BRCA sequences, which show whether a particular DNA change is dangerous. In 2004, Myriad stopped sharing that information with a breast cancer database run by the National Institutes of Health. Capone said the company was concerned that the information was being used not for research purposes, as intended, but to guide patient care.
Critics say the move has impeded research on BRCA, in particular studies to figure out the significance of rare variants and how such anomalies interact with other genes to increase or decrease the risk of cancer.
"Myriad's exclusive control has led to the misdiagnosis of patients and has precluded the deployment of improved genetic tests," said Lori Andrews, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, who wrote the American Medical Association's brief to the Supreme Court.
Geneticist Wendy Chung of Columbia University Medical Center cites the example of three sisters who sent their DNA samples to Myriad for BRCA analysis several years ago. The result was ambiguous: the women had a "variant of unknown significance" so they elected to have prophylactic mastectomies in case the mutation was cancer-causing. The women were very unhappy when, years later, Myriad re-classified the variant as innocuous.
"I think we could have moved a lot faster if the country's scientific brainpower could have analyzed patients' BRCA" rather than rely on Myriad, said Chung. Independent scientists could have studied not only whether a variant is dangerous or benign but also whether that risk is modified by the presence of other genes — crucial information when a woman is agonizing over whether to have her breasts removed, she said.
Capone said Myriad was not familiar with Chung's patients, but when a woman has a BRCA variant of unknown significance, the company recommends that she be treated according to her family history - aggressively if many close relatives have had breast or ovarian cancer, conservatively if not.
Myriad acknowledges that it has restricted what BRCA tests patients can get. For instance, since 1996 its standard test (which now costs $3,340) has looked for simple mutations in the BRCA genes, analogous to a misspelled word. Until 2006 it did not probe for large rearrangements in the DNA, which are analogous to moving big blocks of text from one page of a book to another.
The company, which has a market value of around $2.1 billion, has seen its shares fall about 13 percent since the Supreme Court decided on November 30 to take up the case.
It won a similar case in Australia in February, when the country's Federal Court ruled that Myriad and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies Ltd had the right to hold a patent on BRCA1. Trial judge John Nicholas found the material could be subject to a patent because it could not exist naturally on its own, inside or outside the human body.
The Australian findings are unlikely to influence the U.S. case. Justice Nicholas said evidence presented in Australia was different to evidence in the U.S. case, and there were also different constitutional settings for patent laws.
The case is Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, et al
(The story refiles correcting paragraph 25 to read "Until 2006" ... instead of "Until last year.)
(Editing by Howard Goller, Tiffany Wu and Gunna Dickson)
Friday, April 05, 2013
In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years
Both images: Lonnie G. Thompson/Ohio State University
Glacial ice in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in just 25 years, scientists reported Thursday, the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.
The evidence comes from a remarkable find at the margins of the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, the world’s largest tropical ice sheet. Rapid melting there in the modern era is uncovering plants that were locked in a deep freeze when the glacier advanced many thousands of years ago.
Dating of those plants, using a radioactive form of carbon in the plant tissues that decays at a known rate, has given scientists an unusually precise method of determining the history of the ice sheet’s margins.
Lonnie G. Thompson, the Ohio State University glaciologist whose team has worked intermittently on the Quelccaya ice cap for decades, reported the findings in a paper released online Thursday by the journal Science.
The paper includes a long-awaited analysis of chemical tracers in ice cylinders the team recovered by drilling deep into Quelccaya, a record that will aid scientists worldwide in reconstructing past climatic variations.
Such analyses will take time, but Dr. Thompson said preliminary evidence shows, for example, that the earth probably went through a period of anomalous weather at around the time of the French Revolution, which began in 1789. The weather presumably contributed to the food shortages that exacerbated that upheaval.
“When there’s a disruption of food, this is bad news for any government,” Dr. Thompson said in an interview.
Of greater immediate interest, Dr. Thompson and his team have expanded on previous research involving long-dead plants emerging from the melting ice at the edge of Quelccaya, a huge, flat ice cap sitting on a volcanic plain 18,000 feet above sea level.
Several years ago, the team reported on plants that had been exposed near a meltwater lake. Chemical analysis showed them to be about 4,700 years old, proving that the ice cap had reached its smallest extent in nearly five millenniums.
In the new research, a thousand feet of additional melting has exposed plants that laboratory analysis shows to be about 6,300 years old. The simplest interpretation, Dr. Thompson said, is that ice that accumulated over approximately 1,600 years melted back in no more than 25 years.
“If any time in the last 6,000 years these plants had been exposed for any five-year period, they would have decayed,” Dr. Thompson said. “That tells us the ice cap had to be there 6,000 years ago.”
Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.
Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.
Global warming, which scientists say is being caused primarily by the human release of greenhouse gases, is having its largest effects at high latitudes and high altitudes. Sitting at high elevation in the tropics, the Quelccaya ice cap appears to be extremely sensitive to the temperature changes, several scientists said.
“It may not go very quickly because there’s so much ice, but we might have already locked into a situation where we are committed to losing that ice,” said Mathias Vuille, a climate scientist at the State University at Albany in New York.
Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there. Glacial meltwater is essential for helping Andean communities get through the dry season.
In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.
Douglas R. Hardy, a University of Massachusetts researcher who works in the region, said, “How much time do we have before 50 percent of Lima’s or La Paz’s water resources are gone?”