Sunday, 27 July 2008

It's many happy returns for bottle recycling of bygone era

Published Date: 27 July 2008
By Eddie Barnes
Political Editor

IT WILL be based on a devastating combination of cash and nostalgia. Consumers may once again able to take back their empty bottles to the shops where they bought them in return for a refund.
Scottish ministers will today unveil plans to bring back the old system whereby shoppers would be asked to return everything from bottles to cans to the place where they purchased them in a bid to increase rates of recycling.Barr, the maker of Irn-Bru, is thought to be the only producer which still operates the practice, offering a small financial reward for anyone who returns their empty bottles. Earlier this month, the firm raised the reward from 20p to 30p to encourage more returns.But ministers are now to consult on whether to make it compulsory for all containers to ensure that a higher percentage of goods are recycled. The moves will be unveiled as part of a major new strategy designed to cut back on household waste and to slash the amount of rubbish which ends up on Scotland's landfill sites every year.Scotland on Sunday understands controversial plans to ban so-called Bogof (buy-one-get-one-free) deals, and to charge a levy for disposable goods to encourage the purchase of "sustainable" products instead, were removed at a late stage, amid fears from ministers they could trigger fury from already hard-pressed shoppers.The plans were being considered because Bogof deals are thought to add to the country's waste mountain because so many buyers end up throwing produce away. Similar proposals floated by Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this month were met with outrage by consumer groups even though a report by the Cabinet Office said cheap supermarket deals were a central cause of food waste.Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead will focus instead on how to boost recycling. His consultation paper will consider plans to make 'deposit and return' schemes compulsory, as well as looking at moves to introduce 'reverse vending' machines which are capable of giving shoppers money back when they return containers.Lochhead said: "In Scotland, we estimate currently around 30-40% of glass bottles are recycled and around 35% of household plastic bottles are recycled, using bottle banks and kerbside collections."While these figures are undoubtedly an improvement on where we once were, there is still more we can do. "A fresh look at deposit and return schemes, including hi-tech 'reverse vending machines' are a real possibility and could double the number of bottles recycled in Scotland. They could also be used for other drinks containers, as well as food tins and aluminium trays from takeaways."Lochhead said he was encouraged by the example of T in the Park this summer when revellers at the music festival were offered 10p a glass if they returned it to where they had purchased their drinks. Barr Soft Drinks cleans every returned bottle for re-use. Spokesman Steven Downham said: "Already, seven out of 10 of all bottles we produce come back to us but by raising the deposit price we wanted to encourage more people to bring their bottles back and highlight the wider benefits of choosing glass."It's a great scheme for our customers and for the public but more than that, it's good for the environment too."Fiona Moriarty, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said they were keen to help with anything to improve the environment but "remain to be convinced that everything in this package will be of environmental benefit".She said: "We fully support the Scottish Government's overall aim to protect the environment. However to achieve that it is imperative that the Government works with businesses so that we fully understand the impact they will have."Dr Dan Barlow, WWF Scotland's head of policy, said the idea of deposit and return was proven to work.He said: "Deposit and return systems which encourage refilling and recycling of cans and bottles have been shown to work very successfully elsewhere. We would support the introduction of a deposit return system in Scotland."Reducing the amount of waste we produce coupled to achieving much higher levels of recycling are essential if Scotland is to achieve its zero waste ambition."

Homeowners living near windfarms see property values plummet

By Nigel Bunyan and Martin Beckford
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 26/07/2008

Thousands of homeowners may see the value of their properties plummet after a court ruled that living near a wind farm decreases house prices.

In a landmark case, Jane Davis was told she will get a discount on her council tax because her £170,000 home had been rendered worthless by a turbine 1,000 yards away.

Estate agents have said no one is likely to buy the Jones's house, which was worth £170,000 before the wind farm was built
The ruling is effectively an official admission that wind farms, which are accused of spoiling countryside views and producing a deafening roar, have a negative effect on house prices.
It means many other families living in the shadow of the giant turbines could see thousands wiped off the value of their homes, as the Government pushes ahead with plans to build 7,000 more wind farms over the next decade to meet ambitious green targets.
Campaigners also fear ministers want to remove the legal right to complain about noise nuisance, condemning those who live near wind farms to years of blight and reducing the opportunity for them to resist expansion plans.
Mrs Davis, who launched a nationwide campaign after her own home was rendered worthless by the deafening roar of a wind farm, claims ministers are tabling an amended to the Planning Act which will remove eight crucial words that previously offered at least some protection to householders.
"For people living near wind farms, both now and in the future, it will be a disaster," she said.
"There are many, many people living in Middle England who have worked hard all their lives and yet will see the values of their homes suddenly diminish.
"This isn't about Nimbyism, but the rights of ordinary people to live a normal life."
Mrs Davis, 52, a retired nurse, lives 1,017 (930m) from a wind farm at Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire. Her husband, Julian, 43, originally bought the property from the county council and the couple had planned to extend it.
But the noise generated by the turbines is so severe, particularly when certain winds make all the blades rotate in unison, that it left the Davises unable to sleep. They currently live in a rented house a few miles away.
"It's just like the effect you get in a car when the sun roof is open or a window at the back is open. In a car you can do something about it. But if it's in your house and is coming from a giant turbine a few yards away, you can do nothing," said Mrs Davis.
Local estate agents have acknowledged that the house, worth £170,000 before the wind farm was built in 2006, is now so severely blighted that no one is likely buy it.
Earlier this week the Davises won a landmark victory that reduced their council tax banding.
Although financially the difference is minimal, the reduction was granted on the basis that their home had been blighted by noise "on the balance of probability".
Furthermore, the couple secured the ruling in the absence of a statutory noise nuisance - a fact that brought dismay to wind farm operators.
But Mrs Davis now fears the imminent change in legislation will turn the advantage back to the wind farm lobby, which is planning to build 4,000 turbines across the countryside - double the current number - and increase the number of those offshore from 150 to 3,000 by 2020.

UK scientists hit out at new coal station plans

In a letter to The Observer, some of Britain's leading scientists claim that government plans to build new coal-fired power stations - without technology to cut emissions - will accelerate global warming. And next Sunday's annual Climate Camp will see campaigners take action
Tim Webb
The Observer,
Sunday July 27 2008

British scientists have called on the government to deploy speedily a new technology which will almost completely eliminate carbon emissions from power stations. In a letter published in The Observer today, they say failure to capture emissions from dirty coal plants planned for Britain will have catastrophic environmental consequences.
In addition, the group - which includes scientists from Imperial College London and Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Bristol and Nottingham universities - warns that, unless Britain acts with urgency, it risks losing a world lead in carbon capture technology to other nations, including Canada, Germany and the US.
The scientists accuse the government of not living up to its promises that it was considering schemes as a matter of urgency and reveal they are concerned that proposals to build new coal plants without carbon capture facilities would cripple Britain's efforts at cutting its carbon emissions. This last warning follows in the wake of the Commons environment audit committee decision last week to urge that all coal-fired plants be fitted with carbon capture facilities.
The furore over carbon capture reveals how coal power has become a key new target of UK environmentalists. Next Sunday, thousands will descend on Kingsnorth coal plant in Kent and try to shut it down. Eon, the German energy giant, wants to build a new coal plant there while other energy companies have also revealed UK coal plant plans.
This idea horrifies many scientsists, MPs and campaigners who say these plans could spark a coal renaissance at a time when the government should be striving to reduce carbon emissions.
They say a new coal station should only be given approval if it is linked to a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility which would store its emissions underground. At present, there are no CCS plans for Kingsnorth. Its new plant would vent its carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The Conservative party wants a moratorium on building any new coal plants until carbon capture technology is proven. But, in an interview with The Observer, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks dismissed the idea as 'stupid', arguing that it would lead to more gas plants being built instead and a greater reliance on Russian gas imports. 'It seems attractive, but after a few moments' thought it's stupid.'
At Kingsnorth, protesters will set up a week-long 'climate camp' outside the site of the proposed plant outside Rochester and planning ways to infiltrate it by digging under fences, or even dropping in by air. One group, dubbing themselves the Great Rebel Raft Regatta, is planning to enter the site, which overlooks the River Medway, using 'pirate ships', Viking boats and other themed rafts.
Eon is so concerned about the protest that it has obtained injunctions to give police more powers to arrest protesters. When coal plants have been targeted in the past, protesters have chained themselves to chimneys and conveyor belts.
A spokesman for the Climate Camp told The Observer: 'We are quite open in our ambition to shut down Kingsnorth. People will go into the site with their own agenda. What they get up to there is up to them.' He added that protesters planned a 'rolling programme' of action to target Kingsnorth and other coal plants after the 'climate camp' had ended.
There was an eerie calm when The Observer visited the Kingsnorth site ahead of the protest. Gallows humour was the order of the day among nervous staff. 'Are you Swampy?' joked an operator in the control room of the Kingsnorth coal power station, when our photographer appeared. After his picture was taken, a colleague standing next to him said with a grin: 'Too late - you're going on a hit list now.'
Adjoining the existing plant, the site of the proposed new plant is just a muddy field dotted with hawthorn bushes and a gate hanging from its hinges. Workmen are inserting pipes into the ground to take soil samples.
Kingsnorth has been targeted by campaigners in the past, but never on this scale. An Eon spokesman said: 'We breathed a sigh of relief when no one from Greenpeace came on 1 April. We had them in October and we don't want them back.' Fellow generating companies, under the auspices of the trade body, the Association of Electricity Producers (AEP), have been meeting to discuss how to tackle the threat.
The scientists writing in The Observer are not opposed in principle to new coal plants like Kingsnorth. But they want the government to act on its promises to be the 'global leader' in developing the as yet unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This technology, if it works, could reduce emissions from coal plants by up to 90 per cent by storing the gases underground. More than five years after promising an 'urgent detailed implementation plan' for carbon capture, the government intends to help fund one small-scale project which should be operational by 2014. Companies taking part in the competition to build this demonstration plant are not even sure how much money they will receive.
As the scientists' letter shows, there is a much wider ranger of people questioning the construction of new coal plants than the 'Swampy' stereotype of protesters portrayed in the media. Some 228 MPs have signed an early-day motion calling on the government to hold a public inquiry before deciding whether to consent to the Kingsnorth plant. This month actor Robert Redford wrote to the Climate Camp organisers in support of their campaign. Support has come from even more unlikely quarters. Aqqaluk Lynge, who lives in Greenland and is a former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), has already campaigned against expansion of Stansted airport and argued that plants like Kingsnorth should not be built unless they can be fitted with CCS.
'People in England should take into account what you are doing down there and how industry is affecting the rest of the environment up north, especially the Greenland ice cap. I'm not in favour of doing new coal before we get the proven technology to avoid the problem we have today. The UK is rich enough to develop other technologies which are more environmentally friendly. They are the first ones to create the pollution - and should be the first ones to find solutions for our energy needs.'
As Britain's oldest and least efficient coal stations close and nuclear reactors are decommissioned, experts are warning that around a third of existing power-generating capacity will have to be replaced within a decade. Coal plants are relatively cheap to run and easy to supply. The government has agreed to European targets which could require at least one third of the UK's electricity to come from renewable sources, such as giant wind farms, by 2020.
But Eon's head of generation, Bob Taylor, says such a heavy reliance on renewables may not be practical: 'Some people may say we should let coal plants close. That is an extreme position.' Eon has labelled the proposed plant as 'clean coal'. The company has entered the government's competition to build a carbon capture and storage demonstration plant, proposing to test the CCS technology on one of the new Kingsnorth units.
But there are many uncertainties. Even if Eon wins the competition, there is no guarantee that the technology will work, will be affordable or that the company will use it in the rest of the new plant.
Asked why Eon did not delay its application to build Kingsnorth until CCS had been properly tested, Andy Read, the company's clean coal business development manager, said that the technology needed to be tested on a modern coal plant such as the one that is proposed for Kingsnorth. 'It's chicken or egg,' he said. 'If you held up the whole building of Kingsnorth, you would delay CCS.' But Taylor admitted that Eon would not close down the Kingsnorth plant once it was built, should the CCS technology not work.
Energy minister Wicks also pointed out that in future emissions trading should make coal plants without carbon capture technology too expensive to operate. This is because Europe's emissions trading scheme (ETS) effectively taxes heavy polluters: the more they pollute, the more they must pay.
But as Matthew Lockwood, of the think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), pointed out, this assumes that the ETS, which has an uncertain future, will be tough on heavy polluters. He warned: 'The danger is that, if companies go ahead and build coal plants before CCS is proven, companies will intensify their lobbying to relax the ETS after 2012.'
Many analysts and campaigners expect that the government may decide to approve the Kingsnorth plant later this year. Greenpeace has talked of CCS and 'clean coal' being used by companies as a 'Trojan horse' to push through the construction of dirty new coal plants. Once the plants have been built, they claim, they will continue to be operated, regardless of whether the technology is shown to work.

Environmentally friendly living

Ever wondered what it’s like to go off-grid? We meet a couple who turned on their own electricity supply, tuned in to a simpler way of life and dropped out of the rat race

Shoes, handbags, being a virtuous friend: these are probably the main things you associate with Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis. Yet it’s her eco-friendly credentials that she has been trumpeting on American chat shows.
“I’m off the grid,” she burbled happily to David Letterman. “I have a ladder that I climb up to check my solar panels. They cover the whole roof in LA, where there’s a lot of sun. And you can go and look at your electrical meter, and it’s spinning backwards. It’s very exciting — I have batteries to store the power.”
Living off grid — creating your own power rather than being connected to the national grid — is having something of a Hollywood moment. Stars as diverse as Daryl Hannah and Cate Blanchett are going energy-sufficient and living the good life Noughties-style, with solar panels and wind turbines. Even that famed gas-guzzler George W Bush is getting in on the act.
Of course, this is great for the super-rich in sun-drenched California. It’s not quite so idyllic in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales. Two years ago, Louis della-Porta and his fiancĂ©e, Annette Robinson, swapped their home in a gated community outside Warwick for life off grid in the north of England.
“We’ve learnt to adopt an older, more natural rhythm,” della-Porta says. “We spend hours a week maintaining our power supply, checking storage batteries, making sure the wind turbine is okay and monitoring water levels. Everything has double or triple backup. The cooking and the heating are powered by a solid-fuel Rayburn. And there is a separate bottle-gas cooker, which we use more in the summer, when the Rayburn is off.” Suddenly, that film-star lustre is fading.
With the climate getting more chaotic and nonrenewable resources running out, living off grid seems the logical next step. It isn't just about saving money (in the long run, of course, as set-up costs are vast), but about reducing one’s carbon footprint to a mere baby step. It’s bizarre, then, that it wasn’t for either financial or ecological reasons that the couple decided to live off grid. “We were looking for something different, but we weren’t sure what or how,” says della-Porta, a product designer. “London attitudes had taken a grip on our lives: it was self, self, self. We lived disjointedly — home, work, exercise, socialise, all in different compartments — and we were rushing around from one to the other. But for what? We wanted a simpler way of life.”
It was a battle at first. Robinson runs a jewellery website ( ) and della-Porta’s design business meant his clients wanted to swap sketches on a daily basis. When they moved into the house, however, BT wanted to charge them more than £100,000 to install a phone line, so they took it in turns to drive 10 miles each way to the nearest internet-enabled library.
Their “office” was a flat rock 100yd from the house, where they were able to get a mobile-phone signal.
Eventually, they built a receiving station that connects to the internet from a £20-per-month community service in a village five miles away, but it is only recently that they have rigged up a reliable power source. Over the past two years, they have seen two wind turbines blown away by gales and have bought a bank of forklift-truck batteries to store energy from the solar panels and the water generator that they dip in the nearby stream. Without Cate Blanchett’s budget, the couple have had to become practical in other ways, too. “Trying to get anybody to do anything up here was next to impossible,” Robinson recalls. “After the first round of everything breaking down, we learnt that paying people £100 just to come and look at things wasn’t really on. It was better to do it ourselves, including fixing the oil-fired boiler and replacing the hot-water cylinder when it burst just before Christmas.”
All of which sounds rather a lot of hard work. Do the couple really think it’s worth it? “Our friends are seeing that we haven’t turned into strange hillbillies, and are also realising that it’s possible to escape the rat race without having to give up on modern life,” della-Porta says. “In fact, apart from the installation and maintenance of the energy supplies, our lives have really changed very little, so nobody seems to think we are out-and-out nuts. Everyone should give it a try, but people are fearful to move out of their comfort zones and grasp the challenge of living in new ways.”
Nick Rosen is the editor of . His book, How to Live Off-Grid, is published by Bantam (£7.99)
Fancy green living?
Cloud Nine The modular houses made by this Cornish-based firm are so well insulated that the company predicts heating bills of as little as £26 a year for one of its two-bedroom units. From £88,000;
Moylan Eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean countryside. This building firm has just obtained planning permission for Xantium, in Manchester, the UK’s first zero-carbon housing development. Each flat has a large terrace and energy-efficient appliances — and, thanks to new government regulations for green housing, there is no stamp duty to pay. From £150,000; properties due for completion in 2010, but available off-plan;
Eviee If you don’t want to go down the Kevin McCloud route and start from scratch with a grand design, there are smaller things you can change. This website sells everything from doors made of sustainably sourced wood to insulating carpet-tile backing made of recycled carpet tiles.
G-Wiz – there's nowhere to plug in Scotland's only electric car

Published Date: 27 July 2008
By Jeremy Watson

THE car was tootling along nicely, on a flat but curvy stretch of A-road a few miles south of the Lanarkshire town of Biggar.
But considerate driver that he is, Adrian Loening pulled over to the side to let the string of vehicles that had gathered in a procession behind to zoom past.We had been travelling at around 40mph – not fast enough by far for the drivers behind – but a hill was looming ahead. "We will slow down to around 30mph," Loening said. "I don't think it's fair to hold everyone up. "Off the procession went, accelerating up the incline, petrol and diesel burning and engines gunning. We were left with the sound of the future – silence. Loening was sat behind the wheel of a G-Wiz, the electric and blissfully quiet battery driven car now relatively common on the streets of London.In Scotland, the engineer is believed to be the first private owner of the car that is starting an electric revolution in the UK. Plans for mass production electric vehicles acceptable to a wider public are some years away but the petite G-Wiz, of which 1,000 have been sold in the past three years in the London area, is in the vanguard of a move towards low pollution vehicles.Loening, who lives in the village of Lamington and bought his G-Wiz second-hand from a London-based friend who was leaving for a job abroad, is proud to be a Scottish pioneer. The car is made in India by the company Reva and costs around £9,500 new.He charges the vehicle overnight by plugging it into the mains at his cottage at a cost of around 80p. Then it is good for journeys of around 35 miles before it needs charging again. He says it has transformed the lives of himself and his wife Debbie since it arrived – on the back of a car transporter – in June."We use it to get to the shops at Biggar and to take our son to school," he says. "In fact, we probably now use it for around 50% of our car journeys. "Of course it has its limitations – I have a diesel-powered Audi for longer journeys – but for local journeys it is both brilliant and fun. "There are some who stare and you know they are thinking what on Earth is that. But when you explain what it is, everyone thinks it is a great idea."Loening's G-Wiz is little bigger than an enclosed golf cart. It will fit a family of four at a pinch. "As long as the children have short legs," laughed Debbie. But what it lacks in space, it gives back in running costs and environmental benefits. Loening estimates the cost of running his G-Wiz is a quarter of his conventional car and the road tax is zero. It also cuts missions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming from 160g per kilometre for the average vehicle, to 80g. Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown signalled his government's intention to encourage the take-up of electric cars by entering talks with US car giant General Motors, owners of Vauxhall. At the Motor Show in London, GM revealed that it was considering manufacturing its new Flextreme hybrid car in the UK if the Government agreed to set up a national network of publicly available plug-in points. The only public plug-in point in Scotland is at the Braehead shopping centre, west of Glasgow, part of a national trial scheme.It restricts Loening's range to the outskirts of Edinburgh to the north and Moffat to the south. "I could probably make it to Straiton (on the southern Edinburgh bypass) and then get the park-and-ride into the city," he says. "I wouldn't be able to get it back again unless I could find somewhere to plug it in."The Scottish Government will be holding a consultation exercise in the autumn to look at how to encourage the use of electric vehicles in Scotland, according to a spokesman.

Brown plugs into future of electric cars

PM pledges £90m for electric, hybrid and environmentally clean car projects
Ray Hutton

THE prime minister has pledged £90m in government money to help make Britain “the European capital for electric cars”, a promise that has already sparked interest from motor-industry giants such as General Motors.
Gordon Brown made his commitment at the British International Motor Show last week — arriving in a motorcade of Jaguars and Range Rovers. He said the money would be available over five years to support electric, hybrid and other environmentally clean car projects.
It is far from clear how this money will be spent. There were plenty of environmentally friendly cars at the motor show in London’s Excel exhibition centre. Most were small city cars imported from as far away as China and India, but there were also high-performance models from Tesla (an American company that subcontracts chassis construction to Lotus in Norfolk) and Lightning, a British start-up firm.
Of the leading manufacturers represented at the show, General Motors and Renault-Nissan have the biggest commitment to the development of electric cars. Carl-Peter Forster, president of General Motors Europe, took the opportunity to pitch a deal to Brown.

GM has already previewed its Flexstream concept car — a hybrid vehicle that is part of the company’s E-Flex programme — which it hopes to launch in America by the end of 2010. By 2011 it intends to sell the car in Europe as a Vauxhall or Saab. Although very cheap to run, the price will be high — about £32,000.
Like other carmakers, GM is faced with the high cost of reducing the fuel consumption and thereby carbon-dioxide emissions of its conventional cars to meet forthcoming European rules that are expected to require a fleet average of 130 g/km carbon dioxide.
Forster said that it was seeking a national sponsor for a “super credit” scheme that would allow ultra-low carbon-dioxide vehicles (below 50g/km) — like its E-Flex cars — to offset larger and more polluting models. If Britain was prepared to champion this idea within the EU, GM would consider making its electric vehicles at the Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside.
The first E-Flex model will be based on the next generation of Vauxhall Astra, which will be made at Ellesmere Port. GM anticipates first-year production of 30,000 cars for Europe. Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman in charge of production development, believes that worldwide production of E-Flex cars could be 1m by 2020.
Unlike Renault, Nissan and many smaller companies that are climbing on to the electric bandwagon, GM does not believe in the pure electric car. E-Flex models are hybrids, driven by an electric motor and designed to be plugged into the mains but also include a small petrol engine to charge the batteries if the driver wants to go further than the 50 miles provided by the household charge.
Batteries remain the biggest hurdle for the all-purpose electric car. The advanced lithium-ion battery packs for E-Flex will cost £5,000 apiece. GM is about to announce which of its two development partners — CPI, a subsidiary of LG of Korea, and Continental — will provide the cells for E-Flex but, because it believes that electrics will play a large part in the future of the car, it is now bringing battery technology in-house.
Renault-Nissan has linked with Project Better Place, run by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Shai Agassi, which is to develop an electric-car infrastructure in Israel and Denmark — a network of service stations that swap depleted battery packs for fully charged ones.
This idea was rejected by GM on cost and logistical grounds, but it is an essential step if electric vehicles are to stand any chance of gaining ground on their oil-dependent cousins.

M&S's green adviser hits pay dirt

By Mark LeftlySunday, 27 July 2008

One of the world's leading green specialists, Environmental Resources Management, which advised Marks & Spencer on how to cut the carbon footprint of its clothes, will report a 20 per cent increase in profit next month.
Andrew Silverbeck, finance director of the London-based group, said that operating profits would be around $58m (£29m) from consultancy fees of $445m.
ERM, which is co-owned by the private equity house Bridgepoint, is looking to expand in Kazakhstan, where many of its quoted mining and energy clients now work. Earlier this year, the company opened an office in Alaska, one of 135 in 40 countries around the world.
The consultant's work includes advising on the widening of the Panama Canal and an environmental appraisal of the project to channel water from the Red to the Dead Sea.
And ERM's advice to Marks & Spencer? Reduce washing temperatures.

Car makers have done their bit. Now it's our turn

The British International Motor Show, taking place at Excel in London's Docklands, is an appropriate moment to offer a word of thanks to the car companies.

Yes, indeed. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry's lobby group, has long been producing figures showing how much more fuel- efficient cars are now, with consequent benefits for carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution. This evidence has been unfairly ignored, perhaps because so many people dismiss all road transport as evil (even if they happen to run a car themselves).
Yet the numbers are impressive. Only a decade ago the average CO2 emissions of new cars sold in the UK was a whopping 190g/km. Today, the figures are heading towards the 160g/km mark. If all goes well and the EU's latest targets are met, that will be closer to 140g/km by 2012, with a further 10g/km shaved off emissions through the use of improved tyres and sustainable biofuels, for instance. Another example: it would take 50 new 2008 model Ford Fiestas to produce the same toxic emissions as a single Mk I Fiesta from 1976.
Now, it is true that innovations such as the catalytic converter, green labelling and ever tighter rules on engine design have been driven by the authorities, especially the EU. But it is the engineers at Ford, General Motors, VW, Toyota, Fiat and all the rest who are the real heroes in the fight against global warming and climate change.
The problem is us, as the graphic shows (and I'm grateful to the Energy Saving Trust for the insight). The improvement in the general level of emissions seen in the past 10 years has been largely manufacturer driven, because we are broadly buying the same "mix" of cars as we were then; the lower emissions have come from the fact that a 2007 Clio/Mondeo/Mercedes-Benz is cleaner than its 1998 ancestor. But if we were to pick the greenest models in each category (SUV, family hatch, exec saloon etc) or even downsize, we too could do our bit. And where better to pick your next green car than at the Motor Show?

Market meltdown? Carbon trading is just warming up

First, the price of the EU's credit allowances crashed. Now shares in companies that trade in them are falling too. But getting polluters to change their ways will be a process of trial and error, says Mike Scott
Sunday, 27 July 2008

Is the carbon market a success or not? If you were to look at the share prices of companies involved in generating carbon credits, you would conclude that this was a business to steer clear of.
Analysts New Energy Finance reported in May that shares in the carbon credit groups EcoSecurities, Camco International and Trading Emissions had plummeted 75 per cent, 50 per cent and 20 per cent respectively from their highs last year, while Agcert, once a leader in Clean Development Mechanism carbon credit markets, saw its shares fall 99 per cent before they were suspended in February. EcoSecurities' shares dropped further last week when it emerged that it was suffering delays in getting UN-certified credits.
However, in the first six months of 2008 the global carbon market was worth €38bn (£30bn), almost as much as the €40bn recorded for the whole of 2007. There is a perception that the carbon market is a failure because of one event – the crash in prices of EU allowances in 2006. Yet in many ways that price crash was a vital step in the market's evolution. It came about when it emerged that virtually all EU member states – the UK was an honourable exception – had issued too many allowances, after intense lobbying from industry. This meant that the high emissions industries covered by the scheme had no incentive to cut their carbon usage and so would not need to buy allowances.
The victory turned out to be a pyrrhic one for business because it made the European Commission more determined to have tighter national allocation plans and create a meaningful carbon price in the market's second phase, which runs from 2008 to 2012. As a result, the price is fairly robust at €24 and a shortage of allowances is predicted, meaning that companies will have either to cut their emissions or buy allowances from others that have done so.
"The over-allocation would be disastrous if it was continuing, but it was a Phase 1 issue," says Sam Fankhauser, managing director of IDEACarbon, which recently launched a carbon credit ratings service. "Phase 1 was a learning phase, when we did not even know what emissions installations were responsible for. We know that now and Phase 2 looks much more robust."
In the third phase of the Emissions Trading Scheme, from 2013, the Commission plans to centralise the allocation process rather than have 27 member states deciding on their individual allocations.
"As a pure financial product, the carbon market is working well," says Lionel Fretz, chief executive of Carbon Capital Markets, which avoided the share price drops of its peers only by virtue of not being listed.
"However, it is in generating credits that we are having problems – and it seems to be getting worse, not better."
The Clean Development Mechanism is a victim of its own success, says Mr Fankhauser. It cannot issue credits quickly enough because it does not have enough trained staff but it has also tightened up its criteria so developers are not receiving all the credits they had hoped for – and in some cases had already sold. Project validators – who ensure that emissions cuts have been made – such as SGS, Lloyds and DNV are also suffering from staff shortages. The upshot is that projects are being delayed.
This is a real problem, says Bruce Usher, chief executive of EcoSecurities. "It is good that the verification and accreditation process is strict, but it just takes too long – projects are stuck in the pipeline for one to two years and there are only four and a half years left until the Kyoto Protocol expires."
Projects do not start generating carbon credits until they are registered by the UN, so such lengthy delays can be costly, especially for companies that have sold on the credits, known as CERs (certified emissions reductions), to buyers who need them to comply with their Kyoto targets. If they cannot deliver the CERs, they could suffer the same fate as AgCert, a Dublin-listed company forced into examinership (the Irish equivalent of administration) after running short of cash.
As if that weren't bad enough, on the other side of the process, there is a hold-up in one of the key parts of the carbon market infrastructure, the link between the UN registry (the International Transaction Log or ITL) and the registry for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (the CITL, or Community Independent Transaction Log). This seemingly arcane link is vital for the carbon market because the current phase of the Emissions Trading Scheme coincides with the compliance period for the Kyoto Protocol. Without it, businesses that need to buy credits cannot use Clean Development Mechanism credits – which are cheaper than EU allowances – to meet EU compliance requirements.
The European Commission says it is testing the link now and that "it will definitely be up and running by the end of the year", a statement that does not inspire huge confidence, given that it said that about its April 2007 deadline and the December 2007 deadline. There is much more at stake this time, though – 2008 contracts for settlement must be delivered in December.
If the link is not established, companies that have sold contracts forward will be unable to deliver the credits they promised, with one observer suggesting there would be "market meltdown". However, these are teething problems, or issues for particular companies that have failed adequately to manage their risks, says Matthew Whittell, finance director of Climate Exchange, who adds: "In any rapidly growing free market, there will be winners and losers. The market is bigger than any individual participant."
The carbon credit market is risky, adds David Metcalfe, chief executive of the research firm Verdantix, and if companies such as EcoSecurities do not perform well, that is just part of the learning process in getting the business model right. "It is a new market that is entirely regulation-driven, and those regulations change regularly," he says. "On top of that, you have to operate in countries that do not necessarily have a great market structure themselves."
EcoSecurities' Mr Usher agrees that his company's travails are teething problems, albeit fairly challenging ones. "This is a new market and we will get some of it right and some of it wrong. Not only do I see nothing wrong with this, I don't think we have any choice. Anyone who thinks we can do this perfectly is deluded, and anyone who says we cannot do anything until it is perfect is just wrong."
However, he says that the long-term prospects for carbon markets globally are good. Most market observers think that the US will have a federal cap and trade scheme within the next few years. If it does, it will dwarf the EU market, with New Energy Finance predicting that it could be worth $1 trillion by 2020.
Australia has just announced plans for its own emissions trading scheme, and the EU has said its scheme will continue regardless of what happens in negotiations to create a post-Kyoto climate change agreement. These are moving slowly, although it is hoped they will speed up when the US gains a new President.
"Ultimately, the market will be judged on whether they deliver environmental benefits at a relatively low cost," says Climate Exchange's Mr Whittell. "The carbon price is changing the way emitters do business. None of us is clever enough to work out what is the best way to tackle climate change, but if we have a global carbon price, the market sorts it out. Even with the over-allocation in Phase 1, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme still saved about 100 million tons of carbon. Phase 2 should be even more effective."

Is this the answer? (Carbon Capture and Storage)

The Observer,
Sunday July 27 2008

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can in theory reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent. The gases are 'captured' and then stored underground rather than released into the atmosphere.
Oil companies have been using a similar technique for years, pumping carbon dioxide into depleted oilfields to push out the remaining oil. But the technology for long-term storage of carbon dioxide is unproven.
Even if the new methods work, it is not clear how much they will cost to bring in, although some developers in the UK argue that the technology only needs the same level of subsidies received by onshore wind farms.
As gas prices soar, many countries, especially China, are increasingly turning to coal to generate electricity. Yet coal plants result in approximately twice as many emissions as gas.
The government has promised to allocate funds to help develop a CCS demonstration project by 2014. But environmentalists are pressing ministers to move faster and to invest in a number of schemes.

Actions speak louder than a lot of government hot air

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer,
Sunday July 27 2008

There was a cleverly staged moment during last week's BBC eco-drama Burn Up, when oil company workers started poking holes in the icy Canadian tundra. To their consternation, flames of burning methane promptly whooshed out of the melting permafrost.
It was a striking moment of television that demonstrated, vividly, how our warming world might soon change in uncontrollable ways. Melt our ice-caps and you release forces you cannot control: in this case, permafrost methane that would further heighten global warming. Yes, it was fiction, but the background science was reasonably sound. I just hope a minister or two caught the programme - for it might kickstart some action from a government that has promised to do so much to halt climate change but has yet failed to act meaningfully.
It is fine to announce plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent of their 1990 levels by 2050, but you look silly when these prove incompatible with so many other plans: to support a third runway for Heathrow, boost air travel, construct new motorways; keep fuel prices at rock-bottom levels and, worst of all, build a new generation of coal power plants, the worst type of carbon dioxide emitter on the planet. Hence the protesters who are gathering at Kingsnorth, the site of the first proposed plant, the warnings that were published by the Commons environment committee last week, and the cries of alarm from the Royal Society and its president, Lord Rees.
They can all see what the government seems blind to: new coal power stations, as currently envisaged, would wreck our ability to tackle climate change. Indeed, according to Greenpeace, if all the coal plants proposed for Britain are built, an extra 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year would end up being pumped into the atmosphere, almost a tenth of the UK's current total emissions. The message sent to India and China, whose rising carbon outputs we are seeking to curtail, would be unfortunate, to say the least.
This is not to say that coal power plants have no role to play in Britain. They do have a future, but only if their carbon dioxide emissions can be captured and stored, a concept that the government has also backed with fine words.
In its 2003 Energy White Paper, it promised an 'urgent detailed implementation plan' for a storage programme that would take advantage of Britain's depleted North Sea oil fields into which we could pump carbon dioxide removed from coal power plants.
We could tackle climate change and build up expertise in a technology that could have an enormous export potential. Thus, at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005, we promised 'rapid action' on carbon capture and storage (CCS). Three years later, however, nothing has been built or funded and no site has been identified, not for even a pilot project, nor has any pipeline network been planned, a point stressed by the country's leading carbon storage experts in a letter to The Observer this week.
These geologists, engineers and mineralogists have been driven frantic by government procrastination over CCS. Two years ago, BP offered its depleted Miller Field as a test bed for the technology but was turned down. Instead, ministers decided to run a competition to pick a CCS test plant site and invited councils and energy companies to make bids. The winner will be picked next year and a test plant would be built by 2014 at the earliest.
From the lessons learnt, a full CCS system could then be launched - though not until around 2020. Not much evidence of urgency there, I would say. Indeed, by that time, half the western world will have got in on the act and Britain, once more, will have lost a precious industrial lead.
Carbon storage is not a panacea, of course. It will only come into its own when the technology has been perfected. Hence the need to get on with test projects.
And it is worth noting the alacrity shown by the government in backing other climate-friendly energy projects to help combat climate change, in particular the construction of new nuclear plants.
These, of course, will have to be imported from America or France, our own nuclear industry having been left to wither on the vine. In contrast, CCS offers us a chance to develop a strong domestic technology and to tackle global warming. All it requires is investment - and the realisation that time is running out.