Friday, 1 August 2008

Opponents of new power stations naive, says Wicks

By Jean Eaglesham, Chief Political Correspondent
Published: August 1 2008 03:00

MPs, green groups and scientists who oppose a new generation of coal-fired power stations are "wrong", naive and against the "force of reason", Malcolm Wicks, energy minister, told the Financial Times yesterday.
In provocative comments that underline the government's determination to sanction a new generation of coal-fired power stations, Mr Wicks said a "lay person" might think energy policy was "about windmills". But "the rather boring fact is that the world is going to be burning lots of coal".
The government is facing a growing wave of opposition to its support for coal, centred on Eon's contentious £1.5bn proposal to build a plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. The first coal-fired power station in the UK for more than two decades, the development has become a rallying point for environmental campaigners, who portray it as an acid test of Gordon Brown's green credentials.
Protesters will start a week-long "climate camp" at Kingsnorth on Sunday in a bid to block the Eon proposal. Mr Wicks was dismissive of the protest. "Whatever people might wish, whatever people singing songs in the sunshine at summer camps might idealise, the world is going to be using lots of coal in the future," he said.
But ministers are under increasing pressure to block the application. More than 225 MPs, including 70 Labour backbenchers, have signed a parliamentary motion calling for the Kingsnorth proposal to be referred to a public inquiry. A Labour-dominated select committee has said there should be a moratorium on new coal-fired power stations until technology to cut their carbon emissions - known as carbon capture and storage - has been proved commercially.
Mr Wicks admitted the government would fight the political battle over coal from a position of general political weakness. "We [Labour] are in an extremely serious situation," he said. But he insisted the government's support for new stations had a sound intellectual base. "The force of reason is with us."
Calls for a moratorium were "wrong for two or three reasons", he asserted. "We have to have regard, to put it mildly, to supply - the good British people are not going to thank us if we tackle global warming by the country getting darker."
Coal was needed to reduce the UK's future dependence on gas imports from some "fairly unstable parts of the world". There were technical reasons why fossil fuels were needed to smooth peaks and troughs in other energy supplies, he added. "It's coal where you can turn the tap on more quickly than other sources."
Mr Wicks also argued it would be counter-productive for the government to try to take a green lead by banning new coal stations, when global demand for coal was forecast to increase by more than 70 per cent between 2005 and 2030. "There are countries with a huge stack of coal where demand is increasing - are any of us able to say to the Chinas of this world, please don't burn coal? I think I know what the answer would be."
The solution instead lay in "developing as quickly as possible technology round clear coal".
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Nuclear power: EDF abandons British Energy bid and role in new reactors

Damien Francis
The Guardian,
Friday August 1 2008

The French power giant EDF has backed out of an anticipated £12bn deal to take over British Energy.
The state-controlled electricity company had been expected to announce details of the bid at a press conference this morning. However, in the early hours EDF released a statement saying that the conditions were not right for a big UK deal.
"After in-depth discussions, EDF considers that the conditions for a major development in Great Britain are not met to date," EDF said. The company added that it would still hold today's news conference in Paris as planned, but the subject would instead be its half-year results.
The British government had hoped the landmark deal would signal the start of construction work on a new generation of nuclear power stations. British Energy, which is 35% owned by the government, operates one coal-fired and eight ageing nuclear power stations, including Hinkley Point, Torness and Dungeness. Together, they produce one sixth of Britain's electricity.
The takeover, worth 765p per British Energy share, had been central to plans to replace the current reactors, which are due to be retired from service over the next few years. Most, if not all, of the new stations are due to be built on sites of, or next to, existing nuclear stations.
EDF had previously said that it wanted to build four nuclear power stations using French reactor technology. Centrica, the owner of British Gas, was also expected to take part in the deal by acquiring a 25% stake in British Energy from EDF.

How to turn water into rocket fuel – scientists unlock power of the sun

By Steve Connor, Science EditorFriday, 1 August 2008

Scientists have devised a cheap and simple method of turning water into rocket fuel using solar power in a development that could generate a new source of green energy for the home and workplace.
The researchers used electricity from solar panels to split water into oxygen and hydrogen – the constituents of rocket fuel – with a technology that scientists believe could solve many of the problems that have hampered the development of solar energy.
With the help of a simple and yet highly efficient "chemistry set" made out of commonly available materials, the scientists have found a way of storing solar energy as a chemical fuel that can be used to power pollution-free electricity generators known as hydrogen fuel cells.
Until now the concept has stagnated because it has been too costly and difficult to use solar-generated electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen in a domestic setting, but the new method relies on the discovery of a catalyst that speeds up the conversion of water into high-energy fuel.
Daniel Nocera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, said the discovery could remove one of the major obstacles that has prevented solar power from being taken up widely as a viable alternative to fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
"The discovery has enormous implications for the large-scale deployment of solar since it puts us on the doorstep of a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism. The ease of implementation means that this discovery will have legs," Dr Nocera said.
Being able to use solar panels to build up a store of chemical energy that is easily transported would revolutionise the way solar energy can be used. It not only means that it could power a building at night, it also means it could be carried around to power electric vehicles running on hydrogen fuel cells.
The secret of the breakthrough, published in the journal Science, lies in the type of electrodes used to generate oxygen and hydrogen when they are inserted into water. The scientists made them from a cobalt-phosphate mixture which acted as a catalyst that speeds up the splitting of water molecules into their components – oxygen and hydrogen.
"The simplicity of this process is amazing. Using common and affordable elements, and a glass of water, these chemists may have given us a future way to efficiently obtain oxygen by splitting water," said Luis Echegoyen, director of the chemical division of the US National Science Foundation, which funded the work.
Dr Nocera said that sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world's energy problems given that in one hour enough energy from the Sun strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for a year.
The technique of using sunlight to split water lies at the basis of photosynthesis, the way plants convert the energy of sunlight into a chemical store that can be used for growth, but emulating the biological process has not been easy. Existing methods of splitting water using electrolysis are used in industry but are not suited for artificial photosynthesis as they are expensive and cumbersome to use on the sort of small scales needed for homes and offices.
Within a decade, Dr Nocera predicts that people will be powering their homes in the daytime from photovoltaic solar panels, and using the spare energy to generate that hydrogen that will power fuel cells at night with little or no pollution. "This is just the beginning. The scientific community is really going to run with this," Dr Nocera said.
How the new electrodes work
* Sunlight hits the photovoltaic cells of a solar panel and is converted into electricity. Spare capacity is sent to electrodes placed in a tank of water.
* As electricity runs through each electrode, a chemical catalyst made of a cobalt-phosphate mixture lining their surfaces speeds up the rate at which water is split into oxygen and hydrogen.
* The two gases bubble up to the surface and are collected separately and stored in safety canisters. The catalyst covering the electrodes renews itself spontaneously.
* Hydrogen is used as a fuel to drive a generator known as a hydrogen fuel cell, which can power a vehicle or the home at night. Oxygen can be combined with hydrogen to produce energy-rich fuel.
* Scientists are trying to work out exactly how the catalyst works and hope to refine the technique further. They plan to experiment with other catalysts, such as platinum, which is know to speed up the rate at which hydrogen can be made when electrodes are placed in water.
* The system should also be able to work with electricity generated by wind turbines, which also suffer the problem of variable power caused by differences in wind speed. The energy of the wind can be stored for when it is calm.

'Oil from algae' promises climate friendly fuel

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent,
Thursday July 31 2008

New start ... the company's website promoting green crude made from algae
A liquid fuel made from plants that is chemically identical to crude oil but which does not contribute to climate change when it is burned or, unlike other biofuels, need agricultural land to produce sounds too good to be true. But a company in San Diego claims to have developed exactly that – a sustainable version of oil it calls "green crude".
Sapphire Energy uses single-celled organisms such as algae to produce a chemical mixture from which it is possible to extract fuels for cars or airplanes. When it is burned, the fuel only releases into the air the carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae during its growth, making the whole process carbon neutral.
Major investors are already opening their cheque books: Sapphire has raised a total of $50m (£25m) in venture capital in recent weeks, the highest amount ever for an algae biotech company, including a significant investment from the UK's Wellcome Trust.
Algae are seen by many experts as promising a source of green fuel in the future: ranging from single-celled organisms to large seaweeds, they are the world's most abundant form of plant life and, via photosynthesis, are extremely efficient at using sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air to make organic material such as sugars, proteins and, under the right conditions, oils.
Yusuf Chisti at Massey University in New Zealand estimates that algae could produce almost 100,000 litres of biodiesel a year per hectare of land, compared to 6,000 litres a hectare for oil palm, currently the most productive biofuel.
'Green gasoline'
The money for Sapphire came flooding in after the company recently reached its most significant milestone yet, refining high-octane gasoline from their green crude. "The resulting gasoline is completely compatible with current infrastructure, meaning absolutely no change to consumer's cars," said a Sapphire spokesperson.
An added advantage is that their gasoline does not have contaminants such as sulphur, nitrogen and benzene that are contained in standard crude oil and the company believes the cost of their fuels will be comparable to standard fossil fuels on the market.
Many biotech companies around the world are working on using algae to produce ethanol or biodiesels that could replace traditional transport fuels while avoiding the problems raised by traditional crop-based biofuels, such as displacing food crops. A Sapphire spokesperson said that, with algae, there was no need to use valuable farmland to grow the basic resource. "In fact the process uses non-arable land and non-potable water and delivers 10 to 100 times more energy per acre than cropland biofuels."
Where Sapphire departs from other algae companies is that their aim is not to produce standard biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. Instead, they take their inspiration from the way crude oil was created in the first place, millions of years ago.
"Way back when, when the algae were responsible for creating the long-chain hydrocarbons like diesels and heavy oils, the biomass just got buried and compressed and formed crude oil," said Steven Skill, a researcher in how algae can be used to make organic chemicals at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and who is familiar with Sapphire's work. "Algae synthesise these long-chain hydrocarbons within the cells."
Sapphire would not reveal details of the type of algae they are using but Skill thinks it is probably using genetically-modified cyanobacteria, which used to be called blue-green algae. These organisms can grow quickly (some blooms can double their mass in just an hour), operate in high temperatures and some strains can even fix nitrogen from the air to make their own fertilisers.
"Sapphire claim they can engineer whatever they like now on the strain of algae they're working with," said Skill. The next step, he said, depended on developing the engineering and cultivation systems to grow the algae economically.
Commercial production
John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said that research on algae was a crucial part of the work to develop green energy sources in the future. "I'd say it's a very sound idea but the question is, are they able to do anything practical in an efficient way? The key questions are the efficiency with which this process happens."
He added: "They also have the classic renewables problem in that you're dealing with the ultimate energy source, the Sun, which is quite diffuse, so you're only getting in peak conditions around 0.5KW per square metre. You need vast, great big farms."
Algae can easily be grown in open ponds, but these result in very low-density blooms and are therefore an inefficient way to produce lots of fuel. Skill said that Sapphire would need advances in technology called photobioreactors to make a successful leap to commercial production.
Photobioreactors are closed vessels that would provide plenty of light and carefully tuned conditions that could intensively grow the microorganisms. Several teams around the world are testing designs for growing algae in them but none have so far made it to market.
Also crucial to making the green crude commercially viable is to use the byproducts other than oil from the algae. "You can probably derive 40% of the algae's weight in oil and you've got 60% of other stuff and there's a lot of valuable components in that in terms of chemical feed stocks."
These extra ingredients, which include fats, sugars and proteins, could be used for animal feeds or even as replacements for other petroleum products used in everything from cosmetics to plastics.
Sapphire said it expects to be at a stage of commercial production of green crude within three to five years. Geoffrey Love, head of venture capital at the Wellcome Trust, said the investment was made with this in mind. "There was already in place a very strong scientific and management team.
"They'd already made milestone-based progress to proving they could make not just biodiesel, which plenty of other companies out there can do, but proper crude oil."
He added that the biomedical charity had its own scientific diligence work done before making the investment and that the backing of another investment group that Trust often worked with, Arch Ventures, swung their own decision.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: "We urgently need to find ways of consigning the fossil fuel economy to history. Algae could offer promise, but to get a real grip on what this technology could offer we need far more information at our fingertips.
"The crucial requirement is that the end product can be produced in large quantities in a sustainable way, otherwise we're simply jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire."

Cheap way to 'split water' could lead to abundant clean fuel

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent,
Thursday July 31 2008

Splitting a few litres of water would be enough to power a home for a day, scientists claim
Scientists have found an inexpensive way to produce hydrogen from water, a discovery that could lead to a plentiful source of environmentally friendly fuel to power homes and cars.
The technique, which mimics the way photosynthesis works in plants, also provides a highly efficient way to store energy, potentially paving the way to making solar power more economically viable.
Hydrogen is a clean, energy-rich fuel that many experts believe could become important as nations attempt to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The gas can be produced by splitting water but current techniques are expensive, use harsh chemicals and need carefully controlled environments in which to operate.
Daniel Nocera, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed a catalyst made from cobalt and phosphorus that can split water at room temperature, a technique he describes in the journal Science. "I'm using cheap, Earth-abundant materials that you can mass-manufacture. As long as you can charge the surface, you can create the catalyst and it doesn't get any cheaper than that."
He said the discovery could have major implications for the uptake of solar photovoltaic technology. One of the reasons, he said, why solar panels have not penetrated the consumer market properly is that no one has found a way to store energy in a way that, when the Sun is not shining, people still have electricity. "You can't think about an energy economy or a global energy system only when the sun is out."
Batteries could do the job but they cannot store anywhere near as much energy per unit mass as chemical fuels. Nocera's technique would allow the storage of excess energy from sunlight during the daytime. "You could imagine, during the day you have a photovoltaic cell, you take some of that electricity and use it in your house, then take the other part of that electricity for my catalyst, feed the catalyst water and you get hydrogen and oxygen."
At night, the hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to produce an electrical current to power a home or recharge an electric car. "So I've made your house a gas station and a power station. It's all enabled because we can use light plus water to make a chemical fuel, which is hydrogen and oxygen."
Converting an Olympic swimming pool of water into hydrogen and oxygen per second would create 43 terawatts of power. "In the next 50 years, the world needs 16 terawatts. By the end of the century, we'll need around 30," said Nocera. "There's a heck of lot of energy stored in chemical bonds."
For a home, Nocera said that it would be enough to split a few litres of water per day into hydrogen and oxygen. The water would be reformed when the gases were put through the fuel cell.
There is much work to be done in converting Nocera's idea into a commercial product. At the moment, his catalyst can only accept small amounts of electrical current at once, meaning that it would be an inefficient way to quickly store large amounts of energy. But Nocera is certain that engineers will iron out the issues and produce commercial-scale products within a decade.
James Barber, a leading researcher in artificial photosynthesis at Imperial College London, said Nocera's work was a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy. "This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind. The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."

The final countdown

Time is fast running out to stop irreversible climate change, a group of global warming experts warns today. We have only 100 months to avoid disaster. Andrew Simms explains why we must act now - and where to begin
Andrew Simms
The Guardian,
Friday August 1 2008

Planet earth viewed from space. Photograph: Corbis
If you shout "fire" in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don't want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.
Because in just 100 months' time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change. That said, among people working on global warming, there are countless models, scenarios, and different iterations of all those models and scenarios. So, let us be clear from the outset about exactly what we mean.
The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.
Faced with circumstances that clearly threaten human civilisation, scientists at least have the sense of humour to term what drives this process as "positive feedback". But if translated into an office workplace environment, it's the sort of "positive feedback" from a manager that would run along the lines of: "You're fired, you were rubbish anyway, you have no future, your home has been demolished and I've killed your dog."
In climate change, a number of feedback loops amplify warming through physical processes that are either triggered by the initial warming itself, or the increase in greenhouse gases. One example is the melting of ice sheets. The loss of ice cover reduces the ability of the Earth's surface to reflect heat and, by revealing darker surfaces, increases the amount of heat absorbed. Other dynamics include the decreasing ability of oceans to absorb CO2 due to higher wind strengths linked to climate change. This has already been observed in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding to climate change.
Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative), once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If that happens, the Earth's climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.
So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It's possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth's average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.
In arriving at our timescale, we also used the lower end of threats in assessing the impact of vanishing ice cover and other carbon-cycle feedbacks (those wanting more can download a note on method from But the result is worrying enough.
We found that, given all of the above, 100 months from today we will reach a concentration of greenhouse gases at which it is no longer "likely" that we will stay below the 2C temperature rise threshold. "Likely" in this context refers to the definition of risk used by the IPCC. But, even just before that point, there is still a one third chance of crossing the line.
Today is just another Friday in August. Drowsy and close. Office workers' minds are fixed on the weekend, clock-watching, waiting perhaps for a holiday if your finances have escaped the credit crunch and rising food and fuel prices. In the evening, trains will be littered with abandoned newspaper sports pages, all pretending interest in the football transfers. For once it seems justified to repeat TS Eliot's famous lines: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."
But does it have to be this way? Must we curdle in our complacency and allow our cynicism about politicians to give them an easy ride as they fail to act in our, the national and the planet's best interest? There is now a different clock to watch than the one on the office wall. Contrary to being a counsel of despair, it tells us that everything we do from now matters. And, possibly more so than at any other time in recent history.
It tells us, for example, that only a government that was sleepwalking or in a chemically induced coma would countenance building a third runway at Heathrow, or a new generation of coal-fired power stations such as the proposed new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. Infrastructure that is fossil-fuel-dependent locks in patterns of future greenhouse gas emissions, radically reducing our ability to make the short- to medium-term cuts that are necessary.
Deflecting blame and responsibility is a great skill of officialdom. The most common strategies used by government recently have been wringing their hands and blaming China's rising emissions, and telling individuals to, well, be a bit more careful. On the first get-out, it is delusory to think that countries such as China, India and Brazil will fundamentally change until wealthy countries such as Britain take a lead. And it is wildly unrealistic to think that individuals alone can effect a comprehensive re-engineering of the nation's fossil-fuel-dependent energy, food and transport systems. The government must lead.
In their inability to take action commensurate with the scale and timeframe of the climate problem, the government is mocked both by Britain's own history, and by countries much smaller, poorer and more economically isolated than we are.
The challenge is rapid transition of the economy in order to live within our environmental means, while preserving and enhancing our general wellbeing. In some important ways, we've been here before, and can learn lessons from history. Under different circumstances, Britain achieved astonishing things while preparing for, fighting and recovering from the second world war. In the six years between 1938 and 1944, the economy was re-engineered and there were dramatic cuts in resource use and household consumption. These coincided with rising life expectancy and falling infant mortality. We consumed less of almost everything, but ate more healthily and used our disposable income on what, today, we might call "low-carbon good times".
A National Savings Movement held marches, processions and displays in every city, town and village in the country. There were campaigns to Holiday at Home and endless festivities such as dances, concerts, boxing displays, swimming galas, and open-air theatre - all organised by local authorities with the express purpose of saving fuel by discouraging unnecessary travel. To lead by example, very public energy restrictions were introduced in government and local authority buildings, shops and railway stations. This was so successful that the results beat cuts previously planned in an over-complex rationing scheme. The public largely assented to measures to curb consumption because they understood that they were to ensure "the fairest possible distribution of the necessities and comforts of daily life".
Now, 2008, we face the fallout from the credit crisis, high oil and rising food prices, and the massive added challenge of having to avert climate change.
Does a war comparison sound dramatic? In April 2007, Margaret Beckett, then foreign secretary, gave a largely overlooked lecture called Climate Change: The Gathering Storm. "It was a time when Churchill, perceiving the dangers that lay ahead, struggled to mobilise the political will and industrial energy of the British Empire to meet those dangers. He did so often in the face of strong opposition," she said. "Climate change is the gathering storm of our generation. And the implications - should we fail to act - could be no less dire: and perhaps even more so."
In terms of what is possible in times of economic stress and isolation, Cuba provides an even more embarrassing example to show up our national tardiness. In a single year in 2006 Cuba rolled-out a nationwide scheme replacing inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with low-energy alternatives. Prior to that, at the end of the cold war, after losing access to cheap Soviet oil, it switched over to growing most of its food for domestic consumption on small scale, often urban plots, using mostly low-fossil-fuel organic techniques. Half the food consumed in the capital, Havana, was grown in the city's own gardens. Cuba echoed and surpassed what America achieved in its push for "Victory Gardening" during the second world war. Back then, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, between 30-40% of vegetables for domestic consumption were produced by the Victory Gardening movement.
So what can our own government do to turn things around today? Over the next 100 months, they could launch a Green New Deal, taking inspiration from President Roosevelt's famous 100-day programme implementing his New Deal in the face of the dust bowls and depression. Last week, a group of finance, energy and environmental specialists produced just such a plan.
Addressed at the triple crunch of the credit crisis, high oil prices and global warming, the plan is to rein in reckless financial institutions and use a range of fiscal tools, new measures and reforms to the tax system, such as a windfall tax on oil companies. The resources raised can then be invested in a massive environmental transformation programme that could insulate the economy from recession, create countless new jobs and allow Britain to play its part in meeting the climate challenge.
Goodbye new airport runways, goodbye new coal-fired power stations. Next, as a precursor to enabling and building more sustainable systems for transport, energy, food and overhauling the nation's building stock, the government needs to brace itself to tackle the City. Currently, financial institutions are giving us the worst of all worlds. We have woken to find the foundations of our economy made up of unstable, exotic financial instruments. At the same time, and perversely, as awareness of climate change goes up, ever more money pours through the City into the oil companies. These companies list their fossil-fuel reserves as "proven" or "probable". A new category of "unburnable" should be introduced, to fundamentally change the balance of power in the City. Instead of using vast sums of public money to bail out banks because they are considered "too big to fail", they should be reduced in size until they are small enough to fail without hurting anyone. It is only a climate system capable of supporting human civilisation that is too big to fail.
Oil companies made profits when oil was $10 a barrel. With the price now wobbling around $130, there is a huge amount of unearned profit waiting for a windfall tax. Money raised - in this way and through other changes in taxation, new priorities for pension funds and innovatory types of bonds - would go towards a long-overdue massive decarbonisation of our energy system. Decentralisation, renewables, efficiency, conservation and demand management will all play a part.
Next comes a rolling programme to overhaul the nation's heat-leaking building stock. This will have the benefit of massively cutting emissions and at the same time tackling the sore of fuel poverty by creating better insulated and designed homes. A transition from "one person, one car" on the roads, to a variety of clean reliable forms of public transport should be visible by the middle of our 100 months. Similarly, weaning agriculture off fossil-fuel dependency will be a phased process.
The end result will be real international leadership, removing the excuses of other nations not to act. But it will also leave the people of Britain more secure in terms of the food and energy supplies, and with a more resilient economy capable of weathering whatever economic and environmental shocks the world has to throw at us. Each of these challenges will draw on things that we already know how to do, but have missed the political will for.
So, there, I have said "Fire", and pointed to the nearest emergency exit. Now it is time for the government to lead, and do its best to make sure that neither a bang, nor a whimper ends the show.
· Andrew Simms is policy director and head of the climate change programme at NEF (the new economics foundation). The material on climate models for this article was prepared by Dr Victoria Johnson, researcher at NEF on climate change. For regular suggestions for what individuals and groups can do to take action, and links to a wide range of organisations supporting the focus on the 100 months countdown, go to: The Green New Deal can be downloaded at

Panic sets in over Beijing pollution a week before Olympic Games

Beijing has announced new restrictions on car usage and said it could close hundreds more factories as panic set in over pollution levels ahead of the Olympics.

By Richard Spencer in Beijing Last Updated: 8:45PM BST 31 Jul 2008

The fresh curbs to tackle smog will come into force if the air quality continues to fail Beijing's "safe standards" when the Games commence after an opening ceremony next Friday.
A list has been drawn up of 222 chemical, construction, and coal-fired factories in Beijing, the neighbouring city of Tianjin and the surrounding province of Hebei which will be temporarily shut down.
Swathes of northern China's heavy industry, particularly concrete and chemicals firms, are already on an enforced two-month holiday in an attempt to improve air quality.
In addition, more vehicles will be taken off the roads. Currently, most lorries are banned in the city while cars with odd-numbered licence plates can only drive on odd-numbered dates, and even plates on even dates.
Under the new rules, no car would be able to drive on a date that shared the same last number as its licence plate, while the existing rules might also be extended to Tianjin and Hebei.
Along with the threat of doping, and a bitter row among members about China's censorship of the internet in Olympic venues and accommodation, pollution will be a major focus of the last session of the International Olympic Committee before the opening ceremony.
Jacques Rogge, the president, arrived at the start of what has already proved the most controversial Olympics for two decades without speaking to reporters.
He has previously said that endurance races may have to be postponed should air quality be poor, though it has since been confirmed that this is a decision that will be taken by the Beijing organisers.
Since the current restrictions came into force on July 20, air quality has failed Beijing's own standards on four days out of 12, even though city officials say that the measures have reduced overall pollutants by 20 per cent.
Beijing's standards are themselves more lax than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Yesterday's overall reading was 69, or "good", where "excellent" is for a reading under 50 and anything over 100 is a "fail".
Some national teams have already complained of feeling the effects of the air since arriving in the city.
"Some of our guys have inherent breathing issues, and to put them in this environment ... it's worrisome for sure," said Terrry Schroeder, coach of the American water polo team.
This week has seen clearer skies, thanks to rainstorms, but on sultry and dry days the smog builds up quickly again.
On Wednesday, both Beijing's environmental protection bureau and an IOC representative tried to play down the problem, saying that just because the sky was grey and hazy did not mean that it was necessarily polluted.
"Most of the people see the fog, they say it's pollution," said Gilberto Felli, the IOC's executive director for the Games. "But we know here it's not pollution. It's mist, a fact of the nature."
However, Beijing does not currently release statistics for ozone, one component of a polluted rather than a misty haze.
In addition, a website that gave a district breakdown of pollution readings in the city has had public access denied since a link was displayed on a Telegraph website.
In the other major row, Kevan Gosper, the IOC member who heads the press commission, said he had been kept in the dark about conversations between IOC officials and the Beijing organisers when it was confirmed that sensitive websites would remain blocked to journalists and other visitors to Olympic venues.
"This certainly isn't what we guaranteed the international media and it's certainly contrary to normal circumstances of reporting on Olympic Games," he said.
Mr Rogge previously promised uncensored access. "I would be surprised if someone made a change without at least informing him," Mr Gosper said.

'100 months' to stop overheating

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian,
Friday August 1 2008

Rising greenhouse gas emissions could pass a critical tipping point and trigger runaway global warming within the next 100 months, according to a report today.
The estimate from the New Economics Foundation is based on when emissions will reach such high levels that it "is no longer likely" the world will be able to avoid a 2C rise in average temperatures. "We know climate change is a huge problem, but there's a missing ingredient of urgency," said Andrew Simms, policy director at the foundation.
According to the UN's experts, greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, which are at around 430 parts per million, would have to be stabilised at 450 ppm to avoid a rise of more than 2C.
Simms and Victoria Johnson made a conservative estimate of future emissions based on six greenhouse gases and other pollutants, such as aerosols, which have a cooling effect. They predict that 100 months from today emissions will rise above the critical 450ppm threshold.
According to the government's 2006 report on climate change by Nicholas Stern, a 2C rise could release vast quantities of carbon stored in soils and permafrost, see 15%-40% of land species threatened with extinction, and up to 4 billion people experiencing water shortages.

A dangerous untruth

E.ON's claims for coal are deluded. We can't afford the huge environmental cost of burning this fuel

Simon Lewis
The Guardian,
Friday August 1 2008

Imagine the impact of the second world war. This, according to former World Bank chief economist Nicolas Stern, captures the scale of the economic impact of climate change, left unchecked. The social and environmental effects are predicted to be similarly catastrophic. Given the widely accepted need for rapid and deep cuts in CO2 emissions, the response to E.ON's application to build the UK's first coal-fired power station in 30 years, at Kingsnorth in Kent, and news that business secretary John Hutton seems minded to give it the go-ahead, has been bewilderment and anger.
A new high point of opposition starts this weekend as the Camp for Climate Action embarks on an eight-day protest to press the government and E.ON to abandon the scheme. This is no fringe issue: they will be taking action to stop a proposal potentially so destructive that increasing numbers of scientists are speaking out against it.
Over recent years scientists have become increasingly vocal about the need to take action to cut CO2 emissions. In 2005, the science academies of the G8 countries along with Brazil, China and India - three of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world - signed a joint statement to push political leaders to tackle climate change as an urgent priority. By 2008, this group was calling for a rapid, planned transition to a low-carbon economy.
Opposing plans for new coal-fired power plants in developed countries has become an international frontline of climate change politics. Jim Hanson, senior climate change scientist at Nasa, wrote to Gordon Brown last year calling for a ban on new coal, stating that Brown's decision on Kingsnorth has "the potential to influence the future of the planet". This is because coal is one of the most polluting and carbon-intensive forms of fossil fuels - producing twice the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as gas. Coal is the cause of fully half of the fossil fuel-caused increase of CO2 in the air today, and there is plenty left to burn. If we don't limit the use of coal, avoiding catastrophic climate change will become impossible.
However, Paul Golby of E.ON, in these pages yesterday, dismissed anyone opposed to his company's plans to annually emit at least 6m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere - more than the total emissions of Costa Rica or Cameroon - as naively ignorant of power generation realities. He has tried to scare the public into thinking that new coal is necessary to keep the lights on.
Yet the independent energy consultancy Pöyry, in a report out today (, gives the hard numbers showing projected demand can be met, while respecting strict emissions limits and energy security concerns, using renewables and not resorting to new coal. Meanwhile Cambridge professor of physics David MacKay's book Without Hot Air presents five different plans of how we can meet the UK's energy needs and radically reduce emissions. Of course there are no easy answers, but for Golby to deny that there are no answers other than business as usual is dangerously untrue.
Let's be clear. Either coal usage must stop, or the CO2 released from any coal burned must be kept out of the atmosphere, by burying it under the sea, using an unproven technique known as carbon capture and storage. The Royal Society has made a clear proposal that all new coal plants must capture 90% of their CO2 emissions by 2020, or have their operating permits revoked. If agreed, this would send a clear signal that if carbon capture and storage works, coal use is acceptable, otherwise it is not. However, last month, when E.ON and energy minister Malcolm Wicks were before parliament's environmental audit committee, both evaded accepting the Royal Society proposals' impeccable logic.
E.ON's preference is to use the carbon market to reduce emissions. This won't deliver real cuts, as its own business case shows: Golby believes E.ON can participate in the European scheme, provide competitively priced electricity and turn in a good profit for 20-40 years by burning the dirtiest fuel. Such delusions must be exposed: it is not possible to keep releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere and avoid the social, environmental and economic consequences of climate change.
The Climate Camp is creating space for serious debate about the kind of world we want to live in. More than that, the campers give shape to a force that can perhaps override the profits-now catastrophe-later logic of the government and E.ON: they form a broad-based movement of people committed to a socially just transition to a low-carbon society. I certainly don't want to live in E.ON's world, where business as usual trumps avoiding dangerous climate change. So I'll be joining the campers in Kent. Anyone else with concerns about the future should do the same.
· Simon Lewis is a Royal Society research fellow at the Earth & Biosphere Institute, University of Leeds

UN plans a pilot program to change climate - its own

By Neil MacFarquhar
Published: July 31, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, New York: The United Nations has long been accused by its detractors of generating hot air. Starting in August, a glance at the thermostat in the Secretariat building will provide confirmation.
To set an example in the effort to curb energy use that contributes to global warming, the secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, has approved a one-month pilot project to raise the thermostat settings throughout much of the landmark building to 77 degrees Fahrenheit from 72, (to 25 degrees Celsius from 22).
The thermostats in the often-windowless conference rooms, where much of the haggling and some of the more impenetrable seminars unroll, will be set at 75 Fahrenheit (23 Celsius), up from 70 (21 Celsius).
The building's carbon dioxide emissions are expected to drop by approximately 300 tons, and costs are expected to decrease by $100,000, said Michael Adlerstein, who announced the experiment Wednesday and who will oversee building renovations. He said savings could reach $1 million annually if the United Nations mandated temperature changes year round.
Achieving a uniform temperature in the 39-story building, which was built in 1952, ranks up there with world peace as a noble, if unlikely, goal. Some rooms, notably the General Assembly and the basement, are frigid. Others feel distinctly tropical.

Among other problems, the interior space of the building has been carved up so many times that thermostats no longer correspond precisely with the rooms they control, Adlerstein said. He said the determining factor in whether the United Nations decided to adjust its thermostats for the long term, including keeping the building colder in winter, was the effect on productivity. Naturally, diplomats had strongly diverging views on how they would be affected.