Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Anaerobic digestion reduces waste and generates electricity

Nina Sweet: Commentary

For those of us who get excited about waste-treatment technology, anaerobic digestion really is the way forward — you put rubbish in one end and get valuable products out of the other.
Quite simply, we are running out of places suitable for burying the rubbish we generate and any initiative — whether it be new technology or changes in behaviour — has to be worth considering if it reduces the quantity of waste we throw away.
Anaerobic digestion is tried and tested on the Continent but we have been slow to take it up in Britain. Now, with local authorities having to meet targets to reduce the biodegradable waste that we send to landfill, and sustainability being such a hot issue, the technology is being given serious consideration.
Surprisingly, until recently little attention has been paid to reducing the vast quantity of food that is thrown away annually. It forms one of the biggest elements of landfill, yet only 3 per cent is sent for composting or to anaerobic digesters. Of the 6.7 million tonnes that is estimated to be binned each year by households, only 2.6 million tonnes could not have been eaten — the potato peelings, the apple cores, the eggshells and so on.

The rest is wasted, and a staggering proportion isn't leftovers — it is food that has been bought, allowed to go off and then thrown away without a single bit being taken. Shocking.
And that's just the waste in our homes. There's plenty more in other sectors of society, including an estimated 1.5 million tonnes that is put out by supermarkets because it is past its sell-by date.
A range of technological options to process the food that we throw away are being assessed, and anaerobic digestion has performed well. Thanks to the demonstration plant at Ludlow we can show that it works well in that type of location. The technology definitely is part of the solution to the challenge we face in getting food waste out of landfill.
It's a win-win-win scenario. You get rid of your food waste and at the same time you make good fertiliser and generate renewable electricity.
Dr Nina Sweet is a technical expert at the Waste Resources Action Plan

Entergy deal good for shareholders; others wary

The Associated Press
Published: August 18, 2008

NEW ORLEANS: Power provider Entergy Corp. is advancing its plans to spin off nuclear plants that generate free-market electricity, a deal that may be a boon for shareholders but a potential burden for taxpayers, according to critics.
If approved by regulators, Enexus Energy Corp., to be based in Jackson, Mississippi, will become a separate, publicly traded company in the next several months.
Stockholders of New Orleans-based Entergy would receive Enexus shares on a pro-rata basis. The exact number has not been determined.
But there is concern over debts of as much as $4.5 billion that the new company would take on, including up to $3.5 billion paid to Entergy for the plants and other assets.
There is also the dismantling or mothballing of nuclear reactors at the end of their life spans, which critics say Enexus may be unable to pay. That could leave taxpayers with billions in cleanup costs should the company become insolvent. The plants range in age from 32 years to 37 years.

Plants have a life span of between 30 and 40 years, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but can be retrofitted to last longer.
Enexus would control five nuclear plants: Pilgrim Nuclear Station near Plymouth, Massachusetts, the James A. Fitzpatrick station in Oswego County, New York, two units at the Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County, New York, Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Vermont, and Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Michigan.
All sell nonregulated power on the wholesale market, where prices can skyrocket as utilities try to cover shortfalls in peak-demand periods.
Entergy currently sells a mix of power in nonregulated and regulated regions. It has regulated utilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas which serve 2.7 million customers. The company purchased the wholesale reactors intended for Enexus between 1999 and 2007.
Chief executive Wayne Leonard says the wholesale reactors have focused on fixed-price, long-term delivery contracts for retail sellers rather than the spot market, where there is potential for greater profits, but also greater risk.
Yet prices on the spot market can fall as quickly as they can rise — which could lead to credit downgrades and higher interest costs for Entergy, Leonard said.
"These two companies don't belong together," he said.
The spinoff would be good for Entergy shareholders, according to analysts like Macquarie Research Equities.
As long-term contracts at below-market prices expire, Enexus plants should generate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amoritization of $2.5 billion in 2012, up from the $800 million in 2007, Macquarie said.
Deutsche Bank said because of Entergy's plan for an extended stock buyback, per-share profits are only going up.
Others, however, are not so bullish on the payoff for consumers.
Under the Enexus plan, the plants would be owned by independent subsidiaries, each legally responsible for their own books and assets — including the cost of decommissioning plants.
Critics say that separation is a financial shield for Enexus.
Decomissioning can cost hundreds of millions. Plant owners are federally required to set aside funds to cover those costs.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the Entergy New Orleans unit, a subsidiary, filed for bankruptcy when faced with millions in damages and the loss of its customer base.
The unit was reorganized and received $200 million in federal relief funds. All creditors were paid in full.
Entergy said in 2007 that its decommissioning funds totaled $3.3 billion, up from $2.86 billion in 2006.
When the spinoff was approved in July, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected arguments that Enexus was taking on too much debt. Enexus agreed to put up $700 million toward operational and maintenance costs, plus a $1 billion line of credit for the plants.
The use of subsidiaries to shield a nuclear parent company from liability is becoming more common, according to the Nuclear Information and Research Service — a trend that could put taxpayer money at risk in the worst-case scenario.
"If you have an accident and cleanup costs and the decommissioning fund isn't full, who pays for it?" asked Michael Marriotte, executive director of the anti-nuclear group. "It could be the taxpayers as well as the ratepayers."
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has come out against the plan, and said the deal will cost the New York Power Authority, which sold Fitzpatrick and Indian Point 3 to Entergy in 2000 for $967 million, about $360 million in revenue sharing with Entergy.
The spinoff will cut away access to about 80 percent of the financial resources that Indian Point and Fitzpatrick currently have under Entergy ownership, Cuomo said.
Also, because of a plan for Entergy and Enexus plants to be joint partners in another company that will maintain and operate both Enexus plants and Entergy's regulated nuclear generators, Entergy would have "veto power" over the operation and maintenance of Enexus plants, while having "no responsibility for the consequences of that control," Cuomo said.
In Vermont, the other state where the law requires state regulators to sign off on the spinoff, lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year calling for the Public Service Board to require Entergy to make additional financial guarantees to a decommissioning fund before approving the spinoff.
But Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the measure, saying Entergy might raise electric rates after its current contract expires in 2012.
Vermont also is the only state in which state law gives lawmakers an up-or-down vote on nuclear relicensing. The license for Vermont Yankee, the state's lone reactor, expires in 2012; the Legislature is expected to vote in the winter or spring of 2009 whether to approve relicensing.
Decisions on the deal are expected later this year in Vermont and by the New York Public Service commission. Entergy also must get the approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Student unveils wind turbine made from scrap

A £20 wind turbine which can be created from recycled materials to help people in the developing world was unveiled yesterday. Max Robson, who has just been awarded a first-class degree in product design and modern materials from the University of Portsmouth, said he wanted to build an electricity generator which could be used together anywhere in the world. The turbine charges a battery which can run lighting for 63 hours or a radio for 30 hours. Robson, 22, from Greenwich, south-east London, said: "It cost me £20 to build the prototype and in the developing world it would be a lot less."Press Association

Call for mission to save wind turbine factory from axe

Published Date: 19 August 2008
By John Ross

THE Scottish Government is being urged to send a delegation to Denmark in the hope of reversing a decision to close a wind turbine factory in Argyll.
An emergency meeting was called yesterday by Argyll and Bute Council following the shock decision by Danish company Vestas to shut its Scottish manufacturing plant in Machrihanish in Kintyre.Council officials met with representatives of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Alan Reid, the Argyll and Bute MP, to discuss ways to save the factory and 92 jobs to protect the already-fragile economy.However, no-one from Vestas attended with the company insisting any meeting takes place in Denmark. Dick Walsh, the council leader, said: "Together we need to work hard and fast to do the best we can for this area of South Argyll during what is a very worrying and apprehensive time for everyone involved."The council agreed to write to the government urging an urgent meeting with the Vestas chief executive.

Wind Jammers

August 18, 2008;

In this year's great energy debate, Democrats describe a future when the U.S. finally embraces the anything-but-carbon avant-garde. It turns out, however, that when wind and solar power do start to come on line, they face a familiar obstacle: environmentalists and many Democrats.
To wit, the greens are blocking the very transmission network needed for renewable electricity to move throughout the economy. The best sites for wind and solar energy happen to be in the sticks -- in the desert Southwest where sunlight is most intense for longest, or the plains where the wind blows most often. To exploit this energy, utilities need to build transmission lines to connect their electricity to the places where consumers actually live. In addition to other technical problems, the transmission gap is a big reason wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%.
Only last week, Duke Energy and American Electric Power announced a $1 billion joint venture to build a mere 240 miles of transmission line in Indiana necessary to accommodate new wind farms. Yet the utilities don't expect to be able to complete the lines for six long years -- until 2014, at the earliest, because of the time necessary to obtain regulatory approval and rights-of-way, plus the obligatory lawsuits.
In California, hundreds turned out at the end of July to protest a connection between the solar and geothermal fields of the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles and Orange County. The environmental class is likewise lobbying state commissioners to kill a 150-mile link between San Diego and solar panels because it would entail a 20-mile jaunt through Anza-Borrego state park. "It's kind of schizophrenic behavior," Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently. "They say that we want renewable energy, but we don't want you to put it anywhere."
California has a law mandating that utilities generate 20% of their electricity from "clean-tech" by 2010. Some 24 states have adopted a "renewable portfolio standard," while Barack Obama wants to impose a national renewable mandate. But the states, with the exception of Texas, didn't make transmission lines easier to build, though it won't prevent them from penalizing the power companies that fail to meet an impossible goal.
Texas is now the wind capital of America (though wind still generates only 3% of state electricity) because it streamlined the regulatory and legal snarls that block transmission in other states. By contrast, though Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Ed Rendell adopted wind power as a main political plank, he and Senator Bob Casey are leading a charge to repeal a 2005 law that makes transmission lines slightly easier to build.
Wind power has also become contentious in oh-so-green Oregon, once people realized that transmission lines would cut through forests. Transmissions lines from a wind project on the Nevada-Idaho border are clogged because of possible effects on the greater sage grouse. Similar melodramas are playing out in Arizona, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, West Virginia, northern Maine, upstate New York, and elsewhere.
In other words, the liberal push for alternatives has the look of a huge bait-and-switch. Washington responds to the climate change panic with multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for supposedly clean tech. But then when those incentives start to have an effect in the real world, the same greens who favor the subsidies say build the turbines or towers somewhere else. The only energy sources they seem to like are the ones we don't have.

China replaces UK for green investors

By Michael Stothard
Published: August 19 2008 01:01

China has displaced the UK in rankings of the most attractive destinations for renewable energy investment, according to Ernst & Young, the professional services firm.
The UK dropped from fourth to sixth place in E&Y’s index, swapping places with China.

A combination of outstanding growth rates in the Chinese wind power industry and setbacks for the UK’s proposed renewables strategy were behind the switch, E&Y said.
Britain’s energy bill is still bogged down in parliament, adding to uncertainty over the future for renewables. Germany, meanwhile, has forged ahead with implementing attractive tariffs to support its renewable energy industry, making it second in the rankings behind the US.
“A further consultation period over the [energy] bill could lead to up to two years of relative inactivity,” said Jonathan Johns, the head of renewable energy at E&Y, whose annual review of renewable energy investment ranks countries according to the development of markets and infrastructure.
However, Gordon Edge, director of economics and markets at the British Wind Energy Association, said the report was unfair on the UK: “I think this report says more about China than it does about the UK.”
The improvement in China’s score is partly down to the country’s renewable energy policy, which aims to generate 15 per cent of energy from non-carbon sources by 2020. The government’s focus on infrastructure had made China especially attractive for investors, Mr Edge said.
China has galloped ahead of predictions by the International Energy Agency that it would be producing 5GW of wind power by 2010, reaching the target three years earlier. E&Y expects that the country’s target of 30GW by 2020 will also be exceeded.
The US maintained its position as the most attractive destination for renewable energy investment, despite uncertainty over Washington’s extension of tax credits for renewables.
Despite general agreement that they will be renewed, there is concern over a requirement that energy measures as a whole should be budget-neutral. There is also speculation that tax credits for wind will only be renewed for one year.
The E&Y report also highlights the mixed effects of high oil prices.
Rising energy costs are putting pressure on governments to consider renewables. E&Y estimates that a rise in household energy bills by 20 per cent would see Britain meet its target of sourcing 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Europe's latest craze: electric bikes

The Associated Press
Published: August 19, 2008

PARIS: My electric bike is no batmobile, but it makes me feel like a superhero.
The motor is so quiet it's easy to forget it's there when I'm pedaling through the streets of Paris — only I move much faster than a regular bike rider and I don't sweat. When I ride uphill, it feels like someone is giving me a push.
The silver Chinese import that I bought for €300 ($US470) might not look as flashy as Christian Bale's wheels in "The Dark Knight," but it is much cheaper to run and kinder to the environment, too.
All of which helps explains why electric bikes are one of the hottest buys in Paris this summer — and are filling the streets of Amsterdam, Beijing and beyond.
"It's become a new means of transport," said Olivier Birault, owner of the Paris store Velectris.

"In France we lost the culture of the bike after the war when it was seen as old-fashioned or for poor people," he said. "Now it's coming back — and with the latest increase in gasoline prices we are seeing enormous interest."
Demand, says Sophie Nenner, who opened the Paris bike store Velo Electro in 2005, is particularly high when the sun is shining. When it rains, I don't feel much like Batman on my bike.
Riding a power-assisted bicycle is just like a regular bike. On some models the motor kicks in automatically when you start pedaling, in others you control the power with a throttle or electronic control.
More than 10,000 electric bikes were sold in France last year, up from 6,000 in 2006, according to the Conseil National des Professions du Cycle, an association of bike professionals.
And the trend is hitting all of Europe. Sales of power-assisted bikes in Germany this year are expected to double the 60,000 sold in 2007, according to Hannes Neupert, manager of ExtraEnergy, a nonprofit organization promoting light electric vehicles headquartered in Tanna, Germany.
In the Netherlands, sales of electric-powered bikes increased from 45,000 in 2006 to 89,000 last year, according BOVAG, a motorized vehicles industry association, which expects a total of 121,000 to be sold this year.
The figures in the Netherlands compare to 10,000 units sold in vastly larger United States in 2007, up from 6,000 in 2006, according to estimates compiled for the National Bicycle Dealers Association by market research group Gluskin-Townley Group. However, other sources say sales figures are had to come by and the total U.S. sales could be well over 100,000.
Researcher Jay Townley said few Americans would consider commuting to work on a bicycle due to a lack of cycle routes, but in bike-friendly cities such as Washington, D.C., two-wheeled transport is increasing, particularly with increasing gasoline prices.
In Europe, squeezed by giddily high gas prices and boxed in by traffic jams, city motorists are looking for an alternative to their cars for short journeys that doesn't involve navigating overcrowded transport systems, Nenner said.
And technology — which has developed lighter batteries capable of running for 40 to 80 kilometers (25-50 miles) compared with only 20 or 30 kilometers (12.4-18.6 miles) a few years ago — means electric bikes are increasingly competing with scooters and motorbikes.
Electric bikes cost almost nothing to run or maintain and for the daredevil rider offer additional benefits: no helmet, no registration, and no license.
Jean-Paul Massot, a 30-year-old teacher who commutes eight kilometers (five miles) to work each day in Paris, says he's willing to pay up to €1500 ($US2,300) for an electric bike — an amount which could get him a gasoline-powered scooter.
"But I don't want to pay for gasoline," he said. "And scooters are polluting and noisy."
The electricity needed to run an average power-assisted bike costs just €1 ($US1.56) per 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), according to Antoine Lecuirot, founder of French electric bike specialist To Diffusion.
When the store first opened in 2003 few people here had heard of electric bikes and turnover was mainly electric scooters. But in 2004, Lecuirot says the tide changed and now 80 percent of his revenue is from bikes, whose sales increased 70 percent in the year to March.
"When we first opened it was mainly elderly folks, or people with reduced mobility who came through the door," he said.
"Now, our customers keep getting younger: parents are even buying them for their children to get to school."
The booming market is attracting entrepreneurs such as Aldo de Boni, a manager for a multinational company in Italy who wants to set up a sideline in electric bikes.
His initial plan was to invest in a fleet of 25 Italian-made electric bikes to rent to holiday-makers in Morocco. But the bikes, he says, have ignited a "passion" and he now intends to open a store in Nancy, northern France, as well.
"We have to move quickly because we are not the only ones to have this idea," he said. "It's a market which is completely exploding."
The popularity is partly due to imports from China, where manufacturers are making very affordable models.
Alberto Antonelli, whose family have been running the Molari bike shop in the seaside Italian resort of Cattolica since 1902, says he stopped selling European brands because his customers balked at the price tag.
Most of Molari's clientele are elderly people looking for a way of getting to the beach. "The Chinese bikes are less than half the price of Italian ones, and clearly that makes a difference to a lot of people," he said.
China has more than 1,400 electric bicycle manufacturers, producing around 5.5 million units a year, according to the China Bicycle Association.
Less than half of those are intended for domestic use. According to Economic Reference, a newspaper published by the official Xinhua News Agency, China exported 3 million electric bicycles in 2006 worth a total of 40 billion yuan (US$5.8 billion).
Imported electric bikes don't come much cheaper than mine, which my partner assembled and then upgraded by fitting three-speed gears and a new basket. Its performance is starting to fade after nine months of daily use, particularly the battery, which is made from lead and has a limited life span.
If I run out of juice, the heavy battery weighs down the bike and makes it difficult to ride uphill, particularly now that I am used to pedal assistance.
But it still incites curiosity wherever I take it. At least twice a week I get stopped by passers-by — everyone from grandpas to motorists. "How does it work?" "Do you need to pedal?" "Are they very expensive?"
At the top end of the market, where electric bikes can cost upward of €3,000 ($US4,600), some models look like something Batman would ride — if he were into bikes.
Up-market models also offer a much greater degree of autonomy — the latest versions will go for 100 kilometers (62 miles) without recharging. They are lighter — as little as 20 kilograms (44 pounds) — and offer funky features such as controls that can change the level of assistance and regenerative braking systems, in which applying the brakes helps recharge.
Store owner Birault says bikes are only the start of an electric revolution.
"People are waiting now for the electric car," he said.

Plan for anaerobic digesters in every town to recycle leftovers

Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter

Waste-disposal units designed to turn leftover food into electricity and fertiliser could be built around every town and city as part of a scheme being considered by ministers.
The new generation of anaerobic digesters has been developed in a government-sponsored trial designed to find ways of solving the shortage of landfill sites.
They will be ideally located in suburbs because, unlike previous models, the new units are not reliant on farm slurry to provide moisture for the recycling process. Without the smelly transportation of animal waste, the prospect of plants in urban areas, will, the Government hopes, be a lot easier for residents to digest.
The ability to process waste on a commercial scale without using slurry was developed as part of a £30million trial in Ludlow, Shropshire, by Greenfinch, an engineering firm working with government backing, in partnership with South Shropshire District Council. It was prompted by the need to reduce the 16-18 million tonnes of waste food that is buried as landfill each year.

Anaerobic digesters produce fertiliser and biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which is burnt to generate renewable electricity.
The merits of putting them near small villages have become the hot debate in the Radio 4 soap The Archers, where the community of Ambridge is at loggerheads over the proposed installation of a farm-scale unit.
Most waste food in Britain, including 6.7million tonnes from households, is disposed of in landfill sites where it decomposes and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The average person throws away four times their own body weight in food each year.
Pressure on space means that the country is running out of suitable sites for landfill and, with punitive landfill taxes introduced to encourage alternatives, digesters are increasingly being seen as an environmentally friendly solution.
Joan Ruddock, the Environment Minister, described Ludlow as “the way forward” after being given a tour of the unit this week.
She said: “Anaerobic digestion is extremely attractive. Why would we go on throwing food waste into holes in the ground when we could generate our own electricity and end up with a product that can be returned to the soil? It seems to me that a plant on this scale would fit into any industrial estate anywhere in the country. While the decision has to be taken locally - and in consultation with residents - I am sure this is the way forward.”
She added that she has taken to listening to the anaerobic digester saga on The Archers: “I try to listen to it when I can to see how they are getting on, but all I seem to have heard about lately is the Grundys' love life.”
David Woolgar, of Greenfinch, said: “The advantage of the new system demonstrated in Ludlow is the likelihood such plants can move into built-up areas.” He is confident that the plants offer a money-making option for councils and businesses.
Philip Dunne, Conservative MP for Ludlow, is an enthusiastic supporter of the digester and believes the technology will simultaneously help to solve the landfill problem and make a profit.
“It holds out the prospect of a commercially viable waste energy system which on its own should reduce local authority waste collection and disposal costs,” he said. At its maximum production level, the Ludlow digester should be able to generate 1,400 megawatt hours of electricity each year, and engineers expect to be able soon to harness the heat generated by the plant.
Anaerobic digester technology has been available for decades and more than 4,000 have been built in Germany. But besides Ludlow, only four other commercial-scale digesters, which in essence mimic the workings of a cow's stomach, have been built in Britain - two in England and two in Scotland - and there are fewer than a dozen farm-scale units.
The Government is so confident that anaerobic digesters offer a realistic means of dealing with food waste that earlier this year it offered £10million in grants to encourage the construction of further demonstrator plants. Plans for at least 60 are under way in Britain.
A variety of technologies for treating food waste are being investigated, but confidence in anaerobic digestion is high and Liz Goodwin of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap), a government-funded body, said the number of plants built in Britain was about to rise exponentially.
Businesses are also showing increasing interest in sending their food waste to digesters rather than landfill and the supermarket Waitrose has just signed up to a trial involving five branches that will send food beyond its sell-by date to a biogas plant run by Biogen in Bedfordshire.
The commercial food recycling scheme is operated by Cawleys, which collects leftovers from organisations including the Treasury, city lawyers and Raymond Blanc's Brasserie in Milton Keynes.

Shipping pollution 'may cause 60,000 deaths a year

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 10:01pm BST 18/08/2008
Sea air in coastal cities, renowned for being bracing and healthy, is instead being heavily polluted by dirty smoke from ships a study has found.
Shipping: The greening of the ocean waves
Shipping emissions three times higher than thought
Amazon doomed by too much clean air
Scientists have found ships are contributing far more polluting tiny sulphur rich particles than had previously been thought.

Container ship in port: emissions have a major impact on air quality in coastal cities the study found
The tiny particles travel large distances and can become lodged in the lungs, posing a serious health hazard.Previous studies have shown ship smoke may be responsible for as many as 60,000 deaths worldwide, according to an earlier study conducted at the University of Delaware."This is the first study that shows the contribution of ships to fine particulates in the atmosphere," said Prof Mark Thiemens, who headed the research team at the University of California, San Diego.
"Ships are really unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards. What we wanted to find out was the contribution of ships to the air pollution in San Diego.
"And what we found was a surprise, because no one expected that the contribution from ships of solid sulphur-rich particles called primary sulphate would be so high."
Primary sulphate, or SO4, is produced when ships burn a cheap, sulphur-rich fuel called "bunker oil."

The scientists say, these primary sulphate particulates are particularly harmful because they are especially fine, less than 1.5 microns or millionth of a metre in size.
As a result, they can travel extremely long distances because they stay in the atmosphere for longer periods and, unlike bigger dust grains and particles that are removed by the body when breathed, remain in the lungs.
Using a chemical fingerprinting technique to sample air at the end of the pier at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, the scientists found that the smoke from ships contributed as much as 44 per cent of the sulphate found in fine particulate matter in the atmosphere of coastal California.
On the days when the proportion of ship sulphate approached one-half of the fine particulate matter, the scientists determined from wind direction and speed calculations that ships burning high sulphur fuel in the Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego ports were a major influence.
"Our results suggest that this component of ship emissions is important and should not be ignored in the future," said Dr Gerardo Dominguez, first author.
In another study in the same journal, a team warms that the future impact of global warming is even worse than predicted when the grazing animals are taken into account.
The impact of global warming in the Arctic was studied by Penn State biologists, Dr Eric Post and Christian Pederson, to show that grazing animals will play a key role in reducing the anticipated expansion of shrub growth, thus limiting their predicted and beneficial carbon-absorbing effect.
While Dr Post and Pederson agree that global warming will promote the growth of shrubs, they argue that grazing by muskoxen and caribou will reduce the carbon-mitigating benefit of the plants, based on the findings of a novel five-year experiment in West Greenland in which they compared the effects of grazing in plots treated with increased temperatures versus those left untreated.
"We need to be aware that the 'carbon dioxide sponge' - represented especially by shrubs and trees - may not be as big as we thought it was," said Dr Post. "This finding is yet another reason to think carefully about reducing carbon-dioxide emissions."

Climate controls

The chairman of the ASA on the problems of greenwash, why Andy Burnham shouldn't rule out product placement, and why Channel 4 deserves licence fee money more than BBC3
Maggie Brown
The Guardian,
Monday August 18 2008

The battlelines over greenwashing were drawn last week by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and its chairman, Chris Smith. The ASA upheld a high-profile complaint against Royal Dutch Shell for an ad that ran, just once, in the Financial Times in February, claiming that oil sands in Canada's wilderness were a "sustainable" energy source. "We don't want to discourage companies from making legitimate claims but want to reinforce the fact that they have an obligation not to mislead," Smith says. "Ambiguous or exaggerated claims risk generating scepticism and undermine the genuine initiatives that many businesses, including Shell, are taking to be greener." It is the second time in a year that Shell has found itself falling foul of the ASA's mounting concern, and follows an ASA ruling in December on a Shell poster showing flowers rather than smoke coming out of factory chimneys which arguably forced the pace. And it is indicative of Smith's determination to move against misleading green advertising. "That was clearly a misleading claim. It's those sort of things we have wanted to raise concern about," he says.
Chris Smith, or rather Lord Smith of Finsbury, is a genial, beaming presence - a highly unusual animal, a personable politician. Now 57, he is celebrating his first anniversary at the ASA, and applying his politician's instinct for zooming in on those issues shooting up the public agenda, while also trying to keep the ad industry, desperate to avoid more restrictions after losing the battle over junk foods and children, on side.
His arrival at the ASA marked a change in tone from his predecessor, Lord (Gordon) Borrie, an austere competition lawyer. One of Smith's first initiatives was to hold public seminars to take soundings on fraught issues. Sparked by a sharp rise in complaints about environmental claims - which have quadrupled from 117 complaints about 83 ads in 2006, to 561 about 419 ads in 2007 - the most recent seminar focused on greenwashing, when consumers are misled about a product or company's green credentials.Confusion reigns
But while there does appear to be genuine confusion about what common terms - carbon-neutral, 100% recycled, or wholly sustainable - really mean, some see Smith as bowing to pressure groups (the flowers complaint was made by Friends of the Earth, last week's complaint was from WWF-UK). Smith denies this: "The reason we got interested in this is that the number of complaints - from, on the whole, ordinary members of the public - about environmental claims for products and services has been going up and up. I suspect that's largely because environmental concern is rising generally, and so companies are using the environmental angle to put their case forward."
The view of some critics is that the environment is not an area for advertising, which relishes superlatives. But Smith gives this short shrift: "The raison d'etre for the ASA is that companies can make the best possible claims for their product, but not mislead people. I absolutely don't want to discourage them from doing so, the more that companies think seriously about the environmental impact of their products the better. But what they mustn't do is pretend a product is greener than it is.
"On quite a number of these issues there is very little official government or national guidance. It would help us enormously if things were clearer at national level." This is particularly true, he says, for claims of carbon offsetting.
The advertising code is currently being revised to take green issues into account, as well as going through a broader overhaul - the ASA, as a non-governmental body, oversees binding codes of practice for self-regulation of the advertising industry, most recently assuming operational responsibility for broadcasting.
"The green claims points can be included in that revision," Smith says. "But it won't stop there, it will have to be continually looked at, because this is a fast moving area."
But greenwashing is only one of the issues the ASA is taking on: Smith also highlights a serious problem with the internet, which, with 2,980 complaints last year is now the second most complained about medium, after television, and ahead of print - and yet the ASA currently only has limited jurisdiction over pop-up ads and paid-for search devices. The authority calculates that more than 70% of complaints are entirely outside its remit, and has asked the Advertising Association, the industry's overall trade body, to take an urgent look. It is expected to report in September.
"These [complaints] are coming from shoppers, ordinary people. The complaints are virtually all about misleading and inaccurate ads, not taste and decency issues. This is bread and butter stuff for the ASA," says Smith. "What we don't have is any agreement for advertising on companies' own websites, if it's a direct email to you from a company, say with an offer, it is covered, but if you click into a company website, that's not covered."
Smith adds that this large grey area includes child-friendly games, characters, and stories, advertorials, and the marketing of products, deals and prices. "On the whole nowadays a company which has a marketing department has executives who know the rules. In most cases they are using advertising agencies who know the codes. But the website may be being done by someone else. Getting the people who draw up website content to think about codes may be the way forward. The world of advertising needs to recognise there is an issue and needs to address it."
The ASA is ready to help, but Smith says it is "not up to us to decide what happens". He suggests one possible solution: an agreement to include advertising material on websites within the scope of the codes. "If that is the case there will have to be some sort of adjudication process on complaints. It would be a major expansion of work, and we would need income to resource that."
Smith is far more relaxed about the operation of the ban on ads for high fat, salt and sugar foods in programmes children watch. "There are a few campaigning groups who are arguing that the rules are not strict enough, and there are calls for pre-9pm bans [on all advertisements for these foods, regardless of the programme]," he says. "My own personal view is that would be an overreaction."
Resigning the whip
Towards the end of our interview, Smith suddenly confesses to feeling "a bit odd". Just days before we met, this career politician had resigned the Labour whip, and become a non-aligned peer after taking on the chairmanship of the Environment Agency, a government body. Having spent a major part of his working life in active politics, declaring himself as a neutral requires a mental shift and a step back from direct involvement.
Given that he is no longer a Labour peer, I ask what he has made of the youthful Andy Burnham's performance so far, as culture secretary - Burnham served as a special adviser to Smith when he was in government. The culture secretary has rushed to pre-empt a consultation period on the possible introduction of product placement on television, by declaring his opposition. What does Smith make of this? "My view currently is let's see what the consultation provides on this. I'd say that in five years' time the way people watch TV may have changed dramatically, and the impact of specific advertising slots may have reduced to such an extent it becomes difficult to finance programmes. It might [have to be] through product placement. Simply ruling it out ... I'm not sure. I'm not wanting to take a definitive view at this stage."
When Smith was culture secretary, of course, he helped create Ofcom, which is currently seeking a new chairman. Smith says he thinks Ofcom has been a "considerable success" on the whole, when asked for his assessment. "Nine out of 10. It's easy to underestimate the scale of the task it faced ... there are moments when they need to pay slightly more attention to the content side of their work than the purely economic and competition side, but that's a minor quibble."
As for Ofcom's current public service broadcasting review, Smith has been persuaded by Channel 4's argument for public funding. "I'm convinced by the case Channel 4 is making for their need for assistance in some years' time: they don't need it now. I believe they are a very important part of the broadcasting landscape. We must look seriously at where that help could come from.
"Top-slicing is not an option I would rule out completely. If I was secretary of state and I had £100m of licence fee money to deploy, with public service broadcasting values in mind, would I spend it on BBC3, or would I spend it on helping Channel 4? I think that's a very difficult question for the BBC to answer." And for Smith? It would, he says, have to be spent on Channel 4 because it is "absolutely" more important than BBC3.
Curriculum Vitae Age 57Education Pembroke College, Cambridge and HarvardCareer1983 elected Labour MP Islington South and Finsbury1997-2001 secretary of state for culture, media and sport2003-2008 chairman, Clore Leadership Programme2005 becomes life peer, privy councillor2007 chairman, Advertising Standards Authority2008 chairman, Environmental Agency

Heathrow expansion: Third runway will breach pollution limit, EU warns

Dan Milmo, transport correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday August 18 2008

The European Union has waded into the debate over expanding Heathrow airport by warning that plans for a third runway will "significantly" breach air pollution guidelines.
Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, said he will contact the British government over the issue, putting further pressure on ministers. He said an expanded Heathrow will miss EU-imposed nitrogen oxide targets after January 2015 - the latest possible date that it can meet the guidelines.
"We will contact the UK authorities regarding this matter," said Dimas in a letter seen by the Guardian.
"Technical reports underpinning the Heathrow expansion suggest that nitrogen limit values near Heathrow will be significantly exceeded in 2010, the year in which those limit values become mandatory, and that this will be the case even after 2015," he said.
The government denies that guidelines will be breached "significantly" in 2015, contradicting Dimas's letter.
According to the consultation on expanding Heathrow published last year, the introduction of "mixed mode", which allows continual take-off and landing on the two runways, will result in a minor breach of pollution limits in 2015.
Mixed mode is viewed by BAA, the owner of Heathrow, as an interim measure to expand the overcrowded airport before a third runway is completed by 2020 at the earliest. Mixed-mode would increase the number of annual flights at Heathrow from 480,000 to 540,000. With a third runway, the number of flights would rise to 702,000.
The government has pushed back its recommendation on a third runway to the end of the year as it sifts through more than 70,000 responses to the consultation. Government sources have denied reports of a "wobble" over expansion plans and said the recommendation over a third runway has been delayed by the sheer volume of responses to the consultation.

In search of world justice

The burden of climate change solutions can only be equitably shared via an international court

Stephen Hockman
The Guardian,
Tuesday August 19 2008

'It is a trite observation that environmental problems, although they closely affect municipal laws, are essentially international; and that the main structure of control can therefore be no other than that of international law." Thus wrote Robert Jennings QC, a former president of the international court of justice, in his foreword to the first edition of Philippe Sands's Principles of International Environmental Law, published in 1995 - years before the potential effects of climate change had transformed public perceptions. Yet even today, after all the millions of words that have been written on the subject of climate change, we seem no closer to establishing that "structure of control". Indeed, Jennings's observation that the problem is mainly to be solved by legal means might now seem not so much trite as unorthodox, bold or even eccentric.
The potential effects of climate change and the urgency of efforts to tackle it have been given a new focus by recent developments, including reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nicholas Stern on behalf of the UK government. Although few deny the necessity of finding solutions, even fewer have any to hand. International summit statements only confirm the diplomatic efforts involved in attaining any kind of consensus.
The understandable reluctance of developing countries to sign up to carbon commitments - unless the developed world is prepared to make an equitable contribution - calls for more radical options. Those options must be realised at state, regional and international levels, and they will require political, economic and legal solutions.
In this mix, international legal instruments are crucial. The existing tools lack the necessary jurisdiction, clout and transparency. The time is ripe for a serious consideration of an international court for the environment. Such a court was mooted in Washington in 1999, but sank without trace. Today, however, we cannot afford to drop the ball.
Ideally, such a court would be compulsory and would include a convention on the right to a healthy environment and deliver transparency in access to data and in its proceedings. It would include a scientific body to assess technical issues and a mechanism to avoid "forum shopping" - that is, litigants taking their pick of the most propitious court available.
Of course, regulations and sanctions alone cannot deliver a global solution to problems of climate change, but without such components the incentive for individual countries to address those problems - and to achieve solutions that are politically acceptable within their own jurisdictions - will be much reduced.
As far as the business community is concerned, an international court for the environment would offer a centralised system accessible to a range of actors, an enhanced body of law regarding environmental issues, and consistency in judicial resolution of environmental disputes. Such a court would also bring an increased focus on preventative measures, a set of global standards of care, and the facilitation and enforcement of environmental treaties. In addition, it could persuade the world business community to develop risk-management systems and improve present practices, thereby reducing the likelihood of environmental catastrophe.
Only an impartial adjudicating body is capable of providing the catalyst for a global consensus as to the fairest way to distribute the burdens that accompany solutions to the climate change problem. Whatever difficulties may lie in the path of such solutions, the benefits will be greater.
· Stephen Hockman QC is a former chairman of the Bar Council; a symposium on an international court of the environment is to be held in London in November clientearth.org stephenhockmanqc@6pumpcourt.co.uk

California air agency sued over emission credits

The Associated Press
Published: August 19, 2008

LOS ANGELES: A coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against Southern California's anti-smog agency Monday, accusing it of allowing companies to pollute by selling them invalid emission credits.
The lawsuit accuses the South Coast Air Quality Management District of selling the bogus credits "to countless polluting facilities" for nearly two decades.
The credits are required by state and federal law for companies seeking to expand operations and emit more pollution. The conservationists charge that the air district's cache of emission credits was used up long ago, but that it sold companies bogus credits allotted for public-service projects.
The agency covers Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
"Why is the agency created to protect the air so actively trying to pollute it?" said Tim Grabiel, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, among the groups that filed the lawsuit.

The coalition accuses the agency of violating the federal Clean Air Act, which requires credits to be enforceable, quantifiable and permanent. The group wants a court to declare that the district violated the act and wants an injunction prohibiting the district from distributing invalid credits.
The district's media office was closed Monday afternoon and several calls seeking comment were not returned.
Other groups filing the lawsuit include the Coalition for a Safe Environment, Desert Citizens Against Pollution and Communities for a Better Environment.

UK eco-towns timetable delayed

By Jim Pickard
Published: August 18 2008 23:31

Ministers have been forced to delay the timetable for implementing Gordon Brown’s eco-towns scheme, in the latest setback to the project.
A shortlist of applicants due to be published in October will not come out until next year, it has emerged. In addition, there is evidence that ministers may be starting to row back from their target of 10 towns.
The government had a long-list of 16 applicants, drawn up in April. Three of those dropped out but the Financial Times has established that three others – in Norfolk, north Yorkshire and near Cambridge – are facing difficulties.
One more – in Rossington, south Yorkshire – has been reduced from 15,000 homes to just 5,000. In Coltishall, Norfolk, the government has just won permission to build a prison on the same site as the proposed eco-town.
At Hanley Grange, near ­Cambridge, a partner in the proposed scheme has withdrawn. In Selby, north Yorkshire, developers have been blocked by local authorities.
The government admitted it was being forced to delay the announcement of its shortlist in a little-noticed line in a recent statement on green transport plans for eco-towns.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said ministers needed more time to reconsider submissions whose details had been revised.
The spokesman insisted most schemes were still going ahead and the “proof will be in the pudding” as to which were a success.
The eco-towns plan for communities built to the highest environmental standards was at the heart of Gordon Brown’s policy platform at last September’s Labour conference, where he committed the government to building 10 of them. But Caroline Flint, housing minister, has recently begun to talk about “up to 10 eco-towns”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008