Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Wind farms cause thousands of bats to die from trauma

From The Times
August 26, 2008
Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Wind turbines pose a far more serious risk to bats than birds because their blades cause air pressure imbalances that can inflict fatal trauma.
A six-week study at two wind farms in the eastern United States recorded 1,764 and 2,900 bat fatalities. Another American project found that bat deaths outnumbered bird deaths in Montana by two to one. Though death rates in Europe are generally lower than this, extensive bat casualties have been reported in Britain.
Birds die when they are struck by turning blades, but bats use echolocation to evade this danger. However, they are at much higher risk than birds of barotrauma — a condition caused by sudden drops in air pressure. In May Natural England, a government agency responsible for wildlife protection, acknowledged increasing concern about the impact of wind farms on bat populations, and called for more research to ascertain the level of risk.
In mainland Europe, noctules, common pipistrelles and Nathusius's pipistrelles are most commonly recorded as casualties of wind farms. These species are listed by Natural England as high risk, together with Leisler's bats.

First Reserve in nuclear venture

By Martin Arnold in London
Published: August 25 2008 23:30

First Reserve, the US private equity group specialising in energy, will this week unveil plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a nuclear fuel venture headed by two uranium industry veterans.
The venture, Accord Nuclear Resources, will buy and merge companies across the commercial nuclear power sector, focusing on uranium mining, production and services.
A reactor at Russia’s Rostov plant. First Reserve believes the industry’s efficiency can be improved

First Reserve believes the nuclear fuel market is plagued by inefficiency and suffers from the recent drop in uranium prices, creating an opportunity to vacuum up assets at cheap prices and improve efficiency in the industry. The Merrill Lynch Uranium Equity index is at its lowest level for almost three years, and has halved from its peak.
To lead its venture, First Reserve has hired Charles Scorer, former head of Nufcor, the London-based uranium trading group, and David Sloan, the former director of business development at Nukem, the German nuclear engineering group.
Mr Scorer, chief executive of Accord, said nuclear fuel was a “strange” part of the energy industry. “Coupled with this introspection and conservatism, there has been a remarkable under-investment in the supply chain.”
He said that because the nuclear industry had been in government hands, it was “parochial”. For instance, countries stockpile five to 10 years’ supply of uranium for their nuclear power stations and there is no commercial exchange for trading uranium or identifying an accurate spot price.
Mr Scorer said that while Accord would be involved in brokerage and trading of uranium, this would not be the core focus. It would not enrich uranium but would seek assets in uranium mining logistics, arrangement and brokerage.
Alex Krueger, First Reserve managing director, said: “There is a large opportunity out there, and we are looking to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to create a fairly large industry player.”
Accord is likely to snap up some of the many uranium mining groups listed on Aim in London when the uranium price was surging and are now struggling after the price more than halved from highs above $130 per pound last year.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Plea over biofuel subsidies

Press Association
Tuesday August 26 2008

The Government should stop funding subsidies for biofuels to tackle climate change and instead use the money to stop the destruction of rainforests and peatland, a think tank said.
The "misjudged" biofuels targets had led to an increase in food prices and deforestation and should be abandoned, the report said.
The £550 million annual cost in lost revenue from the Government's aim of using biofuels to make up 5% of fuel sold on UK forecourts could be better spent on avoiding deforestation, the Policy Exchange report said.
The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) target would save 2.6-3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
But investing in preventing the destruction of peatland or rainforests could result in a "50 times greater amount of avoided emission" because the habitats act as a store of carbon which is released into the atmosphere when burned.
The right-leaning think tank said tropical deforestation contributes around 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions - similar to the amounts generated by the USA and China.
Ben Caldecott, head of the environment unit at Policy Exchange and editor of the report said: "The research is clear - if developed countries spent the same amount of money on preventing deforestation and the destruction of peatlands as they do on misguided biofuel subsidies (15 billion US dollars), this would halve the total costs of tackling climate change."
Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said: "This report is timely and welcome. It is becoming increasingly clear that unless we find a practical solution to the problems caused by deforestation the battle against climate change is in danger of being lost."
A Government-commissioned investigation into the fuels by Professor Ed Gallagher last month concluded that "uncontrolled expansion" in the industry could actually lead to an increased climate change threat if rainforests were felled to make way for biofuel crops.
Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said the Government would consult on slowing the rate at which the RTFO was introduced, to delay reaching the 5% target from 2010-11 to 2013-14.
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2008, All Rights Reserved.

A warming theory that has melted away

In defending his strategy for fighting climate change, Oliver Tickell abandons his entire argument

Björn Lomborg
Monday August 25 2008 19:00 BST

Oliver Tickell defends against my critique his visions of 4C leading to a catastrophic future. Two casual observations lend themselves readily. First, Tickell has entirely abstained from defending his claim for human extinction from 4C. Thanks. Second, I was clearly wrong when I said that Tickell's claim for 70-80 metres of sea level rise had maxed out campaigners' scare potential because that means all ice is melted. Showing an amazing ability to raise the stakes none the less, Tickell now talks about sea level going 100m higher.
The UN climate panel (IPCC) says that 4C will lead to a rise a hundredth of that figure; but Tickell simply claims such moderate projections are "dangerously misplaced". All I can see is that such facts are terribly inconvenient.
He summarily dismisses (as "outdated econometric models") the analysis of one of the IPCC lead climate economist authors, when the model points out that the damage will be quite modest at 3.5% of GDP. He assures us this "is not to dismiss economics as a whole" – because he can find two economists who support his argument, embracing Stern and Weitzman eagerly. It is hard not to see this as opportunistic cherry-picking: Stern might have been incomplete but his work "yielded many useful findings – not least that swift and decisive action to mitigate climate change is" the right way to go.
I will not deal with Stern here. Many others have pointed out that the Stern Report has seriously exaggerated the peer reviewed evidence and massaged the analysis to get his results (see, for example, Byatt et al, 2006; Carter, de Freitas, Goklany, Holland, & Lindzen, 2006; Dasgupta, 2006; Mendelsohn, 2007; Nordhaus, 2006e; R. S. J. Tol, 2006; R. S. J. Tol & Yohe, 2006; Varian, 2006; Yohe, 2006, see also my critique in my book Cool It). Weitzman, who Tickell likes when he agrees with him, actually criticises Stern: "As economic analysis the Stern Review dwells in a non_scientific state of limbo." Even then, Stern never did a proper cost-benefit analysis. Such analyses overwhelmingly show that strong early carbon cuts are a bad idea.
But it is interesting to assess Weitzman's argument (My arguments are partly indebted to Professor Nordhaus (pdf)). Tickell (and many other campaigners) fancies Weitzman, because his economic argument seems to support draconian climate policies. While very technical, it relies on a fairly straightforward gist. All risks you can think of – even catastrophic ones – have non-zero risk. Thus, it is possible (if not very likely) that global warming will not only increase the planet's temperature by 4C, but 10C. Heck, it might even increase beyond 20C – which Weitzman with armchair climatology, suggests might have a probability of 1%. Since evidence for or against such extremes is scarce, accumulating evidence can only slowly close us in on their true probability. Yet, for any given amount of evidence, there will always be sufficiently outrageous risks (think 30C) that are sufficiently unbound by evidence and sufficiently close to negative infinite utility that the total net utility is negative infinity. Thus, we should be willing to spend all our money to avoid it.
Now, in principle all economists would agree that non-trivial risks should be included in the model, and for example, Nordhaus has done that analytically in cost-benefit models (they still show that large emission cuts are not warranted). However, the Weitzman result curiously means that the more speculative and fuzzy the extreme event, the more it counts in the total utility.
This is an argument driven by a technicality – essentially a claim that we are willing to pay an infinite amount to avoid even an infinitesimal risk of annihilation. Yet we demonstratively aren't – and shouldn't be. Civilization-ending asteroids hit the earth once every 100m years, but at present we only spend $4m per year to track them. Maybe we should pay $1bn. But we shouldn't spend everything.
This underscores the fatal flaw in the Weitzman argument. When we allow all scary, fuzzy concerns onto centre stage, there is no end to where we should spend all our money. Every conceivable policy measure has a non-zero risk of catastrophe and so should be avoided at any cost. Biotechnology, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-strangelet.htm strangelets, runaway computer systems, nuclear proliferation, rogue weeds and bugs, pandemics, and asteroids are just a small sample of the areas each of which we should spend all our money on.
Tickell doesn't deal with these arguments at all. As with Stern, he simply picks Weitzman because the policy conclusion fits. Tickell then claims that spending $2tn annually on large-scale emissions cuts will provide the best insurance for mankind. But this ignores that investments in energy R&D will probably long-term cut 11 times more CO2. Moreover, if our goal is not just to cut CO2 but to help people and the planet, we can do even more good by focusing on simple solutions such as investing in nutrition, health and agricultural technologies. Instead of avoiding a couple of thousand extra malaria deaths in a century cases through expensive CO2 cuts, maybe we should avoid a million malaria deaths now through low-cost health policies.
Tickell's reply clearly shows what happens when policy drives the search for suitable facts. The IPCC is simply ignored, Stern is praised for his policy usefulness, Weitzman embraced irrespective of his analysis essentially leading to policy paralysis, driven by extreme and pervasive speculative risks. Not surprisingly, Tickell ends by saying – without a shred of evidence – that his policy would be the best solution, "even without the threat of global warming".
Not only does Tickell abandon his central claim of human extinction, but he also abandons his entire argument for his policy. Not much remains.

Mayor urged to act on London pollution to avoid EU fines

John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian,
Tuesday August 26 2008

Up to 320,000 people in London are already exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels above EU limits, according to the government. Photograph: Matthew Fearn/PA
High levels of air pollution in London have forced the government to seek an urgent meeting with the mayor, Boris Johnson, to avoid the risk of unlimited fines from Europe.
The air quality minister, Jonathan Shaw, has written to the mayor offering the expertise of officials at the Department for Environment. The letter, written last month and obtained under freedom of information laws, says that Britain plans to ask for an extension until June 2011 to meet its legal requirements.
Britain has been breaking EU air quality laws on particulate pollution for three years and in July the EU demanded a detailed plan of how it will comply.
In addition, the new EU air quality directive will force the UK to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution on some of the capital's busiest streets by more than a third by the end of 2009, in order to move towards World Health Organisation guidelines. If air quality improvements are not achieved quickly, the UK could be taken to the European court. The court has powers to impose unlimited fines.
"The objective was due to be met in 2005 but in recognition that nearly all member states are finding this very challenging ... [the government] intends to apply for this compliance flexibility," Shaw wrote. "My officials wish to work with your officials. We should not underestimate the scale of the task and we will also need to develop further national as well as local measures."
Air pollution in big cities is worsening as motorists switch from petrol to diesel to save fuel. Particulate pollution from diesel engines is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and asthma. Air pollution causes an estimated 32,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and between 157,000 and 319,000 people in London are exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels above EU limits, the government says.
"The government has been aware of the problem since 1999 but has taken no action," said Simon Birkett, who chairs the Campaign for Clean Air in London. "These obligations can only be met if long overdue action is taken now."
However, the government is in difficult political territory because taking such action will depend on Conservative party cooperation and the backing of Johnson, who in the three months since he was elected has threatened to ditch several measures that have improved air quality, including the western extension of the congestion charge and twice yearly taxi checks.
In addition, he is backing the expansion of London City airport and considering a road bridge over the Thames in east London, both of which would worsen pollution in the capital.
It is expected that London will have to introduce additional low emission zones with tighter standards than the existing zone, which covers only large vehicles, and could also demand that vehicles fit pollution abatement equipment.
It will also be challenging for the government to meet the EU target for nitrogen dioxide. Average annual concentrations in parts of central London are more than double the standard set in 1999, which became law earlier this year and requires compliance within 16 months.
The mayor's office said he was fully committed to working with the government. "He is also working, through Transport for London, to cut emissions from transport through a shift to walking and cycling and the use of new technology. He has committed £1m for the development of less polluting taxis, while by 2012 all new buses on the streets will have lower emission hybrid engines."

Carmakers failing to achieve CO2 cuts

· Activists say some MEPs influenced by industry · Targets 'like banning non-smokers from smoking'
David Gow in Brussels
The Guardian,
Tuesday August 26 2008

Europe's motor industry is still a long way from meeting EU targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions from new cars and governments must increase pressure on carmakers to comply, green transport campaigners warned yesterday.
Transport & Environment (T&E), a pan-European lobby group, accused the industry of fighting tooth and nail - with government support - to water down the proposed EU emission limits.
T&E said the 14 top carmakers in the European market still had to cut engine emissions by 17% to reach the EU's 2012 target of 130 grams a kilometre.
Its new study, which is based on official data supplied to the European commission, provides scant evidence that European consumers are switching en masse to low-emission, more fuel-efficient cars.
However, Jos Dings, T&E director, said that some manufacturers were showing signs of responding to the threat of increased regulation, with German carmaker BMW cutting emissions from its fleet by an average 7.3% in 2007 through its "efficient dynamics" programme.
"With the threat of legislation looming, BMW has shown that even premium carmakers can seriously reduce CO2. But the slow response of most carmakers shows that the EU needs to keep up the pressure with challenging long-term CO2 targets," Dings said. T&E wants an emissions target of 80g/km for all new cars by 2020 against the 158g achieved last year. In its drive to make the EU the world's first low-carbon economy, the commission has proposed that CO2 emissions from new cars be cut to 130g/km by 2012, with a further 10g reduction to come from alternative fuels. Targets for carmakers vary according to the weight of the average vehicle produced.
Carbon emissions from transport in the EU increased by 35% between 1990 and 2006 and account for 28% of all emissions with cars responsible for half of these.
But after ferocious lobbying from the German car industry, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, struck a deal this summer with French president Nicolas Sarkozy for the target reductions in car emissions to be phased in until 2015. They also agreed to water down the penalties for breaching the emissions limit.
Urging EU governments to retain the targets and penalties, Dings said: "German carmakers want CO2 targets to apply only to the cleanest cars in the early years. It's like demanding that smoking ban should apply initially only to non-smokers."
The T&E figures, which are the most up-to-date, show French groups Peugeot-Citroën and Renault closest to reaching the proposed limits but still falling 10% and 14% short respectively, with Italy's Fiat close behind. Three Japanese firms - Nissan, Mazda and Suzuki - are among the four with the biggest gap to make up.
The T&E findings are published before debates on the legislation in European parliament's industry and environment committees next month. The auto industry lobby had drafted the amendments tabled by sympathetic MEPs, Dings said.
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP and environment committee member, said the T&E figures were "disastrous" and accused other MEPs and governments of blocking at every turn efforts to impose more ambitious targets.

BMW cars became more fuel efficient last year

The Associated Press
Published: August 26, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium: BMW AG cars made more progress in reducing vehicle fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions than any other carmaker last year, an environmental group said Monday.
But Transport & Environment, an independent European group campaigning for cleaner modes of transport, warned that the German luxury automaker and the car industry overall are still a long way from a proposed EU target to cut the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by cars.
Emissions from road transport are rising across Europe as more people drive longer distances and buy heavier cars that are safer but burn more fuel.
Eager to reduce the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the European Commission wants all carmakers to have average emissions of no more than 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer by 2012 — and no more than 95 grams in 2015.
Carmakers complain this is too much too fast and say governments could tempt customers to buy cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars by reducing taxes on those vehicles.

But Transport & Environment said BMW's efforts showed that companies can make serious reductions if they are threatened with regulation.
"The slow response of most carmakers shows that the EU needs to keep up the pressure with challenging, long-term CO2 targets," said Transport & Environment's director, Jos Dings.
The report blamed the rising weight of cars for small reductions in emissions. The average car gained 10 kilograms (22 pounds) last year, it said. Heavier cars need more fuel to move.
It said BMW cut greenhouse gas emissions faster that its competitors, with BMW's emissions down 7.3 percent last year from 2006.
The company, the world's biggest maker of luxury cars, reported average emissions of 170 grams per kilometer — still far off the EU target and a long way from the best performing carmaker, France's PSA Peugeot Citroen, which has an average of 141 grams per kilometer.
Rival Daimler AG — which makes Mercedes-Benz cars — has not improved fuel efficiency over the past two years, the report said.
BMW and other German car makers, supported by the French and German governments, have been lobbying hard against the planned EU law. They want to exclude heavier — and less fuel-efficient — vehicles from stricter limits until 2015.
Transport & Environment based their figures on European Commission data for 18 of the EU's 27 nations last year. Information for the nine other countries — all of them in eastern Europe represents just 6 percent of total EU sales, it said.
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Electric cars power ahead in Japan

By Jonathan Soble in Tokyo
Published: August 26 2008 03:00

Japan is preparing for the arrival of plug-in electric cars next year with plans to build hundreds of "quick recharge" power stations and other infrastructure to accommodate the vehicles.
Drivers in Japan will be the first in the world to be offered battery-powered cars by large carmakers. The transport and power system upgrades, which are supported by the government, carmakers and electricity utilities, are designed to promote rapid adoption by easing concerns about the cars' convenience and driving range.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the utility group that supplies Japan's capital region, said it had developed a recharging device that could provide enough power in a five-minute stop to drive a small electric car 40km - a big advance over current experimental systems. A 10-minute charge delivered 60km worth of power, it said.
The company, a big promoter of electric cars, has been testing the Y4m ($36,500) device with Mitsubishi Motors and Subaru - which will roll out the first plug-in cars in 2009 and 2010 - and hopes to install it in supermarkets and other public places.
"We got involved in electric cars to try to sell electricity at night," Tepco said, noting that most drivers would recharge their cars at home during the utility's off-peak hours using regular power sockets. "But it has become a way to contribute to society."
Kanagawa prefecture, the region adjoining Tokyo, has committed to providing 150 of the quick-recharge stations as part of an effort to put at least 3,000 electric vehicles on its roads within five years.
The national government is backing the technology. Next month it will begin accepting applications from cities and towns wishing to become "model districts" for next-generation vehicle infra-structure, a programme that will involve installing power outlets at paycar parks, supermarkets and restaurant chains for drivers to use free of charge.
The government also plans to encourage private enterprise to offer discount rates to electric vehicle drivers on everything from parking to insurance and loans. It is pushing Japan Post, the recently privatised postal service, to convert its fleet of 21,000 delivery vehicles to electric cars.
Yasuo Fukuda, the prime minister, wants half of any new cars sold by 2020 to be pow-ered by non-petrol sources. Japan pledged at this year's G8 summit to cut overall carbon dioxide emissions by 60-80 per cent by 2050.
Mitsubishi plans to offer the MiEV, a small five-door electric hatchback, for commercial sale next year, while Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, is to introduce its two-door R1e electric microcar soon after.
The Nissan-Renault alliance is planning an electric car for Japan and the US in 2010 while Toyota is working on a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid to go on sale the same year.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Toyota Raises Hybrid Prices in Japan To Offset Higher Steel, Material Costs

Associated PressAugust 25, 2008 2:55 a.m.

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. is raising the prices in Japan for the Prius and Harrier hybrids in response to the soaring cost of steel and other raw materials -- the first increase in the country without a model makeover in three decades.
Speculation had been rife that Japan's top auto maker would raise some domestic prices soon, and Toyota has acknowledged that as risky because the domestic market is already sluggish.
The new suggested retail prices, announced Monday, show an average increase of 3% for the two gas-electric hybrid models, and an average 2% of several commercial vehicles.
Starting next month, the Prius basic S model will go up by ¥73,500 ($671) to ¥2.38 million ($21,625). The Harrier Hybrid Premium S Package will go up by ¥136,500 to about ¥4.76 million, Toyota said in a release.
Other Japanese auto makers may follow. With steel prices surging, Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn has hinted he is waiting for its bigger rival to take the lead to make it easier for others to raise their prices, too.
Toyota said it has struggled to keep prices down with cost cuts, but material costs are expected to stay high for some time. "Recent further price increases in raw materials have been larger than [Toyota's] cost reduction efforts are able to offset," it said.
Like other auto makers, Toyota has raised its U.S. prices without major model changes previously. The last time Toyota raised prices on Japan models was in 1974, by 10%, in the wake of the first oil shock. It also increased prices in 1973, by 7%, as well as on its commercial vehicles such as trucks and vans in 1992. Otherwise, Toyota hasn't raised prices in Japan except for remodeling in which improved features are added.
Toyota has averted some of the serious troubles of its U.S. rivals General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. But the Japanese car maker is struggling to fight skyrocketing energy prices, the crunch of material costs and fears of stagnation on global markets.
Toyota, which also makes Lexus luxury models and the Camry sedan, reported a 28% drop in its April-June quarterly net income. It is forecasting its first full-year profit decline in seven years as it faces more problems from the weakening U.S. market.
Copyright © 2008 Associated Press