Thursday, 18 September 2008

Make it sexy, make it enticing

In the battle against climate change there are two options: all-out attack or siege mentality. Let's combine the two, argues Damian Carrington

Damian Carrington
The Guardian,
Thursday September 18 2008

When an army confronts a heavily defended enemy, it has two options: a full-frontal attack or a siege. In the ­battle against climate change and its cause - the deeply entrenched ­profligacy with which the world uses its fossil-fuel derived energy - there is a similar choice.
The all-out attacks are mega-schemes to convert the Sahara into a giant solar energy farm, or supergrids ­connecting renewable energy plants across ­continents. These are ­dazzling, flashy proposals and gain much ­attention. ­Global geo-engineering plans are even more pulse-quickening, aimed as they are at changing the reflectivity of the entire planet. A ­million space mirrors? Glitzy.
Yet such spectacular attacks are high risk, easily turning into crashing, ­expensive failures. Sieges, dull and monotonous, are the wise general's choice. And in the context of carbon dioxide emissions, the siege strategy equates to energy efficiency. That means switching stuff off, or building it to use less energy in the first place.
I know, that is not dazzling; it's dreary. And yet this death-by-a-­million-cuts approach is one of our greatest hopes of preventing ­catastrophic ­climate change. A 2007 McKinsey report found that even implementing only those energy efficiency measures that pay for themselves at sensible rates of return could reduce the energy needed in 2020 by about a quarter.
That would be halfway towards the emissions cuts that give a decent chance of limiting global warming to under 2C. A more homely example: if everyone in the UK bought the most efficient fridges, ­freezers and washing machines, the ­carbon saving would equal taking around 1.4 million cars off the road.
From a policy perspective, the ­remedy is clear: minimum energy efficiency standards. But witness the intense lobbying from the car industry in the face of modest European fuel efficiency standards, and how the idea of charging a lower rate of VAT on more fuel-efficient white goods got rapidly bogged down.
You can see the problem. ­Protesters are not going to take to the streets to demand more efficient fridges, but ­corporates will lob large sums at ­protecting a profitable status quo. Even last week's £1bn home energy efficiency programme from the ­government was driven by political fear, not global ­warming. The ­official press release - from Defra - made not a single mention of carbon dioxide or climate change.
There are glimmers of hope. ­Flagrantly wasteful incandescent bulbs are to become outlawed in some countries, with Australia leading the way. Japan's lack of domestic energy resources has forced it to tackle energy efficiency via impressive cultural change. Making it OK for salarymen to take off their jackets in the office means the air con can nudge up a couple of degrees.
And there are a decent number of ­efficiency ­standards in place from the US to Europe to China. But overall they are simply far too undemanding.So how can energy efficiency come, as it must, to dominate every ­domestic and industrial setting? To put it ­simply, it's got to be sexy. Frugality must give a frisson.
The CleanTech 100, with its ­electrochromic windows, magnetic fridges and plastic electronics, is a start. But what could be a more enticing ­challenge to the designers, ­technologists and other creatives out there? If you need any further ­inspiration, just think of that little red standby light as a tiny, burning planet. Over to you, to begin the world's first sexy siege.
· Damian Carrington is the Guardian's environment web editor

Positive energy

We've all changed our lightbulbs, so now what? The first Guardian/Library House CleanTech 100 surveys the companies taking us into the future. Alok Jha reports

Alok Jha, science correspondent
The Guardian,
Thursday September 18 2008

Stories about climate change are generally depressing: melting ice sheets, more intense hurricanes and species vanishing as humans steadily push up the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But out of the impending gloom has come the promise of technology to slow or even reverse some of the decline.
In its simplest form, clean (or green) technology is anything that helps consumers or industries to use basic materials such as energy, water and waste more efficiently and, while using it, lessen their environmental footprint. Unlike IT, biotech or telecommunications, there is no agreed definition of "cleantech" but it is a hot area, thanks to heightened awareness of climate change and the rising cost of fossil fuels.
And it is poised for a boom: according to the analysts Library House, venture capital investment in European cleantech companies went from £407m in 2006 to £805m last year. Ben Goldsmith of WHEB Ventures, an investment firm specialising in environmental businesses, says that globally the figures are even more impressive: "around $850m in 2004 against $6bn in 2007".
Clean technology represents more of a theme than a specific sector, says Patrick Sheehan, a partner at the Environmental Technologies Fund. He says that waves of investment in the arena have come and gone for more than 20 years, and identifies the most recent as starting with investors in the US, mainly those used to dealing with technological startups in Silicon Valley, around 2004.
Changing views
At the time, there was a debate among environmentalists on how to pitch the problem of climate change to the public. "There was a shift from the negative – we've got to stop climate change happening and it'll be a disaster and we've got to stop flying on holiday – to the positive – we can build a whole new industry around efficiency and a low-carbon economy," says Goldsmith.In Europe, governments were sympathetic to the green cause.
"Europe has a pretty rich heritage of environmental awareness and concern from Scandinavia downwards, and that's enabled legislators to begin to do something about it," says Sheehan. Mechanisms such as the EU's emissions trading scheme, which allows companies to trade permits to emit carbon dioxide as part of their work, have helped improve the economic viability of (generally more expensive) clean technologies.
Also key were the globetrotting efforts of Al Gore and the highly regarded economic analysis of the impacts of a warming world by Nicholas Stern in 2006. "In the space of the last two years, climate change has moved from the periphery to the mainstream and oil prices have become a major concern. Energy security has become a major issue and you've got, from Europe, a whole raft of legislation around these subjects," says Sheehan. Enter the investment funds. "There are those that see cleantech just as renewable energy," says Goldsmith.
"If you look at some of the large US west coast venture funds, who perhaps have their expertise in semiconductors and IT technologies, they can more easily move their focus to things like solar PV and the high-tech renewable energy stuff."
Linking the chain
Library House, in collaboration with the Carbon Trust, proposes the idea that cleantech can be divided into four parts along the energy chain: the discovery and development of new energy sources; generation of clean power; the infrastructure needed to store and distribute energy; and, finally, more efficient use of energy by consumers.
Much of the first part of the spectrum relates to biofuels. In most cases, this refers to biodiesel or bioethanol currently made from food crops such as corn, sugarcane and rapeseed – collectively known as first-generation biofuels. "Next-generation biofuels will be able to use a wider range of organic material or biomass including current waste material," says Richard White, a senior analyst at Library House.
"This will lead to a much greater yield of fuel per square metre of crop, and potentially the ability to grow biofuels where food crops would not grow, alleviating many of the criticisms associated with current biofuel."
The next part of the energy chain, developing cleaner energy sources, is probably the most familiar to those outside the cleantech world. This includes extraction of energy from renewable sources such as the wind, sun and sea. The British government has committed to source 15% of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2020; that's around 40% of the country's electricity.
The tide is high
Wind turbines are a relatively mature technology, with several gigawatts of farms in planning stages around the UK. In addition, the country has high hopes for tidal power – experts estimate there could be up to 15GW of reliable power waiting to be harvested, and the Carbon Trust estimates that the global opportunities in the field could be up to £600bn. "For the UK, the group of wet renewables – offshore wind, tidal stream and wave – are where the UK can have a global leadership role," said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK.
Solar power is one of the most established clean technology industries, but efficiency and manufacturing costs need to improve. Current solar panels rely on relatively expensive silicon chips but cutting-edge research includes work on ways to concentrate light, applying thin films of light absorbers to flexible surfaces and using nanotechnology to manipulate materials so that they can better harness the energy from the sun.
Energy storage is also key when increasing amounts of power are generated from intermittent sources. "When energy is produced and not required, it can be stored and released in periods of high demand or when the sun is not shining," said White.
Further along the chain, better distribution and management of energy – the "smart grid" ­­– will lead to more efficiency. "The smart grid allows energy generators (power stations, solar farms) and consuming loads (your kettle, TV, etc) to interact with each other in real time, in both directions, with the aid of modern communications technology," says White.
At end of the energy chain are developments based on more efficient use of power. These range from better insulation for buildings, through more efficient electronics in appliances, to improved monitoring of energy, using smart meters. "Some of the companies in this field may be semiconductor companies at heart, but their developments have the potential for huge energy savings, giving them cleantech credentials," said White.
"Common devices such as televisions, lighting, fridges and computers all contribute significantly to energy use, and there is significant room for innovation to curb consumption in these areas." Greener transport (electric cars, fuel cells and other hybrids) also falls into this final bracket.
Broad spectrum
Besides the spectrum outlined by Library House, Goldsmith adds the efficient use of other resources such as technologies to handle the re-use of waste, water efficiency, pipelines and agricultural water use. "Cleantech is learning to live within the resources of the planet," he says.
But it will not all be plain sailing for the new climate-saving industries. Big projects can be hamstrung by local problems – such as wind farms in the UK held up for up to a decade by planning and grid connection hassles. And carbon-intensive markets also lack pull for new, green technologies.
"We can't generalise from IT, mobiles and so on, where they were offering new functionality in an essentially unregulated area, and translate that over to energy where there are incumbents who have been performing these functions as cheaply as they can in a market driven by cost," said Parr. "It's going to need some political drive and will to re-arrange the deckchairs so that new technologies are in with a shout."
Sheehan reckons it will take only a few years for clean technology to make up the largest chunk of the investors' money. "We're at the early stages of some profound changes and there will be some new technologies that will surprise people... I've been in venture capital since 1985 and where we are now in cleantech reminds me of where we were in the IT sector in the early 1990s: at the start of a very long growth period."

Higher prices for Alkane Energy

By David Blackwell
Published: September 18 2008 03:00

Alkane Energy, which generates electricity from the methane that seeps from old coal mines, said its prospects were encouraging after signing forward contracts at "substantially higher prices".
The latest contracts are at between £73 and £81 per megawatt hour, compared with the average in the first half of £46 per megawatt hour.
Pre-tax profits for the six months to June 30 rose from £337,000 to £543,000 on revenues up from £2.4m to £2.6m. The company said it had installed a further 2.9 megawatts of generating capacity, taking the total installed capacity to 20 megawatts. It had generated a record 43,000 megawatt hours in the half and sold 5m cubic metres of coal mine methane.
Earnings per share rose from 0.34 to 0.57p, and there is no dividend. The shares, which fell to a 12-month low of 15p earlier this year, closed up ½p at 19p.
David Blackwell
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

We need an expensive miracle

Any notion that renewables can provide for all our requirements is a mischievous and reckless boast that will leave us in the dark, says Ian Fells

Professor Ian Fells
The Guardian,
Thursday September 18 2008

Two imperatives point to the urgent development of renewable energy: security of supply and controlling climate change.
Much the largest source of renewable energy is hydroelectric power, which provides 17% of world electricity (and 6% of world energy), about the same as nuclear power; both are CO2-free. All the other renewables - wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass (which are either CO2-free or CO-neutral) - hardly feature in the statistics at the present time.
In a desperate attempt to reduce dependence on the twin energy drugs of oil and gas, huge efforts are being made worldwide to develop renewable sources of energy, and the EU is committed to reaching a target of 20% renewable energy by 2020, which implies 35% to 40% renewable electricity.
The UK is third from the bottom in the EU league table, just above Luxembourg and Malta, at 1.3% (the UK's 2020 target is 15%). Sweden gets a remarkable 40% of its energy from renewables.
This form of energy is frequently invoked by the green lobby as being the only way ahead for electricity supply, providing all that we need. This must be a case of "Omne ignotum pro magnifico est" ("That which is unknown is assumed to have great potential", to quote Tacitus).
But engineers do know a great deal about renewable energy: first and foremost, it is expensive, and is only being developed commercially because of the provision of subsidies of various kinds. This amounted to £1bn last year and will gross up to more than 20 times this figure by 2020, according to the UK's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. But this is currently seen as a necessary and acceptable cost for peace of mind in the fight to contain climate change, although the size of the subsidy is not always appreciated.
A recent report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggested that the payback time for solar panels is more than 100 years. Of course, as technologies mature and production gets under way, costs come down - but not always low enough to compete with hydro and nuclear. But they play a vital role in providing a source of CO2-free energy as part of the climate control portfolio of technologies.
Solar energy is ubiquitous and gaining ground in niche markets but is also beginning to penetrate the bulk electricity market. High feed-in tariffs have allowed Germany to achieve its target of getting 100,000 roofs with solar panels generating 300 MW, a project that started in 1999 and finished in 2003.
Wind power onshore has been successful because of marketing subsidies (the Renawables Obligation Certificates, which power generators pay to renewables operators); but even after 15 years it only provides the equivalent output of half a typical gas or nuclear station. The potential for more growth offshore is high; indeed, the government is relying on it, but someone will have to pay to hook the wind farms up to the grid. Wave and tidal stream systems are in their infancy but growing.
The only large-scale supplier of renewable electricity would be the Severn Barrage, which is based on the proven technology demonstrated at the Rance barrage in Brittany, which has operated successfully for 40 years. It could provide 5% of UK electricity at a capital cost of £1.7m per installed MW - about half of the cost of offshore wind farms.
If a low-cost technology for storing renewable electricity could be found, it would solve the problems of intermittent wind and lack of night-time solar. A great deal of ingenuity is being brought to bear to increase renewable energy production and it is being steadily successful. But if we are to get to 15% renewable energy by 2020 it will be an expensive miracle. Any notion that renewables can provide for all our requirements is a mischievous and reckless boast that will leave us in the dark.
· Ian Fells is emeritus professor of energy conversion at Newcastle University and founding chairman of the New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) at Blyth, Northumberland. He is co-author of A Pragmatic Energy Policy: A route map to energy survival for the UK.

Berkeley, California approves city-backed solar loans

Elana Schor in Washington,
Thursday September 18 2008 03:16 BST

The California city of Berkeley has approved a new financing scheme for loans to homeowners who install rooftop solar panels, a landmark programme that could inspire other US cities to follow suit.
The Berkeley scheme would finance city-backed solar loans through a small addition to the property taxes of each participating home, eliminating the need to find up-front cash to install panels that can cost the average American upwards of $30,000.
Using property taxes to repay the solar loan also would ensure that home values rise to reflect the addition of energy-efficient technology. If a home sells before its solar loan is fully repaid, its new owner would take over the loan repayments – as well as the electricity savings.
"It's made renewables and efficiency go from something that's a good idea, but you're paying for it … to you paying over time and getting rewarded with added property value," Daniel Kammen, a professor in the energy and resources group at the University of California in Berkeley, said.
"How many of us would have cell phones if you had to pay for 20 years of minutes up front?"
Kammen has helped the city develop the unique solar financing, which he described as a major boost to California's target of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
The professor is also a senior environmental aide to Barack Obama, making the Berkeley loan programme a compelling model for future clean energy policy on a nationwide scale.
The city council approved the scheme in a vote late Tuesday. The next step for Berkeley is to line up a source of capital to begin offering the loans, which are expected to have a 20-year life and be repaid by a $180 monthly property tax increase.
Many US cities finance urban improvements by asking homeowners to absorb the cost of new local sewers, roads and schools through their tax bills. Berkeley is the first to harness that method to make clean energy more affordable on a mass scale.
Several US states, including New York and Connecticut, also offer interest rate reductions for solar-panel installation loans through government-sponsored entities. The Berkeley system aims to make that capital easier to tap into and repay.
City officials are expected to begin with 50 homeowners and expand their solar programme over time. Mayor Tom Bates told the New York Times yesterday that more than a dozen other cities have called him to seek advice on implementing the loan programme.
One roadblock to expansion of the solar loans across America may be the shaky financial health of some US cities. Berkeley has a strong enough credit rating to issue municipal bonds to finance the initial cost of the programme, Kammen said.

Hutton waves the flag for nuclear expansion

John Hutton, the business secretary, will step up the government's support for nuclear energy today by saying that new reactors will be "absolutely indispensable" for keeping the nation's lights on. Hutton will tell the first meeting of the Nuclear Development Forum advisory group that 100,000 jobs could be created and £20bn of private sector investment secured. "I'm determined ... to get nuclear built at the earliest opportunity, not only because it's a no-brainer for our energy security, but also because it's good for ... our economy. Insecure international sources of energy underline the case for a diverse mix."

Google and GE in energy alliance

By Richard Waters in San Francisco
Published: September 18 2008 00:09

Google and General Electric on Wednesday announced an unusual alliance to promote greater use of renewable energy in the US.
The internet and manufacturing groups said they would combine some of their lobbying muscle in Washington and co-operate on technology projects where GE’s engineering and Google’s software could advance the use of renewables.

The alliance reflects a shared view that sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar power could quickly be used to meet a significant proportion of national energy demand.
“Clean energy is eminently doable, eminently solvable,” said Jeff Immelt, chief executive of GE.
Under Mr Immelt, GE set out three years ago to promote new “clean” technologies, under an initiative dubbed “Ecomagination”.
Mr Immelt acknowledged that the effort had drawn scepticism and suspicion from some quarters, particularly given GE’s involvement in many old, contaminated industrial locations.
But he said that sales of products and services that fell under the initiative had risen to $18bn a year, up from $4bn-$5bn at its launch.
Although less central to its current business, Google has been involved in a number of clean energy initiatives, from helping to launch a tech industry body to promote more energy-efficient data centres to commissioning the largest private US solar power system for its Silicon Valley headquarters and investing in alternative energy start-ups.
The companies said that the first fruits of the alliance would involve joint lobbying in Washington to promote an expansion of the US electricity transmission infrastructure to draw on more renewable energy sources.
They will also lobby jointly for the use of more information technology in the national electricity grid to enhance its efficiency, creating something known as a “smart grid”.
At a technology level, the companies said they would work together on projects to develop geothermal sources of energy and to optimise the use of electricity grids for plug-in electric vehicles.
The joint effort appeared to be timed to catch a new political direction in Washington, with both presidential candidates promoting greater investment in renewable energy technologies.
“There’s no such thing as a free market,” said Mr Immelt. “It needs a little catalyst for the government to say, ‘This is what we would like to see done,’ then the entrepreneurial dollars will flow to that.”
Mr Immelt stopped short of calling for extra financial incentives to foster renewable energy, but said there was a need for existing investment tax credits that expire at the end of this year to be renewed for a longer period.
The persistent uncertainty around the tax incentives, “causes immense volatility around the supply chain that makes the costs go up”, the GE boss said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


Trust calls on firms to be ‘carbon literate"

THE Carbon Trust wants businesses to go “back to school” to learn how to be “carbon literate” and learn how to reduce their energy usage.The call came as the latest figures from the trust for Scotland suggest it has saved Scottish businesses and the public sector £29 million in the past year and reduced emissions by a not to be sniffed at 277,000 tonnes.The Scottish arm of the trust said some 60 per cent of the savings had been made by businesses, with more than half of its clients being small and medium-sized enterprises.Across the UK, the trust said it had helped businesses save £1 billion in energy costs and cut emissions by 17 million tonnes since it was created in 2001. The trust said technology, such as biomass heat and marine energy projects, could save between 16.2 million and 23.3 million tonnes of carbon over the next decade.Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “We believe a move to a low-carbon world represents a vast commercial opportunity for businesses. With energy prices continuing to rise, the need for business to become ‘carbon literate’ is ever greater.” Classes begin on the trust’s website at

Arctic sea ice melting slows down, for now

Chris Irvine
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 17/09/2008

Arctic sea ice has melted at a slower rate compared to last year, but scientists warn it still shows a downward trend towards ice-free Arctic summers.
The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) says the ice covered 1.74 million sq miles at its lowest point on September 12.

Satellite image showing the state of Arctic sea ice on September 10th 2008
Last year's minimum was 1.6 million sq miles.This year's figures are nonetheless 33 per cent below the average summer ice cover in the Arctic since satellites began measuring it in 1979 and is less than 10 per cent above last year's all-time record low.
Temperatures have been lower in the Arctic this year than in 2007, largely because of La Nina conditions, which create a colder climate globally from their source in the Pacific.
Walt Meier, a research scientist at NSIDC, said: "I think this summer has been more remarkable than last year, in fact, because last year was had really optimal conditions to melt a lot of ice.
"We had clear skies with the Sun blazing down, we had warm temperatures, and winds that pushed the ice edge northwards.

"We didn't have any of this this year, and yet we still came within 10 per cent of the record; so people might be tempted to call it a recovery, but I don't think that's a good term, we're still on a downwards trend towards ice-free Arctic summers."
Last month NSIDC said that there was substantial ice melt in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast in the East Siberian Seas near Russia's east coast, home to one of the world's largest polar bear populations.
Because polar bears use sea ice floes as platforms for hunting seals, they are forced to swim longer distance when the ice melts, making them more likely to tire and drown.
Dr Meier added that last seven years are among the seven lowest on record in terms of Arctic sea ice.
He said: "That's a real indication that this isn't any kind of temporary climate cycle.
"It's more an indication that we're heading toward the point where we're going to have that sea ice completely melt in the coming decades or perhaps sooner."

Climate change could lead to a surge in Legionnaires' disease

Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 17/09/2008

Climate change could lead to a surge in cases of Legionnaires' disease, Government scientists have warned.
Arctic sea ice melting slower, for now
A study carried by the Health Protection Agency has found that higher temperatures and increases in humidity are linked with an increase in cases.

The study, one of the first of its kind in Europe, found that heatwaves corresponded to higher cases of the disease than periods of more stable weather.
The findings presented at the Health Protection Agency's annual conference at Warwick University found in 2006 - when temperatures reached 36.5 degrees (97.7F) - there were 551 reported cases and 52 deaths from legionnaires compared with 389 reported cases the previous year, which was cooler.
Kate Ricketts, a scientist specialising in Legionnaires' disease at the Agency's Centre for Infections, said: "In this study there appears to be an increase in cases following warm, humid periods; this was especially pronounced during the summer of 2006.
"The study suggests that the number of cases may be associated with the weather. It remains to be seen what impact the weather will have in the future.
There may be important implications for public health authorities if climate change leads to warmer temperatures."
The infection is known to show seasonal variation, with an increase in cases typically seen during August and September.
The peak in 2006 was thought to be linked to the unusually warm temperatures followed by wet periods that were experienced that year.
Also the cases were spread in small outbreaks and most were not linked to each other, suggesting the cases were linked to the weather and not a common source.
Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia, and on average one in 10 people with symptoms die.
It is a bacterial infection which affects the lungs, originating from water sources such as showers or spa pools and spreading through the air as an aerosol. Most people exposed to the bacteria do not fall ill and it cannot be spread from one person to another.
Symptoms include flu-like' illness with muscle aches, tiredness, headaches, dry cough and fever, leading on to pneumonia.
Sometimes diarrhoea occurs and confusion may develop. It can be most effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early.
Contaminated water sources are the most likely source of infection.
Legionnaires' disease can affect people of all ages but it mainly affects those over 50 years of age and tends to affect men more than women.

Shane Meadows directs government anti-climate change ad

Mark Sweney,
Wednesday September 17 2008 16:45 BST

Shane Meadows, the director of This Is England and Dead Man's Shoes, has directed a £6m TV ad campaign on climate change for the government.

The TV ad campaign, created by ad agency AMV BBDO, features a father confronted by an enormous energy bill who tries to get his family to switch off lights and appliances, reducing bills and cutting CO2 emissions as a result.
The TV campaign, part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs "Act on CO2" initiative, follows the launch of a £1bn government scheme last week to help consumers cut heating bills.
For Meadows the campaign follows developing the acclaimed Somers Town film in partnership with ad agency Mother and Eurostar, and a TV campaign for Asda.
"Apart from the fact that I really liked this campaign because it's funny and well written, I was also interested in making some films that might make a difference to the way people behave," said Meadows.
"I've no doubt about how serious the whole climate change issue is and no one can afford any longer to sit around and pretend it's not happening".
Statistics from the Energy Savings Trust's Act on CO2 advice line show that since the government launched the scheme late last week the number of calls has "more than quadrupled".
"Last week we set out assistance to help people cut their energy bills permanently," said the environment secretary, Hilary Benn. "We now need to do all we can to ensure they take up this help. This advertisement is part of that drive."

Leaked papers show Britain trying to weaken plan for EU carbon cuts

· Move would reduce efforts to cut domestic pollution · Greens attack 'empty rhetoric' on climate
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian,
Thursday September 18 2008

Britain is trying to weaken European proposals to make governments and companies cut their carbon emissions by 2020 to tackle global warming, the Guardian has learned. Leaked documents show Britain wants Brussels to offset more domestic carbon savings through investment in clean projects in the developing world.
The move would let firms and countries import more carbon credits to count against their pollution targets. It would allow Europe to make less effort to cut its pollution, while keeping it on course to meet an ambitious target of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020.
The government's own calculations show the proposed change would allow Europe to emit an extra billion tonnes of CO2 from 2013-2020.
The move was condemned last night by environment campaigners, who accused the UK of trying to undermine efforts to get European industry to reduce emissions.
Caroline Lucas, MEP and leader of the Green party, said: "The British government is trying to buy its way out of climate change targets using unreliable credits from abroad. It shows how much of the political talk on climate is empty rhetoric, when you have the UK talking up the need for action on one hand, and carrying out this kind of irresponsible climate vandalism on the other."
The change is described in a discussion paper prepared by the UK on possible amendments to the EU climate and energy package, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian. Dated August 8, the paper says: "There are many good reasons why we should support increased access to project credits," and says the contribution of credits from schemes such as the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM) should be "limited to 50% of absolute effort".
In other words, it wants to allow half of the targeted carbon savings to be achieved through imported credits. The original EC proposal set the limit at about a quarter.
The UK position is confirmed in a separate briefing note sent to MEPs earlier this month.
The credits would be bought using the CDM or similar carbon markets set up under the Kyoto protocol.
Projects in the developing world that save carbon, such as technology to generate electricity from renewable sources, generate carbon credits, can then be bought by companies and used to notionally reduce their own emissions.
Campaigners say the carbon credits are often unreliable and are no substitute for direct reductions. A US report earlier this year claimed between a third and two thirds of CDM credits did not reflect genuine carbon savings.
Keith Allott of WWF said: "Europe has a responsibility to help developing countries move onto a low-carbon pathway, but this cannot come at the expense of high emissions at home. We need to move beyond the idea of offset Europe."
The proposal is the latest UK attempt to weaken the EC environmental package, which faces critical votes in Brussels next month. In July, the Guardian revealed how Britain wanted to block attempts to give renewable electricity sources priority access to electricity grids. The UK has also targeted the pledge to generate 20% of EU energy from renewable sources, with an attempt to make the target voluntary and to count projects abroad.

Greening the dream that drives America

The Times
September 18, 2008
The US should put the same creativity that produced the car into tackling the energy crisis it has caused
Ben Macintyre

I write from a motel beside the I-95 Interstate in North Carolina. The throb of traffic is constant but not unpleasant, a low-level roar at the edge of the mind. From my room I can see the neon signs of three gas stations towering over the landscape like church spires drawing in the faithful.
A pickup truck pulls up outside in the parking lot: a Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin, a growling, bright-red monster with tinted windows and tyres a foot wide. Its red-white-and-blue bumper stickers proclaim: “Support our troops” and “Fayetteville: Home of the Brave”.
The driver, to my surprise, is not some hairy veteran with barbed-wire tattoos, but a diminutive middle-aged woman. After climbing down from the cab, she pats the car, as if it were a horse. American patriotic symbolism comes in many shapes, but one of the most potent is the star-spangled pickup truck - a pure expression of freedom, independence, money and power.
As cultural symbols go, the American car is quite young. The Model T Ford was built at the Piquette Plant in Michigan a century ago, with the first rolling off the assembly line on September 27, 1908. Only 11 cars were produced the next month. But eventually Henry Ford would build 15 million “tin lizzies” (“any colour, so long as it's black”).

Modern America was born on the road, behind a wheel. The car forged some of the most enduring elements of American culture: the roadside diner, the billboard, the motel, even the hamburger. For most of the last century, the automobile represented what it meant to be American: going forward at high speed to find new worlds. The road novel, the road movie, these are quintessential American ideas, born of abundant petrol, cheap cars and a never-ending interstate system, the largest public works project in history.
In 1928 Herbert Hoover imagined an America with “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”. Ford Motion Pictures, once the largest film producer in the world, churned out more than 3,000 movies extolling the thrill of driving. James Dean drove a Mercury, Steve McQueen a Mustang. Charger, Blazer, Javelin: the names reflected a society that hurtled onward, never looking back, as the car transformed America from a farm-based society into an industrial giant. The love affair continues. The US now has far more cars than garages. There are 204 million registered cars, trucks and SUVs, but only 191 million drivers.
The cars that drove the American Dream have helped to create a global ecological nightmare. Europe's appetite for oil has been restrained by high petrol taxes, small cars and more efficient public transport. In America, by contrast, demand for oil has grown by 22 per cent since 1990.
The extraordinary worldwide rise of the middle class and the demand for an American lifestyle, of which car ownership is a key component, has fuelled a staggering boom. By 2050, perhaps a decade earlier, China will have 130 million cars; Moscow's roads were built for 30,000 vehicles; the city now has three million; India is planning the mass-production of a four-seater car that will cost $2,500.
The horrors of excessive energy consumption (of which cars are only one part), associated climate change, dwindling biodiversity and population growth are detailed in Hot, Flat and Crowded, a new book by the American writer Thomas L. Friedman. As the title suggests, Friedman fears the worst, but unlike so many books about the changing environment he also hopes for the best. His book is not about hand-wringing, slowing economic growth, moral censure or a radical change in lifestyles, but about harnessing American expertise, ingenuity and cash to the next great industrial revolution - finding solutions to the energy crisis that make economic sense.
Friedman points out that the green economy is a huge investment opportunity, and a chance to reassert American national strength. “The ability to design, build and export green technologies for producing clean electrons, clean water, clean air and healthy and abundant food is going to be the currency of power in the Energy Climate Era - not the only one, but right up there with computers, microchips, information technologies and planes and tanks.”
The imperative here is avowedly patriotic: “Green is the new red, white and blue.” America, with its entrepreneurial capitalist systems, research universities and history of innovation is uniquely placed to win this race, and where America leads, he says, the rest of the world will follow.
Friedman's argument may sound Utopian, but its persuasiveness lies in the absence of hair-shirt rhetoric (“this is not about the whales any more; it is about us”). His vision is to capture the best of American ambition in a sort of Puritan renewal: “We are all sailing on the Mayflower anew.” America can be both rich and virtuous, by pouring imagination, energy and money into mass-produced technology that will improve daily life, while sustaining American primacy - the very ideas that motivated Henry Ford.
The woman in the red Adrenalin pickup happily guns her motor and heads for the I-95, the rumble of her engine merging into the blanket of fossil-fuelled noise on the interstate.
Weaning America from the motorcar is a cultural gear-change that will never happen. Environmental issues have hardly touched the US election. At the Republican convention, Rudy Giuliani led delegates in a chant of “Drill, Baby, Drill”.
Yet Friedman suggests that a new route is opening up by purusing American self-interest, harnessing the raw power of American patriotism and tackling “a great opportunity disguised as an insoluble problem”. The solution lies not in finger-pointing and self-flagellation, but in persuading America to solve a problem caused, in large part, by America and the great American automobile.
As Henry Ford remarked: “Don't find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.”