Thursday, 16 October 2008

Biofuels introduction to happen slower than planned

Last Updated: 2:01pm BST 15/10/2008

The introduction of biofuels into the UK fuel supply will happen more slowly than originally planned, new Government proposals reveal today.

The controversial fuels were due to make up 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010-2011, but concerns have been raised about their impact on the environment and the price of food.Under the new proposals, suppliers would not be required to source 5 per cent of transport fuels for UK vehicles from organic matter such as palm oil and sugar beet until 2013/2014.

The slowdown would be in line with the findings of the Gallagher Review, which warned current policies could cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings - for example if forests were cleared for crop plantations.
It also found that increasing demand for biofuels was contributing to rising food prices in the EU and in developing countries.
In the wake of the Government-commissioned review, the then Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly promised to "proceed cautiously" with the introduction of biofuels.
Under the proposals put out for consultation, the rate of increase of the renewable transport fuels obligation (RTFO) would slow to 0.5 per cent a year, rising from the current 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent over five years.
Transport Minister Lord Adonis also announced a further £6m for research by the Carbon Trust into developing more sustainable biofuel technologies - for example production which uses waste parts of plants such as the stalks of food crops.
He said: "Everyone agrees that to tackle climate change we must develop new and cleaner fuels. But we are clear that biofuels will only have a role to play in this if they are sustainably produced.
"That is why the Government commissioned Professor Gallagher to examine the indirect impacts of biofuels, and we have accepted his recommendation to amend but not abandon our approach."
Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said the Government should make sure only sustainable biofuels were supported.
And he urged: "The decision to retreat on biofuel targets should not be used as an excuse to back off from environmental commitments. The Government must cut carbon emissions elsewhere in transport."
Friends of the Earth also called for other measures to cut emissions from transport, warning the Government should not rely on the development of more sustainable second generation biofuels.
The organisation's biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said: "Second generation biofuels remain an unproven pipe dream. Ministers should be investing in measures that help Britons save on fuel and cut emissions now.
"[Transport Secretary] Geoff Hoon must push the EU to make car makers double the fuel efficiency of new cars."
"We need a new direction in transport based on smarter cars that burn less fuel, safer cycle routes and better public transport," he said.

The future is small

Electric cars may be the green dream, but it's the small petrol and diesel 'city' cars that are creating a buzz in the downturn, says Bibi van der Zee
Bibi van der Zee
The Guardian,
Thursday October 16 2008

Nissan's concept electric plug-in car, the NuVu. Photograph: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP
The Paris Motor Show is so dazzling, so enormous and so festooned with models, champagne bars and plasma screens that it almost convinces you that everything is marvellous. The car salesmen are all smiles and handshakes - but what they would really like to do is fall to their knees and plead with you. Buy our cars! Please!
The truth is that the motor industry is in freefall. In the UK, between September 2007 and September 2008, new numberplate registrations fell by 26%. In the US, the market is vanishing; manufacturers are looking to George Bush for a $25bn (£14.25bn) bailout. In Japan, Toyota's September sales fell from 213,042 in 2007 to 144,260 this year. China's car sales, after months of rapid growth, have slumped, and in Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany and India sales also fell: there is almost no one in the world, it seems, who feels that this is the right moment to buy a new car.
To make matters worse, the financial turbulence comes just as restrictions on carbon emissions are finally catching up with car makers. Of all industries, the car sector has been the slackest at reducing its CO2 levels. Attempts at self-regulation have failed and now the authorities are stepping in; the European Commission will shortly ratify new targets that will require car manufacturers to reduce emissions to an average of 130g per km.
Some companies, such as Peugeot, Renault and Fiat, seem likely to hit this target, but many will miss it, which means more fines, higher costs and prices rising again. Meanwhile, despite the recent fall in the price of fuel, motorists are still concerned by the issue of running costs. A tankful may be less this week, but who knows what will happen next week?
As a result, although most manufacturers are feeling the pinch, it is the makers of high-performance gas guzzlers who are suffering most: in August, sales of Porsches and Land Rovers fell by nearly 58%, and Chryslers by 66%.
However, sales of what are usually known as "city" cars have risen by 17%: consumers are going for the smallest, cheapest options. Smart cars, for example, have confounded the market with a 9% sales rise year-on-year. And although this is the sector of the industry with the narrowest profit margins, no one cares any more. At the Paris show, the real buzz is small.
Small comes in two forms. First, you have the electric plug-ins: Nissan's Nuvu, Renault's ZE Concept, Tang Hua's Chika, Ligier's X-Too and Chrysler's Zeo. These cars are everywhere at the show: boxy, cute and decorated with stencils of leaves and grass to emphasise their greenness.
For now, though, the infrastructure is not really in place for electric cars, so many of them will probably stay at the concept stage. As Ben Lane of What Green Car says: "The problem is that you need to get to an electric point to power up. Once you have limited the range of the car, and also limited its size, most car manufacturers are not convinced the market is really there."
The serious buzz in Paris is around small petrol and diesel cars that are already in production. Perhaps mindful of consumer eco-fatigue, "blue" is the new "green" here; Peugeot has introduced Blue Lion branding to make its green cars easier to identify, Mercedes is pushing its C200 CDI Blue Efficiency, Volkswagen is extremely proud of its Polo 1.4 Bluemotion, and Hyundai is showing off a new range called the i-Blue.
Hyundai has been taken aback by the popularity of its little i30 (119g/km), which has a waiting list, and at the show it launched an even greener version, the i10, which will emit 99g/km. The Peugeot 107 (109g/km) looks likely to be the bestselling low-emissions car of 2008 in the UK, while Nissan, which is in danger of drastically missing the EU emissions targets in 2010, is pinning its hopes on the new Pixo (103g/km). Mini is showing its latest Cooper (104g/km), Citroen has the new snappy-looking Citroen C3 (115g/km) and Daihatsu produces my personal favourite of the show, the boxy, funky Trevis (114g/km).
Might small cars be the future? For the past few years the race has been to get emissions below the magical 100g/km, but now at least four manufacturers have broken through the barrier, with the Smart Fortwo hitting 88g/km. All over the show, next to the neat-bellied city cars, the big saloons begin to look oddly lumbering and old-fashioned. Not only are these cars tying the hands of the manufacturers - the cost of getting the emissions of a saloon below 130g/km will be considerably larger than the cost for a small car - but they are not selling.
At the Audi stand, I ask one of the salespeople why the company is still showcasing a large car, unlike almost every other stand. He juts his chin out and says defiantly: "That's Audi's business, big cars. That's what we do." He doesn't look very happy about it though.

'Black silicon' boosts solar cell efficiency

Rough surface means black silicon traps wide range of light frequencies, says company after decade of development
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent,
Wednesday October 15 2008 17.38 BST

An ultra-sensitive form of the silicon used in most solar panels may soon help to harness the near limitless power of the sun. Thanks to an extremely rough surface, "black silicon" can absorb more light and can also trap a wider range of frequencies, including infra-red rays, that normally pass straight through standard silicon.
Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University, discovered black silicon by accident in his laboratory in 1998 when one of his research team blasted normal silicon with a very short laser pulse. Almost a decade later, the company created to commercialise his work, SiOnyx, has announced the production of the first commercial-grade wafers.
While producing electricity from the sun's rays has enormous potential, the industry has been hampered by the high cost of silicon wafers. Research teams around the world have been hunting for ways to bring down costs by improving the efficiency of solar cells.
Mazur said that photovoltaic (PV) cells using black silicon would significantly increase the efficiency of modern panels, the majority of which only convert around 8% of the energy falling on them into electricity. The very best convert around 20%. He said that a black silicon wafer could approach the theoretical limit of converting around 30%-40% of the energy falling on it into electricity.
Daniel Davies, chief technology officer at the PV manufacturer Solarcentury, said there were two potential areas for development in solar cells: getting more out of conventional crystals of silicon and the high-volume manufacture of thin film PV.
"SiOnyx sounds like an interesting method of increasing the efficiency of conventional crystalline PV," he said. "If this can be easily integrated into the cell processing that already exists then the potential to increase the global manufacturing capacity with a relatively low level of intervention is very exciting."
Making textured surfaces on silicon is already possible, notes Keith Barnham, a physicist at Imperial College London who works on PV cells. "What's important is if this [technique] helps the light absorption so that you can get away with thinner cells. There has been a silicon shortage and the price is not coming down, so the less you use of it the better. With good light-trapping, which is what these can do, you can hope to get higher efficiency in a much thinner cell."
The rough surface of black silicon allows it absorb light from many different angles, producing an electrical response to light that is 500 times greater than normal silicon. Another advantage is that black silicon can absorb infra-red radiation, which makes up around a quarter of the energy coming from the sun and which normally passes through silicon panels. As well as PV cells, it could improve the performance of any device that uses silicon to detect low levels of light, such as night vision goggles, medical imaging equipment, surveillance satellites and even digital cameras.
"We've been completely stealth, there hasn't been anything published about the company since its founding. We wanted to make sure we could scale the technology into a commercial foundry," said Steve Saylor, chief executive of SiOnyx. "The recent success in doing that is why we've started to introduce the company."
More than $11m (£6.3m) of venture capital has been invested so far in the Massachusetts-based SiOnyx. Mazur said the most recent work has shown that additional cost of making black, as opposed to standard, silicon wafers was marginal. "We were in a standard silicon foundry and there was no modification required to it."
Greenpeace's chief scientist Doug Parr expressed a note of caution: "The challenge [for solar] is cheap mass production and a widespread application of the technology. Many apparent breakthroughs fall at this hurdle, but we hope that black silicon can get to the next stage."
Mazur said his discovery of black silicon was serendipitous: "We were doing research on the chemical reactions on metal surfaces and, on a hunch, I said let's look at semiconductors, without a clear plan."
One of his research team fired short pulses of laser light at a piece of silicon wafer in the presence of the gas sulphur hexafluoride. When Mazur examined the resulting black silicon under a high-powered microscope, he found the surface was covered in a forest of short spikes.

Tesla pushes back production of all-electric sedan

The Associated Press
Published: October 15, 2008

NEW YORK: Tesla Motors Inc. said Wednesday that it will scale back the development of its all-electric Model S sedan until its Department of Energy loan guarantee becomes effective, citing the tough economic environment.
The move is expected to push back production of the vehicle, set to be unveiled early next year, by about six months to mid-2011, Elon Musk, the electric car maker's chairman and product architect, said in his company blog.
In addition, Musk said he will become Tesla's chief executive, replacing Ze'ev Drori, who will remain on Tesla's board as its vice chairman.
Musk said in the blog that as a result of the ongoing upheaval in the financial world, Tesla has decided to focus on area that are producing revenue: the production of its Roadster sports car and powertrain sales to other automakers.
He said demand for the $109,000 Roadster continues to grow despite the ongoing industrywide slump in vehicle demand, while the powertrain business is profitable and growing.

Musk said Tesla remains committed to the Model S, whose $60,000 price tag would appeal to more buyers, but the company will reduce activity on production engineering, tooling and supplier commitments until the loan guarantee comes through.
"The DOE loan guarantee will cover most of the Model S program at a very low cost of capital compared with raising equity financing in what could quaintly be described as a 'bear market,'" Musk wrote.
He said the funding can only be drawn down after the company receives environmental approval for its new San Jose, California, headquarters, which should happen in the second quarter of next year.
Musk said Tesla also will reduce its work force, both as a result of increased job performance standards and as part of a consolidation that will move engineering activities to the San Jose headquarters and close its Rochester Hills, Michigan, office.
Musk did not specify how many jobs the company plans to eliminate.

Top cars to cut your carbon 'tyreprint' - Lists

Published Date: 16 October 2008

WITH running costs rising and road tax now closely linked to engine emissions, choosing a car which minimises environmental impact while remaining practical and fun is not always a straightforward task.
However, help is at hand with the publication today of a guide to greener driving. The consumer group Which? has named Ford's latest supermini as the car of choice for drivers seeking to cut motoring costs. The Fiesta Econetic, which goes on sale at the end of the year, has won three accolades in the Which? guide – best value, lowest annual fuel bills and zero road tax. The new Fiesta range was also rated second to the Kia Cee'd as greenest in the £10,000-£15,000 price category.Ford's Focus range also fared well, being chosen as greenest in the £15,000-£20,000 category, and the greenest choice for a family of four, beating the Toyota Prius.The Fiesta Econetic produces 98g/km of , pipping the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion, the previous front-runner, by 1g.Which? said the Econetic had "superb official economy stats and very low emissions".However, the group said its tests on available models put the Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet, Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D and VW Polo BlueMotion 1 as best for overall economy, at 60.1 mpg.The group said its top ten cars in this category were all diesels and advised high-mileage drivers they would save money by switching to diesel, despite the higher purchase cost compared to petrol models.Richard Headland, the guide's editor, said: "It's a win-win situation. Choosing a greener car will reduce your carbon tyreprint, cost less in road tax and you'll save money every time you fill up your car."

BEST OVERALL ECONOMY1= Fiat Panda 1.3 M'jet, Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D, VW Polo BlueMotion: 60.1mpg 2 Mini Clubman 1.6D: 58.8 mpg 3= Audi A3 1.9 TDIe, Mazda2 1.4D, VW Golf BlueMotion: 57.7mpg

BEST MOTORWAY ECONOMY1= Audi A3 1.9TDIe; Mini Clubman 1.6D Cooper; 54.3mpg 2 Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi 90: 52.3mpg 3 VW Golf BlueMotion: 51.4mpg 4 Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet: 50.4mpg

BEST TOWN ECONOMY1 Toyota Prius: 72.4mpg 2= Fiat 500 1.3 Multijet, Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D, VW Polo BlueMotion 1: 54.3mpg 3 Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet: 53.3mpg

CHEAPEST COMPANY CAR TAX (20 per cent taxpayer)1 Kia Picanto 1.0 5dr: £118 2 Hyundai i10 1.1 Classic: £130 3 Smart ForTwo 1.0: £136 4 Toyota Aygo 1.0 VVT-i 3dr: £138 5 Fiat Panda 1.3 Dynamic: £140

BEST FOR FAMILY OF FOUR1 Ford Focus2 Toyota Prius 3 Audi A3 4 Kia Cee'd 5 VW Golf BlueMotion

MOST FUN TO DRIVE1 Mini2 BMW 1 Series 3 Mazda24 Renault Clio 5 Ford Focus

BEST FOR A FAMILY OF FIVE OR MORE1 VW Golf Plus 2 Citroën C4 Grand Picasso 3 Seat Altea XL4 Renault Grand Modus5 Fiat Doblo

BEST VALUE1 Ford Fiesta Econetic2 Suzuki Splash3 Kia Cee'd4= Citroën C1; Peugeot 107; Toyota Aygo

BEST FOR COUPLES1 BMW 1 Series2 Audi A3 Cabriolet3 Mini Clubman4 Peugeot 207 CC5 Ford Fiesta

Green Christmas more likely than a white Christmas

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:01pm BST 15/10/2008

Christmas will be green, rather than white this year as changes in the climate mean that leaves are staying on the trees right into the winter.

In the 1940s traditional English trees used to shed their leaves in early November.

Tree are likely to keep their greenery well into December
But now they are keeping their greenery well into December.Dr Tim Sparks, a climate change specialist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that warmer autumn weather mean that trees are experiencing fresh growth later in the year.He said there were also fewer frosts, which kill off green growth in the winter months.
The warmer winter months mean children have little hope of seeing snow on Christmas day.
Dr Sparks said: "I would put money on a green Christmas rather than a white Christmas this year."
He said that in the 1930s and 40s the traditional English oak trees shed their leaves between 4th and 21st November but in the last eight years the trees have lost their leaves between 23rd November and 13th December.

And he added that surveys showed people were cutting their laws right up until Bonfire Night, with some having to mow right through the winter to keep gardens under control.
He said: "Because the temperatures are remaining up there's still lots of activity and growth. Lawns are still growing and people are still mowing, and the trees are unseasonably green."
Dr Sparks, who studies climate change at the government environment research centre in Cambridgeshire, said autumns in Britain are warmer and sunnier than in the past. He said temperatures for October/November have gone up by around 2.1ºF (1.2ºC) since 1914 while sunshine has increased by 10 per cent.
Dr Sparks said: "Things are growing for longer and it looks like we are going to get a good display of autumn colour because temperatures are up and we are getting good sunshine levels.
"We could even have a green Christmas this year, we just have to wait and see and enjoy the weather while we can."

Climate change measures 'could be watered down due to financial crisis'

European commitments to tackle climate change could be watered down due to the financial crisis.

By Jon Swaine Last Updated: 2:12PM BST 15 Oct 2008

Environmental campaigners fear that measures to reduce carbon emissions could be overshadowed by discussions over hundreds of billions of pounds of banking rescue schemes at a meeting in Brussels.
However, some countries fear that meeting the EU's target - reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 - may be impossible due to constraints caused by the economic downturn.
Maciej Nowicki, the Polish Environment Minister, has said his country wants to reform Europe's proposed carbon reduction package because of its costs.
He said: "Poland does not fear reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, but the way of achieving this is at present is not acceptable."
Italian and German officials have also argued that existing targets will heap pressure on power companies and manufacturers at a moment when several European countries are set to fall into recession.
Stavros Dimas, the EU Environment Commissioner, has said the European Parliament and EU governments could amend the climate and energy package.
However, he insisted the present measures were "consistent with solving the financial crisis".
"At the moment, people are focused on the economic crisis, but our package is part of the solution," he said.
"Fighting climate change means investment in energy efficiency, promoting renewable sources and providing incentives to stimulate the economy and contribute to growth."
Mr Dimas also said that states will be able to pay developing countries to fulfil some of their emission cut obligations for them.

Army of loft insulators to cut gas bills and tackle climate change

Gordon Brown announces large numbers of draught-proofers to provide jobs, aid poor, and help environment
Nicholas Watt, Ian Traynor and agencies,
Wednesday October 15 2008 17.56 BST

Loft insulation. Photograph: Graham Turner
An army of loft insulators and draught-proofers is to be released on to the streets of Britain as Gordon Brown combines his fight against climate change with the need to provide jobs in an economic downturn.
In an echo of the New Deal, launched by the US president Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the prime minister said that a new employment scheme would train thousands of loft insulators.
Speaking in Brussels at the EU summit, Brown expressed his concern about the sharp rise in unemployment announced today. But he said he had a plan.
"We are expanding in a very radical way our insulation and draught-proofing central-heating provision for the elderly and other people in our country. We are training large numbers of additional people to do that work in insulation. That will be one of the employment programmes that will grow.
"So I just give you one example of how we can combine to meet the challenges of climate change and cut people's gas and electricity bills and create the opportunities for work and training for that work."
Brown expressed his concern about people losing their jobs. "Every person who loses their job and the redundancies that are taking place in our country concerns me," he said.
"We have over the last 10 years created 3 million jobs extra. Therefore we want to maintain employment levels as high as possible.
"We will do whatever we can to ensure that people can stay in their jobs, we will do whatever we can so that people who lose their jobs can get new skills for the next job. We will do whatever we can to create opportunities."
Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said that Brown's remarks demonstrated that he had "nothing substantial to offer"."For all the hype surrounding Gordon Brown in the past few days, these comments show just how out of touch he is with what is going on in the real economy. He promised that he had ended boom and bust - but today's unemployment figures show what an absurd claim that was.
"Now as people are paying the price for that failure, he has nothing substantial to offer them. If training people to lag roofs is the best suggestion he can make, then it doesn't say much for the challenges we face as a nation."
Tony McNulty, the employment minister, responded: "It shows how out of touch Grayling is that while Gordon Brown is in Brussels leading European efforts to tackle the global economic crisis, his first thought is to trivialise an initiative that is aiming to get people into work and has helped 3 million people cut their fuel bills.
"This really is a shallow comment from a shallow man and I fail to see how this fits in with the constructive opposition which his leader has promised."

Affluent districts stamp carbon footprint on the rest

A snapshot of green indicators shows unsustainable lifestyles in affluent areas, and councils need clear mechanisms and incentives to tackle them, writes Niki Charalampopoulou
Society Guardian,
Thursday October 16 2008

Despite the current financial crisis turning attention away from sustainable development issues, the urgency of climate change makes the green agenda ever more pressing. As the EU council prepares to meet in Luxembourg later this week to discuss targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts for 2020, it is a good time to take a closer look at the contribution of British communities to climate change.
A snapshot of local authorities' per capita carbon footprint by Local Futures draws on the latest experimental data released by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). SEI's carbon footprint indicator measures carbon dioxide emissions at the district level, associated with various aspects of residents' lifestyles: emissions caused by domestic energy use; transport; housing; consumption of food; and other goods bought and used by households, including emissions incorporated in imported goods.
The data shows great variation between local authorities, with the southern part of the country placing a disproportionate burden on the environment. Out of the 25 districts with the largest per capita carbon footprint, 19 are situated in London and the south-east - with seven of them in Surrey.
It is perhaps no surprise that districts whose residents have the largest carbon footprint in the country are the most affluent ones, highlighting unsustainable lifestyles and patterns of consumption in these areas. Districts scoring high on SEI's indicator are also clustered in the south-west (mainly in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset) and parts of Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex in the east of England.
The north-east, Wales and the West Midlands on the other hand, are the best performing regions, with most districts featuring in the bottom quartile.
There are great disparities within London, as its boroughs populate the lists of the top and bottom 10 local authorities in terms of carbon footprint. The figure for London City - the local authority with the highest per capita footprint in the country – stands 50% higher than that of Newham, which appears to have the smallest score nationally.
Cities generally tend to fare better, recording smaller figures in the housing and transport components of SEI's indicator than suburbs and more remote areas. This most likely reflects efficiencies deriving from urban density and from the developed transport systems found in cities.
While somewhat unsurprising, the patterns in the per capita carbon footprint of local communities revealed by the data can serve to inform and galvanise action on the ground. Local authorities have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in tackling climate change through their renewed planning and economic development duties.
Clearly, as the data shows, for some local authorities this opportunity also presents great challenges. At the same time, unless clear responsibilities and powers for climate change mitigation are devolved to the local level, this unique opportunity will be forgone.
If the government is serious about its commitment to tackle climate change, it needs to provide local authorities with clear mechanisms and incentives to implement specific carbon reduction policies. These are related to delivering carbon neutral housing and sustainable transport schemes, enabling green entrepreneurship and promoting sustainable consumption at the individual and collective level - which would at the same time create thousands of "green collar" jobs, much needed in the current economic downturn.
If such conditions are not in place, delivering the emissions reduction targets that the government has committed to will become an even more remote possibility than it appears to be today.
Niki Charalampopoulou is a research assistant for the Local Futures group

Climate Effort Could Be Stalled by Credit Crisis

Costs of Curbing Global-Warming Emissions Are a Tough Sell in U.S., Europe Amid Economic Disruption and Financial Uncertainty
By STEPHEN POWER in Washington and LEILA ABBOUD in Paris

The global financial crisis is threatening efforts in the U.S. and Europe to fight climate change.
In Europe, industries and some national governments are pushing back against the European Union's goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 20% by 2020, arguing that the midst of an economic crisis isn't the time for costly new taxes on fossil-fuel consumption.
"Does it make sense to ask companies for such a large sacrifice, and risk hitting citizens' pockets at such a delicate moment, all for environmental policy whose efficacy is questionable?" Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said through a spokesperson.

In the U.S., both major-party presidential candidates and Democratic congressional leaders have promised to pursue climate-change legislation as a top priority next year.
But within the Democratic Party, which is expected to gain congressional seats in the Nov. 4 election, splits are emerging between lawmakers from coastal states and those from Rust Belt and coal-friendly regions. They differ over how much time companies should be given to slash emissions and what authority states should have to set their own limits on greenhouse gases, so named because they trap the sun's heat in the earth's atmosphere.
"In times of economic downturns, members [of Congress] are extremely reluctant to add burdens to the economy, and we're going to confront that problem," says Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Michigan Democrat recently introduced a proposal to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 6% by 2020. Environmental groups want cuts of 20%-25% during that period.
A bill to establish an economywide cap-and-trade system for the U.S. aimed at cutting greenhouse-gas emissions roughly 66% by 2050 failed in the Senate this year. Though oil prices have fallen 40% since the Senate debate, energy costs continue to rank high among voters' concerns. Last week, the U.S. government's top energy forecaster said Americans can expect to pay as much as 15% more to heat their homes this winter.
The financial crisis could also upset international negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty that requires many industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.
Getty Images
"If industry is in a difficult pass, most sensible governments will be reluctant to impose new costs on them in the form of carbon-emissions caps," said Yvo de Boer, director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The final shot at getting a deal will come in 2009.
Business groups on both continents are pouncing on the economic turmoil as they lobby against planned new regulations. Airlines, citing slow growth rates and high fuel costs, are seeking to soften some aspects of Europe's plan to require air carriers to join its cap-and-trade system for carbon-dioxide emissions after 2012.
Europe's auto makers are seeking to delay by three years the continent's planned introduction of mandatory carbon-dioxide emissions controls on new cars.
"The pushback is stronger than before," said John Ashton, the U.K.'s special representative for climate change. Europe will still be able to hammer out an agreement, Mr. Ashton said. "We'll have to fight harder to keep it together."
Estimates of the cost of economywide caps on greenhouse-gas emissions vary. An analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the leading Senate proposal to cut emissions found that gross domestic product would grow 80% from 2010 to 2030 if the bill became law, only one percentage point less than its growth in the absence of the bill. But the EPA also projected electricity prices could increase 44% by 2030 under the proposal. Supporters of carbon caps say inaction will impose costs in the form of coastal flooding and other damage.
Major U.S. power companies in coal-abundant states are warning of higher electricity prices if they are forced to cut emissions before perfecting technology to capture and store their plants' carbon emissions.
"We know something needs to be done [to cut emissions], but we've got to get the economy on its feet before we do something economically irrational," said Mike Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Morris and other executives fear lawmakers will use revenue from pollution permits to pay down the federal deficit.
"The likelihood that they would try to take these revenues for other purposes, particularly in an economic downturn, is great," says James Rogers, chief executive of North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp.
Write to Stephen Power at and Leila Abboud at