Saturday, 18 October 2008

Arctic air temperature at record high due to sea ice loss

By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 4:01pm BST 17/10/2008

The continuing loss of sea ice has pushed the air temperature in the Arctic to a record high above normal, scientists have revealed.
Less summer ice - which deflects solar radiation - has resulted in a rise in both the ocean and atmospheric temperature.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says autumn air temperatures in the region are at a record 5ºC (9ºF) above average. The annual NOAA report, which monitors climate change, said there has been a near-record loss of summer sea ice, though not as much as last year which was the warmest on record for the Arctic, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1960s.
They also report a loss of surface ice in Greenland.
Increased temperatures have an impact on both land and marine creatures and are likely to result in even less ice next year, the report says.
James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and a lead author of the report, said: "Changes in the Arctic show a domino effect from multiple causes more clearly than in other regions.

"It's a sensitive system and often reflects changes in relatively fast and dramatic ways."
In 2006 the NOAA's Climate Program Office set up the Arctic Report Card as a means of monitoring changes in the Arctic atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land and Greenland.
This year three of the six areas - atmosphere, sea ice, and Greenland - are coded red indicating that the changes are strongly attributed to warming. Biology, ocean and land are coded yellow, indicating mixed signals. In 2007 there were two red areas, atmosphere and sea ice, and four coded yellow.
The report's chief editor Jackie Richter-Menge of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, said: "The information combines to tell a story of widespread and, in some cases, dramatic effects of an overall warming of the Arctic system."
Researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, part of the University of Colorado, reported last month that Arctic sea ice melted to its second-lowest level this summer. They said it is now 34 per cent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000 but nine per cent above the record low set in 2007.
Professor Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University and head of the Polar Physics Group, said the air temperature on the Arctic coastline would normally be 0ºC but this year and last year a larger area of water - where summer ice had disappeared - had led to a rise.
"This temperature anomaly has also extended 1,000 kilometres inland towards the coasts of Alaska and Siberia and is causing the permafrost to melt and methane stored in it to leak," he said.
"The warmer temperatures will also take longer to dissipate, the autumn freeze will take longer, meaning thinner ice. There is always a fluctuation in the thickness of the ice year on year and the loss this year wasn't as extreme as last year - but it was almost.
"We have got to a tipping point where the breakdown of ice will lead to it disappearing altogether in the summer."
Prof Wadhams said changes brought by a warmer climate were happening across the globe at all latitudes but could be most clearly seen in the Arctic.
"Satellite pictures clearly show the open water where ice used to be. It is the most obvious example of climate change in action which is changing the appearance of the planet," he said.

What would the bank-bail out money buy for the environment?

Up to $4 trillion has been committed to rescue the global economy. How could that money be spent on the environment?

John Vidal, environment editor,
Friday October 17 2008 16.50 BST

Countries could protect nature, help halt climate change, and provide food and clean water for a billion people for little more than has been pledged to bail out the world's banks in the last week, according to a series of authoritative economic reports from the UN, world bodies, major charities and banks.
Estimates of the sum committed this week by governments to rescue the world's financial system range between $2-4 trillion. Investment on this scale to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature would not only be repaid up to 100 times over, say the studies, but would also save trillions of dollars having to be spent later.
So what could investment on the scale of the the bank bail-out money buy?
Climate change: Lord Nicholas Stern, who led the UK government's study of the economic costs and benefits of climate change said it would cost 1% of global GDP, or $540bn (£313bn) a year, to hold greenhouse gas emissions at a level to avoid the worst effects of global climate change. But his review for the Treasury in 2006 said that if countries did not act, the overall costs and risks of climate change would soar into trillions of dollars a year.
Eco-systems and biodiversity: A study on the costs and benefits of investing in the wealth of nature has provisionally found that most of the world's forests, mountains, rivers and seas could be protected for about $45bn annually, says Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of the EU and German government funded report.
"The economic arguments for nature protection are beginning to enter mainstream thinking", said Sukdev, whose team is due to report fully next year. Last month the team estimated that the loss of the services that the forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide is already costing the global economy $2-5 trillion a year.
Another major study, by Shell economists working with the World Conservation Union this year, estimated it would cost $1.3 trillion, spread over 30 years, to protect the world's most important eco-systems. For this sum, nearly 15% of land and 30% of the oceans would be protected from illegal logging, overfishing, pollution and would go most of the way to protecting the most endangered animals.
Renewable energy: Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in the US alone would not only reduce the world's carbon emissions by nearly 20% but could provide hundreds of thousands of jobs, says Jeffery Greenblatt, Google's climate and energy manager.
In a major study, Greenblatt proposes spending $4.4 trillion, spread over 30 years, to replace all the US's coal- and oil-fired electricity generation renewable electricity. The Google plan would generate 380 gigawatts of wind power, 250GW of solar power and 80GW of geothermal power, as well as reduce US energy use by 33% and boost sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles to 90% of new car sales by 2030.
Britain's more modest plan to generate 36% of all electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is roughly costed by the Treasury at $100bn, over 12 years.
Water and sanitation: International charity WaterAid this week estimated that providing safe water and sanitation to the 2.5 billion people in the world without it would cost £37.5bn. This, said a spokeswomen, was about equal to the amount (£37bn) given by UK government to RBS, HBOS and Lloyds TSB on Monday.
Hunger: Earlier this year, Jacques Diouf, head of the UN's food and agriculture organisation, said it would cost around $30bn a year to avert all future threats of conflicts over food. "How can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?" he said.
Greenpeace senior climate campaigner Jim Footner said: "This [bail out] money just shows how fast and how decisively the government can act when it faces a crisis. The onset of climate change is crisis of equal severity, and should tackled with a similar level of urgency and ambition. The scientists tell us we have less than 100 months before global emissions must peak and then begin to fall, and if we are to achieve this then we need massive investment in renewables and energy efficiency schemes and we must stop burning coal in conventional power plants. If we can find £50bn overnight for the bankers, then we can find the necessary finance and political will to lead ourselves out of the climate change crisis."

Google's chief of environmental policy explains strategy

By Carolyn Whelan
Published: October 17, 2008

Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives at, the for-profit philanthropic arm of the Internet search giant, is spreading the anti-coal gospel in government and industry circles. Since January, it has invested $45 million in solar, wind and geothermal ventures as part of a renewable-energy initiative begun last year. Reicher, a former U.S. assistant secretary of energy, green venture investor and environmental lawyer, was interviewed just as Google turned 10 years old. Days earlier, Google and General Electric forged a pact to push for an upgraded U.S. electricity grid and Google presented a $4.4 trillion plan to wean the United States off coal and oil by 2030.
Why energy? What does Google bring to the table?
Google is a big electricity user. So we want higher efficiency and use of renewables in our data centers. We've hired engineers to pursue potential breakthroughs. And we've committed hundreds of millions of dollars to lower the cost of renewable electricity. Lastly, we're putting our money and clout to work in Washington. So we're working the policy, technology and finance angles. We particularly want to work with others.
Energy spans the entire company: from engineers, to product managers, to R&D, policy and treasury people. We're joined at the hip on energy.
What stage companies will you invest in, and why?

We're interested in the whole spectrum, from grants for energy research, to "valley of death" ventures, to scaling up projects, to standard commercial investments. Energy technology development to full commercialization can take decades. Our money can help accelerate that process.
And we may put money in standard, established firms. Lehman, Wachovia and AIG backed several big clean energy companies and had to step aside. We can help fill finance gaps.
Talk about your green investments. Will you invest abroad?
We focus on solar thermal, advanced geothermal and wind energies, plus the "enablers," such as transmission and distribution. They are core to moving those energies forward, to get wind energy from the Dakotas and solar from the Southwest to urban areas.
In transit, we're focused on electric vehicles and the enabling infrastructure. That includes batteries, smart grids and applications to monitor and bill folks who plug in. In our partnership with GE, we are exploring other policy and R&D opportunities. We have a plug-in vehicles investment pipeline.
One solar investment, BrightSource, has roots in Israel. And we're looking in Europe and Asia for technologies to improve efficiency and for electric cars.
What partnerships do you seek?
Our focus is on transmission and the "smart grid" and the policy around both areas. The U.S. grid is seriously inadequate. Much of it dates from the '50s and '60s. We need to build a bigger and smarter grid to get renewable energy to big cities and for millions of vehicles to plug into the grid. There's a great opportunity to advance this agenda with a new administration and Congress.
So likely partners include technology companies, investors, underwriters for the U.S. grid rebuild, regulators, utilities and environmental organizations. This is not an easy nut to crack. But we must if renewables are to be more than a boutique energy source.
Will energy become part of your core business?
Energy is part of Google's work. Our engineers now focus on renewables and efficiency. We're also mindful of the opportunity to apply our own technology and tools, as we did with Google Earth, YouTube and SketchUp for our geothermal announcements. Stay tuned.

Wind energy becalmed by shortage of finance

The Times
October 18, 2008
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

The credit crunch and falling oil prices threaten to hold up some of Britain’s renewable energy projects just as the UK has raised its commitment to green electricity, financiers said yesterday.
While large projects backed by the bigger utilities are generally thought to be safe, smaller and more speculative developments are facing funding problems as backers adjust their lending criteria or, in some cases, consider withdrawing it altogether.
“The debt is just not there,” said John Dupont, head of renewable energy finance in the UK for Nordbank, the world’s largest clean energy financier. “We are still doing deals but the market is very difficult. This could result in a big delay for wind farm projects being developed in the UK.”
“The market has definitely tightened,” said Ian Whitlock, a partner at Ernst & Young specialising in UK utilities. “The lending rates over Libor and the covenants on renewable energy deals in particular are being toughened up.”

Industry sources say several lenders, including Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), have dramatically reduced their funding activities in recent weeks.
As well as scarcer and costlier debt, Mr Dupont said another factor causing problems for producers of renewable energy was the falling cost of oil, which was making projects less economic when compared with fossil fuel. The high construction costs involved were also threatening to cause delays, he added.
Sources close to the London Array project, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which is to be built in the Thames estuary, say its projected cost has risen to £3 billion, against initial estimates in 2003 of £1 billion. The Masdar Initiative, a vehicle funded by the Abu Dhabi Government and specialising in renewable energy, announced on Thursday that it would take a 20 per cent stake in the project.
A £400 million offshore wind energy project in the North Sea hit funding problems when a finance deal arranged by RBS and Fortis was dropped. Eclipse Energy’s Ormond scheme is now being financed by Vattenfall, the Swedish utility group, which has agreed to buy Eclipse outright.
The problems have emerged as Ed Miliband, the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The change followed recommendations by a climate change committee chaired by Lord Turner of Ecchinswell to raise the target from 60 per cent.
Separately, it emerged yesterday that the completion of Europe’s first pressurised nuclear reactor is to be delayed by three years and the plant is unlikely to start producing electricity until 2012.
The announcement from ArevaSiemens, the French-German consortium that is building the new station in Olkiluoto, Finland, has alarmed the UK energy industry. The reactor technology is of the same type that EDF, the French energy company, has said it wants to use to build four new nuclear reactors in Britain.
Areva-Siemens did not give a reason for the delay, which is the fourth to have been announced so far.
Construction of the $3 billion (£1.7 billion), 1.6 gigawatt European pressurised reactor (EPR) plant began in 2005 but has been fraught with problems. Officials have in the past blamed use of the wrong materials and planning problems.
Olkiluoto 3, as it is known, is the first EPR to be built although another is under construction in France.
Power struggle
— The UK Government has a long-term aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050
— In 2000 the Government set a target of 10 per cent of electricity supply from renewables by 2010
— In 2006 the target was doubled to 20 per cent by 2020
— In 2007 just 5 per cent of Britain's electricity came from renewable sources

Swinney's green plans applauded

Published Date: 18 October 2008

ENVIRONMENTALISTS were celebrating last night after John Swinney announced that Scotland would lead the way in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
He told the SNP conference the Scottish Climate Change Bill would be tougher than expected.The bill would cover all greenhouse gases, he said, not just carbon dioxide, and emissions from aviation and shipping would be included in the targets.Environmental campaigners said that if the finance secretary's plans were reflected in the bill, it would make Scotland the first country to take action against the emissions from planes and ships in this way and a world leader on climate change.Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "These are important steps and I look forward to seeing the Climate Change Bill introduced with these improvements."

Pay indigenous people to protect rainforests, conservation groups urge

John Vidal,
Friday October 17 2008 17.07 BST

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photograph: Ricardo Beliel/Alamy
Rich countries should try to cut the greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation by first investing in the people who live and use forests, rather than relying on the financial carbon markets to encourage conservation, leading development experts have proposed.
If not, they risk unleashing a wave of land grabs, corruption, cultural destruction and civil conflict, said the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of of UN- and government-funded research organisations including the World Conservation Union and the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor).
The loss of trees is responsible for almost a fifth of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide – stopping and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest ways of cutting emissions
The call for human rights to be put at the centre of the issue came after Johan Eliasch, Gordon Brown's special adviser on forests, proposed this week that tropical forests be included in future carbon markets.
UN climate change negotiators are trying to set up a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd) which could generate billions of dollars a year for reducing forest loss in the tropics.
But initial findings of World Bank-commissioned research presented at a conference in Oslo, Norway, suggest it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets.
A study by Jeffrey Hatcher, an analyst with Rights and Resources in Washington, found that it costs about $3.50 (£2) per hectare to recognise forest people's land. The costs of protecting forests under Redd have been estimated as about £2,000 per hectare.
"There is lots of evidence from around the world that communities conserve their forests when their [land] rights are recognised. There are now about 400m hectares of forest formally owned by communities. These 400m hectares conserve about 20-40m Gigatonnes of CO2. This means that it costs about $1.6bn (£925m) to achieve this conservation. The Eliasch review suggested it would cost about nearly $17bn year to to stop deforestation, which works out as far more expensive", said Hatcher.
Norway's Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, said that efforts towards reduced emissions from deforestation in developing countries should be based on the rights of indigenous people to the forests they depend on for their livelihoods, and should provide tangible benefits to them consistent with their essential role in sustainable forest management.
"In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, early action, pilot projects and demonstrations should safeguard biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and secure the rights of forest-dependent communities in order to achieve any degree of permanence, legitimacy and effectiveness," said Solheim.
The UK and Norwegian governments pledged £108m earlier this year to protect the forests of the Congo basin.

Honda's hydrogen car is smooth but has hindrances

The Associated Press
Published: October 17, 2008

WASHINGTON: For years, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been the far-off technological bets of the auto industry — the car that holds the promise of gasoline-free driving.
Honda Motor Co. is starting to give a small number of drivers a glimpse into the future.
The Honda FCX Clarity debuted in July, and the automaker is leasing about 200 of the cars to customers in Southern California during the next three years. Tens of thousands of car enthusiasts have applied to be among the first to lease — and for good reason.
Stylish and smooth, the Clarity opens a window into the possible: the combination of environmental responsibility and zero emissions with a fun, hip ride. If only refueling was a matter of pulling into the nearest filling station.
The Clarity is emerging at a difficult stretch for the auto industry, a year in which sales have been choked by a battered economy and a major credit crunch. So it might be easy to shrug it off as another advanced vehicle relegated to auto shows and the garages of the super rich.

As with any hydrogen car, there are caveats galore. Finding a hydrogen fueling station can be like getting a car loan with lousy credit these days. And most hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, releasing carbon dioxide and undercutting the emissions-free argument.
Honda's marketing of the car may also draw some skepticism. The company is offering three-year leases to a select few for $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband, filmmaker Christopher Guest, have one. Other Clarity pioneers include Actress Laura Harris and "Little Miss Sunshine" producer Ron Yerxa, making it easy to dismiss the car as a Hollywood publicity stunt.
But on its merits, the Clarity delivers. It offers quiet, steady acceleration, high torque and a 280-mile (450-kilometer) range, allowing the driver to enjoy the ride instead of worrying about finding the next refill.
Previous generations of Honda's fuel cell vehicles have resembled futuristic econoboxes — small, workmanlike and unpractical. The latest version is more refined, helped by a smaller and lighter fuel cell stack that is more easily packaged into a sedan. (The Clarity is about 4 inches (10 centimeters) shorter than a Honda Accord.)
In the fuel cell, hydrogen is combined with oxygen to generate electricity that powers the vehicle's motor. The water vapor that's produced exits through the tailpipe. The Clarity has a backup 288-volt lithium-ion battery pack, recharged by the car's deceleration, to provide more power when needed.
The cockpit is fun and innovative. The start button next to the center console starts the fuel cell stack. The display in the dashboard includes a dot that changes color and size as your hydrogen consumption grows, making it easy to monitor mileage.
A meter display on the dashboard charts battery levels and motor output. The speedometer was wisely placed above the cockpit display, in your sight line, to keep your eyes on the road. The interior is covered with plant-based fabrics.
The compressor that supplies oxygen to the fuel cell makes a whining sound. While the whirls and lack of engine vibrations at stoplights may require some getting used to, the 134-horsepower electric motor, with 189 pounds per foot of torque, offered smooth acceleration in city driving. On the highway, the Clarity easily surpassed 70 miles (112 kilometers) per hour without feeling compromised.
The Clarity's tank holds 4.1 kilograms (9 pounds) of compressed hydrogen, and the car gets about 77 miles (124 kilometers) per kilogram in the city, 67 miles (108 kilometers) per kilogram on the highway and 72 miles (116 kilometers) per kilogram in combined driving. Honda says that equates to 79 miles per gallon (3 liters per 100 kilometers) of gasoline around town, 68 mpg (3.4 liters) on the highway and about 74 mpg (3.2 liters per 100 kilometers) overall.
Honda is leasing the Clarity to customers in the Los Angeles area because of the proximity to three 24-hours-a-day public hydrogen stations.
If I could lease a Clarity here in Washington, D.C., I would have to rely on one Shell Station, but the vehicle would offer savings compared with similar vehicles.
In Washington, hydrogen was selling for $8.18 per kilogram, meaning a driver would spend that much to travel 72 miles (116 kilometers) in the Clarity. A 4-cylinder Honda Accord with an automatic transmission gets 24 mpg (9.8 liters per 100 kilometers) combined, so a driver would use three gallons (11.4 liters) of gasoline — spending about $3.30 a gallon, or almost $10 — to travel the same distance.
The lack of fueling stations will limit the reach of these vehicles for many years, but Honda is working on a home-fill unit that would connect to a residential natural gas line, generating hydrogen for your vehicle and heat and electricity for your home. The automaker, like others in the industry, note that hydrogen could be produced abundantly from renewable sources like wind energy.
Beyond the refueling problems, the car has some quirks. Instead of a traditional gear selector, the car has a small electronic shifter near the steering wheel that was awkward to use. The rear window seemed to limit visibility.
As with any advanced vehicle, the car created a stir around town. Fellow drivers craned their necks to check out the car, and plenty of pedestrians furrowed their eyebrows, as if to say, "What is that?" When I turned around at a gas station in northern Virginia, where gas was selling for $3.89 a gallon at the time, a man in a Redskins jersey turned to his friends and pointed at the car, his mouth agape.
Honda has not released the cost, but the price is out of reach for typical car shoppers. With production limited to just hundreds, some analysts have estimated it would cost $200,000.
The Clarity, and any hydrogen fuel cell for that matter, has plenty of question marks and hurdles. But it gives us a sense of what lies ahead.
In an age of sluggish sales and tough times for the auto industry, the art of the possible may not mean much now. But the Clarity offers evidence that the futuristic advanced vehicles of tomorrow may be closer than we think.

Brussels seeks bar on illegal timber

By Joshua Chaffin in Brussels
Published: October 18 2008 01:52

Europe’s timber suppliers will have to seek guarantees that their products have been legally harvested, under measures proposed by the European Commission to curb deforestation and reduce greenhouse gases.
European officials say that about a fifth of European timber imports could result from illegal logging and that global deforestation is responsible for 20 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions.

Stavros Dimas, Europe’s environment commissioner, hailed the new proposals as a way to protect biodiversity as well as 60m people who rely on forests for their livelihood.
“By working to eliminate illegal wood from our market, the EU will help promote sustainable forestry practices in the rest of the world,” Mr Dimas said.
The proposed legislation, which must win approval from the parliament and member states, represents another front in Europe’s ambitious goal to cut greenhouse gas and claim global leadership in fighting climate change.
In spite of complaints about slowing economies and costs from the financial crisis, European leaders this week reiterated their commitment to cut CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.
Environmentalists praised the European Union for addressing illegal logging. Yet they complained the proposals were insufficient, citing the murkiness of logging rules in many source countries. They also demanded more specifics about timber suppliers’ legal obligations to perform due diligence.
“The [proposal] does not have the teeth needed to seriously clamp down on this trade,” said Anke Schulmeister of WWF.
In a separate policy report, the Commission set out a long-term goal of halting deforestation by 2030 and recommended that Europe consider paying developing countries to protect and maintain their forests.
Those payments, it suggested, could come from the estimated €50bn ($67bn, £39bn) the EU will reap each year from 2013, when companies will pay for carbon allowances as part of the emissions trading scheme.
“Developed countries need to be ready to pay developing countries for the eco-system services that are provided by their forests,” said Mr Dimas.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008