Sunday, 26 October 2008

Mandelson loses fight with Miliband over CO2 disclosure law

By Jesse LoncraineSunday, 26 October 2008

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has clashed with Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, over proposed legislation that will force big companies to detail all their carbon dioxide emissions.
In his first dispute with a leading Brownite since returning to the Cabinet, Lord Mandelson failed to scupper an amendment to the Climate Change Bill that will see companies forced to report how much they pollute, but he did manage to get its implementation delayed by two years to 2012.
Lord Mandelson tried to stop the new law because he was concerned that the bureaucracy involved would be too burdensome.
The disclosure proposal was tabled by the Government last week.
"Mandelson objected to the amendment. There was a long wrangle that lasted a week or two but Miliband won the fight on points," said a Whitehall source.
Greg Clark, the shadow Climate Change Secretary, pointed out that the amendment was introduced less than a week before a Commons vote on the Bill on Tuesday. "It is extraordinary the amendments were only tabled on Thursday. There has clearly been an internal row," he said.
The Conservatives broadly support the Bill, but Alan Duncan, the shadow Business Secretary, has referred to carbon reporting as "heavy-handed bureaucracy."
The amendment was introduced by a coalition of backbench Labour MPs supported by leading pressure groups, including Christian Aid and public affairs agency Aldersgate.
Jon Cruddas, the former deputy Labour leadership candidate who has backed the amendment, said: "If the City is going to survive as a leading financial centre then it's going to have to change the way it does business. We need to stop companies fiddling the books, whether that's simply on their finances or on workforce, social and environmental measures."

Arctic is melting even in winter

The polar icecap is retreating and thinning at a record rate
Jonathan Leake

The Arctic icecap is now shrinking at record rates in the winter as well as summer, adding to evidence of disastrous melting near the North Pole, according to research by British scientists.
They have found that the widely reported summer shrinkage, which this year resulted in the opening of the Northwest Passage, is continuing in the winter months with the thickness of sea ice decreasing by a record 19% last winter.
Usually the Arctic icecap recedes in summer and then grows back in winter. These findings suggest the period in which the ice renews itself has become much shorter.
Dr Katharine Giles, who led the study and is based at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), said the thickness of Arctic sea ice had shown a slow downward trend during the previous five winters but then accelerated.

She said: “After the summer 2007 record melting, the thickness of the winter ice also nose-dived. What is concerning is that sea ice is not just receding but it is also thinning.”
The cause of the thinning is, however, potentially even more alarming. Giles found that the winter air temperatures in 2007 were cold enough that they could not have been the cause.
This suggests some other, longer-term change, such as a rise in water temperature or a change in ocean circulation that has brought warmer water under the ice.
If confirmed, this could mean that the Arctic is likely to melt much faster than had been thought. Some researchers say that the summer icecap could vanish within a decade.
The research, reported in Geophysical Research Letters, showed that last winter the average thickness of sea ice over the whole Arctic was 26cm (10%) less than the average thickness of the previous five winters.
However, sea ice in the western Arctic lost about 49cm of thickness. This region saw the Northwest Passage become ice-free and open to shipping for the first time in 30 years during the summer of 2007.
The UCL researchers used satellites to measure sea-ice thickness from 2002 to 2008. Winter sea ice in the Arctic is about 8ft thick on average.
The team is the first to measure ice thickness throughout the winter, from October to March, over more than half of the Arctic, using the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite.
Giles’s findings confirm the more detailed work of Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, who has undertaken six voyages under the icecap in Royal Navy nuclear submarines since 1976 and has gathered data from six more voyages.
The vessels use an upward-looking echo-sounder to measure the thickness of sea ice above the vessel. The data gathered can then be compared with previous years to find changes in thickness.
Wadhams published his first paper in 1990, showing that the Arctic ice had grown 15% thinner between 1976 and 1987.
In March 2007 he went under the Arctic again in HMS Tireless and found that the winter ice had been thinning even more quickly; it was now 50% of the 1976 thickness.
“This enormous ice retreat in the last two summers is the culmination of a thinning process that has been going on for decades, and now the ice is just collapsing,” Wadhams said.
The scale of the ice loss has also been shown by other satellite-based observations that are used to measure the area of the Arctic icecap as it grows and shrinks with the seasons.
In winter it normally reaches about 5.8m square miles before receding to about 2.7m square miles in summer.
In 2007, however, the sun shone for many more days than normal, raising water temperatures to 4.3C above the average. By September the Arctic icecap had lost an extra 1.1m square miles, equivalent to more than 12 times the area of Britain.
That reduced the area of summer ice to 1.6m square miles, 43% smaller than it was in 1979, when satellite observations began.
At the heart of the melting in the Arctic is a simple piece of science. Ice is white, so most of the sunlight hitting it is reflected back into space. When it melts, however, it leaves open ocean, which, being darker, absorbs light and so gets warmer. This helps to melt more ice. It also makes it harder for ice to form again in winter. The process accelerates until there is no more ice to melt.
Wadhams said: “This is one of the most serious problems the world has ever faced.”

Asda to open Britain's first 'eco superstore'

Britain's first ever 'ecosuperstore' is set to open at a cost of £27 million.

By Charlotte Bailey Last Updated: 11:16PM BST 25 Oct 2008

Environmentalists have criticised Asda, claiming the concept of an environmental superstore is a contradiction in terms

The Asda store, in Bootle, Liverpool, will have doors on every freezer, fridge and chill cabinet and will itself be made of recycled brick and sustainable wood.
It will also have geothermal pumps to bring up hot water from underground aquifers and a wood pellet-burning boiler to help to heat the store.
Asda says that the store, which opens Monday, will cut energy use and emissions by up to half.
However, it has been criticised by environmentalists who have branded the very notion of an 'ecosuperstore' a contradiction.
Helen Rimmer, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "While green technology can improve the environmental footprint of a building, this is a small part of a supermarket's impact, which includes emissions from food freight and customer travel to stores."
However, Julian Walker-Palin, head of corporate policy for sustainability and ethics for Asda, said that they were doing it for their customers.
He said: "For 17 million people who shop [in Asda] each week, the majority don't understand climate change or carbon, and they don't want to. But they understand there's this issue we need to do something about."

PM plans green investment drive

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 26 October 2008

Ministers are planning a huge increase in green investment to create jobs and help to get Britain out of the coming recession.
The unprecedented drive – which will be laid out in a White Paper early in the new year – will place particular emphasis on expanding renewable energy and introducing electric cars as part of a "transition to a green economy". Tomorrow, Gordon Brown will signal his support for the initiative by reviewing a collection of electric cars in Downing Street.
The plans fit in with increasing calls for a green New Deal in the wake of the financial crisis. Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards accept that such a programme is part of the solution to the crisis and one of the best ways to increase employment, and are looking at ways of "greening" the vast investments being planned to counter the recession.
Yesterday, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, told the IoS: "The Government is committed to building a green economy at home and abroad, and creating more jobs in environmental industries. We need to invest in clean technologies and our natural infrastructure of forests, soils and water."

Flagship eco-town plan falters in tough climate

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
The Observer,
Sunday October 26 2008

Kingston eco-town protest
Gordon Brown's flagship plan to build a string of environmentally friendly 'eco-towns' across Britain has been dealt a critical blow, with only two of the 10 sites promised now expected to be built.
The model green communities, where residents would be able to do without cars and grow their own food on allotments, were billed as the most imaginative answer to putting roofs over heads in half a century. But the plans are now in jeopardy thanks to a combination of the credit crunch, a collapsing construction industry and fierce local opposition.
Officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government have concluded only 'one or two' of the 15 shortlisted projects are genuinely viable, according to a source close to the discussions. The Eco-Towns Challenge Panel, appointed by ministers to ensure the plans were genuinely green, is understood to have reached similar conclusions. Some bidders have already dropped out, while others are said to have been alarmed by the house price crash and the collapse in sales.
The final decision on how many should go forward is yet to be taken by Margaret Beckett, the new housing minister. But she failed to mention either eco-towns or the government's wider target to build three million new homes by 2020 - which housing experts are also now openly questioning - when she made her first speech to the Home Builders Federation's annual conference last week.
The news comes as Brown prepares to hail green industries tomorrow as a new source of job creation in Britain. Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, will announce plans to boost the manufacture of electric cars which ministers hope could become more appealing, as they are exempt from congestion charges and also save on petrol. He will announce a £20m grant for businesses to buy electric vans.
Eco-towns are, however, central to Brown's vision for the environment. They were one of the first major ideas he announced within days of becoming Labour leader, pledging thousands of new homes in every part of the country. Four months later, he doubled his original target of five towns because of interest in the scheme, adding: 'For the first time in nearly half a century we will show the imagination to build new towns - eco-towns with low- and zero-carbon homes.'
Although only a small amount of the three million planned new homes, eco-towns were intended to encourage other builders.
'The government will probably say it's all to do with the economic climate but I think the mistake was their approach to the subject,' said Grant Shapps, the Tory housing spokesman.
'They came up with a good idea but they messed it up by going for a top-down "ministers know best where they should go" approach.'
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government insisted the programme would remain on track.

Wind farms may pose risk to shipping

The rush to build massive offshore wind farms around Britain's coastline may pose a safety risk to shipping and other maritime users, transport officials have warned.

By Richard Gray Last Updated: 9:07AM GMT 26 Oct 2008

Plans to build more off-shore wind turbines - such as the Burbo Bank in the mouth of the River Mersey - may be affected by the Department of Transport concerns
The Department for Transport has told the wind energy industry that shipping operators have serious concerns about plans to build thousands of huge wind turbines out at sea in a bid to meet the Government's ambitious renewable energy targets.
Cargo ship owners and yachting groups fear the turbines, which will in some cases be more than 600 ft tall – as high as three Nelson's Columns – will pose a navigation hazard in already-busy stretches of water.
They claim that diverting large cargo ships and tankers around wind farms will lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions from heavy shipping, which would cancel out much of the carbon dioxide savings wind farms are intended to deliver.
There is also research that suggests such large structures cause interference to ships' radar, making it hard to spot other craft.
Speaking at a conference organised by the wind energy industry, Ian Woodman, director of maritime and dangerous goods at the Department for Transport, warned that wind farm developers faced significant objections to their plans for offshore turbines.
It comes just days after the Crown Estate, holder of the Queen's property and owner of almost the entire sea bed up to 12 nautical miles from the UK coast, revealed that 110 companies and consortia have expressed interest in building new offshore wind farms.
The Crown Estate has promised to assist developers by paying up to half of all pre-construction development costs, sparking a surge in applications for licenses to build in UK territorial waters.
But Mr Woodman said the shipping industry feared new developments would have adverse impacts on the way they run their business.
He said: "They certainly are aware of the extent of the offshore wind farm applications and they are quite concerned about the potential implications it has for the way they go about their jobs and for what it means for maritime safety.
"It is up to us in government to assist developers to tackle these concerns."
The Government wants 33 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity to be built in the seas around Britain by 2020, together with an additional 14 gigawatts from onshore wind farms.
Ministers have set a target of having wind generate at least one-third of all of the UK's electricity within 12 years.
Critics, however, insist that wind energy is too unreliable to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations and would require an extensive network of back-up power stations that does not rely upon the wind on calm days.
Wind farm developers have also relied upon extensive subsidies to help them earn a profit, due to the expense of building and maintaining turbines.
The push to build wind farms offshore, where wind speeds are higher and more reliable, has also been partly fuelled by the objections and delays that developers face when seeking planning permission for onshore turbines.
A number of major energy firms including Centrica, Airtricity, ScottishPower Renewables and REPower are believed to have expressed interest in the latest round of offshore licenses. Currently 19 offshore wind farms have been given approval for development, while three are under construction and five are already operational.
The new round of licensing will open up a further 11 huge areas for development further offshore.
Mark Brownrigg, director general of the Chamber of Shipping, warned that building wind farms posed a serious safety threat in busy shipping regions such as the North Sea and the Thames Estuary, where 271 turbines are to be built as part of the £1.5 billion London Array.
He said that in bad weather conditions the wind turbines would add an extra hazard to be avoided by shipping and maritime users.
Mr Brownrigg said: "Offshore wind farms can pose serious threats to shipping – because of the navigational safety implications when wind farms are located to close to established shipping routes, and where they cause interference to ships' radar.
"Where ships are forced to deviate around wind farm sites, that may negate some of the environmental benefits they were intended to bring."
The TaxPayers' Alliance will warn next month, in a report on UK energy production, that forcing heavy ships to divert around wind farms will increase their fuel consumption, carbon emissions and running costs.
Shipping industry leaders plan to seek compensation from wind farm developers for the extra costs they incur, in a move that could further drive up the cost of offshore electricity production.
The UK shipping industry contributes £11 billion to the gross domestic product and supports more than 185,000 jobs. More than 90 per cent of goods imported into the UK are brought by ship.
The fishing industry has also expressed concern at the impact of wind farms, particularly the risk of boats snagging underwater cables that have broken free from their trenches.
The Royal Yachting Association has raised fears about the risk of collisions with turbines.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: "The Government is keen that the shipping and energy industries should work together in the development of offshore windfarms.
"To that end the Government has established the Nautical and Offshore Renewable Energy Liaison group (NOREL) which brings together the relevant Government Departments and representatives of the Shipping and Energy industries.
"We encourage all windfarm developers to enter into early dialogue with the Chamber of Shipping so that any issues can be addressed early in the planning process."

Gordon Brown puffs the great wind scam

By Christopher Booker
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 26/10/2008
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Even in these dark times, it is still possible to be shocked when our Prime Minister personally endorses a flagrant perversion of the truth. Last year, for example, many of us felt outraged when Gordon Brown pretended that the Lisbon Treaty was somehow totally different from the EU Constitution, in order to wriggle out of his party's manifesto promise of a referendum. Last week Mr Brown in effect did it again when he endorsed the deception at the heart of his Government's wildly exaggerated claims about the benefits of using wind to make electricity.
In a video for the British Wind Energy Association, the industry's chief lobby group, Mr Brown claimed: "We are now getting 3 gigawatts of our electricity capacity from wind power, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes."

This deliberately perpetuates the central confidence trick practised by the wind industry, by confusing "capacity" with the actual amount of electricity wind produces. In fact, as the Government's own figures show, wind turbines generate on average only 27 to 28 per cent, barely a quarter, of their "capacity".
In other words, far from producing those "3 gigawatts", the 2,000 turbines already built actually contributed - again on official figures - an average of only 694 megawatts (MW) last year, less than the output of a single medium-size conventional power station. Far from producing "enough to power more than 1.5 million homes", it is enough to power barely a sixth of that number, representing only 1.3 per cent of all the electricity we use. Yet for this we have already blighted thousands of square miles of countryside, at a cost of billions of pounds.
Indeed, at the same BWEA-sponsored event, Mike O'Brien, energy minister, went on to perpetuate the second confidence trick practised by both Government and industry, which is to conceal the fact that all this is only made possible by the huge hidden subsidy given to wind energy through the Renewables Obligation. This compels electricity companies to pay way over the odds for the power generated by wind turbines, a burden passed on to us all in our electricity bills.
Mr O'Brien claimed that the cost of electricity generated by offshore wind turbines would drop by 8 per cent, failing to explain that it would then be raised by 50 per cent through the hidden subsidy. He then soared even further into make-believe by saying that he was "assessing plans" to build a further 25GW-worth of offshore turbines by 2020, "enough electricity for every home in the country".
Mr O'Brien must know that there is not the remotest chance that we could build the 10,000 monster turbines needed to achieve this, at a rate of more than two a day, when it takes weeks to instal each vast machine. At present, of the giant barges needed for the work, there is only one in the world. Even if it were possible, the construction costs alone, on current figures, would be anything up to £100 billion - the price of 37 nuclear power stations, capable of producing nearly 10 times as much electricity - while the subsidies alone would add £6 billiion a year more, or 25 per cent, to our electricity bills.
Why do our ministers think they can get away with talking such nonsense?
What is humiliating is that they do it largely to appease the EU, which has set us the wholly impossible target of producing 32 per cent of our electricity from "renewables" by 2020. What is dangerous is that even contemplating such a mad waste of resources is diverting attention from the genuine need to build enough proper, grown-up power stations to keep our lights on. For that the time is fast running out, if it hasn't done so already. It is on that Mr Brown should be concentrating, not on trying to pull the wool over our eyes with such infantile deceits.
EU is a persistent offender against itself
WHEN the EU’s leaders agree to ignore the rulings of their own courts that they are acting illegally, who can compel them to obey the law?
That is the extraordinary question which arises from last Thursday’s confirmation by the EU’s Court of First Instance that the EU is acting unlawfully by refusing to lift its ban on the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, the PMOI, the main would-be democratic opposition movement to the ruthless dictatorship of the mullahs in Tehran.
This bizarre saga began in 2001 when the British Government, as part of a deal with Tehran, agreed to ban the PMOI as terrorists, then talked the EU into following suit.
In 2006, the EU court ruled that its ban was unlawful. In 2007, at British instigation, the EU Council of Ministers twice agreed to defy this ruling.
When 35 MPs and peers, including former ministers, asked the High Court to rule on Britain’s action, three judges found that the Government had produced no evidence that the PMOI were terrorists and ordered it to lift the ban.
When this was confirmed by the Lord Chief Justice, who described the ban as “perverse” and “unlawful”, the Government reluctantly obeyed his order, thus bringing itself into conflict with an EU law that the EU court had already ruled as unlawful.
Last July, as acting EU president, France’s President Sarkozy insisted that the EU ban must remain.
Last week, after further protests from EU MPs, MEPs and senior lawyers, the Court of First Instance again ruled the EU’s ban as unlawful.
What makes this serial defiance of the law incomprehensible is that it has been done to appease a regime whose agents are acting as terrorists throughout the Middle East, all in a futile attempt by the EU to persuade Tehran not to build nuclear weapons, a policy it has no intention of abandoning.
What is equally weird is how little attention this outrageous story has attracted from Britain’s media.
Solid facts, abstract thaws
Last Sunday I noted that sea-ice cover in the Arctic was 28 per cent higher than on the same date last year. Next day extensive coverage was given to a WWF report, addressed to EU environment ministers, claiming that Arctic ice is at a record low and may soon vanish altogether. It was illustrated with a computer image showing the extent of the ice in September 2007.
The following day, satellite readings showed that this year’s refreeze is so rapid that the ice was already 31 per cent up on last year.
The WWF is in part funded by the EU, not least because it is a leading promoter of the warming scare and can be relied on to provide such shameless propaganda.
But should the rest of us be expected to fall for it?

Guy Hands in £1.2bn Infinis wind power bid

Sunday Times
October 26, 2008
Danny Fortson

GUY HANDS, the buyout baron behind beleaguered music publisher EMI, has set his sights on a new sector: wind energy.
Infinis, the waste-to-energy company owned by his buyout firm Terra Firma, has set in motion a £1.2 billion plan to build it into one of the largest wind-energy producers in the country. Its aim is to buy or build up to 800MW of onshore wind-generating capacity over 10 years.
Alan Lovell, chief executive of Infinis, hired a team led by Alan Baker, former chief executive of Airtricity’s Scottish business, to lead the initiative. “The challenge when I took over was to use the strong cash flow from the landfill gas business to build a more general renewables business,” said Lovell. “Our first move is onshore wind.”
In the UK it costs between £1.4m and £1.6 m per megawatt to build onshore wind farms. This would bring the total cost of the plan for 800MW to about £1.2 billion.

Infinis has just received its first approval for a 27MW wind farm on one its landfill sites in Scotland.
Other projects are faltering. Warwick Energy, developer of the £800m Thanet wind farm, halted construction this month after Iberdrola Renovables, the Spanish renewables giant, pulled out of a deal to buy the farm from Christofferson Robb, its hedge-fund owner.