Monday, 27 October 2008

MP's anger as state bears cost of any Sellafield disaster

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

Taxpayers have been left with unlimited liability amounting to billions of pounds should there be a repeat of a nuclear accident at Sellafield under a deal signed with a US-led consortium which takes over the decommissioning of the waste facility from November 24. The indemnity even covers accidents and leaks that are the consortium's fault.
A row has broken out in parliament over the government's decision to sign the deal after it was revealed that the former energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, appeared to have broken Treasury guidelines by failing to inform MPs properly with the result that no backbencher could object.
The former minister - now the government's climate change envoy - rushed the deal through parliament just before the summer recess. There was no ministerial statement, no document detailing the proposals placed in the House of Commons library and no opportunity for MPs to raise questions.
He used emergency procedures claiming that the consortium, made up of the American company URS Washington, French firm Areva and the UK company Amec, had threatened to walk away unless Britain waived its rights to charge companies the first £140m for the costs of any accident. The contract is worth £6.5bn over five years and could be renewed for a further 12 years. The minister said the deal had to be completed by the beginning of October before parliament reconvened.
Wicks consulted only the chairs of two parliamentary committees, ignoring Treasury guidance that he should issue a statement to MPs and place the details in the House of Commons library.
His arguments persuaded Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, who waived his right to object because of the short timescale. Peter Luff, chairman of the business and regulatory reform select committee, had left it to Leigh to respond.
Both MPs were under the impression that other MPs could object because details of the deal had been placed in the House of Commons library. They were not put there until October 14, 75 days after the time any MP could raise questions.
Now Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, who raised the failure properly to inform parliament with the speaker, is expected to be granted a debate on the matter. He said yesterday: "This is an outrage. The taxpayer has now been left with an unlimited liability while the consortium will make hundreds of millions of pounds of profit on the deal."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "There is only an extremely small possibility of the indemnity ever being used and so the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority assessed that the benefits of engaging the contractor would far outweigh the small risk that the indemnity may be called upon. Due to an oversight by the department there was a delay in sending this minute to the House library."

Water firms told to pour money into sewage

Mark Milner, industrial editor
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

The Environment Agency is calling on water companies in England and Wales to step up their spending on infrastructure maintenance in an attempt to cut pollution and the impact of flooding.
It also wants the companies to increase their efforts to reduce demand for water and use their resources more efficiently.
The water companies have submitted their business plans for the five years from 2010 to the industry regulator, Ofwat.
The Environment Agency said it was pleased by many of the proposals put forward but warned more needed to be done.
"There is a lot to commend in the proposals from the water companies," said David King, the Environment Agency's director of water management. "However, we are keen to see more detail on their plans for capital maintenance. We need to be reassured that such investment is in the right areas to protect the environment and will deliver value for money."
The Environment Agency calculated that last year water companies were responsible for a fifth of all serious pollution incidents, many of which, it said, were caused by poorly maintained, overloaded or ageing sewerage infrastructure. It said they should invest more money to reduce the risk of pollution incidents.
It said it would also be pressing the companies to review their plans on how to protect water treatment and sewage works, many of which were close to rivers, from the risk of flooding. And it wanted more work on tackling surface water flooding - caused when drains overflow.
The companies have submitted their business plans as part of the process by which Ofwat will determine the prices they can charge customers for water and waste water services between 2010 and 2015.
King said the Environment Agency did not expect the water companies to come up with all the investment it wanted to see within one pricing period, but as part of a process of continuing investment.

Genteel custodian of grand houses turns eco-warrior to save green spaces

October 27, 2008
Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

The National Trust is to take up an aggressive eco-stance to protect green spaces and prevent desecration of the countryside.
The trust, one of the country’s biggest landowners, has decided to shift its focus to become the leading champion for the protection of green fields - a move that puts it on a collision course with the Government over housebuilding, development of eco-towns and the proposed expansions of Heathrow and Stansted airports.
The tough new position announced today by the trust, which is the biggest voluntary organisation in Europe with 3.5 million members, follows a year-long consultation of its membership and polling of the public. It signals a dramatic shift from the trust as genteel custodian of grand historic houses to warrior-like defender of green spaces that improve the lives of most citizens.
The approach is part of the legacy envisaged by Sir William Proby, chairman of the trust, who steps down at the annual general meeting next weekend. The vision also has the backing of Sir Simon Jenkins, a former Editor of The Times, who is to take over as chairman.

Sir William first gave warning of the trust’s exasperation with the persistence of ministers’ desire to build over green fields in an interview with The Times last year. He said then that the trust was prepared to buy up land if necessary to prevent the destruction of vital green spaces.
Now, after public feedback, the trust has decided to go on the offensive to save green spaces and woodlands and give people more opportunity to enjoy the coast. It will still keep the option to buy up land but only as a last resort.
Instead, the trust is to use its mandate to adopt a high-profile crusade against incursions on open spaces that threaten the quality of life in communities.
About 94 per cent of people in three separate surveys have called on the trust to be more robust in defending green places.
Sir William said: “We have asked National Trust supporters and the public whether we should be doing more to protect green places. The answer has been a resounding ‘yes’ but we are not going to start buying land from in front of the bulldozer. That isn’t what our supporters want.
“The public has told us that the National Trust should work more in partnership with communities to protect and look after their green spaces, and stand up for the importance of green places to people’s quality of life. They also want us to share our experience of managing local green spaces with local councils and other parties to improve the quality of local green places.”
Research for the trust shows that one in four people suffers from “green place poverty”. Tony Burton, its policy adviser, said that people would notice the organisation becoming more vocal and high-profile.
“We are going to lead the charge in places where significant development is proposed and we will be standing up and saying loudly that these plans are not acceptable.”
The trust has already been a vehement critic of government projects but its teeth have been more labrador than rottweiler. For example, it briefed lawyers to defend the tranquillity of Hatfield Forest at the planning inquiry over the proposed expansion of Stansted airport.
Mr Burton said: “We intend to spotlight the passion people have for green spaces The Government has not yet recognised that they are so important to our quality of life. The protection of land may in future eclipse the attention we have paid to historic houses. This is a clear new direction.”
The trust believes that the new stance brings the organisation closer to its roots. It was established more than 100 years ago primarily to protect public spaces for the benefit of everyone. The founder, Octavia Hill, first spoke of the need for “open-air living rooms” when she fought a bitter but unsuccessful campaign to save fields around Swiss Cottage, northwest London, as a public amenity.
The trust’s remit is in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate body exists in Scotland.
Buying up land to keep the developers at bay
Analysis: Valerie Elliott
The creation of a new national nature reserve at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is already under way and shows how the National Trust can use its influence to protect open land. The aim is to create a green lung for the people of Cambridge to visit for walking, cycling and horse-riding.
The trust is now ready to champion similar green spaces around Plymouth, Nottingham, Bristol, Gravesend and Bishop’s Stortford, places where development is being proposed. The east of England is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country and 47,500 new homes are planned in Cambridgeshire alone. By using capital from donations and other grants, the trust is acquiring land around Cambridge to ensure that it will remain free from development. So far the trust has increased the reserve from 320ha (800 acres) to 600ha and the plan is to continue to acquire land over the next 90 years so that the reserve will eventually cover about 55sq km (22 square miles). This buying up of land will not be automatically used to safeguard green living spaces for other communities. Instead the trust will work with other landowners. This already happens at Wicken Fen when owners do not wish to sell their land. The trust then works with them to ensure that land is managed to the highest environmental standards.
Some 40,000 people a year visit the fenland. Otters and water voles have returned and the reserve has the first pair of breeding bitterns in 36 years.
The National Trust
3.5 million members
£350 million annual income
15 million paying visitors
52,000 volunteers
5,000 full-time staff
700 miles of coastline under its management
250,000 hectares of countryside
350 holiday cottages
300 historic houses and gardens
37 pubs,
220 shops and
24 inns
28 castles

Biofuel flying will take off in three years, says Boeing

Dan Milmo, transport correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

Biofuel-powered aircraft could be carrying millions of passengers around the world within three years, according to Boeing.
Darrin Morgan, an environmental expert at the US jet manufacturer, said the group was expecting official approval of biofuel use in the near future.
"The certification will happen much sooner than anybody thought," he said. "We are thinking that within three to five years we are going to see approval for commercial use of biofuels - and possibly sooner."
Morgan added that aircraft will not require modification to operate on a blend of biofuel and kerosene. However, harvesting enough plant material to meet the industry's needs is the biggest barrier to mass use of biofuels, according to Boeing. Fuelling the world's 13,000 commercial planes with soya bean-based fuel, for example, would require setting aside the equivalent of the entire land mass of Europe for soya bean production.
"No technology change is needed from an engine or airframe point of view," Morgan said. "It's about availability of the biomass."
Boeing expects planes to operate on a 30% blend of biofuel. It also believes they could operate on a 100% blend, but says there would not be enough biofuel to supply an industry that consumes 85bn gallons of kerosene a year.
Airlines are staging biofuel trials, as well as Boeing and its close rival Airbus, with the support of engine manufacturers including Rolls-Royce.
A recent trial by Virgin Atlantic and Boeing was dismissed as a "PR stunt" by Willie Walsh, the British Airways chief executive. That drew a sharp response from Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, who warned that the airline industry would go "backwards" if Walsh's attitude prevailed. BA has subsequently teamed up with Rolls-Royce to conduct an in-depth study of alternative fuels. Air France-KLM, the world's largest airline by revenue, has also given its backing to biofuels.
Friends of the Earth said the aviation industry should limit flights first before turning to biofuels and warned that doubts over the ecological benefits of alternative fuels had not been answered.
"There are real doubts over whether biofuels are sustainable and make a real contribution to cutting climate-change emissions," said Tony Bosworth, a transport campaigner at FoE. "Second-generation biofuels are also, as yet, unproven."
According to their backers, biofuels are good for the environment because their ingredients absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while they are grown, which balances out the carbon dioxide that is released when the fuel is burned.
Detractors argue that mass production of biofuel pushes up food prices by using land that would otherwise be dedicated to producing food crops and also causes increased deforestation.

National Grid delays ‘will mean that climate targets are missed’

Lewis Smith, Environment Editor

Renewable energy and climate change targets for 2020 will be missed unless the National Grid speeds up the rate at which new generators are connected, leading industry figures have said.
The grid is undergoing its biggest upgrade since the 1960s as part of a £14 billion investment project by 2012 and up to £13.5 billion more by 2020.
Unless it is made easier, however, for renewable energy generators, particularly wind farms, to connect to the grid, the investment will fail to enable Britain to meet its 2020 targets. Under an EU agreement earlier this year, Britain committed itself to increasing its reliance on renewable energy from about 2 per cent to 15 per cent. To reach the target, up to 40 per cent of electricity will have to come from renewable sources, which will require a big programme to build wind farms.
Delays in linking new generators to the grid are already forcing projects to be postponed, and developers are being told they may have to wait until 2018 before they can be connected.

Planning rules are being reformed, and should be in force next year to help reduce the time it takes to get consent for generators and grid extensions, but few within the renewables industry believe that they will enable the 2020 targets to be reached.
William Law, chairman of Lunar Energy, which is developing tidal generators, described the state of the grid as the single biggest problem facing the renewables industry.
The upgrade of the grid over the next decade is expected to take into account the rise of renewable generators, which are usually situated in unpopulated parts of the country or at sea, and are therefore far removed from the existing infrastructure.
Among the improvements that are being worked on are connections between the English and Scottish grids, so that electricity from rich sources of renewable energy can get to places such as London where it is most needed.Gordon Edge, of the British Wind Energy Association, said: “There needs to be a wholesale change in how the system is managed. We need strong political direction and guidance – someone knocking heads together to make sure deadlines aren’t missed.”
Renewable Energy Systems, based in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, has six wind farm projects that have been seriously delayed because it will take until at least 2016 before they can be connected to the grid. Richard Ford, its grid connections manager, was told that one of its wind farms proposed in Scotland could not be guaranteed a connection by 2018.
National Grid, which owns and manages the grid in England and Wales and oversees it in Scotland, is barred by the regulator, Ofgem, from investing in new transmission lines until developers with specific proposals and funding apply for connection.
Changing the remit of Ofgem, to allow National Grid to build the infrastructure before generators are built could halve the time it would take to get wind farms off the drawing board and into production. The idea has won support in the Lords, where an amendment to the Energy Bill, proposed by Lord Oxburgh, to widen the regulator’s role will be debated tomorrow.
Lord Jenkin of Roding said: “My main concern is to address the question of whether Ofgem should be taking account of social needs and climate change.”
Stewart Larque, of National Grid, singled out the planning system as the biggest barrier to rapid expansion but he agreed that the regulatory system needed to be changed. He said that there was an “unprecedented amount” of renewables planned that need to be linked to the grid.

£20m to get more electric vans on the road

The Times
October 27, 2008

London
Ministers will boost the green motoring industry by investing millions of pounds of public money on environmentally friendly vehicles.
Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, will announce that some local councils and other public bodies will be given a £20 million fund to buy and run electric vans. He will also provide details of a trial of electric cars and convenient charging points announced by Gordon Brown this summer. The Prime Minister has regularly championed the use of electric cars as a means to meeting Britain’s carbon emission cutting target – increased to 80 per cent this month – and cutting dependence on oil. So far, however, the take-up has been tiny, only 0.1 per cent of vehicles on the roads are electric. Four local authorities – Liverpool, Newcastle & Gateshead, Coventry and Leeds – will join Royal Mail and the Metropolitan Police in the scheme. Ford, Mercedes Benz, Citro├źn and Nissan are expected to be shortlisted to supply the vehicles. The aim is to get the vans on the streets next year.

Carbon-neutral flame for green Games

By Amol Rajan
Monday, 27 October 2008

With budgets overstretched, private money not forthcoming, and ministers under pressure to find savings in a shrinking economy, Londoners might be forgiven for wishing that they were not hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 after all.
And while calls for a "Credit Crunch Games", based on the model of the "Austerity Games" London delivered in 1948, have grown louder by the day, so too have concerns about the environmental impact of what cynics deride as a fortnight long running and jumping festival. So the latest wheeze to keep costs down and ensure a greener Games? A carbon-neutral Olympic torch and flame. If adopted, the carbon-neutral torch and flame would signal Britain's commitment to a pledge to make London 2012 the most environment-friendly Games ever delivered.
Most torches contain a canister with a mixture of compressed gases, including methane. Under proposals put to Tessa Jowell, the Games' supremo, today by Wood for Gold, a cross-industry campaign to promote use of sustainable wood, the torch at London 2012 will convert waste wood from the Olympic site into biomass. This biomass will be fuel to generate heat and power for the torch and the flame.
For every tree cut down to provide wood for the Olympic site, three will be planted at one of five Olympic forests by the Forestry Commission. These will take between 30 and 40 years to mature.
And woodchip used as biomass fuel is a sustainable source of energy because unlike fossil fuels, which are a finite resource, wood is infinitely renewable because it requires only light and water to grow. Rather than let wood rot in landfill, London 2012 organisers will use the energy in it as biomass fuel. And the ash waste created by burning the wood as biomass will be reused to create terra preta soils, an ancient method, favoured by indigenous South Americans, of mixing ash with waste to create extremely fertile soils.
Wood forms a huge part of the raw materials being used for construction of the Olympic Park, for stadia, seats, housing, hoardings and billboards. Though it is impossible to know how much wood will be used on the site, or how much of that will end up being waste, approximately £350m of the overall £9.3bn budget for the Games is being spent on timber alone.
Craig White, the chairman of Wood for Gold, said: "London 2012 has been labelled the low-carbon Games, and off-setting is a big part of the planning. But the design we're discussing doesn't just offset carbon, it actually reduces it. That's a pretty exciting prospect".

Minister bows to calls on climate change bill

• Shipping and aviation to count in emission targets • Green campaigners hail 'world-class' legislation
David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

The government is to announce tomorrow that it will include rapidly growing aviation and shipping emissions in Britain's commitment to curb its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, will bow to pressure from environmentalists and rebel Labour MPs by announcing he will accept an amendment to include these emission sources in the climate change bill which is due to become law next month.
The decision not to include aviation and shipping, which account for 7.5% of all emissions, was seen as a gaping hole in the government's legislation, which is the first measure of its kind in the world. Up to 86 MPs threatened to back an amendment in the Commons tomorrow, tabled by Elliot Morley, a former environment minister, to include these sources.
The government has not been able to calculate exactly which emissions from international flights and shipping lanes will be attributable to Britain's carbon footprint. But even if an international agreement is not reached, acceptance of the amendment will force Miliband to explain where Britain stands on curbing aviation and shipping emissions.
Environmentalists were delighted with the decision. Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "The final piece of the jigsaw is in place. The world's first climate change law will also be a world-class climate change law.
"The climate change law is a victory in the fight against climate change and a victory for the hundreds of thousands of people who have campaigned to make this happen. People from right around the UK demanded a strong law. The government have listened."
Thom Yorke, Radiohead frontman and supporter of The Big Ask, a campaign to urge the government to take the strongest line possible on climate change, said: "It is a massive step forward for us all, as now we can engage in trying to fight climate change directly as a nation. And it came about simply because hundreds of thousands of people on the ground hassled their MP, who in turn hassled the government. Amazing."
An attempt to kickstart the green motoring industry by spending millions of pounds of public money on environmentally friendly vehicles is also to be unveiled tomorrow. Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, will announce that some local councils and other public bodies will be given £20m to buy and run electric vans.
He will also provide details of a full-scale trial of electric cars and convenient charging points, first announced by Gordon Brown in the summer. The prime minister has championed electric cars but so far take-up has been tiny - just 0.1% of vehicles on the roads.

Now is the perfect time to save the planet

A green new deal will help us out of recession and stave off a climate crisis
Ashley Seager, economics correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

Banking crisis, recession, stocks tumbling, house prices collapsing - it's been a deluge in the past few weeks to compare with any turbulence of previous decades.
It's easy, as a result, to be gloomy about the prospects. Recession, after all, is already here and everyone is worried about the immediate future. There's also a lot of talk that switching the world economy to a carbon-free future is now something that cannot be afforded.
Not so. There were three important events in the past few weeks that went largely unnoticed during the financial maelstrom but whose significance cannot be overstated.
Two concern renewable energy and the other a change of government structure. In Britain, the government unexpectedly announced on October 16 that it intended introducing a "feed-in tariff" guaranteeing rates for renewably produced electricity. And the United States said part of its $700bn banking system bail-out would include $16bn (£10bn) of new green tax breaks for renewable energy, cleaner fuels and energy efficiency.
In Britain, as regular readers will know, the rhetoric and grand target-setting on climate change has far exceeded the practical policies to take us from where we are to where we want to be. The government has, in other words, generated a lot more hot air than it has tried to remove from the atmosphere.
This may finally be changing, thanks to relentless pressure from many in parliament, NGOs such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and, we hope modestly, this newspaper, which has long called for a feed-in tariff. Firstly, the government put energy and the environment under one roof in the new Department of Energy and Climate Change. Surely that's just a change of chairs, you argue, and the same BERR officials who resisted boosting renewable energies are now down at the DECC?
Possibly, and that's a justified concern. But if you look at the case of Germany, it decided to make the same move in 1999 and renewable energy there has grown exponentially in the past decade. It bears repeating that the Germans have 10 times as much wind power as Britain, in spite of having much less wind, and 200 times as much installed solar power.
That's because the Germans did, among many things, what new DECC boss Ed Miliband has said he will do - introduce a feed-in tariff for renewables. FITs work by paying an above-market rate for renewable electricity produced from things like wind turbines or solar photovolataics (PV) and fed into the grid. This pushes the yield on PV, for example, up to 8-10% and attracts huge investment from individuals, communities and industries.
The idea is to kickstart nascent industries and reward early adopters of the technology. FITs stimulate production of the technologies and so push costs down, which is why FITs are usually reduced each year for new projects. They are not subsidies but work to boost markets. Lord Stern in his review on climate change says they are the best way to make renewables work and the experience backs him.
FITs have been proved to work at lower cost than Britain's renewable obligation (RO) scheme, which imposes obligations on electricity producers to raise the share of power they produce from renewables. The RO has benefited large onshore wind farms but little else.
For householders here, the government offered only the fiasco of the low-carbon buildings programme grants which has been well documented in these pages. Britain produces less than 2% of its total energy and only about 5% of its electricity from renewables. In Germany the figures are 8.5% and 14%. Enough said.
The FIT costs the average German family a modest €20 (£16) a year in dearer electricity. The Germans started a decade ago and we, really, are just starting now. But we do finally look as if we are getting on the right track.
Robust
One reason to be cautious is that we don't yet have the details. Those are coming this Thursday from the government and campaigners are keen to see tariffs not just for electricity but a production-based tariff for renewable heat as well.
Half the energy we use in Britain provides us with heat, so encouraging small and medium-scale renewable heat close to where it is used is crucial. "The case for supporting renewable heat through a tariff is robust ... Heat is the biggest single use of energy in the UK and expected to make up a full third of our EU 2020 renewables targets - or 15% of the heating market," says Leonie Green of the Renewable Energy Association.
"Less than 1% of the UK's heat currently comes from renewable sources. Action plainly cannot come fast enough - hence the industry needs to see action now through the energy bill."
A Lords amendment to the energy bill would introduce tariffs for everything including biogas and is putting pressure on the government to do the same. Hence the government's change of heart.
It remains to be seen how tough the government will be over the proposed Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent regarding the fitting of carbon capture and storage technology. Another test is whether Britain keeps trying to undermine the European Union's 2020 renewable energy target, rather than redoubling efforts to try to meet it.
But Miliband has committed the government to an 80% carbon reduction by 2050 - another sign the government is finally getting serious. Gordon Brown also seems to have seen the light on the climate change issue - and he is aware of the international kudos he gained from leading the way on rescuing the global banking system. The message from that is that international leaders working together can get things done - an important lesson after decades in which governments appeared powerless in the face of "the markets". The markets have now failed and governments have been forced to step in.
Limits
Many of those government leaders would do well to read last week's report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Echoing President Franklin Roosevelt's stimulus programme for the depression-hit US economy in the 1930s, it called for a "Green New Deal" of huge investments in renewable and other clean technologies that would not only cut emissions but help revive flagging economies.
"The economic models of the 20th century are now hitting the limits of what is possible - possible in terms of delivering better livelihoods for the 2.6 billion people still living on less than $2 a day and possible in terms of our ecological footprint," says Pavan Sukhdev, head of global markets for Deutsche Bank, who worked on the report.
It highlights five areas offering the best payback in terms of economic returns, environmental sustainability and job creation: clean energy and new technologies including recycling; rural energy including renewables and biomass; sustainable agriculture including organic cultivation; ecosystem infrastructure and reduced emissions from deforestation; sustainable cities including green building and transport.
Friends of the Earth says Britain must start to play its part in this revolution. "The government must ... introduce a comprehensive feed-in tariff that encourages farmers, communities and businesses to invest in renewable energy technologies - not just households," says FoE campaigner Robin Webster. "If the government gets it right, the UK could become a world leader in the development of small-scale green energy - creating new green-collar jobs and a booming new industry."
Difficult to argue with that.
ashley.seager@guardian.co.uk

CO2 curbs may be too late for reefs, study warns

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday October 27 2008

Plight of the coral reefs. Photograph: Sterling Zumbrunn/CI
A new global deal on climate change will come too late to save most of the world's coral reefs, according to a US study that suggests major ecological damage to the oceans is now inevitable.
Emissions of carbon dioxide are making seawater so acidic that reefs including the Great Barrier Reef off Australia could begin to break up within a few decades, research by the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California suggests. Even ambitious targets to stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, as championed by Britain and Europe to stave off dangerous climate change, still place more than 90% of coral reefs in jeopardy.
Oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at how carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea as human emissions increase. About a third of carbon pollution is soaked up in this way, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Experts say human activity over the last two centuries has produced enough acid to lower the average pH of global ocean surface waters by about 0.1 units.
Such acidification spells problems for coral reefs, which rely on calcium minerals called aragonite to build and maintain their exoskeletons.
"We can't say for sure that [the reefs] will disappear but ... the likelihood they will be able to persist is pretty small," said Caldeira.
The new study was prompted by questions by a US congressional committee on how possible carbon stabilisation targets would affect coral loss.

Europe forcing airlines to buy emissions permits


By James Kanter
Published: October 26, 2008
A jet landing at London's Heathrow airport. Any airline operating in Europe must join an emissions system starting Jan. 1, 2012.

BRUSSELS: European Union governments gave formal approval Friday to a potentially costly system of capping greenhouse gases from any airline flying into or out of the trade bloc — just as the airline industry reported new evidence of the impact of a worsening economy.
Airline chiefs immediately criticized the decision, saying it would cost the industry at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.4 billion) each year to comply. The Europeans are "acting in a bubble — even in the middle of a global economic crisis," said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general of the International Air Transport Association.
European justice ministers meeting in Luxembourg approved the greenhouse gas measures, which oblige airlines, regardless of nationality, that land or take off from an airport in the European Union to join the emissions trading system starting on Jan. 1, 2012.
The system, created in 2005, already includes heavy industries like cement makers and electricity generators in Europe.
Industries have complained bitterly about the costs of complying with the system, especially as the global economic situation has worsened. Many airlines also have fought hard to avoid inclusion in the system, saying they can ill afford the extra costs after a period of record high fuel costs.

The United States has also harshly criticized efforts to apply the rules to American-based carriers, maintaining the rules may violate international aviation agreements.
Friday's decision was expected, however, after European governments reached a political agreement with the European Parliament in June.
The International Air Transport Association has reported that global airline passenger traffic fell 2.9 percent in September, compared with a year earlier. It was the first monthly drop since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.
A drop in air freight of 7.7 percent was the first since the market for technology stocks crashed in 2001, the transport association said.
In another sign of gloom in the industry, Europe's largest airline, Air France-KLM, warned that its earnings would suffer as a result of the financial crisis, sending its shares down sharply.
The airline said it was struggling to reach a full-year goal of 1 billion euros in operating profit for the 12 months through March 2009. Air France-KLM vowed to curb capacity and freeze costs, but said that it would "remain comfortably in profit as long as market conditions do not deteriorate any further."
The inclusion of aviation in the carbon trading system will raise costs for airlines, which pay for a portion of their emissions permits to comply. The system also will raise costs for passengers if airlines, as expected, pass on the costs by raising ticket prices.
European Union climate officials say it is vital to regulate greenhouse gases from aviation because the sector is growing so quickly.
Low-cost carriers like Ryanair, based in Ireland, have made short hops by air accessible for many more Europeans. Even so, the measures approved on Friday include special provisions that could ease the rules on start-up airlines in faster-growing economies within the union, like those in Eastern Europe.
New airlines or airlines growing at more than 18 percent annually would be eligible for a one-time limited supply of additional free permits. That measure would ensure that countries "with initially very low but increasing mobility rates are not penalized by the scheme," European Union governments said in a statement.
The airline industry says its gases represent a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions and that the European measures will be ineffective without a global agreement. Environmentalists say the effect of vapor and emissions from jet engines at altitude could magnify their effect on the climate.

EPA to Loosen Controls On Power-Plant Pollution

By SIOBHAN HUGHES

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is moving to adopt rules that would loosen pollution controls on power plants, by judging the plants on their hourly rate of emissions rather than their total annual output, people familiar with the matter said.
Under current policy, power plants that make upgrades to operate longer and increase emissions must install pollution-control equipment.
The proposed rules, which seek to make it easier for older power plants to extend their life span and upgrade without installing costly new equipment, are tied to an hourly rate of emissions. As long as a power plant's hourly emissions stay at or below the plant's historical maximum, the plant would be treated as if it were running more cleanly, even if its total annual emissions increased as plant operators stepped up operations.
The Environmental Protection Agency had outlined the most-recent version of the rules in 2007.
It isn't clear how soon the administration plans to finalize the rule change, though one person familiar with the agency's internal deliberations said work on the rule has sped up noticeably in recent weeks. EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Sunday that "work continues" on the proposed rule change and that "no timeframe has been set" for adopting it. Bush administration officials have said the proposed change would provide power plants clearer and simpler rules for operating safely, efficiently, and affordably and that other EPA programs could be relied upon to drive down plants' emissions.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) last week wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and urged him not to go forward with the rule. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on Friday threatened to investigate the EPA if it finalizes the regulation.
"If the EPA does promulgate the rule, this committee may be compelled to undertake extensive investigation and oversight of the agency's and its officials' conduct and actions," Sens. Boxer and Tom Carper (D., Del.) wrote in a letter.—Stephen Power contributed to this article.