Saturday, 15 November 2008

Co2 cuts 'can be achieved without nuclear power'

Published Date: 15 November 2008
By Joe Quinn

MAJOR reductions in Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by 2050, experts said yesterday.
A Co2 cut of 75 per cent is possible even without controversial measures such as building nuclear power stations, they said. The findings came in one of three Scottish Government-commissioned reports on aspects of climate change published yesterday.Stewart Stevenson, the climate change minister, said: "Taken together, these reports give us further evidence that we need to do everything possible to meet our statutory targets."Next month, the government plans to publish a Climate Change Bill aimed at reducing emissions of six greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050, with a mid-way target of 50 per cent by 2030. Two of yesterday's reports study policy options and energy and carbon dioxide projections. The third studies issues relating to power generation. Carbon capture and storage is given a "very high" rating for its benefits and cost-effectiveness, while Scotland-wide road pricing is deemed a "very low" priority.

Gordon Brown hints at tax cuts for poor and support for green technology

In a speech in New York, the prime minister also suggested UK interest rates would be cut again soon
Graeme Wearden and Deborah Summers, Friday November 14 2008 14.58 GMT

Gordon Brown today said that tax cuts aimed at low-paid workers and support for green technology had to be key parts of the response to the financial crisis, and also suggested that UK interest rates would be cut again soon.
In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the prime minister called on other world leaders to join a global fiscal and monetary stimulus package to address the financial crisis.
A key part of this package, Brown insisted, had to be a cut in taxation – especially for the poorest in society, who would help the economy by spending the extra money.
"What we have learned in the past is that when we cut taxes only half the money is spent, the rest is saved. Public works take time to come online," he said. "Those on low incomes are more likely to pass on the benefits of a tax cut."
The comments may be a hint of the contents of the pre-budget report, which Alistair Darling will present to parliament on Monday November 24.
The environment could also be a long-term beneficiary of the stimulus package, Brown said.
"Green technology could be what IT was in the 1990s, a big growth area."
Although Brown predicted that the world economy would double in size over the next 20 years, he also believes that a coordinated global approach is needed to prevent the financial crisis turning into a 1930s-style depression – when protectionism was rampant.
"The benefits of a financial stimulus package, temporary though they will be, will be all the greater if other countries take part," he said.
Earlier today the eurozone fell into recession for the first time in its history, in the latest sign that the world could be heading for a protracted period of economic contraction.
"This is not the time to prevent fiscal policy preventing economic policy working," said Brown, who pointed to the looming risk of deflation.
"The is no doubt that some countries might have zero inflation next year so there is no point having further cuts without a fiscal stimulus," he added.
A four-point plan to save the world economy
Brown hopes to persuade other leaders to sign up to a four-part package of cutting taxes, fixing problems in the international financial system, pumping more money into the IMF and an end to the deadlock over world trade.
"A new world trade deal is absolutely crucial, in my view, to send a message that protectionism is absolutely unacceptable," the prime minister insisted.
He also appeared to indicate that he would welcome another cut in interest rates by the Bank of England, which slashed the cost of borrowing by 1.5 points to 3% earlier this month
"There is scope for further cuts in rates, and that is an essential part of what we are doing," said Brown.
Environmentalism, not protectionism
The US government is under growing pressure to bail out its troubled car industry with billions of dollars of taxpayers' money, which has already concerned some overseas rivals.
Brown said that it was important to "help people into their next jobs while also keeping our economies open", which some observers saw as a possible hint to Barack Obama – who has been accused of taking a protectionism stance over the US economy.
The British prime minister was also praised for his handling of the crisis by former US Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, who hailed Brown as an "acclaimed leader" during a question and answer session after the speech.

Centrica says reviewing new wind farm economics

Published: November 14, 2008

By Philip Waller
Centrica is reviewing the economic viability of planned wind farms due to soaring costs and the credit crunch, the owner of British Gas said.
Centrica, which is raising 2.2 billion pounds to help fund its proposed 25 percent stake in nuclear power generator British Energy, said it was "revisiting the economics of wind farms given rising raw material and credit costs."
The company, which hopes to start full operation of its new Lynn & Inner Dowsing wind farms off the coast of eastern England by the end of the year, has yet to approve investment for three more farms that it plans to build in the North Sea.
"The costs of building offshore wind are at a very high level," a Centrica spokesman told Reuters.

"This, coupled with the rising cost of credit given the economic situation, means we need to revisit all our numbers to ensure our projects are economic before we give them the go-ahead."
Centrica said in a statement last month that it currently expects to invest about 1.5 billion pounds during the next few years in renewable energy generation schemes.
The company remained committed to developing further renewable generation capacity, provided it could see clear returns, the spokesman said.
Centrica has won government permission for its proposed 250 megawatt Lincs wind farm off the east coast and has said it plans to build two 500 megawatt farms, Race Bank and Docking Shoal, in the next eight or nine years.
The firm said in last month's statement that it expects to seek government consent for Race Bank and Docking Shoal, which would be off the north coast of East Anglia, by the end of this year.
The high costs of developing offshore wind farms are among a number of issues that industry executives, investors and environmental groups say could threaten the government's efforts to hit a target of producing 15 percent of Britain's energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Offshore wind currently costs in the region of 2.5-3 billion pounds per gigawatt of capacity to build, according to industry figures.
By comparison, an equivalent one gigawatt gas-fired power station would cost 600 million pounds and nuclear is about 1.8 billion pounds per gigawatt.
The government has said the UK now generates three gigawatts of power from wind energy, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes.
Other hurdles highlighted by the industry include planning delays, difficulties in connecting farms to the UK's national power grid and a shortage of wind turbines.
Ministers are facing calls to boost incentives to encourage firms to build more farms and to increase wind turbine manufacturing capacity.
The recent fall in oil prices has also cast doubt on the viability of renewable energy schemes such as wind farms, as the costs of traditional fossil fuel generation decline.
(Reporting by Philip Waller; Editing by Hans Peters)

Islanders target £1m prize with plan to make 2009 a green year

Published Date: 15 November 2008
By Ben Bailey

AN ECO-PROJECT aimed at converting Eigg into Scotland's first completely green island was launched yesterday.

The project, which will see islanders invest in energy saving for an entire year, is part of a national initiative tackling climate change.The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has secured a £20,000 grant to pilot the project, after reaching the final of the Big Green Challenge, a UK-wide competition set up by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta).Their pilot is the only Scottish finalist, competing alongside nine other groups, and the winner will receive £1 million.In an attempt to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by 250 tonnes, Eigg's 68 residents plan to install solar panels in their homes and harvest wood for fuel through a woodland management scheme.Lucy Conway from the Isle of the Eigg Heritage Trust, one of the volunteers taking part, said: "It is about finding alternatives. Instead of burning coal, burn wood instead. We are going to be very busy for the next 12 months on Eigg and I'm looking forward to getting started. We will be installing insulation and solar water panels in houses."Then we plan on recording and publishing how much we save so that people throughout Scotland and all over the world can do the same."Climate change is such a huge subject, but we, as an island, are taking steps to reduce it."Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, who officially launched the programme yesterday,said: "The Isle of Eigg wants to lead the way towards becoming a zero-carbon-energy community. "Their 'Build your own Green Island' project is a very welcome part of this project, and should be a great way to share ideas with other communities who are looking for ways to reduce their own carbon footprint."Mr Harvie has today tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating Eigg on reaching the final. John Hutchison, chair of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, said: "We're very proud to be the only Scottish finalist in the Big Green Challenge. Reducing Eigg's emissions is vital to our sustainability, but we're very much looking forward to monitoring and sharing what we've achieved with the rest of the country."The interest in the Big Green Challenge has been building since Eigg Electric brought 24-hour renewable power to our community."We expect it to increase further as our Big Green Challenge Year unfolds."Should the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust win the £1 million prize, it plans to spend the money on a developing green facilities and equipment on the island for the future. A website with the trust's results and findings will be launched in February 2009.

Osborne to change role and downplay green taxes as Tories lose economic battle

• Shadow chancellor to step back from party strategy• Change in language over recession planned
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

The Guardian, Friday November 14 2008

George Osborne presents Lord Mandelson with the Newcomer of the Year prize yesterday's parliamentary awards in London. Photograph: Alan Davidson/The Spectator/PA
A chastened George Osborne is to step back from his frontline party political role over the coming months to focus his attention on reviewing Tory economic policy amid growing fears among senior Conservatives that the shadow chancellor is being comprehensively outmanoeuvred by Labour.
Days after a major Tory initiative on the economy - a £2.6bn tax break for companies - was panned by business leaders, senior Tories have made clear that Osborne will spend the next four months working on his response to the recession.
Amid a whispering campaign against Osborne by MPs on right of the party, who are suggesting that he could be replaced by William Hague, authoritative sources said that Osborne will retain his twin roles as shadow chancellor and general election coordinator. But he will step back from his party role between now and March as the Tories try to regain the initiative on the economy.
In a sign of the depth of Tory soul-searching, senior figures said that Osborne has embarked on a wholesale review of his approach to the economy and has already made two key decisions:
• To downgrade green taxes in response to growing unease that these could be punitive in a recession. This will raise questions about David Cameron's commitment to the environment, a signature theme in his rebranding of the Tories since he became leader in 2005.
• To abandon the language of Osborne's landmark economic policy of sharing the proceeds of economic growth between tax cuts and public spending increases. Tory strategists believe that this jars with voters - and will be misrepresented - at a time when the Bank of England is saying there is no economic growth.
The rethink comes as Osborne admits in private that he is being bested by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling after months in which the Tories dominated the political agenda.

Critics say he has made major mistakes in recent weeks. The flagship announcement to hand a £2.6bn tax break to businesses that hire unemployed people was criticised by the British Chambers of Commerce. The Social Market Foundation identified a £1.9bn black hole in the figures, though this is disputed by the Tories who say their calculations were endorsed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Osborne has also come under fire for declaring in a speech last month that Brown had left hardly any room for interest rate cuts. Within weeks they were cut by 1.5% to their lowest level since 1954.
Osborne is understood to be deeply frustrated that he has lost the political initiative in the last month. He puts this down to two factors: the fallout from his Corfu holiday, in which he admitted visiting Oleg Deripaska's 238ft yacht and discussing a donation from the Russian billionaire; and the drama of the financial crisis which has seen Brown hailed by the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman as the saviour of the world economy.
The dismay was outlined by a senior Tory. "George is frustrated because we have not been making the political weather at all. It is very difficult for the opposition to be making the weather at a time like this. But Gordon Brown is making the running. It looks like we do not have a saleable, bankable economic strategy."
Osborne is particularly irritated because he believes that his fundamental economic strategy and his response to the recession are right - and that he will be vindicated. "We believe that Gordon Brown is laying out policies that will bite us if we come into office," one figure said.
The difference between Brown and Osborne over the recession boils down to their views on borrowing. Osborne accepts that it should increase to fill the gap between the fall in tax receipts and an increase in benefit payments. But the issue is whether it is right to increase borrowing beyond that amount to fund extra spending or tax cuts, known as a "fiscal stimulus". "We can't do that because the cupboard is bare," the Tory source said.
Osborne believes his overall economic strategy - to share the proceeds of economic growth between tax cuts and spending increases - is also right. But he accepts that he must change the way he describes this policy because it sounds strange to talk of economic growth amid such gloomy economic forecasts.
"When the Bank of England says there is no growth you can't really say you're going to share the proceeds of growth," one senior party figure said. "That will be misunderstood and misrepresented."
But Osborne believes that his general approach is right because his "sharing the proceeds" formula is designed to apply over the whole economic cycle, which covers both downturns and periods of growth. He outlined his thinking on this in an interview with the Guardian in September in which he said: "If there was no growth in the British economy over an economic cycle we'd be back to the middle ages."
The second major change in economic policy will come on green taxes, which are to be downgraded. Osborne believes that two factors have made it more difficult to sell them: the row over the government's plan to increase car tax on gas-guzzling vehicles, which he believes has given such taxes a bad name because these are to apply retrospectively; and the overall economic downturn.
The change on green taxes will have a major impact on Cameron's approach to the environment and his theme of supporting the family. A "family fund" to support tax breaks for couples - gay and straight - is meant to be created from green taxes.
Michael Fallon, the most senior Conservative on the Commons treasury select committee, said Tory thinking had to change in the new economic climate. "Sharing the proceeds of growth is right for growth times. We are not in growth times so obviously it is necessary to think differently."
Osborne has agreed to match government spending until 2011 but is keeping an open mind on the years after that. "The formula is for the current spending period. The government has not outlined its plans for the next period. This will allow George Osborne to move away from matching Labour. He has political scope to nuance the policy."
The rethink by Osborne comes as Tories on the right of the party attempt to exploit his weakened position. At a dinner of the Thatcherite No Turning Back group on Monday night, some Tory MPs said they hoped that a damaged Osborne would deliver their key demand: upfront tax cuts at the next election.
That will not happen, not least because two former ministers admired on the right - Fallon and John Redwood - are being supportive. Fallon said: "Shadow chancellors always take the flak. Geoffrey Howe used to before the 1979 election. They are a lightning conductor. You do not chop and change your shadow chancellor."
• Osborne's proposal for a tax break for firms that hire the unemployed met with scepticism this week from business leaders, who said suffering firms were not in a position to recruit.
• He claimed in a speech last month that the prime minister had left hardly any room for interest rate cuts, but within weeks they were cut by 1.5%.
• He was caught on the back foot weeks earlier when he was forced to admit discussing whether to take a loan from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, whose yacht he visited.
• Labour MPs seeking to portray the shadow chancellor as out of touch with voters pounced on the emergence of a new picture showing him in plus fours during his time at Oxford University, where he was a member of the exclusive Bullingdon Club.

Nasa fights global warming with bathtime favourite

Chris Ayres in Los Angeles

After years of research – and with the fate of planet Earth hanging in the balance – the Nasa scientist who helped to put a robot on Mars has finally completed work on a device that can measure how fast Greenland’s ice-cap is melting.
The bright yellow probe is considered the pinnacle of environmental research technology, and has been made to endure sub-zero temperatures and ocean currents as powerful as those under Niagara Falls. It can even withstand being trapped beneath a mile-thick slab of ice.
Nevertheless, Nasa is reluctant to take all the credit. Why? Because the device in question is none other than a rubber ducky, the kind beloved by toddlers around the world at bathtime. And unlike Nasa’s multibillion-dollar inventions, this one is more suited to the current economic climate – the ducks cost $2 each.
The idea to use bathtub toys for ice-cap research came from Alberto Behar, a rocket scientist and world authority on space robotics who works at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
For years he had been desperate to find out more about exactly how and why the ice-caps are melting in Greenland. His research has so far focused on the Jakobshavn Glacier, probably the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanicin 1912. “It’s a beautiful place to visit,” he said in a recent interview.
“You can watch these icebergs continuously march across and fall into the ocean. [But] it’s not understood what causes the glaciers themselves to ‘surge’ in the summer.”
When glaciers surge, they move at up to 100 times their usual speed. Scientists believe that surging could be caused by water from melting ice on the top of a glacier flowing into tubular holes and eventually reaching the base, where it acts as a lubricant, speeding the movement of the glacier towards the coast.
Cue the rubber ducks. In August, Dr Behar flew to the Jakobshavn Glacier and landed near one of the tubular holes, known as “moulins”. Into one of the moulins he dropped 90 ducks, each labelled with the words “Science Experiment” and “Reward” in three languages along with an e-mail address. If the ducks are ever found, they will tell Dr Behar exactly what happens to the melted water from the glacier, allowing him to predict exactly how a catastrophic ice-cap melt would affect ocean levels. He hopes that they’ll be picked up by a fishing vessel about 30 miles (48km) away in Disco Bay, near Ilulissat.
Dr Behar also dropped a football-sized probe that was equipped with a GPS transmitter, a temperature gauge and an “accelerometer” to provide even more detailed information about the innards of the glacier.
His research is arguably crucial to the survival of modern civilisation. Glacier ice represents the largest reservoir of fresh water on Earth, and if Greenland’s 2.2 million square miles of ice ever melted completely, sea levels would rise by an estimated 24ft (7.3m), destroying cities such as London and New York.
The Nasa scientist’s inspiration originally came from a news story about a shipping consignment of 28,200 rubber duckies and other bathtub toys that were lost at sea in 1992. Because the duckies were stamped with a unique manufacturing code, they ended up being used by scientists to document previously unknown ocean currents. In 2003 one of the toys turned up in Scotland.
So far Dr Behar’s ducks have not saved the world, but he remained confident. “It may take some time until somebody actually finds [them] and decides to send us an e-mail,” he said. “These are places that are quite remote. There aren’t people walking around.”
Ducking the issue
— The first rubber ducks are believed to have been produced in the 1880s. They were made of hard rubber – the squeak was a late addition
— In January 1992 20,000 rubber ducks and an assortment of other plastic animals fell off a boat in the Pacific. Since this accident scientists have started using rubber ducks to chart tidal patterns and water currents
— In July 2006 20,000 rubber ducks were released into the Thames at Battersea Park for a race. The tide took a large percentage of the ducks off course but the winner completed the race in half an hour
— In 2001 The Sun claimed that the Queen had a rubber duck with a crown in her bathtub. Sales of rubber ducks in Britain went up by 80 per cent
Source: Times Archive