Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Unexpected rise in carbon-fuelled ocean acidity threatens shellfish, say scientists

Ian Sample, science correspondent

The Guardian, Tuesday November 25 2008

Goose barnacles, which are likely to decline dramatically as acid levels rise. Photograph: Science Photo Library
The world's oceans are becoming acidic more quickly than climate change models predict, according to scientists who claim it will have a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems.
Water samples collected around an island in the eastern Pacific over the past eight years showed seawater had acidified more than 20 times faster than scientists expected. The effect could be devastating for shellfish and other crustaceans, because acidic waters dissolve calcium carbonate used by the organisms to make their protective shells.
Oceans absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities. When the gas dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid, which alters the ocean's delicate chemical balance.
The increasing acidification of the oceans is likely to have impacts that run throughout the marine ecosystem, because the organisms most affected are at the bottom of the foodchain.
Timothy Wootton, a biologist at the University of Chicago, led a team of researchers who analysed the acidity, salinity and temperature of water around Tatoosh Island off the northwestern coast of Washington state.
Over eight years, the pH level of the water fell by 0.36 to about 8.1, more than 23 times more than the predicted fall of just 0.015 points. Water is neutral if its pH is seven, and becomes more acidic as the pH falls below that.
Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists raise concerns at how rapidly the process is happening and the impact it could have. "Acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously predicted, at least in some areas of the ocean," the authors write.
According to computer models of the local marine life, the rise in acidity is likely to cause substantial falls in the numbers of mussels and large goose barnacles, while algae and populations of smaller barnacles may increase. In turn, the changing distribution of these organisms will have effects on marine life that feed on them.
Last month, researchers warned that a new global deal on climate change would come too late to save many of the world's corals. A report from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California found that carbon dioxide emissions are likely to acidify seawater enough to cause widespread damage to major reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Even stringent cuts designed to stabilise greenhouse gas levels still put more than 90% of the world's reefs in jeopardy.
"Declines in seawater pH were expected to happen very slowly, so we've been lax in dealing with the problem, but our study shows ocean acidification may be happening much quicker," said Wootton.

Acidic seas threaten coral and mussels

Impact of rising carbon dioxide levels far worse than previously thought
By Steve Connor, Science EditorTuesday, 25 November 2008

REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Coral at the Great Barrier Reef. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the world's oceans due to climate change, combined with rising sea temperatures, could accelerate coral bleaching, destroying some reefs before 2050, said an Australian study in January 2002.

Rising carbon dioxide levels are increasing acidity in the oceans 10 times faster than scientists thought, posing a greater threat to shell-forming creatures such as coral and mussels.
An eight-year project in the Pacific has found that rising marine acid levels will challenge many organisms, because their shell-making chemistry is critically dependent on a less acidic, more alkaline environment. The study monitored seawater pH levels at the north-east Pacific island of Tatoosh off Washington state in the United States.
Timothy Wootton, from Chicago University, said scientists found that acidity levels increased at more than 10 times the rate predicted by computer models designed to study the link between atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and ocean acidity.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by about 100 parts per million since the start of the industrial revolution and are now at their highest point in at least 650,000 years.
About a third of man-made carbon dioxide emissions has dissolved into the oceans. As carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid, which lowers the ocean's alkalinity and pH level, making it more acidic.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted last year that most coral reefs would disappear by the century's end because of rising temperatures and ocean acidity.
However, this latest study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the rate of ocean acidification may be far higher than the rate used by the IPCC scientists in their assessment of future prospects for shell-forming marine creatures such as corals.
Professor Wootton said: "An alarming surprise is how rapidly pH has declined over the study period ... These data point to the urgency of obtaining a globally extensive set of ocean pH data through time, and suggest that our understanding of ocean pH may be incomplete.
"The results showed that variation on ocean pH through time was most strongly associated with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which supports the prediction that increasing release of CO2 to the atmosphere leads to ocean acidification."
The study was unusual in that it looked at acidity in the ocean's intertidal region, inhabited by shell-forming creatures such as barnacles and mussels. Professor Wootton said there was a shortage of data on ocean acidification, especially in non-tropical regions, which this study addressed.
"Our study reveals the strongest negative impacts of declining pH are on several species of particular importance – large calcifying mussels and goose barnacles. This finding illustrates several reasons why the effects of declining ocean pH are of general concern, as these species create critical habitats for other coastal species, are important players in coastal nutrient processing, and reflect the more general risks to shellfish harvesting."

Plans to protect forests could do the opposite, warns Friends of the Earth

• Alarm sounded in run-up to UN climate change talks• Corruption and threat to indigenous people feared
Alok Jha
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 25 2008 00.01 GMT

International proposals to protect forests as a way of tackling climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists warn.
In a report to be published on Thursday, Friends of the Earth International (FOE) will argue that current plans to slow the decline of forests by making rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions are not fit for purpose, as they are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies in the parts of the world where the money will end up.
Forests lock up a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for around 20% of the world's total.
Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests.
Working out a way to protect forests will be one of the key issues for next week's UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace the Kyoto protocol after 2012. Government representatives at the meeting will consider adopting the "Redd" mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, which is based on the idea that richer countries could offset their emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions.

The idea has some of its roots in the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern, who said £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. But Stern argued that for such a scheme to work institutional and policy reforms would be required in many states with protected forests, such as Indonesia, Cameroon or Papua New Guinea.
In principle FOE agrees that forests could be included in climate change targets, but argues that in its current form Redd is fraught with problems. The group says the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to profit from forests, rather than stop climate change.
"It refocuses us on to the question, who do forests belong to?" said Joseph Zacune, a climate and energy coordinator at FOE. "In the absence of secure land rights indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they'll benefit from Redd. There's increased likelihood of state and corporate control of their land, especially if the value of forests rises."
At the climate talks next week FOE plans to lobby for forests to be kept out of carbon markets, and for land rights to be enforced as the basis of any future forest policy. "We want some kind of mechanism to stop deforestation," said Zacune. "If there was to be agreement it would have to be developed through a joint process with other forest conventions and human-rights instruments, like the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples."
Another problem is that, under Redd, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a forest: the UN includes single-species plantations such as those for palm oil or other agriculture, which are often grown in areas cleared of virgin rainforests. "Even at their best, they store 20% of the carbon that intact forests do," said Zacune. "This means designing forest policies to match the amount of trees cut down due to the expansion of plantations."
FOE's conclusions echo those of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an international coalition of global NGOs which argued that the rush to protect forests could have unintended consequences. In two reports published in July the RRI warned that the money aimed at protecting trees might end up in the hands of central government officials in areas of the world where they were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities.
"It is widely acknowledged that poor governance and corruption also need to be addressed if deforestation is to be stopped," said the FOE report. "The question is whether Redd can address these issues, and how it links to existing established processes intended to deal with illegal deforestation (which includes illegal logging and illegal forest conversion to agriculture). Furthermore, would the use of a Redd fund rather than carbon markets improve governments' ability to reign in such illegal activities?"
To counter such problems, Zacune said, the best way to manage forests was to devolve responsibility to locals - an idea proposed by the Pacific nation Tuvalu. "The idea is that they would provide incentives for protecting and retaining their forests. It's the communities and indigenous people who have managed the forests for generations that should be in control of the forest."
Zacune also warned that protecting forests should not become a way for rich countries to pay their way out of reducing emissions. "We need to tackle consumption of agrofuels, meat and timber products which drive deforestation."
Tony Juniper, a sustainability adviser to the Prince of Wales' Rainforests Project, said: "The market is one approach among several possible funding mechanisms. For example, major finance could be mobilised via the auctioning of pollution credits under the EU's emissions trading scheme, or taxes on aviation fuel."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said forest carbon trading was a useful way to pump money into deprived forest communities: "Deforestation threatens the rights of millions who depend on forests. The carbon market is a likely source of finance for reducing deforestation and we want to work with like-minded countries to achieve the deepest deal possible."

The planet is now so vandalised that only total energy renewal can save us

It may be too late. But without radical action, we will be the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse

George Monbiot
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 25 2008 00.01 GMT

George Bush is behaving like a furious defaulter whose home is about to be repossessed. Smashing the porcelain, ripping the doors off their hinges, he is determined that there will be nothing worth owning by the time the bastards kick him out. His midnight regulations, opening America's wilderness to logging and mining, trashing pollution controls, tearing up conservation laws, will do almost as much damage in the last 60 days of his presidency as he achieved in the foregoing 3,000.
His backers - among them the nastiest pollutocrats in America - are calling in their favours. But this last binge of vandalism is also the Bush presidency reduced to its essentials. Destruction is not an accidental product of its ideology. Destruction is the ideology. Neoconservatism is power expressed by showing that you can reduce any part of the world to rubble.
If it is too late to prevent runaway climate change, the Bush team must carry much of the blame. His wilful trashing of the Middle Climate - the interlude of benign temperatures which allowed human civilisation to flourish - makes the mass murder he engineered in Iraq only the second of his crimes against humanity. Bush has waged his war on science with the same obtuse determination with which he has waged his war on terror.
Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest there is nothing that can be done is to ensure that nothing is done. But even a resolute optimist like me finds hope ever harder to summon. A new summary of the science published since last year's Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that - almost a century ahead of schedule - the critical climate processes might have begun.
Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic's "late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century ... in some models." But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (Pirc) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.
Forget the sodding polar bears: this is about all of us. As the ice disappears, the region becomes darker, which means that it absorbs more heat. A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the extra warming caused by disappearing sea ice penetrates 1,000 miles inland, covering almost the entire region of continuous permafrost. Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire global atmosphere. It remains safe for as long as the ground stays frozen. But the melting has begun. Methane gushers are now gassing out of some places with such force that they keep the water open in Arctic lakes through the winter.
The effects of melting permafrost are not incorporated in any global climate models. Runaway warming in the Arctic alone could flip the entire planet into a new climatic state. The Middle Climate could collapse faster and sooner than the grimmest forecasts proposed.
Barack Obama's speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development. It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are hopelessly out of date. The science has moved on. The events the Earth Summit and the Kyoto process were supposed to have prevented are already beginning. Thanks to the wrecking tactics of Bush the elder, Clinton (and Gore) and Bush the younger, steady, sensible programmes of the kind that Obama proposes are now irrelevant. As the Pirc report suggests, the years of sabotage and procrastination have left us with only one remaining shot: a crash programme of total energy replacement.
A paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that if we are to give ourselves a roughly even chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between 6% and 8% per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050. Even this programme would work only if some optimistic assumptions about the response of the biosphere hold true. Delivering a high chance of preventing two degrees of warming would mean cutting global emissions by more than 8% a year.
Is this possible? Is this acceptable? The Tyndall paper points out that annual emission cuts greater than 1% have "been associated only with economic recession or upheaval". When the Soviet Union collapsed, emissions fell by some 5% a year. But you can answer these questions only by considering the alternatives. The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed - an 80% cut by 2050 - means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming, which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?
The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on the second world war when adjusted for inflation. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?
This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world's energy infrastructure involves "an enormous front-load of fossil fuels", which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people "to make short term, radical sacrifices", cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years.
There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system - even an absolute monarchy - could survive an economic collapse on this scale.
She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk's proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological new deal I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.
Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No, we can't.

Ecologists voice alarm over South Korean reclamation project

By Jon Herskovitz Reuters
Published: November 24, 2008

BUAN, South Korea: Seoul is betting that a multibillion-dollar land reclamation project about seven times the size of Manhattan will lift the economy; but environmentalists say it could be one of the country's biggest ecological blunders.
The Saemangeum land reclamation project is using a sea dyke finished several years ago to reclaim an area of 400 square kilometers, or 155 square miles, turning coastal tidelands that are key feeding areas for globally threatened birds into factories, golf courses and water treatment plants.
"This project is not about protecting the environment," said Park Hyoung Bae, an official with the Saemangeum development authority. "It is about economic development. And we will do that in an environmentally sound way."
The authority said that the $3-billion project will bring industry to North Jeolla, a province that has been the agricultural breadbasket of the country but lacks modern industrialization.
Developers are planning to start construction of an industrial zone next year, offering sweeteners like free land leases for 100 years for selected industries and a free economic zone that offers tax breaks to attract foreign investors, who can stay in a village planned just for them.

They will replace natural wetlands with artificial ones and turn riverbeds into lakes. They will build a park along the road on the sea dyke and try to attract tourists with a theme park, convention center and even perhaps a casino.
The province, which runs from the middle of South Korea to the west coast, is dotted with small farms that grow grain and raise pigs, boasts a mid-sized port that serves China across the Yellow Sea and is home to the historic city of Jeonju, once the capital of an ancient Korean kingdom.
South Korea originally began the project for the estuary decades ago, when its economy was struggling, food was short and reclamation seemed like a good way to increase farm land in the mountainous and cramped country. The area is about 200 kilometers, or 125 miles, south of Seoul.
After years of legal wrangling and changes in how to use the land, construction started on the project in 1999 with hundreds of thousands of boulders the size of compact cars dumped into the Yellow Sea estuary to form the dyke, which was completed in 2006.
Area farmers have questioned the need for the project, saying there is no one left to work the land due to a population drop while major domestic industry has often stayed away due to a lack of infrastructure.
Critics said the project stayed alive due to bureaucratic inertia and because it created construction jobs in the area that has provided the strongest political support for left-leaning presidents who governed from 1998 to 2008.
President Lee Myung Bak, who used to run Hyundai's construction arm, has also thrown his support to the project, saying it will help regional development and stimulate his country's export-driven economy that is on the ropes due to the global slowdown.
"Saemangeum's ecological importance seems to be more valued abroad," said Yoon Sang Hoon of the conservation group Green Korea.
"The government is calling this environmentally friendly, but just planting a few trees that have since died does not make it a green project," Yoon said.
Wetlands like Saemangeum help in flood control, prevent soil erosion and can remove, as well as store, greenhouse gases from the Earth's atmosphere, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Migratory birds travelling between Russia and Alaska in the north, to New Zealand and Australia in the south, congregate for a refueling stop on the Yellow Sea tidal flats.
A study released last month by two conservation groups, Birds Korea and Australasian Wader Studies Group, recorded a decline of 137,000 shorebirds, and declines in 19 of the most numerous species, from 2006 to 2008 at Saemangeum.
"We anticipate the declines will not only continue but become more obvious in other species," said Nial Moores, a British-born conservationist and director of Birds Korea.

£100m pledged to insulate homes

By Emily Beament, PAMonday, 24 November 2008

Alistair Darling today announced an extra £100 million to help tens of thousands of families insulate their homes in a move to cut emissions and reduce energy bills.
As he announced a package of measures to tackle the financial crisis, the Chancellor said "economic recovery must support our environmental objectives - not come at its expense".
Alongside the £100 million of new money, he brought forward another £50 million to help with insulating homes, which together will help 60,000 households cut their fuel bills.
The Chancellor also warned that if energy companies did not take steps to close gaps in prices paid by customers on different payment schemes, such as pre-pay meters, the Government would take action to end the unfair structure.
And he said regulator Ofgem would be monitoring changes in prices for gas and electricity and publishing quarterly reports to address concerns that falls in wholesale prices were not being passed on promptly to consumers.
As part of moves to bring forward spending on infrastructure projects, he said £535 million would be spent more quickly on environmental protection projects, rail transport and energy efficiency.
The funding would include better flood defences, better heating and insulation for homes and 200 extra trains.
And he said Government policies would lead to more than £50 billion of investment in the low carbon economy.
As part of moves to boost renewable energy investment, he said he would be extending the Renewables Obligation - which requires suppliers to source a percentage of their electricity from green sources - for another 10 years to 2037.
But he also said oil and gas from the North Sea would continue to play an important part in the UK's energy mix and said he would be working with industry to put incentives in place to increase production from marginal oil fields.
The accelerated spending includes £20 million on flood defences to produce earlier protection for 27,000 homes, and £60 million to provide 16,000 social homes with energy efficiency measures.
Some £300 million will speed up the delivery of up to 200 new carriages to expand capacity on the rail network.
The Pre-Budget Report's acceleration of spending on green investment aims to sustain and expand the 350,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector.
But environmental groups accused the Chancellor of blowing a golden opportunity to deliver a Green New Deal which would stimulate the economy and tackle climate change.
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "The Government has dodged a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by using the Pre-Budget Report to tackle both the economic downturn and global climate change."
While creating new jobs by insulating homes was a "step in the right direction", he said ministers should have gone much further to cut energy waste and develop the UK's renewable energy potential.
"This could create exciting new business opportunities and tens of thousands of jobs - as well as slashing fuel bills and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Increased public borrowing must be invested in creating a successful, low-carbon economy, instead of blowing it on a spending spree that won't avoid the climate change collision course we are currently on," he warned.
And Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said the money spent on extra home insulation gave "a slight green tinge to an otherwise bleak budget".
"We had hoped Mr Darling might fire the starting gun on a clean energy revolution that would unlock hundreds of thousands of green collar jobs and develop a new UK manufacturing base capable of exporting renewables and energy efficient technologies to the world.
"This was an historic opportunity to invest billions in a low-carbon, high technology future, but the Chancellor blew it.
"We can only hope that by the time he formulates the Budget itself, he will have grasped the potential of high-tech climate solutions to get us out of this recession and make us economically competitive for the coming century," he said.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn welcomed bringing forward spending on flood defences.
He said: "This is good news for householders, helping to protect 27,000 homes and families at risk more quickly through projects improving defences in inland and coastal areas.
"Bringing forward money now will accelerate the work to better protect ourselves from flooding in the future."

Darling claims green spending can help economic recovery

The Government has promised to create up to a million "high-value green-collar jobs" jobs over 20 years as a way of tackling the economic crisis as part of its pre-budget package on the environment.

By Rowena Mason Last Updated: 10:06PM GMT 24 Nov 2008

Chancellor Alistair Darling addressed ways of hitting emissions targets, reducing household bills and supporting renewable energy in a lengthy section of the report entitled Delivering on Environmental Goals.
Among the new measures, the Chancellor promised to reduce carbon emissions to 80pc by 2050, extend carbon trading schemes to the aviation industry and commit to renewable energy targets until 2037.
He also said £535m of capital spending on insulating 60,000 homes, improving flood defences and buying new 100 trains would be brought forward.
Mr Darling stressed that tackling the economic crisis in the banking sector was not incompatible with spending on the environment.
"The economic recovery must support our environmental objectives – not come at its expense," he said.
The focus on green issues surprised some analysts who had expected environmental concerns to take a back seat in the facing of growing concerns about the financial services sector and impending recession.
"It might not be enough for the environmental lobby, but the £535m capital spending is quite sizeable and represents a quarter of all income from green-related taxes," said Helen Devenny, indirect tax director at Deloitte. "There's not a huge amount of detail on aspects such as the extra jobs, but it is a huge cornerstone of the report and if they hadn't made some progress on environmental issues, they would have been criticised."
Michael Soltock, corporate tax partner at Blick Rothenberg, the Government's approach to green taxes and spending had become more diverse and sophisticated.
"It's hard to argue with the morals of the Government's commitment to spending on renewables, emissions trading and aviation duty, but it could be seen that it is surprising given all the other pressing issues," he said.
The Society of Energy Producers welcomed the Government's commitment to supporting power companies during the transition to renewable energy.

Experts throw down gauntlet on sea power

Published Date: 24 November 2008

SCIENTISTS and experts from around the world will arrive in Edinburgh to launch a global challenge on renewable energy from the sea.
The Saltire Prize Challenge Committee will meet to define the biggest contest for innovation in green marine energy – the Scottish Government's £10 million Saltire Prize. The Committee is made up of 11 leading figures in science and innovation. First Minister Alex Salmond will launch the challenge at Edinburgh Castle on December 2.He said: "I am delighted that so many world renowned and influential figures agreed to play a part in our drive to take marine renewables to the next level."Their decisions will kick off a worldwide competition to advance marine renewables technology for the benefit of the world

Duty on long-haul flights and funding for wind energy do not satisfy green campaigners

Terry Macalister

The Guardian, Tuesday November 25 2008

Airline passenger duty (APD) on flights to destinations such as Thailand, South Africa and the Seychelles will increase by 25% from next year and by will rise by half from that in 2010.
Alistair Darling said the move would benefit the environment, but his decision to have a more draconian flight tax and to give only a small boost to a low-carbon economy angered the green movement.
The APD is presently levied at £10 on an economy-class flight to European destinations and £40 for long-haul flights.
The chancellor has introduced four new bands with a starting level of £11 on tickets for destinations within 2,000 miles of London; £45 for flights of up to 4,000 miles; £50 for 4,000-6,000 miles and £55 for flights over 6,000. The changes do not come into effect until next November.
The duty will rise again the following year so by 2010-11, the tax on the lowest band will be £12; band B will be £60; a band C flight to Bangkok or Johannesburg will be £75, and the top band will be £85.
"I have decided to reform APD into a four-band system ensuring that those who travel further and have a larger environmental impact meet that cost," Darling explained.
His decision to drop a previously proposed airline duty worried airlines but delighted the Airport Operators Association, which said it had "won the battle". The World Development Movement argued that the end of a possible airline duty was "bad news for the UK taxpayer, the environment and the world's poor".
The government did give a significant boost to the wind power industry by extending the Renewables Obligation (RO) of financial support until 2037.
Darling also brought forward what he said was more than £500m worth of spending to be used on insulating homes and other energy-efficiency initiatives.
But there was no wider green New Deal, whereby large amounts of public money would be poured into creating a low-carbon future, as had been called for by environmentalists.
The chancellor said the RO, which legally requires electricity suppliers in Britain to source a growing percentage of their power from green sources, would run for a further 10 years to 2037. This would ensure "investors can plan with confidence for the future", he said.
The British Wind Energy Association said it was "really encouraging" and would stimulate those companies looking at plans to build expensive projects far out in the North Sea. "Under the old regime, many companies were worried that the current RO was going to run out half way through their schemes," said a spokesman.
Darling also said that £535m of capital spending to promote government environmental objectives would be brought forward to sustain 350,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector. About £100m of new money would be spent on helping 60,000 low-income homes cut their energy bills through insulation.
Despite these measures, John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, said he was disappointed. "This was an historic opportunity to invest billions in a low-carbon, high-technology future but the chancellor blew it. We can only hope that by the time he formulates the budget itself, he will have grasped the potential of hi-tech climate solutions to get us out of this recession.
"Once again the aviation industry has been given a free pass at a time when its contribution to climate change is rising."
The government also highlighted expected changes to the North Sea tax regime that are likely to please the oil and gas industry, which feared a windfall tax.

Wind power gets boost from chancellor

Darling extends renewables obligation of financial support for wind power until 2037
Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Monday November 24 2008 18.13 GMT

The government gave a significant boost to the wind power industry today when it promised to extend the Renewables Obligation of financial support until 2037 in the pre-budget statement.
Chancellor Alistair Darling also changed airline passenger taxes to a system that he said would reduce aviation but dropped plans for a more stringent duty on aircraft. Environmental campaigners were also disappointed that there was no wider Green New Deal.
The Renewables Obligation, which places a legal requirement on UK electrcity suppliers to source any growing percentage of their power from green sources, was only in place until 2027. Darling said today that it should run for a further 10 years "ensuring investors can plan with confidence for the future."
The BWEA said the move was "really encouraging" and would stimulate those companies looking at plans to build expensive projects deep into the North Sea.
"Under the old regime many companies were worried that the current RO was going to run out half way through their schemes," added a spokesman for the BWEA.
Darling also announced that £535m of capital spending to promote government environment objectives would be brought forward which would sustain 350,000 jobs in the low carbon sector. Around £100m of new money would be spent on helping 60,000 low income homes cut their energy bills through insulation.
An additional £60m of spending would go on other domestic improvements while £300m would be earmarked for 200 new rail carriages to help promote train transport.
The chancellor also announced a shake-up in the air passenger duty (APD) which he argued would reduce emissions from aviation. "I have decided to reform APD into a four-band system ensuring that those who travel further and have a larger environmental impact meet that cost," he explained.
Tim Jones, policy officer at the World Development Movement, said the decision not to proceed with a tax on aircraft was "bad news for the UK taxpayer, the environment and the world's poor".

UK government urged to set up 'green investment bank'

Greenpeace activists unfurl 'green is good' banner on Bank of England as chancellor prepares to deliver pre-budget report
Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Monday November 24 2008 13.59 GMT

Greenpeace activists drape a banner from the Bank of England. Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
The government was urged today to set up a "green investment bank" that could be used to finance renewable energy projects and ensure a vital new infrastructure is created.
The initiative was one of a number called for by Greenpeace whose activists scaled the Bank of England and unfurled a banner reading "Green is Good" ahead of the government's pre-budget report today.
The environmental group believes a specialist bank would help unlock the government's low-carbon aspirations by raising cash to build projects such as the energy "supergrid" in the North Sea.
This could connect many of the new wind farms in the area that are facing expensive power connections to the on-shore grid.
Greenpeace also wants to see ministers giving more support to tidal and wave projects as well tackling energy efficiency more robustly.
"Kickstarting the economy with a green investment — which would be clever, clean and courageous — is backed by Barack Obama, the CBI, the UN, Deutsche Bank and other major corporations. Doing so wouldn't just help the government to escape recession — it would help us to finally escape our dirty and expensive 20th energy system," said John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace.
The need for help was emphasised by a leading wave power company which announced it would bid for a lease from the Crown Estate to develop a major new energy scheme in the Pentland Firth.
Marine Current Turbines has appointed Cavendish Corporate Finance to underline its determination to raise money to invest in a possible project off Scotland. Marine Current Turbines is already backed by major French utility, EDF, and is pioneering projects off North Ireland while working to develop a second tidal farm off Wales alongside nPower.
"Harnessing the power of the Pentland Firth will be challenging and there are still substantial issues, in particular financing and grid connection, which will have to be addressed, warned Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines.
Meanwhile, the Energy Savings Trust unveiled a new study, Power in Numbers, which highlighted what it believes is the enormous untapped potential for local and community-sized energy schemes.
"Today energy generated by communities could produce about 13% of all household needs. With the right policies in place this potential could rise to 54%," it argued.
The Energy Savings Trust, established to promote the efficient use of energy and a more low carbon lifestyle, said local action has been limited so far because of "non-technical" barriers. The trust wants to see community energy services companies (ESCOs) set up to initiate and finance projects.
Major savings can be made for energy users if wind, solar or biomass schemes are scaled up from individual to community-sized projects, argues the trust. Householders could save 34% of the cost of producing solar hot water and 18% of electricity from wind turbines, says the report.

Environment watchdog urges Obama-style green New Deal

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

The Guardian, Tuesday November 25 2008

The chairman of the environment agency yesterday called on the government to follow US president-elect Barack Obama and launch a multibillion pound "green New Deal" to boost clean energy and create jobs.
Speaking hours before the government announced its tax cutting and public spending package, Lord Smith, the former culture secretary, called for a comprehensive long-term strategy to cover investments in renewable energy, green technology, energy efficiency and developing new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
Smith said the world was "in extraordinary times, in the midst of a major financial crisis, on the cusp of a serious energy crisis and at the same time, stoking the fire of a potentially catastrophic climate crisis".
He told the environment agency's annual conference in London the government's reaction to the financial downturn had been "swift and bold", and urged ministers to react in a similar way to deal with the environmental and energy problems the UK and the world face. He said: "I believe if there's to be another New Deal, it has to be a green New Deal. We need a green New Deal to meet our carbon emissions targets and create jobs in renewable energy and green technology."
Current initiatives, such as the recent announcement of feed-in tariffs for small scale energy generation, were "very useful, very important and very welcome", but were a piecemeal approach to the problem. A comprehensive deal would be needed if the UK was to meet its target to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
He said it would deliver long-term economic benefits, such as clean energy sources, from the immediate financial stimulus. It would also put the UK ahead of the game as a "first mover" and deliver greater financial rewards as a result.
Smith said the government should go ahead with major wind farms, solar power, tidal barrages and coal-fired power stations with carbon capture equipment as part of a massive renewable energy programme.
He wants more incentives for energy efficiency homes and businesses, greater use of combined heat and power programmes and new feed-in tariffs to help householders develop sustainable energy which can be fed into the national grid.
Smith said: "We must hold our nerve and invest in green technology despite the current pressures on the economy. We should take the lead on developing carbon capture so we can develop new industries that create new jobs."
He also said he was not a strong supporter of the third runway for Heathrow. His support for carbon capture will bring him into conflict with green groups who are worried that the government will go ahead with a new generation of coal-fired power stations - particularly the proposed scheme for Kingsnorth in Kent - without the new technology.

Environment Agency chairman urges government to launch 'green new deal'

Former culture secretary Lord Smith to call for a comprehensive long-term environmental strategy
David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday November 24 2008 10.50 GMT

Lord Smith, the former cabinet minister and chairman of the Environment Agency, will today call on the government to follow US President-elect Barack Obama and launch a multi-billion pound "green new deal" to boost clean energy and create jobs.
Speaking at the annual conference of the agency only hours before Alistair Darling, the chancellor, announces his tax cutting and public spending package, the former culture secretary will call for a comprehensive long-term strategy to cover investments in renewable energy, green technology, energy efficiency and developing new technologies liked carbon capture and storage.
His speech comes as Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary and Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, have been pressing Gordon Brown and the Treasury, for a big boost for green policies in the pre-budget statement today.
The signs are that they have only been partially successful. Today's announcement is set to include a boost for job-intensive home insulation programmes which could create 10,000 or more jobs through lagging lofts and installing other energy saving measures.
It will also include upgrading of council and housing association homes. Some extra money is expected for flood protection measures.
What appears to be missing is the implementation of an overall coordinated strategy across Whitehall, beyond pressure from the Cabinet Office for more green procurement orders by government.
This is despite pressure from Miliband for a coordinated approach from developing hybrid cars to boosting renewable energy from wind farms to solar power.
Two major oil companies with interests in developing renewable energy - BP and Shell - have recently pulled out of major wind farm and solar projects in the UK - to develop renewable energy schemes in the United States, where big subsidies were made available by George Bush and are to be extended by Barack Obama. Both comapnies have complained about the difficulties of obtaining planning permission and lack of tax incentives for renewable energy.
Lord Smith will say today that the government should go ahead with major wind farms, solar power, tidal barrages and coal fired power stations with carbon capture equipment as part of a massive renewable energy programme.
He wants more incentives for energy efficiency homes and businesses, greater use of combined heart and power programmes and new feed-in tariffs to help householders develop sustainable energy which can be fed into the national grid.
Lord Smith said: "We must hold our nerve and invest in green technology despite the current pressures on the economy. We should take the lead on developing carbon capture so we can develop new industries that create new jobs."

Economic slump may limit moves on clean energy

By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Published: November 25, 2008

Just as the world seemed poised to combat global warming more aggressively, the worldwide economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.
From Italy to China, the threat to jobs, profits and government tax revenues posed by the financial crisis has cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories.
Automakers, especially Detroit's Big Three, face collapsing sales, threatening their plans to invest heavily in more fuel-efficient cars. And with gas prices now around $2 a gallon in the United States, strapped consumers may be less inclined than they once were to trade in their gas-guzzling models in any case.
President-elect Barack Obama and the European Union have vowed to stick to commitments to cap emissions of carbon dioxide and invest in new green technologies, arguing that government action could stimulate the economy and create new jobs in producing sustainable energy.
But as the United Nations prepares to gather the world's environment ministers in Poznan, Poland, next week to try to agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions, both the political will and the economic underpinnings for a much more assertive strategy appear shakier than they did even a few weeks ago.

"Yes things have changed," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a phone interview. He is organizing the meeting in Poland.
"European industry is saying we can't deal with financial crisis and reduce emissions at the same time," he said. "Heads of government have other things on their minds."
The economic decline also could complicate the political calculus of limiting emissions in developing countries, especially China.
China overtook the United States as the largest producer of greenhouse gases in 2007. But the surge in heavy industry there that produced a sharp spike in its emissions already has given signs of turning into a bust.
Some experts argue that China's emissions — and the pressing need to limit them — may recede until economic conditions improve.
No government has officially repudiated climate goals; in Bali last year, all the nations of the world promised to pursue an emissions control treaty. de Boer said he remained optimistic that major powers would ultimately stick to pledges to reduce emissions.
"I don't think anyone will show the stupidity to focus on the short term and ignore the long-term issue because these decisions will be with us for 30 years," he said.
Even so, there are signs of considerable backpedaling in at least near-term commitments to invest in green technology and alternative energy.
Italy's environment minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, said last month that "profound changes" were needed in the European Union climate package because of the global economic crisis. Coal-based economies like Poland's have expressed similar worries.
Theolia, one of France's largest alternative energy companies, has canceled plans for a subsidiary devoted to emerging markets, and pulled back on its goals of how much energy it could produce by 2009.
In the United States, T. Boone Pickens, the Oklahoma oil tycoon who leased hundreds of thousands of acres in West Texas for a giant wind farm, has now delayed the project. He told reporters at a recent news conference that fossil fuel prices would have to rise again before it was economically viable.
Barbara Helfferich, the European Commission spokeswoman on the environment, said, "Investing in reducing emission is more difficult to do in times of economic downturn than when you have money to spend."
Obama, de Boer and Stavros Dimas, the European Union environment commissioner, all argue that by promoting new green jobs, even with heavy government subsidies, they could create an engine of economic growth that would help countries pull themselves out of the recession.
Obama, without releasing specifics of his proposed economic stimulus package, called on the country to build "wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead."
The European Commission says it is planning to stay its course toward lower emissions — a 20-percent reduction by 2020 — and in so doing hopes to have a "first mover advantage" in terms of job creation, renewable sources and energy innovation once the global economy rebounds.
"I know it sounds counterintuitive, but our argument is that because there is an economic turndown, it is just the time to tackle the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy," Helfferich said.
Recessions can be good or bad for achieving environmental goals, and it remains uncertain how this one will play out.
In the short term, economic declines tend to reduce emissions, because industrial production slows down. Retrenchment will certainly curb fast-growing emissions from China, for example, where double-digit economic growth has been based partly on production from the most polluting industries, such as steel, cement and aluminum. But such reductions are inevitably temporary, rebounding when the economy picks up.
Against this, the current economic slump could have serious long-term environmental consequences, because it may reduce investment in greener production technologies without fundamentally changing the longer-term emissions picture. With so many renewable energy projects and programs in their nascent stages, their success is easily undercut by lack of credit or financing.
Centrica, a British company that has been building wind farms to meet its target of having 15 percent of that country's energy come from renewable sources by 2020, has put three planned offshore wind farms on hold, in part because of rising credit costs. Without projects like these it is unclear if Britain's ambitious emissions reductions target can be met.
At the same time, the price of buying permits to emit carbon dioxide in Europe — a system the European Union uses to discourage companies from polluting — have fallen by half compared with the price a year ago, largely because of slower growth.
Wind costs more than $2.5 billion per gigawatt to build, compared with $600 million for gas. Carbon permits and subsidies can narrow that gap, but the current low prices mean that it is cheaper to burn coal, even after paying penalties for the carbon dioxide emissions.
The United Nations says that 40 percent of the world's power generating capacity has to be replaced in the next 5 to 10 years. Six months ago, high oil prices, easy credit and political pressure led many governments to promote biofuels, wind farms and nuclear projects and phase out fossil fuel plants. But the logic of spending more on such plants has at least partly evaporated.
"If because of the current economic scenario, you choose cheap and dirty, we'll be in big trouble," de Boer said.
Paradoxically, it may not look that way, at least at first. One big short-term effect of the economic situation is likely to be a reduction of emissions from the developing world. In the decade after the Eastern bloc countries gained independence in 1989, pollution dropped precipitously, as Soviet-era heavy industry shut down.
Emissions dropped sharply between 1990 and 2000, only to start rebounding in the boom years after 2000. By 2006, for example, emissions dropped by 1 percent in industrialized countries (mostly those in Western Europe) that report their emissions to the United Nations. At the same time, they increased by 3 percent in the so called "economies in transition," including the former Soviet bloc states of Eastern Europe.
In the current global recession China could follow a similar trajectory.
The number of cement plants in China rose to 7,000 from 3,000 from the year 2002 to 2007, as China build new cities at a record pace. That catapulted China to top of the list of global emitters, more than a decade earlier than scientists had anticipated just a few years before.
Yet straight-line projections about China's emissions are now again in question, said Trevor Houser, a visiting fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.
"Demand for goods like steel, cement and aluminum is contracting severely, so the energy used to produce them is also severely down," he said.
Last month, he said, China's energy use fell by 4 percent compared with the same month in 2007. A year ago, use was growing at an annual rate of 15 percent.
That may ultimately be a good thing for the Chinese economy as well as the environment, because heavy industry produces heavy emissions, but very few jobs.
Indeed, the slowdown may provide a opportunity for China, too, to reinvent itself with investment in a greener economy. "Slower energy demand provides an opportunity to move away from coal," he said.
Still, such benefits may be more apparent to environmentalists than to factory owners and finance ministers trying to meet budgets and make profits. The European Union estimates that it will cost Italian industry 13 billion euros, about $16.7 billion, to reduce emissions. Italy puts the cost up to 27 billion euros, which is says it can't afford.
"Transitions are expensive, but this one will help avoid the ups and downs we've recently seen," Helfferich said. "This is a short term bitter apple to create new sectors that are conducive to fighting climate change and jobs as well."