Monday, 1 December 2008

How McDonald's finally got green

If the corporate world is embracing what its customers actually want, why aren't governments getting the green message?

Tony Juniper, Sunday November 30 2008 14.00 GMT

I never thought I would find a McDonald's advert a source of optimism, but last week it happened.I was speaking in a debate at the Marketing Society's annual conference, and that is where the ad was shown as an example of how the firm is changing its communications. It depicted children and adults digging soil and planting seeds. The imagery spoke of reconnections with nature, food and the land. It was billed as the most successful ad the company has put out in a decade. Interesting, I thought.
The debate was about sustainability in face of a downturn, and whether green issues have a future now that the economy is falling apart. As you might expect, I argued for a sustainability-led recovery, with economic activity kick-started through large-scale public and private investments in renewable power, energy efficiency and upgrading of the rail network. New products and services that connected with the imperative of sustainable development would add brand value as the world increasingly wakes up the challenges that face us, I said. A green revolution would create jobs, cut carbon emissions and improve energy security, I argued. As have the group of energy, finance and climate experts who recently published A Green New Deal.
The few remaining climate sceptics, many of whom appear to find a last refuge at Comment is free, would have loved to listen to the man putting the other side of the argument: Kelvin MacKenzie, former long-time editor of the Sun. His main point was that in a downturn people don't give a bloody stuff about the environment. Sure it may make some intellectual sense, and it may even be true that we face an ecological catastrophe, but the price of organic chicken being what it is, it was very likely that greenery would be gone in a matter of months (I don't paraphrase). His idea was that it was far better to cut costs now, save money and (contracting himself) to treat the threat of climate change with some scepticism, as there is a risk it may not even happen. He then went on to explain that he was 62 and didn't care anyway.
There was a suggestion that he was speaking for a large majority of people, and that the recent interest in sustainability was, in fact, a middle-class fad that has passed its peak. All very predicable, and I'm sure will make perfect sense to a lot of the deep thinkers who hold those views. But now I get to the interesting bit, because in the audience were more than 300 marketing professionals, including the nice lady from McDonald's. It is their job to pick up on trends, and to offer evidence-based strategic advice to their employers about where customer preferences will be going. Some of them get paid an awful lot of money, and it is their role to get things right, not to express political opinions. It was their collective judgment that I found very interesting.
At the end of the exchange about greenery in the downturn, the chair of the debate, Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy, asked people to raise their hands if they felt that sustainability would continue to be a major factor shaping customers' relationships with companies during the coming recession. A sea of arms shot up — it seemed nearly everyone agreed that sustainability would indeed continue as a major driver. When asked who felt it would be less important, only one hand out of more than 300 was raised.
It was a non-representative survey, but to me it said a very great deal about the gut reaction of some of the country's top communications professionals. These people pore over data, they look at trends and understand emotions, and their instinct is to see sustainability as very much a part of the mainstream and a continuing factor for business because it is an accepted concern for society — the McDonald's advert for me being one small symbol of how far it has gone.
It was easy to bash McDonald's, and the reason it happened 10 years ago was because societies were forming new values that the company had not seen coming. McDonald's was forced to rethink, catch up, rebrand and get modern. Now it has images of what it knows increasing numbers of people feel at the core of its brand offer — connections to the land and different attitudes toward where food comes from.
That small fact fills me with optimism, because this is a grassroots culture change in action. Of course we can easily dismiss corporate PR as a set of tools to win market share — of course, that's what it is, but that is not the point. The point is that the companies are changing because their customers are changing their views, what they expect and demand — and that is a very important fact to register, especially when the economy is turning.
So I am left wondering where the politicians are right now on all of this. Do they not have communications people working for them anymore? People who can tell them that not only does it make practical sense to go low-carbon and resource-efficient to stimulate recovery, but that it is a proposition that could garner political advantage as well. I think Gordon Brown and David Cameron should get some corporate marketing people around for tea. They might be able to offer some advice on how to connect with where people are increasingly at.

Mandates driving surge to the river for hydropower

The Associated Press
Published: December 1, 2008

HAMILTON, Ohio: Many decades ago, cost-conscious Henry Ford turned to hydroelectric plants to power his car factories like the one by the Great Miami River, near this Cincinnati suburb. That assembly plant is long gone, but the power plant and the technology behind it isn't.
Far from it. The push to get electricity from moving water is only picking up steam.
There is mounting political pressure to get more energy from alternative sources and developers are pushing ambitious projects to exploit America's biggest rivers for power.
"Some of these applications have been around for decades, but there's renewed interest now," said Jeff Hawk, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Pittsburgh district. "We've seen a spurt of applications; we're busier now than ever."
A new generation of low-impact hydroelectric plants is expected to light up the Ohio River Valley. Along the Mississippi River, a city and a small startup firm have separate hopes of harnessing that artery's energy potential either through a few big turbines or thousands of tiny, submerged ones.

Water is already the leading renewable energy source used by utilities to generate electric power.
The recent credit crisis has not been a concern for most.
"One thing that is certain is that this will pass," said Dan Irvin, behind one of the ventures planned for the Mississippi River. "If you were financing any energy project at the moment, you'd have your hands full. But we're looking out far enough, and we carry conservative enough assumptions, that we feel very comfortable."
American Municipal Power-Ohio is a nonprofit wholesale power supplier for 123 municipal systems in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Michigan. It already owns a hydro plant on the Ohio River and is involved in developing five more.
In Hamilton, where the Ford plant once stood, the city bought the hydro power plant in 1963, acquired a second one on the Ohio River a few years later and may soon build another just upriver from Cincinnati.
Hydro gives the 30,000 customers of the city-owned utility the lowest electricity rate in Ohio, and officials think that Hamilton can become virtually all-hydro.
The price tag: $450 million over 40 years.
"The cost is in construction. Once the project's built, that's it," said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, a Washington-based trade group. "There's no fuel cost associated with hydropower."
Hamilton's 30,000 residential customers pay 9.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, a couple cents more than the average in Washington state, where 70 percent of its electricity comes from hydropower.
There are 20 navigation and flood control dams on the Ohio River along its 981 miles (1,579 kilometers) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois. Hydro plants at six of the dams already are producing electricity, with a generating capacity of more than 300 megawatts; four more that have been licensed would double that perhaps be on line in 2013.
The principle behind hydro is simple. Moving water spins the blades of a turbine, which turns a generator shaft. A fall of less than 30 feet (9 meters), the height of most Ohio River dams, is sufficient.
Harnessing the Mississippi River's flow for electrical generation isn't new: A 134-megawatt hydroelectric plant by St. Louis-based AmerenUE, for instance, has been running since 1913 at Keokuk, Iowa.
Developers see even more potential, however.
Massachusetts-based Free Flow Power Corp. is studying the prospects of planting thousands of small electric turbines in the river bed at 55 sites from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico, figuring together they could generate enough power to supply 1.5 million homes. The private startup says the cumulative output of 1,600 megawatts would be the equivalent of three small coal-fired power plants or one or two nuclear ones.
The plan, with a possible $3 billion price tag, uses hydrokinetics — electrical generation from river currents or ocean waves. The river's flow would spin submerged turbines about two feet in diameter and perhaps made of carbon fiber or some other lightweight source durable enough to withstand being hit by debris swept downriver while not interfering with barge traffic.
"It's elegant, it's simple," says Irvin, Free Flow's chief executive and a former investment banker. His company screened some 80,000 river sites across the country.
Preliminary permits that Free Flow Power already has from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission give the startup first right to seek operating licenses for projects at those locations while giving it three years to do environmental and technical studies.
Janet Sternberg, a Missouri Department of Conservation policy coordinator, urged FERC months ago to not move too hastily on such projects until more about hydrokinetics is known.
"People saw the Mississippi as an opportunity — here's a big river with a lot of free-flowing water," Sternberg told The Associated Press. "Is this a good place to install this type of energy?"
Irvin calls such debate healthy.
"We have no objection to the careful scrutiny and scientific question," Irvin said. Stressing that Free Flow's turbines would turn only with the speed of the river, "we're pretty comfortable that what we're proposing is going to be completely benign to fish."
Up the river in Quincy, Illinois, which hugs the Mississippi's eastern bank, Mayor John Spring thinks installing hydroelectric turbines on three locks and dams could produce 55 megawatts of power — enough to supply the city's 16,000 homes.
Quincy's plan — already signed off on by the City Council and with preliminary permits from FERC — could cost about $200 million.
By the end of this fiscal year, which ends next May, Quincy — a city with an operations budget of $30 million — will have put $1.4 million into the effort.
"We'd like to make this part of our state the poster child for hydroelectricity in our country," Spring said. "Normally, you'd never see an entity this size take on such a gigantic project. But I think it's the future, and it's the right thing to do."
Associated Press Writer Jim Suhr reported from St. Louis.

From the high street to high winds: Zara boss bids to power the world

By Elizabeth Nash in MadridMonday, 1 December 2008

The self-effacing billionaire boss of Spain's Intidex textile empire, Amancio Ortega, who founded the Zara fashion chain, is taking a dramatic change of direction by creating a global alternative energy network.
As he did when he founded Zara over 30 years ago from his sister's kitchen table in La Coruna, Mr Ortega, Spain's richest man is launching his new venture modestly in his home region of Galicia, north-west Spain. But his ambitions are boundless and he has already established energy bridgeheads in three continents.
As chairman and chief shareholder of his company Capital Energy, Mr Ortega has produced a clutch of projects prompted by a tender offered by Galicia's regional ministry for innovation and industry, to provide up to 2,323 megawatts of energy from alternative sources, and set up some 20 energy parks. Mr Ortega reportedly intends to invest more than €2bn (£1.65bn) in his new venture over the next 18 months, with plans that extend far beyond Spain.
The move into renewable energy marks a dramatic turning point for the man who built a €30bn fortune by persuading Spanish women to love the beige trouser suit. His fashion revolution caught the mood of a nation emerging from dictatorship, whose young women relished new-found freedoms. His formula of low-cost high-fashion conquered the world and continues to grow. A Zara shop, or one of its offspring, opens somewhere in the world every day and a half.
But after depositing chunks of his hefty fortune in research foundations, real estate and banking in recent years, Mr Ortega has now hit on renewable energy production on a world scale as the next big thing. One of the keys to Zara's success was the company's control of every step of production, from design, manufacture and distribution, to sales. It is a pattern set to repeat itself.
Next year, he plans to start building eolic parks, or wind farms, including those at sea, plants for the production of biofuels, and solar and photovoltaic energy plants. "Our plans cover development of projects from the outset. We will not be buying companies in operation, as often happens in the sector," says Jose Espinosa, Capital Energy's director of Strategy and Corporate Development.
As a country without coal, oil or gas, Spain has been keen to develop alternative energy sources, and solar panels and wind farms are a common sight. But such projects are mostly small-scale sidelines operated by Spain's huge energy conglomerates whose main interest is distributing imported fuels.
Recent interest shown in the Spanish energy company Repsol by the Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil has brought home to Spaniards how politically vulnerable they may become to possible political pressure through their energy dependency. Mr Ortega's plans are well-laid, but their revelation yesterday, albeit low-key, in the Galician regional press, suggests that in energy, as in fashion, he is ahead of the curve.
Over the past year, Capital Energy has set up photovoltaic plants in the sunbaked Castilla-La Mancha region, and around Madrid, and is to erect wind farms across Spain in coming months. Mr Ortega has created 10 subsidiaries of Capital Energy to handle the energy produced, according to its source – biofuels, solar, wind – to take full advantage of subsidies for alternative energy. Capital Energy has already established a presence in Latin America, East Europe and India. But the plan is to draw in private capital to the tune of €100m in an operation masterminded Europe-wide by the private bank Edmond de Rothschild Europe. The aim, Capital says, is to expand throughout Spain and abroad. "Our immediate plans are to build 80 megawatt windmills, then 100 megawatt photovoltaic energy panels, and five thermosolar plants," Mr Espinosa says. "That will cost €300m to set up. In four or five years all will be in operation."
Projects include four biofuel plants using soya, rape seed and palm fibre planned for Seville, Bilbao, Cartagena, and Cadiz, to produce up to 250,000 tons a year; seven photovoltaic solar plants are being built, which will produce 0.7 megawatts. Bigger ones will be built in 2010, in Castilla-Leon, north of Madrid, and Catalonia. Wind generators of more than 2,000 megawatts will start going up next year, as plans are advanced for marine windfarms. Top of the list, where the enterprise was thought up, is wind-lashed Galicia.

Motorists will have to drive electric cars for UK to meet climate change targets

Motorists will have to switch to electric cars if Britain is to meet its legally-binding commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions, a Government report warns.

By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor Last Updated: 12:18AM GMT 01 Dec 2008

The Committee on Climate Change will recommend that large numbers of motorists must switch to the greener vehicles by 2025.
The influential Committee, headed by Lord Turner, sets out the major technological advances needed for Britain to meet its commitment of cutting emissions by 80 per cent to halt global warming.
Gordon Brown is a major advocate of electric cars and is likely to welcome the recommendation. He has already called for a million "green collar" jobs to be created in new environmentally-friendly industries. At the G8 summit in Japan last summer, Mr Brown's wife was photographed test-driving green vehicles.
Today's report is expected to say that Britain currently generates the equivalent of 10-12 tons of carbon dioxide annually per person - about 700m tons in total. This must be cut to two tons per person annually by 2050 - about 12 pounds per person each day.
However, a typical family car uses the total daily allowance driving just 25 miles. Therefore, it is not seen as feasible to meet the new targets without largely abandoning the internal combustion engine.
Last month, Professor Julia King, a Government adviser and member of the Climate Change committee, said: "In the long term, C02-free road transport fuel is the only way to decarbonise road transport. That means electric vehicles, with novel batteries charged by zero-carbon electricity or hydrogen produced from zero-carbon electricity".
The Government is believed to favour so-called "plug-in hybrids" which run on electricity but also have small internal combustion engines.
Lord Turner's report, called Building a Low Carbon Economy, will set out a series of five year "carbon budgets" to cover the period until 2022. These will set out how much carbon the country must cut in each period and the technological methods that will be required to achieve the reductions. Whitehall is set to lead the way with each minister given a target to reduce carbon emissions in their department.
The report is also expected to recommend a big increase in carbon capture - technology which stores carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of coal and gas by power stations.
The Government has already cut road taxes on electric cars sharply. However, Mr Brown has met widespread protests when attempting to increase taxes on so-called gas guzzlers and petrol. The Treasury recently watered-down plans to double the tax on some polluting family cars.

Only the rich can afford it. Should taxpayers back it?

By Randall Stross
Published: November 30, 2008

The Tesla Roadster is an electric car that goes fast, looks sensational and excites envy. The seductive appearance, however, obscures some inconvenient truths: its all-electric technology remains woefully immature and don't-even-ask expensive. If enough billionaires step forward to inject additional capital to keep the doors of its manufacturer, Tesla Motors, open, I'm happy for all parties.
If investors pass up the opportunity, however, why should taxpayers fork over the capital that Tesla needs? The Roadster is not much more than a functioning concept car that sells for $109,000. The company is requesting $400 million in low-interest U.S. loans as part of the $25 billion loan package for the auto industry passed by Congress last year.
The program is intended to encourage automakers to improve fuel efficiency, but should it be used for a purpose like this, as the 2008 Bailout of Very, Very High-Net-Worth Individuals Who Invested in Tesla Motors Act? Can you conceive any way that U.S. government dollars could be put at greater risk — and for no equity in return, keep in mind — to benefit fewer people?
Tesla Motors, a privately held company based in San Carlos, California, has spent almost all of the $145 million in capital it has raised to date. It says it will soon receive another round of $40 million from its private investors to sustain operations.
In the start-up ecosystem of Silicon Valley these would be respectably large numbers, but in the automotive world, fully developing an entirely new line of technology can easily run $1 billion. That is what General Motors' first attempt at an electric vehicle, the EV1, was estimated to have cost to develop in the 1990s.

Tesla says it cannot move forward on plans to bring out a second-generation car, a less expensive sedan seating five, without U.S. government funds. It's also counting on rapid improvements in the core component of its powertrain — a 1,000-pound, or 450-kilogram, pack of lithium-ion batteries — but such improvements don't happen at the pace Tesla needs them to happen.
Tesla's backers in Silicon Valley can be forgiven for hoping for a miraculous technical breakthrough, because Moore's Law makes miracles appear in the Valley every day: costs drop by half every two years, again and again and again. The law is actually a rule of thumb, not a scientific law, and is based on the recurring doubling of transistors placed on an integrated circuit.
Unfortunately for Tesla, batteries are based on chemistry and have nothing to do with Moore's Law. Lawrence Dubois, chief technology officer at ATMI, a semiconductor industry supplier, said, "With batteries, you can't just squeeze more energy into a smaller and smaller space the way you can squeeze more transistors."
Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, said his company would benefit from what he called "a weak Moore's Law," referring to the 8 percent annual improvements in the price performance of lithium-ion batteries. But 8 percent, compounded, would bring too few benefits, too late to Tesla: it would take nine years to halve the price of its battery pack.
The company would not be saddled with such costly components had it not elected to pursue a design that endows its car with both high performance and a long range between charges — 244 miles, Tesla says. Earlier this month at the Los Angeles auto show, BMW unveiled its all-electric Mini E, with a smaller battery, a motor with about 20 percent less horsepower than Tesla's and a shorter range, 150 miles. BMW believes that current technologies used in the all-electric vehicles have not been tested enough in real conditions to be ready to be sold to the public. It will begin by leasing for one year a fleet of 500 Mini E's for $850 a month each. At the end of the lease term, the cars will be returned to BMW for testing.
Tesla would have needed a much smaller battery pack had it forsaken the all-electric design and instead offered a plug-in hybrid, a more affordable design that many auto manufacturers are readying for production, like that for the Chevrolet Volt. An electric motor provides the primary motive force, and a small internal combustion engine serves as an auxiliary source of power to extend the range that the car can go between charges. The battery need be no bigger than what is necessary to provide enough juice to go 40 miles, the maximum daily round-trip commuting distance for 78 percent of surveyed households, according to a widely quoted Department of Transportation study in 2003.

Tesla pitches all-electric cars as the greenest form of personal transportation, eliminating vehicle emissions and helping to wean the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. The cars reduce air pollution indirectly, to whatever degree the power generation on the grid uses energy sources other than coal. And for households that install their own power-generating solar panels, electric cars can rightfully claim to attain truly zero emissions today.
Last week, I visited the Tesla showroom in Menlo Park, California, and took the Roadster out on the highway. As I headed back to the showroom and waited at red lights, ready to hit the accelerator and fly, I realized that I was experiencing a guilty pleasure derived not just from the speed available at my touch but also from temporarily possessing something that shouted to the world its exclusiveness.
Tesla says it is assembling about 15 cars a week and has delivered only about 80 to date. Many of those have gone to the Valley's billionaires and centimillionaires who are Tesla investors as well as early customers; these include Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google, and Jeff Skoll, co-founder of eBay. The company's principal financier is Musk, who attained considerable wealth as a co-founder of PayPal.
I wonder how Tesla's course has been influenced by at least some of its investors being helplessly smitten by the world's quietest dragster.
Musk said: "I'm not doing this because I think the world has a shortage of sports cars." But his customers must be loaded with green in order to go green.
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail:

World unites for climate talks

Representatives from almost every country on the planet are about to start 12 days of talks aimed at getting the ball rolling for a new global climate change pact.

Last Updated: 3:09AM GMT 01 Dec 2008

The forum of the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznan, Poland comes a the mid point of a two-year process launched by the international community in Bali a year ago.
The aim is to forge a new global treaty in Copenhagen in December 2009 that will be the most ambitious and complex environmental deal ever made.
The stakes are high, with scientists warning that failure to take action on a worldwide basis will inflict irreparable damage to the planet's climate system.
It means humans have to find ways of producing power, feeding and equipping themselves and travelling that produce fewer greenhouse emissions.
The gases act like a blanket in atmosphere to make the Earth habitable, but in excess they heat up the planet's surface, wreaking changes to the climate system that could threaten the lives of millions of people.
"I honestly think that what happens between Poznan and Copenhagen on climate change will affect the world that we leave behind us more than anything that we do," Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC executive secretary, said on the eve of the talks.
But agreeing is a Herculean task.
Rich countries hold most of the world's wealth and consume most of its resources, but are pushing for concessions from China and India, which are becoming major polluters in their own right.
Developing countries, meanwhile, want the West to help pay for them to grow their economies in a sustainable manner and stump up cash to shore up the defences of poor countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Carbon capture and electric energy at centre of climate plans

Juliette Jowit and David Adam, Monday December 1 2008 00.01 GMT

Important decisions about the future of coal power in Britain are likely to be made today when the government's climate change committee sets out plans to de-carbonise the economy.
The committee will publish its first report recommending how Britain can achieve its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, which could eventually see the country ending almost all fossil fuel use to generate energy or run cars and public transport.
It will also urge quicker development of carbon capture and storage for coal power, and recommend whether government should allow coal plants to be built before the technology is fully developed.
Environmentalists hope the committee will set emissions standards from about 2020 which would force coal plants to fit at least some capture equipment, possibly with increasingly tough limits.
Critics believe such a move would make it too risky or expensive to proceed with a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, Kent, and up to seven others, unless the technology has been proved to work.
Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, said with enough government financial support there could be partial trials by 2015 and full capture in 2020."We've talked the talk, now it's walk the walk time," he said.
Under the climate change bill, which received royal assent last week, Britain set the world's first legally-binding target to cut emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The climate change committee will recommend interim targets up to 2022, taking into account both the 2050 target and the EU's pledge to reduce emissions by 20-30% by 2020. Friends of the Earth has urged the committee to ask for a 40% cut by 2020.
The report, Building a Low Carbon Economy - Britain's Contribution to Tackling Climate Change, will set out a transformation of Britain's economy, including widespread reliance on electric energy for homes and industry, and to power transport.
Electricity generation is likely to be based on renewable energy, nuclear power and coal with carbon capture.
The committee will suggest what proportion of cuts can be "bought" as credits for overseas carbon-reduction schemes, and how the interim targets should be increased to account for emissions from aviation and shipping.
An interim report this year estimated the cost of meeting the 2050 target would be 1-2% of GDP. Ministers are due to respond to the full report in March.
The report comes as international talks on a climate change treaty resume today in Poznan, Poland. The negotiations aim to set the stage for a deal in 2012 on global warming to succeed the Kyoto protocol, which needs to be agreed by this time next year at a meeting in Copenhagen. Insiders say the Poznan talks are not expected to produce a breakthrough, as negotiators will wait for the new US administration to declare its intentions.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, said the Poznan meeting was not likely to be "exciting" but important progress could be made on issues such as how rich countries help the developing world cope with the impact of climate change.
"The whole issue of adaptation needs to be taken off the back burner and receive a lot more serious attention," he said. The talks could also work out a way to pay tropical countries to protect their forests, as a cost-effective way to tackle rising CO2 emissions despite fears from green campaigners that a lack of land rights could see the money diverted.
The Poznan talks follow a meeting in Bali last December where countries agreed to formally negotiate a new treaty. Analysts say it needs to be agreed at Copenhagen for it to come into force by 2012.
De Boer said: "I think it is important that countries in Copenhagen reach a political agreement that is a response to what scientists tell us need to be done."
Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Over the next two weeks [Gordon] Brown's government will shape an international deal that could settle whether we conquer climate change, or let the planet cook. The UK needs to ... lead all developed countries in committing to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020."

Obama buzz felt at global climate talks

The Associated Press
Published: November 30, 2008

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands: The president-elect won't be there, but an Obama buzz will crackle through the conference hall when negotiators gather Monday for a final push toward a sweeping new global warming treaty.
"America is back," says Sen. John Kerry, underscoring that Barack Obama's election signals a U.S. intent to regain a leadership role on climate change.
"After eight years of obstruction and delay and denial, the United States is going to rejoin the world community in tackling this global challenge," said the Massachusetts Democrat, in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Delegates from nearly 190 countries gather for two weeks in Poznan, Poland, meeting for fourth time in the past year. Previous talks have witnessed bickering, clashes and compromise in what the top U.N. climate official calls the most difficult and complex international negotiation in history.
They have set a deadline of December 2009 to complete an accord on reducing worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for changing the Earth's climate.

Delegates say Obama's election promises to energize a process that until now has been burdened by a U.S. reluctance to endorse any international climate regime.
"In Poznan there will be a buzz — we can call it the American buzz," said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The U.S. is back in the conversation, and back with a leader that gets it."
At the same time, a global financial crisis has struck just when governments must commit to spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.
A report by the U.N. climate change secretariat estimates that at least $200 billion will be needed annually to cut carbon emissions 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030. hundreds of billions more may be needed for poor countries to deal with such effects of global warming as rising seas, water scarcity and shifts in farming, it said.
Some 9,000 delegates, activists and researchers will attend the Poznan meeting, which ends with a two-day summit of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, 150 environmental ministers, and Kerry and other U.S. congressmen who are instructed to report back to Obama.
It comes as new data suggests carbon emissions are increasing rather than declining, adding vigor to scientists' warnings that higher average temperatures will lead to more extreme storms, droughts and floods. U.N. monitors said last this month that total emissions from more than 40 reporting countries grew by 2.3 percent between 2000 to 2006.
"The need for real progress has never been more urgent," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said in a video message to delegates.
De Boer said Sunday that the global financial crisis already has delayed some green energy projects, and he fears the shortage of investment money could lead to cheap and dirty decisions on new power plants.
He said the crisis should instead be seen as an opportunity to reform the power infrastructure. He said 40 percent of the world's power generation must be changed in the next 10 to 15 years, and new plants will last up to 50 years.
The Poznan conference is the halfway mark in a two-year negotiation to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliged 37 industrial countries to slash carbon emissions below 1990 levels by an average 5 percent by 2012.
Washington refused to ratify the protocol. President George W. Bush argued it would hurt the U.S. economy while making no demands on emerging economic powers like China, which has surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter.
A breakthrough came at last December's talks when China and other developing countries agreed to share the burden of controlling emissions — though without accepting the same limits as the industrial countries, and only if they get help to switch to lower-carbon economies.
Conferences since then have explored ways of raising the huge sums required, of giving incentives to countries to curb deforestation, on setting new emissions targets for industrial countries and on transferring technologies to less developed countries and bringing them into the process.
Delegates now hope to agree on a timetable for next year to wrap up those issues and nail down the treaty language to be approved in December next year in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"Poznan really marks the moment in which serious negotiations can begin — to narrow down all of those ideas into what then needs to become an agreement in Copenhagen," De Boer told The Associated Press. "Finance is very much at the heart of the solution in Copenhagen."
Despite the high expectations of Obama, it will be months before his impact is felt on the negotiations. The U.S. delegation in Poznan will be the outgoing Bush team, led by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, and is likely to take a low profile.
"Their brief may be: Don't do any harm, and don't let any obstacles develop that would inhibit the next administration's ability to act," said Mark Helmke, a Republican congressional staff member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has observed the last four climate conferences.
Obama, who enters office in January, would likely need a year to prepare domestic legislation enabling Washington to commit to a new climate treaty.
Nonetheless, delegates anticipate a new U.S. approach that will kick the talks into a higher gear next year.
"The United States is the key to make other countries move," said Denmark's climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard, who is to preside over the decisive Copenhagen meeting.
"Without the United States and China," she said, "there is no deal."
AP writers Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report

Prepare for the next technological revolution

The Times
December 1, 2008
Sam Laidlaw: Viewpoint

What's in a target? The Government's escalation of its 2050 greenhouse gas reduction target to 80 per cent shows very starkly the scale of worldwide action that it believes is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.
But to achieve such a cut in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases, we would need a “carbon crunch” far greater in scale than most people imagine.
This seems certain to be underlined by the first report from Lord Turner of Ecchinswell's Committee on Climate Change, due to be published today. It was on the committee's recommendation that the target was moved to 80 per cent from 60 per cent.
Of course, targets are good, but we all have a responsibility to ensure they don't just become hot air - in this case, literally so.
So what action can be taken to not only deliver the nearer term UK target of 15 per cent of all UK energy from renewables by 2020, but also the further reductions required to reach the 2050 objective? And what policy frameworks must be in place?
In the energy sector, accounting for 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, the changes required are seismic and will represent the next technological revolution in our lifestyles, after the internet.
Upstream, there is already a European Union timetable to eliminate some of our highest-emitting coal-fired power generation. About a quarter of the UK's generation capacity will be taken offline by 2015, creating an opportunity to decarbonise the sector by building replacement clean generation.
Gas-fired generation, while much cleaner than coal, will probably be reduced to a back-up role for times when the thousands of wind turbines that potentially will be built offshore are becalmed. The need to keep the “reserve margin” of back-up generation at an appropriate level may require a redesign of the power market.
And we will see the renaissance of zero-carbon nuclear generation, in which Centrica plans to invest.
The industry will need a stable regulatory framework in which a reasonable return can be made, such as the Renewables Obligation for large-scale wind generation. It also needs a high and stable price for emitting CO2 engineered through the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme - it must become more rewarding to be a low-carbon company than a polluter.
This is why it is critical that the British power sector, and much of Europe, should adopt 100 per cent auctioning of allowances to emit CO2 from 2013. We must see no slippage and no loopholes. Every tonne of carbon must carry a price tag.
Meanwhile, in people's homes and businesses, we will need a sharp reduction in emissions if the carbon targets are to be met.
This is why we're working hard on alternative technologies. These start with basic measures, such as insulation and low-energy lighting, and lead through to renewable generation in the home from solar photovoltaic panels, fuel-cell boilers and heat pumps.
It's not science fiction - many technologies are mainstream already in places such as Germany and Sweden - but government needs to incentivise companies to turn them into mass-market products and to use the carrot and stick to persuade homeowners to install them. Householders and businesses will require financial inducements, such as tax breaks on equipment, renewable heat incentives and “feed-in tariffs” to pay people for producing renewable heat or power. A further enabler will be the rollout of smart meters to measure and give credit for this.
Up front, it will be expensive. The Government has already put a £100billion tag on the delivery of its 2020 renewables target. These costs will be borne by us all. In the longer term, these changes should insulate us more from volatile global prices for gas and coal, meaning more stable consumer bills.
There is, of course, scepticism in some quarters that all this will happen. Those sceptics should remember that back in the 1970s there were misplaced doubts about British Gas's ability to convert 34million appliances in 17million homes to natural gas. The big mistake now would be to imagine that there is somehow a “one size fits all” solution. The secret will be to drive forward on multiple fronts.
It is critical that other industry sectors play their part, but they will rely on the energy sector to help them. For example, transport has much to do, given that it accounts for more than a fifth of CO2 emissions, but the increase in electricity usage to power cars and lorries will depend on the decarbonisation of generation.
We all recognise that the Government has a lot on its plate, given the present economic difficulties, but, as Lord Turner's report lands on desks in Westminster, it is important that our energy policy-makers remember the lessons of the credit crunch: control events before they control you.
- Sam Laidlaw is chief executive of Centrica

Scramble to cut emissions to avoid shaming

The Times
December 1, 2008

Peter Stiff

Some of Britain's biggest companies are scrambling to try to reduce their carbon emissions before being named and shamed by the Government and being hit with a hefty bill.
Stagecoach, the FTSE 100 transport group, Gala Coral, the private equity-owned gaming company, and Matalan, the retailer, have mandated Spice, the FTSE 250 utility services group, to monitor and reduce their emissions after the Government's latest green guidelines were signed into law last week.
From 2010, companies that spend about £500,000 or more a year on electricity will be required to pay for the amount of carbon they emit under the Carbon Reduction Commitment, part of the Climate Change Act. Companies' performance will be published in a league table, which will determine how much of the payment - made at the start of each year - is given back.
A company's rank will be determined by its emissions performance, the actions that it has taken to control emissions and how its emissions have changed in relation to its turnover. The move could lead to several companies renegotiating their energy contracts and asking for outside help to procure cleaner energy on their behalf.
Simon Rigby, chief executive of Spice, said the group's Inenco division had received a “flood of enquiries” as companies began to realise the potential costs and reputational risk of not reducing their emissions.