Friday, 5 December 2008

Greenwash: Are Coke's green claims the real thing?

Coca-Cola has pledged to become 'water neutral'. But what does that actually mean, asks Fred Pearce
Fred Pearce, Thursday December 4 2008 09.57 GMT

Are Coke's environmental claims the real thing? After making a big contribution to the coffers of the World Wildlife Fund, Coca Cola has been pledging to the world that it is going "water neutral", most recently at a business conference in San Francisco this week.
It is an intriguing phrase. But can a company whose products have water as their principal ingredient really go water neutral? And is WWF wise to proclaim Coke as a "partner" – even in return for Coke's contribution of $23m (£15m) to the fund's protection of the world's rivers? Is this greenwash?
Don't get me wrong. Any company that uses a lot of water in its business – and Coke uses 300bn litres a year – should be encouraged to consume less. And we should not necessarily decry their efforts, even if they are less than perfect.
What concerns me is that phrase "water neutral". The company has been using it widely in the 18 months since its hook-up with WWF – notably during the Olympic Games in Beijing, the water-stressed city where Coca Cola was a major event sponsor.
What does the phrase mean? Speaking at WWF's annual meeting last year, Coke's chairman Neville Isdell said it meant the company "pledged to replace every drop of water we use in our beverages and their production: to achieve balance in communities and in nature." The goal, he admitted, is "aspirational". But it is also extremely hard to pin down.
First, the stats. The company is using water more efficiently in many of its operations. It says the amount of water used to make a typical litre of its drinks fell 20% to 2.47 litres, between 2002 and 2007. But if anything, these efforts are faltering. The improvement from 2006 to 2007 was just 2%, the smallest to date.
And because Coca Cola is manufacturing more product every year, its actual overall water use has been rising since 2005 and is now almost back at the 2002 level. This is not to me an obvious sign of the aspiration, still less the reality, of water neutrality.
But definitions are critical. The company admits it won't stop using water. But it promises to carry on using water more efficiently, to ensure that all its wastewater is returned to the environment "at a level that supports aquatic life and agriculture" and, finally and most problematically, to "replenish the water we use".
Replenish looks like the key word. Coke is not promising to be water neutral wherever it operates – which is bad news for the Indian villages that have been complaining that Coca Cola bottling plants are emptying their wells. Instead, it will "replenish" that water somewhere else. How is not so clear. One route will be by funding WWF to protect watersheds round the globe.
Another term for this "replenishing" is water offsets. Just like those carbon offsets that make some companies "carbon neutral".
Some people don't like carbon offsets, but offsetting carbon is, theoretically at least, do-able. This is because carbon dioxide acts globally on the atmosphere. If I emit carbon dioxide into the air somewhere and then offset the emissions by removing a similar amount somewhere else, that is absolutely fine for the atmosphere and for the climate. Job done.
Not so for water. Water is local.
I could, for instance, claim to be water neutral if I pumped dry a village aquifer or a vital oasis in a desert – and then put the same amount of water back into a rainforest river. Like, say, the Mekong, one of the rivers included under Coca Cola's watershed programme with WWF.
Those Indian villagers are unlikely to be appeased by an offset in the Cambodia rainforest. Their wells will still be dry.
Clearly water neutrality is a slippery term, and on paper Coca Cola accepts this. A year ago, a group of water scientists, including Richard Holland from WWF and Greg Koch, Coke's managing director of global water stewardship, wrote a "concept paper" about water neutrality.
They recognised its PR origins. "Water neutral was chosen as an inspirational phrase that resonates with the public," they noted. No other term had "the same gravity or resonance with the media, officials or NGOs."
They added: "For pragmatic reasons it may therefore be attractive ... but there is clearly a need to define the term". They called for a "transparent and inclusive process that will lead to a scientifically sound approach to water neutrality."
That process is certainly not transparent, and I can find no evidence that it has been concluded.
Maybe (though I am sceptical) the scientists can come up with a serviceable definition of water neutrality. One that illuminates rather than obscures, keeps wells full rather than emptying them. But right now there is no agreed definition. So why does Coke insist on using the term? And why is WWF going along with it?
The whole idea of water neutrality is in danger of becoming fatally devalued. And that would be a shame. For water. And for the future environmental reputation of Coca Cola.

We should let the US car industry die

A man who sells Vauxhall cars complained to me that other day that nothing is moving off his forecourt except for little runabouts that do 70 miles to the gallon – allegedly.

By Charles Clover Last Updated: 11:27PM GMT 04 Dec 2008

Behind the scenes, the big car manufacturers are threatening their dealerships with dire consequences if they do not achieve sales targets for 4 x 4s, but this is wishful thinking born of desperation.
The car manufacturers are in a fix and lulled by long years of cheap money haven't invested in the kind of cars people would want in a downturn. Gloom is deepest in America, where the intellectual bankruptcy of the Detroit business model, based on flogging gas-guzzling SUVs and giant pickups, is now being matched by actual bankruptcy.
General Motors, Vauxhall's giant parent in America, has told Congress that it will be out of business by the new year if it does not receive billions of dollars to pay off its debts. The social cost if GM folded would be great, with about 5,000 jobs in Luton and Ellesmere Port at risk, not to mention at dealerships.
All the signs are that President-Elect Obama will listen and back some kind of recovery plan for GM, Ford and Chrysler. But he has also promised the 180 nations meeting in Poznan, Poland, this week to discuss climate change that he will take America into a low-carbon future. So how will he avoid tarnishing his shiny halo?
That is the unique quandary for politicians in this recession, because of what responsible people believe is the parallel and real crisis of climate change.
Many of us, in Europe and America, think that GM equals British Leyland and it should be allowed to fold, perhaps with its European operations hived off because they do make some economical cars that people actually want to buy. But that kind of bankruptcy isn't going to happen. Democrats in America are beholden to the unions. There will be a bail-out. Watch out, it could happen here with Jaguar.
What is far from clear, given the politics of the situation, is whether enough attention is being paid to the question of whether the price being extracted for the American public's billions of dollars is high enough.
Unless the Hummer brand is taken off the street forthwith and the wallowing Cadillacs, Pontiacs, Buicks and Chevrolets are converted quickly into the hybrid or electric models that are currently years away from production, what will have been achieved for all that public money?
The American car industry, like its banks, is an example of the failure of government regulation. Now it's time for a reckoning.
• There is little sign that the Government on this side of the Atlantic understands the justifiable use of public money either.
If Alistair Darling wanted a "green New Deal" to benefit the British economy and tackle climate change, two priorities the Government claims it has, he would have put £10 billion a year into the construction industry and paid it to insulate and refit our homes.
As it is, he has waived tax on aviation and motoring and given away £12 billion of VAT on consumer goods, most of them imported. "In every way, about as irresponsible as you can get," says Paul Ekins, professor of energy and environment policy at King's College, London.
• There's a lot of irresponsibility about. Over in Poznan, the EU is in the embarrassing position of trying to persuade the world to accept tougher emissions by 2020, while Poland, the host nation, and Italy are demanding concessions.
Now experts tell me that the Slovakian government has sold millions of tons of "hot air" – permits to pollute based on Communist Eastern Europe's historically higher emissions, rather than real emissions reductions – to a Swiss-based company dealing in arms.
Murky stuff. The whole carbon-trading system – capitalism's only answer to climate change – could unravel unless the naming and shaming begins.
• Scottish Natural Heritage has announced a study to find out once and for all if sea eagles prey on lambs, as crofters allege.
Pardon my scepticism, but I suspect that question will never be resolved satisfactorily while there remains the prospect of receiving public money for lost sheep.

From hoof to dinner table, a new bid to cut emissions

By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Published: December 4, 2008

Swine at Sterksel, an experimental center that converts pig waste into gases that are burned for energy and then sold to the grid. (Michel de Groot for The New York Times)

STERKSEL, the Netherlands: The cows and pigs dotting these flat green plains in the southern Netherlands create a bucolic landscape. But looked at through the lens of greenhouse gas accounting, they are living smokestacks, spewing methane emissions into the air.
That is why a group of farmers-turned-environmentalists here at a smelly but impeccably clean research farm have a new take on making a silk purse from a sow's ear: They cook manure from their 3,000 pigs to capture the methane trapped within it, and then use the gas to make electricity for the local power grid.
Rising in the fields of the environmentally conscious Netherlands, the Sterksel project is a rare example of fledgling efforts to mitigate the heavy emissions from livestock. But much more needs to be done, scientists say, as more and more people are eating more meat around the world.
What to do about farm emissions is one of the main issues being discussed this week and next, as the environment ministers from 187 nations gather in Poznan, Poland, for talks on a new treaty to combat global warming. In releasing its latest figure on emissions last month, United Nations climate officials cited agriculture and transportation as the two sectors that remained most "problematic."
"It's an area that's been largely overlooked," said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says people should eat less meat to control their carbon footprints. "We haven't come to grips with agricultural emissions."

The trillions of farm animals around the world generate 18 percent of the emissions that are raising global temperatures, according to United Nations estimates, more even than from cars, buses and airplanes.
But unlike other industries, like cement making and power, which are facing enormous political and regulatory pressure to get greener, large-scale farming is just beginning to come under scrutiny as policy makers, farmers and scientists cast about for solutions.
High-tech fixes include those like the project here, called "methane capture," as well as inventing feed that will make cows belch less methane, which traps heat with 25 times the efficiency of carbon dioxide. California is already working on a program to encourage systems in pig and dairy farms like the one in Sterksel.
Other proposals include everything from persuading consumers to eat less meat to slapping a "sin tax" on pork and beef. Next year, Sweden will start labeling food products so that shoppers can look at how much emission can be attributed to serving steak compared with, say, chicken or turkey.
"Of course for the environment it's better to eat beans than beef, but if you want to eat beef for New Year's, you'll know which beef is best to buy," said Claes Johansson, chief of sustainability at the Swedish agricultural group Lantmannen.
But such fledgling proposals are part of a daunting game of catch-up. In large developing countries like China, India and Brazil, consumption of red meat has risen 33 percent in the last decade. It is expected to double globally between 2000 and 2050. While the global economic downturn may slow the globe's appetite for meat momentarily, it is not likely to reverse a profound trend.
Of the more than 2,000 projects supported by the United Nations' "green" financing system intended to curb emissions, only 98 are in agriculture. There is no standardized green labeling system for meat, as there is for electric appliances and even fish.
Indeed, scientists are still trying to define the practical, low-carbon version of a slab of bacon or a hamburger. Every step of producing meat creates emissions.
Flatus and manure from animals contain not only methane, but also nitrous oxide, an even more potent warming agent. And meat requires energy for refrigeration as it moves from farm to market to home.
Producing meat in this ever-more crowded world requires creating new pastures and planting more land for imported feeds, particularly soy, instead of relying on local grazing. That has contributed to the clearing of rain forests, particularly in South America, robbing the world of crucial "carbon sinks," the vast tracts of trees and vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide.
"I'm not sure that the system we have for livestock can be sustainable," said Pachauri of the United Nations. A sober scientist, he suggests that "the most attractive" near-term solution is for everyone simply to "reduce meat consumption," a change he says would have more effect than switching to a hybrid car.
The Lancet medical journal and groups like the Food Ethics Council in Britain have supported his suggestion to eat less red meat to control global emissions, noting that Westerners eat more meat than is healthy anyway.

Producing a pound of beef creates 11 times as much greenhouse gas emission as a pound of chicken and 100 times more than a pound of carrots, according to Lantmannen, the Swedish group.
But any suggestion to eat less meat may run into resistance in a world with more carnivores and a booming global livestock industry. Meat producers have taken issue with the United Nations' estimate of livestock-related emissions, saying the figure is inflated because it includes the deforestation in the Amazon, a phenomenon that the Brazilian producers say might have occurred anyway.
United Nations scientists defend their accounting. With so much demand for meat, "you do slash rain forest," said Pierre Gerber, a senior official at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Soy cultivation has doubled in Brazil during the past decade, and more than half is used for animal feed.
Laurence Wrixon, executive director of the International Meat Secretariat, said that his members were working with the Food and Agriculture Organization to reduce emissions but that the main problem was fast-rising consumption in developing countries. "So whether you like it or not, there's going to be rising demand for meat, and our job is to make it as sustainable as possible," he said.
Estimates of emissions from agriculture as a percentage of all emissions vary widely from country to country, but they are clearly over 50 percent in big agricultural and meat-producing countries like Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.
In the United States, agriculture accounted for just 7.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The percentage was lower because the United States produces extraordinarily high levels of emissions in other areas, like transportation and landfills, compared with other nations. The figure also did not include fuel burning and land-use changes.
Wealthy, environmentally conscious countries with large livestock sectors — the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand — have started experimenting with solutions.
In Denmark, by law, farmers now inject manure under the soil instead of laying it on top of the fields, a process that enhances its fertilizing effect, reduces odors and also prevents emissions from escaping. By contrast, in many parts of the developing world, manure is left in open pools and lathered on fields.
Others suggest including agriculture emissions in carbon cap-and-trade systems, which currently focus on heavy industries like cement making and power generation. Farms that produce more than their pre-set limit of emissions would have to buy permits from greener colleagues to pollute.
New Zealand recently announced that it would include agriculture in its new emissions trading scheme by 2013. To that end, the government is spending tens of millions of dollars financing research and projects like breeding cows that produce less gas and inventing feed that will make cows belch less methane, said Philip Gurnsey of the Environment Ministry.
At the electricity-from-manure project here in Sterksel, the refuse from thousands of pigs is combined with local waste materials (outdated carrot juice and crumbs from a cookie factory), and pumped into warmed tanks called digesters. There, resident bacteria release the natural gas within, which is burned to generate heat and electricity.
The farm uses 25 percent of the electricity, and the rest is sold to a local power provider. The leftover mineral slurry is an ideal fertilizer that reduces the use of chemical fertilizers, whose production releases a heavy dose of carbon dioxide.
For this farm the scheme has provided a substantial payback: By reducing its emissions, it has been able to sell carbon credits on European markets. It makes money by selling electricity. It gets free fertilizer.
And, in a small country where farmers are required to have manure trucked away, it saves $190,000 annually in disposal fees. John Horrevorts, experiment coordinator, whose family has long raised swine, said that dozens of such farms had been set up in the Netherlands, though cost still makes it impractical for small piggeries. Indeed, one question that troubles green farmers is whether consumers will pay more for their sustainable meat.
"In the U.K., supermarkets are sometimes asking about green, but there's no global system yet," said Bent Claudi Lassen, chairman of the Danish Bacon and Meat Council, which supports green production. "We're worried that other countries not producing in a green way, like Brazil, could undercut us on price."

Omni-standards - you heard it here first

The Times
December 5, 2008
Green beans from Kenya and rice in a drought? There is more to food than its effect on our waistlines
Emily Ford

There is a certain art to coining words. Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University and food adviser to the World Health Organisation, has a knack of sneaking new terms into our daily lexicon. Since he quietly invented the term “food miles” in 1991, the hidden distance in food production has implanted itself in the nation’s vocabulary.
Seventeen years on, Professor Lang is trying to do it again with another term that, if adopted, could change for good the way in which we eat. “Omni-standards” is, he admits, a less appealing mot juste. However, it is the best word that he has to describe the 16 biggest food-related issues that he believes we need to urgently address.
Currently, the environmental challenges in food are treated as separate from health or ethical standards. Omni-standards bring them together in one. Food, especially agriculture, is one of the biggest factors in climate change. “The whole food system is going to have to change for carbon – and that is just one issue,” Professor Lang says.
Some issues are already familiar: the safety of food is carefully monitored, as is nutritional value. Others are less known. Embedded water – the amount of water it takes to produce food – is “an impending catastrophe”, Professor Lang says. Water is becoming rapidly scarcer and climate change will affect drought-prone countries disproportionately.
Related Links
Government should make charities 100% winners
Should universities accept ‘soft’ A levels?
Management briefing: public sector trust
“If you thought about water protection you would eat a different diet,” he says. “You definitely wouldn’t eat rice, because you’d say that it should only be eaten in areas where that’s the only staple they can grow. It’s got huge amounts of embedded water.”
The problem, he admits, is how to reconcile the different factors. Food miles created dilemmas; in carbon terms, it can be better to walk to a supermarket selling international food than to drive to a farm shop to buy local produce, for example. “I don’t think we know what a good diet is,” Professor Lang says. “In terms of health, yes, but not overall.”
What we do know is that the British food system, on a global scale, is unsustainable. We require land three to five times the size of our country to feed us. The amount of food produced here for British consumption has fallen from 83 per cent to 70 per cent and is still falling, and urban areas are poor at growing food. “London should be covered with fruit trees,” he says.
Restructuring the food system is a task for governments and world organisations such as the UN. It is a move away from consumer power, Professor Lang admits; consumers can’t be relied upon to do the right thing. The food system was last reconfigured after the First World War threatened the security of supply. However, bv the 1970s, the growing availability of cheap fat, sugar and salt had created a health disaster that has yet to be overcome.
Despite the five-a-day fruit and vegetables mantra, the average number of portions eaten hovers stubbornly around 2.4 and obesity figures are not decreasing. Curbing overconsumption is a huge task; the average 26,000 items in a supermarket tempt us into buying what we don’t need and about 30 per cent of food is thrown away.
Professor Lang’s solution is “choice editing”, which is removing ethical hazards in the way some food producers have removed excess salt. “Get it out before a consumer gets it,” he says.
On the positive side, there has been an “explosion of consciousness” on climate change, he says. As well as the health traffic-light system, some supermarkets have begun including carbon footprints on their labels.
However, Professor Lang says: “Putting carbon on a label is not good enough when we eat green beans from Kenya in the middle of winter and every stem is four litres of drinking water from a water-stressed country.”
The lowdown
Who Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London
What Omni-standards, a proposed measure of a responsible, sustainable food system that takes into account health, quality, environmental and ethical factors
When Professor Lang called for the introduction of omni-standards in September and is lobbying the Government and food retailers to start introducing them
Where Western nations with an unsustainable model of food supply, such as Britain and the US, need to lead the way by growing more food at home and addressing how they source food. Developing nations should be encouraged to ensure they can grow enough food to feed their own people before exporting it
Why The multiple challenges posed by climate change, including how to curb greenhouse gas emissions and prevent water shortages, will lead to a global food crisis if this is not addressed. Health remains a concern

Recession Clouds Chances for EU Climate Treaty

PARIS -- The European Union's ambitious plan to combat climate change could be dealt a crippling blow next week because of opposition from member nations who say the package is too onerous for businesses at a time of economic adversity.
Associated Press

Poland has opposed an EU climate pact because, it argues, the rules will cause huge increases in electricity prices and potentially cripple its economy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to travel to Warsaw on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to win support from Poland and other Eastern European nations for the plan, in which the bloc agreed early last year to cut greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020.
Italy has also opposed the plan, and Germany, which originally championed the measures, is now pushing to soften their impact on energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement and chemicals, as the economic downturn damps countries' commitments to fight global warming.
"Some people claim environmental measures are a way to relaunch industry, but let's be realistic," said Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy's environment minister. "Resources are limited, and they will be even more so because of the economic crisis."
Backpedaling by Europe on its climate-change measures could spoil its effort to play a leading role in the wider international global-warming debate. In a separate meeting under way in Poznan, Poland, representatives from 190 countries, under the auspices of the United Nations, are meeting through Dec. 12 to work toward a separate treaty that would succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The international accord would commit industrialized countries to deep emissions cuts in coming decades.
Europe had hoped to help convince developing countries like China and India to sign on to the cuts, but could find its powers of persuasion diluted if member states are seen to be squabbling over their own green reforms.
France has been a champion of the EU package and Mr. Sarkozy has made hammering out a deal a priority of his six-month presidency of the EU, which ends this month. If other countries' concerns can't be assuaged, the measures are likely to be shelved until the middle of 2009. The package needs to unanimous approval.
The EU already watered down one important part of its package last week, agreeing to delay implementation of mandatory emissions caps for passenger cars to 2015 from 2012. Auto makers had lobbied hard to soften the emissions standards, arguing that they needed more time to adapt their vehicles.
The conflict among EU countries centers on the details of implementation, which could have huge consequences for companies and employment levels.
Poland, which gets more than 90% of its electricity from high-emission, coal-burning power plants, argues the rules will cause huge increases in electricity prices and potentially cripple its economy. Its main gripe with the package is a so-called auctioning provision, which would require power companies to pay for permits to pollute instead of being given most of them.
According to the way the climate-change deal is currently written, companies that generate electricity would have to buy all of their carbon permits at auction starting in 2013. This would weigh on their bottom lines and inevitably lead to higher electricity prices as the firms pass on these extra costs to consumers.
According to French diplomats, Mr. Sarkozy this week offered to delay auctions in the power sector until 2016 and then phasing them in gradually. The Poles said no, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. This weekend, Mr. Sarkozy will make the proposal again to Poland and countries including Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic.
Italy is also threatening a veto. Ms. Prestigiacomo, the environment minister, said Italy's main concerns are the package's potential costs for the country's power sector and heavy industry. "We have to set priorities. It's useless to lay down objectives that won't be respected," she said.
"It would be a miracle if we got an agreement at this point," a French diplomat said.—Stacy Meichtry contributed to this article.
Write to Leila Abboud at

Recycling shipped to China to be burnt as cheap fuel

Recycling is being shipped to China where it is being burnt as cheap fuel, according to a new report calling for a whole new approach to disposing of waste in the UK.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 7:20PM GMT 04 Dec 2008
The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) said the Government's policy of recycling as much as possible is failing to help the environment because materials are being dumped in landfill or shipped to developing countries.
Instead the experts said there should be a factory in every town or village to generate energy from waste either through burning or composting.
The Government is trying to cut the enormous amount of waste that goes to landfill every year. However the IMechE said recycling rates are not as high as ministers claim. This is because the figures are based on the amount of waste collected for recycling, rather than the actual amount of waste that is being recycled.
In fact some material collected for recycling is sent to landfill because it is not appropriate for processing or shipped to China where it is used as a cheap fuel. Furthermore the waste that is recycled in the UK uses a huge amount of energy for transport and processing, which counteracts the environmental benefits of recycling.
In a hard-hitting report, the IMechE called for a whole new strategy focusing on "energy from waste". This would see a new generation of incinerators, that burn waste for energy and anaerobic digesters, that process waste to make biofuel, springing up around the country.
Ultimately it could provide up to 20 per cent of the country's electricity needs and also heat homes.
Ian Arbon, author of the report, said local authorities have no duty to track where recycling goes once it is sold onto waste contractors. Therefore a "colossal amount" is ending up in China where there are few environmental restrictions to stop it being burnt as cheap fuel.
"People would be very angry if they knew the recycling they have carefully sorted was going to China," he said.
Mr Arbon said the UK would do far better to process waste locally because it would not only cut down on the carbon emissions used to transport waste but generate electricity from a renewable source. He said the modern generation of incinerators do not pollute the environment and pointed out they are already in use across the Continent.
"We see energy from waste as one of the brightest hopes of meeting the Government's target to cut greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "Indeed we will not meet those targets without it."
Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, said the Government is planning to build much more energy from waste plants, although recycling was still a big part of the UK's waste reduction strategy.
However there are concerns at the moment that recycling is being stored or even sent to landfill because of the collapse in the global market for aluminium, plastic and paper.
Mr Smith called on councils not to scrap recycling services because it is difficult to sell on materials.
"Local authorities in England and Wales must hold their nerve. The collection, treatment and reprocessing capacity for recyclable waste in England and Wales must be retained and expanded if we are to meet our legal targets on landfill waste," he said.
"There can be no return to the bad old days of sending too much waste to landfill. So it's vital that this economic slowdown does not jeopardise public confidence in recycling, particularly with Christmas approaching – which is always a crunch time for waste collection and recycling."
WRAP, the Government's body on waste reduction, also published guidelines for local authorities on how to get rid of recycled materials.
The online advice includes information on local and global markets so that councils can find buyers and do not have to store recycled material or send it to landfill.

UK engineers call for green power from household waste

Report claims domestic rubbish could provide up to 20% of Britain's energy needs
Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent, Thursday December 4 2008 17.18 GMT

The UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert Hall every two hours.
Household rubbish should be used to produce green power rather than being sent for recycling, according to energy experts.
At a briefing today to launch a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on dealing with waste, the authors said that converting waste could provide up to a fifth of the UK's electricity needs in future and help the country meet its renewable energy targets.
But environmentalists have voiced concerns over the report, insisting that recycling rubbish is still the better option in terms of tackling climate change.
The UK produces more than 300m tonnes of waste every year, enough to fill the Albert Hall every two hours. Most of this is buried in landfill, though new EU legislation will require a 50% cut in the practice by 2013.
"We can't afford to do that any more, we're running out of space for landfills," said Ian Arbon, a visiting professor in energy systems at Newcastle University and author of the new report.
"We see energy from waste as being one of the brightest hopes for reaching our 2020 target to source 15% of our energy requirements from renewables.
"We will not meet those targets without energy from waste."
Energy can be harnessed from waste in several ways, depending on the type. The two proven methods are combustion, where waste is burned to produce electricity and heat, and anaerobic digestion, a biological process where waste is treated to produce methane, which can then be used for fuel. The former is most suitable for dry waste while the latter is best for wet or organic waste.
There are fewer than 50 small-scale energy-from-waste plants operating in the UK at the moment, a combination of combustion plants and anaerobic digesters. This compares to several thousand in countries such as Denmark and Germany.
In the past, burning waste in incinerators has been opposed by local residents worried about air pollution. But Arbon said that, using modern combustion methods which scrub out harmful particles from the gases vented by the power plant, every community in the UK could have a waste-processing facility on its doorstep.
"Then you're handling the community's waste locally and you're not having to transport waste large distances, which gets people upset."
Gaynor Hartnell, deputy director of the Renewable Energy Association, added that converting all the country's household and commercial waste, around 75m tonnes per year, could provide significant benefits. "If it all went into electricity, you could get about 17% of the UK's electricity demand from waste [by 2020]."
But Matthew Warhurst, senior resource and waste campaigner at Friends of the Earth, warned that building a new fleet of energy-from-waste plants would miss climate goals. "Household waste is a mixture of fossil-derived plastics and textiles and biologically-derived material, [burning it] you end up producing a lot of carbon dioxide."
Another way of dealing with waste is to recycle it but Arbon urged caution on assuming this was the best option "In this country we have very few recycling plants.
"We do reasonably well with metals and we can handle some paper but, because we've lost most of our manufacturing might in the UK, we ship our waste to china - that process absorbs a lot of energy."
Recycling is an energy-intensive process, said Arbon, the opposite of producing energy from waste. "The energy that we use to recycle mainly comes from our existing energy-production systems, which are 90% fossil fuels.
"Let's get honest about recycling, about how well we do at that. For some things, it's the right thing to do, for others it isn't."
However, FoE's Warhurst said that stepping up recycling facilities was an urgent priority, as was avoiding putting things into landfill that could go on to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
"Rather than building huge plants to burn waste inefficiently, it is better for the climate to be building plants that compost the remains, remove further recyclables and then even if you end up putting what's left in landfill that is a better climate option."

EU adopts renewable energy proposals

Published: December 4, 2008

BRUSSELS: The European Union agreed Thursday on a series of measures to promote green energy after resolving a long-running battle over biofuels.
But Italy would not drop its demand to review the legislation in 2014, preventing the EU from signing off on a deal to get 20 percent of the region's energy from renewable sources by 2020.
"We have agreement on everything except the deletion of the review clause," the European Parliament's lead negotiator, Claude Turmes, said after talks that went on until the early hours.
The green energy laws are a major part of an EU package to fight climate change, which it hopes will help spur a global deal with other big polluters like China and the United States.
"Europe faces a moment of truth over the next week on the issue of climate change as to whether this package goes through and goes through with environmental integrity," said the British secretary for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband.

Until Thursday, debate over biofuels had been deadlocked, holding back other measures to promote wind farms, solar power and energy from tides.
The European Commission proposed in January that 10 percent of road transport fuel should come from renewable sources by 2020. Much of that would come from biofuels, creating a large market that is coveted by exporters like Brazil and Indonesia, along with EU farming nations.
But environmentalists say biofuels made from grains and oilseeds increase food prices and force subsistence farmers to expand agricultural land by hacking into rainforests and draining wetlands, a process known as indirect land-use change.
The stand-off over biofuels ended with an agreement that up to almost a third of the EU's 10 percent goal would be met not through biofuels but through electric cars and trains.
"The 10 percent agri-fuels target has been seriously undermined," said Turmes, the negotiator. "The future cars will be electric," he added, "and there will be a strong push to get all trains in Europe to run on green electricity."
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, will also come forward with proposals in 2010 to limit indirect land-use change, and biofuels made from non-food sources will be promoted. Turmes said Italy's demand for a review would undermine investment security and put at risk thousands of new jobs. Environmental groups also criticized the proposal.

Moscow Vies With West For India Nuclear Deals

By JACKIE RANGE in New Delhi and GREGORY L. WHITE in Moscow

Russia hopes to increase its nuclear-power presence in India and gain ground against Western suppliers with plans to sign a deal this week, during a state visit by President Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr. Medvedev's three-day visit, which began Thursday, comes after a large U.S. nuclear-business delegation postponed a planned trip to India amid heightened security concerns following deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week.
Associated Press
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, with Indian Junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma, after arriving in New Delhi on Wednesday for a three-day visit.
International competition is growing to gain a slice of the Indian nuclear-energy market, where nuclear power is expected to reach 40,000 megawatts of capacity by 2020. In 2007, India had installed capacity of 3,900 megawatts.
The commercial battle has intensified after the U.S. approved a landmark nuclear pact in October, opening the way for American companies to sell their technology to India. That arrangement came on the heels of a civilian nuclear deal between India and France.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Rosatom, Russia's state-run nuclear company, told a Russian news agency Russia planned to sign an agreement with the Indian government Friday to build four reactors for the Kudankulam plant in southern India.
An Indian government spokesman declined to confirm the likelihood of a nuclear agreement with Russia being concluded, however, saying he "cannot and will not comment on the outcome of the visit."
India's power-supply system is widely viewed as abysmal. Some parts of rural India suffer 15 hours or more a day of power cuts, and major towns and cities endure blackouts of several hours a day. The power shortages are seen as a serious brake on India's economic expansion goals. The economy has grown an average of 8.7% annually during the past five years. But the rapid expansion, combined with rising incomes, has lifted electricity demand 9% a year.
India has become a key market for Rosatom, which is currently working with the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. to build two nuclear reactors in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, at the same site where Russia said new plants are slated to be built.
Mr. Medvedev's foreign-policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, confirmed the planned agreement in comments Thursday, saying "the quality, pricing and reliability of Russian nuclear plants get a high assessment in India, so we have a chance to seriously strengthen our position on this market, even despite rising competition."
In an interview with Indian television aired before his visit, Mr. Medvedev said he hopes nuclear cooperation with India "can be put on a fundamental, industrial basis."
Russia is also hoping for more defense business from India. India has long been a major buyer of Russian military hardware, but the weapons purchases have been marred by tensions over cost overruns and delays. In the televised interview, Mr. Medvedev said he hoped to make progress in a long-running dispute with India over the cost and timing of an aircraft carrier that New Delhi ordered several years ago.
He also said Moscow hopes to expand defense links to include areas such as submarine leasing and possible joint production of weaponry.
Coming on the heels of Mr. Medvedev's trip to Latin America -- the first tour of that region by a Russian president in years -- the visit to India is part of the Kremlin's push to show it is again a major player on the world stage.
Write to Jackie Range at and Gregory L. White at

Rolls-Royce, Balfour Beatty Unveil Areva Nuclear Deals

By Jonathan Buck

LONDON (Dow Jones)--Rolls-Royce Group PLC (RR.LN) and Balfour Beatty Group PLC (BBY.LN) Thursday separately announced deals with French nuclear power plant and services provider Areva (CEI.FR).
Rolls-Royce, best known as a maker of jet engines but also a key provider of power systems and services to the energy industry, said it had agreed a memorandum of understanding to work with Areva on programs that will see the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.K. for over 20 years.
The agreement covers supply chain development, manufacturing and engineering services.
Rolls-Royce didn't provide an estimate of how much income it expects the agreement to generate, but noted the civil nuclear market is currently worth around GBP30 billion a year globally and is expected to grow to GBP50 billion a year in 15 years time, more than 70% of which will relate to the build and support of new facilities.
It is estimated that the nuclear program in the U.K. will sustain 10,000 to 15,000 jobs over 25 years, of which 45% will be engineers, Rolls-Royce added. The company says it has the largest nuclear skills base of any U.K. company, with around 2,000 employees in the U.K., the U.S. and France.
Mike O'Brien, minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said the agreement "represents a vote of confidence by Areva in the U.K. new nuclear market and a vote of confidence in the U.K. supply chain."
Construction company Balfour Beatty said it is partnering with Areva to ensure effective delivery of third-generation nuclear evolutionary power reactors in the U.K.
Balfour Beatty, which previously has worked on nuclear facilities at sites including Sellafield, Sizewell B, Hunterston and Torness, said it will team up with Areva to identify the skills and resources required to deliver a fleet of evolutionary power reactors and to put an effective supply chain in place.
Site construction of the first reactors could start as early as 2013.
Balfour Beatty also announced it has also formed a joint venture with Vinci Construction, a unit of French construction and concessions group Vinci SA 912548.FR), to help deliver project management, construction and civil engineering infrastructure for the evolutionary power reactors program in the U.K.
At 0805 GMT, Balfour Beatty shares were up 0.9% or 3 pence at 306p, while Rolls-Royce shares were flat at 281p. Company Web sites:
-By Jonathan Buck, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 207 842 9237;