Monday, 22 December 2008

Reducing waste, increasing profits

Published Date: 22 December 2008

THINK Christmas, think wrapping – the UK is set to produce three million tonnes of waste at yuletide.But Envirowise, the business advisory service, is calling on companies to cut the amount of packaging they produce. As well as reducing waste, companies can also save money in the process, the service said.Envirowise highlighted the case of publisher Harper Collins, which has its distribution site at Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow.Collins has already reduced its distribution packaging costs by almost 25 per cent. The Bishopbriggs site – which handles more than 90 million books each year – is on course to save £353,000 by reducing packaging and also prevent the equivalent of 12,585 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere. Duncan Smith, from Harper Collins, says: "Cutting back on unnecessary packaging has been achieved by replacing cardboard cartons with reusable plastic totes for deliveries to major wholesale customers and switching large cardboard envelopes with light-weight corrugated ones."

Green Bubble Goes 'Pop'

DECEMBER 21, 2008, 7:49 P.M. ET
Clean-Energy Firms Struggle for Funding; Key Index Slides 66%

A slackening in the growth rate of fossil-fuel consumption provided a little comfort to environmentalists in 2008, as recession took a grip on global economies. But, in most respects, this year was awful for the green bandwagon, which came to a halt as debt and equity finance dried up for companies with an environmental focus.
The chart of the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation index, or Nex index, which tracks clean-energy stocks, resembles the Nasdaq Technology index in 2000. The Nex fell 66% from the start of 2008 to Dec. 2. Analysts say problems have been caused by companies not paying enough attention to operational efficiency, state subsidies distorting the market, and the failure of global leaders to find common ground as they seek a successor to the Kyoto emissions protocol, which expires in 2012.
Funds in Morningstar's ecology sector, which invest in a range of sustainability stocks, are less affected by the trend than the Nex index, but have underperformed mainstream funds. The Virgin Climate Change Fund, advised by GLG Partners, is down 48% since February. The next-worst performer is an ecological fund sponsored by Dresdner RCM, which fell 34.6%, after raising €1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) in 2007.
Doubts about the emissions market when Kyoto expires mean that carbon-emission permits for years after 2012 are trading at half the price of this year's equivalents, which have fallen in value too.
Adding to the downward pressure on prices for current permits, Slovakia sold 10 million surplus credits into the market. Russia has also accumulated credits, which it has said it won't sell.
Clean-energy projects are finding it hard to secure credit at levels that make them viable. Simon Drury, partner at Climate Change Capital Private Equity Fund, said 25% of banks are prepared to commit to clean energy, 25% aren't, and 50% are receiving phone calls, but not lending at present.
"The funding gap on some deals is 100%," meaning the companies raised no funding whatsoever.
Banks are also paying greater attention to their lenders' operational statements. "There has been a tightening," Stephen Spencer, global energy director of WestLB said earlier this month at the Financial News Green Investing conference, which WestLB sponsored. "Transactions are being done using a much more conservative structure."
Wayne Woo, director of investor Good Energies, said start-up companies' founders are becoming more willing to part with equity to fund clean-technology operations. "In the past, they resisted selling more than 50%. They are now prepared to go to 75%." He said terms from financiers had become "a bit onerous," but added this was to be expected.
From Financial News at

Scientists discover new forest with undiscovered species on Google Earth

Conservationists have found a host of new species after discovering uncharted new territory on the internet map Google Earth.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 6:56PM GMT 21 Dec 2008

A British-led expedition found 7,000 hectares of forest, rich in biodiversity, known as Mount

The mountainous area of northern Mozambique in southern Africa had been overlooked by science due to inhospitable terrain and decades of civil war in the country.
However, while scrolling around on Google Earth, an internet map that allows the viewer to look at satellite images of anywhere on the globe, scientists discovered an unexpected patch of green.
A British-led expedition was sent to see what was on the ground and found 7,000 hectares of forest, rich in biodiversity, known as Mount Mabu.
In just three weeks, scientists led by a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew found hundreds of different plant species, birds, butterflies, monkeys and a new species of giant snake.
The samples which the team took are now back in Britain for analysis.
So far three new butterflies and one new species of snake have been discovered but it is believed there are at least two more new species of plants and perhaps more new insects to discover.
Julian Bayliss, a scientist for Kew based in the region, discovered Mount Mabu while searching on Google Earth for a possible conservation project. He was looking at areas of land 5,400ft (1,600m) above sea level where more rainfall means there is likely to be forest.
To his surprise he found the patches of green that denote wooded areas, in places that had not previously been explored. After taking a closer look on more detailed satellite maps, he went to have a look.
An expedition was organised for this autumn with 28 scientists from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Switzerland. The group was able to stay at an abandoned tea estate but had to hack through difficult terrain and use 70 porters in order to carry out their investigations.
Within weeks they had discovered three new species of Lepidoptera butterfly and a new member of the Gaboon viper family of snakes that can kill a human in a single bite. There were also blue duiker antelope, samango monkeys, elephant shrews, almost 200 different types of butterflies and thousands of tropical plants.
Jonathan Timberlake, expedition leader, said digital imagery has helped scientists to discover more about the world. He believes there may be other small pockets of biodiversity around the world that are yet to be discovered that could be stumbled upon by searching on Google Earth, especially in areas like Mozambique or Papua New Guinea which have not been fully explored yet.
Mr Timberlake said discovering new species is not only important to science but helps to highlight conservation efforts in parts of the world threatened by logging and development.
Mount Mabu itself is under threat as Mozambique's economy grows and people use the wood for fuel or clear the land to grow crops.
"We cannot say we have discovered all the biodiversity areas in the world, there are still ones to discover and it helps to find new species to make people realise what is out there," he said.

GM reveals more fuel-efficient 2010 Equinox

The Associated Press
Published: December 21, 2008

DETROIT: General Motors Corp. revealed details Sunday about the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Equinox crossover sport utility vehicle that will debut at next month's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Calling it the "Swiss army knife" of cars for an average family, because it can serve a variety of needs, GM has moved away from the boxier style of the earlier Equinox, which debuted in 2004. The new design draws from the Chevrolet Malibu sedan, which has been one of GM's best-selling vehicles, and the Traverse, a larger crossover that went on sale this fall.
The 2010 Equinox offers direct-injection engines. GM said the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder model is expected to get 30 miles per gallon (12.75 kilometers per liter) on the highway and 21 mpg (8.93 kpl) in the city — a 25 percent improvement over the previous model. A 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine increases horsepower from 182 to 255 and gets an estimated 25 mpg (10.63 kpl) on the highway and 18 mpg (7.65 kpl) in the city.
The current version of the Equinox, with its 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine, gets 24 mpg (10.2 kpl) on the highway and up to 17 mpg (7.23 kpl) in the city, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Direct-injection engines put fuel directly into the engine's cylinder, rather than mixing it with air first, making the engine more powerful and efficient. GM said last week that such engines will be available in 38 of its 2010 models, up from 18 models in the 2009 model year.

The 2010 Equinox also has an electric power steering system that improves fuel efficiency enough to give drivers an extra 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) on each tank of gas, GM said. The new exterior adds other fuel-efficiency improvements, including a windshield whose base is about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) farther forward for a sleeker profile.
The Equinox has an electronically controlled six-speed transmission. GM's OnStar service and XM Satellite Radio come standard, and there's a remote-starting system that can also activate the heater or air conditioner and the optional heated seats.
The rear row of seats in the five-passenger vehicle can move forward and back nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) to improve legroom but also expand the rear storage to 31.4 cubic feet (0.9 cubic meters) when the back row is pushed completely forward.
The Equinox will be available in mid-2009 to compete against vehicles like the Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe. Pricing has not been disclosed.
GM also plans to unveil a new 2010 Cadillac SRX midsize luxury crossover and a redesigned 2010 Buick LaCrosse sedan at the Detroit auto show.

Promoters overstated the environmental benefit of wind farms

The wind farm industry has been forced to admit that the environmental benefit of wind power in reducing carbon emissions is only half as big as it had previously claimed.

By Patrick Sawer Last Updated: 8:14AM GMT 21 Dec 2008

It will be regarded as a concession that twice as many wind turbines as previously calculated will be needed to provide the same degree of reduction in Britain's carbon emissions Photo: PA
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) has agreed to scale down its calculation for the amount of harmful carbon dioxide emission that can be eliminated by using wind turbines to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.
The move is a serious setback for the advocates of wind power, as it will be regarded as a concession that twice as many wind turbines as previously calculated will be needed to provide the same degree of reduction in Britain's carbon emissions.
A wind farm industry source admitted: "It's not ideal for us. It's the result of pressure by the anti-wind farm lobby."
For several years the BWEA – which lobbies on behalf of wind power firms – claimed that electricity from wind turbines 'displaces' 860 grams of carbon dioxide emission for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated.
However it has now halved that figure to 430 grams, following discussions with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Hundreds of wind farms are being planned across the country, adding to the 198 onshore and offshore farms - a total of 2,389 turbines - already in operation. Another 40 farms are currently under construction.
Experts have previously calculated that to help achieve the Government's aim of saving around 200 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2020 - through generating 15 per cent of the country's electricity from wind power - would require 50,000 wind turbines.
But the new figure for carbon displacement means that twice as many turbines would now be needed to save the same amount of CO2 emissions.
While their advocates regard wind farms as a key part of Britain's fight against climate change, opponents argue they blight the landscape at great financial cost while bringing little environmental benefit.
Dr Mike Hall, an anti-wind farm campaigner from the Friends of Eden, Lakeland and Lunesdale Scenery group in the Lake District, said: "Every wind farm application says it will lead to a big saving in the amount of carbon dioxide produced. This has been greatly exaggerated and the reduction in the carbon displacement figure is a significant admission of this.
"As we get cleaner power stations on line, the figure will get even lower. It further backs the argument that wind farms are one of the most inefficient and expensive ways of lowering carbon emissions."
Because wind farms burn no fuel, they emit no carbon dioxide during regular running. The revised calculation for the amount of carbon emission they save has come about because the BWEA's earlier figure did not take account of recent improvements to the technology used in conventional, fossil-fuel-burning power stations.
The figure of 860 grams dates back to the days of old-style coal-fired power stations. However, since the early 1990s, many of the dirty coal-fired stations have been replaced by cleaner-burning stations, with a consequent reduction in what the industry calls the "grid average mix" figure for carbon dioxide displacement.
As a result, a modern 100MW coal or gas power station is now calculated to produce half as many tonnes of carbon dioxide as its predecessor would have done.
The BWEA's move follows a number of rulings by the ASA against claims made by individual wind farm promoters about the benefits their schemes would have in reducing carbon emissions.
In one key adjudication, the ASA ruled that a claim by Npower Renewables that a wind farm planned for the southern edge of Exmoor National Park, in Devon, would help prevent the release of 33,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was "inaccurate and likely to mislead". This claim was based on the 860-gram figure.
The watchdog concluded: "We told Npower to ensure that future carbon savings claims were based on a more representative and rigorous carbon emissions factor."
The ASA has now recommended that the BWEA and generating companies use the far lower figure of 430 grams.
In a letter to its members, the BWEA's head of onshore, Jan Matthiesen, said: "It was agreed to recommend to all BWEA members to use the single static figure of 430 g CO2/kWh for the time being. The advantage is that it is well accepted and presents little risk as it understates the true figure."
This is now the figure given on the BWEA's website. The organisation will also be forced to lower its claim for the total amount of carbon dioxide emission saved by the 2,389 wind turbines currently operating around Britain.
But the association denied the change weakened the case for wind farms.
Nick Medic, spokesman for the BWEA, said: "Wind farms are still eliminating emissions. The fact is that fossil fuel burning power stations belch out CO2 and wind farms don't. That has not changed.
"The fact is we need to reduce carbon emissions, however you account for them. But there are people who just don't like wind farms and will use any argument against them."

Preparing the ground for an industrial revolution at National Grid

The Times
December 22, 2008
Steve Holliday, head of the utility company, has challenges ahead, but not necessarily that of recession
Robin Pagnamenta

It's a bitter December day and outside his office the chill winds of recession are blowing hard, but Steve Holliday is unfazed. Banks may be tumbling, retailers and airlines plunging into bankruptcy and unemployment soaring, but he is chief executive of what must be Britain's most recession-proof company.
From his office overlooking Trafalgar Square, Mr Holliday, a 52-year-old former rugby player, oversees Britain's biggest utility company — a £16 billion empire of pipes and wires that employs 17,500 people and distributes gas and electricity to tens of millions of people across Britain and a great swath of the northeastern United States. National Grid, Mr Holliday says, is doing fine. “By its nature, this is a very defensive business.”
As a provider of two things that many people take for granted, it is a company that is intrinsic to our way of life and, fortunately for Mr Holliday, one that remains largely shielded from the ups and downs of the regular economy. “Our cashflows are guaranteed, so the impact of the recession on our business is small,” he said, adding that about 95 per cent of National Grid's revenues come from fixed charges paid by power companies and consumers through their bills, with the levels set — usually for five years — by the regulator.
As a business model, this is about as steady as it gets. Mr Holliday is, therefore, at pains to point out that this does not mean that National Grid is a dull company. Quite the opposite, he argues, because of the vital role that infrastructure operators need to play in facing up to some of the toughest challenges facing society — those of climate change and energy security.

“This is an extraordinary time for the industry,” said Mr Holliday, who worked in the oil industry before joining National Grid in 2001 and was appointed chief executive two years ago. “Just look at the agenda we are facing: these are difficult problems that need clever people to help fix. This is an industry that is not evolving, it is in revolution.”
It would be hard to underplay the challenges. Britain is facing an energy shortfall in the years ahead as ageing coal and nuclear power stations, which have churned out reliable, inexpensive electricity since the 1960s and 1970s, are retired from service. By 2020, about 20 gigawatts of generating capacity, nearly a third of the present UK total, will have been lost, according to Mr Holliday. To avoid a future of blackouts and huge economic disruption, all of this will need to be replaced, at an estimated cost of £100 billion.
But that's not all. The UK aims to replace it with a completely different mix of lower-carbon fuels - including a vast expansion of offshore wind energy and a set of giant new nuclear reactors, up to three times more powerful than the existing fleet.
All of this is happening as supplies of North Sea gas — Britain's fallback fuel for a generation — are rapidly running out, leaving us increasingly reliant on imports.
Building the infrastructure needed for this transformation in the way we heat our homes and power our businesses will not be easy, especially in a severe recession that has dried up access to credit. “Clearly, investor confidence is a lot lower than it was a year ago,” Mr Holliday said. “No one had forecast the huge speed with which this recession has come about.”
The stakes could not be much higher. Although Mr Holliday insists that Britain's energy supplies look secure “for the next few years”, he argues that new laws will be needed to ensure that there is sufficient investment to avoid a supply crunch around 2015.
“When you look out to the medium term, there is not enough generation being built,” he said. “I continue to worry that we are not making enough progress on that front. How can we incentivise investments that we can all agree are the right thing to do and get on with them earlier?”
New planning laws that came into force this year should help, but Mr Holliday suggests that the Government will need to take a firmer approach by intervening in the market directly, placing a floor on the price of carbon or creating other incentives.
In particular, big new offshore wind farms - which the Government has earmarked as a key future source of power for Britain - will not arrive without legislative changes, Mr Holliday believes. “The regime that's in place at the moment for offshore wind does not in any shape or form,” he said.
Nevertheless, rather than retreating from these challenges, Mr Holliday put a positive gloss on them. “The reality is that we do have an energy system that is now quite old...but I think that is a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “We need to replace a third of our generation fleet. We need to green up our fuel mix. So what a great opportunity to replace assets that need replacing.”
For its part, National Grid has already agreed to invest £18 billion by 2012 reinforcing the network by tying in new power plants and wind farms and building a liquefied natural gas import terminal on the Isle of Grain in Kent. However, further investments will be needed to build links to remote wind farms planned off the coast of Scotland and potentially to bind the UK's power grid more closely to Europe, with new sub-sea power connections to Norway, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland.
National Grid plans to fund half of its current investment programme through cashflow, with the rest raised as debt. This is where the company's relative isolation from the turmoil in the wider economy starts to fray. “It has been significantly harder to raise debt in the past 12 months,” Mr Holliday admitted.
He pointed out that Grid has already managed to raise all the money it needs for this year and next, but that some investors have grumbled about the rising cost of all this debt. Others have complained about the performance of its American business, the former Keyspan, which it acquired for £4.2 billion just under three years ago and which some view as a drag on its more profitable UK operation.
Mr Holliday insisted that the US integration was “going very well”, with plans to strip out $100 million (£66 million) of costs this year, but such concerns may explain why he seemed keen to scotch any talk of further deals: “There is not a focus on further M&A activity. We don't have a growth profile predicated on buying something in 2009.”
Instead, Grid is focused on its investment programme and its pledge to raise its dividend by 8 per cent a year over the next few years. It is, again, an unusual position to be in.
Moreover, while most chief executives worry about cutting jobs, Mr Holliday is considering another rarity — hiring new staff. “We will hire 200 to 300 people in the UK this year and 120 next year — everyone from foundation engineers to finance and HR people,” he said. “You have to continue to bring people into this business. It's going to be here for a long time to come.”
Profile: Steve Holliday
Age: 52
Education: BSc in mining engineering, University of Nottingham
Career: worked for Exxon, the US oil group, overseeing variety of projects, and later British Borneo Oil & Gas before joining National Grid in 2001 as a board director. He was appointed deputy chief executive in 2006 and chief executive on January 1, 2007. Also a non-executive director of Marks & Spencer
Family: married with three children
Interests: Following the England rugby team, the arts

Obama names 4 top science advisers

By Gardiner Harris
Published: December 21, 2008

WASHINGTON: In his selection of four top scientific advisers, President-elect Barack Obama has signaled what are likely to be significant changes in policies governing global warming, ocean protections and stem cell research.
"It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology," Obama said in a radio address on Saturday, when he announced the appointments.
John Holdren, a physicist and environmental policy professor at Harvard, will serve as the president's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist from Oregon State University, will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which overseas ocean and atmospheric studies and performs much of the government's research on global warming.
Holdren will also be a co-chairman the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology along with the Nobel Prize-winning cancer research Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Eric Lander, a genomic researcher.
"Whether it's the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create 21st century jobs — today more than ever, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," Obama said.

Like Steven Chu, the energy secretary-designate, Drs. Holdren and Lubchenco advocate mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, which the Bush administration opposed. Both served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Holdren said last year that the world needed to undertake "a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable."
Lubchenco has documented enormous dead zones in oceans that have resulted from climate change and has advocated placing vast ocean areas off-limits to fishing and mineral exploitation. In an e-mail message on Saturday, she wrote: "NOAA will play a central role in addressing pressing challenges of our time — stabilizing the climate, restoring ocean health and coastal vitality. Jobs and a healthy environment go hand in hand — and both are enabled by good science."
Varmus is president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Lander is a professor of biology at MIT and helped lead the effort to sequence the human genome.

Obama's revolution on climate change

• Leading green scientist joins team• Appointment signals new US policy
Edward Helmore in New York
The Observer, Sunday 21 December 2008

Barack Obama ushered in a revolution in America's response to global warming yesterday when he appointed one of the world's leading climate change experts as his administration's chief scientist.
The president-elect's decision to make Harvard physicist John Holdren director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reveals a new determination to draw a line under eight years of US policy that have seen George Bush steadfastly reject overwhelming evidence of climate change.
News of the appointment was hailed by scientists around the world, including former UK chief government scientific adviser Sir David King. "This is a superb appointment," he told the Observer. "Holdren is a top-rate scientist and his position on climate change is as clear as you could get. This is a signal from Barack Obama that he means business when it comes to dealing with global warming."
Obama also used his weekend radio address to announce that respected climatologist Jane Lubchenco is to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The appointments follow Obama's selection of Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinner, to the Department of Energy, where he has been directed to lead the development of alternative energy sources.
"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," Obama announced. "It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and ... worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."
In one telling remark, he added that respect for the scientific process was not "just about providing investment and resources. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted nor obscured by politics nor ideology."
Obama's appointments are outspoken proponents of the need for urgent action over climate change, and they come after eight years of inaction, during which the Bush administration resisted international emission-reduction accords and the introduction of US laws to protect threatened species.
Holdren, whose expertise runs from nuclear-weapons proliferation to global warming, recently warned in a speech at Harvard that he considered "global warming" to be a misnomer. "It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those. There is already widespread harm ... occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren."
As he pointed out, new figures point to a rapid acceleration in the loss of Arctic sea ice, as well as dramatic acidification of the ocean.
With the international community looking to America for leadership, Obama has made it clear that, despite the global economic crisis, the success of his presidency will hinge on a revolution in America's use and production of carbon-based energy. The selection of marine expert Lubchenco underscores that. She has warned that even if the world abruptly shifts away from fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to soak up carbon dioxide and become more acidic. She recommends protecting marine life by reducing overfishing, cutting back on nutrient run-off and creating marine reserves to protect marine eco-systems.
"The Bush administration has not been respectful of the science," she said earlier this year. "I am very much looking forward to a new administration that does respect scientific information and considers it very seriously in making environmental policies."
In another signal of his determination to move on the environment, Obama appointed Carol M Browner as his climate tsar last week. She was quoted as saying: "Time and time again, when the nation has set a new environmental standard, the naysayers have warned it will cost too much. But, once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower cost than predicted."
For Obama, the creation of this green team is part of a broader push toward economic and environmental self-enlightenment. He has expressed hope that engaging technology with environmental and energy policy will lead to significant job creation.

Obama cranks up the green revolution

The next US president is reversing Republican policy on global warming by putting leading scientists in key posts. Geoffrey Lean reports
Sunday, 21 December 2008

Barack Obama yesterday promised to end George Bush's "twisting" of science to suit "politics or ideology" in an extraordinarily outspoken address to the nation, and announced that he was putting top climate scientists in key positions in his administration.
The move, which signals perhaps his sharpest break with the outgoing administration, makes it clear that he was going to put climate change and the environment among the most urgent priorities of his presidency.
And as if to emphasise the difference, President Bush is using his last weeks of power to push through a record number of last-minute rule changes to increase mining and oil drilling on public lands, and even to allow people to carry concealed, loaded guns into national parks.
During its years in office the Bush administration attempted to muzzle senior government scientists who disagreed with it, and even altered scientific reports – causing more than 60 top academics to sign a petition accusing the White House of manipulating findings for political reasons.
But in his weekly radio address, Mr Obama pointedly promised to end this. "Promoting science is about free and open inquiry," he said. "It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient. That will be my goal as president of the United States."
The president-elect used the address to announce his top scientific appointments, which included two of the world's most respected climate scientists, John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, in a move warmly welcomed even by the country's top Republican environmentalist. They will have enormous influence over his government's green policies.
The appointments follow the naming earlier this month of Steven Chu – a Nobel prize-winning physicist, and another prominent advocate of urgent measures to tackle climate change – to the key position of energy secretary, and a decision to create a special office on energy and climate within the White House headed by Carole Browner, Bill Clinton's former environment chief.
Both Professors Holdren and Lubchenco are past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Holdren, a professor at Harvard University and director of the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Center, will be science adviser to Mr Obama, who has elevated the position to an official assistant to the president.
He recently called for immediate action on climate change, saying that it was already causing "widespread harm". But he is also sceptical about nuclear power, reflecting a feeling in the Obama team that it cannot be made economical.
Professor Lubchenco, of Oregon State University, a similarly outspoken expert on oceans and global warming, is to be the first female administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which measures the pace of global warming, tracks hurricanes and monitors the health of the world's seas.
The chief scientist at Defra, Professor Bob Watson, who worked in the Clinton White House, said yesterday that Obama was putting together "a phenomenal team of world- class scientists", as a sign that he was "totally committed to the environment".
William K Reilly – President George Bush's environment chief and the country's leading Republican environmentalist – told The Independent on Sunday that he was "very pleased" by the appointments of "long-standing advocates of addressing climate change".
In another clear indication that the incoming team has taken on board the arguments of those advocating a "green new deal" that expanding environmental industries and jobs is the best way out of the recession, Mr Obama on Friday signed up a vocal advocate of green jobs, Hilda Solis, to be his labour secretary. The Californian congresswoman will be a key figure in implementing a plan to create millions of green jobs.
US environmentalists, however, are split over yet another appointment – of Colorado senator Ken Salazar – as secretary of the interior. It was welcomed by the top environmental pressure groups, but smaller and more radical ones said he had had a mixed record in congressional votes. "He's far from the most anti-environmental guy out there," says Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, "but he's no environmental hero."
Meanwhile, Mr Bush has been pushing through a record number of so-called "midnight regulations". He has enabled coal-mining firms to dump waste in valleys, relaxed pollution rules from factory farms, and allowed companies that produce toxic wastes to burn them as fuel.
Barack's green team
Professor Steven Chu The Nobel Prize-winning physicist becomes Energy Secretary. He is a forceful advocate of America's urgent move towards carbon-free energy.
Professor John Holdren A physicist at Harvard University who directs the prestigious Woods Hole Research Centre, he will have the ear of the President as Obama's top scientific advisor.
Professor Jane Lubchenco A leading expert on the effects of global warming on oceans, she becomes the first woman administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Congresswoman Hilda Solis The new Labour Secretary advocates providing employment through a clean energy economy. She was key sponsor of a Green Jobs Act last year.
Carole Browner Head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton, she is on the radical side of the party and will head a White House energy and climate unit.
Senator Ken Salazar Ten-gallon-hatted Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is more controversial as Interior Secretary. The top environment groups are pleased but radicals have doubts.

More (solar) power to you

Remember when clean tech companies were all the rage and were going to save the world (and make investors a lot of money)? Well, that was before the credit crunch and when energy demand was surging. There was more than a whiff of the dotcom boom about the dizzying rise of clean tech stocks, and few were surprised when the sector came crashing down about a year ago. But unless everyone gives up on trying to stop climate change, the good clean tech companies will come back in fashion and will prove to be more resilient than many of the one-hit-wonder dotcoms. So now's the time to fill your boots, while shares are cheap. Buy solar power firm Romag.

Scotland to take lead in marine energy drive

Published Date: 21 December 2008
By Rosemary Gallagher

THE cost of marine energy will be slashed by 20%, with Scotland leading the way through its expertise in oil and gas, according to the Carbon Trust.
The trust, an independent company set up by the Government to tackle climate change, is investing £1m in five organisations to research component technology for marine energy, such as turbine blades and hydraulic power networks. Three of the five organisations are Scottish. They are MacTaggart Scott, an engineering firm in Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, and J P Kenny, part of the John Wood Group in Aberdeen.The research initiative is part of a wider Carbon Trust programme to drive down costs in the marine energy sector and make marine power a commercial reality by 2020. It said that energy from wave and tidal power could provide up to 20% of the UK's current electricity and had the potential to cut carbon dioxide emissions by tens of millions of tonnes. The global estimated value of worldwide electricity revenues from wave and tidal stream projects is potentially between £60bn and £190bn a year. However, the cost of generating marine energy is high compared with other forms of more conventional generation. Components used in wave and tidal energy devices can form as much as a third of the total device cost. The overall objective is to reduce the cost of marine energy by up to one fifth over the next 12 years.Mark Williamson, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust, said: "In the face of the economic downturn, these companies are at the forefront of an energy revolution that will see the creation of thousands of green collar jobs and a boost to the UK's economy." The Carbon Trust added that Scotland had the ideal combination of natural resources and oil and gas technology for generating marine energy cost-effectively.Edinburgh University will research wave power devices, J P Kenny will investigate hydraulics for power transmission from wave and tidal farms to the shore and MacTaggart Scott will focus on developing reliable, low-cost hydraulic generators.Alan Bevan, business development manager at MacTaggart Scott, said it was adapting its 110 years' traditional marine engineering experience to work in renewable energy. He said a big advantage was that its machinery could remain effective under water without maintenance for up to 20 years.The Carbon Trust's Marine Energy Accelerator programme is funded by the UK Environmental Transformation Fund, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and Invest Northern Ireland.MPUMinCharsCutOff:210 PageLength:2411MPUPositionFromStart:250 MPUPositionRange:1000hasVideoOrImage:False--->

Could climate goals survive Heathrow's third runway?

If Britain is to meet its commitment to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, can it afford to press ahead with Heathrow's proposed third runway? Supporters argue fiercely that it can - while opponents of airport expansion say stopping it is vital in the battle against climate change
Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Sunday 21 December 2008

At first glance, British American Tobacco, Friends Provident, Pirelli and the Trades Union Congress seem unlikely allies, straddling a vast political divide. Yet they are connected - along with 100 other UK companies and organisations - over a single controversial cause: the need for a third runway at Heathrow airport.
The group, which also includes Tate & Lyle, Hilton Hotels and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, recently published a statement urging that the government approve the £12bn project, which would see a 2,200-metre runway as well as a sixth passenger terminal constructed on Heathrow's northern perimeter.
"Heathrow is vital for business," the group claimed. "It offers the direct connections which make our companies globally successful and which will be all the more important as India and China grow." The move allies British industry and trade unions with runway supporters that include the prime minister, the construction industry, engineers and aviation experts. All believe Heathrow's expansion is vital for Britain - but are opposed by the entire green movement, more than 100 backbench MPs, cabinet ministers that include energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband and environment secretary Hilary Benn, and a great many scientists and analysts. They say the runway - which would see flights rise from 480,000 to 702,000 a year - would trigger a major expansion of the UK aviation industry and completely undermine Britain's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
Emissions from aircraft are our fastest-rising source of carbon dioxide and by 2050 could account for or almost all the nation's permitted carbon output. Cars, homes, factories and power plants would have to become carbon neutral just to accommodate the aviation industry's desire for unbridled expansion. A third runway is incompatible with the fight against climate change, the most pressing issue facing the nation, it is claimed.
But runway supporters claim that lighter materials, changes in aviation control procedures and more powerful jet engines will curtail fuel use and keep emissions in check. Aircraft will soon be carbon efficient and their increased use made acceptable. Thus technology will rescue the environment and keep British business in a competitive state.
But will it? That question goes right to the heart of the Heathrow debate. Can aircraft emissions be curtailed significantly over the next few decades and aviation continue to expand? Are our business leaders right to pin complete faith on the ability of innovative technologies to ensure aircraft no longer pollute the skies?
"I think a new runway will be crucial because it will allow aircraft to be taken out of the air," said Strathclyde University's Professor William Banks, president of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. "At present, enormous amounts of fuel are wasted at Heathrow because it is running at maximum capacity.
"Every take-off and landing slot is precious, so planes wait, with their engines running, for long periods to get one. On Thursday, my plane waited out at the edge of a runway for 30 minutes before it got a chance to take off - and all the time it was burning fuel and emitting carbon. It's the same with landing. Aircraft stack for anything up to 30 minutes while waiting for a slot."
This dramatic use of fuel is necessary when you have a busy, cramped airport running on a very tight schedule. At present, Heathrow's two runways run at 99% capacity, with the result that even a relatively minor weather problems, mist or heavy rain, can cause serious disruption. Add a new runway and these problems will disappear, Banks argues. Planes will not have to keep their engines running constantly in a scrap to take off and land, a clear boost in the battle against global warming.
But the idea that a third, £12bn runway would be built purely to ease Heathrow's current congestion is remote, retort opponents, for it is unquestionably allied to aviation expansion in the UK. As runway supporters point out, Heathrow - Britain's only hub airport - now offers 50 fewer destinations than Amsterdam, 60 fewer than Paris and 100 fewer than Frankfurt. A new runway would let it add to its destination list: in other words, an expansion in UK aviation that would be crucial 'for continued job security and new employment", according to Steve Turner of the union, Unite.
But could this expansion be compatible with carbon emission controls? Banks believes so: "A new range of carbon-fibre reinforced plastics, very strong and of very low weight, are being developed which could cut aircraft weights significantly. This in turn would permit major reductions in the miles per gallon of kerosene of an aircraft and, of course, in its carbon emissions."
Aircraft such as the Airbus A340 are already constructed of 10% carbon composite material. The double-decker airbus A380, which is about to come into service, will be 30% composite, while the wide-bodied Airbus A350 and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which are set for flights around 2020, will be more than 50% composite.
Runway supporters also point out that changes in civil aviation procedures could bring major emission cuts. At present, planes fly into land on long, low trajectories that consume large amounts of fuel. If they were to plunge far more steeply, this would cut down on fuel use, it is argued. In addition, air traffic control measures could be changed so planes no longer fly on routes laid down by individual countries, forcing them to dog-leg over borders across Europe, wasting fuel use. Instead, routes would be rationalised so that planes flew in straight, energy-efficient lines.
But such ideas would require changes to international aviation regulations and could take decades to implement. Nevertheless, the suggestion reveals the kind of simple changes that could be introduced to make significant fuel and carbon emission cuts, it is argued.
Other changes in the pipeline are more radical, but are still likely to make a major impact. Manufacturers, such as Rolls-Royce, are developing generations of engines that will have greatly improved power-to-weight ratios and will be able to propel planes using far less fuel than at present. Thus, a package of lighter materials, improved aviation practices and more powerful engines should ensure that major cuts can be made in aircraft carbon emissions.
Nor are these the only measures being contemplated by the industry. Two other key changes could bring significant emission improvements, according to Charles Miller, of the aviation industry's Greener by Design group. "The first is biofuels, grown from algae, and the second is the use of blended-wing jets," he said. "Both have the capacity to make an enormous difference when it comes to carbon emissions."
Biofuels do not contain fossil carbon so don't add to the atmosphere's emissions inventory, while a blended-wing jet - an aircraft built as a giant, single wing so that the whole structure helps lift it off the ground - has such low air resistance that it burns a quarter less fuel than a conventional aircraft.
Its an impressive technological package, but opponents of runway three say it is very suspect. An example is provided by the blended-wing plane, said transport expert Professor Robert Noland, of Rutgers University, New Jersey.
"A blended-wing jet is an utterly new concept and has not been tested in any significant way," he said. "They are also associated with all sorts of problems, particularly concerned with safety. According to aviation regulations, you must be able to empty a plane of passengers in two minutes in an emergency. That can be done if you have lots of exits along a fuselage, but a blended-wing plane won't have one. How will you get people out?"
In addition, critics say that biofuels suffer from a major flaw. These are essentially alcohol, which burns at the wrong temperature for aircraft engines. Coal could be used to make kerosene, of course, but that would scarcely help with the issue of global warming.
Then there is the fact that carbon emissions have a disproportionate effect at high altitudes. Thanks to an effect known as "radiative forcing", carbon in the upper atmosphere produces 2.7 times more warming than emissions near the ground. That produces a major skewing of figures and makes it far less likely that the UK aviation industry, currently expanding at 5% a year, could avoid increasing, significantly, its carbon output over the decades. And that, in turn, has consequences.
"There is no way you can decarbonise the aviation industry," said Dr Sam Fankhauser, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in London. "That means if we are to make an overall 80% cut in emissions by 2050, some sectors of life will have to reduce their carbon output by 100% to accommodate aviation's increase.
"That will involve not just turning over our electricity generation to nuclear plants and wind and wave turbines, but making major changes in transport, land use, domestic heating and the insulation of homes across the country. And that assumes that all the improvements promised by the aviation industry, but which have yet to be developed and tested, work as promised.
"At present, people decide to fly off on holiday if they can afford the cost. Soon they will have to work out if they can afford the carbon as well."
History of air travel
• A British company 'Aircraft Transport and Travel' offered the world's first regular international flight, a London to Paris service, in 1919.
• In 2007, the number of passengers at UK airports rose to 315 million, compared with 4 million in 1954.
• The number of passenger kilometres flown by UK airlines increased from 80 billion in 1985 to 287 billion in 2005. Around 97% of the 2005 total involved international travel.
• The country with which the United Kingdom exchanges the most air traffic is Spain. There were 34 million passenger movements between the countries in 2005.
• Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK, with 68 million passengers in 2005. Estimates from the Department for Transport suggest that the number of terminal passengers at UK airports will grow to 500 million by 2030.
Cars or planes?
• Driving a relatively fuel-efficient car generates fewer greenhouse-gas emissions per passenger mile than flying.
• Environmental website calculates that driving 300 miles in an average-sized car generates some 105kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). Flying the same distance on a commercial jet, however, would produce some 182kg of CO2 per passenger.
• Long-haul flights are more efficient than short-haul flights as a high proportion of the energy is required to climb to cruising altitude. Flying the 2,708 miles from San Francisco to Boston would generate 1,300kg of CO2 per passenger, while driving would account for only 930kg per vehicle.
• In addition to CO2, planes emit other gases that contribute to global warming. Some estimates suggest that this means their overall greenhouse gas emissions are some 2.7 times higher than their carbon dioxide footprint.

UN suspends carbon-trading auditor

The Sunday Times
December 21, 2008

Danny Fortson and Jonathan Leake

THE validity of the Kyoto Protocol’s $100 billion (£67 billion) carbon-trading scheme has been called into question after the United Nations suspended the world’s largest auditor of clean-energy projects.
Norway’s DNV, which claims to have approved half of the world’s carbon-credit ventures, had its accreditation suspended last month after it was unable to prove that its agents had properly vetted projects that it then approved for the carbon-trading scheme.
The episode will provide fresh ammunition to those who have long criticised the EU’s so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows investors in developed countries to fund green projects in the developing world. Once approved, they are then granted carbon credits that can be sold on the open market for profit.
Simon Shaw, chairman of EEA Fund Management, an investor in CDM projects and backer of the carbon-trading market Climate Exchange, said: “This is embarrassing for everybody and clearly bad news for the industry because DNV is the largest validator.” He said his firm had begun using other firms to verify proposed projects after it became apparent that DNV was overloaded.

“It became clear to us last year that they had a lot of work and were unable to resource the work properly.”
UN inspectors found five “non-conformities” when they visited DNV last month, including not being able to get evidence that technical experts had examined the projects they had approved.
Carbon credits derived from CDM schemes comprise roughly 20% of the credits in the $100 billion carbon-trading market. A DNV spokeswoman said the company was confident of being reinstated in January when UN inspectors make their next visit.