Sunday, 31 May 2009

Leaders called to special climate talks

Unprecedented number of summits as world struggles to hammer out agreement before vital meeting in December
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 31 May 2009

World leaders are to meet for an unprecedented second summit on climate change this year to try to get agreement on a tough new treaty by December, and may even get together for a third time before the end of the year.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, is to call the world's heads of government to New York in September to "galvanise political will" about what he describes as "the defining issue of our time". And there are plans for another G20 summit to discuss the issue in the autumn.
These will follow a meeting of 17 key world leaders convened at the initiative of President Barack Obama immediately after the annual G8 summit in July. Observers cannot remember any similar progression of top-level meetings to address any issue over such a short period of time.
The moves come as pressure mounts on the leaders to reach agreement at December's vital negotiations in Copenhagen, billed as the world's last chance to get to grips with global warming before it escalates out of control.
On Friday a think tank headed by the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan reported that climate change was already killing 300,000 people and affecting 300 million. The day before, 20 Nobel Prize winners, meeting in London, warned that it posed as great a threat as nuclear war. And in Copenhagen on Tuesday 500 business chief executives called for "an ambitious and effective treaty" to "help establish a firm foundation for a sustainable economic future".
The summits are part of an extraordinarily intense series of meetings over the next six months that will take negotiators from Bonn to Bangkok and from Barcelona to the Ilulissat in Greenland. The first three are formal discussions on a UN treaty for the Copenhagen talks, while key ministers from 30 countries will go to the small Greenland town next to the Arctic's fastest melting glacier at the end of next month to try to hammer out a "political declaration" to accompany it.
The next round of negotiations opens in Bonn tomorrow, but no one is expecting a breakthrough. Talks in the former West German capital in April made little progress beyond agreeing to draw up negotiating texts.
These will be on the table for the first time tomorrow, but they mainly serve to highlight divisions between countries and show how far there is to go in six short months to meet December's deadline.
One of the main stumbling blocks is how much rich countries will undertake to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases in the short to medium term. There is general agreement that they should be reduced by a drastic 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050, the minimum that scientists say will be needed to avoid dangerous climate change. But setting more immediate targets is proving much harder.
Ten days ago, China flung down the gauntlet by calling on rich countries to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. The only advanced economy to come near that is the European Union, which has promised unilaterally to reduce them by 20 per cent by then, rising to 30 per cent if other countries follow suit. But at present there is little sign of other industrialised nations taking up the challenge; despite the new priority President Obama is giving to climate change, his plans would amount to a cut of only a few per cent from 1990 levels.
In return, developing countries, including China and India, would agree to slow the growth of their emissions through "measurable, verifiable and reportable" measures. But India has just signalled that it will not open such plans to global scrutiny unless rich countries deliver on a promise to provide funds to help it tackle and adapt to climate change.
That is the second sticking point. Developing countries want to get at least $200bn a year, which works out at about 0.5 per cent of rich nations' economic output and is about the same size as current development aid. It is a relatively small sum, especially in the context of the amounts spent in recent months on bailing out the banks, but developed country government are baulking at it. Last week Australia described the demands as "unimaginable".
In the end, senior negotiators say, success or failure will depend not so much on the climate talks themselves, but on whether the world adopts a Green New Deal as the best way to revive the world's economy.

Red Ken shows greener side in call to speed up climate action

Government is urged to revise its 'unattainable' goals for cutting carbon emissions from property
By Mark Leftly
Sunday, 31 May 2009

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone will urge government and business to speed up action on climate change at an energy summit this week.
Mr Livingstone, who is giving the summit's keynote address on Thursday, said this weekend: "With every prediction that climate change issues will continue, everybody, business and government included, is going to have to move much faster to change the way they operate."
The summit is being run by IMServ, a carbon emissions and energy consultant, and will be held at the Royal Society of Arts in London. Delegates will be warned that British businesses face a £1.4bn bill for carbon credits, which have to be bought to offset emissions, by April 2011.
In a big week for tackling climate change, the British Property Federation will launch a report tomorrow criticising government carbon reduction targets as unattainable. The lobbying group is supported by Land Securities, British Land and Hammerson, the FTSE 100 commercial property giants.
The Government wants an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Property accounts for about half of all emissions, and the Government has introduced energy performance certificates (EPCs), which assess the carbon efficiency of real estate. It believes that EPCs force property owners to improve their stock.
However, the heavyweight trio, beside the asset managers Hermes and Legal & General, say that the certificates are ineffective, and that most property owners are landlords and so do not have control over the energy use of their tenants. The BPF will argue that European Union law should be introduced to force tenants and landlords to share energy use data and to work together to reduce emissions.
BPF's chief executive, Liz Peace, said: "If a landlord invests in more efficient kit, the tenant can benefit from lower energy bills while the landlord experiences no tangible benefit and faces significant upfront costs.
"The Government should explore how the tax system might be used to actively incentivise improvements by altering the conundrum we have over how the benefits are shared between landlords and tenants."
Peter Clarke of British Land said: "We have found that simple improvements in energy use can be made by sharing data, which often reveals that changes to behaviour can yield big savings on energy and carbon."
In other property news, Ken Dytor, a leading regeneration expert, has set up a company that will work with local authorities to develop housing-led schemes. Land Regeneration Partnerships is in talks with three councils about projects worth up to £50m.
Mr Dytor said: "We're talking to the public sector about getting planning permission for post-credit crunch housing schemes with office and retail elements."

Tesco goes electric

The Sunday Times
May 31, 2009
John Waples

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group, is backing electric cars. The food retailer is to start providing charging facilities in its car parks for battery-powered vehicles.
The new initiative, which will start in London, could be rolled out nationally if it proves a success with customers.
It underlines the priority that all retailers are placing on promoting green issues.
Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s chief executive, told The Sunday Times: “As Arnie Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, has said, ‘you have to make it cool to be green’.

“Businesses have to show how the consumer can make a difference.”
Tesco will test the electric-car facility at two stores. The intention is to recharge a battery within two hours, but it is in talks with several companies to see if this can be shortened.
In a speech this week at the London School of Economics, Leahy will say tax and regulation are not the way to make consumers convert to a greener lifestyle.
“The danger is people are so taxed already that every time green is mentioned it is with a new tax that just switches people off the whole subject.”
As part of its drive to cut carbon emissions, Tesco will also announce that it is to build the world’s first zero-carbon store in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire.

Exxon Looks Best Positioned on Emissions


When it comes to Big Oil, forget about who is the greenest. The real question: Who is the lightest?
If the U.S. government finally gets around to slapping a cost on carbon emissions, oil companies will be affected differently. Exxon Mobil looks best positioned. It has a higher exposure than rivals to light, sweet crude.
Not all barrels of oil are the same. There is the gunky, heavy oil coming out of Canada's tar sands. It takes a lot of energy, and a lot more carbon emissions, to get it out of the ground and then refine it into something U.S. drivers can put in their gasoline tanks.
In comparison, it is a walk in the park to pump out light West African crude and refine it. Moreover, from each barrel, light crude produces more relatively low-carbon gasoline and naphtha for chemical manufacturing than heavier crude, which generally produces a greater proportion of carbon-heavy fuels, such as heating oil.
Oil companies don't hand out information on who has the lightest and heaviest crude, but there are ways to figure it out. According to federal government data, the average oil "gravity" was 28.7 for a 12-month period ending in February. Gravity is a measure of crude's density and fluidity. The higher the gravity, the lighter the oil.
Exxon's imports averaged 29.8; BP and Royal Dutch Shell both were lighter than average, but trailed Exxon. The heaviest of the bunch were Chevron at 27.8 and ConocoPhillips at 28.2. These differences might look marginal, but oil production and refining are high-volume businesses, where small distinctions matter.
Then there is refining. The energy efficiency of refineries and internal processes required to turn crude into gasoline, diesel and other products is mostly hidden. Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners, an energy-policy consultancy, said Exxon clearly has the most efficient refineries of the group, with ConocoPhillips at the opposite end of the pack. BP, Shell and Chevron are in the middle.
That means Exxon would have to purchase fewer costly emission allowances, leaving its profit margins looking sweeter than those of rivals.
Write to Russell Gold at

Copenhagen must create more buyers for carbon markets

Demand for emissions-reducing projects is shrinking. Here's my solution to get supply and demand back in balance

Bryony Worthington, Friday 29 May 2009 16.47 BST

As I've been reminded at this week's Carbon Expo in Barcelona, carbon markets need more buyers. I've met a large number of people who are eager to get their climate-busting solution funded by selling permits on the carbon trading market. Some want to build windfarms and other renewables, others wish to prevent forests being cut down, others want to bury charcoal – fertilising soils and trapping carbon – still others want to seed the oceans with micro-nutrients to bring the oceans' ailing biodiversity back to life.
But unless something dramatic happens, even if they succeed in gaining entry to the carbon trading club, the party may just end upon their arrival. Until 2013, the only real demand for emissions-reducing projects comes either from a handful of countries faced with a Kyoto target they have yet to reach, or those power sector companies in Europe who have been given a tight cap under the European trading scheme. Even this limited demand is being rapidly eroded by the effect of the recession, which is reducing demand for energy.
That's why all eyes are on the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December – it has to create a lot of new buyers. But will it? Today's session on The US's role in a post-2012 regime received a large audience, which is not surprising since the US is the new kid on the carbon trading block and holds the key to unlocking the political stalemate generated by Kyoto. But anyone hoping to hear about the US's international ambitions for a strong global deal would have been sorely disappointed.
The elephant in the room, as one passionate environmental campaigner pointed out, was the US climate and energy bill's woefully unambitious target of a 17% cut in greenhouse gases by 2020. Even though the draft of the bill talks boldly about allowing up to 1bn permits to be bought from emission reductions projects from around the world, it's likely US emissions will naturally fall by 1% each year because of the recession and energy efficiency – meaning no one will need to buy those permits.
So here is my suggestion to get supply and demand back in balance. All those people who have worked out how to save emissions, how much money they need, how many tonnes they can save, need to form a powerful lobby group. Its lobbying should simply require that the future world carbon emissions budget is set by subtracting all the savings they know they can sensibly generate, from the current level of global emissions. The people required to buy these reductions must be the existing polluters and the government's only role, once the budget is set, should be to ensure the solutions are making it to market. The US should lead the way by immediately halving the allocation of permits that it is proposing to give to itself.
This may all sound unlikely, but as my friend pointed out in an analogy involving Burnley football club – you have to dare to dream. If Burnley can turn themselves around then so can the carbon market, but it will require hard graft and passion, channelled towards the right goal: a challenging global emissions budget that's surprisingly affordable.
• Bryony Worthington is director of

Carbon capture switch-on 'like the first blurry picture on a television'

Published Date: 30 May 2009
By Jenny Haworth, Environment correspondent

SCOTLAND is leading the way towards a new energy era in which power stations are fitted with groundbreaking technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions, it was claimed yesterday.
The switch-on of a £1 million prototype to capture carbon dioxide emissions from Longannet Power Station in Fife was compared yesterday with the hunt for oil in the North Sea.It was even described as a technological advance equivalent to the first "crackly call on a telephone or blurry picture on a television". Experts say the pilot – the first of its kind in the UK – could pave the way for thousands of fossil fuel power stations worldwide to use technology being tested by ScottishPower at Longannet. The carbon capture kit might also eventually be used on all the UK's fossil fuel power plants, so their could be transported to be stored under the North Sea – a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).This would enable power stations to continue producing the huge quantities of electricity, while vastly reducing their impact on the climate, it is argued.ScottishPower chief executive Nick Horler said: "This is the first time CCS technology has been switched on and working at an operational coal-fired power station in the UK, and is a major step forward in delivering the reality of carbon-free fossil fuel electricity generation. It's about taking the concept of CCS out of the lab and making it a full-scale commercial reality." He urged that the opportunity for the UK to lead the way in carbon storage should not be "squandered", as it had been with nuclear power and wind."Proving this technology at scale and, crucially, proving that it can be retrofitted, will mean it could be installed to an estimated 50,000 fossil fuel plants around the world, which would be a huge step towards reaching global reduction targets." It is estimated the carbon capture sector could create 50,000 jobs across the UK. Mr Horler added: "There is the potential to create an industry on the same scale as North Sea oil."Jim Walker, co-founder of independent organisation The Climate Group, compared it to other major technological advances, saying it was "a bit like the first crackly telephone call or blurry television picture".David Hunter, an analyst at energy firm McKinnon & Clarke, said: "This has huge potential for Scotland's economy. We have the infrastructure, the offshore know-how, the technology and the space to store carbon in disused oilfields and beneath the seabed. If the technology can be proven to work, and is economically viable, then Scotland has a global competitive advantage."The 1MW prototype unit switched on yesterday at Longannet, Europe's third-largest coal-fired power station, is a small-scale replica of a full-sized carbon capture plant. However, it only captures before releasing it again – rather than storing it and is tiny compared with the technology needed for the full 2,300MW plant.ScottishPower hopes the test unit will help experts move towards building a 330MW demonstration plant at Longannet, which would incorporate capture of , transportation to the North Sea and storage in disused gas plants or "saline aquifers" – gaps in the rocks in the seabed.The firm is hoping to win a competition for about £1 billion of government funding to go on to develop the 330MW demonstration plant, which could be complete by 2014. ScottishPower is competing for the cash with RWE npower and E.ON, which are planning to build power stations with CCS south of the Border if they win, instead of retrofitting an existing plant.WWF last week published a report suggesting Longannet was the best option in the UK government competition for a carbon capture trial as the others would result in higher emissions. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had planned to be at yesterday's switch-on. He sent a letter apologising for not being able to attend, but said it was a "historic day for the company and for the country".New school of thought for a developing industryA GLOBAL centre of excellence in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is to be established in Scotland.Energy firm Iberdrola, which owns ScottishPower, has chosen to establish the centre in Scotland to help accelerate the deployment of the technology. Nick Horler, chief executive of ScottishPower, said: "Only by making the UK a centre of excellence can we realise the full potential of CCS by training and nurturing a new talent pool with the necessary skills and expertise to take advantage of this emerging industry."The firm announced yesterday that it would be funding a professorship of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.Duncan McLaren: Tiny step on the road to bringing under control A TRIAL has started of carbon dioxide capture at Longannet power station, Scotland's largest single source of the climate-changing gas.The ScottishPower tests, which started yesterday, are an important step in the quest to slash emissions of climate changing gases to a safe level, and in the development of a technology that will be vital if countries such as India and China are to develop without redoubling their impacts on the world's fragile climate systems.ScottishPower has gone further than BP, whose proposal for a carbon-capture power plant at Peterhead was shelved in 2007 after the UK government announced support for nuclear power, but no clear backing for carbon capture. But the trial will capture the emissions from just one megawatt (MW) of the capacity at Longannet – a 2.4-gigawatt power station. So that's 1MW down, 2,399 to go…The trial is intended to pave the way for a 300MW "commercial scale" installation by 2014 – if the UK government agrees to fund it – which would still leave 2,100MW unabated, to be fitted in the future. Nor can we count on carbon capture creating sustainable Scottish businesses and jobs. The technology at Longannet is supplied by Aker, a Norwegian company. The key ingredient, a chemical that captures the carbon dioxide, is its property.And Scotland's big advantage – good sites under the North Sea to store captured carbon – is far from permanent. A recent study suggested there was capacity for over 200 years of Scotland's emissions, but other European countries will want a share.So carbon capture is a bridging technology to a renewable future – it will not allow us to go on polluting for as long as the coal lasts.If Scotland is to capture a share of the jobs and economic wealth in this technology we need to develop it faster. Ministers should adopt the Californian idea of a standard for new and refurbished power stations, which guarantees that, if they are to burn coal, they will need carbon capture at a commercial scale immediately.• Duncan McLaren is the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

ScottishPower begins clean energy tests at Longannet power station

The Times
May 30, 2009

ScottishPower took a big step forward in the attempt to produce carbon-free energy from coal yesterday when it switched on newly installed machinery at Longannet power station in Fife.
The company is bidding to win a £1 billion government competition to develop the technology needed to fit carbon capture and storage technology to a coal-fired power station — described as the holy grail of alternative energy.
However, it emerged that Norwegian rather than Scottish companies stand to be the big winners if the bid succeeds. At the heart of the process is a technology that is Norwegian-owned and which ScottishPower and other companies will have to pay for if carbon capture becomes big business.
The eventual aim is to capture about 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide that goes up power station chimneys, Scotland’s biggest single emitter of climate-changing gases. This would go a long way towards the target of cutting the country’s harmful emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.

he Scottish and British governments have claimed that there is potentially a big economic gain if Britain can become a leader in finding a cheap technology to fit to the estimated 50,000 fossil-fuelled power stations around the world.
ScottishPower has formed a consortium with Aker Clean Carbon of Norway, which is developing the capturing technology, and Marathon Oil, which is working on the pipelines and undersea installations needed to transport and store carbon dioxide under the North Sea.
The machinery switched on yesterday, which belongs to Aker, will process less than 0.5 per cent of Longannet’s exhaust gases, equivalent to 1 megawatt (MW) of electricity output. The tests will take 6-7 months to find the most efficient and cheapest way of extracting the carbon dioxide.
Critical to the success of the tests is reducing the amount of energy needed to capture carbon. Current technologies would require between 25-30 per cent of Longannet’s electricity output to be diverted into carbon capture if all of the station’s emissions were to be cleaned up.
Tony Corless, ScottishPower’s technical manager of the capturing equipment, explained that the process involved using nitrogen-hydrogen compounds called amines which stick to carbon dioxide, enabling it to be extracted from other exhaust gases. “The holy grail is to get a low-energy amine,” Mr Corless said, adding that it was hoped to reduce the amount of energy used in carbon capture to about 12 per cent of Longannet’s power output.
This technology, however, will not belong to ScottishPower. It will only license it for use from SOLVit, a Norwegian consortium in which Aker Clean Carbon is the main partner with Sintef, a Norwegian research company, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Steven Marshall, a ScottishPower executive overseeing the carbon project, said that the company hoped to profit by selling the expertise accumulated in making a carbon capture project technically and economically viable.
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said that it favoured fitting carbon capture and storage technology to existing coal-fired power stations, but raised concern that it could lead to more fossil-fuelled power stations being built at the expense of developing renewable power.

Scottish Power tests carbon capture technology

Energy firm launches a pilot project to extract carbon emissions from a coal-fired power station

Tim Webb, Friday 29 May 2009 16.48 BST

Scottish Power has unveiled what it describes as the UK's first carbon capture and storage kit fitted to an operational coal plant, prompting one rival energy firm to label the claim as "greenwash".
Scottish Power yesterday switched on the portable prototype at its 2,300MW coal plant at Longannet near Fife, which is Europe's third largest coal plant.
For the next seven months, the Spanish-owned company will capture the carbon emissions produced from 1mw of the coal plant to test the chemical process in the hope of rolling the technology out on a larger scale. But the captured emissions will then be released into the atmosphere, rather than stored, a fact the company omitted to mention until questioned by the Guardian.
In the press release issued by the company, its chief executive Nick Horler was quoted as saying: "This is the first time that CCS [carbon capture and storage] technology has been switched on and working at an operational coal-fired power station in the UK, and is a major step forward in delivering the reality of carbon-free fossil fuel electricity generation."
He added: "The test unit uses the exact same technology that we aim to retrofit to the station for a commercial scale CCS project by 2014, and the leap from 1MW to 330MW is now within sight."
Many media reports covering the official opening ceremony later described the technology as storing, not just capturing, the carbon. One executive from a rival energy firm, while acknowledging that Longannet is the first operational coal plant in the UK to capture emissions, said it was "greenwash" to imply they were also being stored. Robin Oakley of ­Greenpeace added: "People will be surprised to learn that Scottish Power is only testing a chemical process rather than doing the hard bit and storing the CO2."

ScottishPower tests carbon capture project

By Andrew Bolger, Scotland Correspondent
Published: May 30 2009 03:00

A test project to extract carbon dioxide emissions from a Scottish power station was launched yesterday - the first time they have been captured from a working coal-fired plant in the UK.
The government plans to back up to four "clean coal" power stations that will capture and store CO 2 , a process seen as essential for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
ScottishPower has in-stalled a small-scale replica of a full carbon capture plant at Longannet in Fife, the UK's second largest power station, which is also close to the depleted North Sea oil and gas fields that scientists believe could make storage reservoirs for CO 2 .
Ignacio Galán, chairman of Iberdrola, the Spanish energy group that owns ScottishPower, said yesterday he believed that the UK could lead the world with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
"There is the potential to create an industry on the same scale as North Sea oil, and we will invest in Scotland and the UK to help realise this potential," he said.
The Holyrood government published a joint industrial and academic study that said all the CO 2 produced by UK coal-fired plants during the next 200 years could be stored under the Scottish area of the North Sea.
Alex Salmond, first min-ister, said: "The potential Scottish capacity is of European significance, comparable with that of offshore Norway, and greater than the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany combined."
The projectwill allow ScottishPower to test the chemistry involved in capturing CO 2 from flue gases.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

This silent suffering

Few doubt the science of climate change – but its impact on the world's poor is largely ignored

Rajendra Pachauri, Friday 29 May 2009 16.00 BST

Science is now unequivocal as to the reality of climate change. However, one facet - its human face - has been dangerously neglected. Until now. Given what the science tells us about global warming, how many ­people around the world will be affected, in what way, and at what cost?
These are the questions that a major new report attempts to answer for the first time. Its findings indicate that hundreds of millions of people are already permanently or temporarily affected, and half a billion are at extreme risk now. Because of climate change, each year hundreds of thousands lose their lives. All these figures are set to increase rapidly in as little as 10-20 years.
This publication, from the Global Humanitarian Forum, of which I am a board member, constitutes the most plausible estimate of the human impacts of climate change today. The scale of devastation is so great that it is hard to believe the truth behind it, or how it is possible that so many people remain ignorant of this crisis.
Four main factors have contributed to the silence. First, while the world has been coming to terms with the ­science of climate change, the problem has moved from being a future threat to a current danger. Climate change is an evolving concern, affecting people now.
Second, 99% of the casualties linked to climate change occur in developing countries. Worst hit are the world's poorest groups. While climate change will increasingly affect wealthy countries, the brunt of the impact is being borne by the poor, whose plight simply receives less attention.
Third, and worse, climate change hides its influence among a wide range of today's key global problems. It impacts heavily on nutrition and diseases such as malaria, and increases poverty. But that impact can be lost among the many contributing factors.
That is why a fourth major challenge is the current inability to separate the impacts of climate change in specific situations. It is impossible to say, for example, how much the severity of any hurricane is due to climate change.
It is time, however, to break the silence. It may not be possible to pin-point specific situations, or to achieve unequivocal global consensus. It took the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 19 years to accomplish a consensus on the science in its 2007 report. But the general changes in the global climate system are clear: the number and intensity of extreme weather events, such as major floods and storms, has increased steadily in the last 30 years. Temperature changes show similar patterns, as do cyclone trajectories and rainfall patterns. From these changes it is possible to make good estimates about their global impacts on people.
That tells us who is worst affected: the poor, who are largely unprepared, and unable to cope with climatic change. Of course, wealthy countries are affected: long-term drought in Australia has caused certain crop yields to plummet. But the poor lack the resources to prevent disasters or adapt to changed conditions. Many already subsist on the mere threshold of survival.
Next week a series of UN talks will take place in Bonn – one of the last stepping stones in the effort to reach international agreement on how the world should tackle climate change, at the Copenhagen summit in December. Any post-Kyoto agreement must take into account the tremendous scale of suffering already being caused today.
There is a great responsibility for major polluters to protect the poorest populations from a problem for which they cannot be held responsible. Their silent suffering must serve as a warning signal of the greater suffering that lies in store for the rest of us if we fail to tackle climate change together.

Manchester: industrial revolution's birthplace poised for green renaissance

Submissions to the Manchester Report, a project to find the solution to climate change, closes today

Terry Wyke, Friday 29 May 2009 13.51 BST

History divides itself into two parts: the world before the industrial revolution and the world after the industrial revolution. The transformation began in Britain in the 18th century, spreading across the world to become the public goal of every nation. The new industrial towns — the Coketowns of Dickens' novels — were at the forefront of this change, none more so than Manchester. Manchester's pivotal role makes it the perfect city to host this year's Manchester report, a new project designed to mitigate the environmental consequences of the industrial revolution.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Manchester was a pretty market town, its population living in a handful of streets. All that was to change. Cotton and coal were the drivers of the transformation, which had many factors behind its transformation into the world's first industrial city.
Lancashire was a producer of coal, Manchester a consumer. The town's demand for coal was the reason for the construction of the world's first modern canal, the Bridgewater Canal. Coal was also the fuel that burned in the fireboxes of the new railway engines. Manchester became the terminus of the line that carried cotton to and from docks at Liverpool. Coal consumption in Manchester was measured in millions of tonnes, and its smoke became, as Lewis Mumford remarked, "the very incense of the new industrialism".
Manchester grew at an astonishing rate, and its booming economy attracted migrants from all over Britain. Districts such as Hulme which had hardly troubled the early census takers — there were only 30 houses in 1774 — boasted a population of more than 50,000 by 1851. Such expansion created a nasty urban environment in which living conditions were appalling. Water supply, sewage disposal, housing, epidemics and the disposal of the dead were high on a long list of problems that swamped the resources of an archaic system of local government.
Air pollution was not the most immediate of problems but the canopy of smoke that belched from industrial and domestic chimneys began to attract attention. Sooty Manchester witnessed the birth of modern environmental concerns thanks to the scientist Robert Angus Smith. Scottish born and educated, Smith arrived in Manchester in the early 1840s and became an expert on atmospheric pollution.
Manchester proved to be an ideal laboratory for his pioneering investigations. He advanced the understanding of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and the impact of an impure atmosphere upon plant and human life. Measuring the impurities in rain was one of his concerns, and though he may not have coined the term, he was was one of the first to observe acid rain.
Smith lived long enough to see the establishment in Manchester of a Noxious Vapours Abatement Society, a pressure group that raised awareness of the problems of atmospheric pollution in a city in which the buildings appeared to have been carved from blocks of soot. Their search for technical solutions to the smoke, their recognition of the need for cooperation in dealing with problems that crossed administrative boundaries, their brewing of public opinion by means of exhibitions, public lectures and the media, and their struggle to change public behaviour ought to strike a chord with modern environmentalists.
If you attend the Manchester report conference on climate change in July, walk the short distance from Manchester's Albert Square to All Saints, the site of Smith's analytical laboratory. A plaque marks the exact location of where the battle began against the revolution's uglier face.
Terry Wyke teaches social and economic history at Manchester Metropolitan University
Today is the final day to submit your plan for tackling climate change to the Manchester report

Climate change toll is crucial evidence

With the deadly effect of global warming quantified, international law can be invoked and the perpetrators punished

Mark Lynas, Friday 29 May 2009 12.30 BST

It's a tsunami every year. According to a report released today, a third of a million people die annually because of climate change – mostly because of malaria and malnutrition, although weather-related disasters are also taking a rising toll. The number of deaths is equivalent to the lives lost in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster of 2004.
This report is the first effort to quantify global warming-related deaths since the World Health Organisation estimated in 2003 that 150,000 people die each year due to climate-related factors, mainly disease – but aggravated by shortages of food and clean water.
These numbers are vitally important, because they provide a direct evidence-based link between culpability – those responsible for the emissions driving climate change – and victimhood, those who are suffering the consequences, including losing their lives. And notably, the victims and the perpetrators are very different people in very different parts of the world.
Almost all the deaths counted in these two reports occur in developing countries, where the lack of healthcare and vulnerability to poor harvests leaves people uniquely vulnerable to droughts and spreading disease. The report also highlights the fact that those countries considered least vulnerable to climate change – both geographically and economically – tend to be in the rich world: those who have largely caused the problem.
Despite this overall big picture, it should not be forgotten that the single largest climate disaster struck not in the third world, but in the heart of Europe – the 2003 heatwave during which 35,000 people died, particularly in France and Germany. During one awful night in Paris, on 10 August 2003, 2,000 people – mainly elderly – were carried out of their apartments in body bags. So climate change can and will affect us all eventually.
Attaching real-world numbers to climate impacts is enormously important, because for most people the problem still seems remote and far-off, something for others to worry about at some future time. With the estimated death toll quantified, international law can be invoked, and the perpetrators – whether oil companies, coal-burning power stations or perhaps entire nations – can be punished, or at least forced to pay massive damages.
Coincidentally, 300,000 is also the population of the Maldives – one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, which will be swamped by the rising oceans unless emissions are dramatically scaled back soon. The Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed announced in March that he would seek to make his country the first carbon-neutral nation in world – achieving the goal within 10 years.
Today at the Hay festival a competition is being held, where a British child will name a new Maldivian coral reef – a living structure which, if global warming is eventually controlled, may one day form the basis of a new island. The offer is characteristic of the generosity of these island people, who say they are less interested in pinning blame than in being part of the solution.
But the numbers are increasingly clear, and responsibilities cannot be evaded for ever. The legal implications are analogous to those faced by the tobacco industry once evidence solidified about the links between smoking and cancer. Shareholders and investors in fossil fuels need to be aware that they now face a liability that will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars – their products are killing people, and it is only a matter of time before the wheels of international justice begin to turn.

President Obama must be brave and impose a gas tax on Americans

US energy secretary Steven Chu’s claim that a gas tax is not politically feasible seems wrong on two fronts.

By Martin HutchinsonLast Updated: 12:07PM BST 29 May 2009

First, Obama has a big Congressional majority and sufficient support. Second, a gas tax would be a better way to fight climate change than new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and a “cap and trade” system.
True, politically, voters are allergic to new taxes. Thus President Barack Obama’s proposed “cap and trade” permits system and tighter emissions standards avoid taxing voters directly by imposing costs on energy companies and automobile manufacturers instead. From a budgetary standpoint, that’s money lost: a gas tax could greatly help deficit reduction. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed by the House Energy Committee last week produces little net revenue as 85pc of emission permits would be free.

The new auto emissions standards should improve gas mileage by about 40% after they take full effect in 2016, potentially reducing current US gasoline consumption from 140bn gallons annually to 100bn.
The long-term price elasticity of gasoline usage is quite high -- the mean of studies in several countries is around 70pc. Based on a conservative 50pc figure, a reduction in gasoline consumption from 140bn gallons to 100bn could be achieved by raising the gas price to $4.78 per gallon from the current $2.44 – still significantly below Europe.
On those estimates, a $2.34 Federal gasoline tax that produced that increase would yield $234bn per annum or $2.56tn over the 10-year Federal budgetary horizon, assuming 2pc inflation.
Higher gasoline taxes spread the burden of change around the economy, instead of imposing it on automobile manufacturers alone. Together with smaller automobiles, produced according to market demands, higher gas taxes would curb driving and pollution, increase public transport usage and spur innovation in urban development.
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Bold targets set for global warming experts pose threat to action

The Times
May 30, 2009
Gary Duncan, Economics Editor

Achieving a workable international deal to tackle climate change successfully is being threatened by overambitious targets set for the world conference on global warming this year, experts said yesterday.
Anxieties over whether a viable and effective agreement to combat global warming can be secured in Copenhagen in December will be fuelled by the concerns voiced yesterday at the annual Munich Economic Summit, supported by The Times.
Carlo Carraro, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Venice, led warnings that overly demanding goals set by governments worldwide for the Copenhagen gathering could doom to failure any deal struck there.
Professor Carraro said his research suggested that the key target set for Copenhagen — cutting the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 550 parts per million (ppm) by 2100 — could be achieved only if the summit secured a “grand coalition” of Western nations with big emerging market countries, including China and India.

However, he said that China and India were prominent among nations that faced strong economic incentives to spurn an agreement and try to act as “free-riders”, leaving developed countries to shoulder the burden of tackling climate change.
Professor Carraro’s concerns were echoed by other leading participants at the international debate on climate and energy in Munich, organised by the CESIfo think-tank based in the Bavarian capital, and the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.
Karen Harbert, the chief executive of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the US Chamber of Commerce, said that an American medium-term goal to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 14 per cent less than 2005 levels would mean cutting these by a “gigaton”.
That, she said, was the equivalent of the United States building 320 new “zero emission” 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants, or 130 new nuclear power stations. It would also imply America cutting the intensity of its carbon emissions to levels equal to those in present-day Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, an official responsible for co-ordinating the Copenhagen Summit said that he remained optimistic over its outcome. Henning Wuester, special adviser to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: “I believe there are opportunities in Copenhagen, and the possibility for success — but we are not there yet.”

Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, says Kofi Annan thinktank

Climate change is greatest humanitarian challenge facing the world as heatwaves, floods and forest fires become more severe

John Vidal, environment editor, Friday 29 May 2009 11.03 BST

Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming.
It projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces.
Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year — more than all the present world aid. The report comes from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's thinktank, the Global Humanitarian Forum. By 2030, the report says, climate change could cost $600bn a year.
Civil unrest may also increase because of weather-related events, the report says: "Four billion people are vulnerable now and 500m are now at extreme risk. Weather-related disasters ... bring hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods. They pose a threat to social and political stability".
If emissions are not brought under control, within 25 years, the report states:
• 310m more people will suffer adverse health consequences related to temperature increases
• 20m more people will fall into poverty
• 75m extra people will be displaced by climate change.
Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies . "Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between floods and droughts. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to become water stressed by climate change by the 2030. ".
The study says it is impossible to be certain who will be displaced by 2030, but that tens of millions of people "will be driven from their homelands by weather disasters or gradual environmental degradation. The problem is most severe in Africa, Bangladesh, Egypt, coastal zones and forest areas. ."
The study compares for the first time the number of people affected by climate change in rich and poor countries. Nearly 98% of the people seriously affected, 99% of all deaths from weather-related disasters and 90% of the total economic losses are now borne by developing countries. The populations most at risk it says, are in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and the small island states of the Pacific.
But of the 12 countries considered least at risk, including Britain, all but one are industrially developed. Together they have made nearly $72bn available to adapt themselves to climate change but have pledged only $400m to help poor countries. "This is less than one state in Germany is spending on improving its flood defences," says the report.
The study comes as diplomats from 192 countries prepare to meet in Bonn next week for UN climate change talks aimed at reaching a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in December in Copenhagen. "The world is at a crossroads. We can no longer afford to ignore the human impact of climate change. This is a call to the negotiators to come to the most ambitious agreement ever negotiated or to continue to accept mass starvartion, mass sickness and mass migration on an ever growing scale," said Kofi Annan, who launched the report today in London.
Annan blamed politians for the current impasse in the negotiations and widespread ignorance in many countries. "Weak leadership, as evident today, is alarming. If leaders cannot assume responsibility they will fail humanity. Agreement is in the interests of every human being."
Barabra Stocking, head of Oxfam said: "Adaptation efforts need to be scaled up dramatically.The world's poorest are the hardest hit, but they have done the least to cause it.
Nobel peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai, said: "Climate change is life or death. It is the new global battlefield. It is being presented as if it is the problem of the developed world. But it's the developed world that has precipitated global warming."
Calculations for the report are based on data provided by the World Bank, the World Health organisation, the UN, the Potsdam Insitute For Climate Impact Research, and others, including leading insurance companies and Oxfam. However, the authors accept that the estimates are uncertain and could be higher or lower. The paper was reviewed by 10 of the world's leading experts incluing Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University and Margareta Wahlström, assistant UN secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

Friday, 29 May 2009

America's On-Again, Off-Again Light Bulb Affair

When Electricity Is Cheap, Consumers Spurn Fluorescent and LED Models That Can Save Money Over Time

How long does it take to change a light bulb? Nearly a century and a half, it seems, though a replacement has been around for decades.
In the push for energy efficiency, changing old habits is proving more difficult than developing new technology. In the case of the light bulb, consumers see little reason to switch from energy-draining conventional models to more-efficient alternatives as long as electricity remains cheap.

Thomas Edison unveiled his incandescent bulb in 1879, and since then it has illuminated the world. But it is highly inefficient, generating 90% heat and 10% light. "The only thing worse is a candle flame," says Terry McGowan, of the American Lighting Association, a trade group.
There is a better bulb. In fact, there are several. The spiral-shaped "compact fluorescent," around for years, produces the same amount of light as its incandescent ancestor with one-quarter the energy. It lasts for years, provides light in an array of hues, and, by lowering electricity bills, pays for itself in about seven months. And the latest bright idea, the light-emitting diode, costs even more but lasts far longer than compact fluorescents. LED bulbs have been used mostly for consumer electronics and in commercial applications such as traffic lights.
Studies say improving the efficiency of the light bulb is among the easiest ways to start meaningfully curbing fossil-fuel consumption. Lighting accounts for some 20% of residential electricity use in the U.S. -- a lot to fritter away as wasted heat. Yet about 80% of all bulbs sold to U.S. consumers are incandescents, which often cost less than 25 cents apiece, about one-tenth the price of a compact fluorescent.
"I buy the cheap ones," Dallas resident Betty Ferrell said the other day as she reached for a pack of incandescents at a local Wal-Mart store. "They may not be cheap in the long run," she said, "but they're cheap for what I have in my purse now."
In fact, Americans have been so reluctant to buy the new bulbs that the federal government is about to force their hand. A recent law will, in effect, ban incandescent bulbs for most uses by 2014.
But the switch to fluorescents won't settle consumers' dilemma about whether to pay now, for a more expensive bulb, or pay later, for more electricity. Consumers still will have the option of buying halogen bulbs, which fall in between incandescents and fluorescents in efficiency and price. And LEDs for household use are starting to show up in stores.
Never before has there been such a flowering of practical energy-saving products, from double-pane windows to front-loading washing machines to hybrid gasoline-and-electric cars. Yet they cost far more to buy than the less-efficient technologies they seek to replace -- a big hurdle in places like the U.S., where electricity is such a small component of most household budgets that it rarely plays a role in shopping decisions.
"If energy is dirt cheap, it gets treated like dirt," says Arthur Rosenfeld, a physicist who headed a team of scientists at the federal government's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, that did some of the early development work on compact-fluorescent bulbs. "That's been the problem."
Mr. Edison's incandescent light bulb, introduced the same year as Ivory soap, is relatively simple. Inside the glass bulb sits a wire, or filament. When a switch is flipped, an electric current hits the filament, which heats up and glows.
The fluorescent bulb, launched commercially in the late 1930s, is more refined. It consists of a glass tube containing mercury and coated on the inside with phosphor. Electrified, the mercury vapor causes the phosphor molecules to vibrate, producing light.
The combination of the mercury and the phosphor produces less heat and more light than an incandescent, making it more efficient. Because the bulb has no filament that can break, it lasts longer. Typically, fluorescent light has a blue tinge, compared with incandescent light's reddish hue.
Fluorescents became popular in offices and factories in the 1940s. But they didn't catch on in homes. They required specialized fixtures. And Americans, raised on the warm glow of incandescents, found the fluorescent's sharper light harsh.
"Compact" versions that could be screwed into conventional incandescent sockets arrived after the oil shocks of the 1970s. But they were still too big to fit under many lampshades. The bulbs flickered and hummed. And their price -- about $20 apiece -- deterred most consumers, especially because oil prices slumped in the 1980s, damping the appeal of energy-saving devices.
By the start of this decade, the fluorescent bulb had progressed to its current squiggly shape. Costs fell as technology improved and production shifted to China. Based on average U.S. electricity prices, by 2005 the bulb paid for itself in less than a year, according to the Department of Energy. Just then, energy prices soared, sparking a big rise in sales.
But sales of compact fluorescents have dropped in the current recession, to 21% of total U.S. consumer light-bulb sales in 2008 from 23% in 2007, according to the DOE.
In Europe and Japan, where electricity costs more, fluorescent lights are more popular. To improve the bulbs' appeal to Americans, manufacturers are adjusting their phosphor blends to mimic redder incandescents. Fluorescent light "doesn't make you look as good," says Timothy Lesch, a vice president at Osram Sylvania, a big bulb manufacturer. He has compact fluorescent bulbs throughout his house, but not in those rooms where he spends a lot of time. "They're not in my den," he says.
As manufacturers continue tweaking, buying a light bulb has become a complicated venture. A Wal-Mart in Plano, Texas, outside Dallas, has nine varieties of bulbs claiming to fulfill the role of a traditional 60-watt incandescent. Some advertise "cool" light; others "soft." Promised lifetimes range from five years to eight. As for electricity savings, manufacturers claim anywhere from $36 to $56 a bulb.
Stacy Parks, financial manager for a Dallas information-technology company, bought the brightest compact fluorescents she could find to light her front walkway: 42-watt models, akin to blazing 150-watt incandescents. But when she tried out the bulbs, she says, the path "looked like a landing strip." She eventually replaced the bright lights with dimmer fluorescents.
Most industrial countries, including the U.S., are largely phasing out the incandescent over the next several years. Yet even if that pushes down the bulb's price further, as industry officials predict, consumers still will have to pay much more for a compact fluorescent than they are accustomed to paying for an incandescent.
And technology marches on. The LED is eclipsing the compact fluorescent as the cutting-edge bulb. Wal-Mart Stores has started selling a consumer LED bulb that uses just seven watts of electricity and claims to last for more than 13 years. It costs around $35 -- a daunting price tag for a light bulb. "We're kind of testing the waters," says Rand Waddoups, Wal-Mart's senior director of strategy and sustainability. "This is a behavior change, and that requires some work."
Write to Jeffrey Ball at

E-waste trade is the unacceptable face of recycling

Computer manufacturers must take responsibility for dealing with electronic waste to ensure toxic trash doesn't fall into the wrong hands

Fred Pearce, Thursday 28 May 2009 13.03 BST

Electronic waste in Lagos, Nigeria. Photograph: Guardian
Dell, the world's second largest PC manufacturer, announced earlier this month that it is imposing a ban on the export of used equipment bearing its name to developing countries – unless the equipment is in full working order and intended for legitimate use.
The idea is to undermine the huge trade in e-waste, too much of which ends up in giant trash piles in Africa, India and China, from where it is dismantled, burned, treated with corrosive chemicals and otherwise persuaded to give up tiny amounts of chemicals that can be sold on. The big question is why all the other manufacturers don't have a similar policy.
I've seen these toxic waste operations in action. They call it recycling, but it's extremely damaging. In an industrial wasteland outside New Delhi in India, I watched as children as young as eight dunked bare circuit boards in acid to create a residue of copper for sale to a local works. Child labour? You bet. Health and safety? You have to be joking.
A family of migrant boys from Bihar, India's poorest state, told me they got used to the acrid fumes that had them coughing and giddy within minutes of coming on the job. "At the end of the day we have a strong drink and we are OK," one laughed. It's an evil trade. But how do you stop it?
Dell admits that it cannot wave a magic wand and ban its used products from export. But it has a worldwide policy of accepting back without charge all used Dell equipment. It requires all its contractors to accept the used equipment, to follow the new rules – and to act as whistleblowers on rivals who do not.
"This is a very significant announcement," Barbara Kyle of the Electronics Takeback Coalition in the US told Associated Press earlier this month.
The e-waste trade is the unacceptable face of recycling. Greenpeace reckons that as much as 80% of the electronic waste sent for recycling in the US ends up being "recycled" using dangerous low-tech methods in foreign countries. And, despite Europe's tougher laws, a lot gets through the net there, too.
Just a few months ago, Computer Aid International, a charity that gives old computers a new life in schools and other places in developing countries, criticised Britain's Environment Agency for failing to conduct an investigation after British e-waste turned up in the hands of child dismantlers in west Africa.
"What are the other manufacturers doing to ensure a responsible outcome for the equipment?" asked Tony Roberts, of Computer Aid International. "All manufacturers should be held accountable for the disposal of any product manufacturer by them."
Many other companies offer take-back services. But that is very different from imposing rules on their supply chains. And on closer examination, the take-back services often seem half-hearted at best.
The printer maker Lexmark is currently covering Britain with posters advertising its environmental credentials and encouraging users of its printers to print less. Good for them. But what about the e-waste?
In the US, if you want to safely recycle an old Lexmark printer, you have to pay the bill for shipping your printer back to its offices in Tennessee.
A study by Greenpeace this month of the environmental record of electronics companies did not give Dell a great record because it had been slow to eliminate some toxic ingredients from its products. But at least it is now taking a strong stand about making sure those toxins don't get into the wrong hands and it should rise up the Greenpeace chart.
Its rivals will have to do a lot better to keep up. Greenpeace singled out the largest computer manufacturer Hewlett Packard on its handling of e-waste. HP claims to have been "an industry leader in reducing its impact on the environment ... for 50 years", but Greenpeace didn't agree. It criticised HPs weak scheme for voluntary take-back of its equipment amongst other things.
Also criticised for failing to handle e-waste were Acer and Lenovo, whose "commitment to social responsibility" does not highlight e-waste.
These companies need to quit the greenwash and get real about ending this bogus recycling business.
• Do you know of any green claims that deserve closer examination? Email your examples to or add your comments below

California fires up laser fusion machine

Success at National Ignition Facility could pave the way for commercial laser fusion power stations and provide a solution to world energy crisis
Ian Sample, science correspondent, Thursday 28 May 2009 18.15 BST

National Ignition Facility will harness the power of lasers to turn hydrogen pellets into energy. Photograph: National Ignition Facility
A tentative first step towards an era of clean, almost limitless energy will take place today with the opening of a giant facility designed to recreate the power of the stars in an oversized warehouse in California.
The $3.5bn National Ignition Facility (NIF) sits in a 10-storey building covering three football fields and will harness the power of lasers to turn tiny pellets of hydrogen into thermonuclear energy.
If the machine works as planned, it will become the first to generate more energy than it consumes, a feat that could pave the way for commercial laser fusion power stations and an end to the world's energy security problems.
The building, which has taken almost 15 years to build and commission, is due to be opened in a ceremony attended by the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, and the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said the facility could "revolutionise our energy future".
"If they're successful, it will be a very big deal. No one has achieved a net gain in energy before," said Derek Stork, assistant technical director at the UK United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)'s centre for fusion research in Culham, Oxfordshire.
Inside the building, scientists will use the world's most powerful laser to create 192 separate beams of light that will be directed at a bead of frozen hydrogen in a violent burst lasting five billionths of a second. Each fuel pellet measures just two millimetres across but costs around $40,000, because they must be perfectly spherical to ensure they collapse properly when the laser light strikes.
The intense beams produce a powerful shockwave that crunches the fuel pellet at a million miles an hour, generating temperatures of around 100,000,000C. Under such extreme conditions, which are found only in the core of stars, the hydrogen atoms will fuse, producing helium and vast amounts of energy.
The facility will gradually work up to full power over the next 12 months or so, but experiments are scheduled to run until around 2040.
If the NIF succeeds, politicians will be under pressure to invest in the technology to develop a first generation of demonstration plants to feed fusion energy into electricity grids.
Plans for a laser fusion plant have been drawn up at UKAEA in Culham. The Hiper project would use two lasers to produce power from seawater and lithium, an abundant element.
"When this works, it will immediately change the future energy map for the world. One cubic kilometre of sea water has the fusion energy equivalent of whole world's oil reserves," said John Parris at the Hiper project. That would overturn concerns over energy security caused by vast amounts of the globe's oil been locked up beneath a small number of nations.
The NIF facility must overcome major technical hurdles before scientists can start celebrating. The laser at the heart of the facility can only fire a handful of times a day. In between each shot, the hydrogen fuel pellet needs to be replaced. Over the coming years, scientists want to see improvements that allow the facility to run continuously. That could mean firing the laser 10 times a second, at fuel pellets that are shot mid air as they are dropped into the fusion chamber.

Harnessing India's Technological Potential

Over the last decade, clean technology and nanotechnology have emerged as prominent investment themes in venture capital.

According to New York-based research firm Lux Research, venture capital investment in cleantech and nanotech has grown at about 40% annually since 1997. Rapid advances in the physical sciences and materials engineering have ushered in everything from hybrid-electric cars and lighter airplanes with substantially enhanced fuel efficiency to eco-friendly specialty chemicals and stain-resistant apparel.
As China and India industrialize, there is a glaring need for such innovation to ensure that limited natural resources are consumed with high efficiency. Venture capitalists have a key role to play in fostering that innovation.
VCs typically consider India to be just a technology deployment market. That view is too narrow: India has not just the entrepreneurial competence but also the scientific talent to invent and lead in science-driven innovation.
“Profit is still a dirty word in India's academic circles.”
The American model for technology commercialization has proven to be highly successful. Corporate giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Genentech and Google took root at universities.
More recently, President Barack Obama unveiled the government's biggest infrastructure investment plan since the creation of the U.S. highway system with energy efficiency as its cornerstone.
Prof. C. N. R. Rao, chairman of the Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council and one of India's most distinguished scientists, has worked tirelessly for the cause of science education and research, recently obtaining a grant of over $200 million from the central government for fundamental research in materials science and nanotechnology. When I met him in July last year, he lamented the lack of enthusiasm for science and technology in India, and commended China's nationalist zeal for building prowess in high-technology.
There is no dearth of scientific ability in India, but Indians prefer to work in laboratories abroad thanks to the lack of cutting-edge infrastructure in their home country. What's missing here are incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Indian government has promoted investment in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, and these sectors are beginning to see some traction. However, India is still way behind both the U.S. and China.
Economist Joseph Schumpeter feted the entrepreneur as the growth-driver of an economy, the "wild spirit" who would cause creative destruction by innovation and disruption. A market-based mechanism must be adopted, but the government has a vital role to play in setting effective policies. The government should invest in basic scientific research and introduce reforms in higher education, allowing for the creation of more world-class universities.
Culturally, Indian scientists are hesitant to partner with entrepreneurs and external investors. For some Indians, the traditional concept of education clashes with the notion of commerce. Profit is still a dirty word in India's academic circles. This malaise is partly caused by the red tape stifling Indian educational institutions.
Basic mechanisms for technology transfer are absent or deficient at leading Indian universities. When the appropriate systems are in place and research institutions are forthcoming, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs can license and commercialize technology, moving it from the lab to the market. Taxpayers get a return on their investment in the form of better products and increased productivity if investors and entrepreneurs are able to beat the odds and succeed.
Otherwise, research remains research. IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay have taken the lead by establishing sophisticated infrastructure for technology transfer and venture incubation. I've seen technology transfer offices at some of the world's leading universities, and the offices at these two Indian institutions are comparable to the best. Others would do well to follow their example.
The next step should be the establishment of a national group to represent the voice of science-driven innovation, on the lines of the Indian information technology industry's Nasscom. With prudent government policy and a thriving ecosystem, private capital can kick-start the transformation of laboratory inventions into marketable products.
India missed the information technology and electronics manufacturing wave. If India is to transform itself from an economy driven by agriculture and services to one with high-technology industry and manufacturing as its bedrock, it should put in place effective policies to ride the new Schumpeterian wave of creative destruction driven by physical sciences-based technology.—Rajeev Mantri is executive director of Navam Capital, a Kolkata-based venture capital firm

Helius burns bright on the slope of enlightenment

By Philip Stafford
Published: May 29 2009 03:00

It should be boom time for the UK's emerging renewables and clean energy technology companies.
The opening of Britain's largest onshore wind park this week highlighted that projects to replace ageing fossil fuel-based power stations are under way.
With President Obama's plan to invest $150bn (£94bn) over the next 10 years in renewable energy and UK plans to harness the tidal power of the River Avon, government support has never been higher.
Even so, the danger is that investors will get carried away with the hype of projects that will take years to bear fruit.
Ernst & Young estimates the UK's energy companies would have to find another £234bn by 2025 to secure energy supplies and meet European Union targets.
Yet the short-term prospects for many projects are tough, with many dependent on improved bank lending to finance projects.
Bucking the trend is Helius Energy, which floated on Aim in 2007 to develop a UK portfolio of biomass plants that generate electricity. Proponents say biomass, which converts organic matter into power, could supply as much as 50 per cent of the world's primary energy needs by 2050.
Results this week showed a pre-tax profit of £18,875 against a loss of £1.17m a year ago. The company had net cash of £16.8m, largely derived from the sale of the rights to an unbuilt biomass power plant to RWE Innogy, the German utility group, for £28m last September.
RWE will invest a further €260m (£206m) to complete the plant at Stallingborough in Lincolnshire, which will run on waste wood, usually offcuts and tree wastage typically sent to landfill sites. Helius will also receive 13 per cent of the yearly earnings from the plant for the first 24 years of its operation.
Just as it promised in its Aim admission prospectus, Helius is using the sale of the project to fund similar developments such as a 7MW plant at Rothes in Scotland. The company has also applied for planning permission for a 100MW site at Avonmouth, near Bristol, which would use woodchip.
The main costs for a biomass plant are centred around gathering and transportation of feedstuff for the project. John Seed, group's managing director, disputes press reports doubting whether there is sufficient global quantity of feedstuffs.
In Helius's case, the Rothes plant will use waste from Speyside whisky distilleries as its feedstock. The Avonmouth plant is adjacent to the port to transport biomass from overseas.
The optimism has seen Helius's shares rise 85 per cent in six months yet it must be noted that we have been here before.
Two years ago London's listed renewable companies saw spikes in their share prices as investors became attuned to the energy issue and a steadily rising crude oil price.
The trajectory of companies such as Ceres Power, Ocean Power Technologies, Clipper WindPower and Novera Energy has often followed that of the Hype Cycle as envisaged by Gartner, the research group, in which early executive and investor enthusiasm is brought crashing down before a sense of realism pervades the sector.
Helius's business has all the hallmarks of the "slope of enlightenment" part of the cycle, where it sees innovation being used to good effect.
In Helius's case, it plans to use an industrial process not too far removed from current techniques to help energy companies meet renewable energy targets. That part of the cycle is also characterised by steadier growth but far less spectacular than the hype suggests.
Aim bounces back
For all the questions about Aim's corporate governance standards, the past month has been a reminder of the junior market's greatest strength; its ability to raise money.
The £200m flotation of Max Property and fundraisings by Vertu Motors and Platmin have boosted the statistics.
According to the London Stock Exchange, £470m had been raised in the first three weeks of May, which means it is likely to be the best month for fundraising since the £1bn achieved in June last year.
Perhaps the most interesting comment came from Advanced Computer Software, which raised £43m for its plans to consolidate the software market in the primary care market of the NHS.
ACS could have turned to private investors. After all, it was created by Vin Murria, chief executive, from a series of venture capital firms including Elderstreet Investments. Elderstreet's backer Michael Jackson built Sage, the healthcare software group, into an FTSE 100 company.
Yet Ms Murria said public markets gave money faster, on less onerous terms, and didn't impose the controls or the due diligence of private equity.
It's a clear statement from a highly experienced executive of why Aim remains an attractive option for budding companies. David Blackwell is away
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

The prize and the price: environmental fears

Alok Jha
The Guardian, Thursday 28 May 2009

What is at stake in the Arctic?
The biggest prize is the oil, gas and other minerals. These have been trapped under layers of permanent ice until now but, because of global warming, the deposits are becoming more accessible and surrounding countries are readying for a battle over rights. The amounts are relatively small compared with the present production of fossil fuels, but could be important locally. Finding copious oil near Greenland could allow it become more independent of Denmark. Oil reserves near Alaska could reduce the US need for foreign oil.
The retreating ice will also open up shipping routes, including the north-west passage that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans for year-round commercial shipping. In the 19th century, sailors dreamed of such a route as it would have halved the time it takes to get between Japan and northern Europe.
Warming seas will also mean greater numbers of fish can be caught for food, and greater opportunities for tourism.
Who owns the Arctic?
Anything in international waters is regulated by the UN law of the sea convention, which has been ratified by all the Arctic countries except the US (though President Barack Obama is likely to support the treaty). The treaty allows countries to extend their control and exploitation of the seabed up to 350 nautical miles from their borders. This can lead to disputes over how different countries define their borders, particularly when the continental slope can extend for many miles underwater.
What are the disputes?
There are several. Russia began the land grab in 2001 and even planted a flat under the north pole in 2007, but none of these acts have much formal acceptance. One disagreement concerns the Lomonosov ridge, a 1,200-mile underwater mountain range connecting Siberia to Ellesmere Island in Canada. Russia claims it is part of the Asian continental shelf, but Canada says it is part of the North American one. UN scientists will make the final decision, but Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the US are all engaged in research projects to make sure their case is heard.
In recent months, Russia has become increasingly twitchy: a Kremlin security strategy views the Barents sea shelf and other Arctic regions as potential battlegrounds in future clashes over energy reserves.
What are the environmental consequences?
If all the oil and gas that is thought to be in the Arctic is drilled out, it will inevitably mean an acceleration in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Opening up new fisheries, unless done sustainably, could wipe out marine and other ecosystems around the pole. This would be exacerbated by the effects of increased merchant and tourist shipping. Whatever happens to the Arctic in the coming decades, it is unlikely to be beneficial.

Carbon trading and cash values on forests cannot curb carbon emissions

Climate change solutions cannot be created by unfettered markets, despite what business leaders think

Oscar Reyes, Thursday 28 May 2009 16.27 BST

When Sir Crispin Tickell had the temerity to suggest that "the business community needs to re-examine the fundamentals of economics" at the recent World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen, his discordant tone was drowned out by a chorus of more than 800 delegates singing the praises of unfettered markets as a means to tackle climate change.
The commitment to carry on with business as usual took an almost surreal form at times. Indra Nooyi, the chief executive officer of PepsiCo, proudly proclaimed: "The fact that I flew here for 1 1/2 hours to sit on a panel them I'm flying straight back to the US is an example of our commitment to environmental sustainability."
More worryingly, plans for low-carbon technology give the expansion of high-carbon coal power pride of place. The promotional rhetoric is of Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS background guide], yet those from the power sector are blunt about its shortcomings. "One of the plants we are building is CCS ready, although to be quite frank no one really knows what that is at the moment," claimed Steve Lennon, managing director of South Africa's Eskom.
The underlying problem is that business adjusts the problem of climate change to neoliberal economics, which judges value according to financial cost rather than environmental sustainability or social justice. This manifests itself in a promise to massively expand carbon markets [emissions trading background guide]. The idea is that governments give out a limited number of permits to pollute; the scarcity of these permits should encourage their price to rise; and the resulting additional cost to industry and power producers should encourage them to pollute less.
Jos Delbeke, deputy director-general for the environment at the European commission, was in Copenhagen claiming that this is how the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is now working. Yet his department's own data for 2008 shows more international "offset" credits circulating than the level of claimed reductions, while lobbying pressure has resulted in a twin-track system from which every business wins.
On one side, heavy industry like the steel sector has more credits than would be needed to reduce its emissions, so it sells them. Delbeke shared a panel on carbon markets with a representative of ArcelorMittal, which alone gained an estimated subsidy of more than €1bn between 2005 and 2008 by this means.
On the other side, power companies pay less for pollution permits than the cost they pass on to consumers, generating windfall profits that could reach up to around €70bn by 2012. The circulation of these permits does nothing to help new investment in renewables.
Other measures to avoid business obligations displace the problem of tackling climate change on to developing countries. The Summit's final Copenhagen Call talks of a crucial role for forest protection in developing countries, and that such measures should represent around half of the action needed to limit climate change by 2020.
These figures are taken directly from Project Catalyst, an initiative bringing together "climate negotiatiors, senior government officials... and business executives", whose presentation (marked confidential) more straightforwardly emphasises the "the size of the prize for business". It also speaks of the opportunities for "companies in forest management, pulp and paper, or construction" to access a "€20-30bn value chain" in developing countries.
Strikingly similar assumptions have found their way into negotiating texts on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), which will be discussed when UN climate negotiations resume in Bonn next week. Yet the whole idea that deforestation can be stopped by simply putting a price on forests is flawed, with forest communities and indigenous peoples warning that it will encourage further land grabs by large companies. They point to evidence that the real drivers of deforestation are the major construction, mining, logging and plantation developments whose owners stand to be rewarded by REDD funds.
These are the voices that the world should be listening to as it seeks to tackle climate change. Even the self-proclaimed "progressives" of big business seem to be putting profit margins above environmental need. Without a more fundamental re-examination, to paraphrase one panellist, they look set to remain on the back end of a horse that is galloping in the wrong direction.
• Oscar Reyes is a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, a project of the Transnational Institute, and environment editor of Red Pepper magazine.

The mood at Carbon Expo is upbeat as most expect a deal at Copenhagen

Speakers urge market makers to be more involved with influencing policy, while law firms, banks and brokers are confident they will make money whatever the outcome

Bryony Worthington, Thursday 28 May 2009 12.23 BST

All major carbon-emitting countries should expect to be part of a deal at the Copenhagen climate talks in December or face consequences. That was the message from the UN's special envoy on climate change, Ricardo Lagos, who was speaking at the Carbon Expo conference in Barcelona yesterday.
His keynote lecture gave an insight into the UN's current thinking about the all-important deal. The world, he accepts, has changed significantly since the time that Kyoto was negotiated – a reference to the fact that the old labels of "developed" and "developing" countries, which underpin the existing protocol, are now out of date. And, he warned, a failure to agree to a new plan would likely result in protective trade measures being applied in those countries with domestic policies already in place – currently only the EU but soon to be joined by the US and potentially other countries including South Korea and Australia.
He outlined a mechanism for involvement that could help to encourage new countries in, instead of top-down calculated targets which would apply in the OECD, non-OECD countries could bid on voluntary targets but these would then be entered into a registry and become binding. This sounds a pragmatic solution to the current impasse created by the current scheme. The US will refuse to agree if China remains outside the deal, whereas China refuses to take on targets until the west has shown it is serious about repaying the climate debt it created through rapid and early industrialisation.
Nearly everyone you speak to here expects a deal will be reached. There is still, however, a great deal of nervousness that the policy makers gathering next week in Bonn under the auspices of the UN, may craft a deal that looks superficially attractive, but doesn't provide the clarity of purpose that private sector investors in the carbon market seek. For example, there is talk that the new treaty once agreed will only last for five to eight years, requiring renegotiation almost as soon as it has been agreed. This kind of stop-start policy making is useless for those planning long-term infrastructure investment.
The nature of the targets in the deal are also important – if there is not enough ambition then demand for clean technologies and emissions-reducing projects could dry up. Similarly, what happens if large sources of cheap emissions reductions from avoided deforestation are included? The fear is that without an additional mechanism to incentivise this sort of emissions reduction, there will be a massive influx of permits generated by countries choosing to protect rather than exploit their forest reserves, which would kill the carbon price and delay investment in all other forms of projects.
The solution, it would seem, is more interaction between the policy makers and the market makers. More than one speaker yesterday urged the industry to become more actively involved in lobbying to influence the policy process. One country delegate I spoke to expressed his surprise that more policy people weren't present at this conference, since their decisions would have such a direct effect on the people here.
It seems that even though the carbon market is, as one speaker put it, an entirely "artificial market" exposed to the whims of political will, there is an unwillingness to get too involved in that political process. It may be because private investment is relatively fleet of foot and often focused on achieving a short-term profit – certainly the law firms, banks and brokers here seem relaxed that they can make money whatever the circumstances. A World Bank report, published yesterday, showed that the value of the global carbon market doubled last year – apparently lending support to this view, particularly since over a fifth of the total trade was in the "secondary" market, meaning that it had nothing to do with activities that actually reduce carbon.
But more optimistically it may be that they also, paradoxically, have a longer term strategic view: climate change is not going to go away, so whatever the minutiae of the latest UN protocol says, they are in the right business.
And so the mood in Barcelona is generally upbeat – as you'd expect in a city that has just won the European championship and spent the night celebrating. Whether the reality of a hangover dampens optimism today remains to be seen.
• Bryony Worthington is director of

A green deal needs everyone's input

Civil society must work with big business and science to create a global climate change deal – or risk losing its influence

Tan Copsey, Thursday 28 May 2009 17.30 BST

In Copenhagen this week, the great and not so good of the corporate world gathered to discuss what they wanted from a global deal on climate change. Chief executives of American energy companies spoke in southern drawls to their European counterparts and a few Chinese and Indian executives. Two months ago, the world's top climate scientists held a summit in the same place where they compiled their latest, frightening research and demanded policy-makers pay attention. But in Copenhagen, among the comfortable global elite, I was struck by an obvious absence. Where were the environmentalists? For that matter why is there no global gathering of civil society in Copenhagen which articulates what people, rather than just business, want from a global deal?
The business and scientific communities have had their say. A fair climate treaty needs more input from the environmental groups who helped put climate change on the international political agenda. Ideas they promoted frame the, admittedly imperfect, Kyoto protocol and ensure that concerns of equity and fairness shape efforts to reduce emissions.
Next week negotiators in Bonn, Germany will begin whittling down a draft negotiating text for a new global treaty, to be agreed in December. It may already be too late for a grand global peoples' congress – so why not a series of inter-connected, rough-and-ready national events, linked using the web? It would probably be easier than trying to get Danish visas for representatives of the Organisation de défense de l'environnement au Burundi on short notice and use considerably less carbon. Noisy, diverse and messy – multiple gatherings of environmentalists, religious leaders and representatives of indigenous people would be something to behold and would impart a very different message to world leaders. Of course it is not easy to influence global political elites. But some politicians, at least in this country, have actually asked for more action from environmental groups. At global climate negotiations in Poznan last year Ed Miliband, secretary of state for energy and climate change, suggested that "we need a mass movement – like Make Poverty History".
As well as getting their own message out, civil society also needs to get better at engaging with other communities, particularly business. This week, attendance at the lavish world business summit was free for civil society organisations. But only a few showed up and an opportunity to confront and engage with global elites was missed. If you're not there, then people speak for you. In Copenhagen I lost count of the number of jokes made about the silly, immature left and references to stereotypical environmental views.
But engagement doesn't have to mean compromise. When executives discussed how to make money from poorer countries adapting to climate change, there should have been strong green voices challenging the surreal notion that western corporations should profit from a problem they helped create.
Environmental groups also need to campaign smarter. 350, an innovative global campaign for stabilising emissions at 350 parts per million, provides a case in point. They plan to hold a global day of action on 24 October this year. But by then any reference to their desired target will probably be negotiated out of the treaty.
Between now and December the United Nations and the host Danish government must do all they can to allow representatives of civil society as much input as scientific, business and political communities. More than that, members of civil society must demand access. It is worth remembering that an agreement will only succeed in reducing emissions if it is fair, just and equitable, and promotes global participation.