Monday, 31 August 2009

Wind Farms Set Wall Street Aflutter

Associated Press
A new program offering cash rebates on renewable energy investments is sparking interest in wind farms. A worker atop a windmill in Maine.
After nearly a six-month lull, Wall Street is getting back into the business of financing new wind farms.
Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc. have invested $100 million each to finance separate wind farms this month, taking advantage of a brand-new federal program that is paying substantial cash grants to help cover the cost of renewable energy investments.
Bankers say this is the beginning of an active pipeline of new wind-farm financing, as well as investment in large solar installations and geothermal facilities. Project developers and Wall Street appear to be viewing the federal cash grant program as such a good deal, industry experts say, it may grow much larger than its Washington creators expected.
"The money is coming back," says Ethan Zindler, head of North American research at consultant New Energy Finance Ltd.
Under the program, the government will give a cash rebate for 30% of the cost of building a renewable-energy facility, awarded 60 days after an application is approved. Investors are also given valuable accelerated depreciation deductions, which help offset taxes.
The Energy and Treasury departments have said they expect to spend $3 billion on the program, which started July 31 and runs through the end of 2010, and was part of the stimulus bill. But a government spokesman says requests for $800 million in grants were submitted during the first four weeks.
Some Wall Street bankers say they expect applications to grow to $10 billion, based on projected wind-power installations.
"We see opportunities and we are pursuing them pretty actively," says Kevin Walsh, managing director of General Electric Co.'s GE Energy Financial Services division, which was a major financier of wind deals in the past.
The strong interest echoes the $3 billion cash-for-clunkers program that provided incentives to trade in older, lower-gas mileage cars, and which was quickly overwhelmed by demand. "We are concerned that this may evolve into a cash-for-clunkers version 2.0," says a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican.

But unlike the popular cash-for-clunkers programs, there is no spending cap on the renewable energy grants, and the government has committed to spending as much as is needed to keep renewable-energy investments flowing.
Under an earlier renewable energy program, the government gave companies tax credits over 10 years, which were attractive as long as financial firms believed they would be generating taxable profits for years to come. When Wall Street imploded last year, profits turned to losses and appetite for these investments disappeared quickly. Some of the companies most active in these deals -- including Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and American International Group Inc. -- were hobbled or destroyed by the turmoil.
But the new cash grants are offering the potential for attractive returns. Several bankers interviewed said they expected deals to provide an annual return of anywhere from 9% to 15%.
Most of the investments are expected to go to wind projects, because the industry is more mature and in a better position to capture limited funds. "I would not be surprised if the program is ridiculously successful and spurs a huge amount of development," says Liz Salerno, director of industry analysis for the American Wind Energy Association.
Even capital-constrained financial giant Citigroup has been drawn to wind power. In August, it made a $120 million investment in a large wind farm under construction in the rolling hills of northern Pennsylvania. The project, called Armenia Mountain by developer AES Corp., will deliver about 100.5 megawatts of power-generation capacity from 67 turbines, each the size of a 20-story building.
The quick returns provided by the cash grant "made it an attractive investment option," said Sandip Sen, Citi's global head of alternative energy.
It's not just Wall Street banks that are attracted. Iberdrola SA, a Spanish company that is the world leader in renewable energy by capacity installed, said in July that it expects to tap $500 million in cash grants for U.S. wind projects. "We've been in contact with the Treasury Department and we think the $3 billion is a minimum-type number," said Ralph Curry, chief executive of Iberdrola's U.S. business unit.
The Treasury Department didn't return calls seeking comment.
Additional financing from the grants would potentially benefit major wind-farm developers such as Florida utility FPL Group Inc. and large-scale solar developer Edison International. It could also give a boost to manufacturers who make the turbine blades and solar panels, such as Vestas Wind Systems A/S and First Solar Inc.
Morgan Stanley recently made a $120 million investment in a Montana-based wind farm developed by Grupo Naturener SA. "The cash grants are a good deal for both developers and financial backers," says Martin Torres, a Morgan Stanley vice president who worked on the deal.
"If we have a quick recovery and we're going like gangbusters again, you could easily get to $10 billion in two years," says Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners LLC, a Washington consultant.
Write to Russell Gold at

Climate Camp finally swings into action

Five days in and the campers admit things are a little boring – there are no more toilets to put up and the police have vanished. But a plan for direct action should put the zip back into things
The weather can't make up its mind, and the campers can't either. One minute the Climate Campers are convinced that this is the best climate camp ever, most welcoming, chilled-out and up-for-it atmosphere, and the next they're admitting that perhaps it feels a little flat and even – God forbid – a little bit boring.
Five days in and there are no more toilets to put up, no more drainage systems to figure out, no more marquees to erect. The camp neighbourhoods all have their kitchens working, the rotas are full, the water hasn't run out and no one has set fire to anything.
As for the police, they have been pretty much invisible, going so far as to reject the idea of training a light on the camp at night in case it's seen as "invasive". On Thursday there was a mobile police station parked 40 or so metres from the perimeter of the Climate Camp fence. By Sunday even that has gone. The police have vanished, gone to confiscate some drugs at the Notting Hill carnival or practise their handbrake turns on the M25.
And the campers admit that, actually, it feels a bit odd without them. After all, much though they may deny this, the police have actually been incredibly useful to Climate Camp – uniting the campers in the face of the common enemy, and keeping them in the headlines in the months between camps. Now members of the legal team are wandering around like lost souls. The hay-bale barricades erected around the gate earlier in the week have been dismantled and turned into comfy seats.
However, there is now a plan for some direct action which should put the zip back into things. Firstly, there will be a flash mob tomorrow at midday at City Airport. And then on Tuesday morning, campers who want to take part in an action will be split into groups for the Rambling Raffle of Resistance.
Before Climate Camp got going, the organisers published a list of their targets which included BP, the Bank of England, E.ON, and various government departments. Now all these targets will be put into a hat, and the campers will fan out to target them.
Given that the full title of the camp is the "camp for climate action", it will be a relief to supporters of the camp to see that the camp is not just going to be about "movement building" and "educational workshops" this year. The police may even be hoving into sight again too. And just as it looked as if things were all getting a bit dull …

Technology Can Fight Global Warming

We have precious little to show for nearly 20 years of efforts to prevent global warming. Promises in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to cut carbon emissions went unfulfilled. Stronger pledges in Kyoto five years later failed to keep emissions in check. The only possible lesson is that agreements to reduce carbon emissions are costly, politically arduous and ultimately ineffective.
But this is a lesson many are hell-bent on ignoring, as politicians plan to gather again—this time in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December—to negotiate a new carbon-emissions treaty. Even if they manage to bridge their differences and sign a deal, there is a strong likelihood that tomorrow's politicians will fail to deliver.
Global warming does not just require action; it requires effective action. Otherwise we are just squandering time.
To inform the debate, the Copenhagen Consensus Center has commissioned research looking at the costs and benefits of all the policy options. For example, internationally renowned climate economist Richard Tol of Ireland's Economic and Social Research Institute finds that a low carbon tax of $2 a metric ton is the only carbon reduction policy that would make economic sense. But his research demonstrates the futility of trying to use carbon cuts to keep temperature increases under two degrees Celsius, which many argue would avoid the worst of climate change's impacts.
Some economic models find that target impossible to reach without drastic action, like cutting the world population by a third. Other models show that achieving the target by a high CO2 tax would reduce world GDP a staggering 12.9% in 2100—the equivalent of $40 trillion a year.
Some may claim that global warming will be so terrible that a 12.9% reduction in GDP is a small price to pay. But consider that the majority of economic models show that unconstrained global warming would cost rich nations around 2% of GDP and poor countries around 5% by 2100.
Even those figures are an overstatement. A group of climate economists at the University of Venice led by Carlo Carraro looked closely at how people will adapt to climate change. Their research for the Copenhagen Consensus Center showed that farmers in areas with less water for agriculture could use more drip irrigation, for example, while those with more water will grow more crops.
Taking a variety of natural, so-called market adaptations into account, the Carraro research shows we will acclimatize to the negative impacts of global warming and exploit the positive changes, actually creating 0.1% increase in GDP in 2100 among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In poor countries, market adaptation will reduce climate change-related losses to 2.9% of GDP. This remains a significant, negative effect. The real challenge of global warming lies in tackling its impact on the Third World. Yet adaptation has other benefits. If we prepare societies for more ferocious hurricanes in the future, we also help them to cope better with today's extreme weather.
This does not mean, however, that we should ignore rising greenhouse-gas emissions. Research for the Copenhagen Consensus Center by Claudia Kemfert of German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin shows that in terms of reducing climate damage, reducing methane emissions is cheaper than reducing C02 emissions, and—because methane is a much shorter-lived gas—its mitigation could do a lot to prevent some of the worst of short-term warming. Other research papers highlight the advantages of planting more trees and protecting the forests we have to absorb C02 and cut greenhouse gases.
Other more speculative approaches deserve consideration. In groundbreaking research, J. Eric Bickel, an economist and engineer at the University of Texas, and Lee Lane, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, study the costs and benefits of climate engineering. One proposal would have boats spray seawater droplets into clouds above the sea to make them reflect more sunlight back into space—augmenting the natural process where evaporating ocean sea salt helps to provide tiny particles for clouds to form around.
Remarkably, Mr. Bickel finds that about $9 billion spent developing this so-called marine cloud whitening technology might be able to cancel out this century's global warming. The benefits—from preventing the temperature increase—would add up to about $20 trillion.
Climate engineering raises ethical concerns. But if we care most about avoiding warmer temperatures, we cannot avoid considering a simple, cost-effective approach that shows so much promise.
Nothing short of a technological revolution is required to end our reliance on fossil fuel—and we are not even close to getting this revolution started. Economists Chris Green and Isabel Galiana from McGill University point out that nonfossil sources like nuclear, wind, solar and geothermal energy will—based on today's availability—get us less than halfway toward a path of stable carbon emissions by 2050, and only a tiny fraction of the way towards stabilization by 2100.
A high carbon tax will simply hurt growth if alternative technology is not ready, making us all worse off. Mr. Green proposes that policy makers abandon carbon-reduction negotiations and make agreements to seriously invest in research and development. Mr. Green's research suggests that investing about $100 billion annually in non-carbon-based-energy research could result in essentially stopping global warming within a century or so.
A technology-led effort would have a much greater chance of actually tackling climate change. It would also have a much greater chance of political success, since countries that fear signing on to costly emission targets are more likely to embrace the cheaper, smarter path of innovation.
Cutting emissions of greenhouse gases is not the only answer to global warming. This week, a group of Nobel Laureate economists will gather at Georgetown University to consider all of the new research and identify the solutions that are most effective. Hopefully, their results will influence debate and help shift decision makers away from a narrow focus on one, deeply flawed response to global warming.
Our generation will not be judged on the brilliance of our rhetoric about global warming, or on the depth of our concern. We will be judged on whether or not we stop the suffering that global warming will cause. Politicians need to stop promising the moon, and start looking at the most effective ways to help planet Earth.—Mr. Lomborg teaches at the Copenhagen Business School and is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is the author of "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming."Printed in The Wall Street Journal Europe, page 14

How green socialism can save the UK

Britain is ideally placed to lead the world on renewable energy. But a free market lacks the nerve to avert climate change crisis

Neal Lawson, Sunday 30 August 2009 09.00 BST

It may be a crisis that is too good to waste but we have to move fast to define and win support for a progressive response to the failures of the market. But a new socialism can only be built on the politics of sustainability.
We must remember that it is not just banks that have failed. Two years into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with more than 2.4 million already without work, the official closure earlier this month of Britain's only wind turbine blade manufacturing plant, Vestas, is a sharp reminder of the failure of blind reliance on free markets to solve the economic and climate change crises. The plant's closure, with the loss of 400 jobs, was blamed on the slow pace of growth in the UK's wind turbine market and the drawn out local planning process to agree projects.
It has brought home the reality that the changes needed to protect us from catastrophic climate change are exactly the opportunities that can catalyse an upturn in our economy. Clean, fuel-free renewable energy is a huge international growth sector – allowing countries to achieve energy security, protect themselves against volatile fossil fuel prices and stimulate economic development without the consequence of dangerous carbon emissions that are the primary cause of climate change.
Worldwide in 2008, at $155bn (£95bn), more was invested in sustainable than conventional energy production. It is no coincidence that it is the world's most economically dynamic countries – such as Germany and China – that are shaping markets and driving investment to benefit from an almost exponential growth in renewable technologies.
Britain almost couldn't be better placed to profit from this emergent sector. We are one of the windiest countries anywhere in the world. We already have engineering expertise for offshore windfarms from exploiting our dwindling gas and oil reserves. The skill sets of our ailing car manufacturing industry, together with our aerospace industry, are easily transferable to wind turbine manufacturing. Research from the business advisory group the Carbon Trust shows that by 2020, the UK could capture 45% of the global offshore wind energy market, and that by 2050 our wind energy industry alone could be worth £65bn to the UK economy. Our badly hit construction sector is well placed to lead the energy efficiency revolution needed for our aged housing and public building stock. The UK wave and tidal power research and development industry is already a world leader.
We have a serious road map to deliver some of these economic and climate solutions set out by the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, in July's Low Carbon Transition Plan and Renewable Energy Strategy. The plan, which rhetorically at least has cross-party support, could create up to half a million more jobs in the UK. But, as a legacy of the free-market fundamentalist, non-strategic approach of previous energy ministers, the UK still languishes near the bottom of Europe's renewable energy league table. The sector in the UK has been hit hard by the slump in investment, including problems accessing finance.
What we need now is support for the scale of investment needed to jump start the industry, and confidence that the bumper crop of neo-Thatcherite Tory MPs heading for parliament next spring will let more than a tiny handful of wind turbines through the planning process. Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show Conservative-run councils have been blocking three times as many windfarms as they approve. Unless David Cameron publicly commits to meeting the government's target to generate 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 – and sets out a convincing strategy for how this will be achieved – his blue-green agenda will look to the public and investors like nasty party brand decontamination rather than long-term commitment.
Bold Keynesian bailouts by Alistair Darling and Lord Mandelson of other parts of the economy, notably the finance sector and car industries, have saved them from catastrophe. Along with other major bailouts internationally, they have also ended the disastrous era where state intervention was taboo. But, only £405m was allocated in the budget for developing green industries – just £108m of which is for direct funding of renewable energy development. Even the failed RBS bankers reportedly won £775m for bonuses from the chancellor. This is still nowhere near the scale of support needed capitalise on the competitive advantage we could have in clean energy.
The passion of the protesting workers and the obvious synergy of economic and environmental interests has helped to make the campaign against the Vestas plant closure a cause celebre for both the trade union and environmental movements this summer. In other parts of Europe and the US the benefits to ordinary working people are already manifest – new skilled jobs, training, more comfortable insulated homes, measures to alleviate fuel poverty and protection from spikes in fossil fuel bills. These are the kind of benefits that can be achieved here too, but only with the kind of ambition and sustained, political commitment that will attract rapid investment and overcome a knee-jerk rejection of windfarm developments.
The stakes are too high to left to anonymous free market forces driven by fossil fuel and nuclear interests. The economic cost of inaction – laid out in the authoritative Stern Review report – is bleak. Stern estimated the cost to the world economy of unabated climate change would be around 5% to 20% of gross domestic product per year – a figure that would dwarf the cost of the banking crisis. An alliance of red and green politics would transform the landscape of Britain. The moment to do it is now.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor
THE Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.
The society will this week call for a global programme of studies into geo-engineering — the manipulation of the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — as the world struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
It will suggest in a report that pouring sulphur-based particles into the upper atmosphere could be one of the few options available to humanity to keep the world cool.
The intervention by the Royal Society comes amid tension ahead of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen in December to agree global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Preliminary discussions have gone so badly that many scientists believe geo-engineering will be needed as a “plan B”.
Ken Caldeira, an earth scientist at Stanford University, California, and a member of a Royal Society working group on geo-engineering, said dust sprayed into the stratosphere in volcanic eruptions was known to cool the Earth by reflecting light back into space.
“If I had a dollar for geo-engineering research I would put 90 cents of it into stratospheric aerosols and 10 cents into everything else,” said Caldeira.
The interest in so-called aerosols is linked to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The explosion blasted up to 20m tons of tiny sulphur particles into the air, cooling the planet by about 0.5C before they fell back to earth.
The Royal Society is Britain’s premier science institution and its decision to take geo-engineering seriously is a measure of the desperation felt by scientists about climate change.
Brian Launder, a professor at Manchester University, who is also on the working group, recently said that without CO2 reductions or geo-engineering “civilisation as we know it will end within our grandchildren’s lifetime”. “The only rational scheme is to reduce the sunlight reaching Earth and to reflect back more of it,” he said.
The world’s population generates the equivalent of 50 billion tons of CO2 a year, a figure which is projected to reach 60-70 billion tons by 2030 on current trends.
Scientists warn that the planet could warm by 5C by 2100 and say emissions must fall to 20 billion tons a year by 2050 if a disaster is to be averted.
However, many researchers and policymakers regard this target as impossible.
The Royal Society report is expected to draw partly on research by Tim Lenton, professor of earth sciences at the University of East Anglia, who has just completed the first big comparison of different forms of geo-engineering.
“We estimate that 1.5-5m tons of sulphate particles could be released [artificially] into the stratosphere each year on a recurring basis,” said Lenton.
“This is quite a small amount, which makes it potentially economically viable, but it could reduce global temperature rise by up to 2C.”
The study investigates several other proposals for geo-engineering, dividing them into two broad approaches. One approach involves reducing the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface — a premise that lies behind both aerosol release and the construction of mirrors in space.
Lenton regards the latter idea as “science fiction”, pointing out that any space sunshade would need a surface area of 1.8m square miles to be effective.
Another suggestion for cutting the light reaching the Earth is cloud-whitening, where salt water is sprayed into the air from thousands of ships, producing brighter clouds.
However, the Met Office has attacked this idea in its submission to the Royal Society, warning that it could cut rainfall in areas such as the Amazon and Africa.
Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “If humanity starts messing with the world’s cloud systems it is bound to have major side effects, some of which will be dangerous.”
The other main approach to geo-engineering is to try to accelerate the rate at which CO2 is removed from the air by plants and ocean plankton, or through chemicals.
This is the basis of ideas such as ocean fertilisation, where nutrients such as iron are added to water to promote plankton growth. Plankton absorb CO2 as they grow and carry it down to the seabed when they die.
Such techniques would have relatively few adverse side effects but the disadvantage, the report will say, is that they would take far too long to make significant cuts in atmospheric CO2.
The same criticism applies to the idea of using giant artificial filters driven by nuclear power that chemically strip CO2 from the air.
John Shepherd, professor of earth system science at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, who chaired the Royal Society working party, is expected to warn of other problems. Any measures that are taken may have to be kept going for decades or even centuries.
Met Office research has suggested that if techniques such as sulphate aerosols were to be suddenly discontinued the Earth could experience a disastrous warming surge.

From margin to mainstream

Once seen as outsiders, green protest groups now have a big influence on government policy
Jonathan Leake
For Ed Miliband it was a moment of acute embarrassment. What he needed, the environment secretary had told a recent press conference, was a “mass mobilisation”, with green activists taking to the streets to put pressure on the government. This, he said, would give ministers the political space they needed to get tough on climate change.
It sounded exciting: a senior minister encouraging protest as a way of promoting rapid political change. But then came the awkward question.
“Wasn’t that exactly what the climate protesters tried to do in the recent London G20 talks?” Miliband was asked. “And didn’t that end in the police killing a bystander and sending the riot squad into a peaceful demonstration?”
A red-faced Miliband blustered: “Er ... that’s sub judice and we can’t possibly discuss it. Let’s take another question.” And he moved swiftly on.
Miliband’s awkward moment, at the launch of the government’s plans for the United Nations climate talks in December in Copenhagen, was an acute illustration of the difficult relationship between politics and protesters, such as the climate campers on Blackheath this weekend. Politicians might love some action on the streets when it’s in support of one of their pet causes — but they also fear losing power and control.
As the climate camp movement has taken off, some have suggested that Labour is struggling to resolve the dilemma. The hundreds of scruffy protesters camped out at places such as Drax power station, Heathrow, and now Blackheath, may not look like much but they have a cause and a level of sympathy that could prove powerful.
History shows that what may appear marginal protests can bring about significant social change. The campers’ predecessors, such as the suffragettes, or the anti-poll tax movement, succeeded in ways that still resonate through society today. Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth, believes governments and corporations would hardly act at all on environmental issues were it not for protest.
“One of the first environment campaigns was the one led by Greenpeace against whaling,” he said. “Killing great whales seemed normal, but the campaign changed the way people think and led to the ban on hunting that still holds today.
“Recently British environmentalists led campaigns to halt road-building and block GM crops. These were issues people had hardly thought about till we raised them, so those protests had a huge psychological impact.”
For Greenpeace, the idea that protest can bring about change is even more central to its work. It has staged direct actions against oil companies and power generators, notably at Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, which it shut down in October 2008 when protesters scaled a chimney. Although it closed the plant only temporarily, Greenpeace believes its action has made people much more aware of the link between burning coal and global warming.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The road protesters who tried to stop the Twyford Down bypass [in the early 1990s] could be seen as failing because it was built in the end, but in the longer term the roads protests forced the government to completely rethink its entire attitude to road-building. That kind of long-term change is what protest is really about.”
Recent policy shifts by all main political parties suggest the greens are beginning to have just such an impact. Four years ago, for example, the general election manifestos of both main parties had turned environmental problems into a non-issue. Labour’s election manifesto made climate change a subsection of foreign policy, while domestic green issues were buried at the end of chapter seven, after London’s Olympic bid. The party had refused to consider a climate change bill, a stance it maintained until 2007.
By contrast, Britain now has a legal commitment to cut emissions and the impact is being felt by all. This week alone sees an end to sales of some types of incandescent lightbulb, which the European Union is intent on phasing out.
It is a measure of how much influence green campaigners are exerting that Greg Clark, Conservative shadow energy and climate secretary and the man most likely to take over from Miliband after the next election, suggests the climate campers are pushing at an already open door. He said: “Britain already has one of the most progressive attitudes on climate of any country. In Copenhagen the pressure should be put on other governments. I am not sure what protest can achieve in Britain.”
Sauven agrees that Copenhagen is crucial — but for a different reason: “Politicians should think about what happens if they fail to deliver an agreement in Copenhagen to cut emissions. If that happens then people will lose all faith in the political process — and protest will be all that is left.”

The Climate Camp is too self-regarding to be effective

Charming though they are, the protesters should spend more time convincing others their arguments are sound

Peter Beaumont
The Observer, Sunday 30 August 2009
Through a fence and beyond the hay bales, past the polite inquisitors who call for a "media escort" and towards the lines of tents and hastily installed turbines and solar panels is… well, precisely what? The Climate Camp on London's Blackheath is helpfully labelled in multicoloured letters and signs, but its naming does not answer the question of what it represents. Nor do its temporary inhabitants who on Friday were being buffeted by squalls of rain.
I spot Leila Deen, famous for a minute or so for sliming Peter Mandelson. Behind her, a squad of campers, some wearing balaclavas, is being put through direct action training, charging silently among the marquees.
What bothers me is a question of function and purpose. Is this, presented as one of the models of the "new protest", all that it advertises? What is the Climate Camp in London for? Answers – some vague – are supplied by the camp's handbook in its 10 reasons to be camping here. It talks about the "tall buildings" as a symbol of the "transnational corporation", and streets as home to banks, poverty, activists and politicians. Other answers are supplied by campers: veterans of Greenham Common and Kingsnorth, and the Vesta wind turbine factory occupation on the Isle of Wight. They talk about the camp as a model of an alternative way of sustainable living. Of its organisation, through consensual democracy – everybody has an equal say in the decision-making process – as an exemplar for a new kind of society.
Its critics have levelled many charges whenever it has appeared over the last few years: for sloganeering that combines anti-capitalism with a global-warming message; actions that invite confrontation with the police; for the involvement of a sometimes aggressive anarchist fringe; even for the dilettantism and grandstanding of some of its more middle-class supporters.
And while some criticisms have a kernel of truth, it remains hard to argue that a movement fighting climate change and promoting social equality is a bad thing. But that is not the question. Rather, Climate Camp should be judged on its own ambitions. How effective is the camp in inspiring change?
It is confronting this issue that lies at the heart of one of the key works on grass-roots organising: Rules for Radicals written by Saul Alinsky who inspired US radicals in the 1960s and 1970s. A revolutionary in outlook who began agitating for social change in the Chicago stockyards in the 1930s, Alinsky's methodology has proved to have had a greater relevance and longer shelf-life than perhaps he ever expected. In recent history, it not only informed Barack Obama's early political organising, but its tactics have been adopted by the US Republican right to disrupt Obama's health policies. So how does the Climate Camp fare judged by his rules?
In some respects, Alinsky, who died in 1972, would have admired the Climate Campers' dedication. "Liberals protest; radicals rebel," he wrote. "Liberals become indignant; radicals become fighting mad and go into action." Alinsky, however, is unlikely to have approved of much of the Climate Campers' methodology. The problem with the Climate Campers is not a lack of conviction (as some commentators try to argue); it stems, rather, from an obsession with its own structures and its relationship with media and the police.
More seriously, seen from Alinsky's point of view (he believed in "not rhetoric, but realism"), the Climate Camp suffers from a preoccupation with measuring its achievements in terms of the protests it has undertaken rather than a series of achievable goals that those outside the camp movement can easily identify with.
Alinsky insisted the radical must be able to make a persuasive case for why change is necessary and urgent, a task to which the theatrics of protesting are subsidiary. He taught another crucial lesson, one that has been highly visible in the right's campaign against Obama's health reforms, that campaigners should avoid targeting abstracts such as phenomena and institutions; instead, they should single out individual figures to act as the "personification… of a particular evil". To lever their positions through ridicule and criticism.
I mention Alinsky because he seems to crystallise many of the failings, not just of the Climate Camp, but of significant sectors of the wider anti-war and anti-globalisation movement which have struggled either to articulate precisely what is their message or who have chosen, literally at times, to pitch their tent at the margins of the political debate.
While the campers are articulate in explaining the logic of this positioning and tactics in their rejection of the "hierarchical structures" of both mainstream politics – which they believe to be redundant – as well as many of Europe's green parties, which many believe to have sold out, it does not change the fact of where they have chosen to locate their activism. Outside of the conversation with decision makers.
I sit down with Martin Shaw, a 44-year-year old veteran who had his back broken in an encounter with the police. He admits that Climate Camp has had to confront how to balance living both by its own radical ideals – saying "something must happen now [on climate change]" – with being more inclusive. Shaw believes things are getting better, not least in persuading local communities into which they parachute to engage with them.
"Ten years ago, we were much more closed. But we're not naive. We recognise the media are supported by advertising from firms involved in air travel and cars with which the problem of climate change is intrinsically linked."
Another rationalisation is supplied by Ruth, a Greenham Common veteran, who believes that, as Greenham may not have "changed anything in itself", it became a symbol of an anti-nuclear movement which impacted on the public consciousness and ultimately on policy makers. A symbol. Like Brian Haw, the anti-war protester, on his endless, solitary vigil outside Westminster.
And that is the greatest threat to the campers: that their political relevance is defined not by a meaningful encounter that challenges both the political mainstream and a wider community, effecting change, but is defined, as it increasingly appears to be, by the act of protest itself.
Because the reality of an organisation for successful political change is that it requires a mass movement behind it, drawn not just from those who already passionately believe in it but from those who have been persuaded. And those who may be persuaded.
Climate Camp, with its often hazy message and complex inner negotiations, with its indulgent obsession with its own workings, its insularity and the suggestion of elitism of its direct-action hard core, is in danger of becoming about Climate Camp, the institution, rather than about the wider fight to halt global warming. With all its energy and motivation, that would be a shame.

NHS spends thousands on climate change handbook

The NHS has spent thousands of pounds on a booklet that tells nurses to put pot plants in patients' rooms to counter climate change.

Published: 8:30AM BST 29 Aug 2009
It also tells staff to consider going vegetarian, walk or cycle to work and discuss climate change with colleagues.
The little green handbook has been distributed to thousands of NHS managers at a cost of £8,000.

However at a time when the NHS is facing criticism for neglecting patients, critics questioned whether the cost was a good use of taxpayers' money.
The 56-page handbook, Sustaining a Healthy Future – Taking Action on Climate Change, was funded and put together by the NHS Confederation and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and charitable organisation, the Faculty of Publlic Health.
Some 3,500 copies, printed on recycled paper, has been distributed to NHS trusts around the country.
The NHS produces more than 18 million tonnes of CO2 every year, more than some large cities.
The handbook recommends a number of ways to reduce the carbon footprint. For example more flexible working hours, bus timetables in the staff room to encourage more people to use public transport. Teleconferencing, car sharing and cycle racks to reduce the amount of travel by car.
Pot plants on wards are suggested, as is more locally produced and vegetarian food in hospital meals. Patients are also encouraged to lower their carbon footprint and improve health by walking and cycling more and eating more locally produced food.
But Mike Penning, health spokesman for the Tories, questioned the use of taxpayers' money when the NHS is facing criticism for patient care.
A recent report by the Patients Association found that one million NHS patients have been the victims of appalling care in hospitals across Britain.
"At a time when funds are particularly precious, it is absolutely vital that every penny of taxpayers' money gets to the front line in the NHS," he said. "It is appalling that money is being wasted in this way when it could be used for patient care."
However Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of the FPH, said the handbook would help to save money by cutting energy costs as well as improving the health of staff and patients.
"The NHS is ideally placed to promote health and wellbeing by leading the battle against climate change. Cutting carbon saves money for health care and also helps save the planet's poorest families from a bleak future of droughts, flooding, food insecurity and conflict," he said.

Bestselling guru David MacKay to lead climate fight

Dominic O’Connell
A CAMBRIDGE academic who has suggested importing solar energy from the Sahara and using Scottish lakes as giant batteries is to be named the government’s scientific adviser on climate change.
David MacKay, a professor at the famous Cavendish Laboratory, has been recruited by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary. His appointment is due to be announced in a few weeks.
MacKay has this year become an international star of the climate change debate, thanks to his book, Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air. Despite being available as a free download from his website, it has turned into a bestseller.
The book’s main subject is not climate change, but energy. MacKay uses a combination of mathematics and dry wit to puncture common assumptions and in particular skewer corporate greenwash. He sets out the scale of the challenge if we are to replace conventional forms of power generation with alternatives such as wind, tidal or nuclear power.
MacKay debunks the idea that switching off appliances while they are on standby will make a significant difference to energy consumption. Turning off your mobile-phone charger between charges for a year, he points out, saves the same amount of energy required for one hot bath.
He highlights the potential to generate solar power on a massive scale in north African deserts and export it to Europe, and suggests using lochs to store the power generated by renewable sources such as wind power. The lochs would be pumped full at times of low demand, and the water released through hydro-electric turbines when the power was needed.
He has refused to be drawn into political debates about climate change policy, and refrained from backing one form of energy generation over another. “I’m not pro-nuclear, I’m pro-arithmetic,” he told an interviewer earlier in the year.
The Department of Energy, Climate Change and Conservation declined to comment last night, but senior government sources said MacKay would add impetus to the work being done on the government’s low-carbon transition plan, a blueprint for UK commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The pros and cons of investing in solar panels

Produce your own electricity and receive government grants - but this is a long-term investment
Ali Hussain
PRODUCING your own electricity can offer returns that are almost three times better than the top savings accounts, according to analysts.
From this month, until April 2010, homeowners who invest in equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines will be able to benefit from a £2,500 government grant, as well as a new “feed in tariff”, which pays for the electricity they produce — whether they use it or not.
The new tariffs will come into effect in April but by then the government grants — under the Low Carbon Building Programme — will come to an end. During this eight-month transitional period, therefore, homeowners can benefit from both.
Derry Newman, head of Solarcentury, a solar panels retailer, said: “With these government incentives overlapping, there’s never been a better time to take your energy supply into your own hands and invest in solar.”
Under the plans, which were announced in a consultation document in July, homeowners will be paid up to 36.5p for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity produced using solar panels. If electricity is exported back to the grid — when the homeowner is away, for example — an additional 5p per kWh is paid, while savings are still being made on electricity bills.
Analysts at Solarcentury suggest an average return of £825 a year is expected with the panels, which typically cost £11,000 to install. If the £2,500 grant is factored in, their cost could be recouped in just over a decade.
The return on an £8,500 investment is 9.7%. As it is tax free, this is equivalent to 16.1% for a higher-rate taxpayer. The best savings rate now offers just 5.4% gross.
However, critics suggest that the comparison is unfair. Michelle Slade of Moneyfacts, the personal finance site, said: “You cannot withdraw the money used to buy solar panels.”
There are also many hurdles before qualifying for the government grant. The home must be as energy efficient as possible before it will be considered. It has to be fully insulated — both roof and wall cavities — as well as fully double glazed, for example.
The level of funding is also limited. There is about £15m remaining, so 6,000 homes can still potentially receive support.
Today, if you already have solar panels, you will not be paid anything unless you are with a “green energy” supplier such as Good Energy. It pays 15p per kWh of electricity produced. You can apply online for the grant via the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (
The savings work out like this: a typical home will require about 3,300 kWh of electricity a year and a typical solar panel set-up, capable of producing up to 1,700 kWh a year, would cost about £11,000 to install.
Assuming you used half the electricity produced (850 kWh), you would earn £310 a year — 36.5p per kWh from the government. You would also save by reducing the amount of electricity you had to buy from your supplier. As suppliers typically charge about 13p per kWh, that's an additional saving of £110 a year. By exporting the other 850 kWh, you would earn 41.5p, totalling £353. Your total return therefore would be £773 a year.
Assuming electricity bills per unit increase by about 5% a year, you would make larger savings each year. Over the next 25 years, the average annual saving is £825, according to Solarcentury.
This assumes that the government maintains the same level of payment over the period.

Maldives find a new black gold

Jonathan Leake
For Craig Sams, life is sweet. The entrepreneur, who with co-founder Jo Fairley sold the Green & Black’s organic chocolate firm to Cadbury for a reputed £20m, has founded a biochar business, and his firm is about to announce its first deal with the government of the Maldives.
Carbon Gold, Sams’s new company, is to develop biochar projects on three islands in the Maldives, taking waste from agriculture and fishing and turning it into charcoal by roasting it in a low-oxygen atmosphere. The process turns waste into raw carbon, which can then be used to fertilise the soil.
If the trials work out, similar projects could be started on many more of the 200 or so inhabited islands in the archipelago, all part of the Maldives government’s plan to make the islands carbon-neutral by 2020.
A controversial element of the scheme is to use it to generate so-called carbon credits. These are UN-backed certificates that confirm a tonne of carbon dioxide has been prevented from entering the atmosphere, and which can be sold to other countries to offset their emissions. Carbon Gold is working with the Maldives on a plan to sell them to tourists who want to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by their flights to the holiday destination.
Dan Morrell, who co-founded Carbon Gold with Sams, said the technology had huge promise but needed to be proved in a large-scale trial — and the Maldives deal offered the right opportunity.
“This technology enables us to take invisible carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, transform it into black lumps of pure carbon and then, by ploughing it into the ground, improve soil fertility,” he said.
Under the scheme, small kilns would be installed in villages across the Maldives, controlled by the villagers, who would use them to dispose of waste and generate energy and fertiliser.
The latter alone could lead to huge savings. The soil in the Maldives is so poor that islanders have to fertilise it with cow dung imported from India at about £60 a tonne.
The Maldives, with a population of 370,000, is already among the nations worst affected by climate change — even though its emissions per person, at two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, are a fifth of the average Briton’s.
None of the islands lies more than a couple of metres above the ocean and rising sea levels plus associated erosion have already forced the evacuation of two islands. Many more are expected to follow.
If the rise in sea level by 2100 were to reach the one metre or so predicted by scientists, then only two islands would remain inhabitable. One of these is Malé, the capital, which has been protected by a giant wall built by the government of Japan. The other, ironically, is the artificial island of Thilafushi, which has been built entirely of rubbish that was dumped into what was a shallow lagoon and then topped with sand and cement.
Such environmental nightmares are the legacy of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was president of the Maldives for 30 years until he was voted out last November in the country’s first democratic elections for three decades.
Mohamed Nasheed, who replaced him, has announced that the Maldives can no longer consider such approaches. Biochar is one of a raft of technologies he wants to test as a way of disposing of waste and generating energy.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Nasheed said: “For us climate change is a disaster in the making and we have to set an example if we want the world to change. Biochar could be part of the solution so we want to try it out on three islands.
“Potentially it solves several problems. First, we can use it to get rid of waste from coconut and water-melon plantations. At the moment this is often burnt. We can also use fish waste, which is currently dumped on a reef.
“If it works we can also get heat energy from the process. And then at the end we will have biochar, which can help to improve our soil, which is generally very infertile.”
Biochar is just one of the ideas that Nasheed is backing — he also hopes to end the islands’ dependence on imported diesel for power generation by setting up wind and wave farms.
The news comes amid growing global interest, and controversy, over biochar. At its heart is a process known as pyrolysis in which organic material is roasted in an oxygen-starved environment. This breaks down the complex organic molecules, producing syngas, which can be used as fuel, and leaving behind virtually pure carbon. This can then be ground up and mixed into the soil, where the grains help to retain water and minerals and promote the growth of micro-organisms.
Many environmentalists are suspicious, however, pointing out that the response to climate change so far has been dominated by a search for similar technical solutions — all of which have later turned out to be inadequate.
In the 1990s, for example, the first generation of carbon entrepreneurs promoted the mass planting of trees. The idea withered when people realised the carbon stored in timber would be re-released when the trees died.
More recently, it was biofuels that were hyped — until it became clear that growing and processing them generated more carbon dioxide than using fossil fuels directly. What’s more, the land needed to produce such fuels was taken out of crop production, driving up food prices.
Sams and Morrell stress, however, that they do not see biochar as a global panacea but as just one technology among the many that will be needed.
Sams said: “Biochar can be an important weapon in the battle against climate change and can give mankind much needed time to develop cleaner forms of energy. It cannot be expected to compensate for increasing emission levels so it is vital that everybody plays their part in reducing energy consumption.”

Skykon to treble turbine ouput and staff as Campbeltown plant expansion approved

Published Date: 30 August 2009
By Adam Cash
SKYKON, the Danish wind turbine maker, has revealed that expansion work will begin next month at its Campbeltown factory after the firm received fast-track planning approval.
The purpose-built facility will allow Skykon to treble tower production and boost staff from 100 to 300.Niels Brix, vice-president of Skykon, said work on the new facility was expected to be completed by next summer. He told an energy trade magazine the factory – which would be operated by Welcon Towers, a Skykon subsidiary – was needed to keep up with demand for both onshore and offshore wind turbines in the UK. A research and development facility is also planned for the site.Skykon bought the Campbeltown facility from Vestas in March amid much fanfare from the Scottish Government, with First Minister Alex Salmond flying out to the Machrihanish site.The proposed closure of the Vestas facility had been mooted in August 2008, prompting the Scottish Government, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Development International (SDI) to step in and help to find a buyer.SDI awarded a regional selective assistance (RSA) grant of £9.2 million to Welcon Towers and HIE contributed about £500,000 in training support.The Danish firm also secured £35m of private capital investment to fund the expansion.When local suppliers and contractors are taken into account, the Scottish Government estimated that more than 450 jobs would be supported by the wind turbine plant.Brix said: "The market for wind is growing here and the UK is the most exciting market for us. I think the agenda about wind energy is so clear and the government and public are supportive."He said the UK had one of the strongest markets for wind energy, a fact that had influenced Skykon's decision to buy the Scottish plant.Brix also called on wind turbine makers to cooperate to meet demand and to grow the market.Earlier this month, Per Staehr was appointed as chairman of Welcon Towers to oversee the developments at Campbeltown. At the time, Skykon highlighted Staehr's experience in the sector, having previously been chairman of Danish offshore wind farm firm A2SEA.Brix's comments about the health of the UK wind energy sector came after Vestas closed its wind turbine facility on the Isle of Wight earlier this month, with the loss of 450 jobs, with Vestas claiming demand was not high enough to keep the factory open.The Scottish Government's energy target is to meet 50 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, with an interim target of 31 per cent by 2011.Scotland has been estimated to have 25 per cent of Europe's wind energy potential, as well as a quarter of Europe's tidal energy resources

Firms face Vat shock after carbon credit scam is smashed

Tricia Holly Davis
A suspected scam involving the trading of carbon credits could cost businesses that unwittingly took part millions of pounds in legal fees and penalties.
The scam, first uncovered by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in January, culminated in the arrest of seven people this month. It allegedly involves an elaborate scheme known as a carousel fraud, where goods are imported into Britain Vat-free and then sold on to a series of companies, each of which is liable to pay the standard rate of Vat on the purchase.
“There is a real risk that innocent businesses have been caught up in a chain that involves the people arrested,” said James Hurst of Grant Thornton, the auditing firm. “Any company may now be subject to investigation.”
Carbon credits allow firms to emit carbon dioxide and are traded between companies and financial institutions. Businesses buy them either as a way to offset the emissions from their operations or to comply with pollution caps set by the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
The ETS was created out of the 1997 Kyoto treaty as a way to curb emissions of climate-warming gases. It specifically limits the emissions of high energy consuming industries such as oil and manufacturing. Companies that emit more than the limit they have been set can avoid penalties by purchasing spare “allowances” from companies that have stayed within their limits.
The EU allowances market represents about 75% of the total carbon trading market. In the first half of the year, €8 billion (£7 billion) worth of allowances were traded, according to Point Carbon, a consultancy. Roughly a quarter of these deals were done in the spot market.
So far, HMRC has valued the scam at £38m. But tax-fraud experts suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg. Previous carousel fraud rings involving mobile phones and computer chips are estimated to have cost the exchequer as much as £8 billion.
The potential liability for businesses is significant because the government has the right to reclaim the Vat on any carbon trade it deems suspicious.
Exactly how much is at stake is difficult to quantify, as millions of carbon trades are made each day through various exchanges. The average value of a single carbon trade is £50,000. The Vat rate was 17.5% until the chancellor reduced it to 15% for this year.
“The law gives HMRC the right to audit any businesses that have purchased carbon credits and block their ability to recover Vat if they cannot prove that they took ‘reasonable care’ in ensuring they made the purchase from a credible company,” said Sandy Nicholson of KPMG, the accountants.
HMRC can also penalise companies retroactively for three years. Penalties can be 100% of the Vat avoided.
“The law means that any business could be treated as guilty until proven innocent,” said Nicholson.
The law also leaves open a big question as to what qualifies as “reasonable care”. As carbon trading is only about five years old, there are no hard and fast rules governing best practice. HMRC’s anti-fraud squad says businesses should follow the common commercial practices of “knowing your customer”, “knowing your supplier” and “knowing your products”.
However, business groups said this was not good enough because at present anyone can register as a carbon trader.
“Even though the government has removed Vat from carbon trades, that doesn’t mean criminals won’t find another way of committing fraud. Businesses need specific guidance on carbon trading to ensure that they are protected and to reduce their exposure to any criminal activity,” said the Engineering Employers’ Federation.
Tessa Laws, a partner at Rosenblatt, the law firm, said that until a carbon trading code of conduct is in place, the best advice to businesses is simply “buyer beware”.

Computer dumping crackdown

Danny Fortson
This summer agents from the Environment Agency raided a farm near Upminster, Essex, and an industrial site at nearby Rainham, where they found more than 50 shipping containers full of old computers, monitors and other electronic paraphernalia.
The authorities impounded the containers and brought in more than 50 people for questioning. The operation, the biggest carried out by the watchdog, was part of a crackdown on the illegal shipping of old equipment for dumping abroad. The trade has exploded since 2007, when Europe’s WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive came into force, requiring manufacturers to provide for recycling old kit.
“Organisations have sprung up to exploit the system by saying they will collect it for recycling and then just dumping it somewhere abroad because it’s cheaper,” said Gerrard Fisher, sustainable products programme manager at Wrap, the government’s recycling adviser. “The challenge is getting hold of the stuff, to make people bring it in and then being able to track it.”
Dell thinks it has the answer. The world’s second-biggest computer maker is the first in the industry to offer free pickup of old computers when customers, businesses or individuals buy a new machine. The programme has been a big success. It has already recycled 125,000 tonnes of IT equipment.
The critical element, said Jean Cox-Kearns, recycling manager at Dell, is that roughly half that material is handled by firms that have signed up to what she called a “very burdensome set of requirements” that calls on them to provide detailed reports at every step.
She admitted that the audit trail on the other half, done through contractors funded under the directive to collect the electronic waste on behalf of the industry, is “not as clean”. She added: “There is a huge amount of informal collection and that’s what leads to these mounds in India and Africa.” The European Commission is in talks to tighten up policing of the directive but legislation is at least 18 months away.
By any measure, recycling is still in its infancy. Even with the convenience of home-pickup, Cox-Kearns said that fewer than 10% of customers take advantage of the offer. Most of the overall tonnage of old electricals recycled is accounted for by heavy items such as refrigerators and washing machines. Computers are more difficult to deal with; they must first have their data wiped and the plastics are often coated with a semi-toxic film of flame retardant.
The initiative is nonetheless indicative of a recognition by the technology industry that, like so many other sectors, it must start dealing with its environmental impact.
Green Idea: Bask in the eco glow of soya candles
Prince Charles is coming to dinner. How do you prove to him that you are greener than green? If you absolutely must show off your eco-credentials to dinner guests, you could opt for candles made from soya oil rather than the usual paraffin wax. Soya wax can claim to be more environmentally friendly because it comes from the soya bean, a renewable resource. You can find one supplier online at

Houses that Labour built put rivers in peril

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

SOME of Britain’s most picturesque rivers and tributaries are at risk of running dry because of the government’s house-building programme, a study has found.
Waterways facing the worst depletion include the Kennet, the Itchen and the Lee — all in southern England, where development pressure is greatest.
However, rivers have been affected throughout England and Wales, and the Environment Agency is seeking permission to revoke or reduce 380 licences that allow water companies and other users to extract supplies.
Rose Timlett, a freshwater campaigner at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which commissioned the research, said Labour’s decision in 1998 to approve up to 5m new homes, mostly in southern England, had ignored the impact on rivers.
“About 35 billion litres of water are taken from rivers in England and Wales each day,” she said. “Water levels have fallen, and that will get worse as more homes are built.”
Rivers in trouble include the Kennet, which every day supplies 53,000 homes with 19m litres of water as it flows from the North Wessex Downs through Wiltshire countryside before meeting the Thames at Reading. Some 30,000 of those homes are in Swindon, where a further 30,000 properties are planned by 2026.
Some Kennet tributaries have already vanished because Thames Water also pumps up to 8m litres of water a day from natural underground reservoirs, so lowering the surrounding water table.
Eilidh and Phil Jenkins, who live with their daughters Bethan, 11, and Molly, 10, fear a similar impact on the Itchen, which runs close to their home. Flowing from the chalk hills of the South Downs, east of Winchester, to Southampton, it supplies 400,000 homes with 120m litres of water a day. Another 80,000 new homes are planned for the area.
Eilidh, 39, a psychologist, said: “We walk and cycle alongside the river, which sustains water meadows and wildlife. If the level dropped it would do a lot of damage.”
Similar problems afflict the upper tributaries of the River Lee, which flows from a source near Luton, to the Thames.
The Mimram, Beane, Ash, Rib and Stort flow through 14 nature reserves in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and are a haven for species such as otter, water vole, bittern and brown trout. However, they are also a main water source for the burgeoning towns of Luton, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Hertford, with 409m litres taken daily for 1.2m homes.
Some Lee tributaries, such as the Mimram, already dry out in the summer, while the Beane is just a ditch because its water goes to Stevenage.
The WWF study, called Rivers on the Edge, found the tributaries to be so depleted that, in dry periods, most of the water running in the Lee comes from sewage treatment plants. Despite such problems, however, the region has been earmarked for tens of thousands of new homes, including 16,000 in Stevenage alone.
Dr Tom Tew, chief scientist of the government conservation watchdog Natural England, said: “We are abstracting too much water from our finest rivers, and new homes will make it worse. It is unsustainable and we cannot continue.”
Such warnings are echoed by the Environment Agency, which has named other British rivers affected, including the Avon in Gloucestershire, the headwaters of the Ribble in North Yorkshire, the Dart — which flows across Dartmoor in Devon — and the Wensum in Norfolk.
Both organisations believe a key underlying problem is that water companies have been allowed to retain water-abstraction licences issued before the introduction of national legislation in 1963. As such licences have no expiry date, companies can keep taking water regardless of changed conditions. This is compounded by surging demand for water to irrigate gardens and supply washing machines, dishwashers and power showers. Each person in Britain now uses 146 litres of water a day.
Catherine Wright, head of water resource management at the Environment Agency, which wants to revoke or reduce 380 of the existing 20,000 abstraction licences, said: “We can only change licences with the approval of the environment secretary, which makes it a very lengthy process.”
Although the government is considering changing the law to streamline the system, this has been fiercely resisted by the water industry.
Barrie Clarke, a spokesman for Water UK, which represents Britain’s 23 water companies, said that while the industry accepted there was some damage from existing licences, there was no case for imposing time limits on all licences.
“The growth in the number of homes is going to increase the demand for water,” he said. “What’s crucial is to get the planning right, and that is the responsibility of the government, Environment Agency and local authorities. We do not have the final say, but we do have to supply the water.”

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Water firms oppose pipe network plan

Utilities oppose moves by regulator to give rival companies access to their regional supplies
The Observer, Sunday 30 August 2009
Water companies are blocking plans to allow water to be moved from the north to the south east of England, where climate change and a growing population is making it more scarce, as part of a shake-up of the industry.
The Environment Agency, a government body, has formed a working group with regulator Ofwat to look at forcing companies to give competitors access to their regional monopolies on water supplies.
Introducing competition in this way would cut consumers' bills, according to some executives and regulators. They accuse water companies of choosing instead to build unnecessary reservoirs and desalination plants to supply customers because spending more helps them to boost profits.
The regulator fixes how much water companies can spend on infrastructure, but allows them to keep any savings they might make. This means that companies like Thames Water can make bigger profits by spending billions of pounds building new infrastructure such as new reservoirs and desalination plants to increase supplies, than by the potentially cheaper way of importing the water from different regions.
Next month, the government will also formally respond to a review of the water markets by Professor Martin Cave, which has raised the prospect of the biggest changes to the industry since privatisation, and which will then go out to consultation.
But Severn Trent Water, one of the few industry advocates of competition, and the Environment Agency say that water companies are resisting the plans, which would see supplies transferred around the country to where they were needed most.
Customer bills have to rise to pay for companies' increased spending. Companies want to raise bills by 1.7% before inflation each year on average over the next five years, with Thames Water asking for a 3% above inflation annual rise. The regulator will fix prices in November and talks with water companies will intensify over the next few weeks.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resource policy at the Environment Agency, said it was talking to the regulator and the environment department about how to remove the disincentives for water companies to transfer water to other companies. "Companies may say they are in favour of competition, but in reality, they may also benefit from a regional monopolies structure and it could be in their interests to build desalination plants and reservoirs to supply customers," he added. "We estimate some significant future investments in reservoirs and desalination plants could be cancelled if more water is shared, which could result in lower bills or at least a lower increase in bills."
Unlike the electricity industry, only limited competition exists in the water sector. Water is much more expensive to transport over long distances than electricity or gas, which means that most water used by households and businesses comes from their area via their local company. But worsening climate change and shifting demographics are forcing the government and regulators to rethink this approach. Rainfall levels are dropping in the south-east with the resulting water shortage exacerbated by a rising population. The population of London alone is expected to rise from 7.56m to 9.11m by 2031. Most companies are predicting a supply shortage over the next 25 years with the Environment Agency forecasting that only Northumbrian Water, which owns Kielder Water reservoir, will not suffer a deficit by 2035 if no new reservoirs or pipelines are built.
The idea of a "national grid for water" to move it around the country has long been mooted but dismissed as too expensive. Severn Trent argues that building "inter-connects", or small pipelines linking different regional networks, would do the same job and cost far less. The company wants the Environment Agency to make it easier for different suppliers to obtain licences to abstract water from reservoirs. The regulator would also have to force companies to give fair access to their networks of pipelines to allow these suppliers to transfer water to their customers. Rival water companies claimed Severn Trent, which stretches from the river Severn near Bristol to the Humber in the north-east, was only advocating competition because it would benefit from charging for the use of its vast network.
Jeanne Golay, economic regulation adviser at trade body Water UK, said that competition should not be introduced for the sake of it and that companies were best placed to judge how to secure supplies for customers.
If competition of this kind was introduced, it is not known how much it would cost to build the pipelines to link all the regional networks. The Environment Agency thinks that this system would be the cheapest way to ensure that water-scarce regions, particularly the south-east, are kept supplied. It estimates that a third of the new reservoirs and desalination plants planned would not be needed as a result.
But Johan van den Arend Schmidt, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said it was impossible to say which option would be the cheapest, and argued that moving water around the country would be very expensive. "It's not impossible to put in some water pipes from one area to another," he said. "But building that infrastructure and pumping the water is not cheap and the main focus at the moment is on keeping bills low. Whether customers or regulator would accept an increase of up to 10% in bills to save on one or two hosepipe bans is not clear. Another way to ensure supplies of water is to cut waste and usage."

Supercomputer in the firing line over carbon footprint

It's impossible to ignore the irony that the Met Office supercomputer dedicated to modelling climate change has an enormous carbon footprint. But critics just miss the point
In the past I've written about the internet's energy footprint, and raised the question of whether we should consider ways to drastically reduce the power consumed by data centres as our lives go increasingly online.
So it was with more than a little interest that I read this story about the Met Office's weather-predicting supercomputer - and how, ironically, it has a pretty big carbon footprint.
According to a study by the Department of Communities looking into the footprints of public buildings around the UK, the £33m IBM cluster produces up to 75% of the carbon emissions from the Met Office's HQ in Exeter. That means it's responsible for a good deal of their annual output of 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide - one of the highest totals in the country.
It's an easy headline, of course - and probably feels particularly sweet for those who revel in poking at climate change scientists (and they are certainly a vocal group). But the delight in this irony is also driven, in part, by the misplaced assumption that a climate scientist would think that all carbon emissions are bad.
Are all CO2 emissions equal? Well I'm certainly happier to see carbon being spent solving the world's biggest problems than ferrying people around the globe for business meetings they could do through teleconferencing.
And, of course, it's all relative in any case. Supercomputers in the past used vast amounts of energy to run, and were extremely primitive by comparison to today's beasts - on a visit to the Museum of Computer History earlier this year, I saw an old IBM machine that used the same amount of power as a small town but had just a few KB of memory. The Met Office machine hopes to be able to run at a Petaflop soon - that's 1 thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) calculations every second.
The truth is that while the public rarely thinks about supercomputers - except, perhaps, when there's a chess game at stake - these machines do amazing work that is impossible to replicate elsewhere. These are the machines that fold proteins, that crunch data from particle accelerators; they are the sort of machines that could help cure cancer - or, in the case of the Met's cluster, save thousands of lives by accurately modelling a climate-related disaster. It's worth thinking about.

Leave population out of climate talks, Indian minister says

Jairam Ramesh claims there is a move among western countries to bring India's rapidly growing population into climate change negotiations
Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Friday 28 August 2009 17.10 BST
Western nations are trying to use India's "profligate reproductive behaviour" to force Delhi to accept legally binding emission reduction targets, India's environment minister said today.
Speaking at a conference in the Indian capital, organised by Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment, Jairam Ramesh said there was a "move in western countries to bring population into climate change [negotiations]. Influential American thinktanks are asking why should we reward profligate reproductive behaviour? Why should we reward India which is adding 14 million people every year?"
Ramesh's speech comes as the 100 day countdown begins to the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, which will agree on a successor to the Kyoto agreement, due to expire in 2012. Developing nations such as India and China were not constrained by the Kyoto agreement, and western nations now argue that these rapidly growing economies should sign up to legally binding emission targets.
India's population of over 1 billion means that while it is the world's fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, its per capita emissions are just one-twentieth of the United States. However, its population is rising quickly and the United Nations predicts India will have 1.7 billion people by 2050 – while China will by then have a population of 1.4 billion.
It is understood that American diplomats had raised the issue of overpopulation with the Indian delegation during talks when US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, visited New Delhi earlier this year.
Ramesh said that at "today's state of development" India could not and should not accept "legally binding reduction targets". The minister added that the Indian government saw per capita emissions rising from one tonne of carbon dioxide to "three or four" by 2030.
"For us this is about survival. We need to put electricity into people's homes and do it cleanly. You in the west need to live with only one car rather than three. For you it is about luxury. For us survival."
The Indian government – along with 37 other developing nations – has argued that rich nations such as the US should set a goal of cutting emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.
"Once developed countries have shown demonstrable proof of their seriousness then India can think of going to next stage. At a time when every (rich) country is in violation of the Kyoto protocol obligation to ask China and India to take on legal targets smacks of hypocrisy."
Finance is one of the key sticking points, as poorer nations demand huge amounts of cash to buy technologies and adapt their nations to climate change. Richer nations have proved reluctant to commit. One recent estimate, highlighted by Pakistan's chief Copenhagen negotiator, Farrukh Iqbal Khan, who has worked closely with Indian counterparts, put the cost at £265bn a year.
Asked what he might say to the UK climate change minister, Ed Miliband, who arrives next week, Ramesh said pointed out that the only leader to come up with a "concrete offer (of money)" was Gordon Brown. "He said earlier this year that there should be a fund of $100bn (£60bn). We don't know if that is every year or what. But it is an offer on the table."
Ramesh, who has just returned from Beijing, said that India and China had agreed to "coordinate all actions" before multilateral meetings. He said that the only difference was that a Chinese thinktank had called for Beijing to "peak emissions" by 2030. Ramesh said the Chinese chief negotiator on climate change had assured him that this was "thinktank policy not government policy".

Friday, 28 August 2009

TckTckTck: It's not too late to build a safer world

An unprecedented alliance of organisations have come together under the TckTckTck campaign for a good deal in Copenhagen
Kumi Naidoo, Friday 28 August 2009 13.26 BST
This December – just 100 days from now – the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen will begin. There's a lot of expectation around this meeting because world leaders have committed to agreeing a historic treaty to tackle the biggest crisis facing humanity.
The meeting is expected to draft and ratify a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012. Simply put, the outcome of these talks will determine the future of our planet.
We are already experiencing climate change. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability – hallmarks of climate change – are affecting people's rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter and culture in all corners of the world today. Already – with an average temperature rise of less than 1C – climate change kills more than 300,000 people each year.
With this in mind, the clear reason for the expectation around Copenhagen is that if the right deal is struck, we can halt the worst of climate change before everybody is affected. Plus, we can fight the downturn by creating green jobs and building access to renewable energy for all. We can improve the world we live in, instead of consigning millions to homelessness and poverty – or worse.
Because of the potential of this deal, an unprecedented alliance of organisations – including faith and youth groups, unions, environmental and development NGOs, such as WWF, Oxfam International, Consumers International and Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum, plus a number of high-profile supporters– have come together under the TckTckTck campaign. We believe that only by working together in a broad alliance will we have the size, power and influence to ensure a good deal in Copenhagen.
Now is the time for world leaders to give this crisis their attention. They must commit now to attending the talks in Copenhagen where they must sign a deal that is fair, ambitious and binding and that reflects the latest science. Governments must get behind a treaty that reduces developed country emissions by at least 40% by 2020.
Tackling climate change is an issue of justice. Rich countries have been responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore must take responsibility for dealing with crisis in a fair and equitable way. The deal must therefore enable and support poor countries to adapt to the worst consequences of the climate crisis, as well as reducing their emissions. The deal must protect marginalised communities in rich and poor countries.
The Copenhagen deal should be ambitious and ensure that global greenhouse emissions peak no later than 2017. It must create a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all and establish necessary conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for people, flora and fauna. It must be binding and must be able to be verified and enforced.
With just 100 days to go until the meeting begins, and with climate scientists painting a bleaker future at even 2C of warming, time is running out.
But it is not yet too late. There is still time to build a greener safer world, but the clock is ticking.
• Kumi Naidoo chairs TckTckTck and is honorary president of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Climate change will cost the world more than £300 billion, say scientists

The world will have to spend three times as much adapting to the effects of climate change such as flood, disease and deforestation than previously though, scientists have said.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 6:00PM BST 27 Aug 2009

Oxfam staged an underwater family to highlight the risk of sea rises due to climate change
The UN originally said it would cost just £25 to £105 billion ($40-170 billion), or the cost of about three Olympic Games per year, from 2030 to pay for the sea defences, increase in deaths and damage to infrastructure caused by global warming.
However a new study by leading scientific body the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London estimated it will cost more than triple that amount per annum.
The report found that the previous estimates by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change failed to take into account various factors including the increase in storms in previous years due to global warming, a number of diseases caused by warmer weather and "ecological services" such as rainfall and cloud cover provided by the rainforest.
Professor Martin Parry, a former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the earlier estimate missed out key sectors such as energy, manufacturing, retailing, mining and tourism. He said the cost will be even more when the full range of impacts of a warming climate are considered such as human migrations and refugees.
“Just looking in depth at the sectors the UNFCCC did study, we estimate adaptation costs to be two to three higher, and when you include the sectors the UNFCCC left out the true cost is probably much greater,” he said.
Prof Parry said the UK alone would have to spend "several billion" on flood defence, rebuilding roads and upgrading houses against the heat.
"The UK alone is going to be several billion so the global numbers have to be more than the UN is currently talking about," he said.
Prof Parry was talking 100 days before more than 90 countries meet in Copenhagen for a UNFCCC conference on climate change. The meeting over two weeks is expected to come up with a new deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Rich countries are expected to make drastic cuts to carbon emissions in order to slow global warming but poorer countries are unlikely to agree to anything until they are confident the world will provide enough money for adaptation. At the moment the Governments of developed countries have only committed to around £60 billion per annum.
Prof Parry said a lot more money needs to be made available.
“The amount of money on the table at Copenhagen is one of the key factors that will determine whether we achieve a climate change agreement,” he said. “But previous estimates of adaptation costs have substantially misjudged the scale of funds needed.”
International aid agency Oxfam staged a stunt at London Aquarium to raise awareness of the meeting at Copenhagen.
Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam, said the photograph of an ordinary family under the water was intended to illustrate the risk of sea level rise if nothing is done to stop global warming.
“This light-hearted photo sends a very serious message – it is time for politicians to act in Copenhagen if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Today the poorest people are being hit hard by extreme weather events and other climate shocks, it is for their sake that we must push for a fair deal in Copenhagen," she said.
Oxfam wants leaders in rich countries to commit to a 40 per cebt cut in carbon emissions by 2020 and earmark at least £93 billion a year to help poor countries adapt to the impact of climate change and reduce their emissions.

'Fake trees' could fight climate change

Forests of "fake trees" should be planted across the country to reduce the impact of climate change, according to a study.

By Ben LeachPublished: 8:05AM BST 27 Aug 2009

The scientists argue that a single synthetic tree could capture ten tons of carbon dioxide from the air every day
Experts claim the devices would be able to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 100,000 of them would remove the carbon emissions of every car, lorry and bus in Britain.
The scientists argue that a single synthetic tree, which would be two-thirds as tall as a wind turbine, could capture ten tons of carbon dioxide from the air every day, making it thousands of times more efficient at absorbing CO2 than a real tree.

The study, by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, into how technology could prevent climate change argues that using technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere could buy the world vital time.
The trees, which would cost around £15,000, would be coated with synthetic materials that absorb CO2, which would then be removed and stored underground in depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs.
The study also calls for pots of algae that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere to be used to line buildings. The algae could then be used as green biofuels for cars.
Painting buildings white can also help reduce the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the Earth, keeping it cool. The institution wants millions of pounds to be invested in research on technology to beat the threat of global warming to Britain.
Dr Tim Fox, one of the report's authors, said: "Geo-engineering may give us those extra few years of transition to a low- carbon world and prevent any one of the future climate change scenarios we all fear."
The report also claims that unless we act soon global warming will continue unabated and predicts that global temperatures could increase as much as 6c by 2100, creating food and water shortages, sea level rises and massive refugee crises.

Climate change supercomputer makes Met building one of Britain's most polluted

Jenny Booth
The Met Office's new supercomputer has scored it's second own goal since it was unveiled with much fanfare in May.
After tempting the nation into holidaying in Britain by wrongly forecasting a "barbecue Summer", it has now earned the Met Office's Exeter headquarters the shame of being named as one of the most polluting buildings in Britain.
By the time it reaches peak performance in 2011 the £30 million machine's massive processing power - it can perform 125 trillion calculations per second - will require 1.2 megawatts of power to run, enough energy to power a small town.
As a result it will contribute 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the problem of global warming every year.
That places the Met Office HQ close to the top of the list of carbon emitters - 103rd out of 28,259 UK public buildings assessed for their carbon footprint by the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Barry Gromett, a Met Office spokesman, came to the defence of the machine, claiming that its severe weather warnings could help to save lives and its predictions for the airline industry helped to save 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. He also defended the Met Office building.
“Our supercomputer is vital for predictions of weather and climate change," said Mr Gromett.
“By failing to discriminate between office and supercomputing facilities the process reflects badly on the entire Met Office site. In fact, the general office space is rated excellent and has consistently done so since the Met Office building in Exeter was completed in 2003.”
The supercomputer analyses data from satellite images and sea temperature gauges. Its supporters say it will be able to predict previously unforeseeable weather events, such as the 1987 hurricane that unexpectedly devastated Britain.
By 2011 it will offer processing power approaching 1 PetaFlop - equivalent to more than 100,000 PCs and over 30 times more powerful than what is currently in place.
Maurice Spurway, a Friends of the Earth spokesman, said it was wryly amusing that the Met Office had been fingered for damaging the climate.
“Life is full of ironies and I think this is one of those situations,” he said.
Manchester University's Oxford Road campus was named the most polluting building in Britain in the government survey, followed by the Royal London Hospital and Scarborough Sports Centre.

A crucial climate vote lost with Ted Kennedy's death

The push for a climate-change bill in the Senate lost a reliable supporter with the death of Edward Kennedy., Thursday 27 August 2009 13.10 BST
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's environmental legacy was remarkable, wide-ranging, and not all roses. Joe Romm's got an early look at his record.
But there's one clear and simple impact of Kennedy's death late Tuesday night: The push for a climate-change bill in the Senate lost a reliable supporter.
That push needs absolutely every vote it can get. Check out Grist's running count of Senate votes to see just how close a vote could be.
It will take months to get a replacement for Kennedy in the Senate. He called on Massachusetts state lawmakers to change the rules so the governor could appoint an immediate successor, but they haven't acted. The state is expected to hold a special election to fill Kennedy's seat in January. Massachusetts voters are likely to elect another Democrat who supports climate legislation, but by next year that could be too late. The big Copenhagen climate-treaty talks will take place in December, and the Obama administration, leaders from other countries, and climate activists around the world want Congress to have passed a climate bill before then, so the U.S. can come to the negotiating table with something in hand.
The early chatter about Kennedy's death is all about the impact on health-care legislation. New York magazine has a roundup of commentary on whether his passing will help or hurt a health-care bill. I'm not sure what to make of the idea that senators might be more willing to pass a bill in tribute to Kennedy. Or the idea that this mortality check might convince them to take a break from delaying, posturing, fear-mongering, and pandering to their industry funders on the health-care issue. It seems even less likely anything like that would happen with a climate bill. Kennedy took climate change plenty seriously, but it wasn't his signature issue—health care was.
Personally, I'm taken by this brief thought from Matt Yglesias, who starts with Kennedy's closing line from his 1980 Democratic Convention speech,
"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
... what I take Kennedy to be doing here is trying to offer an alternative to the boom-bust mentality that I think often overtakes American progressives. There's a tendency to get extremely wound up with optimism about the imminent dawn of sudden and radical change for the better, and then intensely bitter, cynical, and depressed when that fails to materialize. The reality, however, is that change is hard. That's not an excuse for the people who stand in its way, it's the reality. But if you respond to the difficulty of making things better by giving up or getting frustrated, then it only gets harder.
Building a better country and a world is work—hard work—and it's work that goes on. And on. And on.
• This article was shared by our content partner Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network