Thursday, 22 January 2009

Price of CO2 permits falls to new low in Europe

By James Kanter
Published: January 21, 2009

BRUSSELS: The price of permits to emit carbon dioxide hit a new low this week in Europe, exacerbating concerns that efforts to make energy systems greener were falling victim to the global economic slowdown.
The price of permits has fallen by nearly 70 percent since reaching a high of €32.90 in April 2006 as companies produce less and pollute less, according to James Ash, head of European emissions at Spectron Environmental, a brokerage company in London. Prices for permits hit a low of €10.81 on Tuesday, though prices recovered to about €11.50, or $14.80, by late Wednesday.
"With the downturn of the European economy, some factories and companies no longer need permits," Ash said. "What we are probably seeing is these permits coming to the market."
Another factor in the price drop is the falling cost of less-polluting fossil fuels like natural gas, experts said. When that gas is expensive, energy producers rely more on coal, which emits higher levels of CO2 and increases demand for carbon permits. When natural gas is cheap, the demand for permits drops.
Factories and utilities in Europe are supposed to shrink their carbon footprints to help each country meet mandated targets. The low prices for permits are a concern because companies will have fewer economic incentives to make their production processes cleaner.
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And while the recession almost certainly means emissions will decline anyway, any apparent gain for the climate was "a double-edged sword over the longer term due to the impact on new investment," said Imtiaz Ahmad, an executive director and carbon markets trader at Morgan Stanley in London.
"Generators and operators of industrial plants are more likely to conserve cash and seek to run older, less efficient plant for longer rather than deploy new plant," Ahmad said. "The deployment of the renewable projects and newer, more efficient plants would have reduced emissions. Therefore cancellation or material delays will result in higher emissions than would have otherwise been the case," he said.
Under the EU system, companies mostly are allocated for free all of the permits they need to cover their projected emissions for a year, one permit good for each ton of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. If companies produce more gases than expected, they have to buy more permits. If they come in below target, they are able to sell their extra permits to companies that were polluting over their limit.
Some analysts blamed the recent price collapse on flaws in the EU system, in particular on the way governments are permitted to distribute most permits free of charge.
"If the allowances were all auctioned, this kind of selling would not be happening," said Mark Lewis, the head of carbon research at Deutsche Bank in Paris. EU officials "created an incentive for some industries to sell into a falling market," he said, arguing that if companies had been forced to buy the permits in the first place, they would have been less likely to have surpluses to sell.
Three years ago the nascent EU system virtually collapsed because governments had handed out too many permits to favored industries like steel and utilities. Once carbon traders got wind that there was a surplus of permits on the market, they drove the price down to nearly zero.
Since that last collapse, the European Commission has done a great deal to tighten the process of allocating permits by governments in order to prevent a recurrence. Commission officials have been much tougher with governments, only approving national plans that aim to ensure a scarcity of permits.
After 2012, the process of allocating permits will be centralized to try to keep heavy lobbying by polluters from influencing how carbon permits are issued.
Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said policy makers at the commission favored auctioning permits to companies rather than distributing them for free.
While she would not comment on the price levels of carbon permits, Helfferich also said that the system remained effective. "There will be ups and downs, but companies still will have to reduce their emissions," she said.
Even so, a further precipitous fall in the price of carbon permits would be an ominous development for European officials, who oversee the world's largest carbon trading system and are seeking a vote of confidence in their model by persuading the United States, under President Barack Obama, to adopt a similar system.
"A big lesson from Europe for President Obama is that his administration should devise a scheme that auctions all the allowances," said Lewis, the Deutsche Bank executive. "I think the United States can and will do better" than Europe, he said.

British government schemes to undermine European emissions law

UK officials want to weaken European proposed laws that would limit the UK's emissions – but which they say will boost bills and cut supplies
David Gow, Wednesday 21 January 2009 17.38 GMT

The UK government is lobbying to water down proposed EU legislation to impose tough new emission limits on power plants in order to guarantee Britain's energy security and keep down electricity prices.
Whitehall is warning, according a briefing document leaked to green campaigners and seen by the Guardian, that electricity prices would increase by 20% if the proposed legislation isn't changed. It is also concerned that the new rules would threaten the security of the UK's electricity supply.
The proposed European directive would pose a serious threat to the construction of the Kingsnorth power station in Kent – the UK's first new coal plant for three decades. Campaigners accuse ministers of "planning for failure" by seeking to expand coal generation capacity and keep "dirty" coal stations open when they should instead focus on hitting renewable energy and efficiency targets. Coming just days after the decision to expand Heathrow by adding a third runway, they see it as the latest example of the government not living up to its rhetoric on climate change (see panel).
Tomorrow the environment committee of the European Parliament will vote on more than 500 amendments tabled to the proposed new legislation – the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive.
The proposed IPPC directive incorporates changes to current legislation such as the large combustion plant legislation (LCPD) and lays out tighter limits, for example on sulphur dioxide emissions.
The 4-page leaked Whitehall paper is a briefing note prepared for MEPs. It says that the LCPD directive "raises potentially serious issues about security of electricity supply" and could even damage "moves to low-carbon electricity generation".
Current EU laws allow power stations that are not fitted with equipment to remove sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide to operate for a limited period each day, but only until 2015. This affects around a seventh (10.5GW) of Britain's electricity generation capacity. Whitehall says that up to a further 8GW of generating capacity may close if the proposed tougher rules in the IPPC directive are applied – meaning that in 2015 around a quarter of capacity would shut at the same time. According to the document this would reduce the margin for error at times of high power demand.
"With projected new investments, electricity capacity margins (spare capacity to meet exceptionally cold winters or temporary plant shutdowns) are projected to fall from around 10% to around 7% from the beginning of 2016 and remain depressed for some three years after," the paper says.
It adds: "That period of reduced security margin will be reflected in electricity price increases of some 20% above those which are predicted in the absence of the proposed [Large Combustion Plant] provisions."
The paper sounds a drastic warning that it may prove impossible to build and operate replacement plant by the end of 2015, saying this would "exacerbate the risks and shortfalls" outlined.
"Moreover, since investment decisions and design need to be completed within the next two years to meet a 2016 deadline, such plant is therefore almost certain to be built using currently commercialised technologies which, of course, do not currently include carbon capture and storage (CCS)," says the document, which is entitled "UK Concerns on the Proposed Recast Industrial Emissions (IPPC) Directives Provisions Concerning Large Combustion Plants.
The government is calling for greater flexibility to be introduced into the proposed IPPC directive, which covers some 500 power plants across Europe, so that UK electricity and gas supplies are not threatened. It has won some backing from other EU countries which would like the new law to take effect from 2020.
Robin Oakley, head of the climate campaign for Greenpeace, said: "Independent research from Europe's leading energy experts, Poyry, shows that if the government hits its existing renewables and efficiency targets there is absolutely no need to keep dirty coal stations open or to build new ones like E.ON's proposal for Kingsnorth. Britain should be leading Europe's efforts to clean up the power sector, not attempting to weaken them."
Chris Littlecott, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance thinktank, said: "We are concerned that the EU package does not do enough, particularly on coal. Leaving everything up to the emissions trading scheme (ETS) when the price of carbon is dropping and not pushing through CCS is not good enough."
MEPs have also been angered by the decision of the environment committee chair Miroslav Ouzky to refuse amendments allowing CO2 emissions performance standards for combustion plants similar to those that exist in California. He insists these lie outside the proposed directive and should be covered by the EU's climate change package adopted at last month's summit.
Talk, not action
The government has this month been accused of hypocrisy for promising action on climate change, while going ahead with plans for a third runway at Heathrow. It has repeatedly attempted to water down EU environmental proposals behind the scenes. In September, leaked documents seen by the Guardian revealed that it was lobbying for aviation to be removed from renewable energy targets. The documents also revealed that the Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform wanted to change a pledge that all new and refurbished buildings should be fitted with renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power. Instead, countries would only have to increase "gradually" the minimum level of energy from renewable sources. The previous year the UK government lobbied other EU countries to set lower renewable targets.James Randerson

Winds of change: Blair calls for new climate change agreement

Terry Macalister in Abu Dhabi
The Guardian, Thursday 22 January 2009

Tony Blair has urged Gordon Brown and other leaders not to allow the financial crisis to get in the way of the fight against climate change. Speaking at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, the former prime minister called for a new global agreement setting tough interim targets up to 2020 to "transform" countries into low-carbon economies. He said: "It is right now, at the instant when our thoughts are centred on the economic challenge, that we must not set to one side the challenge of global warming, but instead resolve to meet it and put the world on the path to a sustainable future."
Blair outlined steps needed through a "global compact". "It needs not just a 2050 target but an interim target to get there, for example a target for 2020 that shows seriousness of intent and gives business a clear, unequivocal signal to invest in a low-carbon future."
The world's biggest wind turbine maker, Vestas, underlined the shift in priorities by announcing yesterday that the downturn had left it with excess manufacturing capacity of 15% as demand falls short of projections. Despite political impetus, the financial crisis had cut demand, said Ditlev Engel, the Danish company's chief executive.
"Six months ago everyone said we were not doing enough to meet demand growing at an expected 40% this year," he said. "Now people are saying 'Why have you put in place plans for a 40% increase in capacity when growth levels are only going to be 25%?'."
The firm is investing €2.5bn (£2.3bn) over four years to raise its capacity so it will be able to supply 10,000MW of equipment by 2010, compared with half this amount in 2005.
Goldman Sachs warned this week that wind and solar firms faced a rough ride. "The most important theme in 2009 within the alternative energy space will be a move from severe under-supply to one of at least a more balanced market and potentially serious oversupply."

Scientists solve enigma of Antarctic 'cooling'

Research 'kills off' climate sceptic argument by showing average temperature across the continent has risen over the last 50 years
Damian Carrington, Friday 23 January 2009 18.00 GMT

West Antarctica, shown in red, has warmed far more than the east over the last 50 years Photograph: EJ Steig/Nasa
Scientists have solved the enigma of the Antarctic apparently getting cooler, while the rest of the world heats up.
New research shows that while some parts of the frozen continent have been getting slightly colder over the last few decades, the average temperature across the continent has been rising for at least the last 50 years.
In the remote and inaccessible West Antarctic region the new research, based on ground measurements and satellite data, show that the region has warmed rapidly, by 0.17C each decade since 1957. "We had no idea what was happening there," said Professor Eric Steig, at the University of Washington, Seattle, and who led the research published in Nature.
This outweighs the cooling seen in East Antarctica, so that, overall, the continent has warmed by 0.12C each decade over the same period. This matches the warming of the southern hemisphere as a whole and removes the apparent contradiction.
The issue, which had been highlighted by global warming sceptics, was an annoyance, said Steig, despite the science having been reasonably well understood. "But it has now been killed off," he said.
Gareth Marshall, climatologist at British Antarctic Survey, commented: "This work allows us to look at the continent as a whole, which we have not been able to do before with confidence. It fills a big hole in the data in West Antarctica – it is the final piece in the jigsaw."
The rapid warming now revealed in the west concerns some scientists. The new analysis suggests the West Antarctic ice sheet, like that in Greenland, is precariously balanced, said Professor Barry Brook at the University of Adelaide. "Even losing a fraction of both would cause a few metres of sea level rise this century, with disastrous consequences," he said.
It was well known that a small part of Antarctic was warming – the peninsula that protrudes northwards towards South America and is the site of many research stations. But researchers knew that East Antarctica had cooled a little in recent decades and thought that might be the case across the continent's great mountain range in West Antarctica.
Temperature records have been taken on the ground since the first weather stations were built in 1957. But all but two of the 42 are very close to the coast and therefore give no information on the vast interior of the continent. Satellite data, in contrast, can take the temperature of the entire region by measuring the intensity of the infrared radiation reflected from the snow pack and has been available since 1980.
Steig's team found the mathematical relationships between the weather station data and satellite data, tested them, and then used them to go back in time to estimate temperatures across the continent back to 1957. Their statistical model has now been validated by an ice core drilled into the Rutford ice stream in West Antarctica by the British Antarctic Survey, from which temperature records can be measured. That independent work also came up with a warming of 0.17C a decade for the region, and stretched the trend back to at least 1930.
The cooling seen in East Antarctica is caused in part by the ozone hole that opens each year in the atmosphere. The ozone hole causes an increase in westerly winds which, by a complex interaction of wind, sea and ice, results in lower temperatures in the east. Emissions of ozone-destroying gases have now almost been eliminated and the hole is expected to recover by mid-century. When that happens, there will be a rapid catch up of temperatures, says Marshall.
The 2007 report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the impact of greenhouse gas emissions could be seen on every continent bar Antarctica. The new work, along with another recent study, now clearly shows that the rising temperature of the continent cannot be explained by natural climate variation alone.

Antarctica is warming faster, according to scientists

Antarctica, the one continent in the world that scientists thought was cooling, is actually getting hotter according to new evidence that has serious implications for climate change.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 9:17PM GMT 21 Jan 2009

Previously it had been thought that the South Pole was actually getting colder because the hole in the ozone layer was letting heat out.
However new satellite technology that allows temperature readings to be taken from the interior of the massive continent shows that, overall, Antarctica is warming.
Although the slight increase in temperature will not affect the world in the short term, in the long term it could lead to a rise in sea levels threatening coastal communities and endangered species like the Emperor penguin.
Scientists studying climate change have long believed that while most of the rest of the globe has been getting steadily warmer, a large part of Antarctica – the east Antarctic ice sheet – has actually been getting colder.
But new research from the University of Washington (UW) shows that for the last 50 years, much of Antarctica has been warming at a rate comparable to the rest of the world. The data was taken from satellite readings that were able to estimate temperatures from inaccessible areas in the interior.
The findings, published in Nature magazine, show that warming in west Antarctica exceeded a 10th of a degree Celsius per decade for the last 50 years which more than offset the cooling in east Antarctica. Furthermore as the ozone hole begins to close, with the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, the warming affect is expected to increase.
There are fears that climate change could cause the ice sheet to disintegrate - raising global sea levels by as much as five metres.
Eric Steig, professor of earth and space sciences at UW, said the study shed new light on the long-term effects of climate change.
"There is significant warming in Antarctica expected in the future and it will in the next 100 years or less become more serious and we will see melting of the icecaps in West Antarctica like we have seen on the Arctic peninsula which has serious implications for the stability of the icecap as a whole," he said.

New Mother Nature Network aims to be green machine

The Associated Press
Published: January 21, 2009

ATLANTA: It's safe to say this doesn't seem like the best time to start a news outlet, given the recession and the struggles of the media industry.
But the creators of the Mother Nature Network are betting that another trend will eclipse even the worst economic forecast: The green boom.
They've launched an advertising-supported Web site,, that aims to be a dependable source of environmental news written for the average reader — a sort of WebMD for green topics.
The Atlanta-based site, which launched this month, is off to a quick start. Joel Babbit, a veteran marketing executive who is the company's president, raised much of the $10 million for the venture in a 24-hour spree last year. He and his partners helped pitch in the rest.
So far the company has hired 17 full-time staffers — many of them castoffs of CNN and belt-tightening media companies — and is assembling a vast network of college bloggers. The goal is to create the most visited green-themed destination on the Internet, beating out not only established commercial sites like but also online resources maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Before starting the site, Babbit and his partners studied Web pages from government agencies and advocacy groups and concluded that most are either too biased, too shallow or too wonky.
The other sites "don't seem to be doing what we thought they could do," said one Mother Nature Network investor and contributor, Chuck Leavell, a Georgia tree farmer better known as a keyboardist for the Rolling Stones and, before that, The Allman Brothers Band. "I think there's a gap as big as the Grand Canyon there that needs to be filled."
Six months of development have yielded a crisp, colorful Web site. Mother Nature Network features eight broad channels — like "transportation" and "food" — each with its own blogger and a cadre of news stories. Among the articles are reports on the environmental ideas of Cabinet appointees, and features that delve into how to "green" your morning coffee with shade-grown blends that better preserve rain forests.
The Mother Nature Network, like other media sites, is breaking down complex stories using graphics and other multimedia. Much of the focus is on video. The company hired two full-time video reporters and has original programming made with environmentalists like Daron "Farmer D" Joffe, a farmer and consultant to eco-growers, and Leavell, who has written a book on forests. Mother Nature Network also plans to begin airing episodes of the 1990s cartoon "Captain Planet" on the site in February.
Of course, simply being an environmental site at a time when green sensibilities are becoming more mainstream won't inoculate the startup from the economic mess. National Geographic abandoned the print edition of its Green Guide in December and environmental magazine "Plenty" folded its print product this month.
Still, green gurus say there's lots of room for more competition in online environmental news.
"We think there's a bunch of growth left to come, and we want to push it until the market is entirely saturated," said Graham Hill, the founder of, one of the leading environmental sites.
Hill said his site, which was bought by Discovery Communications in 2007, attracted 3.5 million hits in December and is gearing up to expand. TreeHugger won't say whether it is profitable.
Hill's new rival Babbit said he's confident that Mother Nature Network has a business model that can draw corporate ad dollars even in the economic downturn, and he points to about a half-dozen corporate giants he said he's recently signed, including Dell Inc., MillerCoors and AT&T Inc.
The template he created gives advertisers five squares on Web pages that they can use as they choose. One ad, by energy utility Southern Co., offers graphics with power-saving tips and videos detailing how the company tries to balance its coal plants with cleaner energy technology.
"So many of these sites were started by environmentalists who had no experience as business people," Babbit said. "We were able to build something that's not just great from an environmental standpoint but also from a business standpoint."

Call for move to food self-sufficiency

By John Willman, Business Editor
Published: January 22 2009 01:16

Farmers should be encouraged to make the country 100 per cent self-sufficient in food production, according to one of Britain’s leading businessmen, who says it would create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.
In a letter to the Financial Times on Thursday, Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman and owner of JCB, the excavator manufacturer, says ministers are complacent about the decline in food self-sufficiency from 68 to 61 per cent in the past 10 years.

In a lecture last month to the Fabian Society think-tank, Hilary Benn, environment, food and rural affairs secretary, said the UK should not look solely to farmers to feed the nation, calling instead for international agreements to help secure food supplies abroad.
Sir Anthony, who owns organic mixed farms in Gloucestershire and Staffordshire, says the indifference to food self-sufficiency is a consequence of the absorption of the old Ministry of Agriculture into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“A strong support of farming has shifted to a woolly focus on ‘rural affairs’, and their lack of interest in food self-sufficiency is further evidence,” he says. “Billions of unnecessary food miles clock up as we import indigenous foods such as potatoes, apples and sugar, causing congestion, road infrastructure costs, pollutions and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Sir Anthony says ramping up food production could boost jobs. The agri-food sector accounts for 6.9 per cent of the economy and employs 3.6m people – 13.8 per cent of British employees and more than four times as many as the car industry.
Mr Benn told the annual Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month that food imports, mainly of things the UK could not grow, were very important to the country and that more output could have damaging environmental consequences.
Sir Anthony’s letter reflects concerns expressed by other farmers at the conference that the government was more concerned about environmental issues than food production.
“British farmers are some of the most productive in the world,” Sir Anthony says. “Mr Benn should immediately announce clear actions that support them in production and make 100 per cent indigenous food self-sufficiency a priority.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Mini-E hits the streets of New York

BMW's hotly anticipated Mini-E will soon be hitting the streets of New York City, writes Mike Chino from Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 21 January 2009 16.49 GMT

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that BMW's hotly anticipated Mini-E will soon be hitting the streets of NYC! This April BMW will loan the city ten fully-electric Mini Coopers to participate in New York's "Street Condition Observation Unit" (SCOUT), which scours city streets for road damage, graffiti, and other instances where infrastructure repair is needed. The zippy zero-emission vehicles will lend the program their lightweight carbon footprint in exchange for an extensive round of road testing.
New York's shiny new set of Mini-E's are part a 500 vehicle pilot program rolled out by BMW to test the vehicles' viability in the United States. Since SCOUT vehicles log nearly 100 miles each day, they're sure to be put to the test, and the electric vehicles will significantly reduce the program's emissions in the process.
The Mini-E is powered by a 150Kw electric motor and is capable of traveling more than 150 miles on a single charge. Their small size and agile handling make them ideal inner-city vehicles, and we're eagerly anticipating their official release in the states. With new plug-in vehicles popping up left and right and charging grids rising up to support them, the future of electric vehicles is looking brighter than ever.
Jim McDowell, Vice President of MINI USA stated: "We are delighted to work with New York City in developing this new form of sustainable transportation . . . Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC initiative has demonstrated a keen understanding of the importance of sustainability and we fully share the same vision and enthusiasm for developing new ideas, technologies and forms of transportation to make it a reality. This MINI E zero-emission vehicle is only our company's first step."
• This article was shared by our content partner Inhabitat, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Gulf renewables race hots up

By James Drummond and Robin Wigglesworth in Abu Dhabi
Published: January 21 2009 18:33

It may have been overshadowed by events in Gaza and by the US presidential accession ceremony in Washington, but there was no disputing the seriousness of purpose at Abu Dhabi’s second world energy summit (pictured above) this week.
Abu Dhabi announced the recipient of a $1.5m prize for sustainability, which went to a subsidiary of a Bangladeshi micro-finance house. The city also committed itself to having 7 per cent of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. And a subsidiary of Mubadala, the owner of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar development, announced an environmental research and development tie-up with General Electric of the US
The centrepiece of the country’s claims to leadership in sustainability, though, centre on the Masdar initiative.

Masdar City is a $22bn project that is due to accommodate 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters in a carbon-neutral environment. The project, which includes a raft of international joint ventures and a research institute, has caught the world’s imagination. More than 90 per cent of references to Abu Dhabi in the world media include a reference to Masdar, say officials.
This week a 10MW power plant fuelled solely by solar energy, which will supply Masdar, was unveiled.
Sultan al-Jaber, Masdar’s chief executive, underlines the emirate’s commitment to sounder environmental policies in spite of sliding hydrocarbon prices and a global economic slowdown.
“The fundamental reasons behind the initiative are very clear and robust. When Masdar was established oil was at $44 a barrel. There is no clear link or correlation with a variable like oil. It’s a long-term journey,” Mr Jaber tells the Financial Times.
“We believe this [Masdar] is a logical step for Abu Dhabi. Through our substantial financial resources we can always insist that Abu Dhabi will be known as a leader in renewable energy. We’re hoping it will become the Silicon Valley of renewable energy,” he says.
Countries across the region have naturally pounced on solar power as their best bet for renewable energy. “If you’re Denmark, it makes sense to concentrate on wind, and if you’re a Gulf country, it makes sense to focus on solar,” says Steve Fludder, vice-president of GE Ecomagination, GE’s “green” technology arm.
Caio Koch-Weser, vice-chairman of Deutsche Bank and a former World Bank vice-president, says Middle East countries need to focus on providing solar energy to power energy-intensive water desalination plants. Water is the scarcest of resources in the region and states should try to increase efficiency of usage, he says.
“[This is] a traditional hydrocarbon producer that is thinking strategically about climate change and renewable energy as a complementary industry rather than a competitive one,” Mr Koch-Weser says.
Abu Dhabi and the rest of the region have started on the path towards renewable energy later than many, according to experts. Recycling and even public transport are in their infancy in most Gulf states.
“The region is setting itself up for the future, but it has started this later than other parts of the world. They definitely have to catch up,” says Frank Mastiaux, chief executive of E.on climate and renewables.
And there are wider concerns about the willingness of the Abu Dhabi government and the United Arab Emirates to confront deeply held attachments to air-conditioning, to cheap water and to large four-wheel drive vehicles – all of which require large subsidies. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature has branded the UAE as the world’s single largest consumer of energy per head.
The UAE ratified the Kyoto protocol on carbon emissions in 2005 but was not obliged to reduce its emissions. However, the country will be under pressure to sign a successor to Kyoto, which is due to be discussed in Copenhagen later this year, observers say.
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the inter-governmental panel on climate change and a Nobel prize laureate, says that raising the charges for heavily subsidised fuel and water would make the most difference to the UAE’s environmental footprint.
“I really think they have to have some fiscal measures [to curb carbon emissions], such as taxing the extensive use of cars . . . It would make an enormous difference,” Mr Pachauri says.
Valerie Marcel, an associate fellow at Chatham House who is based in Dubai, says Abu Dhabi and the other Gulf states will have no choice but to act to limit energy demand.
The Gulf is bizarrely facing its own energy shortfall because of rapid industrialisation and heavy subsidy, she notes. Ras al-Khaimah, one of the UAE’s northern emirates, is even planning to build a coal-fired power station because it wants to create a long-term alternative to reliance on oil and gas.
Ms Marcel says: “They [the Gulf states] are going to work as hard as they can to create diversified sources of supply to meet energy supply. And, when there are shortages in spite of that, they are going to have to work on demand.
“And I think that is what they really want to avoid because there is a legitimacy concern. If people start paying international market prices for their energy it could create discontent.”
Mr Jaber admits that “there has to be a change in behaviour” in the UAE and adds that he sees fiscal measures to curb carbon emissions “coming in the future”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

A historic to-do list

By Philippe Camus and others
Published: January 21 2009 19:19

In the past decade, Americans have rediscovered the virtues of soft power while Europeans have come to grasp its limits. In the past few months, both have started coming to terms with the fact that what they thought was a world to come – a truly multipolar world, more complex, with new financial and strategic players – is already at hand.
As the new US administration prepares to take office, the prospect of increased co-operation between Europe and America on the political front is welcome news for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic – and well beyond. The need to kick-start the transatlantic partnership in certain strategic areas has been making itself sorely felt of late. The financial crisis that is affecting the entire planet so brutally makes it more dire still.
Beyond the purely political realm, innovative institutions such as the European-American Business Council and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue have long played a significant role in forging ties between businesses in Europe and the US. In certain strategic fields (aerospace, defence, security, energy and the environment), the concomitance of the new US administration and a Europe more convinced than ever of the desirability of a transatlantic rapprochement opens a truly historic window of opportunity.
To take a couple of straightforward examples, fields such as renewable, including nuclear, energy and undertakings like the development of the green aircraft of the future are currently among the most promising in terms of significantly reducing the greenhouse effect without adversely affecting economic growth output. To come up with the power plants of tomorrow, to develop the new materials, the new engines, the new designs, indeed the new energies that will make a totally green aircraft a reality, revolutionary technological breakthroughs will be needed. The only way such breakthroughs will take place in the next 50 years is through the co-ordinated talent, budget and efforts of the top players in these fields from both sides of the Atlantic. To be sure, other entities from all around the world have a substantial role to play in the process. Still, it is likely the transatlantic axis will be more than instrumental in federating them.
Other areas and issues that should be looked at hand-in-hand, and with a new eye, by governments and industry leaders from both sides of the Atlantic, include:
- Increasing system interoperability and the incorporation of European and US technology in each other’s systems in aerospace, defence, security and telecoms.
- Developing new emergency energy-sharing schemes.
- Leveraging more efficiently data processing capabilities.
- Developing potential partnerships on other existing and future aerospace and defence programmes.
- Protecting globally the intellectual property rights regime that fosters such innovations.
- Defining a shared global approach on the post Kyoto commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.
The guiding principles of mutually beneficial and balanced transatlantic co-operation have long been nailed down, what is needed now is a to-do list and to get to work. Time is of the essence – the window will not stay open for long. The past approach, where no technology from “the other side” was allowed in the “critical path” of sensitive industrial programmes, reveals what is at stake here. It could remain the name of the game if we do not move fast to jumpstart crucial discussions on certain issues in these industries.
In the midst of one of the most severe financial crises the world has known, and with state intervention in the economy suddenly – and to a certain extent, rightfully – back into fashion, the possibility lurks that governments will choose to limit their renewed multilateral efforts to the purely political realm. The risk exists indeed that they do this while adopting protectionist stances when it comes to the economy and policies of industrial strategic relevance. This would be very bad news for the US, Europe and the world at large, given the challenges at hand. Conversely, through straightforward discussions on the above key issues, Europeans and Americans could make critical progress toward full recovery while paving the way for the paradigm shifts this crisis both calls and allows for. The time is ripe. We need to sit down together and get to work.
Aris Candris, President and CEO, Westinghouse Electric
Philippe Camus, Co-Managing Partner, Lagardère
Charles Edelstenne, CEO, Dassault Aviation
Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman and CEO, EDF
Louis Gallois, CEO, EADS
Jean-Paul Herteman, CEO, Safran
Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
Anne Lauvergeon, CEO, Areva
Felix Marquardt, CEO, Marquardt & Marquardt
Denis Ranque, Chairman and CEO, Thales
Ronald D. Sugar, Chairman and CEO, Northrop Grumman
Ben Verwaayen, CEO, Alcatel Lucent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

World's biggest wind turbine-maker says global downturn slashing demand

Growth projections 15% off for top wind-power manufacturer Vestas as global financial crisis strips back demand
Terry Macalister, Wednesday 21 January 2009 11.34 GMT

World demand for wind power down 15% from projections. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
The world's biggest wind turbine manufacturer Vestas says the current economic downturn has left it with 15% excess manufacturing capacity as demand for the technology falls short of projections. The news came as company works to restore its reputation following the discovery of fraud in its Spanish subsidiary.
Despite political impetus behind the industry, the financial crisis has cut away demand said Ditlev Engel, the Danish company's chief executive.
"Six months ago everyone (in the investment community) said we were not doing enough to meet demand growing at an expected 40% this year. "Now people are saying 'Why have you put in place plans for a 40% increase in capacity when growth levels are only going to be 25%?'," he explained.
Engel would not comment on the financial impact of the slowdown, arguing the company was in a "closed period" ahead of its 2008 financial results to be published on February 11. Nor would he say whether Vestas would cut back future expenditure or jobs. But he expressed concern about discovery of fraud inside Barcelona-based Vestas E—lica.
Vestas has said that local managers cost the company around 12m euro by issuing false invoices for nonexistent services that were paid to companies fully or partially controlled by current and former employees.
The Vestas boss said it was "a dreary and very unfortunate matter" where trusted employees apparently betrayed the responsibility they had been given.
The problem was uncovered late last year after Vestas had introduced a whistleblower system designed to detect unusual behaviour. It has been referred to the Spanish legal authorities.
The Danish company is spending 2.5bn euros over four years increasing its manufacturing capacity so that it will be able to supply 10,000MW of equipment by 2010, compared to half this amount in 2005.
Vestas has workshops in the US, China and Spain as well as research and development centres in Britain.
It is particularly bullish about prospects in America, especially after the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama used his opening address to the American people yesterday to talk of the need to "roll back the spectre of a warming planet" through transforming the way America uses energy, harnessing "the sun and the winds and the soil".
"We hope we can positively contribute to the green initiatives that have been outlined by the new president," said the Vestas boss.
The annual financial results will be presented in New York, rather than London, this time around to reflect the Vestas focus on opportunities that side of the Atlantic. Vestas is quoted on the Copenhagen stock exchange and Engel said there were no plans to list in the US.
Engel said promises by Gordon Brown to creates thousands of new jobs in Britain and China's intention to pump $70bn on electricity grid connections also gave him confidence for the future.
Vestas already employs 20,000 people, around double the figure four years ago.
The Global Wind Energy Council estimates there are now 400,000 people worldwide employed in the sector.
It told a World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that this figure could grow to 1 billion by the end of the decade.
But there were warnings this week from Wall Street with financial analysts saying both wind and solar firms were in for a rough ride.
"We believe that the most important theme in 2009 within the alternative energy space will be a move from severe undersupply to one of at least a more balanced market and potentially serious oversupply," said Goldman Sachs analyst Jason Channell in a note to investors.

The cost of the biofuel boom on Indonesia's forests

The clearing of Indonesia's rainforest for palm oil plantations is having profound effects – threatening endangered species, upending the lives of indigenous people, and releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, writes Tom Knudson from Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 21 January 2009 16.42 GMT

As a child, Matt Aman grew up in the lush tropical lowland rain forest of Sumatra. Tigers padded through the underbrush, rarely seen and silent as shadows. "It made my skin prickle," the indigenous leader recalled recently as he sat on the floor of a stick hut surrounded by fellow villagers.
"When I was young, it was easy to find the mouse deer, monitor lizard, and wild pigs," Aman said.
The birds were majestic, too, he said, as he nodded and lit a cigarette. They filled the forest with a chorus of coos and trills that woke the Kubu village every morning. "We never hear those birds anymore," Aman said.
It is easy to see why. The storybook forest of his youth, the great green riot of reeds and vines, the cathedral-like thickets of fruit and hardwood trees — all of it is gone. In its place, for mile after monotonous mile, is a rolling carpet of palm trees, not the kind that sway in the wind at Waikiki, but a shorter, pudgier variety — the oil palm — that like corn and soybeans is rapidly becoming one of the world's major sources of biofuel.
Not long ago, biofuels were billed as a green dream come true, a way to burn less fossil fuel and shrink our carbon footprint. But today, mounting evidence indicates that producing biofuels — particularly those derived from food crops such as corn and oil palm — may be doing considerably more harm to the planet than good, actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions and driving up food prices worldwide.
Some of the most devastating costs of the biofuel revolution are on display in Indonesia, where massive clearing of tropical forests for oil palm plantations has caused staggering environmental damage and tremendous loss of biodiversity. Only the Amazon and Africa's Congo basin harbor more tropical forests than Indonesia, but the reality today is that all three regions are seeing their rain forests disappear at an alarming rate. And in the Amazon and Indonesia, growing world demand for food and biofuel is now driving much of the damage.
A flurry of scientific field work and environmental reports have linked the spread of oil palm plantations in Indonesia to the decimation of rain forests, increased conflict between logging and oil palm interests and rural and indigenous people, and massive CO2 emissions through logging, burning, and the draining of carbon-rich peat lands. And most of the trouble, as I learned on a recent visit, is playing out in the Indonesian lowland rain forests on Sumatra and Borneo, an ecosystem long regarded as a global hotspot for rare and endemic species — but perhaps not for much longer.
Over the past three years, researchers with the Zoological Society of London have searched exhaustively for tigers, clouded leopards, and other rare mammals on oil palm plantations in Sumatra. They have turned up next to nothing. "Most endangered species were never detected," they wrote in a report last year. Initially, they found hope along the edges of plantations where, against all odds, some tigers — which have roamed the rain forest for millennia — managed to survive. But even as their studies were underway, much of that land was also cleared, often illegally by settlers.
"If developed responsibly, oil palm should be able to provide economic growth and development without turning some of the earth's most important tropical ecosystems into ecological deserts," the researchers noted in the report. But they added: "This is a big 'if.' Achieving responsible development is a major challenge."
Roughly the size of California, Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. But it is home to fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers, down from around 1,000 in the 1980s. Historical population figures are sketchy. But the big cat is believed to have lost 80 percent of its natural habitat over the past century, reducing the tigers to scattered groups in increasingly beleaguered forest oases.
"The tiger is going to go extinct if we don't do something," a wildlife biologist named Sunarto told me in Pekanbaru, the steamy capital of Sumatra's Riau province, a center of oil palm planting.
For his part, Sunarto is working to persuade oil palm managers to leave strategic corridors of forest around plantations untouched so the endangered big cats do not become genetically isolated. But it's a struggle.
Not long ago, he journeyed to a research site only to find the area cleared and burned to make way for an oil palm plantation. "The trees are gone," said Sunarto, who is working on a Ph.D. through Virginia Polytechnic Institute. "The animals are gone. There are many places like that."
According to Indonesia's own figures, 9.4 million acres of forest have been planted with oil palm since 1996, an area larger than New Hampshire and Connecticut combined. That works out to 2,000 acres a day, or about one football field a minute. Indonesia is the Kuwait of palm oil. Only Malaysia, which has less at stake biologically, produces more.
"This isn't mowing your lawn or putting up a factory on the outskirts of town," said Stephen Brend, a zoologist and field conservationist with the London-based Orangutan Foundation. "It's changing everything as far as the eye can see."
Like tigers, orangutans — which are found only in Sumatra and Borneo — are also being nudged into increasingly isolated population units by rain forest destruction. Their numbers are dropping, too. But because there are more of them — between 45,000 and 69,000 in Borneo and 7,300 in Sumatra — extinction is not an imminent threat.
"They are still going to be in the wild, but in fragmented populations that can never meet," Brend told me one evening. "And if it's reduced to that, we've just lost everything. It's not only the orangutans. It's what you lose alongside them — the birds, insects, pollinators, all the environmental services that forests give, as well as a thing of beauty."
Indonesia has long been known for its heavy-handed logging and plantation clearing. Rain forests fall faster in Indonesia, in fact, than almost anywhere else on earth. But Riaz Saehu, a spokesman for the Indonesia Embassy in Washington, D.C., told me that under the country's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who took power in October 2004, the era of widespread clearing for oil palm may be coming to a close.
"There is an effort to reduce plantation expansion," Saehu said. "What we do now is basically to promote sustainability."
Many scientists are skeptical. "After 23 years there, I must say they can talk the talk but never walk the walk," Lisa Curran, director of Yale University's Tropical Resources Institute, told me in an e-mail. "The richest folks in Indonesia are owners of these oil palm plantations, so the corruption and patronage are linked to the very top of the food chain and power structures."
In 2006, Curran was awarded a so-called MacArthur genius award for her work on deforestation in Indonesia. "Oil palm is a disaster all the way around for biodiversity if converted from logged forest or peat swamp," she said. "Oil palm is fine if they actually put it on totally degraded lands – but they don't."
Even if new planting were stopped tomorrow, it would be too late for the Kubu people I met in Sumatra, whose once-rich rain forest pantry has been stripped bare by an oil palm plantation. "I have lost my garden," a Kubu woman named Anna told me. "I cannot grow the rubber, bananas, chilies, and other things I need to feed my family."
A plantation oil palm tree grew in her front yard. Not long ago, Anna said, plantation workers even bulldozed Kubu homes to plant oil palm.
"We tried to stop them," she said. "We started crying. But the man said, 'Keep quiet or I'll take you to the police.'"
In Jakarta, I told Art Klassen, regional director of the Tropical Forest Foundation — a science-based U.S. non-profit — about what I heard from the Kubu villagers. He did not seem surprised.
Indigenous land claims "are not enshrined in any legal framework," he said. Oil palm, he continued, "occupies the land totally and squeezes out local populations. They become marginalized. They become slave workers for the oil palm industry basically. There is no other economic opportunity for them. That's it. End of story."
But it's not just tribal people and wildlife that are displaced by oil palm. So, too, is the very atmospheric gas now at the center of the global warming debate: carbon dioxide. All forests release CO2 when logged. But Indonesia's jungles and carbon-rich, peaty soils hemorrhage the stuff. Last year, a World Bank report put the loss from deforestation at 2.6 billion tons a year, making the impoverished southeast Asian island nation the third largest source of CO2 on Earth, behind China and the United States.
The week I visited Sumatra, Greenpeace activists aboard the Rainbow Warrior were blockading a shipment of palm oil off its coast. A banner tied to the ship's mast read: "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate."
Perhaps the right kind of biofuels can help slow carbon emissions. But scientists say that by rushing into biofuel production in recent years, we failed to look ahead. What would make the best biofuel? Switchgrass? Soybeans? Sunflower seeds? Algae? That's open to debate, but one thing is certain: Raw materials for biofuels should not be grown on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to the richest concentrations of plant, insect, bird, and animal species on the planet.
• This article was shared by our content partner Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Oil sheikhs and green power experts: an unlikely, but logical, meeting of minds

Renewables industry looks set to power ahead despite economic conditions after the energy summit in Abu Dhabi

Terry Macalister, Wednesday 21 January 2009 10.58 GMT

A camel trainer with his camels at the Mazayin Dhafra Camel Festival, organised to promote cultural events in Abu Dhabi. It is said to be the biggest camel festival in the Arab Gulf region Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA
I came to the Middle East – centre of the world's oil and industry – wanting to "smell the coffee" on renewable energy.
Abu Dhabi did not seem the obvious place for the world's green entrepreneurs and funders to have a Davos-style World Future Energy Summit.
But after three days in a massive steel and glass hangar on the edge of this bustling city-state, I can see the logic of meeting here. I also have a better sense of the health of a sector being buffeted by the chill winds of banking crises and global slowdown.
Abu Dhabi, with 8% of the world's proven oil reserves, is hosting this summit because its crown prince likes renewables.
This week he announced the first firm commitments from an Opec member to produce 7% of its energy from renewables.
A PR stunt to help boost tourism and steel a march on its flashier and westernised neighbour Dubai? Or a genuine attempt to look ahead and position itself as an energy powerhouse, even when the hydrocarbons run out?
A bit of both undoubtedly, but with $15bn (£11bn) earmarked for developing its Masdar low carbon city initiative and the establishment of a solar power joint venture, there is little doubt that it is serious.
And if anyone is going to be able to keep funding levels high when western banks are pulling in their horns, then it's the beneficiaries of a four-year boom in oil prices.
Abu Dhabi's new-found enthusiasm for sustainability is that it is encouraging others to follow suit. Was I the only one to spot the Saudi oil minister, Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, at the summit's opening ceremony?
As to the wider position of renewables, they seem to be in fighting form, despite everything. Goldman Sachs issued a warning about the tough conditions facing wind and solar in a world of lower energy demand and more difficult lending conditions.
Ditlev Engels, the chief executive of the world's biggest wind turbine maker, Vestas, told me his recent ramp-up of manufacturing capacity was not now justified – at least in the short term.
And even if solar leaders such as Econcern of Holland insist the costs of sun power will drop by half within five years and all is rosy, they know they are in for a rough financial ride.
Much depends on the politicians. They must hold their nerve and deliver more positive action to counter climate change, even in a downturn.
The renewable sector is rightly excited about Barack Obama's White House and the Chinese both going swiftly green.
Clean power companies accept the pace of developments will slow under the impact of recession but there is a very definite feeling that the sceptics have been driven away and the future belongs to them.
So back to that coffee? It smells sweet and strong.

Tony Blair insists economic downturn must not hamper green energy plans

Former British prime minister tells energy delegates: a 'global compact' between nations together with nuclear power will lead to a sustainable future
Terry Macalister, Wednesday 21 January 2009 17.17 GMT

Former prime minister Tony Blair has urged his successor Gordon Brown and other political leaders not to allow the global financial crisis to halt the fight against climate change.
The former prime minister called for a new global deal that would set tough interim targets up to 2020 in a bid to "transform" countries to low-carbon economies.
Speaking at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Blair said: "It is right now, at the instant when our thoughts are centred on the economic challenge, that we must not set to one side the challenge of global warming, but instead resolve to meet it and put the world on path to a sustainable future."
Blair outlined a range of steps that were required through a "global compact" to meet the environmental challenge.
"It needs not just a 2050 target but an interim target to get there …a target for 2020 that shows seriousness of intent and gives business a clear, unequivocal signal to invest in a low-carbon future."
The interim goals would largely be aimed at the West but he believed it would have to be matched by obligations in the developing world. He suggested that strategic partnerships between China and America, India and America and Europe and America would be important, with all three being of "paramount importance".
Blair said there was a need for a step change, not small steps to meet the scale of the challenge, but he also said it was necessary to be practical about what could be done.
"There is no point in demanding of President Obama something he cannot deliver. Instead let us help him deliver what he can."
Blair said global warming required enormous changes in the way the world did its business but that global cooperation brought wider benefits.
He praised Abu Dhabi for its decision earlier this week to set a 7% renewable energy target for 2020. That showed other oil-rich nations in the region what could be done and was an example of the kind of move away from pure self-interest that the world needed, argued Blair.
He set out the importance of a green new deal to revitalise economies, arguing it was vital to "invest now in these times of a low-carbon price for the times when that price rises again".
Blair, who took no fee for his speech, gave an upbeat assessment of his own 10 years in office as UK prime minister, saying greenhouse gases had fallen while economy had continued to grow. "There are now more jobs in the new environmental industries than in coal, steel and shipping combined," he argued.
He also encouraged the development of nuclear power as a way of lowering carbon emissions, although he acknowledged that it was "controversial".
Observers would contest Blair's assessment of his green record, pointing out that much of the carbon dioxide reductions resulted from the demise of the UK coal industry, for economic reasons.

Ecologists warn the planet is running short of water

The Times
January 22, 2009

Leo Lewis in Tokyo

A swelling global population, changing diets and mankind's expanding “water footprint” could be bringing an end to the era of cheap water.
The warnings, in an annual report by the Pacific Institute in California, come as ecologists have begun adopting the term “peak ecological water” — the point where, like the concept of “peak oil”, the world has to confront a natural limit on something once considered virtually infinite.
The world is in danger of running out of “sustainably managed water”, according to Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute and a leading authority on global freshwater resources.

Humans — via agriculture, industry and other demands - use about half of the world's renewable and accessible fresh water. But even at those levels, billions of people live without the most basic water services, Dr Gleick said.
A key element to tackling the crisis, say experts, is to increase the public understanding of the individual water content of everyday items.
A glass of orange juice, for example, needs 850 litres of fresh water to produce, according to the Pacific Institute and the Water Footprint Network, while the manufacture of a kilogram of microchips — requiring constant cleaning to remove chemicals — needs about 16,000 litres. A hamburger comes in at 2,400 litres of fresh water, depending on the origin and type of meat used.
The water will be returned in various forms to the system, although not necessarily in a location or at a quality that can be effectively reused.
There are concerns that water will increasingly be the cause of violence and even war.
Dan Smith, the Secretary-General of the British-based peacebuilding organisation International Alert, said: “Water is a basic condition for life. Its availability and quality is fundamental for all societies, especially in relation to agriculture and health. There are places — West Africa today, theGanges-Brahmaputra river system in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, and Peru within ten years — where major changes in the rivers generate a significant risk of violent conflict. Good water management is part of peacebuilding.”
David Zhang, a geographer at the University of Hong Kong, produced a study published in the US National Academy of Sciences journal that analysed 8,000 wars over 500 years and concluded that water shortage had played a far greater role as a catalyst than previously supposed.
“We are on alert, because this gives us the indication that resource shortage is the main cause of war,” he told The Times. “Human beings will definitely have conflicts over this.”
Although in theory renewable sources of water were returned to the ecosystem and their use could continue indefinitely, Dr Gleick said, changes in the way water was exploited and how its quality degraded meant that methods of processing it would become more expensive.
“Once we begin appropriating more than ‘peak ecological water' then ecological disruptions exceed the human benefit obtained,” Dr Gleick said. Defined this way, many regions of the world had passed that peak and were using more water than the system could sustain.
A significant part of the problem is the huge, and often deeply inefficient, use of water by industry and agriculture. UN calculations suggest that more than one third of the world's population is suffering from water shortages: by 2020 water use is expected to increase by 40 per cent from current levels, and by 2025, according to another UN estimate, two out of three people could be living under conditions of “water stress”.
The World's Water report sounds a particularly strong note of alarm over the state of water usage and pollution in China, where rampant economic expansion has overtaxed freshwater resources and could even begin to threaten stability.
“When water resources are limited or contaminated, or where economic activity is unconstrained and inadequately regulated, serious social problems can arise,” wrote Dr Gleick, “and in China, these factors have come together in a way that is leading to more severe and complex water challenges than in almost any other place on the planet.”
Drop by drop
— Water footprint calculations are still only rough. They differ around the world and depend on climate, soil types, irrigation methods and crop genetics. The water footprint of different meats depends on what the animals are fed and the relative “thirst” of the crops used to feed them
— The amount of water required to produce a single litre of soft drink may be only three or four litres, but vast quantities are used to produce the sugar and corn syrup feedstocks. For example, one kilogram of paper requires 125 litres of water to process, but that excludes the water needed to grow the tree

Congo rainforest given hope as deals cancelled

By Daniel Howden, Africa CorrespondentWednesday, 21 January 2009

The Congo rainforest, the second largest tropical forest in the world, has been handed a temporary lifeline after two-thirds of timber concessions were cancelled this week.
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has ripped up 91 contracts after a review of the notoriously corrupt and damaging logging sector in a country the size of Western Europe.
Greenpeace's Africa forest expert Rene Ngongo gave a cautious welcome to the decision: "This is good news," he said by telephone from Kinshasa. "The contract cancellations now need to be implemented. We hope that the Congolese government will focus on protecting our forests."
Congo's immense tropical forest, second only to the Amazon in size and importance, has come under increasing pressure from loggers, farmers and mining operations in recent years. Huge concessions covering tens of millions of hectares in the war-torn country have been parcelled out to international companies during the numerous conflicts that have beset the country. Most of these concessions adhere to no basic environmental standards and pay little or no tax to the central government, the review found.
Due to its remoteness, lack of roads and regular conflicts Congo's rainforest had previously escaped the wanton destruction seen in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. However, in the last 15 years mature hard and softwoods from Congo have found their way into markets from the US to China and the EU, taking large bites out of the forest in the process.
The World Bank which has been heavily criticised for backing development policies that encouraged deforestation funded a six month review of existing concessions to establish whether they conform with basic standards.
Only 65 of some 156 deals made the grade.
DRC's Environment Minister Jose Endundo said on Monday that those who had failed to make the grade would have to stop logging within 48 hours.
"Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber," he told Reuters.
The minister also said that the government would respect a moratorium put in place during the 1998-2003 war on new logging deals.
The world's tropical forests form a precious cooling band around the equator which has been likened to a thermostat that helps to moderate temperatures.
Much of that forested band is under threat from changes in land use and deforestation has been identified as the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In his landmark climate review, Sir Nicholas Stern identified halting deforestation as the most cost effective means of combating climate change.
Making forests worth more standing than they are cut is complicated in unstable country's such as DRC which are beset by conflicts and a weak central government.
According to Andrew Mitchell from the UK-based Global Canopy Programme the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs and complications: "Paying African countries to keep their forests intact is like investing in a pension fund for all of us. What's needed is a fraction of what banks are losing every day," he added.
Greenpeace remains concerned that fine words in Kinshasa will translate into little meaningful change in the remote interior.
"It is unclear how the government will enforce the cancellations of contracts in the field, and how the operations of the approved logging concessions will be controlled," explained Mr Ngongo.
Even after the cancellation of licenses to scores of timber operations, more than 10 million hectares will be open to commercial logging. This is despite recommendations to the DRC administration from their own technical working group to reduce the area to 4.4m hectares.
In common with all the world's great rainforests, Congo provides shelter, food and livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of the world's poorest people.
"Local communities are angry because giant trees are taken from their forests and nothing but destruction is left behind," Greenpeace said in a statement. "The people of Africa stand to lose the most from climate impacts. The government needs to save the Congo forest not only for the sake of the global climate, but for the benefit of the Congolese people who depend on it."

Link made between nuclear tests and cancer

By Jan Colley and Cathy Gordon, PAWednesday, 21 January 2009

New scientific evidence made the link between participation in Britain's 1950s nuclear tests and ill-health and established the case for compensation, the High Court heard today.
Benjamin Browne QC, speaking for around 1,000 servicemen who took part in the programme in the South Pacific, said that the Government had satisfied itself as to the validity of the Rowland study of a small group of New Zealand test veterans, which proved that most if not all of them suffered genetic effects due to radiation exposure.
And an American expert at the world's oldest and largest radiological research laboratory, who was the principal investigator for the US government in this field, had said studies both on the Japanese bomb survivors and others showed that exposure to radiation at the levels demonstrated by Rowland's study substantially increased the incidence of cancer and cancer mortality.
A courtroom packed with members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) listened as counsel told Mr Justice Foskett: "Thus the government accepts the paper, and independent scientific evidence of the highest repute demonstrates that there is a link between the results of that paper and cancer incidence.
"The veterans say that the case for compensation is made.
"Yet, not only has the government failed to offer that compensation, it resists all these claims with the utmost determination and all the colossal resources, legal, financial and scientific, at its command.
"Whilst the Ministry of Defence (MoD) itself apparently accepts the validity of the Rowland study, its lawyers seek to rubbish that report at every turn.
"Even more seriously, for the very first time in this litigation, the government say not only that this case for compensation has not been made out, but that it is now far too late to make any such claim at all."
The veterans say that they have suffered illnesses - including cancers, skin defects and fertility problems - because of exposure to fall-out from tests on the Australian mainland, Monte Bello islands and Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958.
During the three-week hearing in London, the MoD will argue as a preliminary issue that the case cannot proceed as it is time-barred - launched outside the legal time limit.
A spokesman for the MoD has said: "The UK government recognises the vital contribution service personnel played in the UK's nuclear tests during the 1950s and understands its obligations to veterans.
"When compensation claims are received they are considered on the basis of whether or not the Ministry of Defence has a legal liability to pay compensation.
"Where there is a proven legal liability, compensation is paid. There is a case ongoing and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Mr Browne told the judge: "Time and again, representatives of the governments have said that the veterans must wait for compensation since science does not establish a link.
"Yet, when that science does finally become available, the MoD now says that all these claims are far too late.
"This is to be contrasted not only with the UK Government's previous attitude where lateness has never been raised, but also with the attitude of many governments around the world who have set up schemes to compensate and are still compensating their veterans as the veterans fall ill.
"The claimants maintain that it was only with this new knowledge that they had the information that enabled them to proceed so that their claims are not time barred, and that it would be just in the circumstances to allow these claims to proceed.
"The questions for the court will be whether that is correct or whether as the Government says, despite years of prevarication and misinformation accompanied by promises of compensation, in the circumstances which have now arisen, the Government should now be entitled to hide behind the time bar raised for the first time in this case so as to snuff out these claims at a preliminary stage."
The court is due to hear evidence from 10 veterans, who believe they were not adequately protected from the blasts and that the MoD - at the time the Atomic Energy Authority - should be held responsible.