Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Britain's energy industry is nosediving into a dark, uncertain future

Decades of denial and underinvestment have left Britain in huge energy debt and at risk of powercuts and 20% bill hikes

John Constable and Hugh Sharman, Tuesday 27 January 2009 11.15 GMT

Britain face a shortfall in its electricity generating sector.
Last week, the Guardian revealed that United Kingdom government officials are now negotiating to soften the impact of EU directives affecting the operation of fossil fuel-fired power stations and their emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). This is enormously embarrassing for the UK, but no surprise.
Indeed, it suggests that government, or at least the civil service is beginning to appreciate the full impact of the regulations for the future of the UK's electricity supply. Currently, the UK faces significant shortage in generation capacity by 2015 that is likely to lead to price rises for the consumer (a document leaked to the Guardian suggests price hikes of 20%) or power cuts at times of peak demand.
Indeed, industry analysts have been predicting for some time that the lack of reliable capacity in the UK electricity industry would force the government to seek humiliating exemptions from the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive and its successor legislation in order to keep dirty power stations online that would otherwise be phased out by the directive.
The government has underestimated the impact of the regulations and has failed to recognise that the LCPD would probably require the closure of the bulk of the UK's coal generation fleet by 2016. It has been unduly optimistic with regard to the construction of new combined cycle gas turbines (the only large power generation that will be built under the present policy regime in the required time frame, nuclear being unlikely to make any contribution until 2020).
It is also reckless in committing the UK to extreme dependence on imported gas (approx 80% by 2020) at a time of rapidly growing international competition for this fuel. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis this winter, this point is probably self-evident to all. Ministers have also failed to understand that the security of supply contribution from renewables, even if built, would be modest
The LCPD will close 13GW of existing coal and oil-fired generation because they do not comply with the SO2 regulations laid down in the directive. It is this pollutant which causes acid rain. Of those power stations that are sulphur compliant, some 20GW will probably fail to add equpiment to remove NOx because of high cost, physical difficulty, and the additional non-compliance of these plants with recently enacted climate change legislation.
30GW plus is a very large part of the UK's current generation portfolio – approximately 78GW – and is roughly half of the 60GW peak load on the network (5.30pm on a cold weekday winter afternoon).
Rectifying this situation requires significant global manufacturing resources and capital – some £100bn over the next decade.
After years of denial and misplaced optimism, awareness of the crisis has been growing in government. John Hutton while at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, seemed to understand this well. But the ministers at the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change in their public statements seem to have no notion of the situation. Mike O'Brien, the Energy Minister, even said on 12 November that there was no problem, and that the lights "would burn even brighter" in 2015 than they do now.
Nevertheless, concern is growing in the industry and, it seems, the civil service. Hence the attempt by the government to quietly finesse the LCPD's successor legislation, the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control directive. On the one hand, we appreciate the necessity of this action, but we deplore the air of fudging secrecy which surrounds it. Not only is this an undemocratic attempt to evade an admission of culpability, but it will deepen the anger of our EU partners who have complied with acid rain legislation. Better to honestly admit fault and seek exceptions from the new directive, laying out a clear plan for retiring our non-compliant plant as soon as possible and replacing it with new generation capacity that is fit for the 21st century.
A modern diversified power fleet must consist of nuclear plants, high-efficiency and therefore cleaner coal-fired power stations, including gasifiers predesigned to be ready to capture CO2 for the purpose of enhanced oil (and gas) recovery in the North Sea. Dedicated biomass and unlimited co-firing of biomass with coal might also help here, although most of this fuel will have to be imported. Offshore wind will also assist.
Furthermore, every means must be found to diversify our sources of gas supply, including the manufacture of synthetic methane from coal, with the resulting CO2 being captured. Additional gas storage, currently at a miserable 14 days' supply, is an imperative. Even assuming that this emergency plan is undertaken there is still the major risk of either a severe energy price shock or of interruptions of supply.
Even with these measures the UK faces a hydrocarbon trade deficit that will grow to over 150m tonnes of oil equivalent by 2015. Assuming a price of $100 per barrel of oil equivalent, the balance of trade will grow from $35bn in 2008 to $96bn per year in 2015. With no end to this growth in sight, it is reasonable to ask how the UK will generate wealth to pay for this vast, permanent, and growing imbalance.
John Constable is the director of policy and research of the Renewable Energy Foundation and Hugh Sharman is the founder of energy consultancy Incoteco. See Petroleum Review for a longer version of this piece.

Severn barrage 10 miles long among tidal power scheme shortlist

A 10-mile barrage across the Severn to generate significant amounts of "green" electricity has been included on a shortlist of tidal schemes published by the Government.

By Chris Irvine Last Updated: 8:22AM GMT 27 Jan 2009

A 10-mile barrage across the Severn to generate significant amounts of "green" electricity has been included on a shortlist of tidal schemes published by the Government. Photo: SWNS

A 10-mile barrage across the Severn to generate significant amounts of "green" electricity has been included on a shortlist of tidal schemes published by the Government. Photo: SWNS
The proposed shortlist for harnessing tidal power in the estuary also included two schemes for innovative tidal "lagoons" on the English and Welsh coasts and two smaller barrages.
The potential energy gap caused by the closure of fossil fuel plants, coupled with strict climate change targets to cut carbon emissions, means the UK must vastly increase the amount of electricity generated by renewables.
The barrage would provide five per cent of the UK's energy needs and stretch from Cardiff in Wales to Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset.
The four other schemes include a 12-mile tidal reef and tidal fences which would not dam the estuary like a barrage, causing less impact on its habitat - it would only provide a fifth of the energy however.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband announced £500,000 of funding to develop new technology such as reefs to harness the energy of the tides.
And he said progress on those technologies would be considered before any final decisions on a tidal power scheme for the Severn Estuary were made.
Energy companies are already warning the technology will struggle in the current economic climate, with the world's biggest offshore project, the London Array, said to be on a "knife edge" because of rising costs. The Cardiff-Weston barrage would cost an estimated £15 billion.
Environmentalists have also criticised the proposal - the RSPB said the barrage would destroy the habitat of 69,000 birds and block the migration route of countless fish.
Mr Miliband said "tough choices" had to be made in the fight against climate change.
"We need to think about how to balance the value of this unique natural environment against the long-term threat of global climate change," he said of the estuary.
James Farman, head of renewable energy at energy analysts Inenco, said: "Whilst we can't ignore the concerns about the environmental impact of the barrage, it represents a major step forward in our ability to reduce emissions, not just now but for over 100 years into the future.
"The long-term effects of climate change threaten the Severn Estuary wetlands just as surely as the barrage does, along with another 100,000 acres of land in the area that could be subject to flooding or erosion."
All 10 projects from the long list, and the proposed shortlist, will now be subject to a three-month consultation, after which the Government will publish a final shortlist.
Those five projects will be considered in more depth, with a view to making a final decision on how best to harness the energy of the Severn in 2010.

Pier-munching gribble may provide breakthrough for biofuels

Wood-boring crustacean uses enzymes in its gut which could be used to create biofuels from willow and straw, say scientists
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Tuesday 27 January 2009 16.52 GMT

Limnoria quadripunctata, otherwise known as the gribble. Photograph: Auguste Le Roux
A wood-boring crustacean that spends much of its time munching through the wooden supports that hold up piers could help provide the next breakthrough in green energy. The gribble uses enzymes in its gut to break down wood and scientists want to employ it to produce climate-friendly biofuels from natural products such as willow and straw.
The work will form part of a £27m project to make second-generation biofuels a commercial reality within 10 years. The new biofuels would not lead to a net release of carbon dioxide but also won't compete with land for edible crops. The money will come from the government-backed Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and a coalition of 15 industrial partners including BP and Ceres.
The cash is aimed at funding research to use plants more efficiently as fuel. The cell walls of plants are made of a complex sugar called cellulose, which is usually mixed with a polymer called lignin. Second-generation biofuels are made by breaking down the cellulose and fermenting it to produce fuels such as ethanol or butanol.
One of the major challenges for biologists is to find chemical enzymes that can efficiently break down cell walls which contain cellulose and lignin. The gribble, a tiny shrimp-like crustacean, seems particularly good at this task. "It's single-handedly responsible for gnawing away at several piers on our south coast and, within its intestinal tract, are enzymes that can unlock some of the polymers [in wood-based materials]," said Professor Katherine Smart, a plant scientist at University of Nottingham and one of the leaders of the project.
First generation biofuels are made from crops that store sugars and starches in their grains. "This has two main problems – it diverts away from the food chain but also it's very energy intensive to grow the crops," said Dr Angela Karp of Rothamsted Research. "You have to grow them every year and it requires a lot of nitrogen fertilisers to grow those grains."
Instead, the BBSRC money will be concentrated on waste materials from normal food crops – wheat straw, spent grain – and also plants that are not grown for food production but still produce a large amount of biomass quickly, such as willows and grasses.
Karp said: "When you look at the overall energy balance of getting energy out of this kind of second-generation system, the gains in terms of energy and reductions in terms of greenhouse gases you can achieve and the waste of food crops far exceed the biofuels you can get from maize."
Smart said there was much to be done in improving the efficiency in extracting a plant's cellulose and then converting it into alcohol. "At the moment we can produce 19g of ethanol from 100g of straw. Based on the current amount of straw not used currently that means we have between 8-10bn tonnes of straw available in the UK for this kind of conversion. That could produce about a 10% of current use of petrol."
Karp said the research would additionally focus on finding ways to grow these plants on the marginal land – Karp said there were at least 3m hectares in the UK that could be turned over for this purpose – and also in selecting varieties that grew the most biomass in the quickest time.
The government's target is to source 10% of UK's energy needs from biofuels by 2010, part of an ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Announcing the money at a briefing today, the government's science minister Paul Drayson, who races cars powered by second generation biofuels, said: "Investment in science and innovation are going to be what gets us out of the global economic downturn. This £27m investment represents a real example of where research has the potential to address one of the biggest challenges of our time, climate change, but also an area where the UK has real strength."

Wood-boring marine bug the four-spotted gribble aids biofuel research

The Times
January 28, 2009
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter

A marine bug that eats boat bottoms and pier supports has been identified as the likely key to improving the efficiency of biofuel production.
Four-spotted gribbles are able to break down cellulose in wood to make sugar. Scientists are convinced that by mimicking the process they will be able to produce better biofuel.
Research is under way to pinpoint the enzymes produced in the bug's stomach, and the genes that control them, so that the process can be applied to woody biofuel crops such as willow.
The investigation is being carried out as part of research by the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, a £27million initiative announced yesterday that is the biggest public investment in bioenergy research.

Getting at and breaking down the cellulose in woody plant material, such as wheat husks, straw and miscanthus grass, is a difficult task for biofuel producers. At present they lose more than 30 per cent of the potential energy and are anxious to identify how it is achieved in the natural world by organisms such as gribbles, termites, bacteria and fungi.
Gribbles, which live in pairs in holes bored into wood, were identified as ideal subjects for study because while many other creatures digest wood, such as shipworms, they are the only ones which have guts devoid of microbes.
The absence of microbes is expected to make the hunt for the enzymes and genes easier because the digestive system should be easier to understand.
Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, of the University of York, said of the gribble: “It's an isopod — it's like a marine woodlouse. It's a few millimetres long and bores into wood. The reason we focus on the gribble is that it is very unusual in that it has a sterile digestive tract.
“The gut is like a reactor with wood. We can go straight to the gribble itself and isolate the genes and enzymes that are involved in that wood degredation.”
The four-spotted gribble, Limnoria quadripunctata, is one of four species of gribble native to British waters, and is found mainly on the South Coast. More than 50 species are found worldwide.
Four-spotted gribbles are known to have caused damage to Yarmouth Pier in the Isle of Wight and to underwater wooden structures at Portsmouth Harbour, where it is collected for research.
Professor McQueen-Mason said that before becoming a scientist he was a fisherman in the Isle of Wight, where he had to clean the bottoms of wooden boats and became aware of the wood-boring abilities of the creature.
The study is being carried out on behalf of the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, which was set up by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The role of the centre, which will have bases at several universities, is to improve biofuel production so that dependence on fossil fuels can be reduced.
Second-generation biofuel crops include willow and other woody vegetation that is more difficult to break down into sugars and then to into ethanol than the first-generation crops.
Unlike first-generation biofuel crops, they can be grown without competing against food crops because they can thrive on marginal land. They can also include unwanted agricultural materials such as waste straw and husks.
Lord Drayson, the Science and Innovation Minister, said in London that the centre should play a significant role in helping Britain to reduce its fossil fuel consumption.
Professor Douglas Kell, the BBSRC chief executive, said of the creation of the research centre: “This is a huge breakthrough for second-generation biofuels. It's the way forward — one day our cars could be run by fuel obtained from straw.”

Detroit calls emissions proposals too strict

By Nick Bunkley
Published: January 27, 2009

DETROIT: Automakers said Monday that they were working toward President Barack Obama's goal of reducing fuel consumption, but rapid imposition of stricter emissions standards could force them to drastically cut production of larger, more profitable vehicles, adding to their financial duress.
Obama ordered the government on Monday to reconsider whether California and other states could regulate vehicle emissions to help control greenhouse gas emissions, a reversal of a position taken by the Bush administration.
The announcement came as General Motors and Chrysler are borrowing billions of dollars from the government to avoid bankruptcy, and as Toyotaprepares to report its first operating loss in 70 years. Shortly after the president spoke, General Motors said it would cut 2,000 jobs at plants in Michigan and Ohio because of slow sales.
The California regulations, if enacted today, "would basically kill the industry," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, an independent research organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan "It would have a devastating effect on everybody, and not just the domestics."
But Cole said he thought major modifications to the proposed standards were likely and that action was still "a long ways off," giving the carmakers more time to overcome their financial problems and develop the technologies needed to sell a full lineup of compliant vehicles.

Right now, carmakers say they would be able to sell only their smallest, most fuel-efficient cars — models like the Toyota Prius, a hybrid whose sales have fallen sharply since gas prices began dropping last fall — because once-popular vehicles like pickup trucks made by Ford and GM are not efficient enough.
"I want clean air and clean water just like the next guy," said Erich Merkle, an independent automotive analyst in Grand Rapids, Michigan "But in the real world, there would be consumer outrage with the fact that they're limited to maybe two vehicles and there's nothing there that would meet their family's needs."
Environmental advocates who have long challenged the automakers' opposition to the proposed California standards say such regulations will help the companies produce vehicles that consumers want.
Failing to invest in reducing emissions and increasing efficiency will only prolong Detroit's problems, said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"I think this is the pathway to their survival," Doniger said. "If carmakers are going to survive in a world of volatile oil prices and global warming, they have to be making more efficient vehicles. When the economy comes back and people start buying cars again, they're going to expect that gas prices are going to go up, and they're not going to want the gas hogs that they used to want. Consumers' tastes have changed in terms of what's cool."
One concern automakers have with states regulating tailpipe emissions is that keeping up with a hodgepodge of standards would be difficult. They expressed support Monday for the ideal of cutting emissions but want their engineers to be concerned with meeting just one set of requirements nationally.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 carmakers, said it favored "a nationwide program that bridges state and federal concerns and moves all stakeholders forward, and we are ready to work with the administration on developing a national approach," in a statement from the group's chief executive, Dave McCurdy.
GM, the only automaker to issue its own response Monday, said it was "working aggressively on the products and the advance technologies that match the nation's and consumers' priorities to save energy and reduce emissions." But the company also emphasized the need for "a comprehensive policy discussion that takes into account the development pace of new technologies, alternative fuels and market and economic factors."
Automakers are operating in the worst market since the early 1980s. New vehicle sales fell nearly 19 percent in 2008 and are universally expected to be even lower in 2009.
Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who has long been one of the Detroit automakers' strongest allies in Washington, praised the president's attitude toward global warmingand expressed hope that the administration would act only after carefully studying the effect that "setting a patchwork of different emission standards" would have.
"President Obama and I both share the goal of energy independence and a cleaner environment for our children and grandchildren," Dingell said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity in history to address the issue of global climate change and we must take bold and balanced action."
Cole, the Center for Automotive research chairman, said he believed Congress would ensure Detroit would be able to live with any new standards.

Obama directs U.S. regulators to tighten auto rules

By John M. Broder
Published: January 27, 2009

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama directed U.S. regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. He also ordered the Transportation Department to begin drawing up rules imposing higher fuel-economy standards on cars and light trucks.
The directives make good on an Obama campaign pledge and signal a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Moving quickly on tailpipe emissions and on mileage rules are emphatic actions Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.
Obama announced the actions in the East Room of the White House, saying that his orders were intended "to ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in America."
Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration's past rejection of the California application. While he stopped short of flatly ordering the reversal of the Bush decision, the agency's regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.
The president also directed the Transportation Department to draw up rules to implement a 2007 law requiring a 40 percent improvement in gas mileage for autos and light trucks by 2020. The Bush administration failed to write any regulations to enforce the new law.

Once the agencies act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that are cleaner and get better gas mileage on an accelerated schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and have challenged them in court.
Ray LaHood, the new Secretary of Transportation, was present for this morning's announcement and afterwards dismissed the auto makers' complaints.
"They knew this was coming," said LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois.
The announcement added to the impression Obama is creating of a sharp break from the Bush era on all fronts, following his decisions last week to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; to tighten limits on interrogation tactics by Central Intelligence Agency officers; to order plans to withdraw combat forces from Iraq; and to reverse President George W. Bush's financing restrictions on groups that promote or provide abortion overseas, administration officials said.
To avoid losing another year on emissions and fuel efficiency, Obama will order temporary regulations to be completed by March so that automakers will have enough time to retool for vehicles to be sold in 2011. Final standards for later years will be determined by a separate process that, under Obama's order, must take into consideration legal, scientific and technological factors.
He also ordered U.S. government departments and agencies to find new ways to save energy and be more environmentally friendly. And he highlighted the elements in his $825 billion economic stimulus plan intended to create jobs around renewable energy.
The announcements began a week of efforts to get the stimulus plan through Congress. The White House hopes the Senate will confirm Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary on Monday, and Obama plans to travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Senate and House Republican caucuses and to lobby for his stimulus package. Obama's aides expect the House to vote on its plan on Wednesday.
But the centerpiece of Monday's announcement was Obama's directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to allow the state, a longtime leader in air quality matters, to set standards for automobile emissions that are stricter than the national rules.
California has already won numerous waivers for controls on emissions that cause smog, as opposed to global warming.
Obama said his administration would take into account the financial troubles of the auto industry, which have already received billions of dollars in U.S. government aid and are seeking more.
"Our goal is not to further burden the struggling American auto industry," he said, but rather to make a major step toward addressing global warming by cleaning up the American transportation fleet.

Kerry Seeks Action on Climate Pact

WASHINGTON -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said Tuesday that it was "not critical" for the U.S. to begin regulating power-plant emissions in advance of renewed talks toward a global climate-change treaty.
The Massachusetts Democrat will be an influential player in efforts to forge such a treaty and reshape U.S. policy on climate issues.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Kerry said that an $825 billion economic-stimulus bill making its way through Congress should include more money for low-carbon technologies and less for "nontargeted tax cuts" that would, he said, do little to create jobs quickly. "We're staring at an incredible economic opportunity," he said of the stimulus bill, "let's spend it on the right things."
Some environmental activists have said that the U.S. can't credibly participate in the climate-change talks scheduled for December in Copenhagen unless it takes new steps to reduce its own emissions, such as using the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate power-plant greenhouse-gas emissions. But taking that step would risk a confrontation between the Obama administration and major industries, as well as fellow Democrats from coal-rich states.
Sen. Kerry said he thought it would be "great" if the EPA regulated power companies' greenhouse-gas emissions before the Copenhagen meetings, but that such a step was not critical.
He cited President Obama's recent directive to the EPA to consider letting states regulate automobile greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as decisions by some states, cities and businesses to enact voluntary emissions-reduction programs, as evidence that the U.S. is "moving forward" on such matters.
"People have to get beyond the Bush mentality and realize it's a very different ball game" under Mr. Obama, he said. Mr. Bush resisted committing the U.S. to economywide curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions, whereas Mr. Obama has called for legislation to cut U.S. emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.
Sen. Kerry planned to brief Senate Democrats Tuesday on new scientific evidence that global greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at four times the rate they were in the 1990s.
"It's critical we begin now" to forge consensus on climate-change policy, he said. "There's a great deal of evidence that we're behind the curve on where we should be" in controlling emissions.
Sen. Kerry plans to hold a hearing Wednesday where former Vice President Al Gore is expected to testify on the status of United Nations-led global-warming talks.
Sen. Kerry's committee, which oversees the State Department, gives him a platform from which to influence the U.S. negotiating position in the Copenhagen talks, which are aimed at forging a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that requires many industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.
The outcome of the talks is expected to hinge on whether developing nations such as China and India can be persuaded to commit to binding cuts in their own emissions. The countries' refusal to do so has been a major reason why the U.S. has not committed to similar binding cuts.
A spokesman for the Sierra Club, John Coequyt, said Sen. Kerry appeared to be trying to lower expectations ahead of Copenhagen, so that "if we can't get one of these things out of EPA, we can still go ... and make a solid claim that we're acting."
Write to Stephen Power at

Climate change 'irreversible', warn scientists

Climate change is irreversible and projects to prevent temperature rises will have no impact for at least thousand years, scientists have warned.

Last Updated: 12:39PM GMT 27 Jan 2009

Halting carbon emissions will not see temperatures reduce before the year 3000, according to the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory.
Contrary to popular opinion, halting carbon emissions will not see temperatures reduce before the year 3000, according to the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory.
Nevertheless, Susan Solomon, who led the research, said cutting emissions remained important.
She added: "People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years - that's not true."
Ms Solomon is lead author of an international team's paper reporting irreversible damage from climate change, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
She defines irreversible as change that would remain for 1,000 years even if humans stopped adding carbon to the atmosphere immediately.
Ms Solomon said: "Climate change is slow, but it is unstoppable - all the more reason to act quickly, so the long-term situation does not get even worse."
In recent years Britain has seen regular instances of flash flooding.
The latest findings were announced as US President Barack Obama ordered reviews that could lead to greater fuel efficiency and cleaner air, saying the Earth's future depends on cutting air pollution.
Alan Robock, from Rutgers University in New Jersey, agreed with the research, adding: "It's not like air pollution where if we turn off a smokestack, in a few days the air is clear.
"It means we have to try even harder to reduce emissions."
In her paper Ms Solomon, a leader of the International Panel on Climate Change and one of the world's best known researchers on the subject, noted that temperatures around the globe have risen and changes in rainfall patterns have been observed in areas around the Mediterranean, southern Africa and south-western North America.
Warmer climate also is causing expansion of the ocean, which is expected to increase with the melting of ice on Greenland and Antarctica, she said.
"I don't think that the very long time scale of the persistence of these effects has been understood," Ms Solomon added.
Global warming has been slowed by the ocean, but that good effect will wane over time with seas eventually helping keep the planet warmer, she said.
Climate change has been driven by gases in the atmosphere that trap heat from solar radiation and raise the planet's temperature.
Carbon dioxide is the most important of those gases because it remains in the air for hundreds of years.

'Just a money redistribution exercise where we foot the bill'

Bryony Worthington
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 January 2009

The pollution permit price crash highlights one of the risks of cap and trade schemes. If not properly implemented they can deliver just "hot air", and few environmental benefits. Even before the recession took hold it was clear that certain sectors of industry had received very generous allowances, but now the issue looks vastly more problematic.
What should have been a way to kick start investment in much-needed low-carbon, efficient technologies is now a cash redistribution exercise. Power companies are buying spare permits from heavy industry, and we, the electricity bill payers, are footing the cost. And the additional environmental effect of the scheme is reduced to almost nothing.
In the short term, the release of spare permits into the market diverts cash from projects that require investment which could boost the economy. It also reduces investment in projects generating reductions overseas, such as renewable projects in China and India. Longer term, a sustained low carbon price will make investment in nuclear and carbon capture and storage less likely.
We are unlikely to see a repeat of the price crash in Phase I of the scheme, where it reached near zero. This time unlimited volumes of spare permits can be banked and used in the next phase, giving them a future value. However, this will make targets easier to hit and cut the price in that phase too.
More decisions are scheduled on emissions trading in Europe and these will need to take into account the new economic context. If Europe's economy is contracting by 1.9% a year then a target which requires emissions reductions of less than this will be redundant. Restrictions on the banking of permits will also need to be introduced to prevent price deflation in the next phase.
More immediately, the flow of credits must be reduced. Cutting the number of permits governments auction is one option and incentivising firms to cancel rather than sell their permits is another.
But other countries can learn from our mistakes - so please America and Australia be bold, ensure your cap and trade schemes are fit for purpose and don't allow vested interests to wreck them.
• Bryony Worthington is the founder of

Britain's big polluters accused of abusing EU's carbon trading scheme

Terry Macalister, Tuesday 27 January 2009 18.34 GMT

Smoke from a factory chimney. Carbon trading is leading to the use of more polluting fossil fuels. Photograph: Joel W. Rogers/Corbis
Britain's biggest polluting companies are abusing a European emissions trading scheme (ETS) designed to tackle global warming by cashing in their carbon credits in order to bolster ailing balance sheets .
The sell-off has helped trigger a collapse in the price of carbon, making it cheaper to burn high-carbon fossil fuels and leading to a fall in the number of clean energy projects. The moves were seized on by environmentalists and other critics who have previously criticised the European Union's ETS for delivering more windfall profits for business than climate change.
"This [ETS] was not designed as a scheme to give corporates cheap short-term funding options in the face of a credit crunch meltdown where banks are not lending, but that appears to be what's happening," said Mark Lewis, a carbon analyst at Deutsche Bank.
Steel, concrete and glassmakers are believed to be the main sellers along with financial speculators such as hedge funds. The sell-off of the pollution permits has led to carbon prices plunging 60% – from over €30 to around €12 per tonne.
The EU's emissions trading scheme was set up as a market solution to cut greenhouse gas pollution from industry. Polluters were issued with permits that can be traded between companies and countries as a way of encouraging an overall reduction in carbon output. However, companies are now cashing them in for their own financial benefit.
Up to €1bn-worth of carbon emissions permits are said to have been sold off in recent months as industrial companies see an opportunity to bring in funds at a time when their carbon output is expected to fall due to lower production.
Environmentalists expressed anger last night about the way the ETS was being used. "The ETS has bowed to corporate self-interest at every stage of its design and implementation, so there is no surprise that it is now being used as a cash cow to see firms through a difficult financial phase," said Oscar Reyes, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch.
Point Carbon, an information provider and consultancy, claims the sell-offs are only one of a number of factors that are influencing prices and argues it is "rational" for companies to be selling off credits at this time. The falling price of oil – from $147 per barrel last summer to less than $40 now – has dragged down the cost of gas, making it relatively cheap to burn in power stations, it argues.
"Recession in Europe is bringing a slowdown in manufacturing meaning less production and less emissions. Companies are doing exactly what is the rational thing to do in these circumstances which is to sell if they are long on credits. It is right that if they are emitting less then they do not need the credits so much and the price of carbon will fall," said Henrik Hasselknippe, global head of carbon at Point Carbon.
But the price collapse brings echoes of 2006 when it emerged that EU states had given industry too many carbon credits, creating a glut that made them almost worthless. Since then the European commission has amended the scheme and some of the credits have been auctioned rather than given away.
A study commissioned by the WWF environmental organisation from Point Carbon, published in March last year, estimated that "windfall profits" of between €23bn (£21.4bn) and €71bn would be made under the ETS between 2008 and 2012 on the basis that the price of carbon would be between €21 and €32. Up to €15bn could be made by British companies that were given credits they did not need.
Analysts said it was very hard to identify on an individual basis which companies were selling their credits but easier to say which sectors they came from such as cement, whose production is expected to drop 20% this year and steel where volumes could fall by 15%.
Lafarge, the world's biggest cement maker and owner of Blue Circle Cement in Britain, said last night that it had only sold a small number of credits on the open market. "We mainly sell our credits from one country to another, for example if we have too many in France then we might sell them to Romania if we don't have enough there. Very few credits are being sold on the [open] market," said a spokeswoman at its Paris headquarters, while steelmaker Corus was unavailable for comment.
The collapse in the price of carbon has also caused a slowdown in clean energy projects in developing countries against which western firms can gain credits. The price of Clean Development Mechanism (CDMs) offsets has slumped by nearly 30% over the last couple of weeks.
CantorC02e, a broker in the field, says it is scaling back its operations. The emissions trading firm has no immediate plans to cut its 40 staff, but says this cannot be ruled out while EcoSecurities, a stock-listed carbon offsetting company, has seen its share price collapse from £1.50 to less than 30p.
The low price of UN-approved offsets, known as Certified Emissions Reductions, is slowing the number of clean energy projects being developed in China. "I'd say there is half the number of players now than there was a year ago. Banks have cut back considerably," said a small Chinese project developer.
James Thompson, finance director of EcoSecurities, says he is confident that the price of carbon will rebound along with a wider economic recovery in 12 or 18 months' time. "The short-term price will also recover when the flow of credits stop coming on to the market and long-term pressure will come from governments realising they need a strong carbon price for environmental reasons."

Biomass-burning 'behind Asian brown clouds'

A new study claims that biomass-burning is the cause of the dense 'brown clouds' that have started to plague south Asia every winter, writes T. V. Padma from SciDev, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Tuesday 27 January 2009 09.57 GMT

Burning biomass is the main cause of the dense 'brown clouds' that plague South Asia each winter, and both biomass and fossil fuel burning should be targeted to combat climate change and improve air quality.
These are the conclusions of a study published on Friday 23 January in Science. The study, conducted at two sites in South Asia, attempted to find the main source of the carbon soot particles that comprise much of the clouds.
While the brown cloud acts as a 'global dimmer' by absorbing heat trapped by greenhouse gases, it also affects the regional climate by melting glaciers, affecting crop growth and impacting the Asian monsoon.
Researchers from India, the Maldives and Sweden analysed the amount of radiocarbon — an unstable form of carbon that decays — in air from a mountain top in India and an island in the Maldives to determine whether the soot came from fresh biomass or the older carbon in fossil fuels.
They found biomass-burning produces two-thirds of the carbon soot and a half to two-thirds of a type of soot called black carbon, whose role in climate change is under debate (see Black carbon climate danger 'underestimated').
Burning biomass such as dried twigs, leaves and dung, and agricultural slash-and-burn practices, are common across poor, rural Asian areas.
The brown clouds affect the health of people inhaling the pollutants, causing bronchitis and heart disease. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, as they breathe in the soot at home during cooking and heating.
Previous data on the source of the soot was confusing, with atmospheric data suggesting 50–90 per cent of the South Asian brown cloud comes from fossil fuels; compared with 10–30 per cent estimated from emission inventories.
"This is the first time this difficult technique has been used for black carbon studies in India," P. S. P. Rao, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, and one of the researchers, told SciDev.Net.
"We should not only look to traffic and coal combustion but particularly at small-scale burning practices," lead researcher Örjan Gustafsson, at the department of applied environmental science at Stockholm University, Sweden, told SciDev.Net.
Rao says another study will commence this year to confirm the findings, but preliminary indications are that Indian policymakers should discourage biomass burning and support a switchover to cleaner sources.
An upcoming pilot study to test whether low-tech solar and biogas cookers could reduce the adverse impacts on climate and human health could offer some insights, adds Gustafsson.
• This article was shared by our content partner SciDev, part of the Guardian Environment Network