Friday, 6 February 2009

'Strong arm' tactics to get India to agree to strict emissions cuts criticised

China and India signal opposition to binding limits on emissions as UN secretary general says developing world 'must do more'
Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Thursday 5 February 2009 16.09 GMT

Environmentalists have strongly criticised attempts to "strong arm" developing countries such as India into a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions after the United Nations secretary general asked poorer nations to "get on board" with the industrialised world to find solutions to the climate crisis.
Ban Ki-moon told the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit that although "Brazil has been taking a quite proactive role in the implementation of biofuel and forestation policies. China and India have also taken steps. But that is not enough, they have to do more."
The UN's top official said that climate change was a "common and shared" responsibility and that the time for arguments about who caused and contributed to global warming was over.
"We should not argue who is more responsible, who is less responsible, who should do more… This is a common, shared responsibility," Ban said.
There appears a global consensus over the impact of global warming. Wheat yields are down, water is becoming scarcer and the frequency and severity of floods and droughts are increasing. Ban's clarion call in Delhi comes in a year which will end with a deadline to negotiate a global treaty to combat climate change. The current phase of the Kyoto protocol runs out in 2012.
But talks have run aground as industrialised countries have refused to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions unless emerging economies such as China and India commit to an emissions cap.
Both India and China, which have per capita emissions that are a fraction of the west, have pointed out the Kyoto protocol was supposed to mean emission reduction targets of 5% by 2012 but between 1990 and 2005, emissions had increased. In fact, US emissions have increased 20% during that period.
Earlier this week Chinese prime minister Wen Jiaobao said in an interview that it was "difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development… Europe started its industrialisation several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years."
India has also signalled its strong opposition to binding limits on emissions. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has said that India would be willing to undertake to keep its per capita emissions below those of industrialised countries, thus giving the latter a strong incentive to reduce their emissions as quickly as possible.
The Centre for Science and Environment, an influential thinktank based in Delhi, has also pointed out that "the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was built up over centuries in the process of creating nations' wealth. This is the natural debt of nations, and they must pay up."
Others criticised the United Nations for foisting an "ineffectual" Clean Development Mechanism on the developing world, which aims to allow rich nations claim credit for emissions reductions they fund in poorer nations. Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, said that India needed "no lectures from the west which has been polluting (for decades). We have also looked at the UN and seen the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) as completely inefficient. We have seen no new technology being used in India and no benefit to anyone but big companies."
However, the United Nation's top climate change official Yvo de Boer told reporters that to get developing countries to sign up for emission limits public money from the wealthy world would be needed to fund climate change action programmes.
In December the UN said said $86bn £59bn a year will be needed by 2015 for poor countries to adapt to global warming but admitted that it was struggling to raise even the fund's administration costs of $4m.
The Indian prime minister's advisers on climate change told the Guardian that countries such as Britain were "pushing hard" for India to adopt experimental technologies and using cash as an incentive. "They have been pushing Carbon Capture and Storage. But these are not proven technologies. What happens if the gas leaks out and causes deaths?"

Cutting the carbon: Labour's failure contains lessons all parties must heed

Whoever wins the next election will face tougher emissions targets than the current government has had to deal with

Stephen Hale, Thursday 5 February 2009 15.47 GMT

On the face of it, Tuesday should have been a good news day for Labour and a small step back from the catastrophic own goal of the Heathrow runway decision.
Figures for UK emissions in 2007 showed a small drop in greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions for the fourth year in a row. The UK is one of the few countries that will comfortably meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol.
But press coverage of the announcement was overwhelmingly negative. Some of the coverage highlighted the exclusion from the figures of aviation emissions and the contribution of UK imports and consumption. In both cases, the government's reasonable defence is that it uses the current agreed international methodologies.
But the main focus of criticism was a rod of the government's own making. Labour's commitment to reduce emissions by 20% by 2010 was in its 1997, 2001 and 2005 manifestos. Despite the latest fall, this target is now well out of reach. Labour will carry its failure to meet this commitment into the next election.
The opposition will make the most of this, but all three parties with ambitions to lead or participate in the next government must also learn the lessons from Labour's failure.
The 20% target was self-imposed. But, thanks to the Climate Change Act, whoever wins the next election will face emissions targets far more deeply enshrined and politically totemic than Labour has had to deal with.
The parliamentary debate on the act was a bidding war in which the parties sought to outbid one another in advocating tough targets for 2020 and 2050. It also created the climate change committee, chaired by Lord Adair Turner, which has proposed three five-year budgets for emissions, covering the next 15 years (and probably the next three parliaments).
The chancellor, Alistair Darling, is certain to adopt these in the April budget with cross-party support. In doing so, he will bind whoever wins the next election irrevocably and publicly to targets over which they have had no influence.
From my four years as a special adviser on climate change to Labour ministers from 2002-6, three lessons stand out that a future government of whatever colour(s) must heed:
• Consistent leadership from the very top is a prerequisite for success. It requires an ambitious approach across energy, housing and transport ministries, supported by the Treasury. Labour has never had ministers in all three departments determined to succeed, and still does not, and the Treasury under Gordon Brown was consistently hostile to the 20% target.
Greg Clark, the Conservative energy spokesperson, seems strongly committed to developing a strategy that will deliver. But not all Conservatives are yet signed up.
All parties have ministers with varying commitment to this cause, so it is imperative that whoever becomes prime minister takes a strong lead and pressures all members of the cabinet to deliver.
• Action must be taken at the very start of a parliament if it is to deliver results at the end of that term. The time lag between action by government and emissions reduction is a minimum of three years. For example, a new feed-in tariff for renewable energy would have to go through a process of public consultation and parliamentary legislation to enter into force. This should then lead to new investment commitments, to planning proposals, to construction and only then to new renewable energy projects that actually reduce emissions.
It's a timescale that should bring political strategists out into a cold sweat. Labour started too late. It would be a disaster for the climate and for their reputation if the next government was to make the same mistake.
• The UK government does not act alone. The devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff have considerable powers and influence over emissions and their role needs to be factored in to any strategy. But Europe is an ever bigger influence. European emissions trading rules cover 50% of the UK's emissions, and emissions and product standards are central to the UK's prospects in transport, business and, to a lesser extent, housing.
Labour's failure to meet the 2010 target will continue to be highlighted by their critics and the opposition parties. But all parties preparing for government must heed the lessons as they prepare their manifestos and plans for the next election.
• Stephen Hale is the director of the Green Alliance

Obama urges higher efficiency standards for household appliances

• Barack Obama issues memo to US energy department• Standards could be implemented as soon as next August
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington, Thursday 5 February 2009 19.35 GMT

Barack Obama makes remarks to employees at the US department of energy in Washington DC today. Photograph: Ron Sachs/EPA
Barack Obama urged the energy department to adopt higher efficiency standards for household appliances that had been blocked for years by George Bush.
In a presidential memo, issued during a visit to the energy department meant to showcase Obama's commitment to the greening of the economy, the president called for new higher standards to be issued as early as next August.
The first round of higher standards would cover nine appliances, including ovens, lamps, micrwoaves, dishwashers and air conditioners. The directive applies to some 30 household and commercial electrical items."This will save consumers money. This will spur innovation and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy," Obama said.
He was flanked by Steven Chu, the energy secretary who has long seen energy efficiency as a crucial part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The push for household energy efficiency was seen as a further sign of Obama's determination to break with Bush policy on the environment.
In another development, the Obama administration showed it would take a far more robust approach to enforcing environmental protection. A lawsuit filed by the justice department charged the Westar power company of Kansas with failing to meet its legal obligation to install the best available pollution controls on its coal-fired plant.
Obama also used the visit to try and sell his economic rescue plan, saying the package, now approaching $900bn, would help spur the growth of clean energy, with new well-paying jobs in the wind and solar power industries.Obama set aside some $30bn for energy efficiency measures in the economic rescue package now making its way through Congress, mainly modernising buildings.The presidential memo on efficiency would seek to end a logjam at the energy department. The new energy standards demanded by Obama today were long overdue.
Congress has been pushing for nearly three decades for higher standards on household products such as water heaters and refrigerators. But the energy department has regularly missed deadlines for imposing the new standards.
It was not immediately clear whether Obama's directive would also lead to a review and possible tightening of the standards under consideration by the energy department.The president said he asked the energy department to move ahead on those appliances that would produce the biggest savings for consumers.
The White House said the energy savings from the changes would save Americans $500bn on their electricity bills, or the equivalent of two years worth of emissions from all of America's coal-fired power plants over the course of 30 years.
In the justice department law suit, the Environmental Protection Agency notified Westar Power that it was in violation of pollution control requirements five years ago. However, under Bush, the EPA rarely followed up on enforcement.
The justice department said its suit was "part of a national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants".
The move stoked expectations of similar actions against a number of other coal-fired plants.

First the luxury electric sports car, now the battery-powered motorbike

Mission One will take part in this summer's TTXGP Isle of Man race, the world's first clean emissions grand prix
Adam Vaughan, Thursday 5 February 2009 17.43 GMT

A Californian company has unveiled the world's fastest production electric motorbike, the Mission One.
Manufactured by San Francisco-based Mission Motors, the bike is capable of 150mph - considerably quicker than the British-designed, pre-production TTX01 bike - and is on sale now to US customers, with deliveries due in 2010.
The bike's history has echoes of Tesla Motors' Roadster, the luxury electric sports car that was conceived, designed and built in California with funding from clean technology investors including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Mission Motors' founder, Forrest North, is a former Tesla employee who, in 2007, began work on converting a petrol-powered Ducati motorbike into an electric model, with the aspiration of combining the performance of petrol with zero exhaust pipe emissions.
"As a motorcycle enthusiast and engineer, I knew I could combine my passion for motorcycles with my passion for innovation and create a motorcycle that truly sets a new standard in the perception of electric vehicles," North said at the bike's launch at the TED conference in Long Beach, California.
North's bike is powered by lithium-ion batteries - the type found in laptops and mobile phones - and will reportedly run for 150 miles between recharging, which takes two hours.
The model demonstrated was a hand-built prototype. It is yet to be tested on the road at 150mph, but a Mission Motors' spokesman said they "have no doubt that this prototype will achieve its target speed".
Tesla and Mission Motors are targeting affluent green motorists, with the Tesla selling for £92,000 in the UK and the first 50 limited-edition Mission Ones likely to sell for $68,995 (£47,100). A cheaper version of the Mission One is due to be announced this summer.
UK bikers and electric vehicle fans will get their first glimpse of the Mission One at this summer's TTXGP, a motorbike race on the Isle of Man that bills itself as the world's first clean emissions grand prix. "Mission are really breaking the barrier on speed, and they also have a team of people that has a lot of experience in electric vehicles," said Azhar Hussain, TTXGP's founder.
Most of today's electric motorbikes in the UK are effectively scooters limited to speeds of 60mph or below, such as the high-end Vectrix VX-1 and budget Ego Street Scoota.

Wind turbine firm axes staff as recession hits renewables sector

California company cuts 11% of workforce but giant turbine for the North Sea is unaffected
Terry Macalister, Thursday 5 February 2009 14.38 GMT

The windfarm sector faces difficult conditions. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
One of the world's leading turbine manufacturers is to make 11% of its workforce redundant as windfarm developers put on the brakes in the face of a global economic slowdown.
Clipper Windpower said in a trading update that 90 staff would be laid off and production levels cut by up to a fifth but insisted that work on a giant turbine for the North Sea, which is supported by the Crown Estate, would be unaffected.
"Clipper is responding aggressively to the current difficult conditions which impact Clipper, its customers and the entire wind industry," said Doug Pertz, the company's chief executive. "Working closely with customers, we are proactively managing the impacts of this situation and rescaling the business to align with demand."
The renewable energy and clean tech sector has seen its share price hammered over the last six months and green energy developers are finding it difficult to raise money from cash-strapped banks.
In better times, analysts had predicted that Clipper, which is listed on the AIM junior stock market in London, would break even during 2008 but the company admitted today that the losses in the first half would continue into the second.
The California-based group, which once had the former UK energy minister Colin Moynihan on the board and Sir Anthony Hopkins as a shareholder, said it would end the financial year with $214m (£146m) in cash. This was lower than expected as Clipper was hit by deferred customer orders, the need to repair some turbines and late grid connections being installed on site.
Despite these problems, Pertz said the company would be ready when there was an upturn and still expected to install 350 turbines this year, up from 324 during 2008.
Along with competitor Vestas, which reports its financial results later this month, Clipper had been ramping up its production facilities at its main manufacturing base at Cedar Rapids in Iowa in anticipation of new demand.
But the company said it was now "reducing overall operating expenses, component purchases and working capital balances to align with the lower production levels, including an 11% workforce reduction."
It is hoping that the industry will be boosted in the longer term by President Barack Obama's commitment to a greener future in the US.
A London spokesman for Clipper said the research and development of a huge Britannia class turbine at Blyth in north-east England was still proceeding. "Its completely unaffected and the company is still very excited about it," he said.
Clipper, chaired by wind power pioneer Jim Dehlsen, is only producing onshore equipment in the US but sees a great opportunity to develop much larger turbines for Britain and Europe's growing offshore market.
The government's climate change adviser warned yesterday that British ministers might have to support renewable energy developments such as new windfarms as the global credit crisis choked funding for companies.
Lord Adair Turner, who is also chairman of the Financial Services Authority, said there was a drastic shortage of credit to fund schemes which, he says, are crucial to help Britain meet strict targets to cut planet-warming carbon emissions.

Greenwash: Dirty claims on clean coal

The Scottish government is talking up the world's dirtiest fossil fuel as clean in its push to revive its coal industry

Fred Pearce, Thursday 5 February 2009 10.14 GMT

Scotland has one-tenth of Europe's coal. Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
The Scottish government is planning to green its electricity generation by burning more coal. Yes, you read that right. Coal is green, say ministers in Edinburgh, who in December announced a climate policy that they declared to be the world's most advanced.
And if you can't get your head round that, you are not alone. Nasa's famed climate scientist, Jim Hansen, last week wrote an open letter to the first minister Alex Salmond declaring the policy a "sham".
Should anyone south of the border, or indeed on another continent, care? Well, yes. Later this year, Britain's climate change minister, Ed Miliband,will go to Copenhagen, to sign up to tough new targets on cutting national emissions of greenhouse gases. And that includes Scottish emissions – over which neither Miliband nor anybody in Whitehall seems to have any control. That may mess up the UK's bargaining position - although with the UK government backing the new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, they are making a good job of that themselves. More importantly though, the atmosphere does not care which country the CO2 comes from or where the coal that produced it was burned. Scotland has one-tenth of Europe's coal and Salmond seems hell-bent on digging it up and setting it alight.
In December, Salmond and his ministers published a climate change bill that promises to cut Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. He does promise more renewable energy, but the push to revive Scotland's coal industry and build new coal-burning power stations is the talk of Edinburgh and a massive snub to a truly green energy policy - which since Scotland has spectacular potential for wind and wave power is indefensible.
The greenwash comes when Salmond and his ministers ape industry propaganda by talking up the world's dirtiest fossil fuel as "clean coal". Take what happened two years ago. Scottish Power announced plans to extend the life of the country's two existing coal-fired stations, at Longannet and Cockenzie, which provide a third of Scotland's electricity. Scottish Power, which is owned by a Spanish company, claimed it wanted to convert the two plants to "clean coal technology".
The new turbines and boilers would cut carbon dioxide emissions by about one-fifth, which its chairman Ignacio Galan claimed would be "a revolutionary change in low-carbon energy generation in Scotland."
Salmond agreed. He used the launch to declare: "Coal is king ... If you can use clean-coal technology, coal has a dynamic future. It means coal, far from being environmentally unacceptable, is becoming environmentally attractive."
This is crazy. Cutting emissions by a fifth still leaves coal as the dirtiest fuel. And Scottish Power's "clean coal" plan will almost certainly result in the two plants emitting more carbon dioxide in the long run, because it will extend their lifetimes. Environmentally attractive? I think not.
Probably what Salmond had in mind was an entirely different technology known as carbon-capture and storage (CCS). The idea of this is to take CO2 emitted from power plants and bury it in old coal mines or beneath the North Sea. The technology is not being fitted at the two plants, or anywhere else. It is a technology in the early stages of development and Scottish Coal agrees it is "some years away".
Salmond's planned new policy on energy, recently out for consultation, will require any future coal power stations to be ready to capture carbon dioxide – should the technology ever become available. That is all.
But let's not let the facts get in the way of a good greenwash. The push for coal in Scotland is big right now. Scottish withdrawal symptoms over the decline of its oil are palpable. Scottish Coal's new chief executive said this week that there were "perhaps billions of tonnes" of coal beneath Scotland. He wants his hands on it.
And Salmond is with him. Last autumn, he promised support for the opening of two new deep coal mines in the country at Canonbie and Longannet. His energy minister, Jim Mather, said "Scotland has huge coal reserves which, alongside our renewables potential, could meet Scotland's electricity needs for many years to come."
In November, the government also applauded plans from a Danish power company, Dong Energy, to build Scotland a third coal-fired plant, at Hunterston. It will be "ready to incorporate carbon capture and storage".
That is what finally did it for Hansen, who is campaigning for a global ban on new coal-fired power stations. "Carbon capture and storage readiness is not an adequate solution. It is a sham that does not guarantee that a single tonne of carbon will be captured in practice," his letter to Salmond said.
It is not the usual policy of this column to attack political parties. They are entitled to their policies. But the clean coal mantra is being repeated with so little regard for the facts that it demands to be challenged every time.
Introducing the new climate change bill in December, Scotland's climate change minister Stewart Stevenson said it "shows that Scotland is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change."
The truth is that while President Obama is promising green jobs, first minister Salmond is promising black jobs. Last word to Hansen: "The decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured fully from the outset is a global imperative. We cannot avert our eyes. We must solve the coal problem now."
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please email your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

California's farms and vineyards 'could disappear by the end of the century' because of global warming

California's farms and vineyards could disappear by the end of the century if urgent measures to curb global warming aren't implemented, the new US secretary of energy has warned.

By Caroline Hedley in Los Angeles Last Updated: 11:55PM GMT 05 Feb 2009

Steven Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, says his home state faces "dire consequences" from the effects of climate change.
Rising temperatures could lead to the disappearance of up to 90 per cent of the Sierra snowpack, which California - the US's main agricultural producer – is dependent on to sustain its crops.
"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," Mr Chu said in his first interview since being appointed head of President Barack Obama's energy office. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California."
He said that cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco were also under threat.
A key factor in the new administration's strategy to arrest climate change is education, the former Stanford University professor revealed. Billions of dollars would be allocated to fund research into renewable 'clean' energy, he said, and strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions would be enforced. He said he hoped the public would "wake up" to the potentially catastrophic scenario facing their nation.
Mr Chu's assertions are supported by two recent studies, which claim farmlands are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes.
A report in the American journal Science forecast worldwide crop shortages resulting from increases in temperature, while researchers from the University Of California found that 'the golden state' has $2.5 trillion (£1.9 trillion) in assets endangered by global warming, many of them agricultural.