Friday, 6 March 2009

Revenge of the rainforest

The Amazon has long been the lungs of the world. But now comes dramatic evidence that we cannot rely on it in the fight against climate change

By Steve Connor
Friday, 6 March 2009

It covers an area 25 times bigger than Britain, is home to a bewildering concentration of flora and fauna and is often described as the "lungs of the world" for its ability to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide through its immense photosynthetic network of trees and leaves.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the biggest and most important living stores of carbon on the planet through its ability to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into solid carbon, kept locked in the trunks of rainforest trees for centuries.
But this massive natural "sink" for carbon cannot be relied on to continue absorbing carbon dioxide in perpetuity, a study shows. Researchers have found that, for a period in 2005, the Amazon rainforest actually slipped into reverse gear and started to emit more carbon than it absorbed.
Four years ago, a sudden and intense drought in the Amazonian dry season created the sort of conditions that give climate scientists nightmares. Instead of being a net absorber of about two billion tons of carbon dioxide, the forest became a net producer of the greenhouse gas, to the tune of about three billion tons.
The additional quantity of carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere after the drought – some five billion tons – exceeded the annual man-made emissions of Europe and Japan combined. What happened in the dry season of 2005 was a stark reminder of how quickly the factors affecting global warming can change.
"For years, the Amazon forest has been helping to slow down climate change," said Professor Oliver Phillips, from the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study in the journal Science. "But relying on this subsidy from nature is extremely dangerous. The emission of five billion tons of carbon dioxide was huge. It meant that a major part of the biosphere had switched from one function to another, from a carbon sink to a carbon source.
"It shows what could happen if droughts become more frequent, and climate models suggest that Amazonia will get warmer and so put more water stress on vegetation. If the Earth's carbon sinks slow or go into reverse, as our results show is possible, carbon dioxide levels will rise even faster. Deeper cuts in emissions will be required to stabilise our climate."
The study, which involved nearly 70 scientists from 13 countries, examined more than 100,000 trees in 100 forest plots. The scientists had been monitoring changes to the girth of each tree over a period of between 20 and 30 years, so were able to calculate with some precision the effect of the 2005 drought on tree growth.
The drought itself was unusual. Normally, droughts in the Amazon are the result of changes caused by El Niño, the warm Pacific Ocean current, but the one in 2005 was a result of higher-than-average temperatures at the sea surface of the tropical North Atlantic.
"The pattern of the drought was shorter but sharper and more intense than usual," Professor Phillips said. "It affected the southern two-thirds of Amazonia and especially the south-west through reduced rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures. It was the kind of drought we expect to see in a globally warming world. On the ground, it was hard to see because you had to detect by measuring lots of trees over a larger area of land. There was not a massive die-off of trees."
The researchers found that the drought sharply reversed the decades-long growth of the trees. The normal die-off rate of the trees, about 1 per cent per year, doubled to 2 per cent, and the continued expansion of tree girths effectively stopped.
"Visually, most of the forest appeared little affected, but our records prove tree death rates accelerated," Professor Phillips went on. "Because the region is so vast, even small ecological effects can scale-up to a large impact on the planet's carbon cycle."
Humans worldwide are estimated emit about 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year but just less than half of this, about 15 billion tons, remains in the atmosphere. The rest is absorbed by natural carbon sinks in the ocean and on land.
Scientists have calculated that the world's tropical forests collectively absorb about 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, with the Amazon being the single biggest rainforest sink. Amazonia alone is estimated to store about 100 billion tons of carbon locked up in its trees.
This is why the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen later this year will focus heavily on what can be done to save rainforests to ameliorate the effects of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide.
Lee White, the chief climate change scientist for the government of Gabon, said: "To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly five billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests, based on realistic prices for a ton of carbon, should be valued at about £13bn a year. This is a compelling argument for conserving tropical forests." Dr White was a co-author of another study last month on the role played by African tropical forests in processing carbon dioxide.
Professor Phillips added. "It's surprising to see how sensitive the system appears to be. This is the first time anyone has tried to measure the impact of a big tropical drought on the ground. Now we've quantified it and, yes, there's a specificity there and it wouldn't take a huge change to shut down this thing and switch it to an overall source of carbon dioxide."

The Amazon: Facts and figures

* The Amazon rainforest covers an area of some 600 million hectares (2.3 million sq miles), an area of land 25 times bigger than Britain. It is the biggest rainforest on Earth, responsible for about 40 per cent of the world's rainforest absorption of carbon dioxide.
* Satellite surveys indicate that about 5,800 sq miles of the Amazon rainforest is burnt or cleared each year to make way for cattle ranching, farming or other kinds of development.
* More than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in tropical rainforests. One-fifth of the world's fresh water moves through the Amazon basin.
* Scientists estimate that there are at least 100 billion tons of carbon stored in the trees of the Amazon rainforest and each year the Amazon absorbs about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
* During the extreme drought of 2005, the Amazon became a net producer of carbon dioxide, releasing an estimated 3 billion tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere – a net increase of 5 billion tons.

Coal industry tries to hide dirty facts behind 'clean' claims

Misleading and duplicitous ads on 'clean coal' cannot camouflage the stench of fossil fuels

Fred Pearce, Thursday 5 March 2009 11.29 GMT

The fightback begins here. Well, we can hope. The misleading and downright duplicitous ads against clean coal chronicled here are now being contested by – you guessed it – an ad.
Last week the Academy-award winning movie producers Joel and Ethan Coen began airing their commercial on cable TV in the US. It is a spoof air freshener advert with a suburban housewife spraying her home with a coal-black aerosol from a can called Clean Coal. Explaining the magic ingredient, the presenter says that "Clean Coal harnesses the awesome power of the word clean".
It ends with the caption for anyone with a comedy bypass: "In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal."
Meanwhile, a thick spray of the white stuff in Washington DC couldn't prevent some 2,000 protesters gathering at the Capitol Hill power plant to protest that the plant burns coal to provide steam heating for the federal legislature's cavernous halls.
The snow did allow a mocking Fox News to report that the scene was "reminiscent of a day in January 2004 when Al Gore made a major address in New York – on one of the coldest days in the city's history." They really can't get over Gore, can they?
But we all have our obsessions, and I fear that the alliterative power of "clean coal" is destined to reoccur in this column. It is just so pervasive and so toxic. It seems capable of camouflaging every stench of the industry. And even the distant prospect of it is just so damned convenient for politicians caught between coal and environment lobbies.
In Britain, the prospective "clean coal" technology known as carbon capture and storage looks like it is being lined up as a fig leaf for the construction of new coal-burning power plants. How else can one explain contradictory messages from ministers in recent days?
This week the word from Whitehall has been that a decision on the Kingsnorth power plant, likely to be the first of several such plants, had been delayed until the autumn, while the cabinet minister responsible for both energy and climate policy, Ed Miliband, conducted a review of coal policy because of climate concerns.
But I am having trouble reconciling that with last week's speech by energy minister Mike O'Brien at a coal industry conference in London where he said "we will need new fossil fuel plants, including coal" to meet a "generation capacity gap by 2015".
Which is it to be? Watch out for "clean coal" to bridge the climate gap. But we may be asked to glossed over the fact that, as O'Brien helpfully explained, Britain's first project to see if it can make the technology work at an actual power station won't begin its first tests until 2014 – a bit late to plug an energy gap a year later.
The doublespeak is in overdrive right now in Australia, from where reader Patrick has sent me updates on the launch of the Australian Coal Association PR campaign New Generation Coal. It has a multi-million dollar media budget for promoting clean coal.
We should be grateful that, like its counterparts round the world, the ACA now concedes that climate change has to be beaten. And unlike many countries, the Australian $40-billion coal industry is spending a few tens of millions of dollars a year on R&D into carbon capture and storage.
But it is small stuff that they are selling big. And one snappily-titled project, Zero-Gen in Queensland, is reportedly on the brink of collapse because of a funding dispute between industry and government.
The Australian industry's claim that carbon capture and storage will be "commercially viable by 2017" is far-fetched to say the least.
Nobody else in the world thinks that is possible. And that, I'd guess, includes the Australian government, which recently snubbed UN climate negotiators by setting itself a derisory target of reducing domestic CO2 emissions by just 5% by 2020.
Australia is built on coal. It gets 80% of its electricity from burning the stuff. But domestic emissions are just the start. It is also the world's largest exporter. As another reader Dave points out, Newcastle in New South Wales is the world's busiest coal exporting terminal, sending abroad 80 million tonnes of the black stuff every year, mostly to fast-growing Asian economies like China and Thailand.
So not only are Aussie greenhouse gas emissions among the world's highest (per head of population, more than twice those of Britain) they are also doing their best to bump everybody's up as well.
Until its Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, starts doing something about that, his claimed green credentials will be just greenwash.
• 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

Wind drives change in Spain

By Victor Mallet and Mark Mulligan in Madrid
Published: March 5 2009 22:27

Spain’s windmills produced a record amount of electricity on Thursday, underlining the growing importance of renewable energy to Europe and the challenges of matching new and sometimes erratic power sources to the continent’s demand.
At 11.09am, the windmills were producing 11,203MW – the highest output ever – equivalent to 29.5 per cent of Spanish demand at that time, according to Red Eléctrica, the national grid operator. For much of the day, wind was Spain’s single largest source of electricity. Before dawn, when demand was low, wind turbines contributed up to 42 per cent of electricity supply.

Spanish investment in subsidised wind energy has been so intense – hilltop ranks of huge white windmills can be seen across the country – that Red Eléctrica has been forced at times to shut some of the turbines because the grid can’t cope with the excess supply.
“Wind is no longer a marginal supplier for us,” Luis Atienza, Red Eléctrica’s chief executive, said recently in one of its control rooms in Madrid, eyeing huge, illuminated displays showing power flows and wind speeds. Over the year, wind already supplies about 12 per cent of Spain’s electricity, more than hydropower.
“It’s going to catch coal in the next few years and it represents a special challenge,” he said, referring to the difficulty of reducing the output of coal and other thermal power stations to compensate for strong winds at night when demand is low. “Renewables are very demanding in terms of networks,” he said.
Iberdrola of Spain, the world’s biggest wind energy generator by installed capacity, said on Thursday that this winter had been particularly blustery, contributing to a 37 per cent increase in the company’s domestic electricity production from wind.
“Wind is not only a good clean alternative,” it said, “but is getting close to becoming competitive with conventional energy sources in terms of production costs.”
The European Wind Energy Association said that in 2008 more wind power capacity was installed in the European Union than any other power source. Of the 23,851MW of new EU capacity, 36 per cent was wind, 29 per cent gas and 18 per cent solar photovoltaic cells.
By year-end, Spain expects to be producing almost a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Brazil nuclear reactor gets environmental license

The Associated Press
Published: March 5, 2009

SAO PAULO: Brazil's state nuclear energy company says it has received environmental approval to resume construction of the country's third nuclear power plant.
Eletronuclear says in a statement released Thursday that the license granted by Brazil's environmental protection agency is valid for six years.
Construction on the Angra 3 plant has been held up since the 1980s by environmental concerns.
Eletronuclear says Angra 3 will have an installed capacity of about 1,400 megawatts and should be operating by late 2014.
Brazil's two other nuclear power plants have a total capacity of about 2,000 megawatts.

World Bank OKs $1.3B environmental loan to Brazil

The Associated Press
Published: March 5, 2009

WASHINGTON: The World Bank said Thursday it will lend Brazil $1.3 billion to help the country protect its Amazon jungle and other fragile ecosystems and deal with climate change.
In a statement, the bank said environmental protection is important particularly in Brazil, which is home to one-third of existing tropical rain forest, as well as the world's largest reservoir of fresh water and most biodiverse savanna.
The money aims to help Brazil curb deforestation in the Amazon; conserve the remaining Atlantic forest; protect the quality and availability of water; and accommodate increased energy demands that are straining the country's "clean energy matrix," which comprises mostly hydroelectric power.
It also will deal with sustainability problems of a country whose ecosystem is particularly "crucial to development and people's welfare," the statement said.
"The social and economic cost of environmental destruction is high" in Brazil, the bank's Brazil director, Makhtar Diop, was quoted as saying.

"Smooth coordination of policies and procedures within the Brazilian environmental management system, combined with an increased commitment from the financial sector to long-term sustainability, is key to ... ensuring growth that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive."

China to plough extra 20% into agricultural production amid fears that climate change will spark food crisis

Wen Jiabao announces extra money to boost farm yields, raise rural incomes and invest in renewable energy

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Thursday 5 March 2009 16.13 GMT

China will increase spending on agricultural production by 20% this year amid warnings that climate change could spark a future food crisis .
Prime minister Wen Jiabao's announcement of an extra 121 billion yuan (£13bn) to boost farm yields and raise rural incomes was a central part of his annual budget speech at the Great Hall of the People.
The government's spending pledge also included extra money for renewable energy and improved power efficiency, but these environmental benefits were outweighed by moves to boost overall domestic consumption and a likely emphasis on intensive agriculture.
The short-term aim is to ease the impact of the economic crisis on rural dwellers, who account for more than half of the 1.3bn population. This group is considered a potential source of social instability because the average rural income is just a third that of the city. Wen said grain prices would be increased as an incentive for farmers to produce more.
Many Chinese people can remember the famines of the early 1960s which killed tens of millions of people. More recently, improved farming policies and technologies have given China a high level of self-sufficiency and growth. But the country's top economic planning body warned that this would be hard to maintain.
"After five years of bumper harvests, it will be very difficult to keep grain production growing steadily," the National Development and Reform Commission said today in its annual report, pledging to keep overall output in the coming year at least steady at 500 million tonnes.
Satisfying the appetite of a population growing at the rate of 12 million people per year is all the more difficult as the impacts of climate change are felt.
Lin Erda, a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences projects a fall in agricultural yields of 14% to 23% by 2050 due to water shortages and other impacts.
Northern China, which accounts for 58% of the country's food production, suffered its worst drought in half a century earlier this year, according to local media. Rising temperatures and over-use of water resources has continued to cause desertification, cutting the cropland available.
In the face of this, and continued industrial and urban development, it will be a major task for the coming year to be keep the area of arable land above 120 million hectares, Wen told the 3,000 delegates of the National People's Congress, China's parliament. This is the minimum that the government has long set for food security.
Chinese scientists have not reached a consensus about the potential impact of climate change on overall harvests. While some areas may be boosted by warmer, wetter growing conditions, other regions are likely to suffer droughts and floods.
Lei Ming, an environmental economist at Peking University said the extra spending on agriculture was a precautionary step. "The impact of climate change on food production is uncertain. It may go up, but it is also possible that we will face massive food shortages. To avoid such a risk, we need to prepare ourselves. I think that's one of the reasons the government is increasing the agriculture budget."
Environmental groups said that the extra investment in rural infrastructure was welcome, but that it could prove counter-productive if not spent on sustainable farming.
"If it is used to subsidise more chemical fertilisers that would be bad, but it could benefit both farmers and the environment if it was used to support eco-friendly cultivation," said Sze Pangcheung, Greenpeace campaign director. "But that would require a big paradigm shift." Currently, the focus of most funding and research in China is on intensive agriculture and genetic engineering.
While China remains committed to high economic growth, and the consequent greenhouse gas emissions, it will continue to boost environmental programmes as well. Wen said spending would increase on wind, solar and nuclear power, as well as research on "clean coal" technology. China's energy efficiency has improved 10% over the last three years. The output of carbon and sulphur emissions grew 5% slower than the economy in 2008.
The National Development and Reform Commission said China would introduce a regional climate change programme, shut small coal mines and power plants and continue to experiment with cap and trade emissions programmes.
China was praised for the large green component of the $586bn fiscal stimulus package it announced last November. According to the HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, investment in energy efficiency measures, renewable technology and other efforts to ameliorate the impact of climate change accounted for more than 30% of the package.

UN agency targets clean technologies

By Frances Williams in Geneva
Published: March 5 2009 16:43

The intellectual property agency of the United Nations is to promote wider use of new technology to meet the global challenge of climate change.
Francis Gurry, the Australian lawyer who took over the helm of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) in October, plans to take a new look at how the intellectual property system can ensure that patents are not a barrier to trade.

In an interview, Mr Gurry said Wipo would look at ways in which patents on new “clean technologies” that cut greenhouse gas emissions could be used to promote rather than restrict access to those technologies, especially by developing countries.
Wipo does not want to “wait passively” for climate change technology to become mired in the kind of acrimonious public debate that has beset pharmaceutical patents, where there have been accusations that patents held by first world companies are restricting access to affordable medicines in developing countries.
Through its international patent filing system, Wipo has a huge repository of technical information and could offer an online platform to allow companies to share information about clean technology innovation.
Companies could use the online exchange to disclose their technologies with a view to collaborating on research with others on a commercial basis. Participants would pledge to licence green technologies “on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms”, enabling any company in the system to access them for use in research.
Mr Gurry said he planned to explore the possibilities of creating this “open innovation” platform with governments and “clean technology” industry leaders in the coming weeks.
“If we can develop mechanisms that show that the marketplace is working for developing and diffusing new technologies, we’re in a much better position to avoid recourse to compulsory licensing and other measures,” he said.
Wipo’s proposed initiatives on climate change are part of a nine-point strategy approved by its 184 member states in December. This is aimed at making the organisation more efficient and more active in IP policy debates, with a focus on issues of concern to developing countries.
However, Mr Gurry, a Wipo veteran of 24 years and former deputy director general, faces a difficult task in transforming an agency weakened by several years of scandal that forced his predecessor, Kamil Idris of Sudan, to leave office a year early.
The start of his six-year term has also coincided with a deepening of the world economic downturn. Figures published in January suggest this has already started to have an impact on international patent filings, which account for the bulk of Wipo’s income.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Clean energy

Published: March 5 2009 09:28

It’s not easy being green, even if you have powerful friends. The Obama administration’s $787bn stimulus package contains $56bn in grants and tax breaks for US clean energy projects. The numbers are juicy. But Mr Obama’s billions are no panacea for the sector’s financing woes.
Global investment in clean energy is expected to hold steady at $150bn this year as banks and hedge funds hoard cash – a marked slowdown for an industry where investment grew by 60 per cent a year in 2006 and 2007, according to New Energy Finance, a clean energy consultancy.

As interest in new wind and solar projects wanes amid falling oil prices, and a lack of available credit stalls expansion of existing ones, anxious eyes are turning to the government.
Mr Obama’s stimulus includes calls for $38bn in direct government spending and $18bn in tax breaks for clean energy spread over the next 10 years, according to Dewey & LeBoeuf, the law firm.
Owners of solar, wind, and other clean energy facilities will be able to claim tax credits against the cost of new equipment, helping attract big institutional investors who have been put off investing in clean energy because of uncertainty about taxes. But the short timeframe – credits can only be claimed for projects that are up and running within the next three to four years – means projects still on the drawing board may not be ready in time to qualify.
Plans for direct spending include $11bn for a new energy grid, $2bn in grants for new battery technologies, and $6bn in loan guarantees for new power plants and transmission lines. Such spending is well and good, assuming the money can be allocated efficiently by government bureaucrats. Recent experience at the Treasury, where staffers are being stretched to the limit doling out billions in bail-out money, suggests that is more easily said than done.
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Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Green shift demands root and branch changes

The Times
March 6, 2009
The Government is determined that UK industry will adapt quickly to the needs of a low-carbon economy
Ed Miliband and Peter Mandelson

Imagine somebody telling you that 20 years from now almost everything you do in your life you will do differently. That is how fundamental the transition to a low-carbon economy in the UK will be. Many of the changes in the way we generate the energy and in the supply chains that produce the goods we use may not affect us directly. But the changes will nevertheless be profound.
Convinced of the economic and environmental urgency of change, the UK and Europe have adopted some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world. By the middle of this century, all the UK’s goods and services will need to be produced using one tenth of the carbon they do today.
We have changed the law to speed up the adoption of energy generated by wind, solar and tidal power, to encourage the development of low-carbon vehicles and to put a price on carbon emissions.
The shift to low carbon in the UK and around the world is now largely inevitable. What is not inevitable is that Britain benefits industrially from the transition in both the short and long term. Yet the benefits to the economy are potentially huge, both in terms of money saved through a quick shift to energy efficiency and through building companies capable of competing in the huge global market for low-carbon goods and services, now worth £3 trillion a year and growing fast. British taxpayers and businesses could benefit from more resource-efficient businesses and public buildings, saving billions of pounds a year.

Research released today shows that more than a million people in the UK could be employed in the low-carbon sector by the middle of the next decade, in everything from manufacturing and construction to environmental consultancy and low-carbon venture capital.
To achieve these things, Britain will need a strategic approach from government that combines the right targets to drive the shift to low carbon and an industrial activism that supports British companies and British workers in competing for the opportunities that will be created.
The vision of a low-carbon industrial strategy that we are launching today will help us explore solutions with businesses, unions, environmentalists and others. We will specifically focus on four fundamental issues – each of which reflects an area where the UK now needs to make a step change.
First, we know energy efficiency is key for businesses; it helps to save money and reduce carbon emissions. However, in a downturn and with credit conditions tight, it is understandable that making changes or investing in energy efficiency measures can be a difficult decision to make, even if the costs of change are quickly covered by the savings. Today we are exploring how Government can work together with business to make the shift quicker and easier.
We are also committed to setting the right example in the public sector and are looking for ways to scale up the Government’s own shift to energy efficiency – saving British taxpayers billions in the process.
Second, the UK must now begin to shift its energy generation infrastructure on to more sustainable sources and create an electricity grid that is both energy efficient and adaptable to new forms of power.
Our commitment to new nuclear power has made the UK the second most attractive market in the world for nuclear investment, we have put measures in place for a huge expansion of renewable electricity and we are determined to drive forward trials of carbon capture and storage to clean up how we use coal.
Today we are inviting industry leaders to voice their opinions and share their expertise with us so these changes can truly benefit the UK economy and equip British companies to compete for similar clean energy business overseas.
Third, we have created a £350 million package to help Britain to make the shift to low-carbon vehicles. In tandem, we need to act to make the UK the best place in the world to demonstrate, develop or manufacture low-carbon vehicles or their components. This is a huge global market in which the UK has the potential to be a leader. But it will mean a more coherent approach from government in how we sponsor research, promote innovation and attract manufacturing.
Finally and fundamentally, to really capture the benefits of the global shift to low carbon, the UK needs to be the best place in the world to locate or build a low-carbon business. That means policies that make research and development here easy and productive, infrastructure that meets the needs of low-carbon innovators and a training system that helps British workers get the skills they will need to handle new technologies and ways of doing things.
Today we will be asking for recommendations on how we do this and more. These recommendations will shape a comprehensive Low Carbon Industrial Strategy for the UK. The shift to low carbon is vital to creating the jobs and growth that will help the UK fight its way out of the downturn.
But this is more than a green job creation scheme, or “greening” the recovery. This is about looking beyond the short term, to Britain’s industrial future. Low carbon is not a sector of our economy. It is, or will be, our whole economy and a global market.
While the shift to low carbon requires significant change and adaptation, it also has huge economic and industrial benefits if we combine a strategic approach from government with the dynamism of private enterprise and compete for them. A low-carbon industrial strategy must seize the opportunities that will come with change. That requires a new industrial activism for a new green industrial revolution.
The writers are the Energy and Climate Change Secretary and the Business Secretary

Mistrust between nations hits green trade

By Alan Beattie in Washington
Published: March 5 2009 18:01

With international trade one of the most prominent victims of the global slowdown, economic stimulus spent on green goods and services ought to be good for globalisation as well as the environment.
Many of the cutting-edge technologies in areas such as wind and solar power and waste treatment have been developed by rich world scientists and companies in Europe and the US, and many of the most fertile places for their adoption are in emerging markets such as China and India. European and American science combined with efficient and cheap Chinese manufacturing should be a powerful combination. But experts say that, with the issue of trade in environmental goods and services mired in mistrust between rich countries and poor, much potential is being lost. And though traditional trade barriers such as import tariffs are not having a huge effect in blocking such international commerce, suspicion over the protection of intellectual property certainly is.

Bernice Lee, head of the energy, environment and development programme at Chatham House, the London think-tank, says: “Recently there has been a shift within the EU and the US from a more defensive stance on climate change to a more entrepreneurial one. But what is missing is the impetus to carry these technologies round the world to help meet the climate goals.”
The Bali international climate change conference at the end of 2007 saw a rancorous stand-off between rich and poor nations as to what should count as an “environmental good”. The European Union and US suggested cutting to zero the trade tariffs on a range of goods such as solar panels and solar-driven boilers and concluding a wider agreement on environmental goods and services.
But emerging markets such as Brazil countered that this was export promotion unconvincingly masquerading as greenery, pointing at notorious examples of the rich countries failing to practise what they preach when it comes to harnessing trade to help the environment. The EU, for example, slapped so-called “anti-dumping” import tariffs on energy-saving lightbulbs from China in 2001 at the behest of European manufacturers and kept them for seven years. The US continues to levy a steep tariff on imported ethanol, which benefits the relatively carbon-intensive domestic corn ethanol at the expense of more environmentally friendly imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.
In reality, according to a paper by Veena Jha published by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva, tariffs are not a particularly big barrier to the dissemination of environmental technologies. By far the biggest importer of environmental goods in the world, China has an average import tariff of just 8 per cent on such products. More important in determining whether such countries imported environmental goods, Ms Jha found, were overall levels of commitment to protect the environment and whether or not they received technical assistance from rich countries – often regarded as a hidden form of export promotion.
And others point out that the intellectual property underlying the technologies has been a more important barrier to globalising the response to climate change. European companies expert in areas such as wind power, for example, have been highly reluctant to license their technologies to manufacturing plants in China in spite of much lower costs for fear that the intellectual property will be stolen.
“Many of these technologies will not become economically viable until China becomes part of the equation from the manufacturing and the purchasing side,” Ms Lee says. But for the moment, much of that move has been slow and halting.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

New green strategy could create 400,000 jobs

• Miliband outlines plans for low-carbon economy• Coal and nuclear energy will be key to future
Suzanne Goldenberg, Juliette Jowit and Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Friday 6 March 2009

New jobs will be created in low-carbon industries for 400,000 people - from lagging lofts to nuclear power - the government will announce today.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said there was a global race towards creating a low-carbon economy and that Britain must not get left behind. He set out the key elements required - from energy efficiency to a smart electricity grid - ahead of today's low-carbon summit in London, with representatives from industry, unions and the environment movement.
Gordon Brown will launch the summit, which will examine how the UK can boost jobs and investment in areas such as cleaner vehicles and low-carbon energy.
Brown will also call for a "global green new deal" in which government spending tackles economic and climate problems simultaneously.
The summit will be hosted by Miliband and business secretary Lord Mandelson, who will publish their vision of a low-carbon industrial strategy. The strategy, seen by the Guardian, says: "The transition will transform our whole economy. It will change our industrial landscape ... and the way in which we all work and consume."
Miliband said the most important first step was encouraging business to achieve greater energy efficiency, especially for buildings, which is seen as the quickest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could save companies £3.3bn a year. Britain must also make longer-term investments in a "smart electricity grid", using digital technology to improve management of demand and so reduce the overall need for generating capacity.
As well as renewable energy, Miliband said nuclear and coal-fired power plants were central to the strategy. "We need to move towards a trinity of low-carbon fuels," he said. "Coal will remain part of the energy mix in this country certainly for some years to come but it needs to be clean coal." A government announcement on funding for carbon capture and storage technology, which would bury emissions, has been delayed by a dispute with the Treasury over costs. The other key areas are cleaner vehicles, funding for research and development, and skills training.
Responses from the summit and a consultation will be fed into a final strategy, due this summer, which officials said would include new initiatives beyond existing government policies, such as the pledge this year to give every home a green makeover by 2030. There will also be discussions about how to create as many jobs as possible in the UK, using policies such as regional aid and the £175bn a year spent by the public sector.
The government will also publish a report commissioned from consultants Innovas, which forecasts the creation of an additional 400,000 jobs by UK environmental industries in the next eight years.
James Cameron, vice-chairman of consultants Climate Change Capital and an executive deemed to have the ear of ministers, has suggested the government establishes "carbon bonds" similar to war bonds issued in the second world war.
"I believe that now is the time for the government to consider, with urgency, the issue of bonds for ... reducing greenhouse gases ... while at the same time kick-starting the faltering economy," he said.
The Renewable Energy Association supports a bond strategy, which it believes could raise £2bn. It has also called for the government to spend £520m immediately. Friends of the Earth said measures to tackle climate change must be at the heart of next month's budget, with the government investing at least an extra £20bn annually over the next 10 years.
How to cut UK CO2 emissions
Energy efficiency More than half of UK emissions are generated to heat and power buildings. Climate change economics guru Lord Stern calculated that the four best green investments based on cost and benefits were all variations on efficiency improvements for homes, other buildings and their appliances. The government has already pledged a green makeover for every home.
Low carbon energyBuildings - and the rest of the economy - need "clean" energy. Ministers identify three key areas: renewable technologies, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage for coal generators.
Smart gridEnergy experts this week called for £4.7bn to upgrade the National Grid to cope with new wind farms and nuclear power. Minsters want to build a digital "smart grid", including a smart meter in every home by 2020, to monitor demand more finely and so reduce the need for generating capacity.
Clean vehicles Another quarter of emissions are from road transport. After efficiency, Stern rates more fuel-efficient cars as the next best green investment.

Seoul to create eco-friendly jobs

By Christian Oliver in Seoul
Published: March 5 2009 18:24

One year ago, many environmentalists saw Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president, as a bete noire, fearing a former construction executive who once planned to carve a giant canal down the whole length of the country.
But he has changed, spearheading a huge Won 50,000bn ($32bn, €25.5bn, £22.6bn) “Green New Deal” intended to create employment during a brutal economic downturn and revolutionise South Korea’s whole industrial economy.

The projects include forestry, cleaning rivers, cycle paths, railways, environmentally friendly homes and more efficient energy consumption. They are intended to create 950,000 jobs over the next four years.
“We know that the old strategy of semiconductors, mobile phones, cars and ship-building cannot continue. This is the biggest policy paradigm shift,” Kwon Tae-shin, minister of the prime minister’s office, told the Financial Times.
Mr Kwon said the priority was to steel Korea for a surge in unemployment and find work for the sort of family breadwinners who were hit hard by the financial crisis of 1997-98, many of them driven to suicide.
He admitted there could be trouble finding enough hands for all the manual labour, some of whom might have to come from abroad.
However, policymakers have stressed the basic groundwork projects will have a rapid trickle down effect into services such as leisure and jobs for well-qualified graduates, working on technology such as solar panels.
Korea has one of the world’s largest solar power stations and is branching into tidal power, trying to combat an overwhelming dependence on imported oil. Mr Kwon also expected Korea would be able to produce its own voluntary carbon emissions targets before December.
However, not everyone is convinced Korea has gone green. The country has a dismal reputation among bird enthusiasts for destroying wetlands and killing migratory birds by claiming land seven times the size of Manhattan from the Yellow Sea for factories.
Birds Korea, a conservation group, has called for the suspension of the project to clean and dredge four main rivers and exploit them for leisure activities until the full impact on endangered birdlife has been assessed.
Nial Moores, the group’s director, said many of the schemes he had seen appeared to fall short of South Korea’s international commitments on biodiversity and endangered species under international environmental protocols, including some with the UN.
“Some species that are easily disturbed will be lost,” he said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009