Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Aid must go on despite bank rescues, say Geldof and Stern

Ashley Seager
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 March 2009 17.42 GMT

The rich world should increase its aid donations to poor countries despite the financial crisis and because of climate change, Bob ­Geldof and Lord Stern said today.
Addressing a conference in London organised by the Department for International Development (DFID), both men said they were worried that commitments by developed countries to increase their aid flows to 0.7% of national income were under threat because of the cost of bailing out banks.
"Aid needs to continue – it is critical," Geldof said. "Compared to aid flows to ourselves – our banks – these are tiny amounts to give to an entire continent like Africa.
"Just as with climate change, it is the poorest who did the least to cause the crisis but they who will suffer the most."
He urged the G8 nations, in particular, to keep the pledges made at their Glen­eagles summit in 2005 to increase aid flows by $50bn (£36bn). But he criticised countries for backtracking on those promises and singled out Italy. "Berlusconi doesn't give a shit," he said.
He appealed to countries not to retreat into the "stupidity" of protectionism and said it was crucial that the G20 meeting in London in early April should come up with a proper, co-ordinated response to the financial crisis. "We got into this together and we have to get out of it together."
Lord Stern, author of the Stern Review of climate change in 2006, said poor countries should be the focus of efforts to relieve global poverty and climate change.
"The two great challenges of the 21st century are the battle against poverty and the management of climate change. On both we must act strongly now and expect to continue that action over the next decades."
He called for rich countries to raise their aid flows to 1% of gross domestic product rather than the 0.7% target most are committed to as a way of providing extra resources to poor countries to enable them to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
"With the private flows that could come with them and the growth and poverty reduction they could help foster, I think that these flows would constitute very wise investments for the world as a whole as well as being our duty as citizens of the world."
Ed Milliband, energy and climate change secretary, added that it was crucial to set up a properly functioning global carbon market because that would not only foster private financial flows to poor countries but enable them to enjoy low-carbon growth that would also benefit the rich world.
"I believe there's no substitute for carbon reductions at home but we have to build up a global carbon market. We must have both public and private finance."

Clean slate on clean air

Published: March 9, 2009

In a series of major decisions, the federal courts have effectively done away with nearly all of the Bush administration's clean-air regulations - most of them wrongheaded. That gives President Obama a clear shot at fashioning a new and coordinated attack on pollutants like smog, soot and mercury.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently struck down as inadequate national air-quality standards for fine particulates - small particles of soot from power plants and diesel engines that have been linked to heart and lung diseases.
And the Supreme Court let stand a 2008 ruling from the same appeals court striking down Bush rules governing mercury emissions from power plants. These two rulings clear the way for Obama's team to come up with more robust regulations on fine particles and on mercury.
Obama's Environmental Protection Agency must also deal with a third ruling from the D.C. Circuit that, confusingly enough, invalidated a genuinely worthy Bush initiative - a market-based emissions trading program that sought to curb pollution from power plants east of the Mississippi. In that case, the court said the EPA had exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act, a rare complaint against an administration that usually did too little.
Most of the Bush rules were driven by politics rather than science. In the fine-particle case, Stephen Johnson, then the agency's administrator, rejected the urgings of the great majority of his scientific advisers who wanted tough standards. Industry eventually won weaker standards, which the court has now found deficient and returned to the EPA for further review.

It was the same sad story with the Bush mercury rule. Soon after the rule was proposed, it was discovered that important sections had been lifted verbatim from draft language supplied by industry lawyers.
The most urgent task facing the EPA's new administrator, Lisa Jackson, is to do something about mercury. She has promised to address mercury as well as fine particulates. The power-plant rules invalidated by the court also need fixing, as do other rules governing pollutants like smog. This is a tall order, but after eight years of neglect, the field is clear for the administrator to give America the clean-air plan it needs.

Prince of Wales attacks climate change doubters

The Prince of Wales delivered a fierce attack Monday on those who doubt climate change and said it must be tackled before world poverty.

By Andrew Alderson in Santiago Last Updated: 11:38PM GMT 09 Mar 2009

Prince Charles: 'If we do nothing, the consequences for every person on this earth will be severe and unprecedented'
Prince Charles, who is starting a 10-day tour of South America, spoke at a dinner in Santiago, Chile, hosted by Michelle Bachelet, the President.
"How can we begin to address poverty if we haven't first ensured our planet is habitable?" he said.
"If we do nothing, the consequences for every person on this earth will be severe and unprecedented - with vast numbers of environmental refugees, social instability and decimated economies: far worse than anything which we are seeing today."
The Prince said Chile was witnessing the terrifying effects of global warming, including the shrinking of nearly 90 per cent of your glaciers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in the light of such evidence, and so much more from across the globe, I find it incomprehensible that there are those who doubt the science of climate change."
He said he believed in action not words. "We must think and act across boundaries of nation, sector, language and culture, and to do so now and with resolve."
The Prince, who the British Government reportedly wants to do more on the foreign stage, first met the President this morning with his wife.
The Prince, wearing a pale grey double-breasted suit, and the Duchess of Cornwall, in a cream crepe dress by designer Anna Valentine, were greeted by a formidable-looking guard of honour at La Moneda Palace.
The Prince and the Duchess began the day by paying their respects at the monument to Bernardo O'Higgins, the founding father of Chile.
O'Higgins was the first leader of his country after Chileans repelled the Spanish nearly 200 years ago.
After meeting the President, the couple visited an energy centre campaign at Parque Bustamente.
Prince Charles admired various devices that children had invented to save energy and thereby help protect the environment.
The couple carried out eight engagements today on their first full day of the tour, which will also include Brazil and Ecuador, where they will visit the Galapagos Islands.
The Prince alone also attended a round table discussion on climate change when he will be joined by 25 business leaders.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants to use the Prince's expertise, experience and contacts more from now on in "soft diplomacy" abroad.
Some diplomats feel he is an asset that has been under-used. The Prince's views on climate change and the environment are widely admired by world leaders.
On Thursday, in Brazil, Prince Charles will deliver a keynote speech when he will warn the world has less than 100 months to act if it is to avoid irreversible damage from climate change.

Scientists present latest news on climate change

The Associated Press
Published: March 9, 2009

COPENHAGEN: Climate scientists are preparing for bad news as they review the latest data on global warming at a conference this week in Copenhagen, one of the organizers said Monday.
The three-day conference starting Tuesday aims to update the science on climate change since the last U.N. report two years ago. Its conclusions will be presented to policy-makers at a key international climate summit in December.
"The purpose of the conference is to give the best ever information to the politicians," said Katherine Richardson, a scientist at the University of Copenhagen, which is hosting the conference.
Politicians meeting in Copenhagen for the U.N. climate talks in December will discuss a new global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The scientific cornerstone for those talks is a 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change. It collected the work of more than 2,000 scientists and listed the likely effects of global warming: arid regions will grow drier, rising seas will flood coastal areas, melting glaciers will flood communities downstream and then dry up the source of future water supplies, and up to 30 percent of all plant and animal species may become extinct.

However, since then new evidence has emerged showing that ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic are melting, which threatens to dramatically raise the level of the oceans and flood coastal cities and low-lying islands.
The 2007 report predicted a sea level rise of 7 to 23 inches (18 to 58 centimeters) by the end of the century, which could flood low-lying areas and force millions to flee. Recent data said an additional 3.9 to 7.8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) rise was possible if the recent melting of polar ice sheets continues.
Sea-level rise is one of the key topics on the program for the scientific congress this week, but there are many other areas in the IPCC report that need updating.
"Certainly the message from the natural science side, the part of science that looks at how the climate system really works, isn't very good," Richardson said. "There isn't any good news to be found there."
Some 1,600 abstracts have been submitted from nearly 80 countries to the conference, which will be attended by IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri and Nicholas Stern, the author of a British government report on the cost of climate change.
The conclusions will be published around June 1.

Gathering of contrarians takes on 'climate alarm'

By Andrew C. Revkin
Published: March 9, 2009

NEW YORK: More than 600 self-professed climate skeptics are meeting in New York this week to challenge what has become a broad scientific and political consensus: that without big changes in energy choices, humans will dangerously heat up the planet.
The three-day International Conference on Climate Change - organized by the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit group seeking deregulation and unfettered markets - brings together conservative campaigners, scientists, a former astronaut and the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.
Organizers say the discussions, which began Sunday, are intended to counter the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers, who have pledged to tackle global warming with legislation requiring cuts in the greenhouse gases that scientists have linked to rising temperatures.
The participants hold a wide range of views on climate science. Some concede that humans probably contribute to global warming, but they argue that the shift in temperatures poses no urgent risk. Others attribute the warming, along with cooler temperatures in recent years, to solar changes or ocean cycles.
But large corporations like Exxon Mobil, which in the past financed the Heartland Institute and other groups that challenged the climate consensus, have reduced support. Many such companies no longer dispute that the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels pose risks.

Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, said that Exxon and other companies were shifting their stance to improve their image. The Heartland event, he said, was the last bastion of intellectual honesty on the climate issue.
But Kert Davies, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace who is attending the Heartland event, said that the experts giving talks were "a shrinking collection of extremists" and that they were "left talking to themselves."
Organizers expected to top the attendance of about 500 at the first Heartland conference, last year. They also point to the speaker's roster, which includes Klaus and Harrison Schmitt, a geologist, Apollo astronaut and former senator.
A centerpiece of the 2008 meeting was the release of a reportexpressly designed to challenge reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This year, the meeting will focus on a more nuanced question: "Global warming: Was it ever a crisis?"
Most of the talks at the meeting will challenge climate orthodoxy. But some presenters, including prominent figures who have been vocal in their criticism in the past, say they will also call on their colleagues to synchronize the arguments they are using against plans to curb greenhouse gases.
In a speech Sunday, Richard Lindzen, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a longtime skeptic of the mainstream consensus that global warming poses a danger, first delivered a biting attack on what he called the "climate alarm movement."
There is no solid scientific evidence to back up the models used by climate scientists who warn of dire consequences if warming continues, he said. But Lindzen also criticized widely publicized assertions by other skeptics that variations in the sun were driving temperature changes in recent decades. To attribute short-term variation in temperatures to a single cause, whether human-generated gases or something else, was erroneous, he said.
Speaking of the sun's slight variability, he said, "Acting as though this is the alternative" to blaming greenhouse gases "is asking for trouble."
Fred Singer, a physicist often referred to by critics and supporters alike as the dean of climate contrarians, was to run public and private sessions Monday aimed at focusing participants on which skeptical arguments were supported by science and which were not.
"As a physicist, I am concerned that some skeptics (a very few) are ignoring the physical basis," Singer said in an e-mail message.
There are notable absences from the conference this year. Russell Seitz, a physicist from Cambridge, Massachusetts, delivered a speech at the meeting last year. But Seitz, who has lambasted environmental campaigners for distorting climate science, now warns that the skeptics are in danger of doing the same thing. The most strident advocates on either side of the global warming debate, he said, are "equally oblivious to the data they seek to discount or dramatize."
John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama who has long publicly questioned projections of dangerous global warming, most recently at a House committee hearing last month, said he had skipped both Heartland conferences to avoid the potential for "guilt by association."
Many participants said that any division or dissent was minor and that the global recession and a series of years with cooler temperatures would help in fighting changes in energy policy.
But several climate scientists who are seeking to curb greenhouse gases strongly criticized the meeting. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University and an author of many reports by the UN panel, said, after reviewing the text of presentations for the Heartland meeting, that they were efforts to "bamboozle the innocent."
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN office running the meetings leading to a new global climate treaty, said, "I don't believe that what the skeptics say should provide any excuse to delay further" action against global warming.
But he added: "Skeptics are good. It's important to give people the confidence that the issue is being called into question."

Carbon cuts 'only give 50/50 chance of saving planet'

As states negotiate Kyoto's successor, simulations show catastrophe just years away
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Monday, 9 March 2009

The world's best efforts at combating climate change are likely to offer no more than a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rises below the threshold of disaster, according to research from the UK Met Office.
The key aim of holding the expected increase to 2C, beyond which damage to the natural world and to human society is likely to be catastrophic, is far from assured, the research suggests, even if all countries engage forthwith in a radical and enormous crash programme to slash greenhouse gas emissions – something which itself is by no means guaranteed.
The chilling forecast from the supercomputer climate model of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research will provide a sobering wake-up call for governments around the world, who will begin formally negotiating three weeks today the new international treaty on tackling global warming, which is due to be signed in Copenhagen in December.

The treaty, which is due to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is widely seen as the Last Chance Saloon for the community of nations to take effective action against the greatest threat the world has ever faced. But the Met Office's new prediction hits directly at the principle guiding all those hoping for an effective agreement, with the European Union in the lead: that of stopping the warming at two degrees Centigrade above the "pre-industrial" level (the level of average world temperature pertaining two hundred years ago).
Today, world average temperatures stand at about 0.75C above the pre-industrial, and many scientists and politicians agree that further increases have to be stopped at 2C if catastrophic impacts from the warming are to be avoided, ranging from widespread agricultural failure and worldwide sea level rise, to countless species extinctions and irreversible melting of the world's great ice sheets.
But the Hadley Centre's simulation indicates that even if global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing the warming, were to be slashed at a very high rate the chances of holding the rise at the C threshold are no better than even. The scenario, prepared for Britain's Climate Change Committee, the body recommending the UK's future carbon "budgets", visualises world CO2 emissions peaking in 2015, and then falling at a top rate of 3 per cent a year, to reach emissions of 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.
At the moment, global emissions are thought to be rising at nearly 3 per cent a year – so turning that into a 3 per cent annual cut would be a gigantic slashing of what the earth's factories and motor vehicles are pumping into the atmosphere. There is as yet nothing remotely like that on the table for potential agreement in Copenhagen, and if a deal of this ambition were to be done, it would be regarded as a triumph.
Yet even with that, the Hadley Centre research suggests, the chances of keeping the rise down to about 2C by 2100 would be only 50-50. Furthermore, the simulations suggest that there is a worst-case scenario – about a 10 per cent chance – of the rise by the end of the current century reaching, even with these drastic cuts, a level of 2.8C above the pre-industrial, which is well into disaster territory.
With any action that is slower than the scenario above, the likeliest outcome is a much higher eventual temperature – and in fact, the model indicates that each 10 years of delay in halting the rise in global emissions adds another 0.5C to the likeliest end-of-the-century figure. So if emissions do not peak and start to decline until 2025, we can expect a 2.6C rise by 2100, and if the decline only begins in 2035, the figure is likely to be 3.1C – even with 3 per cent annual cuts.
These new figures suggest quite unambiguously that the world is on course for calamity unless rapid action can be taken which is far more drastic than any politicians are so far contemplating – never mind the general public.
If action is sluggish or non-existent, the model suggests that climate change is likely to cause almost unthinkable damage to the world; under a "business-as-usual" scenario, with no action taken at all and emissions increasing by more than 100 per cent by 2050, the end-of-the-century rise in global average temperatures is likely to be 5.5C, with a worst-case outcome of 7.1C – which would make much of life on earth impossible. "Even with drastic cuts in emissions in the next 10 years, our results project that there will only be a 50 per cent chance of keeping global temperatures rises below 2C," said Dr Vicky Pope, the Met Office's Head of Climate Change Advice.
"This idealised emissions scenario is based on emissions peaking in 2015 and changing from an increase of 2-3 per cent per year to a decrease of 3 per cent per year. For every 10 years we delay this action another 0.5C will be added to the most likely temperature rise. If the world fails to make the required reductions, it will be faced with adapting not just to a 2C rise in temperature but to 4C or more by the end of the century."

Jeremy Clarkson and Michael O'Leary won't listen to green cliches and complaints about polar bears

Let's talk about global warming in language deniers understand: energy independence and potential for new enterprise

George Marshall
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 March 2009 11.03 GMT

Academics meeting in Bristol at the weekend for Britain's first conference on the psychology of climate change argued that the greatest obstacles to action are not technical, economic or political — they are the denial strategies that we adopt to protect ourselves from unwelcome information.
It is true that nearly 80% of people claim to be concerned about climate change. However, delve deeper and one finds that people have a remarkable tendency to define this concern in ways that keep it as far away as possible. They describe climate change as a global problem (but not a local one) as a future problem (not one for their own lifetimes) and absolve themselves of responsibility for either causing the problem or solving it.
Most disturbing of all, 60% of people believe that "many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change". Thirty per cent of people believe climate change is "largely down to natural causes", while 7% refuse to accept the climate is changing at all.
How is it possible that so many people are still unpersuaded by 40 years of research and the consensus of every major scientific institution in the world? Surely we are now long past the point at which the evidence became overwhelming?
If only belief formation were this simple. Having neither the time nor skills to weigh up each piece of evidence we fall back on decision-making shortcuts formed by our education, politics and class. In particular we measure new information against our life experience and the views of the people around us.
George Lakoff, of the University of California, argues that we often use metaphors to carry over experience from simple or concrete experiences into new domains. Thus, as politicians know very well, broad concepts such as freedom, independence, leadership, growth and pride can resonate far deeper than the policies they describe.
None of this bodes well for a rational approach to climate change. Climate change is invariably presented as an overwhelming threat requiring unprecedented restraint, sacrifice, and government intervention. The metaphors it invokes are poisonous to people who feel rewarded by free market capitalism and distrust government interference. It is hardly surprising that political world view is by far the greatest determinant of attitudes to climate change, especially in the US where three times more Republicans than Democrats believe that "too much fuss is made about global warming".
An intuitive suspicion is then reinforced by a deep distrust of the key messengers: the liberal media, politicians and green campaign groups. As Jeremy Clarkson says, bundling them all together: "...everything we've been told for the past five years by the government, Al Gore, Channel 4 News and hippies everywhere is a big bucket of nonsense." Michael O'Leary, the founder of Ryanair, likens "hairy dungaree and sandal wearing climate change alarmists" to "the CND nutters of the 1970s". These cultural prejudices, however simplistic, align belief with cultural allegiance: "People like us," they say, "do not believe in this tripe."
However much one distrusts environmentalists, it is harder to discount the scientists… depending, of course, on which scientists one listens to. The conservative news media, continues to provide a platform for the handful of scientists who reject the scientific consensus. Of the 18 experts that appeared in Channel 4's notorious sceptic documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, 11 have been quoted in the past two years in the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, five of them more than five times.
Dr Myanna Lahsen, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has specialised in understanding how professional scientists, some of them with highly respected careers, turn climate sceptic. She found the largest common factor was a shared sense that they had personally lost prestige and authority as the result of campaigns by liberals and environmentalists. She concluded that their engagement in climate issues "can be understood in part as a struggle to preserve their particular culturally charged understanding of environmental reality."
In other words, like the general public, they form their beliefs through reference to a world view formed through politics and life experience. In order to maintain their scepticism in the face of a sustained, and sometimes heated, challenge from their peers, they have created a mutually supportive dissident culture around an identity as victimised speakers for the truth.
This individualistic romantic image is nurtured by the libertarian right think tanks that promote the sceptic arguments. One academic study of 192 sceptic books and reports found that 92% were directly associated with right wing free market think tanks. It concluded that the denial of climate change had been deliberately constructed "as a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism".
So, given that scepticism is rooted in a sustained and well-funded ideological movement, how can sceptics be swayed? One way is to reframe climate change in a way that rejects the green cliches and creates new metaphors with a wider resonance. So out with the polar bears and saving the planet. Instead let's talk of energy independence, and the potential for new enterprise.
And then there is peer pressure, probably the most important influence of all. So, when dealing with a sceptic, don't get into a head to head with them. Just politely point out all the people they know and respect who believe that climate change is a serious problem — and they aren't sandle-wearing tree huggers, are they?
• George Marshall is founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network and the author of Carbon Detox and the blog climatedenial.org.

Carbon emissions creating acidic oceans not seen since dinosaurs

Chemical change placing 'unprecedented' pressure on marine life and could cause widespread extinctions, warn scientists

David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 March 2009 00.05 GMT

Human pollution is turning the seas into acid so quickly that the coming decades will recreate conditions not seen on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs, scientists will warn today.
The rapid acidification is caused by the massive amounts of carbon dioxide belched from chimneys and exhausts that dissolve in the ocean. The chemical change is placing "unprecedented" pressure on marine life such as shellfish and lobsters and could cause widespread extinctions, the experts say.
The study, by scientists at Bristol University, will be presented at a special three-day summit of climate scientists in Copenhagen, which opens today. The conference is intended to update the science of global warming and to shock politicians into taking action on carbon emissions.
The Bristol scientists cannot talk about their unpublished results until they are announced later today. But a summary of the findings seen by the Guardian predicts "dangerous" levels of ocean acidification and severe consequences for organisms called marine calcifiers, which form chalky shells.
It says: "We find the future rate of surface ocean acidification and environmental pressure on marine calcifiers very likely unprecedented in the past 65 million years." The scientists add that the situation in the deep sea is of even "greater concern".
The scientists compared the current acidification rate with a giant prehistoric release of greenhouse gas, which geologists know caused widespread extinction of deep water species.
The summary reads: "Because the rates of acidification between past and future are comparable, and [because] there was widespread extinction of benthic organisms [lowest living], one must conclude that a similar level of extinction is more likely than not in the future."
Concern about ocean acidification from carbon pollution has grown in recent years, but the issue receives much less attention than global warming — also caused by human carbon emissions.
The Bristol study is one of the first to predict the consequences of acid waters by looking at past events. It says future deep sea acidification must be limited to 0.2 pH units to avoid the worst effects. The pH of surface waters, where the CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere, has fallen by about 0.1 units since the industrial revolution, though it will take longer for the acid to reach deeper water.
Ocean acidification is one of the key topics at the Copenhagen summit, with a series of presentations scheduled to examine the impacts.
Ken Caldeira, an expert on ocean acidification at the Carnegie Institution in California, will tell the conference that the next few decades could produce "profound" changes in the oceans. He will say: "The choice to continue emitting carbon dioxide means that we will be an agent of biological change of a force and magnitude exceeded only by the causes of the great mass extinction events. If we do not cut carbon dioxide emissions deeply and soon, the consequences of ocean acidification will stand out against the broad reaches of geologic time. Those consequences will remain embedded in the geologic record as testimony from a civilisation that had the wisdom to develop high technology, but did not develop the wisdom to use it wisely."
Other experts will report that acidification is already affecting marine life in the Arctic and Antarctic. They will also discuss a bizarre finding that acid waters carry sound more efficiently, so the ocean will be a much noisier place in future.
The conference comes ahead of a year of high-level political discussions on climate change, which culminate in international negotiations in Copenhagen in December, where officials will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto protocol.
Katherine Richardson, a marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen, who organised this week's event, has described it as "a deliberate attempt to influence policy". She said many scientists were concerned that politicians have not grasped the seriousness of the situation, despite increasingly gloomy predictions.
This week's meeting will publish an update to the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A number of studies published since the IPCC report was prepared show that carbon emissions are rising faster than expected and that existing greenhouse gas targets may not be enough to prevent catastrophic temperature rise.
It will also assess whether projected sea level rises have been underestimated, and if there is still a realistic chance that average global temperature rise can be limited to 2C.
Road to Copenhagen 2009
March: Scientific congress to update findings and issue new warning to policy-makers
June: Draft agreement proposed at UN meeting in Bonn
July: G8 summit in Italy
September: Possible special UN summit in New York
December: UN talks on new treaty in Copenhagen

Coal plants checked by enviro campaigns, costs

The Associated Press
Published: March 10, 2009

BILLINGS, Montana: Beneath the frozen plains of eastern Montana and Wyoming lie the largest coal deposits in the world — enough to last the United States more than a century at the nation's current burn rate.

The fuel literally spills from the ground where streambanks cut into the earth, hinting at reserves estimated at 180 billion tons. But even here lawsuits over global warming and the changing political landscape in Washington are pummeling an industry that has long been the backbone of America's power supply.
In recent weeks, a group of rural Montana electric co-ops abandoned a partially built 250-megawatt coal plant, ending a four-year legal campaign by environmentalists to stop the project. The co-ops plan to instead get their electricity from a natural gas plant — more expensive for customers but also more likely to get built.
A few miles (kilometers) away, the U.S. Air Force dropped plans for a major coal-to-jet fuel plant once touted as the harbinger of a new market for coal. There are no signs it will be revived.
Other plants are moving forward in Montana and at least a dozen other states, but the exodus from coal has hit every corner of the country. Last week, two more were shelved — plants in Iowa and Nevada that would have generated enough power for 1.6 million homes.

In Nevada, LS Power said it was postponing a 1,600 megawatt coal plant and will instead focus on tapping the state's geothermal, wind and solar potential. Iowa's Interstate Power and Light dropped a 630 megawatt plant as it pursues a 200 megawatt wind farm.
"In the last year the world has changed 180 degrees," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign.
In 2007, the Department of Energy forecast 151 plants would be built in coming years. The agency's latest forecast put the figure at 95.
Soon after the Energy Department released its forecast two years ago, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment became the first agency in the country to reject a permit for a coal-fired power plant, citing carbon dioxide emmissions.
Kansas acted six months after the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses were pollutants that should fall under the purview of the Clean Air Act.
Driven by the change at the White House, the political landscape for coal is fast shifting. President Barack Obama — once a reliable supporter of the industry — on Feb. 17 signed an economic stimulus package with $16.8 billion for renewable energy and efficiency programs.
The coal industry was left with just $3.4 billion. Congress had earlier removed $50 billion in loan guarantees for coal-to-liquids plants and the nuclear industry.
Last year, only five new coal plants totaling about 1,400 megawatts came on line. Meanwhile, the wind energy sector added a record 8,300 megawatts.
Yet any proclamation of coal's demise would be premature.
Coal companies are scrambling after federal subsidies for cleaner-coal technologies — hoping to at least soften the beating they have taken over climate change.
And after spending an estimated $40 million during the 2008 election on a pro-coal public relations campaign, a consortium of companies that dig, ship and burn the fossil fuel may match that spending this year.
"We see this as an ongoing effort," said Joe Lucas, who has led the industry's public relations campaign as vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
"When we talk about plugging in (electric) cars, we're going to create new demand in this country and that demand is going to be met in large part like it is today, by fuels like coal."
Environmental groups tally more than 90 plants canceled or delayed since 2002. The Sierra Club and others have vowed to challenge plants at every turn — in the courts, in state houses and through the regulatory process.
Also tripping up the industry's expansion efforts have been soaring construction costs. The price-tag on Montana's 250-megawatt Highwood plant doubled over the last several years to more than $900 million. The project was dropped in February.
Construction had already begun, but the project's developers had run into trouble raising enough money to see it through to completion. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a proponent of coal power, said the cancellation underscored that coal plant financing will no longer be provided to plants that do not have a way to capture the carbon dioxide they produce.
"Throw a dart at a map and you're going to hit within a hundred miles of where somebody two years ago thought they were going to build a pulverized coal plant with no carbon dioxide capture," Schweitzer said. "In every single case, they've either announced their going to stop it or they're one press release away from it."
The two dozen plants canceled last year would have emitted an estimated 82 million tons of carbon dioxide annually — equivalent to more than 50 million cars and trucks.
But Lucas and other point out that despite the setbacks, the coal-fired power industry continues to enjoy its largest expansion in three decades. The Department of Energy tallies 28 plants now under construction.
They will join an estimated 600 coal plants that currently provide about half of the nation's electricity. The rest comes from a mix of natural gas, fuel oil and renewables such as wind and geothermal.
The Sierra Club's Nilles acknowledged his group's anti-coal campaign has so far made little headway with existing coal plants. Those plants produce about 2 billion tons annually of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide — roughly a third of the United States' total global warming emissions.
NASA global warming scientist Jim Hansen, one of the coal industry's most ardent critics, has said existing plants need to be phased out by 2030 to curb the effects of climate change.
Hansen wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the industry's only hope of avoiding such a fate is to come up with a way to capture and store underground the carbon dioxide they produce. Only a few such projects have been built to date, all of them hugely expensive.
"It is the only hope for coal, and it is a pretty slender thread to be hanging by," Hansen wrote. "Coal is exceedingly dirty stuff. The best place for it is in the ground."

What do cars and cows have in common? No, not horns

The Times
March 10, 2009
Carl Mortished, World Business Editor

Proposals to tax the flatulence of cows and other livestock have been denounced by farming groups in the Irish Republic and Denmark.

A cow tax of €13 per animal has been mooted in Ireland, while Denmark is discussing a levy as high as €80 per cow to offset the potential penalties each country faces from European Union legislation aimed at combating global warming.
The proposed levies are opposed vigorously by farming groups. The Irish Farmers' Association said that the cattle industry would move to South America to avoid EU taxes.
Livestock contribute 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The Danish Tax Commission estimates that a cow will emit four tonnes of methane a year in burps and flatulence, compared with 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide for an average car.

Agriculture, transport and housing are not included in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which enables industrial companies to buy and sell permits to emit carbon dioxide. Instead, EU member states are obliged to cut the emissions from non-ETS sectors by 10 per cent overall by 2020.
While Romania and Bulgaria will be allowed to increase emissions, Ireland and Denmark are each faced with cuts of 20 per cent in farming sector emissions.
The cow tax proposals would raise funds to buy allowances from other member states or to invest in technology that might reduce emissions. Denmark is believed to be further advanced with housing for pigs that captures and stores methane emitted from the animals. The gas can be used as a fuel for power generation.
A spokesman for the European Commission said that a cow tax was not its preferred option. “We would rather have solutions that reduce emissions by capturing methane from manure and new animal feeds that reduce methane.”

Cold winds blow for future of green energy

They call North Dakota the "Saudi Arabia of wind energy".

By Tom Leonard in West Fargo, North Dakota Last Updated: 6:22PM GMT 09 Mar 2009

Wind turbine: Companies producing green energy are suffering in the economic downturn Photo: BLOOMBERG

The howling prairie gales that blow almost continually across this flat and empty state could, it has been estimated, light up a quarter of America.
If there was one industry whose bright future looked assured, it was green energy, and particularly wind, which is widely regarded as the most promising alternative to fossil fuels.
However, just as its fortunes soared last year, so they are on the wane now.
Encouraged by Barack Obama's support for green power and by soaring demand, DMI Industries, one of the world's two biggest manufacturers of wind turbine towers, undertook a $30 million (£21 million) expansion of its West Fargo factory last summer.
But just months later, in a dramatic turnaround that has been repeated across the renewable energy industry, DMI had to lay off 20 per cent of its 430 staff after the credit crunch hit its customers and orders dried up to a trickle.
Rich Mattern, West Fargo's mayor, said he wouldn't have been surprised if the town's other major employer, a maker of construction vehicles, had been forced to sack staff, but not DMI.
"They did the lay-offs on a Sunday afternoon. I knew some of those who lost their jobs and, quite frankly, I was shocked," said Rich Mattern, West Fargo's mayor.
"It never dawned on me that a company like that would have lay-offs. I really believed this industry was bulletproof."
The 40,000-sq ft DMI factory, one of three run by the company, last year made more than 500 towers. Huge two-inch thick steel sheets are rolled into 15ft diameter cylinders and then welded into 270-ft high, cone shaped towers strong enough to cope with all weather conditions.
The 130ft long fibreglass blades which are attached to each tower are made at another North Dakota company, which has also had to lay off workers.
Some of the DMI workforce had barely finished their training before they were fired. "This hit us fairly suddenly," said Phillip Christiansen, the general manager.
Stefan Nilsson, DMI's Swedish president, stressed that every company in the wind power industry had suffered job losses. "It's just a question of whether it's been announced," he said.
He would not say how much his company's order book had been damaged but said he said could understand why outsiders were so shocked at the layoffs.
"So many positive things have been said about renewable energy, but when the banks have problems, it has an impact on us too," he said.
Of the job losses, he said: "It's not something you want to do. We spent a lot of time hiring people and training them."
The recent rise and fall of wind and solar power (solar panel makers have also been hit badly) is as dramatic as in any area of the economy.
After the US wind industry's capacity grew by 50 per cent – and some $17 billion – in 2008, trade organisations are now predicting it could shrink by 30 to 50 per cent this year.
Around 18 banks and other lenders were financing wind and solar projects before the economic meltdown. Now, there are only four.
Both wind and solar power depend on subsidies. Barack Obama has called for a doubling of America's renewable energy production in three years and has earmarked a significant chunk of his $787 billion stimulus package for investment in clean fuel or energy efficiency.
However, there is some unease as to whether he will be able to make good his intentions while industry experts say that green energy tax credits will only offset the worst effects of the orders freeze.
The economic slowdown has dried up investment in cleaner energy to the point that analysts now say that its growth is no longer on track to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change.
Mr Nilsson said it was too early to tell whether the US president would "go cold on his passion for green fuel" but he conceded that politicians tended to pay more attention to his industry when oil prices were high.
North Dakota, a conservative state bordering Canada whose population come from Nordic and German stock, has much riding on alternative energy.
The second biggest corn-producing state, many of its farmers switched to ethanol only to be hit hard by falling oil prices.
Everyone in West Fargo is optimistic that investors will return and that, when they do, wind power will still be the energy of the future.
"In the stimulus package, there's money for alternative energy – everybody realises that it's the way to go," said Mayor Mattern.
"It's not like the Carter years when oil prices went down and they all forgot about renewable energy," he said. "Everybody, from my local university to Congress, has gone too far to let it drop."
* See our correspondents' reports on the effects of the recession around the world at www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews

Autos task force sees Chrysler, GM electric cars

The Associated Press
Published: March 9, 2009

WARREN, Michigan: Four members of President Barack Obama's autos task force spent much of their Monday driving General Motors Corp. electric vehicles and touring a Chrysler LLC pickup truck factory.
The members, led by Wall Street financier Steven Rattner and Steelworkers union official Ron Bloom, traveled first to GM's tech center in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan, and then drove to Chrysler's Warren Truck plant.
GM and Chrysler are living on a total of $17.4 billion in government loans, and the task force is trying to determine if they will get more money. The companies have requested a total of $39 billion as they try to survive the worst U.S. auto sales downturn in 27 years.
Task force members first visited the sprawling GM tech center, where they were greeted by Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and test-drove white and silver Chevrolet Volt electric cars, according to shots taken from television news helicopters.
Then it was off to the Chrysler plant in a 2009 silver Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo driven by Bloom, where they met with top Chrysler executives, including CEO Bob Nardelli, Vice Chairmen Jim Press and Tom LaSorda and Chief Financial Officer Ron Kolka.

They entered the plant near an auditorium in which the company had placed several of its future products, including electric and hybrid vehicles. The plant employs about 2,600 workers.
Both companies are working on rechargeable electric vehicles like the Volt that can go around 40 miles on a single charge from a household outlet. After 40 miles, small internal combustion engines kick in to generate electricity and power the car farther. Chrysler and GM have pledged to bring the electric vehicles to market sometime next year.
The automakers were eager to show off new products in an effort to prove they can become viable despite billions of dollars in losses. Chrysler lost $8 billion last year, while GM lost $30.9 billion.
Without government help, both companies would have run out of money early this year.
Bloom, Rattner and the others arrived at the Chrysler plant just as the second shift was heading for work making the Dodge Ram pickup.
An Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private, said the task force members also met with United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger and other top union officials for two hours.
During the day of meetings, task force members conveyed that the administration understands the sense of urgency facing the troubled auto industry, the official said.
GM and Chrysler both issued short statements saying they were happy with the opportunity to show the task force members their new products.
"We believe today's visit provided a constructive glimpse of GM people, their passion for their work, and the future products and technologies that are an integral part of our viability plan," GM's statement said.
Melvin Thompson, a worker and former union official at the Dodge truck plant, said Monday the visit to Warren shows that Rattner and Bloom are interested in learning about the industry.
"It adds a human touch to the decisions that they make," he said as he left the plant after working the first shift. "They're determined not to be insulated from their decisions."
The task force is trying to figure out how best to save the struggling GM and Chrysler as well as their parts suppliers. Ford Motor Co. has yet to take government aid, but is burning up billions in cash and lost $14.6 billion last year.
A collapse of the auto industry could lead to as many as 3 million lost jobs at a time when the fragile economy couldn't handle it, industry analysts have said.
The government can recall its loans to GM and Chrysler if they fail to sign deals for debt restructuring and other concessions from stakeholders including the UAW by March 31. GM and Chrysler are seeking $21.6 billion in additional financing to execute turnaround plans submitted last month.
Last week GM said in its annual report that auditors raised serious doubt about the Detroit automaker's ability to continue operating. GM has received $13.4 billion in federal loans and is seeking an additional $16.6 billion. Chrysler has received $4 billion in federal loans and is asking for $5 billion more.
Some Republican senators in Washington are pushing for GM to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
GM has said the restructuring can be accomplished without bankruptcy and said Chapter 11 would scare off customers who would be fearful that the company wouldn't be around to honor warranties or make replacement parts.
Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.

Spanish windmills tilt country towards cleaner green energy

The Times
March 10, 2009
Graham Keeley in Barcelona

The rolling plains of Castilla-La Mancha are dominated by the windmills that provoked the fevered imagination of Don Quixote. But Spain’s relentless investment in wind power and other renewable energy sources has proved wrong those who thought it was tilting at windmills.
The sleek white wind turbines and hydroelectric plants that have sprung up across the country in recent years generated 30 per cent of Spain’s energy this year for the first time.
A wet and windy January and February boosted the amount of electricity produced from wind and hydro-power, according to the Spanish Grid. The impressive figure means that Spain has already completed targets set by the European Union in 2001 for renewable energy by 2010. In comparison, carbon energy produced 14.3 per cent and nuclear 20.9 per cent.
This is no flash in the pan, experts say. Spain is expected to keep up renewable energy production.

Miguel Duvison, head of operations at the Spanish Grid, said: “Even though in the next few months it will fall, renewable [energy] will not go much lower than [the current] level. The total for the year will be closer to 30 per cent than 20 per cent.” Last year wind power generated 16,740 megawatt-hours of electricity but the Spanish Grid and the Wind Energy Association (AEE) believe it can generate 20,155 megawatt-hours by 2010. The AEE says that in 2008 wind power saved Spain spending €1.2 billion (£1.1 billion) on imported fossil fuels, created 40,000 jobs and prevented the emission of 20 million tonnes of CO2 – or 5 per cent of the total.
Spanish backing for renewable sources has earned praise from President Obama. In a speech to a US wind power association last month he said: “Think of what’s happening in countries like Spain and Japan, where they are making real investments in renewable energy. They are surging ahead of us, poised to take the lead in these new industries.”
Spain also has the fastest-growing solar energy market in the world.
Green power
- Solar energy plants are expanding rapidly in Spain with 1,500 megawatt (MW)-hours of energy produced in plants in 2008. One MW can power 1,000 homes
- Regulations passed in 2006 require that all new homes must generate energy for 30 to 70 per cent of their hot water using solar power. All new commercial buildings must include solar panels
- The 16,740 MW of wind energy generated in 2008 compares to 3,241 in the UK, 3,404 inFrance and 23,903 in Germany
Source: Times Database

Battery maker envisages electric car boom

By Robin Harding in Tokyo
Published: March 9 2009 22:33

Electric cars will create such a vast market for batteries that there is little chance of oversupply, according to one of the world’s largest battery makers.
If only 10 per cent of cars went hybrid or electric, there would be an “unbelievably large market” for lithium-ion batteries, Makoto Yoda, president of GS Yuasa, told the Financial Times.

The prospect of a boom in hybrid and electric vehicles has prompted a rush of investment in the advanced batteries, which store huge amounts of energy for their size and weight.
Lithium-ion technology is also seen as the best hope for electric vehicles to travel long distances between charges.
Panasonic’s takeover of Sanyo Electric was largely motivated by the latter’s lithium-ion battery business; Toshiba is spending about Y20bn ($202m) on a new factory as it builds a lithium-ion business from scratch; and the US economic stimulus bill is offering billions of dollars of support for US makers of advanced batteries.
Some analysts say large lithium-ion batteries could become a commodity within five years.
“Of course there is a risk of oversupply and falling prices,” said Mr Yoda. But if low-carbon vehicles became significant, “no one company will be able to make enough batteries”.
For example, GS Yuasa’s joint venture with Mitsubishi Motors is building a factory that can supply 200,000 lithium-ion battery cells a year, but that would be enough to power only about 2,000 electric vehicles.
The Japanese company is also setting up a joint venture with Honda to supply lithium-ion batteries to hybrid electric vehicles, similar to the Toyota Prius, that also use a conventional engine.
GS Yuasa will own 51 per cent of both joint ventures.
Mr Yoda said that if other carmakers wanted GS Yuasa lithium-ion batteries they should expect to buy from those two ventures.
“If we set up another joint venture it would scatter our people and capital. So, if possible, we want to supply from the existing two,” he said.
In the meantime, the slump in global car sales is hurting GS Yuasa’s main business of conventional car batteries, for which it has the largest share of the Asian market.
Sales for the year to March 2009 are expected to be Y300bn, down 4 per cent on last year, but the company still forecasts a net profit of Y4bn.
GS Yuasa has numerous plants in south-east Asia, where the downturn in the car market started early. Mr Yoda said the region was recovering slowly.
“I think today’s terrible conditions won’t continue for so long.”
Even if the car market improved, a wider economic recovery would take longer, Mr Yoda said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Sasol slashes capital expenditure

By Tom Burgis in Johannesburg
Published: March 9 2009 15:55

Sasol, the world’s leading producer of liquid fuels from coal and gas, has reduced its capital expenditure for the coming three years by 40 per cent despite posting a sharp rise in profits.
Despite a 45 per cent year-on-year rise in net profit to R13.2bn ($1.2bn) for the six months to December, the company cut interim dividend from last year’s R3.65 per share to R2.5, and warned of falling earnings ahead, illustrating the abrupt change of fortune for oil companies, particularly purveyors of costly technologies such as Sasol.

The price of a barrel of Brent Crude oil, the industry benchmark, has fallen from $148 in July to an average of about $45 over the past month, as the world’s gas-guzzling countries fell into recession.
Pat Davies, Sasol chief executive, told the Financial Times the Johannesburg-based company had based its planning on the assumption that the oil price would remain between $40 and $45 per barrel for the next two years.
That spells trouble for a business that sells a technology which makes economic sense only when oil prices are high.
Using techniques pioneered by Nazi Germany to convert coal and gas resources into liquid fuel, Sasol operates a major synthetic fuel plant in its native South Africa and its new natural gas-to-liquid facility in Qatar is now operating at close to full capacity.
It has similar projects in various stages of development in India, China, the US, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, and Mr Davies said Sasol was in early talks about a project to convert Indonesia’s copious seams of lignite, a soft form of coal, into liquid fuel.
“I still believe these big projects are viable,” said Mr Davies. He said the company had not yet decided which initiatives would fall by the wayside as it trims capital expenditure budgets by 40 per cent from its earlier projections to R15bn annually.
Sasol, one of Africa’s biggest companies with a market capitalisation of R168bn, reduced its gearing – the ratio of net debt to equity – to 2.3 per cent from 20.5 per cent in the six months to December. “This is not the time to be running about to banks where there’s very little liquidity available to be funding your growth projects,” Mr Davies said.
Its shares closed 6.1 per cent lower at R246.47.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

U.S. Should Boost Ethanol Blend in Gasoline, Vilsack Says

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the government should move quickly to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline.

Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency last week to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10% to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for the renewable fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year. However, automobile and small engine manufacturers have said there's no certainty yet that such an increase will not harm engines and fuel lines.
"We can, we believe, move fairly quickly to move the blend rate to 12 or 13% in the interim," Mr. Vilsack told a friendly audience of farmers on Monday, adding that it could eventually be boosted to 15% or 20%.
It is up to the EPA to lift the cap. Adora Andy, the EPA's press secretary, said in a statement Friday that the agency will review the request and "act based on the best available science."
The ethanol producers contend that by raising the maximum amount of ethanol allowed in a gallon of gasoline, it would increase demand for the fuel additive and create thousands of new jobs as the industry -- which has been reeling in today's tough economic times -- boosts production.
Mr. Vilsack spoke to the National Farmers Union annual convention Monday in Arlington, Va.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press