Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Britain's rivers called on to provide renewable energy

The Times
March 11, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Up to 25 hydroelectric schemes generating enough renewable energy to power 40,000 homes may be sited on stretches of rivers including the Severn and the Trent.
British Waterways, which manages more than 2,200 miles of navigable canals and rivers, claims that its project will save 170,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Planning permission is being sought for the first five schemes, to be built next to weirs and dams on the Trent in the Midlands and the Aire, Ouse and Don in Yorkshire.
British Waterways said that it was also exploring ways of harnessing hydropower on the Severn. Further energy may be generated from the “feed” of water into canals from reservoirs, of which the authority owns 90.

Canals being considered for the scheme would not be man-made but rivers converted into waterways, which retain a natural flow.
The project will be funded with a £120 million investment from Climate Change Capital, a £1.1 billion investment fund focused on renewable energy technology.
The cash will be spent over the next three years, installing turbine equipment and other infrastructure to generate and distribute about 40 megawatts of power, starting in 2010. Passages for fish will be built into the infrastructure where necessary.
British Waterways, a not-for-profit public corporation, is collaborating on the project with the Small Hydro Company to generate 210,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy a year. Last year British Waterways announced a plan to use riverbanks to build 50 wind turbines that will have the capacity to generate 100 megawatts of renewable electricity.
Any income generated from the schemes will be reinvested in the maintenance of the waterways.
Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, said that from next year the Government will introduce a “feed-in tariff” for small-scale renewables that would reward projects such as the hydroelectric schemes with cash payments. The renewable energy industry is struggling because of a lack of funding for big schemes resulting from the credit crunch.
About 40 per cent of the United Kingdom's renewable electricity is provided by hydropower but few large schemes have been constructed since the 1980s. Globally, hydro generates about 20 per cent of electricity requirements.
[end story] — A report published today by the Centre for Policy Studies warns that Britain is developing a dangerous overreliance on natural gas for electricity generation just as domestic supplies of the fuel from the North Sea are running out.
By 2020, gas-fired electricity will account for 70 per cent of all the UK's conventional power-generating capacity, the study said. “This over-reliance on one fuel will be undesirable,” according to Tony Lodge, author of the report. “Government must act now to end this dangerous dependency.” The price of delay would be “higher prices and possible supply interruptions in the future”.

Shell to Raise Investment in Biofuel Firm Codexis


Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it would increase its stake in biofuels company Codexis Inc. to help it speed development of enzymes that turn plants into fuel.

The deal comes after Codexis withdrew its planned initial public offering in September, citing adverse market conditions. Since then, renewable-energy companies have struggled to find funding to pursue research as both stock markets and banks have tightened cash for all but the most credit-worthy companies.
But the funding freeze is creating opportunities for oil companies, such as Shell, that still have strong balance sheets and credit ratings. Shell and BP PLC have made numerous investments in biofuels recently, investigating the potential for these fuels as future oil supplies continue to appear constrained and governments have mandated the use of more fuels made from plants.
"In this economic climate, being able to raise finance is an achievement in itself," said Alan Shaw, president and chief executive of Codexis. He said Shell's investment "allows us to accelerate our research-and-development program." Neither company would disclose how much Shell is paying to increase its stake.
Bloomberg News/Landov
Shell fuel trucks sit at Coryton Refinery in Essex, U.K. Shell is increasing its stake in biofuels company Codexis.
Shell pays the salaries of more than 50 Codexis researchers and has agreed to roughly double that number, said Mr. Shaw. Shell also gets a second seat on the Codexis board. It received its first seat after making a $33 million investment that secured it a 13% stake in the company, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings last year. The investment this week is comparable in size, said Mr. Shaw.
The deal provides a venue for Codexis's enzymes to be tested in a commercial-scale biorefinery, since Codexis, of Redwood City, Calif., isn't interested in building a facility of its own. The company will work with a joint venture between privately held Canadian biofuels firm Iogen Corp. and Shell to develop cellulosic ethanol from inedible plants such as wheat straw. Iogen operates a facility in Ottawa and is considering building more biorefineries. This so-called next-generation biofuel is attempting to overcome the problems that have plagued corn-based ethanol, which include accusations that it has driven up food prices.
Write to Russell Gold at

How to drive fast, have a good time - and still save the planet

The electric car is about to revolutionise the way we drive, says Boris Johnson.

Boris JohnsonLast Updated: 11:53AM GMT 10 Mar 2009

Tesla, an electric car with curve appeal Photo: AFP
It must have been round about 7.30pm and the traffic on the M40 was not getting any better. Ahead of us stretched the lava flow of red tail lights, and in front of us was a fellow doing a quite unconscionable speed in a BMW 4x4. When I say it was unconscionable, I mean it was unconscionably slow. Come on, Grandma, I yelled at his rump. Some of us have places to go, people to see, columns to write.
But on he plodded, no doubt picking his nose, and altogether showing a sublime indifference to the number one law of the British motorway – that the national speed limit of 70 mph is more honoured in the breach than the observance. At length I could take it no more. It was time to leave this dawdler behind.

Indicating carefully, and in full conformity with the law, I put my foot down – and pow. It was warp drive. You remember that bit in Star Wars, when the Millennium Falcon makes the leap into hyperspace, and the stars are turned into white streaks?
That's the kind of acceleration we are talking about. My passenger and I were blapped back into our seats like fighter pilots. We shot past the nose-picking BMW, and in that brief moment of ecstasy I was reminded of some of the vital statistics of the machine.
The car I was driving has more grunt off the blocks than a Ferrari Maranello. It has the same acceleration as a Porsche 911, in that it can go from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds, roughly the time it takes for you to read and absorb the sensational meaning of this sentence.
It's not just that it has fantastic quantities of torque, the name we use for the twisty physical force that turns an axle. It is unlike a normal car, in that you don't need to produce fresh bursts of torque by working the gears and the throttle. It has 100 per cent torque at 0 mph, and then whips those wheels round faster and faster in a seamless progression of energy.
So, whoosh, we overtook the BMW and discreetly, legally, we settled in front of him like an insolent snowflake – and what did he observe about the machine that had so elegantly shown him up? He saw the raking contours of a 150 mph king of the road, with a wide flaring bonnet, and soaring wheel arches curved and massed like the haunches of a greased panther. He saw the way it handled, shifting from lane to lane as if suspended from a steel rail.
But as he goggled in stupefaction at the back of our car, there was one thing, my friends, that he did not see. There is something that protrudes from the rear end of every Porsche, every Lamborghini, and every Ford Focus, and which this car does not possess.
It has no exhaust pipe. It has no carburettor, and it has no fuel tank, and while every other car on that motorway was a-parping and a-puttering, filling the air with fumes and particulates, this car was producing no more noxious vapours than a dandelion in an alpine meadow.
As far as the eye could see there were cars roaring and groaning and belching, and no matter how tightly they drew the curtains, and no matter how loud they turned up the television, there were people in living rooms for miles around whose lives were filled with the noise of billions of tiny explosions, as the fossilised remnants of ancient forests were detonated in the cylinders of internal combustion engines.
My car, on the other hand, was silent except for a musical hum, like a chorister tuning up for a madrigal. Every other car on the M40 was guilty – yes, even the Priuses – of contributing directly to the great billowing clouds of CO2 that are rising and quilting the planet in the tea-cosy of doom.
My car was innocent. It was an electric car, made by Tesla in California, and though it is currently just about the only one on British roads, I believe it marks the beginning of a long-overdue revolution.
I remember about 15 years ago my old chum Radek Sikorski wrote a rather brilliant piece. He'd just come across this new way of communicating, by which you could send messages to people at their personal addresses on what we then called the information superhighway.
It was called email, he said, and he was sure there was something in it. He was right, and having driven the Tesla I have something like the same sense of revelation. Of course this is not new technology, but electric cars have evidently reached a point of development where they are now in serious competition with conventional machines.
Yes, there is carbon dioxide produced in the generation of the electricity – but only about a quarter of the CO2 produced by a similar sports car. If we used nuclear or other low-carbon power sources, we could achieve spectacular reductions in vehicular CO2.
Yes, the batteries are bulky, and electric cars are still expensive. But the batteries are becoming ever smaller and the price of the cars is coming down; and even in a Tesla, a high-performance sports car, you can drive 200 miles for the price of a cup of coffee, and then just plug it in to recharge.
Imagine the lagoon of petrol you buy over the lifetime of the internal combustion engine, and think of the saving you make by going electric. Yes, the Tesla is made in California. But shouldn't we be making similar batteries and cars in this country?
What this car shows is the vital importance of technological optimism. We can produce solutions that allow people to drive fast, and have fun, and overhaul the slowcoaches – and still save the planet. Many green ideologues will not like that idea. They will instinctively prefer a reduction in consumption, and no fast cars at all.
They should remember that they are dealing with the human race, which is essentially a fun-loving, consumerist species, and that sometimes the best way to make people green is to make them green with envy.

Honda Says Orders for Hybrid Exceed Sales Targets


TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. said orders for its recently launched Insight hybrid vehicle are more than triple the budget-priced vehicle's monthly sales target.

The Japanese auto maker said it had received orders for about 18,000 Insights as of Monday. Honda said orders for the gasoline-electric hybrid car had already matched its monthly sales target of 5,000 vehicles even before the Insight's Feb. 6 rollout.
The orders data provide a rare bright spot for Japan's struggling auto market, which is expected to plunge to a 31-year low in 2009.
Part of the reason for the strong demand for Honda's new fuel-efficient hybrid is that its sticker price ranges between 1.89 million yen and 2.21 million yen ($19,120 and $22,360) including tax, which is cheaper than rival Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius hybrid. The Prius retails for between 2.3 million yen and 3.4 million yen.
In the U.S., Honda Tuesday said it will sell the Insight for between $19,800 and $23,100, excluding tax and destination charges. Toyota hasn't released its pricing for its new Prius, due out in May. The current Prius model sells for between $22,000 and $24,270, excluding tax, handling and delivery charges, in the U.S. Honda plans to launch the Insight in the next few weeks in Europe and the U.S., targeting total sales of 200,000 vehicles for the year.
In Japan, the Insight ranked 10th in February auto sales with sales volume totaling 4,906. Honda's Fit compact took the top spot, with sales of 9,551 vehicles, while the Prius came in 12th.—Kate Linebaugh contributed to this article.
Write to Yoshio Takahashi at

The challenge facing the world's biggest polluters

The clock is ticking in the race to agree a new treaty to cut the emissions that cause global warming. Michael McCarthy names and shames the offenders who must mend their ways
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Among the developed countries, the member states of the EU (including Britain) are taking the lead, with firm commitments to reduce CO2 in the medium term

In three weeks' time in Bonn, the international community will begin the negotiations leading up to December's United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen, which, it is hoped, will produce a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. If the world is to check the march of global warming before it is too late, it is increasingly clear that this meeting must lead to agreement on worldwide cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas – emissions of which from industry, transport and deforestation are responsible for causing the atmosphere to overheat.
Here we present a unique table of the world's 20 biggest CO2 emitters, with details of their economies and populations, and more importantly, what steps they each are already taking – if any – to cut back their emissions. Some points stand out. China has now overtaken the United States as the world's biggest polluter; its carbon emissions have more than doubled in a decade, and with its recent growth rate of nearly 10 per cent, could do so again, depending on the length and depth of the world recession.
India, now the fourth biggest polluter, is also rapidly increasing its emissions, and is increasing its population of 1.15 billion people far faster than any other country in the table; soon its human numbers will be on a par with China's and its emissions following suit. But neither country has set an emissions reduction target since, as developing countries, they feel they should be allowed to continue growing to relieve poverty (India is vocal on this point). Also, as the supplementary table makes clear, if their emissions are treated on a per capita basis, India is the lowest emitter by far, and China is fourth from bottom, instead of top.

However, some developing countries are taking on emissions targets – Mexico and South Africa stand out – while Brazil has set up a programme to save the Amazon.
Among the developed countries, the member states of the European Union (including Britain) are taking the lead, with firm commitments to reduce CO2 in the medium term. Other high-emitting rich nations, such as Japan, Canada and Australia, have given themselves less taxing targets or have not yet set out their plans in detail. After eight years of inaction and obstructionism under President George Bush, the US, now the second biggest polluter, is back among the climate change coalition of the willing, and President Obama has set out the targets he would like to aim at. However, he may be held back in his ambition by Congress.
If we are to name any laggards, we should point to the oil-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are unhappy at the whole idea of cutting carbon and have done very little about it, and also to Russia (the third biggest polluter) and Ukraine, who similarly have shown little appetite for action.
If a workable deal is reached in Copenhagen it will have to involve the developed nations taking on new ambitious targets; but it will also have to mean the developing countries starting to cut back their own CO2, in return for large amounts of developed country aid. In essence, it will be a deal between the US and China, with the rest of the world following. But it is by no means certain that a deal can be put together. Look at our table and you will see just how different are the situations of the different countries in emissions, wealth and population. Bringing them all into a treaty that really means something will be a labour of Hercules – beginning in Bonn, in three weeks' time.

US governors picture eco-friendly fuelling stations along western route

Governors in Washington, Oregon and California are considering a plan to create a 'green freeway'

McClatchy newspapers, Tuesday 10 March 2009 14.47 GMT

Washington state governor Chris Gregoire and her counterparts in Oregon and California are considering a plan they hope would help transform the Pacific north-west's Interstate 5 from a freeway ruled by gasoline burners to a haven for eco-friendly cars and trucks.
The three governors envision a series of alternative fuelling stations stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico, creating what has been dubbed a "green freeway".
As the plan stands, motorists eventually would be able to pull off at I-5 rest stops for more than a cup of coffee and roadside relief: They also would be able to charge, or swap out, their electric-vehicle batteries or fill their tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas.
The idea is drawing opposition from interest groups that say the state-approved stations would compete with nearby private businesses.
But supporters say services for alternative-fuel vehicles are often tough to find near the 1,382-mile (2,223-kilometre) interstate route. If approved, the project could begin in Washington as early as this coming summer.
It would mark the first time US drivers could travel a long stretch of freeway with easy access to alternative fuel.
"We originally coined it the [British Columbia]-to-Baja green highway," said Jeff Doyle, director of public-private partnerships at the Washington state department of transportation. "The three states are trying to find out if we can all march forward together."
The fuelling stations and battery swap-out docks would be the first businesses allowed by US west coast states to operate at rest stops, Doyle said. To help companies with their initial costs, they would not be charged rent until they started turning a profit, he said. The move would need to clear layers of local and federal approval.
Supporters say the plan would fit with the nationwide push for green jobs and alternative-energy development, and put the states in line for some of the $15bn (£10.8bn) in federal stimulus money dedicated to energy-related programmes.
Marty Brown, Gregoire's legislative liaison, said Gregoire, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski are beginning to figure out how to make the plan work. The three briefly discussed the idea last month during a meeting in Washington, DC.
Doyle said he has been working with the Oregon and California transportation departments for months in developing a way to "partner with next-generation fuel providers to spur private investment".
He said Oregon and California are not likely to start on their ends of the project as soon as Washington, which also is looking at setting up alternative-fuel stations at park-and-ride lots.
Jim Whitty, manager of the Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding office in Oregon, said his state wants to push forward with the rest-stop fuelling stations but is tied up by opposition from the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (Natso) and national gasoline distribution groups.
Natso contends the stations would draw potential customers from truck stops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses near rest stops.
Doyle said he's slogging through the legalities of getting the federal government to approve commercial development alongside an interstate. He said that if the plan is approved, the rest stops would not resemble some east coast rest areas that feature fast-food restaurants and souvenir shops.
Doyle said the state wouldn't want alternative-fuel stations to disrupt rest-area traffic, so contract companies would have to provide small, low-profile setups. Doyle added that rest-stop fuelling sites would be self-service and likely to have little or no on-site staffing.
There already are dozens of compressed natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel stations in Washington and Oregon, but the closest hydrogen station is at Humboldt State University in northern California.

Greenland ice tipping point 'further off than thought'

Previous studies have misjudged the so-called Greenland tipping point at which the ice sheet is certain to melt completely, expert claims

David Adam in Copenhagen, Tuesday 10 March 2009 16.31 GMT

The giant Greenland ice sheet may be more resistant to temperature rise than experts realised. The finding gives hope that the worst impacts of global warming, such as the devastating floods depicted in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, could yet be avoided.
Jonathan Bamber, an ice sheet expert at the University of Bristol, told the conference that previous studies had misjudged the so-called Greenland tipping point, at which the ice sheet is certain to melt completely. "We're talking about the point at which it is 100% doomed. It seems quite an important number to get right." Such catastrophic melting would produce enough water to raise world sea levels by more than 6m.
"We found that the threshold is about double what was previously published," Bamber told the Copenhagen Climate Congress, a special three-day summit aimed at updating the latest climate science ahead of global political negotiations in December over a successor to the Kyoto treaty. It would take an average global temperature rise of 6C to push Greenland into irreversible melting, the new study found.
Previous estimates, including those in the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the critical threshold was about 3C – which many climate scientists expect to be reached in the coming decades.
"The threshold temperature has been substantially underestimated in previous studies. Our results have profound implications for predictions of sea level rise from Greenland over the coming century," the scientists said.
Bamber said previous studies used a very simple model to mimic how the Greenland ice will melt as temperatures rise. The new study, conducted jointly with colleagues in the US and Denmark, used a more complex simulation to better recreate the conditions in the real world. "I'm not saying it's definitely right, but more of the physics is in there."
He said evidence from past climates confirmed that Greenland should be able to survive temperature rises higher than 3C. An ice sheet about half the size is known to have persisted there during the Eemian period, about 125,000 years ago, when temperatures were about 5C higher than today.
Bamber said the new study was only concerned with the tipping point at which melting becomes unstoppable. It does not mean that Greenland will not contribute to increased sea level rise if temperatures increase by a few degrees.
"I'm not saying that if you have a temperature rise of 2C then you're not going to lose mass from Greenland, because you are. You warm the planet, ice melts," he added.

Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts

• Increase much higher than previously forecast • Change could displace 10% of world's population

David Adam in Copenhagen
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 March 2009

Global sea levels could rise much higher this century than previously projected, raising the threat level for millions of people who live in low-lying areas, new research suggests.
Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen say changes in the polar ice sheets could raise sea levels by a metre or more by 2100. The implications could be severe, they warn. Ten per cent of the world's population - about 600 million people - live in vulnerable areas.
The new estimate appears to significantly worsen the predictions of a report in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said sea level could rise by up to 59cm this century. The IPCC report also said higher increases could not be ruled out, but that not enough was known about ice sheets to predict how quickly they could break up as temperatures increased.
Prof Konrad Steffen, of the University of Colorado, said new studies of ice loss in Greenland showed it had accelerated over the last decade.
"I would predict sea level rise by 2100 in the order of 1m," he said. "It could be 1.2m or 0.9m, but it is 1m or more seeing the current change, which is up to three times more than the average predicted by the IPCC. It is a major change and it actually calls for action."
Dr John Church, of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Tasmania, said: "The most recent satellite and ground based observations show that sea-level rise is continuing to rise at 3mm per year or more since 1993, a rate well above the 20th-century average. The oceans are continuing to warm and expand, the melting of mountain glaciers has increased and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to sea level rise."
Prof Eric Rignot, a senior research scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said new studies since the IPCC report showed that melting and ice loss could not be overlooked. "As a result of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already contributing more and faster to sea level rise than anticipated."
Prof Stefan Ramstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said: "Based on past experience, I expect that sea level rise will accelerate as the planet gets hotter."
The IPCC estimate had been based largely on the expansion of oceans from higher temperatures, rather than meltwater and the impact of glaciers breaking into the sea.
Ramstorf said research indicated sea levels rising between 75cm and 190cm by 2100. Even if the world manages to cut the emission of greenhouse gases driving global warming, the "best estimate" was about 1m, he added.
Steffen said: "Different groups may come to slightly different projections, but differences in the details of the projections should not cloud the overall picture where even the lower end of the projections look to have very serious effects."
John Ashton, the special representative for climate change at the Foreign Office, said: "We need to look at what is a reasonable worst case in the lifetime of people alive today."
More than 2,000 researchers from 80 countries are attending the conference, which is intended to spur politicians into taking action on global warming.
"The huge response from scientists comes from a sense of urgency, but also a sense of frustration," said Katherine Richardson, head of the Danish government's commission on climate change colicy, which organised the conference. "Most of us have been trained as scientists to not get our hands dirty by talking to politicians."
She said the IPCC report from 2007 was an "invaluable document", but it would be years out of date when negotiators convene in Copenhagen in December to try to agree a new global deal to regulate carbon emissions.

Businesses to get green info at conference

Published Date: 10 March 2009

BUSINESSES will be given the green treatment at a carbon conference being held in the Capital.
More than 150 delegates will attend the inaugural Carbon Accounting Conference, to be held at the Edinburgh Conference Centre at Heriot-Watt University.Tomorrow's event aims to discuss the social, political and environmental issues which lead businesses to conduct a carbon audit of their own operations.Sarah Boyack, MSP for Edinburgh Central, will be one of those attending, and a range of international experts will address the conference on the important issues of carbon accounting boundaries, processes and reporting, highlighting the issue of corporate social responsibility.The Scottish Government Climate Change Team will be on hand to explain their policy drivers and aspirations for the future of carbon auditing in Scotland.Event organiser Professor Sue Roaf said: "The need to reduce carbon emissions is driving the Scottish and UK governments, and most leading businesses, to now require all their projects to have carbon accounts. "This is a unique opportunity to learn about why and how carbon accounting is done across the different sectors."

Disney seeks to slash its carbon emissions in half

McClatchy newspapers, Tuesday 10 March 2009 15.54 GMT

The Walt Disney Company wants to cut company-wide greenhouse gas emissions in half during the next four years, and reduce electricity consumption by 10% over the next five, as part of a series of environmental initiatives outlined yesterday.
The chief targets: Disney's theme parks, resorts and cruise ships, which, according to internal figures, account for 91% of the company's total greenhouse gas emissions through boilers, generators, refrigeration systems, cruise-ship engines and more. The group also accounts for 73% of Disney's total electrical use.
"Clearly, our biggest footprint is with the theme parks and resorts. So we know we've got a lot of work to do with them," said Beth Stevens, Disney's senior vice president of environmental affairs.
Disney released the environmental goals just ahead of what is expected to be an otherwise sombre annual shareholders meeting today in Oakland, California.
The Burbank, California-based media and entertainment company has been hit hard by the global recession, which has depressed sales of everything from theme-park tickets to television advertising to DVDs. Company earnings tumbled 32% during the first quarter of its fiscal year, which ended on 27 December, and Disney is slashing jobs across its operations.
Shares in Disney closed yesterday at $15.59, half its price from when shareholders met last year in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Disney's environmental plans were part of a 100-page Corporate Responsibility report posted online yesterday. In addition to reducing or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions - the company's goal is to cut in half its forecast 2012 emissions - and cutting electricity consumption, Disney said it aims to cut in half the amount of garbage generated at its parks and resorts by 2013.
Disney said the environmental targets are interim steps toward long-term goals of achieving zero net direct greenhouse gas emissions, reducing indirect emissions through electrical consumption, and eliminating all garbage sent to landfills.
Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida, called the targets and timetables set by Disney "pretty aggressive". He said the plan to cut electrical consumption by 10% was especially promising. "That's more than you're going to get just replacing light bulbs," Draper said.

A slump in carbon's price does not mean the trading scheme is a failure

The fall in carbon prices is short-term and businesses continue to invest in low-carbon technologies

James Murray, Tuesday 10 March 2009 14.21 GMT

Just as the world's nosediving financial markets are having to defend themselves against the charge that it's the whole system that is rotten, not just a few greedy bankers, the still embryonic European carbon market is similarly engaged in a fight for survival as the price of a tonne of carbon plummets and environmental commentators line up to say "I told you so".
The speed with which the price of EU emission allowances (EUAs) has fallen from a high of €31 last summer to a low of around €8 last month lends plenty of weight to Julian Glover's recent assertion that the market is "in meltdown" and "failing in its purpose: to edge up the cost of emitting CO2".
But, with apologies to Mark Twain, reports of carbon trading's death have been greatly exaggerated. There remain flaws in the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) but the charge that it has failed and actively encourages firms to pollute simply does not stack up.
The fall in carbon prices is the result not of the failure of the ETS, but the failure of the wider economy. The collapse in industrial output caused by the recession has led to falling emissions from many steel, aluminium, chemicals and power plants, leaving them with far more carbon allowances than they need. At a time when most businesses are cash-strapped they are happy to sell these excess credits and, as a result, supply of EUAs has outstripped demand, driving down prices.
It is by no means an ideal scenario. Carbon prices of under €10 have made it more cost-effective for some energy companies to burn carbon-intensive coal as opposed to cleaner gas, while the EUA glut has meant European firms no longer need to import carbon credits from emission reduction projects in the developing world to help cover their emissions, making it harder for those projects to attract investment.
But that is not to say the lowly price of carbon constitutes market failure, not least because the overarching cap on emissions has not been breached. Equally, that cap is lower now than during the genuinely disastrous first phase of the scheme when oversupply of EUAs was so severe prices fell to almost zero. Demand for allowances may have dropped but it has not collapsed altogether, and despite continued bleak predictions for industrial output the price of EUAs has stabilised at between €8 and €10 over the last couple of months and even crept back up to €11 last week.
Moreover, this is not a long-term issue. The emission caps are sacrosanct, meaning that as soon as industrial output recovers (and it will eventually) demand for carbon allowances will soar as firms buy more EUAs to cover their rising emissions. At this point a spike in the price of carbon is inevitable. And, if recent market whispers are accurate and cash-strapped plants in Eastern Europe are raising short-term funds by over-selling allowances they will only have to buy back later, then that price spike could be dramatic.
Most firms operating under the ETS know this and are planning for the price of carbon to recover to between €20 and €30 by 2012 and then rise steadily as emissions caps are lowered by 1.74% a year up to 2020. They also know that the number of free allowances will dwindle from 2012 onwards, forcing them to buy more EUAs at auction.
Regardless of the current low price of carbon, these factors are influencing investment decisions right now. Executives at Shell, for example, said recently that plans for a carbon capture and storage project in the Netherlands were informed by the expectation that the supply of carbon allowances will become constrained. Similarly, steel giant Corus has just completed a £60m upgrade of its plant in Port Talbot and is planning a wave of further energy-efficiency investments, which the company admits is driven in part by projections that the carbon price will head north. In this respect, the ETS is doing exactly what it set out to achieve: providing firms with a financial incentive to invest in low-carbon technologies.
None of this is to suggest the ETS is perfect. But while improvements to the scheme could and should be made, to suggest it is failing is not only inaccurate, it undermines a market that is reliant on confidence if it is to prove successful. It might not be perfect, but with the point at which global emissions must peak getting ever closer, and Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and — most significantly —the US all planning to introduce their own cap-and-trade schemes, carbon trading is arguably the most important weapon we possess in the battle to cut emissions.
• James Murray is the editor of

UN climate chief: US carbon cuts could spark 'revolution'

David Adam in Copenhagen
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 March 2009

The head of the UN body charged with leading the fight against climate change has conceded that Barack Obama will face a "revolution" if he commits the US to the deep carbon cuts that scientists and campaigners say are needed.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said domestic political constraints made it impossible for the US president to announce ambitious short-term climate targets similar to those set by Europe. And he questioned the value of a new global climate deal without such a US pledge.
His words come as scientists at the Copenhagen conference said that modest IPCC estimates of likely sea level rise this century need to be increased. Extra melting in Greenland could drive sea levels to more than a metre higher than today by 2100, they said.
Obama has said the US will work to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Europe has pledged to cut them by 20-30% on 1990 levels by 2020. The IPCC says developed nations should aim for 25-40% cuts by then to avoid dangerous climate change.
Speaking on the fringes of a high-level scientific conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Pachauri told the Guardian: "He [Obama] is not going to say by 2020 I'm going to reduce emissions by 30%. He'll have a revolution on his hands. He has to do it step by step."
Pachauri's remarks echo those of Todd Stern, the US president's new chief climate negotiator, who said last week that it was "not possible" for the US to aim for 25-40% cuts by 2020.
Such a stance could threaten attempts to agree a new global deal to regulate carbon emissions to replace the existing Kyoto protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. Campaigners say a new treaty must be agreed at UN talks in Copenhagen this December.
Obama has called for 80% carbon cuts by 2050, but insiders say that such long-term pledges will do little to convince developing nations such as China to sign up to a new climate deal. British officials say meaningful US involvement in the short term is crucial to agree a new treaty.
Pachauri told the Guardian the US needed to do more in the short term. But he questioned whether there would be sufficient domestic movement for the US to agree stricter targets in December. He said it was "hard to say" if a new deal would be meaningful without such a step.

Move to force US industry to report emissions

By Fiona Harvey in London
Published: March 11 2009 02:58

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations that would require thousands of companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions, in the first step towards a federal system of controlling emissions from industry.
Under the proposal, large companies in several heavy industrial sectors would have to monitor their carbon dioxide emissions and report them to the EPA, starting from next year.

Lisa Jackson, the EPA’s administrator, said: “Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information. Through this new reporting we will have comprehensive and accurate data about the production of greenhouse gases ... without placing an onerous burden on our nation’s small businesses.”
The plan is seen as a first step towards the creation of a nationwide cap-and-trade system to restrict carbon emissions, the central plank of President Barack Obama’s climate change policy.
David Doniger, policy director of the climate centre for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the move showed the urgency with which the administration viewed tackling emissions. “The EPA is laying the foundation for strong action on global warming this year.”
Ms Jackson’s decision to move forward with emissions monitoring reverses Bush administration policy. The Supreme Court in early 2007 ruled that the Clean Air Act could be used in this way, and an act passed by Congress in December of that year directed the EPA to publish a mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting rule by June 2009. But former president George W. Bush’s administration did not act on it. The new administration has revived it, as part of its plans for a federal cap-and-trade system to start from 2012.
About 13,000 facilities, which the EPA said accounted for 85 to 90 per cent of US greenhouse gases, would be covered by the proposed rule. The reporting requirements would apply to oil and gas suppliers, electricity generators, chemicals companies, cement makers, automotive manufacturers and others. However, only companies with emissions of more than 25,000 tonnes a year would have to report their emissions. The EPA said the “vast majority” of small businesses would not be covered.
Complying with the proposed regulations would cost about $160m (€126m, £116m) in the first year, according to EPA estimates, falling to $127m in subsequent years as the reporting systems were established.
Many businesses have been expecting to have to report on their carbon dioxide emissions, and two thirds of the S&P 500 large public companies already do so, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, an organisation owned by investors. It requests companies to report on emissions as they do their financial results.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Industries Resist and Court Obama at Same Time


WASHINGTON -- Industries from coal to venture capital are pushing back against regulations and taxes proposed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, saying the plans will hurt businesses that already are struggling.
But lobbyists for all these groups are treading carefully, worried about risking Democrats' support for favors their industries will want down the line.
Ethanol interests are working to shape a clean-burning fuel proposal in Washington as they fight a similar effort in California. The coal industry has organized a grass-roots campaign criticizing the stimulus plan's emphasis on alternative fuels, while pressing for money to develop clean-coal technology.
The National Venture Capital Association hopes to defeat a budget proposal that could more than double the tax on venture-capital profits. But venture capitalists have high hopes for another provision that would eliminate the capital-gains tax on some small-business investments.
Venture capital "is long-term, patient investing alongside the entrepreneur...not the area you want to be mucking up," said Mark Heesen, the association's president. But "there are many very good, positive things that this administration has done."
Coal-industry backers in Ohio last week slammed Mr. Obama's proposal to tax the industry, even as operators praised his support for other efforts. "President Obama should be commended for his continued pledge to invest in clean-coal technology and to build five commercial-scale, coal-fired power plants," said Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association. "However, that commitment seems like mere lip service to the coal industry," considering "an extraordinary 'energy tax' on America's coal operators."
The travel industry is fighting congressional and administration proposals to limit lavish travel by companies that receive federal dollars -- even as it asks for a government-backed program to promote U.S. tourism abroad.
A multimillion-dollar advertising campaign running in the Washington print media slams "political rhetoric and short-sighted legislation" that would limit luxury travel and meetings by companies whose financial problems have prompted taxpayer bailouts.
The U.S. Travel Association is spearheading the campaign. The group said high-end business meetings and incentive trips, some of which have been criticized by Congress and Mr. Obama as ill-advised and wasteful, are the lifeblood of the industry, generating more than $100 billion in annual spending and creating one million jobs. Citing a recent industry study, the travel group said that 20% of companies that have not received taxpayer help have nonetheless canceled events and meetings, fearing public criticism.
The ads take aim at both Congress and Mr. Obama. One ad tells lawmakers, "Want to lose one million more jobs? Just keep talking."
This week, executives including Marriott International Inc. Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo and Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, will press their case on Capitol Hill and with the administration.
Geoff Freeman, the travel association's senior vice president, said the group will "spend whatever it takes" to roll back the legislation and persuade the administration instead to adopt a set of guidelines for travel and meetings that keep spending within bounds.
At the same time, the group hopes Democrats will pass an initiative it has pursued for years: a government-backed program to lure more foreign visitors to the U.S. The Tourism Promotion Act, which the group has been pushing in Congress, would use a surcharge on foreign visas to pay for a sweeping travel-promotion program that includes a new government office responsible for boosting U.S. tourism.
The group's opposition to executive-travel limits "could be beneficial" to the promotional program's prospects, said Mr. Freeman. "It gives us an opportunity to help members understand the economic benefits of travel."
Write to Elizabeth Williamson at

Utilities Industry Loses Its Juice Over Carbon Plan, Dividend Cuts

Sector Is Second-Worst S&P Performer, Behind Financials


One of the market's traditionally defensive sectors has recently been anything but.
In the past several weeks, as the market has hit 12-year lows, each of the 10 industries in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has lost ground. In March, after financials, the worst performer has been the utilities sector, down 9%.
Strategists point to concerns about the Obama administration's efforts to limit carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade program that would tax offenders, including many utility companies, along with concerns about higher financing costs and reduced demand.
Recent dividend cuts, along with expectations that favorable tax treatment for dividends will lapse in 2010, also are weighing on the sector. Ameren Corp. and Great Plains Energy Inc. reduced their quarterly payouts in February by 39% and 50%, respectively, calling into question the view that utilities were a safe source of dividends.
Utilities were hardly standouts in 2008; the sector fell nearly 32%, but that was third best among the 10 industry sectors and short of the S&P's 39% decline. The stocks weren't particularly weak in the early part of the year, but as expectations for climate-control legislation have risen, so too has investor concern, because of the potential cost for utility companies.
In commentary last week, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Hugh Wynne noted that climate-control legislation is high on the list of priorities of Democrats in the House and Senate. He said a bill that was moving through Congress last year may be resuscitated, one that he said was "guided in large part by the need to establish support for climate change legislation among coal state Democrats and affected industries."
These worries have caused shares to decline, making their valuations more attractive, said Dan Eggers, analyst at Credit Suisse Group, who upgraded shares of utilities Duke Energy Corp. and Consolidated Edison Inc. on Tuesday.
Mr. Eggers said utilities trade at a price-to-earnings ratio of 9.4, lower than the sector's long-term average. He added that dividend yields are at 19-year highs -- more than yields on bonds issued by utility companies.
As for those worried about the expiration of the 2003 tax cuts that lowered the rate on dividends, Mr. Eggers is less concerned.
He said the lower taxes boosted price-to-earning multiples in the sector, but amid the selloff "that lift has been stripped out of the stocks at this point."
Write to David Gaffen at