Thursday, 12 March 2009

85 per cent of Amazonian rainforest at risk of destruction, researchers warn

The Times
March 12, 2009

Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter, Copenhagen

The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage, even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change, researchers have decided.
The damage will be so severe that it will cause irreversible changes to the world’s weather patterns, which is expected to bring more storms, floods and heat waves to Britain.
Up to 40 per cent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the least that can be expected by 2050.
Climate change researchers issued the assessment of the forest’s fragility after discovering a time-lag in the effects of temperature rises on the forest.

It had previously been thought that the trees and other vegetation, and the vast range of animals living among them, would be safe if temperatures rose no more than 2C. Researchers have now found that even 2C will destroy large tracts of the forest but that the die-back is slow and will take up to a century to have its full effect.
A 3C rise is likely to result in 75 per cent of the forest disappearing and a 4C rise, regarded as the most likely increase this century unless greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced, will kill off 85 per cent of the forest.
Chris Jones, of the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, told a scientific conference in Copenhagen that the time delay had masked the full impact of temperature rises. He led a team of researchers who calculated that 20 to 40 per cent of the forest will be killed off by 2050 if there is a 2C rise.
“We are committed to losing a fair degree of the forest,” Dr Jones told scientists. “Everything above 1C commits us to some forest loss.”
Until Dr Jones presented his findings it had been assumed that the Amazonian rainforest was safe from severe climate-related loss until temperatures rose more than 3C. However, the slowness of forests to respond to change hid the likely real impact.
A 1C temperature rise is expected to be reached in the 2020s. Temperatures have already risen 0.75C above pre-industrial levels and so much greenhouse gas is in the atmosphere that a further 0.6C is already guaranteed.
Vicky Pope, the head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said the findings showed that the threat to the forest was much higher than expected.
“Impacts could be much worse than previously thought,” Dr Pope said in Copenhagen, where scientists have been meeting to discuss the latest research into climate change and its effects. “Even if temperature rises are limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels, as much as 20 to 40 per cent of the Amazonian rainforest could be lost if this temperature is sustained for 100 years or more.”
Trees will be lost to the rise in temperatures because as forests warm up, evaporation rates increase and they begin to dry out. Over several decades the drier conditions will kill off the trees.
Other research presented at the conference showed that there is a significant chance that even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, temperatures may not start falling for at least a century.
Peter Cox, of the University of Exeter, said of the finding that at least a fifth of the Amazonian rainforest was almost certainly doomed. “Ecologically it would be a catastrophe and it would be taking a huge chance with our own climate. The tropics are drivers of the world’s weather systems and killing the Amazon is likely to change them for ever. We don’t know exactly what would happen but we could expect more extreme weather,” Professor Cox said.
Destroying the Amazonian rainforest would also turn what was now a significant carbon sink into a significant source of carbon, he said. “It would amplify global warming significantly. Just as an example, at the moment deforestation adds about a fifth of the world’s carbon to the atmosphere.”

Government gives Jaguar Land Rover £27m for green 4X4

The UK government has offered Jaguar Land Rover a grant of up to £27m towards the production of a new "green" 4x4 model.

Last Updated: 1:21PM GMT 11 Mar 2009

Jaguar Land Rover will invest around £400m to produce a new fuel and CO2 efficient model
The grant is separate from the £2.3bn financing package being discussed today between the Government and motor manufacturers and parts suppliers. It is also not linked to talks between Jaguar Land Rover and the government over support to ensure the long-term future of the Indian-owned car maker. JLR is believed to be seeking £500m from the state.
JLR is looking to invest around £400m in the project that would help safeguard jobs and lead to the production of a new fuel and CO2 efficient model. The company said it expected the "green" vehicle to do 60 miles to the gallon.

The government is supporting the project with up to £27m under the Grant for Business Investment scheme.
The vehicle would be designed, developed and produced in the UK, securing production and employment at the company's Halewood facility, where it would be built. The company hopes to launch the car in 2011.
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said: "The Government is fully committed to supporting the UK automotive industry as it moves to a lower carbon future. This project aims to design and build a greener car in the UK, safeguarding vital skills and technologies.
“The project would secure production and employment at the Halewood facility and maintain the design capability for Jaguar Land Rover in the UK. This is an important investment for the future and we are delighted to be able to offer this grant support.”
The offer will need European approval.

'Green' Range Rover wins government funding

Mark Milner, Wednesday 11 March 2009

The government will help to fund Jaguar Land Rover's plans to build a green Range Rover, it was announced today.
It is contributing £27m towards the £400m cost of developing the new vehicle – based on Land Rover's LRX Concept car, first shown in Detroit last year.
Jaguar Land Rover still has to give the final go-ahead to the new vehicle, which would be built at the company's Halewood plant, but a decision is expected this year.
The funding comes under the government's grant for business investment scheme – separate from the £2.3bn automotive assistance programme that is meant to support the ailing car industry.
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, said: "The government is fully committed to supporting the UK automotive industry as it moves to a lower-carbon future. This project aims to design and build a greener car in the UK, safeguarding vital skills and technology."
Land Rover's managing director, Phil Popham, said the company was keen to go ahead with the new vehicle, which would be the smallest, lightest and most efficient Range Rover ever produced.
"Our engineering feasibility study has shown that we can very successfully deliver Range Rover levels of quality, drivability and breadth of performance in a more compact, sustainable package," he said.
The LRX Concept had already shown how Land Rover was planning to respond to the needs of a changing world. "Despite the current economic challenges we remain committed to investing for the future."

Honda sets sights on US green car market

By Jonathan Soble in Tokyo
Published: March 12 2009 02:00

Honda Motor is to offer US drivers the first petrol-electric hybrid vehicle priced at under $20,000 as it seeks to draw recession-hit buyers away from the segmentleading Toyota Prius.
Honda's Insight, which will go on sale in the US this month, has already scored an early success in Japan, where 18,000 people placed orders for the car in the three weeks after it went on sale on February 6.
That was more than triple Honda's monthly sales estimate of 5,000 units, and came in spite of a drop in Japanese car sales of 24 per cent in February.
Honda published the Insight's US sticker price for the first time this week. At $19,800 for the basic model, the car will be $2,200 cheaper than the least expensive Prius.
The fully loaded LX model will cost $23,100, compared with $27,765 for the top-end Touring version of Toyota's car.
Honda, Japan's second-largest carmaker, has staked its reputation on the success of its hybrid programme, one of the areas it has spared from deep cost costs amid the motor industry slump.
The five-door Insight succeeds a three-door model of the same name which Honda discontinued in 2006.
Honda executives believed at the time that the pool of drivers willing to pay as much as $5,000 extra for a hybrid powertrain was too small, only to watch Prius sales explode as petrol prices hit record highs two years later.
"Honda absolutely cannot afford to fail with this car," Masatoshi Nishimoto, analyst at CSM Worldwide, a motor industry research group, said.
The company is targeting sales of 200,000 units a year once production hits full stride, with most demand expected to come from the US, the biggest hybrid market.
Honda hopes planned hybrid versions of several other models, including the Fit subcompact, will push sales to 500,000 units early in the next decade, a volume equivalent to about 10 per cent of its current production.
Honda has reduced costs by engineering a simpler version of the dual engine-and-motor system that powers the car.
The Insight is less fuel-efficient than the Prius, in spite of being a slightly smaller car, generating 41 miles per gallon of petrol according to its US specifications compared with 46 mpg for Toyota. A planned upate of the Prius this year is expected to raise its efficiency further, to as much as 50mpg.
But the Insight's lower sticker price is likely to attract buyers who have been forced by the recession to temper their green ambitions.
Even at the peak price of more than $4 a gallon, a Prius buyer would have to have driven a heroic 200,000 miles to earn back the price difference with the Insight through better mileage alone.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

£50bn of European investment needed to kick-start Saharan solar plan

Government investment worth £50bn would convince private companies that power from the Sahara solar scheme is feasible and attractive option, expert says

David Adam in Copenhagen, Wednesday 11 March 2009

Experts say only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, would need to be covered to produce enough energy to supply the whole of Europe. European countries could transform their electricity supplies within a decade by investing in a giant network of solar panels in the Sahara desert, an expert told a global warming conference in Copenhagen today.
Dr Anthony Patt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Africa said some £50bn of government investment was needed over the next decade to make the scheme a reality. That would convince private companies that power from the Sahara was both feasible and an attractive investment, he said.
In the long term, such a plan, combined with strings of windfarms along the north Africa coast, could "supply Europe with all the energy it needs".
He said technological advances combined with falling costs have made it realistic to consider north Africa as Europe's main source of imported energy.
"The sun is very strong there and it's very reliable. There is starting to be a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for North Africa....that start to compare favourably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving [electricity] long distances has really come down."
He said only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, would need to be covered to produce enough energy to supply the whole of Europe.
The results are the first findings of a major research effort, together with experts at the European Climate Forum and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, to judge whether such a Sahara solar plan is realistic.
Patt said the team was looking at questions of security and governance, as well as ways to pay for the technology. The full results will be presented to governments later this year.
He said sunshine in the Sahara is twice as strong as in Spain and is a constant resource that is rarely blocked by clouds even in the winter.
The scheme would use mirrors to focus the sun's rays onto a thin pipe containing either water or salt. The rays boil the water or melt the salt and the resulting energy used to power turbines.
Unlike wind power, which usually has to be used immediately because of the cost of storing the electricity generated, the hot water and salt can be stored for several hours.
Trials of such concentrated solar power plants are planned for Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Dubai, but Libya and Tunisia could also be considered.
Patt said that starting such a scheme would not be all plain sailing though. There would likely be opposition from local communities across Europe who unhappy about transmission cables installed near their homes. Piecemeal national transmission networks could also pose a problem.
The findings were revealed at 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.

Power Station 571 needs to be paid

Ofgem should close down its microgeneration section, and hand £300 a year to anybody who can show them a photograph of solar panels or a wind turbine on their roof, says Chris Goodall of CarbonCommentary.

From CarbonCommentary, part of Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 11 March 2009

Solar panels newly installed on the roof of a residential house. Photograph: John Curtis/Rex Features
People like me who buy solar panels tend to become unreasonably fond of them. Many homeowners come to regard these silent blocks of silicon on our roofs as part of the family. I'm also particularly proud that our panels are registered at Ofgem, the utilities regulator, as Power Station 571. The reason for going through the cumbersome process to convince Ofgem that my silicon should be listed alongside Drax and Sizewell B was to benefit from the government incentive scheme for renewable electricity generation.
I am meant to get a cheque every year as a payment for the electricity that panels generate. But I have never had a penny. The large generators get paid reliably every month but my many attempts over the last couple of years to collect the money I'm owed – not a lot, it has to be said – have failed. It hasn't been for want of trying. My file is full of faxes (remember them?) submitted and then resubmitted at Ofgem's request, notes of endless telephone calls, and a futile attempt to appoint Southern Electric as my agent. The regulator's excuses have been many and various: the faxes were lost, the computer system had been changed, the manager left, the numbers had to be checked, or Southern Electric hadn't sent through some details properly.
Because I have a professional interest in how the government support scheme for renewables works, I have persisted long after a more rational individual would have given up. The latest excuse – provided today – is that one of the other "microgenerators", as we are respectfully called, has emigrated to Australia meaning that a batch of approvals can't be completed. I have a sneaking suspicion why this family left its beautiful silicon panels behind. Dealing with Ofgem would make any sane person eager to get as far away as possible. Perhaps as they got on the plane these hapless microgenerators gave a shout of relief as they left the regulator and its absurdly malfunctioning systems behind. "Don't worry about the money – we never wanted it anyway – just use it to reduce the national debt," is what they probably said.
I went to the regulator's annual report on the renewable payments scheme to see if there were any clues as to why us pioneers are suffering. What I read there was truly humbling. I may resent the ten or twenty hours I have spent in the last year chasing my £66.43. But Ofgem is upset as well. The report crossly says that the 1,000 or so microgenerators in the UK cost the regulator £600,000 last year in staff and office costs. That's £600 per generating site, ten times the money they owe me. I may have been frustrated by the time I spent chasing my payment, but they appear to have spent days and days justifying why the money hadn't been properly sent to Power Station 571. In fact, Ofcom unashamedly comments that cost of generators like me was substantially more than the value of the electricity we produced. Between the thousand of us we generated about 8,000 megawatt hours, or just about enough to cover the electricity needs of 200 homes or a large secondary school. But Ofcom has a section of five or ten people responding to our complaints and trying to find new reasons not to send us the cash. Reading between the lines, the regulator is trying to tell government that it is fed up with dealing with us and our miserable dribbles of electricity. Heaped on the superstructure of baffling incompetence is a new threat. Apparently, Ofgem is worried that some naughty microgenerators have been exaggerating their production figures. A new team of crack auditors is to be formed to visit places like Power Station 571 to ensure we are correctly completing our forms. Next year perhaps it won't cost £600 to make life difficult for the average microgenerator, it will be £800, £900, or even more.
I therefore have a simple proposal to help all of us. Instead of locking us in continuous disputes about a few tens of pounds, Ofgem should close down its microgeneration section, and hand £300 a year to anybody who can show them a photograph of solar panels or a wind turbine on their roof. We gain, Ofgem gains, and the taxpayer gains. We might even get the family in Australia to come back.
• This article was shared by our content partner CarbonCommentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network

AT&T Invests in Alternative-Fuel Vehicles for Corporate Fleet


AT&T Inc. will spend up to $565 million over 10 years on alternative-fuel vehicles for its corporate fleet, the most significant investment by a U.S. company in transportation powered by natural gas.

The Dallas-based telecommunications provider will purchase 8,000 vehicles that run on compressed natural gas for its fleet of installation and repair vans, and replace about 7,100 passenger cars with hybrid-electric models.
The move expands on similar initiatives by companies like United Parcel Service Inc. and PG&E Corp., which already operate thousands of natural-gas-powered vehicles.
AT&T will begin by deploying 800 new CNG and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2009. The company says it is paying, on average, 29% more for its new vehicles than it would for gasoline-powered models, which it hopes will be offset by lower fuel costs. The company says it anticipates a positive return on its investment in a six-to-10-year timeframe.
The nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the AT&T vehicles would also reduce carbon emissions by 211,000 metric tons over 10 years, equivalent to the annual emissions of 38,600 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles. The organization estimated the initiative will create or save 5,000 jobs, between manufacturing the vehicles and building and operating CNG stations. AT&T is planning to work with natural gas providers to build up to 40 new fueling stations across its operating region.
"It's good for the environment, it reduces our reliance on foreign oil ... and it gives a big boost to America's alternative-fuel industry," AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said in a speech Wednesday at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
At a time when green initiatives are fashionable, the move comes as President Barack Obama is proposing that the federal government invest billions of dollars annually into renewable energy sources and technology to make cars and trucks more fuel-efficient. The economic stimulus package includes $300 million for federal procurement of fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids for government fleets.
There are only about 110,000 natural-gas vehicles on the road in the U.S., a sliver of the overall auto market, though there are 10 million vehicles world-wide. The general market for CNG cars is limited by their shorter range and high cost and a dearth of filling stations. In addition, the total fuel savings for the number of miles a typical consumer might drive is relatively modest.
Real-time pricing on natural gas isn't collected, but a comparison of fuel prices in an October Department of Energy report had the average gasoline price at $3.04 per gallon nationally, while natural gas was $2.01 per gallon equivalent. Since then, the prices of both fuels have fallen.
But CNG is gaining traction as an alternative fuel for fleets like delivery trucks and buses, which are in service constantly and rack up a lot more mileage. UPS recently added 300 new CNG delivery trucks to its fleet, bringing its total to over 1,800. AT&T's CNG vehicles would amount to about 10% of the company's vehicle fleet.
Building fueling stations is one of the costlier elements of natural-gas infrastructure. Tim Harden, president of supply chain and fleet operations at AT&T, said the company is discussing ways to share its fueling stations with other companies, including UPS and PG&E.
T. Boone Pickens, the 80-year-old billionaire oilman who is pushing a plan in Washington to reduce U.S. imports of foreign oil, applauded AT&T's move and said he knows of more U.S. companies that may follow suit, but declined to name them.
"There are other batters in the game, and they'll be coming to the plate," Mr. Pickens said in an interview. Mr. Pickens, who has interests in wind and solar power, is lobbying for more government investment in natural gas and a modernized energy grid.
AT&T said Ford Motor Co. will be its initial vendor, making the vehicle chassis. AT&T will work with domestic suppliers to convert the chassis to run on CNG.—Russell Gold contributed to this article.
Write to Amol Sharma at

Sea levels rising twice as fast as predicted

Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica force UN scientists to issue dramatic warning
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Sea levels are predicted to rise twice as fast as was forecast by the United Nations only two years ago, threatening hundreds of millions of people with catastrophe, scientists said yesterday in a dramatic new warning about climate change. Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are likely to push up sea levels by a metre or more by 2100, swamping coastal cities and obliterating the living space of 600 million people who live in deltas, low-lying areas and small island states.
Low-lying countries with increasing populations, such as Bangladesh, Burma and Egypt, could see large parts of their surface areas vanish. Experts in Bangladesh estimate that a one-metre rise in sea levels would swamp 17 per cent of the country's land mass. Pacific islands such as Tuvalu, where 12,000 people live just a few feet above sea level, and the Maldives, would face complete obliteration.
Even Britain could face real challenges in lower-lying areas along the east coast, from Lincolnshire to the Thames estuary, with a much greater risk of catastrophic "storm surges" such as the great flood of 1953 that killed 307 people.

Yesterday's urgent wake-up call to governments about global warming – telling them the data on which they are basing their official advice is flawed – came from four scientists from the US, Australia, France and Germany, who gave a press conference at a scientific meeting on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Professor Konrad Steffen, from the University of Colorado, Dr John Church, of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Tasmania, Dr Eric Rignot, of Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, and Professor Stefan Rahmsdorf, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, are all experts in sea-level rise. Their views represent the mainstream opinion of researchers in the field, taking account of the most recent data.
Only two years ago, the UN's Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its Fourth Assessment Report, or AR4, that the worst-case prediction for global sea-level rise was 59cm by 2100. But the scientists in Copenhagen suggested that the 2007 report was a drastic underestimation of the problem, and that oceans were likely to rise twice as fast.
Yesterday's meeting was a scientific overture to the global conference on climate change, which takes place in the Danish capital in December. The four researchers underlined how critical it is that world leaders act to slash the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from industry and transport which are causing the atmosphere to overheat.
Advance negotiations begin in three weeks in Bonn. On pages 20 and 21, we illustrate in detail just how great the task is, profiling the main emitters of CO2 and what they are doing – or not doing – to cut back. Yesterday's alarm call was clearly intended to inject more urgency into the process.
Rising sea levels are caused by the thermal expansion of the ocean – where water increases in volume as it warms. But although the melting of ice already floating in the sea does not add to the level, because it is already displacing its own mass, melting into the sea of land-based ice most definitely does.
It is the accelerated melting of the vast, land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, caused by rapidly rising temperatures at high latitudes, which is now speeding up the increase beyond anything previously forecast. The Greenland ice sheet, in particular, is not simply melting but melting "dynamically" – that is, it is collapsing in parts as meltwater seeps down through crevices and speeds up its disintegration. Critically, the four scientists said, this process was not taken into account in the AR4 report, leading to estimates of sea-level increase which were far too low.
They revealed remarkable figures showing just how fast it is now happening. Professor Steffen said Greenland was losing 200 to 300 cubic-kilometres of ice into the sea each year – about the same amount as all the ice in Arctic Europe. This on its own is causing the global sea level to rise by more than a millimetre a year, he added, whereas a decade ago Greenland's contribution to sea level rise was non-existent.
Dr Church said that the most recent satellite and in situ data showed seas were now rising by more than 3mm a year – more than 50 per cent faster than the average for the 20th century.
"As a result of improved estimates of the observed rise, the thermal expansion, the melting of the glaciers and of the ice sheets, we now have a much better quantitive understanding of why sea level is rising," he said. "Without significant, urgent and sustained emissions reductions, we will cross a threshold which will lead to continuing sea level rise of metres."
Professor Steffen added: "What we have learnt in the past three or four years is that the ice dynamic is much stronger than the models indicated, and the prediction has to be revised up to a metre or more – which is enormous if you look at the impact."
Britain's Environment Agency was apparently unique when it discarded the IPCC's 2007 advice as flawed. Based on its own estimates, it is planning flood defences for 2100 on the basis of a one-metre rise in sea levels – with a "worst-case scenario" of 2.7 metres.
"These startling new predictions spell disaster for millions of the world's poorest people," said Rob Bailey, Oxfam's policy adviser on climate change. "Poor coastal communities in countries such as Bangladesh are already struggling to cope with a changing climate, and it can only get worse. This must be a wake-up call for rich countries who are not doing anywhere near enough to prevent these cataclysmic predictions from becoming a reality."

Tycoon gives Oxford £36m to tackle threat of climate change

By Richard Garner, Education Editor
Thursday, 12 March 2009

A wealthy benefactor will today pledge Oxford University up to £36m to help it combat any shortfall in cash as a result of the recession.
Former Keble College alumni Dr James Martin, who made his fortune through books on information technology, has promised to match any research donations made to the university up to the tune of $50m (£36m).
His pledge comes at a time when staff at other universities in the UK are pursuing more modest aims, such as fighting plans for the wholesale closure of three departments at Liverpool University and a threat to axe Reading University's School of Health and Social Care.
Dr Martin's offer will boost cash for Oxford's newly established 21st Century School, sponsored by him to conduct research into problems facing the world such as climate change and ageing.
"My view is that, while we may be distracted by today's credit crunch, we must not forget the bigger picture – that we need to safeguard a future for the generations that follow us," he said.
Dr Ian Goldin, director of the 21st Century School, said: "I was concerned, as anyone involved in higher education would be, that the economic crisis would undermine people's willingness to donate. This wonderful new generation of resources has therefore been timely. Anyone giving will know they are contributing towards providing twice the money they have come forward with."
Dr Goldin said the first donation – to be matched by Dr Martin – had already come in with the university being offered £800,000 to conduct research into inner-city life.
Dr Martin said he would be happy to spend all the $50m he had pledged "because it would mean money was coming in for very important research".
He said he had visited several universities before opting to invest in Oxford "because I thought it would give the best opportunity for world-class research".
In addition to the $50m pledge, the £100m Dr Martin spent to set up the 21st Century School is thought to be the largest contribution ever donated to a UK university.
Meanwhile, the powerful university senate at Reading University, which represents academics, last night voted to approve plans to axe its School of Health and Social Care. A final decision will be taken by the university's ruling council tomorrow week.
At Liverpool University the senate failed to debate a motion calling for a decision on closures to be delayed and rejected a move to withdraw the plans.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of University and College Union (UCU) – the university lecturers' union – who spent yesterday morning at a demonstration in Reading against proposed cuts at the university there, stressed she was "very pleased" with the pledge by Dr Martin to Oxford University.
But she added: "The Government says university funding is OK, but it is not OK. "There are less staff per student and a whole range of departments facing funding cuts or being closed."

Big businesses unaware of looming emissions bill

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: March 12 2009 02:00

A group of 5,000 businesses - from banks to hotel chains - are largely unaware they will soon have to pay £660m a year for their greenhouse emissions, as the government today sets out details of the plan.
All companies with an energy bill of £1m a year or more will be forced from next April to report their energy usage, and to buy carbon credits to cover the resulting greenhouse gases, under a complex and little understood new regulation called the Carbon Reduction Commitment.
Retailers, banks, hotel chains and other service sector businesses, as well as hospitals and local authorities, will have a year's grace to try to cut energy usage. But from 2011 they will have to pay £12 for each tonne of carbon they emit, according to the 84-page guidelines on the scheme, published today by the government.
Altogether, the companies are likely to spend about £660m a year on allowances, with the smallest companies covered likely to spend about £30,000. For the biggest it will be millions. However, the money will be returned at the end of three years, when the companies will be judged on their success in cutting energy usage.
Those at the bottom of the emissions reduction league table will forfeit 10 per cent of the sum they paid, while those at the top will have the sum paid returned with a 10 per cent bonus, in order to provide an incentive to improve energy efficiency.
Neil Bentley, director of business environment at the CBI employers' organisation, warned that although the CRC had "sound objectives", it was "going to come as a bit of a shock" to most businesses.
He said: "The levels of awareness and preparedness among businesses are very low. It's going to be an uphill struggle for the government to raise awareness, and to ensure that this is not going to become a bureaucratic nightmare."
Joan Ruddock, minister for climate change, said that rather than imposing a new cost and administrative burden on businesses, the CRC would help companies to save money by making them more aware of their energy efficiency. She estimated companies could save a total of £1bn on their energy bills through the scheme by 2020.
"We feel that people have been made aware" of the rules, she said.
She said the administrative burden would be small because the regulation relied on the size of the company's electricity bill, covering only those with bills metered by the half-hour. Such companies would find it easy to measure their use, she said.
The companies involved represent 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Going green,
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Global warming to carry big costs for California

The Associated Press
Published: March 11, 2009

SACRAMENTO, California: From agricultural losses to devastation wrought by wildfires, California's economy is expected to see significant costs resulting from global warming in the decades ahead, according to a series of studies released Wednesday.
The reports presented to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's climate advisers illustrate the potential effects of climate change on America's most populous state, which is also the eighth-largest economy in the world.
Global warming could translate into annual costs and revenue losses throughout California's economy of between $2.5 billion and $15 billion by 2050. Property damage caused by sea level rise and more devastating wildfires could push the costs far higher.
The projected financial toll comes from a compilation of 40 studies commissioned by the governor's climate advisers. The reports are intended to provide a comprehensive snapshot of global warming's potential costs to property owners, businesses and state government.
"The numbers indicate that we have a lot at stake," said Michael Hanemann, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. "Californians need to pay serious attention to control our greenhouse gas emissions, and they need to start thinking about adaptation."

The studies were written by scientists from various disciplines based at California universities and research institutions. They include a range of costs from agriculture, wildfires, water supply, flooding and electricity demand. The studies are expected to be released in a comprehensive report by the end of the month.
If nothing is done globally to reduce emissions, hotter temperatures will lead to rising sea levels that will flood property in San Francisco, lead to lower crop yields and water shortages, produce more intense wildfires and cause more demand for electricity to cool homes.
Dealing with those scenarios could cost California between $2.5 billion to $15 billion a year, according to the presentation delivered Wednesday to Schwarzenegger's 16-member Climate Action Team. But even those numbers are conservative, said Hanemann, who reviewed the studies.
For example, lower crop yields are likely to occur during extreme weather when temperatures soar higher than normal. However, the climate models that calculated the $3 billion in potential crop losses used average monthly weather data that is lower than temperatures on the hottest days that cause crop damages.
"The monthly data understates the extreme temperature events — and that understates the damage," Hanemann said.
The annual costs also could be greater at the end of the century, ranging from $14 billion a year to $45 billion in 2085. Total cumulative property losses from wildfires and floods at that time could range from $105 billion to $334 billion.
California's total annual economic output is estimated at $1.8 trillion.
The reports come as California regulators are implementing a 2006 state law that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be cut to 1990 levels by 2020.
Even as that regulatory process plays, emissions have continued to rise in the U.S. Heat-trapping emissions grew nationally by 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to a draft greenhouse gas inventory released earlier this month by the Environmental Protection Agency.
If emissions are reduced on a global scale, economists say the financial impact on California would be lessened but not eliminated. For example, annual revenue losses for California farmers would be cut in half to about $1.5 billion by 2050, while overall electricity costs actually might be less than today.
Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the research shows why the state needs to cut carbon emissions aggressively over the next 40 years.
"It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach," Adams said.

Democrats Tangle on Climate Change


WASHINGTON -- Democratic congressional leaders are encountering opposition from key Senate Democrats to the president's plan to put a price on carbon this year, and are considering bypassing normal Senate procedures to push through legislation.
President Barack Obama's 2010 budget plan calls for using a carbon cap-and-trade system to raise as much as $646 billion in new revenue for the government between 2012 and 2020.
The system would set limits on how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases industries could emit, and sell rights to emit those gases that could be traded among companies. Most of the money raised would go toward a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and $800 for working families, subject to income limits. The rest would go to subsidize clean technology research, under the president's proposal.
Under normal rules, backers of the cap-and-trade bill would need 60 Senate votes to cut off debate and move to final action. As of now, it's not clear Democratic leaders have those votes.
In a harbinger of the trouble Democrats face over environmental legislation, the House on Wednesday voted down a proposal to set aside more than two million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. A majority of House members supported the bill, but it fell short of the needed two-thirds majority.
On the much broader climate issue, several Democratic senators from Rust Belt and coal-producing states have warned that they may not support legislation that lacks sufficient protections for their home-state manufacturing and mining interests.
On Wednesday, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), said it is "unlikely" climate legislation will pass the Senate "if it doesn't have money set aside for industries that will be especially hard hit."
The sparring over climate change underscores the choices facing Democratic leaders, who could try to push through a cap-and-trade bill using "reconciliation" rules that shield certain budget measures from filibusters. In an interview, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said the administration is considering trying to pass climate legislation using such rules, which require 51 votes rather than a filibuster-proof 60.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Jim Manley, said that Mr. Reid is weeks away from making a decision about how to proceed on cap-and-trade legislation.
In 2001, Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to push through tax cuts called for by then-President George W. Bush, and many Democrats accused Mr. Bush of bypassing the democratic process.
The debate over climate is not taking place in a vacuum. The decision on climate change will be balanced against other Democratic priorities, including whether the partisan fighting likely to be spurred by the move would poison cooperation on other initiatives. In the run-up to action on the 2010 budget, Democrats are also debating whether to seek filibuster-proof protections for Mr. Obama's health-care plan, as well as a proposal to change the way the government finances student loans.
Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from coal-state Montana and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said "it's not a good idea" to use reconciliation to pass cap-and-trade, and the partisan nature of such a strategy would cause the administration trouble. "It's possible 51 votes could be found, but at what cost?" he said.
Republicans were more blunt. "It's a horrible idea, [and] would be seen as a vast power grab and would be wildly unpopular," said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas).—Greg Hitt and Martin Vaughan contributed to this article.
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