Tuesday, 17 March 2009

European satellite launch delayed on mission to reveal oceanic secrets

Countdown in Russia suspended for the European Space Agency's 'Ferrari' of satellites that will measure gravity around the Earth and help scientists understand how oceans are changing as the planet heats up

Robin McKie
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 March 2009 13.53 GMT

The launch of Europe's gravity mapping satellite, Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer, has been delayed. Controllers at the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Arkangel in north-west Russia suspended its countdown only seven seconds away from blast off on a SS-19 ex-Soviet missile at 1421 GMT today.
The European Space Agency said launch controllers had suspended the countdown when the tower protecting its SS-19 launcher failed to move clear to allow blast-off. Russian space engineers are now studying the problem and if they can correct it easily, a launch may be attempted tomorrow. A press conference will be held later today when further details will be announced.
The satellite is scheduled to map tiny variations in Earth's gravity and reveal new data about the circulation of heat in the oceans. It is not known yet why the delay was ordered - or how long the launch will remain postponed.
It has been described as one of the most stylish, and important, satellites ever built by European scientists. The 16ft torpedo-shaped probe – the Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer, or Goce – will be blasted into space on a Russian SS-19 missile from the Plesetsk cosmodrome near Arkangel.
Once in orbit the £200m satellite – constructed by the European Space Agency, Esa - will swoop over the atmosphere to measure Earth's gravity with unprecedented accuracy. The data it returns will be vital to scientists trying to understand the impact of climate change on Earth, and in particular for climate researchers who are seeking to understand how oceans transport heat around the planet.
"Gravity varies depending where you are on the planet," says Professor Marek Ziebert, of University College, London. "And those variations have an effect on how the oceans circulate. Goce will provide crucial information that will allow us to gain a new understanding of how the oceans behave."
But Goce is also distinctive because of its elegant design and its covering of silver-blue solar cells. It has been labelled the Ferrari of space probes by its manufacturers, Thales Alenia Space Italia while Volker Liebig, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at Esa described the craft as "a jewel of innovations".
Liebig added that Goce has been designed to fly at an extremely low orbit, just 250km (155 miles) above Earth, where it will encounter friction from the thin atmosphere: "For this reason it has an eye-catching aerodynamic shape and will actively compensate for the air drag by using the finely controlled thrust of its ion engine."
The probe's T5 ion rocket was built by QinetiQ in the UK and will be fired constantly throughout its 20-month mission in order to keep Goce in its correct orbit. At the same time, computers will send 10 messages a second to its engines to ensure the probe orbits at the right height. Goce will also use GPS devices to plot its exact position and a gradiometer, a machine that can detect fluctuations of a million millionth in Earth's gravity.
This data will then be transmitted daily and used to build a model of Earth's shape, one that is accurate to within a centimetre, as well as putting together a highly accurate gravity map of the planet. "Gravity is the force that drives the circulation of the oceans," added Dr Mark Drinkwater, Goce's project scientist. "Until we understand its exact role we cannot predict how the seas — and planet — will behave as the climate gets warmer. That is why Goce is being launched."
Ocean currents take a third of all the heat that falls on equatorial regions and carry it to higher latitudes. One of the most important currents is the Gulf Stream, which scientists fear could be destroyed or diverted by melting Arctic ice. But they need to know all the gravitational effects that influence the stream's course across the Atlantic before they can make accurate predictions.
The problem is that Earth's gravity is not constant. The planet is flattened at the poles, for example, so gravity is stronger there, and weaker at the equator. Gas fields, mineral deposits, groundwater reservoirs and rock strata also produce variations in gravity.
"There are all sorts of wiggles and bumps in Earth's gravity field," said Dr Chris Hughes, of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool. "Each will influence ocean currents, which have a crucial role in moving heat around the world. If we are to understand how climate change is going to affect the planet, we have to have a precise picture of its gravity field.
Once we combine the data we will get from Goce with observations of sea height and ocean current flow — information that is provided by other satellites — we will get a clear idea of what our oceans are doing. Then we will get a better picture of how the seas are changing as the world heats up."

EPA re-evaluates 'green club' for companies

The Associated Press
Published: March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON: The Environmental Protection Agency is closing a program that drew complaints from environmentalists for cutting back on company inspections and regulations as a reward for voluntary controls on pollution.
The National Environmental Performance Track Program, established in 2000 but administered mainly during the Bush presidency, enrolled hundreds of corporations in its "green club" if they agreed to undertake initiatives to save energy and reduce pollution. However, investigations of the program questioned its effectiveness.
The agency said in a statement Monday that it would evaluate and refine the program's concepts "in order to develop a stronger system to protect human health and the environment."
In a report issued in 2007, the EPA's inspector general found that underperforming facilities in Performance Track reduced its integrity and value. The program itself lacked clear plans that connected activities with goals and did not show whether it achieved anticipated results, the report said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported on the EPA's plan to halt the program. An Inquirer investigation published in December found that Performance Track lauded companies with suspect environmental records, spent millions on recruiting and publicity, failed to confirm members' environmental pledges independently, and padded its numbers to build membership.

Performance Track had 548 members ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to trailer parks, the Inquirer reported, and some of those recruited by the EPA had mixed if not poor environmental records.

SeaEnergy link with EDP

Published Date: 17 March 2009

A SPECIALIST Aberdeen wind farm business has announced a joint venture with the world's fourth-largest renewable energy company, its third tie-up with a major European utility this year, writes Hamish Rutherford
SeaEnergy said it had formed a consortium with Portuguese group EDP Renewables to bid for projects in the third round of Crown Estate allocations, with nine sites up for grabs.Formed as a majority-owned subsidiary of Aberdeen-based energy company Ramco last June, SeaEnergy is built around a team of experts that oversaw the construction of the vast deep-water Beatrice turbine in the North Sea. In February, it was awarded 25 per cent stakes in projects off the coast of Scotland, with Scottish & Southern Energy's wind farm unit, Airtricity, and Germany's RWE.The latest consortium with Lisbon-based EDP has already submitted bids to the Crown Estate for sites off the English coast, and is thought to be planning to bid for others in Europe.Ramco's broker Ambrian was bullish about the firm's prospects with the new team. Analyst Dean Cooper said in a note to clients yesterday: "Partnering with these industry behemoths to chase the grand prize of the UK offshore wind industry build-out suggests that the future is bright for SeaEnergy".

Electric ATV maker hopes to tap farmers market

The Associated Press
Published: March 17, 2009

ASHLAND, Oregon: Electric all-terrain vehicles may not impress the dune- and trail-riding crowd that rides for recreation, but a few small companies expect organic farmers and vineyard growers will pay a premium to gather cattle and spray vines without the carbon footprint of a gas vehicle.
While automakers are toiling to produce electric cars that will fit the demands of American drivers, Ashland-based Barefoot Motors is on the verge of turning out heavy-duty ATVs that can go 50 miles (80 kilometers) on a charge costing about 90 cents.
"I think a lot of attention is focused on the more glamorous vehicles — the cars," said Chief Executive Max Scheder-Bieschin. "But there are lots of other applications where the strength of the technology can be focused."
Debby Zygielbaum, vineyard manager at organic Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, California, test-drove an early Barefoot prototype last year and is eager to be an early adopter when production starts in June. She'd like to haul her spraying equipment without fogging the vines with exhaust fumes, and the ATV could get free power from the vineyard's solar panels.
"It's becoming feasible where it will actually become a working vehicle to use in the field," she said.

The Barefoot ATV's $12,000 price is 50 percent higher than a heavy-duty gas-powered ATV. But with gas around $2 a gallon and electricity averaging 11.35 cents a kilowatt-hour nationally, the cost evens out over seven years if a farmer drives 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) a year. It's even more cost-efficient for farms producing their own power from solar panels or manure digesters, and as gas prices go up.
Barefoot is not the first electric ATV coming to market. Bad Boy Buggies in Natchez, Mississippi, has vehicles intended for hunters. Doran Electric Vehicles in Huntington Beach, California, has been selling the Gorilla for years. Zap Electric Vehicles in Santa Rosa, California — where Scheder-Bieschin formerly worked — has a model called the Dude coming out soon.
The high price of Barefoot's model comes from the lithium iron phosphate batteries, the same technology General Motors Corp. is putting in the Chevrolet Volt electric car. To keep the price of the Dude around $5,000, Zap had to use lead-acid batteries, which charge slower and have less power.
"I think with electric vehicles, it's going to be hard, unless you use very expensive and exotic battery technology, to match the performance and price of gasoline vehicles," said Zap spokesman Alex Campbell. "Our goal was to simply make an affordable and powerful ATV that can satisfy the majority of the needs for ATV owners."
Rick Doran, president of Doran Electric Vehicles, is also skeptical that electric ATVs will replace gas-powered machines. He said his company has sold only a couple hundred at prices around $8,000. Some have gone to underground mining operations and electric utilities where the lack of exhaust and short turning radius are a plus.
"Personally, I don't think it's practical yet," he said of the technology.
But Scheder-Bieschin said customers don't have to compromise on performance, as long as their needs fit the vehicle. Farms smaller than 1,000 acres (404 hectares) are perfect. The vehicle can work the morning, get recharged at lunch, and go back out in the afternoon, all while staying close to their power source.
"Our goal is not necessarily to replace all the million ATVs sold every year," he said. "There is room for a different technology. There may be people who love their noise, who love their Harleys. But a guy going up and down the rows of a vineyard doesn't like the noise, doesn't like the fumes. If we can get 10,000 of those guys every year we'll be happy."
Albert Straus, president of Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, California, is so into sustainability that his milk is sold in glass bottles, he uses methane gas from his cows to produce electricity and hot water, and he drives an electric Toyota RAV4 EV.
"My goal has been to get away from fossil fuels as much as possible," he said.
But he finds it hard to justify the expense of buying an electric ATV for gathering cows and fixing fences until there are tax incentives.
"I think if we can get the government and society backing this type of technology, it is going to make things happen a lot faster," he said.
Barefoot's majority owner, Mary Jo Gresens, said the company plans to start slowly, producing 120 vehicles in the first year and growing with the awareness of global warming.
"Up until now, the ATV market has concentrated on fun, sport kinds of things," said Gresens, a Detroit native who has worked in the automotive industry in the U.S. and Europe. "We're not that vehicle."
Barefoot's first prototype was a stock utility ATV retrofitted with golf cart batteries. But engineers Dave Mounce and Eli Schless have put the production model together from the ground up, taking care to reduce drag from things like brakes and improve efficiency from the drivetrain and steering, which translates into greater range.
"We're talking about a Yugo versus a Ferrari as far as the level of technological difference," Mounce said.
Components will be outsourced — batteries from China, most of the rest from the U.S. — and assembled in Ashland. Barefoot expects to expand its staff from five people to as many as 15 when production gets going.
The company started in Santa Rosa, California, in 2007, and moved to Oregon to be closer to the growing organic farming and vineyard market and take advantage of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's efforts to promote green energy.
Current tax credits for electric vehicles apply only to on-road vehicles, but the budget pending in the Legislature would go even further to promote renewable sources of electricity, particularly solar, said Jillian Schoene, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Hybrid price wars as Toyota and Honda go head to head

Times Online
March 17, 2009

Leo Lewis, Asia business correspondent, Tokyo
An intensifying race for the coveted title of "greenest" carmaker has pitched Toyota and Honda into a worldwide price war on hybrid cars that could see models in Japan selling for under £14,000.
Sales staff at one car dealership in Tokyo told The Times that the looming confrontation would almost certainly force the world's biggest carmaker to make "quick and deep" cuts to the price of its flagship Prius model or risk Honda's Insight stealing the momentum as the world's most recognisable hybrid electric car brand.
The basic Prius model currently sells for Y2.3 million (£16,430) in Japan: company sources now say that the price may be slashed to just Y1.9 million in an effort to remain exactly competitive with Honda. That order of price cut, despite the damage it will do to Toyota's bottom line, is expected to be replicated around the world according to the price of the Insight in each individual market.
Meanwhile, Toyota is preparing for the May launch of its new model Prius, and may now be nudged into bringing it into the market at close to the Y2 million range in order to maintain its edge over Honda. The Nagoya-based company is understood to be working on plans for an even cheaper hybrid saloon to be released in 2011.

The impending showdown in the showrooms comes amid the most abject sales slump in Honda and Toyota's corporate history and the violent erosion of margins at what used to be among the most profitable companies in Japan. Markets that were expected to take up the slack from tumbling sales in Japan, the United States and Europe
Toyota is expected to close its financial year at the end of this month with the first annual loss in more than 50 years. Honda may remain in the black, but the downturn has forced it to shed some of its most treasured divisions, including the Formula One racing team.
The gauntlet in the hybrid war was thrown down earlier this year and now sits proudly in front of Honda's head office in central Tokyo: a four-door hybrid electric car priced below the critical Y2 million mark - a pricing point long viewed by industry analysts as the level at which anyone, regardless of their views on fuel efficiency or the environment, would consider buying one.
The announcement of the Insight's price dealt a heavy blow to Toyota, whose 2003 Prius model had enjoyed strong sales growth around the world and suffered little in the way of competition from rivals: the Detroit carmakers' combined lack of a competitive hybrid model has allowed the Japanese giant to craft its "green" image with little in the way of competition.
Both Toyota and Honda are, however, girding themselves for the arrival of Ford's new hybrid sedan, the Fusion - a vehicle that is tipped to provide stiff competition with the Japanese carmakers, particularly in a thickening atmosphere of "Buy American" consumer nationalism.
Toyota recently announced that it had sold its one millionth Prius in the US market - a giant lead that will stretch Honda's marketing powers to their limits.

Shopping online is 24 times better for environment than taking a car

Published Date: 17 March 2009

ONLINE shopping for books, clothes, CDs and DVDs is 24 times greener than taking the car to the shops and seven times greener than taking the bus, according to a new study.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University compared the carbon footprint of a typical trip from a local delivery depot with that of average shopping trips by car and by bus, and found home deliveries involved a much lower level of carbon emissions.The work, which assumes only one item was bought per trip, focused on the last stage of the retail process when goods are delivered to the home or customers travel to the shops to collect them in person.The team from the Logistics Research Centre at the university found that a typical van-based home delivery produces 181g of , compared with 1,265g for a bus trip and 4,274g for a trip by car. It means a shopper would have to buy 24 items when going by car or seven items when going by bus to equal the lower level of carbon emissions created by having one item delivered by van.Professor Alan McKinnon, director of the Logistics Research Centre, and one of the authors of the study, said the findings showed that online shopping for single items could be a great deal "greener" than a conventional trip to the shops."Some online retailers were claiming that if you shopped online you were doing something good for the environment – but until now we lacked hard evidence," he said. "The results suggest that is true. What this shows is if you are buying small non-food items it is better for someone to get them delivered than to go to the shops by car or bus."But Prof McKinnon said there were other factors involved that could make online shopping less environmentally friendly."What we are comparing is the best case," he said. "We are assuming that the product is not returned and that the person is at home to received the goods."He said he hoped the findings would encourage shoppers to think about the environmental impact of their shopping choices.James Roper, chief executive of the Interactive Media in Retail Group, which represents online retailers, said he was not surprised to find online shopping was more energy efficient."I am not surprised because we have been studying this sector for many years," he said. "It is important because we are reading every day about what mankind is doing to the planet, and it is down to all of us to do whatever we can to increase efficiency. To me, this is the only beginning of showing us the work we have got to do."However, Fiona Moriarty, the director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said she thought the study sounded like "a very limited piece of research"."If you are going shopping on the high street you are very unlikely to buy only one item," she said. "We have to look very carefully at what this research is telling us. It doesn't take into account that you might buy more than one item and it doesn't take into account the impact of carbon emissions throughout the distribution process."There is also the issue of packaging, which may be substantially more if an item is delivered to your home," she went on."Our research tells us that internet retailing is growing, but it still represents a very small part of overall spend. In many cases the two things are complementary. Most of our members would have both a high-street and an online presence."It's about consumers making choices that are right for them. Retailers are working very hard to make sure there is a wide range of choice, whether in terms of high-street shopping or online shopping."

Shoppers still recognise the importance of reducing carbon emissions in spite of recession

The Times
March 17, 2009
Gráinne Gilmore

Businesses that assume the deepening recession has dampened consumers' desire to go green should think again. Despite the worsening economic outlook, shoppers are still placing an emphasis on environmental concerns, new research suggests.
Two thirds of customers say that environmental considerations inform their purchases to the same extent as they did a year ago, while more than a quarter said that they were now even more conscious of the environmental impact of what they buy, figures from the Carbon Trust, which operates the first carbon-reduction award scheme, show.
While this may help to influence how shops stock their shelves, many businesses may have had to look closer to home to satisfy customers' desire to know that the companies to which they are giving their custom are also making efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Two out of three people think it is important to buy from environmentally responsible companies, with about one in seven saying that they had even decided to take their custom elsewhere if they felt a company's environmental reputation was not up to scratch.
Add the consumer goodwill to the reduction in energy costs brought about by cutting carbon emissions and it seems like a win-win situation for most companies. But as businesses weather the most damaging economic turbulence in decades, many are focusing first and foremost on survival, placing green issues down their list of priorities.

Harry Morrison, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, sympathises. “I understand this sentiment that for some businesses, survival is critical now. But from an environmental perspective, the clock is ticking — we don't have much time. In addition, cutting carbon has an immediate bottom-line effect as costs drop, and a medium-term benefit for the brand.”
The British Retail Consortium agrees, saying that many retailers remain interested in green initiatives not only because of the cost savings, but also because making such commitments helps to differentiate them from competitors. Retailers have already surpassed a voluntary target to reduce the use of carrier bags by 25 per cent and aim to cut this by 50 per cent by the end of May.
Larger companies have an added impetus to look at reducing their carbon footprint, as new rules next year — which will affect the biggest 5,000 companies — will require businesses to buy carbon allowances to offset their emissions. Those that have taken early action will have a head start. But there seems to be a stumbling block in how businesses can let their customers know about the good work that they are doing to curb carbon. More than two thirds of consumers are hazy about which companies are environmentally responsible but this suggests that firms that are able to relay clearly their message to the public will be in pole position to attract shoppers.
Carbon Trust believes that it can help by informing customers about the good work companies are doing. “When companies are granted the standard, they can use a logo in all their marketing which makes it clear that they are working towards cutting emissions,” Mr Morrison said.
B&Q has gone one step further at its new flagship store in New Malden, southwest London. Visitors sipping a coffee in the café can look through glass panels to admire the solar panels and wind turbine that are helping to cut the store's carbon emissions.

Taxes must rise to pay for climate change, MPs warn

Taxes will need to rise to pay for the green revolution which is necessary to save the planet from global warming, MPs warn today.

By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent Last Updated: 3:45PM GMT 16 Mar 2009

In a report on the impact of the recession on attempts to transform the UK into a low-carbon economy, an influential Commons committee reveals that levels of green taxes are now falling while overall tax revenues increase.
And the MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee warn that without tax rises or radical cuts in public spending elsewhere, the Government will not be able to afford to continue the "green stimulus package" announced in the pre-Budget report in November.

Last week, the world's leading climate change scientists, gathered in Copenhagen, issued a desperate plea to politicians to take urgent action on climate change or risk catastrophic global warming.
But in their report, the MPs expose the timidity of the Government's response to the crisis, revealing that the £535 million package for low carbon measures announced in the PBR was made up of money brought forward from future budgets.
That means that the Government will either have to cut spending or raise taxes to pay for future measures to "green" the economic recovery.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the committee, said: "The Treasury has announced very little new money for green investments.
"Yet meeting our climate change targets will require a step-change in funding for the low carbon energy sector, especially when the financial crisis has led to a shortage of capital."
In their report, the MPs say that the Treasury's take from green taxes has fallen slightly since 1998, while overall revenues have risen by 30 per cent.
They call on Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, to announce more environmentally-friendly projects in the upcoming Budget, adding that investment in low carbon industries could lead to job creation. They also want guaranteed financing for green projects through the current credit squeeze.
Banks in receipt of public funds could be forced to invest in low-carbon firms, and the committee called on Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to be explicit about the demands placed on car manufacturers to build greener models before being granted government aid.
Mr Yeo added: "Measures designed to pull the economy out of recession provide an invaluable opportunity for the Treasury to drive the kind of change required to build a sustainable modern economy.
"The upcoming Budget is a real test of the Government's commitment to its own climate change policies. Yet the measures in the Pre-Budget Report show the Treasury lacks the consistency and boldness of purpose required.
"There is clear evidence that investment in low carbon industries will lead to net job creation. The Budget should contain a much bigger and more coherent package of green fiscal stimulus."

Politics plagues Australian climate debate

By Peter Smith in Sydney
Published: March 16 2009 17:04

The bushfires that killed more than 200 people last month in Australia’s worst natural disaster in more than a century were “the fires of climate change”, says John Connor, head of the Climate Institute, an independent research group in Sydney.
Scorched earth: the bushfires have killed more than 200 people, devastated wildlife and caused widespread economic damage“We are the developed country most at risk of climate change. The extreme weather events of the last six months bring this home,” he says, citing drought, record high temperatures, cyclones and floods.
In spite of the alarming signs, government efforts to pass into law a comprehensive carbon trading scheme that it wants to begin in about 15 months have been plagued by a political battle.

The government has opted for a 5 per cent cut in emissions from 2000 levels by 2020, rising to 15 per cent if there is agreement by developed nations at the Copenhagen meeting of environment ministers this year.
But the opposition conservative parties want a delay, citing the global recession. Green politicians who hold crucial seats in the Senate have called for cuts of 25 per cent or more by 2020.
The conservatives and Greens have forced a two-month Senate inquiry that may derail the government’s plans to have the legislation passed in June.
Penny Wong, climate change minister, says the legislation is a “better than nothing” compromise. “We are building a vehicle that will take us to a low-pollution future. Some people want it to be a Ferrari but if you can’t have the Ferrari would you really have no vehicle at all?” she said last week.
The political battles, however, could lead to wholesale changes to the planned legislation, regarded by some experts as the broadest in the developed world.
Mark Lewis, head of carbon research at Deutsche Bank in London, says the scheme is “more fit for purpose” and better designed than that of the European Union in spite of a headline goal of a 20 per cent cut from 1990 levels by 2020.
“When you take into account the historical context, Australia has targets that are certainly not unambitious relative to the Europeans,” he says. The EU could commit to a bigger headline cut because of a “massive one-off reduction” from the closure of uneconomic power plants in eastern Europe.
“Australia is a resource- based economy . . . so you get a lot of emissions at source, which are put on Australia’s debit account,” he says. “Per capita emissions in Australia versus Europe are extremely high but that reflects Europe as an importer of commodities versus Australia that is an exporter of commodities.”
Mr Lewis praises Australia for helping trade-exposed industries and adds that its allocation of free permits is based on continuing production levels while that of the EU is based on historic production numbers.
Yet Mr Connor believes Australia’s headline target does not send a strong enough message to the rest of the world at a time when international consensus for strong emissions cuts is needed desperately.
“The 5 to 15 per cent target is a backward step for Australia in terms of its influence in Copenhagen,” he says.
“At the moment, we have barnyard scenes [political squabbling]. The government . . . will get there eventually [but] it will be bloody and brutal, and maybe not until next year.”
Although big business and heavy polluters have won significant concessions, with many saying a tough carbon trading scheme will force jobs offshore and curtail domestic investment, others point to the future cost to Australia of doing too little.
The weather events have eaten into exports and damaged mines and transport infrastructure. “The costs of climate change are already having a serious impact here. It is dramatically in our interest to do something about it,” Mr Connor adds.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

UK economic rescue plans 'must be greener', MPs say

Environmental Audit Committee report says £535m green stimulus package must include more money for measures to slash industrial, domestic and aviation emissions

David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 March 2009 16.16 GMT

The UK government's proposed financial rescue package must have a stronger environmental focus, MPs said today.
The Environmental Audit Committee said more money should be found for green measures such as insulation to make houses more energy efficient. It called for increased taxes on domestic flights, and it says ministers should exploit the new public ownership of high-street banks to impose environmental restrictions on their investments.
Tim Yeo, the chairman of the committee, said the government's £535m green stimulus package unveiled in the pre-budget report is too small - especially as much of the money is not new.
He said: "The upcoming budget is a real test of the government's commitment to its own climate change policies. Yet the measures in the pre-budget report show the Treasury lacks the consistency and boldness of purpose required."
Yeo added: "The Treasury has announced very little money for green investments. Yet meeting our climate change targets will require a step change in funding for the low-carbon energy sector." There is "clear evidence," he said, that investment in low-carbon industries would create jobs.
A report published by the committee today said much of the announced stimulus package has been brought forward from 2010-2011 budget allocations, and will be offset by spending cuts in future years. It said the Treasury should adopt the recent suggestion by Lord Stern that 0.8% of GDP should be spent on green stimulus measures, or £11bn in the next year.
The committee looked at green announcements in the pre-budget report, such as new money for a scheme to provide free central heating and energy efficiency measures. It welcomed the extra £100m for the programme, but said the scale and speed of energy efficiency measures were "far too modest".
Improving energy efficiency in housing should be accelerated and made the UK's "number one priority for green stimulus".
The MPs also called on the government to reinstate plans to replace air passenger duty with a per-plane tax to make airlines fill flights more efficiently. And they urged the Treasury to introduce fuel duty and VAT on domestic flights to make people switch to rail, and to begin unpicking the international rules that prevent governments taxing international aviation fuel.
The report also called on the Treasury to publish the net impacts on carbon emissions of the whole £3bn fiscal stimulus package, which includes proposals to build and widen roads.
Danny Stevens, policy director of the Environmental Industries Commission, said: "Earlier this month the prime minister launched the government's vision for creating a low-carbon economy in the UK. However, securing the huge economic benefits of a low-carbon economy will not be achieved through vision alone. April's budget is the first opportunity for the government to act decisively and start turning its vision into reality."
Peter Young, chair of the Aldersgate Group a coalition of companies and environment campaigners, said: "We have heard the rhetoric, we now need to see action." The group has called for 20% of the UK economic stimulus package to be spent on green measures.

UK government carbon targets 'too weak' to prevent dangerous climate change, scientists say

Official advice being used to set Britain's first carbon budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change, experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research say

David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 17 March 2009 00.05 GMT

Proposed government carbon targets are too weak to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, according to a new analysis by leading scientists. Ministers are poised to introduce strict limits on UK carbon pollution when they announce Britain's first carbon budget next month. But experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warn today that official advice used to set the budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change.
It comes after scientists at a global warming conference in Copenhagen last week warned that emissions are rising faster than expected, and that climate change could strike harder and faster than predicted.
The Tyndall Centre report analyses the conclusions of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which said in December that ministers should aim to cut UK carbon emissions 34% by 2020, as part of worldwide efforts to limit temperature rise to 2C.
The Tyndall scientists say the committee's report is "inevitably and significantly compromised" because it focuses on limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels, which the EU defines as dangerous. The committee was forced to use "highly optimistic and sometimes unclear assumptions" to hit the 2C target, they say.
Chief among these, they say, was that global emissions of greenhouse gases would peak in 2016, despite little evidence that such a U-turn in soaring emisions within seven years is "in any way viable". A peak of emissions in 2020, which the Tyndall Centre says is more realistic, would leave governments facing an impossible challenge to hit the 2C target, it adds.
"The CCC's first report is therefore inevitably and significantly compromised by its implicit need to deliver demanding but nonetheless politically palatable conclusions in line with the 2C threshold," the scientists say. "Peaking in 2020 would recast the agenda as much more radical and urgent, and well beyond the ability, even if applied stringently, of orthodox policies to deliver the necessary mitigation and adaptation."
The government should aim to cut emissions 42% by 2020 - the most stringent scenario in the CCC report - the Tyndall Centre says, and must make the cuts at home rather than buying offsets abroad. These proposals are backed by more than 90 Labour MPs – including four ministerial aides – in a parliamentary petition.
Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre said: "At a time when the message from Copenhagen is for urgent action and leadership, paying poorer communities elsewhere to make the reductions for the UK risks undermining seriously the government's hard-earned reputation as leading the international climate change agenda."
The findings of the report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, will be presented at a special meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee today.
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "This advice from one of the world's leading climate research centres cannot be ignored. If we are to play our part in avoiding dangerous climate change, the government must commit the UK to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020 without buying pollution 'offsets' from abroad. The UK has one of the best renewable energy potentials in Europe. Investing in green power and cutting energy waste can create tens of thousands of jobs and help lead this country out of recession."
The CCC said: "The choice of peaking year was more determined by what we thought might be possible if a global deal was achieved in 2009. The CCC analysis drew upon, and cited, a number of studies which suggested that global emissions could peak around 2016 if the world dedicated sufficient intellectual and material resources towards solving the problem."

Anger after government halts solar energy grant programme

Ashley Seager
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 March 2009

The government ran into a storm of criticism yesterday after quietly closing its grant programme for solar energy last week, which campaigners said made a mockery of its commitment to build a low-carbon economy.
The controversial low-carbon buildings programme is a grant system aimed at boosting renewable energies including wind, biomass and solar. It was due to close this summer but last week the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) put an announcement on its website saying that applications for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects on public buildings such as schools and hospitals were running at such high levels that they had used up their allocated share of half of the £50m grant pot ahead of time.
PV has proved to be the most popular renewable technology under phase two of the grants programme and the industry argues that the unspent money available for other technologies should be thrown open to PV because otherwise it simply will not get spent. They also want the grant money recycled to other projects if some are cancelled.
Environmental campaigners are furious that the solar industry will undergo a gap in support for well over a year at a time when Gordon Brown and other ministers are talking of creating 400,000 green jobs as a way of boosting the economy and combating climate change.
Paul King, head of the UK Green Building Council, said: "The prime minister has talked of the need to both invest in low-carbon infrastructure and to stimulate the economy. [This grant system] did just that, so it seems absurd that government has now suspended grant applications for solar PV. This emerging industry needs to be confident of government's commitment - which this decision seriously calls into question."
A DECC spokesperson said: "We recognise that the popularity of the low-carbon buildings programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications. We are discussing with industry what options are open to us to address this."
Friends of the Earth accused DECC officials of standing in the way of progress towards a low-carbon economy by remaining too sympathetic to fossil fuel firms.

Green lobby and nuclear groups clash over role of renewable energy

Greenpeace dismisses EDF for protecting its 'vested nuclear interests' by undermining the future of renewable fuels
Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 March 2009 14.39 GMT

EDF and E.ON have warned the government they may be forced to drop plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants unless the government scales back its targets for wind power.
The demands – contained in submissions to the government's renewable energy consultation – reinforces the worries of wind developers that the two sectors cannot thrive simultaneously.
EDF of France and E.ON of Germany, two of the most high-profile nuclear supporters, said attempts to reach 35% of electricity generated by renewables is not only unrealistic but also damaging to alternative schemes such as nuclear plants.
"The deployment of high levels of intermittent renewables for electricity generation will require the construction of additional carbon-emitting plant as back-up for when renewables are not available to meet demand," EDF argued. "This is likely to be predominantly gas-fired and will therefore undermine efforts to reduce dependence on non-domestic fuel sources."
"A 25% electricity target will provide the best platform for further decarbonisation of electricity generation in the period beyond 2020, through a combination of further renewables, new nuclear and coal and gas with carbon capture and storage."
The attempt to dilute the contribution from renewables has infuriated the environmental lobby. "We've always said that nuclear power will undermine renewable energy and will damage the UK's efforts to tackle climate change – now EDF agrees," said Nathan Argent, head of Greenpeace's energy solutions unit.
"The National Grid shows that there is capacity to take well over 30% percent of our electricity from renewables. EDF are trying to block efforts to deliver on the most important technology to the UK to tackle climate change and keeps the light on in order to protect their own vested nuclear interests."
Friends of the Earth agreed. "The UK is the windiest country in Europe with the best wave and tidal resources," said Andy Atkins, the group's executive director. "We should be maximising renewables and harnessing as much of that clean, safe energy as we possibly can – not propping up the French nuclear industry.
"Nuclear power is no green alternative – it leaves a legacy of deadly radioactive waste that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years. And nuclear power plants simply cannot be built in time to deliver the cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that science says are needed."
E.ON said it was wrong to interpret the submission as an attempt to dismiss wind power completely.
A spokesman said the company had already built a raft of wind farms in Britain and had plans for more. "We believe in a mix of power sources, including nuclear and renewables, but we know that during the cold spell in January that some of wind farms were operating at less than 10% of capacity."

Brazil wants help lifting US ethanol tariffs

The Associated Press
Published: March 16, 2009

NEW YORK: Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday implored American businessmen to help convince the United States to lift the 53-cent-per-gallon import tariff it places on his country's ethanol fuel.
Speaking at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored investor forum Monday, Silva defended the gasoline alternative as a cheap and easy way to end dependence on foreign oil and help reduce global poverty.
"I've spoken (about the tariffs) so many times with President Bush and certainly I will speak about it many times with President Obama," Silva said. "That's why I'm asking for your help."
Brazil is a world leader in biofuels and the world's largest exporter of ethanol.
But Silva, who met with President Barack Obama on Saturday, has made little progress persuading the U.S. to reduce the tariffs, which are in place to protect American farmers who make ethanol from corn. Brazil makes ethanol from sugar, in a process that is much more efficient and costs less.

"One thing that leaves me perplexed, is in the same world where we invest in environmental policy capable of avoiding global warming ... many countries still don't place any tariff on polluting fuels while they place absurd tariffs on ethanol," Silva said, pointing out the ethanol burns relatively cleanly compared to gasoline.
During the presidential elections, Obama supported subsidies for the Midwest-based ethanol industry.
That support is widely considered a factor in his victory at the Iowa cauceses which boosted his early prospects during the primary. It also contributed to his victory in the general elections against John McCain, who opposed the subsidies.
In Brazil, all gasoline is blended with 25 percent ethanol and so-called "flex-fuel" cars can run on either the gasoline-alcohol mix or pure ethanol available at about 35,000 filling stations across Brazil.
About 23 percent of Brazil's automotive fleet is now "flex-fuel."
Silva also defended biofuels as a way to fight poverty, pointing out that while drilling for oil requires expensive investment, planting sugar cane is cheap and easy for small producers in tropical countries from Brazil to Africa.
Biofuels are one of Silva's personal passions. He has touted them during meeting with world leaders, including with Pope Benedict XVI.
He added that he didn't especially need to defend ethanol because Brazil is now flush with oil after major discoveries in the ultra-deep "pre-salt" layer off the coast of Rio and Sao Paulo.
He said the first barrels of oil from the find some 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) below the sea and ocean floor would begin being produced on May 1.