Tuesday, 7 April 2009

BA and Virgin propose carbon trading for airlines

BA and Virgin Atlantic are among five groups taking the lead in volunteering to be included in global climate change agreement that could open the way for extending the growing emissions trading system to the airline industry.

By Roland GribbenLast Updated: 6:57PM BST 06 Apr 2009

Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific and BAA, the airport operator are also members of the Aviation Global Deal Group along with specialist advisers The Climate Change Group.
They tabled the offer at a UN conference in Bonn where 175 nations are discussing the framework for a tougher climate change pact to replace the looser Kyoto Agreement.

Environmental groups have strongly criticised airlines for their reluctance to take a climate change initiative. Airlines are estimated to account for just 2pc of global pollution but with the EU planning to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme from 2012 there is growing pressure for airlines to fall in line.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's climate change group said little progress had been made on the aviation issue and added that there was uncertainty about whether the sector would be included in the final agreement due to be approved in Copenhagen in December.
The BA group's pact covers all the aviation sector, including the US which has its own proposals for curbing airline emissions, but differences with the EU package is said to be hindering a common approach.
The proposals involve setting a global cap on aviation emissions with targets set for individual airlines linked to the carbon content of their yearly fuel purchases. A UN body would administer the system, including the auction of permits.

Tesco's 'flights for lights' promotion – every little hurts

Supermarket's offer of air miles in exchange for low-energy light bulbs is like giving away a pack of Benson and Hedges with every Nicorette patch

I'm an optimist. And not because, as the cynics would have it, I'm actually a pessimist who's not in possession of all the facts. And despite the apocalyptic and increasingly shrill science that flows like glacial meltwater from the world's climatologists, my optimism remains.
Then I spot something that makes my head explode with eye-popping disbelief at its stupidity. This happened on Saturday when a colleague showed me the latest Tesco ad "Turn lights into flights". Yes, you read that correctly.
Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy is now offering air miles when you buy a low energy lightbulb. What next? Free packet of 20 Benson & Hedges with every Nicorette patch? A dozen king-size Mars bars with each box of Ryvita? Talk about counter-productive. It's like being lost in the desert, miles from anywhere and eating your own legs to sustain yourself during your search for help.
The idea of everyone 'doing a little' and it somehow, in contravention of the laws of physics, 'making a big difference' has already been deftly and delightfully dismissed by my good friend George Marshall. And the recent furore on Daily Mail Island over the disastrously delayed demise of the incandescent bulb is similarly loony. Swapping the odd lightbulb or two is one of the simplest, least inconvenient things we might expect people to do in tackling climate change, but still the islanders practically have an aneurysm. Giving away air miles to incentivise the lightbulb swap just beggars belief.
And herein lies the problem. We're still being lied to in regard to what really needs to be done. As Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas said the other week: "Did Wilberforce ask people to cut down from two slaves to one? Or Emmeline Pankhurst politely suggest that husbands might consult their wives before going out to vote?." We need sweeping changes to our carbon emissions, not tweaks. And we're all in denial. Not only are we convinced that we're already 'doing our bit', with relatively inconsequential things like refusing offers of plastic bags, we're actively hostile towards doing more as a result. Our willingness to act is inversely proportional to the impacts of our actions, like donating to a seal protection charity while swanning around in a freshly clubbed, still bleeding pelt.
Advertisers are complicit with government in this deception. Tesco's ad may be crass but it's not alone and reeks of greenwash, a growing phenomenon that Futerra (where I work) helped to expose last year in a Greenwash Guide and which Fred Pearce has also entertainingly focused on. The hugely expensive Honda splash that ran across eleven consecutive pages of Saturday's Guardian (generating so much advertising revenue it produced a fawning article in its own right) also focuses on lots of "little dos". What it didn't mention is their negligible impact, even when massively multiplied. My favourite piece of inadvertent anti-greenwash is still an ad by Turkish Airlines, however, that boasted the strapline "We are changing the skies". Indeed.
Every little hurts (and we seem to enjoy it).

UK climate policy not up to scratch, warns CBI

Juliette Jowit and Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Monday 6 April 2009

Business leaders have delivered a surprise attack on the government's environmental policy, arguing that ministers are not doing enough to cut global warming emissions or make sure the UK does not run out of power.
The CBI says billions of pounds of necessary investment will move to the US and China unless the government takes "urgent action".
It comes amid widespread disappointment that the G20 heads of state failed to come up with any real push on green issues as part of a $1.1tn (£743bn) financial aid package for the global economy.
The warning from the CBI follows a series of announcements by major energy companies, including Shell, BP and Centrica, that they would axe or reconsider investment in "low carbon" energy such as wind and solar power and carbon capture for coal-fired power stations.
Richard Lambert, the CBI's director general, said "politics and policy", not the recession, were delaying investment in the UK. He said the government's policies were on the "right path", but companies were "jittery" about investing in the UK because of delays with planning permission, poor National Grid connections, slow funding for new technology, and uncertainty over long-term carbon prices.
The government needs "to get on with it," said Lambert, ahead of today's launch of a new strategy for the energy industry. "If they don't, the risk is that the private capital needed will not come here in the volumes required."
Further evidence of the growing crisis of confidence in the green energy sector is exposed today by a survey which revealed that more than three quarters of Britain's green energy companies were now facing enormous financial difficulties gaining vital access to loans and investment money - a finding that has seriously shaken the industry's parent body.
Out of 39 member companies that responded to a poll by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), 32 said they were suffering from a shortage of cashflow and other problems, while only six said they were not affected at all.
Philip Wolfe, the director general of the REA, said the survey highlighted the need for immediate action by ministers. "Given all the rhetoric on the Green New Deal and Green Tech, it is astonishing that the renewables industry has received no dedicated support - even in areas that don't cost extra money," he said.
"As so little has been done, the last opportunity comes in this month's budget. Other countries have already committed huge stimulus monies to their renewables industries while we have nothing, so the UK industry is now at a serious competitive disadvantage."
Lambert said: "It's a bit of an edgy moment. If we're going to go to where we want to get to by 2020, we need to be moving pretty aggressively on policy."
The CBI's new strategy, one of four "road maps" to a low-carbon economy published today, will call for immediate and short-term actions, including clear planning guidance to fast-track investment in offshore wind farms and nuclear power stations and an upgraded National Grid. Ministers also need to make a quick decision about a promised trial of carbon capture and storage, and fund at least one other, says the business group.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said there were "clear signals that there's an appetite for investment in nuclear energy" and this month it had increased the incentive for offshore wind power by 50%.
"The government has been working to ensure that the short, medium and long-term environment for energy investment remains healthy in Britain and that any barriers identified are swiftly removed," the department said.

Polar Ice Cap Shrinks Further and Thins


A decade-long decline in the ice covering the Arctic Sea is continuing, according to new U.S. data, and other measurements give fresh indications that the area's ice cap is thinning as well.
Associated Press
A polar bear swims near ice floes in Baffin Bay in the Arctic last summer. The Arctic melt is affecting tourism, shipping and trade routes.
Acting like a giant mirror, the Arctic sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation back into space. When there is less sea ice, the dark, open water absorbs more of the sun's warmth and raises the temperature of both air and water -- thereby affecting the climate.
How the sea-ice cover changes -- in both summer and winter -- has become a hot topic for policy makers. The Arctic melt is already affecting tourism, shipping and trade routes. It has persuaded several countries to push for territorial claims in newly accessible regions of the Arctic.
The latest figures were released the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened a U.S.-hosted summit in Baltimore, which brings together two diplomatic bodies that govern the Arctic and Antarctic. The Obama administration is arguing for more restrictions on polar tourism to protect the fragile environment.
Scientists calculate that thicker ice that is two or more years old now makes up less than 10% of the Arctic's wintertime ice cover, about one-third the average levels seen annually from 1981 to 2000, according to a study reported Monday by a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder. That is equivalent to a decline of 278,000 square miles of ice, a surface area larger than Texas.
Equally troubling to some scientists is that the overall Arctic ice cap is thinning. That has been hard to measure in the past because the Arctic is vast, and because sea ice can move.
Scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have now used satellite data to create the first map of sea ice over the entire Arctic basin. Their chief finding, based on data from 2005 and 2006, is that older arctic ice is on average nearly nine feet thick. Submarine measurements from the 1980s found that the ice then had been more than 4½ feet thicker, according to Ronald Kwok of NASA's Jet Propulsion lab.
"The sea-ice changes we're seeing go hand-in-hand with temperature changes," says Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. "There really isn't another overriding mechanism we see that can cause these long-term changes."
Concern over the polar environment comes amid a tussle in the U.S. over climate change. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress have said they want a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions -- a departure from the policy of the Bush administration. Last week,, two House Democrats, Rep. Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, introduced a bill to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, a bigger cut than Mr. Obama has called for in the same period.
Either way, the proposals represent only opening salvos in the political fight. Politicians from states that depend for most of their electricity on burning coal, which emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, already are warning that a severe emissions cap could significantly raise energy prices.
Given that debate, it is unclear whether the U.S. will have a climate proposal with broad political support by the time diplomats from around the world meet in December in Copenhagen to discuss a new international climate-change treaty.—Jeffrey Ball contributed to this article.
Write to Gautam Naik at gautam.naik@wsj.com

Poor nations call for 'levy' on air tickets to help adapt to climate change

World's poorest 49 countries tell UN meeting that aviation industry must help them cope with global warming by raising money from a tax on airline tickets and emissions trading scheme

John Vidal, environment editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 April 2009 16.51 BST

A levy on all airline tickets and a global trading system for aircraft emissions are the contrasting proposals presented today to tackle the impact of flying on climate.
Negotiators at UN climate talks in Bonn were told by the world's poorest 49 countries that the annual 760m international air passengers should each pay a levy of about $6 (£5.4) on every flight to help those nations adapt to climate change.
The least developed group of countries (LDCs) said a modest levy could raise up to $10bn (£6.8bn) a year and help countries in the frontline of climate change adapt to the intense floods, droughts, sea level rises and crop failures that poor nations are experiencing as a result of global warming.
The proposed levy, they said, would increase the average price of an international long-haul fare by less than 1% for standard class passengers, but up to $62 for people travelling first class.
According to Benito Müller, environment director of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and author of the proposal for the LDCs, said the compulsory levy would have no significant effect on global passenger numbers and would have minimal negative impact on tourism. "By contrast, it will have significant positive impacts on the development of the poorest and most vulnerable countries and communities, by avoiding climate change impacts," he said.
Air freight was deliberately not included in the proposal, said Muller, because the levy is based on the principle of individual responsibility and capability to deal with climate change.
The idea of the levy is based on the successful French "solidarity contribution" of €1 which is charged to all passengers leaving France. This is expected to collect significant sums for the fight against major world illnesses, including HIV/Aids.
The attraction of the levy, Müller said, is that it is easy for the public to understand, simple to administer and is fair because it asks individuals who pollute to pay a minimal sum to the UN to help countries adapt.
Rich countries have already committed to paying poor countries to help them adapt to climate change but they have been at loggerheads over the best way to raise money and distribute it. A series of international meetings over the next six months — of which the Bonn meeting is the latest — will decide ahead of a major climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, at which a successor to the Kyoto treaty will be negotiated.
In contrast to the levy, some of the world's leading airlines and airport operators today proposed a different scheme to enable the aviation industry to contribute to the fight against climate change.
Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, airport operator BAA and international NGO the Climate Group have proposed that individual airlines should obtain pollution permits in proportion to the carbon content of their annual fuel purchases.
The airline industry said its scheme would ensure equal treatment for all airlines and open the way to global emissions trading within the sector —and possibly with other industries such a electricity generation.
Proceeds from auctions of the permits would be split between the UN's adaptation fund for developing nations, and an initiative that aims to save forests in poorer nations in return for tradable carbon credits.

Empire State Building gets a green makeover to cut CO2 emissions

Ed Pilkington in New York
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 7 April 2009 01.55 BST

The Empire State Building, the symbol of New York's pre-eminence that held the title of the world's tallest skyscraper for 41 years, is seeking to pierce through the pall of economic gloom that has descended on Manhattan by turning itself green.
The owners of the building announced yesterday they were investing an additional $20m to reduce its carbon footprint and energy consumption. The retrofit is being added to a renovation of the art deco structure that starts this summer already costing half a billion dollars.
It takes a certain pluck to announce such a substantial investment in the middle of a recession. But then the Empire State Building was born in hard times.
Work on the site in midtown Manhattan began in January 1930, months after the Wall Street crash. It went up as the New York and US economies went down.
Now the current owners of the 102-storey office block, Wien & Malkin, hope to buck the economic trend again by improving the building and charging higher rents. Part of the hard sell to potential new clients will be its "greenness" once the work is completed in 2013.
The plan aims to cut the use of energy by almost 40%, which would in turn reduce the emissions of CO2 from the building by some 105,000 metric tonnes a year. That is no easy feat, bearing in mind that the Empire State has some 6,500 windows, 73 elevators and a total floorspace of 2.6 million square feet.
All the windows will have an extra layer of insulation added by secreting a coated film between two glass panes - done in situ to avoid pollution caused by transporting the glass from an outside destination. Insulation will be added behind radiators, and the cooling system in the basement will be replaced with new more efficient machines.
Individual workers in the office spaces will be encouraged to take responsibility for their own emissions by being given access through their computers to monitors which will tell them how much energy is being expended in their part of the building.
None of the changes though will be visible to the outside world. The owners have decided that the famous coloured lights - the top of the Empire State turns green, for instance, on St Patrick's day and was a patriotic red, white and blue for several months after 9/11 - will remain intact, arguing they are responsible for relatively little energy consumption.

Pros and cons for car industry budget boost: the green argument

David Adam
The Guardian, Tuesday 7 April 2009

Will scrapping older cars and encouraging people to buy a new replacement help the environment? It can sound a seductive idea, but the picture is mixed.
It is certainly true that newer cars are, on average, cleaner than older models. More efficient engines and other changes have helped to reduce average carbon emissions by 17% since 1997. The claimed environmental benefits of a scrappage scheme demand that drivers replace like-for-like, and do not take the opportunity to buy a bigger and more powerful model.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says motorists who take advantage of the scheme would probably go for greener cars. Encouraged by a similar cash-for-scrap initiative in Germany, 80% of buyers opted to spend less than £10,000, which is at the smaller, less polluting end of the scale. The society believes a similar picture would emerge in Britain. "The majority of people with cars over nine years old are not likely to buy something for more than £10,000. They won't have the budget," a spokesperson says.
Mile for mile, new cars may be less polluting, but what about the carbon emissions produced in their manufacture? The SMMT quotes reports that show pollution produced in making a car contributes 5% of its overall carbon emissions; critics argue the figure is closer to 25% and some suggest that the greenest moment to get rid of a car is when it reaches 18 years old.
Whichever is true, eco-friendly drivers with a new car face a paradox: the per-mile carbon savings turn into a genuine environmental benefit only after the car has been driven for tens of thousands of carbon-heavy miles.

UK green companies facing cash crisis

Poll reveals frustration at government rhetoric on green new deal as firms struggle without loans or investment

Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 April 2009 13.36 BST

More than three quarters of Britain's green energy companies are facing major financial difficulties in gaining access to loans and investment money, according to a survey by the renewable energy industry body.
Out of 39 member firms that responded to a poll by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), 32 said they were suffering from a shortage of cashflow and other problems.
The findings come just days after BP announced that it was cutting 620 of the 2,200 jobs inside its solar operation as a result of global over-production and just after G20 ministers failed to come up with any real financial push on green issues.
Philip Wolfe, director general of the REA, said the survey highlighted the need for immediate action by ministers. "Given all the rhetoric on 'Green New Deal' and 'Green Tech' it is astonishing that so far the renewables industry has received no dedicated support – even in areas that don't cost extra money," he said.
Bioenergy, one of the firms who responded to the REA's survey, said it relied in the past on 20 suppliers to provide it with the biodiesel it sells on to road hauliers, but is now down to two or three as the others had gone out of business.
"This time last year we were positively talking to our bank about borrowing money to buy some refining plant that was being sold off. But by November and December, when we needed an overdraft for a few thousand pounds, they were not interested," said Brian White, a director of the Milton Keynes-based green fuel company.
MGT Power said it was finding it hard to find banks willing to lend £250m so the firm can build a 300MW woodchip power station in Teesside. "It's not about the attractiveness of projects. People in renewables normally encounter trouble because they're pushing difficult projects, but there are just literally no funds available," said the firm's director Chris Moore.
He was confident he would be able to raise cash from hedge funds if the banks remained reluctant, but that higher interest payments would push up overall costs.
Aeolus Power, an installer of small-scale wind turbines on houses, has seen just one piece of domestic business over the last four months and is now throwing all its sales efforts into the public sector, targeting schools and hospitals. A mixture of cash-strapped homeowners and uncertainty over public funding in funds such as the Low Carbon Building Programme has left the company vulnerable.
"It is unclear what the future holds," says Christine Griffith, a director of Bristol-based Aeolus. "With this government it seems to be one step forward and three steps back when we should be moving swiftly forward [to beat climate change]," she adds.
Barry Johnson, managing director of Solar Twin, is equally infuriated about what he sees as a lack of consistency from ministers which has seen grants for the kind of panels he provides dry up. "Retail has fallen off a cliff but fortunately there has been a growth in social housing and schools. Unless there is a rise in the price of (carbon) fuels the outlook for renewables is bleak," says Johnson.
Tom Chance, who works for the BioRegional charity that works on sustainability and carbon-reduction schemes, says his customers are suffering from the complexity of accessing different government grants. This is delaying schemes such as the One Planet Sutton project to refurbish 3,000 buildings in south London and the Eco Innovation Park in the East Midlands.
Most of the respondents to the REA survey wished to remain anonymous but their general comments suggest an industry in severe trouble. "We have seen a 50% reduction in trade, resulting in redundancies," says one, while another reports "we are all feeling very uneasy" and another says "we are just surviving from day to day".
Wolfe said: "As so little has been done so far, the last opportunity comes in this month's budget. Other countries have already committed huge stimulus monies to their renewables industries while we have nothing, so the UK industry is now at a serious competitive disadvantage."

Worst May be Over for Solar

By Clare Baldwin

SAN FRANCISCO, April 6 (Reuters) -

The worst of the economic downturn may have passed for renewable energy and the solar industry, the chief executive of solar equipment manufacturer Oerlikon Solar said in an interview on Monday.
But the unit of Swiss technology company OC Oerlikon Corp Inc is still searching for new funding from inside or outside the company, Oerlikon Solar Chief Executive Jeannine Sargent told Reuters by phone.
"Solar will be one of the industries that will emerge from this recession on the earlier side. We've seen the worst of the environment on an average global basis for solar and renewables in the first half of '09," she said.
The positive impact of the U.S. government's economic stimulus plan has offset pressure from the economic crisis, she said.
There is a growing demand for electricity in the United States, said Sargent. That, paired with the stimulus plan, counterbalances the impact of the worldwide economic crisis on solar and creates a business environment that is neutral or slightly positive.
"We're in a positive trend in the United States and the demand will be accelerated due to the stimulus package."
Parent company OC Oerlikon Corp on March 26 said the company did not expect to post a profit in 2009 and it was looking for new capital and possible asset sales. Chief Executive Uwe Krueger said solar could be an area where Oerlikon would agree to a partner -- or look for equity participation, as he put it.
"We have confirmed solar is a core focus... but also understand we may need additional investment. We will look at both internal and external means of creating that funding source so we can support the growth of solar," said Sargent on Monday.
"We will increase the investment and we will enable the growth of the solar business," she added.
Her bullish comments about solar contrasted with other gloomy signals. U.S. competitor Applied Materials Inc on Monday said that a sales agreement it had to supply solar production equipment to a private company has been slashed to $250 million from $1.9 billion due to a worsening global economy.
And Merrill Lynch last Thursday downgraded the cleantech market because it said businesses won't improve much until 2010. "The stimulus effect may come later rather than sooner and cleantech returns on capital are low, limiting the upside," the brokerage wrote in a report.
Oerlikon Solar said that government support also could lead to new solar factories in the United States and that utilities would start to take lead roles in building their own plants. Oerlikon Solar sells equipment for making solar products.
"We expect that the utilities will play a much more significant role moving forward in terms of providing financing for PV (photovoltaic) projects that they own directly," Chris O'Brien, Oerlikon Solar's head of market development for North America said in the same interview.
"It's possible that new customers in the United States and particularly our European customers, as they expand, might find a good economic model in the U.S. market versus expanding in Europe," added Sargent. (Reporting by Clare Baldwin 1-415-677-2547, editing by Peter Henderson and Carol Bishopric)

Electric Car Start-Up Gets More Funding

Auto makers continue to push ahead with battery-powered cars despite waning demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.
On Monday, Fisker Automotive Inc. said it received $85 million in additional venture capital that will help the 18-month-old California start-up begin producing the Karma luxury sports car it has been developing.

Chrysler said it selected A123 Systems to supply the batteries for electric cars it is developing, including the Dodge Circuit shown above. The news came the same day Fisker Automotive said it won $85 million in funding.

Fisker hopes to sell 15,000 Karmas in 2010, and plans to show the car at the New York Auto Show starting this week.
Separately, Chrysler LLC selected A123 Systems Inc. of Watertown, Mass., to supply lithium-ion battery cells, packs and modules for electric cars that Chrysler expects to have in showrooms in late 2010.
The potential sales of such vehicles is unclear, however. With gasoline going for a little over $2 a gallon, sales of high-mileage vehicles and gas-electric hybrids have plunged.
In March, Toyota Motor Corp. sold 8,924 Prius hybrids, down 57% from a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. It had planned to build Priuses in a new plant in Mississippi but has frozen the project indefinitely. General Motors Corp., meantime, sold just 547 hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu in March.
Last week, in an assessment of GM, the Treasury Department's auto task force expressed concern about the Chevrolet Volt, an electric vehicle GM is developing. While the Volt "holds promise," the task force said, it will probably be much more expensive to make than gasoline-powered cars and need substantial cost reductions to be "commercially viable."
Henrik Fisker, chief executive of Fisker Automotive, said in an interview that the new round of capital signals "that plug-in hybrids really have the mass-market potential that people have been waiting for."

The capital will come from Eco-Drive (Capital) Partners LLC, an investment consortium, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a veteran Silicon Valley venture-capital firm. The company says it now has funding well over $100 million but declined to be specific.
The Fisker Karma is a sleek sports car that is supposed to start at $87,900 and travel 50 miles on electrical power and for an additional 250 miles on a 2.0-liter gasoline engine before requiring refueling. The Irvine, Calif., company has orders for 1,300 vehicles, Mr. Fisker said.
"I definitely believe the plug-in hybrids will be the dominant alternative type of vehicle in the next five to six years," Mr. Fisker said, "and we feel we can actually take the lead in this new technology."
Chrysler is aiming for a similar spot in the market with the Dodge Circuit sports car. It also is working on battery-powered versions of the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Patriot and Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
Lou Rhodes, president of the Chrysler ENVI unit working on the electric models, acknowledged the models are unlikely to help the company reach profitability in the short term. But he said getting started in this area is critical to be viable long term. The objective, he said, "is for Chrysler to be a leader in electric vehicles."
Chrysler is leaning heavily on partners. Electrical components and some design for the Circuit will come from Britain's Lotus. Mr. Rhodes declined to say who is building other key components such as the control unit or motor.
Write to Alex P. Kellogg at alex.kellogg@wsj.com

Teams Race to Build Super-Fuel-Efficient Car


A field of 111 teams -- ranging India's Tata Motors Ltd., Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors Inc. and a team backed by musician Neil Young -- will compete for a $10 million prize to build a practical vehicle capable of getting the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gas, the contest's backers said Monday.
The Progressive Automotive X-Prize contest, with its underlying premise that the legacy auto industry needs a shot of innovation to escape its current woes, coincides with the wrenching restructuring of Detroit's big automakers and heated debates about energy policy in Washington.

Most of the entrants are relatively small, startup car makers, such as Aptera Motors, a California company trying to drum up interest in a three-wheeled electric vehicle. Tesla Motors, which is already selling a $100,000 electric roadster, plans to enter its second car, the Model S sedan. Tata has proposed entering a hybrid and an electric version of its Nano minicar. Of the 136 vehicles entered, 91 are electric vehicles, the foundation said.
Among the more unusual entries is the LINCVOLT, a 1959 Lincoln convertible outfitted with a hybrid-electric drivetrain and promoted by Mr. Young, who's featured the car in some of his recent videos and plans a movie on the project.
The prize winners will be decided after a multistep process that will culminate with road competitions next year in four U.S. cities, X-Prize Foundation Chairman Peter H. Diamandis said in an interview Monday.
So far none of the big Detroit auto makers has chosen to enter the contest. Mr. Diamandis said that even if big car makers don't enter, they could benefit from the contest. "They have a beautiful off-balance-sheet R&D program," he said.
General Motors Corp. spokesman Greg Martin said the auto maker has had discussions with the X-Prize Foundation, but has decided to focus its resources on meeting a 2010 production target for its Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid designed to run 40 miles on electricity alone. "Everything we have is to get that vehicle to market," Mr. Martin said. "Everything beyond that would be nice to do, not need to do."
The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is one of a series of high-profile technology challenges backed by the X-Prize Foundation and Mr. Diamandis. The common theme is the use of a multimillion-dollar prize to inspire technological innovation. In 2004, the foundation awarded $10 million to a team led by aerospace designer Burt Rutan for building a vehicle that carried three people 100 kilometers above the earth twice within two weeks.
Write to Joseph B. White at joseph.white@wsj.com

Big Lunch puts the food we eat back high up the environmental menu

Our dependence on energy and food from overseas makes us vulnerable to political and climatic aggression

Tim Smit
guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 April 2009 12.07 BST

In just three short years, the environment has returned to the front pages with a vengeance, even if the G20 managed to relegate it to the end of their communique.
Near the top of the environmental agenda is food and its production. Whether it be at the macro level of food security or the micro, or the way in which we grow it or the health benefits of growing your own, today's focus on food is, for me, qualitatively different to previous lifestyle magazine exhortations to "grow our own". This is not about the "accessorisation" of life but about making a fundamental connection to where our food comes from, for without that connection we will find it difficult to make the compelling argument that we are dependent on the health of our planet for our very survival.
Robbed of the understanding and the skills to produce our own food leaves us at a huge disadvantage in a world where our dependency on energy and food from outside our shores renders us vulnerable to both political and climatic aggression.
Every child in school today will, within their working lives, live through a period in which we reduce our carbon footprint by 80% or more - and food production will be a key part of that. This is a challenge on a par with moving from a pre-industrial revolution model into the white-hot heat of it. The timescale for this revolution is the next forty years. Examples exist for showing what can be in short periods of time: the experience of Havana, having to deal with the withdrawal of Soviet energy support, thus leaving it impoverished and needing to grow its own food, shows what can be done in extremis.
Yet do we see any sign that Birmingham, London or Glasgow are seriously contemplating creating an urban architecture that can sustain urban horticulture on a grand scale? Every building and public space can become a garden and collectively this represents nearly industrial production, yet we don't consider such small-scale growing as anything other than a gimmick. Every balcony or windowsill, every wall and roof, every public space can be turned into a growing area. The recent initiatives on Grow Your Own, a collaboration between all the major horticultural institutions - The National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society, Garden Organics, the Eden Project and many others, and the excellent Landshare initiative to create allotments across the country - is testament to the real concern in all these organisations that the security and health benefits of growing are poorly understood and are vital for our survival.
Sharing and collaborating on food is also key to the success of The Big Lunch, an event championed by the Eden Project as an excuse to persuade every street and hamlet in the country to sit down and take traditional Sunday lunch together on 19 July. We want to demonstrate that we believe neighbourliness and community are important, that Britain isn't "broken" and that we can, just by scratching the surface, reveal a society that is prepared to embrace sharing and communal action. Eden is championing it because the preparing and growing of food reinforces the awareness of our connection and dependence on nature. Perhaps most importantly, it also illustrates the benefits and joy of doing things together.
Tim Smit is chief executive and co-founder of the Eden Project and a champion for The Big Lunch

Recession takes bite out of organic product sales

Soil Association report shows premium goods were particularly hard hit in 2008 but there are promising signs that the market may be stabilising

Juliette Jowit
guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 April 2009 17.57 BST

Official confirmation that the organic revolution has stalled came today as the leading industry body admitted sales of many popular and premium products fell last year.
The Soil Association, which certifies about eight out of ten products on sale in UK shops, said the value of sales in 2008 rose by 1.7% to a little over £2bn, but inflation in food prices masked a slump in sales by volume.
The rise in income compared to a 7% increase in overall food prices, said the organisation. "We're inferring from this 7% rise that volume has probably gone down," said a spokeswoman.
Hardest hit were premium brands and prepared foods, such as frozen meals, while popular fruit and vegetables - two of the three biggest selling organic lines - both saw declines.
However, some products appeared to be riding out the recession, especially those linked to high-profile TV shows highlighting animal welfare problems, said the association. The celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's series Hugh's Chicken Run may have contributed to a 17.7% increase in poultry sales, while organic milk and cheese sales both rose more than 10%. Textiles and health and beauty products sales increased strongly, although they make up a tiny part of the total market.
Previous reports suggested sales of organic produce have fallen even more steeply: retail research specialist TNS said that at the end of January annual volume sales of bread were 29% lower, fruit 20% lower, eggs 12% lower and vegetables 8% lower.
Martin Cottingham, author of the Soil Association report, said it was "impossible" to predict yet when the organic market would recover because this would be closely linked to the economy.
However, he said there were tentative signs that the market was stabilising after a particularly sharp drop in confidence during the last few months of last year. "October, November and December was something like panic non-buying ... because suddenly it was a recession," said Cottingham. "Some of the people have told me they experienced a demand dip at that time [but] some have said they have either levelled off or modestly picked up in the new year."
The report also said there was a "core" of shoppers who would continue to buy organic and said that long term, the industry should benefit as the UK needed to cut greenhouse gases, including emissions from chemical fertilisers used in intensive farming.

UK ministers urged to act on green investment

By Carola Hoyos and Jim Pickard
Published: April 6 2009 20:02

The CBI on Monday told ministers that they must bridge the yawning gulf between their environmental rhetoric and Britain’s painfully slow progress in shifting to a low-carbon economy.
At stake are tens of thousands of potential jobs and the security of the country’s future energy supply, according to the body that represents some of Britain’s heaviest polluters.

Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, warned that billions of pounds of potential investment in renewable and nuclear energy would go elsewhere unless the government took “urgent action”.
That the government should have been found wanting by business – until recently generally hostile to regulations designed to tackle climate change – is particularly embarrassing for ministers.
It will also serve to focus attention on whether this month’s Budget will fulfil Gordon Brown’s promise of rebuilding the economy along low-carbon lines.
Environmentally-friendly goals
Measures in the CBI’s low-carbon proposals include:
• A scrappage scheme and fiscal incentives to boost purchase of low-carbon cars
• The government to buy a fleet of electric vehicles, stimulating private sector investment in the industry
• Requiring dashboard displays of real-time fuel consumption
• Active traffic management schemes to ease congestion
• Approval of an additional carbon capture and storage demonstration project
• Approval for the Severn Barrage project for tidal power generation
• Smart meters fitted in homes and businesses allowing residents to monitor power usage
• Extending incentives to industry to invest in renewable energy equipment
A report by the New Economics Foundation last week found that only £100m of the £20bn stimulus package from last November was genuinely new money towards green measures.
There were high hopes within the environmental movement when Ed Miliband was appointed to head the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) last autumn. So far, however, he has failed to win plaudits from either the greens or the nuclear industry.
Meanwhile, several energy companies, including Centrica, Shell and BP, have cut back on investments in UK renewables.
John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy director-general, said the UK was falling behind Germany and Denmark in its attempts to forge a green industry. “We have used up all our contingency time. It is now or never,” he said.
Ministers were on the right path but companies were still “jittery” about investing because of the laborious planning system, slow funding of new technology and poor connections to the National Grid, according to the CBI.
There must be a better regime for tax and intellectual property and a “robust” price for carbon. At its present trajectory, the UK would miss its renewables targets, it said.
By 2020 Britain must obtain 15 per cent of its power from renewables – or 35 per cent of its electricity – under the European Union’s renewable energy directive. At present the figure is a meagre 1.5 per cent, less than any other country in the EU bar Malta and Luxembourg.
It was time for the government to show its commitment by purchasing a fleet of electric vehicles, said the CBI. It should also pay drivers money to scrap older, polluting vehicles – a policy already under consideration by ministers.
Separately, current policies on carbon emission reduction in homes would fail to deliver the large-scale emissions reductions needed, the CBI said.
Last summer Mr Brown promised a “green revolution” with £100bn of investment in renewable energy leading to 10,000 wind turbines, 7m solar heating systems and green jobs for 160,000 people.
Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency – and a former Labour minister – recently told the FT that the government was “saying all the right things” but should do more.
Philip Wolfe, director-general of the Renewable Energy Association, said the government lacked the will to make the tough decisions needed to match their “bold statements”. “If you could solve this by talking the talk we would have done it by now,” he said.
The energy department said it had acted swiftly to remove barriers to energy investment through its energy and planning acts. The £12.5bn purchase of British Energy and the strong interest in Nuclear Decommissioning Authority sites currently being auctioned was proof of investor appetite, it said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Green capitalism

Published: April 6 2009 20:06

In proposing a “revolutionary road” to a low-carbon economy the CBI, the UK employers’ body, demonstrates it is in tune with popular culture and people’s preoccupations. The CBI’s proposals deserve a hearing – although the most self-serving parts should be filtered out.
Richard Lambert, the CBI’s director-general, complains that the government contradicts its rhetorical commitment to a low-carbon economy with slow planning procedures and inefficient or unpredictable regulation. If UK policy does not improve, he warns, private capital that could transform the energy sector will go to other countries.
His warnings are timely. The UK energy sector already suffers from structural problems; and the current recession exacerbates the difficulty of developing renewable energy sources. Falling production makes emissions targets look more easily reachable, but this benefit is illusory: when the world’s economies recover, so will emissions.
The necessary shift to more energy-efficient technologies is harder to achieve as fossil fuel prices have slumped: Brent crude oil trades at $53 after peaking at $148 in July. Renewable energy projects that once looked profitable are less attractive. Big energy players such as Shell and BP have slowed their commitments to alternative energy.
Stimulus plans should include “green” spending on such low-hanging fruit as reducing energy waste. But stimulus spending, no matter how green, will not by itself fix the fundamental problem that incentives for an efficient UK energy infrastructure remain weak.
Improving those incentives means reducing uncertainty and setting prices right. The CBI rightly calls for the government to do both. More transparent and predictable policy planning would make it easier to gauge the profitability of energy projects, and would help to co-ordinate private actors, such as grid companies and power generators.
To make prices reflect the true social costs of different activities, the government can either subsidise the good or tax the bad. The CBI protects its members’ interests by mostly preferring the former: its proposals include rewarding consumers who exchange an old car for a new one. Such subsidies should generally be avoided. It would be simpler, and healthier for the dismal state of public finances, to get prices right by taxing carbon-intensive activities more efficiently.
The CBI should be commended for pushing for reforms that make use of market forces to achieve a greener economy. Ministers have been warned: there is no need to wait for green shoots to take action.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009