Saturday, 25 April 2009

California approves carbon-based reductions in transport fuels

California becomes the first state in America to mandate carbon-based decreases in transportation fuels

McClatchy newspapers, Friday 24 April 2009 16.02 BST

California became the first state in America yesterday to mandate carbon-based reductions in transportation fuels in an attempt to cut the state's overall greenhouse gas emissions.
The California air resources board approved a phased-in reduction starting in 2011, with a goal of shrinking carbon impacts 10% by 2020. Fuel producers can comply in different ways, such as providing a cleaner fuel portfolio, blending low-carbon ethanol with gasoline or purchasing credits from other clean-energy producers.
California's low-carbon fuel standard could lead to a national measure under Barack Obama, as well as shape how the transportation sector evolves. But businesses and oil industry critics warned that more research is necessary and that its action would lead to higher costs for consumers in a recessionary economy.
Board chairwoman Mary Nichols hailed the low-carbon fuel standard as a major step in moving the country away from oil dependence and toward alternative fuels that generate lower greenhouse gas emissions.
"By changing the way we think about fuels and requiring them all to be lower carbon, I think we are now finally creating an opportunity for other types of advanced transportation to compete on a level playing field," Nichols said.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, asked the air board in 2007 to consider a low-carbon fuel standard as way to meet the state's overall goal of cutting greenhouse gases 25% by 2020, as mandated by a 2006 law.
The air board looked at the entire carbon "intensity" of fuels, rather than the impact of emissions from use alone. That meant considering the emissions from the start of production to lasting impacts not directly related to fuel supply.
That led to some controversy over the air board's regulations dealing with corn-based ethanol producers.
A staff analysis assigned additional greenhouse-gas consequences to their fuels alone based on the potential impacts that ethanol production has on forests and green space. The theory is that increased ethanol production reduces the existing amount of farmland for food crops, which in turn leads to cultivation of untouched land that previously captured carbon.
Ethanol advocates challenged the report's findings, disputing that their corn-based production had a significant impact on greenhouse-gas increases elsewhere. But they also suggested that petroleum and other fuels were not given the same treatment.
The air board promised to work with ethanol producers to update formulas related to the indirect effects of fuels as warranted by future research. But it stood by its findings that other fuels did not have significant indirect impacts.
"The preliminary analysis is there is no other fossil fuel option that has any direct land use effect that comes anywhere near any of the biofuels," said Daniel Sperling, an air board member and a University of California-Davis transportation studies expert. "We will be looking carefully to make sure that initial assessment is correct. But I do want to make it clear there was no effort just to focus on the biofuels."

Threat to European biodiversity 'as serious as climate change'

Most of Europe's species and habitats are in poor condition and the risk of extinction continues to rise, environment chiefs are to warn at a major biodiversity conference in Athens this week

Juliette Jowit, Friday 24 April 2009 16.53 BST

The natural world across Europe is suffering a crisis as serious as the threat of climate change, Europe's environment chiefs are to warn this week.
A report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) to be published next month sounds the alarm that most species and habitats across the continent are in poor condition and the risk of extinction continues to rise.
New figures for the UK also show that even the most important and rare plants and animals are suffering: eight out of 10 habitats and half of species given the highest level of European protection are in an "unfavourable" condition.
Species at risk in the UK range from insects like the honeybee and swallowtail butterfly, to mammals and birds at the top of the food chain such as the otter and the golden eagle, said the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).
The losses threaten to undermine vital ecosystem services like clean water and fertile soils, which underpin both quality of life and the economy, said Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA's executive director.
"Much of our economy in Europe relies on the fact we have natural resources underpinning everything," McGlade told the Guardian. The losses of wildlife and habitat are a threat to being able to live sustainably within the enviroment in the future, she said. "Some of the losses are irreversible."
McGlade will present findings from the agency report at a major conference next week called by the European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas. He is worried that the European commission has failed to meet a pledge to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, and recently warned "the loss of biodiversity is a global threat that is every bit as serious as climate change".
"The reasons that we are losing biodiversity are well known: destruction of habitats, pollution, over-exploitation, invasive species and, most recently, climate change," Dimas will tell the conference in Athens. "The compound effect of these forces is terrifying."
At another high-level conference in London on Wednesday, organised by the CEH, leaders from business, government, academics and NGOs will warn that ecosystems underpin human lifestyles from air, water and food to resources for industry.
Professor Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientific adviser and president of the Royal Society, said: "Our massive and unintended experiment on the planet's reaction to unsustainable levels of human impacts is approaching crisis point. The future is not yet beyond rescue, provided we take appropriate action with due urgency."
The EEA report says although there have been some conservation successes, including halting the decline of common songbirds, the "overall status and trends of most species and habitats give rise to concern".
Figures for the habitats and species awarded special protection under the EU habitats directive reveal that across 40 countries of Europe and the former Soviet Union, 50-85% of habitats and 40-70% of species were in an "unfavourable" condition, and many more could not be assessed because of a lack of information.
Across Europe, the biggest declines from 1990 to 2000 had been for bogs and fenland, heathland and coastal habitats. Woodland, forests and lakes had grown, but these increases were dwarfed by the biggest habitat expansion, which was "constructed, industrial, artificial habitats".
Populations of some European common birds stopped falling in the 1990s, but all groups of birds had fallen in numbers since 1980, and other species groups like butterflies, amphibians and pollinating insects had declined dramatically, said the report.
The report notes that habitats and species in the habitats directive were chosen because they were under threat, and so were harder to conserve.
"Ecosystems generally show a fair amount of resilience," it adds. "Beyond certain thresholds, however, ecosystems may collapse and transform into distinctly different states, potentially with considerable impacts on humans."
Reforms to be put to the conference in Athens include better management of protected areas, which now make up more than 17% of the European Union territory; targets for economic sectors, such as transport, to ensure they do not have a negative impact on the environment; and more work on putting a "value" on ecosystem services so conservationists can argue their case against developers, said McGlade.
"This is not about putting a price on everything, it's a value. This will transform the discussion because somebody can say 'you're eating away at our capital - grassland', or whatever the landscape or species is."
In a statement, Defra, the UK environment department, said the government fully supported strong international targets, but said many conservation schemes were working.
"For example, England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in better condition than ever at 88.4% in favourable or recovering condition compared with 57% in 2003," it added.
Globally, last year's annual "red ist" of endangered species from the IUCN conservation organisation warned that the world's mammals face an extinction crisis, with almost one in four of 5,487 known species at risk of disappearing forever.
Some UK species at risk
Mammals - Dormouse, otter
Birds - Golden eagle, cuckoo
Insects - Swallowtail butterfly, garden tiger moth, stag beetle
Amphibians - Great crested newt
Pollinators - Honeybee, several kinds of bumblebee
Source: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Stormy weather for economic climate has no silver lining for climate change

Greenhouse gases tend to track GDP, so a 3% drop in emissions won't help the government meet its own target of 34%

Adam Vaughan, Friday 24 April 2009 11.23 BST

In his budget this week, Alastair Darling laid bare the rocky ride ahead for the British economy. He forecast that GDP would drop by 3.5% in 2009. There has been worse economic news from the rest of the world. In the last three months of 2008, the US economy contracted at an annualised rate of 6.2% - the fastest since 1982.
But does this vast economic cloud have a silver (or perhaps green-tinged) lining? As economist Alex Bowen and the New Economic Foundation's Andrew Simms have pointed out, greenhouse gas emissions tend to track GDP. So a 3.5% fall in the UK's GDP leads roughly to a 3.15% fall in CO2 emissions. That would help the UK government reach its commitment to cut carbon emissions by 34% by 2020.
The notion of GDP matching emissions was supported by new research this week from analysts Cambridge Econometrics, which said the recession will cause CO2 emissions to fall by 3% in both 2009 and 2010.
But such dips in GDP may not seriously affect emissions in the long term. On Tuesday, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reminded us that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases CO2 and methane were both up in 2008, despite the economic slump.
The NOAA data is hardly surprising. CO2 emissions have grown over 2% a year since the beginning of the industrial age, and around 2.5% for each of the past five years.
Judging from Cambridge Econometrics' numbers, it appears history will view the recession as a blip in rising CO2 levels. Its figures say that even if the UK economy suffers a very deep recession - based on a 4% decline in GDP this year, and 0.9% next year - the UK will still emit 131 million tonnes of carbon in 2015. That's still a considerable global warming contribution, even compared with the 148 million tonnes of carbon the UK emitted in 2007.
And, as the Cambridge Econometrics team notes, any drop in CO2 from the UK isn't just because factories are using less energy. Recent emissions falls are mainly due to the switch from coal to gas-powered power plants, which are less carbon intensive. So if gas falls out of favour - Russia switches off the pipes or gas prices rise again, for example - it'll be imperative the government sticks to its promise to only approve future coal power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. If it reneges on the promise, that 2015 figure of 131 million tonnes of carbon is likely to go up.
Some experts, however, argue that the recession could have a serious effect on CO2 - if the slump goes on long enough.
Terry Barker, the director at the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research , says emissions in the Great Depression fell by 35% between 1929 and 1932, and he predicts greater falls for what he calls the 21st Century Greater Depression. He believes this downturn is more severe than economists realise and late last year told me we'll "see 40-50% CO2 emission falls globally between now and 2012".
Barker's is a fringe position, but NOAA reminds us that, historically, the "carbon dioxide record isn't immune to temporary dips lasting several years or more. A slowdown occurred in 1930–36 after the Great Depression and again during the 1940s, possibly because of World War II."
But saving ourselves from runaway climate change by decreasing economic activity that results in people losing their jobs and homes is neither desirable, or likely.
Even the finanical analysts predicting dramatic 4% falls in UK GDP this year reckon the UK economy will see only a 0.3% contraction in 2010. Cambridge Econometrics forecasts that UK GDP will then grow by 1.8% in 2011, and 2.5% in 2012. Which means, based on our GDP and emissions rule of thumb, we'll be back up to emissions growth of around 2.25%. In other words, business as usual.

Jetion’s pre-tax profits quadruple

By David Blackwell
Published: April 25 2009 04:51

Jetion Holdings, the solar cell manufacturer based in China’s Jiangsu province, quadrupled pre-tax profits last year after doubling its production lines to four. Profits rose to $20.1m on sales up from $104m to $250m.
Gabriel Kow, chairman, said the first nine months of the year had proved strong, but described the fourth quarter as “turbulent”. Because of the credit crunch customers had cancelled orders, and there had been some destocking. At the same time the company had to write-off more than $1m on silicon stocks after a fall in prices.
But Jetion had improved its product and reduced its scrap rate, and also ended the year with $4m cash. It was expecting to come out of the downturn stronger than its competitors.
Most of its sales are made in Europe, particularly Germany. However last month its products were certified for the US and Canadian markets, and it is expecting 10 per cent of sales this year to go to North America.
The shares, priced at 151p when it joined Aim in July 2007, have recovered from a low of 25p at the turn of the year. They closed Friday up 22 per cent at 68p.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Green funds set to enjoy increased investment

By Alice Ross
Published: April 24 2009 19:22

Investors in green investment funds are set to receive a boost from what Alistair Darling called the world’s “first-ever carbon Budget”.
The Budget committed the government to cutting carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020. Previous promises to cut emissions have been targets, rather than legally binding.
Fund managers said this would give businesses clear targets for cutting emissions and make growth in renew-able technologies more likely.
Ben Yearsley at Hargreaves Lansdown said the extra investment might mean there were opportunities for investors to make money.
Funds that invest in renewable energy struggled in 2008, with many losing a third of their value as companies in the sector found it difficult to attract funding.
But, with governments around the world channelling money into developing clean technologies, fund managers are hopeful that green investing could flourish again – though they stress it should be seen as a long-term investment.
Simon Webber, manager of the Schroder Climate Change fund, said the measures announced in the Budget were “definitely a step in the right direction”.
Offshore wind will be a particular beneficiary of the extra funding, with £525m channelled towards the expensive technology.
A further £405m will go towards low carbon energy, while £435m will provide extra investment in energy efficiency measures.
Webber has been more positive on wind energy holdings in recent months, adding to his portfolio from the end of December.
“The credit crunch and lack of project financing has really slowed growth in the wind area – we’ve needed a response from governments and that will start to oil the cogs of investment again,” he said.
Charlie Thomas, manager of Jupiter’s £270m Ecology fund, said the wind investment should open up opportunities for wind power holdings such as Vestas.
Industrial gas companies are also set to benefit from the focus on carbon storage.
Webber said the extra funding could be a “great opportunity” for gas handlers such as Linde, the German company.
The Schroder Climate Change fund launched in the UK in September 2007. It has lost 21.5 per cent since then, compared with a 27.6 fall in its benchmark, the MSCI World Index.
Jupiter Ecology has lost 6.5 per cent so far this year and last year lost nearly a quarter of its value.
Thomas said companies in his portfolio including Eaga and Kingspan should benefit from the new energy efficiency funding.
He said governments were showing “unprecedented support” for green investors, making it “an exciting long- term opportunity”.
But an initial note of caution on the Budget proposals was also sounded. Emma Howard Boyd, head of socially responsible investing (SRI) at Jupiter, said: “We need more details on how the carbon budgets will work to fully assess the opportunities they will present for green investment.”
Other specialist investors are set to get a boost from changes to venture capital schemes announced in this week’s Budget.
People who put money into an enterprise investment scheme (EIS) – a direct investment into an unquoted company – will be allowed to “carry back” more of their tax relief to the previous tax year.
They will now be able to claim the tax relief of 20 per cent allowed for an EIS investment – on investments up to £500,000 – for the previous tax year the investment is made.
The changes could benefit people earning nothing in the current tax year – for example those who have retired or are not taking an income from their business, according to Paula Higgleton at Deloitte.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009