Monday, 4 May 2009

Wild side of the law

It may sound far-fetched, but a powerful tool to combat climate change is giving nature legal rights

Begonia Filgueira and Ian Mason
The Guardian, Monday 4 May 2009

If societies express their values through the laws they make, one single legal change would completely transform our understanding of the ­relationship between nature and humankind: giving nature rights. And that change would be our best weapon in fighting climate change because it would give nature a voice on how we regulate the earth.
The idea of "wild law" has been around since the 1960s, when writers questioned whether trees should have standing. But now enacting those ideas is a matter of our survival on this planet.
Laws that recognise the world as a legal person with rights and remedies that can be enforced nationally and internationally would create a duty of care towards the environment. It is strange that we have a duty of care towards our "neighbour", but that in law nature is not considered our neighbour. If we value the natural world we need for life, we can prove it by giving it and its components – rivers, forests, species, habitats, ecosystems – sufficient standing in law to enable proceedings to be brought on their behalf. Our legal system already does this for "non-­persons" such as companies, charities, clubs and others.
Give the sea rights, and overfishing would not be a matter of quotas set by governments but of balancing the rights of fish and humans. If the atmosphere could be a legal entity, its representative would have a say in carbon trading. A river with a right to flow continually being harmed by damming would require the courts to intervene in deciding whether the human need is greater than that of the river to subsist. This is not as far fetched as it sounds. It is entirely consistent with the 1982 UN World Charter for Nature, ratified by more than 150 UN members but lacking enforcement mechanisms to give it real teeth. It is the logical outcome of its 2002 successor, the Earth Charter.
Practically, how do we do this? Our courts could expand the definition of who our neighbour is to include nature and thus create a legal duty of care toward the earth. At EU level we then pass a declaration of nature's rights, which would, like the declaration of human rights, be implemented by each of the member states in an Earth Rights Act like our Human Rights Act. This would be enforced by our national courts and influence the regulators' decision-making.
Internationally, we need to refocus what is contained in the World Charter for Nature, which sets out "human duties towards the earth", and create "earth rights". Any declaration needs to be coupled with giving enforcement powers to our international institutions, otherwise the declaration will create positive debate but not be effective.
Language is a powerful tool, and we want to stop talking about the planet as a "resource". There has to be a better understanding of how humans affect the planet – so teach people where their plastic water bottle ends up and where their food comes from. We can also redefine the "public interest" to include the interest of nature.
Some would argue granting rights is only part of the solution, but it will cause the shift in thinking we require to decarbonise our society. As Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel peace prize, said: "The need to forge a new and healthier relationship between the human race and the planet that sustains us could not be more urgent." Let's not be known as the "age of stupid" but as the age that walked on the wild side of the law and brought radical change to the way we think about law and about nature to stave off the perfect storm.

Australia to delay carbon scheme

Reuters, Monday May 4 2009

Australia's government will delay introducing a planned carbon emissions trading scheme by a year to mid-2011, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said on Monday.
The government would also increase the country's interim 2020 emissions reduction target, currently for a cut of between 5 and 15 percent based on 2000 levels, the broadcaster said, citing unnamed industry sources.
The government declined comment.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been under pressure from industry and opposition politicians to water down or even ditch carbon-trading laws, which they say are too costly in the current tough economic climate.
Details of the Australian government's legislation are available at

Britain to help China on carbon capture

Move to share technology may help Britain meet Kyoto promise but could be seen as squandering business opportunities

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Sunday 3 May 2009 11.38 BST

Britain will share the benefits of its investment in carbon capture and storage technology with China and other developing countries, the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, said today.
The move may help Britain to belatedly meet its Kyoto protocol promise to pass on low-carbon technology to help poorer countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, questions may arise over how much should be given away for free and how much the UK should exploit the business opportunities of being a potential leader in the industry.
"We're approaching this from the mindset where we can co-operate more with China on things like carbon capture and storage," Miliband said.
While not abandoning the industrial potential of being a leader in the field, he said Britain could benefit from transferring knowledge.
"Eventually we hope to see this technology across the world because coal is something that is used in many countries and the key to that is making it a clean fuel of the future."
Miliband is visiting Beijing to try to forge common ground with Chinese officials ahead of crucial climate change talks later this year in Copenhagen. Britain hopes China will set voluntary targets to reduce the energy and carbon intensity of an economy that recently overtook the US as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The central goal of China's mandarins is financial support and the transfer of clean-coal and other low-carbon technology from richer nations.
China is also pioneering its own solutions, as Miliband saw at the world's only commercially operating carbon capture facility, Huaneng Beijing cogeneration power plant.
Developed with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia and opened last July, the facility is on a relatively small scale but it claims 85% efficiency in capturing 3,000 tonnes of carbon each year. The recycled product is used for carbonated drinks and dry ice.
"The technology has been successful here so we can say it will be successful in other coal-fired plants," said the general manager, Cai Hongwang. "We could scale this up. We are now considering the market demand for carbon dioxide."
If production is ramped up, the captured carbon could be used for enhanced oil recovery or, in the longer term, possibly pumped into the deep ocean. Britain is considering sequestration of carbon in cavities under the North Sea bed that have been emptied of oil.
Several similar experiments will soon be launched in other parts of China, which is investing heavily in research into reducing the climate impact of coal. More than 70% of China's electricity is generated by coal. Over the next 10 years, the amount burned is expected to double.
According to the Chinese Academy of Science, a plant in Shanxi will capture carbon and use it as fertiliser, while another in Shaanxi may pump captured carbon into oil deposits to extract the fuel.
"It is better to convert carbon dioxide into products, but the demand is limited," said Xiao Yunhan, a government adviser and energy expert at the academy. "Sequestration will be the final solution for carbon dioxide control. But before that we should try other things."
To enhance technology transfer and co-operation on low-carbon projects, Miliband will tomorrow launch a £10m joint venture with the Carbon Trust and the Chinese Development Corporation to encourage British firms to enter the Chinese market.
He will give a speech at Peking University calling on China to take a leadership role in climate talks. "As an emergent great power, China, too, has the ability not just to act but to lead; to be great not just in size but in influence; to energise others around the world" he will say.

Carbon Trust signs China deal

By Carola Hoyos
Published: May 4 2009 03:00

The Carbon Trust will sign a key partnership deal today in an attempt to open China's vast market to British carbon technology.
The UK government, which is promoting green technology as a way to create jobs and help mitigate the effects of recession, will provide about a quarter of the initial £10m investment.
Tom Delay, the chief executive of the Carbon Trust, an independent company set up by the government, expects to be able to tap at least £100m from private investors over the next five years. He says the venture, though not the trust's biggest in terms of capital, will be its most strategically important.
China, which relies heavily on its indigenous coal, produces more carbon dioxide than any other country. Mr Delay said he hoped the partnership deal would act as a "bridge" for early-stage technologies. Carola Hoyos
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Climate changes for academics

By Andrew Bolger
Published: May 4 2009 03:00

T he head of Edinburgh University Business Schoo l is intrigued by a fundamental question: why do business school academics not spin out more businesses?
Nick Oliver raises the issue as Edinburgh reveals it has secured significant investment from Haymarket Media Group to support its ambition to become a leading centre for studying the business implications of climate change.
Haymarket, which publishes ENDS Report, the environmental business publication, is backing an Edinburgh academic in launching ENDS Carbon, which aims to provide companies with the information they need to reduce their carbon emissions.
The venture will give organisations detailed reports, benchmarking their performance against their peer group. The first report - to be published this month - will evaluate the climate-change performance of the UK supermarket sector and is backed by Tesco, Asda, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose.
"Lots of companies have calculated their carbon footprint, but they don't know whether it's big or small compared to their competitors," says Craig Mackenzie, the Edinburgh Business School academic who will be director of ENDS Carbon.
Figures such as total carbon emissions, he says, do not mean much unless they are related to the size of a company and the nature of its operations.
"We will use like-for-like measurements - such as how much energy is used for each metre of refrigeration, which is by far the largest source of supermarkets' carbon emissions."
Prof Oliver, who joined Edinburgh two years ago from Judge Business School in Cambridge, sees the focus on climate change as a key element in a strategy of developing specialisations to raise the profile and status of the business school.
Although Edinburgh University has been teaching business since 1916, there was a general recognition across the university and wider Scottish business circles that the school had not matched the international reputation of its host institution - or succeeded in tapping into the outstanding science base on its doorstep.
In 2007, when the school decided to make climate change an area of specialisation, it worked closely with the university's internationally recognised school of geoscience. Last year, Edinburgh launched an MSc in climate change and it is also developing an MSc in carbon finance, which will examine international schemes for trading emissions.
Given that options in business climate change are also offered in MBA and undergraduate courses, Prof Oliver estimates the school could have 300 students a year studying the subject.
"The idea is to send out a new cadre of people, primarily into the business world, which could mean the public as well as the private sector, who are well equipped in an understanding of the science of climate change.
"Lots of companies, faced by the prospect of regulatory pressure, are appointing or hiring carbon co-ordinators, so we see our people as being well equipped to take on those kinds of roles."
Although Mr Mackenzie started life as an academic, he has
spent more than 10 years running the socially responsible investment research teams at Insight Investment, the asset manager now part of Lloyds Banking Group and Friends Provident, the life assurance group.
He believes his background helped him to land the deal with Haymarket.
"I'm not sure conventional academics have the skills for becoming entrepreneurs. Preparing articles and teaching undergraduates does not necessarily equip you to write a business plan or market your idea to investors."
Prof Oliver identifies a number of factors behind the scarcity of spin-outs by staff. One is that much of what academics can do commercially - such as consulting or executive education - is regarded as the core business of their department.
That said, he believes there is a "grey economy" around most business schools and the issue of private work.
"My own view is that those academics who want to do a bit of private work are usually able to do it and get enough to meet their needs without the hassle of creating a company. So the grey economy mops up the vast majority of the entrepreneurial drive."
He would like to see more spin-outs from schools.
"The business of building a business from nothing, creating revenue streams, employing people, debating what is really of value to the people that will pay for it - all these are hugely valuable."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Industries Push for Free Pollution Credits


WASHINGTON -- A growing number of industries are lobbying for free pollution permits under legislation capping greenhouse-gas emissions, in a potential threat to the funding for President Barack Obama's proposed middle-class tax cut.
A range of industries, including electric utilities, auto makers, and oil and natural gas refineries, are making their case to lawmakers ahead of a vote on proposed climate legislation expected this week by the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. The jockeying has intensified in recent days after a push by electric utilities to secure up to 40% of the emissions permits for free, an amount that would be proportionate to their share of U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions.
The measure by Reps. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) and Edward Markey (D., Mass.) calls for reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions roughly 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% below 2005 levels by mid-century. It is largely silent on how much companies would have to pay for pollution permits under a proposed cap-and-trade system that would allow companies to buy and sell such permits.
Mr. Obama has called for auctioning off 100% of the emission allowances and using the bulk of the revenue to fund tax credits for the middle class. His 2010 budget blueprint projects raising $645 billion from the auction of emissions permits between 2012, when the system kicks in, and 2019. A smaller portion would be devoted to research and development of low-carbon technologies. But Mr. Obama and some of his aides have signaled they are willing to compromise on giving away the pollution permits.
The bill's fate could hinge on how willing Messrs. Waxman and Markey are to give in to the demands of about a dozen Democratic committee members who want to soften the impact on their districts, which depend on coal, manufacturing, or oil and natural gas for jobs.
"There are a lot of things in the bill I need to have changed," said Rep. Gene Green (D., Texas). Mr. Green, whose district is home to the largest petrochemical complex in the world, wants Mr. Waxman to give some pollution permits to oil refiners for free. "If that's not in the bill, I can't vote for it," he said.
Refiners are lobbying to get for free 30% of the pollution permits, an amount that corresponds roughly to the share of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions produced by transportation fuel. Without such allowances, the industry says, it will lose out to refineries in India and the Middle East that ship their product to the U.S. and don't operate under carbon caps at home.
"The electric utilities want 40%, and if they're getting 40%, the refiners say 'Why shouldn't we get 30%?"' Mr. Green said. Mr. Green said he has asked Mr. Waxman to give the refining industry a smaller share of the allowances -- roughly 5%.
Messrs. Waxman and Markey have said they intend to work out a distribution of the allowances after consulting with their colleagues, but haven't indicated specifically how the matter will be resolved. A spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman said, "We are encouraged by the progress that we are making, and the committee will continue meeting with members to discuss the legislation."
Economists say generally that consumer prices will rise regardless of whether permits are given away for free, and that giving them away for free will divert money from other purposes in the public interest, such as tax cuts for consumers. But "the politics of passing [climate legislation] in the committee are tough; it's hard to be a purist," said Chad Stone, chief economist of the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The issue is particularly thorny for the auto industry. The Obama administration has billions of public dollars at stake in turnaround efforts at Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. At the same time, Mr. Obama has vowed to promulgate more aggressive fuel-economy standards for vehicles, which won't be cheap. Last summer, the Transportation Department estimated that its proposal to require auto makers to achieve fuel efficiency of 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015 would cost auto makers $46.7 billion, which the agency said would make it among the most expensive rule makings in U.S. history.
"There are a lot of interests competing for the pot of money, but I think there's a general recognition that some of the revenue…should be used to push advanced, low-carbon technologies because that's how we're going to drive the emissions reductions we need," said Alan Reuther, legislative director of the United Auto Workers.
The union, along with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, is lobbying Mr. Waxman to direct that a portion of the revenue raised from the auction of carbon allowances go toward helping the industry develop more fuel-efficient vehicles to meet a federal mandate to improve new-vehicle fuel economy at least 40% by 2020.
Mr. Reuther's concerns have been echoed by Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.), another swing vote on the panel who is leaning on Mr. Waxman to devote a portion of permit revenue to an Energy Department program that awards low-interest loans to car makers to develop advanced vehicles.—Ian Talley contributed to this article.
Write to Stephen Power at

Flushed with enthusiasm, Severn Trent sees light at the end of the tunnel for its new revenue plan

The Times
May 4, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

One of Britain's largest water companies is planning to convert waste piped from millions of British homes into fuel that could be sold to power companies.
Severn Trent, which supplies water and waste services to 3.7 million households, already generates nearly 17 per cent of the electricity that it consumes by burning sewage gas, or methane, collected from its network of sewage plants across the Midlands and mid-Wales.
Tony Wray, Severn Trent's chief executive, told The Times that the in-house scheme was the first step in a programme to develop raw sewage sludge into pellet fuel for burning in power plants, which are being offered subsidies to switch to environmentally friendly biomass alternatives to coal and natural gas.
Since 2003, Renewables Obligation Certificates — a form of subsidy to accredited generators — have been available for electricity that is generated by burning biomass fuels, which include wood, straw or sewage gas and sludge.
“Sludge has half the calorific content of brown coal, so this is a very viable fuel,” Mr Wray said. “The trick is to find new ways to dry it. Wet sludge is not very economical to use.”
Severn Trent is working with the European Bioenergy Research Institute at Aston University in Birmingham to develop a system using a chemical process known as pyrolysis, which would effectively bake sludge into a form that could be used to produce heat and electricity. Mr Wray said that initially Severn Trent would test the fuel but ultimately could sell it to utilities, creating a new revenue stream.
Water groups are under growing pressure to find new uses for more than one million tonnes of sewage sludge that is produced in the UK every year. Before 1998, much of the waste was dumped at sea or in landfill sites, but sea disposal is now banned under European Union law, while landfill has become an increasingly expensive option because of higher taxes and stricter government controls. This year, landfill tax is set to increase by 20 per cent to £40 per tonne, up from £32 in 2008. Next year, it is set to rise again to £48 per tonne.
Severn Trent utilises sewage gas to fuel 53 separate heat and power generation units at 35 of its sites. For example, at Minworth sewage treatment works near Birmingham, Severn Trent generates an average of 9.5 megawatts of electricity — enough to provide power for about 18,000 homes.
The British water industry has spent almost £500million developing new ways to treat and manage sewage, according to Severn Trent.
About 347,000km of sewers collect more than 11billion litres of waste water in the UK every day. This water is treated at about 9,000 sewage treatment works across the country. Roughly 62 per cent of the country's sludge is treated and recycled into a type of fertiliser known as biosolids, which is used to fertilise more than 80,000 hectares of British farming land every year.
While there is growing interest in the use of waste for fuel, it is not unprecedented. In the Thirties, sewage gas was used to power public transport systems in some German cities, including Essen and Munich.
Severn Trent, which also generates some electricity from hydro-electric turbines, which are installed on three of its large reservoirs, wants to generate 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2013.

Falling Thirst for Fuel Leaves Ethanol Enthusiasts With a Hangover


When it comes to U.S. energy policy, farmers say: "Distill, baby, distill."
Legislation demands refiners blend ever-larger volumes of ethanol -- alcohol derived mostly from corn -- into gasoline. But the ethanol industry is still on the defensive. Several large producers have gone bust and Californian regulators have thrown doubt on ethanol's perceived low-carbon content, a key selling point.
The bigger problem, however, is the economy. Ethanol mandates were set before 2008's oil price spike and recession cut fuel demand. And they didn't factor in the current drive towards greater fuel-efficiency.

Regulators set ethanol production targets in absolute volume terms. So, as overall fuel demand falls, ethanol as a share of America's gasoline mix is rising faster than expected. Regular vehicles, however, cannot take more than 10% ethanol because of concerns about engine damage. Modified "flex fuel" vehicles can take "E85" fuel -- 85% ethanol -- but they comprise just 3% of the fleet. Only 1% of U.S. service stations have E85 pumps -- a fifth of them in Minnesota.
Ethanol enthusiasts want higher ethanol content to be approved for use in regular vehicles. But regulators might worry about weakened auto-makers refusing to honor vehicle warranties.
Low oil prices also ravage ethanol's economics. A Congressional Budget Office report issued last month calculated ethanol production, with subsidies, is only profitable when a gallon of gasoline costs 70% or more of the price of a bushel of corn. This has only happened during oil price spikes this decade and in the early 1980s.
While other fuels also enjoy various subsidies, corn-based ethanol suffers by comparison because it only provides, at best, 1.8 times the amount of energy used to make it. Gasoline's "energy balance" is a multiple of this -- hence its stranglehold over the fuel market.
The paradox is that ethanol, designed to displace gasoline demand, looks uneconomical when gasoline prices are high.
Advanced types of ethanol made from other crops look much better in terms of efficiency and environmental impact. But commercial-scale production, at reasonable prices, looks years off. It is possible to argue that these new fuels require a corn-based ethanol industry on which to build. But it isn't clear that we need one bigger than what exists already.
Similarly, as pointed out by Geoffrey Styles, head of consultancy GSW Strategy, arguments for greater production of ethanol in terms of creating "green" jobs miss a key point. Energy is an economic input: The fewer resources, including labor, going into its production, the better. With other technologies now competing for taxpayer dollars, the logic for plowing more money into corn looks ever less compelling.
Write to Liam Denning at

Malaysia Maps Oil-Palm Genome in a Bid to Increase Production


KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's efforts to break the genetic code for the oil-palm plant could increase the supply of palm oil at a time when demand is growing.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board has almost finished a five-year mapping of the oil-palm genome. It intends to use the results in its cross-breeding program and, it hopes, eventually increase output.
This is a priority for Malaysia, a major producer globally of palm oil, which has both food and industrial uses, most notably in biodiesel production.
"We want to take the palm-oil industry to the next level," said Sabri Ahmad, the palm-oil board's chairman. "An increase in yield of fresh-fruit bunches by just one or two [metric] tons per hectare over several years isn't going to be adequate to meet global demand."

Malaysia hopes to increase its supply of palm oil with advances made possible through the breaking of the oil-palm plant's genetic code. Here, harvesting oil-palm fruit in Bidor, Malaysia, in November.

Malaysia is targeting yields of 30 tons of fresh fruit bunches per hectare by 2020, from the current 20 tons. It also wants to boost the palm-oil extraction rate in the same period to 25% from 20%.
If the high-yielding genetic traits are successfully identified and used to develop new hybrids, yields might even be increased to 40 tons per hectare, Mr. Sabri said.
Such technological leaps are needed because Malaysia has limited fallow land available for expanding oil-palm plantations.
Oil-palm fruits of the "deli dura" variety, one of the most common in Malaysia, have thicker shells and therefore less oil, he said. Identifying the genes responsible for shell thickness could lead to varieties with higher oil content.
Genetic information could also be used to improve the timing of the oil-palm harvest, he said. If oil palms could be bred to make it easier to predict when the fruit will turn deep red, signalling that it is ripe, the likelihood that fruit is harvested at the optimal time would increase.
Successful mapping of genetic traits also could help identify the types of oil palms that are susceptible to diseases such as basal stem rot, he said. Basal stem rot, caused by the fungus Ganoderma boninense, is one of the most harmful oil-palm diseases in Malaysia.
Mr. Sabri said the first draft of the oil-palm gene sequence is likely to be completed by June. Some genetic information may be commercial available some time next year. Gene mapping isn't related to genetic modification.
The oil-palm genome consists of around 1.8 billion base pairs, the building blocks of DNA, close to four times the size of the rice genome.
The government-run board is working with South Korea's Macrogen Inc., U.S.-based Orion Genomics LLC and the U.K.'s Oxford Gene Technology IP Ltd. to complete the sequence and apply the research.
Write to Sameer Mohindru at

Is China really going green?

Camels still plod the arid plains outside the ancient Silk Road city of Urumqi, their heads bowed into the gritty winds that funnel down the through the valleys of China's Tian Shan, or 'celestial' mountains.

By Peter Foster in Urumqi Last Updated: 11:06PM BST 03 May 2009

But today the same winds that struck fear into the traders of the Silk Road, swallowing whole caravans in blinding storms of dust, are being used to power plans for a new, green revolution for China's energy-hungry economy.
At Dabancheng, a few miles outside the city, great forests of windmills stretch to the horizon, their blades beating out a lazy rhythm that belies the sudden urgency with which China's rulers are now investing in renewable energy.

The speed with which China is now ramping up its commitment to alternative energies has caught even the most optimistic analysts by surprise, with new green edicts being issued from Beijing on an almost weekly basis.
Last week officials pledged to generate 100 gigawatts of electricity from wind power by 2020, more than tripling the original target of 30GW laid down in a national energy strategy published just 18 months ago.
"The pace of change is unimaginable from just three or four years ago," shouts Yan Weijiang, a director of the Xinjiang Wind Energy Company over the roar of the wind. "If you had talked to me in 2003 or 2004 I would not have believed this was possible."
Mr Yan, who started his career working in coal-fired electricity generation with the state giant PetroChina, said the introduction of a Renewable Energy Law in 2006 offering state subsidies for wind power had been the initial "game-changer" after years of slow growth.
Public attitudes in China towards the environment have also started to change. In the wind-fields of Dabancheng the first 13 windmills, bought from Denmark and erected in 1989, are now used primarily as a tourist attraction.
On the dusty road into Urumqi Chinese families stop to have their pictures taken in front of giant white propellers, and some newly married couples even come to the wind farms for their official wedding photographs.
"They're beautiful and they are also a sign of China's great progress and development," said Tang Qinghui, a tourist who had stopped to picture his wife and child with the turbines, "these windmills show a commitment to a new, cleaner future for our country."
Nuclear, solar and hydroelectricity are also being lined up for massive new investment through China's £400bn stimulus package, with 2020 targets for nuclear power raised from 40 gigawatts to 60 gigawatts, with some officials even talking of aiming for 70GW.
Investment is also being poured into China's electricity grid to enable more renewable sources to be connected, while planners say they want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 50 per cent by 2020.
After years in which China put economic growth before almost all environmental considerations, analysts now see a step-change in attitudes from the central government backed by hard cash and the raw political muscle of China's command economy.
"The old belief that China could follow the model of Western industrial nations by making a mess today and paying for the clean-up tomorrow now appears to be dead," said Yang Ailun, director of Greenpeace's climate and energy campaign in China.
"China's leaders now realise that for long-term growth to be sustainable they will have to both reduce power usage by finding greater efficiencies and boost the amount of renewable energy entering the national grid."
The desire to take a greener path is not confined to China's all-powerful government.
Activists say there is growing grass-roots support for change among the Chinese public, spurred by a growing realisation that ordinary people are paying a heavy price for China's old "dirty" development model.
Information is filtering into the wider public consciousness, as recently when the China Daily newspaper published research from the government's National Population and Family estimating that 10 per cent of birth defects in China were caused by pollution – or one million deformed babies every year.
"The public is now waking up to these problems," says Ma Jun, an environmental activist who runs a website naming and shaming companies and provincial governments that allow pollution, "and public pressure will be one of the most important drivers of change".
In Beijing he cites the efforts to clean up the air pollution ahead of last year's Olympic Games as just one example of how the Chinese public's mindset is rapidly changing.
After the games there were several popular campaigns by residents who had enjoyed clean air for the first time in a decade to keep polluting factories closed and retain traffic restrictions.
"People had come to accept that it was impossible to have blue skies over Beijing, but during the Olympics they suddenly saw that wasn't true. Now they don't want to go back to the old polluted ways," said Mr Ma.
Elsewhere in Beijing the government has installed solar panels to power street lights and, along the rooftops of the city's remaining courtyard houses can be seen the winding pipes of solar water heaters, yet further evidence of change.
The sheer size and speed of China's new green investment has provoked some soul-searching in America, the world's second largest polluter after China, where a series of reports have highlighted the discrepancies in spending.
According to a report by the Centre for American Progress, in 2009 and 2010 China will now spend more than six times America's green stimulus spending as a percentage of their respective economies – or £8.6m an hour.
However for all the headline-grabbing targets, sceptics argue that China best efforts will still not be enough to make a meaningful dent in absolute emissions.
Even if China achieves its target of 15 per cent renewable energy by 2020, projections show that energy demand will double in the same period leaving China still more than 70 per cent reliant on dirty coal-fired power stations.
Sceptics also point out that since China's provincial leaders are still assessed on the basis of economic rather than environmental criteria, leaving little incentive for them to embrace the new green orders of central government.
However, many international climate change analysts see new reasons for optimism. A report by the independent lobbyists The Climate Group says it believes that China could now achieve a "second, green miracle" to match the "economic miracle" of the last 20 years.
The key will be the power of China's government to force through green measures and absorb the financial losses of early investment in green technologies – wind power is currently twice as expensive as coal power – in a way that Western governments cannot.
The "litmus test", the report says, will be how soon after 2020 China can start to reduce absolute emissions and hit the global target of emitting two tons of CO2 per capita by 2050 – compared with 5.1 tons in China today, 8.6 tons in Europe and 19.4 tons in the US.
It will be a massive challenge, but this week further optimism was generated by reports that China's was, for the first time, actively considering setting emissions targets ahead of negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto treaty in Copenhagen later this year.
Although decisions have not been taken, analysts saw the reports as yet further evidence that China, after years of arguing that the West should clean up its own act before it took steps of its own, was preparing to take an unprecedented lead at Copenhagen.
"The fact that the country's leadership is now putting a focus on climate change... gives us great hope that China could achieve a second miracle 30 years from now by moving to a low carbon economy," wrote Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group.
"But this time, we believe that China will no longer be a developing country following where others have led, but a pioneer leading the way."

Renewable energy firm wants Scottish base

The Sunday Times
May 3, 2009
Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall Wind Power is hoping to set up UK headquarters in Edinburgh and increase workforce

Ian Fraser

Vattenfall Wind Power, the Swedish state-owned utility, is poised to establish its UK headquarters in Edinburgh later this year as it seeks to consolidate its position in Britain’s renewables sector.
The firm last week hired Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, the industry lobby group, to oversee its UK communications.
Ingegerd Bills, the Stockholm-based head of communications at Vattenfall, said it was too early to confirm the precise location of the new UK headquarters. But it is understood David Hodkinson, the managing director of Vattenfall, will relocate from Hexham for Amec Wind Energy in October and £51.5m the previous month for Lincolnshire-based Eclipse Energy UK.
Vattenfall has also formed a partnership with Iberdrola subsidiary Scottish Power Renewables to bid for offshore wind farms off the UK coast.
Vattenfall employs 30 people in the UK but Bills said this was likely to “grow considerably”, adding: “It is very early days for us”. Vattenfall aims to “become the fastest-growing wind energy company in northern Europe”, he said.

US wind sector impatient for stimulus funds

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: May 3 2009 20:36

Project delays and cancellations across the renewable energy industry mean that this year’s gathering at the world’s biggest annual wind energy conference and exhibition will be keen for word of stimulus funds to help get projects back on track.
Investment in renewables has been delayed or even withdrawn as the credit crisis has stemmed the flow of capital. The economic recession has cut into sales of clean technology, while plunging prices of oil and natural gas have rendered such projects less economically viable.

The Obama administration’s economic stimulus package includes $56bn in grants and tax breaks for US clean energy projects over the next 10 years and a budget of $15bn a year to fund renewable energy programmes.
Yet the US government has not worked out how to deliver those funds; none of that money has been seen by the wind-power industry.
Many in the sector do not have the certainty they would like that they will be recipients, said Rob Gramlich, policy director of the American Wind Energy Association, which is organising this week’s conference in Chicago.
He said: “There is cautious optimism now that could turn to nervousness unless the industry sees the actual dollars start flowing”.
That issue is expected to be addressed by Ken Salazar, secretary of the US Department of the Interior, a keynote speaker at the forum.
Other speakers include Vic Abate, vice president for Renewables at GE Energy; Ditlev Engel, president and chief executive of Vestas Wind Systems; Michael Polsky, of Invenergy; Don Furman, senior vice president of development, transmission and policy at Iberdrola Renewables; and General Wesley Clark, chairman of Emergya Wind Technologies Americas.
Interest in wind energy in the US has been stoked in part by T. Boone Pickens, the oilman who has made giving the US an alternative to importing fossil fuels a personal mission.
He has formed Mesa Power to build the world’s biggest wind farm in Texas, with 2,700 turbines generating enough power for 1m US homes. And while he has “lost some people” with the downturn, turbines are due for delivery in 2011.
He said: “We have not lost any enthusiasm”.
Even with dire economic conditions, the wind energy industry installed more than 2,800MW of US generating capacity in the first quarter of this year, with projects completed in 15 states.
Denise Bode, AWEA chief executive said: “These brand-new wind projects shine a ray of hope on our economy today. But the nation still lacks the long-term signal that is needed to build up renewable energy on a large scale.”
That would come with a Renewable Electricity Standard, which the industry wants Congress to pass, requiring utilities to generate 25 per cent of their power from renewables by 2025. That would support massive growth of wind energy in the US.
Wind energy meets only about 1 per cent of US energy needs. Yet the desire to increase that capacity is apparent – attendance at the AWEA conference is expected to be about 20,000, up from 13,000 last year.
GE’s Mr Abate said customers for his company’s wind turbines were not cancelling orders but rather postponing them, underlining that they still believed in wind.
Yet, he added, the industry was growing impatient for stimulus funds. After all, he noted, of the 21 financial institutions that GE Energy had as partners on wind projects before the crisis, only four remained.
Mr Abate said: “There is definitely a sense of urgency on behalf of the industry to get the money out. To date, not a dime has reached our customers.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Pickens on the stump to raise the wind

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: May 3 2009 20:26

It has been less than a year since T Boone Pickens unveiled his “Pickens Plan’’, urging the US to embrace wind energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
In those 10 months, the 80-year-old Mr Pickens has made 113 trips to 60 cities across America, hosted 22 town halls, and met local and national leaders.

He is calling on the US to use wind to generate the 22 per cent of the nation's electricity now powered by natural gas. That would free natural gas to be used as a fuel for transport and reduce US dependence on foreign oil.
Mr Pickens said: “I’m for anything that’s American – drilling, nuclear, wind. You’ve got to get some plan going.’’
He believes the election as US president of Barack Obama, who supports alternative energy, sets the stage for his plan.
In an email to supporters on April 29 he wrote: “For four decades, every US president has promised to make US energy independent, but it hasn’t happened. President Obama knows that, and he has made reducing our oil imports a priority.
“Let’s give him credit – in the midst of the recession and all that entails, the president hasn’t let energy fall by the legislative wayside.’’
Mr Pickens said there was legislation working through Congress to make natural gas a leading transport fuel, for a 21st century transmission grid, to promote energy efficiency, to increase US wind and solar capabilities and adopt a renewable electricity standard requiring utilities generate a percentage of their power from renewables.
He said: “This year will be the landmark year for energy in the US”.
His own contribution to the cause will be highlighted this week at the wind power conference in Chicago.
He has kept interest in wind energy alive with regular emails to the 1.5m people who have signed up on his website, whom he calls his “army’’. He organises virtual “marches’’ on Washington and runs television advertisements stressing America’s oil addiction is threatening its economy, environment and national security.
In 1970, he says, the US imported 24 per cent of its oil versus nearly 70 per cent today. Mr Pickens says he cannot go anywhere without Americans thanking him for his efforts to reduce that dependency. “I’m not kidding myself. I’m no fool. I think there’s a tremendous amount of interest.’’
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009