Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Polluted land: in the oil zone of Nigeria's Ogoniland

John Vidal
The Guardian, Wednesday 27 May 2009

To reach the oil spill near the village of Otuegwe 1, we had to swim through swamp forest after a ­five-mile tramp through cassava plantations. We smelt it first – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation. Hundreds of hectares of forest were dead, and pools of crude oil spilled out in every direction.
Chief Promise, who swam with us, angrily rejected Shell's allegation that the spill had occurred because of ­sabotage. "People died, hundreds of people were ill," he said. "Nets, fishing pots, huts were lost. This is where we fish and farm. We have lost our forest."
This was Ogoniland nearly 10 years ago. Shell cleaned that spill up and gave the community cash and a water purification unit, but millions of cubic metres of gas are still burned off every year here, and tens of thousands of gallons of oil are spilled into the environment. Night in the delta for many communities is a lurid red from the ­flaring. The creeks are polluted, there are fewer fish and the land is degraded.
This is the backdrop to the case coming to court . Between 1960 and 1993 Shell extracted more than 900m barrels of oil from beneath the small, fertile 400-square-mile area called Ogoniland, in the Niger delta. But the 500,000 people who survived there, farming and fishing, were ­living in abject poverty, poor health and deteriorating conditions.
Decades of oil exploration and production brought not wealth, as people in the delta had been promised, but an ecological wasteland with devastated schools and non-existent healthcare.
As Saro-Wiwa himself put it: "Streams and creek are totally and continually polluted, the atmosphere has been poisoned, acid rain, oil spillages, gas flaring and blowouts have devastated Ogoni territory."

To Gauge Oil Savings, Economists Road Test the 'Rebound Effect'


When President Barack Obama announced tougher fuel-efficiency standards for new cars last week, he emphasized the potential reduction in oil demand. But what if drivers who find that they can go longer on a tank of gas drive more? Would all that additional driving cancel out the environmental benefits the Obama administration is seeking?
Most economists who have studied this so-called rebound effect say the answer is no, though they differ somewhat on how much of the gasoline savings would be burnt up by an increase in driving. The Environmental Protection Agency is predicting a rebound effect of 5%. That means that drivers who trade in a 20-mpg sedan for a 25-mpg model will partially offset the fuel savings by, on average, driving 1% more.
Just two months earlier, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the rebound effect would be 15%. While the 5% figure yields a more impressive fuel-savings projection -- 1.8 billion barrels of oil -- than the larger rebound effect would have, it also reflects the latest research, which suggests the rebound effect is dropping. That's because Americans' income is expected to rise faster than gas prices, making the time spent in a car loom larger in economic decisions than the cost of fuel.

The debate over the rebound effect is just one of the numerical complexities surrounding the new rules. The requirement that vehicles reach a fuel efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 covers cars sold in that year; there is no way to know what the mix of cars on the road will be then. And the new requirements are expected to boost new vehicle prices, which could keep drivers in gas guzzlers longer.
The EPA has yet to say how it arrived at a projected savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil under the new mileage rules.
But some scientists who have studied the issue recently say the EPA's 5% figure is largely consistent with their findings. Kenneth Small, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, and Kurt Van Dender, an economist for the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, examined gasoline prices, fuel efficiency and miles driven, by state, from 1966 to 2001.
Unlike most previous studies, their work didn't assume the rebound effect was constant. And they found it dropped sharply in the last decade, perhaps because rising incomes and increases in traffic reduced drivers' appetite to spend time on the road.
Based on government projections of gasoline prices and income, the Small-Van Dender model predicts a minuscule rebound effect, possibly even less than 5%, by the time the cars affected by the proposed Obama rules go on sale.
David Greene, a senior scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has studied the rebound effect for the EPA using federal data, and his work, so far unpublished, largely corroborates the Small-Van Dender study. "Somewhere between 5% and 10% for the future, assuming continued income growth, is probably where we are," Dr. Greene says.
It is hard to know just what rebound effect to expect from the new rules. Surveys asking drivers how they have behaved and will behave have produced wide-ranging results, which isn't surprising given the difficulties individuals have recalling and predicting their economic life. And no one has conducted a study tracking individual drivers over many years.
Also, drivers' reactions to fuel costs include small, short-term effects, such as skipping a road trip because of high gasoline prices, and long-term decisions, such as choosing a job with a longer commute because of greater fuel efficiency. And separating the two effects is difficult.
Dr. Small and Dr. Greene initially assumed that drivers would have the same reaction to cost savings from lower gasoline prices as they do from better fuel economy. But when they put that theory to the test, they found no evidence of a rebound effect tied to fuel-economy gains. That could just mean they need more data. If there really is no rebound effect, however, that would lead to even more oil savings than what the Obama administration is forecasting.
Why might drivers react differently to fuel efficiency than to gas prices? Perhaps because the uncertainty of gasoline prices, and the constant roadside reminders, elicit stronger reactions in drivers than fuel efficiency gained or lost.
Dr. Greene has another theory. As Mr. Obama acknowledged, cars get more expensive when their manufacturers must meet tougher standards. "Maybe what we're seeing," says Dr. Greene, "is that the increased cost of vehicles has compensated for higher fuel economy."

Write to Carl Bialik at

Smart choice for commuting eco warriors

Published Date: 27 May 2009
By Steve Walker

THE internal combustion engine has been the lynchpin of the automotive industry from the word go and it's hard to envisage a time when it won't be.
The problem, however, is pollution, greenhouse effects, and rising sea levels. So what's the alternative? The simple answer is that we don't have a viable one, yet. Although cars like the smart fortwo ed are attempting to change that. The fortwo ed is an electric car. Not a hybrid which uses a combination of electric motor and internal combustion engine or a fuel cell car, which uses hydrogen fuel cells to produce electricity to drive an electric motor but an electric car with a battery charged from an external power source driving an electric motor. Milk floats, golf carts, the Sinclair C5, these are the electric car's inauspicious ancestors but things have taken a turn for the better in recent times with the likes of the GWizz, the Tesla sportscar and the smart ed. The tailpipe emissions are zero and the ownership experience might not be the nightmare you imagine.The electric motor in the smart produces 30kW of power that translates to 41bhp. That's not a lot for a modern car but electric motors make up for their lack of top end by having their torque instantly available from a standing start. This helps the ed reach 30mph in 6.5 seconds. The maximum speed is limited to 60mph, so journeys out of the city are possible but a range of 70 miles means they'll require careful planning.The smart fortwo's single most annoying feature has long been its sequential gearbox. Being electric, however, the ed does away with a conventional gearbox in favour of a straightforward choice between forward and reverse. Elsewhere, the smart's driving characteristics are well suited to the city with a turning circle so tight it appears to raise the very real possibility of the car rear ending itself. It's also possible to fit a pair of smarts into one conventional parking space.Ignore the electric powertrain and the fortwo ed is basically a smart fortwo city car. If you want to drive an eco-car that screams its green credentials at the world with spaceship styling, the ed won't tick your boxes. To charge it, owners plug it into a conventional 230-volt electrical socket, the lead being concealed behind the fuel filler cap.There isn't a lot of space inside but the smart's funky cabin design feels fresh and youthful. The rev counter is replaced by a charge level indicator dial which can be rotated through 90 degrees so you can read it from outside the car while it's charging. Getting the sodium-nickle chloride battery up to 80 per cent capacity takes around four hours and a full charge takes eight hours, so it's possible to get it done overnight. The smart ed is only available to blue chip companies and local authorities who lease them from Mercedes-Benz, smart's parent company. They are out on UK roads now, however, which is further than most would-be electric car makers have got with their projects. Should the trial period go well, the ed will go on general sale in the next couple of years but by that time, it's likely to have a few viable rivals to contend with. The environmental impact of the fortwo ed hinges on where its electricity comes from. If it's charged from a wind turbine in its owner's back garden, it becomes a genuinely zero emissions vehicle. If it's plugged into a household electrical socket and charged with energy made at a coal-fired power station, it's less of a green option. What can't be disputed is the cost. The ed can do 300 miles for the price of a gallon of petrol. OK, it'll need recharging five times to do it but at that price, who cares?In addition to the fuel cost savings, there are all kinds of incentives around designed to promote the use of electric cars. Owners of the smart ed would be exempt from vehicle excise duty and they'd also get a preferential company car tax rate. Further advantages are to be gleaned from the reduction in maintenance costs associated with an electric powertrain that requires no oil, filters, spark plugs or other consumables. The battery is maintenance free, can be recharged at least 1,000 times and has a ten-year lifespan.There's life in the old internal combustion engine yet but even the most committed petrolhead would have to admit there's a place for electric cars out there. The smart ed is one of the most thoroughly developed electric vehicles yet and while it has obvious drawbacks in terms of its range and lengthy recharging process, the cost savings and potential environmental benefits are major. A network of recharging points in car parks and service stations would be needed for vehicles like the smart ed to really take off. The smart ed appears to have the basics just about right, though, and in urban areas particularly, it makes real sense.

White roofs and 'cool' cars - Obama's US energy secretary gives Prince Charles tips on tackling climate change

Reflecting sunlight on buildings and cars among dozens of ideas considered by Steven Chu and the US energy department

John Vidal, environment editor, Tuesday 26 May 2009 17.43 BST

People should paint their roofs white and drive "cool" cars on pale-coloured roads to avoid devastating climate change, US energy secretary and Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu has advised Prince Charles and a group of 19 other laureates meeting in London today.
The measures, which would reflect sunlight and enable buildings and automobiles to stay cooler and use less energy in summer, are some of dozens that Chu and the US energy department are considering for the "revolution" which he said was needed in the US, Europe and around the world to address global warming.
"Yes, make people paint their roofs white. I think white is pretty. If all vehicles used cool colours then they could cut down the air conditioning and we would have a great reduction in energy," he said at the start of a three-day climate change symposium hosted by Prince Charles and attended by peace, literature, chemistry and physics laureates as well as 40 other senior scientists.
"This is a crisis. It's very serious. The earth will continue to warm up, even if we turned off energy use today. The carbon up there stays there for hundreds of years," said Chu, who has argued that coal is a "nightmare" and that science must be harnessed urgently to save the world from global warming.
"The industrial revolution was a revolution in the use of energy. It offloaded from human and animal power into using fossil fuels. We have to go to a new revolution that can severely decrease the amount of carbon emissions in the generation of energy," he said.
In less than six months Chu has transformed the US energy department from being driven by oil interests asunder President Bush's administration, to one which is now turning dramatically to renewable energy.
But he would not be drawn on the eventual cuts in greenhouse gas emissions which the US will adopt.
"Whether it is 17%, 20% or 25% [is not so important now]. There's an obsession with these percentages. But it's really important ... we get started. The US wants to decarbonise as swiftly as possible. We will go as fast as we can. I will do everything in my power to push the technologies."
He said he expected America to act before China in the run-up to the crucial UN climate change talks in Copenhagen in December. "I remain optimistic. The US should act first. Using China as an excuse not to act is no longer [appropriate]. If the US does act, we hope China will follow. The Chinese leadership knows about the consequences of climate change," he said.
But he warned against expecting too much of the US too soon. "We have to make a transition. If one does this very suddenly then there would be huge disruption. You need a lot of incentives, and some regulation. There is not one single policy that will save us."
Chu proposed that small teams of the best US scientists explore radical ways to reduce carbon in the economy. The targets for research include a new generation of nuclear power stations, a "smart" electricity grid, improved battery technologies, new energy standards, electric cars and highly efficient buildings.
The Obama administration today committed billions of dollars to improve the energy efficiency of homes and government buildings.
But Chu played down suggestions that it was was considering large-scale "geo-engineering" technologies like mirrors in space to reduce emissions.
The President of the Royal Society Lord Martin Rees, who was also at the symposium, said: "We need a completely new kind of energy economy that reduces dependency on fossil fuels. One species has the future of the planet in its hands. The best possible science should be employed to find the solutions. In buildings you can reduce energy consumption by 80% in a way that can pay for itself in 15 years — that is free money."

US steelworkers form unlikely alliance as renewables reinvigorate rustbelt

Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania look to electric cars, solar and wind power after death of coal and steel industries

Suzanne Goldenberg in Pennsylvania, Tuesday 26 May 2009 15.18 BST

It may seem like a stretch to call Jack Bernat, who spends his off-duty hours collecting and lovingly restoring muscle cars of the 1980s, an environmentalist.
But then trace back a working life spent chasing after the vanishing jobs in Pennsylvania's steel industry. In his 35 years in the workforce, Bernat endured lay-offs and shut-downs, scrambled for part-time and temporary work, and took jobs far from home.
Now the former steelworker is hoping he has at last found a job with a future, putting the finishing touches to the giant fibreglass blades for wind turbines produced by the Spanish firm, Gamesa.
"My biggest concern is not to have happening to this generation what happened to mine — where you end up 10 years here, 10 years there, and then you are like me 54 years old, and five different careers and no seniority anywhere," said Bernat, who heads the chapter of the United Steelworkers of America union at the wind turbine plant. "I want to see the longevity of this thing."
Those hopes provide a powerful impetus for an alliance between the environmental and labour movements that could prove critical to the course of Barack Obama's hopes to transform America's energy economy.
The convergence of interests between greens and labour has grown stronger as Congress takes up climate change legislation. The house of representatives passed a key cap-and-trade bill through committee last week , despite Republican opposition.
Last month, the steel and communications workers unions teamed up with environmental campaigners at the Sierra Club to campaign jointly for climate change and a workers' rights bill. The Sierra Club urged its members to support a bill before Congress that would remove obstacles to forming a union. Foster's group, meanwhile, has spent $500,000 on ads in support of the climate change bill.
Repower America, a pressure group backed by Al Gore, has also begun reaching out to workers this month, hosting meetings at union halls across the midwest.
Labour leaders say the new concern for the environment is just sound economic sense. In Pennsylvania, where state authorities worked hard to bring in renewable energy companies, the arrival of plants like Gamesa are beginning to transform the landscape. A state once defined by 19th century red brick industrial buildings and an orange glow from steel works has given way to wind turbines in cornfields and on mountain tops.
Unions do not want their members left behind by the next wave of changes, ushered in by Obama.
"The decisions that Congress is making on climate change are going to set the direction of the world economy for the next 20 years," said David Foster, a former midwest regional director of the steelworkers' union who now heads the Blue-Green Alliance of labour and environmental groups. "This is the only kind of focused economic activity that is large enough and sustained enough to be the fulcrum of the entire economy."
Obama put the promise of "green jobs" at the heart of his economic recovery plan, and a $4bn investment in work to increase the energy efficiency of buildings is announced today. About half of that money should be dispersed by next month, Van Jones, the White House adviser on green jobs, told the Guardian. Each week sees the president or one of his officials touring a wind turbine factory or a hybrid vehicle plant in a bit of political theatre meant to make the public more comfortable with industries that seem strange to many Americans.
The familiarisation tour is critical to Obama's efforts to advance an agenda that links economic recovery to energy and environmental reforms that would cut America's use of fossil fuels, and get the world to sign on to a climate change treaty.
Companies like Gamesa argue that that's a natural alliance. "It's the end of false choices that you choose between a job and the environment," said Michael Peck, a Gamesa spokesman who has also been the architect of alliances between environmentalists and organised labour. "What the nation is beginning to understand is that you can have both. You can have a clean environment and a well paying job."
Some workers agree. Troy Gallawoy, a former steelworker who headed Gamesa's union before Bernat, said he was as never proud to work in the mills as he is at the Gamesa plant. "It's not only a good job, it's a feel-good job knowing you are doing something for the environment," he said. "I'm not one of those tree huggers but the environment has always been very important to me."
But even supporters of Obama's agenda admit it is hard to get American workers to set aside the stereotype that environmental concerns are a preserve of the rich.
"No 55-year-old wants to be told they have to go back for an exotic five-year training programme. They have been an electrician and carpenter all their life and they want to find out they can put those skills back to work," said Foster.
The White House claims its green jobs plan is doing exactly that, creating jobs for carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
Van Jones claims that, over the long-term, the renewable energy industry could reinvigorate the old rust belt states such as Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have seen the slow death of the coal, steel, and manufacturing industries. Those states have large pools of trained engineers and skilled manufacturing workers, expertise that Jones believes could easily translate into jobs building solar panels, batteries for electric cars and wind turbines.
"We can start to fill in the hole that has been left in our manufacturing base," said Jones. "The great thing about green jobs is that a lot of them are blue collar jobs that have been upgraded and upskilled to protect the environment."
In this part of central Pennsylvania, it's a huge hole to fill. In Johnstown, the nearest big town to the Gamesa plant, there were once nearly 20,000 steel jobs, in a town whose population today is barely 23,000. The Gamesa plant currently employs about 300. Orders are down because of the economic downturn, and there have been lay-offs at a sister facility near Philadelphia.
The new green jobs, even if they are union jobs like at Gamesa, are never going to match the payscales from the heyday of steel. In 1977, Bernat was making $12 an hour, and a brand-new pickup truck was $6,100. Now, he says, he makes $13.48 an hour and a new model pick-up truck would be about $25,000.
But for some of the people who work there, Gamesa's arrival was salvation. More than 3,000 people applied for jobs when Gamesa first came to town, and a significant share were out of work, town officials said.
One of them, manufacturing manager Joe Satkovich, was closing down the garment factory where he used to work when he heard Gamesa was about to begin production in the US.
"They saved my life. I was looking for a job at 52 years of age," he said. "To close that plant was pretty devastating. It was like a divorce. This just turned my life around."
Three years later, Satkovich counts himself someone who has gone from a general lack of concern about the environment to a keen awareness of global warming.
"It's changed my perspective on everything on the environment," he said. He said his father, who spent 30 years as a coal miner, would be an environmentalist too, if he were alive today. "He would be saying the same thing: you do what you have to do. In that time there was coal and steel."
But for all his enthusiasm, Satkovich is not yet convinced that the time has truly arrived for wind power. "Probably notin my lifetime. Maybe in my son's or my son's son's working lifetime," he said. "I hope so."

UK behind US and India on renewable energy spending

By Fiona Harvey and Lina Saigol
Published: May 26 2009 18:06

The UK is lagging behind on renewable energy investment, with fewer investors willing to take a risk on the market.
Only 13 per cent of energy companies around the world, and 23 per cent of those in the UK, said they would invest in the UK in the next 12 months, according to a global survey of 200 senior energy executives carried out by KPMG, the consultancy.

More popular destinations for renewable energy investment were the US, where 42 per cent of respondents said they planned to invest, and India, which was targeted by nearly a quarter.
But in spite of their current unwillingness to invest in the UK, managers in energy companies in Britain are more bullish on the prospects for renewables than those in other countries, according to the poll findings.
More than eight in 10 UK managers predict significant growth in onshore wind next year, and more than six in 10 predict similar growth in offshore wind, compared with 62 per cent and 38 per cent respectively in the rest of the world.
No UK companies surveyed were planning to put new projects on hold as a result of the current economic turmoil. By contrast, a quarter of respondents globally expected to delay projects.
Half of those polled in the UK forecast increased interest in the low-carbon market from infrastructure funds and other financial operators, compared with slightly more than a third globally.
The prospect of an eventual recovery in renewable energy deals in the UK comes amid a collapse in the volume of deal activity across the board.
There have been just 756 deals with a total value of $54.7bn (£34.4bn) in the UK in the year to date. That compares with 1,542 deals worth $121.1bn for the same period last year, according to data from Dealogic.
Last year, there were four deals in the renewable energy sector in the UK, worth $239m in the year to date.
Some established low-carbon sectors are returning to fashion. Brett Olsher, co-head of global M&A at Deutsche Bank, said: “In the UK, we’ve already seen high levels of M&A activity in the nuclear energy space.
“This is where the development has been, and will continue to be in the medium term. Traditionally, nuclear has been a space that’s been dominated by European investors, and that’s likely to remain unchanged.”
Andy Cox, senior M&A partner at KPMG, said companies were still eager to pick up opportunities in the renewable energy market, but were becoming more discriminating in their choices.
“There are lots of assets around but people are being more choosy,” he said.
For instance, during the renewable energy boom of the past few years, companies were willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for renewable energy assets – mainly wind farms – that had not yet been built.
Now, buyers are no longer prepared to shell out for development pipelines, but are looking for operational wind farm assets, according to Mr Cox.
“There is still a gap in price expectation between buyers and sellers and that is why some deals are breaking down,” he added.
Sellers under the impression their uncompleted projects can fetch high prices would have to readjust their expectations sharply, he said.
Mr Cox predicted more consolidation among small wind farm developers, which will find it more difficult to raise cash without onerous lending conditions.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Concentrated solar power could generate 'quarter of world's energy'

Industry groups call for solar thermal technology to expand in 'sun belt' around world as Spain leads the field

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Tuesday 26 May 2009 16.57 BST

Solar power stations that concentrate sunlight could generate up to one-quarter of the world's electricity needs by 2050, according to a study by environmental and solar industry groups. The technology, best suited to the desert regions of the world, could also create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and save millions of tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) uses mirrors to focus sunlight onto water. This produces steam that can then turn turbines and generate electricity. It differs from photovoltaics, which use solar panels to turn sunlight directly into electricity and can operate even on overcast days. CSP only works in places where there are many days with clear skies and is a proven, reliable technology.
At the end of 2008 CSP capacity was around 430MW, and worldwide investment in the technology will reach
€2bn (£1.8bn) this year, according to Sven Teske of Greenpeace International and co-author of the report. He said investment could increase, under a relatively moderate scenario, to €11.1bn by 2010 and provide 7% of the world's generating capacity by 2030. By 2050 investment could reach €92.5bn, creating almost 2m jobs by 2050 and saving 2.1bn tonnes of CO2 every year.
"Due to the feed-in tariff in Spain and a few schemes in the US, this technology is actually taking off and we wanted to highlight that we have a third big technology to fight climate change — wind, photovoltaics and now CSP," said Teske.
Spain is leading the field on CSP: more than 50 solar projects in the country have been approved for construction by the government and, by 2015, it will generate more than 2GW of power from CSP, comfortably exceeding current national targets. Spanish companies are also exporting their technology around the world.
Environmentalists argue that many countries in the "sun-belt" around the equator would benefit from CSP technology — including desert regions in the southern United States, north Africa, Mexico, China and India.
The new study, carried out by Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association and the International Energy Agency's (IEA) SolarPACES group, looked at three scenarios of future growth in CSP. The first was business-as-usual reference scenario that assumed no increases at all in CSP; the second continued the CSP investments seen in recent years in places such as Spain and the US; while the advanced scenario was most optimistic, removing all political and investment barriers to give figures for the true potential of CSP.
Under the third, most optimistic, scenario there could be a giant surge in investments to €21bn a year by 2015 and €174bn a year by 2050, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. In this case, solar plants would have installed capacity of 1,500GW by 2050 and provide 25% of the world's electricity capacity. Even in the second scenario, which sees only modest increases, the world's combined CSP capacity could reach 830GW by 2050, representing up to 12% of the world's energy generation needs.
Teske acknowledged that these estimates were far higher than official figures from the IEA. It says that by 2050, CSP would provide only0.2% of global power generation. But Teske added that the IEA analysis does not assume any increases in production capacity in the next few decades, hence CSP forms a very small part of the overall energy mix.
The new report also said that CSP technology was improving rapidly, with many new power plants fitted with storage systems for steam so that they could continue to operate at night. In addition it said the cost of the electricity produced , currently at €0.15 to €0.23 a kilowatt, would fall to €0.10-€0.14 by 2020 if governments continued to support the technology with incentives such as feed-in tarriffs.

China's new faith in solar energy projects is hailed by environmentalists as a milestone

Huge investment plan aims to make country a world leader in renewables

Jonathan Wattas in Wuwei, Tuesday 26 May 2009 22.48 BST

Deep in the deserts of Gansu province, in an area declared off-limits by Chinese state security, is a clean, hi-tech vision of the country's energy future.
Set among the pale yellow dunes are seven banks of dark blue photovoltaic panels that stretch the length of a running track.
Together they comprise the biggest desert solar power plant in China and the largest test case of a technology that is about to get a massive boost from the central government.
The national energy bureau has finalised a solar energy promotion plan that aims to make China a leading global harvester of the world's most abundant energy source.
In the coming weeks, it is expected to announce a package of hundreds of billions of yuan of incentives from the government's 4tr yuan stimulus fund. Environmentalists are already describing the solar stimulus plan as a milestone for renewable energy.
While China's dependency on coal is unlikely to change for decades, senior scientists have told the Guardian that solar is the key to the long-term energy security of a country that has many of the world's biggest deserts.
"Solar is most important for the future of China," said Professor Can Li, head of the recently established National Laboratory for Clean Energy. "We have a lot of land that is not suitable for farming. Gansu and Xinjiang are all desert. We estimate that if we covered a third-to-half of the area in solar cells and caught only a tenth of the energy, then we would be able to meet the current energy requirements of the whole country."
The closest this vision has come to being realised is the solar farm completed last year outside Wuwei city in Gansu, behind a zoo and breeding centre for endangered animals.
Although the company that runs the plant gave the Guardian permission to visit, the staff at the centre said state security forbade entry to unaccompanied foreign journalists.
We were allowed, however, to visit the zoo. At the back, between dozing Bactrian camels and half a dozen Przewalski's horses, the solar panels were visible along with advanced wind-lens turbines that are three times more efficient than conventional ones.
Huatang, a subsidiary of one of China's five biggest utilities, has invested 28m yuan in the project, along with a 12m yuan research grant from the government. Wuwei's municipal government provided free land.
"For us, this is just the beginning phase for solar power," said Lu Ning, one of the project managers at the company's headquarters in Lanzhou, the provincial capital. "This is [just] a sample to show that we have entered the market."
The Wuwei facility generates 500 kilowatt hours of electricity. It is not the biggest solar plant in China, but it is the first on such a scale to be tested in desert conditions and linked to the grid.
Dust and fierce winds cover and scratch the panels, reducing efficiency by between 5% and 15%, but the scientists involved in the project say it remains a success.
Gansu has recently accepted bids to build a far bigger solar PV plant that has been approved at Dunhuang. With a 10 megawatts capacity, it will be one of the biggest in the world, but not for long.
Reports of new solar plants appear with increasing frequency in the domestic media. In the past year, Gansu, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia have all declared their intention to build solar power stations of 20MW or more. Their success will depend largely on the amount of government support they get.
Solar electricity generation costs are about 10 times higher than for coal. But the price is falling fast. Wuwei generates electricity for 3 yuan a kilowatt, more than 20 times cheaper than expected thanks to a sharp fall in the cost of photo­voltaic cells. When Dunhuang is completed, experts say the price could fall to less than 1 yuan. Between 2015 and 2020, solar energy prices could reach grid parity with coal-fired power.
Renewable energy production is surging forward in China under a government plan to use clean sources for 15% of the country's energy by 2020. Wind power has benefited most, doubling every year since 2004. In the area of solar water heaters, China has become a world leader.
Until now, lack of government support and the high price of the silicon-based cells has meant photovoltaic energy for the grid has lagged behind. Although Suntech and other major firms help China to manufacture more panels than any other country, more than 95% of their products are exported.
This is about to change dramatically. Earlier this year, Jiangsu province – the home of Suntech – announced 1bn yuan of incentives aimed at building up solar energy generation capacity to 260MW by 2011. This is astonishingly ambitious given the target for the entire nation next year is 300MW.
It is just the start. According to Can, about 10 local governments in China have submitted plants for solar energy plants in the expectation of the central government stepping in.
Environmentalists say the infusion of extra funds will help to build up the domestic market.
But Can cautions against over-expectations. While the sun's power will be tapped like never before, he said it will be a long time before the deserts of Gansu are covered in photovoltaic cells.

China puts its faith in solar power with huge renewable energy investment

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Tuesday 26 May 2009 21.57 BST

China is to throw its economic might behind a national solar power plan that could result in it becoming one of the world's biggest harvesters of the sun's energy.
The government body responsible for overseeing energy policy has ­finalised a proposal for billions of pounds of ­incentives for solar farms and rooftop panels, which will come from the government's £400bn economic stimulus fund.
Once approved by the state ­council, it is expected to give a boost to the ­domestic solar power market, which has lagged behind China's wind, nuclear and hydroelectric power investments. "This is extremely important. It's a milestone," said Chen Dongmei, director of climate change and energy at the WWF's China office.
China is the world's leading ­manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) panels, which turn sunlight into electricity. But 95% of these are exported.
While solar thermal power, in which sunlight heats water, is in widespread use, the central government and the five major utilities have deemed PV power too ­expensive, particularly compared with coal, which generates ­electricity for between an eighth and a tenth of the cost.
But the global economic crisis and ­increasing concerns about climate change and energy security have prompted a change in attitudes.
Since last year, a glut in supply of PV panels has pushed prices down by more than 30%, cutting ­profits of domestic manufacturers such as Suntech.
To support them and widen the ­country's energy base, the plan is expected to include the biggest ever boost for solar power, along with extra spending and ­policy support for nuclear, wind and ­biomass power.
By 2020, the government is committed to raising the share of ­renewable energy ­(excluding hydroelectric power) in the energy mix to 6%, from the current 1.5%.
Many local governments in "sunshine regions" such as Gansu, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia are already pushing ahead.
According to Li Shimin of the Solar Energy Centre in Gansu, at least 10 solar farms are under construction or in the process of securing approval.
The biggest of those approved so far is in Dunhuang, which will have a 10 MW capacity.
Earlier this year, Jiangsu province – the home of Suntech – announced 1bn yuan (£92bn) of incentives aimed at building solar energy generation capacity to 260 MW megawatts by 2011.
This is extremely ambitious given that the target for the entire country next year is 300 megawatts.
Julian Wong, an energy analyst based in Washington , said 2009 was shaping up to be the year of solar power in China.
"The unique confluence of lower ­productions costs and decreased ­overseas demand means the cost of going solar is lower than ever and makes it an opportune time to make a policy push for domestic solar deployment," he noted in a recent report.
Despite the infusion of cash and ­government support for renewable sources of energy, China is expected to remain dependent on coal for about 70% of its energy needs for at least the next two ­decades, meaning it will remain the world's biggest emitter of CO2, a major greenhouse gas.

Solar power should replace wind energy, says Jack Steinberger

The Times
May 27, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Europe should scrap its support for wind energy as soon as possible to focus on far more efficient emerging forms of clean power generation including solar thermal energy, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists said yesterday.
Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind represented an illusory technology — a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battle against climate change.
“Wind is not the future,” he told the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society. Instead, he said, technologies such as solar thermal power — for which parabolic mirrors reflect the Sun’s rays to generate heat and electricity — represent a more promising way of supplanting fossil fuels. “I am certain that the energy of the future is going to be thermal solar,” he told The Times. “There is nothing comparable. The sooner we focus on it the better.”
Professor Steinberger said that all known reserves of fossil fuels would be depleted within 60 years and that a network of solar energy farms in the Sahara could reliably supply nearly 80 per cent of Europe’s energy needs by the middle of this century.

He called for European governments to fund a big pilot project in North Africa linked to Europe via high-voltage undersea cables. Solar thermal power was already economic and on the brink of big advances that would place it way ahead of rival forms of wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, he said. “Governments need to focus on this area right now.”
A 3-3.5 gigawatt solar thermal project in North Africa, which would generate enough electricity to supply two million homes, would cost £20 billion to build. “I am certain you could make electricity and ship it to Europe at a price equivalent to fossil fuels.”
He said that intermittent energy sources, such as wind, required back-up power generation, which undermined their contribution to emissions reductions. In contrast, solar thermal power could generate heat energy that could reliably generate 24-hour electricity.
Britain has made wind energy a priority in reducing carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020. The Government plans to build 33 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2020, which the professional services organisation Ernst & Young estimates will cost more than £100 billion.
Professor Steinberger said that it would cost about £440 billion and take 30 years for Europe to remove its reliance on fossil fuels, which supply 80 per cent of its energy needs, but that governments needed to make bold decisions about which technologies to support.
Commercial-scale solar thermal power plants were operating in Spain, the US and Germany, but further research was needed to refine the technology and cut costs, he said. For example, no consensus had yet emerged over the most efficient design of mirror to use, or over the nature of the “thermal vector” — the heatable material that the sun’s rays are reflected on to in the process of power generation.
Professor Burton Richter, from Stanford University in California, said that solar thermal power was one of the most exciting new energy technologies but said that wind had its place.
•China is planning to launch a national solar energy plan worth billions of pounds which could see the country become one of the world’s biggest harvesters of solar energy.
The Government’s economic stimulus package would fund incentives for solar farms and rooftop panels, it was reported last night. China is the world’s leading manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, but 95 per cent of these are exported. The economic slowdown has pushed prices for PV panels down by 30 per cent.

Low-carbon technology centre gets 3m funds boost

Published Date: 27 May 2009
By Erikka Askeland

A RENEWABLE technology test centre in East Kilbride has secured 3 million (about £2.6m) in European funding to showcase low-carbon construction methods to Scottish companies.
The Energy Technology Centre is set to double in size, using new building materials and energy efficient LED lighting. Enterprise minister Jim Mather, who announced the EU Regain funding yesterday, said: "This project will help us test and market energy efficiency and low-carbon innovations for the built environment, helping us another step towards the goal of becoming the green energy capital of Europe."Terry Hogg, the project manager for Scottish Enterprise Lanarkshire, said the scheme would help Scottish construction companies meet new emissions regulations."Building regulations in Scotland are about to change which will force the industry to move this way," he said. "What we are trying to do is provide a platform where technologies can be tested and evaluated and ready for this new market change."Michael Levack, the chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation, welcomed the project but warned the results should aim to bring practical benefit to an industry currently being ravaged by recession. "Rather than far-fetched concepts that might not come on stream for years, look at practical measures that can support the construction sector in the short term to protect employment and capacity," he said.

'Bottletop' technology could slash aviation emissions by a fifth

British researchers hope to cut airline fuel bills by placing hundreds of thousands of tiny holes in the surface of a plane's wing to reduce mid-flight drag.

From, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Tuesday 26 May 2009 12.01 BST

A team of British researchers reckon they have hit on a way of cutting airline fuel bills by up to a fifth by harnessing the same principle that applies when you blow across the top of a bottle to make a sound.
Speaking to, Dr Duncan Lockerby, from the University of Warwick, who is leading the project, explained that placing tens or even hundreds of thousands of tiny holes in the surface of a plane's wing should dramatically reduce mid-flight drag, cutting fuel bills and carbon emissions by up to 20 per cent in the process.
"Around half the drag a plane experiences is the result of skin friction, so anything that reduces that will deliver big savings in fuel use," he said, adding that the research team was still not entirely clear how the phenomenon worked, but that early test results from wind tunnels had been encouraging.
Lockerby explained that the innovation is based on the Helmholtz resonance principle – the same principle that applies to blowing over a bottletop whereby air is forced into a cavity increasing the pressure and forcing air out of the space, creating an oscillation.
By perforating a plane's wing with tiny holes with chambers underneath, the research team believes an additional layer of air can be created around the wing that limits drag.
Simon Crook, senior manager for aerospace and defence at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which co-funded the research aviation giant Airbus, said that the breakthrough could help "drastically reduce the environmental cost of flying".
The team is now working on prototypes designed to get a better understanding of the process and ensure that the perforations can be added without compromising the structural integrity of the aircraft.
Airbus is said to be keen to accelerate the project and it is hoped that new wings could be ready for trial as early as 2012.
EPSRC said that if tests prove successful the technology could also be used to improve the fuel efficiency of cars, boats and trains.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

NHS leads world on strategy to cut carbon emissions

Carbon neutral hospitals, greener transportation of goods and services and meat-free menus praised in World Health Organisation report

James Black, Tuesday 26 May 2009 14.06 BST

The government's strategy to reduce carbon emissions in the NHS puts the UK ahead of other countries in recognising the contribution health services make to a country's carbon footprint, according to a new report. The NHS emissions plan is also the first of its kind in the world, said experts from the World Health Organisation.
"The focus on concrete actions and the high level of support from front-line health professionals [in the UK] is exemplary," said Susan Wilburn, from the World Health Organisation's department of public health and environment, which co-published the report [PDF] at the World Health Assembly in Washington DC last week.
Earlier this year NHS England released a strategy for reducing carbon emissions. It included plans to build more efficient carbon neutral hospitals, changes to transportation of goods and services, and a move towards meat-free menus.
"It is a really important start, but what counts is implementation, starting to make meaningful cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, without compromising one inch on providing the best possible health care," Wilburn said.
Josh Karliner, international coordinator for Health Care Without Harm, and another of the report's authors, also praised the work of the NHS: "The NHS is a world leader in this effort to reduce emissions and the only national health care system to have a comprehensive strategy for this. More needs to be done, however, in terms of making hospitals carbon neutral, and focusing more on disease prevention."
In the UK the health service accounts for one-quarter of the total public sector carbon footprint. Official figures show that between 1992 and 2004, NHS emissions rose by 12%, meaning the NHS must reduce its existing carbon footprint by 86% by 2050 to meet government CO2 targets.
David Penchon, director of the NHS's sustainable development unit, said that the health service has a public duty to take the lead in adopting concrete measures to reduce the UK's carbon footprint. "If the government is imploring people to take this seriously then the public sector has an important role to play," he said. "The NHS has a huge contribution to make."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "If the NHS becomes carbon neutral this generates an efficiency cycle in the economy. It becomes a kind of positive feedback loop in the economy."
The WHO report and last week's meeting in Washington followed a study published in The Lancet medical journal earlier this month, which warned that climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century. The health risks and the role of the health sector in fighting climate change are also expected to be high on the agenda when world leaders meet for key climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

US unveils $4bn plan to upgrade public housing as part of green jobs project

Renovation scheme will replace windows, insulation and light bulbs in ageing and neglected low-income housing stock

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 26 May 2009 18.14 BST

The Obama administration unveiled a $4bn (£2.5bn) plan to upgrade public housing for low-income Americans today, as part of an ambitious green job-creation project.
Obama sent the vice-president, Joe Biden, and other senior officials to Denver for a formal announcement of the renovation scheme, which will replace windows, insulation and even light bulbs in ageing and neglected housing stock.
The labour secretary, Hilda Solis, was also expected to announce $500m to train up workers for the new jobs. Of those funds, $50m will be directed to regions that have been hardest hit by the recession – such as the rustbelt state of Michigan where the unemployment rate is now 12%.
The funds mark the first phase of the green job creation plan envisaged in Obama's $787bn economic recovery plan. Officials said that attempts would be made to train local people for the work.
"This president is committed to literally millions of jobs in this sector over the course of his term," Van Jones, the White House adviser on green jobs, said. Jones was also expected at the meeting in Denver. He said the renovations of public housing stock would account for about 40% of the funds set aside by Obama to improve energy use in government buildings.
"This is not some abstract, theoretical thing. By the end of the year you are going to see people who have no jobs, high-energy bills and no hope get jobs and see opportunity," he said.
The administration envisages a plan where home owners will arrange to have their homes retrofitted for greater energy efficiency simply by ticking a box on their utility bill, and then have the cost of the renovations factored into their bills.
The plan's high-visibility roll-out is part of a strategy by the Obama administration to put green job creation at the heart of its economic recovery plan, and to broaden support for its economic and green agenda. America has gone farther than Europe to bring its strategy for economic recovery in line with longer-range plans to build a cleaner energy future and address global warming. A report by the HSBC estimates that $94bn of Obama's $787bn is devoted to green measures, spread across building energy efficiency, low-polluting vehicles, water and electricity systems, mass transit and renewables.
As with the public housing renovation announced in Denver, much of that spending is just beginning to be spent. However, the administration has already allocated $3.3bn for the smart grid.
Officials repeatedly have claimed that the new jobs will be on par with the so-called "legacy" jobs of the vanishing auto industry and manufacturing sector, in paying union scale wages and benefits.

Climate change: Sir Harold Kroto calls for internet education

The Times
May 27, 2009

Frank Pope

Fighting climate change will take more than a technological revolution, according to Professor Sir Harold Kroto. A new era of science education is also needed.
“There’s no point in looking for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the future. They’re already here, and climate change is only one of them,” Sir Harold told The Times. “There are two ways of solving the problem. One is scientific; the other is changing public attitudes.”
Sir Harold — whose passion for organic chemistry led him to discover “buckyballs” (a new form of carbon) and won him the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry — believes that science is being inadequately taught across the world, with the possible exception of China and India.
In the West, science graduates are lured into higher-paying jobs, and fewer students are coming up through the ranks, he says. “Let’s make the most of the teachers we’ve got.”

Sir Harold, 69, has been amassing the best teaching material and making it available online to teachers around the world. Although his fellow Nobel Laureates feature on his two websites ( and , soon to be merged) he insists that the project doesn’t require geniuses, but those with passion. “This is where the revolution of the internet is,” he says. “Out there are a million people with a passion for some personal topic, and the desire altruistically to make it available. By making it available on a global scale you cover all bases.”
Working with universities to create the content, Sir Harold’s plan relies on broadband reaching far-flung communities. “If there’s a satellite dish in the village it must be possible to get internet to the teacher,” he says. “Our last hope is education, changing people’s behaviour.”

Professor Steven Chu: paint the world white to fight global warming

The Times
May 27, 2009

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

As a weapon against global warming, it sounds so simple and low-tech that it could not possibly work. But the idea of using millions of buckets of whitewash to avert climate catastrophe has won the backing of one of the world’s most influential scientists.
Steven Chu, the Nobel prize-winning physicist appointed by President Obama as Energy Secretary, wants to paint the world white. A global initiative to change the colour of roofs, roads and pavements so that they reflect more sunlight and heat could play a big part in containing global warming, he said yesterday.
Speaking at the opening of the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium, for which The Times is media partner, Professor Chu said that this approach could have a vast impact. By lightening paved surfaces and roofs to the colour of cement, it would be possible to cut carbon emissions by as much as taking all the world’s cars off the roads for 11 years, he said.
Building regulations should insist that all flat roofs were painted white, and visible tilted roofs could be painted with “cool-coloured” paints that looked normal, but which absorbed much less heat than conventional dark surfaces. Roads could be lightened to a concrete colour so they would not dazzle drivers in bright sunlight. “I think with flat-type roofs you can’t even see, yes, I think you should regulate,” Professor Chu said.
Pale surfaces reflect up to 80 per cent of the sunlight that falls on them, compared with about 20 per cent for dark ones, which is why roofs and walls in hot countries are often whitewashed. An increase in pale surfaces would help to contain climate change both by reflecting more solar radiation into space and by reducing the amount of energy needed to keep buildings cool by air-conditioning.
Professor Chu said that his thinking had been influenced by Art Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission, who drove through tough new building rules in the state. Since 2005 California has required all flat roofs on commercial buildings to be white; the measure is being expanded to require cool colours on all residential and pitched roofs.
Dr Rosenfeld is also a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, of which Professor Chu was director. Last year Dr Rosenfeld and two colleagues from the laboratory, Hashem Akbari and Surabi Menon, calculated that changing surface colours in 100 of the world’s largest cities could save the equivalent of 44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — about as much as global carbon emissions are expected to rise by over the next decade.
Professor Chu said: “There’s a friend of mine, a colleague of mine, Art Rosenfeld, who’s pushing very hard for a geo-engineering we all believe will be completely benign, and that’s when you have a flat-top roof building, make it white.
“Now, you smile, but he’s done a calculation, and if you take all the buildings and make their roofs white and if you make the pavement more of a concrete type of colour rather than a black type of colour, and you do this uniformly . . . it’s the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars on the road for 11 years.”
The US needed to increase its investment in clean energy research, he said, citing high-tech industries that spent 10 to 20 per cent of their income on research. The US was spending $1 trillion on generating electricity, but “nothing like” the $100 billion to $200 billion on research that would meet that standard, he said.
Readers of The Times can make their own contributions at the Science Central blog.

President Obama says energy cuts are key to saving the planet

The Times
May 26, 2009

Mark Henderson, Science Editor and Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

A global drive to improve energy efficiency will be the centrepiece of President Obama’s strategy for fighting climate change, the US Energy Secretary has said.
An international initiative to cut the amount of energy used by buildings and vehicles is as important to reducing carbon emissions as clean energy generation, and will be more achievable in the short term, Professor Steven Chu says.
Writing exclusively in a supplement in The Times today, Professor Chu, the Nobel prize-winning physicist appointed to steer US energy and environmental policy, argues that conservation will be critical to that goal.
“The quickest and easiest way to reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency,” he writes. “Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground.”

He calls for a worldwide investment in green building design to slash the energy needs of homes and businesses. This would also reduce the cost of energy to consumers and create jobs and opportunities to boost economic growth.
“I believe building design is an area that is ripe for international collaboration,” Professor Chu says. “By working together, we can give engineers and architects the tools to design buildings that use 80 per cent less energy than today’s buildings. And, because buildings are inherently local, collaboration would not cede the competitiveness of any nation and would drive local job creation.”
The measures are likely to include tough new efficiency standards for cars and household appliances — everything from ovens to air conditioners, lamps to dishwashers, as well as fresh financial incentives to encourage the construction of “low-carbon buildings”.
His comments come as he joins 22 other Nobel prizewinners and other senior scientists, intellectuals, environmentalists and policymakers at the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium in London, for which The Times is media partner.
The three-day climate change forum, held under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, will open today at the Royal Society, followed by two days of discussion at St James’s Palace.
Professor Chu’s move to put energy efficiency at the forefront of US climate change policy will be backed with a commitment to deploying and developing new technologies for sustainable energy generation. He wants the symposium to examine how science should contribute to this goal.
“In recent years, the United States has lagged behind the rest of the world in renewable energy deployment and we are determined to make up for lost time,” Professor Chu writes.
“But to truly solve this problem, we need to develop the next generation of energy technologies, many of which are close at hand.
“Only science can give us these breakthroughs, which is why this week’s Nobel Laureate Symposium is so important. Scientists must step up and do our part in this great effort.”
President Obama’s recent economic stimulus package included $50 billion of funding and tax incentives for energy efficiency measures such as better insulation and more sustainable sources of energy, such as wind farms, carbon capture and storage demonstration projects.
Professor Chu is the most prominent of a “dream team” of leading scientists appointed to the Obama Administration to reverse the perceived indifference of the White House to science during the Bush years. Professor John Holdren, a leading environmental scientist, was named as the President’s chief scientist and Professor Harold Varmus, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on cancer genetics, was also appointed to a key advisory role.
The symposium will coincide with the launch of the Cambridge 100 Questions Project, a year-long initiative to identify what we need to solve to address the biggest challenges facing the world.
Readers of The Times can make their own contributions at the Science Central blog.

Companies use pupils to further green drive

By Tim Bradshaw
Published: May 27 2009 02:45

Schoolchildren are being made the focus of a new green marketing drive as energy companies and other advertisers bid to boost their credentials and counter claims of “greenwashing”.
Companies remain keen to appear green, even as advertising budgets are slashed.

But consumers’ cynicism about environmental claims in advertising and regulators’ clampdown on unsubstantiated claims have encouraged companies to consider other options.
Working with schools to cut energy usage and raise environmental awareness is one way that companies can contribute to the community, while also ensuring their brand is associated with sustainability.
British Gas and EDF provide lesson plans and other teaching materials to help schools educate pupils about energy conservation and climate change. BT and Action Aid have also developed or sponsored educational campaigns in recent months.
And Together, a coalition of brands such as B&Q, the National Trust and Tesco – and which pledges to “fight climate change” – is looking to engage with schools as the next stage of a campaign that has won plaudits from Gordon Brown, prime minister. Polls show that in spite of the downturn, environmental responsibility remains a priority for consumers. An international survey of 20,000 consumers in January for advertising agency Havas Media found more than two-thirds looked to companies, and not governments, to lead the way on issues such as climate change. But 64 per cent viewed sustainability as just a marketing tool that lacked credibility. At the same time, the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry body that regulates advertisements, is clamping down on “greenwashing”, as part of a review of its advertising code. It has rebuked “green” claims from ExxonMobil, British Gas and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as carmakers Lexus and Saab.
Companies positioning themselves as environmentally responsible are having to ensure that their actions back up their marketing.
However, green campaigners complain that teaching materials provided by companies – such as British Gas under its Generation Green scheme – often ignore wider climate change issues, focusing on a narrower agenda of energy conservation.
But Generation Green is proving popular, with more than 8,000 schools registered and 18,000 lesson plans downloaded. “There’s certainly a lot of appetite in the school system for this kind of stuff,” said John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto. “Young people are very interested in this issue and are willing to be family opinion formers.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Large Firms Agree Carbon Emissions Must Be Cut

COPENHAGEN -- Efforts to secure a new United Nations deal on climate change got a boost Tuesday when around 500 business leaders issued a call for greenhouse-gas emissions to be halved by 2050.
But a separate meeting in Paris of some of the countries responsible for the most carbon pollution made little progress on what targets to set -- showing how difficult it will be to clinch an agreement that both developed nations like the U.S. and emerging economies like China will be prepared to sign on to.
After the Paris meeting of the Major Economies Forum, which brought together 17 countries that produce four-fifths of global carbon emissions, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said the U.S. had backpedaled on promises to make deep cuts in its carbon output. "We want to tell them, 'Yes you can,' you can do a lot more," he said.
In Copenhagen, chief executives of such companies as BP PLC, PepsiCo Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. called for an "immediate and substantial change" in the trend of rising global greenhouse-gas emissions, which they said must peak and begin to fall within the next decade and be reduced by at least half of their 1990 levels by 2050.
In a statement dubbed the "Copenhagen Call," business leaders said developed economies should make the deepest cuts initially, though all nations would be required to play a part. A global deal would benefit business by helping to establish a "more predictable framework for companies to plan and invest," the statement said.
Some speakers in Copenhagen said the Obama administration's position on climate change had strengthened chances of a global deal at a U.N. gathering in December, also to be held in Copenhagen, that is aimed at crafting a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The global economic crisis also is helping, because many countries, including the U.S., are pouring money into renewables and other low-carbon technologies as part of their stimulus packages.
"I see the stars aligning," said James Rogers, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based electricity provider Duke Energy. "The time when the economy is in trouble is the best time to do something like this, because economy trumps theology."
Some said the final statement didn't go far enough. Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of charity Oxfam International, said it was "only a tiny step in pushing for the right political recipe when it could have been a giant stride."
The "Copenhagen Call" demanded an international market in carbon to set a stable price -- seen as a key factor in mobilizing funds for new technologies to help reduce carbon emissions.
Write to Guy Chazan at

Large Firms Agree Carbon Emissions Must Be Cut


COPENHAGEN -- Efforts to secure a new United Nations deal on climate change got a boost Tuesday when around 500 business leaders issued a call for greenhouse-gas emissions to be halved by 2050.
But a separate meeting in Paris of some of the countries responsible for the most carbon pollution made little progress on what targets to set -- showing how difficult it will be to clinch an agreement that both developed nations like the U.S. and emerging economies like China will be prepared to sign on to.
After the Paris meeting of the Major Economies Forum, which brought together 17 countries that produce four-fifths of global carbon emissions, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said the U.S. had backpedaled on promises to make deep cuts in its carbon output. "We want to tell them, 'Yes you can,' you can do a lot more," he said.
In Copenhagen, chief executives of such companies as BP PLC, PepsiCo Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. called for an "immediate and substantial change" in the trend of rising global greenhouse-gas emissions, which they said must peak and begin to fall within the next decade and be reduced by at least half of their 1990 levels by 2050.
In a statement dubbed the "Copenhagen Call," business leaders said developed economies should make the deepest cuts initially, though all nations would be required to play a part. A global deal would benefit business by helping to establish a "more predictable framework for companies to plan and invest," the statement said.
Some speakers in Copenhagen said the Obama administration's position on climate change had strengthened chances of a global deal at a U.N. gathering in December, also to be held in Copenhagen, that is aimed at crafting a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The global economic crisis also is helping, because many countries, including the U.S., are pouring money into renewables and other low-carbon technologies as part of their stimulus packages.
"I see the stars aligning," said James Rogers, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based electricity provider Duke Energy. "The time when the economy is in trouble is the best time to do something like this, because economy trumps theology."
Some said the final statement didn't go far enough. Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of charity Oxfam International, said it was "only a tiny step in pushing for the right political recipe when it could have been a giant stride."
The "Copenhagen Call" demanded an international market in carbon to set a stable price -- seen as a key factor in mobilizing funds for new technologies to help reduce carbon emissions.
Write to Guy Chazan at