Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Climate focus turns to Beijing

By Fiona Harvey in London
Published: June 2 2009 01:32

China is the prime focus of international climate change negotiations beginning this week, with leading figures in the talks calling urgently on Beijing to co-operate in forging a new agreement on greenhouse gases.
The United Nations, the US and European governments have all stepped up their diplomatic efforts to woo Beijing in recent days, emolliently brushing aside the hardline stance it has taken. Beijing late last month called on rich countries to cut their emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, far more than any has agreed, and to give 0.5 pre cent to 1 per cent of their gross domestic product to poor countries to help them cope with climate change.

The proposal has been privately dismissed by western diplomats as posturing, but in public officials have been careful to adopt a conciliatory tone.
“The Chinese leadership have become very serious about looking at this issue [of global warming],” Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, told the Financial Times. “China is now investing a lot in renewable energy to make its industry cleaner. They are building major nuclear power plants ... the way they have taken measures is very important.”
Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, said last week: “I don’t think that there’s any question that China and the other major economies have to be in the game. They’re doing a lot already, but they’re going to need to do more actions and commit to them and be able to quantify them.”
The reason for the concerted charm offensive is clear: China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its runaway growth has led to the world’s biggest programme of building coal-fired power stations.
But Beijing accepts no responsibility for curbing emissions. Under the 1997 Kyoto protocol, only industrialised nations must cut greenhouse gases.
Developed countries, particularly the US but also Japan and Europe, are demanding that China take on commitments in a successor treaty, now being negotiated.
These commitments need not be absolute cuts in emissions, but can be curbs on the growth of emissions.
Mr Ban also called on rich countries to provide substantial funds to poorer nations, which he said would be the “most important” factor.
“Clarity on finance will be the key in enabling success [at the talks],” Mr Ban said. But industrialised countries are reluctant to put figures on the aid they will give, seeing it as a bargaining chip.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Carbon emissions threaten 'underwater catastrophe', scientists warn

Royal Society calls for CO2's effect on seas to be included in climate change talks in Copenhagen

Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 June 2009 12.04 BST

Changes to the ocean caused by carbon dioxide emissions could lead to an "underwater catastrophe", damaging wildlife, food production and livelihoods, scientists warned today.
The world's scientific academies – including the UK's Royal Society – issued a warning that ocean acidification must be on the agenda when countries attempt to forge a new global deal on cutting emissions in Copenhagen in December.
And a separate paper in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters warned that increasing acidity in the seas could damage fish, corals and shellfish – leaving fishing communities facing economic disaster.
The researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts, said emissions from deforestation and burning of fossil fuels had increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere by almost 40% above pre-industrial levels.
Currently around 30% of the CO2 put into the atmosphere by human activities is absorbed by the oceans where it dissolves, altering the chemistry of the surface sea levels making it more acidic.
The acidity can damage wildlife, particularly shell-forming creatures and the species that feed on them, with knock-on effects on people who rely on the oceans for food and livelihoods.
Damage to corals could also reduce the coastal protection from storms that reefs currently provide.
According to the US researchers, there were almost 13,000 fishermen in the UK in 2007, who harvested £645m of marine products, almost half (43%) of which were shellfish.
In the US, domestic fisheries provided a primary sale value of $5.1bn (£3.1bn) in 2007, they said.
The statement from the science academies of 70 countries, warned that despite the seriousness of the problem, there was a danger it could be left off the agenda at Copenhagen.
The joint statement calls on world leaders to explicitly recognise the dangers posed to the oceans of rising CO2 levels, which it warns are irreversible and could cause severe damage by 2050, or even earlier, if emissions carry on as they are.
Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said the effect of rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere on the oceans had not received much political attention.
But he said: "Unless global CO2 emissions can be cut by at least 50% by 2050 and more thereafter, we could confront an underwater catastrophe, with irreversible changes in the makeup of our marine biodiversity.
"The effects will be seen worldwide, threatening food security, reducing coastal protection and damaging the local economies that may be least able to tolerate it.
"Copenhagen must address this very real and serious threat."

MPs attack shipping industry's 'irresponsible' inaction on emissions

International Maritime Organisation also criticised as 'not fit for purpose' by Commons committee

John Vidal, environment editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 June 2009 16.21 BST

The international shipping industry has acted irresponsibly in failing to address rapidly growing climate change emissions and the UN body that governs it is "not fit for purpose", according to an influential group of MPs.
Showing clear impatience at continuing lack of progress in cutting emissions, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said: "There can be no excuse for the lack of progress within the International Maritime Organisation since the Kyoto protocol was signed [in 2005]. That the IMO has yet to reach agreement even over the type of emissions control regime to take forward, let alone decide any details, suggests it is not fit for purpose in this vital area. None of the obstacles … [are] insurmountable. It is perfectly feasible to track the emissions of individual ships."
In addition, said the MPs, the government does not even know what Britain's share of global shipping emissions is and no one has accurately calculated the world total.
While other industries and many rich countries have been given targets and timetables to reduce emissions and are expected to trade carbon if they cannot reduce their own emissions, the shipping industry has escaped national and international legislation. According to an IMO study released in April on greenhouse gas emissions, levels are projected to double or even triple, unless measures to curb them are introduced.
"The emission of greenhouse gases from shipping is a serious problem for international climate change policy. They are growing and there is a risk of considerable delay before they are brought under control. It is no longer acceptable to argue that it is to hard to find an adequate basis for dealing with shipping emissions," said the report, which accepts an estimate that global emissions are around 3% of global CO2 emissions — more than the UK or Canada.
Launching the report, Reducing CO2 and other Emissions from Shipping, committee chairman, Tim Yeo MP, said: "We deplore the prevarication that has prevented global agreement on how to reduce emissions from international shipping. The industry accepts the seriousness of climate change but has taken little or no action to cut its own emissions in absolute terms. Meanwhile the government has failed to give this issue the attention it deserves.
"Emissions from shipping cannot be allowed to continue escalating in an uncontrolled manner. The UK needs to show more determined leadership on climate change issues within the International Maritime Organisation," he added.
The government has admitted that the current calculation of the UK's share of international shipping emissions was "an underestimate", the report from the EAC report said. "If the UK's share of these emissions lies at the upper end of the government's range of estimates then, overall, UK carbon emissions might not have gone down at all since 1990."
It also recommended that the government:
• Include shipping emissions in the EU's climate change reduction targets.
• Clarify its position on the use of emission trading for shipping.
• Accelerate research into low and zero-carbon propulsion systems.
• Consult on how to improve methods for calculating the UK's share of shipping emissions.
The IMO's April report suggested specific measures the industry could introduce to reduce emissions. These included operational measures that would increase efficiency and lead to emissions cuts of 25% to 75%. It also considered technical factors such as towing kites, speed reductions and upgrades to hulls, engines and propellers.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "The government is committed to reducing the impact of transport on the environment, and tackling emissions from shipping is a key part of this. We agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that the problem of carbon emissions needs to be tackled globally."
Last week, the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, confirmed to the International Transport Forum that the government would be pressing for international shipping emissions to be included in a new climate change deal at Copenhagen in December

Cut emissions or acidity will kill coral reefs, scientists say

'Underwater catastrophe' is imminent without action
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Monday, 1 June 2009

Scientists say rising ocean acidity levels, resulting from carbon emissions, are putting the world's coral reefs in jeopardy

Rising acidity in oceans is leading to a global catastrophe that would be unparalleled in tens of millions of years, according to the national science academies of 69 countries which want governments to take the issue more seriously in the run-up to the December climate change conference in Copenhagen.
The rate at which the oceans are turning acidic because of rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere is faster than at any other time since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the scientists said in a joint statement issued today in advance of this week's pre-Copenhagen conference on climate change in Bonn.
As carbon dioxide increases in the air above the ocean, more of the gas gets dissolved in the surface water of the sea, creating carbonic acid. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the acidic activity of the oceans has increased by 30 per cent. At current rates, they will become so acidic that few shell-forming organisms and coral reefs will be able to survive by mid-century.
The academies, which include those in China and the US, have called on governments to treat ocean acidification as an important problem caused by the rising levels of man-made carbon dioxide, urging them to agree on significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions – at least to half of 1990 levels by 2050. Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society – Britain's national academy of sciences – said: "Unless global CO2 emissions can be cut by at least 50 per cent by 2050 and more thereafter, we could confront an underwater catastrophe, with irreversible changes in the makeup of our marine biodiversity," Lord Rees said.
It is estimated that the oceans have absorbed about a quarter of man-made carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution but one of the outcomes of this absorption has been a fall in the natural alkalinity of the sea and a corresponding increase in its acidity.
As carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it produces acidic hydrogen ions which attack the carbonate ions that are the building blocks of the calcium shells and skeletons used by corals and shellfish. Carbonate ion concentrations are lower now than at any other time in the past 800,000 years, the panel said.
"Global atmospheric CO2 concentrations are now at 387 parts per million ... model projections suggest that by mid-century, CO2 concentrations will be more than double pre-industrial levels and the oceans will be more acidic than they have been for tens of millions of years," the panel said.
"These changes in ocean chemistry are irreversible for many thousands of years, and the biological consequences could last much longer."
Even if levels of carbon dioxide were stabilised at the target of 450 parts per million, more than 90 per cent of tropical coral reefs will be affected by uncomfortably high levels of acidity. Stabilisation at 550 parts per million could result in reefs dissolving.

CCTV fishing trial aims for big quotas but less waste

The Times
June 2, 2009
David Charter, Europe Correspondent

Scottish fishermen are to take part in trials of “spy in the boat” technology aimed at overhauling EU fishing practices to end the waste of discarding thousands of tonnes of dead fish at sea.
The plan, devised by the Danish Government, will give fishermen bigger catch quotas in return for closed-circuit television monitoring on board. Supporters of the cameras argue that the numbers of fish taken overall will fall with the end of high rates of so-called discards.
It is a potential blueprint for the re-drawing of the EU’s failed fishing policy, which after 25 years of rows about quotas, days at sea and net sizes still results in 88 per cent of stocks overfished compared with 25 per cent worldwide. While 24,400 tonnes of cod were landed in the North Sea in 2007, 23,600 tonnes were thrown back dead and another 14,600 tonnes were unaccounted for as fishermen strove to keep within their strict EU landing quotas, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
The EU announced in April that it would rip up its Common Fisheries Policy and start again because stocks of cod, bluefin tuna and other fish such as anchovy remained depleted. The Scottish government will begin its trial of on-board cameras later this year by installing CCTV technology in seven volunteer boats. Just as in a similar Danish trial already under way, the fishermen will be given catch quotas rather than landing quotas, meaning that every fish caught will be counted rather than simply every fish brought back to shore.

To reflect the dramatic reduction this will bring in discards at sea, the catch quota can be 50 per cent higher than the current landing quota, giving the chance for a much-needed increase in income for fishermen from higher sales.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, supported the camera trials as way of giving responsibility back to fishermen. “Everybody supports a reduction in discards,” said Mr Armstrong. “There are pros and cons, with concerns about privacy with CCTV. But within the industry, the trial is awaited and there is cautious support.The Common Fisheries Policy has failed.”
The other advantage of CCTV cameras is that they will be able to confirm that fishermen have complied with international standards, so that consumers can have absolute confidence in fish marketed as sustainable.
WWF has supported the use of cameras. “It would be an important step forward to redress this failing policy and ensure that Europe’s fish stocks return to sustainable levels,” said Aaron McLoughlin, head of the European Marine Programme at the wildlife conservation group.

Consumer ignorance over endangered fish

The British taste for fish and chips could be driving species to the edge of extinction, according to a new survey that found the majority of people do not even try to make sustainable choices about seafood.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Published: 12:01AM BST 02 Jun 2009

Fish stocks are down all over the world with some species such as the bluefin tuna now considered to be as endangered as the white rhino and even the British favourite cod in danger of overfishing.
But a survey of more than 2,000 people found 78 per cent do not even try to buy fish from a sustainable source.

However 70 per cent of consumers said they were more likely to make ethical choices when given the facts.
The survey comes as a new film by former Daily Telegraph journalist Charles Clover reveals the threat of over fishing to the oceans. End of the Line , to be released in cimemas on 8th June, claims that seafood will be fished out by 2048 unless more is done to conserve stocks.
But the YouGov poll commissioned by Waitrose found more than half of people are unaware of the warnings fish stocks could be wiped out completely within this century if we continue as we are.
Mark Price, Waitrose Managing Director, said everyone should be asking where their fish comes from.
"The booming human population could wipe out fish stocks within this century if we don't act now. This is an environmental disaster and we it will have a real and tangible impact on us all - as consumers, retailers, chef or fishermen."

Eden Project reveals 'hot rocks' clean energy plan

Geothermal plant would initially power Eden Project buildings but eventually aims to supply local community and National Grid

Steven Morris
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 June 2009 18.15 BST

Plans to build the UK's first geothermal plant that would use heat from granite outcrops beneath the Earth's surface to power a small town were unveiled today.
Initially the plant would be used to supply the Eden Project in Cornwall but could potentially feed spare carbon-neutral electricity winto the National Grid.
Eden and its commercial partner claim, EGS Energy, believe this is the first in a series of projects that could lead to Cornwall's "hot rocks" supplying up to one-tenth of the UK's electricity.
The government is watching the plans closely and Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, attended the launch of the scheme in Westminster.
Matt Hastings, Eden's energy manager, said: "It's a massively exciting project - a way of making sure Eden has a source of green power but also of feeding heat and power into the local community and into the National Grid. We will only need a quarter or a fifth of the electricity that will be generated. Cornwall leads the way in wind and wave energy technology. Now we're trying to do the same in geothermal power."
For many centuries geothermal power has been used by humans but only when it bubbled or spurted naturally to the surface in the form of hot springs.
Scientists have long looked for reliable and practical ways of drilling down into hot rocks and harnessing the power of the heat that is found there naturally.
Cornwall is considered an ideal location for a "hot rocks" project because its granite outcrops are relatively close to the surface - around 4km (two and a half miles) down.
If it gets planning permission, the power plant at Eden will consist of two boreholes, both between 3km and 4km deep, built within the same disused clay quarry as the centre.
Water will be pumped into an injection hole and then allowed to percolate through the hot rocks and heat up. The water will then be pumped back out through a second hole, returning to the surface at around 150C. The heated water will be converted into electricity via a heat exchanger.
The remaining heat in the water can be used to heat local buildings, hopefully not just at Eden but in surrounding areas. Spare heat could be used by Eden for growing exotic fruit and vegetables out of season or possibly in a spa.
It is estimated that the plant, which could be ready by 2012, could generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of almost 5,000 homes.
A spokesman said: "The energy would be 100% controllable and on an industrial scale. Above all, compared to other clean technologies, it has a small footprint above ground, and since it consists of a closed loop system its potential negative environmental impact is small."
Tim Smit, the chief executive of the Eden Project, said it was a "pioneering" scheme. He added: "Powering the Eden Project site from a renewable source of energy is clearly a priority for us."
A great deal of research on hot rocks was carried out in Cornwall in the 1970s-80s. The potential for a plant was clear but none built. A plant has been built in Germany and scientists across the world from the US to Asia and Australia are looking at ways of harnessing the huge sources of power that lie beneath the earth.
There is a geothermal plant in Southampton that supplies hot, treated water to a number of customers in the city centre but the Eden scheme is different because the heat would be converted into electricity.
Roy Baria, technical director of EGS Energy and formerly deputy project director at the Rosemanowes "Hot Rocks" project in Cornwall, said he hoped to take engineered geothermal systems from "academic exercise to commercial reality."
He added: "With the geology in the vicinity of the Eden Project being ideal for creating our power plant and its reservoir, we would not only expect to be able to supply virtually all of the Eden Project's power and heat requirements but generate surplus power that could be fed into the grid to help meet the government's CO2 reduction and renewable generation targets."

Geothermal power plant to supply electricity

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Britain's slow but steady march towards renewable energy took a step forward yesterday when plans were revealed for the UK's first power plant to produce electricity from geothermal energy – the Earth's own heat.
The plant is a joint partnership between the Eden Project, the Cornish ecotourism attraction which features the world's largest greenhouse, and a geothermal power company, EGS Energy. It is hoped the plant will be built on the Eden site near St Austell, and will power the whole complex.
It will be based around two wells, driven down 4km into the Cornish granite where the bedrock itself is hot enough to heat water to 150 degrees, which will then produce steam to power an electricity-generating turbine.
The plant should be able to produce about three megawatts of carbon-neutral electricity – about the same as a large wind turbine – which will be more than enough to supply Eden's needs. Power left over could be sold to the national grid.
While there is already a geothermal plant in Southampton which supplies heat to buildings in the city centre, this is believed to be the first such facility in Britain to generate electric power.
Engineers believe that the vast quantity of geothermal energy stored in Cornish granite would eventually enable them to make a significant contribution to UK energy needs – as much as 10 per cent of the total.