Thursday, 25 June 2009

Bill to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050

The Times
June 24, 2009

Angus Macleod, Scottish Political Editor

MSPs put Scotland on course yesterday to go further than any industrialised nation in cutting greenhouse gas emissions after they unanimously passed a Climate Change Bill that set targets for cuts at 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.
The Bill seeks to impose controls on international aviation and shipping emissions, proposes the electrification of railways and greater use of power generated by low-carbon methods.
The Bill was broadly welcomed by environmental campaigners, but some groups were concerned that SNP policy on road building and a reliance on coal-fired power stations as an alternative to nuclear could hinder attempts to meet the targets.
Kim Cartensen, leader of WWF's Global Climate Initiative, said that the Bill set an example for developed countries, sparking new hopes that world leaders would be able to agree on a climate change deal in global talks in Copenhagen later this year.

“Scotland becomes the first developed country to meet the demands of science and developing nations, which want the richer countries to take responsibility for bringing the world to dangerously high emission levels,” Mr Cartensen added. “At least one nation is prepared to aim for climate legislation that follows the science. This new law sets a benchmark that every industrialised country will need to live up to.”
Environmental campaigners have claimed that scientific evidence suggests that industrialised countries need to reduce emissions by 25 to 40 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020, in order to curb rising global temperatures.
MSPs passed the landmark Bill after days of inter-party wrangling and one-upmanship. Scottish government ministers had, until a few days ago, been backing an interim target of 34 per cent cuts by 2020; but when Labour and other Opposition parties threatened to support a 40 per cent interim target, they relented.
But before doing so, in a clear attempt to outflank the other parties, the SNP government put down its own amendment to the Bill to have the interim target set at 42 per cent.
The interim target set in the UK Bill is 34 per cent - although the target in the Scottish Bill is subject to agreement on a global 30 per cent target at the Copenhagen conference.
The Scottish Bill goes further than the UK one because it includes emissions from international aviation and shipping.
The Scottish legislation also sets the goal of providing low-carbon electricity by 2030, through increased renewables and clean fossil fuels, utilising carbon capture and storage technology. It also calls on the public to change to low-carbon road vehicles and for electrification of the country's rail network by 2050. Another aim is low-carbon heating for homes and business headquarters by 2050.
Some campaigners are sceptical over whether the 42 per cent target will be realised, saying it carries with it a host of caveats and conditions.
The Scottish Greens failed in an attempt to set a 90 per cent target by 2050. In a statement issued shortly before the Bill's final legislative stage was agreed, Patrick Harvie, the Green Party's co-convener in Scotland, said: “One minute they pledge tough action and the next they're opposing public transport projects and ramming through a road-building campaign that Margaret Thatcher herself would have had qualms about.
“The SNP's real priority on energy is to rip up Scotland's countryside for opencast coal, the dirtiest fuel possible, and to cross their fingers that carbon capture works.”
Labour attempted to claim credit for the raising of the interim target to 42 per cent with Iain Gray, the Scots Labour leader, describing it as “an astonishing U-turn” which had been brought about by pressure from his party and the Green lobby.
MSPs also agreed to Tory amendments to the Bill to enable council tax discounts to be given for energy-efficiency measures and backed a minimum one-off council tax discount of £50.

Todd Stern rejects calls for 40% cut in US emissions

Barack Obama's climate envoy dismisses calls at major economies summit for US and other rich nations to cut emissions by 40% by 2020

Jo Tuckman in Jiutepec, Mexico, Wednesday 24 June 2009 11.41 BST

President Barack Obama's climate envoy has rejected calls for the US and other rich nations to make radical greenhouse gas cuts over the next decade.
Speaking at the end of a ministerial level meeting of the world's most polluting countries in Mexico yesterday, Todd Stern dismissed the idea that the US might comply with calls for industrialised nations to cut carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
"In our judgment [this kind of cut is] not necessary and not feasible given where we are starting from," he said. "So it is not on the cards."
Stern had earlier showered praise on the flagship US climate change bill expected to be debated by Congress this week calling it "an enormously ambitious proposal for the United States." The bill calls for a 17% reduction in US emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.
The demands of developing countries and campaigners for a 40% minimum emissions cut by rich countries has been a constant theme in the run up to the crucial December summit in Copenhagen which is supposed to produce an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol that runs out in 2012. Scientists have also recommended that averting catastrophic global warming requires industrialised countries to cut carbon emissions by 25% to 40%.
"It is disappointing that the Obama administration is not supporting rigorous scientific standards for battling climate change," said Daniel Kessler of Greenpeace. "The administration now has just a few months before Copenhagen to rectify its position and lead the world to a fair, equitable and adequate climate agreement."
This week's meeting of the Major Economies Forum of Energy and Climate in Jiutepec in central Mexico brought together 19 countries that collectively account for over 80% of both global wealth and global emissions. The US and China alone make up about 50% of emissions in roughly equal proportions.
It was the third and final preparatory gathering ahead of the summit in L'Aquila in Italy in July where the leaders of the G8 plus 5 hope to finalise a common proposal to take to Copenhagen.
With most new scientific studies indicating that the planet is speeding ever faster towards disaster, the pressure to produce a strong global accord in Copenhagen is huge. And with the reversal of position in the post-Bush White House, the possibility of reaching some kind of consensus looked better than ever.
But if the activists outside the Mexico meeting felt let down this week, the few delegates willing to talk were cautiously optimistic.
"The fact that the US now has a clear willingness to work towards an agreement is helpful," Mexico's environment minister, Rafael Elvira Quesada, said. "But you cannot reach an accord at the stroke of a pen."
The disagreement over emissions cuts is only one of the complex issues involved. There are also serious divergences over how to help the developing world both finance the conversion to green technologies, enabling clean economic growth, and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
Mexico's Green Fund idea is one of the two main financing proposals currently on the table, and was described as "very interesting" by the US envoy.
The Green Fund would require all but the poorest countries to contribute money based on individual criteria such as per capita GDP and emissions. All countries would have a say how the cash that would be distributed, driven by how many tons of greenhouse gases a particular project saves.
The other main proposal comes from Norway and would require developed nations to put 2% of the carbon pollution credits they currently receive under Kyoto up for auction. The money raised would finance climate change projects in the developing world.

Scottish parliament agrees tougher 42% target to cut emissions

Campaigners say 'hugely significant' vote to cut emissions by 42% by 2020 sets new 'moral' standard for the rest of the industrialised world

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Wednesday 24 June 2009 15.43 BST

Scotland has set itself the world's most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets after the Scottish parliament voted today to cut the nation's CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020.
In a rare show of unity, all political parties at Holyrood unanimously agreed to fix the target as part of a radical climate change bill which also requires the Scottish government to set legally binding annual cuts in emissions from 2012.
The measures are tougher than the 34% target set in the UK government's climate change act last year, which has no statutory annual targets. In common with UK government aspirations, the new act also commits Scotland to an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050.
The campaign coalition Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, which claims its 60 member organisations represent two million people, said this "hugely significant" vote set a new "moral" standard for the rest of the industrialised world.
It comes the day after the US stated that a 40% cut by 2020 was "not on the cards": developing nations have demanded this level of cut from rich nations.
Kim Carstensen, head of WWF International's global climate initiative, said: "At least one nation is prepared to aim for climate legislation that follows the science. Scotland made the first step to show others that it can be done. We now need others to follow."
However, the new measures are already under intense scrutiny. The act allows ministers to reduce the target later this year if the UK government's advisory panel on climate change says it is unrealistic, or the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December fails to agree on a global deal to replace Kyoto.
Environment groups are critical of the Scottish government's refusal to abandon road, bridge and airport expansion programmes, its plans for a new coal-fired power station, and its unwillingness to tackle directly increasing car use.
Furthermore, Scottish ministers only directly control about 30% of Scotland's total annual emissions of 68m tonnes of CO2 – which only equates to a 700th of the world's emissions. Most significant policies are controlled in Brussels and London, critics point out.
About 40% is covered by the European Union carbon emissions trading agreement, while the UK government has policy responsibilities for a further 30% of Scotland's emissions. That includes fuel taxation, low emission vehicles, VAT on energy efficiency and air taxes.
The Committee on Climate Change, the panel set up to advise Gordon Brown's government, has warned Salmond that Scotland is effectively jumping the gun by setting a 42% target in advance of a deal at Copenhagen.
In a letter to Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish climate change minister, the committee's chief executive, David Kennedy, said it believes Scotland should follow the UK strategy of waiting until the Copenhagen conference.
If a deal is reached, it should follow the UK government's lead and only then set a 42% target.
The Scottish government had also increased the pressure on itself by including emissions from international aviation and shipping in its target, Kennedy wrote, even though it has no control over policy for these sectors.
"I would therefore consider that an appropriate Scottish 2020 target could be set slightly below 34% to account for different treatments of international aviation under UK and Scottish approaches."
Despite these criticisms, the chairman of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Mike Robinson, said the significance of the all-party consensus could not be underestimated.
"It means Scotland's climate change bill has the toughest target of any industrialised nation in the world and will be held up as an example, ahead of the climate talks in Copenhagen in December, of what can and should be done," he said.
"This is a moral commitment and we hope other developed nations will hear this call for action and follow Scotland's lead."
Although on renewable energy the Scottish National party is very likely to surpass its ambitious targets to deliver half of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020, ministers have failed to embark on any politically unpopular measures to combat car use or the growth in short-haul aviation.
It has authorised a second road bridge over the Firth of Forth and abandoned bridge tolls, paid to extend the M74 motorway, supports a new ring road around Aberdeen and dualing the A9 and wants a major new coal-fired power station.
Its most ambitious emissions-reduction policies, such as using carbon capture for all fossil fuel power stations, using marine energy, and a wholesale switch to green transport, either have targets set at 2030 or are largely UK-government controlled. The SNP has also completely ruled out any new nuclear power stations.

Europe refuses to get soil on its hands

EU legislation protects Europe's water and air, but not its soil – though none of us can live without it

David Cronin, Wednesday 24 June 2009 08.00 BST

The other evening I had an experience of mundane magic. At the early age of 38, I ate the first vegetable that I had grown all by myself. It was a humble scallion yet on my tongue it had a tang of pride and achievement.
How many of the EU's environment ministers who will gather in Luxembourg this Thursday produce their own food? I'm not asking that question because I think that my success story with organic scallions suddenly gives me greener credentials than the political masters of this continent. I ask it because I doubt that many of them feel any emotional connection to soil, judging by the cavalier way they disregard it.
Three years ago, the European commission proposed a legal framework for soil protection (pdf). Three years later, it is at risk of being consigned to the compost heap as a small but powerful group of EU governments are refusing to approve it. Britain, France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are all opposed to the plan, claiming either that implementing it would be too onerous or that soil is a matter best left for national administrations.
The reasons cited for rejecting the blueprint are spurious. Far from being too onerous, the proposal does not go far enough in obliging governments to protect a resource that none of us can live without. Politicians or civil servants from regions with poor soil quality have no reason to fear that Brussels bureaucrats will ambush them with subpoenas. Instead of urgent action, the law would simply require governments to identify areas afflicted by such problems as soil erosion and salinisation (the accumulation of salt) and to compile an inventory of contaminated sites, along with plans to rehabilitate such land.
The soil protection saga is a troubling testament to how the EU's approach to the environment suffers from compartmentalised thinking. Whereas binding laws have been introduced on air and water, the union lacks similar rules on soil. Any clever child would be able to tell you that all these things are intimately connected. But allegedly well-educated officials and politicians can't grasp that it's foolish to try to protect one while neglecting the others.
Britain's reluctance to endorse the plan offers yet another example of how hollow the rhetoric of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's governments on climate change has been. Cared for properly, soil can act as a carbon "sink", absorbing about one-fifth of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide. When soil is damaged, however, the pattern is reversed and rather than soaking up CO2, it releases it. Each year British soil loses about 0.6% of its organic matter and the resulting increase in CO2 emissions would be roughly equivalent to putting an extra five million cars on the road. This problem has been acute for several decades: between 1980 and 1995 British soil (pdf) lost 18% of its organic matter. In 2004, the Environment Agency stated that the degradation caused to soil in England and Wales due to such factors as intensive agriculture and mismanagement of forests (during road construction and harvesting) was unsustainable.
Across the EU, thousands of sites have been polluted because of reckless industrial practices; nobody is sure of the full extent of this damage as there is a paucity of data about soil. The commission, meanwhile, reckons that soil degradation deprives the EU economy of €38bn per annum and that's probably a conservative estimate.
Soil cannot be shielded from further deterioration by token gestures. A comprehensive and effective strategy would have to grapple with reforms of agricultural and industrial policy and a more sensible attitude to waste management (as I've learned from my limited experiments in the garden, composting can be of vital importance in keeping soil fertile). Not only does that strategy seem distant, though, our governments also can't even agree on minimal rules. It is difficult not to despair.

Battle of the Hybrids


How do the 2010 Honda Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids compare? —Jeff Resnick, Coral Gables, Fla.

After test-driving both cars in close succession, I was struck by how different they are. Sure, they look like fraternal twins, and both use hybrid gasoline-electric-power systems to boost fuel economy. But the Toyota had a more solid ride and a high-tech feel that made me happy to drive it. The Honda had a cheaper feel, was noisy and rode more harshly—and its fuel economy wasn’t as good as the Prius’s.
The Prius also has the ability to run on electric power alone—a feature the Honda lacks. I could gently cruise two miles across town to our boys’ school, mainly using the battery and electric motor, and register 75 miles per gallon on the trip computer. Seeing such high numbers on the dashboard—though more psychological than truly meaningful—is a thrill the Honda cannot match.
I have a 1997 six-cylinder Toyota 4Runner with 260,000 miles. In 12 years, I have had the timing belt replaced twice, which is the only major maintenance I have had done. Someone told me that with continued regular maintenance, it should serve me for another 260,000 miles or more. It now needs struts, motor mounts and a new radiator, and the dealer says it will cost $2,000. Should I invest the money, or use it toward a down payment for a new 4Runner? —Jerri Griffin, Brookfield, Conn.
I usually recommend keeping aging cars as long as possible because doing so can be the surest way to control one’s automotive budget. That said, I think you may owe yourself a new vehicle.
Logging 260,000 miles is a great accomplishment, even by today’s standards. Your 4Runner may last another 260,000, but it will certainly need many more expensive repairs. While the maintenance and repair costs are unlikely to be as high as the cost of a new model, driving the older one is likely to cause more worry than it is worth.
I’ve bought six old-style (1989-1996) Buick Centuries over the past 17 years. They came decently equipped, averaged 25-plus mpg overall and accelerated well. Now it’s getting tougher to find old Centuries in decent shape. Any idea what to look for in a boxy, six-cylinder passenger car that fits the bill? —Bob Mampe, Buffalo, N.Y.
The first vehicle that comes to mind is the 2009 Ford Taurus. It is extremely roomy without being outsize, and its fuel economy is better than that of many smaller vehicles. Other possibilities include the Dodge Charger, the Chevrolet Impala and the Buick LaCrosse and Lucerne.
I have a 2005 Lincoln LS with almost 100,000 miles, and I have never serviced the transmission. When I slow down, I can sometimes feel the transmission downshift with a thud. The dealer wants me to have the transmission serviced at 100,000 miles, as recommended by the manufacturer. But I have heard that this might not be the right thing to do because the dirty fluid may be the only thing keeping the transmission shifting, because the clutches and other materials have broken down over time. —Gene Mangini, South Plainfield, N.J.
Make an appointment to change your transmission fluid as soon as possible. Far from holding your transmission together, dirty fluid brings with it the risk of clogs and accelerated wear, and a fresh dose of new fluid may smooth out its shifting. When you’re there, ask the mechanic to look at the transmission’s settings to make sure it is adjusted properly.—Email:

Electric cars to start British road trials

By Chris Tighe
Published: June 24 2009 04:54

The world’s largest coordinated trial of environmentally friendly vehicles will bring hundreds of electric vehicles to UK roads for “real life” driving, starting later this year.
The trial involves major motor manufacturers and automotive suppliers, as well as energy companies and universities. It is intended to help the UK become a world leader in a field with revolutionary potential impact and to help achieve the government’s aim to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
Its launch on Tuesday will be followed on Wednesday by news of a government-backed procurement scheme to assess the carbon reduction potential of 100-150 low carbon and all-electric vans in UK “real world” conditions. The vans will be supplied by Allied Vehicles, Ashwoods, Modec and Smith Electric Vehicles to selected public sector organisations which can draw on £6m funding to meet the additional costs.
The £25m ($41m) Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator trial launched on Tuesday in five participating locations – Glasgow, north east England, the West Midlands, Oxford and London – will encourage industry-led research into electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell cars and provide valuable practical data on all aspects of using such vehicles in the current UK road environment.
The trial, in which members of the public can take part as drivers, also has an important role in changing public perceptions about such vehicles as credible alternatives to the internal combustion engine.
In a direct challenge to the “milk float” image, the trial will include 21 high specification electric sports cars produced by a consortium whose member companies are experienced in motorsport applications, including Formula one. Science minister Lord Drayson, himself a motorsports competitor, was keen to stress that low carbon does not mean low performance. “Modern electric cars offer power and bucket loads of torque,” he said.
The trial will bring more than 340 ultra-low carbon vehicles, mostly electric, onto UK roads over the next six to 18 months. It will also mean a rapid increase in the availability of publicly accessible electric charging points. Without these, car makers will struggle to persuade the public to embrace such change.
“Without the infrastructure nobody is going to buy an electric vehicle; that’s why this is such an important step in moving from where we are today to potential zero emission technology,” said Trevor Mann, senior vice president for manufacturing for Nissan Europe, which is involved in the trial.
As part of the programme, north east England will be the first place in Europe to see on its roads the new Japanese-made electric cars which Nissan starts selling in Japan next year. The company will supply 15 for the north east trial. Nissan’s Sunderland site is pushing to become the company’s European site for electric vehicle production. As the critical mass of potential customers will be a key factor, the trial is “extremely helpful”, said Mr Mann.
The government’s £25m will be matched by participating companies in the eight selected consortia. The level and quality of interest led the Technology Strategy Board, the government-backed agency coordinating the project, to increase the number of test vehicles from 100 to 340, including cars, taxis, people carriers, and a minibus.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

£1.6m funding spark for Tanfield's electric cars

SHARES in electric vehicle maker Tanfield Group surged ahead yesterday after the company announced its bid for UK government funding had been successful.

Tanfield – along with Ford and taxi maker Manganese Bronze – is eligible for £1.6 million of funding under the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme.Sixteen vehicles will be built under the scheme, at a total cost of £3.2m.Tanfield will develop five people carriers, based on the Ford Connect Tourneo design – which was demonstrated at the Geneva motor show – and one minibus, based on the Ford Transit chassis.Along with Manganese Bronze, Tanfield will also build ten electric taxis.Darren Kell, chief executive of Tanfield, which has a market cap of about £55m, said: "This funding will support our plans to transfer leading edge electric vehicle technology from our vans and trucks into passenger vehicles."This project opens up a raft of exciting possibilities for us. Tanfield is already acknowledged as the leader in electric vehicles that move goods; this enables us to address the market for electric vehicles that move people."Tanfield, which is based at Washington, on Tyne & Wear, sells vans under the Smith Electric Vehicles brand.

Could computers be used to heat our homes and offices?

IBM trials new technology that uses the heat produced by computers to warm buildings

Duncan Graham-Rowe, Wednesday 24 June 2009 17.10 BST

The world's first large-scale test of new technology that uses the heat produced by computers to warm buildings is about to begin in Switzerland.
The hope is that the three-year trial of the system, called Aquasar, will lead to carbon emissions reductions of 85% through simultaneously cutting the energy used to cool the chips while also reducing heating bills.
Long-term, the main target for the technology is not desk-top computers in homes and offices but the growing number of data centres that form the backbone of the internet and keep businesses ticking over, according to Bruno Michel, who is heading the project at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory, in Switzerland.
Precisely how much energy existing data centres consume is not clear, largely because companies like Google are reluctant to reveal just how many they have and how big they are. But according to Tom Dowdall co-ordinator of Greenpeace International's Green Electronics campaign they are consuming increasing amounts of energy. "Data centres are one of the main reasons why electricity use is rising in Europe and the US."
In 2005 data centres were responsible for 1% of global electricity consumption, double the figure of five years earlier, according to Jonathan Koomey, an energy expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, in California. And soaring internet traffic means this figure is set to rise rapidly.
Around half of the energy consumed by large computer systems is spent cooling the processors to prevent them from overheating – normally by blowing refrigerated air over them. In contrast the Aquasar system uses water to cool the chips, which is 4000 times more efficient at capturing heat.
IBM's new system uses a network of tiny tubes measuring just hundredths of a millimetre across to pump water to within a few hundreds of a millimetre of the chip itself. In the three-year pilot study, this heated water will be used to warm a separate water system to about 65C. This hot water will then be plumbed into the district heating system that serves 60 buildings in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich.
The drive for change, according to Dowdall, is coming not from a desire to reduce emissions but from the escalating electricity bills data centres are generating. "Companies can't keep increasing their capacity with the current costs," he said.
Google is already working on other strategies to reduce its power bill. One idea is to place data centres on barges and use sea water to cool them. Another suggestion is to make use of cooler temperatures undergound by placing data centres within old coal mines.

Can Felipe Calderón make Mexico a leader in combating climate change?

With its oil industry, heavy use of road transport, and 110 million people, Mexico accounts for 1.5% of global emissions

Jo Tuckman, Mexico City, Wednesday 24 June 2009 12.15 BST

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has impressed many on the world stage with his oft-repeated aim of turning his country into one of the first developing nations to take a leading role in combating climate change.
With its heavily polluting oil industry, heavy use of road transport, and 110 million people – few of who have much awareness about the issue – Mexico accounts for about 1.5% of global emissions. Not much when compared to China or India, perhaps, but big enough to make Mexico a leading player in the rest of the developing world.
On the flip side, Mexico and its extraordinary biodiversity is also very vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. Long Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, much of which have been stripped of the natural protection afforded by mangroves, are especially susceptible to increasingly violent hurricanes. Deforested mountainsides are prone to collapse under unusually heavy rains. Massive river deltas are threatened by major floods, and huge swaths of semi-arid land are at risk of tipping into desert.
Calderón insists that Mexico is an ideal bridge between rich and poor nations immersed in bitter arguments over emissions targets in industrialised countries and financing for adaptation measures and green technology in the developing world. To this end he has been vigorously promoting a financing mechanism called the Green Plan which he claims will shift the paradigm away from "mutual reproach" to one of "shared responsibility."
To prove his point Calderón stunned the world last December in Poland when he promised that Mexico would cut its own emissions by 50% from 2002 levels by 2050. This was followed up earlier this month with a commitment to reduce emissions by 50 million tonnes a year between now and 2012 when he leaves office. The Mexican president said this would be achieved by more efficient cars and power plants, as well as reductions in gas leaks and flaring by the oil industry.
The problem is that while such talk may excite European diplomats, local activists often dismiss it as little more than well-meaning rhetoric.
In particular they cite a massive reforestation programme that has involved planting 250m trees a year since 2007. The campaign won high praise from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization but a Greenpeace Mexico study of the 2007 season concluded that 74% of the trees had died and another 17% were sick.
According to the activists the whole idea is misguided. They say that tree cover in a nation where about half the population live in poverty can only be protected by community-based projects on sustainable forest management.
Activists also complain that Calderón legislation that nominally bans the destruction of coastal mangroves is only partially applied. They add that renewable energy investment is both insufficient and almost entirely restricted to the private sector.