Sunday, 5 July 2009

Prince Charles wants pension funds to take lead on climate change

Jonathan Leake and Danny Fortson

Prince Charles is to convene a meeting of some of the world’s largest pension funds to discuss how best to invest their trillions of dollars to help reduce climate change.
The meeting, likely to be held at Clarence House in October, will bring together senior executives from 12 funds including Calpers, America’s largest public pension fund. Known as the P8 Group, after the number of founder funds, they control $3 trillion (£1.8 trillion) in total.
Institutional investors largely ignore the “green” or ethical credentials of the companies they invest in, focusing instead on dividends and financial returns. A study of 118 UK-based equity funds, conducted by Mercer and Trucost for the wildlife charity WWF, found that measurement of the environmental impact of their investments was inconsistent. Also, the funds’ carbon footprints varied enormously.
Danyelle Guyatt, a principal in Mercer’s responsible investment team, said: “The investment management industry has a long way to go before pension funds can feel reassured that sufficient attention is being paid to the investment implications of the shift to a low-carbon economy.”
Last week, Prince Charles said he wanted the P8 to show other funds worldwide how they, too, could invest ethically without putting members’ money in jeopardy. It will be the P8’s fourth meeting, and the most important because it will be in the run-up to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.
The P8 Group was set up by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, which has the prince as its patron. The department runs a secretariat for high-level business groups, including the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.
Aled Jones, deputy director of the Cambridge programme and facilitator of the pensions group, said: “The P8 is about finding ways of investing that mitigate rather than exacerbate climate change. They look for large-scale ways of investing in green projects, mostly in developing countries.”
• The Chinese minister who oversees the country’s controversial one-child policy said that the UK “could learn from the Chinese experience” by using population control to fight climate change.
Dr Baige Zhao, head of the national population and family planning commission of China, said that since its introduction in 1979 the policy had reduced the birth rate from 5.8 births per woman to 1.8. It had led to 400m fewer births and saved 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions. Speaking at a conference in London last week, she said: “The same principles of population management that have been applied in China can be applied in the UK. The UK could learn from the Chinese experience.”
• Could carbon rationing be in the offing? Jeremy Oppenheim, of McKinsey Consulting, said last week that to meet climate change targets the 10 tonnes of carbon emissions produced annually by each Briton would have to be cut to 2 tonnes a year by 2050, equal to less than 6kg a day. The consultancy said that the government had not grasped the economic and social consequences of such a change. The daily figure equates to just 25 miles of driving in a family car.

Environmental protest at Kingsnorth power station

Robin Henry
More than 1,000 environmental protesters joined hands to form a ‘Mili-band’ around a power station today.
Demonstrators, who encircled Kingsnorth Power Station, in Kent, are calling for Energy Secretary Ed Miliband to reject plans for a new coal-fired plant there.
The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition marched on the Hoo Pennisula site this afternoon wearing yellow sashes bearing the words ‘Climate change kills’.
They then used the sashes to form a giant chain around the plant and chanted slogans including; “Oi Ed Miliband, keep the carbon in the ground” and “Miliband, don’t be a silly-band.”

According to the World Development Movement, who took part in today’s demonstration, the environmental damage caused by the proposed E.ON plant could lead to100,000 more people in the developing world losing their water.
If Miliband greenlights the scheme it would be the first coal-fired power station to be built in UK for 30 years.
In March he postponed a decision on the plant, which E.ON say would use carbon capture and storage technology to reduce its emissions.
WDM claim a new coal power station would undermine the government’s own climate change targets.
Speaking at today’s demonstration WDM director Deborah Doane said: “We want to send a message to Miliband that he shouldn’t approve a new coal-fired power station.
“We are taking responsibility for our future. We have two choices, we can go for a low carbon future by creating energy in ways that is clean and sustainable for both us and the developing world, or we can lock ourselves in a future that is going to cause a great deal of harm.
“If Kingsnorth goes ahead it will completely undermine the Government’s objective to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.”
Kent Police confirmed that the demonstration had passed peacefully and there had been no arrests.

Porritt blasts Treasury 'arrogance'

Ruth Sunderland
The Observer, Sunday 5 July 2009

Jonathon Porritt, one of Britain's leading environmentalists, has attacked the Treasury for being "startlingly arrogant" and for dragging its feet over sustainability.
This month Porritt steps down as chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, an independent government watchdog, after occupying the role since it was founded nine years ago.
He said: "Looking back now, as I am in my last few days, I see a terrain of wasted opportunity. I am not saying the only reason is the intransigence of the Treasury, but I do think the Treasury has killed a lot of the energy around sustainable development."
Porritt, who is being replaced by William Day, gave the Treasury credit for hiking the landfill tax and for commissioning Sir Nicholas Stern's review on the economics of climate change. However, he added: "Too often they have been foot-dragging and obstructive."
He said: "It is a startlingly arrogant part of government. There is almost no curiosity about sustainable wealth creation. There is no readiness to interrogate the macro-economic model. SDC produced a report, Prosperity without Growth, in an attempt to start a debate on redefining prosperity, but we were met with a weird mixture of hostility and indifference."
According to Porritt, the Treasury was slow to set an example on sustainability through programmes such as the private finance initiative (PFI) or Building Schools for the Future (BSF). He said he tried to engage with the Treasury over PFI, which he saw as one of the main mechanisms by which the government could send out signals to the private sector about promoting sustainability. But, he said: "The whole PFI process from 1999 onwards has been a sustainability-free zone.
"With the Building Schools for the Future programme it took four or five years for the Treasury to understand it had to have sustainability at its heart. It was straight Treasury obstinacy."
Since it was founded in 2000, the SDC lobbied the government consistently to use its multibillion-pound budget to promote sustainable development through its procurement of buildings, goods and services. But Porritt said his efforts fell on stony ground for years. "At meetings relatively senior civil servants from the Treasury were sitting there glowering and wondering what they could do to scupper things when they got back to base," he said.
"Last year, the Treasury realised government had to play a role but it was blindingly obvious all along"

'Green revolution' could create 400,000 jobs, claim ministers

A "green revolution" that should create 400,000 jobs is to be launched by ministers later this month in the most ambitious ever bid to transform the British economy, industry and sources of energy.

By Geoffrey Lean Published: 8:00AM BST 04 Jul 2009
Detailed plans for expanding renewable energy tenfold and cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that heat up the planet – all in little more than a decade - will be announced.
The plans will be spelt out in three documents due to be published in about ten days time.

Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, will unveil a White Paper that will spell out how emissions will be cut by at least 34 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and a 'Renewable Energy Strategy' to increase its use to 15 per cent of Britain's total energy supplies by the same date.
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, will launch a 'Low Carbon Industrial Strategy' which the Government hopes will create 400,000 new jobs in environmental industries over eight years and "transform our whole economy and change our industrial landscape, our supply chain and the way in which we all work and consume".
Publication of the plans will be followed by an Energy Bill, to be included in the next Queen's speech, to promote technology to remove carbon dioxide from the emissions of coal fired power stations; new ones will effectively be banned unless they use it.
Next Wednesday the Prince of Wales will lend strong support to the thinking behind the plans.
Delivering this year's Dimbleby lecture he will stress that environmental "sustainability" must be put at the heart of economic policy if the world is to recover fully from the recession and avoid dangerous climate change.
A massive increase in renewable energy – like solar, wind and tidal power - lies at the heart of the plans.
At present Britain gets little more than 1.5 per cent of its energy from it – the third lowest proportion of any European country – despite having the continent's most plentiful resources.
Most of the increase will come from multiplying the prppotion of Britain electrictyy generated from renewables sixfold, to 30 per cent, by 2020 - largely through a further massive expansion of windpower, especially offshore and in Scotland. And they are also hoping for a substantial contribution by tapping tidal power in the Severn Estuary.
The strategy will also disclose detailed plans for introducing "feed in tariffs" where householders and business who install renewable energy will be able to sell surplus electricity on favourable terms to the grid, a measure that has stimulated a rapid increase in the use of solar power in Germany and other countries.
Ministers expect the expansion of renewables alone to create 160,000 new green jobs, and even more are expected to result from measures to save energy, such as through better insulation of buildings.
Lord Mandelson's Business Department said that these and other measures will spark "a green industrial revolution".

Honda looks beyond hybrids to hydrogen cars

John Arlidge in Tokyo

On paper, Michio Shinohara has few reasons to be cheerful. He works in the car business, the manufacturing sector hardest hit by the downturn. His company, Honda, halted production at its Swindon plant for four months this year and ditched plans for a sexy new NSX sports car. It pulled out of Formula One, only to see its driver, Jenson Button, win race after race for his new team, Brawn.
Yet on a muggy afternoon in Tokyo last month, Shinohara threw back his head and laughed: “It seems that we have been incredibly brilliant.”
The car he launched in February, the petrol-electric Insight, stole the title of best-selling hybrid in Japan from Toyota’s Prius and became Japan’s top-selling vehicle overall in April, the first time a hybrid had topped national sales rankings. More than 1,000 have been sold in Britain, and 5,000 across Europe.
The Insight is so popular that Shinohara, Honda’s head of environment planning, can’t get one himself. “The factory can’t make enough for the orders we already have.”
Petrolheads may mock the Insight’s basic interior and the anaemic performance of its small petrol and electric motors, but Shinohara’s creation is proving to be an ideal product for its time. It’s cheap and green, two qualities car buyers prize more than ever.
“We launched this vehicle at a very lucky time,” he said. “It was not important to us to have the car with top performance. We wanted an eco-friendly car that is accessible to the greatest number of people. Price is key.”
The Insight costs up to 18% less than the Prius, its main rival, and returns similar fuel economy of about 60mpg but the Prius has lower carbon emissions.
Shinohara’s excitement is matched by a sense of relief. The Insight is a car that simply had to work. Although Honda led the way with hybrids — it launched the first, also called Insight, in the late 1990s — it quickly fell behind Toyota. Gawky styling — it looked like an upside-down bathtub — killed the first Insight. A hybrid Accord followed but it failed to sell and was soon scrapped. The hybrid Civic has been a moderate success but Toyota has become the de facto green car brand, thanks to the Prius.
Buoyed by the success of the Insight, Shinohara is leading Honda’s new push into the hybrid market. Next will be a sports car, the CR-Z, due to go on sale next year. New hybrid versions of the Civic and the Jazz will follow.
In a decade, Honda expects to follow Toyota and become the second car company to have a hybrid version of all its models. On sales, however, Honda has fallen so far behind Toyota that it cannot hope to match its rival soon. It expects to sell 250,000 hybrids a year by 2015 and double that by 2020, more than 10% of its current total output. Toyota already sells 400,000 Priuses a year and that figure is expected to rise with the release of new models, including a plug-in version that will extend the car’s electric-only range.
Given the Insight’s success, you would expect Shinohara to be an evangelist for hybrid technology. He regards it, though, as a sticking plaster solution until someone — he hopes it will be him — perfects the hydrogen fuel cell car.
Honda is working up the technology in the FCX Clarity and as Shinohara drove the car around Tokyo, he explained why it, not the Insight, is the future.

Electricity in the Insight comes from a battery that is charged by “recycling” excess energy normally lost during driving, for example when braking. The battery powers an electric motor that works with the car’s 1.3 litre petrol engine, giving it a range of 500 miles.
Carmakers have experimented with vehicles powered entirely by battery but Shinohara said they were “not very customer-friendly” because their range is too short and the battery recharge time too long. A few years ago he tried to persuade Californian motorists to go fully electric with a prototype called the EV Plus, which had a range of about 100 miles. He could hardly give them away. “It was very difficult,” he said. Hydrogen fuel cells are, he believes, the best green car technology because they have the potential to offer the power and range of a conventional petrol engine with water as the only by-product.
The Clarity has several hundred fuel cells creating electricity from an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. It powers the engine. The 171-litre hydrogen tank gives it a range of 300 miles.
A conventional battery-powered car would require a battery weighing two tons to match the range and performance of the Clarity, and it would take hours to charge fully.
The Clarity is undergoing testing in Japan, Europe and America. A few have been released to customers in locations where there are hydrogen refuelling stations, notably California. The actress Jamie Lee Curtis drives one.
Shinohara admitted hydrogen technology is problematic. The Clarity is so expensive to make that it is, for now, sold at a colossal loss. Consumers are “scared” of hydrogen, he said, because it is explosive. It is, at present, expensive to produce and, most importantly, persuading energy companies and governments to construct a network of hydrogen refuelling stations will be a challenge.
Shinohara is undeterred. Honda is experimenting with installing domestic hydrogen stations at homes in California. Natural gas, supplied to the homes using existing pipelines, runs into a converter where it is separated into its various elements, one of which is hydrogen, which can be stored and used as necessary.
Shinohara’s dream is that one day soon motorists will fill the Clarity with hydrogen at home, drive to their remote country cabin emitting no carbon, use the car as a clean generator to power the house, and use the water and steam it produces to make a cappuccino. Truly a car for life.

The milk bottle that is made from paper

From The Sunday Times
July 5, 2009

The Sunday Times meets the man who has put plastic out to pasture

It looked like an ordinary milk bottle. In fact, what Martin Myerscough was carrying in his briefcase for a presentation to supermarket giant Asda was the world’s first milk bottle made almost completely from recycled paper.
Myerscough, 52, an inventor and engineer from Framlington, Suffolk, had done away with plastic, the necessary evil favoured by the packaging industry that is cost-effective, light and durable but which takes centuries to decompose.
While British households used more than half a million plastic bottles last year, only 35% were collected for recycling. The rest were added to the 130,000 tonnes of plastic already in landfill sites.
The idea of reusing and remoulding pulped paper came to Myerscough after his son came home from school with a papier-mâché balloon. He devised the GreenBottle, an outer shell made of office waste paper moulded like an egg box, with a loose plastic bag inside to hold the milk.
The bag can be recycled but even if it isn’t, it takes up considerably less space than a plastic bottle would. The cardboard around it decomposes within weeks. Myerscough says it takes only a third of the energy needed to make a plastic bottle, and argues that its carbon footprint is 48% lower.
He approached Marybelle, a dairy farm in Suffolk, which thought that the project could work. What appealed to it most was that the design for the package fitted existing filling lines. “Dairies don’t have to make any changes to switch from plastic bottles to ours,” explains Myerscough.
“We started in milk because that is something most people buy every day. It was a good, high-profile place to start.” Myerscough then set up the meeting with Asda, one of Marybelle’s customers, at the supermarket’s Leeds headquarters in 2006, to see whether a large retailer would take the product.
Asda liked the idea and agreed to take the bottles on a trial basis. The GreenBottle company was formed.
Retailers have been under pressure from the European Union and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to cut the amount of packaging and, in turn, the waste they produce.
“We are doing a lot to reduce packaging,” said Chris Brown, Asda’s head of ethical and sustainable sourcing. “Milk is a huge volume line for us — we sell 500m litres a year.”
As a first step Asda agreed to put 250 bottles in its Lowestoft store and see how customers responded. The 50 bottles put on the shelves on the first day were sold in an hour. Now GreenBottle produces about 1,000 a week, supplying Marybelle’s semi-skimmed milk to three Asda stores in East Anglia.
“Customers get it and it’s not forcing them to make too many compromises,” says Brown. “It looks like the plastic bottle that they are so used to.” At £1.41, the two-litre bottle means most consumers can afford to make a greener choice.
There are other advantages. GreenBottle is manufactured from waste paper and can be further recycled, creating a “closed-loop” system.
Myerscough said: “We had some good contacts, like Charles Dunstone at Carphone Warehouse, who is very ecologically minded and agreed to provide waste paper for GreenBottle,” says Myerscough. “In due course they will be delivering about a tonne a month.”
GreenBottle is now talking to one of Australia’s leading dairy groups. “We have the demand for the product; it is just a question of getting our new production on stream,” adds Myerscough.
“The machinery that we are ordering will be capable of making about 1.5m two-litre bottles a month by next year.”