Monday, 6 July 2009

The Carbonated Congress

Orszag nails it: The 'largest corporate welfare program' ever.

President Obama is calling the climate bill that the House passed last week an "extraordinary" achievement, and so it is. The 1,200-page wonder manages the supreme feat of being both hugely expensive while doing almost nothing to reduce carbon emissions.
The Washington press corps is playing the bill's 219-212 passage as a political triumph, even though one of five Democrats voted against it. The real story is what Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House baron Henry Waxman and the President himself had to concede to secure even that eyelash margin among the House's liberal majority. Not even Tom DeLay would have imagined the extravaganza of log-rolling, vote-buying, outright corporate bribes, side deals, subsidies and policy loopholes. Every green goal, even taken on its own terms, was watered down or given up for the sake of political rents.
Begin with the supposed point of the exercise -- i.e., creating an artificial scarcity of carbon in the name of climate change. The House trimmed Mr. Obama's favored 25% reduction by 2020 to 17% in order to win over Democrats leery of imposing a huge upfront tax on their constituents; then they raised the reduction to 83% in the out-years to placate the greens. Even that 17% is not binding, since it would be largely reached with so-called offsets, through which some businesses subsidize others to make emissions reductions that probably would have happened anyway.
Even if the law works as intended, over the next decade or two real U.S. greenhouse emissions might be reduced by 2% compared to business as usual. However, consumers would still face higher prices for electric power, transportation and most goods and services as this inefficient and indirect tax flowed down the energy chain.
The sound bite is that this policy would only cost households "a postage stamp a day." But that's true only as long as the program doesn't really cut emissions. The goal here is to tell voters they'll pay nothing in order to get the cap-and-tax bureaucracy in place -- even though the whole idea is to raise prices to change American behavior. At the same time -- wink, wink -- Democrats tell the greens they can tighten the emissions vise gradually over time.
Meanwhile, Congress had to bribe every business or interest that could afford a competent lobbyist. Carbon permits are valuable, yet the House says only 28% of the allowances would be auctioned off; the rest would be given away. In March, White House budget director Peter Orszag told Congress that "If you didn't auction the permit, it would represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States."
Naturally, Democrats did exactly that. To avoid windfall profits, they then chose to control prices, asking state regulators to require utilities to use the free permits to insulate ratepayers from price increases. (This also obviates the anticarbon incentives, but never mind.) Auctions would reduce political favoritism and interference, as well as provide revenue to cut taxes to offset higher energy costs. But auctions don't buy votes.
Then there was the peace treaty signed with Agriculture Chairman Colin Peterson, which banned the EPA from studying the carbon produced by corn ethanol and transferred farm emissions to the Ag Department, which mainly exists to defend farm subsidies. Not to mention the 310-page trade amendment that was introduced at 3:09 a.m. When Congress voted on the bill later that day, the House clerk didn't even have an official copy.
The revisions were demanded by coal-dependent Rust Belt Democrats to require tariffs on goods from countries that don't also reduce their emissions. Democrats were thus admitting that the critics are right that this new energy tax would send U.S. jobs overseas. But instead of voting no, their price for voting yes is to impose another tax on imports from China and India, among others. So a Smoot-Hawley green tariff is now official Democratic policy.
Mr. Obama's lobbyists first acquiesced to this tariff change to get the bill passed. Afterwards the President said he disliked "sending any protectionist signals" amid a world recession, but he refused to say whether this protectionism was enough to veto the bill. Then in a Saturday victory lap, he talked about green jobs and a new clean energy economy, but he made no reference to cap and trade -- no doubt because he knows that energy taxes are unpopular and that the bill faces an even tougher slog in the Senate.
Mr. Obama wants something tangible to take to the U.N. climate confab in Denmark in December, but the more important issue is what this exercise says about his approach to governance. The President seems to believe that the Carter and Clinton Presidencies failed by fighting too much with Democrats in Congress. So his solution is to abdicate his agenda to Congress -- first the stimulus, now cap and trade, and soon health care. We wish he had told us he was running to be Prime Minister.

Climate Declaration To Get Global Boost


WASHINGTON -- The U.S., European Union and 12 of the world's largest nations plan to embrace "an aspirational goal" of reducing emissions of global-warming gases by 50% by 2050, according to a draft declaration by world leaders set for release next week in Italy.
The draft, seen by The Wall Street Journal, sets up a framework for detailed negotiations on the issue ahead of a United Nations climate conference in December. But it leaves key areas in the climate-change debate in dispute. The draft is subject to change ahead of a meeting of global leaders starting Wednesday.
The declaration recognizes a "broad scientific view" that global temperatures shouldn't rise more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but doesn't lock in the "two-degree ceiling" that some nations and environmentalists want. Global temperatures currently are about 0.8 degree Celsius above those levels.

A group of leaders from 13 nations plans to issue a draft declaration at next week's G-8 summit that pledges a 50% reduction in harmful global-warming emissions by 2050. WSJ's Jonathan Weisman reports.
The base year against which emissions reductions will be measured continues to divide the U.S. and Europe. The EU would like reductions measured against 1990 emissions levels. The U.S. favors the baseline be based on more-recent data. And the draft declaration sets a provisional target of $400 million for assistance to developing countries to lower their emissions and adapt to rising temperatures and sea levels, which some countries say is too low.
"There is still lots of finger pointing," said Alden Meyer, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a scientific organization favoring strict emissions controls, who has been involved in the talks.
Climate change is one of the topics on the agenda for the summit of the Group of Eight largest industrial countries, which will be held in earthquake-damaged L'Aquila, Italy. The G-8 -- the U.S., Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Britain -- will meet on Wednesday, and then be joined by the five largest developing economies -- Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa -- plus Egypt in a separate meeting. By Thursday, when President Barack Obama is slated to lead the Major Economies Forum, as many as 39 countries will be represented. The summit closes Friday.
Questions are arising over how relevant the G-8 remains, with the summit taking place after the London summit of the Group of 20 largest nations in April and ahead of the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September.
"On the economy itself, this will be more about exchanging views at this midpoint between the two G-20 summits than an opportunity to produce a series of specific deliverables," Michael Froman, deputy White House national-security adviser for international economic affairs, said Wednesday.
World events, including the disputed presidential election in Iran and missile launches by North Korea, will likely intrude on the agenda, analysts said.
Climate change is likely to dominate the final sessions of the conference. Participants would like to make significant progress ahead of a United Nations conference in December in Copenhagen, when a successor to the Kyoto Accord is supposed to be completed. The treaty to combat global warming expires in 2012.
The draft declaration would set a high standard -- a world-wide, 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, with developed countries reducing their emissions by at least 80%. The developing world would have a lower requirement.
Mr. Froman, of the White House, said the aim of the summit is "to give political momentum and impetus" to climate talks ahead of the Copenhagen conference.—Alistair MacDonald and Jeffrey Ball contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at

Pay More, Drive Less, Save the Planet

To fight climate change, Washington wants you to take a bus.

What is the appropriate response to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who as General Motors prepared to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection declared that he wants to "coerce people out of their cars"? One might be inclined to dismiss these words as overkill -- except for recently introduced legislation by some congressional heavy-hitters that would take us down this road.
First there was the "Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009," introduced in May by Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation. Next, in June, came the "Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009," introduced by James Oberstar (D., Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Messrs. Rockefeller and Lautenberg aim to "reduce per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis." Mr. Oberstar wants to establish a federal "Office of Livability" to ensure that "States and metropolitan areas achieve progress towards national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."
What does this mean? Most travel is not for its own sake. So reducing the total miles traveled -- whether the length or number of trips -- means people would have to reduce the activities they want and need to do. People would be "coerced," in effect, to live in less desirable places or work in less desirable jobs; shop in fewer and closer stores; see their doctor less frequently; visit fewer family members and friends.
There are three likely ways this could work. The cost of travel could be increased by raising the prices of vehicles or fuel; travel time could be increased by not expanding the highway system; or superior alternatives to the private car could be developed. The most likely way to increase the cost of travel would be by increasing fuel taxes perhaps to as much as $4 per gallon, as some have suggested.
Allowing congestion to increase travel times would be politically easier. In the name of "multimodal planning," for example, road-use taxes could be diverted, as Messrs. Rockefeller and Lautenberg suggest, to "increase the total usage of public transportation." But public transportation (where it's available) typically takes twice as long as automobile travel, so it's not practical for many Americans.
Moreover, public transportation (passenger rail services, subways, buses, light rail) requires heavy subsidies, while roads mostly pay for themselves through fuel taxes. Our roads would be even more self-sustaining if 20% of the federal fuel tax were not already diverted to public transit from the federal Highway Trust Fund. Messrs. Rockefeller, Lautenberg and Oberstar want to grab even more money from the trust fund.
Americans have always valued their independence and mobility. One way to reassert their rights would be to abolish the misnamed Highway Trust Fund, which finances highway construction and maintenance. Let the states decide what roads they need and how to finance them. The present system expires on Sept. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it. Let it die.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas) has in this regard introduced the "Highway Fairness and Reform Act of 2009," which would explicitly allow states to opt out of the federal financing system. A companion bill has been introduced in the House.
If a significant number of states opted out of the federal system, it would collapse and responsibility for roads would revert to the states. The vast majority of road users would benefit from such a change. And, if "livability" standards were deemed desirable, local preferences would determine them, rather than federal "greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."
Mr. Roth is a research fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of "Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads" (Transaction, 2006). Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A11

China Again Objects to Tariffs on Nations Not Capping Emissions


BEIJING -- China's central government reiterated its opposition to carbon tariff policies and said they could provoke a trade war, ratcheting up the rhetoric as lawmakers in the U.S. consider legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.
A statement Friday on the Web site of China's Ministry of Commerce cited proposals in some nations to put tariffs on imports from countries that don't limit greenhouse gases. Such policies violate World Trade Organization rules and are "not timely" ahead of global climate-change talks later this year, spokesman Yao Jian said in the statement.
"China has consistently advocated that the international community faces climate change together, but some developed countries have advocated using carbon tariffs against imports," Mr. Yao said. "This violates basic WTO rules. It only pretends to protect the environment, but really it protects trade."
The statement didn't mention specific countries. But last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that included such tariffs in an effort to level the playing field between U.S. industry and foreign competitors. China's export-reliant economy is vulnerable to moves, such as a carbon tax, that could raise the costs of its exports.
While acknowledging global warming as a threat, China insists rich developed countries that have produced the bulk of greenhouses should pay for cleanup, even though China has now surpassed the U.S. as the world's top greenhouse-gas source.
The tariffs have drawn considerable public scrutiny. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said the House bill represents "an extraordinary first step," but said he had doubts about the tariff provision.
"To put out carbon tariff policies during the economic crisis and ahead of the annual climate-change conference this year is not timely," Mr. Yao said. "It doesn't strengthen faith in the international community's cooperation against the crisis."
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to meet in Copenhagen in December.—Shai Oster contributed to this article.
Write to Chuin-Wei Yap at

Australia's New Cap-and-Trade Arbiter

Morgan Stanley to Look at Downside of Eemissions Proposal

CANBERRA, Australia -- The Australian government has asked investment bank Morgan Stanley to test claims by electricity generators that a planned domestic emissions-trading plan may cause them financial distress and disrupt the national energy market, two people familiar with the matter said Friday.
Australia, the developed world's biggest polluter on a per-capita basis due mainly to its reliance on coal-fired generation for about 80% of its energy needs, plans to introduce carbon trading in July 2011.
By 2020, it hopes to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 5% from their level in 2000.
Under the planned legislation, which hasn't gained the support of the Senate, the upper house of the national Parliament, Australia would adopt a market-based carbon-trading system similar to one in Europe that caps the amount of carbon dioxide that companies such as power generators and steel and cement makers are allowed to put out.
If companies emit more than their cap allows, they must buy "carbon permits" in the market. This "cap-and-trade" system is designed to give companies a financial incentive to clean up.
A spokesman for Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
One person familiar with the matter suggested that Australia's center-left Labor government is keen to disprove generators' claims the rule would cause them financial harm and potentially disrupt electricity markets, despite a government offer of transitional assistance.
To help the power industry adjust to the new greener economy, Australia's government plans to provide about 3.9 billion Australian dollars (US$3.1 billion) of compensation to coal-fired generators, via the allocation of free carbon permits, in the first five years of the new system. To be eligible for that assistance, generators must maintain their capacity at the same level as at June 3, 2007.—Ross Kelly and Cynthia Koons in Sydney contributed to this article.
Write to Rachel Pannett at

Just add lime (to the sea) – the latest plan to cut CO2 emissions

• Project 'could turn back clock' on carbon dioxide• Guardian conference will select top 10 climate ideas

Duncan Clark
The Guardian, Monday 6 July 2009

Putting lime into the oceans could stop or even reverse the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to proposals unveiled at a conference on climate change solutions in Manchester today.
According to its advocates, the same technique could help fix one of the most dangerous side effects of man-made CO2 emissions: rising ocean acidity.
The project, known as Cquestrate, is the brainchild of Tim Kruger, a former management consultant. "This is an idea that can not only stop the clock on carbon dioxide, it can turn it back," he said, although he conceded that tipping large quantities of lime into the sea would currently be illegal.
The oceans are a key part of the natural carbon cycle, in which carbon dioxide is circulated between the land, seas and atmosphere. About half of the CO2 released into the air by humans each year is soaked up by the oceans. This helps slow the rate of global warming but increases ocean acidity, posing a potentially disastrous threat to marine ecosystems.
Kruger's scheme aims to boost the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 but to do so in a way that helps reduce rather than increase ocean acidity. This is achieved by converting limestone into lime, in a process similar to those used in the cement industry, and adding the lime to seawater.
The lime reacts with CO2 dissolved in the water, converting it into bicarbonate ions, thereby decreasing the acidity of the water and enabling the oceans to absorb more CO2 from the air, so reducing global warming.
Kruger said: "It's essential that we reduce our emissions, but that may not be enough. We need a plan B to actually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We need to research such concepts now – not just the science but also the legal, ethical and governance considerations."
Kruger's plan was one of 20 innovative schemes proposed at the Manchester Report, a two-day search for the best ideas to tackle climate change staged by the Guardian as part of the Manchester International Festival.
A panel of experts chaired by Lord Bingham, formerly Britain's most senior judge, will select the 10 most promising ideas. These will be featured in a report that will be published in the Guardian next week and circulated to policymakers around the world.
Climate change secretary Ed Miliband told the conference the biggest danger faced by campaigners was creating a sense of defeatism. "We need to show people how they can aggregate their individual actions and be part of a bigger whole," he said.
Cquestrate is one of a number of so-called "geo-engineering schemes" that have been proposed to intervene in the Earth's systems in order to tackle climate change.
Kruger admits there are challenges to overcome: the world would need to mine and process about 10 cubic kilometres of limestone each year to soak up all the emissions the world produces, and the plan would only make sense if the CO2 resulting from lime production could be captured and buried at source.
Chris Goodall, one of the experts assessing the schemes, said of Cquestrate: "The basic concept looks good, though further research is needed into the feasibility."
Another marine geo-engineering scheme was presented by Professor Stephen Salter, of Edinburgh University.
His proposal is to build a fleet of remote-controlled, energy-self-sufficient ships that would spray minuscule droplets of seawater into the air. The droplets would whiten and expand clouds, reflecting sunlight away from the Earth and into space.
Salter said 300 ships would increase cloud reflectivity enough to cancel out the temperature rise caused by man-made climate change so far, but 1,800 would be needed to offset a doubling of CO2, something expected within a few decades.

The Low Carbon Business

A scheme set up by the Prince of Wales to encourage companies to disclose their environmental impact in their financial reports will today receive the backing of 16 of the world’s leading accountancy bodies, including the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants Institutions representing 1.4 million accountants will back the Prince in pushing for greater transparency on companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use and waste
It is the first time that the accountancy profession has formally backed the disclosure of businesses’ environmental footprint alongside financial results The Prince established the Accounting for Sustainability project in 2004 to persuade organisations and businesses to “embed” social and environmental considerations in routine decision-making

The EPA Silences a Climate Skeptic

The professional penalty for offering a contrary view to elites like Al Gore is a smear campaign.

Wherever Jim Hansen is right now -- whatever speech the "censored" NASA scientist is giving -- perhaps he'll find time to mention the plight of Alan Carlin. Though don't count on it.
Mr. Hansen, as everyone in this solar system knows, is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Starting in 2004, he launched a campaign against the Bush administration, claiming it was censoring his global-warming thoughts and fiddling with the science. It was all a bit of a hoot, given Mr. Hansen was already a world-famous devotee of the theory of man-made global warming, a reputation earned with some 1,400 speeches he'd given, many while working for Mr. Bush. But it gave Democrats a fun talking point, one the Obama team later picked up.

So much so that one of President Barack Obama's first acts was a memo to agencies demanding new transparency in government, and science. The nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson, joined in, exclaiming, "As administrator, I will ensure EPA's efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and program, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency." In case anyone missed the point, Mr. Obama took another shot at his predecessors in April, vowing that "the days of science taking a backseat to ideology are over."
Except, that is, when it comes to Mr. Carlin, a senior analyst in the EPA's National Center for Environmental Economics and a 35-year veteran of the agency. In March, the Obama EPA prepared to engage the global-warming debate in an astounding new way, by issuing an "endangerment" finding on carbon. It establishes that carbon is a pollutant, and thereby gives the EPA the authority to regulate it -- even if Congress doesn't act.
Around this time, Mr. Carlin and a colleague presented a 98-page analysis arguing the agency should take another look, as the science behind man-made global warming is inconclusive at best. The analysis noted that global temperatures were on a downward trend. It pointed out problems with climate models. It highlighted new research that contradicts apocalyptic scenarios. "We believe our concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA," the report read.
The response to Mr. Carlin was an email from his boss, Al McGartland, forbidding him from "any direct communication" with anyone outside of his office with regard to his analysis. When Mr. Carlin tried again to disseminate his analysis, Mr. McGartland decreed: "The administrator and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office." (Emphasis added.)
Mr. McGartland blasted yet another email: "With the endangerment finding nearly final, you need to move on to other issues and subjects. I don't want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change. No papers, no research etc, at least until we see what EPA is going to do with Climate." Ideology? Nope, not here. Just us science folk. Honest.
The emails were unearthed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Republican officials are calling for an investigation; House Energy Committee ranking member Joe Barton sent a letter with pointed questions to Mrs. Jackson, which she's yet to answer. The EPA has issued defensive statements, claiming Mr. Carlin wasn't ignored. But there is no getting around that the Obama administration has flouted its own promises of transparency.
The Bush administration's great sin, for the record, was daring to issue reports that laid out the administration's official position on global warming. That the reports did not contain the most doomsday predictions led to howls that the Bush politicals were suppressing and ignoring career scientists.
The Carlin dustup falls into a murkier category. Unlike annual reports, the Obama EPA's endangerment finding is a policy act. As such, EPA is required to make public those agency documents that pertain to the decision, to allow for public comment. Court rulings say rulemaking records must include both "the evidence relied upon and the evidence discarded." In refusing to allow Mr. Carlin's study to be circulated, the agency essentially hid it from the docket.
Unable to defend the EPA's actions, the climate-change crew -- , led by anonymous EPA officials -- is doing what it does best: trashing Mr. Carlin as a "denier." He is, we are told, "only" an economist (he in fact holds a degree in physics from CalTech). It wasn't his "job" to look at this issue (he in fact works in an office tasked with "informing important policy decisions with sound economics and other sciences.") His study was full of sham science. (The majority of it in fact references peer-reviewed studies.) Where's Mr. Hansen and his defense of scientific freedom when you really need him?
Mr. Carlin is instead an explanation for why the science debate is little reported in this country. The professional penalty for offering a contrary view to elites like Al Gore is a smear campaign. The global-warming crowd likes to deride skeptics as the equivalent of the Catholic Church refusing to accept the Copernican theory. The irony is that, today, it is those who dare critique the new religion of human-induced climate change who face the Inquisition.
Write to

Devastation in Zambia as climate change brings early flooding

The Red Cross warns that global warming will lead to more disasters along the Zambezi river basin

David Smith, Africa correspondent, in Mongu, Zambia
The Guardian, Monday 6 July 2009

The ceremony is called Kuomboka, meaning "moving out of the water". Every year the king of the Lozi people journeys from the flooded plains to higher ground. Thousands gather to dance, feast and watch the royal barge rowed by dozens of oarsmen beneath a giant replica elephant.
The Kuomboka is traditionally the cue for local people to follow the king in escaping the rising waters, but the reality of climate change is catching up with this colourful ritual. The most recent flood came too soon and too strong, killing at least 31 people in Zambia's impoverished western province. The devastating aftermath has left people starving and homeless.
"Flooding here is an annual event, but it came earlier than expected and people were caught off guard," said Raphael Mutiku, a public health engineer for Oxfam in Mongu.
The Red Cross recently warned that global warming will lead to more disasters and suffering along the entire Zambezi river basin, where floods have increased dramatically in recent years.
The Zambezi once flooded the plains as predictably as the changing seasons, in late March or early April. But now the great river is less regular and more extreme. The volatile climate – annual rainfall has risen in recent years from 900mm to 1,300mm – is disrupting rhythms that have sustained generations. Crops that should have been harvested in January or February this year were destroyed by flooding that began in November. Even on higher ground, cassava crops were no longer safe.
Thousands of people have been forced to move further inland than ever before without food or sanitation. They have become refugees in their own country, camping in informal settlements accessible only by boat. They cannot grow crops as the land is infertile, they are exposed to malarial mosquitoes and respiratory infections, and are cut off from hospitals and schools.
Lutangu Mulambwa, 25, and his wife Sandra, 17, had to flee their home in a canoe with their 10-month-old daughter, Mulima, and found refuge 15km away. The maize crop on which they depend is lost. "It's totally gone," said Lutangu, sitting outside a shelter improvised from dry reeds. "There is nothing at all we can do for food here to sustain our lives. We are dying of hunger."
Elsewhere in the Kaama settlement, a patch of scrubland where children in torn clothes play in the dirt, Nasilele Sapilo, 70, wondered how she is going to feed her five grandchildren. "We planted maize and pumpkin to sustain us for the whole year but we've lost over three-quarters to the floods," she said. "I move from the low ground every year, but this time the rain was heavy and the houses submerged to roof level."
The family home is 17km away. Nasilele's grandson, Liyiungu, nine, wearing a ragged green jacket and a filthy vest, said: "I don't have soap or schoolbooks – they were swept away by water. I miss my socks and school shoes."
In another village, Liyoyelo, the floods have receded and people were starting to rebuild their lives. The waterline was visible on the wall of a wooden shack. In one corner, a film of brown soil clung to an old vinyl record player.
The village of more than 200 people was now a sprawl of ruined homes and fetid cesspools. Before, people braved the floods and stayed at home, but not this time. "It came in early December and in 12 hours the water filled the yard," recalled Mukelabai Ilishebo. "Our maize was lost and our home destroyed. The blankets and clothes are gone."
Mukelabai, 25, and her family packed all the belongings they could into a canoe and paddled 24km to safety. After four months they came back to find the roof of their home fallen in and the mudbrick walls crumbling away. She added: "We are having to start again. There is no food so we are not eating anything. My husband has no job. I worry about the children."
Elsewhere, at Soola, the settlement resembled even more closely a desolate refugee camp, with shelters fabricated from thatch and reeds and draped with dirty clothes and blankets. Remnants of sweet potato tubers were scattered on the ground. An area where homes used to be was now a muddy wasteland save for a single door, standing like the freak survivor of a shockwave that vaporised everything else.
Masela Kababa, 30, a mother of three young children, said: "There isn't enough food to feed the children. They all have aching joints and eye infections. There's nothing we can do."
She was pessimistic. "This problem is here to stay. I think it will keep happening to the end of time."
Today's report from Oxfam on the human cost of climate change calls on world leaders attending this week's G8 meeting to act now on behalf of those already suffering its consequences.
Raphael Mutiku of Oxfam said: "We have types of catastrophe such as volcanoes and tsunamis, but now our focus is shifting towards climatically induced matters. The question is, how do you respond so you don't see the same crisis next year, and the year after?"

Poor face more hunger as climate change leads to crop failure, says Oxfam

• Seasons appear to have shrunk in variety• Storms and heavier rains more common
John Vidal, environment editor, Sunday 5 July 2009 18.52 BST

Hunger may become the defining human tragedy of the century as the climate changes and hundreds of millions of farmers already struggling to grow enough food are forced to adapt to drought and different rainfall patterns, a report warns.
Oxfam International, in a comprehensive look at the expected effects on people of climate change, says some of the world's staple crops will be hit and the implications for millions could be disastrous .
"Climate change's most savage impact on humanity in the near future is likely to be in the increase in hunger … the countries with existing problems in feeding their people are those most at risk from climate change," the report warns.
"Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger [may become] the defining human tragedy of this century."
The report, published as world leaders prepare to meet for the G8 summit in Italy, says that farmers around the world are already seeing changes in weather patterns which are leading to increased ill-health, hunger and poverty. Oxfam staff in 15 countries collected records from communities and observed that:
• Seasons appear to have shrunk in number and variety.
• Rainfall is more unpredictable, tending to be shorter in duration.
• Winds and storms are felt to have increased in strength.
• Unseasonal events such as storms, dense fogs and heavier rains are more common.
"Once-distinct seasons are shifting and the rains are disappearing. Poor farmers from Bangladesh to Uganda and Nicaragua, no longer able to rely on centuries of farming experience, are facing failed harvest after failed harvest," it says.
The evidence of changing weather patterns is anecdotal but the results are striking because of the extraordinary consistency they show across the world, said Oxfam programme researcher John Magrath.
"Farmers are all saying very similar things: the seasons are changing. Moderate, temperate seasons are shrinking and vanishing. Seasons are becoming hotter and drier, rainy seasons shorter and more violent," said Magrath.
The report, released before the G8 meeting in Italy this week, where Barack Obama will chair a session on climate change, warns that without immediate action on climate all the development gains made in 50 years are under threat.
Rice and maize, two of the world's most important crops, on which hundreds of millions of people depend, face significant drops in yields. Maize yields are forecast to drop by 15% or more by 2020 in much of sub-Saharan Africa and in most of India.
The report also documents how rising temperatures are affecting productivity in factories, with manual workers needing longer siesta times and outdoor workers experiencing dehydration. Cities in the tropics are becoming some of the most dangerous places in the world as heat stress increases, it says.
The "heat island effect", where heat retention in concrete and air conditioning combines to raise night temperatures in tropical cities by as much as 10C, can devastate vulnerable populations.
"Projections suggest a sixfold increase in heat-related deaths in Lisbon by 2050, and a fivefold increase in Greater London, two to seven times more deaths in California and a 75% increase in deaths among old people in Australian cities."
In Delhi, mortality rates rise by up to 4% with every 1C of temperature rise. The figure is 6% in Bangkok.
It also says many diseases are already migrating as temperatures rise. Malaria, dengue fever, river blindness and yellow fever are all considered highly likely to increase their distribution, it says.

Technology will win the climate change battle, says Blair report

Published Date: 06 July 2009
By Andrew Woodcock

THE technological solutions to global warming are "well within our grasp", former prime minister Tony Blair said in a report due to be released today.
He said crunch meetings – including this week's Major Economies Forum in Italy and December's Copenhagen climate change summit – should see the global warming fight move from the campaigning stage to "practical policy making".The report, published with the Climate Group for Thursday's MEF meeting, sets out seven "tried and tested" policies which could achieve the goal of peak carbon emissions by 2020.It calls on governments to act now on achievable short-term measures – energy efficiency, halting deforestation and lower-carbon power sources – while investing in the future technologies needed to reduce CO2 emissions by 50-85 per cent by 2050.Compared to previous summits, such as Kyoto in 1997 and Gleneagles in 2005, this year's meetings will benefit from "almost universal" acceptance of scientific evidence on climate change and a willingness by politicians worldwide to adopt ambitious emission reduction targets if they can be shown to be practical, said Mr Blair.The report estimated additional resources required to hold global temperature increases below 2C at £193 billion a year from 2015, rising to £494bn in 2030, but stressed that rising oil prices could make the switch to low-carbon energy a cheaper option. And it noted that low-carbon technologies offered the prospect of "substantial job creation and growth" to countries. "Now is the moment," said Mr Blair. "Up to now, climate change has been an issue around which there has been an immensely important and successful campaign, but this is the moment when we take this out of the position of a great campaign and into the position of practical policy. Today's report, Technology for a Low Carbon Future, states the technologies required to meet the 2020 goal of reducing global CO2 emissions by 19 gigatonnes "are already proven, available now and the policies needed to implement them known".

How he could teach us a thing or two about beating climate change

Published Date: 06 July 2009
By Tristan Stewart-Robertson

BOLD ideas to rescue the planet from the brink of climate change disaster by covering the Sahara desert with mirrors, making livestock behave like herds of wildebeest to lock in carbon and creating clouds to bounce back sunlight have been presented at a conference.
Scientists, engineers and campaigners from around the world offered their proposals to a panel of experts on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions.Stephen Salter, professor emeritus of engineering design at the University of Edinburgh, proposed using special unmanned boats which use solar power to blow a spray of fine seawater particles into the air, producing clouds to bounce sunlight away from the Earth.The festival in Manchester invited experts to present ideas for a special report, to be published for policymakers in advance of the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December.In addition to the wildebeest and mirrors creating clean energy in the Sahara, there were more proposals. They included making charcoal and burying it to seal in carbon; giving "eco-overhauls" to old leaky homes; developing a new form of nuclear reactor using thorium; tidal turbines; and advocating better family planning in the developing world to control rising population numbers.Chartered accountant and farmer Tony Lovell, from Queensland, Australia, told the conference that huge amounts of carbon could be stored by farming cows in a manner that mimics wildebeest."Wild herds are constantly on the move as they head to the newest grasslands. They cause initial damage to the area as they are all feeding in close proximity. They are all closely hemmed in, in an attempt to avoid predation."Once they move on, the grassland uses up carbon to repair itself and then has three months and often much longer to be fully repaired before the animals return. In this time, they can lock in even more carbon from the atmosphere."Prof Salter said: "We need to do the basic research for the ideas that need research, then you could decide how much of each one will be needed. But it is extremely difficult for people to raise capital and a lot of good projects like these are at risk of going bust, and the need is desperately important."

Ex-BP chief calls for cash in renewable energy

Robin Pagnamenta Energy and Environment Editor

State-controlled banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group should be forced to invest in renewable energy schemes, helping to kickstart a transition to a lower-carbon economy, Lord Browne of Madingley writes today.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, the managing partner of Riverstone Holdings, the private equity firm, and former chief executive of BP says that the Government’s commitment to build 25 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 — equivalent to a fortyfold increase from present levels — is an “ambitious but achievable” target.
“The biggest obstacle is lack of credit,” he says. “This could be alleviated by directing state-controlled banks to lend more to projects in the supply chain and by working with the European Investment Bank to speed up implementation of its programme of green lending.”
Britain has 2,537 operational wind turbines capable of generating 3.6 gigawatts of electricity. However, plans to build new wind energy schemes have been hit by restricted access to finance over the past 18 months. Weaker oil prices have also undermined the economics of the industry.

A string of companies have cut their investments in the sector, including Shell and BP, which Lord Browne left in 2007. Iberdrola Renovables, of Spain, the world’s largest wind farm developer, has said that it will cut its investment programme in renewable energy from €3.8 billion in 2008 to €2 billion (£1.7 billion) in 2009.
Lord Browne believes that Britain has natural advantages in the field of offshore renewable energy: “As a crowded island with a complex relationship with its land, the obvious place to excel is in offshore wind and marine renewables, building on the marine engineering expertise found within the North Sea oil and gas industry.”
He says that it is important for politicians to be honest with consumers about the cost implications of the Government’s push to generate 35 per cent of Britain’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. “The costs of deploying more low-carbon energy will be borne by consumers through higher household energy bills.”
However, Lord Browne says that the costs could be lower than some have claimed and may be limited to as little as a few percentage points over the next 20 years.
This would be “significantly less than the double-digit increases in average gas and electricity bills caused by the spike in fossil fuel prices during 2007-08”. Lord Browne argues that energy efficiency is a win-win deal. “As well as reducing emissions, the net present value of most energy efficiency investments in our homes, offices and cars is positive.”
Ernst & Young estimates that it will cost more than £100 billion to build enough wind turbines to supply 20 per cent of Britain’s electricity.
Lord Browne says that establishing a price for carbon would be essential to achieving these aims.

Happiness is ... living green in Costa Rica

Reuters, Sunday July 5 2009
By Barbara Lewis

LONDON, July 6 (Reuters Life!) - Costa Rica is very nearly paradise, not just for holiday-makers lounging on its beaches, but for its citizens who are extremely satisfied with their lot and also have a tiny carbon footprint.
The combination has earned the Central American country first place in a new Happy Planet Index (HPI) published on Monday.
While leaders of the developed world attending G8 talks in Italy worry away at economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), deflation and their implications for economic recovery, the second edition of the HPI lauds alternative standards that provide a new twist on the old adage that wealth does not buy happiness.
Costa Rica stands out for the highest levels of reported life satisfaction, a long life expectancy of 78.5 years and because 99 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources.
Latin American nations generally fare well, bagging nine of the 10 top spots, and Sub-Saharan Africa performs very badly, with Zimbabwe taking bottom place. It scores 16.6 out of 100, compared with Costa Rica's HPI total of 76.1, according to an advance copy of the report.
Somewhere in between are the world's wealthiest economies.
The United States placed 114th out of the 143 nations surveyed, with an HPI result of 30.7 and was found to be "greener and happier" 10 years ago than today -- as were China and India, ranked respectively 20th and 35th, with scores of 57.1 and 53.
"Following the siren's song of economic growth has delivered only marginal benefits to the world's poorest while undermining the basis of their livelihoods," said Nic Marks of the New Economic Foundation, a London-based "think and do tank" that pursues "real economic well-being" and is the brains behind the HPI.
"What's more, it hasn't notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, or even provided economic stability."
The aim, Marks said, was "to break the spell" and work towards "a high well-being, low-carbon economy before our high-consuming lifestyles plunge us into the chaos of irreversible climate change."
To measure the efficiency with which countries convert the earth's finite resources into their citizens' well-being, the HPI takes three separate indicators -- ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life-expectancy -- and then carries out complex calculations.
First published in 2006 as "a radical departure from our current obsession with GDP," the HPI's sums have been criticised for not taking sufficient account of issues such as political freedom, but the index has also found followers.
Within two days of the launch of the first HPI, it was downloaded and read in 185 countries worldwide.
Among those who have taken up the idea are David Cameron, leader of Britain's opposition Conservative political party, and the European Commission has launched a programme "Beyond GDP" in pursuit of ways to measure progress better adapted to our age.
Anyone can calculate their own HPI though the Happy Planet Index website, (Editing by Paul Casciato and Matthew Lewis)