Thursday, 9 July 2009

G8 leaders claim historic break through on new deal to tackle global warming

Philip Webster, Political Editor, in L’Aquila

President Obama and other leaders backed historic new targets for tackling global warming last night in an agreement designed to pave the way for a world deal in the autumn.
For the first time, America and the other seven richest economies agreed to the goal of keeping the world’s average temperature from rising more than 2C (3.6F).
They also agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 as they strove for a worldwide deal at Copenhagen in December.
The moves were designed to put the squeeze on the world’s developing nations, most of whose leaders will join the G8 for a debate chaired by President Obama today.
There were signs last night that the G13 — the eight joined by China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil — would today also sign up to the 2C limit.
Hopes of an international deal remain on a knife edge because earlier yesterday China and India declined to support the objective of halving their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, flew home to deal with growing problems in his own country.
While there are signals that India may be prepared to move, the G8 leaders do not expect agreement from the developing countries to halve emissions.
Even so, the G8 deal was being hailed last night by leaders. Gordon Brown told reporters that the agreement was historic: “Today in Italy we have laid the foundations for a Copenhagen deal that is ambitious, fair and effective. The change from where we were two, three, four years ago is significant. The world has now agreed that the scientific evidence on climate change is compelling,” he said.
The agreement marks a significant step in efforts to limit greenhouse gases, which are blamed for the world’s rising temperature. The G8 previously had not been able to agree on that temperature limit as a political goal.
It remains only a target, however, and it is far from clear that it will be met, especially as China, India and other rapidly industrialising nations generate and consume more energy from coal and other sources.
Climate change experts say that the 2C threshold would not eliminate the risk of runaway climate change, but would reduce it. Even a slight increase in average temperatures could wreak havoc on farmers around the globe.
Mr Brown also welcomed an agreement from the G8 that “significant risks” remained in the world economy and it was too early to start preparing to exit from growth plans at the moment. Some leaders, such as Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, have been calling for early spending cuts to reduce deficits but has been opposed by Britain and America. Mr Brown pointed to a sentence in the communiqué saying that exit strategies should only be put into effect “once the recovery is assured”. At a press briefing he said that the G8 had decided to take all necessary steps individually and collectively to deliver global growth. He had been saying that the G8 needed to sound a second wake-up call on the world economy. “That wake-up call is being heard loud and clear,” he said.
Welcoming the agreement on climate change, made possible by America’s change in stance since Mr Obama succeeded George Bush as President, Mr Brown said: “For the first time the G8 has agreed what I believe are vital decisions that take us on the road to Copenhagen and change the way we look at energy policy.
“We have agreed for the first time that average global temperatures must rise by no more than 2C. We have agreed as G8 that we want to cut our emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and we believe this will allow the world to reduce its emissions by 50 per cent.”
In chairing the major economies forum today, Mr Obama is signalling that he wants to play a big role in the run-up to Copenhagen. The G8 also called on Iran to allow foreign diplomats and visitors to be allowed to conduct their business unhindered. After the violence over the contested election result a number of British Embassy staff were arrested. The G8 said embassies in Iran should be allowed to go about their normal business in accordance with the Vienna Convention.

Barack Obama pushes for climate change deal between G8 and developing countries

Mini-summit to lay groundwork for post-Kyoto meeting at Copenhagen but chance of breakthrough is slim
Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott in L'Aquila, Wednesday 8 July 2009 18.10 BST

The US president, Barack Obama, is to bring together the G8 industrialised nations and the five leading developing countries for a climate change mini-summit, but a breakthrough deal is not expected.
Obama is hoping he can bring the two sides closer together so there is a clear understanding of the concessions needed at December's Copenhagen summit, at which a successor to the Kyoto treaty is to be thrashed out.
The deal will have to include an admission that developing nations such as India and China must slow the pace in the increase of their carbon emissions.
The meeting, at L'Aquila, in Italy, is under the umbrella of the major economies forum and is being jointly chaired by Obama and the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Developing nations are not expected to sign up to specific carbon reduction targets at the meeting, but British sources are hoping the US will sign for the first time to a target of preventing temperatures rising by more than 2C on pre-industrial levels.
The Americans have been briefing that they do not see the G8 as the centrepiece of progress on climate change, and in the short term it is important to strike a deal to reduce US carbon emissions in Congress.
Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, told reporters the Congress bill is "going to be the true measure of things".
Developing nations are not going to sign up to specific commitments until they are sure the developed nations first agree to specific interim targets for 2020 and transfer large sums to help them grow using green technology.
Britain is the first country to put a specific sum on how much needs to be transferred on green technology, using a mix of public and private sources.
The US partly refused to sign the Kyoto treaty on the basis that China was refusing to contribute, and Obama will have to work his charms with both China and the US Congress to ensure there is no repetition of this deadlock at Copenhagen.

G8 summit: China and India reject G8 calls for climate targets

China and India have rejected calls from G8 leaders for them to make deep cuts in their carbon emissions.

By James Kirkup in L'Aquila Published: 7:33PM BST 08 Jul 2009
The refusal of developing nations to sign up to a climate change deal overshadowed an agreement between rich nations to limit the rise in global average temperatures.
G8 leaders meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, agreed for the first time to work to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius.

The summit also agreed that developed economies should aim to cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The agreement will force G8 economies to make significant changes in the way they operate to meeting that target.
Gordon Brown hailed the G8 statement on climate change as "historic" and a precursor to global climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.
"We have laid the foundations for a Copenhagen deal that is effective," he said.
But the deal was marred by the failure of fast-growing Asian nations to sign up. The G8 had wanted them to agree to cut their carbon output by 50 per cent in the same time.
However, the 50 per cent carbon targets faced resistance from India and China, which argued that the targets would hamper their economic growth.
"For any long-term goals there have to be credible midterm goals in the range of 25-40 per cent," said Dinesh Patnaik, an Indian climate policy negotiator.
And the proposal received a further blow when, within hours of his boss, Dmitry Medvedev, apparently signing the deal, the Russian President’s top economic aide said found the emissions target set for developed countries “unacceptable and likely unattainable”.
“We won’t sacrifice economic growth for the sake of emission reduction,”Arkady Dvorkovich said.
Greenpeace accused G8 leaders of "watering down climate ambitions" while other green groups complained there were no earlier targets for cutting emissions by 2020.
The G8 leaders will formally debate climate change on Thursday with the leaders of China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, the so-called "plus five" economies.
As well as resisting the 50 per cent target, those countries have not yet signed up to the two degree Celsius limit on global warming.
Mr Brown admitted winning that acceptance was the real measure of success on climate change policy. He said: "That's the test of whether we're making progress."
However, G8 officials admitted that the climate change talks would be complicated by the absence of China's President Hu Jintao, who has returned home early because of violence in Xinjiang.

Mark Lynas: It's never very comfortable to be ahead of your time

Thursday, 9 July 2009
Although many of us are too inversely snooty to admit it, Prince Charles is a thinker far ahead of his time.
His approach has been criticised as old fashioned but it is actually much more about looking forwards than backwards – moving away from approaches that deplete "natural capital" like rainforests and towards a more sustainable economy in harmony with the natural world.

The problem for Charles is that being ahead of one's time is not a comfortable place. He has been mercilessly lampooned over the years for his commitment to organic agriculture – but has surely been comprehensively vindicated.
His royal lifestyle leads to accusations of hypocrisy, yet his latest carbon statement shows a 30 per cent emissions reduction since 2007. How many of us have made similar progress?
The Prince's Rainforests Project is helping to rally the international community to slow and eventually reverse tropical deforestation.
In scientific terms, the Prince's vision of nature as "an interconnected, interdependent function of creation with harmony existing between all things" is increasingly mainstream. Last week, I attended a meeting of marine biologists and climatologists at the Royal Society in London. There was some disagreement among them about the fate of coral reefs – some thought that tropical reefs would be functionally extinct by 2030; some thought it might take a decade or two longer. It was a profoundly depressing day – no one seriously thinks that reefs can be saved.
However, the Prince remains optimistic that we can still "transform our relationship with the Earth that sustains us". Yet every day that passes, the light of that optimism grows dimmer.
Mark Lynas is author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books

Ill Winds Blow for Clean Energy

Cheap, and Abundant, Natural Gas Diminishes Alternative Projects' Appeal
T. Boone Pickens's decision to pull the plug on a big wind farm in the Texas panhandle highlights the hurdles clean-energy projects are facing in the U.S., including competition from newly cheap and abundant natural gas.
While problems plague all kinds of green-energy efforts, wind power has been hit especially hard. Because of the complications, growth in wind-power capacity this year is expected to be three-quarters of the increase in a record 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association trade group.
Even cash-flush foreign utilities that in recent years have entered the U.S. wind-power market, such as Spain's Iberdrola SA, have scaled back U.S. investment plans. And Mr. Pickens's decision, announced Tuesday, to shelve his project for the foreseeable future has left him scrambling to find homes for 667 wind turbines that he ordered in May 2008.
The solar-power industry, which was flying high just a year ago, spent the first half of 2009 announcing layoffs. Some big solar-power projects were shelved.

"The vast majority of commercial projects are on hold," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, noting that installations in California were down 60% in the first quarter compared with the year before.
One reason for the pullbacks is the plunge in natural-gas prices. Natural-gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange have fallen 72% from a year ago and dropped 2.2% on Wednesday to $3.35 per million British Thermal Units.
Inexpensive natural gas is generally bad news for renewable energy: Power plants that burn natural gas become even cheaper to operate when gas prices are low, making projects such as Mr. Pickens's planned wind farm less economical. Other clean-energy technologies, such as solar power, are even more expensive than wind.
When natural-gas prices are high -- as they were last summer when Mr. Pickens announced his Pickens Plan to wean the U.S. off foreign oil -- clean-energy projects become more competitive.
Natural-gas prices have fallen because of greater supply and weaker demand, as U.S. natural-gas production has soared over the past year because of the exploration of new reserves. But the economic slowdown has curtailed gas demand, especially in the industrial sector, and analysts expect prices to stay relatively low for the next few years.
Because gas prices are so volatile, short-term price movements alone don't make or break long-term investment decisions on projects like power plants. But just as cheap oil in the 1980s helped derail the U.S. clean-energy sector, relatively cheaper fossil fuels undermine investor interest in alternatives.
And that is without the credit crunch, which has been even more of a problem for clean-energy projects than some other sectors.
"Access to capital has been very hard," said Bracken Hendricks, an energy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. "It's just so difficult to build large-scale, capital-intensive projects" when many of the banks that specialized in underwriting clean-energy deals were sideswiped by the financial crisis.
Another problem is electricity transmission. Wind farms and other forms of clean energy are usually located in remote locations and require huge new transmission lines to carry the electricity to cities. Mr. Pickens initially hoped to finance the construction of his own transmission lines but was unable to secure funding.
The U.S. Department of Energy last year cited transmission as the biggest hurdle to full-scale wind-power development in the U.S., a notion seconded by many energy analysts.
"The question for the country is whether you want wind farms in the optimal locations at half the cost, or whether you build projects in lower-quality sites that have transmission lines," said Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for policy at the American Wind Energy Association.
Congress is trying to tackle the transmission question. The Senate is working on legislation that would give the federal government greater authority to authorize new transmission lines, which could help overcome some delays caused by state-level planning.
The administration of former President George W. Bush laid out plans to build 6,000 miles of electricity-transmission corridors across federal lands in Western states. But critics contend that the transmission corridors were designed to align with coal-fired power plants, not renewable-energy plants, and earlier this week filed suit to try to block the plan.
—Stephanie Simon contributed to this article.
Write to Keith Johnson at

UK urged to plug wind power into National Grid

Report by energy expert finds no technical reason why significant amount of energy generated by wind could not supply the National Grid
Press Association, Wednesday 8 July 2009 11.38 BST

Environmental groups today called on the government to deliver a "genuine shift" in energy policy after a new report said Britain's energy system was capable of taking a huge amount of wind power.
A study by energy expert David Milborrow found there was no technical reason why a significant amount of energy generated by wind could not be used to supply the National Grid.
The grid was already designed to manage fluctuations in demand and supply, while variations in wind power were considerably less than other demands caused by the weather or even TV programmes, said the report.
Milborrow, who has worked in the energy industry for 30 years, said: "Utilities worldwide generally agree there is no fundamental technical reason why high proportions of wind cannot be assimilated without the lights going out."
Chris Bennett, manager of National Grid's Future Transmission Networks, said: "We welcome this report and the way that it highlights the implications of integrating wind into our electricity network.
"The report complements the consultation document that National Grid issued in June which highlighted the different solutions available to ensure a safe secure and economic supply of electricity is maintained."
Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF, who commissioned the report, called on the government to put in place funding and incentives to encourage investment in much more wind power. The UK has already committed itself to an EU target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and wind power is expected to be the main technology used to reach the target.
Louise Hutchins, energy solutions campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "This report scuppers the final arguments against wind power. The government must now get cracking and make the most of the energy that wind will provide to the country, and wind won't just generate energy for Britain. It will also generate thousands of jobs for Britain."
Last week a report by the Carbon Trust suggested the UK could create 250,000 jobs and gain up to £70bn in revenue from offshore wind and wave technologies.

Domestic wind turbines could 'power 800,000 UK homes'

Small-scale turbines could supply 3.1% of the UK's energy demand from homes, according to the Energy Saving Trust

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 9 July 2009 00.09 BST

Small domestic wind turbines could provide enough clean electricity to power more than 800,000 UK homes, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST). Previous studies have suggested that small turbines in residential areas fail to generate enough power to justify their installation.
While the new work still suggests houses in dense urban areas are poor sites, it identifies 450,000 suitable domestic locations across the nation. There are currently just 2,000 such turbines. The research, which provides the most accurate picture of wind speeds in the UK yet, is available to the public via ( where householders can enter their postcode.
In total, small-scale wind in domestic properties could supply around 3.1% of the UK's energy demand from homes.
The UK is committed to cutting its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. In the shorter term, the country has to source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Energy use in homes is responsible for around a quarter of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions and the government is keen to reduce this figure by encouraging homeowners to improve their energy efficiency with, for example, loft and wall insulation.
"If the government is going to achieve the 80% carbon targets, particularly for the domestic sector, retrofit insulation isn't going to cut it. You're going to have to invest in lower-carbon energy generation," said Simon Green, head of business development at the EST.
In the first study of its kind, the EST spent a year monitoring small wind turbines from 500W to 6kW in size, in 57 different urban and rural locations around the UK.
"Generally, pole-mounted in areas of good, clean air with unobstructed air flow gave better than expected performance," said Green. Those in the most exposed rural parts of Scotland gave the best results, generating in excess of 18,000 KWh (or £2,300 of electricity) and save 7,500kg of carbon dioxide a year.
Turbines mounted on buildings did not fare as well, with a typical urban installations generating less than 200kWh (around £26 of electricity) a year and even those in rural Scottish locations generating just 1,000kWh (or £127 of electricity) a year. "It wasn't because the turbines themselves were bad, it was because of the wind resource was too poor – they're very sensitive to local turbulence and obstruction," said Green.
The study comes a few days before the government's white paper on energy and climate change. This will map out future incentives for, among other things, small-scale renewable energy schemes in the UK. The energy minister, Lord Philip Hunt, said the government planned to reward "small scale renewables with clean energy cashbacks from April next year as part of the UK transition to low carbon. This is why it is important for us to be as aware as possible of the best places in the UK to site onshore wind turbines."
Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, welcomed the EST study. "Domestic small-scale wind turbines can play a significant role in tackling climate change. The UK is already one of the leading manufacturers of small scale wind turbines with the potential to deliver many more green jobs in this area. ."
Edward Hyams, EST chairman, said the study was part of his organisation's attempt to bring reliable and user-friendly low-carbon technologies to the consumer market.
Until now, consumers had little independent data on the performance of small windmills, said Green. "To date, consumers have only had manufacturers' data and we thought it was really important that we undertake proper in situ monitoring of these technologies in a wide a variety of locations as possible."
Comparing different turbines has therefore been difficult and there were few tools to work out how reliable the wind is in a particular location. Small-scale turbines need to operate in an average wind speed of around 5 metres per second for them to make economic sense. The only way until now to estimate an area's wind resource was to use a government map called NOABL. However, this map is only accurate over unobstructed areas and tends to over-estimate the wind resource in cities.
In their experiments, the EST was also able to calculate the proportion of time that turbines in different locations actually generated electricity over the course of a year, a number known as the load factor. This topped out at around 35% for the pole-mounted turbines with an average around 19%.
The best-performing building-mounted turbines had a load factor around 7.5%. "In all the ones we monitored, we could not get a recording of 5m per second for any of them," said Green. "Turbines do work if they get the right wind speed – the reason they didn't is because they used this old NOABL model that over-estimated the wind resource."
The EST study was carried out in partnership with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, several power companies and the University of Southampton. It will be the first of several field trials of domestic-scale generation technology – further studies on solar thermal heating, air and ground-source heat pumps, and light-emitting diodes are already under way.

World's largest wind farm scrapped in financial downturn

The Texas oil billionaire T Boone Pickens has scrapped a $10 billion (£6.3billion) plan to build the world's largest wind farm.

By Tom Leonard in New York Published: 12:21AM BST 09 Jul 2009
Mr Pickens, 81, said the project, which he had backed with a $58 million marketing campaign, was scotched partly by falling gas prices and also because of the lack of adequate transmission lines to carry the electricity from remote locations to cities.
His plans were also damaged by the financial meltdown, which has hit investment in the renewable energy industry.

The farm was to be built in the Texas panhandle, on 200,000 acres of agricultural land several hundred miles northwest of Dallas.
Mr Pickens said he hoped instead to spend $2 billion on a string of smaller wind farms elsewhere, using up some of the 687 giant wind turbines he has already ordered from General Electric.
The giant wind farm was intended to harbour the power generated by 2,700 turbines to provide sufficient electricity for a million homes.
Mr Pickens, who has become a passionate advocate for the US ending its reliance on foreign oil, had originally said he would build his own transmission lines but has admitted "it was a little more complicated than we thought".
Wind power is seen as the great hope for American renewable energy but investment in the costly turbines and towers has been hit by the credit squeeze.
Emerging Energy Research, a consultancy, predicted installation of new wind power to fall by nearly 25 per cent this year compared with last year.
President Barack Obama included renewable energy in his stimulus package but two important provisions to boost investment have yet to be introduced.

Obama makes nuclear compromise to pass clean energy bill

Endorsement of nuclear revival suggests president is open to further compromises in order to pass climate change bill

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 8 July 2009 10.51 BST

The Obama administration endorsed a revival of America's nuclear industry yesterday in an effort to build forward momentum for climate change legislation before the Senate.
The seal of approval for nuclear power – a cause embraced by Republican senators – came on day one of a full-on lobbying effort by the White House for one of Obama's signature issues.
Obama sent four of his top lieutenants to the Senate – his secretaries of energy, interior, agriculture and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – to try to drum up support for a global warming bill.
The PR effort saw direct appeals to the farming and nuclear lobbies – some of the fiercest critics of Obama's clean energy agenda – with Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning energy secretary, calling for new nuclear plants to re-establish America's technological dominance in the world.
"I think nuclear power is going to be a very important factor in getting us to a low carbon future," Chu told the Senate's environment and public works committee. "Quite frankly, we want to recapture the lead on industrial nuclear power. We have lost that lead as we have lost the lead in many energy technologies and we want to get it back."
The endorsement of a nuclear revival – a generation after the last reactor was commissioned – suggests the Obama administration is open to further compromises as it seeks to find a path through the Senate. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill late last month.
Republicans in the Senate, who are almost universally opposed to action aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as Democrats from rust belt states, have been clamouring for a "nuclear renaissance" in America, which would see the construction of 100 new nuclear power plants by 2030.
The administration officials also tried to make inroads among the powerful farmers' lobby, saying they hoped the effort could help ensure passage of the bill through the Senate.
Yesterday's hearing marks the opening round of a second major push by the White House for Obama's climate and energy agenda.
Obama is in Europe where he hopes to persuade the G8 to commit to limiting global warming to 2C, and to persuade Russia to make its lumbering industries more efficient.
But the White House acknowledges it must also demonstrate American willingness by ensuring passage of a climate bill through both houses of Congress by December, when international climate change negotiations end in Copenhagen. It is widely believed that the international community will not sign up to action on climate change without evidence of US commitment.
The Democratic leadership in the Senate hopes to use the house bill as a template. It has pencilled in a schedule that would see the bill clear the committee process by mid-September and move to vote by late autumn.
But the way ahead is daunting. Despite the Democrats' 77-seat advantage in the house, the bill gained just 219 votes – one more than a bare majority – and the reform package had swollen to more than 1,427 pages. Much of that bloat was in the political sops to ensure the bill's support: concessions to farmers that ultimately damage the bill, protectionist measures to help heavily polluting industries – and even a hurricane centre in Florida.
The administration's case is also damaged by rising criticism of the bill, from environmentalists who say it does not go far enough as well as those opposed to any action.
Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, stopped short of endorsing the package yesterday, saying: "It sends the right signal and you all in the Senate have work to do."
But she said the Senate had little choice, and that inaction on climate change could lead to America's global economic decline.
"Clean energy is to this decade and the next what the space race was to the 1950s and 60s and America is behind," Jackson told the Senate. "Governments in Asia and Europe are ahead of the United States in making aggressive investments in clean energy technology."

‘Let’s take steps to bring green choices within the reach of everyone’

On day three of our series on the low-carbon economy, Zac Goldsmith tells Robin Pagnamenta that private enterprise has a key role to play

Which concrete measures can governments introduce to support the growth of a low-carbon economy in Britain?
Many green choices are still the preserve of the committed or the well-off. With the right incentives and signals, an intelligent government could make pollution and waste a liability and at the same time bring those green choices within reach of us all. Until that happens, green will always be a marginal niche.
Broadly, the Government needs to put a price on pollution, waste and the use of scarce resources, and to invest proceeds into the alternatives. For example, if a new tax is introduced – at the point of purchase – on the “dirtiest” cars, it should be used to bring down the cost of the “cleanest” cars.
That would clean up the car fleet very quickly, and without punishing people for decisions they’ve already taken.

We also need to make better use of subsidies. In my view they should exist to stimulate new technologies and to fund research not yet attractive to the market. The German system of feed-in tariffs is one way we could support green energy technologies, by shortening the payback time.
Funding research into carbon capture and storage is another example. What we shouldn’t be doing is using taxpayer funds to prop up mature technologies and to subsidise fossil fuels, as we currently do.
What solutions can entrepreneurs offer in tackling climate change?
Green entrepreneurs need to be given greater incentives. If that happens, they will find ways to make money by being part of the solution. That can mean any number of things. Some will focus on clean energy, some will develop ever more efficient appliances, others will take part in the global carbon markets. With the right market frameworks in place, the market will respond in endless ways.
Is private enterprise a help or a hindrance to the environmental movement?
The market is by far the most powerful force for change, but it has blindspots. The environment is one. Most environmental problems are, therefore, the result of market failure.
If we can find a way to price the environment into the market, then we can, in my view, trust the market to deliver real solutions. In reality that’s our only hope. I’m convinced that private enterprise will be a fundamental part of the environmental solution.
Should nuclear energy play a role in the low-carbon economy?
If it was up to me, I wouldn’t block nuclear per se, but I would absolutely oppose any use of taxpayer funds to prop it up. That includes dealing with waste, security concerns and so on. I don’t believe it’s right for the Government to use taxpayer funds to support old technologies, no matter how powerful their lobby groups. The job of the Government is to provide energy solutions at the lowest cost and in the cleanest way. That will never, in my view, be nuclear.
Don’t forget there has never been a nuclear power plant that wasn’t constructed and run at the public’s expense. In a free market, nuclear wouldn’t exist. On that basis I would like to see subsidies diverted elsewhere, and, logically, that would mean nuclear has almost certainly had its day.
You have described the supermarket industry as “disastrous” and “soul-destroying”. Is it possible for big corporations to play a positive role in tackling environmental challenges?
Supermarkets dominate the retail sector to such an extent that we don’t really have healthy competition. Tesco’s market share is borderline monopoly. The effect is that neither producers [farmers] nor consumers have real bargaining power.
It’s too easy simply to say that customers can vote with their feet but, the truth is, supermarkets decimate the high street, destroy competition and effectively create dependence. I think that does need to be addressed. But the flip side is that shifts in the buying policies or packaging policies of the giant retailers have big impacts across the board. If Tesco decided to source only sustainably caught fish, for example, that would have a measurable impact on the fishing industry.
What role do you think market-based mechanisms could play in tackling deforestation?
Forests are the totemic environmental issue. I remember as a child worrying about the Amazon. And yet despite the general escalation of concern over environmental issues, the forests are still being decimated. The only answer I can imagine is one that involves making forests worth more alive than dead. And that requires us to harness the formidable power of the markets.
Many people believe that mastering carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) is the only way that the world can realistically cut its emissions of carbon dioxide. Is CCS a practical or important technology to pursue?
We need to bring forward CCS technology. I’m certain it will play a role, but the priority for now is to create the right incentives for clean technology. We should learn from countries like Germany, where a single town, Freiberg, produces more solar energy than the whole of the UK. We should also be focusing on energy efficiency. The best power plant is one that isn’t needed at all because we have cut demand. Today’s technology is already cost-effective, so it’s not even about cost – it’s about investment. That’s the proverbial low-hanging fruit.
— Zac Goldsmith is the editor of The Ecologist and the Conservative Party’s parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park

‘We must act early in low-carbon transition to take full advantage’

Businesses here and abroad must apply their best ideas, engineering skills and technologies to forge ahead in a changing world, says Ed Miliband

The transition to low carbon will lead to a restructuring of economies around the world, and it is my job to make sure that we make this transition as urgently as possible, and in a way that helps British businesses to take advantage of the new opportunities.
In the energy sector, we are moving to a trinity of flow-carbon sources, each with potential for supply chains and industrial opportunities in Britain. With the developing technologies for coal, for example, it is possible to capture 90 per cent of the emissions at the power plant and store them permanently underground.
We are providing funding and setting rules for new coal-fired power stations in such a way both to prove the technology and to seed new clusters of low-carbon industries.
Similarly, the renewable power industry has doubled in the past five years, and last year wind provided enough power for two million homes. In the next decade, though, the amount of renewable power is set to increase even faster, as energy suppliers have to show they have used it for a fixed and rising proportion of their supply.

This will mean new opportunities in manufacturing, as well as in the shift to a smart grid that balances power from intermittent sources. To maximise the opportunities for Britain, industrial funds can attract investment from abroad and kick-start export industries.
Nuclear power, too, is undergoing a renaissance, as many who originally opposed it rethink their views in the face of climate change and the need to cut emissions. The construction of each of the new power stations could provide up to 9,000 jobs – we need to make sure that the skills are in place and the supply chains are prepared. In each of these areas, we need dynamic and effective companies, but we also need government to play its role, setting the right framework to drive the technology forward.
The transition to a low-carbon economy will no longer be a niche activity but, like the internet, part of how everyone does business. We must make sure that Britain acts early by providing certainty about the path ahead.
With the introduction of legally binding carbon budgets, we know the carbon savings we have to make: a third of 1990 emissions by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050. Every business knows that the transition is not a case of if, but when.
Businesses around the country are rising to this challenge. When I take part in negotiation abroad, it strengthens my hand that British industry has been forward-thinking on climate change.
I can point to the savings that have been made by British companies and the fact that they argue not for weakening ambition, but for all countries to do their bit.
Other countries, from China to the United States, are also seeing that it can be a mission of prosperity rather than one of austerity.
But we need businesses, here and around the world, to apply their ideas, their engineering skills, their technologies, to help to chart that course to a low-carbon world.
— Ed Miliband is Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

US agrees landmark pledge to slash emissions

G8 commits to cutting carbon output by 80% – and tells China and India to follow suit
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor, in L'Aquila
Thursday, 9 July 2009

The world's richest nations agreed last night to cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in a dramatic attempt to secure a new global deal to combat climate change.
Leaders of the G8 group of countries also agreed to set a limit of C on global temperature rises, the first time they have imposed such a ceiling. In return, they urged developing countries including China and India to cut their emissions by 50 per cent over the same period.
President Barack Obama cleared the way for what Gordon Brown called an "historic agreement" at the G8 summit in Italy by signing the US up to a firm emissions target for the first time – a complete contrast to the intransigence of his predecessor, George Bush. The G8 move is designed to revitalise United Nations-led talks on a global "son of Kyoto" agreement, which reach a climax in Copenhagen in December.

In talks in L'Aquila today, President Obama will try to persuade nine non-G8 nations, including China and India, to "jump together" with the G8 countries by agreeing to halve their emissions by 2050.
But an immediate breakthrough in today's 17-nation negotiations is unlikely. The Chinese President, Hu Jintao, returned home from Italy abruptly after ethnic tensions increased in China's western Xinjiang territory. The developing nations want firm guarantees of subsidies from the rich nations' club to help them meet the cost of converting their industries to low-carbon technology. They also want the G8 members to be more specific about their interim targets for reducing emissions by 2020.
Another potential stumbling block is the baseline on which the G8's emissions cuts will be calculated. Their declaration left this unclear, prompting critics to describe it as a fudge. Britain backs a 1990 start date but the US favours a later one – meaning it would have to make a smaller reduction. However, officials hope the G8's gesture will draw developing nations into serious and ultimately successful negotiations by December. One said: "There's a long way to go yet. There will be setbacks along the way. But we now have a decent chance of getting there."
Mr Brown said: "For the first time the G8 has agreed [on] what I believe are vital decisions that take us on the road to Copenhagen and change the way we look at energy policy in the future. We have agreed for the first time that average global temperatures must rise by no more than C. That is an historic agreement. We have agreed as the G8 that we want to cut our emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and we believe that this will allow the world to reduce its emissions by 50 per cent."
The Prime Minister has proposed a $100bn global fund to ease the path to a deal by helping developing countries become more energy efficient. There was no agreement on that last night, while some non-G8 members want a bigger fund.
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said: "We are not yet where we would like to be but I think things are [moving] in the right direction for Copenhagen."
But the breakthrough failed to satisfy green groups. While welcoming the G8's move, they criticised the group for failing to produce targets for 2020.
Antonio Hill, a spokesman for the charity Oxfam, said: "The G8 might have agreed to avoid cooking the planet by more than C, but they made no attempt to turn down the heat any time soon. 2050 is too far off to matter – poor people are being hit today. We must see emissions cuts of at least 40 per cent by 2020 and G8 money to help the poorest countries cope with climate chaos."
Tobias Muenchmeyer, Greenpeace International's political adviser, said: "While agreeing to keep temperature rise to below C without a clear plan, money or targets on how to do this, the G8 leaders will not have helped to break the deadlock in the UN climate negotiations."
Mr Brown scored a victory over the summit host Silvio Berlusconi by securing a shake-up of the G8's system of aid to the world's poorest nations to stop them backsliding on their promises. With Italy and France unlikely to deliver on pledges they made at the Gleneagles summit four years ago, Mr Brown and Mr Obama joined forces to try to prevent a repeat of the failure.
From now on, the G8 club will publish annual progress reports on the aid given by its members. A review next year, by when the Gleneagles promises were due to be kept, will lead to a "Gleaneagles 2" process so that the G8 can "catch up" by 2015, when the landmark Millennium Development Goals are due to be met. The Italian Prime Minister resisted Mr Brown's move for greater accountability over G8 aid commitments, but Japan and Canada joined the US to ensure that Mr Berlusconi was outmanoeuvred.

Auto Program in Climate Bill Raises Trade Concerns


WASHINGTON -- A provision in the House-passed climate bill could violate world-trade rules by favoring U.S. auto makers in the distribution of some $2 billion in government subsidies, a leading free trade group warned Wednesday.
The provision would provide an estimated $2.14 billion over five years to auto makers to build plug-in electric vehicles "that are developed and produced in the United States." The language, added late in negotiations after heavy lobbying from the United Auto Workers, also directs the government to give preference to auto makers "located in local markets that have the greatest need for the facility."
Bill Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, said the electric-vehicle program could amount to government subsidies for U.S. auto makers, likely violating World Trade Organization rules that prohibit countries from favoring domestic companies.
The provision is the latest to come under criticism from businesses and trade experts who accuse Congress of trying to pass legislation designed to benefit U.S.-based companies over foreign competitors.
Mr. Reinsch warned the program for electric vehicles would invite retaliation from other countries. "One of two things will happen: either the Europeans will complain about it or they'll do the same thing and they'll provide subsidies in Europe to European car manufacturers," he said. "From a trade-policy standpoint, either outcome is market-distorting."
The council, which advocates free trade and whose members include Boeing Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., General Electric Corp., as well as General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, plans to raise the issue with lawmakers and the Obama administration in coming weeks, Jake Colvin, an NFTC vice president, said. The Senate is drafting its own climate-change bill.
Michael Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, said the program appears biased against foreign-based auto makers. Toyota Motor Co., for example, is developing and manufacturing the plug-in version of its Prius model in Japan. A Toyota spokeswoman said the company was still studying the climate bill and wasn't prepared to comment.
GM, meanwhile, plans to make its plug-in Volt in Michigan, and stands to benefit from the provision. "We're going to be taking a look at this and seeing what we can do," Mr. Stanton said.
Alan Reuther, the UAW's chief lobbyist, said the union supported the provision as a way to ensure government money is being used to create jobs in the U.S. "This is neutral between all of the companies, foreign and domestic companies," he said. "It is saying, 'Invest in this country and we'll get you help to do that.'"
There is "no reason Toyota can't produce the Prius in this country," he added.—Ian Talley contributed to this article.
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Hyundai Rolls Out First Hybrid Car


GAPYEONG, South Korea – Hyundai Motor Co. on Wednesday began selling its first hybrid car, a version of its Avante compact sedan that runs on a combination of liquid petroleum gas and a battery, in South Korea and said it would roll out gas-battery hybrid models in other countries next year.
The company said the new car is the first hybrid to be powered by LPG. Many South Korean taxis and buses run on LPG, which burns cleaner and is less corrosive than ordinary gasoline, and Hyundai has been successful with LPG-powered versions of its midsize Sonata sedan in the country, which has a sizable infrastructure of filling stations for the fuel.

Hyundai will produce the Avante hybrid in three trim levels, with the entry-level vehicle expected to sell for 20.5 million won, or about $16,200, after the effects of a tax break. That's about 8.5 million won more than the entry-level, gas-powered Avante, but the gap is reduced by other tax exemptions. (Outside South Korea, Hyundai uses the name Elantra for its compact sedan.)
LPG is priced at about half the level of ordinary gasoline in South Korea, which means that the payback from fuel savings with Hyundai's Avante Hybrid is faster than seen with gas-hybrid cars that have gained popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Under a formula assuming 20,000 kilometers (12, 428 miles) in annual driving, Hyundai estimates the new car would produce fuel savings of about 1.35 million won each year, based on current prices at the pump.
Rim Joung-hun, a marketing manager, said Hyundai is studying other countries where LPG vehicles are common but it doesn't plan to export the vehicle for now. The company plans to offer a gas-battery hybrid version of the Sonata in North America late next year, before selling it in South Korea, Mr. Rim said.
Like other hybrid vehicles, the Avante is equipped with a dashboard indicator to notify a driver when the car is performing at peak fuel efficiency.
South Korea's government late last year introduced a tax benefit to encourage purchases of hybrid cars. The incentive, which took effect last week, gives buyers an exemption on taxes of as much as 3.1 million won. The tax break expires at the end of 2012.
Even with the tax break, South Korean government officials are forecasting slow sales of hybrid vehicles, with just 30,000 expected to be on the road by 2012, in a country where about 1.1 million new vehicles are purchased annually. Japanese manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp., the leading seller of hybrid vehicles worldwide, hasn't introduced its models in South Korea. Honda Motor Co. offers a hybrid version of its Civic compact in the country.
Hyundai said it aims to sell about 7,500 models of the hybrid Avante in South Korea this year and 15,000 next year. The company is South Korea's biggest car maker and seller with unit sales last year of 571,000 vehicles, about 49% of the overall market. The Avante was its second most-popular vehicle, with unit sales of nearly 88,000.
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California Gives Desalination Plants a Fresh Look

Process to Make Seawater Drinkable Gains Traction, but Environmentalists Object to Heavy Energy Use, Harm to Marine Life

Early next year, the Southern California town of Carlsbad will break ground on a plant that each day will turn 50 million gallons of seawater into fresh drinking water.
The $320 million project, which would be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, was held up in the planning stages for years. But a protracted drought helped propel the project to its approval in May -- a sign of how worried local authorities are about water supplies.

Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis and other elected officials have dodged environmentalists' objections to city plans to build a desalination plant.
"Water is going to be very short until you have a new source," said Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis. "And the only new source is desalination, I don't care what anybody says."
The desalination plant would use water that flows by gravity from the ocean across a manmade lagoon and into the facility through 10 large pumps. The plant would then blast it through a filter, extracting fresh water and leaving behind highly pressurized salty water. The process would provide enough water for 300,000 people each day.
Government agencies have opposed desalination because of the process's energy consumption. The desalination plant would use nearly twice as much energy as a wastewater-treatment plant available in Orange County. Environmental groups also object because fish and other organisms are likely to be sucked into the facility.

"Eventually, people will have to realize, it's either fish or children," Mr. Lewis said.
Desalination is most commonly used in such places as Saudi Arabia and northern Africa, where fresh water is scarce.
But in Southern California, authorities are increasingly desperate. Huntington Beach, in Orange County, is planning to break ground on its own desalination plant in 2010. Another plant is in the works at Camp Pendleton, just north of Carlsbad, in San Diego County.
Since January 2008, Orange County has been using a $487 million groundwater-replenishment plant to recycle 70 million gallons of water each day. The city of Los Angeles is flirting with a plan to do the same.
Even at a time when budgets are strained, authorities are willing to push ahead on costly projects. The Camp Pendleton plant is expected to cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion; the Carlsbad plant will cost less because it is using a pre-existing power plant.
Half of the water in Southern California is imported from two sources: the State Water Project, which draws from the Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, and the Colorado River, which runs along the state's southeast border. Local authorities need to cobble together the rest from groundwater, recycled or surface water, and imports from elsewhere in the state.
But exports from the Colorado River were cut by half -- to nearly 180 billion gallons -- in 2003 because of drought. The levels have risen since then, but now come with a 20% higher price tag. Pumping from the State Water Project has been cut by 40% from 2006 levels.
Scientists and water authorities are pushing for more water recycling, conservation and water-use restrictions, as well as cleaning up the groundwater supply.
But increasingly they are also considering desalination.
"We don't encourage people to put in a desalination plant unless they need one -- unless they don't have any other options," said Lisa Henthorne, president of the International Desalination Association.
Officials in Carlsbad began discussing desalination in 1998 and planned to open the plant this year. But opposition was fierce.
The Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper -- two local environmental groups -- argue the plant would be disastrous for marine life, "killing everything that floats" near the plant's intake, said Surfrider's Joe Geever.
The permitting process continued for six years, and included 14 public hearings that ran a total of 170 hours and included five revisions to the plan.
Throughout the process, Scott Maloni, vice president for Poseidon Resources, which is developing the Carlsbad and Huntington Beach desalination plants, said he kept an eye on the situation. "No doubt that the drought played a role in the approval," he said.
"Hopefully Poseidon will be extremely successful," said Mr. Lewis, the Carlsbad mayor. "If they are, we'll see lots of these kinds of plants popping up all along the coast. If they're not, it's going to be a long road."
Write to Sabrina Shankman at