Sunday, 12 July 2009

Cheap ‘green mortgages’ to foster energy-saving homes

Jonathan Leake

The government is to offer “green mortgages” to fund the installation of solar panels, wind turbines and other energy-saving measures.
Households will be able to take out the low-interest loans to pay for double-glazing, loft and cavity wall insulation and even heat pumps, which extract energy from below the ground.
The scheme, which will be announced this week alongside the government’s renewable energy strategy, could transform the urban landscape as ministers try to encourage homeowners to reduce carbon emissions.
It could mean, for example, traditional roofs being obscured by solar panels, wooden sash windows being replaced by double-glazed units and wind turbines sprouting from the tops of suitable buildings.
Even listed properties, or those in conservation areas, could be affected with the government considering easing planning restrictions to allow for energy saving measures.
Householders who refuse to take part in the scheme could face higher council tax rates and, when they sell, the threat of raised stamp duty for prospective buyers.
Ministers want to cut the 150m tonnes of carbon dioxide generated by Britain’s 26m homes to less than 30m tonnes by 2050.
“Britain has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80% between now and 2050 so we need to cut the emissions from each home to almost zero,” said David Adams, chairman of the UK Green Buildings Council.
Adams heads a government-backed taskforce that will propose the “green mortgage” scheme in a report to be published on Tuesday.
It will be backed by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, who wants 7m homes to have undergone the energy upgrades by 2020, with the rest by 2030.
This weekend it also emerged that the renewable energy strategy is likely to add £200 to the average household’s utility bills. The strategy paper will say Britain needs to spend more than £100 billion on renewable energy infrastructure by 2020, including 7,000 wind turbines. This money will come from a levy on energy bills, which will have to rise by about 20%.
The green mortgages are expected to be made available by high street banks in partnership with local councils.
Householders may be encouraged to take out the loans by a temporary reduction in council tax, which may also be increased if they refuse.
The loans, likely to average between £10,000 and £15,000 for each home, would be secured by a charge on a property, repayable over periods of up to 25 years. If a resident sold the house, the charge would stay with the new owner.
Ministers believe this will not disrupt the housing market. “The aim is to make the monthly repayments so small that they will be outstripped by the savings on energy bills – meaning householders will actually save money by taking the loans,” said Adams.
Ute Collier, of the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s independent adviser, calculated that the owner of a typical three-bedroom Victoran end-of-terrace home, with three exposed walls, could expect to spend £10,280 on a package of energy-saving measures, along with a new boiler.
This would cost the householder £514 a year in repayments over 20 years, assuming a zero interest rate, while the savings on energy would total £802, a yearly “profit” of £288.
Alternatively, they could spend £32,180 on a top-of-the-range energy efficiency package with deluxe double-glaz-ing, insulation on every external wall, plus solar panels and a ground source heat pump.
This would cost £1,609 a year in repayments over 20 years, compared with annual savings on bills of £1,400. Although this appears a loss, the work could increase the value of the property and be a safeguard against future energy price rises.
Adams believes that an army of contractors could be hired to carry out energy saving measures street by street. He likens it to having an Olympic-sized building project every year for the next 20 years, generating about 50,000 jobs.
However, critics fear that a national insulation programme will see the destruction of many period features, such as Victorian sash windows, which are aesthetically pleasing but inefficient.
“This has to be done sensitively,” said Adams. “Sash windows and other period features can be improved rather than destroyed.”
The green mortgage plan is likely to irritate the Conservatives who announced a similar scheme for raising domestic energy efficiency months before the government.
Greg Clark, the Tory energy and climate spokesman, said: “It’s annoying to see our policies stolen like this but I feel proud that Miliband is a convert to recycling our ideas.”
The government will also introduce measures this week to restrict emissions generated by Britain’s 2m commercial and public buildings. These buildings produce about 80m tonnes of CO2 a year.

Dorothy Thompson: taking on the power challenge

Despite her modesty on the technical side, Drax Power chief executive Dorothy Thompson has a shrewd understanding of the realities facing her industry.

By Andrew CavePublished: 11:23PM BST 11 Jul 2009

Mrs Thompson, chief executive of Drax Power, explains that she does not actually get involved in running the huge Yorkshire site Photo: Lorne Campbell/Guzelian
Dorothy Thompson was worried about having her picture taken in a hard hat underneath the giant cooling towers at Drax, Britain’s biggest coal-fired power station.
“It’s not really what I do,” said Mrs Thompson, chief executive of Drax Power, explaining that she does not actually get involved in running the huge Yorkshire site that is the company’s only asset.

“I wouldn’t say I am the strongest person technically, but we have plenty of other very competent people to do that. What I like to do is work on strategy and plan for the long-term.”
There is plenty of that with the power industry buffeted by legislation on carbon emissions, security of supply issues and the short-term implications of recession.
In May, the Government indicated that it wants all UK power stations to retro-fit facilities to capture and store the carbon emissions they produce – something Mrs Thompson is nervous about trialling at Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant.
This week, more stipulations for the industry are expected to emerge in the Government’s announcement of its national strategy for climate change and energy.
As Britain’s single largest carbon emitter by site, Drax will be heavily affected, but Mrs Thompson is far from a career power station manager. Her route has been through asset financing and banking, before working as assistant group treasurer for PowerGen and then running the European business of InterGen, the power-generation subsidiary of Shell and Bechtel.
She looks every bit an investment banker in her smart trouser suit and stresses that Drax’s business involves not only producing power but also buying fuel and selling electricity through the wholesale markets. However, her modesty on the technical side belies a shrewd understanding of the financial, environmental and operational realities of her industry.
“We have the most efficient coal station in the UK and generate 7pc of the UK’s power each year,” she said, “but Drax is unusual because we sell all our power to the wholesale market. We don’t supply direct to people. We run a very complex engineering plant but we also trade in very sophisticated commodity markets for power, coal and carbon.”
Mrs Thompson’s role as a banker-turned power company chief executive is rather suitable for Drax, a single power station which became a listed company as a result of asset finance machinations and banking deals.
The station was built in the 1970s and early 1980s by the Central Electricity Generating Board, became part of National Power on privatisation and was later sold to US group AES. But when Mrs Thompson arrived in 2005, her first task was to address a capital structure crisis that arose as a consequence of the collapse of US power giant Enron.
“This is where it gets colourful,” she said, calmly explaining how AES bought Drax on the back of a long-term sales contract with TXU Europe, which went into liquidation as part of Enron’s collapse.
The sales contract also effectively collapsed and AES could not service the debts it had taken on to buy Drax, so it effectively walked away from the power station, leaving the shareholdings in the power station stapled to its debt. The shareholders became distressed-debt hedge funds and the business was put up for sale, attracting three offers.
Mrs Thompson’s solution was to list the business, which she did three and a half years ago, with Drax shareholders converting their debt into equity and gaining a listing price up to 20pc higher than the trade offers for the company.
“That set us on a secure capital footing,” she said, “and it also meant that we looked at the business through a slightly different frame. When you’re looking at a business that’s struggling to pay its debt, it’s all about survival. But when you’re looking at a business with a sound capital structure, it’s about how you can really deliver value for shareholders.
“Drax did have quite a serious strategic challenge in its carbon emissions. Once we had a solid strategy on how to run the business itself, we looked at how we could address this.”
The environmental challenge is immense, as Drax is twice the size of any other coal-fired power station.
Mrs Thompson’s plan is three-fold. Firstly, Drax is investing £100m in upgrading technology to save 1m tonnes of its 20m annual carbon emissions. “It’s equivalent to 275,000 cars being taken off the road, so it’s not immaterial.”
Then there’s an £80m programme to swich Drax from coal to a mix of coal and biomass-burning wood and other agricultural by-products. Drax already has the capacity to use 100MW of its 4,000MW capacity for biomass, but is building the capacity to increase that to 500MW.
The power station group has trialled 67 types of biomass so far and selected about 20 types that it expects to source regularly – Mrs Thompson’s favourite is straw pellets. “We expect to burn between 1.5m to 1.8m tonnes of biomass a year, which would make us the UK’s biggest user of biomass.”
“Biomass is difficult to source – it’s much less dense than coal, so physically it’s much bigger to handle – you have to keep it very dry and you need a lot of storage. But we’re doing all this because we believe there’s a lot you can do in the here and now.
“A lot of climate change is about the ultimate solution, but we think you shouldn’t ignore the fact that you can make some very good near-term solutions.”
For coal, Mrs Thompson accepts that the ultimate solution is carbon capture and storage, but this is unlikely to be available as a proper commercial technology before 2020 and she does not believe that a station the size of Drax should be used as a guinea pig for essentially unproven technology.
The third phase is a £2bn programme with Siemens Project Ventures to build three 300mw biomass plants in Drax, Immingham port and another site to be decided. If it all goes ahead, the plants are expected to become operational between 2014-2016, when Drax reckons they will produce about 15pc of the UK’s renewable electricity. Renewable power as a whole is slated by the Government to produce 35pc of the nation’s electricity by 2020.
Amongst the barriers to all these plans is the recession, which has led to a 5-6pc fall in UK electricity demand since October.
“It’s hard to know whether it’s because people can’t afford the bills or whether it’s because the recession is so deep that actually there simply isn’t the demand there,” said Mrs Thompson.
“The bills component will change because wholesale electricity prices have more than halved in the last nine months, and you would expect more of that to feed through to end users. But part of it is without doubt the economic challenge that the UK faces.”
A short-term drop in demand for power will ease Britain’s security of supply issues in the short term, but there is still expected to be a serious capacity challenge around 2016 when acid-rain legislation may cause large wholesale plant closures in the UK.
“It does affect us,” said Mrs Thompson, “but we’re confident that there’s a good case for retro-fitting the necessary equipment.”
Drax’s biomass plans have not stopped the power station being targeted by environmental protesters, and Mrs Thompson is critical of security abuses.
“We had a very major protest in 2006 and a proportion of the protesters made it totally clear that they did not feel that in any way they should consider or obey our safety regulations on site. Their objective was to get onto the site and cause damage, with no respect for safety and security.
“Power stations are just inherently dangerous places and safety is paramount, so I don’t think you should put other peoples lives at risk in that way. I hope that there is a greater appreciation now that we have worked hard to deliver material carbon savings.”
Mrs Thompson’s own work path came through degrees in economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science before her early banking career.
“I worked on financings of everything from power steering and gear factories to cocoa plantations and pulp mills,” she said.
“You need a real mix of skills. I love the complexity of the combination between the different types of markets we’re involved in. What I do here is very different from banking. There’s a whole part that’s about having very good systems, very good processes and keeping a strong orientation on safety all the time.”
She never particularly targeted being a chief executive and nor does she see herself as a beacon for women’s rights, despite being one of only four women leading Britain’s top 100 companies.
She is also not the sort to join women-in-business action groups. “Women are definitely in the minority in our industry, but we really believe in having the best person for the job. I believe in equal access for women, but I think that in many areas we already have that.”
Dorothy Thompson's CV
Born: 1960
Homes Islington, London and York
Married with two children
Education St Mary's, Shaftesbury; London School of Economics
Car Diesel Lexus
Hobbies Skiing, sailing, diving and hiking
Favourite film Breakfast at Tiffany's
Favourite book The English Patient
Other jobs Non-executive director at Johnson Matthey

Power games: Who is the greenest of them all?

It's tragic but I'm afraid that the big energy boys are already reverting to type, playing bullying games in the playground about who is the greenest. The latest spat came last week when Ecotricity, British Gas and npower attacked EDF's latest green campaign – Green Britain Day – which launched with a green Union Jack being worn by Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton.
This has prompted much huffing and puffing from Ecotricity – and legal action – which claims that EDF has stolen its Union Jack logo, while British Gas and npower are making fun of EDF, taking out advertisements saying that every day is green in their book. Going green was meant to bring the best out in big business, not turn them green with envy.

Fresh blueprint for the low carbon economy

Tricia Holly Davis

MINISTERS will this week make their third attempt in five years to map out a low-carbon future for the UK by publishing detailed proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The low carbon transition plan will outline how the country will meet the legally binding limits on emissions set in the Climate Change Act 2008. The target is a 34% carbon reduction by 2020.
The most significant proposals in the plan will be a tenfold increase in renewable energy capacity over the next decade and the creation of 400,000 “green” jobs.
The renewable energy boom will be achieved in part by forcing electricity suppliers to buy more wind, solar and other green power. The current renewables obligation scheme, which requires power companies to buy certain amounts of renewable energy, is likely to be extended for 10 years past its 2027 expiry date.

There are expected to be additional incentives for building offshore wind farms. There will also be incentives for homeowners, including an assistance package to pay for energy efficiency improvements such as insulation, and new “feed-in” tariffs that will encourage the sale of energy from household solar panels and wind turbines to the national grid.
Ministers want to use the transition plan to shore up investor confidence in the sector and stimulate investment.
Several large energy groups, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, have pulled back from putting money into wind and solar power because of uncertainties over likely returns.
There are already doubts about whether the government’s ambitious targets can be met. Britain has a patchy record for sticking to environmental targets. In 1999 Labour announced plans for a 20% emissions reduction and 10% renewables mix by 2010, both of which are likely to be missed.
One concern is that the UK will roll back on a recommendation by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body that advises the government. It has said the UK should achieve a near zero-carbon power sector by 2030. Greenpeace, the environmental campaign group, which has seen a draft of the new energy strategy, said the report instead “envisages a 50% emissions cut by 2025”.
This week’s plan will be followed by an energy bill, which will be included in the next Queen’s speech.
David Kennedy, who heads the CCC, said a separate plan to boost investment in clean coal and nuclear power would follow next year.
The CCC will submit a report to parliament in October outlining a number of additional “low carbon funding options”.
These will include a carbon tax on power generation, which would exempt nuclear and renewable energy; a low carbon obligation scheme, akin to the renewables obligation, which would include nuclear and clean coal; and a guaranteed government tender for low carbon power generation to provide security of demand and entice investors. The government is obligated to respond to the CCC report early next year.
Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, is urging ministers to come up with a plan and stick to it.
“You can’t keep adjusting the energy policy,” said King. “Businesses need a clear signal that any investments they make now in low carbon technology and infrastructure in the UK will pay off in the future.”
Bringing more renewables online is critical if Britain is to fill the gap left by decommissioned coal and nuclear plants. Mark Spelman of Accenture, the business adviser, estimates a total loss of 15.5 GW of capacity by 2016 will need to be replaced by gas and wind. The current wind power capacity is only 2.4 GW.
“The government strategy must signal a big expansion of wind and transparency on true costs as well as investment in more gas plants,” said Spelman.
“A lot hangs on the new plan,” said Robert Bell of AEA, an energy and climate change consultancy. “We have to make deep emissions cuts soon, and even deeper ones later. So the plan needs to signpost a radically different world, but one that at the same time brings the opportunity for the creation of new jobs, and new wealth.”
Key points
- Jobs for 400,000 in new green industries
-Electricity suppliers forced to buy more power from renewable resources
-A new financing package to help to improve home energy efficiency
-Increased incentives for offshore wind farms
-“Feed-in” tariffs to encourage householders to sell energy they produce from solar panels or wind turbines back to the grid

EU must lead the world on climate change

Martin Luther King would never have made the impact he did if he started his famous speech with the words: "I have a nightmare". It is hard to enthuse people about the need to combat climate change through fear.

By Roland RuddPublished: 9:30PM BST 11 Jul 2009

"If we don't act now, this is how terrible the world will be" is hardly a great rallying call for action. Yet there are reasons for optimism.
In the US, the world's greatest polluter, half the population do not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. However, 70pc believe in climate change. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the first significant global challenge which is completely understood by the world. So the question is not how to persuade people for the need for action. It is how do we get the world to change in order to avoid the catastrophic level of climate change projected to occur as early as 2050?

The answer has to be through the European Union acting first. The Kyoto treaty, committing industrialised countries to reducing their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by more than 5pc (for the EU, the target is 8pc) below their 1990 levels, would never have been signed but for the EU determination to act as one body, with one negotiator.
We do not have to be too Panglossian about the EU to realise that it provides a crucial vision on how to tackle climate change. As John Gummer, the chairman of the Conservative Party's Quality of Life Policy Group, recently put it: "the very fact that the EU made Kyoto possible should fire us up to raise our game on climate change".
At the European Council last December, sparked by concern about the costs of implementing the climate package, Italy joined Eastern European countries in lobbying for a dilution of the commitment to cut greenhouse emissions by 20pc. However, the EU held firm with its ambitious 20-20-20 package – a 20pc cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20pc improvement in energy efficiency and 20pc of energy to come from renewable sources, all by 2020.
The EU commitment paved the way for this week's G8 decision to limit global warming to just 2C above pre-industrial levels. At the same time the world's richest nations have been asked to cut emissions by 80pc, while the rest of the world should reduce them by 50pc by 2050.
For its part, the business community is increasingly facing up to its responsibilities. In a publication A Climate Mission for Europe launched by Business for New Europe this week, senior business leaders from 20 companies argue that climate change is now a core issue and urgent priority for business, despite the recession.
The business leaders reiterated that they would like to see Europe continue to take the lead on climate change – both in the setting of targets and establishing policy tools such as carbon markets. As an example, BA chief Willie Walsh commented that "as Europeans, we can take pride in the leading role our policy makers are playing in the fight against climate change".
At the same time, after years of inaction, the US and China seem to be awakening to the threat. The US Stimulus Bill passed by Congress in February contained $60bn (£37bn) in new clean energy incentives. Alongside a newly engaged US and indeed China, the EU can play a stronger role in leading the efforts against climate change.
A key element of responsible leadership involves recognising the moral obligations that developed regions such as Europe have to the rest of the world, with the buzzword for this being "shared but differentiated responsibility." The EU recognises this, and has indicated that it would be willing to raise its own targets for emissions cuts from 20pc to 30pc.
Furthermore, business leaders stress that the debate must go beyond the setting of targets, and on to practical implementation. Obviously, there is no single solution and a multi-pronged approach is required. In our publication, business leaders discuss the suite of practical options that will be needed, including biofuels, nuclear, Carbon Capture and Storage, low energy buildings, smart metering and the importance of decarbonising the transport system.
There is an understandable focus from business on the costs of implementing climate change obligations, but there are also opportunities – the new global market in environmental technologies, is forecast to be worth $3 trillion per year worldwide by 2050
This week's summit in Italy was a key step on the road towards the Copenhagen talks in December. Business wants to see ongoing EU leadership and, by developing technologies, can be part of the long-term solution. In the US, environmentalists are calling it the Green Civil Rights movement. Now that is something that Martin Luther King might have said.
Roland Rudd is the founding chairman of Business for New Europe. Read 'A Climate Mission for Europe' at

The planet's future: Climate change 'will cause civilisation to collapse'

Authoritative new study sets out a grim vision of shortages and violence – but amid all the gloom, there is some hope too
By Jonathan Owen
Sunday, 12 July 2009
The report praises the web, which it singles out as 'the most powerful force for globalisation, democratisation, economic growth, and education in history'
An effort on the scale of the Apollo mission that sent men to the Moon is needed if humanity is to have a fighting chance of surviving the ravages of climate change. The stakes are high, as, without sustainable growth, "billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse".
This is the stark warning from the biggest single report to look at the future of the planet – obtained by The Independent on Sunday ahead of its official publication next month. Backed by a diverse range of leading organisations such as Unesco, the World Bank, the US army and the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 State of the Future report runs to 6,700 pages and draws on contributions from 2,700 experts around the globe. Its findings are described by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, as providing "invaluable insights into the future for the United Nations, its member states, and civil society".
The impact of the global recession is a key theme, with researchers warning that global clean energy, food availability, poverty and the growth of democracy around the world are at "risk of getting worse due to the recession". The report adds: "Too many greedy and deceitful decisions led to a world recession and demonstrated the international interdependence of economics and ethics."

Although the future has been looking better for most of the world over the past 20 years, the global recession has lowered the State of the Future Index for the next 10 years. Half the world could face violence and unrest due to severe unemployment combined with scarce water, food and energy supplies and the cumulative effects of climate change.
And the authors of the report, produced by the Millennium Project – a think-tank formerly part of the World Federation of the United Nations Associations – set out a number of emerging environmental security issues. "The scope and scale of the future effects of climate change – ranging from changes in weather patterns to loss of livelihoods and disappearing states – has unprecedented implications for political and social stability."
But the authors suggest the threats could also provide the potential for a positive future for all. "The good news is that the global financial crisis and climate change planning may be helping humanity to move from its often selfish, self-centred adolescence to a more globally responsible adulthood... Many perceive the current economic disaster as an opportunity to invest in the next generation of greener technologies, to rethink economic and development assumptions, and to put the world on course for a better future."
Scientific and technological progress continues to accelerate. IBM promises a computer at 20,000 trillion calculations per second by 2011, which is estimated to be the speed of the human brain. And nanomedicine may one day rebuild damaged cells atom by atom, using nanobots the size of blood cells. But technological progress carries its own risks. "Globalisation and advanced technology allow fewer people to do more damage and in less time, so that possibly one day a single individual may be able to make and deploy a weapon of mass destruction."
The report also praises the web, which it singles out as "the most powerful force for globalisation, democratisation, economic growth, and education in history". Technological advances are cited as "giving birth to an interdependent humanity that can create and implement global strategies to improve the prospects for humanity".
The immediate problems are rising food and energy prices, shortages of water and increasing migrations "due to political, environmental and economic conditions", which could plunge half the world into social instability and violence. And organised crime is flourishing, with a global income estimated at $3 trillion – twice the military budgets of all countries in the world combined.
The effects of climate change are worsening – by 2025 there could be three billion people without adequate water as the population rises still further. And massive urbanisation, increased encroachment on animal territory, and concentrated livestock production could trigger new pandemics.
Although government and business leaders are responding more seriously to the global environmental situation, it continues to get worse, according to the report. It calls on governments to work to 10-year plans to tackle growing threats to human survival, targeting particularly the US and China, which need to apply the sort of effort and resources that put men on the Moon.
"This is not only important for the environment; it is also a strategy to increase the likelihood of international peace. Without some agreement, it will be difficult to get the kind of global coherence needed to address climate change seriously."
While the world has the resources to address its challenges, coherence and direction have been lacking. Recent meetings of the US and China, as well as of Nato and Russia, and the birth of the G20 plus the continued work of the G8 promise to improve global strategic collaboration, but "it remains to be seen if this spirit of co-operation can continue and if decisions will be made on the scale necessary to really address the global challenges discussed in this report".
Although the scale of the effects of climate change are unprecedented, the causes are generally known, and the consequences can largely be forecast. The report says, "coordination for effective and adequate action is yet incipient, and environmental problems worsen faster than response or preventive policies are being adopted".
Jerome Glenn, director of the Millennium Project and one of the report's authors, said: "There are answers to our global challenges, but decisions are still not being made on the scale necessary to address them. Three great transitions would help both the world economy and its natural environment – to shift as much as possible from freshwater agriculture to saltwater agriculture; produce healthier meat without the need to grow animals; and replace gasoline cars with electric cars."

400,000 new ‘green-collar’ jobs

Dominic O’Connell

PLANS for the creation of up to 400,000 “green-collar” jobs will be unveiled by the government this week as part of a blueprint for a low carbon economy.
The Low Carbon Transition Plan, which will be unveiled by the environment secretary Ed Miliband on Wednesday, will set out how the government intends to meet legally binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions put in place last year.
A central plank of the plan will be a large increase in the use of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and wave power. Electricity suppliers will be required to buy larger amounts of such “clean” power, and the current scheme that dictates renewable energy purchases will be extended past its 2027 expiry date.
There will also be extra incentives to speed the construction of offshore wind farms and grants for homeowners to invest in energy-saving technology such as insulation.

Miliband will say that the move to a low carbon economy will create several hundred thousand jobs in industries such as offshore wind and nuclear power. The plan is likely to be followed with a series of separate policy announcements on clean coal and new nuclear power stations.

Ecotowns to get go-ahead despite local opposition

The projects in Norfolk and Cornwall are part of a green package to tackle the climate change threat

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
The Observer, Sunday 12 July 2009
Burton Wold wind farm in Northamptonshire. Photograph: David Sillitoe
An abandoned Norfolk airfield and a cluster of Cornish china claypit villages are to become the first of a controversial new breed of "ecotowns", offering thousands of new homes built within a cutting-edge eco-friendly community.
The decision will be a blow to villagers who have campaigned against new developments at Rackheath, just outside Norwich, and St Austell in Cornwall. Only Rackheath got a top rating from an independent panel set up to judge the green credentials of the plans, yet it is one of three projects expected to be taken forward by ministers this week.
The ecotowns will form part of a package of green announcements this week which Gordon Brown will argue can help Britain climb out of recession and reduce the threat from climate change. A white paper will propose major changes to the way Britons travel, work and consume in order to meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Ministers will also set out plans to reduce pollution by investing in rail electrification - leading to faster trains - and in electric cars, as well as exploring new sources of fuel.
Households, however, may face increases of up to £200 a year in energy bills to help fund investment in renewable sources. An overhaul of the social tariff scheme that reduces fuel bills for the poorest is also expected, with an emphasis on spreading the costs of beating global warming so that those on low incomes do not bear an unfair burden.
Writing in the Observer today, Brown admits that adapting to climate change will not be painless but insists it is both necessary and potentially beneficial, by creating jobs in green industries. Ministers will argue that ecotowns offer test-beds for green ideas, from cutting back on car use to growing our own food, that could become standard in all new communities.
However, householders have voiced fears that nearby villages will be swamped and traffic increased: 71% of villagers polled by Rackheath parish council were against an ecotown. The site lies just outside the Norwich North parliamentary seat, where a byelection, triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Ian Gibson, will be held on 23 July. The Green candidate, Rupert Read, has warned that any carbon savings may be wiped out by plans to build a major road through the countryside north of the city to Norwich airport - funded by cash raised from the Rackheath project.
The St Austell site, where the ecohouses would mostly be tacked on to existing villages, has backing from local politicians but the Council for the Protection of Rural England in Cornwall has argued that the plans are "inappropriate". It argues that transport links are sparse and warns the project will be "doomed to failure" unless jobs are created for thousands of new inhabitants.
Brown originally promised to build 10 ecotowns with up to 200,000 carbon-neutral homes, but the 15-strong shortlist has been repeatedly whittled down as several projects withdrew or were hit by the housing slump: the Norfolk site was a late entry last year and not even on the original list for consideration.
Some of the sites have triggered furious local protests, with celebrities from Dame Judi Dench (campaigning against a proposed site in Middle Quinton, Warwickshire) to tennis player Tim Henman's father Anthony (opposing Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire) spearheading opposition. The project was dealt a further blow by the Department for Communities and Local Government last year in a report that raised serious doubts over the financial viability of several of the shortlisted sites.
In a sign of the government's determination to salvage the scheme, John Healey, the housing minister, will insist that three projects have made the grade and that others could do so in future with more work on their proposals. The first ecotowns are due to be built by 2016 with the rest completed by 2020.
Tomorrow Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, will officially open south-east England's biggest onshore wind farm, Little Cheyne Court, near Lydd in Kent. Its 26 turbines have a total generating capacity of 60 megawatts, enough to power 30,000 homes.

Cut the hype, Sainsbury’s chief wants some smarter shopping

Tricia Holly Davis

IF there’s one thing that infuriates Justin King, the Sainsbury’s chief executive, it’s green hype. “The environmental agenda has been hijacked by vested interests,” he complains.
King, who has run the supermarket chain for five years, is known for passionate tirades but plastic bags, food miles and carbon labels are his pet subject. “People bang on about the number of plastic bags, but that totally misses the point. What’s important is the environmental impact of the bags, not how many bags you have.”
The same goes for carbon labelling. “Why would I put a picture of an aircraft on a package of strawberries? If my customer reads on a package that the strawberries came from the US, it’s pretty obvious to them that the strawberries got here by plane.”
Counting food miles is also a waste of time in the grand scheme of the environment, according to King. “Food miles have become iconic but, if you focus on them, you completely miss the point.

The much bigger sustainability issue for supermarkets is how much food is wasted.”
In a speech tomorrow at London’s Imagination Gallery, King will urge supermarkets to focus on helping consumers to waste less food through smarter shopping and cooking. He will also outline plans to reduce Sainsbury’s own waste as part of a goal to cut its carbon dioxide emissions per square metre of retail space by 25% by 2012.
Sainsbury’s corporate responsibility report, published tomorrow, sets targets to connect all stores and depots to a zero food waste-to-landfill programme by the end of this year. Operational waste will cease to go to landfill at the end of next year. Sainsbury’s will also reduce its own-brand packaging weight relative to sales by a third over the next six years.
King will update Sainsbury’s shareholders on the year-end results at the annual meeting later this week. “It’s not a coincidence we publish our annual accounts and corporate responsibility report in the same week. Sustainability is as much about economics as it is about environment.”
So far, this approach has worked well for the shareholders. A year ago there was speculation that Sainsbury’s middle-class image might be it’s undoing in a recession. “Everyone thought consumers would go on this headlong rush to buy food as cheaply as they could and we would lose out, but that didn’t happen,” King says. “Yes, people are buying cheaper food, but they want value.”
He believes much discussion about the environmental impact of supermarkets is ill-informed. “People talk about importing less food as if that’s some sort of environmental panacea. It’s not. First, if you turn the environmental issue into one where people have to give up things that are important in their lives, they’re very unlikely to accept it.
“Second, it’s morally indefensible to say we won’t trade with Africa because all of a sudden we think that’s the best way to solve an environmental problem, a problem we created. What’s important is to make sure the food you are importing is grown and transported in a sustainable way to the markets where consumers will pay the most for them.”
Take green beans, for example. “There’s a lot of talk about green beans being topped and tailed in Africa and how bad that is, but it makes sense. Why would you fly the whole beans all the way here from Africa just so British consumers can top and tail them in their own kitchen and throw them away here, creating more waste?
“Do it in Africa, where labour is cheaper and you’re giving someone a job. Then, as retailers, you use only the best products that attract the highest price in the UK and create little or no waste. We can’t let pictures of piles of beans in a farm deflect us from that point.”
Politicians also need to stop getting caught up in the green hype, he says. “It’s often proposed that plastic bags should be taxed, but taxes aren’t the answer. It’s much better to give businesses an incentive to use recycled plastic bags. If I have to pay a tax whether I use recycled plastic bags or not, then why would I bother paying more for recyclable materials?
“Too often, the government’s proposals are a shoot-from-the-hip type of legislation. You can’t assume all companies start from the same place, because many have invested in sustainability for a long time — long before it was on the government’s agenda.”

Irish scientist invents a way to recycle plastic

Kevin O’Connor at UCD is developing a process that uses micro-organisms to break down plastic and turn it into a biodegradable form

Jan Battles

An Irish scientist believes he has a way of reducing plastic waste that could see Ireland break into a market worth billions of euros.
Most plastics that are manufactured from petroleum products end up as waste in landfill where they will never decay. Kevin O’Connor uses bacteria to break down plastic bottles before turning them into a reusable form of the material that is biodegradable once thrown away.
The breakthrough has the potential to not only reduce plastic waste, but also double its usefulness and ensure it can eventually be disposed of without causing any damage.
After screening 400 types of micro-organism, the University College Dublin (UCD) scientist found three types of bacteria in Irish soil that can degrade plastic and turn it into a bio-plastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA).
The bacteria that are used in the process are common in Irish soil and can be grown quickly under laboratory conditions. The process, which takes two days, involves heating the plastic in the absence of oxygen, which breaks it down into its constituent parts.
The substance is put into a fermenting tank containing the special bacteria, which feed on it, breaking it down further in their digestive system.
“When it melts you are basically breaking all the bonds in the plastic so you are releasing its individual components — what are referred to as monomers,” said O’Connor, who works at UCD’s School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.
“The bacteria are treating this melted plastic like food. They’ll eat it and break it down, just like you would break down pasta or a banana or whatever.
“When they break it all down we can trick them into thinking that their environment is becoming a bit like autumn or winter,” he said. “When they sense this they start to put on fat — like a bear gains weight to store for the winter. The fat is actually a plastic material.”
A chemical can then be used to dissolve away the organic matter of the bugs, he said, killing them, and leaving just the new plastic that was inside them. “That plastic can be used again for packaging and at the end of its lifecycle is biodegradable,” said O’Connor.
Although the bugs are microscopic in size they are used in very high densities inside the reactor — turning from a watery liquid to a thick soup as they get bigger.
The bugs’ ability and the process involved has been patented by O’Connor and UCD, which has set up a company to develop it into a plant-sized process. The method is similar to how bacteria is used in sewage treatment to purify waste water by extracting various compounds from it.
O’Connor said there is a “massive” demand for biodegradable plastic worldwide. “If you look at the US alone, the petrochemical plastics market is worth $300 billion (€215 billion) a year,” he said. “If you can get 5% of that you have a billion-dollar product.
“The EU and the US predict that bio-plastics will make up 20-25% of the current petrochemical market so there is a massive potential to not only deal with the waste we are generating but also then produce biodegradable plastic that is highly desired by the market. We really believe there is a huge opportunity.”
Unlike plastics manufactured from petrochemicals, which will not decay at all in landfill, the plastic made by the bugs will biodegrade within six to nine months when composted, depending on the temperature.
Because the plastic has been produced by bacteria, when other bacteria come across it in the soil they will naturally break it down as well.
There are other advantages to the process too. In the initial heating stage a gas is emitted that can be used to generate electricity to power the fermentor or to fire up the heat treatment. The idea is that the plant that would recycle these plastics would become self-sustainable.
The research is one of several new projects funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for the Environment (Strive) programme.
Micheal Lehane, the EPA programme manager, said: “The market potential is enormous, not just within Ireland but in the world.
“As far as we know there is nobody else in the world doing this. The innovation is that it’s creating a brand new plastic that you can fire into your compost bin and it is gone in six to nine months.”

Green becomes the new black for luxury firms

Kate Walsh

A GARDEN party is in full swing at the home of a London hedge fund manager. Waiters serve canapĂ©s and champagne, solar-charged lights flicker, a jazz quartet plays in the background and the conversation turns to — composting.
In these rarefied circles, being green brings cachet. “One woman started telling me that she was composting,” a guest said. “She lives in a fancy apartment in Belgravia, she takes private jets everywhere, and all she wants to talk about is rotting waste. I’m sure the only reason she got the composter is so she can go to cocktail parties and say, ‘We’re composting, are you?’ ”
Composting is not the only way of showing off your eco- credentials. You can wear a hemp silk scarf, dress your offspring in organic cotton and wear jewellery made from “reclaimed” (recycled) gold. If you can afford it, being a “sophisticated green” — rather than a tree-hugger — has become highly desirable, and luxury goods companies are tapping into the market.
For some, such as Stella McCartney’s eponymous fashion line or Edun, the label founded by Bono and his wife Ali Hewson, environmental awareness was woven into the founding principles. For others, however, acquiring an environmental conscience has involved a reversal of policy, and investment. Luxury is synonymous with excessive consumption and superfluous materials — extravagant packaging, non-recyclable components and a large carbon footprint.
In an effort to go greener, LVMH, the global group that owns more than 50 of the top brands, paid about $10m for a 50% stake in Edun in May.
Christian Kemp-Griffin, chief executive of Edun, denies it’s just a fad. “This is not a fashion trend that’s going to come and go — it’s a movement forward. Some brands, such as the outdoor clothing company Patagonia and Timberland, have been involved for a long time but now the big players such as PPR and LVMH are coming into it more.”
Their interest coincides with a slump in luxury sales. Global turnover is expected to fall 10% this year to $218 billion, the first decline in 15 years, according to Bain & Co, and it is not expected to return to 2008 levels until 2012. This is partly a result of the financial crisis but luxury firms are also finding that younger shoppers consider their impact on the environment more often than traditional customers.
Sales figures are not the only concern for green retailers, of course. Georges Kern, chief executive of the Richemont-owned International Watch Company, said: “We have been doing this for seven years. This is not something that has fallen from the sky because of the financial crisis.”
The Swiss firm, which claims to be the first carbon neutral watch company, has invested £25m in creating a new manufacturing centre that derives its energy from a watermill on the Rhine and has other sustainable design measures such as rainwater harvesting. Kern said: “People were making fun of us seven years ago — they called us the green guys of Schaffhausen. Now they think we are geniuses.”
He believes that the luxury industry can help to make the green agenda cool. “If brands like ours are involved it will become sexy and then driving a Hummer becomes totally uncool.”
Another advocate for the luxury green movement is the designer Stella McCartney. Her label, owned by PPR, powers its shops and offices with wind energy. Its bags are made from recycled paper or biodegradable corn and the label never uses leather or fur.
McCartney said: “I am by no means perfect but I do think we should try to act responsibly wherever we can — and that includes the fashion industry.”
Green Idea
Here’s a new product for those who want to carry their green credentials with them to the grave — a wool coffin. Produced by the textiles firm Hainsworth and casket distributor JC Atkinson. the woollen caskets cost about £6s00, similar to a mid-range wooden one. More details at

G-8 Delays Making Big Decisions


L'AQUILA, Italy -- The Group of Eight leading industrial democracies pushed many priorities of their summit here off to larger groups of countries, placing the next moves in trade negotiations, climate-change talks and containing Iran's nuclear program in front of the so-called G-20 and the United Nations in September.
In his parting news conference here, President Barack Obama took a swipe at both the G-8 and the United Nations as antiquated, as other leaders also talked of formalizing a new grouping that would add a half-dozen of the biggest developing nations to the current G-8.

"There's no sense those institutions can adequately capture the enormous changes that have taken place during those intervening decades" since their founding, Mr. Obama said. "The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings."
Senior White House officials said the president has more clearly defined expectations for the September meetings.
The nations gathered in L'Aquila did achieve one parting success, a $20 billion pledge over three years to overhaul food and agricultural assistance to the poorest countries. Only about half that pledge is new money, according to the White House, but it roughly doubles nonemergency agricultural assistance.
On Thursday, it had seemed that the total would be only $12 billion, below the level intended just days before. Instead, last-minute pledges came from Canada and the European Union, among other countries. Mr. Obama, in a Friday morning session, made an emotional, personal appeal, saying richer nations had an obligation to act. But he also said recipient nations had to acknowledge that they were complicit in their poverty, through corruption, a lack of transparency and other barriers to growth.
On Iran, Mr. Obama edged closer to an ultimatum, saying there would be consequences if Tehran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and shuns negotiations by the time the G-20 meets. "We're not going to just wait indefinitely .... and wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act," he said.
On trade, nations agreed to a series of bilateral meetings at which developing countries will outline for which products and services they intend to maintain protective tariffs and other barriers, and which they will allow to compete globally. The idea, according to a U.S. official, is to achieve clarity to speed up global trade talks that the 17-nation Major Economies Forum pledged to complete by 2010.
The forum also pledged to deliver plans to the G-20 meeting to finance clean technology and reforestation programs to combat climate change, and to help poor countries adapt to an already warming world.
That demand was a surprise move sprung by Mr. Obama behind closed doors Thursday, to come up with something concrete after developing countries unexpectedly balked at accepting firm targets for emissions reductions.
Progress on all of the issues will depend in large part on Mr. Obama's sway both with the U.S. Congress and balky partners such as Russia. Congress on Thursday cut his aid request to help developing countries respond to climate change.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also struck a discordant tone after a week of wooing by Mr. Obama. He suggested no progress on Washington's arms control agenda is possible until Mr. Obama scraps the East European missile-defense site. "If there is no positive decision on this particular issue, than all others will also fail," he said.—Stacy Meichtry contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at

Low-carbon strategy will raise household energy bills by £200 a year

Ben Webster, Environment Editor, and Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

Household energy bills will rise by more than £200 a year under the Government’s low-carbon strategy being announced next week.
Meeting Britain’s targets for cutting emissions could push another 1.7 million households into fuel poverty, meaning that seven million homes would be spending more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel.
The Renewable Energy Strategy, to be published on Wednesday, will state that more than £100 billion will have to be invested in renewable energy infrastructure, including 7,000 wind turbines, by 2020.
The Government has bound itself legally to cutting CO2 emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. To achieve this, it must increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources from 2 per cent at present to 15 per cent by 2020.

The strategy estimates that energy bills will have to rise by about 20 per cent to pay for the investment. The average household currently pays about £1,150 a year for electricity and gas, a small decline on last year but still double the amount paid in 2003.
The cost of converting to renewable energy and modernising Britain’s power supply would add about £230 to annual bills. Costs are likely to ratchet up quickly as the investment is made, with the increase reaching 20 per cent within three years.
Industry estimates due to be published next week will take an even gloomier view and claim that bills could rise by 30 per cent.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, admitted to The Times that energy bills would rise, but said that the carbon-reduction targets were not the only factor. “There is upward pressure on energy prices whether you go for a high-carbon or a low-carbon alternative,” he said. “The costs of not acting on climate change far outweigh than the costs of acting.”
Derek Lickorish, chairman of the government-appointed Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, urged ministers to introduce measures to protect poorer families from rising energy prices.“We need decisive action on energy efficiency and social tariffs or many hundreds of thousands more pensioners, families and disabled people will struggle to afford their energy bills,” he said.
Ministers are expected to announce a “pay-while-you-save” scheme under which families can spread the cost of home insulation, paying by instalments based on the amounts they save by consuming less energy.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, said that higher energy bills would be accompanied by massive investment in renewable energy, with 250,000 new jobs and the opportunity to turn Britain into a world leader in low-carbon technology.
A White Paper detailing how Britain will make the transition to being a low-carbon economy will also be published on Wednesday. It will contain measures designed to accelerate plans to slash Britain’s dependency on fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil for electricity generation from the current level of 78 per cent.
The White Paper will include predictions that Britain will have to cut its gas consumption by nearly 30 per cent by 2025 and coal by 34 per cent. Consumption of petrol and diesel will also have to fall by 10 per cent by 2020.

Gordon Brown in his element at G8 summit as Tories face the heat

PM heads home on a high note but aid agencies cast doubt on progress made in L'Aquila

Larry Elliott and Patrick Wintour in L'Aquila, Friday 10 July 2009 23.43 BST

For Gordon Brown, it was his best week since he hosted the London G20 summit three months ago. Then, the honeymoon was cut brutally short by the scandal involving his special adviser, Damian McBride. This time, Brown's summit in the earthquake city of L'Aquila was made all the sweeter by news from home that it was a Tory spin doctor, Andy Coulson, who was in hot water.
Italy's turn to host the annual talkathon got off to an inauspicious start, with criticism of Silvio Berlusconi for slashing his aid budget and bitching behind the scenes about Rome's failure to set an ambitious agenda.
Nor – despite today's declaration that the three-day meeting had been a resounding success – was there more than patchy progress. The summit edged forward at a glacial pace on climate change, set a 2010 deadline for the conclusion of trade talks, expressed concern about the state of the global economy and concluded with a package of food aid denounced immediately as smoke and mirrors by aid agencies.
"The G8 is cooking the books and cooking the planet," said Max Lawson, policy adviser to Oxfam.
None of this mattered to Brown, who was in his element as he sat next to Barack Obama for the duration of the talks, discussing what needed to be done to prevent Iran and North Korea getting nuclear weapons and how the deal between India and the United States over the special safeguard mechanism, a device that allows poor countries to protect their farmers from a surge in imports, could unlock the trade talks.
Politically, summits tend to be good for leaders, and while Berlusconi lost no opportunity to showcase himself, and Obama put in a performance on his G8 debut that was both polished and engaged, it was Brown who had most to gain. Downing Street was adept at using Sarah Brown to burnish her husband's image, letting the UK media know all about her meeting with the pope, what she wore to pick through the earthquake debris and even that she twice sent back veal at the spouses' meals on Thursday.
Unsurprisingly, the prime minister was in bullish moodtoday as he addressed a closing press conference before a brief visit to the still rubble-strewn streets of L'Aquila. "We have reached important conclusions about food and famine," he said, announcing that Britain would provide $1.8bn (£1.1bn) to a $20bn food security fund and that there had been progress on climate change and boosting growth.
In truth, the achievements of the summit were – as usual – far more modest than the hyperbole would suggest. Brown and Obama insisted that the G8 should focus on the possibility that a fragile global economy could suffer a double-dip recession, but there were precious few ideas for what policy makers could do if their emergency measures failed to boost growth.
Nor was the new era of openness and transparency about how the G8 was doing in relation to promises made at previous summits quite what it was cracked up to be. Under pressure from Brown, the G8 agreed to publish an "accountability framework" to monitor each member's spending in development sectors such as food, water, health and education. But the data were incomplete, used questionable methodology and omitted to mention the most important test of all – how G8 countries were doing against the pledge made at Gleneagles four years ago to double aid by $50bn.
With the months ticking away to the Copenhagen summit in December, it was climate change that took up most time in L'Aquila. That negotiation is going to be the biggest test of world leaders' ability to turn good intentions into hard reality, and almost create a unprecedented form of world governance. The negotiation involves an elaborate diplomatic dance, with the developing nations – Brazil, Mexico, India, China and South Africa – refusing to spell out future commitments until they have seen the kind of pledges that the G8 nations, especially the US, will make, both in terms of funding green technology in developing nations and in making hard commitments to specific carbon reduction targets by 2020. At the moment the two sides are far apart.
Mexico's Luis Alfonso de Alba, the lead co-ordinator on climate change for the developing countries, told the Guardian that a 25%-40%cut by the developed nations by 2020 is based on what UN climate change scientists have recommended. The suave De Alba will be central to the success, or otherwise, of Copenhagen. He gave some ground by saying: "It does not have to be a specific target of 40%. That is what we hope to achieve, but this is a process of negotiation." But he added: "We still need to see numbers. We respect the internal debate in the US, but it is important for the US to understand that this is a global issue and a multilateral negotiation. We cannot just sit and wait to see what the internal debate in the US resolves." De Alba pointed out that Mexico had already come up with its own carbon reduction programme, and he expected other developing nations to do the same in the coming months. But progress will depend on the extent to which funding is provided by the rich countries. Here Brown has been ahead of his colleagues by proposing a $100bn-a-year fund. Brown came late to climate change, but now seems fully engaged. Advisers will also be telling him that political mileage exists on the issue, in that Tory Euroscepticism mangles David Cameron's green credentials.
Although it will take more than summitry to give Brown a chance at the next general election, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities to take the global stage between now and the expected polling day next year. In September a meeting of the UN general assembly will be followed immediately by a G20 gathering in Pittsburgh. Then, if environment ministers run into trouble at Copenhagen in December, there is the possibility that world leaders will fly in to take charge. Next spring Obama is planning a summit on nuclear proliferation.
After that the G8 circus moves on to Muskoka, two hours' drive north of Toronto. Between now and then Canada holds a general election and there is speculation that Stephen Harper may not be around to enjoy the summit's halo effect. He may not be the only new face round the table.

Green Britain Day is a dangerous PR distraction from the real task at hand

Greening Britain is a serious goal that requires a vision underpinned by real policies with meaningful outcomes

Dale Vince, Friday 10 July 2009 06.00 BST

I'd like to declare today to be Greenwash Day. To celebrate that relatively modern phenomenon of companies trying to sell themselves as being rather greener and more ethical than they really are. Today would be an apt day, it is after all – Green Britain Day. Where's the Greenwash in that? Oh, where to start.
Green Britain day comes to us courtesy of EDF. That's ElectricitĂ© de France to give them their full name. EDF is a state-owned French nuclear power company. They are also the world's biggest corporate producer of nuclear waste, one of the biggest traders and burners of coal, and have a tiny tiny fleet of windmills (0.7% of their generation). And to promote this campaign they've "borrowed" (as Fred Pearce gently puts it) someone else's logo – the green union flag. This flag symbolises two things: care for the environment and British identity. EDF can claim, of course, neither.
This really does take greenwash to a whole new level. It could almost be the plot of a farce. If it wasn't for the fact that EDF is seriously intent on convincing us in Britain that it – and nuclear energy – are green and good for Britain.
Stealing someone else's clothes is not a new tactic in the world of dirty big business. And neither is greenwash.
A few years ago the UK witnessed "fairwash", where years of pioneering work on the concept of Fairtrade were swamped by a tidal wave of big-budget corporate lookalike schemes. Everybody and their brother now has a version of Fairtrade. It might be tempting to say where's the harm in that, the more people doing it the better. Well yes, if they truly are doing it, I would agree. But that's not how this usually goes down. When big brands move into the ethical arena it's for the kudos, to look like a better company, to follow a new trend and gain sales – it isn't for the cause, it's for their cause, which is of course to make money and to add "shareholder value".
Pale corporate imitations of green and ethical brands or products are truly harmful. They distract consumers and divert spending from the real thing and they bring the risk of early onset "issue fatigue". You know how it goes – yawn, yawn, here's another company that says it pays its suppliers a decent price because it really cares about them or says it's really committed to fighting climate change. Or whatever …
Maybe we need a regulator for environmental and ethical claims. We've got Ofgem for electricity and Ofwat for water – I propose we should name this one Ethoff.
Let's come back to Green Britain Day. The campaign itself has laudable aims, fighting climate change and making Britain a greener place. Who could argue with that? But look for any substance and you won't find it. It's all recycled and gimmicky.
And it's a distraction. Green Britain is a serious goal, it requires a vision underpinned by real policies, a suite of joined up actions that we can all get behind – with meaningful outcomes. It's a mission not a PR opportunity.
• Dale Vince is the founder and owner of Ecotricity

Developing countries urge G8 to impose 40% emissions cut by 2020

Diplomat says developing nations 'will commit once they have certainty that developed countries are commiting themselves'

Patrick Wintour in L'Aquila, Friday 10 July 2009 16.42 BST

Developing nations are prepared to make concessions on climate change targets if the G8 fulfils its side of the bargain in the run-up to the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December, a key negotiator told the Guardian today.
The developing countries want the G8 nations to sign up to a 40% cut by 2020, but that figure is off the radar of the EU and, given the unwieldy legislation laboriously passing through the senate, not a possibility for the US.
In important forward steps this week, the G8 agreed to cut its emissions by 80% by 2050 and said worldwide emissions should fall 50% by the same date.
However, the value of this pledge has been reduced by the lack of an agreed start date from which the emission cuts should be measured, making it a distant promise.
Luis Alfonso de Alba, the lead co-ordinator on climate change for the developing countries at the G8, told the Guardian that their call for a 25-40%cut in developed nations' emissions by 2020 was based on what UN climate change scientists had recommended.
The Mexican diplomat gave some ground, saying: "It does not have to be a specific target of 40%.
"That is what we hope to achieve, but this is a process of negotiation."
He said a G8 commitment to a 2020 target was "fundamental", adding: "It is logical that developing countries will commit once they have certainty that developed countries are commiting themselves.
"We need to see the mid-term targets go much higher, and we want to see all the developed countries, including the US, move at the same pace.
"We still need to see numbers. We respect the internal debate in the US, but it is important for the US to understand that this is a global issue and a multilateral negotiation."
He said developing nations could not "just sit and wait to see what the internal debate in the US resolves". He insisted the meeting chaired by Barack Obama under the aegis of the Major Economies Forum this week had made progress in accepting common responsibility for the crisis and for the need for carbon emissions to peak.
"Climate change is no longer seen as a north-south issue," he said. "It is no longer a donor recipient relationship.
"The most important message is that assuming individual responsibilities to fight climate change can start immediately, and by doing it immediately it will be easier to reach an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen."
De Alba said Mexico had already come up with its own carbon reduction programme, and he expected other developing nations to do the same over the coming months.
It was acknowledged at the summit that science dictates world temperatures must not rise more than 2C degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The negotiators hope this acknowledgement will drive the coming negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen.
The talks include three UN sponsored meetings in Bonn, Bangkok and Barcelona as well as another meeting of the G20 in September.