Friday, 17 July 2009

Four ecotowns given the green light

Towns to tackle Britain's housing shortage while minimising damage to the environment by showcasing energy efficient homes and green transport

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 16 July 2009 16.15 BST

The government today gave the go-ahead for the construction of four eco-towns, offering 10,000 homes overall, which, it hopes, will showcase environmentally friendly living in the UK.
The settlements, to be built by 2016, will include the latest in energy efficiency measures, streets with charging points for electric cars and numerous cycle routes as well as easy access to public transport.
The locations are Whitehill Borden in Hampshire, the China Clay Community at St Austell, Cornwall, Rackheath in Norfolk and north-west Bicester, in Oxfordshire. Each site will be allocated a share of £60m for their "green" infrastructure.
The towns are designed to tackle Britain's housing shortage while minimising damage to the environmentmore than a quarter of the UK's CO2 emissions come from energy use in houses.
Launching the initiative Gordon Brown said earlier today: "Eco-towns will help to relieve the shortage of affordable homes to rent and buy, and minimise the effects of climate change on a major scale. They will provide modern homes with lower energy bills, energy efficient offices and brand-new schools, community centres and services."
But eco-towns have been criticised ever since Brown announced his plan to build up to 100,000 homes in five green towns, soon after succeeding Tony Blair as prime minister in 2007.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England wanted the government to scale back the programme to one or two showcase towns, arguing that officials should concentrate on refurbishing existing properties and redeveloping derelict brownfield sites as well as bring 800,000 empty homes in England back to use.
The eco-towns will still require planning permission and could face opposition from residents anxious about the impact on rural areas.
The housing minister John Healey said: "I recognise that the proposals can raise strong opinions, but climate change threatens us all and with our commitment to the eco-towns we are taking steps to meet this challenge and help build more affordable housing."
He said Britain was leading the world in designing zero-carbon buildings. "One in three of Britain's homes in 2050 will be built between now and then, so we have to set clear, green, standards for the future. I am confirming that all new homes from 2016 will have to meet a tough zero-carbon standard, so they are cleaner, greener and cheaper to run."
In addition to the four eco-towns, a further two, Rossington, in South Yorkshire and North-East Elsenham, Essex, are on the cards for the scheme's second wave. The government wants up to 10 eco-towns completed or under way by 2020.
Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, welcomed the plans. But he said: "The bigger challenge is to ensure that all new housing is built to the highest environmental standards. Ministers must ensure that all the two million homes that they plan to build across the country are truly green and help meet UK targets for tackling climate change."
Grant Shapps, the Tories' housing spokesperson and MP for Welwyn Hatfield, dismissed eco-towns as a gimmick. "Underneath the thick layers of greenwash many of these schemes are unsustainable, unviable and unpopular, but Gordon Brown wants to impose them from Whitehall irrespective of local opinion."
John Alker, of the UK Green Building Council, said that although eco-towns had had a rough ride, the idea behind them was sound. "The current economic climate is very challenging for new house building in the short-term, but zero carbon homes, sustainable transport, a robust local economy and access to green space are all vital ingredients of new places fit for the 21st century.
He added: "The eco-towns brand has taken a battering, but if these developments go through the interrogation of a proper planning process, are linked to existing communities, have local support and are built to the very highest environmental standards, then it can only be a good thing. Building green homes on a large scale … will also reduce the green cost premium and help provide a blueprint for the homes of the future."
Inside an eco town...
• Community-scale heat sources, possibly using combined heat and power plants• Charging points for electric cars• All homes within 10 minutes walk of frequent public transport and everyday services• Parks, playgrounds and gardens to make up 40% of towns• Individual homes must achieve 70% carbon savings above current building regulations in terms of heating, hot water and lighting• Zero-carbon buildings including shops, restaurants and schools• Ensuring a minimum of one job per house can be reached by walking, cycling or public transport to reduce dependence on the car• Car journeys to make up less than half of all journeys• Locating homes within ten minutes walk of frequent public transport and everyday neighbourhood services• Homes fitted with smart meters and solar and wind generation. Residents will be able to control the heat and ventilation of their homes at the touch of a button and sell their surplus energy into the grid

Ecotowns and turbines are a political slap in the face of the landscape

Climate change is like defence during the cold war, wrapped in hysteria of envy, class, greed and commercial interest

Simon Jenkins, Thursday 16 July 2009 21.00 BST

The British government is to permit the desecration of upland and coastal Britain in the hope that this will shift the climatic balance of Planet Earth. All past plans and protections are being torn up. Markets are being distorted. Local democracy is to be abandoned. Extraordinary sums of money are given to private firms and individuals. The issue is not national security or prosperity but a hope somehow to prevent a long-term rise in the level of the sea.
Where huge sums of public money are at stake, reason is shoved aside and arguments degenerate into crude politics. Climate change is like defence during the cold war, enveloped in hysteria of fear, envy, class, greed, commercial interest and intellectual chicanery. As big anti-carbon replaces big carbon in the lobbying stakes, statistics become gibberish, millions become billions and megawatts become gigawatts submerged in tonnes of CO2.
Yesterday the government announced four so-called ecotowns, as if communities were created at the stroke a ministerial pen. New ecotown is close to a contradiction in terms. The emphasis is not on conservation but on anything involving ground-breaking, construction and fees. Like Yvette Cooper's urban Pathfinder clearances, ecotowns ignore the social dysfunctionality of new towns and are carbon extravagant, built from scratch with new infrastructure for car-dependent commuters.
These arguments are not about global warming but about politics. Demand the conservation of existing communities and landscape and you will be told that new settlements are "about consumer choice", as the Co-op, hopeful developer of a Leicestershire ecotown, said yesterday. Even some greens have disowned ecotowns as nothing but executive housing estates refashioned.
The wind debate is no less dominated by a mix of politics and commerce. Turbine parks require excavating carbon sinks, concreting them and making and installing turbines and pylons, usually to distribute small, even trivial, amounts of intermittent electricity. Yet the argument is now symbolic.
Sacrificing the Lake District, the Golden Valley, the Scottish islands, even the Wiltshire vales is like Aztecs killing virgins, evidence of the machismo of power in a godly cause. This is enhanced by a rerun of town/country antagonism, with metropolitan journalists shouting nimby at their country cousins (there being no danger of a power station on Hyde Park or Clapham Common).
Both left and right are now roaming the land looking for places to anchor their guns. On the left, wind, trains, ships and ecotowns are good while cars, planes, trucks and coal are bad. On the right the vote goes to nuclear, solar and conservation. Turbines are in one month and out the next, barrages out then in. If the word sustainable can be slapped before any noun, it is sanctified. An opponent is never wrong – since in this debate facts are garbage – but hypocritical or a nimby.
I know of no better symbol of this idiocy than the single giant turbine now towering over the Mendips. Its meagre output is not even worth a pylon, yet it is a totemic slap in the face of the landscape by a farmer in league with the exchequer. It would never be allowed in the Chilterns or Cotswolds – but this is about politics, not energy conservation.
Likewise the ban-the-bombers have found a new cause in opposing nuclear power. Some would do so even if it were blessed by the Archangel Gabriel or, as in this case, by the green guru, James Lovelock.
Meanwhile not a kilowatt is derived from the massive energy surging back and forth across estuarial Britain, because the start-up costs are high and there is no lobby for the rental subsidies that have made British onshore wind the most expensive energy source on earth. Water cascades unharnessed down mountains. Buildings leak energy. Vehicles sit burning fuel at badly phased traffic lights. Nobody cares because such energy conservation does not sit on an annual report like a photograph of a turbine.
Navigating a course through the climate change debate is near impossible because of this noise. Ministers rushed to wind because it offered a photogenic quick fix. Its exorbitant cost-per-unit could be partly disguised in energy bills and its opponents could be dismissed as rural hicks. At the same time, in 2004, Blair was deriding nuclear power stations to parliament by joking that if a questioner kept talking about nuclear he would "put a power station in your constituency".
My own belief is that the quest for reduced carbon emissions must lie in conserving every drop of energy on land – especially that "buried" in existing buildings and open space – and capturing every drop of energy in the sunny sky and surging sea. But there are no magic bullets. Some balance of cost and benefit must be assessed other than by those with a commercial or political interest.
To every climate change argument there is an answer. Despoiling the landscape may generate some fraction of what is claimed but people will burn more fuel travelling farther in search of wildness. New towns may be fuel efficient, but require increased car use. Turbines, barrages and nuclear stations have their part to play, but there is no point in denying they are visually intrusive. That is why they must be tested against the concept of outstanding natural beauty which the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, now decries.
The current anger at the march of turbines and pylons across the hills of Britain is not from nimbys. Government money has lubricated most backyard owners to support wind power. It comes from those who appreciate the beauty of the countryside and who question the industrial spoliation of miles of open landscape for a pitiful net gain to climate change. They are people who object to ministers lying about "20%" of Britain's energy ever coming from wind. Nuclear power stations, barrages and solar panels are at least less intrusive and more productive.
Such a balance goes by the board under an avalanche of subsidy. I am told of a recent meeting in Whitehall at which a junior minister and a minor civil servant were up against some two dozen people from the renewables lobby – mostly in energy and construction – all demanding public money and planning easements with varying degrees of political menace. It was no contest. Fifty years of democratic town and country planning were swept aside.
Lobbyists playing the global salvation card are like policemen playing national security as a way to dodge the democratic process. It is the default mode of modern politics and is brainless accountability. Miliband may not care for the British uplands – despite their being the largest carbon sink in the land – but I sense that most Britons do.
To secure a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain requires people to be persuaded, not just terrorised into submission. This applies to wind power as well as to nuclear, to planning as well as to conservation, to taxation as well as to subsidy. For the moment, amid the clamour and the greed, I hear no still small voice of reason.

Is the clean energy cashback tariff high enough to stimulate investment?

After months of deliberation, the UK government has announced a range of illustrative figures for feed-in tariffs. From Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network

From Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 16 July 2009 11.32 BST

After months of deliberation, the UK government has announced a range of illustrative figures for feed-in tariffs (FITs), which it's calling a Clean Energy Cashback scheme. FITs are fixed payments made to the owners of small generating stations for the electricity that they export to the grid. Micro-generators need high payments to justify their expensive investment in buying and installing green generation.
The proposed levels of FIT vary by the type of technology. The principal ones covered are biomass combustion (burning wood to generate electric power), hydro, solar photovoltaics, and wind turbines. Of these, the most appealing are likely to be wind and PV. If my estimates in the following paragraphs are correct, the government's proposal for payments to rooftop PV are too low to generate much new investment. On the other hand, the payments for rural wind are good enough to make decent returns. If the figures survive unchanged through (yet another) consultation process, we should see thousands of small wind turbines in windy British fields.
SolarThe proposal is for a FIT of 36.5 pence per kilowatt hour for a domestic rooftop system for installations in financial year 2010/2011. A typical UK installation is about '2 kilowatts peak', a figure for the maximum output in the middle of the day in mid-summer. Such an installation will generate about 1,800 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year in a sunny location in Devon or Cornwall on a south-facing roof. No more than half this electricity would be fed into the grid, the rest would be used in the home. In this case, the revenues are approximately as follows:
2 kilowatt peak installation in the English south-west:
Annual output
1800 kWh
36.5p per kWh
Total value of FIT
657 GBP
Used in the home
1200 kWh
Savings from not buying supplier electricity
12p per kWh
Money saved
144 GBP
Electricity exported
600 kWh
Export payment
5p per kWh
Value of export payment
30 GBP
Total value from all three sources
831 GBP
Annual service (estimate)
100 GBP
Total return
731 GBP
The cost of such an installation today would be about £10,000, meaning a running return of about 7% for the 20 years of the guaranteed life of the FIT scheme. A PV installation is likely to last 25 years or more, so the installation pays back its cost, but with only a little to spare. In the north of England, the figures would be even less good. PV is nice, but it isn't a money-spinner. To attract large-scale investment, the FIT might have had to be 50p or more.
Wind is betterA 15 kW turbine at the end of a large rural garden or on a village green would cost about £50,000 (source: Proven Turbines: £41,000 for the turbine and my estimate of £9,000 for installation and grid connection). This machine would generate perhaps 25,000 kilowatt hours on a windy and exposed site with minimal turbulence created by trees. All this would get pumped into the grid. (This is good – you get more cash from exporting the electricity than you would save by using it yourself.)
15 kilowatt wind turbine in a good location:
Annual output
25,000 kWh
23p per kWh
Total value of FIT
5750 GBP
Export payment
5p per kWh
Value of export payment
1250 GBP
Less: yearly maintenance cost (estimate)
750 GBP
Total value of installation
6250 GBP
If these estimates are correct, the return on a 15 kilowatt turbine would be 12% p.a. A machine should last twenty years or more. It isn't a return that would excite Goldman Sachs, but it isn't bad. Go for a wind turbine, not for the more glamorous solar panels.
It is conventional wisdom in Germany and elsewhere that a near-guaranteed return of 6% is sufficient to spark interest in renewables from ordinary families. At the proposed levels for FITs, this figure will be clearly achieved in the UK in good locations.

Murphy hails new wave of Scots technology

Published Date: 16 July 2009
SCOTTISH Secretary Jim Murphy visited the Pelamis Wave Power headquarters in Leith to announce an £8 million boost from the UK government for marine energy.
The funding will help expand the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, where Pelamis achieved a world first by generating electricity for the national grid.Pelamis is now working on the next generation of its unique wave-power generators for Orkney next year.Mr Murphy said work at Pelamis, on the Forth estuary, will inspire advances in renewable technology.He added: "Clever people are using cutting-edge technology with traditional Scottish heavy engineering to be world leaders."The investment today will enable expansion in Orkney so that other Scottish businesses, with ingenuity and innovation, can make sure that Scotland and Britain is the best place to develop technology."The UK government has set a target to generate 40 per cent of electricity from "low-carbon" sources by 2020.Mr Murphy said Scotland was perfect for wave and wind power and had a pivotal role to play in helping the UK become the first major economy to convert to low-carbon living, He said: "Scotland is surrounded by the sea and swept by the winds. We have a quarter of Europe's entire potential tidal power."

GM's Lutz Makes Another U-Turn

DETROIT -- General Motors Co. marketing chief Bob Lutz reversed course Thursday, saying the company wouldn't keep the Pontiac G8 sedan in its model line by turning it into a Chevrolet after all.
Mr. Lutz said Monday that GM, which is phasing out the Pontiac brand as part of its restructuring, would continue offering the rear-wheel-drive sports car in the U.S. but would sell it as the Chevrolet Caprice.

A day later, GM Chief Executive Frederick "Fritz" Henderson told reporters such a move was unlikely.
On Thursday, Mr. Lutz wrote on GM's "Fast Lane" blog that GM had been studying the idea of selling the G8 as the Chevrolet Caprice "because a car like the G8 was just too good to waste."
But he added that "upon further review and careful study, we simply cannot make a business case for such a program. Not in today's market, in this economy, and with fuel regulations what they are and will be."
The reversal suggests Mr. Henderson hasn't yet worked out all the kinks in the new, leaner GM, which emerged from bankruptcy protection on July 10. As part of the company's reorganization, Mr. Henderson is eliminating a number of senior executives' positions and shuffling his staff.
Mr. Lutz, who is 77 years old and led GM's vehicle development efforts until earlier this year, was set to retire but came back to head marketing and communications in the reorganized company. In Detroit circles, he is sometimes referred to as "Mr. Horsepower" because of his love of big, powerful cars like the G8.
The G8 was designed and built by GM's Australia unit and arrived in the U.S. market 15 months ago. With a sticker price of about $28,000 and gasoline prices high, it got off to a slow start. But this year, sales have jumped. Average monthly sales through June increased 57% to 2,615 from about 1,660 G8s a month in the first nine months of sales.
Write to Sharon Terlep at

Sunny Forecast for Climate Exchange Stock

Politics and the weather rarely offer certainties. But in this era of expanding government, investors shouldn't ignore Washington's determination to regulate carbon emissions.
With consumers in hibernation, sectors pushed by Uncle Sam present opportunities. One is London-listed Climate Exchange, chaired by Richard Sandor, an architect of the interest-rate-futures market. The company combines an existing market leader and an option on potentially huge growth. The lion's share of operating profit -- some 90% in 2009, Morgan Stanley estimates -- comes from the company's European Climate Exchange, which dominates the carbon-derivatives market.
Bloomberg News/Landov
Richard L. Sandor
Europe's carbon market is still young and growing, but the big growth opportunity is in the U.S. via the company's Chicago Climate Exchange and Chicago Climate Futures Exchange. The former is a voluntary but contractually binding cap-and-trade spot carbon market with more than 470 members. The CCFE trades federally regulated emissions such as sulfur dioxide.
Assuming federal cap-and-trade legislation passes the Senate, exchanges could reap $200 million or more in annual revenue from the market, brokerage Raymond James & Associates estimates. The winner-take-all nature of futures markets bodes well for a first mover like Climate Exchange. Last year, its total revenue was £22.8 million ($37.4 million).
Climate Exchange boasts other competitive advantages, not least its partnership with the much larger IntercontinentalExchange. ICE bought a 4.8% stake in the company last month. Besides being a vote of confidence, investors should remember this is a sector where market access often means buying your competitors.
Write to Liam Denning at

Wal-Mart announces 'green' labelling plans

The world's biggest retailer has announced plans to label all its products with a "green rating" showing their cost to the environment.

By Tom Leonard in New York Published: 7:20PM BST 16 Jul 2009

Wal-mart, the world's biggest retailer, has announced plans to give all its products a 'green rating'
Wal-Mart, the American retail giant which owns Asda, said it will ask all 100,000 of its suppliers to provide detailed information about their water use, air pollution, packaging and any other factors that affect their carbon footprint.
Working with a group of environmental groups and academics, the firm will put the details into an indexing system which it hopes will be adopted by other retailers.

The information will be passed on to the customer in the form of an easily-understood universal rating system, a green version of a nutrition label that will tell them about a product's environmental and social sustainability.
The initiative, whichi will include ASDA, was announced in New York yesterday (thu) by Michael Duke, Wal-Mart's president and chief executive, at a "sustainability meeting" with 1,500 staff and suppliers of the company's huge discount stores.
"We have to change how we make and sell products. We have to make consumption itself smarter and sustainable," he said.
As an example of the possibilities, Paul Kelly, Asda's corporate affairs director, told the meeting about his supermarket chain's search for what he called "respectful eggs".
He said free-range eggs with a lower carbon footprint now accounted for a third of Asda's egg sales.
Wal-Mart said shoppers would not see green ratings on products for several years as it will take a long time to develop.
The company insisted there would be no exemptions and made clear that it would take a dim view of suppliers who did not comply.
Both Washington and European legislators have been discussing environmental labelling regulations. Having a retailer the size of Wal-Mart lead the way is expected to speed up the process considerably.
Critics claim that Wal-Mart has simply seen the writing on the wall and sees the initiative as a way of improving its public image.
Some sceptics have pointed out that similar, albeit smaller scale, eco-labelling attempts have had problems making scientific information comprehensible to shoppers.
But environmental experts involved in the project said that Wal-Mart is so big and powerful that it could make "sustainable consumption" catch on.
"Nobody else could pull this off," said Michelle Harvey of the Environmental Defence Fund, one of the organisations involved in creating the index.
Once condemned for its treatment of staff and hard-headed business dealings, Wal-Mart has tried to transform its public image in recent years.
It has focused heavily on the environment, announcing plans to cut energy consumption at its stores, reduce waste and promote renewable energy such as compact fluorescent bulbs.
Asda last year unveiled plans to spend £10 million on lowering prices from reducing wasteful packaging on its own-brand products.

Toyota, Mazda in Talks on Hybrid Cars


TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. are in talks over the supply of components of Toyota's hybrid system to its smaller rival, a person familiar with the matter said.
The talks underscore Toyota's dominance of the hybrid market, with its patents on more than 2,000 systems and components proving attractive for rival companies who find it hard to develop their own hybrid systems quickly and cost effectively.
It remains uncertain whether the two companies will reach an agreement, the person familiar with the situation said.
If a deal is reached, Mazda will join Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. as users of Toyota's hybrid technology in their own fuel-efficient models.

For Toyota, a tie-up with Mazda could reduce the cost of its hybrid systemby increasing output.
The president of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru-brand cars, said in May that his company also aims to roll out a hybrid model by 2012 using Toyota's hybrid system. Toyota holds a 16% stake in Fuji Heavy.
Toyota's talks with Mazda, in which Ford owns a 14% stake, come as major car makers are scrambling to develop more fuel-efficient cars as emission regulations get stricter in key markets.
But this is a tough task for many companies to face alone, as they cut back on research and development operations amid an industry-wide slump.
For Toyota, which enjoys strong demand for its redesigned Prius hybrid, a potential tie-up with Mazda could help reduce the cost of its hybrid system through higher production volumes, helping it to maintain its position as the world's No. 1 maker of hybrid vehicles.
Mazda, which has lagged behind in the race to offer advanced fuel-efficient cars, would be able to roll out a low-emission model in a shorter time by using Toyota's technology.
It is unclear how closely Mazda will cooperate with Ford in developing its own hybrid technology, after the U.S. car maker last year sold part of its then 33.4% stake in Mazda.
In California, the Hiroshima-based car maker currently sells a hybrid sport-utility vehicle powered by Ford's system, and it leases to customers in Japan a hybrid minivan that runs on either hydrogen or gasoline.
In the near term, Mazda is focusing on improving the fuel-efficiency of its combustion engines, and has no plans to launch electrified cars before the targeted launch of its new hybrid car around 2012.
Write to Yoshio Takahashi at

Green energy plans will not help fuel poverty, claims charity

Flaws in the government's proposals come under fire from National Energy Action, the Conservatives and the industry

Ashley Seager, Thursday 16 July 2009 20.33 BST

The charity National Energy Action (NEA) criticised the government for watering down its promise to introduce "social" energy tariffs in its low carbon white paper, saying only a fraction of poor people would benefit.
The NEA, which campaigns on fuel poverty issues, said it was also concerned that funding for the existing Warm Front scheme to help poorer households would be halved next year.
Its chief, Jenny Saunders, said: "NEA has been pressing hard for a social mandate on energy tariffs and we are pleased that the government has included this in its low carbon transition plan. But we are concerned at … the potential narrowing of assistance to pensioner households when millions of low income families are also in fuel poverty and need access to lower tariffs and protection from rising prices.
"And while the white paper recognises the importance of Warm Front in assisting vulnerable households, NEA is concerned the reduction of funding for the next year has not been addressed, which will lead to 50% fewer households being assisted."
There are an estimated 5 million people in Britain living in so-called "fuel poverty" – defined as people who spend more than 10% of their income on fuel and light.
The Tories said ministers had not been honest about the social costs of their low carbon transition, though the party broadly supports the policies. "[Energy secretary] Ed Miliband has deliberately disguised this and has not been honest that it could cost some people more than others," the shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark, said.
He also said that because of Labour's almost total inaction in the area of renewable energy over the past decade, the costs of a dash to sustainable energy would now be higher than they had to be, and it would probably mainly benefit foreign firms, who would rush in to fill the void as the domestic renewable energy industry struggled to catch up with demand.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change rejected the claims. "The government is providing immediate help for households to make energy savings and reduce bills, and since 2000 has spent £20bn on helping people in fuel poverty", a spokesman said. "We're determined to minimise the impacts on the poorest in society – which is why we're reforming the system of social tariffs to allow the most vulnerable to receive compulsory support from the energy companies and increasing the amount spent."
A key part of the government's plans is the so-called "clean energy cashback" which is a more user friendly name than the "feed-in tariff" label used in most the national grid. They have been used to great success in other countries and are the model the British government wants to follow.
But renewables companies, which have been considering the numbers since the proposed tariff levels were published on Wednesday, were disappointed. The government claims its tariffs are designed to give investment returns of between 5% and 8%, lower than those offered by many other countries' tariffs. But Solar Century, one of Britain's leading solar energy groups, claims the return is more like 4% on photovoltaics – leaving a long payback time and hardly providing an incentive for households or businesses to invest.
Executive chairman Jeremy Leggett said: "The government has accepted solar PV can make a significant contribution to our future energy needs. It's unfortunate that the consultation numbers, if confirmed later this year, will do little to boost demand for non-domestic solar PV."

Turn green words into green deeds

Despite government talk, transport emissions are rising because carbon-generating schemes are being given the go-ahead

Jason Torrance, Thursday 16 July 2009 13.00 BST

Two key transport announcements were made yesterday. The UK government launched a Carbon Reduction Strategy for transport which set out a vision with little action on the ground. Far less noted was the launch of a National Transport Plan for Wales, cancelling an extension of the M4 planned for south-east Wales. A saving of a cool £1bn, with plans to invest instead in improvements to the existing road, together with sustainable travel initiatives.
The decision to cancel the M4 in south-east Wales can be seen as a watershed. As the first cancellation of a motorway extension in recent times, a low-carbon transport strategy is being led not from Whitehall but from Cardiff.
Clearly, the UK government recognises the need to promote low-carbon transport, and its proposals to integrate transport modes, promote walking and cycling and reduce the need to travel are welcome. But here's the rub: transport emissions are increasing because, on the ground, schemes that generate carbon are being given the go-ahead. This is true at a national level through approval of Heathrow's third runway, as well as at regional and local levels.
The government's own assessment found that helping people to find alternatives to car use is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of reducing emissions from transport. Sustrans' TravelSmart programme provides tailored travel advice direct to households and has reduced car use by more than 10% in the towns and cities where it has operated. Further city pilots and work with local authorities are welcome, but government has missed an opportunity to invest in a national Smarter Choices programme as a way of promoting change through better information. If the government invested the £250m earmarked for electric cars in Sustrans' TravelSmart, it could reach about 10m households across the country and achieve reductions in car trips of about 10%, together with significant increases in levels of walking, cycling and public transport use.
The decision from the Welsh assembly has set the bar very high for the first litmus test of the low-carbon transport strategy. Today the UK government will announce decisions on English regional funding for transport. With the majority of English regions having prioritised road schemes it rests with the government to put its low-carbon transport strategy into action and ensure that we are indeed travelling towards a low-carbon future.

Clinton can deliver a tough message to India

By Strobe Talbott

Published: July 16 2009 20:06

When Hillary Clinton arrives in India on Friday, the US secretary of state will no doubt strike the upbeat tone that befits relations between the world’s two largest democracies. But she is expected also to engage her hosts candidly on two issues that have been contentious in the past and may be in future: climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.
In both areas, President Barack Obama’s positions are radically different from his predecessor’s. Unlike George W. Bush, Mr Obama understands the need for a rules-based international system that will regulate and reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions and nuclear weaponry. In particular, Mr Bush, like the Republican-controlled US Senate of the late 1990s, opposed the Kyoto protocol on climate change and the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He also had little use for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), even though it was largely an American initiative going back to the dawn of the cold war.
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Canada's dirty secret

Despite its environmentally friendly reputation, Canada's efforts on climate change rank last among the G8 nations

Heather McRobie, Thursday 16 July 2009 20.00 BST

Canada has come last on a WWiF scorecard of G8 countries' efforts against climate change. That news would once have elicited at least a slightly surprised response. For several decades, Canada managed to present itself as the friendly giant of environmental issues. The 1989 Protocol on CFCs, an early turning point in combating the depletion of the ozone layer, was born in Montreal, and American environmental campaigners like Al Gore are always quick to heap praise on their northern neighbour.
But these days, Canada is looking increasingly like the dirty one of G8. The WWF report noted that Canada is one of the few countries on the scorecard whose emissions are still rising, and that Canada's Conservative government isn't doing enough to combat climate change.
Maybe some of Canada's new bad-guy image on environmental issues is just a by-product of America's new green image. Obama's presidency was always going to bump the US up a few places on environmental scorecards, almost just out of gratitude that America has at least promised not to so flagrantly and unapologetically deplete the world's natural resources.
But Obama isn't why Canada is losing its green reputation. The real reason lies in the vast Alberta oil sands. In 2008, Alberta's economically recoverable reserves were placed at 173 billion barrels, meaning that only Saudi Arabia outstrips Canada on oil reserves. But unlike Saudi Arabia, in Alberta the oil is literally in the sand. To dig it up and refine it is a process far higher in emissions than the processing of Saudi Arabian oil, and is destroying much of Alberta's northern Boreal forest along the way.
The response to the report in Canada has been less hand-wringing than one might expect. Some dismiss the finding by pointing out that even other environmental organisations have problems with WWF. Others argue that surveys like the WWF's are just penalising countries like Canada and Russia for their geographic realities – smaller countries keep their emissions down by importing oil from Canada, then criticise Canada for producing it, and so on.
On top of the recession's effect on plans for the oil sands, defenders argue that Obama's cap-and-trade proposals would severely impact Canadian oil production because the proposal will heavily penalise those who ship Canadian oil sand bitumen to the United States, given that refining the raw bitumen is so energy-intensive.
But Canada isn't being punished for its geographic reality. It is finally being called out for presenting itself as environmentally friendly, while under the Conservative government green issues have been completely sidelined, if not derided. Before becoming prime minister, Stephen Harper implied that the science of climate change was "tentative and contradictory", called the Kyoto accord a "socialist scheme" and ranted that an "army of Canadians" was needed to defeat it. While he has proposed "made in Canada" solutions to cutting carbon emissions, Harper's main actions have been to cut programmes that promoted renewable energy like wind power. Even plans for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver risk causing environmental damage to rare forests in the nearby Eagle Ridge Bluffs.
Vancouver is consistently voted one of the world's most liveable cities, and the Canadian government intends to use the Olympics to showcase Canada's pleasant, fresh-aired way of life. But the price Canada is paying to maintain its "friendly giant" facade is increasingly being paid for by the environment.
The fact that Obama's Clean Energy and Security Act will, if passed by Congress, disproportionately hurt oil companies working with Albertan oil sands may feel like American hypocrisy to Canadians who have long watched the US's profligate environmental destruction go unchecked. But while Harper continues to disappoint on his commitments to the environment, someone has to play the bad cop to Canada.