Thursday, 30 July 2009

Universities may face withdrawal of funds if they miss green targets

Joanna Sugden
Universities that are not green enough could have their government funding withdrawn.
The plan is the first to link funding to university carbon emissions and is part of a consultation document which sets out how to make the higher education sector more environmentally friendly.
Institutions must have strategies to reduce their carbon emissions by more than a third by 2020 — levels rose by 34 per cent between 1990 and 2006.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which is the biggest single source of university capital, is considering stripping all funding from those that do not have robust plans to achieve the targets.

Some universities receive up to £38 million from HEFCE each year and many would collapse without this public money. The higher education sector relies on the council for £8billion — 38 per cent — of its annual income.
“It will be for individual institutions to decide how to reduce, measure, review and report progress on their own emissions,” the carbon reduction strategy document says.
But universities could face losing between 10 to 100 per cent of their funding if they do not convince the council of their green credentials, it adds.
Other proposals being put before university vice-chancellors include increasing funding for those who have “good or outstanding environmental performance” or witholding it “until institutions can demonstrate that they meet the requirements”.
Universities may have to reach tough interim targets of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions in the next five and a half years, Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of HEFCE, said in the report.
Universities funding is determined in part by how well they do in the Research Assessment Exercise, carried out every eight years. But the calculation will now also take into account progress in implementing the carbon plans.
Lancaster University is already planning to install two wind turbines to reduce its reliance on imported electricity and the University of East Anglia will establish a biomass energy centre and is set to be the first biomass gasification combined heat and power plant in England.
Sir Alan said: “Higher education needs to play its part in helping meet UK climate change targets and it is uniquely placed to lead the way.
“Collectively, the sector influences many thousands of minds through its students and graduates.”
Its large estate, leading research and use of billions of pounds of goods and services mean that it must find an effective way to reduce emissions, he added.
Greenest universities
Scores out of 60 on nine environmental measures

1. Gloucestershire 55
2. Plymouth 52.5
3. West of England 51.5
4. Anglia Ruskin 49.5
5= Loughborough 47.5
5= Central Lancashire 47.5
5= Cambridge 47.5
5= Hertfordshire 47.5
9= Huddersfield 47
9= Leeds Metropolitan 47

Not under our backyard, say Germans, in blow to CO2 plans

German carbon capture plan appears to be a victim of 'numbyism' - not under my backyard
Terry Slavin and Alok Jha
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 10.40 BST
It was meant to be the world's first demonstration of a technology that could help save the planet from global warming – a project intended to capture emissions from a coal-fired power station and bury them safely underground.
But the German carbon capture plan has ended with CO2 being pumped directly into the atmosphere, following local opposition at it being stored underground.
The scheme appears a victim of "numbyism" – not under my backyard.
Opposition to the carbon capture plan has contributed to a growing public backlash against renewable energy projects, raising fears that Europe will struggle to meet its low-carbon commitments. Last week, the Danish firm Vestas blamed British "nimbies" opposing wind farms for its decision to close its turbine factory on the Isle of Wight.
Many countries continue to use coal for generating power as it is the cheapest and most readily available fuel in the world. It will probably power the development of China and India. But coal is also seen as the dirtiest fuel. So, Vattenfall's Schwarze Pumpe project in Spremberg, northern Germany, launched in a blaze of publicity last September, was a beacon of hope, the first scheme to link the three key stages of trapping, transporting and burying the greenhouse gases.
The Swedish company, however, surprised a recent conference when it admitted that the €70m (£60.3m) project was venting the CO2 straight into the atmosphere. "It was supposed to begin injecting by March or April of this year but we don't have a permit. This is a result of the local public having questions about the safety of the project," said Staffan Gortz, head of carbon capture and storage communication at Vattenfall. He said he did not expect to get a permit before next spring: "People are very, very sceptical."
The spread of localised resistance is a force that some fear could sink Europe's attempts to build 10 to 12 demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage (CCS) by 2015. The plan had been to transport up to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the power plant each year and inject it into depleted gas reservoirs at a giant gasfield near the Polish border.
Scientists maintain that public safety fears are groundless: the consequences of escaping CO2 would be to the climate, not to public health. Many big environmental groups support CCS, both off and onshore, as a necessary evil in the battle against climate change.
But Jim Footner, a Greenpeace climate campaigner, said the German protests were "a stark warning to those that think CCS is an easy solution to the huge climate problems of coal-fired power stations".
The first wake-up call came in March, when a Dutch council objected to Shell's plans to store CO2 in depleted gas fields under the town of Barendrecht, near Rotterdam.
This was despite a successful environmental impact assessment and the enthusiastic backing of the Dutch government, which, in September, must decide whether to give Shell the green light, despite the council's opposition.
Wim van de Wiel, a Shell spokesman, said: "For Shell the only suitable location for the tender was, and still is, Barendrecht, because of the safety and the depleted status of the [gas] field."
Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the the Carbon Capture & Storage Association, said Vattenfall should study the example of Total, which made great efforts to engage the local community when it launched its CCS pilot project in Lacq, southern France.
Stuart Haszeldine, a CCS expert at the University of Edinburgh, warned of the danger of opposition towards CCS snowballing into a "bandwagon of negativity" if too many early projects were rejected. "Once you've screwed up one or two of them, people are going to think 'if they rejected this in Barendrecht, there must be a reason'," he said.
In the UK, CCS is one of the four "pillars" of the government's decarbonisation strategy. A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We plan to store the CO2 from CCS plants offshore, for example in depleted oil and gas fields in the North Sea. We are one of the first countries to have legislation … to regulate environmental and safety risks."

China shows every sign of changing its high-carbon ways, if the west accepts responsibility for its past

Protest over the closure of the Vestas plant in Britain contrasts with China's commitment to a low-carbon future

Isabel Hilton
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 18.03 BST
This week, Vestas, one of the world's biggest manufacturers of wind turbines, went to court to try to take possession of its Isle of Wight offices after it announced closure of its factory there because of lack of demand in Britain. In the same week, Greenpeace reported that China's big power companies emit as much CO2 in a year as the whole of the UK.
What conclusions should we draw from these two events? The least useful response is the clich├ęd rhetorical question: "Why should I bother to change my light bulbs if China is building coal-fired power stations?" The impact of changing the light bulbs in any given household may be puny, but it saves money and it makes an easy, if small contribution to cutting emissions. Even with every light bulb changed, the average UK citizen still emits five times — and average US citizen 10 times — as much carbon as the average Chinese citizen. Changing the light bulbs is just the beginning.
China's overall carbon numbers look big because, as Charles de Gaulle remarked, "China is a very big country and a lot of people live there." China has one-fifth of the world's population but it is only in the last couple of years that China's global emissions have overtaken those of the US, a country with a fifth of China's population and the resources and the technology to take the lead in cutting emissions. Historically, the developed world put most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Between 1850 and 2005, 27% of the carbon emitted came from the US, Russia and China accounted for 8% each, Germany 7%, the UK 6%, Japan 4% and India 2%.
China's emissions, on a business as usual trajectory, will continue to climb, not least because the Chinese economy will continue to grow, infrastructure will continue to be built and the energy sector will continue to depend heavily on coal. All this is bad news for the planet but not a reason to point the finger at a country that shows every sign of wishing to face its responsibility for the future – provided we accept our responsibility for the past.
So what is the best response? Developed countries like Britain grew rich emitting carbon. Even today, for all the UK's self-righteousness towards the sins of the developing world, our progress towards a low carbon economy is pathetically slow. But as the balance of the world economy shifts towards Asia, the key to the future lies substantially in other hands. If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided – and the chances look increasingly slim - the major emerging economies of India, Brazil and China cannot afford to follow the carbon heavy path that Britain pioneered.
How can it be avoided? First we have to put our money where our mouth is and drastically reduce our own emissions. Of course, we could try telling China and other developing countries that they have to stay poor so that we can go on emitting more than our fair share of greenhouse gases, but what would be the point? All it would achieve is early onset Armageddon and the contempt of a developing world whose cooperation we need in order to reach any global deal on climate mitigation.
On the other hand, we can recognise that it is in everybody's interest, including China's, that China follow a low carbon road to growth and that it is our responsibility under the Kyoto protocol to help developing countries, including China, to do so.
Fortunately, China has understood that climate change is a threat to its own future prosperity and has embarked on a programme of renewable energy and energy efficiency that rivals anything seen in Europe. In contrast to the UK, the demand for renewables in China, including wind power, is growing exponentially.Of course, China could do more. But the way to get China to do more is to do more ourselves and to look to greater cooperation in green technology development and deployment that will benefit us all.
• Isabel Hilton is based in London and is the editor of China Dialogue

Vestas workers fight on after eviction attempt fails

Danish owners of wind turbine company unable to force workers out of Isle of Wight factory

Paul Lewis
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 13.35 BST
Workers occupying a wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight vowed to continue their protest for another week today after a legal attempt to evict them quickly failed.
For the past nine days, about 20 workers have occupied the Vestas Wind Systems plant near Newport, which is due to close tomorrow. The company sought a possession order at Newport county court today in an attempt to remove the workers from the factory, where 625 staff are set to lose their jobs.
But, adjourning the hearing until Tuesday, the judge, Graham White, said papers had not been properly served on individuals occupying the property.
Papers were served last Thursday to Mark Smith, the one worker that the factory's Danish owners know for certain is occupying the factory.
In the court papers, Vestas named 13 individuals and "persons unknown" it believed had occupied the office space in the building. Three of those are now thought to have left.
However, Adam Rosenthal, representing Vestas, conceded the company could not be sure who else had barricaded themselves inside the property.
Urging the judge to use his discretion to fast-track the possession order, Rosenthal said "emotions are running high" at the factory and there was a real risk of disturbance. He said the police presence at the site was evidence of the risk of disorder.
Judge White dismissed that argument, saying: "I see no evidence of any threat of violence to property or person by reason of the individuals who are occupying the property remaining there."
The judge added he was "distinctly uncomfortable" with the way the company was seeking to bring proceedings, which he described as an attempt to "get around the rules".
"I am not satisfied that any named person other than Mark Smith has been personally served," he said.
The adjournment resulted in celebrations for the occupying workers, who were told by mobile phone. They had expected bailiffs to arrive soon after court proceedings.
"Everyone in here went absolutely ballistic," said one of the workers inside. "It's given us another week to spread the word and given our legal team time to strengthen the case."
Although, he conceded that another six nights in the factory was "not a pleasant thought".
Outside the court, about 200 protesters – an alliance of local workers and environmental activists from the mainland – also celebrated.
"We have just heard that the case has been adjourned to 4 August," Steve Stotesbury, a 29-year-old blade maker, announced to the crowd. "As we have said from the outset, this is a peaceful demonstration." He added: "We're extremely jubilant. This was the decision we were hoping for. It goes to show the fight is not over."
Workers at the site have recently signed up to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which is supporting their campaign.
The union said today that its general secretary, Bob Crow, was meeting the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, to discuss the situation. Crow will then travel to the island to address the rally camping outside the factory.
"No one should underestimate the significance of the court throwing out Vestas' repossession application today," said Crow. "This is a significant victory which gives us more time to build the global campaign to save Vestas."
More activists connected with the protest network Climate Camp joined the protest today, but not in the numbers the group had hoped for.
However, the dispute is proving embarrassing for the energy secretary, who a fortnight ago pledged to install 10,000 wind turbines by 2020.
The government has also promised to create thousands of "green jobs" of the kind that are being lost with the closure of the Vestas factory.
The company has said it is moving production of its blades to the United States because the market in the UK is not growing fast enough.
Vestas has been criticised for the way it informed the protesting workers that they had been sacked. The termination letters were delivered to the factory beneath slices of pizza.

Vestas in court to end factory sit-in

Wind turbine company will seek possession order to remove workers occupying its factory in protest against its closure
Paul Lewis
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 07.00 BST

Vestas sit-in protester describes life inside the factory Link to this video
A Danish wind turbine company will appear before a court in the Isle of Wight today seeking to end the occupation of its factory by the workforce.
Around 20 men at the Vestas plant near Newport have occupied the building for the past nine days to protest against its imminent closure.
The company says its factory must close, with the loss of 625 jobs, because the UK wind turbine market is not growing fast enough.
Today its lawyers will seek a possession order from Newport County Court, a move that will set in train the process expected to authorise the arrival of bailiffs to remove the workers by force.
Hundreds of environmental protesters, who have supported the workers' campaign, are planning to attend a rally outside today's hearing, which is being heard in a neighbouring crown courtroom to accommodate the large number of press and interested parties.
More activists are expected to arrive today. Ticketholders who had planned to attend the recently cancelled Big Green Gathering - a four-day event in Somerset featuring music, debates and practical green living demonstrations that was to have begun today - have been urged to head to the Isle of Wight instead.
If the possession order is granted, it is not clear how soon bailiffs could be called, or if additional permission will need to be sought from the court to end the occupation.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which will represent the workers in court, has advised workers that bailiffs could be "waiting in the wings" to empty the factory quickly.
Bob Crow, the RMT's general secretary, will address a second rally outside the plant later in the day.
Last night, Vestas sacked 11 employees it has identified as participating in the "sit-in", a move that will prevent them from receiving compensation for their redundancy.
The workers were informed in letters inside food parcels delivered to them by the company.
"Underneath each slice of pizza we had a letter saying we had been sacked and we're not receiving any money," said Michael Godley, 26, speaking from inside the plant on his mobile phone.
"Everyone's gutted – there's some people in here who have lost a lot of money. But it hasn't deterred us in any way – we're still as determined as ever and we're going to carry on fighting."
The letter from a representative of Vestas had yesterday's date scribbled in pen, and stated: "As a result of your participation in the industrial action and refusal to give up that action, you leave this company with no choice other than to terminate your contract of employment with immediate effect."
Godley added that if bailiffs arrived the workers would "go peacefully", but their intention was to stay. "We'll stay in here until they come and get us out, or until we get what we want. We're here for the long haul. We don't plan to leave any time soon."
The Vestas occupation began after lobbying of the workforce from Workers' Climate Action, a group of socialist environmental campaigners who have camped on the island for the past month.

'Get ye down to Vestival': protest may fill Big Green gap

Ticketholders for cancelled gathering urged to head to support workers fighting closure of Isle of Wight wind turbine factory
When the Big Green Gathering, a festival for environmentally minded individuals to share ideas about tackling climate change while practising a little reiki, was cancelled at the weekend, those with tickets were left with nowhere to go.
Now a new festival seems to have sprung up to fill the breach. The internet is alive with messages about "Vestival", with activists urging people due to attend the four-day gathering to head instead to the Isle of Wight to support workers protesting against facing the closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory.
The BGG was cancelled on Sunday after Mendip district council and Somerset police sought a high court injunction to stop it going ahead. Marina Pepper, an eco-campaigner and Liberal Democrat councillor, tweeted her encouragement to would-be demonstrators today, saying: "Vestival is go. If you can get to Newport by 9.30am Wednesday, all the better (Vestas workers up in court to be evicted). Earlier the better."
The tone of some tweets verged on celebratory, with climatecamp tweeting: "Then get ye down to Vestival this weekend. Show solidarity to Vestas. The #BGG is going back to its roots. Problem as solution, hell yeah!" The Life, London and Leninism blog described the gathering as the Vestival of Resistance, writing: "By all accounts the struggle has now taken over 'The Island' – thanks in large part to the RMT union's commitment to throw its weight behind the occupation."
A Facebook group, Save Vestas Isle of Wight From Closure, has gathered more than 450 members. It directs people towards the Save Vestas blog, which records the news that a judge in Newport refused to grant Vestas a possession order for the occupied factory, and adjourned the case to 4 August.

Honda pins recovery hopes on green cars

Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent
Honda today raised its full-year profit forecast on hopes “green” stimulus efforts around the world will push consumers to offload old vehicles in favour of nimbler, more efficient models.
Honda said that it now expects Y55 billion in profits for the year ending in March next year, where its previous forecast had been for Y40 billion.
The raising of full-year forecasts offered relief from otherwise grim quarterly results from Japan’s second-biggest automaker.
Net profits for the April to June period were some 95.6 per cent lower than the same time last year and, at Y7.56 billion put the group only barely in the black.

Both Honda and Toyota appear to be benefiting strongly from government stimulus measures in Japan, the US, Germany and China, where schemes have been set up that offer, via tax breaks and cash lures, strong incentives for people to trade-in their cars for a less fuel-consumptive alternative.
That has strongly favoured hybrid cars of the sort produced in the largest volumes by the two largest Japanese manufacturers.
The schemes are not, however, expected to provide the panacea for the Japanese car industry’s many ills, which include a domestic market that is shrinking in line with the country’s wider demographic decline.
Equally challenging, say analysts, will be Japan’s push into the emerging markets of Asia, where local players are aggressively growing market share and have a substantial foothold.
Even in territories where Japanese makers have historically thrived, such as Europe, the likes of Toyota and Honda are likely to face increasingly fierce competition from Chinese manufacturers.
Earlier this week, Geely Automobile, in China, said that it was on the brink of releasing its first vehicle specifically designed for the European market.

E.ON wind farm adverts banned

Ad watchdog rules that E.ON material promoting a proposed wind farm with pictures of smaller turbines was misleading
Tom Roberts
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 07.39 BST

E.ON West Ancroft wind farm ads: illustrated with turbines from a separate wind farm
Energy giant E.ON has had a series of adverts promoting a proposed wind farm banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for "using misleading images".
E.ON distributed three pieces of illustrated promotional material to publicise a wind farm due to be constructed in West Ancroft, Northumberland.
The adverts were designed to encourage residents to attend a public exhibition about the development.
In one advert, E.ON used a picture of one of its wind farms in Cumbria to illustrate what the West Ancroft site would look like.
The turbines depicted were half the size of the those proposed for Northumberland.
But E.ON said: "The image provided no scale comparisons – for instance, vehicles or buildings, and was therefore not misleading as to the comparative size of the prospective turbines."
E.ON also stressed that the images were for "illustrative purposes only" and that "it was not the intention for them to be referred to as a depiction of how the West Ancroft wind farm would look like".
Another advert featured a photomontage, which E.ON said was intended to provide a general idea of what the West Ancroft site would look like. However, the photograph used was taken several kilometres from the proposed location.
Once again, the ASA deemed the advert misleading, saying that it did not convey the proposed wind farm's liekly "visual impact".
The ASA added that future promotional material needed to be "more representative" of the proposed developments.
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Engineers accused of taking 'tidal reef' idea in Severn estuary competition

Decc rejects proposal from Rupert Armstrong-Evans but accepts very similar project from Rolls-Royce and WS Atkins
John Vidal, environment editor
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 July 2009 15.26 BST
The government and two of Britain's biggest engineering companies have been accused of taking the idea of a leading marine engineer who came up with a novel plan to harness vast amounts of tidal energy from the Severn estuary while causing only minimal ecological damage.
Rupert Armstrong-Evans, who pioneered renewable energy in Britain and now runs a marine engineering firm in Cornwall, spent 18 months researching the idea of a 12-mile long "tidal reef" for the estuary. His construction, planned to run between Minehead in Somerset and Aberthaw in the Vale of Glamorgan, would be cheaper to build and could generate as much electricity as several nuclear power stations without destroying tens of thousands of hectares of internationally protected wetlands, he claimed.
The idea was last year picked up by the RSPB which commissioned engineering consultant WS Atkins to assess its technical and economic feasibility. The 23-page Atkins report published in November 2008, confirmed that the idea was workable and could be as much as £2bn cheaper than a giant barrage. Professor Rod Rainey of Atkins, one of the world's leading marine engineers, who did the assessment said at the time: "We believe this scheme could be more powerful but less costly than other plans being put forward, particularly the barrage."
Armstrong-Evans's idea was then entered in a Department of Energy and Climate Change competition to find the best way to harness the Severn's tidal power and was shortlisted into the last five one month ago. But last week it was rejected in favour of a fundamentally similar design put forward by Rolls-Royce and WS Atkins.
The disputed design, which relies on a very low head of water rather than the Severn's enormous tidal range, is now considered to be a surprise frontrunner for what would be Europe's largest single green energy project. It is also politically attractive because it is more likely to appeal to the powerful consortium of green groups including the National Trust, the WWF and the RSPB, who have condemned the idea of a massive barrage.
"The government called on engineers for proposals to generate large amounts of electricity from the Severn. I spent 18 months full time devising and developing the idea, and had to raise a mortgage. This was a totally new concept in tidal power generation," said Evans. The design requires more turbines than a large barrage but Evans said it saves greatly on weight of concrete in the foundations and installation costs.
Armstrong-Evans is one of the fathers of British marine energy and has developed hundreds of hydroelectric schemes around the world. He calculates that his idea would cut Britain's carbon emissions by around 12m tonnes a year, create more than 30,000 jobs during construction and give a global lead for local manufacturing companies.
"The idea was entered in good faith into the government's competition. The Atkins proposal is the same as the one I put in. It's a dead crib. They call it a low head scheme and I call it a reef but it's the same," he said.
Armstrong-Evans yesterday accused the government of working for the two multinationals companies. "I smelled a rat when I did a presentation to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. They were fast asleep and had only two questions for me. I thought, at worst, that they would be a collaboration between me and Rolls-Royce. But I got a phone call saying I had not been selected." He was further dismayed that Rolls-Royce refused to collaborate with him.
"The reef is a completely new idea for tidal energy. I took out 16 patents but they are only as good as you are prepared to fight for. The little man does not stand a chance. I would have to keep the patents up for 15 years at least and the law is stacked against me. I filed the patents purely to show that there was something in it the idea. I was quite happy to give the idea to the nation for free."
Yesterday the government accepted that the Atkins idea developed directly out of Armstrong-Evans's reef proposal. "The Atkins/Rolls-Royce design developed out of Atkins review of the reef proposal for the RSPB. This found fundamental engineering flaws in the reef design and came up with a different plan. We have tried very hard to provide opportunities for the tidal reef proposal to develop. But, sadly we don't believe it can work or that it's right to spend taxpayers money on it. This allegation that the government gave the idea to the consortium is groundless nonsense."
A spokesperson for the RSPB said yesterday that the organisation regretted the government decision to exclude Armstrong-Evans. "It's a shame that Atkins and Rolls-Royce could not get together with Evans. The engineering community all agree that a reef idea can work. Whereas conventional barrages generate electricity by taking advantage of large differences between high and low tides, both Evans's reef and the Atkins model need only a few metres' difference to drive the turbines. The extra power is gained by using more turbines which can work for much longer periods on both the incoming and outgoing tides."
Adam Morton, head of low carbon technology at Atkins said yesterday: "I can understand how this might look. But Rupert is trying to patent the problem rather than the solution. The way in which water is used is not patentable."
"We were introduced to Mr Evans by the department of energy and climate change as part of the process. We had a brief meeting and we decided we could not work together. No disclosure of intellectual property took place," said a Rolls-Royce spokesman.

Hyundai backs car which uses sunlight

Hyundai and a postgraduate student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a prototype solar-powered car which pumps clean oxygen into the air.

By David Millward, Transport EditorPublished: 2:03PM BST 29 Jul 2009
Dubbed the Hyundai City Car 2020, it uses solar panels to soak up the sun's rays which in turn create electricity.

This electricity is fed into a water tank where it separates the hydrogen, which powers the car. Pure oxygen is pushed out of the exhaust.
The car is in reality using photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy.
As far fetched as the technology might appear, hydrogen is already seen as a viable source of energy for cars and is being used by Honda in California.
Hyundai, whose badge appears on the solar powered car, also predicts that hydrogen fuel cells are likely to become a commercial proposition over the next decade.
Nicolas Stone, the student behind the project, said he believed that this could help solve the problem of cutting motoring's carbon impact.
"My goal for this project was to "attack" the global energy crisis from a fresh perspective," he said.
"I feel this proposal is very realistic because the technology, as extreme as it sounds, really does exist. These technologies have enormous potential, I believe it is just a matter
of time before it becomes more mainstream."

Global warming pushes up building insurance costs

Flash floods and giant hailstones help increase claims by 15% and insurance premiums by 10%
Patrick Collinson
The Guardian, Thursday 30 July 2009
Householders face higher building insurance premiums after a sharp increase in property damage blamed on climate change. A rise in insurance claims has been caused by flash floods and storms in areas of Britain previously immune to severe weather events.
The AA, which produces an insurance premium index monitoring costs, reports a 15% rise in claims in the first six months of 2009 over the same period in 2008 "in the number and cost of payments for buildings damaged by flash floods and storms in areas with little or no previous record of such claims."
It cited one village, Carbrooke in Norfolk, where homes were damaged by giant hailstones during an ice storm in late spring. The storm also caused the roof of a supermarket to partially collapse, and when the hailstones melted, a local school was flooded. "It happened in an area with no previous record of severe weather events," said the AA.
Insurers are now demanding higher premiums to meet the cost of such freak weather, linked to climate change.
The AA found that, in the 12 months to June 2009, the average quote for buildings insurance had risen by 10% — though customers who shopped around were able to limit the increase to 5%.
Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, said: "Insurers are beginning to reflect concerns about climate change in their premiums. The industry is expecting rising cost and frequency of claims for flooding, subsidence and storm damage.
"Meanwhile, tighter building regulations mean repairs must meet modern standards for such things as electrical wiring and insulation. As a result, the cost of meeting a claim — particularly for older properties — has been rising steadily."
At the same time households are benefiting from a fall in the cost of home contents insurance to a 15-year low. The AA said that despite reports of a recession-related rise in the number of burglaries, there is little evidence of this from the industry.
One reason is that insurers are making more specific calculations of premiums based on local crime rates. So although the average cost of home contents cover is falling, the figure masks a growing disparity between high and low crime areas.
Fraudulent claims are also contributing to a steep rise in car insurance costs, which are growing at their fastest rate for nearly a decade, said the AA. Drivers are typically being charged £526.42 for fully comprehensive cover, up 10% over the past year — the fastest increase since 2000.
"The industry continues to suffer underwriting losses, which are predicted to be in excess of £240m this year," said Douglas. "Although the number of accidents on Britain's roads is thankfully falling, the cost of claims continues to rise — particularly personal injury claims and legal expenses. During the current downturn, fraudulent claims are also putting pressure on premiums, leading to an increase in the number of people who drive without insurance, currently estimated to be 1.6m.
"The burden of claims involving uninsured drivers unfortunately falls to honest drivers, to the tune of £30 per policy."
Worst hit are drivers under the age of 21. The average premium for third party, fire and theft cover, typically bought by young drivers, rose 4.6% in the second quarter of 2009 over the first to £968.22.

India gets serious on climate change

India has resisted the external imposition of climate change law – and with good reason. But its about-turn is to be applauded

Here's the best news I've seen all year: India is finally lumbering into action on climate change.
Though this country is likely to be hit harder than almost anywhere else by the climate crash, not least because its food production is largely dependent on meltwater from Himalayan glaciers, which are rapidly retreating, it has almost been a point of pride in India not to respond to the requests of richer nations to limit its emissions.
I think there are several reasons for this, not all of them discreditable. The first is that Indian people and governments have rightly perceived that when it comes to acting on climate change, most developed countries are all leaf and no plums. They make grand statements (remember the G8 meeting) about the need to cut emissions, but in most cases they haven't been translating them into domestic policy (the UK is now an exception). With some justice, India has suspected that it is being urged to implement global policies that the rich nations have no intention of honouring.
Indians are also painfully aware that the rich nations in the past deliberately prevented their nation from developing. England, for example, banned the import of calico (cotton cloth) from India, in order to protect its own textile industries. It went on to smash Indian looms and cut off the thumbs of Indian weavers in order prevent them from making their superior products. As Ha Joon Chang shows in his book Kicking Away the Ladder, England's industrial revolution was made possible by preventing India's. Many people there suspect that attempts to limit India's future greenhouse gas emissions have the same purpose.
Partly as a result, and partly because it's the quickest and easiest route to mass electrification, India has been investing heavily in coal plants, while neglecting its great potential to produce renewable energy. But suddenly this seems to be changing. Draft documents released today show that the government intends to announce 20GW of solar power investments by 2020.
This is equivalent to one eighth of India's installed capacity of all forms of electricity generation, or roughly a quarter of the UK's (we have 80GW of plant, about 70% of which is powered by fossil fuel). China and Japan have similar targets, but because most of India is closer to the equator, the capacity factor (the amount of power you get from any given amount of plant) will be higher in India.
Well that's the good news. The bad news is that India is also in the middle of a programme to increase coal capacity by 79GW – equivalent to the entire UK power sector – by 2012. The new solar plant will supplement, not substitute, its other forms of power generation. But at least the $19bn India is spending on it shows that the country is starting to get serious about climate change. Whether it makes any commitments at Copenhagen is another matter.
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Council found liable for children's exposure to toxic waste

Claimants blame clean-up of Corby steelworks for 'atmospheric soup of toxic materials' linked to birth defects
Rachel Williams
The Guardian, Thursday 30 July 2009 00.42 BST
A group of young people who claim an "atmospheric soup of toxic materials" released when an old steelworks was redeveloped caused their birth defects won a landmark ruling today when it was found that the local council had been negligent in its handling of the site.
The high court decision clears the way for 16 successful claimants, who are aged between 11 and 22 and have missing or underdeveloped fingers or deformities to their feet, to set out to prove their individual disabilities were caused by Corby borough council's failings when reclaiming the former British Steel plant. Compensation could run into millions of pounds if they succeed.
In an action thought to be the first of its kind since the Thalidomide scandal of the 1960s, they allege their disabilities were caused in the early stages of foetal development, when their mothers either lived or regularly visited Corby during the time the council undertook massive demolition, excavation and redevelopment works on the site.
Mr Justice Akenhead, who described the Northamptonshire council's approach as one of "dig and dump", said there was an extended period between 1983 and August 1997 when it was "extensively negligent" in its control and management of the sites.
That negligence, and breach of the council's statutory duty from 1992, led to contaminated mud and dust being spread around Corby and in homes in the town, the judge ruled, and those contaminants could realistically have caused the types of birth defects suffered by the claimants – of which there was a "statistically significant" cluster between 1989 and 1999.
The council had denied it was negligent or that there was a link between the removal of waste to a quarry north of the site, and deformities.
But the judge accepted the evidence of waste management expert Roger Braithwaite, who said that more than 15 years of poorly regulated "muck shifting" polluted the environment of the town.
Braithwaite was rightly appalled at the way the council had conducted itself, Akenhead said. "[The council] bit off more than it could chew and did not really appreciate the enormity, ramifications and difficulty of what it was setting out to achieve in terms of removing and depositing very substantial quantities of contaminated material," he ruled in his 919-paragraph judgment.
The 680-acre Corby site had four blast furnaces and two coke oven complexes, and closed in 1980 with the loss of 10,000 jobs.
The council said it was surprised and disappointed by the ruling and was considering whether to appeal. If it does not, the cases to decide whether each child's deformity was caused by the council's negligence will go ahead individually, a process which could take another two or three years.
Lawyers said it was unlikely that the compensation claim of even the least disabled child would be less than £100,000, with others being considerably more.
The sums to be evaluated are not only for the physical and emotional effects of the disabilities, but also future losses, including the effect on their employment.
The judge's finding that there were no breaches of duty after August 1997 means that two other children, aged nine and 10, on whose behalf cases were brought cannot proceed.
The firm representing the claimants, Collins Solicitors, says it knows of dozens more young people in the area who have birth defects, although they would not necessarily all wish to take legal action. It called on Corby council to settle its 16 clients' claims out of court.
Lawyer Des Collins said: "Prior to the trial, the council maintained that a thorough investigation had led it to the conclusion that there was no link between the reclamation work and the children's birth defects.
"It also maintained that had any convincing evidence been shown that the children had good claims, then the council would have wanted to compensate them appropriately without going to trial. Today that link has been established and the evidence provided. The children now call upon the council to fulfil their pretrial promises without delay.
"The council got it wrong," he added. "They should simply put their hands up now and admit it. We will have to fight on, but we are quite determined to do that."
The council said it was not prepared to apologise unless a causal link was proved between the reclamation works and the defects suffered by the claimants.
"We are not yet at the point of saying sorry because nobody yet is responsible," chief executive Chris Mallender said. "Our position has always been that there was no link between the reclamation work that was carried out in Corby in past decades and these children's birth defects. That is still our position."
He said the council, which had already run up legal costs of £1.9m and now faces a claim from the families' solicitors for an additional £4.7m, offered the opportunity of independent arbitration but it was declined by the parents.
"We continue to sympathise with their circumstances. We regret that they have had to pursue this case over so many years and we, like they, would hope we can now draw this to a conclusion and everybody can move on."