Thursday, 13 August 2009

Is it time to start worrying about Copenhagen?

The gap between rich nations and emerging economies over carbon emissions targets is beginning to look unbridgable. From, part of the Guardian Environment James Murray, from, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 12 August 2009 16.32 BST
I am starting to get very worried.
This week, another round of the UN's climate change talks gets underway in Bonn, Germany and once again all the key factions look as far from reaching a meaningful agreement on carbon emissions targets as they ever were.
It is far too early to give up hope on a deal being reached, particularly given that any exercise in international diplomacy is always characterised by the kind of posturing and brinkmanship we can expect to see again over the next five days. But with just 117 days to go until the start of the Copenhagen conference, major breakthroughs are needed soon if we are to have anything to celebrate this Christmas.
The problem is that all of the key negotiating teams are beginning to sound like broken records as they demand that others move first to deliver targets before they make any commitment.
China, India and the other emerging economies are not unreasonably demanding that rich nations follow the dictats of the latest climate science and agree to cut emissions 40 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels. But even assuming this is an opening gambit and they might accept the EU's conditional offer of a 30 per cent cut, they are still asking for reductions that are an order of magnitude larger than the four per cent cut on 1990 levels proffered by the Obama administration as part of its climate change bill – which, by the way, has not yet been passed.
So will the US budge and increase the cuts it is willing to offer? Not a chance.
We can discuss the vagaries of the US electoral system, the malign influence of fossil fuel industry lobbyists and the collective psychosis of parts of the American Right another time, but the facts as they stand are that the Obama administration will count itself very lucky indeed to get the four per cent cut included in the Waxman-Markey bill passed into law.
The US negotiators could have an attack of conscience in Copenhagen and sign up to deeper cuts in order to get India and China on board, but any more demanding targets would soon be shot down in Congress, leaving us exactly where we started.
That puts the ball back in the court of the emerging nations. Will they accept that the Obama administration is offering all it can in the short term and is serious about delivering much deeper cuts of 80 per cent by 2050, leaving them free to sign up to more modest targets for themselves? Again, the answer is not a chance.
You can make a strong case that they are making a rod for their own back, given that the developing world will be on the front line against the impacts of climate change. Just as you can easily dismiss the argument that emerging economies should be allowed to develop using the same carbon-intensive technologies that underpinned growth in the West. As Gaia Vince asked rhetorically in an article for the Guardian today: "The rich south of the USA got to develop its economy with the assistance of slaves. Would it be acceptable for India to use slaves now?"
But it is all but impossible to argue with India and China's stated position that under any definition of social justice the rich world has a historical debt to pay and must pick up the vast majority of the bill for tackling climate change – and that means agreeing to far more ambitious targets and helping the developing world to decarbonise its growing economies.
As Indian ambassador Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, the senior Indian negotiator, neatly explained to the BBC: "[India] is a country where half the rural population does not have a light bulb in its home, or a gas ring. So to describe this country as a large emitter is absurd – there's no other word for it."
Or to quote the somewhat more robust John Prescott in the Guardian: "The fact is that the West has poisoned the world and left continents such as Africa in poverty. The West will have up to stump up the cash for clean technology."
The way to square this circle is for negotiators to agree to some form of equitable per capita emissions target, and it is this so-called contraction and convergence model that is winning growing support among some of the negotiating teams. But it seems far too late in the day for per capita targets to be included in the Copenhagen process, and even if they were they too would run into the brick wall of a US political system that will not countenance targets that would in effect require deeper emission cuts in the US than anywhere else.
So where does the process go to break this deadlock? I'm not sure it can, at least not on the issue of binding emission targets. It looks increasingly likely that we will see an almighty fudge on the issue of targets built around what is already on the table: namely, largely inadequate targets from rich nations, mirrored by vague aspirational goals to curb emission growth from emerging economies.
However, while a treaty without targets may end up resembling a football match without goal posts, it would not necessarily make the exercise a complete waste of time.
Progress does appear to be being made on the development of a global carbon market, reforestry schemes and clean tech funding for developing nations. Negotiators from the rich world may not be able to see the competitive advantage in signing up to emissions targets that will not be matched by emerging rivals, but they can certainly see the benefits attached to the creation of a major new commodity class in the form of carbon and the strengthening of trade relations with the likes of China and India.
There is a consensus building that clean tech financing pumped into the developing world will help to create new markets for the emerging clean tech hubs of the US and Europe, creating an economic win-win for all involved. Make the grants and financing deals attractive enough and it might even be possible to get emerging economies to budge a little on the issue of targets.
It is likely to be a bit of a mess and it is unlikely to deliver what the scientists demand, but the final Copenhagen deal might just inadvertently deliver what is required. A legislative, financing and carbon pricing framework that makes it both possible and attractive for businesses to develop clean technologies that are better and more cost effective than the carbon intensive rivals they hope to replace. Deliver that and market forces will ensure the decarbonisation of the global economy looks after itself – with or without targets.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

What the new Climate Camp Cymru can do for Wales

We'll protest against opencast mining and ensure the Welsh Assemby's 2020 pledges are met … so why not join us?
When members of the UK's first Camp for Climate Action pitched up next to Drax power station in 2006, they can scarcely have realised how far things would come in just a few years. This year the Climate Camp movement is spreading right across the world, with Camps springing up in the US, Australia, France, Ukraine, Scotland, India and elsewhere.
Over the next four days near the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Climate Camp Cymru - Wales's first national Camp for Climate Action - will be joining them.
The Camp is itself a protest, but is far more than that. It is a vibrant experiment in popular democracy and self-organisation; a bustling centre of educational activity (with workshops on everything from the latest climate science to making your own rocket stove); a training ground, giving people skills up to take direct action; and a place to meet others, form networks, and grow a movement to confront the root causes of climate change in Wales.
The need for such a movement has never been more urgent. Climate change already kills 300,000 people each year and is rapidly accelerating, the UK government remains constrained by the intense grip of corporate interests, and the pursuit of endless growth sets the political agenda.
What part, then, does Wales play in all this? The Welsh Assembly government has pledged to make us a net carbon neutral country by 2020 – an impressive-sounding goal. Yet once Wales's abundant natural resources and small population are accounted for, this target turns out to be extraordinarily timid. Wales has vast reserves of wind, wave and tidal power waiting to be exploited.
But Wales's green pledges are far from the whole story. In concert with the UK government's plans to "maximise economic recovery … from remaining coal reserves", opencast coal mines are being developed across South Wales. The Ffos-y-Fran mine, on the doorstep of Merthyr Tydfil, is one of the largest such mines in Europe. During its 15-year lifespan, coal from Ffos-y-Fran is set to generate as much CO2 as Mozambique in the same period. Meanwhile, local residents, unprotected by the UK's standard provision of a 500-metre buffer zone between town and mine, have had to bear the brunt of the constant noise, dust, diesel fumes, visual and health impacts.
In climate terms, coal is the most damaging fossil fuel there is, and despite all the assertions from industry and government, the "carbon capture and storage" technology required to make coal "clean" does not exist.
This situation might not inspire confidence. But history suggests that mass, concerted popular movements, willing to peacefully break the law in opposition to major injustices, regularly produce momentous political shifts. Like other Climate Camps, we strongly support and will help facilitate peaceful direct action against major CO2 emitters. Whether this involves a mass day of action against a single target, several smaller actions, or something else, ultimately depends on what those present decide. The Camp operates on the basis of consensus – a non-hierarchical, democratic decision-making process that attempts to formulate proposals satisfactory to everyone involved. So if you have an alternative idea, come along and share it. I'll see you there.
• Tim Holmes is an activist for Climate Camp Cymru

Plimer resorts to attack as the best form of defence

The champion of climate change denial has responded to me, but creates more questions than he answers
George Monbiot, Wednesday 12 August 2009 16.01 BST
Well, well, this becomes ever more interesting.
A few weeks ago, after I attacked the crazy claims about climate change in his book Heaven and Earth, the professor of geology Ian Plimer challenged me to a public debate. After some thought I accepted, on condition that he accepted my challenge: to give precise and specific answers to the questions I had for him.
At first he refused. Then he agreed - or at least appeared to. Then, last Friday, he told me that after his undergraduate lectures finished that day he would address my questions. So when I saw that a message from him had arrived this week, I was burning with anticipation. But I was sorely disappointed. His response so far consists not of answers, but of questions addressed to me. You can read them at the bottom of this post.
Fascinating as these questions doubtless are, I am unqualified to answer them. Unlike Ian Plimer, I make no pretence of being a climate scientist. I am a journalist, who, among other tasks, reports and comments on the findings of climate science. My answer to questions 1-13 is: "you're asking the wrong person".
My questions, by contrast, are addressed to the right person. They concern only what Ian Plimer purports to know. He made precise and specific claims in his book. Many of them are either unsourced or blatantly misrepresent his sources. I have not set him an exam in atmospheric physics; I have simply asked him to cite his sources and explain his statements.
If his claims are correct, my questions will be easy and quick for him to answer. If his claims are wrong, my questions will be difficult, if not impossible. The longer he procrastinates, the more he blusters and horses about, the worse his position looks.
Any reputable scientist, when challenged to give his sources, will do so immediately, without argument or evasion. But his latest email looks suspiciously like an attempt at distraction. He appears to be applying the doctrine that the best form of defence is attack.
So come on Professor Plimer, stop avoiding the issue, show some backbone, and answer my questions.
Here are the questions sent by Ian Plimer this week:
1. From the distribution of the vines, olives, citrus and grain crops in Europe, UK and Greenland, calculate the temperature in the Roman and Medieval Warmings and the required atmospheric CO2 content at sea level to drive such warmings. What are the errors in your calculation? Reconcile your calculations with at least five atmospheric CO2 proxies. Show all calculations and justify all assumptions.
2. Tabulate the CO2 exhalation rates over the last 15,000 years from (i) terrestrial and submarine volcanism (including maars, gas vents, geysers and springs) and calc-silicate mineral formation, and (ii) CH4 oxidation to CO2 derived from CH4 exhalation by terrestrial and submarine volcanism, natural hydrocarbon leakage from sediments and sedimentary rocks, methane hydrates, soils, microbiological decay of plant material, arthropods, ruminants and terrestrial methanogenic bacteria to a depth of 4 km. From these data, what is the C12, C13 and C14 content of atmospheric CO2 each thousand years over the last 15,000 years and what are the resultant atmospheric CO2 residence times? All assumptions need to be documented and justified.
3. From first principles, calculate the effects on atmospheric temperature at sea level by changes in cloudiness of 0.5%, 1% and 2% at 0%, 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% humidity. What changes in cloudiness would have been necessary to drive the Roman Warming, Dark Ages, Medieval Warming and Little Ice Age? Show all calculations and justify all assumptions.
4. Calculate the changes in atmospheric C12 and C13 content of CO2 and CH4 from crack-seal deformation. What is the influence of this source of gases on atmospheric CO2 residence time since 1850? Validate assumptions and show all calculations.
5. From CO2 proxies, carbonate rock and mineral volumes and stable isotopes, calculate the CO2 forcing of temperature in the Huronian, Neoproterozoic, Ordovician, Permo-Carboniferous and Jurassic ice ages. Why is the "faint Sun paradox" inapplicable to the Phanerozoic ice ages in the light of your calculations? All assumptions must be validated and calculations and sources of information must be shown.
6. From ocean current velocity, palaeotemperature and atmosphere measurements of ice cores and stable and radiogenic isotopes of seawater, atmospheric CO2 and fluid inclusions in ice and using atmospheric CO2 residence times of 4, 12, 50 and 400 years, numerically demonstrate that the modern increase in atmospheric CO2 could not derive from the Medieval Warming.
7. Calculate the changes in the atmospheric transmissivity of radiant energy over the last 2,000 years derived from a variable ingress of stellar, meteoritic and cometary dust, terrestrial dust, terrestrial volcanic aerosols and industrial aerosols. How can your calculations show whether atmospheric temperature changes are related to aerosols? All assumptions must be justified and calculations and sources of information must be shown.
8. Calculate 10 Ma time flitches using W/R ratios of 10, 100 and 500 for the heat addition to the oceans, oceanic pH changes and CO2 additions to bottom waters by alteration of sea floor rocks to greenschist and amphibolite facies assemblages, the cooling of new submarine volcanic rocks (including MORBs) and the heat, CO2 and CH4 additions from springs and gas vents since the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. From your calculations, relate the heat balance to global climate over these 10 Ma flitches. What are the errors in your calculations? Show all calculations and discuss the validity of any assumptions made.
9. Calculate the rate of isostatic sinking of the Pacific Ocean floor resulting from post LGM loading by water, the rate of compensatory land level rise, the rate of gravitationally-induced sea level rise and sea level changes from morphological changes to the ocean floor. Numerically reconcile your answer with the post LGM sea level rise, oceanic thermal expansion and coral atoll drilling in the South Pacific Ocean. What are the relative proportions of sea level change derived from your calculations?
10. From atmospheric CO2 measurements, stable isotopes, radiogenic Kr and hemispheric transport of volcanic aerosols, calculate the rate of mixing of CO2 between the hemispheres of planet Earth and reconcile this mixing with CO2 solubility, CO2 chemical kinetic data, CO2 stable and cosmogenic isotopes, the natural sequestration rates of CO2 from the atmosphere into plankton, oceans, carbonate sediments and cements, hydrothermal alteration, soils, bacteria and plants for each continent and ocean. All assumptions must be justified and calculations and sources of information must be shown. Calculations may need to be corrected for differences in 12CO2, 13CO2 and 14CO2 kinetic adsorption and/or molecular variations in oceanic dissolution rates.
11. Calculate from first principles the variability of climate, the warming and cooling rates and global sea level changes from the Bölling to the present and compare and contrast the variability, maximum warming and maximum sea level change rates over this time period to that from 1850 to the present. Using your calculations, how can natural and human-induced changes be differentiated? All assumptions must be justified and calculations and sources of information must be shown.
12. Calculate the volume of particulate and sulphurous aerosols and CO2 and CH4 coeval with the last three major mass extinctions of life. Use the figures derived from these calculations to numerically demonstrate the effects of terrestrial, deep submarine, hot spot and mid ocean ridge volcanism on planktonic and terrestrial life on Earth. What are the errors in your calculations?
13. From the annual average burning of hydrocarbons, lignite, bituminous coal and natural and coal gas, smelting, production of cement, cropping, irrigation and deforestation, use the 25µm, 7µm and 2.5µm wavelengths to calculate the effect that gaseous, liquid and solid H2O have on atmospheric temperature at sea level and at 5 km altitude at latitudes of 20º, 40º, 60º and 80ºS. How does the effect of H2O compare with the effect of CO2 derived from the same sources? All assumptions must be justified and calculations and sources of information must be shown.

Scientists reveal why world's highest mountains are at the equator

Ice and glacier coverage at lower altitudes in cold climates more important than collision of tectonic plates, researchers find
Alok Jha, Wednesday 12 August 2009 18.00 BST
Scientists have solved the mystery of why the world's highest mountains sit near the equator - colder climates are better at eroding peaks than had previously been realised.
Mountains are built by the collisions between continental plates that force land upwards. The fastest mountain growth is around 10mm a year in places such as New Zealand and parts of the Himalayas, but more commonly peaks grow at around 2-3mm per year.
In a study published today in Nature, David Egholm of Aarhus University in Denmark showed that mountain height depends more on ice and glacier coverage than tectonic forces. In colder climates, the snowline on mountains starts lower down, and erosion takes place at lower altitudes. At cold locations far from the equator, he found, erosion by snow and ice easily matched any growth due to the Earth's plates crunching together.
Egholm used radar maps of the Earth's surface, created by Nasa in 2001, to examine the height of all the world's mountains at a single point in time. The analysis showed that mountains had a significant land area up to their snowlines, after which it dropped rapidly. In general, mountains only rise to around 1,500m above their snow lines, so it is the altitude of these lines — which depends on climate and latitude — which ultimately decides their height.
At low latitudes, the atmosphere is warm and the snowline is high. "Around the equator, the snowline is about 5,500m at its highest so mountains get up to 7,000m," said Egholm. "There are a few exceptions [that are higher], such as Everest, but extremely few. When you then go to Canada or Chile, the snowline altitude is around 1,000m, so the mountains are around 2.5km."
"What we show is that, once the mountain is pushed up across the snow line, a very effective erosion agent comes into play and that is represented by glaciers," said Egholm. "It's so effective that it can keep pace with any tectonic uplift rate that we have on the Earth today." Below the snowline, rivers and rock falls are the main erosion agents.

Vestas confirms closure of Isle of Wight and Southampton factories

Turbine maker says closures will balance demand, as boss criticises UK's commitment to wind and hints at redundancy reinstatement for protesters
Glwadys Fouché and James Randerson, Wednesday 12 August 2009 13.39 BST
Vestas has confirmed the closure of two sites on the Isle of Wight and Southampton with the loss of 425 jobs. Employees at both factories were informed of the decision today.
The closures follow a sit-in protest by 11 employees which began on July 20 and ended on August 7 after the company obtained a repossession order and sent in bailiffs to remove the protesters.
The protest was hugely embarrassing for the government at a time when it is promoting wind energy and green jobs. The Vestas plant was the only one in the country making components for wind turbines. The protesters gained considerable support from trades union groups and environmentalists.
The company said that 40 employees had been found new roles within the Vestas research and development facility on the Isle of Wight. A further 57 employees will continue to work at the factory to assist with its closure.
"The decision to close the factory was very difficult, and we fully recognise the impact this will have on employees, their families and on the Isle of Wight," said Ole Borup Jakobsen, president of Vestas Blades. "Nonetheless, this commercial decision was absolutely necessary to secure Vestas' competiveness and create a regional balance between production and the demand for wind turbines."
Despite confirmation of the factory's closure, the company's chief executive confirmed that staff redundancy benefits, which were withdrawn from the protesting workers, were under review.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Ditlev Engel said that the company is planning to look again at the decision to strip the workers of their redundancy package because of their involvement in the protest.
"The last thing that we wanted was to have this confrontation," he said. "We will go back and see what it is that we can do going forward and also for all the people affected because we only had one wish and that was to try to do this in the best possible way. Coming back to the 11 people, we will have to revisit, to look at that as well."
Asked whether this meant that Vestas would reconsider its decision to remove the redundancy package from the men who occupied the plant, Engel said: "I am not ruling anything out."
Vestas has previously said that UK planning laws are a major barrier to wind energy development and that they were one of the reasons for the company's decision to pull out. "It is clear there is a need for reviewing [planning laws] in the UK," said Engel. "Nimbyism is also an issue."
He said that the UK government was failing to put its plans for more renewable energy into practice. "In the UK there is a clear division between what the government would like to see happening and what certain local politicians want to see happening, or rather not want to see happening … there is not necessarily the same ambition levels."
He also said that the government needed to invest in the electricity transmission grid to make it more friendly to wind energy.
"A major challenge in the UK is the future grid investment which needs to take place," he said.
Vestas first announced plans to shut manufacturing at the Isle of Wight factory in April saying it could produce blades more cheaply in America.

Lehman owned SkyPower seeks court protection

Reuters, Thursday August 13 2009
*Lehman-owned SkyPower seeks court protection
*SkyPower wants to sell its assets
*Has interim financing of US $15 million
By Emily Chasan
NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) - SkyPower Corp, a Canadian developer of renewable energy projects owned by bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, said on Wednesday that it has filed for court protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.
SkyPower said it was seeking to quickly sell its assets through a court-approved process and that several potential bidders have expressed interest in a deal.
SkyPower said it sought court protection amid uncertainty over the last few months about its "strategic direction" due to the bankruptcy of Lehman, which is the company's principal shareholder.
SkyPower said it had a commitment of funding for US $15 million that will allow it to transition the business through the sale process.
Lehman Brothers Private Equity had bought a 50 percent equity stake in SkyPower in June 2007.
SkyPower had interests in developing more than 50 wind and solar projects in Canada at the time of the Lehman investment.
Lehman sought bankruptcy protection in U.S. courts on Sept. 15, 2008, in the largest U.S. bankruptcy in history, listing assets of $639 billion. The bank has been in the process of unwinding itself. (Reporting by Emily Chasan; editing by Carol Bishopric)

Australia utility Origin calls for carbon agreement

Reuters, Thursday August 13 2009
SYDNEY, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Australia's second-largest power retailer, Origin Energy, called on national lawmakers on Thursday to urgently agree a plan to cut carbon emissions, minutes after parliament rejected the government's scheme.
Earlier, the Senate voted down the plan for the world's most ambitious carbon emissions trade regime, bringing the nation closer to a snap election on the issue and also prolonging financial uncertainties for major emitters.
"The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the (carbon-reduction) legislation is delaying both the investment necessary to meet Australia's long-term baseload electricity needs and the investment in lower-carbon technology required to gradually reduce Australia's emissions," it said in a statement. (Reporting by Mark Bendeich)

Carbon capture competition hots up as Shell reveals it is joining ScottishPower's bid

By Hamish Rutherford
OIL major Shell has joined the ScottishPower-led consortium aiming to win funding for a key carbon capture scheme at the Longannet Power Station in Fife.
The UK government is holding a competition to demonstrate carbon capture and storage (CCS), with the winner in line for cash to develop the technology on a commercial scale.ScottishPower has entered the competition and in May began a groundbreaking trial of the technology, the first time it has been used at an operational coal-powered station.The technology is believed to be capable of capturing 90 per cent of the station's emissions, turning it into liquid, before piping it into disused North Sea oil fields or porous rock beneath the seabed.Yesterday, the utility giant announced that Shell, Britain's largest oil company, would work alongside it in its bid.Nick Horler, the chief executive of ScottishPower, appeared bullish about the consortium's prospects."The fact that a company of the size and scope of Shell has chosen to join our consortium is a considerable coup and a significant boost to our bid," Horler said."Shell's experience of working offshore in the North Sea is clearly critical – not only in terms of the potential for storage in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, but because transport and storage of will demand many of the same engineering and subsurface skills on which the oil and gas industry has depended for many decades."John Gallagher, a vice-president at Shell, said the company was eager to be involved in the development of CCS technology."Shell believes CCS is a technology that will be vital to tackling climate change and we believe that at this stage it is essential that we 'learn by doing' in order to reduce costs, accelerate technology and ultimately make CCS commercially viable," Gallagher said.National Grid has joined the consortium, although its involvement is not exclusive.Chris Train, National Grid's director for network operations, said the Longannet project could potentially use some of its existing gas pipelines for transportation, as North Sea gas supplies decline. Two other European utilities are also taking part in the competition.E.ON is aiming to build a CCS system on its proposed Kingsnorth coal-fired project in Kent, while RWE has also launched a joint-venture bid in conjunction with Peel Energy and Danish company Dong.The Department for Energy and Climate Change said the funding for the competition would depend on the next spending review, although it wanted to have the technology ready commercially by 2020