Friday, 14 August 2009

Kenya to plant 7.6 billion trees to check deforestation

Wednesday, August 12 03:01 pm comparison, the authorities in Nairobi expect to spend just over $650 million this year on the country's crumbling roads, and around $400 million on energy projects.
Kenya said on Wednesday it would plant 7.6 billion trees over the next 20 years to redress decades of chopping down forest cover, the effect of which is now being felt in acute water and power shortages. Just 3 percent of land in the agriculture-based east African economy is covered by forests that are protected by the authorities, compared with a government target of 10 percent.
"We will have to plant 4.1 million hectares in order to make a percentage that is internationally acceptable," Environment Minister John Michuki told reporters.
"You are talking about 7.6 billion trees," he said. "In my estimation, it is going to cost us $20 billion over 20 years."
That amount is nearly twice the government's annual spending, which will be about $11 billion in fiscal 2009/10.
The impact of forest destruction is being felt by Kenyans, with rivers drying up and hydro-electric power generation, farm production and tourism all suffering as a result.
Kenya's biggest forest, the Mau, has lost a quarter of its 400,000 hectares in recent years to unchecked human settlement, illegal logging and the burning of charcoal.
A report released by Prime Minister Raila Odinga last month showed that politicians had been allocated large parcels of Mau land by corrupt officials, mostly during the 1990s.
Michuki was speaking at the launch of a solar-charged mobile phone handset costing just 2,999 shilling ($39) by Safaricom, the nation's leading mobile operator.
There are some 18 million active SIM cards in Kenya. But only about 18 percent of its 36 million people have electricity in their homes. Mobile users in rural areas not linked to the national grid often have problems charging their phones.
(Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
($1=76.65 Kenyan Shilling)

Australian Senators Reject Bill Meant to Cap Emissions

By RACHEL PANNETT
CANBERRA, Australia -- Lawmakers Thursday rejected a bill aimed at capping Australia's greenhouse-gas emissions, a widely expected move that could result in a call for early elections by the center-left Labor government if it can't convince key conservatives to back the plan in coming months.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong vowed to bring the climate bill back to Parliament before year-end. "Australia cannot afford for climate-change action to be unfinished business," Ms. Wong told lawmakers. "This bill may be going down today but this is not the end."
The Australian cap-and-trade plan -- similar to one operating in Europe since 2005 -- would cap carbon dioxide emissions from July 2011, forcing heavy polluters like power generators and aluminum and cement makers to buy permits to account for their greenhouse emissions.
The bill faced industry criticism that said it would jeopardize jobs and add costs for consumers and businesses. Environmentalist lawmakers from the minority Greens party were happy to see the bill defeated because they think its relatively low carbon emissions reduction targets and generous industry allowances rendered it ineffective.
Analysts say the most likely outcome now is either that the bill passes at a second vote later this year, with modest modifications, or is enacted in the first half of next year after the government uses the bill's failure to call early elections.
Write to Rachel Pannett at rachel.pannett@dowjones.com

Australian carbon defeat is bad news for Copenhagen summit

The failure to pass new climate change legislation in Australia does not bode well for a global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol at the end of the year in Copenhagen.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Published: 1:12PM BST 13 Aug 2009

If Australia cannot agree, how will more than 90 countries with opposing views possibly thrash out an agreement to tackle climate change?
It was thought Australia was ready to follow Europe in committing to cut carbon. The country has more first-hand experience than most of the impact of climate change through its recent droughts and bush fires; Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, has overturned his predecessor's objections to signing up to the Kyoto Protocol and the Green Party is popular.

But Australia also is reliant on coal to run its economy, and it has some of the world's most outspoken climate change sceptics.
Ian Plimer, professor of mining geology at Adelaide University and author of a recent book Heaven and Earth, has controversially questioned whether climate change is man made. His book was refused by many publishers but has since gone on to sell tens of thousands of copies in Australia. Its author has been lobbying politicians and appearing regularly on television.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December will need rich countries such as Australia to introduce climate change legislation to prove they are serious about cutting carbon. Otherwise developing countries like India and China, that are predicted to produce more carbon in the future, will refuse to cut their own emissions.
All eyes are now on the US where President Barack Obama has a similarly tough job getting through his own legislation. He wants to introduce a carbon trading scheme in the most oil-hungry country in the world.

Australian Senate rejects curbs on greenhouse gases

Kevin Rudd's government vows to push legislation through despite setback
Associated Press
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 August 2009 10.20 BST
Australia's Senate today voted to reject legislation that would have curbed the amount of greenhouse gas pollution the country emits, but the government said it would resurrect the bill later this year.
Climate change minister Penny Wong said the government would continue its campaign to push the legislation through the Senate, in a move that could trigger an early election if the opposition-controlled chamber rejects the measure a second time.
"We may lose this vote, but this issue will not go away because we ... understand Australia cannot afford climate change action to be unfinished business and we will not let it be," Wong told the Senate before the vote, which the government lost 42 votes to 30. "We will press ... on with this reform for as long as we have to," she added.
The government plan would institute a tax on carbon emissions from industry starting in 2011 and limit Australia's overall pollution. The government wants to slash Australia's emissions by up to 25% compared with 2000 levels by 2020 if tough global targets are agreed at the Copenhagen summit in December.
If the Senate rejects legislation twice in three months, Australia's constitution allows prime minister Kevin Rudd to call a snap election before his three-year term has expired.
Such an early election fought on the issue of climate change is expected to favour Rudd's center-left Labor Party, which opinion polls suggest remains far more popular than the centre-right Liberal party opposition.
Analysts expect that if the Senate knocks back the legislation again in November, Rudd could call an election early next year.
Senate Liberal leader Nick Minchin, who commands the largest voting bloc in the upper house chamber, said the bills should be put "in the deep freeze" until after the Copenhagen meeting and a US Senate debate on American emissions permit trading.
Wong said the government wants the legislation passed before the Copenhagen meeting to avoid sending the message that Australia is "going backward on climate change".
Business groups including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry urged the government and opposition to quickly reach a compromise. Among environmental groups, the Climate Institute described the vote as a "tragic postponement".
Friends of the Earth argued that the proposed legislation was too weak and would have locked Australia into a high-polluting economy.

India Plans Focus on Environment

By KETAKI GOKHALE
NEW DELHI -- India has established one of the world's largest forest-protection funds and plans to set up a regulatory body modeled on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to improve its dismal environmental track record. The move comes even as the country resists firm caps on carbon emissions.
The $2.5 billion fund will be earmarked for the regeneration and management of forests, which have been identified by researchers as an important means of reducing carbon emissions, said Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of state for environment and forests, on Thursday. An additional $1 billion in public funds will be allocated for "forestry-related activities," according to a new report from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Forest cover accounts for more than 20% of India's land, and it neutralizes more than 11% of India's total greenhouse-gas emissions at 1994 levels -- equivalent to 100% of emissions from all energy in the residential and transport sectors, or 40% of total emissions from the agriculture sector, the report said.
India has been making a concerted effort in the area of forestry for 20 years, and is one of the few developing countries where the forest cover has increased over that period, according to Mr. Ramesh.
At the same time, he acknowledged that climate change is of real and growing concern -- especially for India's economy. India is the world's fourth-largest emitter of carbon.
"In the last 60 years, 45% of the variation in our GDP growth has been because of variations in rainfall," he said. "We are therefore acutely conscious of what will happen to different parts of India because of climate change."
Mr. Ramesh reiterated India's longstanding position that the nation wouldn't accept emissions caps because that would limit economic growth, and that developed countries, which have much higher cumulative emissions, should take a more appropriate share of the responsibility. The U.S., for example, produces 20.9% of global carbon emissions, according to the 2007 Human Development Report put out by the United Nations Development Program.
He was also adamant that India wouldn't cut back on its consumption of coal, a big source of carbon emissions. "We have the third-largest reserve of coal," Mr. Ramesh said. "It would be foolish of us to give up on that option." Building a nuclear plant takes seven to 10 years, he pointed out.

Coal stations will be 'lightning rod' for global dissent, warns watchdog's head

New head of Sustainable Development Commission condemns 'clean coal' and Heathrow expansion plans
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 August 2009 13.41 BST
The new head of the UK government's official green watchdog has strongly criticised moves to build new coal-fired power stations in Britain and condemned the planned expansion of Heathrow.
In his first major interview since taking office, Will Day, the incoming chair of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), told the Guardian that construction of new coal stations, such as the planned Eon Kingsnorth facility in Kent, would provide a "lightning rod" for international protest.
He dismissed industry and ministerial claims that new power stations such as Kingsnorth could be operated with limited impact on the environment by trapping and storing the carbon emissions underground. "Never use the words 'clean coal'," he said. "I do not believe clean coal exists."
Day also said that:
• It was "not an appropriate time" to build a third runway at Heathrow.
• Flights must be made more expensive to discourage people from flying to foreign holidays.
• Politicians must make unpopular decisions to tackle global warming
Day stressed his views were personal and not those of the SDC, but their uncompromising tone is likely to reassure green campaigners. Day, the former chief executive of relief and development group Care International, was appointed SDC chair following the departure of Jonathan Porritt, who was a regular and vocal critic of government efforts on the environment.
On new coal power stations, Day said: "Science is unequivocal about the impact of carbon on our environment. Every time scientists go back to measure ice and water levels and those things it gets worse. We should not be adding to that problem. And when someone says "oh no, it will be carbon capture and storage ready", well show me where it's working, seriously working. Show me how it's going to be implemented on existing stock, let alone new stock."
He added: "There is no such thing as a free lunch and we're not going to get a free lunch around coal. So my view would be if the government wants to provide a lightning rod for public disagreement or dissent around coal, then start building a new coal-fired power station, and the orang-utan costumes will be dusted off from around the planet and people will come and say this is wrong. And two wrongs don't make a right. People say "oh there is one a week opening in China". And? I don't think that's a good enough reason."
Day said he disagreed with Ed Miliband, climate and energy secretary, on whether mass air travel could be preserved in a low-carbon world. Miliband told the Guardian last month: "Where I disagree with other people on aviation is if you did 80% cuts across the board, as some people have called for on aviation, you would go back to 1974 levels of flying. I don't want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly."
Day said: "Politicians are there to make the hard decisions. And there are some really hard decisions coming up. And they're hard because they're not the kind of decisions that individuals particularly want to have taken. How many short- to medium-haul flight holidays does anyone really need to have a year? Ed Miliband interestingly said something like 'don't worry your holiday flights are safe with me'. But we know that we need to be encouraging and supporting, through a combination of stick and carrot, some change to behaviours."
He added: "Part of the difficult decision is going to be a rebalancing of what things cost. If we say we must pay the true price of the impact of carbon on the environment. The hard decision is do you price the impact of an aeroplane flying through the air properly, really properly, and not a kind of £1.20 carbon offset. The objective is to reduce the amount of carbon put into the upper atmosphere by planes by pricing it out."
He said: [Flights] will continue but there will be fewer of them, and they will be properly priced. And people will be able to make decisions based on their decision to afford. They're not being told they cannot go on holiday, they are being told this is what it costs."

Schemes to reduce carbon emissions

Companies and governments are turning to emissions trading as a weapon to fight climate change in a carbon market worth $125 billion last year. Here are some of the proposed plans and existing schemes.

Published: 1:32PM BST 13 Aug 2009
Carbon markets allow polluters to buy rights to emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Under cap and trade schemes, companies or countries face a carbon limit. If they exceed their limit they can buy allowances from others. Alternatively, they can buy carbon offsets from projects which avoid greenhouse gas emissions outside the scheme, often in developing countries.
Established schemes

Kyoto Protocol
Launched 2005
Mandatory for 37 developed nations. The US never ratified the pact
Covers all six main greenhouse gases
Target: 5 per cent reduction in 1990 emissions by 2008-2012
How it works: Rich countries cut greenhouse gases at home or buy emissions rights from each other - if one country stays within its target it can sell the difference to another emitting too much. Alternatively, they can buy carbon offsets from projects in developing countries under Kyoto's clean development mechanism.
The present round of Kyoto expires in 2012 and the world has committed to sign a new pact in December.
European Union Emissions Trading Scheme
Launched 2005
Mandatory for all 27 EU member states
Covers nearly half of all EU carbon emissions
Target: 21 per cent cut below 2005 levels by 2020
How it works: Member states allocate a quota of carbon emissions allowances to 11,000 industrial installations. Many electricity generators will have to pay for allowances from 2013.
Companies can buy carbon offsets from developing countries if that works out cheaper than cutting their own emissions.
North-eastern US states' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and trade scheme
Launched January 2009
Covers carbon from power plants in 10 north-east states
Target: 10 per cent cut below 2009 levels by 2018
Japanese voluntary carbon market
Launched October 2008
Covers carbon emissions from energy production 2008-2012
How it works: Companies exceeding their voluntary targets can buy carbon allowances from others that stay under theirs, or from small companies to help them fund efficiency gains, or buy carbon offsets.
Proposed schemes
Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
Launch mid-2011
Covers 75 per cent of all Australia's greenhouse gas emissions
Target: Australia's national target is to cut greenhouse gases by 5-25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, depending on what other countries commit to.
How it will work: Australia will auction most of its permits. The scheme plans to curb the impact on competitiveness by making permits free for companies that depend on exports, and by having a carbon price cap of A$10 per tonne initially.
US federal climate change bill
The US Senate is mulling approval of a climate bill which the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives narrowly approved in June. It faces a tougher test in the Senate.
Launch 2012
Covers carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
Target: Cut 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020
How it would work: Industry would get most allowances for free initially. Companies could offset up to 2 billion tons of their emissions annually by paying for "green" projects. The bill would pre-empt any similar scheme from US states from 2012-17.
US and Canadian Western Climate Initiative
Launch 2012
Covers six greenhouse gases across 11 US and Canadian states, from power plants and transport
Target: 15 per cent cut below 2005 levels by 2020
New Zealand scheme
Launch delayed
Target: To be announced
Plan is to include forestry initially, and subsequently other sectors including electricity, transport and agricultural waste
Source: Reuters

'I wish environmentalism were as much a part of a woman's gender as shopping is'

Celia Walden talks to Tamsin Omond, the climate-activist grand-daughter of a baronet.

By Celia Walden Published: 7:00AM BST 13 Aug 2009

"I always apologise when I mouth off about the very things I campaign about," says Tamsin Omond, shaking her cherubic, peroxide curls. "God knows why."
It's true that the 24-year-old eco-starlet – one of a new breed of activists from her group, Climate Rush, who scaled the House of Commons last year and chained themselves to the railings outside Lord Mandelson's home on Monday to protest at the closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight – has been mouthing off. A professional hazard, presumably.

"I never, ever thought I would end up as an environmentalist," she assures me, the desire to justify her beliefs coming from the same polite place as her compulsive apologies. But cynics and eco-loathers would say that being the Cambridge-educated daughter of a baronet – Sir Thomas Lees, a Dorset landowner – and called Tamsin to boot, provides her with the perfect pedigree to do what she does. Or at least, the perfect pedigree to fit the stereotype of the champagne activist.
The problem with stereotypes is that when you meet them, they often – gallingly – turn out to be real people, complete with senses of humour, cats, family photographs and beliefs that are not so easily rubbished in the flesh.
"It's really weird, the whole posh thing," she says, bemused. "Yes I have a baronet grandfather, but I was surprised by the focus that got. But I suppose it's easy for me to say that. Of course people do care. Still, the price of privilege, someone once said, is absolute integrity."
Sitting opposite Omond in the bedroom of her flat in the terraced house in Kilburn, west London, that also serves as the Climate Rush headquarters, taking in the student-digs like d├ęcor, I can't help but wonder if this is what a modern day Emmeline Pankhurst would look like.
Goofily sexy, lean-limbed and boyish, one knee hitched up to her chest, Omond has all the androgynous appeal of a Burberry advert, which may explain why she has featured in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar – and was last month named in the Pink List as "one of the most influential gays in Britain." Her eyes engage with mine in an intense, feline stare, while her low, rasping voice is broken up by fits of nervous laughter.
"It was because of Pankhurst that we decided to storm the Houses of Parliament last year, in honour of what thousands of the suffragettes did a hundred years previously. I thought it would be great to do something sassy and stylish, so we dressed ourselves up in Edwardian costume and demanded an end to airport expansion."
Unfortunately, the event meant breaking bail terms from a previous parliamentary protest, leading to Omond being arrested and incarcerated for twenty hours in Holloway prison. "Yes," she laughs, "that was frightening. But what was good was that the police were blind sighted by the fact that we were dressed as suffragettes and therefore not at all scary. They were actually very sweet to us."
Non-violent protests about all things ecological is what Climate Rush, the campaign group Omond founded last year, is all about. Some of their pranks are as inoffensive as blasting loud aircraft noise through the then Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly's letterbox, others are more perilous – notably storming Heathrow runways and handcuffing themselves to the front of private jets. "You do put yourself in danger. With the private jet, there was a big fuel tank above us and the guys had to saw through the handcuffs on our arms – there were sparks flying everywhere." Does she get a strange kick from that? "No," she insists. "I am quite boring about breaking the law, oddly." Her mother Sarah and painter father John, she admits, "were probably horrified at first, but now they are, weirdly, quite proud of me."
It is not so hard to believe. Grand ecological ambitions aside, and if only for the impressiveness of her convictions in a conviction-light world, Omond is a fascinating character. With her looks and background - she was at Westminster School before going on to get a first class honours at Trinity College, Cambridge - she could have chosen an easier path, even become an MP, and had the power to make a difference from within. She flinches at the suggestion: "I think I might be a bit too much of a loose canon for politics."
A nonconformist from the start, she trained for a year to be a priest at St Mary's Church in Primrose Hill, north London after leaving university. "It is still in my life plan to do that," she maintains. But one day Omond says she woke up "to where we are now and recognised that this was one of those crisis point moments which come after people have been walking around blindly for a long time."
I point out that hers is a luxurious moral position to take, reading out a few caustic lines by Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, deriding Climate Rush "for not understanding the basic facts about climate change" and accusing her and her group of "blue blood, posh names and limited intelligence" but she merely shrugs.
"There are so many different facts and figures out there but the bottom line is that nowadays, nobody can deny that climate change exists and that it is going to be a huge problem for our future. Thirty years ago environmentalism was all hippies up trees, Swampy and worthier-than-thou characters who you wouldn't want to be sitting next to at a dinner party. I'm a normal twenty-four year old girl, and I think it helps people to see that. I go to parties and spend a week worrying about what I'm going to wear like everybody else, but what I really want is for environmentalism to be as much a part of a woman's gender as shopping is. You don't have to change your identity to get involved with something like Climate Rush. There used to be this idea that ecological campaigning was for people who had the liberty to act in a certain way without having to care about the cold realities of life."
Which is exactly what lots of people still think about someone like her, I tell her bluntly. "Well look," she says warily, "I'm lucky enough that I can write a piece and then fund myself for two weeks. I wish I had lots of money – everyone thinks that I do but I don't. I get by and I'm very low maintenance but my parents don't give me any money, and the funding we get is less and less now that there's a recession."
Comparisons to another high-profile environmentalist and prospective MP, Zac Goldsmith, displease Omond. "If he could give us loads of money I wouldn't mind being compared to him, but we both gave talks at our old school two weeks ago and apparently he just completely disowned me in his, saying: 'I don't condone any kind of illegal action in the name of climate change and I'm really boring and a Tory... blah, blah, blah'."
In September, Omond and her group are starting a tour of Britain, Climate Rush on the Run, to spread their various messages. "It's crazy how ambitious I am," she says pink-cheeked with fervour. "Or rather how ambitious these projects are. I will keep doing this, and I will keep doing it because it's kind of working." And you believe that she believes in her beliefs implicitly.
'Rush! The Making of a Climate Activist' by Tamsin Omond (Marion Boyars Publishers) is available from Telegraph Books for £7.99 + 99p p&p. To order, call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

How a wind farm could emit more carbon than a coal power station

Building wind farms built on peat bogs, which can release their huge carbon stores when damaged, is not sensible

Fred Pearce
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 August 2009 08.00 BST
Let's be clear: Britain needs wind turbines. Lots of them. But just about the worst place to erect them is on top of peat bogs, which are huge stores of carbon that can easily leak carbon dioxide into the air when damaged by the inevitable roads or drains.
So there are serious questions about the green credentials of plans to build Europe's largest onshore wind farm on 187 square kilometres of thick peat on the Shetland Islands. The fate of the £800m project will be decided by the Scottish government in the coming weeks.
More than half of the wind turbines in Scotland are on highland peat. This is not sensible. Scottish peat bogs hold three-quarters of all the carbon in British ecosystems – equivalent to around a century of emissions from fossil fuel burning.
Apart from water, peat bogs are largely composed of huge volumes of saturated, undecayed plants. A single hectare typically contains more than 5000 tonnes of carbon, ten times more than a typical hectare of forest. But any disturbance leads to lower water levels and to the peat drying, oxidising and releasing its carbon, says biochemist Mike Hall of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust.
The bog can decompose for hundreds of metres round every turbine, potentially releasing millions of tonnes of carbon. The process is slow, but frequently unstoppable, Hall says. So many wind farms may eventually emit more carbon than an equivalent coal-fired power station.
Is that the case on the Shetlands project, which will have 150 giant turbines and 118 kilometres of roads, most of them on deep bog? The promoters, Viking Energy, say the "payback time" for the turbines – that is, the time they will have to run before they recoup the carbon emissions from peat loss – could be as little as 2.3 years, or as much as 14.9 years. The higher figure is three-fifths of the assumed 25-year lifetime of the wind farm.
But dig deeper and even this high figure seems little better than guesswork.
An appendix in the project's environmental statement shows that just 10 out of 69 criteria are responsible for the difference between the best and worst-case scenarios of carbon loss. The criteria cover things such as how much peat would be drained, and how much the water table would fall as a result. But, worryingly, none of those 10 criteria were backed up by site data. The input figures for each were "assumed values".
Moreover, some critical input data that did not vary between the best and worst cases also seemed somewhat arbitrary. Thus the time required for the bog to stop leaking carbon after the closure of the site and the blocking of drains was set at 10 years. Why ten years? This is described as a "default value". Not reassuring.
One of the big risks for any construction on peat bogs is that the disrupted drainage will cause whole hillsides of waterlogged or dried out peat to slide and eventually oxidise. Such a peat slide happened at a wind farm at Derrybrien in Ireland in 2003, probably cancelling out all the benefits of building the wind farm.
Peat slides are a regular feature of the Shetland bogs. An independent technical assessment for the company raised serious issues, finding 54 problem areas.
But that hasn't stopped Viking's environmental statement from stating that the risk of a slide, even in a worst-case scenario, is zero. It blandly states: "It has been assumed that measures have been taken to may [sic] limit damage so that C losses due to peat landslide can be assumed to be negligible."
I asked David Thomson, the project officer for Viking Energy, about the veracity of these payback calculations. He said: "It's not perfect, but as a developer we submit a defendable ranged estimate using an accepted methodology and then it is for others to judge ... Ultimately it is a model. It has calculations. The quality of the answer is entirely subject to the initial inputs."
I appreciate that candour. But, much as we need more wind turbines to harness one of our most valuable natural resources, I think we deserve better information than that before deciding where to put them. When erecting wind turbines on the nation's largest carbon store, we need estimates of the likely carbon loss that are more than simply "defendable", and are not "entirely subject" to "assumed values".
As the RSPB's Lloyd Austin put it last month: "There is no point in building renewable [energy projects] that potentially emit more carbon than they save."

US marines in Afghanistan launch first energy efficiency audit in war zone

Commandant calls for 10,000-strong contingent to be more energy efficient to save lives and money
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 August 2009 18.07 BST
The US Marines Corps ordered the first ever energy audit in a war zone todayto try to reduce the enormous fuel costs of keeping troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
General James T Conway, the Marines Corps Commandant, said he wanted a team of energy experts in place in Afghanistan by the end of the month to find ways to cut back on the fuel bills for the 10,000 strong marine contingent.
US marines in Afghanistan run through some 800,000 gallons of fuel a day. That's a higher burn rate than during an initial invasion, and reflects the logistical challenges of running counter-insurgency and other operations in the extreme weather conditions of Afghanistan.
"We need to understand where the fuel goes," Conway told a Marines Corps energy summit today. "The largest growing demand on the battlefield today is for electricity and how we create that."
He added: "We are going to more efficient. We have got to be."
Conway's announcement — and the summit itself, which is the first of its kind — were seen yesterday as a dramatic shift in the US military's approach to energy consumption and climate change.
The Pentagon began to acknowledge America's reliance on fossil fuels and climate change as a national security concern in 2002. A report from the Pentagon's military advisory board last May called on military bases to work to lower their carbon footprint. A number of bases inside the US have begun to tap into renewable fuel sources including wind and solar energy.
But the Marine Corps are the first service to try to put those policies into action on the battlefield.
Conway, who led the marine invasion of Iraq in 2003, said he was motivated by the high costs — as well as the risks to troops – of getting oil and water to combat zones. For land-locked Afghanistan, the nearest port at Karachi in Pakistan is more than 400 miles away from marine bases, and maintaining those long supply lines has become an increasingly dangerous proposition.
Some 80% of US military casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices (IEDS), and many of those placed in the path of supply convoys.
The costs of shipping water and fuel to the troops is also becoming unsustainable. The price of a gallon of petrol in a war zone can cost up to $100. "It is a shocking figure to compute what it costs by the time you pour that gallon of gas into a Humvee or an aircraft in the place you are operating," Conway said.
He said he was looking to his energy auditors to find ways of cutting back energy consumption at operating bases, and also to pare down the equipment carried by each individual marine. An average marine carries about 9lbs of disposable batteries in their kit to power equipment such as night vision goggles and radios.
One immediate target of the auditors is likely to be climate control. Some 448,000 gallons alone are used to keep tents cool in the Afghan summer, where temperatures reach well over 40C, and warm in the winter, said Michael Boyd, an energy adviser to the Marine Corps.
The marines have been exploring ways to reduce that consumption by spraying tents with a foam coating.
"That's a huge saving and you are no longer putting trucks on those roads, and tanker drivers in harm's way and everyone else involved on the way," Boyd said.