Friday, 21 August 2009

London traffic lights turn green

Energy saving LEDs are to replace inefficient lightbulbs in 3,500 London traffic lights, saving £200,000 per year in fuel bills. Transport for London (TfL) is to install the LEDs at around 300 junctions in the capital, at a cost of £2.4m. The LEDs will cut energy consumption by about 60%. As well as the savings associated with the move itself, City Hall hopes the investment will help stimulate the development of LED traffic signals and encourage more companies to enter the market. The initiative follows the introduction of LED lighting at all London Buses roadside ticket machines and LED lighting at 3,500 solar powered bus stops and 640 shelters. If LED lights were installed in all of London's 6,000 junctions which have traffic signals, CO2 emissions could be reduced by around 12,000 tonnes a year. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "I've seen the future and it comprises these tip top energy busting traffic lights. "Installing these eco-bulbs will cut the climate change emissions coming from London's galaxy of traffic lights by over half as well as save money from energy bills. "We are pressing ahead to get many more of these illuminating orbs on to our streets to join a range of other energy zapping measures already saving us money such as solar powered bus stops and shelters." Sam Bond

Australia Approves Energy Pact

CANBERRA -- Australia approved a mandate to use more renewable energy but set aside a debate over capping its greenhouse-gas emissions, signaling the tensions that face governments around the world in tackling climate change.
Lawmakers Thursday approved legislation that would require 20% of Australia's electricity generation to come from renewable sources by 2020.
The passage follows a move by the government to separate its renewable-energy program from a plan to place a mandatory cap on greenhouse-gas emissions, which was rejected by the Senate last week.
The wrangling Down Under mirrors divisions in the U.S. and around the world over how to move to cleaner energy systems.
Fossil-fuel use and greenhouse-gas emissions are growing world-wide. Yet many scientists say deep emissions cuts will be necessary by midcentury to prevent the most dangerous consequences of global warming. Getting from here to there would require a massive economic shift.
In Australia, both major parties claimed victory for the success of the renewable program, which fulfills part of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 2007 election pledge to make the economy greener. A tougher task lies ahead: The Rudd administration has vowed to reintroduce its greenhouse-gas plan this year.
The main opposition Liberal-National coalition remains divided over that plan, which would see Australia introduce a cap-and-trade system similar to one operating in Europe since 2005. The system would cap Australia's carbon-dioxide emissions, forcing heavy polluters, such as power generators and aluminum and cement makers, to buy so-called carbon permits to account for their emissions.
Significantly curbing emissions would require either shifting to other energy sources or figuring out how to burn coal more cleanly. Mandatory cap-and-trade programs would force companies to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Proponents say the programs, by raising the cost of burning fossil fuel, would encourage cleaner alternatives. Opponents say they would cost too much.
Write to Rachel Pannett at and Jeffrey Ball at

Blow to greener fuel hopes as production costs outstrip profit

Published Date: 21 August 2009
By Andrew Arbuckle
THE prospect of growing crops for biofuels has taken a knock with one pioneering farmer saying the sums do not add up.
Bruce Hamilton, of Blairnathort, Kinross, has just received the returns for his willow crop, which he has been growing for four years on eight hectares of land adjacent to the M90."It is not even close to break even," he stated, adding that his costs over the four years totalled £2,500 per hectare while the income for the same period fell just short of £2,000.In fact, the only good news for Hamilton was the prediction of difficulties in bringing the land back into agricultural production after growing a crop of willow have proven to be wide of the mark."We used a mulcher to chip the stumps down to ground level and we rotavated the remains in prior to sowing grass seed."Hamilton received a government grant to cover the cost of planting the willow in 2005. Despite the crop looking well right from the start, the end yield at 18 tonnes per hectare was only half the tonnage predicted by experts. "That is the difficult bit to understand as I do not think the experts' prediction of willow yielding ten tonnes per hectare per year is possible."Short-rotation coppicing first came into the public arena in the 1990s when interest in renewable fuel sources gathered pace. At that time, 15,000 hectares were planted in Sweden. The acreage of willow in Scotland is well behind that, with only an estimated 225 hectares planted. At one point, it was estimated that biomass could contribute up to 10 per cent of Scottish renewable energy targets and in order to meet that level some 30,000 hectares of willow would have required to have been planted.

Tomorrow's leaders on today's pressing environment issues

From OurWorld 2.0, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 20 August 2009 11.29 BST
Our World 2.0 recently interviewed young leaders from countries in the global south about the pressing global issues of climate change, peak oil and food security.
We were keen to listen to viewpoints of those living in at-risk countries like Nepal, Rwanda, Egypt, Burkina Faso and others, so often under-reported in the international media, and under-represented in international institutions and global discussions.
Our video subjects too, were eager to share their experiences and fresh perspectives when we interviewed 12 who recently attended the United Nations University International Course (UNU-IC), held in Tokyo.
The UNU-IC is a true melting pot where the leaders of tomorrow meet today, in a unique international setting to analyse and discuss global challenges and their sustainable solutions. This year, 51 outstanding postgraduate students and young professionals representing 40 countries were selected from a global pool of applicants.
Hosted at the UNU's Tokyo headquarters, representatives came to learn from world renowned lecturers such as Professor Ramesh Thakur, former vice Rector of the UNU, as well as from each other.
Our subjects were most obviously concerned with the climate change challenge that their generation will have to deal with. Alice, a Rwandan peace-building coordinator who lives in one of the poorest countries on earth, recognises the gravity of the situation for the whole planet, and not just her own vulnerable community:
"Climate change will affect all of us, whether you are developed, whether you are to develop, whether you are poor, whether you are rich," she said.
If our interviews are anything to go by, tomorrow's leaders can show today's leaders how to talk honestly about what people can and should do to change in their lives.
"I think a major factor would be maximum transformation from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet," pointed out Indian development specialist Siddhartha. He cited the relatively large water footprint of beef.
His compatriot, masters student Rahul, told us about how India is taking the lead in renewable energy: "We are proud that we are the first nation which has a Ministry of New and Renewable Energy."
Although interviewees spoke enthusiastically about such initiatives in their countries, they weren't afraid to offer their governments advice on how to better deal with the energy crises:
"In my opinion, what I would just advise, is for countries who are heavily reliant on oil, to make an effort to diversify their economy, and not just to focus on the oil sector," said Nigerian research assistant Solomon.
All for one, or none for all
Today's complex problems transcend simplistic national and sectoral boundaries, and as Alice from Rwanda pointed out, sustainable solutions "need a multidimensional approach".
Therefore, it is fitting that many of the participants deliberately applied to the UNU-IC in order to expand their knowledge into areas beyond their expertise, like Egyptian mechanical engineer Nasser:
"I need to know more about political and social science because actually, working on the environment has to be done with political and social science in mind," he told us.
When we asked about what values should guide our world in the future, we were impressed to hear that these young people were already thinking of future generations.
"My main concern is education. Education of children and teenagers. They are the future generation and they are responsible for taking care of everything from the environment to human relationships," said Carole, a research engineer from Burkina Faso.
Signposts to the future
Although all emphasised the importance of education, students drew on their different cultural backgrounds in identifying a philosophy to underpin their pledges to change the world.
Emmanuel, an up-and-coming political scientist from Liberia, invoked the African spirit of Ubuntu — the belief that all human existences are interlinked.
"If we know that we are interlinked and we are interdependent on one another, we will cooperate with each other more because we know that our very livelihood and existence depends on each other. That is my personal philosophy."
Rahul from India quoted his hero and a global icon of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, who said: "Nature can provide for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."
We will not be surprised if our interviewees meet again in the future, as they progress up the ranks of their governments or assume leadership roles fighting for causes they believe in. They recognise, having partnered together closely at the UNU-IC, that only cooperative and inclusive global strategies can provide real change.
"One thing I have learned in all these problems is that there are solutions and if we people can work together, we can solve these problems," says Philippine's Ozone Desk official, Denise.
Based on what we have heard from Denise, Emmanuel, Rahul and their colleagues, the future could be in safer hands than it presently is.

Tony Blair: 'We can't ask people not to own cars'

Despite a projected tripling of traffic in China over the next decade, the focus should be on low-carbon technology rather than sacrifice, says a report by Tony Blair's Climate Group
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Thursday 20 August 2009 13.22 BST
Car ownership cannot be sacrificed in the fight against climate change, Tony Blair said today in Beijing, despite a projected tripling of traffic in China over the next decade.
In a report forecasting 150m cars on China's roads, which will produce a fifth of global exhaust emissions by 2020, the former UK prime minister said it was impractical to expect governments to curb sales.
"I think the way we consume has to change, but I think it is completely unrealistic to say to people you can't have a car, you can't use a motorbike. It is just not going to happen," he said.
Instead, he said, the focus should be on developing low-carbon technology and expanding the manufacturing and infrastructure for hybrid and electric vehicles.
He was talking at the launch of a new report by his Climate Group, which suggests the world's most populous nation is taking the lead in many fields of low-carbon industry.
While many environmentalists stress the need to curb consumption worldwide to deal with global warming, Blair emphasised change rather than sacrifice.
"We are changing the way we live not so that we don't consume and get the material benefits that people like ourselves actually enjoy, but we are changing it so that we do so in a way that is sustainable," he said.
Asking developing nations not to follow suit, he said, was unrealistic. "If you were to say to people in China that we in the west have grown our economies and consumed all this, but you must live in poverty for the sake of the planet, then they are going to say 'No, I am not'," he said.
The reluctance of politicians to consider curbs to economic growth or freedom of movement was also evident the previous day in comments by Lord Adonis, the UK transport secretary.
"We'll never sell a low-carbon future to the public if it depends on a deprivation model. I'm convinced that there's no necessary trade-off between a low-carbon future and more or less transport," Adonis noted during a visit to Beijing to share information on high-speed rail and "clean car" development.
"We don't need to have a hair shirt approach," he said. "If you can radically cut emissions as a result of new transport technology it is not necessary to face people with an either-or choice between a low-carbon future and big cuts in travel."
Adonis said he had recently read The Politics of Climate Change by Prof Anthony Giddens, a key adviser during the Blair premiership, who writes about the difficulty leaders face in selling climate sacrifices to voters.
Climate change experts urged politicians to be bolder. "To suggest that we can solve everything with technology is unrealistic," said Jim Watson of the Tyndall Centre. "Blair is right that consumer habits have to change, but we should not rule out a reconsideration of the ever greater access to transport."
This is currently more true of Britain than China. Transport in the UK accounts for about 23% of the UK's emissions, having risen steadily over past decade. In China, it accounts for only 8%, but is set to increase rapidly, according to the Tyndale centre.
High on the agenda of both politicians was the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, where China will play a make-or-break role.
Beijing has taken impressive steps to reduce energy intensity, but its carbon savings are far outstripped by the rapid growth of such a large economy.
Earlier this week, a senior advisory body noted that China's emissions could peak in 2030 but even this most optimistic scenario would fail to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The government has yet to make a commitment.
Blair said the sooner the peak comes the better, but he was cautious about setting targets. "If we get an agreement at the end of this year that sets the world on a new path, without us getting obsessed by precise percentages in each areas, then I think we will find that progress in science and technology accelerates and develops in ways that we probably can't predict now at all."
Once the direction is set, he predicted the peak would come more quickly than people expect.

Tony Blair: Copenhagen climate summit must not be about 'percentages'

World leaders must not get bogged down in 'precise percentages' when they negotiate a successor the Kyoto climate change treaty in Copenhagen, Tony Blair has said.

By Peter Foster in Beijing Published: 4:50PM BST 20 Aug 2009

Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Mr Blair said leaders should trust in new technologies to put the world on a path to a greener future.
The former British prime minister called for a "realistic and practical" deal to be struck at the UN Summit in Copenhagen this December that would unleash the potential of green technology to solve the problem of global warming.
"We need to get an agreement that sets the world on a new path of sustainable consumption without getting obsessed with precise percentages," he said.
Mr Blair, who is working with the non-profit Climate Group to push for an agreement in December, welcomed recent reports that China is considering setting targets that will see its carbon emissions peak in 2030.
However he predicted the key to success in keeping climate change below the UN's benchmark 2C would come down to as yet unforeseen developments in greener cars, buildings and power-stations.
"It is impossible to predict now what might happen in 10 or 20 years time," he added, "the important thing is that we reach an agreement that allows China and India, the US and EU to come to a common position - though with varying obligations.
"If we reach an agreement that sets the world on this new sustainable path then I think that we can see emissions peak more quickly than many people think."
Mr Blair added that China was now leading the way in some areas of green technology and investment and urged leaders of the developed and developing worlds to get away from a "binary approach" to climate change.
"We must get away from seeing climate change as an East versus West issue. There are huge business opportunities in green technology whether you are in London or California, China or India."
Preliminary rounds of negotiations have shown that developing and developed world nations are still a long way apart when it comes to the "precise percentages" on cutting emissions.
China and India continue to call for a 40pc reduction in greenhouse gasses below 1990 levels by 2020 from the developed world, while European and US negotiations say 13 to 17 per cent is the best they can offer.
Acknowledging that negotiations would be tough - and get tougher as the December deal for a deadline approached - Mr Blair said that there had nonetheless been a significant change in attitudes towards climate change since his term in office.
"I expect China will come out with its position, America will come out with its position and so on ...[but] the agenda for [Copenhagen], I think, is on a completely different level of credibility than previous negotiations."

First arrests over 'carbon credits tax fraud'

Seven people have been arrested over an alleged £38 million tax fraud involving the trading of carbon credits.

By Jon SwainePublished: 7:00AM BST 20 Aug 2009
They are the first people in the country alleged to have made money through a so-called “carousel” VAT fraud involving carbon emissions allowances.
Under an EU scheme designed to reduce pollution, companies producing large amounts of carbon dioxide are given an allowance for the amount they can emit.
If they want to emit more, they must buy extra allowances - which are commonly known as “carbon credits” - from companies who have some left over.
One credit allows the buyer to emit one ton of carbon. The global carbon market is worth about £77bn a year, according to the World Bank.
It is thought that the suspects imported large volumes of the carbon credits VAT-free from other countries.
They then allegedly sold the credits to British businesses – moving them around tax jurisdictions like a “carousel” – having marked up the price with VAT.
The businesses purchasing the credits would then have been able to claim the VAT back from HM Revenue & Customs. However, it is alleged that the suspects never gave the VAT money to HMRC, leaving the taxman out of pocket.
The fraud is more typically carried out in a similar way with electrical goods, including mobile phones and computer chips.
It is alleged that the proceeds were used to fund lavish lifestyles of the people involved with the alleged fraud. The suspects are thought to have spent some of the proceeds of their alleged fraud on luxury cars, an HMRC spokesman said.
The spokesman said that six men and a woman were arrested following early morning raids in Gravesend, Hounslow, Southall, Isleworth and Erith in west London and Kent. A total of 130 officers raided 27 business and residential properties.
He added that officers from Europol, the European Union law enforcement organisation that handles criminal intelligence, was helping with the inquiry.
Les Beaumont, the HMRC’s deputy director of criminal investigation said: "HMRC investigates all criminal attacks on the tax system, halting theft of revenue, gathering evidence and supporting prosecutors in bringing offenders before the courts.
"We always aim to recover the proceeds of crime, restoring that money to the public purse where it belongs. That is our intention in this and similar cases.”
Last month the Government removed VAT from carbon credits traded within Britain to prevent the risk of such frauds. The French government had already done so following evidence of fraud there.
Mr Beaumont said: "The Government took decisive action to prevent this type of fraud recurring by zero rating carbon credits for VAT."
The Netherlands has introduced rules forcing the buyer of carbon credits, rather than the seller, to take responsibility for paying tax.
HMRC can already require buyers of the credits to prove that they took “reasonable care” to check they were dealing with a bona fide company, and withhold VAT refunds if it is not satisfied.

Energy companies object to plan to cut consumer bills

Energy companies have been accused of blocking Government proposals to install energy displays in every home despite research showing it will save the average household £130 per year.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM BST 20 Aug 2009
The Government is forcing energy companies to install “smart meters” in every home by 2020 as part of climate change plans to improve energy efficiency.
The intelligent electronic electricity and gas readers will be fitted under the stairs like a normal meter and use mobile phone technology to tell the electricity companies how much power is being used so it is no longer necessary to take meter readings.

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At the moment a consultation is out on what kind of smart meters to install and how they can be used to cut fuel bills.
Consumer groups and the Local Government Association want energy companies to include a £15 hand-held device that consumers can move around the house to make it easier to monitor how much electricity they are using at any one time. They can then make cuts, for example by using the washing machine at night or switching off the lights upstairs.
However in its response to the consultation the Energy Retail Association, that represents energy giants npower and EDF, said energy companies should not be forced to issue a display with every meter.
They argued that it would be better to allow flexibility so that the technology can be regularly updated and households that do not want the movable device can receive updates by letter, text or email.
But Paul Bettison, Chairman of the Local Government Association Environment Board, said energy companies are simply unwilling to fork out the initial cost.
“If energy firms succeed in blocking plans to give people in-home energy monitors, millions of households will be denied the chance to cut their fuel bill. Energy displays help people change how they use electricity, cut back and save money,” he said.
“The plan to put a smart meter in every home is good but unless it is accompanied by an in-home energy display, for consumers, it is virtually worthless. What you can see, you can save. Why not give people all the information so they can make better choices about how much energy they use?”
Research by the University of Oxford has found that in-home energy display monitors can help people reduce their fuel bills by fifteen per cent or £130 per annum whereas a recent study by Which? found smart metres alone will only save £1.43 per annum.
"People make bigger savings when smart meters and energy displays are rolled out nationally," added Mr Bettison.
But Garry Felgate, Chief Executive of the Energy Retail Association, maintained flexibility was necessary.
“Energy suppliers are not against display devices. They are against mandating them for all households,” he said.
"ERA and its members firmly believe that energy companies should not be restricted to providing a ‘one size fits all’ device over the next 12 years and should be allowed to offer customers precisely the kind of display they would find most useful. For example, this could be through a mobile phone, a digital TV page, or your PC."
Which? estimates that it will cost households more than £300 over the next 20 years to pay for the rolling out of smart metres as it will be added onto bills. However it will only cost £77 over the same period if energy companies contribute more from the savings they make by not having to do meter readings.

1,300 Chinese children near smelter suffer lead poisoning

• Officials close 'unapproved' manganese plant in Hunan• Second case in a month involving mass poisoning of pupils
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Thursday 20 August 2009 13.06 BST
More than 1,300 children have been poisoned by a manganese factory in central China, the state media reported today, amid growing fears about the prevalence of heavy metal pollution nationwide.
The exposure of mass lead contamination in Wenping township, Hunan province, is the second case in as many weeks, prompting accusations that the authorities have failed to adequately regulate toxins that build up over time.
A local government official told the Xinhua news agency that tests of children living near the smelter showed that 60-70% had unhealthy levels of lead in their blood. With tests continuing, more positive cases are expected.
The authorities closed the factory last week and detained two executives on suspicion of "causing severe environment pollution".
The plant reportedly opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau within 500m of a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten.
Although the factory had only been operating for a year, the blood of 1,354 local children was found to have more than 100mg of lead per litre, the limit considered safe.
A gradual build up of lead in the bloodstream can lead to anaemia, muscle weakness and brain damage.
The plant is unlikely to have gone ahead without support from the local government. Many poor districts ignore environmental regulations to attract investment, and Hunan is notorious for its heavy metal industry. The Wugang city government said it had demanded an overhaul of more than 100 plants, including seven other smelters.
But the problem is likely to be nationwide because authorities are not obliged to conduct expensive tests for heavy metals, which tend to accumulate over time rather than be emitted in noticeable bursts.
In a separate case in Shaanxi, northern China, last week, 615 children tested positive for lead poisoning attributed to a nearby smelter, which is now due to cease operating this Saturday.

Containers of toxic waste returned to Britain

Press Association
The Guardian, Friday 21 August 2009
Article history
Containers of toxic waste alleged to have been illegally exported from the UK to Brazil are due to arrive back at a British port today. As an Environment Agency investigation continues into the alleged illegal shipment, 71 of a total of 89 containers are due to arrive at Felixstowe on board a cargo ship, with the remainder returning at a later date. Brazil has alleged some of them contain clinical waste, including syringes and condoms. Earlier this month three men were arrested in connection with an illegal shipment of waste to Brazil. It is illegal to export waste for disposal but it can be sent abroad for recycling.

Minister unveils plans for a 'zero waste' Scotland

Published Date: 21 August 2009
By Frank Urquhart
AMBITIOUS plans to create a zero-waste society in Scotland have been unveiled.
Richard Lochhead, the rural affairs and environment secretary, revealed plans to dramatically reduce the amount of waste heading for landfill sites and a major increase in recycling with the potential to create 2,000 jobs through collection, sorting, reprocessing and treating waste.Under the proposals, now out for a 12-week consultation period, businesses will be encouraged to increase the recycling of commercial waste, together with a ban on glass, metals, textiles and wood heading for landfills and improvements to public recycling facilities.The announcement was made yesterday, as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published a report showing that Scotland's recycling and composting rate between January and March rose to 33.2 per cent – 3 per cent more than the same period last year. And there was a decrease of 120,000 tonnes in the amount of municipal waste sent to landfill in Scotland.Mr Lochhead said: "We are making progress, but we must go further in relation to all types of waste. We need to reach 40 per cent by the end of 2010. "The bar is set and we must work together to reach our goal of a zero waste Scotland."Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Zero waste is the right goal for Scotland. "We welcome many of the specific proposals announced today, such as targets for reuse of waste, and bans on selected materials going to landfill. "However the waste industry response to zero-waste aspirations so far has been disappointing. Large incinerators such as those planned for Dunbar, Greengairs and elsewhere have no role to play in a genuine zero-waste economy, regardless of whether they recover some energy from the waste."