Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Royal Society warns climate engineering 'could cause disaster'

Giant engineering schemes to reflect sunlight or suck carbon dioxide from the air could be the only way to save the Earth from runaway global warming, according to a group of leading scientists. But they say that these schemes could have their own catastrophic consequences, such as disrupting rainfall patterns, and should be deployed only as a last resort if attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fail.
The Royal Society, a fellowship of 1,400 of the world’s most eminent scientists, published a report yesterday on the feasibility and possible dangers of technologies for cooling down the Earth, known as geoengineering. The ideas include artificial trees that draw CO2 from the air and mimicking volcanoes by spraying sulphate particles a few miles above the Earth to deflect the Sun’s rays. The most far-fetched would would be to launch trillions of small mirrors into space to act as a sunshield.
A far cheaper solution would be a fleet of 1,500 ships that would suck up seawater and spray it out of tall funnels to create sun-reflecting clouds. However, the report said that these clouds could disrupt rainfall patterns and result in mass starvation in countries dependent on the monsoon.
The panel of 12 scientists who produced the report concluded that all these approaches were theoretically possible and, despite the potential side-effects, should be explored with a view to holding trials.
They called for a £100 million annual global research fund to study geoengineering technologies and said that Britain should contribute £10 million a year, ten times the amount being spent now on such research.
Professor John Shepherd, who chaired the panel, said: “It is an unpalatable truth that unless we can succeed in greatly reducing carbon dioxide emissions we are heading for a very uncomfortable and challenging climate future, and geoengineering will be the only option left to limit further temperature increases.
“Our research found that some geoengineering techniques could have serious unintended and detrimental effects on many people and eco-systems — yet we are still failing to take the only action that will prevent us from having to rely on them. Geo- engineering and its consequences are the price we have to pay for failure to act on climate change.”
Professor Shepherd, Fellow in Earth System Science at the University of Southampton, admitted that there was a risk that the report would be exploited by fossil fuel companies, which might use it to argue that there was an alternative to cutting CO2 emissions.
But he said that it was better to start a thorough research programme now rather than wait until the start of rapid climate change, when the world would have no time to test solutions before deploying them.
Professor Shepherd added that he had no firm opinion on how likely it was that the world would need some form of geoengineering. “My opinion ranges from maybe to possibly to probably, depending on what I had for breakfast.”
Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution in the United States and a member of the panel, said: “We should spend 99 per cent of our effort on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and 1 per cent on this insurance policy \. We need to understand what our options are.”
The report said that an international body, possibly the United Nations, would need to oversee geoengineering projects because they would have impacts far beyond national boundaries. An international compensation scheme would also be needed to help those adversely affected by any project.
Professor John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, endorsed the report’s call for more research into geoengineering. He said: “These are part of the armoury of dealing with what is an enormously difficult global problem.” But he added that it was “too early to say” whether trials should be approved.

Geo-engineering should be developed as insurance against dangerous climate change

Climate changing technologies - such as man-made volcanoes and mirrors in space - should be investigated as an “insurance policy” against catastrophic global warming, claims a leading science body.

By Richard Alleyne, Science CorrespondentPublished: 4:01PM BST 01 Sep 2009
The Royal Society said that while the geo-engineering solutions were not a “silver bullet” and carried their own risks, they could be the only hope of saving the world from disastrous climate change.
A report written by a panel of eminent scientists suggested that the world should start investing around £100 million as a “Plan B” in the event that it fails to reduce carbon emissions before temperatures rise to “very dangerous” levels.
It looked at the feasibility and potential dangers of technologies designed to cool down the earth.
They included such as artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the air and man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space.
Mirrors launched into space were also looked at as a way of reflecting the Sun’s heat.
The report by the Royal Society comes as concerns grow that the United Nation’s climate talks in Copenhagen in December will fail to reach agreement.
Even if carbon emission is cut by as much as 50 per cent by 2050, it is unlikely to keep global warming below two degrees this century, a dangerous level.
“We are not advocates of geoengineering,” said John Shepherd, professor of Earth System Science at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton who chaired the panel of experts.
“But unless the world community can do better we fear that it is likely that we will need to use additional techniques such as geo-engineering to avoid really very dangerous climate change in the future.
“It is proposed as a response to reduce the risk we would otherwise incur due to climate change. An insurance policy or a back up.”
He said the research showed that many of the techniques were deeply flawed and could have serious unintended and detrimental effects on many people and ecosystems.
“None of the geoengineering technologies so far suggested is a magic bullet, and all have risks and uncertainties associated with them,” he said.
“It is essential that we strive to cut emissions now, but we must also face the very real possibility that we will fail. If plan B is to be an option in the future, considerable research and development of the different methods, their environmental impacts and governance issues, must be undertaken now.”
Commenting on a report, Friends of the Earth’s Head of Climate Change Mike Childs said: “Geoengineering is no silver bullet – it won’t solve climate change. The different options will take time to develop, risks need to be properly researched, and if we use geoengineering at all it must be in addition to making deep cuts in the amount of carbon dioxide we produce in the first place."

Man-made eruptions – 'Plan B' in the battle for the planet

Royal Society says geo-engineering projects may help limit global warming
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Some of Britain's most distinguished scientists have put their names behind controversial proposals to engineer the global climate with highly ambitious technology projects if international attempts to control man-made emissions of greenhouse gases show serious signs of failing.
The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, has warned that if political leaders fail to reach agreement and enforce a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions following the climate conference in Copenhagen this December there may be no other option left than to introduce drastic measures involving the "geo-engineering" of the global climate.
A group of eminent scientists appointed by the Royal Society said in a report published yesterday that future efforts to reduce greenhouse gases needed to be much more successful than they had been so far if geo-engineering was to be avoided as a way of cooling a dangerously overheated planet.
"Geo-engineering the Earth's climate is very likely to be technically possible. However, the technology to do so is barely formed, and there are major uncertainties regarding its effectiveness and environmental impacts," the report says.
Geo-engineering projects range from schemes to fertilise marine plankton with iron powder to injecting sulphate particles into the atmosphere in order to simulate the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions. All are controversial and none are without some risk but they should nevertheless be taken seriously if conventional measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions fail to stop potentially dangerous climate change, the Royal Society said.
Professor John Shepherd, an earth scientist at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, who chaired the Royal Society's working group, said that geo-engineering had to be prepared as a backup in case the "plan A" discussed in Copenhagen fails. "[Geo-engineering] is a plan B, but a very real plan B that has to be taken seriously," Professor Shepherd said.
"It is an unpalatable truth that unless we can succeed in greatly reducing carbon dioxide emissions we are headed for a very uncomfortable and challenging climate future, and geo-engineering will be the only option left to limit further temperature increases," Professor Shepherd said.
"Our research found that some geo-engineering techniques could have serious unintended and detrimental effects on many people and ecosystems yet we are still failing to take the only action that will prevent us from having to rely on them," he said. "Geo-engineering and is consequences are the price we may have to pay for failing to act on climate change."
The report recommended that Britain should spend £10m a year on research into geo-engineering schemes, which is about a tenth of the Government research budget on climate change.
The Royal Society's report, which took 18 months to prepare, was welcomed by Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, who said that it was time to treat geo-engineering seriously. "Some kind of modest investment in geo-engineering is what we should be thinking about now," Professor Beddington said.
"There are going to be emergencies that we did not expect and we need to think about how to deal with them. Geo-engineering techniques are not the solution but they are part of the solution."
In the past decades, geo-engineering has gone from almost pariah status to a subject that scientists can talk about in public without fear of ridicule. However, many climate scientists are worried that political leaders will use the debate to suggest that there is a workable alternative to deep and painful cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
"Geo-engineering is creeping on to the agenda because governments seem incapable of standing up to the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby who will use it to undermine the emissions reduction we can do safely," said Doug Parr, from Greenpeace. "Intervening in our planet's systems carries huge risks."
'Plan B': The weapons in science's armoury
Spraying seawater into the air to generate clouds and injecting sulphate into the atmosphere to simulate the cooling effects of volcanic explosions are two geo-engineering ideas considered by Britain's leading scientific body. A Royal Society report defines geo-engineering as the deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the environment to counteract climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
The report divides geo-engineering schemes into two categories: techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the air to counterbalance emissions directly, and projects to offset the warming effects of increased greenhouses gases by reflecting sunlight into space. In terms of solar radiation, the report reviews ideas ranging from painting roofs white to space-based mirrors. It says these technologies are cheaper and faster-acting than carbon dioxide removal but have several drawbacks: they don't address the root cause of global warming or ocean acidification.
It says methods to remove carbon dioxide would be preferable to solar radiation management methods, because "they effectively returned the climate system to closer to its natural state" and involved fewer uncertainties and risks. The problem with many carbon-reduction schemes that do not involve reforestation is that they are largely unproven and expensive. One idea is the enhanced weathering of silicate rocks, a natural process where carbon dioxide in the air reacts with silicate minerals to form carbonate rocks which effectively trap the gaseous carbon dioxide. Another is the capture of carbon dioxide by devices that can filter the air, perhaps using solar energy to power the process.
A variation on this theme is the proposal to fertilise the oceans with iron to stimulate algal blooms that could in theory capture carbon dioxide and convert it to solid material which would fall to the seabed. But the Royal Society warned of that project's possible unintended consequences for the marine environment.

10:10: How Woking is really working

The 10:10 campaign wants businesses, individuals, organisations and educational bodies to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in a year. Here's how Woking borough council did it
Duncan Graham-Rowe, Tuesday 1 September 2009 09.30 BST
When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions in the public sector it's hard to find any other organisation as progressive as Woking borough council. At a time when many organisations are still wondering where to begin Woking has nearly two decades of experience, having first commenced its climate change and sustainability initiatives as far back as 1992 following the Rio Earth summit.
Since then by 2008 it had successfully reduced its energy consumption by 31% and CO2 emissions by 29% of 1990 levels. And by generating much of its own energy, 2% of this now comes from renewable sources and 41% from sustainable means.
This was made possible because in 1999 Woking took the radical step of setting up its own utility company Thameswey Energy. This council-owned non-profit company is charged with providing sustainable energy to the council and other organisations within the Woking area, for example, through the use of combined heat and power (CHP) generators, photovoltaic (PV) solar farms (solar panels that generate electricity) and a fuel cell CHP facility. This is currently being tested as the power and heat source for the local swimming pool.
According John Thorp, managing director of Thameswey, at one stage Woking had 90% of all PV capacity in the UK, and currently has about 500 1KW peak PV cells spread out over 13 different locations. There is also a 1.3MW CHP facility in the centre of Woking, and 14 more across the borough. "We have our own hard-wired grid in the town centre," says Thorp. This supplies electricity and heating to council buildings as well as hotels and leisure centres.
"Within the wider borough we have a virtual grid system with small CHP units in buildings outside the central business district," says Thorp. Initially the idea was to sell excess energy back into the grid, but the amount private energy companies are willing to pay for it was so poor that the virtual grid was created to share this excess amongst council owned buildings.
It's a sustainability drive that runs throughout the council, says Thorp, with movement detectors in all its buildings, to ensure lights aren't left on, and waterless urinals in all the men's toilets. Waste vehicles are powered by LNG gas and there is a big push to make council cars more efficient. "The council's fleet of company cars have upper limits on the CO2 they produce," says Thorp. Currently this is 160g of CO2 per kilometre, but this will soon go down further to 130g CO2/km.
Similarly the town's car parks, which are all council owned, penalise polluting cars and reward cleaner ones, with a 25% additional levy placed on any annual season tickets for cars producing more 160g CO2/km and 25% less if it's under 130g CO2/km, while electric vehicles get to park for free. And all of this is monitored by a licence plate recognition system.
And thanks to a deal struck with a car hire company in the town centre, which allows low-carbon cars to be hired on an hourly basis, employees are encouraged to leave their cars at home. Instead a network of dedicated cycle paths is designed to make it easier to cycle to work by ensuring that no one is ever more than 750 metres away from a bike lane, a measure that recently earned the council a £2m Cycle Town grant.
Indeed this sort of achievement, along with the financial benefits it can bring, is also helping to drive Woking's sustainability initiatives, says Thorpe. In the first year the council was able to save £250,000. After that, he says, there was no looking back.
CO2 reductions on 1990 levels
Energy – 31%
Electricity – Not known
Transport – Not known
Combined heating and power stations, photovoltaics and fuel cells. Light sensors, waterless urinals and low-carbon vehicle reward schemes. Bike lanes and hire cars that can be rented by the hour.

10:10 – our chance to save the world

The 10:10 campaign is our opportunity to make the first move and get on with solving the problem of climate change

Franny Armstrong, Tuesday 1 September 2009 14.08 BST
All the talking, all the documentaries, all the international negotiations have resulted in a net achievement of less than nothing: global emissions just keep going up and up.
As Pete Postlethwaite's character says in our, er, documentary, The Age of Stupid, "We wouldn't be the first life form to wipe itself out. But what would be unique about us is that we did it knowingly." And there's the crux of it. We are the most intelligent creature ever to evolve. The first to understand how the overstretching resources to extinction pathway works and the first with the potential to use our big brains to jump off that pathway before it's too late.
To maximise our chances of preventing runaway climate change, we must quickly and massively cut global emissions. To quickly and massively cut global emissions we need a binding international treaty and the last chance we have to get that treaty within the timescale of the physics of the planet is the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December this year. Hence the "most important meeting in human history" moniker.
Clearly the treaty isn't just made up on the spot, they've been working on it for years. The best deal currently on the table is that from the EU, which calls for a 30% reduction by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). If this deal were to be accepted (which is a very big if, given that Japan argues for 8%, Australia for 5% and America for between 0%-6%) and if the emission cuts were then carried out (which is an even bigger if), this would give us about a 50/50 chance of not hitting the dreaded two degrees. Two degrees is where we trigger runaway climate change: two leads to three, three to four, four to five, five to six … by which time it's about over for life on Earth.
In other words, our elected leaders are giving us – at best – a coinflip chance of avoiding catastrophe. It is hard to imagine a more total failing of our political system. Imagine if they were standing at a plane door … "Come on citizens, get on this plane, 50/50 chance of a safe landing … "
All of which means that we non-politician human beings who depend on the climate remaining habitable had best jump into action.
Here's the plan: if you're in London, come down to Tate Modern between 4pm and 7pm today to sign up to the new 10:10 campaign. If you're not in London, sign up at The first 1,000 people get a free glass of champagne and the first 3,000 get a free 10:10 tag (we bought a famous old 747 and recycled it into thousands of cute badges – think Make Poverty History's white wristband). There'll also be speeches and live music from Stornoway and Reverend & The Makers.
By signing up to 10:10, you will commit yourself, your school, your hospital, your church, your business, your whatever to cut 10% of your emissions next year. Which is easy. It's at the level of changing lightbulbs, turning down heating, driving a bit less and maybe sticking in some (free) insulation. Four of the big six energy companies have already signed up to help their customers cut their energy usage over the course of the year. In fact, one of the first inklings we had of the 10:10 magic was when groups from E.ON to the Women's Institute, to Spurs to the Science Museum started rushing to sign up before we'd barely formulated the plan.
As well as being achieveable for the vast majority of the population, 10% in one year is the kind of cut the science tells us we need.
Once we have a sizeable chunk of the UK signed up, then the next step is to challenge the government to follow suit: to commit to reduce the whole country's emissions by 10% in 2010. If one of the biggest historical culprits – that's us – stepped forward and made the first move, it just might change the outcome at Copenhagen. The international talks have long been hamstrung by "It's all China's fault" or "We're not playing if America's not playing", and so the UK going 10:10 may break the deadlock.
One week after the talks finish – whatever the outcome – on 1 January 2010 the people of Britain will start getting on with solving the problem, supported by the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and tonnes of online resources. Everyone who successfully completes their 10% cut should find themselves richer (for saving money on their energy bills), fitter (for the walking and cycling which replaced some car trips) and with more friends (the colleagues they car-pooled with or the neighbours who helped walk all the kids to school). More importantly, everyone who takes part will know that their efforts are part of the nationwide effort to prevent catastrophe.
I was born in the early 70s as part of the MTV generation who were told by a million adverts that the point of our existence was to shop more. Daunting though the task ahead may be, I feel enormously inspired and quite relieved that it turns out that we have something important to do. The people who came before us didn't know about climate change and the ones who come after will be powerless to stop it. So it's down to us. Other generations came together to overturn slavery or end apartheid or win the vote for women. There is nothing intrinsincally more useless about our generation and there is no doubt about what we have to do. The only question which remains is whether or not we give it a go.

10:10 launch attracts campaigners, celebs and a public eager for change

Director Mike Figgis, author Sarah Waters, and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are among those there to sign up
Adam Vaughan, Tuesday 1 September 2009 16.48 BST
London's Tate Modern today saw the launch of the 10:10 campaign, which is supported by the Guardian and asks individuals and organisations to sign up to cutting their carbon footprint by 10% during 2010. Activists, film stars and artists at the event included Timecode director Mike Figgis, author Sarah Waters, chef and presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.
Claire Haviland-Webster, a teacher from Brighton who had travelled after reading about the campaign in the Guardian, was first in the queue with her 10-year-old daughter Lauren. She said: "I'm 100% behind the campaign's cause. I think it's really good when something has a timeline, because it gives it a better chance of completion. At home we're already quite green: we've started growing veg, we only have one car as a family, we don't fly, we recycle and we compost. Rather than just achieving my 10% domestically I'll be looking to save it by influencing my school and my daughter's school - making sure we photocopy less, wear jumpers when it's cold and turn the lights off. We have to be as influential as we can."
Hundreds of people queued through the old power station's turbine hall waiting patiently for a chance to make their 10% pledge. Around them, scores of pink T-shirted volunteers explained the importance of the campaign, while video crews filmed roaming versions of the 10:10 logo and photographers captured celebrities on the turbine hall bridge.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, said at the launch: "I was persuaded to sign up by my seven-year-old son. He was unstoppable and said I should be making an effort and that, if I did, maybe Liberty members would too. I don't know a lot about the climate change issue and don't hold myself up as a paragon of virtue, but I do hope to do the basics for 10:10: I'll be looking at changing my windows, lights and appliances to save energy."
Artist Bob Smith said this afternoon: "It's an important political movement and a good idea to find people who will reduce their emissions by 2010. I think a night in the cells would be good for people who drive a 4x4."
Attendees were given free "campaign wristband"-style tags made from the scrap metal of a retired Boeing 747, and the first 1,000 members of the public received a free glass of champagne to reward them for signing up. The audience also enjoyed free performances by folk outfit Stornoway and Sheffield's indie rock act Reverend and the Makers.
The 10:10 project, which hopes to replicate the grassroots success of the Make Poverty History campaign, is led by Franny Armstrong, director of this year's eco-documentary The Age of Stupid. Armstrong said: "After every screening of The Age of Stupid people came up to me and asked what they could do. I was saying very generic stuff and I thought we needed a better 'here's what you can do'. Hence 10:10."
Armstrong also hopes the campaign will put pressure on the UK government to pledge a 10% cut in the UK's emissions during 2010, and even influence critical climate change negotiations on a global treaty in Copenhagen in December. She said: "Once we've got a critical mass of support we will go to the government and say the people of Britain are ready to cut by 10%, now we need you to move. If Ed Miliband could go to Copenhagen and say Britain is going to step forward and start cutting as quickly as the science demands, that could potentially break the deadlock in the international negotiations." She argues that for most individuals, making a 10% cut will be relatively easy. A 10% cut in 2010 represents the level of reduction scientists say is needed to have a good chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.
The campaign has attracted a coalition of public figures and companies, from Tottenham Hotspur, energy company EDF, the Guardian and online supermarket Ocado to chef Delia Smith, DJ Sara Cox, film stars Colin Firth and Samantha Morton, author Ian McEwan, former London mayor Ken Livingstone and economist Nicholas Stern. Artists include Anish Kapoor, who has created an original artwork for the cover of today's G2 in the Guardian.
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said: "The Guardian is backing 10:10 because it offers us a way to take small actions that together add up to something meaningful and significant."
Although the campaign has been widely praised, it has also attracted some criticism. Environmentalist George Monbiot disagreed with 10:10's decision to allow companies to reduce their carbon intensity rather than their absolute emissions, while Brian Hoskins, who sits on the government's climate change committee, said it would be "problematic" for the UK as a whole to cut emissions by 10% in 2010.
There are a number of ways to get involved in the 10:10 campaign online:
Sign up on 10:10's site
Post a photo on our Flickr gallery
Make a pledge – tell the world how you're going to save your 10%
Find out how to cut your footprint by 10%
Ask our green living experts for tips and advice
• Tweet about it with the hashtag #1010

UN: Rich countries will suffer unless they help poor on climate change

• £300bn needed by poor nations to tackle carbon emissions• Failure to give could reduce world gross product by 20%
Ashley Seager, Tuesday 1 September 2009 17.31 BST
The world's rich countries need to embark on a huge transfer of funds to developing countries in order for both groups to grow richer and reduce their carbon emissions significantly, a United Nations report urges today.
Delaying spending on mitigating climate change in the developing world "runs the real danger of locking in dirtier investments for several more decades", says the annual survey from the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
Ahead of this weekend's meeting of G20 finance ministers in London, the report estimates that developed countries need immediately to transfer around 1% of world gross product (WGP), or $500-600bn (£300-370bn), to poor countries.
Carrying on with business as usual, or making only minor changes, could lose 20% of WGP so doing nothing would be an expensive mistake, it argues.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says the report "makes the case for meeting both the climate challenge and the development challenge by recognising the links between the two and proceeding along low-emissions, high-growth pathways".
The report adds, using unusually strong language, that "by any measure, the amounts currently promised for meeting the climate challenge in the near term are woefully inadequate".
It continues: "The failure of wealthy countries to honour long-standing commitments of international support for poverty reduction and adequate transfers of resources and technology remains the single biggest obstacle to meeting the climate change challenge."
The survey estimates that about $21bn (£13bn) in official development funding is set aside to addressing climate change, mostly for fighting problems such as drought or flooding. The total amount of climate financing that is required is a large multiple of that figure, it says.
"If the international community is serious about a 'global new deal', it should be just as serious about committing resources on the same scale as was needed to tackle the financial crisis and defeat political extremism."
The report challenges the thinking that the climate problem can simply be addressed by across-the-board emission cuts by all countries or by relying exclusively on market-based solutions to generate the required investments. Its central point is that developing countries can only make a meaningful contribution tocombating climate change if their economies continue to grow strongly.
In turn that would require satisfying the growing energy needs of developing countries, which are projected to double that of the developed world over the coming decades.
"This raises the question for climate change negotiators of how poor countries can pursue low-emissions, high-growth development," it says, with an eye on the Copenhagen climate change conference in December.
The report argues that the technologies that would allow developing countries to switch to a sustainable development path do exist. These include low-energy buildings, new drought-resistant crop strains and more advanced primary renewables.
But they are often prohibitively expensive and, the report says, such a transformation would require "a level of international support and solidarity rarely mustered outside a wartime setting".
Poor countries, the report says, are facing "vastly more daunting challenges than those confronting developed countries and in a far more constrained environment".
Economic growth remains a priority for them, not only to reduce poverty but also to bring about a gradual narrowing of the huge income differentials with wealthy countries.
"The idea of freezing the current level of global inequality over the next half century or more (as the world goes about trying to solve the climate problem) is economically, politically and ethically unacceptable," the report says.
The study's authors believe that they could be pushing on a door that is starting to open with world policymakers becoming increasingly aware of the dangers posed by rapid climate change.
Professor Nicholas Stern, who carried out a seminal study into the economics of climate change three years ago, recently published a book arguing for speedier action on a bigger scale than before.

Climate of technological hope

Wednesday, 2 September 2009
There is something viscerally attractive about large-scale engineering projects that promise to mitigate the process of climate change, whether by reflecting the Sun's rays away from the Earth, or sucking C02 out of the atmosphere. Various schemes ranging from injecting sea salt into the air using floating pontoons to placing giant mirrors in space are attractive because they suggest that technological innovation can save us from the damage that unchecked climate change threatens to inflict on our planet.
Who, when faced with disaster, could fail to be enthused by talk of a potential saviour in the form of a technological fix? And now the respected Royal Society has declared that such large-scale engineering projects, which some assumed to be pie-in-the-sky, are "technically possible" and that research into them ought to be pursued. We can draw some measure of encouragement from this. But we must also heed the very clear caveats in the Society's report. First, simply because some of these ambitious schemes have been judged "technically possible" does not mean that they would actually work in practice. Second, there is considerable uncertainty about their wider environmental impact and the costs involved.
Most important of all, the report does not suggest that any of these projects constitute a "solution" to climate change, and they certainly do not give us the green light to scrap our efforts to decarbonise our economies. The authors of the report are very clear. Reducing our industrial, domestic and transport carbon emissions must be the first priority of all governments. It envisages these engineering projects as a "Plan B" in the event that mankind fails to get its carbon emissions under control in the coming years.
What these scientists are doing is looking into the future, preparing for dire contingencies. This is a responsible approach. It is infinitely better to plan early, rather than wait until the crisis is upon us. But it is also vital that governments and citizens around the world are not distracted from the overriding priority of the moment which is to reduce drastically the amount of carbon dioxide our societies pump into the atmosphere in the first place.

Climate Camp protesters blockade Royal Bank of Scotland building

Activists superglue themselves together on City trading room floor in protest against investments in fossil fuel projects
Peter Walker, Tuesday 1 September 2009 13.35 BST

Environmental activists based at the Climate Camp in London blockaded the local headquarters of Royal Bank of Scotland today, supergluing themselves together on the bank's trading floor as part of a series of direct-action protests around the City.
Shortly after 8am, a group of demonstrators used stepladders and bicycle D-locks to blockade the main entrance to the building on Bishopsgate. A smaller number rushed inside and gained access to the second-floor trading room, where they glued themselves together.
Calling the action "an anti-banks holiday", the group said they were demonstrating against RBS's investments in fossil fuel projects, notably funding for the coal industry and tar sands extraction in Canada.
The activists on the trading floor were taken out of the building after police medics used solvents to remove the glue, said Elly Robson, one of the protesters blockading the entrance.
"RBS is a publicy owned bank which is taking environmental action which is not in the public interest," she said. "The people on the trading floor managed to get this message right to the bank's bosses."
There had been no arrests, and police had made no attempt to remove those blockading the entrance, she said.
Also today, another group of activists from the Climate Camp, which set up on Wednesday on common land at Blackheath, south-east London, protested at the office building occupied by Edelman, an international PR company that has among its clients the energy firm E.ON.
A group of naked demonstrators stood in a window of the building on Victoria Street, in central London, covering themselves in a banner saying "Climate lies uncovered".
A member of the camp's media team, Richard Howlett, said there were two other actions taking place. One was a march around the City, in which indigenous Canadian activists were protesting at environmental damage caused by the exploitation of tar sands in the country.
Another group was marching from the Climate Camp towards the Bank of England, he said, adding: "Whether or not that turns into another direct action, we'll have to wait and see."
The Climate Camp at Blackheath is the fourth annual incarnation of the temporary environmental protest site. In previous years, it has set up at two coal-fired power stations and Heathrow airport.
Over the last five days, 1,000 or more people have stayed at the site, which has been fitted out with marquees, communal kitchens and compost toilets. The camp has also been used as a base from which to launch protests against organisations perceived to be harming the environment.
Unlike in previous years, the camp is not ending with a mass demonstration. Instead, those attending are being encouraged to go to E.ON's Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fuelled power station in Nottinghamshire on 17 and 18 October.
In April, police arrested 114 people on suspicion of conspiracy to cause criminal damage and aggravated trespass in an apparent attempt to pre-empt a protest at the plant.
The arrests, and the policing of the G20 protests earlier in April, which included a Climate Camp action, prompted widespread criticism and claims of brutality. The Metropolitan police promised a "community-style" approach to the Blackheath camp, and have thus far kept a low profile.
"With the relative lack of pressure from police, we have been able to spend a lot of time at Climate Camp preparing people for the direct action in October," Howlett said.

U.S. Doles Out Grants for Energy Projects

The U.S. government handed out $502 million in grants for a dozen wind- and solar-power projects from Maine to South Texas, the first round in a new subsidy program designed to spur renewable-energy investment.
The program appears to be accomplishing two of the Obama administration's goals: producing employment and encouraging renewable-energy development. The approved energy projects have created about 2,000 jobs and capacity to generate 850 megawatts of clean electricity, enough for nearly 500,000 homes.
But while the wind farms and solar installations are in the U.S., the profits from these projects are flowing mainly to European companies and developers owned by private-equity investors.
Iberdrola SA, the Spanish wind-power giant, was awarded $294 million for five projects. Spokesman Keith Grant said the grants are "crucial to pushing ahead" with U.S. wind projects.
Horizon Wind Energy, the U.S. unit of Energias de Portugal SA, received $47.7 million for an Oregon wind farm.
Other recipients included First Wind Energy Holdings LLC, a company backed by private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners and hedge fund D.E. Shaw. It received three grants totaling $74 million for wind farms in New York and Maine.
Michael Alvarez, First Wind's president and chief operating officer, pledged to use the grants to invest in additional projects. "We expect these grants will have a strong stimulative effect -- not just for First Wind, but for the industry overall," he said.
EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. received a $42.2 million grant for a wind farm in Pennsylvania. "In order to make wind power economical, it requires a tax subsidy," said Jim Spencer, chief executive of EverPower, in which British private-equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners recently bought a controlling stake.
Mr. Spencer said the project stalled last year when many of the traditional investors in wind, such as Lehman Brothers Holdings, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley, were tossed by market turmoil and the recession.
The program has no cap and government officials pledged to award grants to all qualified applicants through 2011.
Write to Russell Gold at

Householders exploit loophole in light bulb ban

Householders are set to defy a law banning “old fashioned” light bulbs by exploiting a loophole in new European legislation.

Published: 8:00AM BST 01 Sep 2009
From September 1, incandescent bulbs are outlawed from being imported to EU countries, to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
However the legislation only refers to "household lamps” and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has no power to ban the import or sale of the bulbs for "industrial use", which will still be available from specialists.

The Daily Telegraph has been inundated with letters and emails from householders, many whom have highlighted the loophole.
Brian Rogers, of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, wrote: “Those who lament the demise of the everyday bayonet cap household lamp need not worry. I suggest you pay a visit to your local electrical wholesaler and ask for a "rough service" lamp.
“These are identical to the normal ones except for slightly thicker glass envelopes and extra filament supports. They are more robust than the normal household item as their main use is in garage pit inspection lights and they need to stand up to more abuse.
"True to form our incompetent government have no idea how to legislate properly and have classified these lamps as for "industrial use". Therefore it will continue to be totally legal to manufacture and sell them.”
Shopkeepers have already reported many customers stocking up by buying the 100 watt bulbs in bulk and the gap in the law means they can still buy the items as long as the packaging is marked “not suitable for household illumination”.
When retailers introduced a voluntary ban on clear, pearl and frosted 100 watt bulbs in January, it triggered a wave of panic-buying. Some shops reported selling a year’s supply within a week.
Chris Gardiner, who runs three hardware stores in Cheshire including Vikings in Wilmslow, said: "We got 10,000 of the incandescent bulbs in stock because everyone was coming in asking for them. It tends to be older customers who prefer them and can't get them anywhere else."
Glynn Hughes, from Preston, said he bought enough of the incandescent bulbs to last 15 years.
"I reckon in 15 years people will have worked out that these [energy-saving] things aren't good for you and we'll be able to buy as many as we want of the old ones," he said.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact fluorescent lamps (energy-saving bulbs) use 80 per cent less electricity than standard bulbs.
They could also save the average household £590 in energy over their lifetime of between eight and 10 years, and if all traditional bulbs were replaced, the carbon saving would be the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.
But commonplace complaints about the new bulbs include they take too long to warm up, they give off poor light and they contain mercury - making them potentially hazardous and hard to dispose of.
According to campaigners, energy-saving bulbs can also trigger migraines, exacerbate skin conditions and lead to other serious health problems.
A spokesperson for Defra admitted that there were "some exceptions" of bulbs which can be imported for specialist use.

Lifespan of energy-saving bulbs reduced by repeated switching

The lifespan of energy-saving light bulbs can be reduced by up to 85 per cent if they are switched off and on too often, it has emerged, as traditional bulbs are phased out to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Published: 4:30PM BST 01 Sep 2009
Manufacturers of energy-saving fluorescent bulbs state that they last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours.
Those sold in Britain last on average 10 times longer than old-style incandescent light bulbs, which had an official lifespan of about 1,000 hours.

The longer life-expectancy of the bulbs – which use up to 80 per cent less electricity – has been held as a justification for their higher price, which is set at £5 each by some retailers.
From September 1, incandescent bulbs were outlawed from being imported to EU countries in order to save energy and cut emissions.
Yet repeated off-on switching of the energy-saving versions can significantly reduce a fluorescent bulb’s lifespan, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST).
It says: “Turning the bulb on and off repeatedly may shorten its life.”
It advises that “to help it last as long as possible, it is best to leave it on for a 'stabilising' period of 10 to 15 minutes at a time.”
However, it states: “Normal household use shouldn't cause any problems.”
A spokesman for the EST said: “Regularly flicking a bulb on for a brief moment and then off again is not recommended as it can shorten the lifetime of the bulb.
“The reason is that the electronics in a CFL’s ballast need time to charge up and interrupting this process can reduce the lifetime of these components.
“However this would be quite an unusual way to operate your lights.”
The spokesman added that all bulbs approved by the EST must maintain their lifespan during tests involving “thousands of on/off cycles”.
Critics have suggested that home owners could exploit the loose language of the new regulation, which refers only to "household lamps".
Complaints have also been made about the poorer quality of light produced by the energy-saving bulbs and the fact that they contain mercury, which is poisonous.
Some home light fittings must be replaced to carry the new bulbs while the vast majority of fluorescent bulbs cannot be used with a dimmer switch.

New homes 'to cost £7,000 more due to new green laws'

The cost of a new home could rise by an average of £7,000 from next year because of the government’s new environmental laws, the Home Builders Federation has warned.

By Andrew HoughPublished: 2:36PM BST 01 Sep 2009

From next spring, all new homes will be required to meet the government’s energy efficiency standards under a new Code for Sustainable Homes.
The HBF warned the new changes, requiring new homes be environmentally sustainable, will add some £7,000 to the cost of new home from next year and even more stringent changes could add £30,000 by 2016.

Steve Turner, of the HBF, said: "New-home owners will end up paying more when they buy the property. However, this should be offset in the long term by savings on energy bills."
David Ritchie, chief executive of Bovis Homes, told The Times: "The next set of government regulations will add a cost burden of between £4,000 and £6,000 on to the cost of building a home.
“Code level 3 (the Government's new standard) will represent a significant improvement to energy efficiency and we can deliver it, but this then has a cost to buyers.”
New homes are about six times more energy efficient than older properties, industry figures show, as new-home owners save an estimated £556 more a year on energy bills.
Latest figures from Nationwide show the average cost of new-build is £157,934.

EcoSecurities boosted by offer

Peter Stiff
Shares in EcoSecurities rose 5½p to 88p after the group’s co-founder and former president said that he would pay more than £100 million for the carbon credits business.
Guanabara, a Dutch group chaired by Pedro Moura Costa, who stepped down as EcoSecurities’ president in April, has raised its offer for the group to 90p per share from 77p and extended the deadline for the bid, which was due to close today, until September 18. Guanabara has acceptances representing about 23.5 per cent of Eco’s shares, at present.
In response, EcoSecurities, which sources green projects, develops them so that they are eligible for carbon credits and sells them on, said that it would consider the terms of the revised offer. It has rejected outright the advances of Mr Costa, so far, and a previous approach from EDF Trading. Gus Hochschild, an analyst at Mirabaud, said the offer still fell “woefully short” of his valuation of the group and that he still expected Tricorona, a Swedish rival, to make a bid, which he thought would have to be above the 100p mark to garner a sufficient amount of interest.
SkyePharma fell 14p to 101¾p after the biotech said that Flutiform, its leading asthma drug, would need more tests before it won approval in the United States. As a result the group said that it did not expect to launch the product until late 2011.
Gulfsands Petroleum rose 6½p to 236½p despite denying reports that it was in takeover talks with Sinochem, the Chinese state-owned oil group. Last month Sinochem agreed to buy Emerald Energy, Gulfsands’ partner in a Syrian oil block, for almost $900 million (£557 million), prompting suggestions that it could also be interested in Gulfsands.