Friday, 4 September 2009

African farmers encouraged to plant trees to boost agriculture

Farmers in Africa are being encouraged to plant a particular species of acacia tree that boasts a wide array of useful traits - including helping to stave off climate change. Around 800 scientists meeting in Nairobi for the second World Congress of Agroforestry this week said that the tree, known as a Mgunga in Swahili, had beneficial properties that made it almost unique. As a nitrogen fixer the tree provides a free, organic source of fertiliser while offering fodder for livestock, wood for construction and fuel and windbreaks and erosion control. The Mgunga is also unusually well adapted to thrive in soils across a wide range of African climates, from sub-Saharan to the humid tropics. Persuading farmers of the advantage of tree planting would also go some way towards offsetting the damage being done through deforestation elsewhere on the continent. "The future of trees is on farms," said Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, or ICRAF. "Growing the right tree in the right place on farms in sub-Saharan Africa--and worldwide-- has the potential to slow climate change, feed more people, and protect the environment. "This tree, as a source of free, organic nitrogen, is an example of that. There are many other examples of solutions to African farming that exist here already." The tree is already widely used by farmers in many parts of Africa, where its properties are already widely recognised. "Knowledge of this tree is farmer-driven," said Mr Garrity. "We are now combining the scientific knowledge base with the farmer knowledge base. There is sufficient research on both sides to warrant dramatically scaling-up the planting of this tree on farms across Africa through extension programs. "The risks to farmers are low; it requires very little labor, and delivers many benefits." "Thus far we have failed to do enough to refine, adapt and extend the unique properties of these trees to the more than 50 million food crop farmers who desperately need home-grown solutions to their food production problems," he continued. David Gibbs

Government moves to fast track power plant grid connection

Over 60GW of power is going to waste in the UK due to red tape blocking projects from connecting to the grid. Some 200 energy projects are currently backed up awaiting grid connection. Around a quarter of the power in the queue would comes from renewable sources. Energy and Climate secretary Ed Miliband has recognised the problem and proposed new rules to fast-track connection, with particular emphasis on renewables. The previous system gave power generators a connection date on a first come, first served basis, meaning projects that take a long time to deliver such as large scale coal or nuclear plants are effectively 'bed blocking' those that are far quicker to install, such as wind farms. Some renewable energy projects were facing a wait of several years for connection once complete, destroying investor confidence. Ed Miliband said: "Access to the electricity grid has been one of the key barriers to the generation of renewable energy in this country. We are determined to resolve this issue. That is why we took powers to do so in the Energy Act and today we are setting out our proposals. "We need these new projects to get hooked up to the grid as soon as they are ready - both to help tackle climate change and secure our future energy supplies. "The government will do whatever is necessary to bring about the transition to a low carbon economy and to give investors the certainty they need so that new renewable energy generation is built." The Minister's proposals have been outlined in a consultation document which asks industry which of three queue-busting options would be most appropriate. The choices effectively come down to who should pay for connection - those being connected, or all users of the grid. The consultation can be found at Sam Bond

Miliband's new mayor poo-poos global warming 'scam'

Mayor Peter Davies has urged local residents to halt plans for wind farms 'blocking out sunlight' and encourages driving as we are 'in the age of the car'
Allegra Stratton, Political correspondent, Thursday 3 September 2009 17.24 BST
The newly elected mayor of Doncaster has described global warming as a "scam", posing a direct challenge to the town's MP, climate change cabinet minister Ed Miliband.
While Miliband pursued international diplomacy in India, ahead of December's crucial climate change summit in Copenhagen, mayor Peter Davies urged local residents to use the law to halt the building of wind farms whose effects he said included "blocking of sunlight". On hearing of Davies's intervention, Miliband replied immediately on Twitter: "Disgrace given the science and the scale of the threat."
Davies's comments came in a statement issued earlier this week making clear to voters where he stood on forthcoming plans to erect wind farms in the Doncaster region. Davies, who represents the English democrat party, made clear neither he nor his council had a role in the decision-making process but said; "These [wind farm] developments have little or no benefit in terms of contributing to decreased energy consumption, nor do they have any beneficial effect on the planet's climate in response to the great global warming scam."
Davies went on: "I would certainly not want one of these monstrosities anywhere near my property, nor do I want to see them blotting the landscape of the English countryside and waterways and causing grief and concern to local people in terms of noise and the blocking of sunlight.
"I therefore urge the public to oppose these developments through legal means provided so that good old-fashioned English justice and common sense may prevail."
Davies was elected in June with 25,344 votes as mayor and his cabinet oversees the carbon intensive portfolio of transport. In a recent newspaper interview he suggested he wanted to encourage car use within Doncaster, saying it would boost business. "Like it or not," he told the Daily Mail, "we live in the age of the car".
Under his stewardship, Doncaster council has announced plans for more parking spaces and a review of bus-only routes. Doncaster's town centre is currently pedestrianised.
Since entering office he has cut his own salary by 60% from £73,000 to £30,000; given up the use of a chauffeured mayoral car and abolished the council's free newspaper.
In a full statement, Miliband said the greatest threat to Doncaster's natural environment was climate change not wind turbines. Miliband has previously said in March that opposing wind farms should become as socially unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt.

Himalayans needs climate change science to get its fingers dirty

Dipak Gyawali, research director of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, explains that an area as diverse as the Himalayas needs localised, 'toad's-eye' science if it is to learn how to adapt to climate change. Interview by Isabel Hilton
From ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 3 September 2009 12.05 BST
Isabel Hilton (IH): How accurate are predictions of future climate impacts in the region?
Dipak Gyawali (DG): Here is a sense of confusion: the implications of what is happening seem more and more horrendous and some things are pretty certain. Beyond that, though, the models predict all kinds of things. The question of the Himalayas has not really begun to be addressed and the science has a very long way to go on precipitation and the social effects.
IH: How can science become more relevant to the region?
DG: The effects in different parts of the Himalaya and south Asia will be very different and it's not all about glaciers. The Maldives will be drowned; Sri Lanka may have more tsunamis and more intense storms; Bangladesh will have its own problems. They will not be impacted directly by the glaciers; the interest in the glaciers is that they are powerful indicators: they tell you clearly that something is wrong. It's like going to the doctor with a fever: you know you are sick. But we don't have the science to be able to make accurate predictions of impacts over a hugely diverse region. If you look at the last IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, for instance, the whole of the Himalayas was a blank. People are already suffering but whether we can take any one instance as directly related to climate change is not certain.
We did local consultations from every part of Nepal, bringing farmers together to ask what they are experiencing as a result of climate change. Many of them cannot relate what they are experiencing to carbon dioxide emissions, and one problem is that over a large part of the region there is no difference between the word for climate and the word for weather. But when we asked them what is happening to their agriculture, we discovered a whole series of impacts.
Some of them are predictable: spring is coming a week earlier, for instance; things begin to grow, but it is not "real" spring and it can be followed by a blast of terrible cold weather. It seems to be having an impact on cucumbers: they are getting a much higher volume of male flowers to female flowers, so the crop is smaller. The mangoes come into flower and start to grow, but then the fruits shrivel up and drop off, so the mango harvest is shrinking. Lowland pests have started moving up into the mountains and certain weeds from the lowlands are being found at higher altitudes.
We also looked at some major regional catastrophes, signature events like the failure of the Indian monsoon or the floods in the Terai, to see how people were affected. It's essential to find out what is happening, and we believe we need to rethink development in the light of climate change. That has not happened yet.
IH: Presumably it has not happened because the development agencies have not had this kind of detailed input?
DG: That's precisely the point. The remote sensing and the satellites give us the eagle-eye view, which is essential but not enough. In a country as diverse geographically and socially as Nepal – there are more than 90 languages and 103 caste and ethnic groups – the eagle-eye view needs to be complemented by the view from the ground, what I call "toad's-eye" science.
IH: Because high-level science can't be broken down into what is happening in any given local area?
DG: Yes. You are dealing with such diversity: ecological, geographical, cultural and ethnic diversity. The reason we focussed on this toad's-eye view is that we found people were not sitting around waiting for an agreement at the COP15 in Copenhagen. Millions are voting with their feet every day at the grass-roots level, reacting with civic science and traditional knowledge. This is what people are basing their everyday decisions on.
High science to come down off its high horse and meet up with civic science and traditional knowledge, in order to understand what is happening, so that national governments can also plan. The high science has to start looking at why there are more male flowers on the cucumbers, why berries are ripening at the wrong time.
Just to take one example: nobody has studied what is happening to soil fauna. Soil fauna are essential to everything and they are one of the first indicators that things are going wrong. They affect everything from plants to birds and nobody knows what is happening with them.
IH: Have you a better idea of who is vulnerable as a result of this work?
DG: Yes. The conventional wisdom is that the most vulnerable people are the poorest of the poor, but we have found that it is actually the lower middle classes. The reason is that the poorest of the poor have never had enough land to keep their families for the whole year, so they have always had to diversify their sources of income: they do seasonal labour and have those networks and connections already. They have a built-in resilience, so if their harvest is worse than usual, they just go and work longer.
The lower middle classes, though, have had enough land to be able to depend on their crops. They might survive one bad year, but two or three wipe them out, and then you get what you are seeing in India – farmers committing suicide. That is also happening in Nepal. The poorest are suffering, but it is not fatal. The people who are really being hit are the lower middle classes and upwards, which has implications for social stability.
IH: What adaptation is possible in these circumstances?
DG: The solutions have to come out of the watershed and out of the problem-shed. You can talk about big solutions – building high dams – which can take 40 years. We don't know in Nepal if a government will last 40 days. The solutions have to be what these millions of households can take. Can they be helped? How can they be helped? We just haven't done the science for that. We need civic science; ground-level truth.
We have some suggestions for how to do it. For instance, you put a weather monitoring station in every school in Nepal, and get the children to do the readings and get the schoolmaster to fax the readings back, your data points increase from around 450 to around 4,000. You are suddenly rich in data, and the local people are involved in understanding the dimensions of the problem.
It will be a long, drawn out process, but it is starting with rain gauges in the schools, linked up with the local FM radio stations. Suddenly the FM stations are very excited because they are talking about what is happening in their area instead of reading out a weather report from Kathmandu that might have no relevance to them.
We hope our report will point to some things that are essential and some things that local people are already doing to adaptat: building houses on stilts, for instance, so they can move upstairs during the flood season and the people will be safe – their rice will be safe and they can move back down again when the danger is past. Some villages have raised the level of their plinths, just a little bit, but enough to get above the floods.
IH: But won't future floods be much worse?
DG: Not all major floods are caused by high volumes: the Kosi breach, for instance, happened at a time when the flow was lower than usual. It was the failure of a poorly constructed dam and 3.5 million people were displaced in the state of Bihar, India, and 6,500 in Nepal. If tomorrow the floods get worse, expect more Kosi breaches. We expect that the intensity and frequency will be greater, but we don't know exactly what is going to happen.

Global warming has made Arctic summers hottest for 2,000 years

The Arctic has warmed as a result of climate change, despite the Earth being farther from the sun during summer months
Ian Sample, science correspondent, Thursday 3 September 2009 19.00 BST

Global warming has nullified the effect of increasing distance between the sun and Earth during the Arctic summer solstice. Photograph: National Science Foundation
Warming as a result of increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has overwhelmed a millennia-long cycle of natural cooling in the Arctic, raising temperatures in the region to their highest for at least 2,000 years, according to a report.
The Arctic began to cool several thousand years ago as changes in the planet's orbit increased the distance between the sun and the Earth and reduced the amount of sunlight reaching high northern latitudes during the summer.
But despite the Earth being farther from the sun during the northern hemisphere's summer solstice, the Arctic summer is now 1.2C warmer than it was in 1900.
Writing in the US journal Science, an international team of researchers describe how thousands of years of natural cooling in the Arctic were followed by a rise in temperatures from 1900 which accelerated briskly after 1950.
The warming of the Arctic is more alarming in view of the natural cooling cycle, which by itself would have seen temperatures 1.4C cooler than they are today, scientists said.
"The accumulation of greenhouse gases is interrupting the natural cycle towards overall cooling," said Professor Darrell Kaufman, a climate scientist at Northern Arizona University and lead author of the study.
"There's no doubt it will lead to melting glacier ice, which will impact on coastal regions around the world. Warming in the region will also cause more permafrost thawing, which will release methane gas into the atmosphere," he added.
Scientists fear that warming could release billions of tonnes of methane from frozen soils in the Arctic, driving global temperatures even higher.
On a tour of the Arctic this week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged nations to support a comprehensive accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the organisation's climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The accord has been drawn up as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The latest study comes months after scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned that within the next 30 years Arctic sea ice is likely to vanish completely during the summer for the first time.
Kaufman and his colleagues reconstructed a decade-by-decade record of the Arctic climate over the past 2,000 years by analysing lake sediments, ice cores and tree rings. Computer simulations of changes in seasonal sunlight levels caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit and the shifting tilt of its axis verified the long-term cooling trend.
The scientists showed that summer temperatures in the Arctic fell by an average of 0.2C every thousand years, but that this cooling was swamped by human-induced warming in the 20th century.
"This study provides a clear example of how increased greenhouse gases are now changing our climate, ending at least 2,000 years of Arctic cooling," said Caspar Ammann, a climate scientist and co-author of the report at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
The Arctic began cooling around 8,000 years ago as natural variations in the Earth's orbit and angle of tilt reduced the amount of sunlight reaching high latitudes. Today, the planet is one million kilometres farther away from the sun during the northern hemisphere's summer solstice than it was in 1BC. This natural cooling effect will continue for 4,000 more years.
Previous research has shown that temperatures over the past century rose nearly three times as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere in the northern hemisphere. This is due to an effect called Arctic amplification, whereby highly reflective sea ice and snow melt to reveal darker land and sea water, which absorb sunlight and warm up more quickly.

'Climate change is here, it is a reality'

As one devastating drought follows another, the future is bleak for millions in east Africa. John Vidal reports from Moyale, Kenya

John Vidal, Thursday 3 September 2009 22.44 BST

One of the main water sources outside Moyale in Kenya runs dry. Photograph: Sarah Elliott/EPA
We met Isaac and Abdi, Alima and Muslima last week in the bone-dry, stony land close to the Ethiopia-Kenya border. They were with five nomad families who have watched all their animals die of star vation this year in a deep drought, and who have now decided their days of herding cattle are over.
After three years of disastrous rains, the families from the Borana tribe, who by custom travel thousands of miles a year in search of water and pasture, have unanimously decided to settle down. Back in April, they packed up their pots, pans and meagre belongings, deserted their mud and thatch homes at Bute and set off on their last trek, to Yaeblo, a village of near-destitute charcoal makers that has sprung up on the side of a dirt road near Moyale. Now they live in temporary "benders" – shelters made from branches covered with plastic sheeting. They look like survivors from an earthquake or a flood, but in fact these are some of the world's first climate-change refugees.
For all their deep pride in owning and tending animals in a harsh land, these deeply conservative people expressed no regrets about giving up centuries of traditional life when we spoke to them. Indeed, they seemed relieved: "This will be a much better life," said Isaac, a tribal leader in his 40s. "We will make charcoal and sell firewood. Our children will go to the army or become traders. We do not expect to ever go back to animals."
They are not alone. Droughts have affected millions in a vast area stretching across Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, and into Burkina Faso and Mali, and tens of thousands of nomadic herders have had to give up their animals. "[This recent drought] was the worst thing that had ever happened to us," said Alima, 24. "The whole land is drying up. We had nothing, not even drinking water. All our cattle died and we became hopeless. It had never happened before. So we have decided to live in one place, to change our lives and to educate our children."
Kenya, a land more than twice the size of Britain, is everywhere parched. Whole towns such as Moyale with more than 10,000 people are now desperate for water. The huge public reservoir in this regional centre has been empty for months and, according to Molu Duka Sora, local director of the government's Arid Lands programme, all the major boreholes in the vast semi-desert area are failing one by one. Earlier this year, more than 50 people died of cholera in Moyale. It is widely believed that it came from animals and humans sharing ever scarcer water.
Food prices have doubled across Kenya. A 20-litre jerrycan of poor quality water has quadrupled in price. Big game is dying in large numbers in national parks, and electricity has had to be rationed, affecting petrol and food supplies. For the first time in generations there are cows on the streets of Nairobi as nomads like Isaac come to the suburbs with their herds to feed on the verges of roads. Violence has increased around the country as people go hungry.
"The scarcity of water is becoming a nightmare. Rivers are drying up, and the way temperatures are changing we are likely to get into more problems," said Professor Richard Odingo, the Kenyan vice-chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"We passed emergency levels months ago," said Yves Horent, a European commission humanitarian officer in Nairobi. "Some families have had no crops in nearly seven years. People are trying to adapt but the nomads know they are in trouble."
Many people, in Kenya and elsewhere, cannot understand the scale and speed of what is happening. The east African country is on the equator, and has always experienced severe droughts and scorching temperatures. Nearly 80% of the land is officially classed as arid, and people have adapted over centuries to living with little water.
There are those who think this drought will finish in October with the coming of the long rains and everything will go back to normal.
Well, it may not. What has happened this year, says Leina Mpoke, a Maasai vet who now works as a climate change adviser with Ireland-based charity Concern Worldwide, is the latest of many interwoven ecological disasters which have resulted from deforestation, over-grazing, the extraction of far too much water, and massive population growth.
"In the past we used to have regular 10-year climatic cycles which were always followed by a major drought. In the 1970s we started having droughts every seven years; in the 1980s they came about every five years and in the 1990s we were getting droughts and dry spells almost every two or three years. Since 2000 we have had three major droughts and several dry spells. Now they are coming almost every year, right across the country," said Mpoke.
He reeled off the signs of climate change he and others have observed, all of which are confirmed by the Kenyan meteorological office and local governments. "The frequency of heatwaves is increasing. Temperatures are generally more extreme, water is evaporating faster, and the wells are drying. Larger areas are being affected by droughts, and flooding is now more serious.
"We are seeing that the seasons have changed. The cold months used to be only in June and July but now they start earlier and last longer. We have more unpredictable, extreme weather. It is hotter than it used to be and it stays hotter for longer. The rain has become more sporadic. It comes at different times of the year now and farmers cannot tell when to plant. There are more epidemics for people and animals."
'We have to change'
Mpoke said he did not understand how people in rich countries failed to understand the scale or urgency of the problem emerging in places such as Kenya. "Climate change is here. It's a reality. It's not in the imagination or a vision of the future. [And] climate change adds to the existing problems. It makes everything more complex. It's here now and we have to change."
The current drought is big, but the nomads and western charities helping people adapt say the problem is not the extreme lack of water so much as the fact that the land, the people and the animals have no time to recover from one drought to the next. "People now see that these droughts are coming more and more frequently. They know that they cannot restock. Breeding animals takes time. It take several years to recover. One major drought every 10 years is not a problem. But one good rainy season is not enough," said Horent.
Nor are traditional ways of predicting and adapting to drought much use. In the past, said Ibrahim Adan, director of Moyale-based development group Cifa, nomads would look for signs of coming drought or rain in the stars, in the entrails of slaughtered animals or in minute changes in vegetation. "When drought came, elders would be sent miles away to negotiate grazing rights in places not so seriously hit, and cattle would be sent to relatives in distant communities. People would reduce the size of their herds, selling some and slaughtering the best to preserve the best meat to see them through the hard times. None of that is working now."
Francis Murambi, a development worker in Moyale, said: "The land has changed a lot. Only 60 years ago, the land around Moyale was savannah with plenty of grass, big trees and elephants, lions and rhino." Today the grasses have all but gone, taken over by brush. Because there are fewer pastures, they are more heavily used. It's a vicious circle. In the past, a nomadic family could live on a few cows which would provide more than enough milk and food. Now the pasture is so poor that those who still herd cattle need more animals to survive. But having more cattle further degrades the soil. The environment can support fewer and fewer people, but the population has increased.
"[Before] we did not need money. The pasture was good, the milk was good, and you could produce butter. Now it is poor, it is not possible," said Gurache Kate, a chief in Ossang Odana village near the Ethiopian border. "Yesterday I had a phone call from the man we sent our cattle away with. He is 250 miles away and he said they were all dying."
These shifts driven by climate change are bringing profound changes. Ibrahim Adan said: "The cow has always been your bank. Being a Borana means you must keep livestock. It's part of your identity and destiny. It gives you status. Traditionally livestock was central to life. The old people saw cattle as the centre of their culture. Pride, love and attachment to cattle was all celebrated in song. My father would never sell cattle. They were an extension of himself."
Now, for people like Isaac and Abdi, Alima and Muslima, all that is gone, and with it independence and self-sufficiency. "The money economy is creeping in, as is education and the settled life," said Adan. "Young people see the cow now as more of an economic necessity rather than the core of their culture."
The great unspoken fear among scientists and governments is that the present cycle of droughts continues and worsens, making the land uninhabitable. "This isn't something that will just affect Kenya. What is certain is that if climate change sets in and drought remains a frequent visitor, there will be far fewer people on the land in 20 years," said Adan. "The nomad will not go. But his life will be very different."

The US freezes on climate change

The stalled US climate change debate has killed the hope of reaching a final agreement at the Copenhagen summit

Kate Sheppard, Thursday 3 September 2009 18.00 BST
The prospects for an international agreement to tackle the causes of climate change are looking slim. They got even slimmer earlier this week, after the leading US senators crafting a climate bill announced that they're pushing back the release of their legislation indefinitely. While Barbara Boxer and John Kerry say the bill "is moving along well" and promise it will be ready for release "later in September", the delay makes the chances of passing it before the looming international negotiations in Copenhagen even less likely.
Without concrete action in the Senate, there will not be an actual deal ready to sign in Copenhagen. With no Senate action, there's no guarantee that the US will commit to binding targets. And with no US targets, there will be no firm agreement from China, India or other emerging powers. Ratification of an international treaty requires the consent of 67 senators – and right now, just getting to 60 just to vote on the climate bill is looking difficult.
With a realistic time frame, this delay means they won't release a bill until the end of September. Boxer, who chairs the Senate's environment and public works committee, has said she plans to hold hearings on the draft text, followed by markup of the full legislation. Her committee is not the only one likely to play a major role in the bill.
The finance committee, chaired by Max Baucus, is expected to author the pollution permit allocation portion of the bill, but is also at the centre of the debate over healthcare reform. They've only held one meeting on climate legislation this year, which Baucus could not attend due to commitments on healthcare. At least four other committees may want to weigh in.
No one expects the Senate to even move to climate until the healthcare issue is resolved – which, realistically, is probably going to drag out until the end of November.
So it's not much of a surprise that Helen Clark, the UN development chief, is now downplaying the likelihood that Copenhagen will be the final step in negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. "Copenhagen has to be viewed as a very important step," said Clark. "Would it be overoptimistic to say that it would be the final one? Of course."
"If there's no deal as such, it won't be a failure," she continued. "I think the conference will be positive but it won't dot every i and cross every t."
Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, is one of the first UN officials to state upfront what many observers have come to accept: that there's very little chance that there will be a new, binding treaty in place by the end of the year. While progress has been made in 2009, and will likely continue in the meetings leading up to December, it's highly unlikely that the US and other key players will be able to formalise their own plans this year.
That's not to say there can't be progress over the next months. The G20 will meet in Pittsburgh at the end of September, where climate will be among the top issues. The summit should yield more slow, steady progress toward consensus.
There's already been a good deal of development in the past meetings of world leaders. In early July, the G8 leaders agreed that they should limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius – a goal that 124 countries have agreed to, and which is endorsed in the House climate bill. Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change, has said he believes that he believes a 2-degree commitment is possible in Copenhagen.
Much really depends on how much the US negotiators can work out in the next months without any Senate movement. The US and China signed an agreement on greater cooperation between the countries, which includes investment in clean-energy technologies. The two nations have also made progress on agreeing to reduce emissions from automobiles, one major source of planet-warming gases. If the US and China can continue to progress on bilateral agreements, there may yet be hope for Copenhagen marking a major advance toward a final deal.
Now that world leaders are starting to acknowledge that there is little hope for a final deal in December, the priority should be deciding what can be done in Copenhagen. A clearer picture of what success there would look like, from the US, UN and other world leaders, should now be the top priority, as well as an alternative timeline for action.
It won't be a failure if there's no deal in Copenhagen, but it will be hard to gauge success with no new expectations.


EcoSecurities rose 2½p to 90½p after the carbon credits group said that it was in talks with another third party about a possible takeover offer after Tricorona, a Swedish company, disclosed that it was no longer proceeding with an offer. Eco is also considering a 90p-a-share offer from Guanabara, a Dutch group led by Pedro Moura Costa, one of its co-founders.

Boris Johnson announces London's 10 'low-carbon zones'

Ten boroughs awarded £200,000 to develop energy efficient neighbourhoods of 13,000 homes and 1,000 businesses
Press Association, Thursday 3 September 2009 10.35 BST
Ten London boroughs have won funding to develop "low-carbon zones" with schemes ranging from "energy doctors" to solar panels for schools and electric car charging points, London Mayor Boris Johnson said today.
Each borough will be awarded at least £200,000 to pioneer energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures in the capital. The low-carbon neighbourhoods cover 13,000 homes, around 1,000 shops and businesses, 20 schools, a hospital, places of worship and community centres, and each has a target to deliver emissions savings of 20.12% on current levels by 2012.
Schemes to reduce emissions include low-cost offers of insulation and heating to low-income families, working with a major retailer to install solar panels on its roof to power local homes, and supplying low-carbon heating from Kings College Hospital to nearby residents.
Several "energy doctor" programmes will train residents to become advisers on how people can make their homes more energy efficient and save money, while one borough will be helping householders monitor their power use with smart meters.
The winning zones, and the boroughs they are in, are: Barking town centre (Barking and Dagenham), Muswell Hill (Haringey), Archway (Islington), Brixton (Lambeth), Lewisham town centre (Lewisham), Wandle Valley (Merton), Ham and Petersham (Richmond-upon-Thames), Peckham (Southwark), Hackbridge (Sutton) and Queen's Park (Westminster).
The £3m plan for the low-carbon zones was announced in May, and boroughs were invited to apply. Johnson said: "There was a high calibre of bids from across the boroughs and it was a difficult choice, but the winning entries are championing the latest technologies, which will help us become a leading low-carbon city."
Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: "The initiative is a great way to champion new technologies and new ideas to pave the way for other communities to do their bit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions."
But the Green Party said while it welcomed the plan, the level of investment was not enough. Jean Lambert, London MEP for the Green Party, said: "To tackle climate change and cut energy bills across London every street must be tackled in a systematic way, with a plan to work through every ward in London. To secure the necessary investment the mayor must negotiate with government and use some of the £13m that he failed to spend on emissions reductions in his first year in office."
The funding for the scheme comes from the London Development Agency's budget for climate change measures and the zones will showcase how new technology can help meet the mayor's target to cut London's emissions by 60% by 2025.

Beijing Says New Measures Needed to Fight Lead Poisoning

BEIJING -- China's environment minister called for new measures to deal with heavy-metal poisoning, following a recent spate of incidents involving mass lead poisoning of children living near lead smelters.
But the government has had little success in past efforts to clean up the industry and faces significant obstacles, such as weak enforcement mechanisms.
Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian called for "powerful measures" to prevent pollution by heavy metals such as lead. "The prevention of heavy metal pollution should be put in a more urgent and more important position," he said, according to a statement posted on the Web site of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Mr. Zhou warned that despite China's environmental progress over the past few years, conditions remain severe. "The old environmental problems that have accumulated over time still haven't been resolved, while new issues are emerging continually," Mr. Zhou said.
Enforcement of regulations presents a major challenge. In many regions, officials place a greater emphasis on short-term economic growth than on the long-term impact of pollution.
Over the past month, thousands of children living near smelters have been found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood, resulting in occasionally violent protests and increasing media attention to the issue.
Protests by villagers upset over the lead poisoning of 851 children in northwest China's Shaanxi province led authorities to close the smelting plant responsible for the lead discharges on Aug. 17.
Days later, a larger case of lead poisoning was reported in Hunan province in central China, in which more than 1,300 children under the age of 14 were found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood as a result of the operation of an illegal smelter in the area.
In a third major case, state media reported last week that more than 200 children in an industrial suburb of Kunming, the capital of the southwestern Yunnan province, showed signs of lead poisoning during routine testing of 1,000 children in June through August.
Liu Dakun, director of Yunnan's lead prevention office for children, said that on average 50% to 60% of children under the age of 14 in the province's mining regions suffer lead poisoning. In Kunming, a large and relatively prosperous city, about 30% of 10,000 children tested last year had been poisoned by lead, said Mr. Liu, who attributed most of the exposure to auto emissions.
Children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because it can affect their mental development. High levels of lead in the body can cause brain, kidney and bone-marrow problems.
Beijing has sent inspectors to the affected areas and pledged stringent measures to deal with the widening scandal, which threatens to mar China's 60th anniversary celebrations on Oct. 1.
Last week, the environmental ministry, along with several other central government departments, approved a plan aimed at tackling heavy-metal pollution. Few details have been made available and it has yet to be passed by the central government.
Environment Minister Zhou called on officials at all levels to respond to environmental incidents, conduct prompt investigations and aid in the restructuring of the industry.
China, the world's top producer of lead, has set a target of phasing out 600,000 tons of outdated smelting capacity this year. However, previous efforts to clean up the industry have failed, and many small smelters are beyond Beijing's reach.
Chao Wenfu, 61 years old, who lives near the shuttered Shaanxi smelter, greeted the news with skepticism. "It is good the central government is issuing such policy, but I'm worried that the local government won't implement it," Mr. Chao said. "They only know how to make money, never paying attention to the health of farmers and whether people live or die."—Kersten Zhang, Sue Feng and Ellen Zhu contributed to this article.
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10 ways to cut the cost of motoring

Prices may be rising at the pumps but you can still cut your motoring costs.

By Emma SimonPublished: 6:48AM BST 03 Sep 2009

There was more pain at the pumps for drivers this week when fuel duty increased by 2p per litre; the third increase in petrol and diesel tax in nine months.
Once VAT is included, this latest duty rise will total 2.3p per litre – pushing the average price of petrol across the country to 105p per litre.

And with oil prices continuing to rise, analysts predict petrol and diesel prices will rise by a further 3p per litre in coming weeks – costing the average families an additional £120 a year.
And this is unlikely to be the last duty rise this year. At the end of December the temporarily reduced VAT rate of 15pc will revert to the standard 17.5pc rate.
When VAT was reduced last November, in a bid to kick-start the economy, fuel duty was increased to counteract this measure. In other words, while the cost of Starbucks' coffees and M&S jumpers were marginally reduced, petrol prices remained level.
As yet there has been no indication whether similar measures will be introduced when VAT goes back up. Given the strapped state of Government finances, most industry experts are expecting put-upon motorists will have to dig deeper into their wallets again.
Although the price of filling up your car is still less than it was a year ago, when oil prices peaked, many families are now in a far worse financial situation.
Recession has forced many companies to lay off staff and reduce working hours. These price rises will also affect those on fixed income, such as pensioners.
Many retired people rely on savings to supplement a pension income, but with interest rates plummeting to an all to low, their disposable income has shrunk substantially.
But help is at hand. Motorists can do little about these stealth taxes, but can reduce the overall cost of motoring by following our tips below:
Prices may be going up but there can be significant differences between retailers. Supermarket chain Morrisons, for example, is freezing prices at forecourts and absorbing the latest rise in fuel duty. To find the best prices in your area, log onto ,
Once registered this free site will provide information on the cheapest unleaded, diesel, super and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in your area. You can will also get regular updates on local price changes.
Once you have filled up, make the fuel in your car last longer. You don't have to own an expensive hybrid car to drive "greener" and more efficiently.
The AA recommends slowing down and driving more smoothly – so keep a good distance between the car in front, and you will have to do less accelerating and braking. Driving at 70 miles per hour for example, consumers almost 25pc more fuel than driving at 50mph.
Edmund King, president of the motoring organisation said: "The harder you press your right foot, the more money you burn." Other eco-tips include switching off air-conditioning when possible and changing gear as soon as possible.
Insurers Aviva, recommends changing gear at 2000 revs on diesel cars, and 2500 for petrol ones. Similar if you are stuck in traffic switch off your engine to save on fuel, if it safe to do so.
In total the AA estimates that drivers who drive more efficiently will save in excess of £300 a year.
Don't scrimp on services as keeping your car in good working order will improve its efficiency. However, do ring around to get the best price, although make sure this does not invalidate any warranty.
Check type pressure regularly, as low air pressure can dramatically increase fuel consumption. In a similar vein check oil, coolant and brake fluids regularly to avoid future problems and big repair bills. And keep an eye on what is stored in, or on, the car.
Families often fit roof bars and top boxes for holidays, but leave them on when they return.
Similarly many drive around with golf clubs, tools or kids bikes in the car. These will weigh it down, increase fuel consumption and make the car less aerodynamic. If it's an effort for you to lug it to the garden shed, it's an effort for your car to drive it round on a daily basis – but if it's the car doing the work it will cost your money.
Most drivers know they could save money by shopping around for an insurance quote. According to price comparison site, the average drive saves up to £157 simply by switching provider. You can further cut costs by paying upfront. Most insurers charge interest at up to 24pc if you pay monthly by direct debit.
But don't just look to change insurers, take a closer look at the policy details to check it is still suitable. Have you paid for overseas cover, for example, even though you had a "staycation" here in the UK this summer?
Do you need to pay extra for a courtesy car, or would you be able to use public transport if your car was off the road?
Likewise you could reduce premiums by switching to third-party only cover (although younger drivers may pay more for this), including a spouse as a named driver, removing any teenage children or increasing the excess. Beefing up car security can further reduce premiums – so install approved alarms and mobilisers.
Buy your tax annually rather than every six months and you'll save £40 a year. That's almost enough to fill a typical car's tank with petrol.
Young drivers can cut insurance costs by more than a third, according to, if they successfully complete the Pass Plus scheme.
This course, which takes a minimum of six hours, gives them experience of motorway driving, night driving, and driving in inner-cities and on rural roads. Insurers who will reduce premiums for Pass Plus drivers include Zurich, Aviva, Royal & Sun Alliance, Tesco, Direct Line, Churchill and the AA.
Car clubs are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas and there are now more than 40 running in towns and cities across the UK. According to , those who drive less than 6,000 miles a year should save between £1,000 and £1,500 a year by joining a club.
The club owns a fleet of cars that are booked by members, either hourly or daily. The club cover tax, insurance and maintenance costs. Typically membership is £50 a year, with rates starting from £4 an hour or £50 a day. Different rates will apply to different vehicles.
Rates vary though, so compare costs if more than one club operates in your area. Also, be careful to scrutinise each car carefully before you pick it up – or you may be billed for damage done by the previous driver.
Popular clubs include Whizzgo ( ), City Car Club ( ) and Streetcar ( ) Alternatively simply enter the name of your town plus "car club" into an internet search engine.
Are you clocking up many motorway miles each month, or is it mainly short trips doing the school run, the weekly shop and a short commute? Could these be reorganised to reduce car use?
Those that live in cities and commute on public transport need to ask themselves whether it is cost effective to tax, insure and run a car that is sat on the driveway for much of the year. Renting a car could prove cheaper for holidays, weekends away and one-off trips – even when compared to car club rates.
Alternatively look to cut costs by car pooling. Ask colleagues at work about sharing trips, or check whether your local council operates a scheme. Carplus, a charity that promotes responsible car use – lists many local schemes. See for more information.
Thousands of gallons of fuel are wasted each year by motorists who got lost or failed to take the most direct route. The RAC estimates that over the course of a year, this wasted fuel would fill more than 250 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Plan your journey before you start, with sites such as

Airtight converted dairy 'is most ecological home in Britain'

A converted dairy that the developers claim is the most environmentally-friendly home in Britain has been put on the market for £3.5 million.

By Matthew MoorePublished: 1:16PM BST 03 Sep 2009
The six-bedroom property, which has its own spa and 25-seat cinema, requires just 10 per cent of the energy required to run a normal house and is almost carbon neutral.
Situated in the Cotswold village of Ampney Knowle, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, the property is just a stone's throw from the home of Liz Hurley, the actress.
The home's energy demands are so low because it is effectively airtight; the 17th Century stone walls and roof are hermetically sealed to prevent warmth from escaping.
A sophisticated ventilation system draws a controlled amount of filtered fresh air into the house when necessary, ensuring that the air supply is completely renewed every two hours.
"People think you need to insulate a house but a fridge only has a tiny bit of insulation. The most important thing is that a house is airtight," said architect Paul Lavelle.
"Fireplaces are the worst thing you could ever put in. They draw heat out of the room."
While Barnsley Hill Farm boasts all the conveniences one would expect from a family home – and many one wouldn't including the cinema, sauna, hot-tub and swimming pool – most of the electricity it requires can be generated on-site.
Twenty solar panels are able power the home's central heating all year round, with energy stored in the summer for when it is needed in the winter.
Other eco-friendly components include a water recycling system and a sewage treatment plant which turns waste into purified water.
Mr Lavelle, whose Stonebee development firm was responsible for the conversion, said the property proves that energy-efficient homes can also be luxurious.
He added: "If we dropped all the mad building practices we could live in low energy homes for less money."

Carbon emissions per person, by country

Looking at a country's total carbon emissions alone doesn't tell the full story of the country's contribution to global warming
Roll over the lines to get the data.
Looking at a country's total carbon emissions doesn't tell the full story of a country's contribution to global warming.
China, for example, is the world "leader" in total emissions (6018m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) since it overtook the US (5903) in 2007. But all that really tells you is that China is a fast-developing country with a lot of people.
A more useful measurement is carbon emissions per capita (person). Under that measurement, the average American is responsible for 19.8 tonnes per person, and the average Chinese citizen clocks in at 4.6 tonnes.
Examining CO2 per capita around the world also shows us the gulf between the developed world's responsibility for climate change and that of the developing world. While Australia is on 20.6 tonnes per person (partly because of its reliance on CO2-intensive coal) and the UK is half that at 9.7 (explained in part by relatively CO2-light gas power stations), India is on a mere 1.2. Poorer African nations such as Kenya are on an order magnitude less again – the average Kenyan has a footprint of just 0.3 tonnes (a figure that's likely to drop even lower with the country's surge in wind power).
These differences – along with countries' historical contributions to global warming – are a crucial part of climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December. Even the former UK deputy prime minister John Prescott recently said that per capita emissions are the fairest way of thrashing out a deal in Copenhagen. Guardian readers believe it's fairer too.
DATA: CO2 emissions per person, per country

For full article and all data see:

Scotland's future under the microscope at conference

Published Date: 04 September 2009
FIRST Minister Alex Salmond is to address a "troubleshooting" conference aimed at finding innovative ways of tackling some of the biggest issues facing Scotland over the next decade.
Experts from a range of disciplines will set out the challenges for the economy, energy and climate change, public services and globalisation and how to react to achieve a sustainable and economically prosperous future.The Scotland's Possible Future conference to be held on 23 September at the George Hotel in Edinburgh, will also examine the position and perception of Scotland in the wider world. Mr Salmond, who will make the opening speech, will be joined by a range of high-profile speakers throughout the day.These include Professor Sir James Mirrlees, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Gerry Rice, from the International Monetary Fund, who will examine government and economic growth and finding Scotland's "niche" in the global era.The future of the public sector, parliament and democracy and Scotland's energy prospects are also on the agenda at the conference. Further details from or by phoning 0131-556 1500