Saturday, 5 September 2009

Worst climate change offenders to escape effects, report claims

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Countries which are contributing most to climate change, including Britain, will be shielded from its worst effects, according to a study which ranks nations according to their vulnerability to global warming.
The poorest countries, including most of Africa and much of south Asia, face “extreme risk” from climate change despite having very low greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries with the highest emissions are the least vulnerable, largely because they will be able to use their wealth to mitigate the impacts.
Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan come top of the “climate change vulnerability index” while Norway, Finland and Japan come bottom and face very low risk.
The index was calculated from dozens of variables measuring the capacity of a country to cope with the consequences of global warming. They included the proportion of land less than 10 metres above sea level, the size and distribution of the population, the strength of the economy, the security of supply of key resources and the stability of the government.
Britain came close to the bottom, ranked 155th out of the 166 countries in the study by Maplecroft, a Bath-based company that provides global risk intelligence for businesses. It said Britain was a low risk country because it has secure supplies of food and water, well-protected ecosystems and strong institutions able to respond well to threats from rising temperature and sea levels.
However, Britain scored less well on energy security because it was increasingly dependent on imported gas and oil. A “vulnerability map” accompanying the study also showed several low-lying coastal areas at high risk, including in Norfolk, Essex and near Hull.
The United States and Australia, the largest per capita emitters of CO2 among developed nations, are comfortably within the top 15 countries least at risk. These two countries are also among those with a long track record of resisting binding international targets on cutting CO2 emissions.
Russia was deemed to be at low risk and China and Brazil at medium risk. These countries will play a key role in determining whether December’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen produces an effective international treaty on cutting emissions.
A Greenpeace spokesman noted the irony that Norway was the least vulnerable country partly because it had built enormous wealth from exporting oil and gas. Of the 28 nations deemed at extreme risk, 22 are in Africa. Bangladesh is the 12th most vulnerable country, largely because of the high proportion of the population living close to sea level.
India is the only major economy in the 55 countries in the next tier which are facing a “high risk”.
The study found that India was vulnerable because of its population density, security risks and especially its lack of secure resources

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, gave a gloomy assessment yesterday of the world’s response to the threat of climate change.
“Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss,” he said in a speech in Geneva.
He said a pledge by the Group of 8 industrialised countries this summer for a long-term 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050 was not sufficient.
“I continue to believe that they should have a mid-term target,” he added.
The UN leader, who visited the Arctic this week, said melting ice in the polar region would threaten major cities and the lives of up to 130 million people.
Research published yesterday revealed that Arctic summer temperatures are now higher than at any time in the last 2,000 years. Temperatures began to climb in 1900 and suddenly accelerated after 1950.
Arctic summers are 1.2C warmer now than they were in 1900, according to the team of researchers from several academic institutions, including Arizona University, Colorado University and the University of East Anglia.
Risk level: E-extreme; H-high; M-medium; L-low. The higher the number, the less at-risk)
1 Somalia E
2 Haiti E
3 Afghanistan E
4 Sierra Leone E
5 Burundi E
6 Guinea E
7 Rwanda E
8 The Gambia E
9 Chad E
10 Nigeria E
33 Iraq H
58 India H
84 Iran H
102 Brazil M
109 China M
126 Russia L
128 Italy L
151 Germany L
152 US L
153 Ireland L
154 France L
155 UK L
156 Australia L
157 Luxembourg L
158 Iceland L
159 Switzerland L
160 Sweden L
161 Austria L
162 New Zealand L
163 Canada L
164 Japan L
165 Finland L
166 Norway L

Walking the climate talk

The greatest virtue of the 10:10 campaign is that it shows we can take action on CO2 here and now

Anthony Giddens, Friday 4 September 2009 18.00 BST
Climate change is a problem that transcends political differences: it is not a left/right issue. Support from all sides of the political spectrum will be needed if we are successfully to minimise the threats posed to our collective future. Hence it is encouraging that an unprecedented coalition of groups and individuals has got together to initiate the 10:10 campaign, announced in the Guardian on Tuesday and also trailed prominently in the Sun.
Currently, as the organisers emphasise, there is a massive gap between the looming catastrophe that climate change represents and the action needed to limit its advance. One cannot stress too strongly that climate change is a here-and-now issue. If I have a pile of dust in the corner of my room, I can leave it for a while and clear it up when I get round to it. Climate change is not like that. The level of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere is steadily rising. Once there, they are likely to remain for centuries, since, at the moment at least, we know of no way of getting them out again. The importance of 10:10 is that it is a concrete and immediate project.
10:10 is bound to have its detractors. Maybe those who sign up won't take their commitment seriously, since there is no real means of enforcing it. Certainly, in the beginning, it will cover only a limited range of groups and individuals; there is a risk that everyone else will carry on as before. Moreover, only a segment of the carbon footprint of those who participate will be covered. For instance, the obligation for members of the public is mainly to reduce domestic energy bills by 10%. In addition, 10:10 won't work if the 10% reduction isn't built upon in future years – how is such an outcome to be achieved? Finally, a critic might ask, what difference can a campaign limited to the UK make, given that Britain only contributes only 2% of total world greenhouse gas emissions?
The success or otherwise of 10:10 will depend almost wholly upon momentum. Those who sign up will be in the vanguard of change and could help create a genuine mass movement. So the launch and fanfare can't be today's headline, forgotten tomorrow. Efforts will have to be made to translate the initial impetus into a continuing, and rapidly expanding, enterprise. It is important to stress the positives. Sacrifices will be needed, but reducing emissions is not the same as donning a hair-shirt. Companies as well as individual citizens can make sweeping savings through greater energy efficiency and the more they do so, the more others might be persuaded to come on board.
Much the same point applies to the fact that not all emissions are covered. From what they have committed themselves to achieving, organisations and individuals should learn the habit of energy conservation, and experience the benefits it can bring. The Guardian will monitor a sample of organisations and individuals over the course of 2010, to check progress and see what obstacles are encountered. This feedback can be passed on to the majority.
10:10 stands a good chance of initial success because it isn't too difficult, in the short term, to make sweeping reductions in carbon emissions. But what happens when the low-lying fruit has been plucked? Is a concerted 20:11 campaign conceivable? Plainly, it is a question that should be thought about right at the beginning, not just left to good fortune. Reports of householders in Oxford who managed to reduce their emissions by 25%-30% in a single year should be drawn upon in looking for ways of further radicalising good habits.
In any case, the 10:10 campaign will not stand alone. It is one initiative alongside a host of others – such as innovation in low-carbon technologies – needed to stand some chance of containing the dangers we face. We are living in an unsustainable society, whose core rationale – the maximising of economic growth – is incompatible with its long-term survival. A great deal of new thinking, and practical action, is needed to break away from our current trajectory.
A campaign limited initially to the UK can make a difference to what is by any reckoning a global problem. If effective here, it could readily be extended elsewhere: that very success will lead others to take notice. A key country will be the US, which generates such a high percentage of world emissions. President Obama's climate change bill, now going through Congress, has been watered down in the face of opposition, and may not even pass through the Senate. A 10:10 movement there could be of great importance, as it could be in the EU countries that have dragged their feet.
I don't think it likely that 10:10 will gather sufficient impetus in time to have any impact on the Copenhagen negotiations. More important, to my mind, is the fact that it will demonstrate the possibility of making changes in short order. It is taking action, not simply talking about doing so.

Labour failure on climate change a 'political crime', says Green leader

Caroline Lucas tells party conference that 300,000 people a year are dying because of global warming
Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent, Friday 4 September 2009 13.52 BST
Labour's failure to properly address the problem of climate change is "nothing less than a political crime", Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green party, said today.
Addressing her party's annual conference, Lucas said 300,000 people were dying every year as a result of global warming and the main political parties had failed to show "real political leadership" on the issue.
She also insisted the Green party was growing as a political force and that Britain's "wholly dysfunctional" political system needed fundamental reform.
Lucas, one of the party's two MEPs, said Greens were the only politicians who were being "honest" with the public about the scale of the threat posed by global warming.
"As the vital Copenhagen climate summit draws closer, it's clear that the current level of ambition will not deliver anything like the speed and scale of the emission cuts that we so urgently need," she said, referring to the international conference taking place in December.
"In a few years, people will look back bewildered and angry that – knowing what they knew now – none of the other main political parties in Britain confronted the most critical issue of our time.
"They have pretended that they have the problem under control, that a few low-energy lightbulbs here, a bit of lagging on your loft there, and the problem is solved. And that to do anything more is either unnecessary or involves too much 'sacrifice'.
"We've got news for them: a transition to a post-carbon world doesn't have to be about sacrifice.
"It's about jobs, it's about a more equal society, and it's about a way of life with the potential to be far more fulfilling than the turbo-charged consumerism which is peddled by politicians today.
"And that's why we say that our government's inaction is nothing less than a political crime."
The conference is taking place adjacent to the Brighton Pavilion constituency in which Lucas is standing at the general election. She hopes to become Britain's first Green MP and in 2005 she came second, polling 22% of the vote.
She told members the Greens got more city votes in the European elections than any other party, that the party increased its share of the vote by 44% and that, at a time when "the image of politics and parties could hardly be lower", the Greens had gained 1,000 new members in the last six weeks.
In a speech that strayed well beyond environmental issues, Lucas said that, "for years", her party had been warning against "the lethal cocktail of liberalisation and deregulation which has fuelled this recession".
And she also called for far-reaching reforms to the Westminster political system, including fairer funding for political parties, a ban on "mega-donations", tougher freedom of information legislation, and electoral reform.
"The expenses scandal isn't a freak accident of an otherwise healthy body politic," she said.
"It's a symptom of a system that is wholly dysfunctional. We're being governed by a political elite that has stopped listening.
"Too many MPs seem more interested in changing their homes than in changing the world. We need to make Westminster alive again with political ideas."

Climate change funds: the next mega-trend?

Will firms tackling climate change clean up on the stockmarket? Patrick Collinson examines the funds urging investors to bank on a sustainable future
Patrick Collinson
The Guardian, Saturday 5 September 2009
It is being dubbed the next "mega-trend" for the stockmarket. Companies that focus on alternative energy and combating climate change will offer outstanding growth for investors, while the environmental laggards will face increasing pollution taxes and penalties. Surely this is a one-way bet for investors with both profits and principles in mind?
Already British investors, even those with as little as £50 a month to invest, can choose from a number of funds promising to direct your cash into the environmental industries of the future. Schroders and HSBC were among the first to launch climate change funds in 2007, followed soon after by Virgin Money. Other big-name providers include F&C and BlackRock (formerly Merrill Lynch).
This summer Clare Brook, the doyenne of the green sector, launched the Sustainability fund backed by WHEB Ventures, a leading cleantech venture capital house. Next month sees Tiburon Green, the first fund focusing on efforts to tackle climate change in Asia.
Does this sound like a bandwagon? Yes, say critics, who warn that the climate change "story" is already in the price of the shares, so investors coming in today will be burned. For example, at the end of 2007, shares in Q Cells, the cutting-edge German maker of solar power panels, were trading at nearly €100 (£87). Today they are bumping along at €10. Meanwhile wind turbine maker Vestas, which closed its Isle of Wight plant, is trading at half its mid-2008 high. And does anyone remember Ballard, the Canadian zero-emission fuel cell maker, a one-time darling of the green energy sector? It traded at C$120 (£66) in February 2000, but if you invested then you'd have lost a fortune: it now trades at just C$1.70.
There's a perception problem with environmental investing. Either (a) the technology fails and the shares become worthless; or (b) the technology works (like Q Cells) but the Chinese come in, massively over-produce, push down prices and wipe out profits.
Financial advisers, traditionally conservative, tend to dismiss climate change funds as too narrow and specialist for mainstream investors.
But the fact that hard-nosed fund managers at Britain's top investment houses are piling in suggests this is not just a product for bleeding-heart liberals. Simon Webber co-manages Schroder's Global Climate Change fund, one of the first to launch back in 2007. He says: "Climate change is not going to go away. It will require us to move to a low-carbon economy, and will affect sectors such as transport, agriculture, retailing and infrastructure. It touches almost everything in our lives."
He acknowledges the problems with solar. "Last year we had no solar in the fund – we could see stocks were overpriced and the over-capacity coming along. That said, we will be changing our energy systems towards nuclear, wind and solar. It's hard to dispute."
There are now at least 700 investable companies directly involved in climate change, says Schroders. HSBC has set up a FTSE 100-style index made up of companies involved in tackling climate change. Called the HSBC Climate Change Benchmark Index, it shows that, on average, since 2004, companies in the index have given investors a 48% gain (in dollar terms). But that conceals a rollercoaster ride. The index started at 100 in January 2004, soared to 235 in July 2007, then marched back down to 100.69 in March this year. Since then, it has leapt ahead again, and this week stood at 148.23.
If that makes you fearful that you could be buying into a "sucker's rally", then don't despair, says Brook. She has run Jupiter's Ecology fund, set up NPI's Global Care funds, and managed Aviva's SRI funds. She took each one from virtually nothing to nearly £1bn in size.
Sustainability is Brook's own fund and she says there's still a world of opportunity in environmental investing.
She splits her fund between three "mega-themes" of climate change, water and demographics. What excites her most are the stocks that will benefit from the stimulus packages announced by governments to revive economies – many of which have distinct environmental promises. "The beneficiaries of stimulus spending will be infrastructure such as rail, water piping, smart metering, energy efficiency and insulation," she says.
Water is a huge climate change issue which will force massive spending to manage dwindling supplies. Brook likes companies such as Itron, a supplier of automatic meter-reading technology, and Epure, a Singapore-based company working on improving China's drinking water quality.
Even the Mayfair hedge funds are getting involved. Tiburon Partners specialises in "absolute returns" from Asian stocks, but is now launching a hedge fund focusing on renewable energy – making money from stocks that will rise and also from ones they think will fall. Managing partner Mark Martyrossian believes "there may be a good argument for going short German solar and long Chinese solar ... we're not saying smokestack China is going to disappear overnight, but the Chinese are introducing some great initiatives and it's happening at the local as well as national level." Tiburon is also launching a long-only version of the fund for more cautious investors.
Fund managers Clare Brook and Nicola Donnelly (left) of WHEB Sustainability have signed up to 10:10 campaign, supported by the Guardian, in which individuals pledge to cut 10% from their emissions by 2010. "We both cycle already and try to fly as little as possible, but we're going to try taking showers instead of baths and also will try turning the heating down," says Brook. "I'll be taking a leaf out of my grandparents' book, who kept an incredibly cold house and used to sit at the dining table wearing several huskies each!"
You can commit individually to cutting your emissions at Share your experience of trying to live a lower-carbon life and get advice from our experts at

Every story looks different from the end

Coal made Britain strong, shaped our psyche and set us on a journey towards global warming

Ian Jack
The Guardian, Saturday 5 September 2009
Next week on cinema screens in London and Sheffield the British Film Institute opens the first of three seasons devoted to British industry in the 20th century. The title for this ambitious project is This Working Life, and under its rubric steelmaking will be tackled in 2011 and shipbuilding in 2010. But the BFI's first subject is coal – King Coal as the programme has it, not without reason because it was Britain's numerous and easily exploited seams that made the industrial revolution possible, which in turn gave Britain its unexpected role as the world's supreme nation. The BFI programme has an epigraph from a now little-known American writer, William Jasper Nicolls: "With coal we have light, strength, power, and civilisation; without coal we have darkness, weakness, poverty and barbarism."
That was how it seemed in 1906, and not much had changed in British school classrooms in the 1950s. Coal had a benevolence that oil, which did the same job, never acquired. Partly this was because it was so solid and visible. Unlike oil, making its secret, liquid journey into buses and cars, there it lay sparking and glowing in the hearth having been brought in sacks by coalmen. Also, we knew the price of its extraction. Men had dug it out – hard and horrible work – and in most parts of Britain it would be hard to travel for an hour or two and not come across a colliery; at nationalisation in 1947 there were 958 of them employing 718,000 miners (60 years later only nine survived, with a workforce totalling 3,000) and their triangular spoil heaps and winding gear could loom up in the most surprising places, in the fields of Kent, the coast of north Wales and the lonely Scottish peninsula of Kintyre.
In these ways, unlike oil, it was ours. Orwell in a famous sentence wrote that "you and I and the Nancy poets and the archbishop of Canterbury … all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes." Oil couldn't provoke such moral fury – try substituting "BP engineers" or "Middle Eastern kingdoms" for Orwell's poor drudges. The moral feelings that coal aroused were, for the non-miner, part of its charm. Parents told their children of the brave men whose work down below had started the lump's journey to the grate. In novels and films, miners appeared as heroic, comradely, uncomplicated and above all essential. Their industry was patriotic. In a 1952 documentary, Plan for Coal, the narrator reminds us that in 1900 Britain supplied a quarter of the world's production and "to coal we must return again for all the strength that we will need in the years to come."
The film is one of about 1,000 documentaries commissioned by the National Coal Board during its 40-year existence and the BFI has made a fine anthology of them on a new DVD, Portrait of a Miner. Coalmining appealed to filmmakers. As the BFI curator Patrick Russell writes, its danger, light contrasts, social insularity and mythic position in national history made it "deeply cinematic". But to see these films is to understand social attitudes as much as what miners actually did, and to marvel that such attitudes existed within the lifetime of anyone much over 50.
Seriousness is one of them. In 1953, the coal board decided it wanted a training film that showed young miners how to shovel. The result, The Shovel, begins with a short history of shovels – beginning in pre-Roman times – before it moves on to modern shovelling techniques: "Stand with the leading shoulder well forward like a good batsman, though you don't have to be Len Hutton." In fact, it's a lovely little film, clear and direct, and at the end of its 17-minute instruction on perfecting "the Pioneer Throw" you know much more about the physical skill behind the back-breaking task on which the British economy then depended. With this earnest clarity, however, comes the condescension of the jolly spiffing commentary. In another film, designed to encourage miners from Lanarkshire's exhausted pits to migrate east to Fife, the voice says there will be other industries there too: "We do want miners to get the chance to mix with other folk" – words from a higher layer in the old geology of accent and social class.
I watched nearly two hours of these films and remembered my grandfather, who rather unwisely gave up a job as sewing machine salesman to go into the pit. Greyhounds, racing pigeons, chest x-rays, singing miners, dancing miners, miners on holiday at Filey: all these images came and went. The constant was coal: a black seam on diagrams, exploded by shot-blasting and sheared by machines, bouncing down conveyor belts and into tubs and eventually reaching the daylight it had last seen as plant life 350m years ago. The sight of so much extraction brought home a different point, which the makers of the films and the people in them could never have understood because they lived too early. Until the 1990s the history of the British coal industry could be seen in different ways – socially (greyhounds, comradeship), sentimentally (granddad), politically (struggle and strikes), geologically, economically, even aesthetically. But from a far higher elevation, perhaps that of eternity, all these interpretations will seem like whisperings in Lilliput. The coal industry's most enduring claim to fame, should history endure, is its vanguard position among the causes of global warming.
Some statistics. In the early 1800s, Britain dug about 15m tonnes of coal a year. By 1913, the peak year of production, the figure was 292m tonnes. No other country approached that rate of exploitation, which began to take off in the 18th century. Among historians, 1750 is the pivotal year, when twice as much Newcastle coal reached the market as 50 years earlier. What had been mainly a domestic fuel in the first half of the 18th century now smelted iron and heated the steam for thousands of mill and mine engines. In 1750, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere still stood at around 280 parts per million, now known as the "pre-industrial level". Today the level is estimated at 389 parts per million. The rise began slowly. Even when scientists in the late 19th century identified a firm link between CO2 and atmospheric temperatures, its relevance to the future seemed inconsequential. But in 1750, unknowable to the men who dug the coal and fed the fires, Britain had started the world on the journey.
According to Myles Allen, an Oxford physicist writing in the Guardian this week, dangerous climate change can be averted only if 50 to 80% of the carbon in known fossil fuel reserves is kept out of the atmosphere, which means leaving most of it in the ground. How strange that would have seemed to William Jasper Nicolls, who believed coal prevented barbarism. All stories look different from the end, when the moral and the mechanics of cause and effect become clearer. Nothing looks the same when viewed from the door of a terminal ward; victims of lung disease throw their minds back to their first cigarette. History gets turned on its head.
Ian Jack's The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain: Writings 1989-2009 was published by Jonathan Cape this week. To order a copy for £17.99 with free UK p&p go to or call 0330 333 6846

How to invest in tackling climate change

Guardian Money looks at where to put your cash if you plan to make an ethical investment
The Guardian, Saturday 5 September 2009
Isas and investment trusts
All the funds below tend to have minimum lump sum investments of around £1,000, but check with each provider for details.
Schroder's Global Climate Change fund ( invests in companies involved in reducing carbon dependency or adapting to the impact of climate change. One of the first in this field, it's down around 10% since its launch in June 2007, but in the last six months it is up around 30%. Top investments include Honda (hybrid vehicles) and Gamesa (Spanish wind turbine makers).
Henderson Industries of the Future ( promises to invest in "positive sustainability themes", with stocks such as Nalco (water treatment), Roper Industries (industrial controls to comply with regulatory standards), and Schneider Electric (energy efficiency). It has fallen by 11.5% over the past year, but is up 38% over the past five years.
BlackRock New Energy investment trust ( has bounced around wildly. If you bought five years ago you'd have made 105%. But if you bought a year ago you're down 36.5%. Since March it is back up 30%. Major holdings include American Superconductor (smart grids), Archer Daniels Midland (ethanol, biodiesel), Vestas and Iberdrola (Spanish utility).
F&C Global Climate Opportunities ( invests in companies at the heart of the climate change issue, including alternative energy, sustainable mobility, waste, advanced materials, forestry and agriculture, and water. Down 12.4% over one year, up around 25% in the past six months. Stocks include EAGA (UK insulation provider) and ITT Corporation (big in water management).
WHEB Sustainability (, run by some of the UK's most experienced green/ethical fund managers. Focuses on climate change, water issues and demographics. Major holdings include EnerNOC (US energy efficiency) and Epure (Singapore/China water treatment).
Tiburon Green ( launches next month. Focus will be on renewable energy in Asia. Starting portfolio will include China High Speed Transmission (wind equipment developer) and Silex Systems (Australian uranium enrichment and solar energy tech company).
Virgin Climate Change ( invests in UK/European firms with a lighter carbon footprint. Down 28.2% over the past 12 months but up around 30% since March.
HSBC GIF Climate Change fund ( hopes to capitalise on what it calls "one of the defining investment opportunities of the years ahead". Invests in 50-70 stocks from the HSBC Global Climate Change benchmark index. Down 23.6% over the past year but up 40% over the past six months.
Venture Capital Trusts and Enterprise Investment Schemes
Higher-risk funds with higher minimum investments, often putting your money into start-ups where some will succeed and make lots of money – and others will fail. They have a number of tax advantages for higher rate taxpayers.
Ventus ( runs three VCTs which have invested £50m in wind farms such as Craig Wind Farm in Dumfriesshire and Fenpower in Cambridgeshire. Its first VCT, Ventus 1, is the fourth best-performing VCT of 111 this year, up 46%. None available for investment right now, but they are examining options for new share issues. The funds are managed by
Climate Exchange VCT invests in an emissions exchange operator, a role targeted by climate camp protestors this week as carbon gamblers. Shares in Climate Exchange plc are currently trading at half the levels of a year ago.
Oxford Capital ( is typical of many seedcorn-style business that match investors with high-tech projects, many in the sustainability field and some connected to the university. Its fifth Oxford Gateway EIS fund is open to investment – but the minimum is £25,000.

Current economic growth model is 'immoral', says Prescott

With the world's population growing to nine million by 2050, the Britain's former deputy PM predicts far more crucial and complex talks in Copenhagen than in Kyoto
Jonathan Watts, Asia Environment Correspondent, Friday 4 September 2009 17.57 BST
John Prescott, the former UK climate negotiator, called on developed nations today to accept a new model of economic growth that would create a more equitable spread of carbon emissions in the world. Speaking to the Guardian in Beijing, Prescott said talks at Copenhagen would probably not be decided until an 11th-hour crisis, but that no global consensus could be reached without a fairer spread of emissions.
Since helping to bang heads together to set the first targets on carbon in Kyoto in 1997, Prescott said the world had started to develop a new model of restraint.
"The reality is that the world has found a rationing process. It is not ... get growth as fast as you can and get the jobs and sod the rest," he said. "The world will have 9 billion people by 2050. If you still want growth and prosperity, do you keep on the model you have now? It's immoral."
Prescott has no say in the final decision this time but will attend the talks in Copenhagen as a rapporteur for the Council of Europe, allowing him to be a vocal observer. His remarks address a core issue: how to allow developing nations such as China and India to grow their economies and lift billions from poverty without generating enormous greenhouse gas emissions, as past growth in the developed world did.
But his experience as a former deputy prime minister and key figure in the Kyoto talks sheds light on some of the problems that are likely to lie ahead of negotiators in Denmark in December.
He said Kyoto was about setting a framework, whereas Copenhagen is an attempt to get every country involved. Although the US and China are now far more involved and the science is more widely accepted this time, he believed negotiations will be "10 times harder" than those of 1997 because more countries are taking part and the issues are more complex.
A deal will depend on a last minute display of political will, he predicted.
"The deal at Kyoto came when politicians sat down and faced the reality that we were we going to have a breakdown (of talks)," recalled Prescott. He said he and the Japanese, European and American negotiators huddled in the early hours to achieve a breakthrough. "We got together in a room. I rang Al Gore (the then US vice president) and said we were closing the hall soon because they are going to have a wedding. The Japanese said, 'We will go one point more, so long as it is less than America. And the Americans said we will go for one point more providing it is lower than Europe. At which point I said if we have to take the moral stand then we will."
Prescott has since been accused of giving too much ground at Kyoto, but he said compromise would probably be necessary again if a deal is to be secured. He also emphasised that any deal must be seen to be equitable.
"If we are deciding a global formula not to suffer consequences of climate change, we had better make it fair to achieve a consensus because that is the key at the end of day. "
Although, he said, none of the nations are showing their hands yet, he predicted politicians would have to find an agreement.
"The science is so clear. For policymakers to just walk away from that would be disastrous. I can't believe they will do it."
In line with many developing nations, Prescott says targets should be set according to emissions per person rather than percentage cuts from past levels, as was the case in Kyoto. If wealthy citizens try to maintain their high-polluting nations, he predicted a political crisis.
Although his time as UK transport secretary saw a massive expansion of car ownership, Prescott said he had called on China to do more to promote public transport and limit traffic congestion.
Tomorrow, Prescott will travel to the southern Chinese city of Xiamen, where he will receive an honour that runs against his UK reputation as a mangler of language. " I am a little bit embarrassed. I am going to Xiamen university, where they will make me an honorary professor, which will create a lot of comment in Britain."

Global warming has reversed 2,000 years of cooling in the Arctic

The Arctic is at it warmest for 2,000 years despite the fact natural cycles mean the area should be cooling, according to research which scientists say proves climate change is man-made.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM BST 04 Sep 2009

The wide ranging study used computer simulations to reconstruct summer temperatures across the Arctic over the last 2,000 years.
It found that the area has been warming in the last one hundred years and reached its hottest years in the last decade.

However, the Arctic should be in a cooling period caused by a "cyclical wobble" in Earth's orbit around the Sun, that means the Earth has been getting less sun on the North Pole in the summertime.
Scientist say the fact that temperatures are increasing despite a natural trend of cooling is the strongest evidence yet that man-made carbon emissions are causing the area to warm up at a dangerous rate.
The melting of the Arctic has been used by scientists to prove man-made climate change, especially as they fear it will cause the rest of the world to warm up faster because of the loss of ice that reflects the sun. However, some scientists have argued that the recent loss of sea ice is just part of a natural warming period.
David Schneider, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, who carried out the research, said the Arctic should now be in a natural cooling phase but temperatures were not dropping.
"This result is particularly important because the Arctic, perhaps more than any other region on Earth, is facing dramatic impacts from climate change," he said.
"This study provides us with a long-term record that reveals how greenhouse gases from human activities are overwhelming the Arctic's natural climate system.
"Greenhouse gases are overtaking a natural cycle."
Over the last 7,000 years the timing of Earth's closest pass by the Sun has shifted from September to January. This has gradually reduced the intensity of sunlight reaching the Arctic in summertime and meant that average summer temperatures cooled at an average rate of about 0.36 degrees F (0.2 degrees Celsius) per thousand years.
However, the orbital cycle that produced the cooling was overwhelmed in the 20th century by human-induced warming.
The result was summer temperatures in the Arctic by the year 2000 were about 2.5 degrees F (1.4 degrees C) higher than would have been expected from the continued cyclical cooling alone.
Gifford Miller, from the University of Colorado, said the warming period is set to continue with catastrophic consequences.
"Because we know that the processes responsible for past Arctic amplification are still operating, we can anticipate that it will continue into the next century," he said.
"Consequently, Arctic warming will continue to exceed temperature increases in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in accelerated loss of land ice and an increased rate of sea level rise, with global consequences."

Renewable Energy, Meet the New Nimbys

Solar and Wind-Power Proposals Draw Opposition From Residents Fearing Visual Blight; a Dilemma for Some Environmentalists
Technology changes, but human nature doesn't. Environmentally friendly energy projects are running into the same cries of "not in my backyard" that stymied a previous generation of alternative-power efforts.

Proposed renewable-energy projects have been drawing opposition from people who worry about marring landscapes. Above, a solar-power facility in the Mojave Desert.

Even as Americans tell pollsters they are eager for alternatives to fossil fuel, some are fighting proposals for solar and wind projects and for the thousands of miles of transmission lines that would be needed to carry the cleaner energy to market. The protests echo grass-roots opposition that has blocked nuclear plants and energy-producing trash incinerators for decades.
The new backlash is fueled by worries that renewable-energy projects would occupy vast amounts of land to produce significant amounts of power. Either renewable projects would have to be centralized and sprawling, covering many square miles apiece, or they would need to be distributed in pieces across millions of rooftops and lawns.
Renewable-energy projects would reduce pollution and combat climate change. The trade-off is that many more people would have to see wind turbines, solar panels and other energy infrastructure near their homes in order to diminish the need for coal mines and other fossil-fuel facilities.
"Anywhere I walked on this property, we'd be able to view them and we'd be able to hear them," says Tina FitzGerald, who lives with her family on a 12-acre Vermont farm near where a developer has proposed erecting five wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall. "There should be a place for these -- someplace that isn't going to impact families quite so much."
In California, which is considering a goal of producing a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, some residents are fighting proposals to build vast solar-energy plants in the Mojave Desert, one of the most remote and reliably sunny spots in the U.S. Up and down the East Coast, meanwhile, residents are opposing plans for wind farms, fearing they will mar views and lower property values.

Americans aren't alone in their skittishness. In the U.K., which also aims to generate about one-third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, local opposition is holding up proposed wind projects. Resistance in Ontario led the Canadian province to pass legislation in May establishing a framework for locating renewable-energy sites; local opponents will be able to challenge projects on environmental or safety grounds, but not for aesthetic reasons.
In a report last year, the Paris-based International Energy Agency cited "not in my backyard" sentiment as among the top five threats to the growth of renewable energy world-wide.
The U.S. has to make a tough choice, says Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank that supports giving the federal government more authority to push renewable-energy projects forward. That will be necessary, he says, to curb the country's dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse-gas emissions. "You have to ask yourself: At what point do priority national interests need to override local goals?"
The clash over whether it is more important to produce nonpolluting domestic energy or to protect environmentally valuable places poses a dilemma for some longtime activists.
Calvin French, a 72-year-old retired high school English teacher, has belonged to the Sierra Club all his adult life. Leaders of the environmental group are working with California officials to help pick sites for big renewable-energy transmission lines as a way to combat climate change. But many club members, including Mr. French, want to protect their favorite places.

Antelope-like pronghorn grazed on California's Carrizo Plain. Proposals for three large solar-energy projects there have drawn local opposition.

His battlefield is the Carrizo Plain, a 460-square-mile swath of grassland about 115 miles north of Los Angeles that is traversed by the San Andreas Fault.
The parched, rugged expanse is home to species including the endangered kit fox and the antelope-like pronghorn. It also is one of the most alluring spots for solar panels in the nation's most populous state. There is prolific sunlight. Much of the land has been subdivided into farms, meaning that acreage no longer can be defended as untouched. And there is a high-voltage line nearby, with capacity to carry solar power to the public.
Amid local opposition, county and state officials for months have been mulling three big solar-energy projects that together would amount to some of the biggest solar arrays in the world.
"Big things like global warming" are difficult to understand, says Mr. French. "But you can go out into a beautiful place and say, 'This needs to be protected.' That's easy to understand."
Around the world, countries that have rolled out fossil-fuel alternatives most aggressively have used heavy-handed government action to address such sentiment. France, for example, now produces about 80% of its electricity from nuclear energy. But France's national government manages the country's nuclear-construction program, and it has pushed ahead for decades despite sometimes-heated public protests.
Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress now are fighting over how much power the federal government should have in getting energy projects built. Many renewable-energy proponents say a massive network of new transmission wires would have to be built to bring large supplies of renewable power to population centers. A Senate committee passed a bill in June that would give the federal government authority to decide where to put new power lines if states, which now make those decisions, move too slowly.
The drive for more federal control has the support of many executives in the electric industry, who say the new transmission lines should be available for energy from all sources, including fossil fuel. But there is plenty of opposition to giving Washington that power. Some lawmakers from densely populated states don't want big new transmission lines running through their land. Many state utility regulators also object to an increased federal push.
Caught in the middle are states where renewable energy suddenly is big business. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal likens his state's wind boom to the coal rush that hit Wyoming three decades ago in the wake of an energy shock.
At a wind-energy conference in Wyoming last month, Gov. Freudenthal, a Democrat, delivered a stern warning to wind-turbine developers, telling them to make sure their projects don't harm a small bird called the sage grouse.
"What I have is an obsession with making sure that the economy of this state continues to function, and it won't if that bird gets listed," according to his office's transcript of his remarks.
Anything that nudges the sage grouse toward the federal government's list of endangered species, he explained, would trigger land-use restrictions that would jeopardize Wyoming's main economic engine: the production of coal, oil and natural gas. "Generally in this state, we support economic development," he told the wind developers. But "when all of a sudden it ends up in our backyard, our view changes a lot."
Jeffrey Ball responds to reader questions at Email him at

Local governments keep Chinese public in the dark about pollution

China's environment ministry says polluters are protected by a 'black box' of secrecy as local governments withhold information
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Friday 4 September 2009 11.54 BST
Polluters in China are operating in a "black box" of secrecy, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has warned amid a rash of violent protests related to industrial poisoning.
Offenders are protected by the vast majority of local authorities defying Beijing and violating state law by refusing to disclose information about pollution, with a study showing just 4 out of 113 local governments complied.
The ministry said this lack of transparency was partly to blame for recent riots over lead and manganese poisoning in Shaanxi, Hunan and Fujian, which has affected thousands of children.
"Environmental impact assessment was meant to prevent these kinds of harm, but EIA has repeatedly failed to carry out its duties," the ministry noted on its website after the riots. "In the battle between illegal polluters and their opponents, the disparity in power is too great for the public interest to be effectively protected."
An information transparency law introduced in May 2008 was supposed to ease public concerns about the environment and to hold polluters to account.
But more than a year after it came into effect, a survey by leading NGOs and academics found that only four local governments provided comprehensive details about pollution violations as they were obliged to do.
Eighty-six failed to respond beyond claiming the information was secret or an inappropriate subject to raise in an economic downturn. Others simply ignored the request.
Ma Jun, who founded the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs which carried out the survey with support from the US-based National Resources Defence Council, said local government transparency was at a very basic level. But he emphasised the success of the four who met the targets first year around – Ningbo, Hefei, Fuzhou and Wuhan – and claimed progress should be put in a historical perspective.
"China has never had a tradition of opening up government information before," said Ma, a winner earlier this week of the coveted Ramon Magsaysay Award for integrity in government. "The conclusion from our survey is that this is doable. If the local governments share best practice they can easily improve."
The environment ministry was less guarded in its criticism of local governments. Citing the results of the survey and the recent pollution disturbances, it said more information was vital.
"The absence of comprehensive, timely environmental data has given polluting companies and local authorities the chance to operate in a 'black box'. To break this practice, we need to bring everything out into the sunlight," it said.