Saturday, 19 September 2009

Invention's new imperative - James Dyson

It is a sad fact that major wars and national rivalries are good at spawning technological advances. The second world war brought us radar and V2 rockets, a technology that would contribute to NASA's future success. The space race gave us freeze-dried food, scratch-free lenses and the digital processing behind MRI and CAT body scanners.
James Dyson is a design engineer and the man behind the dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner
The 21st-century equivalent of these conflicts is here in the form of climate change. To avoid a rise in global temperatures of 4 °C and its well-communicated consequences, climatologists and politicians tell us that we need to reduce carbon emissions. Turning down the thermostat and switching off lights will not suffice. The solution lies with engineers and scientists.
Our homes are the source of 25 per cent of UK carbon emissions. We're told to buy green and cut our energy consumption, yet our energy-labelling system is outdated and applies to only some appliances. The system is ripe for exploitation and products seem to make green claims on the flimsiest evidence. Token marketing gestures may sell products but they don't solve the problem. We need to cut the amount of energy that machines waste and make them as effective as possible at what they do. We need to use design and engineering to get the most out of as little energy as possible.
At Dyson we've spent more than 10 years developing energy-efficient digital motor technology. Such advances take time: there are no quick and easy returns. And sometimes you need to step back and start again. The Dyson Airblade hand dryer is energy efficient because we changed the drying method entirely. Rather than waiting for hot air to evaporate water, we use a sheet of air to "scrape" hands dry in far less time.
The UK has the engineering and scientific expertise to become a leader in high-tech, low-carbon technology. But long-term commitment to this aim and serious investment are needed. If we don't develop the intellectual property now, someone else will. China, a giant polluter, is also the biggest investor in renewable technologies. Green technology is a necessity and a challenge. It is also an opportunity. Let's embrace it.
James Dyson is a design engineer and the man behind the dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner

Britain's nuclear caretaker privatised in Babcock sale

• £50m sale 'good value for taxpayers', says Mandelson• Opposition warns against further decommissioning levies
Graeme Wearden, Friday 18 September 2009 11.04 BST
The body responsible for decommissioning and cleaning up Britain's fleet of nuclear power stations was sold today in the latest privatisation of part of the UK's nuclear industry.
UKAEA, the commercial arm of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, has been bought by Babcock International Group for £50m.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson claimed the deal "generates good value for taxpayers", but opposition politicians have previously voiced concerns over the sale.
UKAEA is currently carrying out decommissioning work at Dounreay in Scotland, Winfrith in Dorset, and Harwell in Oxfordshire. It also operates training programmes, and offers consultancy services to other countries. It has been on the market for almost six months.
Babcock, which is listed on the FTSE 250 index, already runs the UK's only nuclear refuelling facilities for its nuclear submarine fleet, at Devonport in Plymouth.
"The high level of skills and expertise in UKAEA will further accelerate the growth of our nuclear business," said Babcock's chief executive, Peter Rogers.
Back in March, when Mandelson put UKAEA up for sale, the shadow energy secretary, Greg Clark, said it could be a short-term move to bring cash into the government's books.
"The government has awarded contracts worth millions of pounds to UKAEA for decommissioning nuclear power stations and is reliant on the company to deliver them. The government must have cast-iron guarantees that any buyer will not hold the taxpayer to ransom for further payments for decommissioning Dounreay, Harwell and Winfrith," Clark warned.
The task of cleaning up after more than half a century of nuclear power is expected to cost Britain at least £83bn. The size of the challenge was underlined last year when the firm operating the Sellafield nuclear site appealed for former workers to come forward if they remembered where they had deposited nuclear waste.
UKAEA's waste management expertise could also be valuable when the next generation of UK nuclear power stations begins operating, possibly in 2017.
British Energy, which runs eight nuclear power stations, was privatised in 1996, but had to be rescued by the taxpayer in 2002. It was taken over in 2008 by France's EDF, which plans to build four new reactors.

Will world leaders hear this global wakeup call?

Friday, 18 September 2009
Next week President Obama and more than 100 world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York for the Climate Summit, in what will be an intriguing precursor to December’s crucial climate talks in Copenhagen.
The backdrop to the New York talks paints a picture of intense public pressure as citizens around the world continue to call on heads of state to attend December’s climate change talks in Copenhagen. United under the banner of the TckTckTck campaign their message to world leaders is clear: secure a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal.
Throughout this weekend and into next week mass participatory global wakeup calls will be witnessed in more than 1,400 unique events in 962 cities spread across 103 countries across the world. Celebrities, political leaders and thousands of individuals concerned about climate change will be involved in more than 1,400 TckTckTck climate change events. In London, people will gather in Parliament Square on Monday to send a message to Gordon Brown. Around the globe some of the world’s best known NGOs, trade unions and individuals have organised similar events. Avaaz, Oxfam, WWF, Greenpeace, Christian Aid and others are working tirelessly with their members and through their spheres of influence to ensure next week’s global wakeup call will be heard.
The TckTckTck campaign is calling for developed countries to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2020, and to enable and support poor countries to adapt to the worst consequences of the climate crisis and reduce their emissions and secure technology investment through the provision of sufficient public funds. It is asking heads of state to create a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all and to establish conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for our planet. Not least, TckTckTck is asking heads of state to come to Copenhagen in person and agree to a legally binding international climate agreement that is fair ambitious and binding.
Reaching agreement on a strong deal in Copenhagen is urgent; the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability – hallmarks of climate change – are affecting people's rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter and culture across the world. With an average temperature rise of less than 1C climate change already kills more than 300,000 people each year.
However, should heads of state choose to hear the global wakeup call there is still time to build a greener, safer world. But the clock is ticking. The massive mobilization of people across a broad cross-section of society is signalling to governments that they can and must go further than they have been prepared to do before.
Kumi Naidoo is chairman of the Global Campaign for Climate Action – coordinators of TckTckTck

Contraceptives can reduce impact of climate change says Lancet

Greater use of contraceptives could help reduce the global impact of climate change, according to medical journal The Lancet.

Published: 7:00AM BST 18 Sep 2009

In an editorial, The Lancet said more than 200 million women worldwide wanted contraceptives but lacked access to them.
Addressing this unmet need could prevent 76 million unintended pregnancies each year, slow population growth, and reduce demographic pressure on the environment, it said.

The journal said: ''Countries in the developing world least responsible for the growing emissions are likely to experience the heaviest impact of climate change, with women bearing the greatest toll.
''In tandem with other factors, rapid population growth in these regions increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, for example, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement.''
The Lancet also criticised non-government organisations (NGOs) for ''working in silos'' and avoiding the varied approach needed to change social attitudes.
A study soon to be published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that 37 of the least developed countries appreciated the link between population growth and climate change. However, only six of them identified family planning as part of their adaptation strategy. This was possibly because family planning fell under the remit of health rather than environment ministries, said The Lancet.
Only 7 per cent of 448 projects submitted by developing countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change involved the health sector.
The Lancet highlighted a successful programme in Ethiopia which trained people in sustainable land management at the same time as increasing the availability of family planning. It resulted in an immediate improvement to the environment with better agricultural practices.
''The sexual and reproductive health and rights community should challenge the global architecture of climate change, and its technology focus, and shift the discussion to a more human-based, rights-based adaptation approach,'' said the editorial. ''Such a strategy would better serve the range of issues pivotal to improving the health of women worldwide.''
Earlier this month, research by the London School of Economics said contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green technologies.
Every £4 spent on family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a ton, whereas a minimum of £19 would have to be spent on low-carbon technologies to achieve the same result, the research said.

Climate change campaigners should not have fixated on carbon dioxide

If climate negotiations 20 years ago concentrated on low-hanging fruits, the fight against global warming would have been more successful, argues Geoffrey Lean.

By Geoffrey LeanPublished: 7:45PM BST 18 Sep 2009
Here's a heretical thought, one that might even further inflame the great global-warming slanging match. Has the world set out to tackle climate change in the wrong way? It's not, I admit, the most tactful moment to put the question. On Tuesday the heads of the world's governments meet in New York for the first universal climate summit. This is just the most important of a series of high-level get-togethers addressing the issue, which started on Thursday with a meeting of ministers from the most polluting countries, and continues to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh at the end of the week. But it has to be asked. For more than 20 years the world has been trying to negotiate agreements to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and felling forests. But they have gone on growing: indeed, their rate of growth has been accelerating.
Concentrating on carbon dioxide was understandable. It is, after all, the biggest single cause of climate change. Scientists have known for more than 180 years that it warms up the atmosphere, and – for more than 110 – roughly what the effects of increasing its concentration would be.

But CO2 is only responsible for about half of the problem. The rest is caused by other pollutants. No worldwide attempt has been made to control some of them, even though doing so would be much less contentious and would reduce global warming far faster.
Take black carbon, which gives soot its colour. It is now accepted to be the second biggest contributor to climate change, responsible for between 10 and 25 per cent of it. Formed through incomplete combustion of wood, vegetation and fossil fuels, it lands a unique double whammy.
While in the air, it absorbs and releases solar radiation, helping to heat up the atmosphere. When it falls out on ice and snow, on mountains or at the poles, it darkens them, causing them to reflect less sunlight and melt more rapidly. And as they disappear they expose more dark land or water, which absorbs even more heat and so further warms the world.
A study by the United Nations Environment Programme concludes that the pollutant has played a major part in shrinking Himalayan glaciers, and helped disrupt the South Asian monsoon.
Then there's tropospheric ozone – the gas when it is relatively near the ground rather than in the protective layer in the stratosphere miles above our heads. Largely formed as a result of emissions from car exhausts, it is thought to contribute between six and 15 per cent of the problem.
There's compelling reason to tackle both, quite apart from climate change. Black carbon is one of the world's greatest killers, largely responsible – in smoke from inefficient woodburning stoves – for at least 1.6 million deaths annually, mainly of children, in the Third World. And, together with ozone, it helps cause 800,000 more each year worldwide from urban air pollution.
Introducing better stoves, or solar cookers, dramatically cuts emissions of black carbon, as does cleaning up emissions from diesel vehicles. And boosting vehicle fuel efficiency – and reducing pollution from other sources, ranging from oil refineries to dry cleaners – will cause less ozone to form.
Taking such steps could have an immediate effect on climate change, as both pollutants disappear almost immediately from the atmosphere – as opposed to carbon dioxide, which lasts for centuries. And they should be comparatively uncontentious. Even Senator James Inhofe, the most outspoken global warming sceptic in the American Congress, has supported a Bill on black carbon, beating Al Gore to it by a few days.
Similarly, George W. Bush helped lead a successful bid to speed up the phasing out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons – up to 1,700 times more potent than carbon dioxide in heating up the planet – under the Montreal Protocol for protecting the ozone layer. Just this week, the American, Canadian and Mexican governments have called for this treaty to be extended to tackle yet another group of greenhouse gases.
This provokes my initial question. If the climate negotiations had set out 20 years ago first to pick these low-hanging fruits, surely we would have got very much further in bringing global warming under control, while building trust to tackle carbon dioxide.
Such a strategy is no longer an option. So much time has been lost and climate change has now progressed so far that big cuts in carbon dioxide are already overdue. But attacking black carbon and the other pollutants would have an immediate impact, and could buy us some desperately needed time.
As Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, puts it: "It's essential to cut carbon dioxide, but we can't win if we only target half the problem."

Tata electric car to hit UK roads as Mandelson lends £10m

Tata Motors-badged cars will hit the UK's roads for the first time
Tim Webb, Friday 18 September 2009 16.19 BST
The government has finally dipped into its eight-month-old £2.3bn aid package for the car industry, lending Tata Motors £10m to assemble an electric car in the UK.
Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, will invest £25m into the project, which could create hundreds of jobs.
It will also see Tata Motors-badged cars on the UK's roads for the first time.
The Indian company will announce shortly where the car will be assembled. Tata claimed the "Indica Vista EV [electric vehicle]" will be the world's first mass-produced family-sized electric car and will be available in Europe by the end of the year.
It developed the four seater at its R&D centre in Warwick. Tata Motors is partnered with Norwegian company Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon which will make the electric batteries. Tata will use its Indica Vista's chassis, which it will ship to the UK for assembly with the battery.
Initially assembly will take place in Norway until the UK site is ready, where the number of cars being produced will ramp up depending on sales.
Tata came close to scrapping its plans to build the car in the UK because of frustration over how long it had to wait to find out if the government would provide financial support. The company had to wait over eight months for a decision.
A spokewoman for Lord Mandelson's business department said that it was difficult to find banks to underwrite the loan, even though many are in state control.
The Government unveiled the £2.3bn automotive assistance package in January in order to kickstart the ailing car industry and help companies develop low carbon technologies.

Mandelson's car scheme offers first loan to Tata

The Government has finally provided support to a car maker under its £2.3bn Automotive Assistance Programme with a £10m loan to Tata Motors.

By Graham Ruddick Published: 7:50PM BST 18 Sep 2009
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, unveiled the scheme in January, pledging to support the investment programmes of British-based manufacturers with loans and loan guarantees.
However, negotiations with companies have proved controversial, with Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata, pulling out of talks and securing its own financing after the Government demanded a say in the business's strategy.

Tata has now become the first company to secure a loan under the scheme, eight months after its launch. The £10m from the Government will support £25m of the Indian company's own investment in plans to develop and manufacture Tata-branded electric cars in the UK.
The company is now "considering locations" in Britain to set up a factory, according to sources close to the talks. An announcement is expected soon. Along with the Tata Motors European Technical Centre at the University of Warwick, which already employs 180 people, the project could support hundreds of jobs.
Lord Mandelson said: "The Government is determined to help the car industry to exploit fully the opportunities offered by green manufacturing. Today we are backing Tata as Tata backs Britain.
"This loan will strengthen our electric vehicle manufacturing expertise, securing and creating high value engineering jobs in the West Midlands."
A spokeswoman for the Business Secretary said the Government was in talks with 17 other companies about projects worth £2bn.
Tata said it "appreciates" the state support. The car maker, led by Ratan Tata, has developed a four-seater electric vehicle in partnership with Norwegian group Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon. Production of the vehicle should begin in Norway later this year.
The AAP is part of the Government's support for the beleaguered car industry alongside the scrappage scheme, which offers consumers a £2,000 incentive to scrap an old car for a new model and has reinvigorated sales in the UK.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders yesterday wrote to Lord Mandelson to ask for the scheme to be extended to the original end-date of February 2010.
The scheme, which has been so successful that a 24.8pc annual decline in May new car sales was reversed into a 6pc rise in August, means that the £300m of Government funding, enough for 300,000 cars, could run out by October.
There are fears that the end of the scheme, combined with a return to the higher rate of VAT, will cause the market to slump again. Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, said: "Avoiding a relapse in demand is critical to the UK economy."

Lib Dem party calls on its local councils to join 10:10 campaign

A motion calling on all Liberal Democrat councils to cut emissions 10% by 2010 will be put before the party's annual conference next week
Felicity Carus, Friday 18 September 2009 17.15 BST
The Liberal Democrat leadership plans to mandate all its local councils to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010.
A motion proposing the carbon reductions will be put before the party's annual conference in Bournemouth next week and, if passed, will be the first formal policy commitment by any political party in response to the 10:10 climate change campaign. Nationwide the Lib-Dems control 26 local authorities and hold 4,083 council seats.
The 10:10 campaign – which is supported by the Guardian – is an initiative launched this month to encourage people, businesses and organisations to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% by the end of next year. Nearly 18,000 people have joined the 10:10 campaign, including Gordon Brown and the cabinet as well as the Tory front bench and the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. Over 700 businesses are also on board including Royal Mail and Tottenham Hotspur.
"The 10:10 campaign shows what can be achieved if the political will is there. Cutting emissions by 10% within 2010 is ambitious but realistic," said Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem spokesman for energy and climate change.
The motion, which will be voted on by the conference on Tuesday, will also call on all party members to sign up personally including elected representatives in Westminster, Cardiff, Holyrood and Brussels. Hughes has already called on the speaker of the house, John Bercow, to sign parliament up to the campaign but the motion will go a stage further by calling on the government to make a national commitment to cut UK emissions by 10%.
If the motion is passed next week, 10:10's organisers hope that Labour and the Tories will follow suit at their party conferences this autumn. The campaign manager, Daniel Vockins, said: "This lays down the gauntlet for the other political parties, and is a much higher target than local councils are currently committed to and hopefully lays the groundwork for deeper cuts ... This is exactly the kind of ambition we need to see from all political parties now."
Some Lib Dem led councils have already signed up to 10:10 including Camden, Cambridge, Eastleigh, Islington, Oldham, Richmond and Southwark. Sheffield and Bristol are also considering signing up. Alexis Rowel, a Camden councillor said the campaign is gaining real momentum among councils. "There is a big, inspiring effect going on here and also a grassroots push from residents. In the four years that I have been councillor, there has been nothing more significant than getting councils to sign up to 10:10."
Around 25 out of 434 UK councils have already signed up, but as well as cutting their own emissions as organisations, the Hughes conference motion also targets businesses, organisations and residents within local authorities. "Effective action on climate change is also about individuals and communities," he said.
What you can do
1. Help 10:10 reach its 20,000th sign-up by pledging your own cut at If you've signed up already, persuade a friend or relative (better still, lots of them) to join.
2. If you run a company, help 10:10 enlist its 1,000th business by signing up yours. If you work for a company write to your boss and ask them to join.
3. Help 10:10 spread its message more widely by offering financial support at

Green groups urge next government to make environment highest priority

WWF, Friends of the Earth and RSPB among those launching manifesto ahead of next year's election
Press Association, Friday 18 September 2009 11.09 BST
Cutting carbon emissions and restoring the natural world must be given the "highest priority" by the next government, the UK's leading environment groups urged today as they unveiled a manifesto for the coming election.
The green groups want the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020, higher than the 34% the government has signed up to, ban coal-fired power plants and end airport expansion.
The political parties are also being urged to commit to restoring the natural environment — including doubling the amount of woodland in the UK, providing green areas for people close to where they live and creating "high quality landscapes" which are rich in nature and able to cope with climate change.
The 10-point manifesto launched by the environmental groups today also includes measures on a nationwide housing re-fit to boost energy efficiency and calls on the UK to provide a fair share of money needed to help poor countries move to a low carbon economy, adapt to climate change and stop deforestation.
The green organisations want each of the political parties to back their "common cause declaration" which would make tackling climate change and environmental protection the "highest priority" of the next parliament.
It also commits the parties to taking action immediately on global warming, and to working to protect the UK's natural environment.
Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance, said on behalf of all the groups: "Action in the next parliament is critical if we are to simultaneously reduce our CO2 emissions whilst improving the resilience of our natural environment to avoid the looming crises of food, energy and water shortages by 2030.
"It's now or never. Support for the common cause declaration will be the threshold for credibility at the next election on environmental issues."
The groups making the call ahead of the party conferences are: Green Alliance; Friends of the Earth; the Woodland Trust; WWF; the Wildlife Trusts; the RSPB; the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Greenpeace.